Category Archives: Philosophical Theology

Some more Merton

Hence there must be something more in the Christian life and apostolate, than merely persuading Christian to adhere to the same doctrinal propositions, to obey the same laws, and frequent the same sacraments. If we are content with merely exterior practice of our religion we will tend to make Christianity another of the mass-movements that cover the face of the earth. Then the Christian, rather than a free man, humbled by the consciousness of his responsibility, tends to become another frantic who allows himself the worst excesses and excuses them easily on the ground that he is ‘defending the faith,’ or fighting for the Church.

Disputed Questions

Our faith in God is much more than a collection of statements I put my name to. While theology and dogma is extremely important, it is not what defines one to be a Christian: it is a living personal relationship with Jesus in his Church. Of course that relationship must be ordered, as against being chaotic, so the Church’s dogmatic definitions set the bonds of relationship but do no define it. Jesus wants all of me, all of the time!

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St Augustine of Hippo

Two quotes illustrating a fundamental idea in St Augustine’s philosophical theology: the Image of God in human beings. The first from the Confessions shows his comparative epistemology, while the second is St Augustine’s starting point for his mediation on the Trinity. Blessed Feast day to you!

Is not this beauty visible to all whose senses are unimpaired? Why then does it not speak the same things unto all? Animals, the very small and the great, see it, but they are unable to question it, because their senses are not endowed with reason to enable them to judge on what they report. But men can question it, so that the invisible things of Him . . . are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; (Romans 1:20) but by loving them, they are brought into subjection to them; and subjects are not able to judge. Neither do the creatures reply to such as question them, unless they can judge; nor will they alter their voice (that is, their beauty), if so be one man only sees, another both sees and questions, so as to appear one way to this man, and another to that; but appearing the same way to both, it is mute to this, it speaks to that— yea, verily, it speaks unto all but they only understand it who compare that voice received from without with the truth within. For the truth declares unto me, Neither heaven, nor earth, nor any body is your God. This, their nature declares unto him that beholds them. They are a mass; a mass is less in part than in the whole. Now, O my soul, you are my better part, unto you I speak; for you animate the mass of your body, giving it life, which no body furnishes to a body but your God is even unto you the Life of life.

Confessions 10.6.10

14. But since we treat of the nature of the mind, let us remove from our consideration all knowledge which is received from without, through the senses of the body; and attend more carefully to the position which we have laid down, that all minds know and are certain concerning themselves. For men certainly have doubted whether the power of living, of remembering, of understanding, of willing, of thinking, of knowing, of judging, be of air, or of fire, or of the brain, or of the blood, or of atoms, or besides the usual four elements of a fifth kind of body, I know not what; or,whether the combining or tempering together of this our flesh itself has power to accomplish these things. And one has attempted to establish this, and another to establish that. Yet who ever doubts that he himself lives, and remembers, and understands, and wills, and thinks, and knows, and judges? Seeing that even if he doubts, he lives; if he doubts, he remembers why he doubts; if he doubts, he understands that he doubts; if he doubts, he wishes to be certain; if he doubts, he thinks; if he doubts, he knows that he does not know; if he doubts, he judges that he ought not to assent rashly. Whosoever therefore doubts about anything else, ought not to doubt of all these things; which if they were not, he would not be able to doubt of anything.

On the Trinity 10.10.14

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Objective Faith?

I have been slow reading (more about that later) the opening couple of chapters (Habit and Task of Theology) of Aidan Nichols’ majestic work The Shape of Catholic Theology.

In the opening chapter Nichols examines the relationship between the fides quae (objective) and fides qua (subjective). He points out that the theologian is one who strikes a balance between the two: the theologian neither over-emphasizes nor under-values either. (Of course, the same could be said about any person who is in a relationship with God!) The theologian is one who is able to enter into God’s mystery in an intimate way and so communicate that inwardness of divine revelation to others(17).

It made me think: can we really ever have a fides quae without some form of magisterium?? The doctrine of justification by faith alone assumes the right object of my personal faith. My faith that a particular sporting team will eventually have a successful season has no immediate impact on my relationship with God however hard felt that faith might be. It is the object, in the above example, that is invalid. Yet who decides that the object is correct? Does not the very nature of an object require an external verification?

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Theology and reason

Were biblical theology to determine, wherever possible, to have nothing to do with reason in things religious, we can easily foresee on which side would be the loss; for a religion which rashly declares war on reason will not be able to hold out in the long run against it.

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The convert and Private Judgement

I have been puzzeled by this question for sometime:

  1. Can the convert to Catholicism ever escape the accusation of hyper-Protestantism?
  2. Is not the conversion process an elevation of Private Judgement in relation to the Church?

If someone has an answer (simple so I may comprehend) I would be most interested.

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Faithful questioning?

Jonathan B (at Per Christum) has posted a very good article on the question of laypeople intellectually engaging in the Church’s teaching, Is There Such A Thing as Faithful Questioning?. The second last paragraph puts the question succinctly:

Why have I written this post? Because I think the Church needs to address the difficult issue of “faithful questioning” a term I use to refer to the genuine struggle some Catholics face when accepting Church teaching. This is not willful dissent, which of course, is a grave wrong; really it’s somewhere in between full assent and dissent. However, I believe that failure to provide answers and guidance during periods of honest questioning can lead a person to dissent, which is a tragedy for them and the Church.

I have long puzzled over the question myself (Very serious theological question and The “I” and “we” discussion). The Father calls us to listen to his Beloved Son: there is a difference between obedience and blind faith. But how do we move from an emotional to a rational obedience without setting aside the intellectual gifts God has given us?

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Radical Traditionalists’ Assumptions

Allow me to float a theory:

  1. The fundamental assumption held by Catholics is that the Holy Spirit works through the Church and hence the pronouncements of the Church are true.
  2. The fundamental assumption held by Radical Traditionalists (to a greater or lesser degree) is that the pronouncements of the Church are false (esp. in the area of liturgy) and hence the Holy Spirit is not working through the Church (and the Church, by definition, is no longer the Church).

In short, the argument is over this relationship:

Holy Spirit – Church – doctrine

and the ordering of the argument. Both use personal experience to establish truth (somehow the truth of the Church must become my truth and a purely rational system of theology does not exist) but the argument is really over the state of the Church before experience.

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