On Good Students

Chapter Twelve: Concerning Discipline

A certain wise man, when asked concerning the method and form of study, declared: A humble mind, eagerness to inquire, a quiet life, Silent scrutiny, poverty, a foreign soil. These, for many, unlock the hidden places of learning. He had heard, I should judge, the saying, “Morals equip learning.” Therefore he joined rules for living to rules for study, in order that the student might know both the standard of his life and the nature of his study. Unpraiseworthy is learning stained by a shameless life. Therefore, let him who would seek learning take care above all that he not neglect discipline.

Chapter Thirteen: Concerning Humility

Now the beginning of discipline is humility. Although the lessons of humility are many, the three which follow are of especial importance for the student: first, that he hold no knowledge and no writing in contempt; second, that he blush to learn from no man; and third, that when he has attained learning himself, he not look down upon everyone else. Many are deceived by the desire to appear wise before their time. They therefore break out in a certain swollen importance and begin to simulate what they are not and to be ashamed of what they are; and they slip all the farther from wisdom in proportion as they think, not of being wise, but of being thought so.

I have known many of this sort who, although they still lacked the very rudiments of learning, yet deigned to concern themselves only with the highest problems, and they supposed that they themselves were well on the road to greatness simply because they had read the writings or heard the words of great and wise men. “We,” they say, “have seen them. We have studied under them. They often used to talk to us. Those great ones, those famous men, they know us.” Ah, would that no one knew me and that I but knew all things! You glory in having seen, not in having understood, Plato. As a matter of fact, I should think it not good enough for you to listen to me. I am not Plato. I have not deserved to see him.[ . . . ] There is no one to whom it is given to know all things, no one who has not received his special gift from nature. The wise student, therefore, gladly hears all, reads all, and looks down upon no writing, no person, no teaching. From all indifferently he seeks what he sees he lacks, and he considers not how much he knows, but of how much he is ignorant. For this reason men repeat Plato’s saying: “I would rather learn with modesty what another man says than shamelessly push forward my own ideas.” Why do you blush to be taught, and yet not blush at your ignorance? The latter is a greater shame than the former. Or why should you affect the heights when you are still lying in the depths? Consider, rather, what your powers will at present permit: the man who proceeds stage by stage moves along best. Certain fellows, wishing to make a great leap of progress, sprawl headlong.

Do not hurry too much, therefore; in this way you will come more quickly to wisdom. Gladly learn from all what you do not know, for humility can make you a sharer in the special gift which natural endowment has given to every man. You will be wiser than all if you are willing to learn from all. Finally, hold no learning in contempt, for all learning is good. Do not scorn at least to read a book, if you have the time. If you gain nothing from it, neither do you lose anything; especially since there is, in my judgment, no book which does not set forth something worth looking for, if that book is taken up at the right place and time; or which does not possess something even special to itself which the diligent scrutineer of its contents, having found it nowhere else, seizes upon gladly in proportion as it is the more rare.

Nothing, however, is good if it eliminates a better thing. If you are not able to read everything, read those things which are more useful. Even if you should be able to read them all, however, you should not expend the same labor upon all. Some things are to be read that we may know them, but others that we may at least have heard of them, for sometimes we think that things of which we have not heard are of greater worth than they are, and we estimate more readily a thing whose fruit is known to us. You can now see how necessary to you is that humility which will prompt you to hold no knowledge in contempt and to learn gladly from all.

Similarly, it is fitting for you that when you have begun to know something, you not look down upon everyone else. For the vice of an inflated ego attacks some men because they pay too much fond attention to their own knowledge, and when they seem to themselves to have become something, they think that others whom they do not even know can neither be nor become as great. So it is that in our days certain peddlers of trifles come fuming forth; glorying in I know not what, they accuse our forefathers of simplicity and suppose that wisdom, having been born with themselves, with themselves will die. They say that the divine utterances have such a simple way of speaking that no one has to study them under masters, but can sufficiently penetrate to the hidden treasures of Truth by his own mental acumen. They wrinkle their noses and purse their lips at lecturers in divinity and do not understand that they themselves give offense to God, whose words they preach—words simple to be sure in their verbal beauty, but lacking savor when given a distorted sense. It is not my advice that you imitate men of this kind.

The good student, then, ought to be humble and docile, free alike from vain cares and from sensual indulgences, diligent and zealous to learn willingly from all, to presume never upon his own knowledge, to shun the authors of perverse doctrine as if they were poison, to consider a matter thoroughly and at length before judging of it, to seek to be learned rather than merely to seem so, to love such words of the wise as he has grasped, and ever to hold those words before his gaze as the very mirror of his countenance. And if some things, by chance rather obscure, have not allowed him to understand them, let him not at once break out in angry condemnation and think that nothing is good but what he himself can understand. This is the humility proper to a student’s discipline.

Chapter Fourteen: Concerning Eagerness to Inquire

Eagerness to inquire relates to practice and in it the student needs encouragement rather than instruction. Whoever wishes to inspect earnestly what the ancients in their love of wisdom have handed down to us, and how deserving of posterity’s remembrance are the monuments which they left of their virtue, will see how inferior his own earnestness is to theirs. Some of them scorned honors, others cast aside riches, others rejoiced in injuries received, others despised hardships, and still others, deserting the meeting places of men for the farthest withdrawn spots and secret haunts of solitude, gave themselves over to philosophy alone, that they might have greater freedom for undisturbed contemplation insofar as they subjected their minds to none of the desires which usually obstruct the path of virtue. We read that the philosopher Parmenides dwelt on a rock in Egypt for fifteen years. And Prometheus, for his unrestrained love of thinking, is recorded to have been exposed to the attacks of a vulture on Mount Caucasus. For they knew that the true good lies not in the esteem of men but is hidden in a pure conscience and that those are not truly men who, clinging to things destined to perish, do not recognize their own good.

Therefore, seeing that they differed in mind and understanding from all the rest of men, they displayed this fact in the very far removal of their dwelling places, so that one community might not hold men not associated by the same objectives. A certain man retorted to a philosopher, saying, “Do you not see that men are laughing at you?” To which the philosopher replied, “They laugh at me, and the asses bray at them.” Think if you can how much he valued the praise of those men whose vituperation, even, he did not fear. Of another man we read that after studying all the disciplines and attaining the very peaks of all the arts he turned to the potter’s trade. Again, the disciples of a certain other man, when they exalted their master with praises, gloried in the fact that among all his other accomplishments he even possessed that of being a shoemaker.

I could wish that our students possessed such earnestness that wisdom would never grow old in them.

(source: Didascalicon, Hugh of St. Victor)

Do Not Be Confused

Abstaining from any further comment, but remaining confident that I was right to sign this 2015 letter and hopeful that any corrections needed to this new (scary) move will be carried out with still deeper humility and with due regard for truth and will conduce to charity, I simply say that I do not see how any Christian formed in Catholic doctrine could affirm any of these statements, and I hope none who may have stumbled near them will persist in them:

Some likely errors of our times (from the translation of the Latin core of the recent document linked above):

  • ‘A justified person has not the strength with God’s grace to carry out the objective demands of the divine law, as though any of the commandments of God are impossible for the justified; or as meaning that God’s grace, when it produces justification in an individual, does not invariably and of its nature produce conversion from all serious sin, or is not sufficient for conversion from all serious sin.’
  • ‘Christians who have obtained a civil divorce from the spouse to whom they are validly married and have contracted a civil marriage with some other person during the lifetime of their spouse, who live more uxorio with their civil partner, and who choose to remain in this state with full knowledge of the nature of their act and full consent of the will to that act, are not necessarily in a state of mortal sin, and can receive sanctifying grace and grow in charity.’
  • ‘A Christian believer can have full knowledge of a divine law and voluntarily choose to break it in a serious matter, but not be in a state of mortal sin as a result of this action.’
  • ‘A person is able, while he obeys a divine prohibition, to sin against God by that very act of obedience.’
  • ‘Conscience can truly and rightly judge that sexual acts between persons who have contracted a civil marriage with each other, although one or both of them is sacramentally married to another person, can sometimes be morally right or requested or even commanded by God.’
  • ‘Moral principles and moral truths contained in divine revelation and in the natural law do not include negative prohibitions that absolutely forbid particular kinds of action, inasmuch as these are always gravely unlawful on account of their object.’
  • ‘Our Lord Jesus Christ wills that the Church abandon her perennial discipline of refusing the Eucharist to the divorced and remarried and of refusing absolution to the divorced and remarried who do not express contrition for their state of life and a firm purpose of amendment with regard to it.’

veritas liberabit vos

Archbishop Chaput has just put out an important column. Read the whole thing.

Jesus comes to reveal to man his true dignity. He sets man free with the truth of the Gospel, free to become by grace what God calls humanity to be: adopted daughters and sons in the joy of his love.

This is why John Paul placed such stress on truth, especially the truth about man and his vocation, a vocation to lasting happiness in friendship with God. In the Gospel, Jesus gives us a new commandment, the new law of love. This new law does not abolish the Mosaic Law and the Old Testament commandments. It does not override the natural law written on every person’s heart. Rather, it fulfills them and helps us live them in a more perfect way. Jesus teaches us the truth about right and wrong, and this truth does not diminish our liberty: “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32).

As a result, John Paul II called for a deep renewal of Catholic moral theology, and also of the ways in which Christian moral teachings are presented to the faithful and to the world. He wanted the Church to recover her zeal in affirming that no richer life exists than one lived in the fullness of truth.

It’s precisely here—how the Church presents her moral guidance—that we still face serious challenges. Ironically, legalism is very much alive in the Church, even though it no longer looks like the rigorist, “conservative” legalism of the past. Legalist minimalism is just as deadly to the life of faith as legalist maximalism.

Many of today’s confusions about Catholic moral teaching stem from a one-dimensional morality of obligation.

(source: The Splendor of Truth in 2017 by Charles J. Chaput)

Thank You, Senator Feinstein!

Courtesy of the well-spoken, intelligent, long-lived, and utterly reprehensible Senatorial bigot Dianne Feinstein, we have a new and beautiful motto for Christians in these United States–a gift just in time for my birthday, which I was delighted to discover when I became Catholic was also the feast of the Birth of Mary, the God-Bearer, author of the Magnificat, whose unborn Dogma caused John the Baptist to leap in Elizabeth’s womb. May it truly be said of all of us, “the dogma lives loudly in you”!

Here, buy a shirt that says it and make my day by Tweeting a pic with it!

Get a load of the look on judicial nominee Barrett’s face when the Secular Inquisition comes to town:

UPDATE: I made another one.

FURTHER UPDATE: I made more stuff. Lots more, actually, look around my shop.

It Takes Both

Since, then, the habits of the speculative intellect do not perfect the appetitive part, nor affect it in any way, but only the intellective part; they may indeed be called virtues in so far as they confer aptness for a good work, viz. the consideration of truth (since this is the good work of the intellect): yet they are not called virtues in the second way, as though they conferred the right use of a power or habit. For if a man possess a habit of speculative science, it does not follow that he is inclined to make use of it, but he is made able to consider the truth in those matters of which he has scientific knowledge: that he make use of the knowledge which he has, is due to the motion of his will. Consequently a virtue which perfects the will, as charity or justice, confers the right use of these speculative habits. And in this way too there can be merit in the acts of these habits, if they be done out of charity: thus Gregory says (Moral. vi) that the “contemplative life has greater merit than the active life.”

(source: Summa Theologica II.I.57.1)

Viva Chesterton!

This is the most enormous and at the same time the most secret of the modern tyrannies of materialism. In theory the thing ought to be simple enough. A really human human being would always put the spiritual things first. A walking and speaking statue of God finds himself at one particular moment employed as a shop assistant. He has in himself a power of terrible love, a promise of paternity, a thirst for some loyalty that shall unify life, and in the ordinary course of things he asks himself, “How far do the existing conditions of those assisting in shops fit in with my evident and epic destiny in the matter of love and marriage?” But here, as I have said, comes in the quiet and crushing power of modern materialism. It prevents him rising in rebellion, as he would otherwise do. By perpetually talking about environment and visible things, by perpetually talking about economics and physical necessity, painting and keeping repainted a perpetual picture of iron machinery and merciless engines, of rails of steel, and of towers of stone, modern materialism at last produces this tremendous impression in which the truth is stated upside down. At last the result is achieved. The man does not say as he ought to have said, “Should married men endure being modern shop assistants?” The man says, “Should shop assistants marry?” Triumph has completed the immense illusion of materialism. The slave does not say, “Are these chains worthy of me?” The slave says scientifically and contentedly, “Am I even worthy of these chains?”

(source: Tremendous Trifles)

Seas Threaten Vainly to Capsize

We should not be ignorant of the harm done to many who do end up lost at sea or marooned when teachers are derelict, but good teachers show us clearly what good habits of thought look like. (Emphasis added.)

How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking. The small boat of the thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves – flung from one extreme to another: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and so forth. Every day new sects spring up, and what St Paul says about human deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error (cf. Eph 4: 14) comes true.

Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine”, seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.

We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An “adult” faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceipt from truth.

We must develop this adult faith; we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith. And it is this faith–only faith–that creates unity and is fulfilled in love.

(source: Mass «Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice»: Homily of Card. Joseph Ratzinger)

More Rubbish from Spadaro and Figueroa

OK, I’ve had to explain and defend my decision to enter into full communion with the Church that Jesus Christ founded to plenty of dear Christian brothers and sisters–including my literal family as well as “friends like brothers” and earnest co-religionists–whose tradition is properly called Fundamentalist or evangelical.

Now, for reasons Fr. Longenecker is well-situated to observe, the malicious and ignorant writing of certain low persons permitted to hang about high places in the Vatican has made explaining and defending Fundamentalism and evangelicalism an expression of Catholic faith:

An ignorant person can be educated. An arrogant person can be lowered, but a person who is ignorant and arrogant is unassailable. The recent article by Fr Spadaro and Figueroa is a perfect example. They pontificate in lofty intellectual, generalized terms about America and Americans and don’t have the faintest idea of what they’re talking about and what makes is it worse is that they don’t have the faintest idea that they don’t have the faintest idea.

(source: On European Ignorance and Arrogance)

The article really is full of so much rubbish that one has almost to finish destroying one sentence before one can even begin to read the next–it is a tissue of lies and folly.  It is far too wholly dishonest and stupid to thoroughly refute.

I’ll limit myself to just a few specifics which, if you find the relevant paragraphs, will either set you sputtering or reveal your ignorance of Anglo-American religious history.  I’ll quote just one relevant passage (and you’ll just have to search the Internet yourself if you want to vex your soul by reading this garbage more thoroughly):

The term “evangelical fundamentalist” can today be assimilated to the “evangelical right” or “theoconservatism” and has its origins in the years 1910-1915. In that period a South Californian millionaire, Lyman Stewart, published the 12-volume work The Fundamentals. The author wanted to respond to the threat of modernist ideas of the time. He summarized the thought of authors whose doctrinal support he appreciated. He exemplified the moral, social, collective and individual aspects of the evangelical faith. His admirers include many politicians and even two recent presidents: Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Fundamentalism does claim to be historically evangelical, but ever since the “New Evangelicals” began the attempt to articulate a conservative evangelicalism that was not tangled up in Fundamentalist separatism (for good and for ill), “evangelicalism” as a movement has not willingly or ostensibly contained “fundamentalism.” And no one uses the term “evangelical fundamentalism,” nor is it clear what the modified phrase would refer to among Anglo-American low church Protestant groups.

Lyman Stewart is indeed the publisher of The Fundamentals, but the individual volumes are not his summaries of, but actual works by, the authors included.

Here, try reading Wikipedia if this is too hard: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fundamentals

It is unlikely that most Fundamentalists today, let alone many evangelicals, let alone someone like Reagan or Bush, would even know who James Orr (whose works are well-represented in The Fundamentals, which I years ago studied quite thoroughly in its 12-volume edition) is–much less who Lyman Stewart was, or what that publisher had to say (considering he didn’t write The Fundamentals).

Then there’s the utterly silly notion that Reagan would have been interested in Stewart or The Fundamentals, as Reagan was by no means particularly conservative in religion, though a practicing PCUSA Presbyterian (i.e., mainline, not low church “evangelical,” nor anywhere near Fundamentalist).

The younger Bush actually moves a bit closer to evangelical by moving from Episcopalian to Methodist, but remains well within the mainline nonetheless. I find it ridiculous to think he knows James Orr from B. B. Warfield, or either of them from Lyman Stewart.

It goes on and on and on like this. Irresponsible, diabolical, divisive rubbish.

Emphasis Added

Go read the whole thing, of course!

No one better exemplifies the spiritual trajectory of our time than Arthur Conan Doyle, an advocate of scientific rigor who started life as a devout Catholic and ended it as the world’s most prominent spiritualist.

While studying with the Jesuits at Stonyhurst, Doyle made his first communion. He wrote to his mother: “Oh mama, I cannot express the joy that I felt on the happy day to receive my creator into my breast. I shall never though I live a hundred years, I shall never forget that day.” He was enrolled in the sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary as Arthurus Doyle, servus perpetuus BVM.

His promises were soon forgotten. In adulthood, Doyle championed broad-minded inquiry and rejected the Catholic faith. “I regard hard-and-fast dogma of every kind as an unjustifiable and essentially irreligious thing,” he wrote. He admired Oliver Wendell Holmes, whose skeptical, scientific outlook would be immortally embodied in Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street.

Rigorous skepticism may work for storybook characters, but it cannot satisfy man. When spiritualist mediums brought automatic writing and table-rapping into Victorian parlors, Doyle was taken in. He became the most outspoken defender of spiritualism, accusing Harry Houdini of being a pawn of Rome when the magician exposed Doyle’s heroes as frauds. Like the people I joined in Brooklyn, Doyle wanted a nonjudgmental faith that welcomed all spirits. But in rejecting dogma, he opened himself to impostors, not excluding the greatest impostor of all.

We may be tempted simply to have an urbane laugh at the follies of the superstitious, but that would be a mistake. They see something the great and good cannot: We live in a world full of spirits. Agnostic indifference to this fact may be possible for a time, but very few men are capable of sustained and thoroughgoing unbelief. This is why no superstition is more ridiculous than the pretense of secularism, and anyone who thinks Christianity will give way to atheism is a far greater fool than the most credulous ghost hunter.

(source: “My Shamanic Healing” by Matthew Schmitz)

Making Distinctions, Marking Consequences

Ed Peters helps us to make the distinctions necessary to understand Bishop Paprocki’s clear restatement of canonical norms in light of novel variants of permanent human problems:

Paprocki knows, for example, that the CLSA New Commentary (2001) discussing Canon 1184 at p. 1412, understands one in “manifest sin” as one “publicly known to be living in a state of grave sin”. That’s a far cry from Shine’s rhetorical jab, delivered as if it were the coup de grace to Paprocki’s position, “Who among us, including Bishop Paprocki, does not publicly sin at different moments?” Hardly anyone, I would venture, and so would Paprocki. But the law is not directed at those who, from time to time, commit sin, even a public sin; it is concerned about those who make an objectively sinful state their way of life. Fumble that distinction, as Shine does, and one’s chances of correctly reading Canon 1184 drop to, well, zero.


I want to end these remarks by highlighting a much more important point: Paprocki’s decree is not aimed at a category of persons (homosexuals, lesbians, LGBT, etc., words that do not even appear in his document) but rather, it is concerned with an act, a public act, an act that creates a civilly-recognized status, namely, the act of entering into a ‘same-sex marriage’. That public act most certainly has public consequences, some civil and some canonical.

(source: Bp Paprocki’s norms on ‘same-sex marriage’ | In the Light of the Law)

I think that last paragraph, especially, bears considering.

We are all sinners. That has consequences. We all also take public acts that really do, or really purport to, mark us with permanent characters or create permanent relationships. Those public acts have well-known implications, and the consequences need to be equally well-known and well-considered.

We too often think of “consequences” as threats designed to modify behavior by anticipation. But consequences are basically facts, and ordering the canonical response to those facts so as to make those real consequences clear and the responses prudent is an act of great mercy–the kind that does justice and then goes beyond.

Summa Comparison Texts

So my brain needed a good, relaxing bath in sound reasoning after walking down memory lane with the Modern Western Philosophy crew.  A dip in the Summa, of course, was just what the Doctor ordered.  Of course, what that meant was trying to find a few texts that would be likely to come into direct conversation with the texts I’d picked as an intro to that tradition.

Here’s what I found, with no particular explanation.  I’m hoping our Summer Seminar conversation will make the connections.

In our knowledge there are two things to be considered. First, that intellectual knowledge in some degree arises from sensible knowledge: and, because sense has singular and individual things for its object, and intellect has the universal for its object, it follows that our knowledge of the former comes before our knowledge of the latter. Secondly, we must consider that our intellect proceeds from a state of potentiality to a state of actuality; and every power thus proceeding from potentiality to actuality comes first to an incomplete act, which is the medium between potentiality and actuality, before accomplishing the perfect act. The perfect act of the intellect is complete knowledge, when the object is distinctly and determinately known; whereas the incomplete act is imperfect knowledge, when the object is known indistinctly, and as it were confusedly. A thing thus imperfectly known, is known partly in act and partly in potentiality, and hence the Philosopher says (Phys. i, 1), that “what is manifest and certain is known to us at first confusedly; afterwards we know it by distinguishing its principles and elements.” Now it is evident that to know an object that comprises many things, without proper knowledge of each thing contained in it, is to know that thing confusedly.

(source: Summa Theologica)

the Essence of God, the pure and perfect act, is simply and perfectly in itself intelligible; and hence God by His own Essence knows Himself, and all other things also. The angelic essence belongs, indeed, to the genus of intelligible things as “act,” but not as a “pure act,” nor as a “complete act,” and hence the angel’s act of intelligence is not completed by his essence. For although an angel understands himself by his own essence, still he cannot understand all other things by his own essence; for he knows things other than himself by their likenesses. Now the human intellect is only a potentiality in the genus of intelligible beings, just as primary matter is a potentiality as regards sensible beings; and hence it is called “possible.” Therefore in its essence the human mind is potentially understanding. Hence it has in itself the power to understand, but not to be understood, except as it is made actual. For even the Platonists asserted than an order of intelligible beings existed above the order of intellects, forasmuch as the intellect understands only by participation of the intelligible; for they said that the participator is below what it participates. If, therefore, the human intellect, as the Platonists held, became actual by participating separate intelligible forms, it would understand itself by such participation of incorporeal beings. But as in this life our intellect has material and sensible things for its proper natural object, as stated above (Question [84], Article [7]), it understands itself according as it is made actual by the species abstracted from sensible things, through the light of the active intellect, which not only actuates the intelligible things themselves, but also, by their instrumentality, actuates the passive intellect. Therefore the intellect knows itself not by its essence, but by its act.

(source: Summa Theologica)

Since the human intellect in the present state of life cannot understand even immaterial created substances (Article [1]), much less can it understand the essence of the uncreated substance. Hence it must be said simply that God is not the first object of our knowledge. Rather do we know God through creatures, according to the Apostle (Rm. 1:20), “the invisible things of God are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made”: while the first object of our knowledge in this life is the “quiddity of a material thing,” which is the proper object of our intellect, as appears above in many passages (Question [84], Article [7]; Question [85], Article [8]; Question [87], Article [2], ad 2)

(source: Summa Theologica)

This doctrine is wisdom above all human wisdom; not merely in any one order, but absolutely. For since it is the part of a wise man to arrange and to judge, and since lesser matters should be judged in the light of some higher principle, he is said to be wise in any one order who considers the highest principle in that order: thus in the order of building, he who plans the form of the house is called wise and architect, in opposition to the inferior laborers who trim the wood and make ready the stones: “As a wise architect, I have laid the foundation” (1 Cor. 3:10). Again, in the order of all human life, the prudent man is called wise, inasmuch as he directs his acts to a fitting end: “Wisdom is prudence to a man” (Prov. 10: 23). Therefore he who considers absolutely the highest cause of the whole universe, namely God, is most of all called wise. Hence wisdom is said to be the knowledge of divine things, as Augustine says (De Trin. xii, 14). But sacred doctrine essentially treats of God viewed as the highest cause—not only so far as He can be known through creatures just as philosophers knew Him—”That which is known of God is manifest in them” (Rm. 1:19)—but also as far as He is known to Himself alone and revealed to others. Hence sacred doctrine is especially called wisdom.

(source: Summa Theologica)

A thing can be self-evident in either of two ways: on the one hand, self-evident in itself, though not to us; on the other, self-evident in itself, and to us. A proposition is self-evident because the predicate is included in the essence of the subject, as “Man is an animal,” for animal is contained in the essence of man. If, therefore the essence of the predicate and subject be known to all, the proposition will be self-evident to all; as is clear with regard to the first principles of demonstration, the terms of which are common things that no one is ignorant of, such as being and non-being, whole and part, and such like. If, however, there are some to whom the essence of the predicate and subject is unknown, the proposition will be self-evident in itself, but not to those who do not know the meaning of the predicate and subject of the proposition. Therefore, it happens, as Boethius says (Hebdom., the title of which is: “Whether all that is, is good”), “that there are some mental concepts self-evident only to the learned, as that incorporeal substances are not in space.” Therefore I say that this proposition, “God exists,” of itself is self-evident, for the predicate is the same as the subject, because God is His own existence as will be hereafter shown (Question [3], Article [4]). Now because we do not know the essence of God, the proposition is not self-evident to us; but needs to be demonstrated by things that are more known to us, though less known in their nature—namely, by effects.

(source: Summa Theologica)

It is impossible for any created intellect to see the essence of God by its own natural power. For knowledge is regulated according as the thing known is in the knower. But the thing known is in the knower according to the mode of the knower. Hence the knowledge of every knower is ruled according to its own nature. If therefore the mode of anything’s being exceeds the mode of the knower, it must result that the knowledge of the object is above the nature of the knower. Now the mode of being of things is manifold. For some things have being only in this one individual matter; as all bodies. But others are subsisting natures, not residing in matter at all, which, however, are not their own existence, but receive it; and these are the incorporeal beings, called angels. But to God alone does it belong to be His own subsistent being. Therefore what exists only in individual matter we know naturally, forasmuch as our soul, whereby we know, is the form of certain matter. Now our soul possesses two cognitive powers; one is the act of a corporeal organ, which naturally knows things existing in individual matter; hence sense knows only the singular. But there is another kind of cognitive power in the soul, called the intellect; and this is not the act of any corporeal organ. Wherefore the intellect naturally knows natures which exist only in individual matter; not as they are in such individual matter, but according as they are abstracted therefrom by the considering act of the intellect; hence it follows that through the intellect we can understand these objects as universal; and this is beyond the power of the sense. Now the angelic intellect naturally knows natures that are not in matter; but this is beyond the power of the intellect of our soul in the state of its present life, united as it is to the body. It follows therefore that to know self-subsistent being is natural to the divine intellect alone; and this is beyond the natural power of any created intellect; for no creature is its own existence, forasmuch as its existence is participated. Therefore the created intellect cannot see the essence of God, unless God by His grace unites Himself to the created intellect, as an object made intelligible to it.

(source: Summa Theologica)


In names predicated of many in an analogical sense, all are predicated because they have reference to some one thing; and this one thing must be placed in the definition of them all. And since that expressed by the name is the definition, as the Philosopher says (Metaph. iv), such a name must be applied primarily to that which is put in the definition of such other things, and secondarily to these others according as they approach more or less to that first. Thus, for instance, “healthy” applied to animals comes into the definition of “healthy” applied to medicine, which is called healthy as being the cause of health in the animal; and also into the definition of “healthy” which is applied to urine, which is called healthy in so far as it is the sign of the animal’s health. Thus all names applied metaphorically to God, are applied to creatures primarily rather than to God, because when said of God they mean only similitudes to such creatures. For as “smiling” applied to a field means only that the field in the beauty of its flowering is like the beauty of the human smile by proportionate likeness, so the name of “lion” applied to God means only that God manifests strength in His works, as a lion in his. Thus it is clear that applied to God the signification of names can be defined only from what is said of creatures. But to other names not applied to God in a metaphorical sense, the same rule would apply if they were spoken of God as the cause only, as some have supposed. For when it is said, “God is good,” it would then only mean “God is the cause of the creature’s goodness”; thus the term good applied to God would included in its meaning the creature’s goodness. Hence “good” would apply primarily to creatures rather than to God. But as was shown above (Article [2]), these names are applied to God not as the cause only, but also essentially. For the words, “God is good,” or “wise,” signify not only that He is the cause of wisdom or goodness, but that these exist in Him in a more excellent way. Hence as regards what the name signifies, these names are applied primarily to God rather than to creatures, because these perfections flow from God to creatures; but as regards the imposition of the names, they are primarily applied by us to creatures which we know first. Hence they have a mode of signification which belongs to creatures, as said above (Article [3]).

(source: Summa Theologica)

God understands Himself through Himself. In proof whereof it must be known that although in operations which pass to an external effect, the object of the operation, which is taken as the term, exists outside the operator; nevertheless in operations that remain in the operator, the object signified as the term of operation, resides in the operator; and accordingly as it is in the operator, the operation is actual. Hence the Philosopher says (De Anima iii) that “the sensible in act is sense in act, and the intelligible in act is intellect in act.” For the reason why we actually feel or know a thing is because our intellect or sense is actually informed by the sensible or intelligible species. And because of this only, it follows that sense or intellect is distinct from the sensible or intelligible object, since both are in potentiality.

Since therefore God has nothing in Him of potentiality, but is pure act, His intellect and its object are altogether the same; so that He neither is without the intelligible species, as is the case with our intellect when it understands potentially; nor does the intelligible species differ from the substance of the divine intellect, as it differs in our intellect when it understands actually; but the intelligible species itself is the divine intellect itself, and thus God understands Himself through Himself.

(source: Summa Theologica)

It is necessary to suppose ideas in the divine mind. For the Greek word {Idea} is in Latin “forma.” Hence by ideas are understood the forms of things, existing apart from the things themselves. Now the form of anything existing apart from the thing itself can be for one of two ends: either to be the type of that of which it is called the form, or to be the principle of the knowledge of that thing, inasmuch as the forms of things knowable are said to be in him who knows them. In either case we must suppose ideas, as is clear for the following reason:

In all things not generated by chance, the form must be the end of any generation whatsoever. But an agent does not act on account of the form, except in so far as the likeness of the form is in the agent, as may happen in two ways. For in some agents the form of the thing to be made pre-exists according to its natural being, as in those that act by their nature; as a man generates a man, or fire generates fire. Whereas in other agents (the form of the thing to be made pre-exists) according to intelligible being, as in those that act by the intellect; and thus the likeness of a house pre-exists in the mind of the builder. And this may be called the idea of the house, since the builder intends to build his house like to the form conceived in his mind. As then the world was not made by chance, but by God acting by His intellect, as will appear later (Question [46], Article [1]), there must exist in the divine mind a form to the likeness of which the world was made. And in this the notion of an idea consists.

(source: Summa Theologica)

For it is clear that whatever is received into something is received according to the condition of the recipient. Now a thing is known in as far as its form is in the knower. But the intellectual soul knows a thing in its nature absolutely: for instance, it knows a stone absolutely as a stone; and therefore the form of a stone absolutely, as to its proper formal idea, is in the intellectual soul. Therefore the intellectual soul itself is an absolute form, and not something composed of matter and form. For if the intellectual soul were composed of matter and form, the forms of things would be received into it as individuals, and so it would only know the individual: just as it happens with the sensitive powers which receive forms in a corporeal organ; since matter is the principle by which forms are individualized. It follows, therefore, that the intellectual soul, and every intellectual substance which has knowledge of forms absolutely, is exempt from composition of matter and form.

(source: Summa Theologica)

We must assert that the intellect which is the principle of intellectual operation is the form of the human body. For that whereby primarily anything acts is a form of the thing to which the act is to be attributed: for instance, that whereby a body is primarily healed is health, and that whereby the soul knows primarily is knowledge; hence health is a form of the body, and knowledge is a form of the soul. The reason is because nothing acts except so far as it is in act; wherefore a thing acts by that whereby it is in act. Now it is clear that the first thing by which the body lives is the soul. And as life appears through various operations in different degrees of living things, that whereby we primarily perform each of all these vital actions is the soul. For the soul is the primary principle of our nourishment, sensation, and local movement; and likewise of our understanding. Therefore this principle by which we primarily understand, whether it be called the intellect or the intellectual soul, is the form of the body. This is the demonstration used by Aristotle (De Anima ii, 2).

But if anyone says that the intellectual soul is not the form of the body he must first explain how it is that this action of understanding is the action of this particular man; for each one is conscious that it is himself who understands. Now an action may be attributed to anyone in three ways, as is clear from the Philosopher (Phys. v, 1); for a thing is said to move or act, either by virtue of its whole self, for instance, as a physician heals; or by virtue of a part, as a man sees by his eye; or through an accidental quality, as when we say that something that is white builds, because it is accidental to the builder to be white. So when we say that Socrates or Plato understands, it is clear that this is not attributed to him accidentally; since it is ascribed to him as man, which is predicated of him essentially. We must therefore say either that Socrates understands by virtue of his whole self, as Plato maintained, holding that man is an intellectual soul; or that intelligence is a part of Socrates. The first cannot stand, as was shown above (Question [75], Article [4]), for this reason, that it is one and the same man who is conscious both that he understands, and that he senses. But one cannot sense without a body: therefore the body must be some part of man. It follows therefore that the intellect by which Socrates understands is a part of Socrates, so that in some way it is united to the body of Socrates.

The Commentator held that this union is through the intelligible species, as having a double subject, in the possible intellect, and in the phantasms which are in the corporeal organs. Thus through the intelligible species the possible intellect is linked to the body of this or that particular man. But this link or union does not sufficiently explain the fact, that the act of the intellect is the act of Socrates. This can be clearly seen from comparison with the sensitive faculty, from which Aristotle proceeds to consider things relating to the intellect. For the relation of phantasms to the intellect is like the relation of colors to the sense of sight, as he says De Anima iii, 5,7. Therefore, as the species of colors are in the sight, so are the species of phantasms in the possible intellect. Now it is clear that because the colors, the images of which are in the sight, are on a wall, the action of seeing is not attributed to the wall: for we do not say that the wall sees, but rather that it is seen. Therefore, from the fact that the species of phantasms are in the possible intellect, it does not follow that Socrates, in whom are the phantasms, understands, but that he or his phantasms are understood.

Some, however, tried to maintain that the intellect is united to the body as its motor; and hence that the intellect and body form one thing so that the act of the intellect could be attributed to the whole. This is, however, absurd for many reasons. First, because the intellect does not move the body except through the appetite, the movement of which presupposes the operation of the intellect. The reason therefore why Socrates understands is not because he is moved by his intellect, but rather, contrariwise, he is moved by his intellect because he understands. Secondly, because since Socrates is an individual in a nature of one essence composed of matter and form, if the intellect be not the form, it follows that it must be outside the essence, and then the intellect is the whole Socrates as a motor to the thing moved. Whereas the act of intellect remains in the agent, and does not pass into something else, as does the action of heating. Therefore the action of understanding cannot be attributed to Socrates for the reason that he is moved by his intellect. Thirdly, because the action of a motor is never attributed to the thing moved, except as to an instrument; as the action of a carpenter to a saw. Therefore if understanding is attributed to Socrates, as the action of what moves him, it follows that it is attributed to him as to an instrument. This is contrary to the teaching of the Philosopher, who holds that understanding is not possible through a corporeal instrument (De Anima iii, 4). Fourthly, because, although the action of a part be attributed to the whole, as the action of the eye is attributed to a man; yet it is never attributed to another part, except perhaps indirectly; for we do not say that the hand sees because the eye sees. Therefore if the intellect and Socrates are united in the above manner, the action of the intellect cannot be attributed to Socrates. If, however, Socrates be a whole composed of a union of the intellect with whatever else belongs to Socrates, and still the intellect be united to those other things only as a motor, it follows that Socrates is not one absolutely, and consequently neither a being absolutely, for a thing is a being according as it is one.

There remains, therefore, no other explanation than that given by Aristotle—namely, that this particular man understands, because the intellectual principle is his form. Thus from the very operation of the intellect it is made clear that the intellectual principle is united to the body as its form.

The same can be clearly shown from the nature of the human species. For the nature of each thing is shown by its operation. Now the proper operation of man as man is to understand; because he thereby surpasses all other animals. Whence Aristotle concludes (Ethic. x, 7) that the ultimate happiness of man must consist in this operation as properly belonging to him. Man must therefore derive his species from that which is the principle of this operation. But the species of anything is derived from its form. It follows therefore that the intellectual principle is the proper form of man.

But we must observe that the nobler a form is, the more it rises above corporeal matter, the less it is merged in matter, and the more it excels matter by its power and its operation; hence we find that the form of a mixed body has another operation not caused by its elemental qualities. And the higher we advance in the nobility of forms, the more we find that the power of the form excels the elementary matter; as the vegetative soul excels the form of the metal, and the sensitive soul excels the vegetative soul. Now the human soul is the highest and noblest of forms. Wherefore it excels corporeal matter in its power by the fact that it has an operation and a power in which corporeal matter has no share whatever. This power is called the intellect.

It is well to remark that if anyone holds that the soul is composed of matter and form, it would follow that in no way could the soul be the form of the body. For since the form is an act, and matter is only in potentiality, that which is composed of matter and form cannot be the form of another by virtue of itself as a whole. But if it is a form by virtue of some part of itself, then that part which is the form we call the soul, and that of which it is the form we call the “primary animate,” as was said above (Question [75], Article [5]).

(source: Summa Theologica)

Readings for Summer Seminar, Session Two

One of the points of interest in our Summer Seminar has been to get a basic understanding of the philosophical drift of Modern Western Philosophy.  Some of us are engaged with contemporary literary theory, and need to see how Foucault ended up where he did.  Others keep hearing “Enlightenment” and “nominalism” thrown around, and want to pin it down.

In any case, for a starter we’re going to just look at what Descartes did that launched the whole project.  I’ve prepared a list of philosophical primary texts and handy discussions & notes, themed on treatments of and responses to the basic Cartesian cogito that should help anyone (with some patience with jargon, and some resistance to intellectual intoxication) to build the “spine” for further exploration.

If you have to be selective, I’d say read the Descartes, then SEP articles, then Hegel on Descartes, and then as much Husserl as you can manage.  The rest of what you’re likely to want to know can be fitted around these.

Teachers, Universities, Colleges, Neighborhoods

The University should teach the teachers.

The teachers should live among the families in the neighborhoods, and serve them freely.

The families in the neighborhoods should feed the teachers, and send their most apt pupils to the University.

The University should be organized on a scale and in a manner that permits it to thrive on what the neighborhoods send to support the apt pupils and the faculty who instruct them.

This means the University needs colleges (room-and-board facilities for faculty and students) and libraries that are in cities that are mutually supporting–where tradesmen and merchants can have their living enhanced by offering services to the colleges, and where the faculty and students provide benefits worthy of subsidy to the city.

A city should be composed of neighborhoods, and on a scale that permits detached neighborhoods away from the city (the villages) to flourish.

Such a situation would permit both local and aggregated use of resources.

It is both unimaginably difficult to conceive in terms of current structures, and unimaginably simple to conceive if enough of us were to decide, together, to do it differently.

What is lacking is imagination and consensus, linked to the practical know-how that is often kept too busy and too distracted to apply itself to these matters.

We can make these things happen. Wake each other up and start organizing on better principles, friends.

Read Them for Yourself

Herewith, a list of links I have generated as background for a summer project.  If you don’t know any of these, familiarize yourself!  If you do, glance again!