July 31, 2009

Catholic Theology 101: The Descartes Challenge

The Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment, and Scientific Revolution caused social upheaval, cataclysmic shifts in thinking, and the democratization of knowledge, making all that came before seem antiquated, authoritarian, incomplete, or irrelevant. The world and how people viewed it changed. Written in 1611, the words of poet John Donne could apply to all of the forementioned:

(The) new Philosophy calls all in doubt,
The Element of fire is quite put out;
The Sun is lost, and th'earth, and no man's wit,
Can well direct him where to look for it.

Of particular note is French philosopher René Descartes. Published in 1637, his treatise, Discourse on the Method, attempts to establish a set of principles that are certain beyond doubt. The result would turn philosophy on its head. His famous statement: "I think therefore I am," marks a radical departure from the objective view of reality held by Augustine and Aquinas.

This departure is so radical, Descartes’ philosophy (known as Cartesian philosophy), is a dividing line. Philosophers before him (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas) are pre-Cartesian; everyone after (Kant, Mill, Nietzsche, Sartre, Husserl, etc.) is a post-Cartesian. Pre-Cartesian schools of thought are objective, deductive, and principled. Post-Cartesian philosophy is largely subjective, deriving from personal experience, feelings, and perceptions.

July 29, 2009

The Law of Love

(The first sentance of this passage from Deuteronomy 6:4-6 is known to Jews as the "Shema prayer")
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

Catholic Theology 101: Thomism

(This is by no means an adequate representation of St. Thomas Aquinas' contribution to Catholic theology. His masterwork, the Summa, is something to which entire blogs are dedicated. This is only as an introduction to his methodology in keeping with the spirit of the current series.)

In the thirteenth century, when better translations of Aristotle’s works came to the attention of European scholars, new questions emerged. The dissemination of these works along with doctrinal disagreements threatened to divide the Church between traditionalists, those adhering rigidly to the letter of Church law at the expense of the spirit of the law, and modernists, those embracing a theology based on novelty, often at the expense of Sacred Scripture and Tradition.

St. Thomas Aquinas answered these questions and in the process prevented a rift between traditionalists and modernists. His theology, Thomism, is a synthesis of Aristotelian philosophy and Revelation. Like his predecessors, Aquinas’s theology is objective, deductive, and principled.

For all the centuries between Augustine and Aquinas, the accepted worldview stayed largely intact. Thought and theology remained grounded in objective principles and deductive arguments.

July 23, 2009

Catholic Theology 101: Saint Augustine

Earliest known image of Saint Augustine

Prior to the thirteenth century, the dominant school of thought in Catholic theology was that of St. Augustine. Early in the fifth century, Augustine refuted the heresy of Pelagianism. Pelagius taught that Adam’s original sin did not taint human nature. For that reason, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was neither necessary nor redemptive. A neo-Platonist, Augustine uses the philosophy of Plato, together with the deposit of faith, to oppose Pelagianism and create a new way of looking at everything.

The resulting synthesis, Augustinianism, is objective. It acknowledges truth, including moral truth, as outside of us, not a matter of personal opinion, therefore, universal, not particular to individuals, cultures, or circumstances. According to Augustine, we can know truth through Revelation, right reason, and the Church.

Augustine’s theology is also deductive. Deductive reasoning begins with a general idea and ends with a specific one. Father Richard Hogan describes this approach (later used by scholastics, especially Thomas Aquinas):

One started with a "given" which was accepted, e.g., God is a pure spirit, and added what was called the minor term, e.g., a pure spirit does not have a body… (then) drew a conclusion, e.g., God does not have a body.

Finally, Augustinian theology is principled. Principles flow from objective truth and deductive reasoning. The opposite of principled is experimental. Experimental knowledge comes from personal experience.

July 16, 2009

What is a Person?

A person has an intellect, by which it can know, and a will, by which it chooses. A person is a "someone" never a "something." Animals are not persons because their intellects are governed by instinct. Only persons are capable of freely choosing.

There are three types of persons: Divine Persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), angelic persons (angels), and human persons (human beings).

July 12, 2009

Thought of the Day

The essence of virtue cosists in the doing what is good rather than what is difficult.

-- St. Thomas Aquinas

July 11, 2009

Thought of the Day

The reason why sometimes you have asked and not received, is because you have asked amiss, either inconsistently, or lightly, or because you have asked for what was not good for you, or because you have ceased asking.

-- St. Basil

When Obama Met the Pope

The Vatican described the half hour meeting between Benedict XVI and President Obama as cordial. The two leaders discussed a range of issues on which there was general agreement; i.e. bringing peace to the Middle East, protecting the rights of minorities there, including Christians, immigration reform that respects the dignity of immigrants, promoting a responsible environmentalism, a humane global economy, and more.

The Pope also presented Mr. Obama with a statement on bioethics addressed to the American Church where life issues – a fundamental Catholic concern – have been under assault recently. The actions of the Obama administration in the areas of abortion, euthanasia, redefining the institution of marriage, embryonic stem cell research, and the ability of health care providers to exercises their consciences regarding procedures they are morally opposed to – are cause for concern.

Benedict challenged Obama to go beyond the President’s oft repeated “common ground,” rhetoric when issues of human dignity are at stake. In this there is no room for moral equivocations or Sophist slights of hand. Mr. Obama’s charisma served him well during the campaign. Pope Benedict was not blinded by the aura surrounding President Obama. His Holiness spoke for many whom Obama has chosen to neglect – the unborn, the unwanted, the oppressed, and others who do not factor into the President’s plans for America and the world.

July 8, 2009

Genesis - "In the beginning" Part IV

Last time we talked about the Protoevangelium or “first gospel” in which God promises to send a redeemer to save his people from the slavery of sin. Implicit in this is that sin will grow and spread bringing havoc on humanity.

The "fruits" of original sin begin with Adam and Eve's first born son, Cain, killing his brother, Abel. Cain comes from bad seed - Abel good. The murder is, of course, evil, but it also goes to show how human nature was altered and/or perverted by sin. Cain's children will grow numerous and flourish. Unfortunately, they will also spread their sinful ways. More on this in the next installment.

July 7, 2009

Caritas in Veritate is Finally Here!

The following are excerpts from Pope Benedict XVI's first social encyclical:

"Each person finds his good by adherence to God's plan for him, in order to realize it fully: in this plan, he finds his truth, and through adherence to this truth he becomes free (cf. John 8:22)" (1).

"All people feel the interior impulse to love authentically: love and truth never abandon them completely, because these are the vocation planted by God in the heart and mind of every human person" (1).

"Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love" (3).

"A Christianity of charity without truth would be more or less interchangeable with a pool of good sentiments, helpful for social cohesion, but of little relevance" (4).

July 6, 2009

Preview of Caritas in Veritate, Part II

34. Love in truth confronts man with the stupendous experience of giving. Gratuitousness is present in life in many forms, often not recognized because of a vision of existence that is merely production-oriented or utilitarian. The human being is made for giving, which expresses and realizes his dimension of transcendence. Sometimes, modern man is erroneously convinced of being the only author of himself, of his life and of society.

This is a presumption that results from the selfish closing-up in oneself, which derives - to use an expression of faith - from original sin.

The wisdom of the Church has always proposed keeping sight of original sin even in the interpretation of social facts and in the building of society: "To ignore that man has a wounded nature, inclined to evil, is a cause of serious errors in the fields of education, politics, social action and customs". (85) Added for some time now to the list of the fields in which the pernicious effects of sin are manifested is that of the economy. We have evident proof of this even in these times.

The conviction of being self-sufficient and to have succeeded in eliminating the evil that is present in history just by his own actions has led man to identify happiness and salvation with immanent forms of material wellbeing and social action. Likewise, the conviction of the need for autonomy in the economy, which should not accept 'influences' of a moral character, has pushed man to abuse the economic instrument in a way that has been ultimately destructive. In the long run, these convictions have led to economic, social and political systems which have suppressed the freedom of the individual and of social bodies, and precisely because of this, are not capable of assuring the justice that they promise.

Preview of Caritas in Veritate

h/t the American Catholic
Pope Benedict’s third encyclical, Love in Truth (Caritas in Veritate), applies the themes of his first two encyclicals -love and hope (God Is Love, Saved in Hope) – to the world’s major social issues. Drawing on moral truths open, in principle, to everyone (the natural law) as well as on the teachings of the gospel (revelation), Pope Benedict addresses Catholics and non-Catholics alike, challenging us all to recognize and then to confront the social evils of our day. The first part of the encyclical examines the dynamic teaching of Benedict’s predecessors, Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II. [...] In the second part Benedict surveys the social issues that confront the human race today-assaults on the dignity of the human person such as the attack on human life, poverty, issues of war and peace, terrorism, globalization, and environmental concerns.

July 5, 2009

St. John Vianney: Patron Saint of Parish Priests

Besides Jesus, there may be no better model for priests than St. John Vianney, who is the patron of parish priests. Only a handful of parish priests have been canonized. Most are religious priests, missionaries, bishops, cardinals and popes. Vianney lived from 1786 to 1859. For forty-one years, he was the Cure (pastor) of the French town of Ars.

He is known for his prayerfulness and piety. People would travel for miles to attend his Masses, hear him preach, and go to confession. As a result, the small town of Ars became a center of virtue and faithfulness.

There is an excellent novena in honor of Saint John Vianney here.

Caritas in Veritate

Fr. Daren J. Zehnle

Tuesday morning will see the publication of Pope Benedict XVI's third encyclical letter, Caritas in Veritate. (There is still some question as to whether the English title will be translated as Love in Truth or as Charity in Truth. I prefer the latter.)

For those like myself who prefer something more than a simple print out of the text (nevertheless, you can be certain I will print a copy as soon as it is available), Ignatius Press will publish the encyclical in three different formats. You can pre-order the hard copy now.

To view Father Zehnle's blog go here.

July 4, 2009

Independence Day 2009

Dumb Ox

Today is Independence Day. As we celebrate our country's 233rd birthday, we remember the founding generation who pledged their lives and their sacred honor to freedom in the face of great odds and greater hardships.

They knew well that freedom included religious expression, the right to worship God openly and the ability to express those beliefs in the public square. Despite the recent assertions by some, the United States, by any measure, is a Christian nation, founded on Judeo-Christian principles including equality, liberty, freedom of expression, religion, the press, assembly, and social tolerance on a scale never before seen.

On this day, let us remember that true freedom means being able to love God.

Papal encyclical out on July 7

VATICAN CITY — The speculation is finally over. Today the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI’s long-anticipated social encyclical will be released next Tuesday, July 7th.

Journalists accredited to the Vatican will be given a copy of the encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate” (Love in Truth), at 9 a.m. Tuesday with an embargo on the text until noon Rome time. Expect full coverage from CNS!

Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and Cardinal Paul Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum,” will present the encyclical during a Vatican press conference at 11:30 a.m.

They’ll be joined by Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi from the justice and peace council and Stefano Zamagni — an economic policy expert from the University of Bologna, who is also an adviser for the Vatican justice and peace council.

As we have written in several stories, the encyclical met with many delays, primarily because the pope wanted to go back to the text and make sure the document thoroughly dealt with the crippling global economic crisis that erupted while he was writing it.

From the Catholic News Service Blog

At end of jubilee year, figure of St. Paul stands in clearer focus

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After 12 months of special liturgies, confer- ences, Bible reflections, indulgences, concerts and pilgrimages, the Year of St. Paul has left the Apostle a more clearly defined figure on the Catholic landscape.

Even before Pope Benedict XVI led final closing ceremonies in Rome June 29, Vatican officials declared the jubilee year a success.

"The result has been positive, even beyond the most optimistic predictions," Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul's Outside the Walls, said at a Vatican press conference June 26.

At the Pauline basilica, which had often been overlooked by pilgrims to Rome, overflow crowds came to visit and pray at the tomb of the Apostle, the cardinal said. Thanks to some architectural finessing, a portion of the tomb, a rough-hewn marble sarcophagus buried beneath the main altar, was for the first time made visible to visitors...

From the Catholic News Service

July 2, 2009

Life and Liberty

Fr. Frank Pavone

As we prepare to celebrate Independence Day, we should reflect on what our Founding Fathers did when they established this nation. Their concept of liberty was rooted in dependence upon God. The Founders held that it is only when God is seen as the source of our right to life can that right be secure from tyrranical governments who would threaten it. That is why the Declaration of Independence says that the right to life is bestowed by the Creator, and that governments exist to secure that right.

Can anything be more American than to work to restore this foundation of our government, and to secure the right to life? Let us be fearless and unashamed to say we are pro-life, and to teach others that our American independence demands it.