Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What are we to do with Plato?

A couple of weeks ago, I posted on how I see nominalism as being the source of most of our modern heresies.

Knowing that the event of an intellectual idea is never isolated, I pondered as to what could be the source of nominalism. It didn't just pop out of thin air. It is true, of course, that new ideas come about, some good (St Thomas' distinction between Being and Essence), and some not so good (Descartes' I think therefore I am). But they don't flow out of thin air. For example, both St Thomas and Descartes studied Aristotle extensively, they are not pulling this out of their own minds. But they both had radically different interpretations of Aristotle.

I was blessed to have some visitors with me this weekend from St Joseph's Seminary in Edmonton. Wonderful guys with a great zeal for Christ. One of them was a Platonist to the core (or so he seemed to say). I used to be there, back when I was his age (ie 2 years ago). I saw Plato as the be all end all of Philosophy. No one did it better then Plato! But this past year, I have had the opportunity to study St Thomas in more detail and to see his (and usually Aristotle's) amazing simplicity in regards to their understanding of the truth of things.

Now, I'm not denying the value and wonder of Plato with what I am about to say, but I do wonder about one theory of his. It is, unfortunately, his less elucidated theory, one which sort of baffles most philosophers. But I think there may be some weight to my attempt at an insight.

Plato believed in universals. This cannot be denied. He believed in the reality of the forms, that objective reality in which the universal really and truly exists. When we see a cup on a counter, that is a specific (and thus imperfect) instantiation of the form "Cup". What gets interesting, however, is Plato's epistemological outlook. He says that because the Forms are perfect and the instantiations are not perfect, and because we too are not perfect instantiations of various forms, we cannot truly know the essence of things. This is part of the reason he was so vague on the topic. He knew, really, that he could not speak about the Forms (and this we can attribute to his mystical outlook of reality). He knew that no matter what he said, he would not be able to grasp the true reality of a thing and thus it is never truly knowable, it is knowable only in an imperfect way. It seems too that Plato is denying that there is an intrinsic essence to each particularity that exists, instead saying that the material realm is only a particularization of the true reality.

Now, briefly, Aristotle (and St Thomas) do say that we can know the essence of things. Each particularity has its essence innately. This is what makes it both particular and universal at the same time. Epistemologically speaking, our mind "abstracts" from what we receive in our senses. We see a particular thing and are able to immediately comprehend its essence, what it is, and that it can share this nature with other particularities as well.

Now, what does this all have to do with Nominalism? Well, if we recall that, speaking simply, nominalism denies that there are essences to things and that we cannot know particular things, I think we are able to see a correlation between Plato's theory of Forms (or whatever you wish to call it) and the theory of nominalism. I do not think that Plato would fall into this heresy though, because he admits to the reality of universals, but that they are unknowable, that we can only be pointed towards the forms and discover them for ourselves. The nominalist would deny any reality that is non-material in that sense (though not necessarily deny non-material beings, which is a different matter). Plato is what I would call a "light nominalist" in that since universals can't be truly known, we have to come up with ways of identifying them according to our nature. Aristotle, though, I think, takes a much more phenomenological approach. He understands that subjective experience of universals and how we come to abstract them. He understands, really, in my opinion, the human condition. Plato is much more poetic, but Aristotle has a better grasp of the truth.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Love For Christ

I realize as of late that I have been a tad...cynical in my writing. This has not been the case in just my writing, but in my conversations with others as well. I realized too that I was becoming rather arrogant in some of my views and, though I feel I may have the correct understanding in the position, does not mean I need to pontificate to others.

Thankfully, through a wonderful discussion I had this evening with 2 wonderful friends, I realized what the root of things was. Love for Christ. That is it. One may be tempted to say that this is it, that is all we need to comment on. And, to a certain extent, there is complete truth. Love Christ, there is nothing else, this is the Law and the Prophets in their fullness. We love Christ by adoring Him and thus also the Blessed Trinity, and we love Christ whom we find in others.

I remember telling my friends this evening about the conversion of Malcolm Muggrage to the Catholic faith. It was not intellectual arguments that persuaded him to become Catholic, but it was the example of Mother Teresa. And Mr. Muggrage was quite the atheistic marxist, so his conversion can quite rightly be considered as miraculous.

Yesterday, I recall hearing the homily of the new Bishop of Pittsburgh. He said "how much people must love God to be willing to scalp tickets to an installation!" And that was his homily, about our zeal to love God and act like it!

Then I started realizing through my conversation this evening, and reflecting briefly on things, how I have been this past week or so in my life. Am I being loving or am I being like the Pharisees.

To add it all up, the Gospels during Mass this week haven't really helped either. I have been especially on a Liturgical rant as of late. They have been all about the Pharisees saying "But it is not lawful to do such a thing". That got me wondering. I am getting all worried about licitness of things, about doing the rubrics, that I forgot about heart too.

Now, this is not to say that rubrics and law don't have their place. They do, and they are central. But when we follow them for the wrong reason, or when we insist that they must be a rubric when they're not, then we fall into danger.

Anyways, reflecting on all this made me realize that the most essential thing is holiness. Love for Christ, doing all things in the light of the face of Christ. That is the most important thing. Everything else flows out of that love. Without our love for Christ, we become hard.

This is a danger, I think, in blogs. We see how silly some positions are that we lose sight of the fact that we must be charitable and loving, thus becoming rather arrogant in our attitudes, as if we had the truth and it is our own personal property. The fact is, though, the truth is for all people. Christ loves all, regardless of what they've done, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I think that is so easy to forget, and so we become arrogant, thinking "look how right I am and how wrong you are, and, on top of that, are really stupid you are for taking that position". I think most have fallen into that attitude at one point or another.

I think we must look back on the Saints. We don't see them knocking others down. We see them knocking sin down, and rightfully so, but they don't knock the person. It is easy for us to get frustrated when people equate actions with personhood, we know it is why many people advocate for homosexuality and so on. But we don't equate actions with personhood, and yet we so easily fall into the same error, seeing the faulty position and thus presuming it is an issue inherent in their very personhood. We look at the splinter in their eye without looking at the log in our own.

But the Saints built people up. They would correct people if it was appropriate, but they loved them regardless, even in correction. We need to do more of that I think. Only when we do that, will things like Liturgy and Doctrine flow correctly. The Church is beautiful because of the order she promotes. But divisions in parishes and Dioceses happen when we fall outside that order and into the disorder of sin. How do we bring order back to Diocesan life, parish life, and, of course, our life? By loving God and neighbour with our entire selves. When we love unconditionally, then things will happen accordingly unconditionally.

I do not want those who may be reading this to think that matters of Doctrine, Liturgy, Morals, Current Issues, etc, are not worth speaking about. They very much are and must be constantly engaged.

What I warn about is manufacturing the truth. I do not say this in the ordinary sense. We must beware of coming to a deeper knowledge of the things the Church teaches on our own. When we first do not back up such a basis with love, we fall into becoming like the Sadducees and Pharisees. Work on love first, and then how you present the truth will attractive to a person regardless. That's what happened with Malcolm Muggridge, and that is what can happen to your friends and family whom you try to bring in.

People constantly complain that they never see anyone acting like a Christian. Heck, I know even I complain of that many times. I think "oh, no one ever acts like they ought to out of love. Where is the passion and deep yearning desire to promote Christ with the giving of our entire selves in others?" Then I recall that if I desire it in others, I must desire it in myself first. The best person to bring about love for Christ is when we first come to love Him with our whole selves. If you become a Saint, then so will others who encounter you, because you are living like a Christian, that is always deeply attractive when it is lived out authentically.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Liturgical Reflections

Well, I have been doing a lot of side reading on the Liturgy as of late and have been quite surprised by the level of deep-seeded conflict that is in existence in the Church over the Liturgy.

There are those who take a view that is contrary to the great tradition of the Church, seeing Vatican II as the supreme council above all councils in which all previous councils are to be ignored. This, of course, is an erroneous view.

Then there are those who also see things contrary to the great tradition, though they themselves call themselves traditionalists (not a term I am a fan of frankly). They see the Church as static, as if the life of the Church is put still and is to never move one inch. This, in my opinion, is contrary to the fact that the Church is a living body with all her members from the past, present, and future. The Church is living and longing for home, for the eternal Jerusalem. That is our hope, not being stuck in one mode.

In my opinion, both these views are contrary to the true Catholic position. I know, too, that these are vastly easy over-generalizations, but I don't want to go into too much depth with them for a blog post, they are merely a means for moving forward in this discussion.

This brings me to the Liturgy because it seems that the Liturgy has been the true battle ground for a proper interpretation of Vatican II. These two positions I have just described seem to be contrary to what the documents have said and what has been the lived experienced of almost 2000 years of Catholicism

But the Liturgy has become a battleground because it is in the Liturgy that heaven and earth meet, it is in the Liturgy that the sacredness and awesomeness of God is made present to us in the most Blessed Sacrament. It is the height of the Church's prayer. All this leads to a reasonable understanding as to why it is the Liturgy that is battleground, it is where the source and summit of our faith is made present.

A couple of posts ago, I discussed briefly the hermeneutics of continuity that Benedict XVI speaks of and its importance. I have been doing some more research as of late and last night especially got an opportunity to peer into the mind of Dietrich von Hildebrand and his position on this subject.

One thing I am impressed with is his intellectual might. He is truly one of the great thinkers of the Church. I think his argument for the loss of the sacred in our society is dead on and hits the head on the nail.

What I have been surprised to see, however, is the political side of the issue. I mean to say that there was a lot going on "behind closed doors" after the council. I have read of things that unorthodox theologians would do to get things read at the council! I have read about the controversy surrounding the Concilium that was instituted after the Council in regards to the Liturgy.

I understand, I think and hope, why many people reject the Novus Ordo. We must understand, I think, that is not rejected on the level of personal preference. Seeing the political undercurrents, I have a much better grasp of where the so-called traditionalists are coming from. It is not always a reactionary position, but a well thought out one.

I, of course, do not agree with their position, that the Novus Ordo is contrary to the Church's living experience and invalid. I think this is totally erroneous.

But I do wonder about the Concilium. I wish there was more written on the subject to be honest. I have found very little useful information on it because most of the people who have written on it have been of the so-called traditionalist view point and thus very biased in their view point. I cannot be certain that what they are saying has any validity at all.

Essentially, the argument is that they had no true juridical authority over the implementation of the Novus Ordo. Many people feel that the Concilium forced a "fabricated liturgy" upon the whole Church, one that is essentially contrary to the lived tradition of the Church.

I will be honest, I think there is some validity to this perspective. When you read the comments of those who headed the Concilium, you see that they were just attempting to force their own ideological position upon the whole Church, and, to a certain extent, they were able to do so through some vague instructions that came forth from them.

Now, Benedict XVI is also someone who has been critical of the implementations of the Concilium. For me, Ratzinger is THE authority on the Liturgy. I think out of everyone out there, he is the most balanced person to refer to in regards to this.

What Ratzinger says is that the Concilium and those of like mind have forced a fabricated liturgy upon the Church, one in which is contrary to the great depth and breadth of the Church's tradition. Ratzinger understands this and sees the value of the tradition which is foundational to the entire Church.

What does this all mean though? I know I have been a bit spotty with what I am attempting to get at here, partially because many of these thoughts are new. I think, as Ratzinger has discussed numerous times, we are going to see a reform of the reform in the Church's liturgy. When one reads Sacrosanctum Concilium, they see things in there that have yet to even be realized. When you read Ratzinger's masterpiece, The Spirit of the Liturgy, you see great things that are essential for the human person in the Liturgy that have utterly disappeared. The Mass we have now can be celebrated with great reverence and beauty, but I think there is still "work to do" in this manner of implementation and I thank God for Benedict XVI who has been working at implementing such things with his new MC, Msgr. Marini. I see the Novus Ordo as the true expression of the Liturgy of the Church. But, as with many other councils, we are only just getting out of the reactionary times in which people attempt to impose their own view of the council on the world. We are starting to see, in my opinion, thanks to the beautiful Papal Masses, a proper living of the great Tradition of the Church in which the proper expression of the Liturgy is seen as the core.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Nominalism - The Source of Man's Degradation?

I remember talking about this with a friend one evening and I came to some interesting conclusions that had honestly never crossed my mind before.

Many people see the degradation of man with the philosophy of Descartes. Indeed, Descartes' dualistic leanings give rise to many problems about the state of knowledge, man's experience, and thus man's attaining of knowledge.

But at least universals still exist in Descartes mind.

I think the problem is in nominalism.

Nominalism states that there is no such thing as universals, but that there are only particulars which have similarities for which we construct universal concepts for the sake of simplifying the world. In reality, however, according to the nominalist, these universals are just constructs and do not actually exist.

Why is this a problem?

I see it as a problem because it denies that which individuates man from the rest of the animals.

Man is different because he can abstract things. When we see a cup, we see not only the cup, but we are able to grasp its essence in our mind. Animals, on the other hand, are never able to go past the particular. They may be able to have the experience of a cup, but they can never know cupness, that is, the essence of what makes a cup a cup.

With nominalism, we fall into the trap of denying the theory of abstraction in which hinges man's distinguishing factor.

We thus fall into a degradation that is contrary to our nature. Why do you think relativism has come about? It has come about because we no longer believe we are able to have abstract concepts when in reality they are at the center of our life, we experience abstraction at every moment of the day.

If we are to just give a name to a particular, then we have this notion of the inability to abstract. We thus become like the rest of the animals and see things for their purely physical nature and deny the metaphysical aspect of things, which we call materialism, which is the root of consumerism and all other isms that are destroying society today.

Some people say sometimes "what's the point of discussing theories of the past?" We see here, however, that Nominalism, which is a theory from about the 12th century onwards, has had drastic implications that has denied everything in which we experience. We must equip ourselves so we can engage others to bring them to the beauty, splendor, and wonder of truth.



I am reading what I am already beginning to consider one of the greatest books I have ever read. It is "Transformation in Christ" by Dietrich von Hildebrand. It really is remarkable.

I am currently on chapter 3 which is self-knowledge. He quotes St Augustine who says, "could I but know Thee O Lord, and I shall know myself".

This is an interesting quote and one I think plays great relevance to the modern world.

Dr. von Hildebrand denounces self-analysis. He sees this constant looking inward as contrary to our nature but that, instead, we must continually look out of ourselves to see what is wrong, which in my opinion is deep within the tradition of the thought of JP II.

Anyways, he states that we only get to know ourself more the more we know God, as per the quote of St Augustine, and this is a position I have always held, but I just held it, I had no reason to hold it, it just seemed right.

But this book opened my eyes to come to a deeper understanding.

By experiencing God, we realize that we are created for Him to be at the center of our life. We are not supposed to look at the past or the present to figure out our problems, and we cannot look into our future experiences because they, as of yet, do not exist. To look at ourselves we are only revealed our weakness and sinfulness, we cannot depend completely on ourselves, we need redemption.

But if we come to experience God as the center of our life, our self-knowledge takes a fundamental shift. In Thomistic language, God is the Final Cause of our actions. According to both Aristotle and Thomas, the Final Cause is the cause par excellence because it gives the reason for all the other causes and for all things for all things are meant to be perfected and they are only perfected if they reach their final goal. Thus the final cause is the cause par excellence because it is the cause that gives the basis, the roots, for perfection.

Bringing this to God, we see that through our experience that we are created for God, that by coming to know God perfection is brought in us. So, by knowing God as the end of all our thoughts and actions, we experience our true purpose in life, which is to grow closer to Him. By doing so, we are fulfilling our nature and living according to our dignity as persons created in God's image and likeness.

But what does this exactly have to do with self-knowledge?

By realizing that God is at the center of our life and that we are meant for Him, that creates our raison d'etre. Through our experience of God, we experience our imperfection and grow in knowledge that we haven't quite reached the goal of perfection yet, that we have further repentance to live in our life and that we have further change to have happen. But it is central that God be at the center of our human experience for through that, and only through that, do we come to our true self understanding. For, as St Paul says, "it is no longer I that live but Christ in me". Only when Christ is the source and summit, only when Christ is the One in Whom I subsist for all assistance, only then can I become who I am called to be. I am called to be united to Christ, and I can only do that by growing to know God more. The more I know God, the more I have experienced Him and the greater my understanding becomes in what I am lacking and plead God for His mercy to rain down upon me so that I may become who He has created me to be.


Saturday, January 12, 2008

Hermeneutics of Continuity

Rocco at Whispers in the Loggia reports about the Mass of the Baptism of the Lord tomorrow at the Vatican.

Whispers in the Loggia

The interesting note is, of course, that the Pope will be celebrating Mass ad orientum. This will of course get many reactions, I am sure, by various Catholic outlets determined to ensure the Church knows what the "spirit of Vatican II" is all about.

But despite the impending negative press by people of such a view, I see it as a hopeful sign.

I love the Liturgy. I am blessed to be in a parish where the Liturgy is celebrated in solemnity and reverence. I know, too, that the general state of the Liturgy hasn't quite reached its fulfillment yet (I shouldn't say I know, but from the studying I've done, it seems the liturgy still has some "balancing out" to do).

I am very happy with Msgr. Marini as the new Papal MC. He is doing many things on a step by step basis, and is someone who seems much more within the mindset of B XVI. I too, I think, am more within the tradition of thought that BXVI proposes.

And I think the basis of this is his understanding of the hermeneutics of continuity.

Essentially, the hermeneutics of continuity is a study of the idea of continuity within the Church's 2000 year-old tradition from the perspective of which it is proposed throughout the history of thought.

Now, I think BXVI's beef is with the fact that we seemed to lose the idea of continuity in the Church, which is an attack not only on the central nature of the Church, but an attack about the effects the Incarnation has on the world. The denial of continuity for Benedict is, surprise surprise, a Christological denial. We of course know that Benedict is not a fan of the denial of Christ's importance, nor, of course, should any Catholic.

I think the tremors of afterquakes from the Council were to be expected. It is the nature of councils, and, in a certain sense, at least initially, it had to do with the excitement that is attached to the experience of a council. Everyone wants it disseminated immediately. This is where human frailty comes into the equation. The Church does things in years, not months, and so the idea of quickly implementing everything on the part of bishops and the lay people could easily be seen as a mistake.

The Council, just as all authoritative statements and decrees from the Church, must be read in the light of the Church's total experience. This is where the "spirit of Vatican II" began. They no longer look at the Church and the totality of her experience, but only what the "spirit of the council" has to say, as if the Council is the only authority in the matter of our lives. This is contrary, though, to the nature and experience of the Church.

So, the Liturgy was obviously effected by such a mindset, and, I think, the Liturgy shows us the direction of the Church, since the Liturgy is the work of God. And this is the error that has entered into our understanding of the Liturgy: It is the work and expression of man's encounter with God. In reality, though, it is the other way around. If the liturgy is the work of God, then more properly is it the expression of God's encounter with man, for it is the work which Christ has guided, and it is in the Liturgy that Christ reconciles us with the Father. Thus to speak of the human dimension of the Liturgy as primary is an essential error, it denies God's principle and primary role as the true Celebrant of the Liturgy.

This brings us to the hermeneutics of continuity. According to this study of continuity, we see that it is essential in the Church's tradition of God's seeking of her. God has constantly sought us and it is in the Liturgy that this profound encounter happens at its most perfect level. To thus take away things from the Liturgy because they are "pre-Vatican II" is contrary to the Church's experience. The way the Liturgy can be expressed, its form, can of course change over the centuries. This is part of the Church's experience and is expressed in various liturgical decrees. But to say that the Novus Ordo has no connection with the extraordinary form of the Mass and all other forms of the Mass is to be contrary to the principle and experience of continuity in the Church.

Thus, Benedict is simply affirming Christ's central role in the Church and the Church's nature. What Benedict with the help of Msgr. Marini have been doing is attempting to re-establish the centrality of continuity, because this puts Christ back into the equation. And to remedy the "spirit of Vatican II" problem, Benedict understands that there must be dialogue with the past, because the past, by virtue of Christ's Incarnation, is always able to be made present to us, in a certain sense, the past never ceases to exist, and so it is proper to have a dialogue with it so that continuity is properly expressed in all the Church says and does so that we can put Christ back at the center of our lives.

I am currently working on an essay on this topic with further and deeper research with the hopes of having it published somewhere.