Monday, 25 February 2008

Ramblings to help me think... plus The Grounding of Beauty - from 'St Thomas Aquinas' by G.K.Chesterton

These are solely mere ramblings for my own sake ; and I'll probably endure a lambasting from those more educated and informed than I could ever hope to be.
I was questioning a specific phrase a friend had written in an essay for the Faith Magazine the other day - now ostensibly and peripherally it seemed a perfectly feasible, tenable and appropriate point to make ; and I am certain my friend used it in this light ; but if taken apart and scrutinised it worried me somewhat in that it seemed to be implying something very different - and then I realised this was the main place that Aquinas and Duns Scotus differed in perspectives - the existence of matter without form rather than nothing existing which wasn't either formed matter or spirit ; the haecceity [unique 'this'ness] within individuation rather than the shared communal contiguity of aspects of the created image of the Godhead , and the attribution of universal predicates to both God and man, rather than the analogy that Aquinas insists upon [God is always beyond our understanding- not merely according to degrees of our perception/ability/predication ]- and on each of these I always end up siding with Aquinas.






Why ? Because even though I see where Duns Scotus is coming from ; I find distinct problems when we come to all manner of things :

a] the efficacy of prayer
b] both sacramentals and the sacraments
c] miracles
d] the very nature of the creation of the cosmos and its relationship to/with the Holy Spirit
e] the nature of sin and its effects upon creation







....although I'm certain Duns Scotus never encroached upon it ; I worry that if taken to its natural ends this leads to a kind of 'Deism with subsequent pseudo-interventionism' subsuming all the other considerations - an over-distinction between God and creation - God less a Creator but more a sculptor in clay ; forever adding pieces/re-shaping - an artist who can not leave well alone - an intervening God rather than an immanent constancy irrespective of the 'apeironic' transcendency - I don't think I'm being very clear.

I'm not suggesting our response should be a reversion to a stoical metaphysics , or a Spinozan panentheism warped into a chardinian/meister eckhardtian [as described somewhat tenuously by Matthew Fox] - type 'creation is an inseparable part of God' - But what I am saying is that I worry when we move away from the principle that it is the Holy Spirit in whom we live move and have our being and rather have the Holy Spirit as an animating force - like electricity in an already prepared automaton....


I used the example of Jesus walking on water - how did it occur ? did Our Lord make Himself and St Peter light or the water strong enough to support their weight [which I think is the scotist view] or was none of this necessary whatsoever as the nature of everything involved is reliant upon the Holy Spirit [the Thomist] ?


Is something added to holy water to make it holy [Scotist - implying predication] or is this unnecessary as it is reliant upon its very being as well as nature by the power of the Holy Spirit?



I remember a sermon by Fr Benedict Groeschel where he speaks of the bread and wine being the only things in the universe that are ever annihilated when they are consecrated - and I think this is very much a Scotist approach - and almost a kind of 'reverse consubstantiationalism' where instead of the body and blood 'cohabiting' ; the bread and wine's form merely vacates - 'leaves the building' i.e. 'it is no longer held in being' - and I feel compelled to ask 'is this at all necessary'? because we always seem to be imagining God as someone who removes,replaces, re-installs, repairs, cleans or eradicates...always like a builder, engineer, potter, craftsman, repairman - rather than a creator....surely transubstantiation can mean what it says and not involve all this ontological refurbishment ?




I sometimes envision [and I may be utterly wrong in this] the Scotist view of things as redolent of a chess game where spatio-temporality affects the liberty or volition of the pieces within the game ; or an agatha christie 'whodunnit' where only the final page explains all ; or a whitehall farce where all the characters are rushing across the stage , impersonating others , misunderstanding everything ,hiding in wardrobes,slamming doors behind them....nothing really makes sense during the participation until the final scene/denouement.
Whereas the Thomist is more like a great novel by Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky or Flaubert , or a Play by Chekhov ; or a game of Go [Wei chi] which could be halted at any instant during its course and still have enough intrinsic worth and value to be an entire 'thing in itself' without the necessity of a final act , a denouement or a stalemate/checkmate....






I think [and yet again I may be utterly incorrect in this] Scotism is playing a game towards an end - towards a fulfillment ; whereas Thomism is playing a game for the sake of playing a game as the game is of equal if not more import than the completion - the fulfillment is linked to that which occurs during it [even though much greater is to come]....of course it's a question of perspective and approach - but it's like Scotus is imagining us all like soloists in the orchestra combining in harmonies to make the music and discover who we are; in Thomism we play hoping we can find and reflect the music of the spheres and angels and uncover what we always were....I don't know , but it feels that way....




I think the problem with this is we go too far along the [albeit very necessary Scotist way] we're perceiving God as pure Actor rather than Pure Act

An 'environer' [what a horrible word??] rather than an actuating sustainer...almost like He was a butler or genie providing our every necessity rather than giving us everything we are and ever will be - it's a very subtle difference regarding the nature of grace.





I sometimes think that contemporary theologians who adopt this scotist view of things have watched a little too much 'Jason and the Argonauts' where the omnipotent Zeus watches everything from on high playing with the toy models - only he being aware of how things will end... but always moving his playing pieces around the board; rather than everything already being pre-ordained and self-corrected to always accommodate our volition [which after all is really our actions towards the imbued graces of freed will] - I think I'm trying to say 'God doesn't need to tweak the knobs of Creation' - take for instance the effects of prayer affecting reality - does it alter reality [Scotist] or merely make reality more real [Thomist] ?





Now I find this distinctly [and poignantly] ironic because of all our great Theologians throughout the history of the church - it's Duns Scotus who is the most ardent advocate of the Immaculate conception - whereas Aquinas is somewhat reticent - but their metaphysical approaches should lead to the reverse positions....unless Duns Scotus is implying an unnecessary 'interventionism' where Thomism would see it as merely a natural consequence devoid of any necessary 'change of the way things were'.
before I'd ever read His Holiness or von Balthasar I had always presumed that the immaculate conception was a very Thomistic-type of concept in that it is an 'Anticipatory' extra-temporal effect of our redemption on calvary - akin to the consecration at the last supper. Whereas it's the Scotist approach which sees that which St Thomas could not...horses for courses I suppose?


It's weird...I should shut up...before the veritable Fathers on these blogs beat me about the head regarding my obtuse ignorance on anything pertaining to the man....I doubt if the clerical lecturer-bloggers ever speak to me again - maybe it would have been better to have kept my mouth shut and made others presume i was a fool rather than opening it and thus confirming it ? throughout all this thinking I had one thing at the fore of my mind ; it's in Augustine:




ego in tempora dissilui...donec in Te confluam purgatus et liquidus igne amoris Tui. Et stabo atque consolidabor in Te, in forma mea... [Aug: de conf XI 29-30]
But I am scattered in times whose order I do not understand...until that day when, purified and molten by the fire of your love, I flow together to merge into you. then I shall find stability and solidity in you, in your truth which imparts form to me... [St Augustine's 'Confessions']









I have hunted high and low for a way to express what I'm thinking at the moment; and by happenstance came across this - perhaps it will help...




That strangeness of things, which is the light in all poetry, and indeed in all art, is really connected with their otherness; or what is called their objectivity. What is subjective must be stale; it is exactly what is objective that is in this imaginative manner strange. In this the great contemplative is the complete contrary of that false contemplative, the mystic who looks only into his own soul, the selfish artist who shrinks from the world and lives only in his own mind. According to St. Thomas, the mind acts freely of itself, but its freedom exactly consists in finding a way out to liberty and the light of day; to reality and the land of the living. In the subjectivist, the pressure of the world forces the imagination inwards. In the Thomist, the energy of the mind forces the imagination outwards, but because the images it seeks are real things.

All their romance and glamour, so to speak, lies in the fact that they are real things; things not to be found by staring inwards at the mind. The flower is a vision because it is not only a vision. Or, if you will, it is a vision because it is not a dream. This is for the poet the strangeness of stones and trees and solid things; they are strange because they are solid. I am putting it first in the poetical manner, and indeed it needs much more technical subtlety to put it in the philosophical manner. According to Aquinas, the object becomes a part of the mind; nay, according to Aquinas, the mind actually becomes the object. But, as one commentator acutely puts it, it only becomes the object and does not create the object. In other words, the object is an object; it can and does exist outside the mind, or in the absence of the mind. And therefore it enlarges the mind of which it becomes a part.

The mind conquers a new province like an emperor; but only because the mind has answered the bell like a servant. The mind has opened the doors and windows, because it is the natural activity of what is inside the house to find out what is outside the house. If the mind is sufficient to itself, it is insufficient for itself. For this feeding upon fact is itself; as an organ it has an object which is objective; this eating of the strange strong meat of reality.

Note how this view avoids both pitfalls; the alternative abysses of impotence. The mind is not merely receptive, in the sense that it absorbs sensations like so much blotting-paper; on that sort of softness has been based all that cowardly materialism, which conceives man as wholly servile to his environment. On the other hand, the mind is not purely creative, in the sense that it paints pictures on the windows and then mistakes them for a landscape outside. But the mind is active, and its activity consists in following, so far as the will chooses to follow, the light outside that does really shine upon real landscapes.

That is what gives the indefinably virile and even adventurous quality to this view of life; as compared with that which holds that material inferences pour in upon an utterly helpless mind, or that which holds that psychological influences pour out and create an entirely baseless phantasmagoria. In other words, the essence of the Thomist common sense is that two agencies are at work; reality and the recognition of reality; and their meeting is a sort of marriage. Indeed it is very truly a marriage, because it is fruitful; the only philosophy now in the world that really is fruitful. It produces practical results, precisely because it is the combination of an adventurous mind and a strange fact.

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