Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Farrer on just "what it is to think theistically"

"'But who made God?' was the question of someone who had not yet emerged from the nursery."

Austin Farrer, Finite and infinite: a philosophical essay (Westminster: Dacre Press, 1959 [1943]), 15.

Cf. McCabe: "what we mean by 'God' is just whatever answers the question ['Why anything instead of nothing?'']. Apart from knowing this, says Aquinas most insistently, all we can do is point, as systematically as we can, to several kinds or categories of things that the answer could not be. For one thing, whatever would answer our question could not itself be subject to the question--otherwise we are left as we are, with the same question still to answer. Whatever we mean by 'God' cannot be whatever it is that causes us to ask the question in the first place" (Herbert McCabe, O.P., "The involvement of God," God matters (London: Continuum, 2005 (1987)), 41).

Cf. Hart:  "In truth, though, there could hardly be a weaker argument.  To use a feeble analogy, it is rather like asserting that it is inadequate to say that light is the cause of illumination because one is then obliged to say what it is that illuminates the light, and so on ad infinitum."
"But such reasoning is also certainly not subject to the objection from infinite regress.  It is not logically requisite for anyone, on observing that contingent reality must depend on absolute reality, to say then what the absolute depends on or, on asserting the participation of finite beings in infinite being, further to explain what it is that makes being to be.  Other arguments are called for, as Hume knew.  And only a complete failure to grasp the most basic philosophical terms of the conversation could prompt this strange inversion of logic, by which the argument from infinite regress--traditionally and correctly regarded as the most powerful objection to pure materialism--is now treated as an irrefutable argument against belief in God" (David Bentley Hart, "Believe it or not," First things (May 2010):  37-38.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Aquinas on an important second subalternation of theology

"theology . . . has no direct evidence of the realities about which it speaks. The existence of God in his trinitarian mystery and all that he has accomplished for humankind in the history of salvation are evident to the eyes of God himself alone; if the blessed who see him face-to-face participate in the évidence of all of this [to God], we who are still on the way can have access to it only by and in faith. The subalternation of theology to the knowledge [1] that God has of himself and [2] that the blessed have of God is nothing other than a translation into technical language of the necessity of faith to the practice of theology."

Jean-Pierre Torrell, "Théologien et mystique: les cas de Thomas d'Aquin," Revue des sciences religieuses 77, no. 3 (2003): 352-353.

Aquinas on the subalternation of theology

"a science can be higher than another in two ways, either by reason of its subject, . . . or by reason of its mode of knowing, and thus theology is below the knowledge that is God's. For we imperfectly know what he knows perfectly, and just as a science subalternated to a higher presupposes certain things and proceeds from these as from principles, so theology presupposes the articles of faith which are proved infallibly in God's knowledge, believes them and through them proceeds to prove what follows from the articles. Thus theology is as it were a science subalternated to the divine science from which it receives its principles."

Pretty basic Aquinas, but always a breath of fresh air wherever re-encountered. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Sentences, q. 1 a. 3 qc. 2 ad 1 (Vivès edition); Thomas Aquinas: selected writings, ed. and trans. Ralph McInerny (London: Penguin Books, 1998), 61-62. According to Enrique Alarcón, who cites pp. 106 ff., 139 ff., and 159 of the authoritative new Leonine edition edited by Oliva (Les débuts de l'enseignement de Thomas d'Aquin et sa conception de la 'sacra doctrina': édition du prologue de son 'Commentaire des Sentences' de Pierre Lombard (Paris: J. Vrin, 2006)), to which I don't have immediate access, this is part of a later, optional addition to ad 2 that some thirty manuscripts (and the Vivès edition) inserted mistakenly after ad 1. Because it doesn't yet have permission to use the superior new Leonine edition, Corpus Thomisticum (http://www.corpusthomisticum.org/snp0001.html#37) follows for now the Parma edition. (All of that in a gracious reply to me dated 29 July 2008.)

Hill on the metaphysical significance of inaccuracy

"'One must, however barely, hope to be taken seriously'": "'The perpetration of "howlers", grammatical solecisms, misstatements of fact, misquotations, improper attributions': these may seem like petty errors, but [Geoffrey] Hill labours in th[e] essay ['Poetry as "menace" and "atonement"'] to bring home to the reader their metaphysical significance. They are not technical infractions but the stigmata of human and linguistic fallenness, the cracks in the tea cup that open a lane to the land of the dead. That is why he admires Simone Weil's proposal that 'anybody, no matter who, discovering an avoidable error in a printed text or radio broadcast, would be entitled to bring an action before [special] courts', which would be 'empowered to condemn a convicted offender to prison or hard labour'."

     Adam Kirsch, reviewing the Collected critical writings of Geoffrey Hill; "The poetry of ethics," Times literary supplement no. 5494 (July 18, 2008): 11. Not surprisingly, Kirsch is not convinced. Hill is one of those who "'after the ethical has manifested itself to him [sinfully] chooses the aesthetical'" (Kierkegaard): "Has 'the ethical' manifested itself to him, that is, does he believe in the absolute authority of the Christian tradition to which he stands in such a close but ambiguous relation? Or are the writers to whom he pays homage in his criticism . . . primarily just that, writers, in whose works Hill finds the tones of authority with which he himself longs to speak?" (12). (I for my part am a competent judge of precisely none of this.)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Hamann on John 3:16

“In order first to dispose of the infinite disproportion, . . . one must either become a partaker of divine nature, or Deity must take on flesh and blood. The Jews sought to acquire parity through the Palladium of their divine law, and the naturalists through their divine reason: as a result, there remains for the Christians and Nicodemus no other mediating concept than to believe with one’s whole heart, with one’s whole soul, with one’s whole mind: And God so loved the world—This faith is the victory that has overcome the world.”

Johann Georg Hamann, as quoted by John R. Betz, “Hamann before Kierkegaard: a systematic theological oversight,” Pro ecclesia 16, no. 3 (Summer 2007): 326. “the difference between Hamann and [the] dialectical theology [of the early Barth] (and even [Hamann’s great admirer] Kierkegaard) is [this,] . . . that for him the infinite difference is not so much revealed by the Incarnation as traversed by it” (326). There is more on Kierkegaard’s docetism on pp. 332 and 333.

Hamann on Lessing's ditch

“as Hamann discovered from his conversion experience in London and continued to maintain throughout his life, God is to be found, by virtue of the shocking humility of his love, precisely in the world and often in the most surprising places; and for this reason, faith is not a leap across Lessing’s ditch but a discovery of the one who is already there--already in the contingencies of history and one's own life--waiting to be found, waiting even to fellowship and dine with his creatures . . . but hidden from human pride.”

John R. Betz, “Hamann before Kierkegaard: a systematic theological oversight,” Pro ecclesia 16, no. 3 (Summer 2007): 332.

Hamann on the wisdom of the world

“As Hamann puts it as early as 1764 (seventeen years before the appearance of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason), ‘the wisdom of the world has begun to transform itself from a universal science of the possible into a universal ignorance of the real.’ Similarly, to Jacobi, he describes the rationality of the age in terms of an ‘underworld that shadow-boxes with ideas and speculations in the face of data and facts, with theatrical deceptions in the face of historical truths, with plausible probabilities in the face of testimonies and documents.’”

John R. Betz, “Hamann before Kierkegaard: a systematic theological oversight,” Pro ecclesia 16, no. 3 (Summer 2007): 323.

Hamann on Kant and Berens

“A dreamer can have more lively impressions than one who is awake; see more, hear more, think more . . . dream with more order than one who is awake can think; [be] a creator of new objects, great events. Everything is true for him, yet everything a deception. . . . There are dreamers who submit to being questioned and respond intelligently. If in this case a person who is awake wished to put such a dreamer to the test and asked him about his own condition: an exchange of ideas could easily take place. . . . And if the person who is awake spoke the words: you are dreaming, dear friend, a heated exchange between the two could arise.”

Johann Georg Hamann on his friends Immanuel Kant and Christoph Berens, as quoted by John R. Betz, “Hamann before Kierkegaard: a systematic theological oversight,” Pro ecclesia 16, no. 3 (Summer 2007): 319-320.