Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Literal Interpretation of Psalm 8:2 (In defense of the Charismatic gift of tongues)

The Literal Interpretation of Psalm 8:2

“I will sing of your majesty above the heavens with the mouths of babes and infants.” -Psalm 8:2

"Out of the mouths of infants and nurslings you have brought forth praise." -Matthew 21:16

One of the puzzling effects of the presence of the Holy Spirit is the gift of tongues.  There seems to be an equivocation on the word throughout the bible.  In some places, as in Acts 2, tongues seems to signify a gift by which the faithful are able to communicate to others in instantly learned languages.  This indicates that the gift of tongues is intended as a tool of the apostle in preaching.  In other places in St. Paul's writings, there is mention of gift of tongues that requires interpretation.  Yet in other places, such as in 1 Corinthians 14, there is a tongue that brings about edification for the speaker, not the hearer.  This is one of the chief meanings that the Charismatic movements refers to when speaking of tongues: when one speaks in tongues, he does “not utter intelligible speech.”  “One who speaks in a tongue does not speak to human beings but to God, for no one listens; he utters mysteries in spirit.”   In this kind of tongue, neither the speaker nor those within hearing distance are able to understand what the words signify.  (Charismatics also refer to a "prophetic tongue" that is not widely known about.  This essay will not attempt to give an explanation of this tongue but only of what is referred to as a "prayer tongue.")

Yet what could be the benefit of speech that is not intended for human ears?  Surely God, Who knows the inner thoughts of man, does not need a private language by which he understand what man intends to say.  If God does not need significant speech to understand and if tongues are not intended for the understanding of people other than the speaker, and further, if the speaker himself does not understand what the sounds signify, what good is the gift of tongues as the Charismatic movements understand it? 

I claim that the gift of tongues, according to the Charismatic use of the term, is a great good in the life a Christian and is a beautiful and fitting way of offering praise to God.  More specifically, taking Psalm 8:2 literally, I will argue that it is fitting that God’s majesty be praised by the speech proper to the lowliest of speaking things and the speech that was the consequence of a great sin, not insofar as the intended speech signifies well, but merely insofar as the good and humble, fully-expressed, intention to praise God's glory brings glory to Him.I will do this by manifesting eight premises that are implicit in my thesis.  First and second, the effect of ignorance and sin are babble.  Third and fourth, God manifests His glory by exalting the lowly and bringing the greatest goods out of evil.  Fifth, that it is fitting that God speak not only through signs but more chiefly through things.  Sixth, God’s majesty cannot be fully captured in significant speech.  Seventh, that God looks more to the intentions of the heart than the outward actions when judging goodness of an action.  Finally, that great praise can come about by petition.  If these eight premises are shown to be true, then it is very fitting that God be praised by the babble of the Charismatics.

As St. Thomas mentions in his prayer before study, man is born with the two-fold darkness of sin and ignorance.  The effects of both of these evils is babble.  This is most obvious in the case of ignorance.  Everyone is aware that babies babble before they speak.  This babbling happens because of three things: the natural tendency to signify thoughts through speech, the ignorance of conventional language in the infant, and the lack of training in the tongue for correct speech.  Fortunately, although the first stays with us throughout our life (which is why, for instance, we shout for joy or have expletives), the latter two are overcome upon learning which sounds ought to be paired with which thoughts, whether they be thoughts of universals or of particulars.  It should be added that originally the sounds made by an infant arise more from an inability to control the instruments of voice rather than being ignorant of the correct pairings between thought and sound.  This shows that by a certain withdrawing of the motive power that controls the movements of the vocal instruments, random sounds can be generated.  Thus, we babble by denying control over a part of ourselves.

The second cause of babble is discovered by scriptural authority, both in the Old Testament and the New.  The most evident case is in Genesis, where God scatters the people and confuses their language because of the abomination of the tower of Babel. 

“Then the LORD said: If now, while they are one people and all have the same language, they have started to do this, nothing they presume to do will be out of their reach. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that no one will understand the speech of another.”

This demonstrates that the many languages, which are babble relative to each other, came about because of sin.  In the New Testament, we find that "we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies," and later on, " we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings."  We groan as we await the redemption of our bodies, which were marred from our sin.  And these groanings have the same effect as petitionary prayer, for the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings as well.  The use of the word "groaning" is particularly suitable for the present thesis, since it signifies a sound arising from a desire and thus signifies naturally rather than conventionally.  The importance of its origin being in desire will be established below.

As St. Paul says, we "exist for the praise of [God's] glory."  We find God manifesting His glory in two ways: by exalting the lowly and by bringing the greatest goods out of evil.  Mary's canticle in Luke beautifully expresses the former: " My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord... For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness."  Joseph's triumphant rising from slavery to authority is a great example of the latter: “Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good.”  Just so, babbling comes from infancy and sin, i.e., lowliness and evil.  Thus it would be very fitting that God deem babble worthy of praising Him, since this would fit with His means of manifesting His glory.

If babble were raised to the honor of being a tool for praise, God's glory would be praised in a two-fold manner: first, because the very act of praying in tongues is intended for praising God's glory.  Second, God's power would be shown, insofar as praise of God's glory cannot naturally come from the effects of imperfections, yet praise can come from babble, which is the effect of sin and ignorance.  Thus, God's hand is shown in making babble achieve an end beyond its natural power.

It is natural to object: why would the faithful intend to praise God by babbling?  Is it not more fitting to have his glory proclaimed by means of knowing and expressing the marvels of His name and His deeds?  For, his created glory is increased in the minds of His creatures.  What good will be done if the believers do not have explicit thoughts, which thoughts are known by the aid of some kind of spoken word?  To resolve this, we must explore in what way the spoken or imagined word falls short when praising God.  This will be manifested in two ways.

First, it is fitting that God would speak not through conventional signs but through things:
“For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
St. Augustine elaborates on this when defending the literal meaning of the story of Jacob and Esau.  He vindicates the apparent lie of Jacob by saying that Jacob acts first as a sign of what is to come, prefiguring that the gentiles will receive what rightfully belongs to the Jews.  In this way, God uses Jacob and his actions as signs, rather than using spoken words.  We see this happening in many ways throughout the Old and New Testament, for even the presence of Jesus Himself was a sign to Simeon of salvation that was to come.  It is fitting that God speak in this way rather than through conventional signs because it is glorious to both cause a good creature and a good sign in one and the same thing.  For, it belongs to Wisdom to act simply by accomplishing many things by means of one thing.  Conventional signs, on the other hand, signify, not in themselves and by their nature, but rather because of an artificial imposition, making the sign and signified one only intentionally.  Thus, praise would be more divine if it were to be done through natural things rather than conventional words.

Second, words produced by human artifice cannot fully capture the many aspects of God's grandeur.  Although the created universe contains fullest expression of God's glory, the very word "universe" can hardly do so.  Thus St. John says, "There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written."  St. Augustine points to St. Paul when showing that God's greatness cannot be fully understood, much less expressed in words: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!  “For who has known the mind of the Lord?”  Thus, the spoken word falls short of manifesting God's glory because of both the great number of words it would take to express His glory and because the conventional spoken word only points to a humanly-conceived thought, which in turn is largely deficient in comprehending His glory.  Thus the spoken word falls short of praising God's glory insofar as it artificially signifies and insofar as it inadequately signifies. 

The objection naturally follows: surely, if significant words cannot adequately manifest God's glory, babble must be deficient all the more.  Yet, this is not so, for two reasons.  First, God reveres the humble, sincere intention.  Thus, when one of the faithful encounters a marvel, if he is experiencing it for the first time, he will many times not have a sufficient word for expressing it, since our own words mostly point to thoughts concerning human things, not divine.  Even if he could find a sufficiently significant word to express a praiseworthy concept, he would most likely be distracted in his speech, should he attempt to use it in praising God.  For, it takes a man perfected in wisdom to praise with divine science.  Thus, even priests rely on the traditional texts of the Church when praying the most holy Mass.  This, of course, does not mean that the faithful should not develop his intellect and become familiar with his lofty thoughts, for he would follow the Church in developing a good understanding of doctrine.  Praying in tongues, however, allows the faithful to exercise the will to praise God without being held back by the deficiencies of his intellect and speech.  Thus, we many times use noises to express our inner emotion without paying attention to what the word actually means, such as when one slams his thumb with a hammer.

Second, babble does not fall short from praising God because, paradoxically, it falls short in expressly praising God.  When babes babble, they attempt to express their own thoughts, but fail to do so for the reasons given above.  Most importantly, however, they show a desire to enter into mature speech, even to the extent of making noise which is necessary for human speech.   Just so, the utterances with the mouth when someone prays in tongues reflect the inner happenings of the heart and mind.  Just as we search for fitting signs with babblish sounds, so also do we vainly search for fitting concepts with which to conceive of God.  For, as previously mentioned, any thought of our own falls vastly short of the truth of the Divine nature.  Nevertheless, in praying thus, we express both our deficiency and our desire to praise God adequately, if prayed in humility and sincerity.  And this is a great method of praising.

That manifesting our dependence on God is a great means of praise is explained in a gloss on the extraordinary form of the Mass.  The priest prays with Psalmist before receiving the most precious Blood: "How shall I make a return to the Lord for all of the good He has shown to me? I will take up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord."  This prayer together with the action indicate that one of the best ways to praise God and thank Him for His gifts to us is to acknowledge their worth by asking for more.  Thus, we demonstrate the value of what we praise by seeking to have it replicated.  In the same way, upon encountering God's glory, it is fitting to praise it by expressing the desire to have it present within us more fully.  The natural expression of this desire is babble and dumbfoundedness by which we show both our lack and readiness to be informed with God's glory.  Thus, the babble of the Charismatic tongue is a fitting sign of our readiness to learn because it is a natural sign of it.  When we manifest our weaknesses to God, He is all the more ready to apply His remedies: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me."

Why would this response to God's glory be referred to as a gift?  Would not the expression of our wonder in babble be a natural response and thus stem from ourselves and not from God?  In a way, yes but in another way, no.  This babble does come from a real desire within ourselves to praise God in thanksgiving of His glory but both the desire and the integrated response from the desire are of a Divine origin.  For, when St. Paul tells the Ephesians that we exist for the praise of His glory, he introduces the claim by pointing out that we have been chosen to do so.  Thus, only those who have been elected by God, who actively "hope in Christ", can intentionally praise His glory.  Further, speaking in tongues must stem from grace since the wonder and awe (a.k.a. fear of the Lord) from which speaking in tongues comes is a gift of the Holy Spirit.  Thus, in the book of Acts, many Christians speak in tongues after being baptized or as an indication to the Apostles that they are ready for baptism.  Furthermore, St. Paul mentions that the flesh is at war with the spirit.  Thus, in order for the passions and other bodily faculties of man to be integrated with the desires of the spiritual soul of man, there must be some supernatural gift by which man acts in an integrated way to praise God.  Thus, St. James even says, "Every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no human being can tame the tongue." Therefore, if a man is to be ready and willing to use his tongue well for the praise of God's glory, he must be granted this gift by God.  Fortunately, however, this gift stems from baptismal grace, which means that any of the faithful can access their gift of tongues.

It may be objected against tongues as something over and above regular, mental worship: if we are to will anything, we must first conceive of it.  And, if we are to conceive of something, we must do so by the help of our senses.  Thus, if we are to desire to praise God, we must have some kind of imagined word to conceive of this desire and thus to will it.  So even if we were to babble with our tongue, our inner thoughts would still be thinking something by means of an inner word.  Therefore, it is superfluous to pray in tongues since we must be aware of our deficiency by means of an explicit word if we are to ask for a remedy to our deficiency.  I answer that, although it may be so for some who pray in tongues that their mind is not united with their lips, nevertheless, by those who use this gift well, the very babbling that they utter and the act of reflecting upon this serve as an adequate replacement for a spoken or imagined word.  For, instead of speaking a word that points to a previous realization of their lack of knowledge, they themselves become the word, the direct sensible experience, upon which they conceive of their desire.  In this way, they become the praise and thus exist as praise of His glory.

This way of praising is itself glorious for two reasons.  First, it is wonderful that He would use our lowliness as one of our greatest glories, which in turn begets a further desire of God's glory.  In this way, this act is reflective of itself and multiplies itself, for one of the faithful could pray in tongues in praise of the very notion of praying in tongues.  Second, by becoming the very word by which we conceive of a desire to praise God, we foreshadow the beatific vision by which the Divine Essence is known not by means of a mediating thought, created by human artifice, but by our intellects becoming united directly to the very Divine Essence, by which we most perfectly exist as the praise of His glory.

Nota Bene: I do not mean to answer the question whether praising in tongues is the best way to praise God.  Indeed, as hinted above, to praise with divine science seems to supercede praising with Charismatic tongues.  For, when one praises (or acts in general) with divine science, he is acting more fully as another Christ.


1. Babies babble.  

2. Proud sinners babble before their fall:
“Then the LORD said: If now, while they are one people and all have the same language, they have started to do this, nothing they presume to do will be out of their reach. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that no one will understand the speech of another.

3. God manifests his majesty by exalting the lowly:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed”
And again: “He has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.”

4. He also manifests his glory by bringing the greatest goods out of evil:

5. It is fitting that God would speak not through signs but through things:

6. God’s greatness cannot be fully captured in words:
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!  “For who has known the mind of the Lord?”

7. God blesses the good intentions that we make, apart from the greatness of the actions:

8. God is praised when we show our lack and desire for His good gifts:
"How shall I make a return to the Lord for all of the good He has shown to me? I will take up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord."

Therefore, God is praised insofar as we babble since our babble can be the direct experience from which we conceive of our desire for His glory:
"Out of the mouths of infants and nurslings you have brought forth praise."

Thus, it is fitting that God’s majesty be praised by the speech proper to the lowliest of speaking things and the speech that was the consequence of a great sin, not insofar as the intended speech signifies well, but merely insofar as the good, humble, fully-expressed, intention to praise God's glory brings glory to Him.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Jesus Christ in Habakkuk

I was praying Morning Prayer in Latin this morning and a couple lines from the Old Testament Canticle (Hab. 3) stood out to me:

Egresses es in salutem populi tui
in salutem cum christo tuo.
Ego autem in Domino gaudebo,
et exultabo in Deo Iesu meo.

The reference to Christ in the Old Testament doesn't surprise me anymore, as this appears all the time in the books of Kings, as it referred to the Anointed One. For example, when David is counseled to attack Saul, he responds by saying, "The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord's Christ." This also appears many times in the Psalms.

The second verse that stood out, "I will exalt in God my Jesus," was far more surprising as it used the proper name of Jesus. Then I remembered that the name "Jesus" means "Savior" and "God my Savior" is by no means an unfamiliar Old Testament phrase. Let's look at the Hebrew!
 וַאֲנִי בַּיהוָה אֶעְלֹוזָה אָגִילָה בֵּאלֹהֵי יִשְׁעִֽי׃

Here is my shoddy transliteration:
Waaniy Bayhwah Elovah Agiylah Belohe Yishiy

So that last word there is derived from Yesha' which means "Salvation" and roughly transliterates to the Latin Iesu.

"And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." (Luke 24:27)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Saint Thomas' Doctrine of the Trinity

At the request of a brother seminarian, I'm going to try to put in concise terms my understanding of St. Thomas' teaching on the Trinity. I'm mostly posting this here to remind myself that I had set out to do this so that when I come across this months after forgetting this project, I may then resume. Yes, I think it may be a very long time before I finish, and I have great doubts that I will. I think the final project will be very short if it comes out and perhaps obscure due to my attention to things I find interesting rather than to what is most essential. May God bless my endeavors nonetheless! Saint Thomas, pray for us!

Here's the link (mostly for my sake):

Friday, July 11, 2014

Is Islam true?

I'm not inclined to think so. It almost seems obviously false. Muhammad is supposed in the line of prophets that include Moses, David and Jesus. And yet what he teaches falls in direct contradiction with the Gospels as we have them today (with respect to the divinity of Jesus and fullness of revelation as present in him). The claim is that the Gospels were corrupted and so what Christians actually read today are not the true Injil of Jesus. But does this claim have any weight? Muslims don't have to go very far to find historico-critical analyses of the New Testament written by either agnostics or Christians. Even with all the dispute involved here, there is universal agreement that Jesus did not write anything. The Gospel of Mark seems to be the most "authentic" Gospel to most researchers, and yet even a close study of this reveals who Christ is.

I wondered for some time the extent to which Islam excluded Christianity. I have no truck with Muhammad, but certainly there is much to like in a religion that worships only Allah (Syriac/Arabic for God)? Indeed the word "islam" means either wholeness and safety or voluntary submission to God and "muslim" is simply the participle of this word, someone who is whole through submission to God. Taking these words according to their origin, I could say with confidence that the worship of Allah, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, is the true islam and all who do so by grace are true muslims. As I looked through Islamic prayers, I was hoping to find a more general worship of the one God, but it is all surrounded by invocations of Muhammad as well as a ritual purity that reminds me of Judaism. In addition to these, there is praise of the Quran and the reading of the whole of it will occur as one continues to pray, and certain parts of the Quran are explicitly anti-Trinitarian, and therefore unable to touch the lips or heart of a Christian. lex orandi, lex credendi.

So now I want to learn more about Muhammad. Who is he? Why should so many in the world trust him and his ways? Is it out of fear or love? Conviction of his truth or simply habit? If he is false, and I think this is the case, is he at least in earnest? Did he think God really revealed the truth of islam to him? Or is evil and wicked, spreading a lie for his own advantage? Or perhaps, not so wickedly (but still wicked..), he exploits religious belief for the sake of his people and nation? Whatever his character, the most important question for the world is whether Muhammad is a true prophet or not. This is not a matter of "being right" and the other guy "being wrong". Almost one quarter of the world live their life as though this man is God's chief representative. If one has any care that truth reign in the hearts and minds of men, then this matter cannot be ignored. In so many of the conflicts in the Middle East, it is so difficult to pick a side: Ba'ath Syrian government or Al-Qaeda and their allies? Sunni Islamic State or Shia militant group? There never seems to be a very good option to pick. And what distinguishes all of these groups? How they understand and interpret Muhammad. So now I ask, why Muhammad?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Recent reading in Maximos

Lots of reading lately; little writing. The following are a few excerpts from recent notes.

  • St. Maximos (Ambigua 7)
    • Very interesting text. He is writing to a friend who has questions about texts in St. Gregory Nazianzen. Particularly about those texts that could be interpreted according to an Origenist mindset. Not just any doctrine of Origen, but really his whole cosmology: He held that all logika (rational beings) were all with God in the beginning as a henad (a primordial unity) but through some primordial sin they were caged into material bodies--their sin is actually the cause of the entire material universe with its diversity and manyness (opposite of the henad). Maximos refutes this by first setting out the principle that all things move because they are imperfect and heading towards perfection and immobility which is only found in God. If prior to this material universe all souls and spirits dwelt with God, then they could not possibly descend or depart from their perfection. And if they could descend, then this means our beatitude is not secure and we cannot hope to remain in heaven if we should ever reach it (in City of God, St. Augustine makes a similar argument that knowing one will never leave beatitude is an essential part of beatitude; something of this is in Aristotle, though he seems doubtful about our capacity to attain it).
    • Knowledge, Love, Ecstasy, Movement, Rest: This is the path of the soul toward God as Maximos lays it out at one point, to contrast with Origen’s teaching. First we come to knowledge of the sensible world, but through this we rise to a knowledge of the beginning and end of all things. Recognizing the goodness of this Principle of all principles, we love Him of above all. This proceeds to ecstasy. At first this sounded odd to me, but the Greek is ek+stasis, to stand outside of oneself. Through love, one is at once where one is and where the beloved is, and from this tension the result is a movement toward the object loved (this sounds almost Hegelian, but it actually accords with the soundest of Aristotle’s natural philosophy). And then the motion terminates in that perfect rest by which we are circumscribed by God so that we shall know as we are known.
    • The upcoming section is about the true manner in which all beings were with God before creation, how all logoi (created rational principles?) exist in the one and only-begotten Logos.

Instead of continuing Maximos (in a disciplined manner as I should), I went ahead and began reading the orations of Gregory the Theologian. Some first impressions:

  • Began to read orations of St. Gregory the Theologian
    • What an excellent doctor Gregory is! The first oration was a quick text, but the second one took a long time and I am still not finished. Within it, he defends his action of fleeing from his appointment as a bishop. He talks about the gravity of the office, how many priests there are who fill it poorly, how one and the same action can please some and offend others, the difficulty of explaining the truth about God so that people do not become Jewish or polytheistic in their understanding, a catalogue of what the prophets wrote concerning bad priests, and a section in praise of St. Paul who (apparently) fulfilled the office of pastor perfectly, always knowing when to be gentle or strict, teaching basic doctrines or more advanced, never failing to set an example by his actions and suffering on account of them all the while. Saint Gregory also took opportunities to praise the quiet life of contemplation--praises that resonated with me--but balanced these by considering the office of governing and how terrible it is when either all desire it or none.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Psalms 102, 103, 104, etc.

I was praying the psalms, and I noticed a sequence among Psalms 102, 103, and 104.
  • 102: The Psalmist is in distress and calls to the Lord
    "Do not hide thy face in the day of my distress!" (v.2)
  • 103: The Psalmist extols the Lord's mercy
    "He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor requite us according to our iniquities." (v.10)
  • 104: The Psalmist blesses the Lord and all his works
    "Bless the Lord, O my soul!" (v.1, v.35)
So it is in the spiritual life: we recognize our great need of the Lord, thank him for his great mercy for us, and then with renewed vision we praise him in all his majesty! I noticed a few other signs that appeared in each psalm:

  • I am like a vulture of the wilderness,
    like an owl of the waste places;
    I lie awake, I am like a lonely bird on the housetop.
  • [The Lord] satisfies you with good as long as you live
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
  • By [springs] the birds of the air have their habitation;
    they sing among the branches.
  • In [the trees of the Lord] the birds build their nests;
    the stork has her home in the fir trees.
  • Notice that these follow the pattern: lonely birds (102), renewed birds (103), birds at home with the Lord (104).
  • My heart is smitten like grass, and withered. (102:4)
  • As for man, his days are like grass;
    he flourishes like a flower of the field;
    for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
    and its place knows it no more.
  • Thou dost cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
    and plants for man to cultivate.
  • The first psalm compares his heart to grass that is withered and smitten--the effects of sin. The second psalm describes the days of man as grass in a similar manner, but then extols the Lord's steadfast love which is greater than such days. The last psalm only refers to grass as something brought forth by Lord for the sake of others. Such are the saints, brought forth by the Lord and providing nourishment to those who are as yet like beasts.
Another sequence of psalms seems to overlap the one mentioned above. Psalm 104 describes all the works of creation, expanding on the content of Genesis 1. Then Psalm 105 describes the works that he did for Abraham, Jacob and Joseph (the rest of Genesis), and then for Moses, Aaron and his chosen people (the book of Exodus up to Joshua where they attain the promised land). Psalm 106 then describes the failures of the chosen people in the course of these events: the wickedness of Dathan and Abiram (Nm. 16), the worship of Baal Peor (Nm. 25), the waters at Meribah (Nm. 20), and so on. 

Friday, January 31, 2014

A Manifestation of the Interior Sense Powers

This is a transcript of a lecture I gave to the faculty of Glendale Preparatory Academy:

The other day I asked my sixth graders whether we should use number lines to help us with math.  One of them raised their hands and asked, “Was that invented by that guy Descartes who said, ‘I think, therefore I am?’”  Amazed at her knowledge I responded that he was one of the originators, to which she quickly responded, “Why would we want to learn anything from him; he didn’t know what he was talking about!”
Today I would like to speak about the primary tools of learning: the interior sense powers.  I ask you not to pay too much attention to the fact that you have been using these tools longer than I have and I promise that I will not say too many things that I don’t know anything about (I don’t usually consider myself Cartesian).  Now, I call these sense powers the primary tools of learning since learning takes place in the student, more specifically in the brain where these powers are seated.  They are the powers we use to discern, recognize, and remember, which are the some of the most crucial aspects of learning.  I will not attempt to show all of the possible ways of using them; I will simply manifest their existence using the ancient science of psychology, as I understand it.
Have you ever thought how ironic it is that we cannot see our own eye-ball?  What can look at almost every thing cannot look at itself.  This actually is not entirely true.  We can look at ourselves in a mirror.  Even further, we can be aware that we are seeing, such as when we walk into a dark room and turn on the lights.  Although this is not the same as looking at ourselves in a mirror, we must still say that since we are aware that we are using our eyes, we must be sensing them.  This odd way of seeing that we see is a premise in the science of psychology, at least according to the traditional understanding of psychology.   Before we proceed, however, I will manifest the method that Aristotelian psychology employs, as far as I understand.
I must posit two premises that I really hope you’ll grant me.  They are very important for this lecture.   The first point is that I am giving this lecture and you are listening to me.  I do not say this as an expression of pride or as a warning, though it might be prudent to take it in that latter way.  But it will be important for something that I will establish later.  The second important point is that you should not be afraid of incredibly obvious statements.  There are a plethora of these in psychology, sayings that are so obvious that if you were to question them you could not provide an argument for them.   The best thing to do is to, as they say, “go with your gut.”  This might sound odd but it is very true for psychology since it deals with how you are aware of things: it is the study of the powers of the soul, the foremost of which are the powers of comprehension.  Our first impressions of things come about because our natural powers work to understand something even before we are conscious of the fact.  The “conclusions” that our powers reach are very telling of their capabilities.  So do not fear incredibly obvious statements; they are rich and illuminating because they are the fruit of the results of the powers we are investigating.  If you will grant me what I have said so far, then everything else I will say should easily fall into place. 
I will manifest the method of psychology by using something I have already said and what I hope you have granted: namely, that we can look at ourselves in a mirror.  If I were to ask you what you are looking at when facing a mirror, the first thing you would say is that you are looking at yourself.  Then, perhaps fearing a trick in my question, you might respond that you are really looking at a mirror.  Both of these are true: you are looking at yourself and at the mirror.  The progression that occurs points to that fact that we are first aware of the reflection in the mirror and secondarily we are aware of the mirror itself.  This makes clear the fact that we are looking at ourselves through the mirror: the mirror is an instrument we use to look at ourselves.  This is similar to the part in Hamlet when Polonius asks Hamlet what he is reading and Hamlet responds “Words, words, words.”  What Hamlet says is true, but it’s also clear that he does not really give the kind of response that Polonius is looking for, since we are first aware of what words signify before we aware of the words themselves.  Both of these are cases in which the instrument is so well crafted that we forget that we are using them.  And, both of these cases illustrate how we aware of our powers of comprehension: by first being aware of what we use these powers on.  For instance, when we look at something, beyond the mere thing that we are looking at, we can pay attention to the fact that we are looking through something that is transparent.  We can be aware of the instrument we use to do our looking.  This is method of psychology: to be aware of something by first using it and then paying attention to it through the action it performs.  The marvelous thing is that if we can do this with our sense of sight like we have already done, we can be aware of every power of comprehension, since all of these are either used implicitly in this act or are used when paying attention to a power that is used to pay attention to our seeing.  Through this method, I hope to manifest the interior senses, which are distinct from the five outer senses we are already familiar with.
We begin with the fact that we can be aware that we can see.  Our sense of sight is an instrument that we use to be aware of certain things.   We can also be aware that we are hearing.  This is one of the cases where my first point comes in handy: you granted that you are listening to me.  This means that you are aware of the fact that you are doing some kind of action which allows you to be aware of me.  You are also aware that looking at me is different than hearing me: you cannot see me by listening.  This means that we can be aware of our acts of sensing.  With this, we can pay attention to the first of our interior senses.  Since we cannot see what we listen to nor listen to what we see, then we cannot pay attention to the fact these actions are different by either of these powers.  If we were aware that looking is different from listening by, say, our sense of sight, we would have to be able to see noises.  For, to listen is to sense noises, that is, to receive noises in a perceptive way.  If we could see the action of listening, we would have to be able to see the action of receiving noises.  But we cannot see noises.  Therefore, we cannot use any one of our five outer senses to be aware of the difference between these senses.  Again, it would not be enough if we were to say that we can use our eyes to see that we see and our ears to hear that we hear, anymore than it would be to say that if you see and I listen we could be aware of the difference between what we are doing by these very actions.  We must be aware of the action of seeing and the action of hearing by one and the same power which does the comparison and which is different from the powers that are being compared.  This power by which we are able to compare the actions of the outer senses is call the common sense, “common” because it has access to each of the five outer senses and uses each of them as instruments.  Notice that since it can compare the actions of the outer senses it must also be aware that one of the powers is doing one of its actions.  This means that we can use it to pay attention to and sense that we are seeing or that we are smelling, which answers the question we began with, namely how it is possible to be aware that we can see.  One further conclusion we can draw from this is that this is the power by which we know that we are living in only one reality and not five, one for each of the outer senses.  Think about it: if we had only our five outer senses which could not be aware of the others, we would have no way of telling that what I touch and see and hear when I knock is all the same thing.  But since I have a power that can be aware of all three of these things simultaneously, I am led to think that they originate from one single reality.  Thus, we have a sixth sense, common sense.  I should mention that this is not the sense that is usually referred when we speak of a sixth sense, that one will come later.
Notice what we have been doing: by using these instruments, these means of knowing, we are becoming aware of them.  The first are used as an instrument of the next: the air is used by the eye, the eye is used the common sense.  One of the natural aims of psychology is to manifest all of these means of knowing until we arrive the extreme, the power that uses all of these other powers as instruments.  One question to ask yourself in all of this is, “how do we know when we have arrived at the end? How do we determine what uses all of these other powers as instruments?”  Ponder that and see if you can anticipate the conclusion of this lecture.
 Since the common sense is what we use to pay attention to the actions of our outer senses, when we do not use our outer senses we also do not use our common sense, except perhaps to be aware that we are not sensing.  This is strange given the fact that you can picture to yourself a yellow statue of liberty, even though you have never seen one.  You cannot be using your common sense to do this since your common sense depends on the outer senses for it action.  Further, we are aware that what we use our outer senses and the common sense to perceive is real, yet we know that there is no real yellow statue of liberty.  Since we can store and bring forth sensible things that are not present to us and may not even be real, and since this cannot be done by any of the senses we have named so far, we must posit another sense, what is traditionally called the imagination.  This power is usually referred to when we want to create something that we have not experienced (when we want someone to think outside of the box we tell them to “use your imagination”).  This, however, is just one aspect of this power.  The essential function of this power is to receive what the common sense senses and store it for later use.  Although its primary use is to recall images, this power is not limited to what we can see, which is obvious from the fact that you can replay this sentence in head after I have said it.  Incidentally, you’ll note that what we imagine is usually vague.  This is because it only takes what it can get from the common sense and we often do not pay attention to many details with our common sense unless we consciously intend to.  The retentive nature of the imagination and the vagueness of its images make it a prime candidate for the objects of geometry since we need straight lines that do not have little defects in it and that do not change.  Lines without either of these aspects would make it difficult to do math.  So we have a power that can retain what outer senses and the common senses perceive.
The manifestation of the imagination gives us enough information to become aware of the next interior sense power.  We have already noted that what we sense with the outer senses and the common sense is real whereas what we sense with the imagination is not necessarily.  We know that we are awake right now and that waking is different from dreaming, which we use our imagination to do.  Since we can discern a difference between these two sensations, we must have a power by which we are able to do so.  This is enough to see that there is another, higher power but it does not reveal the full extent of its action. 
We are going to perform a mental exercise in which I will name a few qualities that can be perceived by the imagination and I want you to try to imagine them all at once.  White, soft, furry, moves by completely leaving the ground momentarily and landing in one spot, has two protrusions from its top that sometimes hang down.  If you are imagining all or most of these together, then you should have also made a movement of the mind beyond just merely imagining them.  I believe that most of you merged them together into one thing that has all these qualities.  This one thing is not merely these qualities but is what has these qualities; it’s the foundation, that in which these aspects exist.  So, I hope you began to think about a rabbit, which is the thing that has the aspects of being white, soft, furry, hopping, and two long ears on top.  Seeing this one thing beneath these qualities must be the action of yet another sense power.  This one thing cannot be sensed by the common sense or imagination but can only be sensed through what the common sense or imagination senses.  You cannot sense a rabbit without sensing some aspect of the rabbit.  The five outer senses only sense the qualities that the rabbit has; they do not sense that one thing that has all of these qualities.  We need a higher power to be aware of this.  This higher power, which can sense what the other sensible things exist in is called the cogitative power by the scholastics or the power of judgment as some more recent thinkers have called it.  The characteristic activity of this power is to collect qualities and aspects together and perceive the underlying thing that has all of those qualities.
When Hamlet first sees the skull in act 5 scene 1, he sees it as merely a skull.  Later he learns that the skull belongs to Yorick, the court jester.  Upon realizing this, he gives a soliloquy, reminiscing about Mr. Yorick’s actions, saying
When he first saw the skull, Hamlet seemed rather indifferent about it.  Later, having learned whose it was, he is abhorred at it.  He performed the act of recognition by associating the hard, white thing he had in his hand with the person he knew.  This is slightly different from the action that you did just now. Just now, you saw something underlying a bunch of qualities and aspect.  Hamlet, on the other hand, did this and something else: he perceived that what he was holding was a skull, just like you perceived that what I was describing was a rabbit, but he also associated the skull he was holding with the thing on whose back he rode and the thing which he abhors.  Another case of this would be when we recognize someone’s parents in their face: you can recognize Mr. Bertain’s features in his sons’ faces, so that you think of Mr. Bertain when you see their faces.  This also occurs when you recognize a piece of music by just the first few notes, so that you can even know which notes are going to played ahead of time.  This act of associating, or thinking of one thing with another thing is an action that only the cogitative power can do.  Hamlet was technically incorrect: he could not have really been abhorred in his imagination since he was abhorred at something that his imagination could not perceive, namely Mr. Yorick.  This Yorick is not a certain pattern of colors nor a particular smell or anything like that.  He is a thing that wears colors and exudes odors.  To recognize a thing as Yorick cannot be done by the five outer senses nor by anything that merely receives from the five outer senses, namely the common sense and the imagination.  Therefore, it must be done by the cogitative power, which is the power by which we recognize and judge.  I say recognize and judge because, if you think about it, the cogitative power must be what we use to determine whether we can cross the street safely, by judging whether the speed at which I go will be faster than the speed at which the cars are going. 
At this point you may be wondering to yourself why I would say that one single power can distinguish between dreaming and waking, can recognize things that underlie qualities and aspects, can associate those things with other things, and can judge situations, whereas earlier we said that since the eyes see and the ears hear they must be different powers.  Why would I group all of these actions under one power?  The first thing to notice is that none of these actions can be performed by the other sense powers we have spoken about, since all of these imply something beyond the regular sensible things like color and sound and motion and shape that we can sense directly.  Recognizing a person demands perceiving the peculiar qualities that they have, but recognizing them and recognizing their qualities is different.  This brings us to the solution to the question of how we know that the cogitative power can do all of these actions.  There is one power present where there is only one action.  All of these actions, namely recognizing, associating and judging can all be described in the same way: they all imply collecting or bringing together or thinking together the qualities and aspects of things.  When you thought of a rabbit, it was by bringing together the qualities that distinguish rabbits.  When Hamlet sensed Yorick, it was by bringing together the skull that he sensed (by his cogitative power) with the person he knew (who had to be perceived by the cogitative power).  When we sense a car going a certain speed when crossing the street, we compare the speeds of two things and either perceive danger or not.  All of these actions are done by thinking of either one or many things that have certain qualities and aspects.  So, all of these must be done the power that can do this, which we call the cogitative power or judgment.
There is one final sense power that I will manifest by reviewing what has been said so far and showing a gap.  St. Thomas Aquinas gave a very handy layout of these interior sense powers that we have been talking about.  First, he noticed that each of our sense powers have corresponding organs, such as an eyeball or a tongue.  Modern day scientist have noticed that when the brain is damaged or affected, the actions of these interior sense powers are affected, which is a quick way of proving what it took St. Thomas a bit longer to prove, namely that the interior sense powers have organs as well.  Well, if they have organs, then they must be made out of certain kinds of stuff.  St. Thomas noticed that there are two kinds of stuff: one kind that can receive the qualities of other things really easily, such as putty or good conductors of heat or maybe even transparent things.  There are also things that really good at retaining the qualities that they have, such as diamonds or oven mitts or maybe even batteries.  This distinction should also apply to the organs of the sense powers.  Some organs must be good at receiving the qualities, such as our five outer senses and the common sense and even the cogitative power.  Other sense powers must be good at retaining qualities.  So far we have seen that the imagination is good at this since it retains what the common sense perceives, which is why we can picture for ourselves a yellow statue of liberty.  Notice, however, that the imagination can only retain things the common sense perceives: just as the common sense cannot perceive a rabbit or Mr. Yorick or other such things, so also the imagination cannot retain those things.  But, we can retain those things: you can remember a time in your life when you saw a rabbit, and Hamlet could remember that gorge-rising time when he rode on Mr. Yorick’s back.  Therefore, we must posit a fourth interior sense power, one by which we can retain what the cogitative power perceives, by which we recall the situations we have been in, a power by which we remember.  This is called the memory.
Thus, we have seen the four interior sense powers: the common sense, by which we can discern our five outer senses and what they perceive, the imagination, which retains what the common sense perceives, the cogitative power, by which we can perceive things that underlie peculiar combinations of qualities and associate them, and finally the memory, by which we can retain and recall what the cogitative power perceives.  These are the four instruments we use for the majority of our lives and are the primary instruments of learning, which I will manifest with one quick example.
As I speak, I make noises in the air.  These noises come in certain patterns, which I hope you are still able to detect.  These patterns occur over time and are not present all at once.  Therefore, if they are to be perceived, they must be retained and recalled by the imagination.  Further, these noises signify certain things: the noise “rabbit” signifies the white, furry thing that hops.  There is nothing about the noises themselves that imply a rabbit.  Rather, we merely associate the noise with the animal.  This cannot occur without the cogitative power.  Finally, I hope you retain some of what I have said, for which you will need you memory, which can recall all of the various things that your cogitative power perceived in them. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Psalm 126 and 127

I was singing the Psalms the other day and I noticed a few verses that are relevant to one who is sent out to "sow seeds" through preaching the Gospel.

Those who are sowing in tears will sing when they reap. (Ps.126)

We know from the Gospels that the seed is the Word of God (Matt. 13). This is primarily sown by Jesus Christ, but he also send out laborer to share in this work of his. In this Psalms, the sowing is accompanied by tears--at least the sowing that will bring a songful harvest. What are these tears? For us who walk by faith, it could refer to our blindness in this present life. We do not yet see the things that we hold by faith, so that when we go out to sow, we have no clear vision of what will sprout, or if anything will at all. Perhaps also, it refers to the suffering that comes with preaching the Gospel, and this is more likely. Christ, the first-fruits of our salvation was reviled, betrayed and ultimately died for the sake of our salvation. So also, his ministers will not be treated any differently. A servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one that sent him. (Jn. 13) We will do all the things he did and suffer all that he did, if we are truly his disciples. But then we will also enjoy the harvest with him.

They go out, they go out, full of tears, 
   carrying seed for the sowing.
They come back, they come back, full of song,
   carrying their sheaves. (Ps. 126)

Then the very next Psalm considers the Lord's help, and again the reward:

If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labor. If the Lord does not watch over the city, in vain does the watchman keep vigil.

Certainly we are the builders of an edifice founded upon Christ (Matt. 7) and also responsible for watching over the city. This Psalm is a reminder that we are not the chief-architect nor will our eyes be sufficient for protecting the city--the Lord does this and will do this. He not a mere assistant of ours, rather he has graciously allowed us to take part in the work that he could do alone.

Truly sons are a gift from the Lord, a blessing the fruit of the womb. The sons of youth are like arrows in the hand of a warrior. O the happiness of the man who has filled his quiver with these arrows! He will have no cause for shame when he disputes with his foes in the gateways. (Ps. 127)

These verses have a literal meaning about the blessings of children, but for those who are consecrated and without children according to the flesh, these verses have a spiritual meaning as well. The first is that the "sons" refer to our good actions. Psalm 137 talks about he who takes the little ones and dashes them against the rock. These "little ones" of Babylon are a sign of the first movements toward sin, and these must be altogether destroyed. So the sons of youth are healthy actions which are at once arrows in the hand of warrior, for a combat against sin and the evil one. Not only does it say sons, but also the fruit of the womb, which is explain in our Lord's command to bear much fruit (John 15, Matt. 7), again referring to our good actions which manifest the sort of tree we are, planted by streams of running water (Ps. 1). Indeed, if one who is found with only good actions will have no cause for shame when he disputes with his foes in the gateways. Of course, the most important gateway leads into heaven. Before entering, we will be subject to a judgment where our foes, our sins and the demons who accuse us, want to prevent us from entering, but these sons will prevent their dispute from winning.

I also thought that perhaps the sons of youth can refer to those who we win over by our preaching and example, indeed our spiritual sons. These too will prove a benefit at the judgment. He who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and cover a multitude of sin. (James 5:20) Although good works are the basis of this judgment at the entryway (Matt. 25), the Psalmist teaches these things only after the statements above that the Lord is the builder and watcher, who pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber

Friday, December 27, 2013

III.2, Hypostases and more

Question 2 in the Tertia Pars is all about the mode of union in the Incarnation.

Having read Maximus and things about Maximus lately, I've been careful to listen for any important distinctions between hypostasis and persons, but as far as Saint Thomas is concerned, person only specifies the nature of the hypostasis--he repeats this several times in this question. At one point, he distinguishes individual substance from hypostasis which are not commonly distinguished, but hypostasis adds the notion of completion. It seems that St Thomas is calling the humanity of Christ an individual substance, but not a hypostasis since it is in the Word that it exists. In 2.6, Thomas makes the interesting claim that the hypostasis is "midway" between the nature and the accidents, so that substantial union or accidental union are extremes of which the hypostatic union is a mean. This is interesting. Hypostasis is a mean at least in that it shares something with the accounts of nature and accident: both nature and hypostasis share the name "substance" and are not in something, whereas hypostasis is closer to accidents than nature in that hypostasis is the subject of accidents.

And so there is then the question of Christ's esse. When Thomas talks about whether the union of the Incarnation is created, he says that it is created because it begins to be. So there is created esse in the humanity of Christ. And yet it is the hypostasis that exists completely, and later on (17.2, though I didn't look closely) where Thomas will say that Christ has only one esse and not two. So then which will it be? The esse of the Word is uncreated and the same with the Father and the Spirit, no? Yet the humanity and union itself is created, so does not Christ have created esse? I suppose I will find out in due time... Another note, St Thomas talks about "personal esse" (Christ's union) and how this cannot be merited, unlike habitual grace (like we have in our soul) which can be merited in a certain way. One more note: In 2.7.ad3, to-be-created pertains more to esse than to relation; here esse refers to the union/nature whereas relation indicates the person. More familiar example: that I am created has to do with my esse and not my relation (neither to my parents nor even to God, since that relation is logically consequent to my esse).

In 2.9, there is a rare case in the Summa of Thomas replying to the Sed contra and disputing the authority of St Augustine! Augustine claims that humanity is more in the Son than the Son is in the Father. St Thomas says he is wrong, and yet says the humanity of Christ is united to the Son in a hypostasis (they are the same person) whereas the Father and the Son are not the same person, but wholly one according to nature and power. I'm inclined to agree with St Thomas, and yet there's something that makes me want to consider it further (and perhaps read Augustine in context). Earlier in the Summa, Thomas says the "Father" is said per prius of the person and per posterius of the Godhead. So would the unity of the person somehow be greater than that of the Godhead? (Remember, God is absolutely one; the only distinction within God is relative--real, but relative.)

At this point, I am looking forward to question 17 which contains only two articles: Is Christ one or two? And does he have only one esse? I also want to write something clear and consistent (and true) about the distinction between in re and in ratione. This distinction is very important in understanding God's tri-unity, and does not stop being important in considering the incarnation. It is surprising to read how created the Incarnation is, and yet how thoroughly divine. His treatment of Nestorius position is helpful as well, since he gleans a lot of the positive things in his teaching. He even calls one position in the Sentences worse than Nestorius. Oh my.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Tertia Pars Begins

I recently received the 8 vol. Latin-English Summa for Christmas! Since in taking Christology next semester, I will be taking along the Tertia Pars, hopefully reading the whole if it. I couldn't wait to get started, so I already read the first quaestio. A couple points stood out.

The first is St. Thomas' main reason for the fittingness of the incarnation: it is fitting for the invisible to be made visible so that it may be known. The incarnation is what comes to mind right away when one heard this premise, but this also the purpose of every word we speak and even every action we do. The material world is really at its best when it serves as a sign of a hidden reality, whether it is the nature of a thing, the mind or heart of a man, or God in his wisdom and power. Our bodies (although truly parts of us and not mere instruments) are signs of our interior life: where they go, whether they are healthy, what they do, who they are with. Certainly there accidental things that happen to them inasmuch as they are bodies an engage other bodies, but as long as they are our bodies, we are incapable of communicating without them. In the incarnation, God communicates himself completely through taking on a body (and soul!) which men can see, feels, and hear. This is what we celebrate on Christmas!

One more quick point is his arguments for why Christ did not come at beginning or at the end of the world. Christ is at once what is perfected and what perfects, so it is fitting that he come in the middle. He a perfected in being united to God, he perfects by uniting humanity to himself. One person! It is interesting that St. Thomas gets at the core of the incarnation in this first question, that seems at first to be merely a preface. Christ is God and man, perfected and perfected, beginning and end. Now he will explain what this means.

So that I stay consistent this semester and really absorb what I am reading, I now resolve to write at least a brief post each time I finish a question. This is my first one.

Sent from my iPhone

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Maximus, Concrete Universals

Lately, I'm reading a book by von Balthasar on St Maximus the Confessor. It is sometimes very difficult, and my current difficulty is on the meaning of the "concrete universal".

For background, when I first encountered philosophy, it was through the mind of Plato. I was convinced that there were "separated substances" (I didn't yet know that phrase) also known as the Platonic forms, and that every being was what it was through participating in one of these many forms. They were a cause of both being and of knowing. In college, I read lots and lots of Aristotle. As time went on, I refined my use of the word "universal" to what is said of many and to the idea in my mind after I have abstracted it from the here and the now, from its particular conditions. So when I see concrete universal, I think, "A contradiction in terms?" But there's probably more to it than that...

If the universal (the whole) only exists in the mind or in speech, then is there no real unity among the human race? If there were an Idea that caused all men to be such, then they would be one through having a common cause. As it is, I do not think there is some immaterial form between us and God that we participate in to be what we are. We certainly all exist inasmuch as we participate in God's essence, but this is had in common with all creatures. This concern for the unity of humanity is also related to the question of our redemption. "What is not assumed is not redeemed," is the famous axiom of Irenaeus and many early fathers. Therefore, Christ must completely assume human nature--but how can this affect us unless there is some real unity between our nature and his that goes beyond speech and thought?

One thought I had is that relation exists through action/passion or quantity according to Aristotle. Therefore it seems that it is through the action/passion of begetting/begotten that the whole human race is united (or at least related, which would mean some kind of unity). Having Aristotle in mind, I thought of two possibilities:
  • The human race has always existed.
    • This is almost certainly not held by anyone.
    • Yet Aristotle would have held this view, which makes me wonder if he could have thought that all men are related through generation. Perhaps infinite time would mean that inevitably everyone is related to everyone, and actually through infinitely many cycles of ancestors. So I suppose that would do it.
  • The human race began to exist.
    • This is less messy: all humanity traces back to a pair of parents.
    • It can be a little messy since certain evolutionary takes will allow that different communities of men arose in different regions at different times. But do these accept that man is essentially different from other animals? I'm going to assume that. Many of these will reduce all biological operation to the chemical and that to the physical, so that "birth" is not even a category of the real. I'm not talking to those people...not right now.
    • So then there are a single pair of parents from which all men sprung.
Now it is said that "in Adam all men sinned." This is bizarre, but because the "universal" was only said of him, whatever he did in the particular was true of all men. (I'm not going to talk about Eve right now...again, too messy. But I do think that will be important.) So when Adam sat, it was true that all men sat. When Adam sinned, all men sinned. So if anyone was ever a "concrete universal," it was probably Adam. And Christ too, who "recapitulated all humanity in himself" and was the second Adam or the last Adam. One problem is that Christ is not related to men through generation (unless somehow his actions affect us through him being a distant relative of our through Mary...not likely). Somehow this notion is involved with our salvation--that's why we are baptized, that is, born again.

Another difficulty with action/passion as basis of unity is that once that action is completed, is the relation only in the past? That seems wrong, since I am the son of my father, but it's not as though he is currently begetting me. Generation is complete. So it seems odd to me that we are related because of an action that is no longer happening.

Now I need to talk about matter. We talked about formal cause (which is only united in the mind, or if Platonic then they are also agents) and agent cause (whether Platonic forms or through generation), but matter is probably bound up with the problem and the solution of what a concrete universal is and if there is such a thing. It is interesting that the form which exists in the mind, gets there by abstracting from matter and material conditions; and yet the only reason there are many individuals under a universal in the first place is because of matter. Material things are necessarily separate on account of having diverse matter--no two material things can be in the same place at the same time. The mind is one place where two material things come together. Bob and George are two distinct beings and will never be in the same physical place, but I can think both of them at once (so they are both in my mind) or can think about their nature (and in this way they are one, in my mind). The matter keeps them apart outside of my mind. The matter does allow for them to be potentially one, like...if Bob ate George. George would cease to be George and Bob would be a little bigger. So probably not the unity we're looking for.

Going back to the concrete universal, Maximus talks about diastole and systole within a universal. The flux of individuals under a universal spreads out or compresses a universal. This is where things start to get confusing, but some simple sentences will (I think) manifest it a bit. If there are no men in America, then "No men in America is true." But through the actions of particular men, universal statements about man change. So if Bob and George discover America, it is now true to say, "Some men are in America." They have changed what is universally true of man!

All right, I think this is making sense. So is concrete universal opposed to abstract universal in that it takes into account all the particularities of individual men whereas the abstract does not take into account any? If that's all, then that's far more clear! There's still the interesting question I have about what really united all men, but at least I'll know what a concrete universal is.

This probably has implications for questions about male and female. It's odd that it belongs to man to be sexed, but that at least two individuals are required to express this diversity and even to reproduce, which is an essential action of man insofar as he is an animal. (Too difficult to think about.) Something to do with matter, why only material things reproduce, and more. This also makes a little sense of why Thomas might have said a female is a defective male--that is, to safeguard the unity of what man is. Most people would probably hope for a better solution to that problem...

Over break, I hope to finish the Maximus book, begin a book on Gregory of Nyssa and then read Thomas on how Christ assumed our nature. Von Balthasar also quotes Hegel more than I would expect (sometimes critically). I do not expect to pick up Hegel soon, but that may be somewhere down the line.

Oh, and final cause does not seem to be sufficient to unite us. All creatures aim at God in some way, but that seems to general to define man (just as with God as our exemplary cause or agent cause). Then again, through the grace of Christ, we do turn to God as our end in a more perfect way than the general natural tendency to good, and this is a cause of the unity of the Church, the body of Christ.