Archive for the ‘Theology’ category

By Their Fruits…

April 26, 2010

There is a place called Medjugorje at which the Virgin Mary is reported to be appearing to a group of Catholics on a daily basis.  If true, these apparitions are the longest-running and most frequently occurring apparitions to date.  Opinions on Medjugorje tend to be very polarized:  most people have strong opinions one way or the other, and few have a “let’s wait and see” approach.  It is not my purpose to rehash the debate here; for those who are interested in figuring out what this debate is about, read Patrick Madrid’s blog entries on the topic for a more skeptical approach, and for the believer’s perspective.

This post is about the proper interpretation of Matthew 7:16, which reads:  “”By their fruits you shall know them.”  I hope to advance the debate on Medjugorje by making a set of distinctions that I think are often overlooked by both sides.  Both sides of the debate make different claims about the “fruits” of Medjugorje:  those who support the apparitions often point to the massive number of conversions and the good work that is being done as a result of Medjugorje.  How can so many good fruits be produced if they are the work of the devil or of con men?  On the other hand, skeptics point to the infidelity of certain priests heavily associated with Medjugorje, the lack of religious vocations among the “seers” to whom Mary is appearing, and supposed lies told by seers to the bishop or anti-ecclesiastical or false statements made by the Virgin Mary herself.

I don’t think that many people in this debate have devoted enough time to examining what a “fruit” is.  Jesus says that a good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit.  Jesus does not seem to allow for any middle ground:  he says nothing about mediocre trees producing mediocre fruit, or good trees sometimes producing bad fruit.  And yet, we see bad people do good things all the time.  For example Fr. Maciel, the now disgraced founder of the Legionnaires of Christ, created a vast organization that has done many charitable things in the Church; but when he died people realized that he was also a very good conman, building up the organization for his own personal gain.  Are his fruits good, or are they bad?  If Fr. Maciel’s fruits are both good and bad, then Jesus is wrong, and bad trees can produce at least some good fruit.  But that is unacceptable; so how do we make sense of Jesus’ advice?

This post is in three sections:  a) Reject the consequentialist account of ‘fruits’.  b) Establish a virtue ethics account of ‘fruits’. c) Apply my account to Medjugorje.

a).  Most people in the Medjugorje debate seem to think of a fruit as a consequence.  (For brevity, I’ll consider just one side of the debate, albeit the side on which I think the error most frequently occurs). Medjugorje supporters point to the conversions, prayer, spiritual renewal as fruits of the events.  Because all of these good things are happening, they argue, the seers must be telling the truth because these things would not be happening if God were not somehow involved.  But this line of thinking seems problematic.  Like any consequentialist account of the world, it is difficult to determine what counts as a consequence of a particular action or person.  For example let’s say some man asks me for directions to Busch Stadium, and I give them to him, and he goes there and bombs the stadium.  Am I responsible for the deaths of those people?  If not, then why not?  And if not, then what account of morally significant consequences can we give that would make me morally blameless in the Busch Stadium bombing but also allow that the seers are somehow responsible for the good fruits being produced at Medjugorje?  Furthermore, if the many purported conversions are consequences of Medjugorje, then why can’t also the disobedient priests be a consequence of Medjugorje, too?  How are we going to define “fruit” so as to include one but exclude the other?  How do we define a consequence so that the bombing of Busch stadium is not the fault of the direction-giver while showing that the consequences of Medjugorje are the consequences of the seers?

Now some may object that I am making a sleight of hand:  it is not the seers that are producing the good fruits at Medjugorje, but God or Mary.   But if that’s the case, then Matthew 7:16 does not apply to Medjugorje–in fact, it is difficult to see how it would be useful advice at all!  Read Matthew 7:15-19:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16 By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17 Even so every good tree brings forth good fruit, and the evil tree brings forth evil fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forthgood fruit. 19 Every tree that brings not forth good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire. 20 Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them.”

Jesus is not telling us how to discern whether events are from God:  he is telling us how to judge whether persons are from God.  A real prophet produces good fruit; a bad prophet produces bad fruit; and it is by these fruits that we shall know them to be true or false prophets.  The objector, therefore, is in a bit of a dilemma.  If the many conversions are the fruit of the Holy Spirit and cannot be attributed to the seers themselves, and Matthew 7:15-19 does not test prophets at all, then Matthew 7:16 doesn’t apply to Medjugorje.  But if we can determine the truth of whether Mary is appearing at Medjugorje apart from examining the prophets themselves in some way, then what good is Jesus’ advice in the first place?  How can such events be called a prophet’s fruit if they have nothing to do with the prophet?  Under the consequentialist interpretation, the only way Matthew 7:16 can be used as a test of prophets is if the good and bad consequences of Medjugorje can somehow be linked to the prophets themselves.  It is in no way clear how this is possible.  If it were, it would run into the same objections I presented above.

I think that the idea that a fruit is somehow a good or bad consequence following from an action faces too many difficulties and absurdities to be of any use.  There just isn’t any good, non-arbitrary way to determine what is a fruit and what isn’t if a fruit is a consequence.  My point is validated by reading debates about this topic:  defenders will without fail point at the good things going on as signs of the authenticity of the apparitions while dismissing the bad consequences as not fruits.  Meanwhile, those same fruits rejected by the defenders are touted as fruits by skeptics.  In this sense, this discussion of consequences mirrors discussions in moral philosophy.  What counts as a morally significant consequence is notoriously difficult to determine.  And even if there were a coherent account of fruits-as-consequences, it is unclear that a faithful Catholic should adhere to it.  My intuition is that one cannot import consequentialism in this instance without also importing consequentialism as a moral philosophy.  I say this because the account I am about to give flows directly from my own moral philosophy, and I don’t see how my account of “fruit” can be separated from what I consider a fruit in moral philosophy.

b).  I think a better way to conceive of a fruit is not as a consequence of an action, but as an action of an agent.  Fruits are not consequences, but acts.  This way of conceiving of a fruit has many advantages.  First, it avoids the difficulties involved with consequentialism, which I discussed above In my account, a person can end up producing good consequences and yet still produce bad fruit, i.e. a bad act.  For example, let’s say that a billionaire gives millions of dollars to the poor in order to feed his own good opinion of himself and seduce another man’s wife with his altruism. Despite the good consequences, the act is still immoral:  for an act to be good, both the further intentions of the act (i.e. making himself look good and seducing another man’s wife) and the moral object (giving money to the poor) must both be good.  If one is bad, the entire act is bad.  The consequences may be good insofar as many poor people are fed and clothed.  But these consequences tell us nothing about whether the act itself is good or bad. Consequences or circumstances can tell us the degree of goodness that the act has; it cannot tell us that an act is good or bad.

Second, it is now clearer what counts as a fruit and what doesn’t:  if we are judging the Medjugorje seers by their fruits, we are not judging them on the consequences of their acts, but on their acts themselves.  Are they honest people?  Are they holy people?  Do they act for self-gain or out of selflessness?  Has their encounter with Mary made them desire to pursue virtue?  (Brief side note:  It still may be difficult–at least initially– to determine what the seer’s intentions are (and therefore whether their acts are good or bad), because intentions are sometimes hard to ascertain from an outsider’s perspective.  Still, it is better than the consequentialist account because it gives us a definite way to determine what is a fruit and what isn’t; also, while intentions can  be somewhat private, it is still possible to determine intent from people’s actions.  Think of how we determine in court whether a murder is premeditated.

Third, my virtue account of fruits makes sense of Jesus’ words by giving a consistent account of why good trees only produce good fruit, etc.  In Augustine’s and Aquinas’ account, “A virtue is a good quality of the mind, by which we live righteously, of which no one can make bad use, which God works in us, without us” (ST I-II q.55, a.4).  Note that a virtue cannot be abused:  if you have a virtue, you cannot abuse that virtue and act badly.  Thus, a person with a virtue always produces good fruits, and a person with a vice always produces bad fruits.  The “virtuous” person who knowingly does an evil act never had the virtue in the first place.

What, then, about the people who have neither a particular virtue or its opposed vice, but are only self-controlled or incontinent?  Both of these people are capable of doing good things and evil things, but they are only good or evil analogously, i.e. not in the same way that a virtuous person is good and a vicious person is bad (Aristotle argues this in Book VII of the Nichomachean Ethics).  To see why, let’s explain what each of these terms mean:

-a virtuous person’s reason and inclinations are in harmony, aimed at the good.

-a self-controlled person’s reason masters unruly inclinations.

-an incontinent person’s reason cannot overcome his inclinations.

-a vicious person’s reason and inclinations are in harmony, aimed at the bad.

Now if intentions make an act good or evil, then the virtuous person and the self-controlled person both do good, but not in the same way.  The virtuous person loves the good and does the good for its own sake.  The self-controlled person does the right thing, but must struggle because they desire to do evil.  Thus, they do good, but they still must master their desire to do evil, and thus they do not intend the good the same way the virtuous person does.  The same analysis can be given to the incontinent, the vicious person, and evil actions.

Returning to Matthew 7:16:  “Good” and “bad are analogous terms.  In my account, a “good tree” is a virtuous person, and a “bad tree” is a vicious person.  Thus good trees produce only good fruit, and bad trees produce only bad fruit.  The self-controlled and incontinent, whose acts are sometimes good and sometimes bad, are not discussed by Jesus, at least not directly.  Jesus’ advice, while not telling us how to deal with an incontinent or self-controlled prophet whose acts are sometime good and sometimes bad, is nevertheless wise and sound advice when the prophets are virtuous or vicious.  For the non-virtuous and non-vicious prophets, I suggest we use two tests, which build on Jesus’ advice without altering it:  a) Examine the supposed prophet’s general character.  Are they generally dishonest?  Do they seek holiness?  Etc.  b) Has their possible-encounter with the Virgin Mary changed their lives and led them to greater conversion of heart and soul?  Since these people produce neither virtuous or vicious actions, we need to judge them by how deeply they seek the things of God.

Finally, my account gives a very neat and clear way of telling why someone like Fr. Maciel was a false prophet, whereas I’m not sure the defenders of Medjugorje can.  Because Maciel built the entire Legionnaire organization for his own person benefit, he is a false prophet regardless of whatever good consequences followed from that organization. So even though Fr. Maciel is a false prophet we can still argue that the people within his organization did good and holy work without attributing those good works to Fr. Maciel.  Furthermore, we can argue that God’s work was being done in the Legionnaires despite their founder’s many sins.  Similarly, it’s possible that God is doing good work at Medjugorje even if the prophets are lying about Mary appearing to them.  This is because Jesus’ test in Matthew 7:16 is a test of prophets, not consequences.  If we judged Fr. Maciel on the consequences of his actions, what would count as fruits?  The founding of the order which did so much good?  The lack of conversion in his own life?  Would it be possible that he did so much good that he is to be considered a prophet despite being a morally depraved man who apparently even refused to receive the Last Rites before he died?

c).  Do we yet have enough evidence to ascertain whether the seers at Medjugorje are true prophets?  Perhaps a definitive answer is difficult to ascertain at this point.  After all, it took many, many years for Fr. Maciel’s evil actions to come to light.  It is even said that his children came to see him at his death bed, and he refused to receive the last rites.  He made his Legionnaires vow never to criticize those in authority, in part so that his own scandalous acts would be covered up.  This, in spite of the many good deeds done by those under him, and despite years of deceiving John Paul II and many powerful cardinals and laymen.  Also, it took many years after Mother Theresa’s death to see how amazingly holy she really was.  The correct way to judge a prophet’s character is prayer, personal conversion, and time.  Prayer to know God’s will; conversion to develop a sense of what is good and what is not; and time, because God works in his own time.

Returning to Medjugorje.  If my account is correct, then there are immediate consequences for future debates.  First, the good and bad consequences of Medjugorje–the conversions and the evil Franciscans, the prayer and the constant bickering among Catholics–have no place in a debate about what is a fruit of Medjugorje.  Matthew 7:16 is a test for prophets, a test which examines character, not consequences.

I believe in Zeus, Athena, and One God

November 13, 2009

What would happen if Zeus, Athena, Artemis, and the entire pantheon of Greek gods, Norse gods, etc. appeared before us all and asserted their existence?  Would the monotheistic religions be refuted?  The answer is no.  Jews, Muslims, and Christians would still boldly assert that there is only one God.  There are important distinctions between God and gods; hopefully this set of distinctions will help clarify what monotheists mean when they say that there is only one God.

1)  As mobile beings, the gods would be in potency in some way.  Only God is without potency.  Thus, the gods are not God.

2) To call the gods ‘gods’ and God ‘God’ is to commit an equivocation, just as ‘bat’ refers to a long piece of wood and a flying mammal.  When we speak of God and gods we are not speaking of the same type of thing.  For Christians, these other gods would be akin to angels, demons, or some really big powerful creature.  They would not be God.

3) The gods are a type of being, just as trees, pigs, and flowers are types of being, albeit a majestic type of being.  As such, they are part of the world.  God, on the other hand, is not a type of being at all, but the source of all types of being.  God is not a part of the world, but rather is a necessary condition for the world’s existence.

4)  To say that I believe in one God does not mean that He is merely the biggest, baddest god among the gods.  As parts of the world, the gods only exist because God sustains them in being.

Thus, to acknowledge the existence of one God does not mean that I must deny the existence of the gods.  As a matter of fact, I boldly state that I believe that Zeus, Athena, and the entire pantheon of gods exist (life is more interesting that way).  I also proclaim that I believe in only one God.

An Augustinian Moment

September 15, 2009

Augustine famously threw up his hands as he wondered why God would wish to resurrect the body.  His Platonist metaphysics denigrated the body, making Augustine accept on faith rather than reason that the resurrection of the flesh is a good thing.

I’m having an Augustinian moment regarding prayer.  I know we are supposed to pray for our daily bread, as it were; but why?  If Christ taught us anything, it was that salvation comes through following Him to His passion and death.  Why, then, do we pray to eliminate our suffering?  Rather, should we not pray for the strength to carry the crosses that we are given?

The obvious response seems to be that the Church has always acknowledged that prayer for strength in times of persecution is more valuable than prayers for material needs; i.e. that the Church agrees with my assessment.  But that’s only half of the answer.  Even if the former type of prayer is more praiseworthy, God still answers the prayers of those who ask for healing.  Give what Jesus taught, those healings seem counterproductive.  Why not answer those prayers with the grace to endure the suffering with dignity and holiness rather than granting a quick healing?

I guess this is more evidence that we will never have access to God’s plan from this side of heaven.

The Vincentian Canon and the Development of Doctrine

August 26, 2009

Over the years I have heard many Anglicans and Orthodox criticize the Catholic Church for teaching innovative doctrines not taught by the early Church.  In particular they will cite St. Vincent of Lerin’s words in his Commonitory that “we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.” (Commonitory chapter 2, paragraph 6)  In other words the orthodox tradition has a claim to universality, antiquity, and consent that the heterodox traditions lack (I refer to this doctrine as the Vincentian Canon, or VC, throughout this paper).  These critics of the Catholic Church cite the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception or the Assumption of Mary as novelties not taught everywhere, always, and by all; thus the Catholic Church does not have a claim to be the true Church.

I want to demonstrate that these objections miss the point of St. Vincent’s argument.  I think we ought to take St. Vincent at face value and see him as writing for a man already in possession of the tradition (i.e. himself; see chapter 1.1) rather than for a man outside the tradition trying to determine which tradition is correct.  When I first read the Commonitory I was reading it like those Orthodox and Anglicans I mentioned earlier read it; the result, I found, was a point so poorly argued that I began to wonder a) if St. Vincent was a very poor thinker, or b) I had misunderstood what St. Vincent sought to demonstrate in the first place.  After reading his work as advice to those already in the Church rather than those hoping to find the true Church, the argument of the Commonitory made much more sense.  In this post, I assume for the sake of argument that St. Vincent really seeks to give criteria on how to discover the true Church.  In showing how bad his argument is when viewed in this way, I hope the reader begins to understand why this interpretation cannot make  sense of the text.   As I will show, the VC must first assume prior knowledge of the correct tradition as a standard by which to judge a particular doctrine as a ‘novelty of words’.  Any appeal to the VC as a means of determining which church is orthodox will inevitably end up begging the question against its rival traditions.

The first criterion for determining which tradition is correct is to find the tradition that is held universally, i.e. throughout the whole world (chapter 2.6).  If there are a few who hold a different teaching, St. Vincent appeals to the General Councils to determine what the ancient faith is:  “But what, if in antiquity itself there be found error on the part of two or three men, or at any rate of a city or even a province?  Then it will be his care by all means, to prefer the decrees, if such there be, of an ancient General Council to the rashness and ignorance of a few.” (Commonitory 3.8)  Does Vincent of Lerins judge General Councils to be orthodox because they conform to what has been held “everywhere, always, and by all,” or does he determine what has been held “everywhere, always, and by all” by an appeal to the General Councils?  The latter seems to conform to the text, as the quotation cited above indicates.  But from where do the General Councils derive their authority?   St. Vincent cannot answer that a General Council is authoritative if it conforms to the preceding tradition held “everywhere, always, and by all” because such a move would make his reasoning circular.

In fact, St. Vincent never addresses how the man of simple faith is to determine which Councils are orthodox and which are not.  In chapter 31.79 he gives an example of a council that conforms with the Tradition (i.e. the Council of Ephesus); but to say that a council is orthodox is not to explain why a council is orthodox.  The early years of the Church saw many councils, many of which dissented from those traditions which St. Vincent calls orthodox in the Commonitory.  These councils were attended by a great number of bishops who ultimately taught doctrines contrary to the teachings laid forth in the VC.

Although St. Vincent never addresses how we are to determine which councils are orthodox, perhaps his second criterion may help.  The second criterion for determining which tradition is orthodox is to determine whether the doctrine taught conforms to the faith of antiquity.   We can distinguish orthodox councils from heterodox councils by seeing which councils contain some novelty of words that was not previously contained in the deposit of faith.  In order to determine which councils are orthodox and which aren’t, we ought to refer to Scripture or the teachings of the Apostles, whose faith was guaranteed to be pristine.

St. Vincent makes this very move in chapter 28.71 to determine the means by which the true believer can detect and condemn the novelties of Heretics.  Against new heresies, he argues, it is enough to investigate the ancient consent of the holy Fathers to determine what is true doctrine.  In the case of long-standing heresies, however, ought not to be dealt with in this way; rather, we should appeal to “the sole authority of Scripture”, or “to shun them as having been already of old convicted and condemned by universal councils of the Catholic Priesthood.”

Now obviously the second criterion cannot be used to establish the authority of a council without begging the question; what about the first way, by appeals to Scripture?  Here St. Vincent seems to contradict himself.  In chapter 2.5 St. Vincent argues that Scripture—although sufficient in every way—requires the Church’s interpretation.  For, “owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters.”  Furthermore, when arguing for the necessity of the ancient Tradition for the interpretation of Scripture, St. Vincent notes the variety of interpretations of Scripture:  Novatian interprets it one way, Sabellius in another way, etc.  Later on, he complains that the heretics are very good at using Scripture to support their own novelties.  Thus, an appeal to Scripture in order to determine which doctrines are heresies assumes that one is already in possession of the tradition of the Church in the first place.

The VC faces other difficulties.  In chapter 23.54-59 St. Vincent argues that there is such thing as a genuine development of religious knowledge.  Such knowledge cannot be contrary to or in addition to the knowledge that was taught by the Father’s of the Church.  Real progress is not an alteration of the faith, but an adornment of it.  It is the job of brilliant minds to fashion and polish, consolidate and strengthen those ancient doctrines that antiquity had left shapeless and rudimentary (23.59), not to mutilate it with an addition, subtraction, or mutation.  A true development designates an old article of faith by a new name.  In this way we are able to move from that which was believed in simplicity to that which is believed intelligently.

St. Vincent contrasts truly developed religious knowledge to what 1 Timothy 6:20 terms “novelties of words.”  But how does a sincere seeker of the truth determine what is real development and what is not?  The sincere seeker of truth by definition does not have, but seeks to obtain, the orthodox tradition.  But how does he go about doing this?  He does not have the luxury of the ancient Tradition to aid him in his reading of Scripture in determining which tradition is the correct one.  Nor can he decide which councils possess authority and which do not.  Thus, what the Arians would call sound doctrine is a novelty to the Nicaean Fathers, and what is sound doctrine to the Nicaean Fathers is accused of being a novelty by the Arians.  The only way of accurately labeling one of these sets of teachings as novel or sound doctrine is to have knowledge of what the correct tradition is in the first place.

Taking all of these considerations into account, I conclude that the VC has little value in helping an outsider determine which church is possession of right doctrine.  In order for the VC to be of any use in the first place, the reader must first assume that he already is in possession of the orthodox Tradition.  There is no non-question begging way to use the VC to separate true doctrine from long-standing false doctrine.  None of the criteria—what is believed everywhere, always, and by all—can be used in a non-question begging way to determine what is true and what is novel.

Thus, the VC cannot be used in a non-question begging way to demonstrate that the Catholic Church’s doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary are noveldoctrines.  The Catholic believer without inconsistency can claim that these doctrines are truly developed religious knowledge, developed from premises contained in but not developed adequately by the preceding Tradition.  Far from being “novelties in word”, these doctrines are legitimate developments of religious knowledge.  The means of distinguishing the orthodox tradition from its heterodox opponents must be a means other than the VC.

Edit:  I did a major overhaul on the introduction to this post.  I struggled and struggled, and finally said want I want to say.  I also added a link to the Commonitory in the first paragraph.

Faith and Philosophy

October 31, 2007

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything.  I’ve been swamped with my school work because it’s about time to get started on my papers.  Not only that, but I still have some midterms left to do.  However, enough about that.

I had a thought a few months ago, and I’ve been toying around with it on and off ever since.  I want to explore the theological commitments of the Orthodox and see if I can understand why Orthodox hold the view that there is a uniform theology underlying apparent differences among the Church Fathers.  As a Catholic, such a position seems absolutely foreign.  However, I do think that there is an important reason for this commitment on the part of the Orthodox (at least the ones I’ve talked to), one stemming from other theological commitments. 

Take the question:  is it possible for reason to examine the content of faith?  Catholics have always said that in some way it is possible.  True philosophy is the handmaiden of theology.  There are truths we can know about God through natural reason alone, and some even think we can say at least some things univocally about God and man, e.g. God and man both exist.  Even if philosophy must stay within certain limits i.e. it cannot declare some dogma of the Church false, there are many different methodologies that we can use to investigate the faith.  While there is tension between the two, ultimately there is a symbiotic relationship between the two.   

However, the entire way we view our theology depends on our philosophical assumptions.  Even though Scotists and Thomists agree on many things, they disagree heatedly on several important issues which I will not enumerate here.  Because the philosophies are different, the theologies come out very different as well.  The reasons are obvious:  if you view nature in two different ways, and you believe that nature reflects the God whose essence it imitates, then the way we view God will differ between the two theologies. 

Potentially, this can create a problem:  there is no singular philosophical framework that we can adopt, and hence any dogma can be read differently depending on what set of metaphysical glasses one is wearing (of course, this shows the importance of interpreting dogmas within their historical contexts to determine exactly what is being rejected or affirmed).  When the Church decides to intervene to settle a particular argument, she does; if she doesn’t decide to intervene, the question is fair game.  Dogmas become like boundary lines:  they tell philosophers and theologians where they cannot go while giving them ample freedom to explore new territory.  The Church Fathers are read with great respect, but theologians and philosophers can affirm what they teach while tweaking their metaphysical assumptions, and hence affirm the dogmas they developed without excepting the metaphysical baggage that they used to compose their arguments towards the dogma.

So that’s a very brief summary of the way Catholics (read:  me) views the relation between theology and philosophy in the Catholic Church.  But there are some people who seem opposed to the Catholic way of doing things.  The strong formulation might go something like this: natural theology is not possible.  We cannot discover truths about nature, and then use those truths to make claims about God.  Everything we know about God comes through revelation.  Obviously, this view differs greatly from the view presented above.  There is no symbiotic relationship between faith and reason.  Even though both this view and the former one would affirm that what is declared dogma ultimately trumps philosophy (because one is fallible and the other isn’t), under this view philosophy is incredibly limited in how it can clarify the content of faith.   

But this raises an interesting question:  as I pointed out above, differing philosophical assumptions produce differing theologies.  But if this is the case, then how is it possible to say that theology holds the trump cards over reason?  For whose theology are we talking about:  person x, who holds philosophical assumptions a,b,c, or person y, who holds philosophical assumptions A, B, and C?  Here’s the point I’ve been driving at:  the more strictly you adhere to the idea that faith trumps reason, the narrower the wiggle room is for philosophical variances.  The more you want to assert the dominance of theology over philosophy, the more you must moderate philosophical variances. 

Now I don’t want to claim to be an expert on Orthodox theology, but from what I gather they adhere more closely to the latter view than the former.  I haven’t met too many Orthodox, but every one that I have met has much distain for philosophy, seeing it as a skirge to be eliminated from theology instead of a complementary way of seeking Truth.  As Tertullian famously said, what does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?  Several other Church fathers share the same sentiment.

And yet, every Orthodox I have met holds a pretty strong version of the latter thesis.  If this thesis is true, then there is very little room for philosophy being able to investigate theology.  What essentially happens is that a unified philosophical framework must be posited through which we view dogma:  the stricter the latter thesis is, the less freedom philosophy has.  I think my account explains something which I had always found a bit confusing:  why do the Orthodox whose debates I have read attentively keep insisting that the Church Fathers shared a very unified theology, including implicit essence energies distinctions, etc?  I think that this project of unifying the Church Fathers is a direct result of holding the latter thesis.  Such a program cannot tolerate large philosophical variances; the more such variances are tolerated, the more room there is to interpret dogmas differently, and thus philosophy slowly makes itself a sort of “equal” to theology. 

At least, that’s my take on things.  Any thoughts?

“Time” in Eternity?

October 17, 2007

A few of us seminarians were talking the other day about Thomas’ views concerning the heaven.  We were a bit puzzled because we could not figure out if there is time in heaven.  Sure, we will be with God for all eternity, but we are going to have bodies in heaven.  If we have bodies which are capable of moving around, it seems like the ability to walk from one place to another means that I am at one place at time T1 and at another place at T2. 

So for all of my many [ahem!] Thomist readers out there, what will the “status” of time be in heaven?  Will there be time, perhaps in an analogical way (if that makes any sense), or will we belong to an eternal present like God?

Best. Book. Ever.

September 18, 2007

I just bought this book today.  I highly recommend it to any Catholic male with a pulse.  And any book with Cardinal Ratzinger holding a gigantic beer stein on the cover automatically makes it the coolest book of the year.