Of all Christian doctrines, the doctrine of Hell is seemingly the easiest to attack, hardest to defend, and most shied away from by theologians, philosophers, and apologists. It’s seen as an outdated, despicable, morally horrendous scare-tactic that is a significantly embarrassing blot on the claim to believe in a perfect, loving, good God. It’s rarely discussed in a serious philosophical setting, except in the brief work of skeptical writers presenting arguments against its moral justification. Christians may offer some general responses to the sentiment behind these arguments, but for the most part are just content to pass by and focus on other, “easier” and less taboo topics. It is now somewhat standard fare for people to assume that Hell is a settled issue; it’s often just taken for granted that Hell is indefensible and morally repugnant and hence that it’s almost not even worth critiquing or defending. Continue reading
The ultimate mystery and meaning of Christmas, and really the entire Christian faith, is the Incarnation. It is the very heart of all Christian creeds. But it is, in its beautiful, wondrous depth, unfathomable to finite minds. What impenetrable profundity, to say that God became man, that the Divine Reality took on flesh!
Such a feat would not be really so problematic in many mythologies/theologies. Just read through the literature of many ancient myths, and you’ll see that the gods are understood really as just “glorified” (in a very ironic sense) humans–immortal, much more powerful, but in essence still all too human. These gods, in effect, differ from mankind merely by degree. They are “higher on the scale” in terms of qualities.
But nothing could be more different from the belief of Classical Theism, which holds God to be not just another being amongst all beings, with a little more power, or even a “higher” being; but rather Being Itself, Existence Itself, Pure Actuality, Goodness Itself, etc. That in whom Essence and Existence are identical, totally simple (no metaphysical composition), completely and totally unchanging and unchangeable, absolutely no passive potencies, qualitatively infinite in power and goodness and knowledge, entirely immaterial, incorporeal, impassible, not able to suffer or be affected externally. This is the God, acknowledged in the Jewish and Muslim faiths as well, but who the Christian faith alone of all traditions has declared became a human being, like us, to walk among us, live beside us, and die for us.
But how, in a metaphysical sense, is this even possible? How can something that by its very nature is Pure Act, Being Itself, immutable, impassible, immaterial, and infinite, become something finite, material and physical, changeable, a being among beings, composite of act and potency? In short, how is the Incarnation not a total contradiction in terms? Continue reading
This is the third post in a series reading through sections of Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae. In the first we read through the Prologue and the first article of the first Question of the first Part, discussing the relationship between reason and divine revelation. In the second we read the second through the fourth articles of the same Question, considering divine revelation as a type of “science” or scientia, in the classical sense.
In this post we will begin with Article 5: Continue reading
In the first post in this series, we read through the Prologue and the first article of St. Thomas Aquinas’s magnificent Summa Theologiae, focusing on the relationship between and divine revelation. This post will focus on the relationship between theology and science.
In Part I, the second article of Question 1 begins:
“Whether Sacred Doctrine Is a Science?
Objection 1: It seems that sacred doctrine is not a science. For every science proceeds from self-evident principles. But sacred doctrine proceeds from articles of faith which are not self-evident, since their truth is not admitted by all: “For all men have not faith” (2 Thess. 3:2). Therefore sacred doctrine is not a science” (ST I, Q. 1, Art. 2) .
“Science” here is translated from scientia, meaning a “branch of knowledge” , used in the classical sense as opposed to the modern, limited sense referring only to the technical definition. The objection here is that science, by its very definition, “proceeds from self-evident principles”, meaning that it is based upon “premises the truth of which can be recognized by us while using the rational faculties with which we are endowed” . In other words, as we saw from Article 1, reason alone will never take us to some of the doctrinal truths contained within Christian theology. Left to our own devices, even the most brilliant of human intellectuals never would have discovered that there is a triune God or some other of “the hidden things” of God . These things had to be revealed to us directly by God in order for us to know them. But that is not science. Science, in the sense being used here, going back to Aristotle’s own description, starts from what is firmly held to be true via the senses and reasons to underlying causes/principles that explain those facts. But sacra doctrina does not start from what is known to be true via the senses, so it cannot be a science. Continue reading
(Carlo Crivelli (circa 1435–circa 1495) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons).
Being now three posts in to my “Reading Aristotle” series (see here, here, and here), I thought it time to begin a similar series on Aristotle’s great medieval champion, St. Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas is perhaps one of the greatest theologians, philosophers, thinkers, and just human beings in general in all of history. He and his writings, and the system of thought which arose from them, have had an immense impact on my own life and thought. He received ridicule while he was alive, being often taunted as “the dumb ox”, and he continues to receive criticism and ridicule up until today. But for those who take the time to study him, understand him, and learn from him, he is an unsurpassable treasure, a glimpse at what human beings can really be and accomplish.
In this post, we will begin to look at St. Thomas’s theological masterpiece, the Summa Theologiae. Continue reading
I am a student and lover of history. To me, the past is not dull and lifeless like a pile of discarded artifacts buried in dirt; to me, the past sparkles with intense beauty and significance. To me, the past is vitally important. To me, the past is a key to understanding what it means to be human.
When I was in high school, most of my friends were extremely science/math oriented, which is absolutely wonderful. I myself find the beauty and success of the maths/sciences intriguing and spectacular. But these same friends also often remarked on their disdain of learning history. “It’s useless,” they would say. “It serves no practical purpose. It won’t help me in life. It’s irrelevant, just a bunch of dead people and places and events that are over and gone and don’t affect me anymore. It’s boring.” Of course, being forced to study anything in the strict, controlled environment of high school can cause intellectual boredom. But in the words of one of my favorite writers, “The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder” (1). In other words, the world, and the past, Continue reading
I first encountered G. K. Chesterton midway through my sophomore year of high school, through his classic book Orthodoxy, which instantly became, and remains to this day, one of the greatest books I’ve ever read, on any subject. With Chesterton, the adage really is true for me that I would be willing to “read his grocery lists,” as it were. If he knows nothing else, Chesterton knows words. He knows their strength and influence. He knows poetry, imagery, language. Chesterton has a way with words that is so striking, and at times so overwhelmingly beautiful in their profundity and image creating power, that they make you wonder how a mere man could possibly have written them. But at the same time, his words are neither over exaggerated nor flippant, neither melodramatic nor superficial, but, in their verbal dexterity, reveal such plain truths and simple facts, that one wonders how any man could possibly not have written them in his own thoughts, how any man could possibly have missed it. Chesterton, above all, reveals common sense like a rising sun through a cloud of misty darkness. Chesterton delighted in paradoxes, because he knew that paradoxes are the signature of truth. Chesterton showed fairy tales to be as obviously true as truisms, because most often, fairy tales are truisms. Chesterton made banalities seem as bright and exciting as a newborn star, because Chesterton knew that the facts easiest to overlook and forget are the facts that are so common that no conscious thought is given to them at all. And that was the whole intellectual power of Chesterton: he gave thought to those ideas and assumptions which are very often left untouched by the mind; he gave words, and stunningly magnificent words at that, to the unspeakable truths which we all know, which we all hold in our hearts but which seem to us so delicate and indefinable that we never thought them possible to express, until Chesterton does so. When I read Chesterton, Continue reading