Hypothesis on divine unity and trinity

There is no enumeration of things which has the divine nature as a member. In this sense, God is not one (this is the one of quantity or number). Again, we cannot include God in some enumeration of things such that the whole enumeration would be greater than the single member, God. This is true even when speaking of the persons of the Trinity- and is true a fortiori of  God and creatures.

The absolute oneness of God follows from the denial of any of the division we find in sensible and imaginable creatures. It follows that reason must allow for a the trinity of persons as a real possibility, since reason proves the unity of God by negating all division found in creatures as found in creatures, but not all division as it may be found in something other than a creature.

If one laid bare the whole consciousness of a metaphysician while he was speaking of God, he would find only material things. The naturalist/ Kantian/ positivist might well laugh and think he has triumphed. But these things were only in consciousness because in one way or another they were being negated.

Freedom as a good and as subordinate to a good

Freedom as opposed to imprisonment is a good or desirable goal- which is exactly why it is a punishment to take away freedom in this sense. But freedom as opposed to the possession or doing of this as opposed to that is not a good or desirable goal, but a necessary means subordinate to a good. This is why freedom, considered outside of the question of imprisonment, is essentially a subordinate as opposed to being a good in itself.

A moral anecdote that I don’t know exactly what to do with

Recently my wife told me about an argument she had many years ago with a political philosopher who, though  he was very Catholic on most life issues, was in favor of embryonic stem cell research since he thought it showed promise of helping his diabetic wife. His objection, though it didn’t convince my wife, nevertheless stopped the argument cold, since no one feels fit to argue for the continuation of another person’s suffering. If the argument was made with sufficient vigor, it would probably persuade the majority of people just as it persuaded this extremely intelligent (and rather famous) political and moral philosopher.

After my wife told me the story I asked her “don’t you wish he would have given you that argument now?” (our two-year-old son is a type 1 diabetic- lifetime insulin dependent, sugar tests four to six times a day, controlled diet and exercise routines, etc.) My wife, who had mentioned the argument in the random context of telling me about what happened the last time she was at some restaurant in Hollywood, was taken aback by the irony and laughed. It wouldn’t even cross her mind to change her position on ESCR because of our son. I honestly don’t feel  the least temptation to change my mind, and I’m horrified at the thought of even feeling tempted to change.

My point here is not about ESCR. One could replace ESCR with some other moral problem and make the same point- which is that It seems more the case that our morals shape our opinion of our sufferings than our sufferings shape our morals. Our moral convictions are more verified or brought out by suffering than changed by it. That famous moral philosopher wanted his wife to be taken as the justification for an act that I would be horrifed to have anyone commit for the sake of my son.

Our causality of the spiritual life

St. Thomas imputes real causality to creatures, but he places it within a very strict limit: the creature can be directly responsible for the becoming of this accident or this substance, but God alone is responsible for the existence of the same particular. 

 Every effect depends on its cause, so far as it is itscause. But we must observe that an agent may be the cause of the “becoming” of its effect, but not directly of its “being.” This may be seen both in artificial and innatural beings: for the builder causes the house in its “becoming,” but he is not the direct cause of its “being.” For it is clear that the “being” of the house is a result of its form, which consists in the putting together and arrangement of the materials, and results from the natural qualities of certain things. Thus a cook dresses the food by applying the natural activity of fire; thus a builder constructs a house, by making use of cement, stones, and wood which are able to be put together in a certain order and to preserve it. Therefore the “being” of a house depends on the nature of these materials, just as its “becoming” depends on the action of the builder. The same principle applies to natural things. For if an agent is not the cause of a form as such, neither will it be directly the cause of “being” which results from that form; but it will be the cause of the effect, in its “becoming” only.

PP 1.104.c 

St. Thomas then shows why even natural generation is directly responsible for becoming and not existence. 

Now it is clear that of two things in the same species one cannot directly cause the other’s form as such, since it would then be the cause of its own form, which isessentially the same as the form of the other; but it can be the cause of this formfor as much as it is in matter–in other words, it may be the cause that “this matter” receives “this form.” And this is to be the cause of “becoming,” as when man begets man, and fire causes fire. Thus whenever a natural effect is such that it has an aptitude to receive from its active cause an impression specifically the same as in that active cause, then the “becoming” of the effect, but not its “being,” depends on the agent.

Applied to the spiritual life, this teaching speaks to our awareness that while we are certainly respnsible for doing things, that anything should come of our actions requires divine assistance:

The man’s mind thinks out his way, but God directs his steps (Proverbs, 16:9)

Man shoes the horse, but to God is the victory

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth (1 Cor, 3:6).

One of the most beautiful and exact descriptions of this is in The Imitation, Book III chap. 2

You speak, O Lord God, Who inspired and enlightened all the prophets; for You alone, without them, can instruct me perfectly, whereas they, without You, can do nothing. They, indeed, utter fine words, but they cannot impart the spirit. They do indeed speak beautifully, but if You remain silent they cannot inflame the heart. They deliver the message; You lay bare the sense. They place before us mysteries, but You unlock their meaning. They proclaim commandments; You help us to keep them. They point out the way; You give strength for the journey. They work only outwardly; You instruct and enlighten our hearts. They water on the outside; You give the increase.

They cry out words; You give understanding to the hearer.

Let not Moses speak to me, therefore, but You, the Lord my God, everlasting truth, speak lest I die and prove barren if I am merely given outward advice and am not inflamed within


The question of whether there is a god or not is a scientific question.

Note on the objection to the five ways

One of the perennial objections to the Five Ways is that they don’t even show that there is one God. The objection is sometimes supported by noting that Aristotle did not think there was one first mover. The objection is superficially true, substantially false, and misplaced.

It’s superficially true in the sense that the question of the number of divine beings is not addressed in the Five ways- but to address such a question is out of place, since one cannot address the question of how many X’s there are before he has a reason to think there are X’s at all. In the case of God, the question of “the number of divine beings” takes on the added difficulty of how one can even speak of number among non-material and therefore non-quantitative beings.

The objection is substantially false, however, since the proof of what is supremely one is included in the Fourth Way. Note that the Fourth Way does not specify exactly what sensible reality it begins with but only gives examples- and then says that it extends to “other such things”. But since three of the four examples given are convertible with the one said of being, the Fourth Way proves the existence of something most of all one.

Why not just include “one” literally in the in the Fourth Way, as opposed to by including it necessary implication? The best reason is that the word “one” is too heavily weighted toward the “one” of quantity, and that to include it would likely mislead the reader.

The Wisdom books of the Old Testament are poems! No essays, no treatises, little prose (Tobit?)

The lowest knower knows like the lowest feeder feeds

Man, a plant among the intellects,

eats only what is mingled in the mud

and what his feet grope darkly underground.

Epistemic berry picking a priori

The characteristic note of modern thought is to try to figure out exactly what the limits of the mind are so that one might judge subsequent claims to knowledge. This is rather like trying to draw a map of where the fruit is before you go out looking for it, and then refusing to try anything that isn’t on the map- or swallowing everything that is. It’s also like studying your kitchen mixer to figure out what sort of cookies you can make- it’s a relevant concern, but not the primary concern. 

The older way of proceeding- which placed experience first and not universal method- was more free. One could only go out with a few general guidelines and try to see what you can find. You might discover some patterns of where things grow, or you might not; you might gather a few berries that make you sick or not; you might have far more success at finding one kind of thing or another. it may turn out that some things can only be found where you find them, without patterns, or predictability, or clearly separate from what is harmful. 

The modern way seems to have ended with the death of logical positivism. Postmodernism has done a good job of kicking the berry map drawers out into the woods again, but there is an irritating hangover of “the system” that attempts to judge all experience a priori in their fascination with language. But this remnant of modernism will probably disappear soon.

« Older entries


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 144 other followers