Grace

Christianity teaches that men are saved by human actions: first because we are saved by Christ’s actions, and Christ is human; and second because we are saved by our own action of accepting Christ. So far as these actions are human they have a human source. We call this source grace.

Grace, therefore, first means the human source of a salvific act. Just as nature is the source of natural actions, and the soul is the source of the action of a living being, so grace is the source of a salvific act. Grace can be seen as the ultimate term of various proportions or analogies: as art is to nature, so is nature to life, and so is life to grace. Art is a principle only externally, nature within. Nature is within primarily as passive, life as an active principle. Life is within as a principle of self motion; grace is within as the principle of a divine motion. Nature is most fully a logos or ratio of the divine art that allows a the thing itself to act for its own end- but grace is is the a more perfect logos of the divine that allows us to act for a properly divine end.  

The proportionate to our knowledge

Aristotle’s whole theory of knowledge rests on the axiom that the things are knowable to us to the extent that they are proportionate to us. One side of the axiom is that what is most knowable in itself (i.e. what has more act) is least knowable to us. The other side of the axiom is that what is least knowable in itself (like motion and potency) is less knowable to us. We understand composites of act and potency pretty well, but everything else we have to understand by a comparison to these things better known to us (Aristotle sometimes calls this comparison an analogy).  

Most modern philosophy rejects this theory of knowledge. This rejection is so fundamental that Charles DeKoninck once claimed that he could teach the whole history of modern philosophy as an over looking of the distinction that what is more knowable to us, and what is more knowable in itself. One sees this clearly and distinctly in Descartes, who says- somewhat shockingly- that the knowledge of God, the soul, and motion are all clear to him. Kant will press this idea as far as it can go when he defines the very knowability of things by what is proportionate to the forms within us. The contemporary tendency to equate the true with the scientific is an example of the same thing- for what we now call science is a systematic account of things in terms of what is most proportionate to us- numerals, graphs, meters, grams, and seconds (all things we make).

The modern argument from evil (repeat)

The modern version of the argument from evil is a perfect example of starting halfway and never getting to the roots of things:

Either God cannot abolish evil or he will not; if he cannot, then he is not all-powerful; if he will not then he is not all-good

The theist is then sees it as his job to cajole us into seeing that evils somehow aren’t evils. No one bothers to ask the more fundamental question- “why did we say that God is all-good or all-powerful in the first place”? Given what the argument from evil says, you expect that when you read a theologian who argued for the divine goodness, you will find him saying something like “the divine goodness is apparent from how wonderful the world is all the time, and how it is completely devoid of any pain or suffering”. In fact, one finds:  

To be good belongs pre-eminently to God. For a thing is good according to its desirableness. Now everything seeks after its own perfection; and the perfection and form of an effect consist in a certain likeness to the agent, since every agent makes its like; and hence the agent itself is desirable and has the nature of good. For the very thing which is desirable in it is the participation of its likeness. Therefore, since God is the first effective cause of all things, it is manifest that the aspect of good and of desirableness belong to Him; and hence Dionysius(Div. Nom. iv) attributes good to God as to the first efficient cause, saying that, God is called good “as by Whom all things subsist.”

God is the source of all goodness in us, so we are already seeking him in seeking any good at all. Where is the perfect universe we were supposed to be arguing from? Even if the world was one vast concentration camp killing off young children in the most ghoulish possible way in the midst of massive hurricanes and tsunamis, the mere desire for it to stop- or even the desire of the killers to keep killing- is already a search for God. God is not the supreme good because the world is such a wonderful place- he is the supreme good because we are seeking him in everything we do. Is this hard to understand? Yes. Did you think that God would be easier to play on than a pipe?

God’s goodness follows from his causality- the proof is rooted in all of the five ways, but especially the second. This causality is also clearly the ground of omnipotence- for all that can be done, must be done by him- even if it is with some co-operation. The argument from evil ultimate pits opposes attributes which in fact flow from the same source.

A thought on the argument from evil

Failing to live and to die with God is a greater evil than death or suffering- for it destroys and corrupts what is more intimately ourselves.

 

Notes on marriage

Modern debates about marriage often suffer serious flaws:

1.) The muddling of scriptural or canonical accounts of marriage with natural ones. For example, Scripture sees the relief of concupiscence as a legitimate purpose of marriage. This allows old persons, and even infertile persons to marry, so long as they are capable of copulation (see here, objection three, with the usual caveats about the supplement to the Summa). This doctrine of relief is tied to a deeper principle- sc. the fall of man. On a natural account of marriage, one has no access to the doctrine of the fall, and so it is unclear how one is supposed to deal with questions of who can get married if they can’t have children

2.) Extreme reticence to admit the reality of gender roles.  Regardless of whether one follows the light of nature or the light of revelation, the traditional account of marriage cannot be defended apart from gender roles. Marriage essentially involves a shared life. If we insist that this same shared life must also be between men and women, then there must be something in this shared life proper to men as men and women as women.  

This is the point on which traditional justifications of marriage are weakest.

3.) Failure to appreciate the way in which reason can solve moral problems in the face of doubt. On the traditional understanding, deliberate non reproductive sex perverts the sex drive in much the same way that joining a gang perverts the desire to belong to a group. Imagine the difficulty in persuading a gang member- especially an articulate one that has cultivated his justifications- that their desire to belong to a gang is distorting their desire to belong to a group.

4.) Reducing natural law explanations of sex either to “the person” or to the nature and structure of the sexual organs. The first is too broad and distant the from relevant factors, the second too narrow and removed from the moral good. The middle ground is the reproductive soul, or in our case, the human soul as reproductive (pay particular attention to the second paragraph in the link, whichspeaks to purposes). What food is to the individual man as an individual, sex is to the individual man as a man (or a sort of thing). Both manifest a personal desire to exist i.e. to live. discussions of procreation and “procreative and unitive acts” usually fail to show procreation is an aspect of our personal desire to exist.  

Science and Dialectic

In the second chapter of his Physics, Aristotle deals with the objections of Parmenides and Melissus. According to Aristotle, Physics is the study of mobile beings, but Parmenides and his disciples deny that motion exists. Aristotle’s first response to them is the more interesting one: he denies that he has to answer them. Physics, he says, is the study of motion, and if someone denies motion exists it is not for the student of Physics to respond. He gives a parallel case from the science of geometry: some who try to draw a square with the same area as a circle assume that a line can be divided into a smallest part- but as soon as one denies that line can be divided forever, the geometer need not respond to them.  

This point would be easy to accept if Aristotle did not also insist that both physics and geometry were both instances of what he calls episteme, (Latin scientia) and so both are grounded on self-evident truths. How can something be truly self-evident and yet also capable of question?

Aristotle resolves this by saying that the self evident is what is primary in some genus or subject matter, but this need not be what is first absolutely. Geometry, for example, studies continuous quantity, and the first truth about this is what belongs to it by definition: sc. that it is divisible without limit (as opposed to discrete quantity, which cannot be divided further than the unit). This is primary and self-evident within the genus, but this is not the same thing as to say that the genus itself is first absolutely.

The first truths of a genus are both self evident, and yet can be questioned or even disputed. The science of universal disputation is what Aristotle called Dialectic, which he deals with in his massive book Topics.  The modern mind is particularly interested in the dialectical approach to things, which allows us to question everything absolutely and treat all propositions as merely hypotheses. The danger of this approach is that one neglects what Aristotle called science properly as opposed to dialectic. So far as one is is approaching things like a dialectitian, he is not starting from a rest in a subject, but in a debate or a questioning. The sceintist lays down his first principle, says Aristotle, but the dialectitican starts with one side of a contradiction. It’s impotant to not here that both might be starting from exactly the same principle: like “quantity is ininitely divisible”, but they view it in different lights. In the light of geometry, this is truly self-evident, but outside of this light, it is not.

The dialectical desire, when taken too far, strives to reduce all things in every genus to some first truth. This first truth will then serve as the first principle of all sceinces. One imagines something like the Parmenidean “One” which so fascinated the neo-platonists. Borges would write stories about this sort of “One”: a word which says all things that can be said in any sentence or book or library. The desire for such a “One”, however, simply confuses the way we know with the way the divine mind knows. The more our concepts unify things, the less perfet they become. The word “being” says everything, but only in virtue of its being the most imperfect and indistinct concept we have. This is not to say that our desire for the “One’ is in vain, but it is to insist that this desire is not for a properly human science, but for a science that is outside of our natural powers, and therefore can only be given by grace.   

The Fourth Way, pt. I

The easiest thing to forget in the Fourth Way is the thing itself. St. Thomas begins with things that have more nobility or goodness or truth than others,  which means he speaks not just about goodness, but goodness as being in a thing or a subject.

St. Thomas points out that these things in a subject are more or less good in comparison to some most, and he uses fire as an example of this. Paper cannot become hotter and hotter forever, but at some point simply bursts into flame (at Fahrenheit 451). In other words, at some point the heat simply destroys the subject, whether one is dealing with lint or a star. The subject, therefore, places limits on what it can have or become, and this limit is the maximum which measures the more or less.

Note careflly that the limit of the heat that can be in a log is limited by fire- i.e. something that is hot by nature, or in itself. St. Thomas uses this to show us that the maximum of something in a subject, and the measure of the more or less, is that same something taken in itself.  Just as what is hot in itself is the maximum that lies beyond the paper or wood that can be more or less hot, what is good in itself is the maximum that lies beyond the limit of the subject that that can be more or less good.

“Pray always” Christ said. How did he see the world then? As kind of devotional book.

The likeness of God.

The relationship of an efficient cause to its effect must always create likeness, because to be an effect means to have something from another, but to have something from another ipso facto makes one like that other. .

Creation, however, means to have ones whole existence from another. It follows that any creature, and in a special way the human soul, is more like God than it is like any creature. A man is more like God than his parents or any person who he loves and tries to imitate.

At the same time, man is less like God than he is like any other creature. The act of creation requires that the creature be nothing in itself, while the creator is existence itself. What could possibly be more different than what is and what is not? This is the foundation of every difference. And so man is less like God than he is like any creature.

 

The truth of truths

(dashed off)

The mind seeks a truth in order to rest in it. At the same time, the mind itself does not exhaust its desire in any particular truth. But if we already know that no particular truth will give the mind as such its rest, what is the mind seeking? The particular, which offers no rest, cannot be what is causing its motion. What then? The universal truth is the source of its motion. Everything else the mind knows is really just a reminder of its own inadequacy- which has a relative satisfaction of its own, but always carries with it a reminder that it is not what we are looking for. We cannot even question whether it exists without proving that it does, for all knowledge or even the desire for knowledge is already being moved by it.

What is the universal truth that is a cause of all of our desires to know anything? It is not a this or a that, but contains the truth of them all in a complete unity. It is mind, or something higher than mind. It is a truth that is the source of all truth, and so it stands to all truth as an artist.

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