Wednesday, August 25, 2010

An Important Link: PL of St. Augustine

I have a wonderful thing to tell you, something I just learned.

The following link, will take you to the complete Latin text of the Patrologica Latina of the Opera Omnia (complete works) of St. Augustine. My hearty thanks to those who worked on it - let us remember them in our prayers.

This is of great importance to us who study SLJ (and therefore PD also) as by means of this link you have access to St. Augustine's De Genesi ad litteram - his commentary on Genesis which SLJ quotes in several places regarding the supposed "conflict" between Science and the Faith. It provides the complete answer to all the whining nonsense we are still hearing today, some 1400 years after the book came out.

I know it's in Latin; I don't yet know of an English source for it. But it is far better than nothing, and perhaps someone who knows of an English text or web page for it will tell us.

To save you time in looking up the reference, here is how SLJ tells it:
...he [St. Augustine] wanted no part of a study of the Bible which purposely ignored the well-established results of scientific studies. He put the matter bluntly: “It is often the case that a non-Christian happens to know something with absolute certainty and through experimental evidence about the earth, sky, and other elements of this world, about the motion, rotation, and even about the size and distances of stars, about certain defects [eclipses] of the sun and moon, about the cycles of years and epochs, about the nature of animals, fruits, stones, and the like. It is, therefore, very deplorable and harmful, and to be avoided at any cost that he should hear a Christian to give, so to speak, a ‘Christian account’ of these topics in such a way that he could hardly hold his laughter on seeing, as the saying goes, the error rise sky-high.” Such a performance, Augustine remarked, would undercut the credibility of the Christian message by creating in the minds of infidels the impression that the Bible was wrong on points “which can be verified experimentally, or to be established by unquestionable proofs.” While ignorance on the part of Christians was reprehensible, not every detail of knowledge about nature possessed, as Augustine was quick to note, the same measure of certainty. Beside incontrovertible facts there were probable hypotheses and simple conjectures. When some statements of the Bible collided with the latter, Augustine urged caution. A case in point was the question whether celestial bodies, stars in particular, were animated or not. As reason and observation provided no decisive evidence, nor did the Scriptures seem to be explicit, the matter was open to further inquiry. When, however, a question appeared to be settled in a convincing manner by scientific reasoning, Scriptures had to be reinterpreted. Clearly, the biblical phrase about God stretching out the firmament as a tent (skin) clashed with the sphericity of the earth. This naturally demanded a spherical covering, which was also suggested by the motion of the planets and stars. Augustine was not reluctant to give reason its due: “The Bible contradicts those who affirm something which is false; for that is true which is asserted by divine authority and not that which is conjectured by human frailty. However if perchance, they [the heathen] should prove it [the sphericity of the heavens] with evidences that cannot be doubted, it remains to be shown that what is spoken of as a tent, does not contradict those true demonstrations.”
[SLJ "The Leaven of Confidence" in Science and Creation 182 quoting Sancti Aureli Augustini De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim,edited by J. Zycha, in Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, vol. XXVIII, Sec. III, Pars 1 (Vienna: F. Tempsky, 1894), pp. 28-29 (Book 1, chap. 19); p. 62 (Book II, chap. 18); p. 46 (Book II, chap. 9)]

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Mystery of the University

A reader recently commented here, asking about Jaki and Duhem on "geocentrism". Of course this term comes up frequently in Jaki's studies on the history of astronomy, and in other settings such as his Bible and Science. Trying to go through all the citations would be the work of a little monograph, and I have no grad students to assist. (Not yet, anyway; if you are looking for a topic, or an advisor, do let me know, though it will have to be a remote kind of advice.)

Anyhow, I was going over the citations, at least the fifty-odd I could readily get from AMBER. The commenter wondered what that is, and you may also. AMBER is my term for my electronic collection of texts, mostly Chesterton and Jaki, and a few related authors - books I own, which I have taken the ridiculous amount of time necessary to scan and proof and arrange for my own use. Since most of GKC is already on the net in some state or other, and SLJ's is still under copyright, there is no expectation that it will become a public tool, alas. And yes, Father Jaki knew and approved of my work; in fact he came to rely on it very heavily for his own work. (Does this mean I was in the role of "grad student" to SLJ? History will have to decide.) Of course being a computer scientist makes all the difference, especially considering that my doctoral work was on searching biological sequences... but never mind that now.

As I was saying, I was going over the citations for "geocentrism" and found one which I thought was quite apropos, especially considering a link to another book I am presently reading in my work towards this mysterious "university" I mentioned previously. It is an instance of the remarkable Chestertonian character one may see in SLJ's writing, relating widely divergent matters to illuminate an idea. Here it is:
Nothing is more difficult than to speak of the brain-mind or mind-body relationship. It is a mysterious coin with two luminous sides. The only way to handle it is to follow the advice once given about a tax coin and render both mind and body their respective dues. In a sense the Thomistic doctrine of the soul as the form of the body states precisely this. It is a doctrine respecting facts, refractory though they may be to the impatience of reductionism. Lacking intellectual patience, Descartes from the start read his own mind into Scholastic terms. Had Descartes appreciated Thomas's doctrine of soul, he would have kept equal respect both for Thomas's emphasis on the priority of the sensory (thoroughly misunderstood by Locke and other empiricists) and for his simultaneous emphasis on the active role of the intellect (intellectus agens), mistakenly viewed by many nowadays as a vote by Thomas for idealism. Both emphases could but degenerate into shibboleths of empiricism and idealism once they were no longer considered as two sides of one and the same coin. Had Descartes pondered this, he would have retained a healthy respect for the sensory and experimental. He might even have perceived that the experimental, being inexhaustible in new data, casts a pallor on purportedly definitive systems. At the same time he might even have spotted for the intellect a healthier role than an intuition of all basic truths in one fell swoop which puts an end to any further creativity. The reward for acknowledging the mysteriousness of the mind-body relationship would have been a notion of science as an open-ended enterprise with ever new challenges and exploits.
Behind the debacle which is Descartes' performance in physical science lies a disastrous bargain. He wanted the coin of truth at the price of eliminating all mystery. The transaction secured for him only his own perception of extension, or space in a broader sense, which he took for an utterly luminous, ultimate, and exhaustive verity. In more technical parlance, he bargained for Euclidean geometry, which certainly fitted man's experience of his immediate surroundings, as a universally valid expression of reality. Thus Descartes performed, long before Kant though to have done it first, that turn which became called Copernican, although it was the very opposite of what Copernicus performed. What Copernicus did was to transform geocentrism into heliocentrism, and let heliocentrism rest on theocentrism, the best, even the only safeguard against anthropocentrism of any kind. Copernicus never tried to refashion Christian anthropology, let alone to dictate to the Creator.
[SLJ Angels, Apes, and Men 19-20]
As you see, this excerpt contains some wonderful cross-links. Of especial interest to me in one of my present tasks is the mention of "Thomas's emphasis on the priority of the sensory" - this is emphasized and brought to a new drama in Chesterton's St. Thomas Aquinas which I will forgo quoting just now.

But the other cross-link is to an interesting little volume I am reading at the moment, and I will give you just a sample. The link wil lbe obvious:
If there were no Catholic Universities, the academic world would be the poorer for it.
The reason Academe would be poorer is that it would lack an advocate of mystery.
[Francis C. Wade, S. J. The Aquinas Lecture 1978: The Catholic University and the Faith]
The author goes on to explain this remarkable thesis, but I have not finished the entire text (though it is short).... perhaps I ought not have quoted it without grasping the conclusion, but this point is far too important to allow to slip by. The right sense of this "mystery" - and both Wade and I see several wrong senses - does indeed give us hope - and even more, a thrill. It is, as Chesterton would put it, the sense of wonder, the sense of Surprise.

We of the Duhem Society ought to be in wonder, ought to continually seek for the Surprise - which is the Reality God gave us.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Jaki on the University

Yesterday I posted this on the blogg of the American Chesterton Society which alludes to a possible new University. (See the PS at the very end of the post.) In my consideration of Newman and Jaki as well as Chesterton, I found two very important quotes which I think you will appreciate.
--Dr. Thursday

I think that the tripartite division of functions at a college or university should be carefully respected: students should learn, instead of trying to teach; the faculty should teach instead of trying to run the place; the administration should do its job unfettered, though not to the point of aggravating the teachers by over-administering them.
[SLJ A Mind's Matter 29]

If anything bears witness to the modernity of the Middle Ages, universities do. Modern life is inconceivable without universities, but this was no less true of medieval life which saw their rise in the first place.
[SLJ The Only Chaos 36]

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Happy Birthday, Father!

Today, August 17, 2010, marks the 86th anniversary of the birth of Stanley L. Jaki, OSB. In memory of this day, here is a curious excerpt from Father's first book on science and history. It is curious because it mentions his birthday, but also because it gives a striking image of the importance of engineering to science, of having a wider view, of the critical need to be attentive to precision, and many other things. It is well worth your careful attention.

And do not forget to toast SLJ today at dinnertime!

--Dr. Thursday

The appeal of the Copernican system did not lie in the precision it permitted for calculating the position of the planets. In this respect it was at best equal to, but did not surpass that of Ptolemy, in spite of the claims of Rheticus to the contrary. Rheticus of course was duty bound to praise both his master's observations "made with the utmost care" and the results that coincided "to the utmost degree of exactness with the observations of all scholars." The fact, however, was that Copernicus' instruments were almost crude, and that no more than twenty-seven of his observations entered into his epoch-making work. The rest of his data were borrowed from the ancients. Being shut in himself, far removed from the main thoroughfares of the world, Copernicus could hardly realize that ocean navigation and the progress of technology were just beginning to force on science a new and hard look at the exactness and reliability of measurements.

Such needs often remain long submerged until suddenly, owing to some unexpected incident, they break to the surface. The impulse that brought the streams of precision and of science forever together was touched off by a partial eclipse of the sun witnessed by fourteen-year-old Tycho Brahe, who was studying rhetoric and philosophy at the University of Copenhagen. That such phenomena as eclipses occurred as predicted had a simply overpowering effect on Tycho's mind. Tycho threw in his lot irrevocably with astronomy. Three years later, already in possession of all available astronomical tables, he found on the night of August 17, 1565, that Jupiter and Saturn were so close as to be hardly distinguishable. To his great shock both the Alphonsine and the Copernican tables were wide of the mark in fixing the date for this event. The former erred by one month, the latter by several days.

For Tycho this represented an intolerable state of affairs. As he had correctly diagnosed matters, the situation could be remedied only if astronomy developed an absolute dedication to the construction of better instruments. In pursuing this end, Tycho had no equal in his day. Before long his rewards came in ample measure. His huge sextant, equipped with a table of figures indicating the errors involved in his observations, played the decisive role in showing the superlunary position of the nova of 1572 and of the comet of 1577. His long list of carefully taken data delivered a mortal blow to Aristotelian cosmology and established Tycho as the foremost astronomer of his time.

[SLJ The Relevance of Physics 240]

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Jaki on today's feast of the Assumption of Mary

The words "pray for us sinners..." reveal their appropriateness in most unusual and unforeseen occasions. For the writer of this book one such occasion came as he was sitting in the front pew of the Chiesa de' Fratti in Venice gazing at Titian's "Assumption," a masterpiece also by its monumental size. He did as a teacher of his had done in the early thirties in traveling by train from Hungary to Berlin through Dresden. He stopped there, took a cab to the Zwinger, went straight to Raphael's Sistine Madonna, sat before it for two hours, and then rushed back to the train station to continue his journey. I had only half an hour to spend in that Chiesa and wanted to spend all that time in gazing at Titian's masterpiece.
[SLJ Twenty Mysteries]

A personal note from Dr. Thursday: If I am ever in Europe, I hope I will remember to do this. There are many things on my list - none of them the usual "tourist" things, but all of them thrilling in a Catholic or scientific or musical - that is to say, in a Human fashion... And I have so many friends on the eastern side of the Atlantic, too... Ah, well - someday, perhaps, God willing.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Litany of the Most Precious Blood

It is wonderful to be back after my lengthy absence and to also have good news to share with the readers of the Duhem Society Blog! Over the past few months I've had grueling exams and research papers to contend with and at last they are complete! My thanks to those to kept my travails in their thoughts and prayers. So much has happened since I last posted, not least the establishment of the Fr. Jaki Foundation which is a very exciting development! Today, let me share with you news of the publication of father's final litany commentary, the Litany of the Most Precious Blood, which is presently available from the website. Reprinted below is father's explanation of the impetus for this book.

~ Jakian Thomist

In early January 2009, the manager of Real View Books forwarded to me an e-mail from a priest in Canada. He wanted to know whether the author of The Litany of Saint Joseph: A Commentary would consider writing a similar book on the Litany of the Precious Blood. This was the first time I heard that there was such a Litany, although I knew full well of the Feast, indeed a Solemnity, of the Most Precious Blood celebrated on the first day of each July. First I thought that this was one of the dozens of litanies which popped up during post-Tridentine times. Actually its origins go back to the thirteenth century and has since taken on many forms, of which one, thoroughly revised in 1960, became the latest addition to litanies approved by the Holy See for public use in the Church. The priest in Canada received within a day or two my assurance that I would give a serious thought to his suggestion.

The writing of a commentary on each of the Litany's twenty-four invocations presented little problem and indeed offered most welcome opportunities as it immersed my mind in topics most spiritual. More problematic was to find sufficient material about the history of the Litany to be dealt with in the introduction.

Fortunately I had to be in Rome in March 2009 for delivering a series of lectures (more on them later), I could plan on getting proper information from the central offices of the Missionaries of the Most Precious Blood. In that expectation of mine I was not disappointed. They provided me with the best published material on the history of the Litany and also on the life and work of their founder, Saint Caspar del Bufalo, a most zealous promoter of the devotion to the Most Precious Blood. He was also a chief missionary in the Pontifical States during the 1820s and 1830s, a mission land in those years.

In short, the typescript of the commentary on the Litany was essentially ready by the end of March 2009 and joined the list of minor works of mine that had been completed and in part published by then.

(Extract from 'Three more years' additional chapter to Fr. Jaki's autobiography)