Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Joyous Anniversary


Today is a very important personal anniversary since it was this night, one year ago, that I encountered the work of Fr. Stanley Jaki for the very first time! His writings have propelled me into disciplines far removed from my day job and for that insight I am eternally grateful. What a delight for me it is to share with you those words I first read from Science and Creation which have inspired me to build a Jaki library and truly engage with my faith in the wider world.

~ Jakian Thomist

With his penchant for startling dicta, Whitehead once defined European philosophical tradition as a series of footnotes to Plato. Whether this was the safest generalization to make on the topic is another matter, but it cannot be denied that the major themes of philosophy are as old as philosophy itself. Much the same holds true of scientific speculation. The word "atomic", which our age uses as its hallmark, has an ancestry leading back to the times of Pericles. Then and there it was clearly perceived that matter had to be either discrete or continuous. Decision on this represented the touchstone of truth for Democritus as well as for Aristotle. In the latter's words the verification of a strictly smallest quantity could be of such portent as to shake the very foundations of philosophy.

Ancient Greek philosophers showed equally keen interest in questions having to do with the very large. There again, a fundamental pair of alternatives was formulated with all possible clarity: the world could only be finite or infinite in extent. The counterpart of this along the parameter of time also received a most explicit attention. the classical Greeks' firm advocacy of an eternal world became a distinctive feature of their world view and science. Their concept of the eternity of a finite world, repeating itself in every Great Year, also anticipated to a surprising degree the idea of an oscillating universe, the favorite choice of many cosmologists of our day.

Reaching full maturity always prompts a look backward. Young people do not care about genealogies. Family records begin to be of consuming interest only to those who have already arrived. The interest is particularly pressing when the beginning of the journey amounts to a miracle. The miracle is the emergence of a self-sustained type of the scientific endeavour. In a world history that had witnessed at least half a dozen great cultures, science had as many stillbirths. Only once, in the period of 1250-1650, did man's scientific quest muster enough zest to grow into an enterprise with built-in vitality.

Great cultures, where the scientific enterprise came to a standstill, invariably failed to formulate the notion of physical law, or the law of nature. Theirs was a theology with no belief in a personal, rational, absolutely transcendent Lawgiver, or Creator. Their cosmology reflected a pantheistic and animistic view of nature caught in the treadmill of perennial, inexorable returns. The scientific quest found fertile soil only when this faith in a personal, rational Creator had truly permeated a whole culture, beginning with the centuries of the High Middle Ages. It as that faith which provided, in sufficient measure, confidence in the rational of the universe, trust in progress, and appreciation of the quantitative method, all indispensable ingredients of the scientific quest.

The future of man rests with that judgment which holds the universe to be the handiwork of a Creator and Lawgiver. To this belief, science owes its very birth and life. Its future and mankind's future rest with the same faith.

[S.L. Jaki, Science and Creation, 1974, p. vii-viii]

Monday, February 22, 2010

Jaki: Defender of the Chair of Peter

When you examine the massive collection of the books of S. L. Jaki, you will find that most of them deal with the history of science and its philosophical underpinnings. They are the work of a holy and literary man examining the many-tongued records of centuries, as Man has struggled to understand the kosmos, the world in which we live. You will also find a collection of little booklets which are more meditative, but still contain much history - his works on various prayers and practices of Roman Catholicism. There are important translations of historically important documents in science: works of Olbers, Kant, Lambert, and Bruno, chock full of notes, addenda, corrections, rebuttals and elucidations.

You will also find two rather small books on the nature of Papacy: And On This Rock and The Keys of the Kingdom.

I have no time nor inclination to summarise them - they are both splendid studies - the first of the geographical character of Caesarea Philippi and the use of the term "sur" and "kepha" (rock) in Hebrew Scripture; the second of the nature of the tool called a "key" and its place in technology and symbol.

It may make some people uncomfortable to speak of the papacy, regardless of their place in or out of the Roman Catholic Church - but I wonder. Do these find the same degree of discomfort from the Olympics? Or from the United Nations? Or from the ISO? Perhaps one of the other large international scientific organizations, such as the IUPAC or IUBMB are a source of worry?

I urge you to find these two books and read them and consider them as the work of a scholar on a difficult topic. And ponder, if you will, what another scholar once wrote about the same topic:
There is a famous saying which to some has seemed lacking in reverence, though in fact it is a support of one important part of religion: "if God had not existed, it would have been necessary to invent Him." It is not at all unlike some of the daring questions with which St. Thomas Aquinas begins his great defence of the faith. Some of the modern critics of his faith, especially the Protestant critics of it, have fallen into an amusing error, chiefly through ignorance of Latin and of the old use of the word divus, and have accused Catholics of describing the Pope as God. Catholics, I need not say, are about as likely to call the Pope God as to call a grasshopper the Pope. But there is a sense in which they do recognize an eternal correspondence between the position of the King of Kings in the universe and of his Viceroy in the world, like the correspondence between a real thing and its shadow; a similarity something like the damaged and defective similarity between God and the image of God. And among the coincidences of this comparison may be classed the case of this epigram. The world will more and more find itself in a position in which even politicians and practical men will find themselves saying, "If the Pope had not existed, it would be necessary to invent him."
[G. K. Chesterton, The Thing CW3:325]
Frankly, I think the scientific community has already done so, hence I am unable to understand the whine sometimes heard about the topic. Perhaps we scientists ought to try being poetical once a year at the very least, and exercise our intellects on ideas such as Rock and Key-Keeper - perhaps then we shall find ourselves refreshed and ready to return to our day-to-day (and far smaller) topics again. For us in the Duhem Society, I recommend this day, February 22, as the most fitting day for such an excursion.

Postscript: I am also aware that SLJ wrote his theology doctorate on questions about Ecclesiology, but I cannot read French, so I am unable to comment on it at present.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Starting Lent with Father Jaki

For your contemplation today. My suggestion for the members of the Duhem Society this Lent is to read (or re-read) SLJ's The Savior of Science, as we must become better acquainted with the Unigenitus, the Monogenes, the One Whom Pierre Duhem and Fr. Stanley Jaki followed, with heart and mind. What use is it for us to solve every equation under the sun, or annotate every reference with precision - yet lose sight of our Leader?
--Dr. Thursday

...there came those eighteen hours, beginning at about nine in the evening. During all those hours Jesus could not sit down as he was dragged from one court to another. For three hours, roughly from nine to twelve, that preceded his crucifixion, he was mocked and tortured. It was a miracle that he did not die while he was flayed from his shoulders down to his legs and felt pieces of flesh torn out of his body. The fixing of a crown of thorns on his head could have easily made him lose consciousness. Then he was sent to Herod Agrippa who added the crown of insult to his injuries. He became exhausted after the beam on which he was to be crucified had been put on his shoulders covered with wounds. A passerby had to be pressed to help him carry it for the last steps to the spot, ominously called the place of skulls.

As for the pains he suffered while he was nailed on the cross and let hang on it, physiological analysis of what went on in his body defied all imagination. Dr. Barbet, author of A Doctor at Calvary, became so identified with what Jesus suffered on the cross as to become unable to look at a crucifix again. So much about some of the trials Jesus suffered for our sake and suffered them so that we may remain strong in our trials. The Church knows why it insists on crosses with a corpus on it. Those who want crosses without corpus also know, as long as they are honest with themselves, that they obey the dictates of their naturalist theology.

Painkillers have become our most welcome associates. A large assortment of means for reducing excess body weight fills long shelves in our supermarkets. Medical insurance covers the unsightly effects of overeating. Ours is a society where two-thirds are overweight, beginning from childhood. Our Lents include no proper fasting. No place any more for hair shirts, nor for discipline, a word which also means a whip. At any rate, the rod has been banished from schools where students can enter only by passing through electronic gates, lest they carry handguns into the classroom. We Catholics think that for the last four decades ours has become a much deepened and very positive spirituality. We delve into classics on mysticism, though heedless of the greatest mystics' invariable nsistence on the need to mortify the flesh. The mental acrobatics accompanying such self-delusions are breeding mechanisms of trials with which one is not equipped to cope. Truly, it may not be sacrilegious to suggest that instead of praying, "Lead us not into temptation," we should rather pray: "Save us from leading ourselves down the rose path toward an imaginary bliss free of trials, though full of temptations to which we have already given our full assent." The petitions of the Lord's Prayer are a sequential mirror in which we can see, if we are courageous enough, the thick layers of pseudo-intellectual and pseudo-spiritual make up on our faces. May God's mercy save us from taking vice for virtue in the manner of hypocrites. Let us be saved from conforming with a world in which hypocrisy rules!
[SLJ Ours a Dearest Father (commentary on the Lord's Prayer)]

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Jaki Day: Roma, April 13

I have just received word that there will be a "Jaki Day" in Roma on Tuesday April 13. For more information, see here.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Methodical Realism ~ Etienne Gilson

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have had a particular interest in Gilson's Le Réalisme Methodique , one of his cornerstones in realism and a book which Fr. Jaki quoted regularly from and indeed had translated by Philip Trower. Today, to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of its publication by Christiandom Press, here especially are some long excerpts from Fr. Jaki's introduction to this exceedingly rare book for us to enjoy!

~Jakian Thomist

Methodical Realism ~ Etienne Gilson

Introduction ~ Fr. Stanley L. Jaki

This book takes its title from its first chapter, the first of five articles written between 1931 and 1935 by Etienne Gilson. A giant among historians of philosophy, Gilson was hailed on his 65th birthday in 1949 as "le philosophe de la chrétienté" on the title page of a collection of essays written in his honour by prominent Catholic philosophers led by Jacques Maritain himself. Years later he turned eighty, Gilson was saddened though not surprised on finding that his work, which widely echoed even in secular academic circles from the late 1920s till the early 1960s in Europe as well as in the United States, suffered an eclipse out of which it only begins to emerge. As a historian of philosophy he saw more than enough of the instability of philosophical convictions and of the ever renewed contestation of long established truths by long refuted errors. He had a particular fondness for a phrase, "the wild living intellect of man," of John Henry Newman, who, as Gilson fully knew, did not offer it as an anecdote of the human mind. That Newman's thought found in Gilson a prominent defender against insinuations of subjectivism and phenomenologism was part of Gilson's life-long campaign on behalf of objective truth and of things utterly and unconditionally objective.

An aspect of that campaign, and a most incisive aspect is on hand in these articles which were published together in book form at the urging of Gilson's good friend, Yves Simon, a "fellow fighter" in Gilson's own words. What was very clear to Yves Simon, himself a Thomist philosopher of note, received ample confirmation a generation later. "Did not the article 'Le réalisme methodique', have a little of the attractiveness of a manifesto?" asked Georges Van Riet in his still standard survey, Thomistic Epistemology, or "Studies concerning the Problem of Cognition in the Contemporary Thomistic School."

By saying "little" Van Riet, professor at the Institut Supérieur de Philosophie of Louvain, admitted a great deal. Never before or after had the neoscholastic tradition as cultivated in Louvain received so challenging a jolt as in that article and the ones that followed it. In the 1930s, and even in the 1950s, when Van Riet wrote his great monograph, the issue could seem but a largely academic debate on some esoteric minutiae among neoscholastics, apparent heirs to that fondness for hair-splitting of which their scholastic forebears have often been accused. Those were the times, the reign of Pius XI and Pius XII, when pastoral policy (never a matter of infallibility) did not include a curious assumption about Catholic intellectuals - philosophers and theologians, let alone all Catholic college graduates. It was not assumed that as a rule they would think, speak, and write (to say nothing of organising and demonstrating) in a manner carefully attentive to all the consequences of one's dicta, actions and standpoints. Today, when Rome is desperately trying to clean up vast fields covered with dubious and at times plainly rotten fruits of a "mature" liberalism, the five essays here translated should reveal a prophetic instructiveness.

[Introduction to Methodical Realism, 1990, by Fr. Stanley L. Jaki pp. 7-9]