Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Torrell on Aquinas on immediacy

“This [much] is too clear to be open to debate, but one could draw the wrong conclusion from the fact that Thomas adds that 'among theologians . . . one adopts the contrary order, such that the consideration of the Creator precedes that of the creature'. There can be no question but that he thinks that the revelation made by God is presupposed to the work of the theologian, and that this knowledge can be taken as theological reflection's point of departure, in a manner analogous to the way in which one starts from creatures in metaphysical investigation. In fact Thomas thinks also that in the order of explication the mystery of God must be placed in [the] position of [the] supreme explicative reason from whom everything derives and to whom everything returns. . . . From this point of view, in contrast to that of metaphysics, the knowledge of God is of course the way of access to the knowledge of creation: the theologian projects onto the created world the light that he derives from revelation. [And] in this sense, [Thomas' theology] is a theology of 'descent' [(une théologie 'descendante')]. Yet one mistakes the intention of Thomas if from this one concludes that theology’s point of departure exempts [the theologian] from [the necessity] of appealing to sense experience. The descending process ‘in its pure state’ . . . took place on only one occasion: among the first addressees of revelation. The prophets and the apostles are the only ones to have received directly, ‘from above’ and simultaneously, [both] the content of revelation and the light of faith that made it possible for them to accept it (and even here sense experience was far from uninvolved [(absente)]). All other believers who come after them do receive directly from God the light of faith (fides qua, the virtue by which one believes, or revelation understood subjectively), but the content of the faith (fides quae, the faith that one believes, revelation understood objectively) they receive, like all of their other knowledge, by way of sense experience: the announcement of revelation communicated by its first addressees, [and] today set down in the Bible and transmitted in the Church. Fides ex auditu! (Rom 10:17). In that sense, while guided by a faith that illuminates his reasoning, the theologian, too, proceeds [(va . . . cheminer)] from below to above, putting constantly into play everything he learns from an ecclesial experience of centuries, centuries that separate him from th[is] initial experience; and also—and this is the point [(point de vue)] that interests us here—from the other human sciences and especially philosophy. [Or,] to put it a little differently, the recourse to the light of faith does not relieve the theologian of [his responsibility] to appeal to the light of his agent intellect and to the first principles of natural reason, for they are the condition of [the] possibility of all thought, including the possibility of reflecting [upon] the faith itself. To put it briefly, this simple reminder permits [one] to grasp the significant difference [(de comprendre toute la difference qui existe)] between the [merely] suggestive sketch of St. Anselm (fides quaerens intellectum) and the [more] nuanced formula of St. Thomas: ‘ratio manuducta per fidem excrescit in hoc ut ipsa credibilia plenius comprehendat, et tunc ipsa quodammodo intelligit [(reason led by faith increases in this in order that it might itself more fully comprehend those things that can [also] be [simply] believed, and [only] then itself in a certain measure understand [them])]’ [(Sent. I, Prol. q.1 a. 3 sol. 3)]. Faith as such doesn’t seek, it adheres and submits; it is reason that seeks under its [(under faith’s)] light.”

Jean-Pierre Torrell, “Philosophie et théologie d’après le Prologue de Thomas d’Aquin au Super Boetium de Trinitate: essai d’une lecture théologique,” Documenti e studi sulla tradizione filosofica medievale: rivista della Società internazionale per lo studio del medioevo latino 10 (1999): 319-320. Presumably this "one occasion" was that of the reception of the key "God-given images" (not propositions) (David B. Burrell, "Philosophy," in The Blackwell companion to modern theology, ed. Gareth Jones (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), 37-38).

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Didascalia apostolorum on James 2:1-7

"if, as you are sitting, some one else should come, whether a man or a woman, who has some worldly honour, either of the same district or of another congregation: thou, O bishop, if thou art speaking the word of God, or hearing, or reading, shalt not respect persons and leave the ministry of thy word and appoint them a place; but do thou remain still as thou art and not interrupt thy word, and let the brethren themselves receive them. . . . But if a poor man or woman should come, (whether of the same district) or of another congregation, and especially if they are stricken in years, and there be no place for such, do thou, O bishop, with all thy heart provide a place for them, even if thou have to sit upon the ground; that thou be not as one who respects the persons of men, but that thy ministry may be acceptable with God."

Didascalia apostolorum XII.ii.58, trans. Connolly (pp. 123-124 from for now). I was put onto this by David Bentley Hart, Atheistic delusions: the Christian revolution and its fashionable enemies (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009), 170.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Wojtyla on what today gets defined as nature

"In the world of persons . . . instinct alone decides nothing. . . ."

Karol Cardinal Wojtyla (John Paul II), Love and responsibility, rev. ed., trans. H. T. Willetts (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1981), 226, as quoted by Janet E. Smith in "Conscious parenthood," Nova et vetera: the English edition of the international theological journal 6, no. 4 (Fall 2008): 931. Smith points out that the phrase in Humanae Vitae 10 translated "responsible parenthood" is really "conscia paternitas" (946 ff.).

Hart on "the true essence of modernity"

"The modern period has never been especially devoted to reason as such; the notion that it ever was is merely one of its 'originary' myths. The true essence of modernity is a particular conception of what it is to be free, as I have said [in chap. 2]; and the Enlightenment language of an 'age of reason' was always really just a way of placing a frame around that idea of freedom, so as to portray it as the rational autonomy and moral independence that lay beyond the intellectual infancy of 'irrational' belief. But we are anything but rationalists now, so we no longer need cling to the pretense that reason was ever our paramount concern; we are today more likely to be committed to 'my truth' than to any notion of truth in general, no matter where that might lead. The myth of 'enlightenment' served well to liberate us from any antique notions of divine or natural law that might place unwelcome constraints upon our wills; but it has discharged its part and lingers on now only as a kind of habit of rhetoric. And now that the rationalist moment has largely passed, the modern faith in human liberation has become, if anything, more robust and more militant. Freedom for us today is something transcendent even of reason, and we no longer really feel that we must justify our liberties by recourse to some prior standard of responsible rationality. Freedom--conceived as the perfect, unconstrained spontaneity of individual will--is its own justification, its own highest standard, its own unquestionable truth. It is true, admittedly, that the modern understanding of freedom was for a time still bound to some concept of nature: many Enlightenment and Romantic narratives of human liberation concerned the rescue of an aboriginal human essence from the laws, creeds, customs, and institutions that suppressed it. Ultimately, though, even the idea of an invariable human nature came to seem something arbitrary and extrinsic, an intolerable limitation imposed upon a still more original, inward, pure, and indeterminate freedom of the will. We no longer seek so much to liberate human nature from the bondage of social convention as to liberate the individual from all conventions, especially those regarding what is natural."

David Bentley Hart, Atheist delusions: the Christian revolution and its fashionable enemies (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009), 104-105.