Notes on Angels

Definition: A finite intellectual substance that by nature is not unified to a matter. It’s thus distinguished from the divine and human nature.

So we understand angels by affirming what they have in common with finite substances and denying what is caused by matter.

Have in common with finite substances: They know, desire (both by nature and by choice, the former being a sort of emotion) govern, lead, are servants of divinity, and cannot know those things that are proper to be known by God and the blessed (revealed mysteries, the future, secrets of the divine will.)

Are without matter: They don’t develop over time, either individually or historically. They do not start in a stage of imperfection and become perfect later. They are not subject to natural defects or bad chance. They cannot repent after contemplating how their future will be so much worse.

Original Sin

-Membership in the mystical body of Adam. cf. Mystici Corporis §12.

-Our nature is transmitted to us in a way that does not save us. This counts as a “sin” relative to God’s desire to have saved us that way.

-Our nature, as nature, needs to be saved since (a) it desires goods by nature that it cannot by nature achieve (the vision of God) and (b) by nature it is practically impossible for it not to fall into many vices since it loves lower goods for many years as a child before it is rational in second act. But (c) given that there is also a broken mystical body of Adam, this is most of all what we need to be saved from.

-Our being part of a broken first plan that included no human sorrow.

-The fact that the act of conception is not sacramental. It was meant to transmit at least the grace of meriting, and perhaps even the grace of final beatitude. Adam was clearly not created in the grace of final beatitude, but it’s unclear to me whether his offspring were meant to be. My suspicion is they were.

-The mystical body of Adam vs. the mystical body of Christ. The infinite elevation of our Head. Felix culpa.

-The fault is happy relative to infinite elevation. The cost was extraordinary.

-The pathos of mystical membership with Adam and Romans 7: Who will deliver me from this body of death? and I do not do what I would, but what I hate. The doctrine is Romans 5.

-In the sorrowful mysteries we contemplate what the head merited for the body; in the glorious where the head exists, drawing the body to himself.

-Since Vatican II Catholics have been zealous in contemplating the hypothetical possibility of the righteous apart from the Church. The way to incorporate this into traditional theology is through the Mystical body of Christ as coextensive with the body of Adam.

Christianity vs. Religion

Religion unavoidably has a component where we act for God so he’ll act for us. One can see Christianity this way, even to the point of seeing it as the heart of what is going on. Christ, after all, came to offer his life to reconcile us to the Father, and in the most ancient forms of the religion he established there are rituals that confer grace even without a conversion of heart in the one performing the ritual. So is this vindicating some sort of formalism? 

No. Christ reconciled all to the Father by his charity, not by magic rituals, and the rituals that he left work ex opere operato not because they have magical power but because the Christ performs them in the same love he has always performed them. The foundation of the religion is his friendship and desire for God, which is the principle of everything else, including any access to divine power. 

There is no opposition between loving someone and having access to his power – the whole question is which one is the foundation of the other. The heart has a tendency to found religion – certainly including Christianity – on the harnessing of divine power. We make the offering and wait for the results – deo volente, of course. We’ve done what he told us, after all. The problem with this is not our desire for divine power to give us what we want. Creatures depend on omnipotence to be actual at all, whether in substance or operation. If anything, we need to become more craven of divine power, as we need it to gain anything we want. The problem is our inability to see that friendship and spousal union with God is precisely the thing we want. 


Parmenides vs. the Empiricist

Empiricist: Your problem is over-reliance on logic when we need to rely on data and evidence. You need less ἔστιν τε καὶ ὡς οὐκ ἔστι μὴ εἶναι and more things you can just point at.

Parmenides: Very well, then. How about you start by pointing at exactly what changes?”

E: That bird there: he just flew from that oak to that elm.

P: Just so we’re clear, you’re not claiming that oaks became elms, or what we once called being-on-oaks became what we now call being-on-elms

E: Right. It’s the bird that changed.

P: So it’s not a bird any more?

E: No, it’s still the same bird.

P: So now you’re saying the bird stayed the same. I wanted you to tell me what changed. 

E: Well, the bird changed in one sense and not in another.

P: So now you want to divide senses of a bird? And you’re saying I’m the one who is appealing to abstractions? I thought you were the one who just pointed to what was real. Where is this “sense of the bird” that changes?

E: It’s easy! It’s the property of being on oaks! 

P: That’s literally the first thing you said didn’t change. Have you started thinking that contraries become one another now?

E: No. Contraries don’t become each other at the same time. 

P: Ah, so it’s contrary times that change?

E: No. The thing at one time, say 6:00PM, becomes its contrary at another time, say 6:01PM.

P: And what thing is that, exactly? That just what I wanted you to point to! But as for your time example, it’s clearly just another property of something. You can’t say the property of “being at six o’clock” becomes “being at 6:01.” So what thing changes exactly?


P: Excellent! Demonstrative pronouns! What exactly does your “that” refer to when you’ve admitted it isn’t the bird, the property, or the time?

Infinite v. all

A semiautomatic loads infinite shots (no shot needs to be the last one) but it can’t load all of them. It relies on a principle of another kind, namely the self moving power of life.

If we clarify that the semi-auto only reloads as opposed to loading, then by parity of prefix, physical causes re-move as opposed to moving, not in the contemporary sense of “removal” but with re indicating the iteration of a principle of another kind.

The deist spin on this is that re-moval is a process of greater and greater distancing from the mover, a sort of “thanks for the start, but I can take it from here!” This is in one sense true, since the gift of the mover is that things have real autonomy and existence as substances; but their existence and actions are ordered to another, just as we both want the semiautomatic to do things on its own precisely in its existence for us. The weapon reloads on its own, but its sights aren’t for eyes it has, it’s handle isn’t for its own hands, it’s proportions aren’t to its own body, etc. The autonomy of physical and created being shows up as entirely accreted to its existence for another.

History as human

Thomas thinks we can perceive ourselves as a composite of immaterial and material cognitive elements in all our acts of knowing (1.76.1)

A merely material or sentient experience is not a properly human one. All of us have had such experiences as children, when the world simply flowed into sensation without ever coalescing into a narrative. I remember playing peek-a-boo with my mother when I was two or so, and I can remember how I was always frustrated when she wanted to stop, since it felt like, to me, that the time she wanted to quit was the first time we ever played the game. She could get bored with the repetition but I could not, since she had the awareness of many acts as a narrative – and a horribly dull one – whereas for me each time was the first time.  I even know that I could talk to her at the time and tell her I was frustrated, but my language was independent of any narrative awareness. I used the tools of reason with no act of reason.

Animals live their whole lives like this. They can be frustrated, angry, joyous, scared, etc but they can’t get bored or be restless with the status quo. This explains how they have repetition in their diet and behavior that would bore any human being to tears. They don’t live in history, and we in fact can see that they don’t: the time they live in isn’t marked by eras, fashions, epochs, or styles. They can learn habits from experience and each other, but what we call traditions (or their renunciation in revolution) are unknown to them and superfluous to the life they’re living.

Reason transcends sensation, not just the exterior senses but even memory and imagination. Animals and children remember all sort of things without their memory being a narrative or history. For all I know, memory and imaginative powers of other animals are as beyond human instances of these powers as the bloodhound’s sense of smell is. The memory of a non-human animal is not even what we would call a memory, i.e a part of an ordered, whole story related to its later parts, even if the relation is only in time and not at all causal. The animal’s imagination has little to do with what we call imagination, i.e. the recognition of possible being with some sort of order and relation to actual being. For that matter, the animal’s seeing a substance is not even the seeing of a substance, or the recognition of what exists in itself, neither said of nor present in another.

Abusus rights and common goods

We have no right of abusus over anything ordered to the common good (e.g. we can’t, as a private individual, sell a public park or build our personal house on one.)

Persons, organs of reason and sexual activity are ordered to the common good (reason by truth, sexual activity to the species and spouse, persons themselves by their order to God.)

Therefore we have no right of abusus over persons, organs of reason or sexual activity.

Abusus Rights

In his commentary on ST 2.2.150, Sylvius (following Cajetan, ibid. IX) argues that drunkenness is evidently a sin since it is wrong to violently keep someone from using his house, even once and for a finite time, so a fortiori it is a sin for a man to violently keep himself from using his own reason. For us the argument seems straightforwardly flawed: His house is his house, but my reason is mine, to do whatever I want with. This is an important point of difference between pre-modern and contemporary theories of right – Sylvius is presupposing that one’s reason is his to use and enjoy but not to destroy or impair. It is “my reason” in the same way that the car I rent is my rental car. I have the right of usufruct, but not abusus. This is an underappreciated principle in dividing more classical or Catholic ethics systems from modern ones.

Beatitude and the infinite

(God) is more desirable and more perfect than (God + a finite good) since the first has no imperfection and the second does; the first has nothing undesirable in it while the second has the finitude of the finite good.

While we are obliged to want all others saved with us, the obligation does not arise from a desire to perfect the object of beatitude, as though (God + a loved one) is more perfect or desirable object of beatitude than God. We want others to be saved out of our partaking in God’s love for them, not because the object of our beatitude is incomplete without them. We love them in charity for their sake, not in the hope of getting a more perfect object than God. We love our neighbor out of a fulness that overflows, not an imperfection in divinity that is supplemented by their presence. Again, the point of mortification or sacrifice is to recognize the error of that part of us that feels like it needs (God + finite good) in order to be happy. The part is controllable but probably ineradicable, and it’s hard to notice it without the complaints it makes when denied something.

The argument I’m giving amounts to the same thing as saying an infinite good can’t be added to or taken away from. In our present state we’re stuck imagining a God who would fail to satisfy if some other good weren’t with him, but this is a fact about how we signify things and not a fact about the thing understood. Thinking that God has to lobotomize the blessed if their loved ones are damned (as Hart argues) is to conflate facts about how we imagine God (sc. as a finite good) with what God is in fact. One might be Universalist or not – and I’ve said some things in the second paragraph that can even be read as Universalist –  but don’t be Universalist because you imagine God is a finite good that can be made more or less attractive by the addition or subtraction of something other than himself.

Moving by itself

Everything moves for an end, so what can’t set an end for itself does not move by itself. But free choice consists in setting one’s ends, so only intelligent beings move by themselves.

We fear that thinking actions are for an end is anthropomorphic, i.e. that it imputes intelligence to things. This is in one sense true, since it does impute intelligence to what moves by itself. If we add an additional insight that any action not done by itself is done by another, and that the latter reduce to the causality of the former, then our sense that we are anthropomorphizing is in fact an incipient recognition of a cosmological argument. It’s Thomas’s Fifth Way.

The Fifth Way thus begins from a motion arising from an unintelligent natural cause, that is, the divine causality is invoked precisely to explain why a natural motion is acting for natural ends. It is not meant to explain some additional, “divine” end added on top of the natural motion. For example, divine causality is being invoked to explain bees making honey, not to explain how bees making honey is ordered to an additional good beyond the honey being made (like feeding bears or serving as metaphors for his judgments.) Divine causality explains the motion of the bugs insofar as bugs move without intelligence, prior to any consideration of how the bug makes useful contributions to my garden or is a pest who consumes my crops. Said another way, the divine causality is invoked to explain unintelligent motions, before one ever raises the question whether natural actions make a whole universe that is, on balance, an orderly, pleasant, or nice place to live. Again, We invoke divine intelligence to explain how things that presuppose intelligence act and not as a rival explanation to figuring out how bees transform color signals from flowers into information to share in a dance. An account of the intelligence causing motions in things without intelligence is not opposed to a more developed account of the nature of unintelligent causality, detailed down to the last atom.

We also can’t divide these sorts of explanations by some sort of adverbial distinction like “science tells us how and religion tells us why.” Both the theological and scientific account explain how and why unintelligent things move. The difference is simply whether we choose to reduce actions to principles in their own order or not; whether we limit ourselves to univocal causes or extend to higher-order equivocal ones.

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