Monthly Archives: November 2009

PFI #8

8. The Meaning of “Creation”

According to St. Thomas, ‘creation’ is to make out of nothing.  We can never create, because it requires an infinite being to cross from non-being into being.  Creation itself is not a change; it must be whole and instantaneous.  Because God is pure act, there is only one eternal act of creation.

PFI #6

6. The Basis for Analogy according to Thomas Aquinas

In order to develop a positive theology of God, we must appeal to analogy (a dissimilar similarity).  God can only be understood by analogy to His creatures.  Because we have an asymmetrical causal relationship to God, there cannot be a perfect understanding of Him, but only an analogous relationship.  Any perfection found in us is found in God in a preeminent and unified fashion.  Even with analogy, we still don’t know what God is.

PFI #5

5. Thomas’s Understanding of “Motion” in the First Way

St. Thomas doesn’t think you can demonstrate one way or the other whether the world is eternal, but that it was created.  It necessarily depends upon a creator God.  Our being is being-in-motion.  If there is motion, we are not there yet. 

Motion = reduction from potentiality to actuality.  Trying to demonstrate that potentiality cannot actualize itself.  It can only move form potentiality to actuality by something ina state of actuality.  Act is always prior to potentiality.  A think cannot be potentially and be actually at the same time without violating the principle of non-contradiction.  So, something cannot move itself — this would mean it was moving and potentially moving at the same time.  Motion is a progression toward some actualization.  Anything in motion was put into motion by another.  This cannot go into infinity, otherwise the originating effect has no account for itself.  Therefore, you need an unmoved mover. 

God is not in motion.  He is pure act.  You need the simultaneous presence of God in order to sustain the present motion of the world.  He needs to be present now.  If He is taken out of existence, we would cease to be.  God is outside of time, sustaining time.  He must be outside of time, because time is a measure of change and God is unmovable.

PFI #4

4.  Thomas’s Twofold Understanding of Scientific Demonstration

Because it is not self-evident to us, if we are to have scientific knowledge of God, we need to offer some demonstration.  We need to make a demonstration a posteriori (to argue from what is prior relative to us).  We can only know God by means of His effects.  We do not have an immediate cognitive knowledge of God.  Because God’s effects are not proportionate to God Himself, we can only have an imperfect knowledge of God.  At the conclusion of any demonstration of God’s existence, we may know that He exists, but cannot know God.  We cannot exhaust the truth of God.

PFI #3

3. Thomas Aquinas’s Twofold Understanding of the Self-Evident

If something is self-evident, the predicate is contained within the subject.  Man=rational animal –> Rational animal is an animal.  Therefore, it is self-evident.  However, you need to know the essence of something.  E.g. The essence of man is to be a rational animal.  If you do not know the essence of the predicate and the subject, it may be self-evident in itself, but not to you.  We cannot know the essence or nature of God in this life.

PFI #2

2. St. Anselm’s Surrogate Formula for God

St. Anselm’s surrogate formula for God is that ‘God’ = ‘That which nothing greater can be conceived.’  Given this definition of God, St. Anselm build his argument for the existence of God.  He first asks, “Is it possible that God actually exists?”  In his surrogate formula, ‘God’ is replaced by ‘That which nothing greater can be conceived’.  So the question is posed as, “Is it possible that [that which nothing greater can be conceived] actually exists?”

First, we need to define things.  For existence, something cannot both be and not be at the same time (principle of non-contradiction).  For St. Anselm, there are two modes of existence: mental and extramental.  Something can exist in your understanding, even if it doesn’t exist in reality.

We can conceive of [that which nothing greater can be conceived].  Is it possible that [that which nothing greater can be conceived] only exists mentally?  What is better?  To exist solely in the mind, or to exist both in the mind and in reality?  Both.  Then, [that which nothing greater can be conceived] has to exist extramentally or else there would be something greater than [that which nothing greater can be conceived], and you would be embracing a contradiction.  Therefore, God must exist extramentally (God=that which nothing greater can be conceived).

PFI #1

Here we go! Study questions for Exam II on Thursday!

1. St. Anselm on the Relationship Between Faith and Reason

The beginning of all understanding is faith.  Faith is the condition for the possibility of reason.  The reason of a human creature will have all the limitations of a creature.  The rationality of the creature will be limited by the finitude of the creature.  This is not saying that there is no such thing as Truth, but that Truth will transcend that which humans can completely grasp.  God is an intelligible reality which exceeds our capacity to reason, this is not to say that our faith is unreasonable, we just cannot comprehend the fullness of what God is.

Since we are talking about the Inquisition…

…here’s an excerpt from David Currie’s book, “Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic” :

It is well known that, during the Crusades, some Jews and Jewish communities were attacked by Christian soldiers. What is not so well known is that the Catholic bishops tried to stop these attacks. They preached and pleaded. It was a sin to do what those Christian soldiers did. Sometimes the bishops were able to stop the attacks; sometimes they were not. It was not the first time or the last time that the Church was ignored even though she was morally right. There was anti-Semitism, but it was not rooted in theology. The anti-Semitism was founded on historic, economic, and societal issues. Theology was used occasionally as an excuse.

The whole concept underlying the Spanish Inquisition is difficult for twentieth-century Americans to understand. Misinformation has not helped. It can be understood only in the context of a bitter eight-hundred-year war between Christians and Muslims. The temporary lulls during this long war were call the “cold war”. Spain was the entire Western front in the defense of Christian Europe. Militant Islam was on the march, and many times Islam was victorious. When victorious, Muslims could be brutal with the Christians. One of the major goals of the Spanish Inquisition was to prevent non-Christians from participating in government office. The government of predominantly Christian Spain was trying to assure the loyalty of its governmental workers before they might sorely need that loyalty under Muslim attack.

What is important for the present discussion, however, is often overlooked. The Spanish Inquisition did not apply to Jews. No non-Christian who publicly admitted his unbelief was supposed to be interrogated. That public act would disqualify him for government service, so that he could not harm the Christian government if it was attacked. The Inquisition’s purpose was to root out religious imposters in powerful positions. But because Catholic leaders, like the rest of us, can sin, the purposes and methods of the Inquisition were sometimes abused and misguided. The theology of Spanish Catholicism, however, was certainly not innately anti-Semitic (Currie 192-3).