The gospel, philosophically (pt. 2)

Axiom: The human person needs to go beyond beyond natural limits.

As evidence, start with II Republic where Socrates is forced to re-imagine his idea of a city after it is ridiculed as “A city for pigs”, i.e. one limited to meeting what fell within natural human needs for nourishment, sheltering, health, recreation, etc. The critique was on-point: while pigs are perfectly content (or even in a state of bliss) when their natural needs are met, humans have a need for the heroic, the glorious, the illustrious, magnanimous; or on a more basic level for the refined, luxurious, elegant, etc. This is why we can identify ancient humans by jewelry, large decked-out temples, well-executed art… one is not sure he’s found a fully human species if they merely have tools like controlled fire or sharpened rock-axes.

Since we don’t have any choice whether we want to go beyond the limits of nature, the only question is how we will do so. I’ll focus on one way in which we want to go beyond limits, sc. the moral limits of human behavior.

One approach is to go beyond nature by contradicting it. Raising kids makes it clear that even before we are fully self conscious we defy the rules that restrain us as a proof of our own self-sufficiency. Augustine gives the classic description of this in his analysis of his desire to steal pears. From within this perspective, rules are at best useful illusions for living together, though the clever and wise seek ways to flout them.  This flouting doesn’t require that my life be outwardly rebellious or defiant in any obvious way, but only that, somewhere in my heart, I have made a definitive judgment that some moral rule does establish a limit I am bound to respect. To return to Augustine’s life, it’s enough to steal some pears in the dark.

The only other approach has to preserve the limits of human nature. But this seems impossible: how can we preserve the natural limits of our nature while being true to our desire to transcend all limits?

The Platonic-Christian answer is that staying within the limits can be in part rewarded by the gift of transcending them. The moral limits of life are tied to a larger story culminating in the possibility of transcending all limits by way of divine gift. The possibility of rewards also raises the possibility of punishments, perhaps even perpetual ones.

In Christian dogma, these two ways of transcending moral limits are, respectively, mortal sin and sanctifying (or diefying) grace. 



Divine interiority

God is the exemplar, final and efficient cause of creation, i.e. his causality is described as entirely extrinsic. But the mode of divine agency is so utterly different from agency in creatures that it is helpful to understand it by negating the way created agents are exterior to their effects. In this sense, divine agency is an interior cause.

The salient description is of what Thomas calls spiritual contact: 

In quantitative contact that which touches must be outside of what it touches, since contact occurs on the surfaces of each. Thus, it cannot penetrate through the object but is impeded by it. But contact by power, which belongs to intellectual substances, makes the substance touched be within that which touches it since it reaches within things, penetrating into them without impediment.*

Divine efficient causality is therefore what is most interior to things:

God is the cause of [created causes], working more intimately in them than those moving causes since he is the cause of the very esse of things while those other causes are, as it were, determining that esse. For the creature takes no part of its whole esse from some creature as a source, since even matter is from God alone, and esse is more interior to to any thing than that which determines it, which is why The Book of Causes says it remains when all other determinations are removedAnd so the activity of the creator more reaches to the interior of things than the work of secondary causes**

Divine efficient causality cannot be understood as lacking the perfection that interior created causes have (i.e. matter and form). In denying that God is a material or formal cause of things we mean to negate the imperfections and limitations to both but not the perfection of their interiority. In this sense divine exteriority – transcendence – makes him more interior to the material thing than the soul, self, or concrete body that is his own. In this sense, we deny that God is a material or formal cause of things not because they are intrinsic to things, but because they are too superficially constitutive of things.

* Contra gentiles II. c. 53 Quia in tactu quantitatis, qui fit secundum extrema, oportet esse tangens extrinsecum ei quod tangitur; et non potest incedere per ipsum, sed impeditur ab eo. Tactus autem virtutis, qui competit substantiis intellectualibus, cum sit ad intima, facit substantiam tangentem esse intra id quod tangitur, et incedentem per ipsum absque impedimento.

** Super Libri Sententiarum, lib. 2 d. 1 q. 1 a. 4 co. Horum tamen causa etiam Deus est, magis intime in eis operans quam aliae causae moventes: quia ipse est dans esse rebus. Causae autem aliae sunt quasi determinantes illud esse. Nullius enim rei totum esse ab aliqua creatura principium sumit, cum materia a Deo solum sit; esse autem est magis intimum cuilibet rei quam ea per quae esse determinatur; unde et remanet, illis remotis, ut in libro de causis dicitur. Unde operatio creatoris magis pertingit ad intima rei quam operatio causarum secundarum


On infinites, esp. Words

Aristotle distinguishes two accounts of the infinite

a.)  that which has nothing outside

b.)  that which always has something outside.

He says (b) is the correct account.

Proof: if “infinite” were “an X which had nothing outside”, we could think of an X that had nothing greater – namely the infinite one. But calling numbers or spaces or time infinite means recognizing there is no number, time, or space for which a greater is inconceivable.

I want to tie this familiar sort of infinite to another one that is just as infinite, namely, the possible uses of a term. We can’t enumerate all possible uses of… (I’m pulling out a random book and scanning for the first noun)… “School”. Miriam-Webster gives five noun meanings, but others were left out and others will arise, and this is before we include all the ways the term might be used metaphorically, ironically, euphemistically, in puns, malapropisms, idioms, Freudian slips…

My point is not that the uses of the term could actually go on forever, but the word as such has no definite limit.  So, for example, the fact that languages constantly melt into dialects into new languages sets an extrinsic limit to how many uses a term can have, but the word as such is as infinite as numbers or space, since no matter how many uses one enumerates there will always be another possible use outside them. Moreover, time and space are infinite in exactly this way: there will never be an actual infinite, but the mind in knowing these things knows it can never conceive of a last one, but, as we said, there will always be another outside. 

While sentience is infinite in the sense that we can always see one more blue thing or taste one more salty one, words, numbers, and space are not infinite in this way. To see one blue thing after another is not the same as seeing an equivocal meaning of a term, forming another species of number, or a space that contains another and so bestows a form on it (i.e. place). Carving out this new sense of the infinite points to its spirituality, though describing that will have to wait for later.


Cajetan on Thomas on the species of concupiscence

Thomas’s account of the difference between natural and artificial concupiscence leaves one confused whether they are different by having different objects or not (cf. articles 3 and 4). Thomas’s examples suggest that desiring food, drink, warmth, sex, etc. is “natural concupiscence” while desiring money, fashion, jewelry, etc. is “artificial concupiscence”, but this reading clashes with how he actually defines the terms.

Cajetan straightens the matter out with a piece of commentary at its best. From I-II q. 30 a. 4 ¶ IV. Translation lightly edited.

Both natural and rational concupiscence are animal emotions (passio) and tend towards the good precisely as good, namely as an end and for the sake of the end. This is clear from animal behavior, like the swallow seeking a twig as something appropriate and useful for a nest, and so also it desires the good apprehended in drink and reproduction.

The natural and the rational differ in that the former is directed by nature and the latter by reason. The direction of an appetite from nature is clear in the very natural appetite, and shows no inclination of the thing except as commensurate to the nature. Matter does not desire a form unless it is proportioned to it, nor does a gravitationally affected (gravitas) body tend to a place, nor an animal to a warm or temperate climate unless these be appropriate to their nature. Thus the object of natural appetite is commensurate or proportionate to the nature and not to the object as it is in itself

Concupiscence does not differ from natural appetite by its object but in its mode. The animal desire a necessary amount of drink both by natural and animal appetite, but concupiscence occurs following an apprehension and through the act of the individual animal itself while natural appetite occurs even in what lacks both knowledge and the act of an individual having that inclination in itself. Therefore so long as natural concupiscence tends toward an apprehended object it tends toward an end and acts for the sake of the end, but it is directed by nature, and its end is taken as commensurate to the nature, making it ordered to the nature not as an end apprehended, but as innate (non apprehensum sed inditum). Thus it is impossible (repugnat) that the object of natural concupiscence be desired as an end simply speaking, just as it is impossible that it be desired without commensuration to an nature.

Rational concupiscence, because it is capable of tending toward the apprehended object simply speaking, can measure something good for it by the commensuration that the thing has to reason, and in so doing it measures the object by infinity – for from the fact that someone sets pleasure as his end, the pleasure, as desirable, will not be commensurate to reason unless it is infinitely desirable.

So the difference between the object of rational and natural concupiscence… is that, for the rational, the object is the end, and has the character (ratio) of an end entirely; but the object of natural concupiscence, even if it is an end, does not have the complete character of an end but of something proportioned and measured to the nature, as it is ordered to nature as an innate end.

Working hypotheses on “Quaedam participatio”

(Not all of these are equally hypothetical. Some I’ve researched, some I haven’t; some I have definite opinions on, others I don’t. I’m requesting comments on this.)

-Thomas uses quaedam participatio (QP) as a technical term.

-QP is unique to Thomas. Search Albert first for contrary evidence.

Participatio has its familiar Platonic meaning, but quaedam is an attempt to back off the full force of the doctrine. It’s participation that can be squared with Aristotelianism.

-QP looks a lot like what now gets called the analogy of being. For Thomas, analogy was always a way of naming that followed a particular way in which we come to know, but it is clear to everyone that this way of knowing was (often? In critical cases?) subtended by an ontology. We called the ontology “analogy” but we should have fleshed out the doctrine of QP.

-Participation is a real relation described or visualized as an activity. In QP, this relation is:

a.) Non homogenous. The terms of the relations do not share a common genus, either because they are in different genera (accident has a QP to substance, as does the human intellect to the angelic one) or because one is in a genus and the other is not (any relation of creatures to God).

Possible exceptions: True and false are analogues, but seem like they can be said of things in the same genus, though the false as such is an ens rationis and therefore in the real genus of relation.

b.) Asymmetrical: One would suspect Thomas to say that these relations are real when said from lower to the higher, but not real when said from the higher to the lower. The relation of A to B is “real” when A as A cannot exist without B (the word “real” might not have been the best choice, but it is what it is). Because God is invoked to explain existence as such, he cannot be viewed as dependent-in-existence on what he makes, even when considered as creator.  

c.) Immediate: The human mind, tellingly, has a QP to the angels and not to God alone. This seems to indicate that QP is a way in which the lower touches the higher. This suggests Dionysius as a source for QP, though definitely played in a thomistic key.

-But all those traits seem only to set up the crucial point, i.e. the way in which the lower term of QP really has some components or properties of the higher. Distinction: among things had by nature, some are had by gift and others are not. Nature is any intrinsic source of action or state of being, but this intrinsic source can be a sort of gift. The angel has its esse as a sort of gift and so has a QP to God, but its form/ intellect is seen as not arising in this way but as arising from an intrinsic-principle-not-by-gift. The human intellect, on the other hand, as intellectual form has a QP to the separated substances. While this does not mean that the human intellect is a gift from the angels (it isn’t) human nature has this intellect in the mode of a gift in a way angels do not.

Thomas and “a certain participation”

One of the recurrent and indispensable descriptions of things in Thomas’s thought is X is a certain participation in Y.   Here’s a list of various things he describes as X U+2192.svg Y, from a search of quaedam participatio on the Index Thomisticus.

charity U+2192.svg divine goodness

Accidents U+2192.svg Substance (here, STA literally distinguishes “participation” from “a certain [quaedam] participation” see Super Sententiarum., lib. 1 d. 36 q. 2 a. 3 arg. 4.)

AngelU+2192.svg the divine esse

The aevum of the angels U+2192.svg eternity

The discourse of reason U+2192.svg intellect

Human powers of thought U+2192.svg intellect

A gift in a lower being U+2192.svg the gift from the higher being

Words of Ciaphas (because they were false) U+2192.svg prophesy

Powers of ministers U+2192.svg powers of kings

Beatitudes U+2192.svg future beatitude

Created beatitude U+2192.svg uncreated beatitude

Eternity as communicated to man U+2192.svg eternity in its proper measure

Human soul called intellectual U+2192.svg intellect in its full refulgence

Created good U+2192.svg uncreated good

Imperfect U+2192.svg perfect

(Clever) animal instinct U+2192.svg prudence

Speculative science U+2192.svg perfect beatitude

Natural law U+2192.svg eternal law (this is spoken of at length)

The wisdom by which we are wise U+2192.svg divine wisdom

The love by which we formally love our neighbor U+2192.svg divine love

Love as a gift of the Holy Spirit U+2192.svg Holy Spirit

Human virtus U+2192.svg Divine virtus 

Grace U+2192.svg divinity

Sacramental character U+2192.svg priesthood of Christ

Faith U+2192.svg divine truth

Light of the agent intellect U+2192.svg light of the separated substances

Appetitive powers U+2192.svg reason

Moral virtue in appetitive powers U+2192.svg right reason

The esse of any thing U+2192.svg the divine esse

Every form U+2192.svg likeness of divine esse 

Form U+2192.svg first (i.e. pure) act

Form U+2192.svg divine claritas

Light of reason U+2192.svg divine light

Adoption U+2192.svg natural sonship



Note on Universalism

While his book-length defense of Universalism will not be out for six months, David Bentley Hart has given summaries of his argument in public lectures. Universalism is, of course, an essentially though not exclusively eschatological question, and Hart presses hard on the eschatological problems arising from eternal punishments. At first glance he appears to be raising a variant of the problem of how a mother can be blessed in heaven while knowing her child is in Hell, and I don’t think this  admittedly crude account of his argument distorts it too much, but what he’s actually argued is:

1.) Persons are constituted by interpersonal relationships to God and others which are fundamentally based on God being essentially love.

2.) Therefore, persons utterly and absolutely deprived of love-based interpersonal relationships to God and one another are not possible.

3.) The damned as such are such persons.

4.) So the damned as such are impossible.

Hart insists on a place of torments in the life to come, which allows for the torments to be indefinitely extreme and indefinitely long. To the extent that what is indefinite in this manner is also called eternal,* such a place of torment is eternal, and only a deeply irrational person would be flippant about the prospect of ending up there, but it cannot belong to what a Catholic would call “the last things”.

*A better word might be “infinite”. The relevant conceptual space seems to include “eternal”, “indefinite” and “infinite”.

JOST to obj. 1 (Conc.)

(JOST raises more objections after this, but I’m stopping here)

If you press the objection that [divine power] can be present or absent only with respect to the term and not entitatively, and that if it is only present or absent in that respect, it will then not be indifferent entitatively, and so not in actual fact, but only fictitiously indifferent. I respond that there is a glaring equivocation when it is said that something free is indifferent to being present or absent. If this is understood to mean that something formally free exercises something passively contingent in itself, and which therefore can be actively present or absent in itself, then it is false, because the free being, as free, consists formally in the indifference which has dominion over things. But when it has the power over another only when changed in itself it does not have what belongs to the definition of freedom or to the perfection of the free being –  rather, its freedom is in  being controled by whatever is above it. While there can only be freedom in us through the change of manifold acts and passive contingency, this is a deficient form of perfection and actual dominion over objects. But if we were understanding something as free which could exercise presence or absence as it were actively (quasi active) that is, so that it could make it so that the objects themselves be present or absent and were thus its effects, the act would be free and actively indifferent, and producing those objects by means of a real activity while undergoing no change in itself and so being without passive indifference. So described, the whole entity being present or absent formally stands to its term and to the creature as a relation of reason; but the whole entity being present or absent actively in the omnipotent divine action is in contact with creatures by a real act, and it touches them in their changing only by a relation of reason, and that contact considered in creatures can be absent.


JOST: summary of ad. 1

The first group of difficulties studies above concerned the liberty’s indifference together with the act of the divine will, which is always in second act. In response we said that it is entirely true that there cannot be an indifference with respect to the exercise or non exercise of the divine power, but there could be an indifference of the act with respect to the contact or not being in contact with the created object, which can only be loved by God freely, always standing to him as a secondary and inadequate object. When it was objected that an actual relation to an object is intrinsic to [God] we responded that something that is dependent in act on an object and takes its specification or some perfection from it, is an intrinsic relation, and is indeed the very entity in act as it is something not entirely for itself but relating to another and depending on it. An act that in no way depends on something else but is an entity entirely for itself and on which its object entirely depends is not intrinsically constituted by this relation and order to the secondary object which depends on it and it does not establish a real relation to it. The relation of reason belonging to that maximal form of independence and dominion over the object is something following upon the act and not constituitive of it. Because if the act is the cause of the object and the object depends on it though not reciprocally, an order to an object is presupposed in such an act but it does not constitute it. Were one to press the objection that the very divine act, considered as free and as distinguished from the neceesary has nothing for its object except the created thing (as does, for that matter, omnipotence) We responded that the act is not distinguished into being either free or necessary through the created object, as something either motivating or specifying the act, but as something caused and changed by the act. If an object is caused by an act it does not distinguish the act per se nor constitute it, but presupposes it. So the distinction or constitution of of the free act as free is antecedent to the created object and to the relation of reason although the relation comes to it as a consequence, but the freedom of the act arises from the divine goodness as from an object, being something communicable to the creature, since the maximal and absolute independence and dominion that it has over every creature is not equal to the divinity itself and therefore not necessary but is rather contingent relative to divinity, whose changeless and so-constituted act is in the nature of the object, because whatever good is in the object participates in it and therefore is desirable and objective. So we said above that God relates to it more as his effect than as his object, which is also true of omnipotence, which is in God absolutely an independently, regarding the the object as an effect consequent on it, but not following on the nature of the contingent that is its existence, but in the nature of the possible, which is spoken of as necessary, about which we will speak of below in Q. 25 disp. 12. So omnipotence is not free with respect to possibles, even though created possibility is not equal to divinity, but his will is free with respect to existence. If one were to challenge what sort of indifference consists only on a relation of reason, we respond that the indifference is something real, denominated, and with a power over objects in the will and in contingent nature, which is nevertheless signified by us through a relation of reason while being something real in itself and absolute but unchangeable with respect to the exterior object, and so it cannot be present or absent entitatively on the side of the subject, but only as a term and on the side of the object, because the object lacks being in itself and is limited in existence and so is only contingent, and with a mode of contingency by an act not having necessity…

The intellectual labor of faith

Faith has a lot of meanings outside of Christianity, but as a theological virtue it is to believe in proposition T because God and the saints are convinced that T is true. It might not hurt to believe in T for other reasons, but none of these other reasons is the theological virtue of faith.

Relative to this, the sense of Peter’s Lord I believe, help my unbelief is that our belief in T isn’t aways wholly motivated by God being convinced it is true. We might believe because our parents did or our culture does or because arguments for T are convincing, and though these are fine auxiliaries to faith and channels though which it can come, they are not faith. Someone with faith could address each petition of the Creed to God and follow it with because you know it to be the case, though this leaves many of us with the sense that our faith needs more intellectual work.

Ignatius’s infamous rule 13 for believing with the Church: What seems to me white, I will believe to be black if the hierarchical Church so defines generalizes as a rule for faith. Ignatius simply treats the Church as the oracle of faith, and so taken the rule follows in strict logic. I have been convinced of all sorts of things that were in fact false but it would be impossible for God to be so, and so if T = “snow is black” then the reason for believing T is true is stronger – infinitely stronger – than the reason for believing it is false. I don’t think that there are any T’s remotely like this in the Creed or the deposit of faith, though someone like Bart Ehrman or Richard Carrier might disagree.

One can defend or assist the faith with reasons, or by societies that treasure it, or by religious experiences or even miraculous happenings that confirm it, but one can’t formally cause it with any of these, and to the extent that faith rests on them it is infinitely more fragile than it is called to be. That, and it can’t save us.

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