Monday, January 28, 2008

St Thomas Aquinas : The Dumb Ox

Here are some words from the Angelic Doctor himself. They are taken from the Liturgy of the Hours, a book of prayers for each and every day of the year.

From a conference by Saint Thomas Aquinas, priest

The Cross exemplifies every virtue

Why did the Son of God have to suffer for us? There was a great need, and it can be considered in a twofold way: in the first place, as a remedy for sin, and secondly, as an example of how to act. It is a remedy, for, in the face of all the evils which we incur on account of our sins, we have found relief through the passion of Christ. Yet, it is no less an example, for the passion of Christ completely suffices to fashion our lives. Whoever wishes to live perfectly should do nothing but disdain what Christ disdained on the cross and desire what he desired, for the cross exemplifies every virtue.If you seek the example of love: Greater love than this no man has, than to lay down his life for his friends. Such a man was Christ on the cross. And if he gave his life for us, then it should not be difficult to bear whatever hardships arise for his sake. If you seek patience, you will find no better example than the cross. Great patience occurs in two ways: either when one patiently suffers much, or when one suffers things which one is able to avoid and yet does not avoid. Christ endured much on the cross, and did so patiently, because when he suffered he did not threaten; he was led like a sheep to the slaughter and he did not open his mouth. Therefore Christ’s patience on the cross was great. In patience let us run for the prize set before us, looking upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who, for the joy set before him, bore his cross and despised the shame. If you seek an example of humility, look upon the crucified one, for God wished to be judged by Pontius Pilate and to die.If you seek an example of obedience, follow him who became obedient to the Father even unto death. For just as by the disobedience of one man, namely, Adam, many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one man, many were made righteous.If you seek an example of despising earthly things, follow him who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Upon the cross he was stripped, mocked, spat upon, struck, crowned with thorns, and given only vinegar and gall to drink. Do not be attached, therefore, to clothing and riches, because they divided my garments among themselves. Nor to honours, for he experienced harsh words and scourgings. Nor to greatness of rank, for weaving a crown of thorns they placed it on my head. Nor to anything delightful, for in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

St Thomas Aquinas and Santa Claus

Today is the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas. Here is a bit of his writings:

Demonstration of God's Existence

I answer that, The existence of God can be proved in five ways.

The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.

The second way is from the nature of the efficient cause. In the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes. There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity, because in all efficient causes following in order, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause be several, or only one. Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate cause. But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.

The third way is taken from possibility and necessity, and runs thus. We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence--which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.

The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things. Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. But "more" and "less" are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest; so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being; for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being, as it is written in Metaph. ii. Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.

The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.

(Summa Theologica, I, q. 2, art. 3)

Here is a spoof, of sorts:

(from Joseph Magee's Thomistic Humor Page)

Whether Santa Clause Exists

We proceed thus to the third article:


It seems that Santa Claus does not exist; because Christmas gifts are able to be given by good elves. Therefore, Santa Claus does not exist.

Further, if Santa Claus did exist, there would be no narrow chimneys. But there are narrow chimneys, and sometimes there are no chimneys at all. Therefore, Santa Claus does not exist.

On the contrary, Kay Starr says: "I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus underneath the mistletoe last night."

I answer that, The existence of Santa Claus Can be proved in five ways.

The first and most manifest way is that taken from Christmas trees. It is certain and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are Christmas trees. Now no pine tree becomes a Christmas tree unless it is trimmed. Now to be trimmed means to receive ornaments from another. But this cannot go on to infinity in the trimming of Christmas trees. One must come to some first untrimmed trimmer; and this everyone understands to be Santa Claus.

The second way is from the nature of Christmas gifts. We see that in the world that Christmas gifts are given and received. Whoever, then, gives Christmas gifts either receives them from another or makes them in his workshop. If, however, no one makes Christmas gifts in his workshop, they are not given nor received. Therefore it is necessary to posit some first giver of Christmas gifts, who everyone calls Santa Claus.

The third way is taken from plastic images resembling Santa Claus. At all stores we see things of plastic that represent Santa Claus. These things are of such a quality that they are representations according to Santa himself or according to other images of him. But, it is not possible to proceed to infinity in images. Therefore, it is necessary to posit something which is resembling Santa Claus and hence Santa Claus exists.

The fourth way is taken from the grades which are found in Christmas spirit. Indeed, in this world, among men there are some of more and some of less Christmas spirit. But "more" and "less" is said of diverse things according as they resemble in their diverse ways something which is the "maximum." Therefore there must be something which has the most Christmas spirit, and this we call Santa Claus.

The fifth way is taken from the behavior of children. When Christmas day approaches, we see from their being good always or frequently that children, who lack understanding, are moved because of an end. But children would not be good because of the Nativity of Christ unless there were someone who strengthened them so that they were good. And this someone is known by all to be Santa Claus.

Replies to Objections:

Good elves, since they receive Christmas gifts from another, should be named the highest helpers of Santa.

It is not impossible that Santa Claus should use the door like everyone else.

* Also known in various places under the name of Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, etc.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Cardinal Mahony Leaving Los Angeles ? Not Exactly

According to the Vatican's Daily Bulletin (26 Jan 08), it looks like Cardinal Mahony may be leaving the Archdiocese of Los Angeles:

Il Papa ha nominato Membri della Congregazione per le Chiese Orientali gli Em.mi Cardinali Roger Michael Mahony e Edward Michael Egan.

More or less, it says:

The Pope has named as Members of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches ... Cardinals Roger Michael Mahony and Edward Michael Egan.

Interesting. (H/T: Amy Welborn)

UPDATE: According to a few priest friends, this is more of a commission than a relocation or even resignation from L.A. Most likely, he will remain Archbishop of Los Angeles.
Which brings up some questions, mainly: Does this type of appointment suggest something about the Cardinal's background or areas of study? This makes me curious about what areas of theology he focused on. Is there an intellectual affinity towards the Christian East, such as Cardinal Schonborn has?

Monday, January 21, 2008

MLK Day and Roe v. Wade Thoughts

With two events in mind, MLK Day and the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, I decided to post an essay from undergrad days. It caused quite a storm and not a few angry letters to the editor. Those days were fun. Though I would rephrase certain parts, the main argument is still what I think.

Language and Liberty

This country recently commemorated two events: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the ... anniversary of Roe v. Wade. They are related by similar concerns: freedom and equality for all. Recalling the former sheds some light on the latter.

The fundamental source of King’s message is “the moral law or the law of God.” This law binds all humans in granting liberty and demanding justice. As history has shown, unfortunately, man-made law does not always conform to this greater and higher law. When a law, as Rev. King put it, is “out of harmony” with the universal law, it is an “unjust law” and thus no law at all. During the American experience, there have been many unjust laws. In fact, this country was founded in response to unjust laws.

Rooting himself in a tradition that incorporates America’s Founding Fathers, King suggested a response: disobedience. However, the disobedience of King is not a license to do anything. It is a morally-superior response to grave injustice. He writes, “One who breaks an unjust law must do it openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for law.”

This disobedience of King is his extremism. It is a truly morally-uplifting extremism. For King, the question “is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremist will we be.” This sense of action rooted in justice harkens back to the abolitionists of the mid-1800s. “I will be as harsh as truth,” David Walker wrote in 1831, “and as uncompromising as justice.” Faced with the great deprivation of rights in the battle against slavery, Walker continued to voice his commitment to endure and persevere against any and all injustice, “On this subject [of slavery] I do not wish to think, or speak, or write with moderation....I am in earnest—I will not equivocate –I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch—and I will be heard.” I am sure King felt the same sentiment and passion for his cause of true justice and liberty for all.

The Declaration of Independence asserts that “all men are created equal” with the same “unalienable rights” of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Slavery and many laws of the early and mid-1900s were not in harmony with this truth of the Declaration and this is what King and Walker attested to.

They were arguing against a system at odds with itself. The black American was considered a “subordinate and inferior class of being,” “an article of property,” and even “not a person.” This abuse of language was the legal foundation upon which racist attitudes could translate into discrimination and acts of evil. What happened to “all men are created equal”?

The abuse of language is part of what happened. “When words lose their meaning,” Confucius once said, “peoples lose their liberty.” This is probably one of the greatest evils of man: Deny the full personhood or humanity of those we do not like and then we have the legal justification to discriminate, segregate, enslave, and even murder in mass numbers (e.g., the Holocaust).

Before being elected President, Abraham Lincoln joined in the debate over the evil of slavery: “‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.” He went on to later voice his concern over the abuse of language and the relative manner by which men selectively acknowledged humanity in others: “I should like to know if taking this old Declaration of Independence, which declares that all men are equal upon principle, and making exceptions to it, where will it stop. If one man says it does not mean a Negro, why not another say it does not mean some other man?”

Some other man? Yes. Today, society has found another, but this time, this “other” is a baby. The unborn baby! The humanity of the child in the womb is unquestionably affirmed by science. The zygote “results from fertilization of an oocyte by a sperm and is the beginning of a human being.” (The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 1) Besides, what else could the entity be? If the natural and physical source is human (the mother and father), then the result (the new life) will be human. Basic common sense. Thus, the entity in the womb who is often torn apart in an abortion is none other than a little defenseless child, the most vulnerable of all human life. What do these issues all have to do with each other, one might ask?

The answer is simple. The attempt to redefine a human person, whether it is with regard to black Americans, Jews, or even the child in the womb, is nothing but “semantic gymnastics,” as one critic (William Brennan) put it. Again, the words of Confucius reveal great wisdom, “When words lose their meaning, peoples lose their liberty.” And, I might add, their lives!

One should never forget where our rights and privileges come from. The rights to property, free speech, religion, liberty, etc. are great, but what roots them? It is the right to life. It is my right to keep and maintain my life which no one on earth has sovereignty over. Sincere and unbiased seekers of justice and liberty must acknowledge that at conception, a new human being is present. Since this new being is human, all rights predicated to a human as basic must be predicated to all humans, whether they be Black, Jewish, disabled, elderly, or even a young human in the womb. This young human being is a person with rights that must be protected. What good are all the other rights if we forego the right to life? It is the right upon which all others are rooted. Without it, the others are worthless.

Rev. King had a dream where “all men...would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It is a dream where the nation’s people would “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Today, we still face the test of our character. We made it through the evils of slavery and racist laws. Now, we face the test with abortion. How we treat the defenseless is a true mark of our character. With slavery and the Holocaust, this country was involved in bloody wars. The same need not happen to save the unborn child. However, true seekers of justice for all will not back down. The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremist we will be. We do not wish to think, or speak, or write with moderation. We are in earnest. We will not equivocate. We will not excuse. We will not retreat a single inch. And we will be heard: Direct abortions are the unjust killing of innocent human beings, of little children! Life is not negotiable and neither are the passions and principles of those who truly seek liberty and justice for all, as we will be as harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Sarkozy and Spiritual Recalibration?

"Sarkozy and Secularism" (by Robert Royal) is an interesting take on what might be going on in France and some parts of Europe.

In Rome on December 20,

Sarkozy met for twenty-five minutes with Benedict XVI and the Holy See’s secretary of state. One of the first things he said to them was that the Church in France has “to be more courageous” in intervening publicly because the French Republic has need of people of faith. This was already quite daring, but he did not stop there. Remarkably, in both events, Sarkozy openly expressed his agreement with the pope’s view that a Europe without faith is a Europe without hope—and maybe without a future. And, perhaps even more notably, he made a powerful case that the present and future depend on a more inclusive embrace of the past.

He started out by reminding his listeners that [. ...] Christianity helped create France, and France helped Christianize Europe.

For him [Sarkozy], French culture should be more open to all the wisdom available in the various religious traditions of his people. He put this forward with all due respect for the nonbelievers in France but also with a breadth of spirit that made the old claims of a rigidly secularist public order as the only guarantor of liberty for all citizens look decidedly illiberal. [Emphases added.]

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Weigel Faith Reason and Jihadism

George Weigel's latest book Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism: A Call to Action sounds like a must-read. I will be picking up my copy later today.

To hear an interview with the author on the book and related issues, go here.

UPDATE: Though I have a few questions about some minor points, this is a very good and comprehensive overview of what has happened, what continues to happen, and what needs to happen.