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Monday, December 31, 2012

0258: Pope Benedict XVI - Christmas Homily 2012

Entry 0258: Pope Benedict XVI - Christmas Homily 2012

On Christmas Day, during the midnight Mass commemorating the Nativity of the Lord, Pope Benedict XVI commented on the Gospel reading, Luke 2:1-14. The Holy Father remarked that “in the words of the angels, ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased,’ it is as if we were hearing the sounds of heaven.” Here is the entire text of Pope Benedict XVI’s reflections.




Saint Peter's Basilica

Monday, 24 December 2012

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Again and again the beauty of this Gospel touches our hearts: a beauty that is the splendour of truth. Again and again it astonishes us that God makes himself a child so that we may love him, so that we may dare to love him, and as a child trustingly lets himself be taken into our arms. It is as if God were saying: I know that my glory frightens you, and that you are trying to assert yourself in the face of my grandeur. So now I am coming to you as a child, so that you can accept me and love me.

I am also repeatedly struck by the Gospel writer’s almost casual remark that there was no room for them at the inn. Inevitably the question arises, what would happen if Mary and Joseph were to knock at my door. Would there be room for them?

And then it occurs to us that Saint John takes up this seemingly chance comment about the lack of room at the inn, which drove the Holy Family into the stable; he explores it more deeply and arrives at the heart of the matter when he writes: “he came to his own home, and his own people received him not” (Jn 1:11).

The great moral question of our attitude towards the homeless, towards refugees and migrants, takes on a deeper dimension: do we really have room for God when he seeks to enter under our roof? Do we have time and space for him? Do we not actually turn away God himself?

We begin to do so when we have no time for God. The faster we can move, the more efficient our time-saving appliances become, the less time we have. And God? The question of God never seems urgent. Our time is already completely full.

But matters go deeper still. Does God actually have a place in our thinking? Our process of thinking is structured in such a way that he simply ought not to exist. Even if he seems to knock at the door of our thinking, he has to be explained away. If thinking is to be taken seriously, it must be structured in such a way that the “God hypothesis” becomes superfluous. There is no room for him. Not even in our feelings and desires is there any room for him. We want ourselves. We want what we can seize hold of, we want happiness that is within our reach, we want our plans and purposes to succeed.

We are so “full” of ourselves that there is no room left for God. And that means there is no room for others either, for children, for the poor, for the stranger.

By reflecting on that one simple saying about the lack of room at the inn, we have come to see how much we need to listen to Saint Paul’s exhortation: “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2). Paul speaks of renewal, the opening up of our intellect (nous), of the whole way we view the world and ourselves. The conversion that we need must truly reach into the depths of our relationship with reality.

Let us ask the Lord that we may become vigilant for his presence, that we may hear how softly yet insistently he knocks at the door of our being and willing. Let us ask that we may make room for him within ourselves, that we may recognize him also in those through whom he speaks to us: children, the suffering, the abandoned, those who are excluded and the poor of this world.

There is another verse from the Christmas story on which I should like to reflect with you – the angels’ hymn of praise, which they sing out following the announcement of the new-born Saviour: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased.” God is glorious. God is pure light, the radiance of truth and love. He is good. He is true goodness, goodness par excellence. The angels surrounding him begin by simply proclaiming the joy of seeing God’s glory. Their song radiates the joy that fills them. In their words, it is as if we were hearing the sounds of heaven.

There is no question of attempting to understand the meaning of it all, but simply the overflowing happiness of seeing the pure splendour of God’s truth and love. We want to let this joy reach out and touch us: truth exists, pure goodness exists, pure light exists. God is good, and he is the supreme power above all powers. All this should simply make us joyful tonight, together with the angels and the shepherds.

Linked to God’s glory on high is peace on earth among men. Where God is not glorified, where he is forgotten or even denied, there is no peace either.

Nowadays, though, widespread currents of thought assert the exact opposite: they say that religions, especially monotheism, are the cause of the violence and the wars in the world. If there is to be peace, humanity must first be liberated from them. Monotheism, belief in one God, is said to be arrogance, a cause of intolerance, because by its nature, with its claim to possess the sole truth, it seeks to impose itself on everyone. Now it is true that in the course of history, monotheism has served as a pretext for intolerance and violence. It is true that religion can become corrupted and hence opposed to its deepest essence, when people think they have to take God’s cause into their own hands, making God into their private property. We must be on the lookout for these distortions of the sacred. While there is no denying a certain misuse of religion in history, yet it is not true that denial of God would lead to peace.

If God’s light is extinguished, man’s divine dignity is also extinguished. Then the human creature would cease to be God’s image, to which we must pay honour in every person, in the weak, in the stranger, in the poor. Then we would no longer all be brothers and sisters, children of the one Father, who belong to one another on account of that one Father. The kind of arrogant violence that then arises, the way man then despises and tramples upon man: we saw this in all its cruelty in the last century.

Only if God’s light shines over man and within him, only if every single person is desired, known and loved by God is his dignity inviolable, however wretched his situation may be.

On this Holy Night, God himself became man; as Isaiah prophesied, the child born here is “Emmanuel”, God with us (Is 7:14). And down the centuries, while there has been misuse of religion, it is also true that forces of reconciliation and goodness have constantly sprung up from faith in the God who became man. Into the darkness of sin and violence, this faith has shone a bright ray of peace and goodness, which continues to shine.

So Christ is our peace, and he proclaimed peace to those far away and to those near at hand (see Eph 2:14, 17). How could we now do other than pray to him: Yes, Lord, proclaim peace today to us too, whether we are far away or near at hand. Grant also to us today that swords may be turned into ploughshares (Is 2:4), that instead of weapons for warfare, practical aid may be given to the suffering. Enlighten those who think they have to practise violence in your name, so that they may see the senselessness of violence and learn to recognize your true face. Help us to become people “with whom you are pleased” – people according to your image and thus people of peace.

Once the angels departed, the shepherds said to one another: Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened for us (see Lk 2:15). The shepherds went with haste to Bethlehem, the Evangelist tells us (see 2:16). A holy curiosity impelled them to see this child in a manger, who the angel had said was the Saviour, Christ the Lord. The great joy of which the angel spoke had touched their hearts and given them wings.

Let us go over to Bethlehem, says the Church’s liturgy to us today. Trans-eamus is what the Latin Bible says: let us go “across”, daring to step beyond, to make the “transition” by which we step outside our habits of thought and habits of life, across the purely material world into the real one, across to the God who in his turn has come across to us. Let us ask the Lord to grant that we may overcome our limits, our world, to help us to encounter him, especially at the moment when he places himself into our hands and into our heart in the Holy Eucharist.

Let us go over to Bethlehem: as we say these words to one another, along with the shepherds, we should not only think of the great “crossing over” to the living God, but also of the actual town of Bethlehem and all those places where the Lord lived, ministered and suffered. Let us pray at this time for the people who live and suffer there today. Let us pray that there may be peace in that land. Let us pray that Israelis and Palestinians may be able to live their lives in the peace of the one God and in freedom. Let us also pray for the countries of the region, for Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and their neighbours: that there may be peace there, that Christians in those lands where our faith was born may be able to continue living there, that Christians and Muslims may build up their countries side by side in God’s peace.

The shepherds made haste. Holy curiosity and holy joy impelled them. In our case, it is probably not very often that we make haste for the things of God. God does not feature among the things that require haste. The things of God can wait, we think and we say. And yet he is the most important thing, ultimately the one truly important thing. Why should we not also be moved by curiosity to see more closely and to know what God has said to us? At this hour, let us ask him to touch our hearts with the holy curiosity and the holy joy of the shepherds, and thus let us go over joyfully to Bethlehem, to the Lord who today once more comes to meet us. Amen.

© Copyright 2012 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Monday, December 24, 2012

0257: The Self-Evident Connotation of the Actus Essendi (XVI)

Entry 0257: The Self-Evident Connotation of the Actus Essendi (XVI)

Throughout this journal, I have indicated how important it is to stress that “existence” and “actus essendi” are not the same, that the notion of “existence” responds to the question “an sit,” and that the expression “actus essendi” refers to a metaphysical principle. I have explained that instantiation of the “actus essendi” occurs in extramental subsisting things, and that, in material things, such instantiation is the most certain source of the knowledge a human being can have of the “existence” of something, when the human knower places himself in direct sense-contact with the extramental subsisting thing in question.

In the historical development of philosophical thought, Saint Thomas Aquinas is the philosopher who has best clarified the above issue. I have also indicated the similarity that exists between the historical contribution of Aquinas and Newton’s formulation of the gravitational law.

Ever since there were human beings on earth, everyone was experiencing the gravitational force, and the precise formulation of the law that Newton provided did not change in the least the way things are with respect to gravity. Similarly, the power of explanation given to Aquinas did not change in the least what had been occurring ever since there were human beings on earth. What was said above about “existence” and “actus essendi” is just the way things are in what concerns our intellect’s interaction with the real.

It is true that in ordinary everyday life quite often we describe the real with the term “existence,” and that only the specialist metaphysicians describe and study the real with the terminology of the “actus essendi.” Again this is similar to what happens with gravitation. The everyday terminology used to describe our constant interaction with the gravitational force is not the terminology used by the specialist physicists who do specialized research on gravitation.

Now, there is no question that in Aquinas (a) the notion of “ens” comes from the “actus essendi” of extramental subsisting things, that (b) the notion of “ens” is what first falls in the intellect, and that (c) the notion of “ens” has a direct relation to the question “an sit” in our first interaction with the real. But does this mean that Aquinas wanted our initial notion of “ens,” the “ens quod primo cadit in intellectus,” to have no relation with “actus essendi”?

The answer is no. Just as everyone always experiences gravitation without calling it “gravitation” in the technical sense of the term, everyone always experiences the metaphysical principle of “actus essendi” without using the technical terminology developed by Aquinas. Just as the experience of gravitation is not the exclusive prerogative of the specialist physicists, nor after nor before Newton, so also, it doesn’t make sense to say that the metaphysical principle of “actus essendi” is only experienced by polished metaphysicians.

If there is a doctrine clear in Aquinas, that is the doctrine that the notion of “ens” prevents the infinite regress in knowledge. This is obviously valid for both the so called “first operation” of the intellect, where “ens” is first, and also for the “second operation” of the intellect, where the principle “it is impossible at once to be and not to be” is first.

For Aquinas, basically, all our knowledge rests on the notion of “ens.” And since “ens ab actu essendi sumitur” all our knowledge ultimately rests on the “actus essendi” of extramental subsisting things.

Is it correct then to describe the notion of “ens” as a confused notion, as a vague notion, as a notion lacking in clarity, or as an imprecise notion? My answer to this question is also a definite no.

It seems obvious to me that Aquinas is not saying that all our knowledge rests on something vague and confused.

For Aquinas, it is unquestionable that all demonstration rests on a self-evident principle. And above all, Aquinas meant this to be valid not just for metaphysicians, but for everyone who reasons correctly.

In this regard, indeed, Aquinas stresses that the notion of “ens” is “notissimum,” meaning that there can be nothing more self-evident to the human intellect than the notion of “ens.” And again, since “ens ab actu essendi sumitur” there can be nothing more self-evident to the intellect than the “actus essendi.”

Borrowing the terminology that John F. Wippel has used to explain similar issues, I want to use here the expression “first in the order of discovery” to describe the fact that “actus essendi” is certainly what we first experience, but not what children can first formulate in clarified metaphysics. Similarly, “in the order of discovery” everyone should have enough experience of gravity to be careful when close to a precipice, but not the knowledge Newton had to formulate the principles of gravity in clarified physics. But the knowledge of gravity that everyone has is not a vague knowledge of gravity, nor a confused knowledge of gravity, nor an uncertain knowledge of gravity.

Aquinas’ statement that “that which is first apprehended or conceived by the intellect is being” was analyzed by Michael Tavuzzi in an article published by The Thomist in 1987. (See Michael Tavuzzi, "Aquinas on the Preliminary Grasp of Being," The Thomist 51 [1987]: 555-574.)

Tavuzzi points out correctly that the fact that we have a pre-metaphysical grasp of being “is beyond reasonable dispute” (Tavuzzi, p. 574). This pre-metaphysical grasp of being, Tavuzzi remarks, “is readily accessible to and the common possession of all men” (Tavuzzi, p. 573). There is in man a pre-metaphysical understanding of being which is operative in everyday life. (See Tavuzzi, p.557.)

It is the actuality of the real, accessible in everyday life, what “first confronts the intellect and which, indeed, ‘moves’ it” (Tavuzzi, pp. 567-568). This everyday encounter between the intellect and extra-mental reality is what gives content to our pre-metaphysical apprehension of being.

Tavuzzi also explains correctly, that our pre-metaphysical apprehension of being and our knowledge of the first indemonstrable principle are attained immediately by the intellect. This means that “seizure by the mind of this initial content of knowledge cannot be the result of a process of demonstrative, or in any way syllogistic-deductive, reasoning” (Tavuzzi, p. 566). We access being directly – immediately – through our everyday encounter with the real.

Tavuzzi, however, joins the group of Thomists who insist on saying that our pre-metaphysical apprehension of being is “vague and confused.”

But my conclusion is different. What needs to be emphasized here, rather, is that for Aquinas there was something “supremely obvious” – an expression that I borrow from Tavuzzi – about the pre-metaphysical grasp of being. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

0256: John Haldane on Aquinas (II)

Entry 0256: John Haldane on Aquinas (II)

In the interview I mentioned in last week’s post, Professor John Haldane affirmed that the distinction essence/existence applies to mind-dependent objects as well:

“The sort of argument I mentioned earlier involving essence and existence applies equally well if one thinks that the objects of thought and experience are mind-dependent. Of course Aquinas does not think that, so when he appeals to objects of experience he means to refer to independently existing things, but even someone who thought that there weren’t such things would still recognise a domain of essence/existence constituted entities, and this will serve so far as the existential argument is concerned.”

The interview was first published by “3:AM Magazine” on Tuesday, 4 December 2012 under the title “Aquinas amongst the Analytics.”

Link to the full interview:

Monday, December 10, 2012

0255: John Haldane on Aquinas (I)

Entry 0255: John Haldane on Aquinas (I)

In a recent interview, Professor John Haldane was asked: “Aquinas’ famous cosmological argument is partly famous because it has been subjected to huge critical study and would seem to have been rendered obsolete. Haven’t developments in modern logic after Frege left much of Aquinas generally in a mess? Doesn’t too much of the original system – brilliant though it was in the time he was writing – depend on errors that subsequent generations have discovered?”

Professor Haldane answered: “There are several places in Aquinas’ writings where he refers to natural philosophy, i.e. to what we would consider empirical science, and makes statements that we now know to be false. Examples concern human physiology, conception and embryological development, and aspects of physics, chemistry and astronomy. Where these are invoked in arguments, e.g. about sensation, the beginnings of life, or the nature of the heavenly bodies the result may be to render arguments unsound, but the deeper issues are generally metaphysical and the interesting question is whether the arguments can be reformulated in terms of corrected empirical facts, and how far such reformulation takes one away from Aquinas’ central purpose.

“So far as arguing to the existence of God is concerned, Aquinas’ main lines of argument do not depend essentially on particular empirical theories. These are set out in the ‘Five Ways’ presented in the second question of his major work the Summa Theologiae, but there are other arguments elsewhere.

“Let me mention two lines of reasoning one teleological, the other cosmological.

“Aquinas claims that the action of some natural organisms is explicable in terms of the ends towards which they move, even though they lack intelligence. These ends generally confer benefits relevant to the natures of the organisms and hence conduce to their good. If we thought of these agents as choosing the ends then we might think that no further explanation was called for, but if they are incapable of choice then there must be some other explanation of their tendencies towards beneficial states, something external and directional, and from this Aquinas reasons to the idea of a benign designer, saying that this is what we call God (‘et hoc dicimus Deum’).

“There is much that has been said about this kind of argument and it is commonly supposed to have been defeated by the theory of evolution through mutation and natural selection. But evolutionary speciation itself rests on teleologically-structured processes which it does not and cannot explain. There is much more to be said and if readers want to see how this debate might develop they could look at my debate with the late Jack Smart in Atheism and Theism. Here all I want to point out is that the argument neither excludes nor is rendered unsound by evolutionary processes.

“The second argument is that involving essence and existence – and by existence I mean actuality or ‘be-ing’, i.e. existing. In this sense existence is a metaphysical aspect of any existing thing and it is not captured by the existential quantifier.

“Aquinas points out that if we were to inquire into some kind of entity we might ask what is it? i.e. ask about its nature or essence, but also ask is it? does it actually exist? The fact that the second question remains open even when the first has been answered shows that the existence of the thing does not follow from its essence. So if it exists its existence must derive from something else.

“Of that prior source one can again ask whether its existence is implied by its nature and if not then we have to look for a further source, and so it continues. If a vicious regress is to be avoided we must suppose that there is something in which existence is implied by essence and which has the power to confer existence on other things. So again Aquinas is led to the idea of God as the creator, and indeed sustainer of the being as well as of the natures of beings. While this argument may be contested it is a purely metaphysical one and does not rest on particular empirical claims and hence is not refutable by appeal to scientific discoveries.”

The interview was first published by “3:AM Magazine” on Tuesday, 4 December 2012 under the title “Aquinas amongst the Analytics.”

Link to the full interview:

Monday, December 3, 2012

0254: Pope Benedict XVI on Aquinas (XX)

Entry 0254: Pope Benedict XVI on Aquinas (XX)

On 11 May 2011, in the second talk of the series of General Audiences on Prayer, Pope Benedict XVI referred to Saint Thomas Aquinas as “one of the greatest theologians of history.”



St. Peter's Square
Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today I wish to continue my reflection on how prayer and the sense of religion have been part of man throughout his history.

We live in an age in which the signs of secularism are glaringly obvious. God seems to have disappeared from the horizon of some people or to have become a reality that meets with indifference. Yet at the same time we see many signs of a reawakening of the religious sense, a rediscovery of the importance of God to the human being’s life, a need for spirituality, for going beyond a purely horizontal and materialistic vision of human life.

A look at recent history reveals the failure of the predictions of those who, in the age of the Enlightenment, foretold the disappearance of religions and who exalted absolute reason, detached from faith, a reason that was to dispel the shadows of religious dogmatism and was to dissolve the “world of the sacred”, restoring to the human being freedom, dignity and autonomy from God. The experience of the past century, with the tragedy of the two World Wars, disrupted the progress that autonomous reason, man without God, seemed to have been able to guarantee.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “In the act of creation, God calls every being from nothingness into existence.... Even after losing through his sin his likeness to God, man remains an image of his Creator, and retains the desire for the one who calls him into existence. All religions bear witness to man’s essential search for God” (no. 2566). We could say — as I explained in my last Catecheses — that there has been no great civilization, from the most distant epoch to our day, which has not been religious.

Man is religious by nature, he is homo religiosus just as he is homo sapiens and homo faber: “The desire for God” the Catechism says further, “is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God” (no. 27). The image of the Creator is impressed on his being and he feels the need to find light to give a response to the questions that concern the deep sense of reality; a response that he cannot find in himself, in progress, in empirical science.

The homo religiosus does not only appear in the sphere of antiquity, he passes through the whole of human history. In this regard, the rich terrain of human experience has seen the religious sense develop in various forms, in the attempt to respond to the desire for fullness and happiness. The “digital” man, like the cave man, seeks in the religious experience ways to overcome his finiteness and to guarantee his precarious adventure on earth. Moreover, life without a transcendent horizon would not have its full meaning and happiness, for which we all seek, is spontaneously projected towards the future in a tomorrow that has yet to come.

In the Declaration Nostra Aetate the Second Vatican Council stressed in summary form: “Men look to their different religions for an answer to the unsolved riddles of human existence. The problems that weigh heavily on the hearts of men are the same today as in the ages past. What is man? — [who am I?] — What is the meaning and purpose of life? What is upright behaviour, and what is sinful? Where does suffering originate, and what end does it serve? How can genuine happiness be found? What happens at death? What is judgement? What reward follows death? And finally, what is the ultimate mystery, beyond human explanation, which embraces our entire existence, from which we take our origin and towards which we tend?” (no. 1).

Man knows that, by himself, he cannot respond to his own fundamental need to understand. However much he is deluded and still deludes himself that he is self-sufficient, he experiences his own insufficiency. He needs to open himself to something more, to something or to someone that can give him what he lacks, he must come out of himself towards the One who is able to fill the breadth and depth of his desire.

Man bears within him a thirst for the infinite, a longing for eternity, a quest for beauty, a desire for love, a need for light and for truth which impel him towards the Absolute; man bears within him the desire for God. And man knows, in a certain way, that he can turn to God, he knows he can pray to him.

St Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest theologians of history, defines prayer as “an expression of man’s desire for God”. This attraction to God, which God himself has placed in man, is the soul of prayer, that then takes on a great many forms, in accordance with the history, the time, the moment, the grace and even the sin of every person praying. Man’s history has in fact known various forms of prayer, because he has developed different kinds of openness to the “Other” and to the Beyond, so that we may recognize prayer as an experience present in every religion and culture.

Indeed, dear brothers and sisters, as we saw in the first Audience on Prayer, last Wednesday, prayer is not linked to a specific context, but is written on the heart of every person and of every civilization. Of course, when we speak of prayer as an experience of the human being as such, of the homo orans, it is necessary to bear in mind that it is an inner attitude before being a series of practices and formulas, a manner of being in God’s presence before performing acts of worship or speaking words.

Prayer is centred and rooted in the inmost depths of the person; it is therefore not easily decipherable and, for the same reason, can be subject to misunderstanding and mystification. In this sense too we can understand the expression: prayer is difficult. In fact, prayer is the place par excellence of free giving, of striving for the Invisible, the Unexpected and the Ineffable. Therefore, the experience of prayer is a challenge to everyone, a “grace” to invoke, a gift of the One to whom we turn.

In prayer, in every period of history, man considers himself and his situation before God, from God and in relation to God, and experiences being a creature in need of help, incapable of obtaining on his own the fulfilment of his life and his hope. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein mentioned that “prayer means feeling that the world’s meaning is outside the world”.

In the dynamic of this relationship with the one who gives meaning to existence, with God, prayer has one of its typical expressions in the gesture of kneeling. It is a gesture that has in itself a radical ambivalence. In fact, I can be forced to kneel — a condition of indigence and slavery — but I can also kneel spontaneously, declaring my limitations and therefore my being in need of Another. To him I declare I am weak, needy, “a sinner”.

In the experience of prayer, the human creature expresses all his self-awareness, all that he succeeds in grasping of his own existence and, at the same time, he turns with his whole being to the One before whom he stands, directs his soul to that Mystery from which he expects the fulfilment of his deepest desires and help to overcome the neediness of his own life. In this turning to “Another”, in directing himself “beyond” lies the essence of prayer, as an experience of a reality that overcomes the tangible and the contingent.

Yet only in God who reveals himself does man’s seeking find complete fulfilment. The prayer that is openness and elevation of the heart to God, thus becomes a personal relationship with him. And even if man forgets his Creator, the living, true God does not cease to call man first to the mysterious encounter of prayer.

As the Catechism says: “in prayer, the faithful God’s initiative of love always comes first; our own first step is always a response. As God gradually reveals himself and reveals man to himself, prayer appears as a reciprocal call, a covenant drama. Through words and actions, this drama engages the heart. It unfolds throughout the whole history of salvation” (no. 2567).

Dear brothers and sisters, let us learn to pause longer before God, who revealed himself in Jesus Christ, let us learn to recognize in silence, in our own hearts, his voice that calls us and leads us back to the depths of our existence, to the source of life, to the source of salvation, to enable us to go beyond the limitations of our life and to open ourselves to God’s dimension, to the relationship with him, which is Infinite Love. Many thanks.

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana