The first words of Christ

Christ’s first words in the first Gospel are “Suffer (aphiemi)  it be so now, for thus it is fitting to fulfil all righteousness (Mt. 3:15)”. These first words of the Word are followed by his baptism, the opening of the heavens, and the first public manifestation of the Trinity: with the Son first making himself present in word, the Holy Spirit making himself present as a dove, and the Father making himself present by his voice “this is my Beloved Son…”

The first word of Christ “Suffer it be…” is meant in the sense of “allow it to be” but the word “suffer” is the same word used by Christ when he foretells his passion “The Son of Man must suffer many things…be rejected by the Priests, be slain.. (Lk, 9:22)” And so we can see Christ’s first words as both showing us the Trinity, and making explicit reference to his passion. The Catholic and the Orthodox draw these two things together at the beginning of every prayer by making the sign of the cross, where one invokes the name of the Trinity in the four points of the cross.

Hylomorphism and causality

To be caused requires composition on the part of the thing caused, because to be caused means to receive something from something else, and so it requires some distinction between what is received and the thing which receives. The thing which receives is obviously able to do so, and this ability, as an ability, is what Aristotle called potency. And so all causality presupposes potency in the thing caused, and to the extent that we don’t see potency as a real principle of things, we won’t see the necessity of things being caused either. And since potency is only known by mind, and is as if non-being to imagination, measurement, experiment, mathematics or sensation as such, to posit any one of these things as the absolutely first principle of knowledge will leave us with an account of knowledge that sees no need for causality.

Hylomorphism and history.

Hylomorphism begins from the fact that everything in the world has a history to it, for all things came to be as the term of some motion. The principle of this history is what Hylomorphism calls “matter”, or that which comes to be so and so. The other principles are terms, and so, unlike time, they have no before and after. The form, for example, is the term to which, and so it is only temporal in the sense that being at the finish line is part of the race; or death is a part of life.

The essentials of hylomorphism

 Every material being, as such, is a certain term of a process. Said another way, everything is what it is because something went from this to that. So long as one assents to this, he assents to the fundamentals of the supposedly outdated and controversial doctrine of “hylomorphism”. The boldface words were named like so: the “something” is called “matter” or “material”; the “from” which is properly speaking the privation in the matter; and the to which is form in the composite.

Hylomorphism is not a theory in the modern sense of the word, because it is not based on a specialized experience, nor is it a hypothesis that one sets down in hope of eventual confirmation. One can either deny the doctrine or accept it (and I’d argue that one can only deny it in speech, not in thought) but one never seeks a specialized confirmation of it, it is part of our irst experience with the world.

The fundamental principle in the fourth way

The fundamental principle in the fourth way is that whatever is most such in any order is the cause of all things in that order. St. Thomas picked fire as an example, but in other places he also gave the example of a seed being caused by a tree, or an animal being the cause of the semen with which it generates- i.e. that which is most fully this particular tree is a cause of that which is a particular tree in an imperfect or potential manner. That there is another sense in which this seed is the cause of this tree is also evident, but to say this is beside the point and changes nothing. The general principle one is supposed to get from the example of the seeds is that what potentially has some completion (and all potential is potential for some completion) has to receive the completion from something else. To deny this principle of the fourth way is the same as saying that something is able to receive what it already has; i.e. that something is able to become what it already is; i.e. that something already is what it is not.   

Holiness as a term of action

St. Thomas argues that the Holy Spirit is called “Holy” because he is good in the greatest degree possible (as the “goal” of the divine will), and the greatest possible degree of goodness is holiness. Taken in this sense, holiness is a certain informing and animating goal of all action: wisdom is of little value, and may in fact do us harm apart from holiness; and love, to the extent that it is separated from holiness, is imperfect and undeveloped.

Augustine’s “On the Trinity” notes

St. Augustine wrote his treatise on the Trinity to respond to the sophistries that arise from people not beginning with faith and putting perverse hope in the power of human reason. He explains this by saying that there are three species of errors that arise: some measure God by the products of human art; others measure God in relation to what is true about the human soul; and others don’t begin with anything that they actually understand, and end up saying all sorts of high-minded absurdities. Augustine gives as an example the idea that God could generate himself. The division seems exaustive of sophistries, which are as a rule either overly reductive or simplistic, or simply paradoxical or baseless.

The causality of the saints

The higher a nature, the greater its causal power, and the higher a causal power, the more intimately and determinately it applies itself to a greater range of effects. And so the saints hear all prayers distinctly and fully, and more penetrate into the substance of the prayer than the one who prayed it. All prayers are heard with total attention, whatever their number. The highest such causality is Marian, which is capable of exhaustively loving each person with the total force of her immaculate heart, which is why St. Padre Pio described Mary’s care for him was the same as if he were the only child she had in the world.

the first act of faith

All intellect can know that God exists, and that some man is a man; but it requires a higher intellect than man to know “this man is God”. If man holds this, it is either out of error or out of discipleship to a higher intellect than is own. The ground of this discipleship is a similar sort of act to saying that “this man is God”; for all intellect can know that the fullness of its happiness can only come from sharing a common life with the source of all truth and causality- that is with God himself- and it can also know that it could only be granted this life if God chose to share it with man, since it is absurd to think that God is bound by some debt of justice to grant to man infinitely more than he deserves. But it requires more than a human intellect to know that God has willed to share his life with man. The human mind can give many reasons why it was fitting for God to share his life with man, but none will ever prove that he was forced to do so. But given an act of faith that God willed to share his life with man, man sees the necessity of revelation. This is why such an act of faith, which is itself based on revelation, is the foundation of revelation. This is why the first sentence of the Catechism is:

God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life.    

and why the first argument in the Summa Theologica is:

It was necessary for man’s salvation that there should be a knowledge revealed by God besides philosophical science built up by human reason. Firstly, indeed, because man is directed to God, as to an end that surpasses the grasp of his reason: “The eye hath not seen, O God, besides Thee, what things Thou hast prepared for them that wait for Thee” (Isaiah 66:4). But the end must first be known by men who are to direct their thoughts and actions to the end. Hence it was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation

And How does God make this revelation known, namely that he wills to share his life with man? By becoming man, and by remaining always physically and sensibly present to man.  

Note on end of man and faith

St. Thomas argues that man exists so that the material world might know itself fully. Those modern thinkers and scientists who argue that man arose out of an unguided process are in fact more right than they know, because the process terminated in the universe knowing itself, and was for the sake of this- and so in this sense it is impossible that there could have been intelligence in the universe itself before the sort of thing that a man is: this, in fact, was the very thing that justified and required his existence.

And so man’s end primarily involves knowing the material world, and he can never lose this purpose, even if he is given another one. And so if it is given to man that he might share in the interior of the divine life, it was necessary that he participate in this life by faith, since everything that is beyond the understanding power of the knower can only be held to by faith.

« Older entries