Friday, January 25, 2008

Scotus To Luther: The Passing On Of Nominalism

"Even after the beginning of the fourteenth century, John Duns Scotus in many of his metaphysical questions receded from the logical method of St. Thomas and established a new school of thought. Duns Scotus disagrees with St. Thomas on two points.

1) He admits a new distinction, namely, an actual-formal distinction on the part of the object, which he considers a possible distinction between the real and the logical, whereas the Thomists say that distinction either precedes the consideration of the mind, and is real, or else it does not, and then it is logical. There is no possible intermediary. Scotus substitutes this formal distinction sometimes for the real distinction which St. Thomas holds, for instance, between created essence and existence, between the soul and its faculties, and between the faculties themselves, and thus he paves the way for nominalism. But sometimes Scotus tends toward extreme realism, substituting the formal distinction for the logical distinction which St. Thomas admits, for instance, between the divine attributes, and between the various metaphysical grades in the created being, for instance, between animality, vitality, substance, and being. Hence being is conceived as univocal, for the distinction between being and the substance of both God and creatures is formal, before any consideration of the mind. This new teaching metaphysics does not, according to the Thomists, escape the danger of pantheism; for if the created substance and the divine substance are outside of being, since they are formally distinguished from it as objective realities, then they are non-entities, because outside of being is not-being; and so there would be but one thing. Moreover, by such formalism, Scholasticism ends in subtleties and a war of words.

2) Voluntarism is another innovation introduced by Scotus. Thus he maintains that the distinction between the orders of nature and grace depends upon God’s free will, as if grace were not supernaturally essential, but only actually so. This same voluntarism makes Scotus affirm that God could have established another natural moral law regulating the duties among human beings, and so He could revoke such precepts as ‘thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal.’ Thus Scotus paves the way for the contingency and positivism of the nominalists of the fourteenth century…..

Throughout the fourteenth century and in the early fifteenth century, scholastic theology gradually resolved itself into a war of words, railleries, and useless subtleties. The chief reason for this decline was the revival of nominalism, which maintains that universals are mere concepts of the mind or common names. Hence not even an imperfect knowledge of the nature of things can be acquired, whether of corporeal things or of the soul and its faculties, or the foundation of the natural law, or the essence of grace and the essential distinction between it and our nature.

Thus the advocates of nominalism deny the principle that the faculties, habits, and acts are specified by the formal object. Wherefore nominalists, especially William Ockham, despising the sound and lofty doctrine of their predecessors, prepared the downfall of solid scholastic theology, and prepared for the errors of Luther, whose teachers in the schools of Wittenberg were nominalists.”

-Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange in The One God.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Old Heresies With New Names: Lutheranism, the New Manichaeism

“Many heretics wrongly believe that they exalt grace by contending that it displaces and destroys nature. That amounts to praising God as Giver of grace while insulting and disparaging Him as Creator…we remarked above that they who regard nature as powerless or hold that it is in itself capable of nothing but evil, disparage and affront the Creator’s work. For in the beginning God made all things good, and everything that He makes later is also good, so far as it comes from the Creator’s hand. Therefore I do not have to delay over the blasphemous contention of those heretics who decry the substance of man himself as wholly or partly evil, whether they consider it evil as existing without God, or as coming from the hand of God, or as made evil in consequence of personal or hereditary sin. The last is not entirely foreign to the otherwise subtle Jansenist view, which can without injustice be called the new Manichaeism.

Accordingly the substance and essence of man are good. But if the essence is good, the nature as such must also be good, because it is nothing else than the vital energy springing from the essence and the tendency toward the attainment of the end which the Creator destines for the being in question.

If then, the essence and substance are indestructibly good, the nature as such must also be indestructibly good. Therefore its natural goodness cannot be lost any more than nature itself can, since it is based on the goodness of the essence and proceeds therefrom. Consequently the powers given for the pursuit of natural goods and the inner, necessary striving for such goods cannot be lost. This is so true that even when sin becomes like a second nature in the will, nature continues to resist, and the keenest torment among the devils and the damned themselves consist in this conflict between nature that strives irresistibly for good and the will that is turned against good. And I maintain, furthermore, that such is the case with nature that is burdened with original sin as well as with nature that is not afflicted with original sin. As man’s substance remains the same after sin, nature too is the same.

Because the substance is good, therefore, the vital energy proceeding from it and the tendency toward a destined end must also be good. The proposition that a power striving for development necessarily arises from the essence in every substance, especially in every living and spiritual substance, is, I do not hesitate to say, so firmly established philosophically, that the opposite is thoroughly unphilosophical and incomprehensible. Many philosophers even describe the essence itself as a power that is ever active.

This truth is even more certain in the dogmatic field, for the Church chose this principle as the decisive criterion in its conflict against the Eutychians, Monergetes, and Monotheletes. The Church insistently discerned the resuscitation of Eutychianism in the latter two heresies, because the human nature of Christ, if it really existed, could not be conceived and represented as bereft of power and a tendency toward its own proper activity. And therefore the Church drew from the teaching of those heretics the conclusion that, if Christ’s human nature were completely inactive and motionless, it would cease to be a real nature and a real, existing essence.

Consequently, if every being has a power and inclination for activity, and indeed for good activity, since the power and inclination come from the Creator of the essence and are given by Him, we can say with full right that they who, like the Jansenists, deny every power and inclination toward good in fallen nature, are no less Manichaean than are those Lutherans who often asserted, to the discredit of creation, that man’s substance had become evil. We can say this with the same right as that with which the Church said to the Monergetes and Monotheletes that, by denying all power and energy in the human essence of the Savior, they had relapsed into the Monophysitism of the Eutychians.”

-Matthias Scheeben in Nature and Grace.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Function Of Scripture And Tradition

“The function of Tradition is to make us share in the fellowship of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, in the faith. It is a means of participation in the Body of Christ, that is, in the Church’s sacramental structure, the word ‘sacramental’ here signifying, in the wide sense, the sign through which the Holy Spirit enlightens us by uniting us. Scripture’s task is to confront us with the testimony of the prophets and apostles to remind us that the Word of God is an initiative that does not allow itself to be absorbed by the community, but takes the form of an ever-present dialogue. Scripture’s task is to bring preaching constantly back to the unity of this divine initiative; it is the inspired instrument of the analogy of faith, that is, the permanent re-centering of the faith on the essential elements of this dialogue, the redemptive Revelation.”

-E. Ortigues in La tradition de l'Evangile dans l'Eglise, d'apres la tradition catholique.

Why Study The Fathers?

“The Fathers are first and foremost commentators of the holy Scriptures. The treatises in which St. Athanasius questions the arguments of the Arians are nothing more than a commentary on the basic verses of Scripture, or those that are the object of controversy. The rules of St. Basil are interwoven with scriptural texts. St. Augustine preached his finest series of sermons in the form of a commentary verse by verse on the Psalms and on St. John. This patristic writing is also clearly pastoral, which explains its vigor and straightforwardness, characteristic of Church writing. For this very reason the Fathers introduced few subtle or unusual questions in their dogmatic writing, contenting themselves with a systematic investigation; but this does not mean that they abstained from the most profound meditations—take St. Augustine’s De Trinitate, for example. As a result of all this, and also because the Fathers’ attitude was wholly spiritual, their writing, when compared with the Christian reality, reveals an immediacy that brings it close to the simple and vigorous texts of the witnesses. Living with Scripture and nourished by it, when faced with the first heresies attacking the foundations of the faith, the Fathers concentrated their reflection on the essentials. They avoided introducing human and specific research into their teaching and never lost sight of the totality of the faith, united as it is by its center, namely, the Christian mystery, and converging toward its object, our union with God. From beginning to the end the Fathers are concerned entirely with the mystery of Christ, God made man to restore creation’s true meaning according to God and to bring man into communion with the divine life, to which he is destined and called by God. This is why, by always concentrating on the whole and on its center, the Fathers bring the whole to life in each of its parts. They do not speak of Christ without speaking of the Church, nor of baptism or the Eucharist without showing the totality of the mystery of our Redemption and of our introduction into the divine life. With them everything has its place in the harmony. The Fathers are men of unity; this is apparent in their lives and in their writing. With them there is no separation between ascesis and theology, or between the life of prayer and the speculative contemplation of the mysteries. Often having come from monarchism, they are the best examples of the ideal of a unified and fully integrated humanity, which is the model of Christian anthropology. They also succeed wonderfully in communicating a sense of its totality, centered on Jesus Christ, who is the principle itself of this Christological, anthropological and cosmic interpretation of the holy Scriptures, of which tradition is composed in its main dogmatic aspect. Their ethos, climate of thought and view of things are the actual ethos, climate and view of the Bible. They share its conception of the history of the world and of man, and of the history of salvation. All this explains why they are favored witnesses of tradition, whose spirit radiates and is absorbed from them; through them the influence of tradition is felt.”

-Yves Congar in The Meaning of Tradition.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Beati-ful At Last!

The day that all Catholic Anglophiles and Anglican converts to Catholicism have long awaited has finally arrived.....Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman is going to be beatified!

I've been waiting for this day ever since I became Catholic. All the Oratories of St. Philip Neri from Pittsburgh to Birmingham must be rejoicing that their prayers have been answered!

Also, in the above linked article it has been revealed that the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux are to be beatified. After having all their children enter the religious life, I should say so!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Is The Blessed Virgin Mary Foretold Of In The Old Testament?

This is the question I set out to answer with the help of the Fathers of the Church. I've been honored once again to have my findings published on Dr. Mark Miravalle's web magazine, Mother of All Peoples. The title of the paper is The Church Fathers' Marian Interpretation of the Old Testament.

Give it a read and keep in mind the saying by St. Augustine: "the New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old is revealed in the New."

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Two Senses Of Nature In St. Augustine's Theology

“…St. Augustine , in his controversial works, used the word ‘nature’ according to its transcendental universality in several different meanings. This variety was imposed on him by the diversity of the controversies in which he engaged; and he never made it his particular business to seek a conciliation among the different senses by undertaking an analysis of the term. In all his writings against the Manichaeans, nature meant for him the essence and substance of created things, especially of spiritual beings, with their essential powers; it meant the true product of creation in the narrower sense. Accordingly, he maintained that nature itself could not be disfigured or destroyed by evil. But when the Pelagians came on the stage, the scene shifted at once, and nature appears suddenly as that which God established, as the condition of life which the created being originally received from the Creator’s bounty, the vital principle and the tendency to good originally conferred on the creature by the Creator, prescinding from the question whether these two endowments belonged to the essence and substance of the creature or were something supernatural. Understood in this sense, nature can be destroyed and annihilated by a sin of nature; the higher, supernatural freedom bestowed on nature can perish, and its life can be uprooted. If the point of view adopted against the Manichaeans had been preserved, none of these considerations could be urged against the Pelagians.”

-Matthias Scheeben in Nature and Grace.