The Theologian and the Philosopher

Thomas Aquinas

“So those who use the works of philosophers in sacred doctrine, by bringing them into the service of faith, do not mix water with wine, but rather change water into wine.”
– St. Thomas Aquinas

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“The scanty conceptions to which we can attain of celestial things give us, from their excellence, more pleasure than all our knowledge of the world in which we live; just as half a glimpse of persons that we love is more delightful than an accurate view of other things, whatever their number and dimension.”
– Aristotle

Thomas Aquinas was a theologian. Sacred science—a systematic, ordered
understanding of divinely revealed truths—was his focus. For him other sciences or
studies have real importance, especially inasmuch as they form habits of insight and
provide the necessary conceptual framework for theology. Philosophy has a unique
place as the handmaid of theology.

Aristotle was a philosopher. For him wisdom culminating in knowledge of the first
cause is the greatest perfection of the human person. And he too cultivated the other
sciences, holding their greatest dignity to be in their fruitful relation to philosophy.

A millennium and a half apart, these two men have a remarkable kinship. It’s as
though in the works of Aquinas they form a team, an incarnation of the relationship
of theology and philosophy. The water of Aristotle irrigates and animates the fertile
field of Aquinas’ mind. And in that field it turns to wine.

For in the worldview of Aquinas, the highest cause, the celestial reality of which
Aristotle was grateful to have some little knowledge from afar, is in fact a person that
we love. This person condescends to offer man more than half a glimpse, and indeed
he offers not only an accurate, but an intimate view of himself.

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) is considered one of the greatest of medieval theologians. He called Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) ‘the Philosopher’ and wrote commentaries on all his major works.

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No Unsuitable Word

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“The truth, however, is, that Pericles himself was very careful what and how he was to speak, insomuch that, whenever he went up to the hustings, he prayed the gods that no one word might unawares slip from him unsuitable to the matter and the occasion.” Plutarch’s Lives

It is interesting that Pericles made this an object of prayer.
Some things are so difficult, and so important, that we especially realize our need for super-human assistance.

Plutarch (46-120 A.D.), a Boeotian Greek who became a Roman citizen, was especially known as a biographer of famous Greek and Roman men.
Pericles (495-429 B.C.), a great general, statesman, and orator, ruled Athens during its Golden Age. Several of his speeches are recorded by Thucydides (460-395 B.C.) in his History of the Peloponnesian War.

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Being Free from Jealousy

jealousy

“Let me tell you then why the creator made this world of generation. He was good, and the good can never have any jealousy of anything. And being free from jealousy, he desired that all things should be as like himself as they could be. This is in the truest sense the origin of creation and of the world, as we shall do well in believing on the testimony of wise men.” Plato’s Timaeus

It is one of the most remarkable lines in all of philosophical literature.

“And being free from all jealousy…”

What an astounding state of being. Reading these words in Plato gives occasion for pause. In reality, I am often motivated by jealousy. Why am I so prone to be jealous?

Plato boldly asserts that ‘the good’ are never jealous of anything. Clearly he uses the term good in a strong sense here. One who is truly good knows he is good, and lo, he wants others to be so too, and rejoices in their goodness. Such is true happiness.

Can I be this way–like the creator about which Plato speaks?

Plato seems to think so. Indeed he thinks this is the whole point of creation: ‘…that all things be as like him as they could be.’ Such is the testimony of wise men, whom we do well to believe.

Plato (427-347 B.C.), a student of Socrates, and teacher of Aristotle, is considered one of the greatest philosophers of all time.

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Twentieth Anniversary

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I never could have known what a blessing it would be. How does one ever measure?

Those who have been there know. The suffering and trials can be simply beyond telling. But therein we can actually learn, or at least finally begin to see, that no suffering is too great. Period. Love actually can transcend. If we enter into it; if we receive it; if we just do it.

A marriage, and indeed a family, is an affair of so much love: love that preceded, encompasses, and follows. How many people’s love–did I even know them?–have been the seedbed? How many people’s love–even those I won’t know–might be the fruit?

Gratitude. Lord give us the grace to see; to live in gratitude.

This post was prepared a couple days early; right now we are having a few days of family time, disconnected from the internet. Love to all.

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Holiday Blues

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The Christmas season can be very challenging. Socially, emotionally, spiritually, physically.

How we view this season is colored by our subjective experiences of it. For some the very thought of the season evinces pain, or at least melancholy. For others—often children—the season can have unequivocally good feelings associated with it.

For others of us the associations are ambiguous or mixed. I find that I always look forward with great anticipation to the days that lead up to and follow Christmas day. Even apart from the deep religious significance of the season, the thought of being with those I love in a cozy and festive atmosphere is very exciting. I usually find, however, that difficulties, even sorrows, are not banished, and that they in fact take on a certain weight and poignancy in these days.

This holy time is especially challenging precisely because it is freighted with more significance. It is a time when we turn away from the work-a-day and the passing, toward the transcendent and the enduring. And we want to do it together, to be there together. With those we love.

Poised for the richest of experiences, we are especially affected when confronted with disappointment, which takes many forms: unanticipated dissension, memories of what was but is no more, misunderstandings, the absence of loved ones, crises of faith, failures in love… We are tempted to chasten ourselves, scolding that we have hoped for too much.

But I for one am convinced that we have not hoped for too much. We may have hoped in or for the wrong things, or even the wrong persons. But we have not hoped for too much. The very suffering that so often marks this season is a sign, even a promise, of what can yet be. Indeed our suffering can become a teacher, a source of insight and transformation.

But this only if we are willing to continue to hope, and to celebrate these days, as is fitting and right.

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Acquainted with Grief

NativitySil

“He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”
Handel’s Messiah, Air from Part II, quoting Isaiah 53

Being acquainted with grief does not fit the season. Or so it might seem.

Last Sunday I was in the third row from the front, drinking in every recitative, air, and chorus of Handel’s Messiah. It was an occasion to experience the power of music to convey and enhance the meaning of words.

At one point I noticed a change; I could feel a difference in the music. Perhaps I was starting to doze, but it seemed that the same line was being repeated over and over again, slowly, deliberately. The mezzo-soprano’s voice was working its way to my innards. And the words?

“…a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”

Hearing the whole Messiah at Christmas-time you get more than bargained for: the whole drama of the Messiah, beginning to end. The Hallelujah Chorus, interestingly, does not mark the birth, but the resurrection. But this line of the mezzo-soprano—it seemed to be repeated almost mercilessly–left the most lasting impression. It dawned on me that Handel might have captured more than I realized.

In many ways, the older I grow, the more acquainted with grief I become. It’s all around me; it’s in me. Sometimes it seems to overwhelm. Everything.

Grief seems so un-shareable, so unbearably singular; so mine. But it need not be so. The truth of that line begins to dawn. He was acquainted with grief.

Perhaps this is not the normal fruit of listening to Handel’s Messiah. But this year when I gaze at a baby lying in a manger, cold and uncomfortable, I will hear a mezzo-soprano’s voice singing those words. And I will be grateful.

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) composed his Messiah over the course of a few weeks in 1741.

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Fathers and Sons

RaphHunting

Many of our sons are suffering, in more ways than we realize. And what they need is more time with us, their fathers.
Here is a reflection I posted at The Catholic Gentleman:
“It’s Not About the Deer: Three Reasons to Take Your Son Hunting.”

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