Thursday, March 29, 2007

silent retreat

This Saturday I'll be going on a a silent retreat with my first-theology class. This year though the pre-theology class will be joining us which will be nice. It's being led by Louisville's own, and Vice-Rector, Fr. Bud Stevens and our Rector, Fr. Leavitt. This is a particularly special retreat as this will be the last one he will lead after 27 years as our Rector. So I'm really looking forward to this much needed retreat. It will go until Wednesday which is unfortunate, in a way, because I'll miss the Chrism Mass back home. But I'll be flying home Wednesday night to help out with the Triduum at my home parish, Holy Spirit. We've got the first week of Easter off too, so I'll just hang out around the parish, help with stuff here and there, meet some priests for dinner, see some friends I haven't seen in forever and maybe... maybe... work on a paper.

Please pray for me.
Emitte lucem tuam et veritatem tuam: ipsa me deduxerunt et adduxerunt in montem sanctum tuum, et in tabernacula tua.
Et introibo ad altare Dei: ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.
Send forth Your light and Your fidelity; they shall lead me on and bring me to Your holy mountain and to Your dwelling-place.
Then will I go in to the altar of God, the God of my gladness and joy.
-- Preparatory Prayers, The Ordinary of the Tridentine Mass

The Glory of Jesus

There is a wonderful Magnificat reflection for today. I had to share it here:

When Christ decided to give sight to a man blind from birth, he placed mud on the man's eyes, an action that was much more suited to blinding those who see than to giving sight to the blind who could not see. So, too, the passion and death of Christ was more likely to destroy the faith of those who believed that he was the only-begotten Son of God, as was clear in the case of the apostles and disciples, than to commend faith to non-believers. And yet he says: "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all to myself (Jn 12:32). After the cross, after my suffering, after the disgraceful, shameful, repulsive death of the cross, I shall turn the world to faith in me, so that the world will believe that I am the Son of God, the true Messiah."

We see with utter clarity that this is what has happened. Christ came into this world to do battle against Satan, to do away with idolatry, and to turn the world to faith and piety and the worship of the true God. He could have accomplished this by using the weapons of his might and coming as he will come to judge, in glory and majesty, just as he manifested himself in his transfiguration. Who would not then have believed in Christ? But in order that his victory might be the more glorious, he willed to fight Satan in our weak flesh. It is as if an unarmed man, right hand bound, were to fight with his left hand alone against a powerful army; if he emerged victorious, his victory would be regarded as all the more glorious. So Christ conquered Satan with the right hand of his divinity bound and using against him only the left hand of his weak humanity.

-- Saint Lawrence of Brindisi
Meditation of the Day: Thur 29th
Magnificat March 2007

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

the humble exalted

If we contemplate our misery without raising our eyes to God, the Father of mercies, we will easily become discouraged. By examining ourselves thoroughly, we will see that discouragement always comes from two closely related causes. The first is that we depend upon our own strength; through it our pride is wounded and deceived when we fall. The second is that we lack reliance on God; we do not think of referring to him in times of prosperity, nor do we have recourse to him when we fail him. In short, we act by ourselves: we try to succeed alone, we fall alone, and alone we contemplate our fall. The result of such conduct can only be discouragement. Indeed, how could we expect to find in ourselves the strength to rise again, when it was our very want of strength that made us fall? God does not want us to act by ourselves. "Woe to him that is alone," says Sacred Scripture, "for when he falleth, he hath none to lift him up" (Eccl 4:10). Woe to him who relies only on his own strength to put his good resolutions into execution. When he falls, he will not have the aid of God's might to lift him up; thus he will remain in his misery, confused and discouraged.

Just as we should not make good resolutions without counting on God's help to keep them, by the same token we should not view our failures without considering God's mercy at the same time, for as God is the only one who can help us persevere in good, so he alone can raise us up from evil.

That is why all the saints have taught that the knowledge of oneself must never be separated from the knowledge of God and vice versa. Saint Teresa of Jesus says, "The soul must sometimes emerge from self-knowledge and soar aloft in meditation upon the greatness and the majesty of its God. Doing this will help it to realize its own baseness better than thinking of its own nature, and it will be freer from the reptiles which enter the first rooms, that is, the rooms of self-knowledge."

-- Father Gabriel of Saint Mary Magdalen, O.C.D.
(Magnificat March 2007, "Meditation of the Day" for Tue March 6, 2007)

order Dave Myers prints

My dear friend, upstanding gentleman, and brilliant artist Dave Myers has started making his artwork available for purchase via email. I have featured some of his work on my blog, the most recent being his drawing of Christ ordaining an apostle. Check out this post for more information on ordering a print either as a prayer card or an 8x10.

Preview of his latest work:

Also, don't miss his beautiful drawings of scences from Gibson's The Passion of Christ. He has conveniently archived them in a separate blog.

The Soul is a Terrible Thing

Over winter break a couple weeks ago, I visited my brother Nick at Steubenville. I sat in one one of his classes, Eschatology, with Dr. Regis Martin. In it he gave us the following poem that I'd like to share here:

The Soul is a Terrible Thing
by Jessica Powers (1945/1946)

The soul is a terrible thing; it cannot die.
Though it run past the heart's beat and the lung's breath
and cry through all the valleys of endlessness
it cannot find its death.

The soul is a terrible thing, and it has only
one of two destinies:
up steeps of light that to the eye below
are too remote, too lonely,
cliffs of negation where the heart's herb withers,
solitudes chilled and barren, or a deep
unknown where midnight wanders in her sleep.
Yet its ascensions open upon wonder,
plateaus of midday, balconies of sun,
and its last peak can cleave the white air under
the firmament called God, the final One.

Failing to raise, the soul can turn and follow
the way of its own willing and be lost,
crossing somewhere the boundaries of love,
that safe sweet nation of the Holy Ghost.
The soul though born of God can yet be given
to ultimate evil and be one of those
in pain alone preserved
whom the apt metaphors of Judas enclose:
wandering stars to whom the storm of darkness
is forever reserved.
Yet its true destiny confounds all language,
even the mind's profound imagined word
For on the heights of grace it yet may be
the secret chamber of a Deity
where what is spoken in God, in God is heard.
And What is Love proceeds eternally,
possessing utterly.

Oh, at this mystery that lies within me
I walk indeed with trembling, or I stand
crying God's pities out of His right hand -
that I, so poor a creature, am so favored
with this too precious gift of soul, that I
bear in so undependable a vessel
this terrible, terrible thing they call a soul.

Friday, March 02, 2007

the Tridentine Mass

There was a good article recently in the Baltimore Sun about the Tridentine Mass in Baltimore, i.e. at St. Alphonsus parish. I've been there before, it's beautiful. Here's a snippet:
Young people who never experienced the Mass before Vatican II are also drawn to the spirituality of the service. Phair, a lifelong parishioner of St. Alphonsus, studies modern languages at University of Maryland, Baltimore County and uses a Latin-French missal during the service.

She describes it as an "overwhelming spiritual experience, because it's so reverent."

"There's another level there that I don't find at other Masses," Phair says.

Bastress says the church almost operates like three separate parishes: the English-speaking community, those who come to Lithuanian services at 8:30 a.m., and the Tridentine followers at 11:30 a.m. The latter is the largest service with up to 175 attendees each Sunday, many of whom travel from as far away as Virginia or Pennsylvania to attend.

When the Diocese of Harrisburg started offering a Tridentine Mass several years ago, it drew some regular attendees from St. Alphonsus.

"They wouldn't come all that distance just for a social gathering," says Timonium resident Rita K. Dent, president of the Gregorian Society. "It's the beauty and the reverence and of course the sacrifice. The Novus Ordo contains all that, but I think it's much more enhanced in the Latin."
In other words:

Msgr. Robert Sokolowski on St. Anselm's Proof of the Existence of God

St. Anselm of Canterbury’s famous proof for the existence of God in his Proslogion is one of the most profound formulations in the history of theology. Indeed, the Dutch theologian Fr. Frans Jozef van Beeck, S.J. declares that “Few arguments in the history of Christian thought have provoked so much commentary and have so captivated the philosophical imagination of the West as Anselm’s ontological argument."[1] It spawns from St. Anselm’s experience of that ultimate problem common to all humanity: The sense that God is present and pervasive in the world around us yet still so out of reach and hard to grasp. Domine, si hic non es, ubi te quaeram absentem? Si autem ubique es, cur non video praesentem? Lord, if you are not here, where shall I seek you, being absent? But if you are everywhere, why do I not see you present?"[2] In thinking about this God, St. Anselm is ultimately lead to conclude that God is “aliquid quo nihil, maius cogitari posit; something than which nothing greater can be thought.” But, the profundity of his argument is not only in its ability to acknowledge and answer ultimate questions. It is also very much present in the inner enlightenment from which the argument was make.[3] There is a depth and thoroughness that cannot be fully grasped with only a single read or study. Indeed St. Anselm’s proof for the existence of God provides the very stage or horizon for St. Thomas Aquinas’ Quinquae Viae or “Five Ways” of proving the existence of God. Given the above, why is it then that St. Anselm’s proof is so roundly and often criticized for being too terse, too presumptuous, too prohibitive, too biased or even for not proving anything at all?

To answer these questions we will turn to a “master” of the masters: Msgr. Robert Sokolowski, a phenomenologist and professor of philosophy at the Catholic University of America. His book, The God of Faith and Reason: Foundations of Christian Theology[4], will be our guide as we briefly step through St. Anselm’s argument, its implications, its criticisms, and its conclusions. And Sokolowski can help us see in St. Anselm what many of the latter’s critics have overlooked: implicit premises that are what really allow the proof to shine. This is a light that shines on Christian life itself and that shows quod vere sit Deus; that truly God exists.[5]

Sokolowski is a “master of distinctions,” shedding light on ideas and realities by looking at their counterparts or by looking at what they are not. He notes in chapter one, by observing the action of mankind, that we all naturally do this, we all utilize distinctions as we seek to understand the world and everything of and not of it. We understand the living more when we contrast it to what we can know of the nonliving. We understand health more when we contrast it to disease. “Making distinctions is the first step of the exercise of reason” and looking at an object without taking into account its “proper other” only gives us half of our object’s story, half of its “disclosure."[6]

St. Anselm also follows this natural approach. After he describes what God is – “that than which nothing greater can be thought” – he asks “An ergo non est aliqua talis natura; but perhaps there does not exist any such nature,” and mentions the insipiens, the fool, of Psalm 14(13) as asserting that there is no God.[7] Sokolowski observes that “When we wish to think theologically about faith, therefore, we must contrast faith to unbelief; and when we wish to think theologically about God as the object of faith, we must raise the question of the negation of ‘any such nature’ as the God in whom we believe.” Furthermore, “Because of the contrastive nature of reason we cannot think theologically about faith and God without raising the issue of unbelief and the nonexistence of God."[8]

In his argument, St. Anselm turns reason toward faith itself rather than use it within faith as so many before him had done exclusively. He is able to show that faith and reason are not opposed to each other. Faith becomes an object of reason while still maintaining the conviction of fides quaerens intellectum, faith seeking understanding. Indeed in his preface he reveals an “attempt to establish the existence of God apart from belief in him”:

unum argumentum, quod nullo alio ad se probandum quam se solo indigeret, et solum ad astruendum quod deus vere est… sufficeret; a single argument which would require no other for its proof than itself alone, and alone would suffice to demonstrate that God truly exists."[9]

But, because St. Anselm's argument is “encompassed and permeated by worship – he begins by praying for understanding and ends by giving thanks for it"[10] – we are presented with our first critique of this argument: Can he really make his claim apart from faith? But Sokolowski assures us that “The simple thought of ‘that than which nothing greater can be thought’ is all that is needed” and can stand on its own.[11]

In chapter two of the Proslogion when St. Anselm moves on to establish quod vere sit Deus; that truly God exists, he makes the distinction between existing in the mind, in solo intellectu, and existing in reality, in re. He goes on to say that “it is greater, maius, to exist both in reality and in the mind than it is to exist merely in the mind."[12] Therefore, God must exist because if he exists only in the mind then he would not be aliquid quo nihil, maius cogitari posit, that than which nothing greater can be thought.

Aside from this explicit premise, we now come to an implicit one that Sokolowski and few others, if any, recognizes. He formulates it as such:

(God plus the world) is not greater than God alone; or:

(God plus any creature) is not greater than God alone.

“The premise implies that God is to be so understood, and the world or creatures are to be so understood, that nothing greater, maius, is achieved if the world or creatures are added to God."[13] This could also be expressed as:

(God plus the world) cannot be conceived as greater than God alone; or:

(God plus any creature) cannot be conceived as greater than God alone.

This premise is valid because it is implied in St. Anselm’s conclusion of “that than which nothing greater can be thought.”

Anselm’s definition of how God is understood is usually taken to mean that no other being, or no other combination of beings, could be conceived as greater than God; but it must also be true that any being or any beings taken together with God cannot be conceived as amounting to something greater than God alone.[14]

Also, parallel to being greater, maius, is being better, melius:

(God plus the world) cannot be conceived as better than God alone; or:

(God plus any creature) cannot be conceived as better than God alone.

Thus, God could be all there is and he would be no less great or good.

In The God of Faith and Reason, Sokolowski has pioneered what he calls the Theology of Disclosure. Briefly, in his own words, this is “the reflective study of how the Christian distinction between God and the world is presented to us.” Again, we are always distinguishing, making distinctions, in our experience, but we cannot experience the distinction between God and the world. This is unlike the pagan understanding of the divine, because the world, the whole, was for them the “final context” and the divine was just as much a part of the world as the creatures. This is a necessary consequence of the uniqueness of God because his existence is understood as being possible and necessary without the world and independent of it. Here we see that the terms of St. Anselm’s argument are uniquely Christian therefore it cannot be lifted from this setting, as we mentioned before. But, again, this does not make his argument any less reasonable.

Let us look more closely at the merits of St. Anselm’s argument in proving quod vere sit Deus; that truly God exists. In chapter nine Sokolowski states:

The issue of “greater” and “better” is defined and examined within this alternative of being in the mind and being in reality; if something exists in reality as well as in the mind, it must be thought to be greater and better than that which is in the mind alone. But the more fundamental question of how the “greater” and “better” between God and the world are to be determined is left unexamined and only implicitly defined.[15]

But, this distinction can still be made and so does not detract from our goal to prove the existence of God. “There is a kind of warrant of existence when a distinction that can be understood is made."[16] Can we say that “the making of the distinction itself somehow establishes for us the existence of God?"[17] Let us look at some other critiques of St. Anselm’s argument.

  1. Sokolowski himself states, in comparing St. Anselm with St. Thomas Aquinas, that “Making the Christian distinction between God and the world is a more elementary activity than carrying out the traditional arguments for the existence of God.” But, while “[St. Anselm’s] argument does not reason from effects to causes, … it brings out the domain within which the movement from effects to causes [in St. Thomas’ five ways] is to take place.”
  2. Because of St. Anselm’s non-Thomistic approach, transcendentalists who rely on St. Thomas, like Bernard Lonergan and Karl Rahner, will also find issue with it. The transcendental method “turns from things to the subjectivity that desires and knows things."[18] Lonergan states that “Being is completely intelligible… For being is the objective of the detached, disinterested, unrestricted desire to know."[19] Therefore, God exists. But Sokolowski counters that

This approach does not give due recognition to… pagan mythical and philosophical thinking: the simple acceptance of limitation (which may not even be seen as limitation to be transcended) and the acknowledgment of elements of rude unintelligibility that show up along with the reasonableness of things.[20]

  1. Finally, Karl Barth argues that “All that the formula says about this object is, as far as I can see, this one thing, this one negative: nothing greater than it can be imagined… It does not say that God is, nor what he is, but rather, in the form of a prohibition that man can understand, who he is."[21] But, in reply, Sokolowski affirms what we’ve said before:

The name of God is not just a command never to think of anything greater than him; the phrase “that than which nothing greater can be thought” gives us an inkling of what God is, by implying that even if the world or any being were added to him, the result is nothing better or greater than God alone… We restrain our “freedom” of thought, not because of an injunction, but because of an understanding, or at least the glimpse of an understanding.[22]

Barth doesn’t take into account the implicit premises of St. Anselm’s argument that we saw before.

From these criticisms and answers we move to finally answer the question whether St. Anselm’s proof works as a proof. Contrary to popular belief, Sokolowski states that “it seems clear that this proof ought not to be taken as an [inference] from an idea to the existence of a being."[23] This would make the argument seem deceptive and unsatisfying. The real question is if the distinction between God and the world or creation, as seen in our implicit premises above, is “meaningful, thinkable, and possible.” It is about the possibility of God not His Actuality. Ultimately, the disclosure of this possibility “is brought forward, is first rendered, in the life of Christ. It continues to be made visible primarily in the Christian life.” Furthermore, this understanding calls “not only for an intellectual assent or denial but also for a moral response.” This possibility of responding to God is kept alive in the Church and becomes available for others because “there is an element of understanding in it"[24] – The Christian Distinction – which needs to be rendered “again and again, to clarify and contrast it against ever new things with which it might be confused,” i.e. past and future criticisms and controversies.

We have looked at what motivated St. Anselm’s argument for the existence of God and the brilliance with which it stands despite its many critiques. We have been introduced to Sokolowski’s Theology of Disclosure, the meaningfulness of distinctions and of distinguishing, and how these can help us gain new and deeper insight into St. Anselm’s argument. Indeed, Sokolowski finds his art of making distinctions – in order to discover the reality and being of things – implicit in St. Anselm’s argument as he turns reason toward faith like no one had ever done before. St. Augustine said it first when he said “For no soul ever has been able to conceive or ever will be able to conceive anything better than You, the supreme and perfect Good."[25] St. Anselm’s takes up this religious setting, but “Anyone, even the insipiens [our “fool” from Psalm 14(13)], can understand [his] thought when he hears it expressed, and therefore the thought exists in his mind when he understands it."[26] When then saw in St. Anselm’s argument the uniquely Christian distinction between God and the world or creation and we described critiques from St. Thomas Aquinas, Bernard Lonergan, Karl Rahner, Karl Barth and Sokolowski himself. Finally we were able to see that what is offered in St. Anselm’s proof is “the possibility of thinking about God and the world in a certain way and of living the faith that provides, nourishes, and completes this understanding."[27]

[1] Franz Jozef van Beeck, God Encountered: A Contemporary Catholic Systematic Theology, Volume 2/2: The Revelation of the Glory, Part II: One God, Creator of All That Is (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1994), p. 55.
[2]Chapter 1 of St. Anselm’s Proslogion, translated with introduction and commentary by M.J. Charlesworth (1965; reprinted., Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1979).
[3] van Beeck comments that “Anselm regards the understanding he is seeking as a grace – a God-given gift of intellectual enlightenment.” p. 59
[4] Robert Sokolowski, The God of Faith and Reason: Foundations of Christian Theology (Washington: The Catholic University of American Press, 1995)
[5] The title of Chapter 2 of the Proslogion.
[6] Cf. Sokolowski, p. 4
[7] Ps 14(13): 1; 53(52): 1 – “the fool has said in his heart, there is no God”
[8] Sokolowski, p. 5
[9] p. 7
[10] van Beeck, p. 58
[11] Sokolowski, p. 7
[12] p. 7
[13] p. 8
[14] p. 9
[15] p. 106
[16] p. 107
[17] p. 108
[18] p. 112
[19] Bernard Lonergan, Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1957), p. 672.
[20] p. 109
[21] Karl Barth, Anselm: Fides Quaerens Intellectum, translated by I.W. Robertson (London: SCM Press, 1960), p. 75, emphasis mine.
[22] Sokolowski, p. 111, emphasis mine.
[23] p. 113
[24] p. 115
[25] St. Augustine, Confessions, translated by F.J. Sheed (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1993), seventh book, part four, p. 110.
[26] Sokolowski, p. 7
[27] p. 115