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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Some Merton for the re-start!

For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self.

Trees and animals have no problem. God makes them what they are without consulting them, and they are perfectly satisfied.

With us it is different. God leaves us free to be whatever we like. We can be ourselves or not, as we please. We are at liberty to be real, or to be unreal. We may be true or false, the choice is ours. We may wear now one mask and now another, and never, if we desire, appear with our own true face. But we cannot make these choices with impunity. Causes have effects, and if we lie to ourselves and to others, then we cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them. If we choose the way of falsity we must not be surprised that truth eludes us when we finally come to need it!

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Common pitfalls of Apologists

Apologists are prone to commit certain mistakes. In trying to win arguments with particular opponents, they sometimes mistakenly take over the assumptions of their adversaries. Exaggerating the powers of reason, some try in vain to demonstrate mysteries of faith such as the Trinity and the Incarnation. Others, as I have mentioned, make Christianity uninteresting by minimizing the element of mystery. I am convinced that it is best not to conceal the offense–the scandal, if you like–of the God who died on the Cross.

From The History and Purpose of Apologetics: An Interview with Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J. by Carl E. Olson

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The victory of meritocracy?

I will leave the political analyses of President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address to the more qualified. Yet something struck me when I listened to it:

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted – for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things – some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

  1. Is this the pronouncement of the final victory for meritocracy?? What if we turn the President’s statement around: If prosperity and freedom come from those who are risk-takers, doers, and maker of things, where does poverty and economic or social slavery come from?? Are the poor and out-casts of our society there because they have not worked hard or are lazy??
  2. Do our actions really establish who we are?? Is this the crowning glory of the scientific revolution?? Fact over being, action over ontology??

The above would explain the President’s attitude to the unborn – what have they done for society??

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Two aphorisms

These are not my own but rather distilled from recent conversations and thoughts:

  1. Truth over vocation.
  2. The Catholic Church is bigger than any one experience of her.

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Technique makes perfect

I have spent the last three Saturday mornings taking our oldest daughter to her swimming lessons. I like watching the care and devotion of the teachers. I am always struck by the care the teachers take in explain the correct technique. The poor children do lap after lap correcting the position of their elbow, or the position of their hand upon entry into the water, etc. Experience has taught people that to go really fast in the pool requires much more than a collection of training drills or past philosophies of swimming. It requires the correct technique now.

Theology, to face the problems of today and tomorrow, must be much more than a systematizing and collection of datum. The task of theology is surely much broader than proof texting the official pronouncements of any particular denomination. Theology aims for the perfect technique – the perfect mindset. That technique will help us face the future with the help of the past but will fight the temptation of staying in the glory days of yesteryear. That technique will make us see the world from outside of ourselves – from God’s perspective – but will not ignore the blight and pain of the people around us. It will be grounded in God himself and not any idea or philosophy about him. It will not be afraid to ask the hard questions and explore them to their extreme but it will know when things have gone too far.

Theology, to be truly productive, must be more than a collection of information. Maybe technique does make perfect.

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Governments, democracy, and the Truth

Yesterday, we had a relatively good sermon about Catholics and the government. The main theme was a Catholics responsibility towards government is trumped by a Catholics responsibility towards God.

Yet two (philosophical) points formed in my mind as I was listening:

Can we still speak about the government as an external reality in a democracy??
In a representational democracy (or an indirect democracy) am I not the government in the act of voting?? (Allow me to remind everyone that Australia is a constitutional monarchy.) Jesus’ point still stands but it needs to be adapted to a modern situation. Conversion includes a desire for a just society! 

My point is that our vote counts! No more voting along party line but along issue lines!

Is the government really interested in truth?? Or just in freedom??
I think this is a central philosophical point. The recent debate in Victoria had little to do with truth but had a lot to do with freedom. Maybe naively we assume that people are interested in truth? I think the modern mind assumes that truth is the outcome of an act that has been undertaken freely. 

That does not mean we adopt a modern world-view and assume truth is unimportant. But it means we need to evangelize people into the idea of truth being important in their life! We need to proclaim again that there are objective guiding principles to life.

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