On Our Opinion of How

On Our Opinion of How long Our Writing Needs To Be

I’m struck by how long some of my older posts were. “A Response to John Deck” stands out as terribly long, much more so than it needed to be… it makes sense that the man I wrote it for never responded. At the time I wrote the post, though, I think that I was of the mind that one must write long responses to important questions. While it is true that ceteris paribus one needs to write something longer for a more an important point than for a less important point, our idea of how long a piece of writing has to be is, in general, greatly exaggerated. The ancients thought that something the length of the Matthew’s Gospel was long enough to explain the life of Christ. The medievals thought that an article about the length of an Op- ed could prove pretty much any one thing you wanted to know about God. With the amount of words that the average guy would dedicate to his Doctoral thesis, Plato could probably write twenty dialogues, and Aristotle, half his corpus.

Intelligent Design, Evolution, and ThomismBoth

Intelligent Design, Evolution, and Thomism

Both the ID’ers and the Evolutionists (and for that matter, most people simply speaking) agree on the following principle:

what happens by chance is not caused by intelligence

This is fine as a dialectical principle to get a discussion going, but in the sense in which the ID’ers and the evolutionists want to use it, it is false, since the whole ID/ evolution debate revolves around whether we can know God, and this principle is false when it is said in relation to the divine intelligence. As soon as this whole discussion shifts to a discussion of God, the Thomists can get involved: and the first thing we can bring up is that God is the universal cause of all participated being- regardless of whether the being came to be by chance or by design.

The principle quoted above is only true when it is restricted to what perennial philosophy calls “beings by participation”. Said another way, the principle is true when if one is speaking about human or angelic intelligence, but not if he is speaking about the intelligence of God, the universal agent. The intelligence of the universal agent is the cause of existence as such, in such a way that whatever exists is caused and being caused by this agent. You can obviously disagree over whether any such intelligent universal agent exists- but if you want to do so, you need to start talking about being, essence, existence, causality, agency, being by participation… and for that matter, you have to start talking about what intelligence means.

The Short form of the

The Short form of the Argument Below.

Mozart is a better composer than Marty Haugen.

On Modern Liturgical MusicOver at

On Modern Liturgical Music

Over at Plato’s Stepchild, there is a dispute about Catholic liturgical music. Both sides (see here) are being silly now, which is unfortunate since the topic they are discussing is of extreme importance. Music in general is of underappreciated importance- being one of the primary influences of character. This makes the music of the liturgy significant even when considered simply as music, but even more so because the music of the liturgy cannot but be seen- especially by the young- as the music approved by God.

The dispute began with Tony asking The Stepchild to define a bad hymn. The stepchild didn’t do so. Let me try: I define a bad hymn primarily as “A musical composition that is not fitting to the mass”. So there’s a definition. The definition can be taken in two ways:

1.) Modern liturgical music is a bad because it is the sort of music that is unfitting to the mass, or
2.) Modern liturgical music is bad, but only because of the particular songs that have been written.

For my own part, I favor position 1. Here’s why:

– It has always been my experience that no one listens to modern Catholic liturgical music outside of when they have to listen to it at the mass. Mr. Haugen and Mr. Haas do not sell many CD’s, and there seems to be no demand for them. I have never heard any of their songs outside of the context of the mass. If their music is intrinsically worth listening to, why is it that it sells so poorly, especially given the sort of aggressive advertising that is afforded to someone who gets heard so frequently by so many people?

– Modern liturgical music- as any liturgical music- is by nature ordered toward making God known. But modern liturgical music is intrinsically limited in it ability to make God known. Modern liturgical music does not admit of any way of expressing the majesty, transcendence or solemnity of God, because it is folk inspired, and folk- inspired music has no power to strike one with a sense of awe. People love folk music because it is folkish, which is the opposite of awe inspiring, solemn, transcendent, majestic, sublime, etc. If one tried to play a folk song when a king walked in- or some other lofty dignitary, everyone would be confused. It is unfitting, it would clang. But liturgical music must be able to invoke majesty and awe- to the extent that it cannot, it is simply unfitting.

-Modern liturgical music is unfit to be played in any context- since it is intrinsically unable to highlight any emotional state. A sign of this is that modern liturgical music is not used in any movie scene as a compliment to the action- even when the action is religious or uplifting, or expressing intimacy with God. Imagine, just as the most favorable example, a movie scene that calls for a moment in which a man experiences the revelation of the love of God- like St. Peter weeping at the feet of the Blessed Mother in The Passion, or William Wallace praying in his prison cell “Give me the strength, Lord, to die with dignity”. Imagine the movie camera showing him choke on his tears. Then imagine that someone cues up the music “Here I am, Lord”. CLANG. Everyone recognizes that this would, at best, destroy the whole scene. There could never be a movie made about the Passion of Christ that used modern liturgical music: so why is it that we think that it should ever be used at the mass- and for that matter, when does it ever work? Is there a single movie scene anywhere that effectively uses modern liturgical music as a compliment to anything?

-Modern liturgical music is by definition new. Inasmuch as it is new sort of music, it is unfit to invoke a sense of continuity with those who have come before us. But it is of the nature of the liturgy to invoke a sense of unity with those who came before us Therefore modern liturgical music is a bad sort of music.


A Few Jottings on the

A Few Jottings on the Principle of Contradiction.

-Either we explicitly take the principle of contradiction as primary, or we do not. If we don’t, all roads will lead to Hegel, and then to Marx.

-All nature is nothing other than a certain potency to be moved by the divine mind- and the principle of contradiction is known by nature. So the principle of contradiction is the voice of God within us. If you want to hear the voice of God say “nothing can both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect” or- my favorite formulation- “being is, and cannot not be”

-We do not ever need to ask “is this a situation where I can apply the principle of contradiction”? This shows that the principle is absolutely transcendent. This proves that there is some sense in which we already know all things. The same is shown by the fact that we understand the word “thing” and “all” and “nothing” and “always” and “existence” and “being”…

-The principle of identity is not primary. If it were, there would have to be two principles of identity: sc. “being is being” and “non- being is non- being”- and we only know that these are really two principles if we already know the principle of contradiction.

-The confusion about the principle of identity comes from confusions in analytical logic. This logic replaces perfectly good words like “being” with symbols like “A”. But the symbolization is not possible apart from some word known first- a word that speaks to being. The symbol precinds from meaning- and therefore even from the distinction between being and non- being. But our knowledge, and the world, does not precind from the distinction between being and non-being. The symbolization of the principle of contradiction, and other premises of being will always lead to perverse ideas.

-If it is not evil

-If it is not evil to think anything, it is not evil to do anything.

-One sense of the word “certainty” is “firmness of conviction” where conviction means “a feeling”. In this sense, we are often more certain of culturally held opinions than of anything we have have proven. Most people feel more certain about the evils of racism than about any truths they demonstrate in, say, physics.

-Opinion and knowledge are not distinguished by the thing known, but how we know it. The one who has a rational proof knows, and to fall short of this is to have, at best, belief. For this reason, most people have beliefs about scientific facts: heliocentrism, atomic theory, evolution, genetics, etc. By “most people” I include most of the scientists I have known. How many chemists, for example, could give an informed argument for why matter must be atomic?

-One of the most universally accepted attributes of God is that he has no body. How many theologians hold this as a mere opinion? How many of them could even give an informed argument for why an existing being with no body is so much as possible?

A Whack at the Gordian

A Whack at the Gordian Knot of Energy in Physics

(one half of a dialectical give and take- but I’d like to see how far it could be pushed)

Save me from the spiritualization of energy! Physicists seem intent on viewing it a mystical and almost divine way (divinization of natural beings is a common to the earlier stages of any mathematical physics). The puzzles about what energy is all seem unnecessary to me. Energy is a certain number of kilograms moved in a certain amount of time, times meters. It’s a measurement on a scale, a stick, and a stopwatch and that’s it.


HypothesisSt. Thomas claimed to learn


St. Thomas claimed to learn more in prayer before a crucifix than in all his study of books.


As a scholarly type, Thomas Aquinas continually thought about what things mean. He considered the life of Christ from every angle. He carved out a thousand distinctions about him, he memorized every word the Scriptures said about him, he memorized more books about Christ than most people have read, and understood every page of them. He meditated continually on the meaning of Christ’s life as he knelt before the crucifix, and grew in understanding.

And yet, one day in prayer it strikes him all the things that Christ’s life means are dependent upon the fact that Christ actually lived. This perfection, which even a child can understand with great clarity, and perhaps with even greater clarity than an adult, was the perfection upon which all the others depend. Christ can not mean anything unless he existed. The essence of his life is a secondary perfection to his existence. Thomas proceeds to meditate on this existence continually, experiencing its primacy and power. Just think, all the things that he learned as a scholar were dependent on the one insight that any five year old could have- the root perfection of the faith is not anything that the Incarnation means, but the belief that it happened.

St. Thomas, through this insight, comes to an intimite understanding of esse, existence. Later he uses this insight to explain certain philosophical and theological problems. This insight comes to be seen as one of his central contibutions to philosophy.


ManuducioOne of the loveliest ideas


One of the loveliest ideas in St. Thomas articulated in his use of the word manuducio: “being led by the hand”. This word conveys the central idea in discipleship. Man is for some time in life led by the hand by a master, and he is aways led in this life by the things of sensation, and by his angel, and he is led by God both in this life and the next. St. Thomas sees manuducio as esential to the intellectual life. Philosophers should see themselves more as being led than as leading.


Number and the Things Beyond

Number and the Things Beyond the Cosmos.

Scripture has many instances of numbers that express the superabundance of heavenly things: of the angels, there is “thousand thousands [of angels] ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him (Dan. 7:10)” and “the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands (Rev. 5:11)”. To express the magnitude of what is forgiven by grace, we have Christ saying: “one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents (Mt. 18:27)”. The idea with these is not to indicate a specific sum, but rather to exhaust the imagination. We were meant to encounter those numbers as unimaginable sums, which leads to a sort of ecstasy of contemplation. Ten thousand times ten thousand was supposed to mean something like “beyond all number”.

But ten thousand times ten thousand is not beyond all number for the modern mind. Even very young children will talk about billions and trillions- and if you give them the names for higher numbers they will speak of them too. Eighth grade science textbooks will throw around far greater numbers than billions, and one can write out numbers of unimaginable magnitude quite easily using scientific notation. No matter how absurdly large one wants a number, scientific notation makes brief work of it: the number of grams the sun weighs (2 x 10^33) the distance to the furthest known galaxy in nanometers, etc. Once one knows the method for manipulating scientific notation, he doesn’t have to do much more than be able to multiply single digits, and add doubles to easily write out numbers that seem as great as can be calculated.

I like the modern mind on this account. Because there is no number that can dazzle our minds simply as number, we are more forced to come to grips with what it means to be “beyond number”. This getting beyond number is, to my mind, one of the hardest things to understand about the things beyond the cosmos. When we say “there are three divine persons” and “there are three oranges on the table” the word “three” does not mean the same thing in both statements. Likewise, “ten thousand angels” and “ten thousand puppies” do not use the word “ten thousand” in the same way. Angels do not have the sort of homogeneity that number requires, the homogeneity of quantity. All the things that happen in the cosmos have a sort of homogeneity, of space or time or both, which allows us to count them.

The things of heaven do not have this homogeneity in any way, because they have a degree of uniqueness that exceeds anything in the cosmos, even man. When we are in heaven, and first see an angel- we will first think that it is God- but even after we are told that it is not God, the next time we look at an angel, the exact same thing will happen. Angels are not what we call “alike”. Each individual is a completely different species. One angel need not remind us of another, the way all men are recognizable as men, for each angel is a subsistent species. God is further than even this, for he is beyond all species and genera absolutely. Any sort of universality of genus or species is utterly impossible to say of God. If there were one, it could only be “esse” or “existence”- but this is not a genus.


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