Ecclesiasticus 4:28

"Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side."

Ora pro nobis,

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Dominic. Amen.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Proving the Existence of God: St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Five Ways” Examined (Part 5)

Conclusion: Psalm 14:1
G.K. Chesterton once said, "If a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing badly." I hope that I have been able to contribute some small amount to a greater understanding of St. Thomas' proofs of God's existence. Where my eloquence and erudition have failed, I hope the grace of God and the open minds of my readers will supply my defects.

Christopher Hitchens, the famous atheist, opined regarding the Five Ways, that even if they did prove the existence of a deity, that the bulk of the work still lies ahead of us. The proofs show us that a God exists, but they don't tell us anything about that God. To this I make two replies: the first is simply to agree with Mr. Hitchens. After all, St. Thomas' proofs for God are written in Part 1, Section 2, Article 3 of his expansive three-volume Summa Theologica. While the arguments take about a page to articulate, the work of coming to know Who this God is, what He is like, and how we are to relate to Him goes far beyond simply establishing that He exists. Certainly no one could claim otherwise. Atheists, of course, don't deny the existence of a particular God, however, but the possibility of any God, whatsoever.

On the other hand, however, the Five Ways do still reveal a lot about the identity and characteristics of the God which they set out to prove. From the first three Ways, we see that God is omnipotent, the effective power behind all existence and action in this universe. From the Fifth Way, we recognise that God is also omniscient, the supreme Intelligence. The Fourth Way, though, really fleshes things out, for in it we find that God is entirely simple, not made of parts, but utterly One. That unity is infinite, and contains within it intrinsically all perfection—all truth, beauty, goodness, life, justice, wisdom, and all the perfections there are, which, when brought to their infinite fullness are all one, and are God. Perfect, infinite truth is perfect, infinite goodness, which is perfect infinite beauty, which is perfect, infinite Love. As such, the logical conclusion of the Five Ways does not merely bring us to an abstract notion of a deity, but very and specifically close to the deity that the Christians worship.

That God is infinite, moreover, rules out the possibility of polytheism, because if there is more than one God, then they cannot be infinite. There must be some limit that distinguishes them. Since God is infinite, He must be the only God. Anything finite must be a lesser, created being, or simply a fiction. St. Thomas' proofs leave no other option. This is why I said in my introduction, that the atheist's accusation that he and I are both atheists, the only difference being that he believes in one less God than I do, but for the same reasons, is completely false. Because of reason, I believe in an infinite, all-powerful, all-knowing, loving God. No others need apply. My belief in this God is the reason I disbelieve in all the others.

I consider this series on St. Thomas' proofs for God to be a challenge, a dare, even, to those who don't believe in God. This past year, I finished off my Bachelor of Religious Education. One of the last classes I took was a philosophy class. The professor, a Protestant, made the claim that God could not be proven to exist—that we could only take His existence on faith, though a faith aided by reason. All the proofs, according to him, were only probabilities. St. Thomas Aquinas felt otherwise about his Five Ways. He believed that his proofs had the same weight that all logical or mathematical proofs have—and I, for my part, agree with him. Incidentally, so does the Catholic Church, which at the first Vatican Council, made it a binding truth of faith that reason alone could bring a person to a sure knowledge of the existence of God (Canon 1 On Revelation).

So the challenge is this: are you open-minded enough to reason through the arguments, and to follow reason to whatever conclusion it arrives at? What arguments can be brought against the Five Ways? Evolution doesn't work against the Fifth Way, of Design, because the very laws of nature themselves did not and could not evolve! Positing an eternal universe that proceeds from "big bang" to "big crunch" to "big bang" again, as Dr. Stephen Hawking suggests, does not work to overthrow the Second Way, of Causality, since St. Thomas himself held that the creation of the world at a particular moment in time was a matter of divine revelation, but not necessitated by philosophy or reason itself. Since his arguments specifically exclude revelation as a factor, they are equally valid whether the universe began yesterday, or whether it has always existed. Adding millions of years of slow processes to the equation, or removing time altogether from it, does nothing to affect the arguments.

Moreover, each argument stands alone. They do not combine to make a cumulative case for the probability of God's existence. Each demonstrates His existence independently of the others. Cumulatively, they reveal more of Who that God is, as we saw above. But thinking you have shot down one argument still leaves four more that must be dismantled as unreasonable or objectionable in some way in order to escape the inescapable conclusion. That is the challenge. That is the dare.

The thing is, there is a difference between St. Thomas' proofs for God, and a mathematical proof such as 2+2=4. The difference is not in their respective solidity or grounding in reason. The difference is in the subject matter. One has very little personal investment or responsibility in how he lives his life if 2+2=4. There is significantly more to consider about how one's life is lived, however, if God exists. The conclusions are equally inescapable, but they are not equally liked. The only way to avoid the logical conclusions of the Five Ways is to pointedly ignore them or attempt to shout them down. One's lack of faith in God is not the result of a well-reasoned thought process. It is the result of a choice, the choice to close one's eyes, stick one's fingers in one's ears, and shout "Non serviam!"

To quote Chesterton again, "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried."

Prove me wrong!

(Category: Theology Proper: God in general.)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Proving the Existence of God: St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Five Ways” Examined (Part 4)

Argument 5: God Exists, Because Science!
It seems "the thing" these days is for atheists to pit science against religion (regardless of whether a particular atheist happens to know the first thing about either science or religion!). From ragging on a fictionalised and misunderstood account of the Galileo controversy, to claiming that somehow evolutionary theory is incompatible with biblical faith, to actual scientists like Dr. Richard Dawkins railing against religion, somehow the catch-all phrase "science" seems to trump and negate religious beliefs. I can't count the amount of internet memes that I've seen that try to undermine religious faith, "because, Science!" The irony, of course, is that "science" can't disprove God, because, well, science!

I've mentioned how St. Thomas' proofs for God take an observable fact about the world, and using inductive reasoning, goes from the effect to the cause. Perhaps this comes as a shock to any atheists reading these articles, but that's how science works! In fact, that science works at all is itself proof of God's existence! It is, essentially, St. Thomas' Fifth Way.

The argument runs thus:
The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God. (Summa Theologica, I.2.3.Resp.)
In other words, there is order to the world. Things act and react in specific ways under specific circumstances. For example, when potassium comes in contact with water, an explosion results as the potassium unites with the water to form KOH. This reaction generates a substantial amount of heat, which reacts with the hydrogen atoms that are released during the chemical reaction, and the oxygen in the atmosphere. (The formula for this reaction is 2K + 2H2O = 2KOH + H2.) Now, this reaction always happens. It's a testable, repeatable fact of nature. It's a scientific fact. Any other particular scientific fact will do to illustrate the first premise of St. Thomas' argument, whether it be water boiling at 100° Celsius, or metals conducting electricity. The fact that things always act a certain way shows that they are specifically ordered to that end.

Now, the above example of potassium reacting with water is an example of an inanimate object, a thing with no intellect, always acting in a specific way. The potassium does not choose to react with the water, igniting the hydrogen. It cannot decide instead to simply dissolve in the water, or to float upon it lazily. It must react with the water to produce the explosive results. It is ordered to such an end. It is intrinsic to what it means to be potassium that it reacts with water. If there were no water for the potassium to react with, it would still contain this predisposition. But since a relation can only exist where both parts exist, how could a predisposition be present in potassium to react with water, if there is no water present? The only way is if such a relation existed in a mind prior to its existence in reality. In other words, order implies intelligence. Since potassium and water, and the like, don't have minds, they must have received their order from somewhere else, from a supreme Intelligence.

We cannot simply account this to random, blind chance, because it always occurs. Neither can we simply say, "That's just the way it is," because that simply ignores the very interesting fact that it is. No, there is an order to the world—if there wasn't, we couldn't have science at all! There are scientific laws, such as laws of chemistry, that govern how things behave in the world. But the question must then be asked, where did these laws come from? A law is itself the result of a mind, of an intelligence.

The intelligence that orders potassium to react with water, must be an infinite intelligence—not simply because of how many other things it has ordered in this vast universe, but because if it were a finite intelligence, such as yours or mine, it would contain potentiality. It would be subject to change. It would itself require a cause and an order. As we've seen from the previous arguments, this would involve a greater intelligence to form the limited intelligence, and we return to the problem of an infinite regress, or of a supreme intelligence—that is, to a being that does not possess intelligence, but which is intelligence, an unchanging, all-knowing, ordering intelligence—and this is God.

Before we leave off, let us be perfectly clear about St. Thomas' Fifth Way. It has often been considered as the same as the modern concept of Intelligent Design—that is, that it looks as though the world was designed in all its intricacy, and design implies a designer. Where the argument from the appearance of design in something like an eye could theoretically be the result of blind chance over millions of years, and thus only lends probability to the existence of God, St. Thomas' argument from design undercuts the possibility of blind chance and millions of years, for potassium did not evolve to react with water, even if a fish once grew legs and crawled out of the water to escape the explosion resulting from the potassium reaction. The design referred to in the Fifth Way was present from the foundations of the world, inherent in the very existence of the things ordered by it. If it's true that the creatures of this world are simply the result of millions of years of blind chance evolving through the struggle for survival, this evolutionary process could itself have only been possible because of an ordering in nature towards evolution, that itself was not the result of evolutionary processes, because that would mean again the absurdity of a potentiality causing its own actuality—that is, that the evolutionary process caused the evolutionary process. If such a process exists (and it's beyond the scope of this article to address that question), it could only exist because an infinite Intelligence designed it into the fabric of the universe.

No matter how you look at it, the fact that we can study the world, predict results, and formulate laws of nature proves that there is a God. Because, science!

(Category: Theology Proper: God in general.)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Proving the Existence of God: St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Five Ways” Examined (Part 3)

Argument 4: I Imperfectly Understand this Argument—Therefore God
We come now to St. Thomas Aquinas' Fourth Way, the argument from goodness, or perfection, or degrees—however you want to sum it up! Here is the argument in St. Thomas' own words:
The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things. Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. But "more" and "less" are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest; so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being; for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being, as it is written in Metaph. ii. Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God. (Summa Theologica, I.2.3.Resp.)
I'll admit from the get-go that this argument is the one that I understand the least, and is the one that seems to be least understood by most people. Some think it's a variation on the ontological argument, but St. Thomas rejects the validity of the ontological argument because it is an a priori argument, essentially arguing for God's self-evidence. St. Thomas rejects the idea that God is self-evident and that we can have any a priori knowledge of God. His Five Ways are specifically a posteriori arguments for precisely this reason. People who criticise the fourth way as a species of the ontological argument, then, have simply misunderstood it. Others try to refute or dismiss it because they think that it is based on a notion of Plato's "forms", or because St. Thomas' example of fire being the maximum form of heat is bad science—in other words, it's based on a bad cosmology and therefore irrelevant. In fact, Thomas' limited Mediaeval understanding of the natural sciences is irrelevant to the argument, as are Plato's forms (which St. Thomas didn't even believe in). A final criticism is foisted by those who wish to claim that perfection is a subjective term that exists only in the eyes of the beholder. I wish I could simply dismiss this critique as patently false, but unfortunately it has the current fashion of the world behind it, and thus actually needs a reply. Of course, even the most postmodern of math professors will still mark you wrong if he asks you, if you have five apples, and you eat two of them, how many do you have left, and you answer with, "My perception of the quantity of remaining apples may be different than yours, and we cannot determine it with certainty, because everything is subjective." I believe, after grappling with this argument, that its difficulty lies in the fact that it requires a bit of lateral thinking to really grasp, rather than the more direct, linear arguments of the first, second, third, and fifth ways.

Like the first three arguments, the fourth argues from the real world back to God, but unlike the first three, which deal with realities experienced by the senses, the fourth deals with realities as experienced by our intellect (which is why it is so often conflated with the ontological arguments for God). There are real things in this world that are not objects, that are not physical, but they are just as real: things like love, justice, truth, beauty, life, etc. It is with regard to these things that the fourth way is formulated.

That is, there are certain qualities of perfection that things possess. These qualities can be divided into "limited perfections" and "unlimited perfections". For example, all animals possess the quality of "animality"—that characteristic that makes all animals, animals, be they ants or dogs or elephants or humans. All animals possess "animality" in its fullness, and nothing that is not an animal possesses animality. This is why it's called a "limited" perfection. It is limited to those things which possess it. Moreover, one cannot possess it in part. Something either is an animal or it isn't. Something is either a plant or it isn't. The particular quality is intrinsic to the thing that possesses it.

On the other hand, there are qualities that are unlimited—that is, they are shared across the different types of things in varying ways. These qualities include goodness, truth, beauty, existence, life, etc. While they are possessed by different types of things, they are not possessed in the same way by all things. In other words, a tree, a car, a bird, and a man can all be "good", but a tree is not good in the same way that a bird or a car is. As well, they are not possessed to the same degree by all things, or even by things of the same kind. One man can be healthy and robust, while another frail and sickly. These men possess the unlimited perfection of Life to varying degrees. Moreover, over the course of his life, a man may grow more and more in goodness, or wane in the same.

Now, if something can be possessed in varying degrees, and if things of different kinds can possess these qualities, it shows that qualities such as life, goodness, and truth are not intrinsic to the thing itself. A man possesses his humanity intrinsically, but he possesses goodness extrinsically—in other words, the unlimited quality does not belong to him, but he has received it from somewhere.

The recognition of degrees of unlimited perfections points to the fullness of that perfection somewhere. We realise that insofar as something has a limited degree of a particular perfection, there is a corresponding degree of potential perfection. As such, there must be a fullness of that perfection, otherwise it isn't a perfection. These unlimited perfections must be possessed in their fullness, so that everything that possesses these perfections extrinsically and partially may receive them from somewhere, otherwise we come to the same absurdity which we saw in the last article—that of a potentiality causing its own actuality. An absence of perfection cannot cause actual perfection, any more than the acorn can simultaneously be the oak tree. If in created things these perfections are only extrinsic, received from somewhere else, they can only be received from where they are possessed in their fullness. There must be some entity that does not have a degree of goodness, a degree of beauty, a degree of truth, a degree of life, a degree of existence—but which intrinsically is goodness, is beauty, is truth, is life, is existence itself. Moreover, where each unlimited perfection is possessed in their fullness, goodness is beauty is truth is life is existence. That which is intrinsically perfect is intrinsically simple, not composed of parts, but simply is. This being of absolute perfection is what we call God.

(I owe a great debt in writing this article, and finally coming to even a meagre understanding of the Fourth Way, to the late Thomistic scholar, Fr. Walter Farrell, OP, and his explanation in the first volume of his Companion to the Summa. New York: Sheed & Ward, 1945.)

(Category: Theology Proper: God in general.)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Proving the Existence of God: St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Five Ways” Examined (Part 2)

Arguments 1-3: Hey Look! Stuff! Where'd It Come From?
At the end of the introduction, I mentioned that St. Thomas bases his arguments upon facts of the world around us—facts that are undisputed by modern science. There are a number of websites out there that try to dispute with Thomas claiming that his Five Ways are mired in an Aristotelian concept of the universe, and therefore aren't valid because of the advances of modern science. However, the very genius of Thomas' arguments are their very simplicity. The principles espoused in them are not dependent upon a particular understanding of the universe, be it Aristotelian, Cartesian, Newtonian, or that of contemporary physics. Things still move and change, they still cause effects, they still depend on other things, they still vary in degrees of perfection, and they still act toward definite ends. Our understanding of how these things occur may be more developed and nuanced, but the philosophical conclusions that result from them are just as inescapable.

The first three arguments, or ways that St. Thomas puts forward, are the argument from motion or change, the argument from causation, and the argument from contingency. Their formulation is very similar, so that they are often viewed as being the same argument phrased differently. This isn't entirely accurate, because each one begins with a different starting point. They do dovetail, however, and so we will treat them together.

The arguments run essentially thus:
1) When we look at the world around us, we see that things a) move or change, b) have a cause, and c) are contingent, that is, not inherently necessary.

2) Something else must be responsible for the effects listed in #1.
i) There must be a) a reason for a change, b) a cause for an effect, and c) something necessary to be contingent upon.
ii) A thing cannot a) move itself, b) cause itself, or c) be contingent upon itself.
iii) There cannot be an infinite regress of a) movers, b) causes, or c) necessary things.

3) There must be therefore a) an unmoved mover, b) an uncaused cause, and c) a truly necessary being. This we call God.
Clear as mud?

Let's look at it a little more closely—specifically the notion of motion (or change). What do we mean when we say that a thing doesn't move itself? I moved myself to type this up, didn't I? Well, no, not exactly. Typing this article is the result of a long process of different things acting upon me, and my acting in response. I could hardly detail the myriad chain of events that lies between my fingers pressing keys and the letters instantaneously appearing on the screen. And my fingers move because of the muscles that pull them, which are linked to my nervous system, which receives signals from my brain in response to my mind telling it to type as I try to find ways to express St. Thomas' arguments in a convincing and compelling way. This act of thinking came about because I realised I had a lot to write and a deadline to have it written by. This deadline was imposed by the fine owners of Catholic Chapter House, namely Theresa, after a series of conversations about when best to run the series, which was prompted by my proposal to write such a series, which was prompted by my reading a couple of good books on the subject, such as, for example, Fr. Thomas Crean, OP's God Is No Delusion. I read that book because I bought it from Catholic Chapter House the day I volunteered with David selling books at a local parish. I was prompted to buy and read that book because of conversations with my brother and a good friend of mine, both of whom are atheists. And on and on the chain of causality goes. Every action, every movement, every change requires an explanation. It requires a cause, a mover. Something prompted me to talk to my friend about why he doesn't believe in God. Something prompted him to stop believing in God. Every change is precipitated by another change. Every effect is precipitated by a cause, which is itself an effect of another cause. Every thing in this universe is somehow dependent upon something else for its existence. If we had the time, the ability, and the attention span, we could trace each cause back to the ones before. In doing so, there are two possibilities: 1) the chain of causality would go on forever into eternity past; or 2) we would come at last to a First Cause, an Unmoved Mover, and a Truly Necessary Being.

When reading rebuttals of St. Thomas' Five Ways in preparation for this article, the most common was simply, "Why can't we have an infinite regression?" Apparently, many suppose that the denial of infinite regression is predicated upon our inability to comprehend infinity, and therefore we, and St. Thomas, concluded that it must not be true. This objection is baseless for two reasons: First, St. Thomas (and all Christians) are advocating for an infinite God, so clearly our issue isn't with the concept of infinity. Second, it's not about our inability to comprehend infinity. The problem with an infinite regression is simply that nothing would actually happen. For an infinite regression to work, a thing would have to cause itself. In fact, everything would have had to cause itself and everything else caused by it, all the way down the chain of events. In technical terms, a thing would have to be both potential and actual at the same time. Consider the case of the acorn and the oak tree. The acorn will grow up to be a mighty oak, but while it is but an acorn, it is only potentially an oak tree. It is actually an acorn. Only when it is an oak tree will it actually be an oak tree, but then it will no longer be an acorn. That's what change is. If infinite regression is posited, it is the same as saying that the acorn is the oak tree, that it essentially causes itself to be the oak tree—that there is no distinction between the potential and the actual. This is manifestly absurd. In the chain of cause and effect, there must be a cause that was itself not caused, a mover that was itself not moved, a truly Necessary Being.

This is why, in part 1, I stressed that God is not a thing like every other thing. The Unmoved Mover, the Uncaused Cause, the Necessary Being, is unlike every other thing in that there is no potentiality in God. He is entirely and eternally Actual, and is, indeed, pure Act. He does not change, because He is always acting, always moving, always causing, always Necessary. This is why the flippant question, "What caused God?" has no meaning, because God has no potentiality. Nothing caused God. God is. As we saw last time, He is the very ground of existence. He is existence itself. He is not simply the beginning of a long line of cause and effect, either, but is immediately and unchangingly the efficient cause of every effect. He is the One Necessity upon which every contingent thing depends.

(Category: Theology Proper: God in general.)

Monday, November 25, 2013

Proving the Existence of God: St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Five Ways” Examined (Part 1)

Introduction: God does not Exist
Over the course of this week, I'm going to be attempting to explain St. Thomas Aquinas' proofs for God, which he laid out in the Second Question of the First Part of his masterpiece, the Summa Theologica. I firmly believe that the reasoning behind St. Thomas' arguments are unassailable and convincing to the open-minded, even though they are often dismissed as a relic of the ignorant Middle Ages. It has been my experience in conversing with my atheistic friends, that St. Thomas' Five Ways have not been dismissed because they aren't true or compelling, but because they are misunderstood and misrepresented by the counter-arguments. This being the case, I hope to offer my own small attempt to explain and clarify St. Thomas' arguments, in order to show how compelling they actually are.

Before we begin our look at the Five Ways, however, I feel some introductory groundwork needs to be laid. The first thing to get absolutely clear is that the atheists are right. God does not exist. Shocked? Let me explain. When the typical atheist one encounters on the internet makes the claim that God does not exist, he usually does so with some dismissive and derogatory reference to a "sky fairy" or the infamous "flying spaghetti monster", or some other description that makes God out to be a "thing" like a rock or a tree or a dog or a person or an alien—something that could be categorised into a species or a genus. And of course, the Catholic should absolutely agree with the atheist on this point: God is not a thing. God does not "exist" in that sense. Rather, according to St. Thomas, God is being, God is existence. God is not something among all the other things in this world. Rather, the world is, instead, "within" God, so to speak. So away with "sky fairies" (unless we're actually going to discuss elemental spirits of the air, about which I am completely agnostic) and "flying spaghetti monsters" (about which I am perfectly disbelieving). Someone once tried to be clever by suggesting that he and I were both atheists; he just happened to believe in one less God than I did, but he didn't believe in my God for the same reasons that I didn't believe in Thor or Zeus or Amaterasu or Krishna, therefore, on what grounds did I believe in my God, but not those gods? The fatal error is the same. I don't believe in those gods for precisely the same reasons that I do believe in the Christian God, and that is because those gods are indeed "things" which, if they were real, would be capable of being lumped into a species or genus. No God but the God of Abraham claims to be the very ground of being, the foundation of all reality. The difference is absolute—it is greater than the difference between a man and an ant. It is more like the difference between a man and a child's crayon drawing of an ant.
Briefly, the Five Ways of proving God are these:
  • The Way of Motion: Things move and change. Things are put into motion by something else. There cannot be an infinite regress, therefore there must have been an initial unmoved mover. This we call God.
  • The Way of Causation: All things have an immediate or efficient cause. The efficient causes cannot go back infinitely, so there must be a first, uncaused cause. This we call God.
  • The Way of Contingency: It is not necessary for any particular thing to exist, they are, rather, contingent things. All possible things at one point did not exist. If all things are merely contingent, then at one time things did not exist. There must be a necessary essence that caused all contingent things to be. This we call God.
  • The Way of Goodness: Things have degrees of perfection—varying participation in goodness, truth, beauty, life, etc. Degrees imply the existence of a maximum of perfection. This maximum perfection we call God.
  • The Way of Design: Things in this world are ordered to particular ends. Even unintelligent things are predisposed to this and not that. This order inherent in even inanimate things necessitates an intelligence to direct it. This intelligence we call God.

    The beauty of the Five Ways are that they begin with a plain fact about the world around us—one that is undisputed by scientific findings—and then, based on this simple, universal fact of the world, St. Thomas shows that there is no possible explanation for this fact other than God.

    Because the first three Ways are very similar, we shall examine them together tomorrow. Wednesday, we shall look at the Fourth Way, Thursday at the Fifth, and we will offer concluding remarks on Friday.

    (Category: Theology Proper: God in general.)

  • Saturday, November 23, 2013

    Back to Business

    So I've had something of a lengthy hiatus from active blogging. Been working and busy and blahblahblah no one cares. I've also been regularly contributing to the blog over at Catholic Chapter House. Apparently, when someone is foisting a deadline on me, I can be rather punctual (mostly). Check it out sometime!

    I recently broke my ankle, and have been busy recovering from that, and not working, and having otherwise no real excuse to not be blogging. My job was already coming to an end on December 13, because the factory was relocating to the States. So prayer, discernment, and the love and advice of my wife have led me to pursue a career in art and preaching under the Doubting Thomist: Art & Faith banner. So that site will eventually morph into a real and professional website, and this blog will *probably* be subsumed under that. Haven't figured that all out yet.

    My goal for this blog from very near to the beginning (once it ceased being simply a debate-outlet) was to write at least one article under every heading and sub-heading in the margin Index, and then just let it be. So I'm planning to really tackle that, in order that Barque of Peter can be an apologetic resource page rather than an actively updated site. It may then revert to a debate-outlet if I ever start engaging anyone in debates again...

    Anyway, to kick off the finalisation process, I'm going to be posting a series of articles that I wrote this past summer for Catholic Chapter House explaining and defending St. Thomas Aquinas' Five Proofs for God's Existence (the Five Ways). And we'll go from there!

    God bless,

    Thursday, May 02, 2013

    The Rosary (all my writings collected here)

    As this is the Month of May, dedicated by the Church to the veneration of Mary, I thought I would put together all the links pertaining to my writings on the Rosary for easy access (including my recent posts over at Doubting Thomist)

    How to Pray the Rosary
    I Shall Not Walk Alone (A step-by-step instruction is in the middle of this post, including links to the words of the various prayers)

    The Mysteries
  • Like Any Good Mystery, You Just Can't Put It Down
  • The First Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation
  • The Second Joyful Mystery The Visitation
  • The Third Joyful Mystery The Nativity of Jesus
  • The Fourth Joyful Mystery The Presentation in the Temple
  • The Fifth Joyful Mystery Finding Jesus in the Temple
  • The First Luminous Mystery The Baptism of Jesus
  • The Second Luminous Mystery The Wedding at Cana
  • The Third Luminous Mystery The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God
  • The Fourth Luminous Mystery The Transfiguration
  • The Fifth Luminous Mystery The Institution of the Holy Eucharist
  • The First Sorrowful Mystery The Agony in the Garden
  • The Second Sorrowful Mystery The Scourging at the Pillar
  • The Third Sorrowful Mystery The Crowning with Thorns
  • The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery Jesus Carries His Cross
  • The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery Jesus' Crucifixion and Death
  • The First Glorious Mystery The Resurrection of Jesus
  • The Second Glorious Mystery The Ascension of Jesus
  • The Third Glorious Mystery The Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost
  • The Fourth Glorious Mystery The Assumption of Mary
  • The Fifth Glorious Mystery The Coronation of Mary

    The Rosary as the Christian's Journey of Faith
    Joyful Intentions
    Luminous Intentions
    Sorrowful Intentions
    Glorious Intentions

    Why Pray the Rosary?
  • Letting God do the Work (Quoting a dear friend's comments about praying the Rosary, and giving the Blessed Virgin's own promises to those who pray it, as revealed to St. Dominic and Blessed Alan de la Roche)
  • Through Her Eyes (A Rosary CD recommendation and further thoughts on praying it)

    The History of the Rosary
  • The History of the Rosary (Part 1) (The development of the Rosary from the Early Church to the Ministry of Saint Dominic)
  • The History of the Rosary (Part 2) (The development of the Rosary from the Ministry of Blessed Alan de la Roche until the Present day)

  • Sunday, February 10, 2013

    Sentire Cum Ecclesia: Principles for the Interpretation of Scripture (Part 3)

    Principle #3: The Bible Is An Ancient Book

    When those tasked with the role of correctly exegeting Scripture set out to undertake it, or when the laity seeks to understand the Word in the deepest manner possible, it must be remembered that the Bible is an ancient book. As stated in the introduction, the oldest portions were written likely 3500 years ago, and the most recent portions still are 1900 years old. They were written in cultures quite removed from ours, and in ancient dialects of foreign languages. All these factors influence how well we are able to understand even a modern translation of the text. Compounding the difficulty is the fact that the text of the Bible is itself comprised of 73 different volumes composed by over 50 authors in a variety of literary genres. Thus, when interpreting Scripture, the exegete must pay close attention to the genre and its conventions, according to the time and culture of the writer and how that genre was employed in his contemporary situation, in order to establish, as much as possible, what that author meant when he originally wrote the text.

    A variety of tools and methods are available to the scholar of Scripture in his task of exegesis. Primary among them is the historical-critical method, which seeks to approach the biblical text as a literary document, placing it within its cultural context and examining the history and the language of the text in order to ascertain the meaning. This method has been useful for drawing out nuances in the text that are subtle and often overlooked by readers millennia removed from the authors. As such, it has been indispensable for understanding the literal meaning of the text.8

    Nevertheless, some cautions are in order when utilising the historical-critical method. First, it must be used without philosophical presuppositions which contradict the Christian faith.9 Second, exegetes must be aware of the limits of this method, as well as understand and give allowance to the fact that the biblical text's meaning does develop over time, through God's own providential guidance.

    Along with the historical-critical method, other methods of scriptural exegesis should be used, such as those literary methods based on particular contemporary context, the social sciences, and Tradition, which can all yield various insights into the meaning of the biblical text.10 The role of Apostolic Tradition, treated in Principle #2 of this paper as being another facet of God's Word, serves also as a link to the historical context of the Scriptures, and, if embraced, can both aid and inform the historical-critical method, as well as providing a clear, retraceable path to the meaning intended by at least the New Testament authors, as that meaning itself was passed down to their successors. The guidance of Tradition also indicates how the biblical meaning can and has developed over the centuries in an organic fashion, and will help the exegete discern whether his interpretation of the text flows in an organic fashion in the line of development, or if it represents a break with the text's meaning, introducing a novel and aberrant doctrine.11 In the end, interpretations arrived at through the practice of these scientific exegetical methods are valuable to the degree which they coincide with the Catholic Faith as guarded and taught by the Magisterium, who, as said, have the final authority in matters of doctrine and interpretation.

    Principle #4: The Bible Is One Book

    The final interpretive principle of the interpretation of Scripture, is to recognise that the Bible represents a unified whole. Even though it is a collection of 73 different books from various times and authors, written in various genres, to various audiences, nevertheless, the One Spirit who guided the inspiration of the Scriptures, and who continues to guide its interpretation, has woven throughout the Scriptures a single, integral meaning.12 That is, all of Scripture points to and teaches about Christ and His redemptive work.

    This single purpose and meaning of Scripture is conveyed to the reader in both letter and spirit. That is, there is a literal meaning to the text, as discerned through methods such as the historical-critical method, but there is also a spiritual meaning in Scripture. These two senses of Scripture are complementary, and together flesh out the unity of the whole of God's revelation. The Spiritual Sense of Scripture is divided further into three senses—the allegorical sense, the moral sense, and the anagogical sense, each focussing on a different aspect of Faith. The allegorical sense shows forth Christ and His saving work throughout each passage of Scripture. The moral sense draws forth our response, instructing us how to live justly according to Christ's saving work. Finally, the anagogical sense points us to our ultimate destiny in Christ.13 Each passage of Scripture contains both the literal sense and the spiritual sense, weaving the whole together into a multi-layered tapestry of theological truth.

    In discerning the spiritual sense of the text, however, one does not simply take off on flights of fancy. Often throughout the history of the Church, this has been the case—especially in the early centuries. However, fathers of the Church such as St. Jerome and St. Augustine brought about a corrective teaching, which theologians such as Hugh of St. Victor and St. Thomas Aquinas further elaborated on in the Middle Ages.14 They taught that all spiritual interpretations of the Scripture must be based, first and foremost, upon the literal sense, as its foundation.15 Thus, the spiritual sense illuminates the overarching plan of God throughout history that may, when viewed solely in a literal way, appear disparate, disjointed, and disorienting. The spiritual sense highlights that God writes history the way people write books, infusing everything with meaning in order to convey His truth and love.16


    In the end, the faithful reader of Sacred Scripture must approach the Bible with a reverence for it befitting God's revelation. In interpreting the text, he or she must attempt to discern the meaning that God Himself intended, relying on His Holy Spirit. By using literary science and historical-critical methods, one is able to approach the literal meaning of the words of the text, and yet, behind those words, and with that literal meaning as its foundation, there is a spiritual sense that gives unity and a fullness of truth to the Sacred Scripture. Above all, the reader of Sacred Scripture must approach the Bible in the context of the Community of Faith, recognising in humility that it is not his task to interpret the Bible so as to develop his theology, but that this approach is precisely backwards, and reinvents the wheel, so to speak. Rather, in submission to the Sacred Tradition handed down from the Apostles, the reader of Scripture must recognise that ultimately the task to authoritatively interpret Scripture falls to the Magisterial body of the Bishops of the Church, to whom Christ Himself gives that sacred duty. These principles of interpretation are the safeguard by which our reading of Scripture will lead us to a greater understanding of the Truth of Christ, and prevent us from novel, heretical ideas and by these, further rending the unity of Christianity. As Pope Benedict XVI reminds us,

    Saint Jerome recalls that we can never read Scripture simply on our own. We come up against too many closed doors and we slip too easily into error. The Bible was written by the People of God for the People of God, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Only in this communion with the People of God can we truly enter as a "we" into the heart of the truth that God himself wishes to convey to us. Jerome, for whom "ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ", states that the ecclesial dimension of biblical interpretation is not a requirement imposed from without: the Book is the very voice of the pilgrim People of God, and only within the faith of this People are we, so to speak, attuned to understand sacred Scripture. An authentic interpretation of the Bible must always be in harmony with the faith of the Catholic Church. He thus wrote to a priest: "Remain firmly attached to the traditional doctrine that you have been taught, so that you may exhort according to sound doctrine and confound those who contradict it".17

    8. Williamson, Peter S. Catholic Principles for Interpreting Scripture: A Study of the Pontifical Biblical Commission's "The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church." (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute Press, 2001), accessed November 28, 2012, V, 15.

    9. Williamson, Peter S. Catholic Principles for Interpreting Scripture. V, 15.

    10. Williamson, Peter S. Catholic Principles for Interpreting Scripture. V, 16.

    11. Compare, for example, Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (accessible online at

    12. Hahn, Dr. Scott, Scripture Matters: Essays on the Bible from the Heart of the Church. (Steubenville: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2003), p. 7.

    13. Hahn, Dr. Scott, Scripture Matters. Pp. 5-6.

    14. Hahn, Dr. Scott, Scripture Matters. Pp. 14-15.

    15. Hahn, Dr. Scott, Scripture Matters. Pp. 17-18.

    16. Hahn, Dr. Scott, Scripture Matters. P. 2.

    17. Benedict XVI. Verbum Domini, 1, 30.


    Benedict XVI, Pope. Verbum Domini. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2010.

    Hahn, Dr. Scott. Scripture Matters: Essays on Reading the Bible from the Heart of the Church. Steubenville: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2003.

    Newman, Bl. John Henry, Cardinal, Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. Public Domain.

    Paul VI, Pope, Dei Verbum. (Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1965).

    Wansbrough, Henry, gen. ed. The New Jerusalem Bible. New York: Doubleday, 1999.

    Williamson, Peter S. Catholic Principles for Interpreting Scripture: A Study of the Pontifical Biblical Commission's "The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church." Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute Press, 2001.

    (Category: The Scriptures: Scriptural Authority)

    Saturday, February 09, 2013

    Sentire Cum Ecclesia: Principles for the Interpretation of Scripture (Part 2)

    Principle #2: The Bible Is The Church's Book

    Flowing out of the hermeneutic of faith, that recognises that Scripture is, indeed, God's own revelation, one must hold that revelation and interpret it within its proper context. That is, the Bible is, first and foremost, a religious and liturgical text. Pope Benedict summed this up in his Apostolic Exhortation, Verbum Domini:

    Here we can point to a fundamental criterion of biblical hermeneutics: the primary setting for scriptural interpretation is the life of the Church. This is not to uphold the ecclesial context as an extrinsic rule to which exegetes must submit, but rather is something demanded by the very nature of the Scriptures and the way they gradually came into being. "Faith traditions formed the living context for the literary activity of the authors of sacred Scripture. Their insertion into this context also involved a sharing in both the liturgical and external life of the communities, in their intellectual world, in their culture and in the ups and downs of their shared history. In like manner, the interpretation of sacred Scripture requires full participation on the part of exegetes in the life and faith of the believing community of their own time."3
    As such, the Scriptures cannot be divorced from the ecclesiastical context that is their proper home. It is this divorce that is the fundamental problem with the hermeneutical process of those who believe in and practice the Protestant tenet of Sola Scriptura. Rather than allowing the ecclesiastical context to inform one's reading of Sacred Scripture, adherents to this doctrine reverse the process, and judge the Bible's proper context—the Church and its teachings—by their understanding and interpretation of the Bible. Yet, once one rejects the Church's role in authentic interpretation of the Scripture, one is left with no sure footing upon which to base one's interpretation, save his or her own cleverness and the uncertain hope that the Holy Spirit is indeed guiding his or her interpretation correctly. Hoping for divine guidance, however, once one has divorced the Bible from the Church, His bride, is at best presumptuous, for here as elsewhere, God hates divorce (cf. Malachi 2:16).

    That the Magisterium, that is, the authoritative teaching office of the Church (composed of the Bishops), itself has the authority to interpret the Scripture, as opposed to any and every individual person, should be self-evident. After all, it was the Apostles who were given the authority of Christ Himself to preach the Gospel. It was they who appropriated and incorporated the Old Testament into the message, showing how it foretold Christ, and how He fulfilled the Old Testament. It was the Apostles (and their close companions) who composed the New Testament. It was their successors, the Bishops, the inheritors of their Apostolic ministry, who preserved and passed on their teaching and compiled the Scriptures into the Canon that we today call the Bible.

    Let us note here, though, that the teachings of the Apostles, passed on to the Bishops, were not limited to what would be canonised as the Bible. Sacred Scripture is one facet of the Word of God, and while central and integral, is incomplete without the rest of the Sacred Tradition. In fact,
    there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.4
    Scripture itself bears witness to this fact when, for example, St. Paul refers to the traditions he received, and which he passes on. Note specifically his words in 2 Thessalonians 2:15: "Stand firm, then, brothers, and keep the traditions that we taught you, whether by word of mouth or by letter" (emphasis mine). In his previous letter to the Thessalonians, Paul goes so far as to equate this word-of-mouth preaching with God's Word (cf. 1 Thess. 2:13). Whether or not the Apostles wrote down their preaching in eventually-canonised Epistles or Gospels, their words were God's Word, which authority Jesus promised to them (cf. Luke 10:16). That is not to say that the Bishops, as the successors of the Apostles, have the ability to put forth any new revelation from God—His public revelation was complete in Jesus, and ended with the Apostles. But it is the Bishops who have the authority to draw upon that deposit of faith and interpret it in each generation's particular circumstances.

    This being the case, on what grounds does one come to the conclusion that those who preached, passed on, and compiled the Faith of the Apostles are not thereby the rightful interpreters of that Faith as contained in the Scriptures? As Pope Benedict again says:
    Moreover, it is the faith of the Church that recognizes in the Bible the word of God; as Saint Augustine memorably put it: "I would not believe the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church led me to do so". The Holy Spirit, who gives life to the Church, enables us to interpret the Scriptures authoritatively. The Bible is the Church's book, and its essential place in the Church's life gives rise to its genuine interpretation.5
    As such, the Catholic understanding of God's Word, and its preservation and proclamation, is more stable and trustworthy, based as it is in historical continuity from the time of the Apostles, and having for its foundation the promises of Christ. Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterial Authority of the Church comprise the "threefold cord" which "is not quickly broken" (cf. Eccles. 4:9-12).

    In fact, not only are the Bishops as a college (in union with the Bishop of Rome) the rightful interpreters of the Scripture, they are the only authoritative interpreters. In the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, promulgated by the Second Vatican Council, it is stated:
    [T]he task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.6
    This is not to say that the Christian reading the Scriptures has no role in interpreting them. Everyone reading any text automatically must engage in interpretation. However, the responsible, faithful Christian must be willing to submit his or her understanding of the Scripture to the teaching of the Church. And the Church herself allows significant leeway. Each passage of Scripture has not been dogmatically defined, and truths are readily mined from those glorious pages. But the ideas drawn forth must never contradict the Deposit of Faith, as was once and for all handed down (cf. Jude 3). The Second Vatican Council, in fact, encourages the laity to study the Scriptures, in the same document that reserves the right to interpret them for the Magisterium:
    The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful, especially Religious, to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the "excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:8). "For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ." Therefore, they should gladly put themselves in touch with the sacred text itself, whether it be through the liturgy, rich in the divine word, or through devotional reading, or through instructions suitable for the purpose and other aids which, in our time, with approval and active support of the shepherds of the Church, are commendably spread everywhere. And let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for "we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying."7

    3. Benedict XVI. Verbum Domini, 1, 29 (himself quoting Pontifical biblical commission, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (15 April 1993), III, A, 3: Enchiridion Vaticanum 13, No. 3035). (Emphasis in original)

    4. Paul VI, Pope, Dei Verbum. (Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1965), accessed November 28, 2012,, II, 9.

    5. Benedict XVI. Verbum Domini, 1, 29.

    6. Paul VI, Dei Verbum. II, 10.

    7. Paul VI, Dei Verbum. VI, 25.

    (Category: The Scriptures: Scriptural Authority)

    Friday, February 08, 2013

    Sentire Cum Ecclesia: Principles for the Interpretation of Scripture (Part 1)

    So we have confirmation of the words of the prophets; and you will be right to pay attention to it as a lamp for lighting a way through the dark, until the dawn comes and the morning star rises in your minds. At the same time, we must recognise that the interpretation of scriptural prophecy is never a matter for the individual. For no prophecy ever came from human initiative. When people spoke for God it was the Holy Spirit that moved them (2 Peter 1:19-21, NJB).1

    -Principle #1: The Bible Is God's Book

    -Principle #2: The Bible Is The Church's Book

    -Principle #3: The Bible Is An Ancient Book

    -Principle #4: The Bible Is One Book



    Written between 3500 and 1900 years ago, by over 50 different authors from all walks of life, from the richest of kings to the poorest of peasants, recounting fantastical and miraculous stories in ancient languages according to the customs and traditions of ancient cultures, ultimately compiled about 300 years after the last portion had been written, the Bible nevertheless holds a universal appeal to scholars and laypersons alike. It is, of course, the religious text for the more than two billion Christians throughout the world (as well as the first part being the Sacred Scriptures of the Jews, and the entirety being revered as sacred by the world's Muslims as well as other pseudo-Christian religions). The Bible's enduring popularity as a work of devotional literature as well as a literary text to be studied academically is understandable in light of this. For those who hold the Bible to be a sacred religious text, this study of the Scriptures seeks to understand God's own self-revelation to humanity, so that humanity may then respond to Him in order to know, love, and serve Him as He desires.

    This desire to know God, and to understand His revelation to humanity, necessitates that the Scriptures be studied with the intent of ascertaining what they truly mean. If the Bible is God's self-revelation, what, exactly, was He revealing about Himself? This task of understanding is further complicated by the reality of the languages, the cultures, and the times in which the Bible was written, and how distant those languages, cultures, and times are from contemporary North American society. One cannot, in light of this, easily pick up the Scriptures and expect to fully comprehend everything correctly or immediately. Various principles must be practised in order to effectively discern from the text of Scripture the true revelation of God. In order to derive the greatest fruit from the study of Sacred Scripture, one must a) recognise its ultimately divine authorship and seek God's own help in reading and understanding, b) read the Scriptures in union with the context of Sacred Tradition, c) seek to understand the text based on literary principles, and d) interpret each part in connection with the whole of the revelation.

    Principle #1: The Bible Is God's Book

    For the believing community, the Church, the Bible is recognised as divinely inspired. Scripture itself attests to this in 2 Timothy 3:16, which says, "All scripture is inspired by God and useful for refuting error, for guiding people's lives and teaching them to be upright." While it is beyond the scope of this paper to provide a suitable apologetic for the inspiration of Scripture, briefly it can be summed up thus: that Jesus Christ, who is God in the flesh, founded His Church and gave it the gifts of His authority, indefectibility, and infallibility. As an exercise of His divine authority, that same Church compiled the documents that became the Canon of Scripture, declaring that these had been written under the direction of the Holy Spirit by the prophets and the Apostles. As such, those who read and study the Scriptures must approach them as divine writings (albeit in human language), or they will fall short of the full and correct interpretation of the text. The first principle of Biblical Interpretation, then, is to approach Scripture with a "hermeneutic of faith",2 that is, prayerfully and with full and active participation in the community of faith.


    1. All Scripture quotations are taken from The New Jerusalem Bible, Henry Wansbrough, gen. ed. (New York: Doubleday, 1999).

    2. Benedict XVI, Pope. Verbum Domini. (Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2010), accessed November 28, 2012,, 1, 31.

    (Category: The Scriptures: Scriptural Authority)