All posts tagged: Aquinas

Modern Biology’s Contribution to Our Understanding of Christ’s Sufferings

It is common to come across internet articles, television documentaries, or advertisements for books in the days and weeks preceding Easter detailing scientifically the nature and extent of the sufferings experienced by Christ during his Passion. From these you graduate from a notional apprehension of the sufferings of Christ understood abstractly and instead begin to grasp his Passion more realistically and painfully. For example, one might read of the tremendous suffering that Christ endured while his hands and feet were nailed to the Cross, which would have pierced a number of major nerves, sending waves of excruciating pain up and down his limbs. Each and every breath on the Cross would have become more and more difficult and agonizing, since to breathe while nailed to the Cross entailed using the nails in his wrists as leverage against which to lift his body to inhale and exhale. Or, to use another example, some scientists estimate that Christ would have lost anywhere from a quarter to a third of his blood supply by being scourged at the …

Josef Pieper’s Critique of Western Civ

On February 1, 1950, just in time for Commencement Day, the eminent German philosopher Josef Pieper arrived on the University of Notre Dame campus. It was his first visit to the U.S., having finally been recruited by Waldemar Gurian (founder of the University’s notable Review of Politics) to teach for the spring semester. The speaker for the day’s ceremony, as Pieper notes in the recently published second volume of his memoirs, Not Yet the Twilight, was the young Congressman John F. Kennedy, whom he thought somewhat resembled Charles Lindbergh. In fact, two years before, Gurian had asked a Notre Dame colleague travelling in Germany to meet briefly with Pieper in hopes of encouraging him to come to South Bend. He got a message back saying “Nice man but doesn’t speak English.” Two years later, Pieper was successfully—if sometimes haltingly—lecturing to his American students in English. Before his arrival, however, Pieper had been cautioned by Gurian: “Theology, above all, is missing at this University; there is hardly any real philosophizing, and there is nothing of the …

Prayer Begins in Pointlessness and Stupidity

A friend of mine, a young mother, recently wrote me to ask me a question about prayer. Are not most of our prayers stupid and pointless? She recounted how she had locked her keys and children in the car, and found herself praying, “God, please may my husband be able come quickly so I can take care of the screaming baby.” But of course he did not come any quicker than the car and speed of traffic and nature of mobile bodies etc. determined. So why ask God about this at all? Is this not just useless chatter? How should one respond to such a question? Certainly, I think that there can be a great deal of stupidity in prayer. Prayer begins in pointlessness and stupidity, “for we do not know how to pray as we ought” (Rom 8:26). But prayer is a path, the stupidity and pointlessness can be a step toward a deeper kind of prayer.  Aquinas compares asking things of other human beings and praying to God (Compendium of Theology II,2). When we …

The Birth of Scholasticism from a Series of Fortunate Mistakes

Stephen M. Metzger, in a brilliant and provocative piece, entitled “We Have Never Been Medieval,” rightly points to the unfulfilled promise of the Leonine program, which “held up the Middle Ages as its official response to the challenges and deficiencies of the modern world.” He notes the central place of Saint Thomas Aquinas in that program, brought forth by Leo XIII in fitting medieval fashion as a sort of champion to combat modernity’s thinking and ills. Whatever one thinks of the wisdom of that choice and the outcome of that program—there are many Catholic scholars who believe that the almost exclusive emphasis on the thought of Thomas Aquinas in our study of the Middle Ages has narrowed and arguably even stunted our understanding of the Catholic theological tradition—Metzger’s notion that there may not be such an antinomy after all between our medieval predecessors and ourselves merits serious consideration. As a sort of sequel to that thought, it seems fitting to recall to mind a great medieval thinker who was, unlike Thomas, decidedly not a saint: …

The Formation of the Imagination

Robert Macfarlane, a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge University, has reignited the discussion on the connection between nature and the imagination. In Landmarks, his most recent book on the unique regional words used to describe English landscape, Macfarlane comments that “Our children’s vanishing encounters with nature represent a loss of imagination as well as a loss of primary experience.”[1] If Macfarlane articulates a concern for the disconnection between the decreasing number of experiences in nature and the imagination’s vigor in secular culture, is it such a great leap to question the connection between the imagination and the spiritual life? This very question was pondered by Father Conrad Pepler, O.P., a member of the English Dominican province, who addressed this topic some 60 years ago: There is a need of an imaginative response to life, a training of the imagination, not merely in a few cases of poetic talent, but as a common function in every member of society. Incalculable harm can be done to men generally by the perversion or deadening of this faculty. When …

The Exemplary Clarity of the Five Proofs of the Existence of God

Edward Feser has a definite gift for making fairly abstruse philosophical material accessible to readers from outside the academic world, without compromising the rigor of the arguments or omitting challenging details. As scholarly virtues go, this is one of the rarer ones—in part because it takes considerable patience both to acquire and to practice, and in part because it requires a genuine desire to entrust difficult ideas to those from whom they are typically withheld. Perhaps the best example of this gift in action hitherto was his 2006 volume Philosophy of Mind: A Beginner’s Guide (at least, speaking for myself, I have both recommended it to general readers and used it with undergraduates, in either case with very happy results). But this present volume, Five Proofs of the Existence of God, is no less substantial an achievement. In it, Feser has undertaken to explain and defend several of the most demanding traditional arguments for the reality of God, as thoroughly as possible, in a way that communicates their internal coherence to readers who may have no …

We Have Never Been Medieval

In the early 1990’s the French philosopher, anthropologist, and sociologist Bruno Latour published a remarkable, and scandalous, essay, in which he argued that society had never been modern.[1] According to Latour, modernity has never been able to fully achieve its desired goal of an objective understanding of Nature, epitomized in scientific studies, bracketed off from an understanding of society, especially in politics. Modern people always take recourse to hybrids or “quasi-objects” that bridge this desired divide in order to make the world intelligible and to make society possible. The findings of scientific inquiry are never as objective and certain as they claim or hope to be, nor are political and economic considerations ever divorced from our understanding of the natural world and the way the natural environment acts upon humanity. In the end René Descartes and his intellectual descendants were never able to truly have an objective mastery of Nature. One consequence of Latour’s argument is that if society has never truly achieved the idealized hope of being modern so too has humanity never truly …

The Extraordinary Is Wed to the Mundane in the Catholic Imagination

“Words move, music moves / Only in time,” writes T.S. Eliot in Four Quartets; “but that which is only living / Can only die.”[1] One of the ideas that these poems stress is what we see in the lines I just quoted: for us, living, expressing, and being always involve time. We need time in order to do any of the things that we do. Yet, for this to be so, it always also means that the current moment is passing away. As G.M. Hopkins says, “I am soft sift / In an hourglass.”[2] Everything that we give slips through our fingers, never permanent, because the condition that makes our creativity possible, time, is also that by which we lose everything. We are poor creatures, unable to possess even the moment we exist in. But of course: Blessed are the poor. If we want to talk about the “Catholic imagination,” it is helpful to remember that we depend on time. We are not only creatures of time, but that in us which experiences eternity always …