Thursday, December 31, 2009

Cathedra Sempiterna

As we bid farewell to 2009, what greater comfort can we have than knowing that as we look upon this new year and decade, that Our Lord and His Rock are by our side. It seems to me a fitting time that I have just completed Jaki's second longest book - Newman to Converts - a work among father's best, which truly lives up to its billing as a "theological blockbuster" and serves as an excellent introduction to Newman and father's works on him.
In a recent conversation with friends I asked, Who is Peter? And why should we listen to what he has to say? Well, gather around and listen to John Henry Newman provide the answer:

~ Jakian Thomist

Deeply do I feel, ever will I protest, for I can appeal to the ample testimony of history to bear me out, that, in questions of right and wrong, there is nothing really strong in the whole world, nothing decisive and operative, but the voice of him, to whom have been committed the keys of the kingdom and the oversight of Christ's flock. The voice of Peter is now, as it ever has been, a real authority, infallible when it teaches, prosperous when it commands, ever taking the lead wisely and distinctly in its own province, adding certainty to what is probable, and persuasion to what is certain. Before it speaks, the most saintly may mistake; and after it has spoken, the most gifted must obey.

Peter is no recluse, no abstracted student, no dreamer about the past, no doter upon the dead and gone, no projector of the visionary. Peter for eighteen hundred years has lived in the world; he has seen all fortunes, he has encountered all adversaries, he has shaped himself for all emergencies. If there ever was a power on earth who had an eye for the times, who confined himself to the practicable, and has been happy in his anticipations, such is he in the history of ages who sits from generation to generation in the Chair of the Apostles, as the Vicar of Christ and Doctor of His Church.

It was said by an old philosopher, who declined to reply to an emperor's arguments, "It is not safe controverting with the master of twenty legions." What Augustus had in the temporal order, that, and much more, has Peter in the spiritual. When was he ever unequal to the occasion? When has he not risen with the crisis? What dangers have ever daunted him? What sophistry foiled him? What uncertainties misled him? When did ever any power go to war with Peter, material or moral, civilised or savage, and got the better? When did the whole world ever band together against him solitary, and not find him too many for it?

All who take part with Peter are on the winning side. The Apostle of Christ says not in order to unsay; for he has inherited that word which is with power.

Excerpt from J.H. Newman Cathedra Sempiterna (1853)
Reprinted in full p.509-511 Appendix to Newman to Converts: An Existential Ecclesiology.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas with Jaki and Duhem

My very best wishes for a happy and holy Christmastide to all members of the Duhem Society, and readers of our blogg! As a kind of gift, here are two excerpts for your consideration.

(Yes, I am posting this on the second day of Christmas - we are also Chestertonian and so have a larger view of such things.)

--Dr. Thursday

On the level of nature death begins with birth. Only the supernatural given most concretely in Christ has ever provided hope that birth would not be the start of a process leading to irrevocable death. Science is no exception to this rule. As long as great creative minds in pursuit of science rested on the level of nature, science ended in stillbirths. Only when supernatural light led those minds was science given the chance for the kind of viable birth which is followed by uninterrupted growth. The latter can go on with no reliance on supernatural light which, however, remains indispensable to keep it beneficial, a blessing and not a threat. The light in question, the Christian dogma of the creation of the universe out of nothing and in time is not in itself a supernatural mystery. Unlike the mysteries of Incarnation and Trinity, the idea of creation out of nothing and in time can be glimpsed by natural man. But natural man - the Chinese and Hindu sages as well as the great Greek philosophers are the proof - could not gain a firm hold on the natural truth of creation out of nothing and in time until he was seized by the vision of a birth that came in the fullness, the completeness of time. It was the moment when Joseph reached David's town "to register with Mary, his espoused wife, who was with child. While they were there, the days of her confinement were completed."

So states Luke who in recent years has been dragged over "scholarly" hot coals for his alleged readiness to accept old wives' tales about the Nativity. Had this been the case, he would have produced another of those apocryphal gospels which have one thing in common: their prolixity characteristic of hollow chatter. Instead, Luke offers the utmost of reserve befitting one conscious of his full responsibility. About the most stupendous birth ever he states with maximum conciseness: "She gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger."

Those of Luke's readers who expected details typical of a natural birth had to be naturally disappointed. But Jerome, already quoted, saw into the essence of Luke's conciseness: Mary did what no woman weakened by regular childbirth would do. This is not the only case in Luke's nativity narrative where a miracle is hinted at by a diction which, as if by intent, avoids miraculous details. For that birth, miraculous as it could be, was never to deprive man of his tragic ability to ignore the always gentle light of divine evidence.

When seen in that light, the coming into light of the Babe becomes part of the vision about the woman clothed in the sun. Here too Blake was most original. In his rendering of it the Devil in the form of a huge dragon fails to note the woman though she, wrapped in the rays of the sun, lies under his very feet. Indeed, Blake's paintings of Mary give the same impression as Augustine's encomium of her, delivered on Christmas day, in which sublimity and realism are woven into a breathtaking texture:
A virgin conceiving, a virgin bearing a child, a virgin pregnant, a virgin fruitful, a virgin forever. Why should you marvel at this? For God had so to be born if He condescended to become a man.
The same alternative of not seeing and seeing the obvious holds true also about the birth of science. Theories about the birth of science are a dime a dozen and even more numerous are the efforts to ignore the problem posed by that birth and the stillbirths that preceded it. Historically, Buridan and Oresme may seem to be a far cry from Copernicus, from Galileo, let alone from Newton. It is not likely that Whitehead's imagination would have caught fire had he known about the third volume of Duhem's Leonardo studies published in 1913. It contained an advance glimpse of what became available in print when in 1954 the sixth volume of Duhem's Système du monde saw print after almost forty years of delay and after as many years following Duhem's death in 1916.
[SLJ The Virgin Birth and the Birth of Science 25-28]

Earlier references in this book to the lay vocation which Duhem saw in his pursuit of the perfection of physics may now appear in their strongest light which is the light of Duhem's very Christian soul. In the spectrum of that light, a spiritual light that is, a chief trait was the simplicity and the childlike character of his faith. One aspect of that character, a most Gospel-like trait, was his fondness for traditional, well proven forms of piety. At Christmas night in 1910, after he had spent almost three hours in church, attending two masses, he was unable to fall asleep, half-frozen as he was. He decided to write to his daughter about the liturgy in the nearby church of the Franciscan nuns: "They parted with their mass where Kyrie, gloria, credo were a potpourri of popular, nay vulgar tunes; instead, they chanted a mass to tunes just as bad but less ridiculous. During the second mass we had [the old tune] of 'sweet star, oboe, bagpipe' and other old memories." His letter was finished in the evening after he returned from solemn vespers in the Cathedral.
[SLJ, Scientist and Catholic: Pierre Duhem, 108]

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Celebration of Heroic Virtue

On this special day as we witness the advancement of 21 heroes towards the Communion of Saints, I would like to make special mention of the two pontiffs among them Eugenio Pacelli and Karol Wojtyla.

No doubt the declaration of the heroic virtue of Pope Pius XII will be controversial, but this is in spite of impeccable scholarship by Jewish historians such as Martin Gilbert, Pinchas Lapide and Rabbi Dalin and Catholic historians Pierre Blet S.J. and unforgettably Sister Margherita Marchoine - several of her books on Pius XII are widely available. Sister Margherita is nicknamed the fighting nun and a powerful example of Father Jaki's paraphrase of the Book of Sirach "Fight for the truth and the God of truth will fight for you".

Pope John Paul II nominated Father Jaki to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1990. Here is an excerpt from father on the election of Karol to the Petrine ministry:
Cardinal Wotjyla's rising to the chair of Peter was indeed a most unexpected event, not just because John Paul I died most unexpectedly. It is said that in the morning of his entering the second conclave of 1978, Cardinal Wojtyla was making a pilgrimage to a remote Marian shrine in the lower Abruzzi and his car broke down. A stranger came along from nowhere with a car and deposited him at the door of the conclave just before he would have been barred from entering. My prediction was that either
Cardinal Wojtyla or Cardinal Hume would come out as pope from the conclave. There was no prophecy in that. A non-Italian pope had to come almost of necessity, especially in view of the fact that the sudden death of John Paul I prevented Italian cardinals from forming a solid voting block.
I was at a priestly gathering when the TV brought word of Cardinal Wojtyla's election and showed him appearing on the balcony of St. Peter's to give his first blessing urbi et orbi. I was the only priest who knelt down to receive it. Just an indication of the high tide of ecclesiological "liberalism".
[A Mind's Matter, p. 134]

Indeed, Cardinal Wojtyla was not the pope of "liberals". Father mentioned frequently John Paul II's Apostolic letter on the ordination of women shortly after such ordinations in CoE and indeed Jaki persuasively argued that this authoritative declaration was an infallible exercise of the Petrine ministry.

I will conclude with a small excerpt from Pope John Paul's address on leaving Gemelli hospital after his almost fatal shooting in 1981, a most memorable incidence of his heroic virtue. Father Jaki quotes his address as witness to the role of suffering and endurance in the Christian faith.
In giving thanks for His gifts of preserved life and restored health, I wish at this time to express thanks for yet another thing: in fact, it has been granted to me in the course of these three months, dear brothers and sisters, to belong to your community: to the holy community of the sick who are suffering in this hospital - and, as matter of fact, who constitute in a certain sense a special organism in the Church, in the Mystical Body of Christ... In the course of these months, it was granted to be to belong to this special organism...I now know better than ever that suffering is a certain dimension of life in which more than ever the grace of redemption is deeply engrafted in the human heart. And if I wish each one of you to be able to leave this hospital restored to health, I no less intensely wish that you will be able to take from here also that deep grafting of that divine life which the grace of suffering brings with it.
[And On This Rock, p. 99]

~Jakian Thomist

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Realist Beginner’s Handbook – Part 1

The first step on the path of realism is to recognise that one has always been a realist; the second is to recognise that, however, much one tries to think differently, one will never succeed; the third is to note that those who claim that they think differently, think as realists as soon as they forget to act a part. If they ask themselves why, their conversion is almost complete.


Most people who say and think that they are idealists would prefer to be able not to be such, but they cannot find out how. People tell them that they will never get outside their thought and that anything beyond thought is unthinkable. If they consent to seek a reply to this objection they are lost from the start, for all the idealist’s objections against the realist are formulated in idealist terms…


We must begin by distrusting the term ‘thought’; for the greatest difference between the realist and the idealist is that the idealist thinks, whereas the realist knows…

[For the idealist] the spirit is what thinks, while for us the intellect is what knows… An idealist term is generally a realist term which designates one of the spiritual conditions of knowledge, but is not considered as generating its own content.


The knowledge of which the realist speaks is the lived and experienced unity of an intellect with an apprehended reality. This is why a realist philosopher always presses towards the very thing that is apprehended, without which there would be no knowledge. The idealist philosophers, on the other hand, since they start from thought, very soon choose as their object science or philosophy. When he genuinely thinks as an idealist, the idealist embodies perfectly the essence of a ‘professor of philosophy’; while the realist, when he genuinely thinks as a realist, fulfils the authentic essence of a philosopher; for a philosopher talks about things, but a professor of philosophy talks about philosophy.


Just as we do not have to go from thought to things (knowing the enterprise to be impossible), so we do not have to ask ourselves whether something beyond is thinkable. It may well be that something beyond thought is not thinkable, but it is certain that all knowledge implies something beyond thought. The fact that this something-beyond-thought is given to us by knowledge only in thought does not prevent it from being something-beyond; but the idealist always confuses ‘being given in thought’ and ‘being given by thought’. For one who starts from knowledge something-beyond-thought is so far thinkable that it is only this kind of thought for which there can be a ‘beyond’.


The realist will be committing an error of the same kind [as the idealist] if he asks himself how, starting from the ego, he can prove the existence of a non-ego. For the idealist, who starts from the ego, this is the normal, and indeed only possible, formulation of the question. The realist must be doubly wary; first because he does not start from the ego, and secondly because for him the world is not a non-ego (that would be nothing at all), but an in-se. An in-se can be given in knowledge; a non-ego is what the realist is reduced to for an idealist, and it can neither be grasped by knowledge no proved by thought.


Etienne Gilson, Methodical Realism, quoted in E.L. Mascall's The Openness of Being [p.93-94]

E.L. Mascall adds the following comment:

For Gilson, the idealist problem, how we can compare the content of our mind, with the reality outside in order to know what degree the former accurately depicts the latter, simply does not arise. It is an insoluble problem which idealism has created for itself; for the realist, there is no such thing as a noumenon in the idealist's sense of the term.

~ Jakian Thomist

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

SLJ: Advent and Science

Yes, Father wrote a little book (about 90 pages) called Advent and Science, which contains four chapters of translations of his talks (in Hungarian) given in Budapest in 1999. If you don't yet have a copy, you ought to get one. Here's the very beginning, just to inspire you...

--Dr. Thursday

It may seem strange to seek a connection between Advent and science, and even stranger if Advent is mainly a matter of sentiments. Yet, undoubtedly, more than any other phase of the liturgical year Advent is the season of that gripping sentiment which is longing. Advent is also replete with the joy of anticipation which in some way surpasses even the joy of possession. Many have observed, and rightly so, that there is something special in the joy of expecting as compared with the joy one feels on coming into possession of what one has eagerly looked for.

What is true of religion, as experienced especially during Advent, is also true of science. The magic of science comes to a large extent from musing about its future marvels and about its promise that man's horizons would forever expand. The feats which science has already achieved along these lines greatly strengthen the confidence that the future has even greater feats in store.

Advent is the most attractive part of the liturgical year also because it is a summary of the entire liturgical year, an annually recurring anticipation of a final Advent. This attitude expresses best the essence of religion, so concisely put in the words of the Scripture: "Faith is solid confidence in what we hope, a conviction about what we do not see" (Heb 11:1). The entire Christian condition is a longing for the kind of present moment which is eternity itself. That moment will not be touched with the anxiety that once it is ours it may slip through our fingers as does the momentary present.

The idea of a present moment that lasts forever was best summed up in Boethius' dictum, now almost a millennium and a half old: "Eternity is the perfect and total possession of a life with no limits." Longing for that moment that lasts forever is the essence of Advent and also its perennial timeliness. For we can grasp the notion of eternity only inasmuch as we penetrate the present moment's intellectual significance and conceptual riches.
[SLJ Advent and Science, 1-2]

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Project for the Duhem Society

From A Non-Thomist Thomism:

"The Building blocks from which one might construct a Thomistic epistemology are scattered throughout [Thomas'] vast works, and no Thomist so far has gathered them together in a system, let alone in one that would appear at least consistent to the modern mind. The task may be daunting, because to satisfy a Thomist mind and a modern mind is to satisfy two very different things, though both should put a premium on consistency. I cannot help saying this, nor can I help the fact that ineffective have been my suggestions to younger people interested in Thomistic philosophy that they gather the epistemological statements in the works of Etienne Gilson, whom I consider the greatest Thomist since Thomas Aquinas. I make this suggestion again in the hope that my words, this time, will not fall upon deaf ears."
[A Late Awakening and Other Essays, p.226]
This is a challenge for members of the Duhem Society bequeathed us by father himself. Gilson's primary works on epistemology were Le Réalisme Méthodique and Thomist Realism and the Critique of Knowledge. However, both books are very difficult to find. Father himself prompted the translation of Methodical Realism which highlights its importance. Here is an excerpt from A Mind's Matter on the Father Jaki's discovery of this book:

"My sensitivity to philosophy certainly received a spark when I found quoted a statement of Gilson's in E.Mascall's Gifford Lectures, The Openness of Being, a work I read a year or two after its publication in 1971. There Mascall opened his vindication of philosophical realism by quoting over three pages from a section of Gilson's Le Réalisme Méthodique that had for its title the quaint phrase, "Le Vade Mecum du débuntant réalist." This first three phases quoted by Mascall became indelibly engraved in my mind: "The first step on the path of realism is to recognize that one has always been a realist; the second is to recognize that however much one tries to think differently, one will never succeed; the third is to note that those who claim that they think differently, think as realists as soon as they forget to act a part. If they ask themselves why, their conversion is almost complete."

Ever since I read those precepts I was on my way to becoming an articularly confirmed realist. I saw to it that this book of Gilson was also translated into English. This time Philip Trower, a gentleman philosopher and theologian in England, did the job and did it most creditably. For him the book was a revelation inasmuch as it informed him about subjectivist intrusions into Neothomism already in the 1930s. Not all problems of present-day Catholics began with Vatican II....

Still I do not understand why Gilson's Réalisme Méthodique failed to be translated into English while he still ruled from the Medieval Institute in Toronto. Had that translation been made, it might have forestalled a Gleichschaltung of Catholic departments of philosophy."
[A Mind's Matter, p.176-177]

It is a terrible pity that a book with such potential is yet again unavailable - even second hand - despite the efforts of Fr. Jaki to bring it to wider consciousness. It will indeed have an important part in our task despite the fact that I am unable to source it! However, I have obtained Mascall's Openness of Being and what better place to start our task than by considering its generous excerpts from Gilson's The Realist Beginner's Handbook, which I will discuss next week.