Aquinas, Exegesis, and Prophecy

The Church teaches that interpretation of the Bible must be done

within “the living Tradition of the whole Church”. According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church’s heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God’s Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (“. . . according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church”). [Catechism of the Catholic Church, §113].

In short, the true and correct interpretation of Scripture conforms to that which the Church has always taught. This means that the exegete is not a solitary agent who may work without reference or appeal to Sacred Tradition; rather, his work is informed and guided by the Holy Spirit through the teaching of the Church.

St. Thomas Aquinas has some helpful things to say concerning prophecy which I think shed light on this subject. He reminds us of the very purpose of prophecy (and by extension the purpose of divine revelation as a whole): “the end of prophecy is the manifestation of a truth that surpasses the faculty of man” (Summa Theologiæ II-II q.174 a.2). Why did God give us revelation? What is Scripture’s purpose? To convey truth that man could not reach on his own. That is why, as Thomas says a little earlier, “not every prophet knows what he prophesies” (ibid., II-II q.173 a.4).

Nevertheless it must be observed that since the prophet’s mind is a defective instrument, as stated above, even true prophets know not all that the Holy Ghost means by the things they see, or speak, or even do. (ibid.)

No man’s knowledge is perfect, and this is particularly true when it comes to those supernatural things which by definition exceed human capacity entirely. Aquinas says that one effect of human weakness when it comes to service as authors of Scripture is that the authors “know not all that the Holy Ghost means.” A consequence of this is that an interpretation of the Bible which focuses solely upon the meaning that the human authors intended to convey is defective, precisely because what God means by the words of the Bible is (at least some of the time) beyond what the human authors could have possibly meant themselves.

What then? Well, then we need to resort to the Church, the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Timothy 3:15), as our help and guide when it comes to understanding the Bible.

Posted in Apologetics, Aquinas - Theology, Catechism, Dei Verbum, Epistemology, Fides et Ratio, Magisterium, Scripture, Solo Scriptura, Vatican II

The Guidelines are Void

This rubbish has no legal or judicial or administrative force in the real world where we all live. Like last summer’s vacuous, vapid, and vacant SCOTUS decision, these so-called guidelines were a dead letter upon issuance. Like I said about that ludicrous “decision” these guidelines are “contrary to reason, contrary to the laws of men throughout history, and contrary to the law of God.” No bureaucrat, no administrator, no civil servant has any authority whatsoever to pretend that human nature is other than what it actually is, and no one — no matter the extremes to which he may resort in his futile denial of who and what exactly he is — no one can change the facts of his nature.

We may and should have compassion for the one who is so badly confused or warped as to suppose other things about himself, but we must never kowtow to their illusory ideas about things as fundamental, as elementary as human nature, being, and essence. Let us pray that the bishop of Chicago will guide his flock with the wisdom and prudence they badly need in the face of such tyranny.

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Posted in Apologetics, Aquinas - Philosophy, Aquinas - Theology, Western Civilization

Habemus Episcopum

That did not take as long as I feared!

Our dear Bishop Johnston was transferred to Kansas City last November by Pope Francis. We were very sorry to see him go, but in a certain way it seemed inevitable; he is such a fine shepherd that we suspected this sort of thing might happen eventually. Our diocese is not so famous or important as to be likely to hold onto a great bishop for long! And so after seven years, alas he departed with the blessing of God.

Now the Lord has blessed us with a new bishop. The Most Reverend Edward M. Rice, auxiliary bishop of St. Louis, will be installed on June 1 as the bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau. We are very grateful to God for our new shepherd, and pray for God’s blessing upon his ministry here. And at our parish we particularly look forward now to the assignment of a new priest; our previous pastor left us for health reasons (and may God continue to bless his service elsewhere).

I have heard good things about Bishop Rice, and I am looking forward to his arrival.

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Posted in Ecclesiology, Etc, Francis I


Abandoned is the daily prompt. So here are a few thoughts I have that are related to the idea of abandonment somehow.

St. Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle were abandoned by Descartes. This was a colossal blunder in the history of philosophy. I am reminded of Antony Flew, the atheist who famously became a theist (though not a Christian)  rather late in his life after (as I understand it) finally reading Aristotle. This just goes to show you that people should not discount the Philosopher or his greatest exegete. 😃 This raises a point of some interest to me, in that modern philosophers have taken to chopping up Aristotle’s works amongst various students of his and other authors, whereas Aquinas successfully interprets them as cohesive, coherent works in the form that they have come down to us. Now either Aquinas was wrong about that (which, given his overall genius, seems unlikely) or he has given the world a work of unique brilliance: a coherent philosophy based upon fragments which (to my knowledge, which is admittedly limited) has never been refuted (which is not to say whether or not it might so much…but we may never know because moderns ignore him).

I abandoned Protestantism when I could not satisfactorily answer this question. I was neither discontent nor looking for “better answers” nor bedazzled by smells and bells; I was trying to be a thoroughly consistent Christian. I simply found that I could not do that and at the same time remain Protestant. Only later did I begin investigating the Catholic Church, when it became clear that I had no good reason to a priori ignore Catholic claims.

I abandoned the GOP twenty-four years ago when I decided that the party of Reagan was no longer the party of Reagan and was instead some other thing which would never accomplish what it promised. The poster child issue for this is of course the abolition of abortion. Never forget that during the Clinton administration the GOP gained control of both houses of Congress for the first time in decades, and they used this position to achieve zero gains in the battle for human life. Never forget that during George W. Bush’s administration they held the White House and (again) both houses of Congress and so lacked the bad excuse that any pro-life measures they might offer would be vetoed (we will grant President Bush the presumption that he was self-consciously opposed to abortion though his pro-torture administration does make that a bit of a shaky thing to do). No one ever went broke betting on the GOP’s lack of fortitude when it comes to pursuing a ban on abortion. Let us also remember that it was a GOP appointee who cast the deciding vote in the void “decision” of summer 2015. Social conservatives, the GOP has made it plain that there is no place for in their “big tent” for you. It is time to abandon them, even if it means starting a new party from scratch (the Democrat party is a dead thing).

It occurs to me that this is a rather negative post. So let’s have some things that I haven’t abandoned just to balance things out!

I embraced the philosophy of Aquinas and Aristotle when I first read it, starting about ten years ago. Aquinas is an extraordinarily clear and gifted writer. He cannot make intrinsically hard subjects easy, but he at least makes them possible. I strongly recommend his works if you have time and the inclination to read them. Above all, start with a good introduction to his philosophy (like this one) to help with the tough early sledding. Personally I recommend starting with the Summa Contra Gentiles (also available online here); in it Aquinas presents a reasoned defense of the Christian faith without relying upon appeals to the authority of the Bible (because his target audience was Muslim). It is shorter (compared to the mammoth Summa Theologiæ anyway); it is (in my opinion) more accessible; and it simultaneously offers an overview of what his philosophy and theology are like while assuming less on the part of the reader’s background. That’s not to say it is an easy book, but it is easier than the more famous Summa.

I embraced the Catholic Church, having become convinced of the truth of her claims for herself so far as I am able to grasp them, and by the grace of God exercising faith that what she teaches is the truth even when those teachings exceed my abilities. In the Church I have found satisfying answers to nagging questions and most importantly I have found Christ offered to me in her sacraments. My Christian life is much the richer for having become Catholic, and I thank the Lord for leading me to His Church.

I embraced the writings of the saints as wonderful guides to the Christian life. In particular I am fond of Story of a Soul and the writings of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. The saints inspire readers to lives of holiness and true devotion to God.

When it comes to more mundane things, I embrace The Lord of the Rings (the greatest work of literature in the English language, in my opinion, and one of the greatest works of any art of all time too), Dickens (with Tolkien an author of sublimely beautiful English), Bradbury (Something Wicked This Way Comes is the best American novel I have read), CS Lewis (the Space Trilogy knocks my socks off), U2, Coldplay, The Cranberries, The Beatles, Ingrid Michaelson, Imelda May, Johnny Cash, Bach, Strauss, and many other musicians. I embrace The X-Files, LOST, and Doctor Who. I embrace The Lord of the Rings by Peter Jackson (although I am prone to occasionally forget this because it takes so long to watch the movies and consequently I do so only half as often as they deserve), Casablanca, Rear Window, North by Northwest, The Quiet Man, The Godfather, and a number of other films; almost anything by Tim Burton is on my list too.

Just as I was getting ready to publish this it occurred to me that another form abandonment is crucial for the Christian life: abandonment of self.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:37-39)

If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9:23-24)

Why is this? We must deny ourselves to the extent that we have made something other than God the most important thing in our life; we must deny ourselves to the extent that we have exalted ourselves in despite of Him. Pride is the devil’s sin, and we must set aside our own pride in order to love and serve God rightly. So this abandonment is not just a positive thing; it is the most healthy thing that we can do.

So friends, in conclusion let me suggest to you that when one thing must be abandoned (and there are often good reasons for doing so) embrace something else and better in its place.

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Posted in Ascent of Mt Carmel, Etc


Music is the WordPress daily prompt. I don’t remember a thing about Aquinas or Aristotle’s views of music, so I will have to go “off topic” (that never happens!) for this. 😃

At the moment I am listening to The Blue Danube. It is justly famous for the use Stanley Kubrick made of it in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it also stands on its own as a piece of music of surpassing loveliness and grace. It brightens the atmosphere of a room. It freshens the air. If there was ever a piece of music that could persuade me to learn to dance, it is The Blue Danube.

I am not a musician, though. Far less am I even remotely schooled in any aspect of music as science or art. So I will not bore you with what (coming from me) could only be stilted nonsense. Instead, Here are a few other pieces of music that I happen to like, along with a few bits of information related to them that I happen to like.

My current favorite song is “This is the Day” by The Cranberries. I am a fan of the band, particularly on the strength of To the Faithful Departed. The latter is one of my favorite rock albums of all time. A little while ago I stumbled across “This is the Day” on the band’s Wake Up and Smell the Coffee. It took my breath away, and still does. And I like the video, although I have no idea what the heck is going on here. I mean, the flying critter is just bizarre.

I am of the opinion that Dolores O’Riordan (lead singer and primary composer for The Cranberries) is more Catholic than she lets on. “This is the Day” is one reason I hold this view; so are “Electric Blue” and “Salvation” from To the Faithful Departed. Not to mention, of course, her duet with Luciano Pavarotti of Ave Maria. On a related note Dolores is reputed to have been one of Pope St. John Paul II’s favorite singers. 😃 That just goes to show that the Holy Father had excellent taste in music!

Another of my favorite singers is the quirky folk/pop artist Ingrid Michaelson. Her music is almost always a pick-me-up, even when it is less than chipper. I was dismayed to discover recently that her first album Slow the Rain is beginning to become hard-to-get. It is no longer available in the Google Play Music Store, nor on iTunes. I am really happy that I already own it, because it is a wonderful album. I will have to be careful to hang on it.

Speaking of out-of-print music: it seems that I am one of the few whose copy of James Ward’s More Piano Please was working long enough to be able to get it ripped to MP4s. Apparently the masters for the album were lost before it could make its way to CD. Ward re-recorded the album a while back, but the sine qua non of MPP just isn’t there on the redo. That cassette from 1985 was never easy to find (unless you were attending Covenant College back then…), but it was the soundtrack for many a late-night study session for lots of students. I’m glad I ripped the thing before the tape wore out!

This post makes me think that maybe I’ll indulge in a little narcissism someday and share lists of my favorite bands, musicians, singers, and songs. We’ll see.

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Posted in Etc, Uncategorized


St. Thomas writes:

It is only right that we should be grateful not merely to those whom we think have found the truth and with whose views we agree by following them, but also to those who, in the search for truth, have made only superficial statements, even though we do not follow their views; for these men too have given us something because they have shown us instances of actual attempts to discover the truth. (Commentary on the Metaphysics, Book II, lesson 1, 288).

I find it easy to like and be thankful for teachers and others with whom I agree. It is something else entirely though for when I am faced with folks with whom I disagree. I get grouchy and impatient with them far too often. In fact, though, they are just like me: they are attempting to discover the truth. I make mistakes, and so do they. So rather than getting grouchy and impatient, I would be better off if I followed the example of Aquinas and instead was charitable and grateful to them for the example that they set in seeking the truth. Even if we agree about nothing else, we can at least find common ground in this, and this allows us the opportunity to seek the truth together.

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Posted in Aquinas - Philosophy, Charity, Humility, Uncategorized

That they may be one

I read the high priestly prayer of Jesus this morning, and I was struck by something that maybe I have never noticed before. I remembered that the Lord prays not just for the apostles, but also for those who would believe in Him through the the preaching of the apostles. There is something humbling and fantastic in that thought. But what struck me this morning about this is what specifically Jesus asks of His Father for them.

I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. [John 17:20-21]

Jesus does not pray for our material needs to be met. He does not pray for our perseverance in the faith. He prays that we may all be one. And He prays this for two reasons: that we may be one in God, and that the world may believe. This is a pretty incredible thing, I think, and it is terribly underrated.

How can the world come to believe if it cannot see that Christians are united? It would make the Church’s unity so otherworldly as to be of no evangelistic benefit. Wouldn’t it? I know that I have heard non-Christians and some straying brethren say that the lack of unity among Christians was evidence against the Faith. I do not remember ever hearing someone say that disunity is a boon (okay, that is not exactly the sort of thing that you would get all excited about. But still.) And in view of what Jesus says I find it hard to swallow the idea that this is an evangelistically unimportant thing.

This is why Christian disunity is a scandal. It presents an obstacle to belief for at least some people. And that is why the we hope and pray for the reunification of the Body of Christ.

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Posted in Apologetics, Called to Communion, Prayer, Scripture, Unitatis Redintegratio

St. Augustine on the Veneration of the Saints

City of God

As part of his critique of paganism St. Augustine in City of God condemns the tradition of making “gods” out of dead heroes and great men of the past; this is one theory as to how Rome came to have the plethora of deities it had. Apparently it sometimes happened, even in the fifth century, that Christians would face the accusation that they did the same thing when they venerated the saints and martyrs. Augustine addresses this charge, denying its validity.

But, nevertheless, we do not build temples, and ordain priests, rites, and sacrifices for these same martyrs; for they are not our gods, but their God is our God. Certainly we honor their reliquaries, as the memorials of holy men of God who strove for the truth even to the death of their bodies, that the true religion might be made known, and false and fictitious religions exposed. For if there were some before them who thought that these religions were really false and fictitious, they were afraid to give expression to their convictions. But who ever heard a priest of the faithful, standing at an altar built for the honor and worship of God over the holy body of some martyr, say in the prayers, I offer to you a sacrifice, O Peter, or O Paul, or O Cyprian? For it is to God that sacrifices are offered at their tombs–the God who made them both men and martyrs, and associated them with holy angels in celestial honor; and the reason why we pay such honors to their memory is, that by so doing we may both give thanks to the true God for their victories, and, by recalling them afresh to remembrance, may stir ourselves up to imitate them by seeking to obtain like crowns and palms, calling to our help that same God on whom they called. Therefore, whatever honors the religious may pay in the places of the martyrs, they are but honors rendered to their memory, not sacred rites or sacrifices offered to dead men as to gods. (City of God, VIII.27; emphasis added)

It may be the case that some folks will not be persuaded by what he says here, but at the very least it is undeniable that Augustine held to the Catholic view of the veneration of the saints; he defends it in practically the same terms that we do today.

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Posted in Apologetics, Augustine, Books, city of God, Saints, Western Civilization

Obedience is not faith alone

Why did Isaac enjoy the favor of God? Was it because of his faith? He was a man of faith, to be sure (see Hebrews 11:20), but why did he enjoy God’s blessings? The book of Genesis offers two reasons why.

Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your descendants I will give all these lands, in fulfillment of the oath that I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, and I will give them all these lands, and in your descendants all the nations of the earth will find blessing—this because Abraham obeyed me, keeping my mandate, my commandments, my ordinances, and my instructions. (Genesis 26:3-5)

The first reason Isaac enjoyed God’s blessings is that he did what God told him to do: he stayed in the land, and in accordance with His promise God was with him and blessed him. But this is a condition of obedience, not of faith. Surely Isaac had faith, as I already mentioned. But that is not the reason that God promised to bless him. God promised to bless Isaac for his obedience in staying in the Promised Land. Faith and obedience go together.

The second reason Isaac enjoyed God’s blessings is that his father Abraham obeyed God. See the passage from Genesis 26 above: “Because Abraham obeyed me, keeping my mandate, my commandments, my ordinances, and my instructions.” Isaac’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars, and would inherit the Promised Land, and (referring specifically to the Lord Jesus: see Galatians 3:16) would be a blessing to all the nations of the earth not because of anything that Isaac did or believed, and not because of anything that Abraham believed, but rather because Abraham was obedient. These blessings were the fruit of Abraham’s faithful obedience to God. So we see that not only does obedience matter, but that it also merits God’s blessings after our deaths—blessings that God extends not just to us but also to others.

The point, of course, is that faith and obedience are inseparable.

[Update, 3 April 2016]

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him. (John 3:36)

In this verse the Lord Jesus makes pretty transparent the fact that obedience and faith go together. It is not enough to simply believe; if one disobeys Jesus, then “the wrath of God remains upon him.” Faith by itself is not a sufficient condition; faith and obedience are inseparable.

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Posted in Faith, Merit, Obedience, Saints, Sola Fide

St. Augustine on Free Will

I have been reading City of God online edition lately, and I was pretty concerned upon starting that the thing was going to be an epic slog through swampy jargon-infested waters. I have read the first five books (out of twenty-two) and so far my fears were entirely unwarranted. St. Augustine is a very good and engaging writer, and the translation I am reading is excellent. In Book V (among other things) he attacks the idea of fate (by which some antagonists claimed that Rome’s empire was assured) and defends the Christian view:

[W]e assert both that God knows all things before they happen and that we do by our free will everything that we feel and know would not happen without our volition. (V.9)

Some people think that St. Augustine held such a strong view of divine sovereignty as to preclude any genuine free human will. On the contrary. He affirmed both. This line was taken up by Thomas Aquinas centuries later, who affirmed that God causes to happen those things which are to happen by free will to actually occur by free will. This is the greatness and mystery of divine providence and purpose in the world. Our choices are never meaningless and they are never a surprise to God.

[Update, 2016-03-31]

In a passage in which he briefly describes the living and true God in contrast to the false gods of Rome, St. Augustine includes the following remarks about divine providence and free will.

He directs the whole of his creation, while allowing to his creatures the freedom to initiate and accomplish activities which are their own; for although their being completely depends on him, they have a certain independence. (City of God VII.30, available online here; quotation is from this translation)

The saint attributes a certain sort of freedom not just to men but to all creatures, “to initiate and accomplish activities which are their own”. We do not attribute a dog’s bite to God; we attribute it to the dog, for the reason St. Augustine says. In the same way man exercises free will because it is part of what it means to be human, and the things that we do can only rightly be said to be ours to the extent that we freely and deliberately choose them.

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Posted in Augustine, Free Will

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