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One of the most brilliant minds in the history of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas was born in 1225 at the castle of Roccasecca, in the present day Lazio region of Italy, the youngest of nine children. Thomas’ father was a man of means and nobility. Thomas’s mother would try to prevent Thomas from joining the Dominican Order. His family expected him to enter the Benedictine Abbey where his uncle was the abbot. Thomas Aquinas dedicated his life to creating a complete synthesis of Catholic philosophy and theology. In honor of his feast day, [January 28] here are ten things every Catholic should know about the Angelic Doctor.
1. Before Aquinas was born, a holy hermit told his mother that her son would be a great learner and achieve unrivaled sanctity.
The future holiness of the unborn babe was disclosed to his mother by a holy hermit of the neighbourhood, known simply as Buono, or God’s good man. Clad in a rough garment, and with hair unkempt, he presented himself at Rocca Secca, and pointing to a picture of the holy patriarch Saint Dominic, who was not yet canonized, he thus addressed the Countess: Read more…
In Part One I suggested that by gazing into the mirror of Christ Crucified we can see answers to the question What is Man? (male and female) because Jesus is an icon of what a human should be like and because His situation is emblematic of the human condition. I proposed that ‘Man is loved and lovable‘ is one conclusion we can deduce and that ‘Man is a sinner’ is another.
The Crucifixion is something voluntarily endured by our Lord because it is the efficient means for redeeming fallen humanity. We can deduce from this that, insofar as He is representative of us, that we can add ‘Man is a lover,’ that is one who loves, to our list of essential human qualities. However, although we can say that Man is loved and lovable unconditionally we must qualify the truth that Man is a lover with the fact that he is also a sinner. This means that every expression of love or feeling of it is, at least potentially, tainted by sin which is produced by disordered affection for or attachment to certain inferior goods at the expense of Good as such.
The idea, recently expressed, that ‘love wins‘ is unreservedly A Good Thing is something I have challenged on my other blog. For our purposes I would say that love translated into intention and act always has to be evaluated in the light of how it fulfils its purpose. What this purpose is might be more easily be discussed if we consider that another conclusion we can draw from the mirror of Christ Crucified is that ‘Man is dependent.’...click here to read more
Since the 1960’s the West has increasingly become gripped by a new zeitgeist which might be summarised as ‘everyone should be free to do whatever they want so long as it doesn’t directly harm anyone else.‘ Some might add ‘without their consent‘ on the grounds that if people wish to be harmed why should anyone else stop that? However that might be the shorter form has all the force of an apparent truism. What reasonable person would unnecessarily restrict the freedom of another? Surely only the authoritarian or the bigot could oppose such an obviously fair proposition.
On closer examination though the idea can be seen to contain fatal flaws. It proceeds from an extreme individualism which holds that the individual has absolute priority over the family or society such that indirect harm to these things is considered to be less important than the frustration experienced by an individual prevented from fulfilling her or his desires. Moreover it assumes that the meaning of the word ‘harm’ is self-evident but that is far from being true as debates around issues like abortion, euthanasia or the compulsory wearing of motorbike helmets testify. The combination of these two errors is toxic and capable of producing great harm before the zeitgeist runs its course.
To take the second point first. In the West pluralism is normative, a thousand flowers bloom a thousand schools of thought contend. What this means is that there is no unified moral consensus nor is there an agreed basis upon which one can be formulated. The previous era was united around the propositions of Christianity a religion which is increasingly being rejected and attacked by Westerners. Nonetheless nothing has emerged which can both replace its moral formulae and command near universal support. Definitions of ‘harm’ produced by that system remain the default ones but non-Christians do not necessarily have any coherent arguments to defend these definitions which seem to persist merely by force of habit. Against this individuals and groups whose desires or appetites were suppressed or disapproved of under the Ancien Régime can advance their case, fine-tuned to speak the language of the zeitgeist, and those forces that feel uncomfortable about the demands can command no intellectually respectable arguments to counter them….click here to read more
Look into this mirror every day, O queen, spouse of Jesus Christ, And continually examine your face in it…. that mirror suspended upon the wood of the cross St Clare of Assisi– Fourth Letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague
… St Clare (like many of the women who have taught the universal Church) showed great wisdom when she suggested that it is Christ Crucified who reveals ourselves to ourselves most fully. He does so, I would suggest, in two ways: as He is in Himself we get a positive vision of what Man is or should be and through Him as He is situationally we can make inferences about Man.
One aspect of our Lord’s Passion is that it was voluntarily undertaken for the sake of liberating humans from bondage to corruption and death. We can infer from this that, since this liberation is offered to each human ever conceived, Man is loved with an extreme, self-sacrificial love. That is, every human person is the object of an infinite love. Further to that we may add that since it can be said of God that not only is He Love but He is also Reason (as mentioned in my post Why Be Moral?) this love is a rational love. Which means that it can be posited of Man that he is lovable. If we pair these things then one part of the answer to What is Man? becomes Man, individually and collectively, is loved and lovable from the moment of conception through to the moment of natural death and at every single point in between. If we accept this proposition then we must conclude that human life is a sacred thing just because it is human and for no other reason...click here to read more
Before answering the Why question a philosopher would ask the What questions- what is morality? what is a moral life? After answering the What and Why they would likely then proceed to the How questions- how can I live ethically? how can human societies be collectively moral? This helps explain why philosophy books tend to be quite big and not very popular. They seem to spend a lot of time proving what the reader already knows to be true or attempting to disprove what the reader thinks of as ‘common sense.’ Religion appears to offer a way of short-cutting all this tedious playing with words. All religions have associated moralities and within the Abrahamic religions these have the sanction of divine revelation. Morality is what revelation says it is, obedience to God is the only acceptable response to revelation and within the content of that revelation, either in the form of scripture or divinely mandated authority, is all the guidance required for individuals and societies to live out the moral life in practice.
There is no real doubt that if this is an accurate summary of religious belief then many of the criticisms levelled at religion by New Atheists like the late Christopher Hitchens (God grant him rest) and the current Richard Dawkins (God keep him on Twitter) are well merited. Such a rigid structure which requires no moral judgement on the part of believers but merely an acceptance of the first principles of faith would lend them and their belief system to being manipulated in the service of anyone who could pervert the interpretation of revelation to suit their own purposes, as Islamic State and Boko Haram appear to have done with Islam. There are, however, a number of things which could be said about this critique….click here to read more
Be sober, and watch: for your adversary the devil as a roaring lion walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren which are in the world. 1 Peter 5:8-9
Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains Jean-Jacques Rousseau- The Social Contract
The philosopher Nietzsche was somewhat premature in his announcement “Could it be possible! This old saint in the forest hath not yet heard of it, that GOD IS DEAD!” (Thus Spake Zarathurstra- Prologue) Despite several centuries of continuous assault belief in God is still buoyant even in Western Europe where the atheist campaign began and where it has been most successful. The associated attack on organised religion, specifically Christianity, has had more effect but still the Christian Church and the ecclesial communities of the Reformation remain stubbornly alive and kicking in Europe whilst expanding elsewhere in much of the world. By contrast there has been no real parallel assault on belief in the devil yet such belief has withered on the vine and even among Christians there are many who do not take the idea seriously.
Various factors no doubt contribute to this decline in satanic credibility but I will focus on one. The answer to the question ‘what is Man?‘ (meaning female and male) has changed over the past six centuries or so and with this altered understanding of ourselves has come an altered conception of the forces that influence us….click here to read more
For John the Baptist came neither eating food nor drinking wine, and you said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and you said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is vindicated by all her children.” Luke 7:33-35
Not only (as I understood) had Christianity the most flaming vices, but it had apparently a mystical talent for combining vices which seemed inconsistent with each other. It was attacked on all sides and for all contradictory reasons. No sooner had one rationalist demonstrated that it was too far to the east than another demonstrated with equal clearness that it was much too far to the west. No sooner had my indignation died down at its angular and aggressive squareness than I was called up again to notice and condemn its enervating and sensual roundness. Orthodoxy Chapter VI by G. K. Chesterton
Writing about Chesterton is quite a tricky business. For most of the world’s population if they have heard of him at all it is only as the author of the Father Brown detective stories. However for many Catholics, especially in the English speaking world, he is a towering figure, a great writer, controversialist and apologist. If I were to write uncritically about him many of the readers of this blog would think ‘what’s Catholic Scot on about?‘ If critically many devoted Catholics would think ‘burn the witch.‘ So I am going, paradoxically, to do both although you will have to stick with me to the end to see how I do it….click here to read more
January 6 is the traditional date to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. In the West this refers to the Magi and their encounter with the Christ child, Eastern Christians celebrate the baptism of our Lord in the Jordan. Either way they mark a sudden realisation of the reality of God incarnate. Yet there is also a dark epiphany that springs from the desert experience, the encounter with a God who appears to have abandoned us.
How long, Lord? Will you utterly forget me? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I carry sorrow in my soul, grief in my heart day after day? Psalm 13:1-2
When I exchange opinions, it cannot be called an intelligent debate, with some of the fashionably militant New Atheists I am often told ‘of course you don’t really believe this stuff.’ What they mean, I suppose, is that I actually deep down accept the truth of their positivism and scientism but for some perverse reason of my own refuse to acknowledge that fact. Interestingly enough a common thread running through the Christian Scriptures is precisely the reverse proposition. The Israelites deep down know the truth about God but except for brief periods refuse to accept it; or at any rate accept it enough to base their entire life upon it.
In the Old Testament it is the book of Exodus where this phenomenon is most clearly manifested. The Children of Israel see the Red Sea parted, the manna falling from heaven, water springing from hard rocks and much, much more besides yet every new sign of God’s power is followed by a new manifestation of distrust or disbelief in Him. So much so that of all the adults who left Egypt only two make it to the Promised Land all the others, even the great Moses, die in the wilderness because either they have rebelled outright or because their faith has wavered at times despite all the overwhelming mass of evidence in favour of trusting in the Lord. In the Gospels the pattern is repeated, from the outright oppositions of the pharisees and the high priestly party to the complete failure of even the Apostles to understand Him Jesus is ever cast as a figure always to some extent alone because no amount of evidence seems to convince anyone to cast themselves fully upon Him without the slightest reserve. Arguably the only recorded exceptions being Martha and Mary, sisters of Lazarus, who successively say Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died (John 11:21,32) and even more strikingly our Lady who simply said They have no wine (John 2:3)
The interesting psycho-spiritual question in all this is why would or why do people refuse to belief something which they know to be true? Click here to read more