Resources & Materials

★Latest Additions (October 11th, 2019)★

Thomism Stuff

  1. Super Boethium De Trinitate – St. Thomas Aquinas
  2. On Being and Essence – St. Thomas Aquinas
  3. Knowledge and Love of God in Ramanuja and Aquinas
  4. Critique of Spinoza on Substance – Paul Gerard Horrigan (2018)
  5. Thermal substances: a Neo-Aristotelian ontology of the quantum world – Dr. Rob Koons
  6. Wonder & Skepticism – Berqhuist
  7. On Kenny on Aquinas on Being – Dr. Gyula Klima, Fordham University
  8. On Transubstantiation – G.E.M. Anscombe
  9. Finality Revived: powers and intentionality – by Dr. David S. Oderberg, PDF
  10. Teleology: Inorganic and Organic – by Dr. David S. Oderberg, PDF
  11. Dr. Ed Feser lecture on Final Causes, Youtube video

Philosophy of Religion

  1. Dionysius Aropagita: A Christian Mysticism? by Alexander Golitzin (Marquette University)
  2. Revisiting the ‘Sudden’: Epistle III in the Corpus Dionysiacum by Alexander Golitzin (Marquette University)
  3. Is Theism Really a Miracle? – A Response to “The Miracle of Theism” – Dr. Alvin Plantinga, PDF
  4. God and Other Minds – Dr. Alvin Plantinga, Google Book (preview)
  5. Reformed Epistemology – Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article
  6. Warranted Christian Belief – Dr. Alvin Plantinga, Google Book (preview)
  7. Religion & Science: Where the Conflict Really Lies – Dr. Alvin Plantinga, lecture
  8. Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism – Dr. Alvin Plantinga, lecture
  9. The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss – Dr. David B. Hart, lecture
  10. Miracles and David Hume – Dr. John A. Cramer, article


Good Responses to Humean Arguments

  1. Hume’s Notions of Causality
    ‘Whatever Has a Beginning of Existence Must Have a Cause’: Hume’s Argument Exposed, G. E. M. Anscombe
    (Get free quick summary here)
  2. Hume’s Attack on Substances
    Hume, the Occult, and the Substance of the School, David S. Oderberg
  3. Hume on Miracles
    Hume’s Abject Failure,The Argument Against Miracles, John Earman
  4. Hume on Theism
    Causality and Ontotheology: Thomistic Reflections on Hume, Kant, and their Empiricist Progeny, Alfred J. Freddoso
    Hume’s Critique of Natural Religion: A Thomistic Response, Joseph S. Spoerl
  5. The Hume-Edwards Principle and the Cosmological Argument, Alexander R. Pruss

Christological Argumentation

  1. The Resurrection of God Incarnate – Review – Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, Swinburne
  2. The Resurrection of the Son of God – book by Dr. Nicholas Thomas Wright, explores posteriori evidence for the Resurrection, received praise from Antony Flew. A decent video lecture can be found here.
  3. The Logic of the Incarnation – Dr. Einar Duenger Bøhn

Biblical Stuff

  1. The Interpretation of The Bible in the Church – Pontifical Biblical Commission (1993)
  2. This Generation in Matthew 24:34 as Timeless- Dr. Phillip du Toit
  3. What Laws Were “Not Good”? – A Canonical Approach to Ezekiel 20:25-26 – Scott Walker Hahn, John Sietze Bergsma
  4. The Complete Septuagint in English and Greek
  5. The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary – Dr. Richard Thomas France, Google Book (preview)
  6. Dr. Michael S. Heiser lecture on the “Two Powers in Heaven” motif in the OT
  7. The Delay of the Parousia, Dr. Bauckham, PDF
  8. The Focus of Mark 13:24-27, Dr. Thomas Hatina, PDF
  9. Criticisms of “Dying and Rising God” as a category – Wikipedia article
  10. The Religious Polemics of Amos – Dr. Hans M. Barstad, p.151, “…we know that there is no evidence of any dying and rising deity to be found in these [Ugaritic] myths.”
  11. The Ugaritic Baal Cycle vol 1 – Dr. Mark S. Smith, p. 73, “It would appear unwarranted to assume that Baal is “a dying and rising god.”
  12. Jewish Recognition of Trinitarian Facts – (not scholarly but contains many scholars’ quotes), Youtube video
  13. Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist – Dr. Brant Pitre, lecture
  14. Does Philo Help Explain Early Christianity? – Dr. Larry Hurtado, PDF
  15. Making Sense of Prophecy – Dr. Robert B. Chisholm, PDF
  16. Intersections of Scripture and Theology – Dr. David B. Hart, lecture video

Related to The Holy Trinity

  1. St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Solution to the Logical Problem of the Trinity, Dr. Beau Branson, PDF
  2. Positive Mysterianism Undefeated – Dr. James N. Anderson, PDF
  3. Not Three Gods – St. Gregory of Nyssa, complete online version
  4. Thomas Aquinas’ Views – Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article
  5. Trinity and Mystery part 1, part 2  – blog series, Dr. Ed Feser
  6. Plotinus’ Triad vs. Holy Trinity, part 1, part 2, part 3 – blog series, Dr. Ed Feser
  7. Dr. David B. Hart discusses – Closer to Truth video
  8. Logic and the Absolute – Phillip Sherrard, essay
  9. Trinity, Logic, and the Transcendence of Transcendence – Fr. Aiden Kimel, blog

Ethical Stuff

  1. Why I’m Not a Consequentialist – Dr. David S. Oderberg, PDF
  2. The Anti-Theology of the Body – Dr. David B. Hart, article
  3. Rerum Novarum – Catholic Social Teaching, PDF
  4. Quadragesimo Anno – Catholic Social Teaching, PDF

Isaiah 53 – An Interminable Problem?

Anyone who has spent some time perusing the scholarly analyses of Isaiah 53 will probably have noticed the lack of consensus surrounding the subject of said passage. Some scholars will argue that the passage refers to the prophet Isaiah himself, others that it refers to the prophet Jeremiah, still others that it refers to a righteous remnant within corporate Israel, and finally there are those who believe it to point forward to a suffering messiah.

The fact is, there is no way to settle this debate using the tools of historical-criticism alone. The text is simply too ambiguous to give anyone a decisive victory. I’ve read translations based on the Great Isaiah Scroll (part of the Dead Sea Scrolls collection), translations based on the LXX, the Peshitta, and the Aramaic Targums. Nothing can decisively settle the debate regarding who, exactly, Isaiah is talking about.

It occured to me recently that the ambiguity of this passage may have been noticed long ago, and that evidence of this may be right under our noses. I am referring to a scene in the Book of Acts in the New Testament, in which the apostle Philip finds an Ethiopian Eunuch trying to make sense of Isaiah 53. Here is that scene (Acts 8:27-35):

And behold, an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a minister of the Canda′ce the queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of all her treasure, had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture which he was reading was this:

“As a sheep led to the slaughter
or a lamb before its shearer is dumb,
so he opens not his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken up from the earth.”

34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, pray, does the prophet say this, about himself or about some one else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this scripture he told him the good news of Jesus.

Notice that this Ethiopian from 2000 years ago is in a position not much better than our historical-critical scholars today. He says, “How can I understand who this is talking about?” It is only after the apostle shares with him the good news (euangélion) that the passage is “unlocked” for the Ethiopian, and its subject is revealed.

I think that the NT may be telling us here that Faith, which is in itself a kind of divinely infused virtue, is the key to unlocking the ambiguous passage of the OT. Those passages are deliberately ambiguous, withholding their treasures from those who would seek to seize divine mysteries via reason alone. As centuries of historical-criticism have shown us, this only leads to further hair-splitting and interminability. Yet, scripture is designed to resist the proud and open her treasuries to the meek and humble.

God, in His Providence, has arranged the Old Testament texts in such a way that the treasures buried beneath the soil only reveal themselves once one has “heard the good news.” Like the eunuch, until we receive the key of faith, we are able to produce nothing but sterile analyses which lead nowhere. Once the good news has been heard and accepted with a humble heart, a divine virtue is infused in the hearer, and the full meaning of the passage is unlocked.

Ancient Christian tradition holds that this eunuch was “sterile” no more (spiritually speaking) after his encounter with Philip. He went on to be the first evangelist of Ethiopia. Wikipedia tells us,

“Church Father St. Irenaeus of Lyons in his book Adversus haereses (Against the Heresies, an early anti-Gnostic theological work) 3:12:8 (180 AD), wrote regarding the Ethiopian eunuch, “This man (Simeon Bachos the Eunuch) was also sent into the regions of Ethiopia and is known as an Ethiopian Jew with the name Simeon also called the Black, a name used in Acts 13:1.”

A Problem for Spinozists – Updated

What if the Taj Mahal, Julius Caesar, Donald Trump, all your vegan friends and all your steak-loving friends were actually mere modifications of the one substance blob?

This is the position known as substance monism, and (though admittedly a bit more sophisticated than my tongue-in-cheek description above) this is the metaphysical position that Baruch Spinoza (1632 – 1677) appears to have held.

While there aren’t many Spinozists on the ground today, various forms of substance monism still abound in modern debates in the philosophy of religion. But how did Spinoza himself justify this belief? Recently I was browsing through Peter van Inwagen’s book “Metaphysics,” in which he raises a curious problem for Spinoza. Van Inwagen writes,

Why should one believe that anything that is not an absolutely independent being is a mere modification of some absolutely independent being? This premise has been denied by both theists and typical atheists. [. . . ] Since, therefore, many people reject Spinoza’s premise, it can hardly be regarded as being so obvious that it requires no argument. (He himself seems to have regarded it as just that obvious. He in effect builds it into one of his definitions.) And since he has given no argument for it, there would seem to be no compelling reason to believe it. We must conclude that Spinoza has given us no compelling reason to accept Monism.”

This remark stood out to me, so I decided to research it a bit further. I believe that the definition that van Inwagen has in mind is definition V, but in the context of definitions III and IV in the Ethics. Those definitions are as follows:

III. By SUBSTANCE (substantia) I understand that which is in itself and is conceived through itself: that is, that, the conception of which does not depend on the conception of another thing, from which conception it must be formed.”

IV. By ATTRIBUTE (attributum) I understand that which the intellect perceives of substance as constituting its essence.

V. By MODES (modus) I understand the Modifications (affectiones) of a substance; or, that which is in something else through which it is also conceived.

It would appear that van Inwagen is correct, and also that Spinoza is begging the question on substance monism. Even if the stronger claim of question begging is somehow mistaken, Spinoza seems to offer us not an argument for but an assertion of substance monism.

These three definitions together seem to imply that everything is either a substance, an attribute, or a mode. Since a chair (for example) isn’t a substance, and it isn’t an attribute, there’s nothing left for it to be but a mode. And, of course, Van Inwagen’s phrase “thing absolutely independent of everything else’ is his equivalent of Spinoza’s ‘substance’ and his ‘mere modification of x’ was his equivalent of Spinoza’s ‘mode of x’.

Incidentally, Jonathan Bennett, author of a well-regarded book on Spinoza’s Ethics, reportedly told van Inwagen that he agreed with his assessment.

The Catholic Encyclopedia over on NewAdvent is informative with regard to definitions of substance:

“We must note especially Descartes’ definition that substance is “a being that so exists as to require nothing else for its existence”. This formula is unfortunate: it is false, for the idea of substance determines an essence which, if it exists, has its own existence not borrowed from an ulterior basis, and which is not a modification of some being that supports it. But this idea in no way determines either the manner in which actual existence has been given to this essence or the way in which it is preserved. The Cartesian definition, moreover, is dangerous; for it suggests that substance admits of no efficient cause, but exists in virtue of its own essence. Thus Spinoza, following in the footsteps of Descartes declared that “substance is that which is conceived in itself and by itself”, and thence deduced his pantheistic system according to which there is but one substance — i.e. God — all things else being only the modes or attributes of the Divine substance.”

The Trinitarian Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas by Gilles Emery – A Quick Review

The Trinitarian Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas by Gilles Emery – A Quick Review


I have long hesitated to write this post, because I am afraid I cannot do adequate justice to the work I wish to talk about. Fr. Emery has written a breath-taking analysis of Aquinas’ Trinitarian theology. Not only does it quote significant portions of the ST and SCG, but it delves deeply into Aquinas’ Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, the Commentary on the Gospel of John, the Commentary on Boethius, and the De Potentia. Attention is also paid to figures that Aquinas drew from, such as Boethius, Peter Lombard, Bonaventure, Richard of St. Victor, Henry of Ghent, and St. Albert the Great. The result is a finely tuned synoptic vision of Aquinas’ thought regarding the Trinity.

I cannot do the ideas in this book adequate justice in this review, but I will briefly touch on some of my favourite topics in this work.

  • The Scope of Trinitarian Investigations

Aquinas realized the error of some of his Scholastic forebears in their attempts to render the doctrine of the Trinity “provable” by reason. Against them, Aquinas posits a compatibilist view of reason and faith, with the upshot that articles of faith can never be “proved” by pure reason (this would basically be a category error in Aquinas’ epistemology). That said, reason and faith are not completely separated. Reason can serve to “clear the brush” on the path of our understanding the articles of faith. Or, to use another example, reason is like a flashlight in a dark cave- it can help us to illuminate parts of the cave, but due to the immensity of the cave, it can never illuminate it all at once. It will work out that reason can show us there are no *formal contradictions* in articles of faith such as the Trinity, but reason can never render them so transparent that objections of *latent contradictions* can never be raised against them. And Aquinas is quite content with this modest level of understanding. Arguments from congruency for the Trinity can be made, but never arguments for necessity. This sets Aquinas in stark contrast to some of his Scholastic forebears such as Peter Abelard and Richard of St. Victor.

  • Actions, Processions, and Order

Aquinas points out that if the Son proceeded only in the intellect of the Father, and the Spirit only in the Will, then there would be imperfection between the Persons. This would mean that there is “more intellect” with the Son and “more Will” with the Spirit. So it is necessary to have all three Persons be equal in terms of Intellect/Will. Hence, a different way of distinguishing the Persons is necessary. Further, if there are to be “real relations” within God (as opposed to “logical” or “conceptual” relations solely on the part of the human observer), this must be anchored to *action* immanent to the divine essence. Therefore, while “intellect” and “will” enable us to envisage two kinds of procession within God, it is more accurate to say that the Son proceeds by dint of an “intellective action” and the Spirit by dint of a “volitional action.” If we state it this way, while the “modes” of intellect and will are present, it’s not as though there is “more intellect” involved in the Son’s procession and “more will” involved in the Spirit’s procession. Both intellect and will are present for both modal actions.

  • Relations

The main reason I purchased this book was to better understand exactly how Aquinas arrived at the idea of the Divine Persons just being “subsistent relations,” and whether this truly “collapses into modalism” as is sometimes claimed. In this regard, I was immensely satisfied with the information laid out. First, Aquinas (following his teacher, St. Albert the Great) realized that there was an odd asymmetry in Aristotle’s account of the ten categories. Each of the categories of accident entails either adding or taking away some sort of perfection in the subject- save one: Relation. Relatives (unlike quantity, etc) are the only accident which, since they consist in a metaphysically pure “pointing-outward”, do not add or detract any perfections from the subject.

It needs to be stated, however, that while “relation” is an accident as regards creation, Aquinas utilizes Divine Simplicity to argue that, in God, this is not an accident, but is identical to the Divine Essence.

What is more, Albert realized that there are essentially two aspects at work within any relation. On the one hand, there is the inhering of the relation within the subject- this is where it derives its being. On the other hand, regarding its *ratio* relation just consists in the aforementioned pointing-outward (“ad aliud”). Aquinas homes in on this distinction and realizes that if there is to be a genuine alterity within the divinely simple unity of God, it could only come from the category of relation. Aquinas pushes the concept of relation to its breaking point in order to articulate an authentic Trinitarian monotheism. As regards the inherence of the relations, each is identical to the Divine Essence as such, hence each relation is only virtually distinct from the Divine Essence. Yet, as regards their “formal” aspect (which consists in purely referential pointing-outward towards the other persons) the relations are really distinct (not virtually) from one another. In Mathematics, this is known as “intransitivity” or “anti-transitivity” in relations. Paternity, due to relative opposition, just is not Filiality, and so on. Hence, the intransitive nature of the formal aspect of the relations safeguards the Persons from collapsing into one another, while their derivation of being from the Divine Essence safeguards each Person as being wholly God.

There is much more to be said, but my time for posting is limited these days. I encourage the interested reader to research Medieval views of transitivity, real relations, real vs. virtual distinctions, and to of course read Gilles Emery’s fine book.

Mark 2:26 and the Abiathar Problem

Mark 2:26 (in)famously states that “Abiathar” was high priest while referencing 1 Samuel 21:6. The problem is, in this scene, Abiathar’s father Ahimelech is actually the priest who is present.

This is the textual “error” that caused a young Bart Ehrman to become an agnostic (apparently, he had been raised in an evangelical Protestant tradition which placed a strong emphasis on textual inerrancy. Once the first domino fell, it seems his whole faith fell with it.)

Before we can jump to calling this an error, we must first look at all the possibilities. A simple Google search will turn up a variety of explanations, some more plausible than others. If one wants to claim that this is an error, they will need to show (preferably with Bayes Theorem) that errancy is not only equiprobable with the other explanations, but more probable. Trouble is that most historical-critical scholars aren’t philosophers or statisticians. While Ockham’s Razor does indeed say that we should prefer the simpler explanation, it needs to be remembered that the Razor is simply a rule of thumb, not a law of nature, and there are plenty of exceptions to it. Furthermore, it was only ever intended to help the thinker pare down ancillary steps in their explanation- one still needs to have an actual explanation which accounts for all the data to be explained once the paring is done. Overzealous applications of Ockham’s Razor can quickly lead us to equivocating on what really counts as an “explanation”- especially if some (or all) of the data/phenomena to be explained are eliminated in the process. Thus, the “simpler explanation” – in order to be something which actually does the job of an explanation – may be rather complex.

I will avoid recapitulating all the different theories regarding Mark 2:26 here. I simply want to record the two theories that I like best.

One of the more intellectually satisfying explanations for why Mark 2:26 mentions “Abiathar” as high priest, when in 1 Samuel 21 the high priest is called “Ahimelech” is that the tradition of the ancient Israelites was not completely unanimous on the subject in the first place. Consider the citation below, which posits that there were two traditions, one in which Abiathar was high priest and had a son named Ahimelech, and another in which Ahimelech was high priest an had a son named Abiathar. Because both traditions had their followings, we see vestiges of both versions cropping up in the Old Testament itself.

“Still another explanation attributes the discrepancy to dual traditions embedded in the Old Testament accounts in 1-2 Samuel, 1 Kings, and 1 Chronicles. The minor tradition reversed the roles of Abiathar and Abimelech, and Jesus and/or Mark drew upon it (M.K. Mullholland, “Abiathar,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, eds. Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall { Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1992},1.)” – Wilkins, M. J. (Ed.). (2015). NIVAC Bundle 6: Gospels, Acts (The NIV Application Commentary). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Academic.

To help show this, I have selected some Old Testament verses which seem to show both versions of the tradition:

-1 Samuel 22:20 – But one son of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled after David.

-2 Samuel 8:17 – And Zadok the son of Ahitub, and Ahimelech the son of Abiathar, were the priests; and Seraiah was the scribe;

-1 Chronicles 18:16 – Zadok son of Ahitub and Ahimelek son of Abiathar were priests; Shavsha was secretary;

-1 Chronicles 24:6 – The secretary, Shemaiah son of Nethanel, a Levite, recorded their names in the presence of the king and the officers Zadok the priest, Ahimelech son of Abiathar

Thus, for whatever reason, the author of Mark felt that for his target audience circa 66 AD, the minor tradition which had Abiathar as the father was more suitable/more well-known/some kind of inside baseball for that community. The tradition had likely been around in oral circles for some time before finally being written down, which accounts for its presence in 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles. Adherents to this minor view may have been around in the community which Mark wrote for, and thus the name-reversal passed into the New Testament.

The argument above is satisfying on some level, and I think could also satisfy non-believers. It also has the upshot of accounting for the divergences in the OT. But what about those of us who take a higher view of God’s providence and see even the thornier verses of the Bible as non-accidental, but there precisely to teach us something? For those who would view even the Bible’s supposed “errors” as divinely inspired for some higher pedagogical purpose, I quite like the explanation given below from Dr. Leroy Huizenga, professor of Theology at University of Mary:

In this passage Jesus presents himself acting as David did when threatened by Saul. Jesus has his disciples with him, like David had his warriors with him. And just as David and his men were permitted to eat the holy Bread of the Presence contrary to Mosaic law, so too could Jesus’s disciples eat grain on the Sabbath.

But think now about the historical context of Mark’s story. The wicked Herod Antipas, who would later have John the Baptist executed, was ruling Galilee during Jesus’s life. Herod Antipas is like Saul, the king who pursued David to kill him. John the Baptist, who baptized Jesus as the royal Davidic Christ, stands in parallel to Samuel, who anointed David to be king and confronted Saul. Abiathar was descended from Eli, under whom Samuel received his call, and Abiathar was the final priest in the ancient line, removed ultimately by Solomon: “So Solomon expelled Abiathar from being priest to the Lord, thus fulfilling the word of the LORD that he had spoken concerning the house of Eli in Shiloh” (1 Kings 2:27). That prophecy concerning the end of Eli’s line was delivered in 1 Samuel 2:27-36 and involved words fulfilled ultimately by Jesus: “And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind; and I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed for ever” (1 Sam 2:35).

So Jesus speaks of Abiathar not to point to a section in some old scroll, but rather to compare the Jewish priesthood of his day to the situation during the time of Abiathar. Just as […] Saul had murdered certain priests of the LORD (1 Sam 22:20-21), so too will Herod Antipas, the new Saul, murder John the Baptist and threaten Jesus. It’s no accident that the Pharisees conspire with the Herodians (supporters of Herod Antipas) to murder Jesus in Mark 3:6, or that Jesus warns the disciples of the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod Antipas in 8:15, or that the Pharisees and Herodians try to trap Jesus regarding the payment of taxes to Caesar in 12:13-17.

And just as Abiathar’s priesthood ended, and with it the ancient lineage of priests, so too will the Jewish priesthood of Jesus’s day end (note that this fits well with Mark’s theme of the coming destruction of the Temple). And just as the LORD raised up David as king, so too will he raise up Jesus the ultimate messianic son of David (see Mark 12:35) as the everlasting king to fulfil the promises regarding David’s everlasting dynasty (see 2 Sam 7:4-16). And Jesus does so not only as messianic king but also as the faithful priest whose dynastic house, the Church, is built by the LORD (1 Sam 2:35).

The Bread of the Presence (literally, panim, “of the face” of God) was first established as a communal offering in Exodus 25:30, and Leviticus 24:5-6 informs us that there were twelve loaves, obviously symbolic of the twelve tribes. Jesus, of course, will have the Twelve Apostles as he founds his Church to continue Israel’s work of redemption in the world. The Bread of the Presence that Jesus mentions in Mark 2:26 thus suggests that Jesus, the final priest, will also provide the new Bread of the Presence, the Eucharist. […] Whatever is going on with Abiathar, kingship, priesthood, showbread, and Eucharist, Jesus certainly declared his total authority over Jewish law, even over one of the Ten Commandments.

Huizenga, L. A. (2017). Loosing the Lion: Proclaiming the Gospel of Mark. Emmaus Road Publishing.


Thus, there is pedagogical and typological value in the use of “Abiathar” in Mark 2:26.

W. Norris Clarke on Space – Newton v. Leibniz

Lately, I’ve been enjoying the late great Fr. W. Norris Clarke’s textbook on metaphysics, The One and the Many. Having just finished the chapter on time and space, I felt motivated to share Clarke’s insights on space, and how sometimes philosophers can go wrong in their thinking about it. The following excerpts are taken from pages 174 – 176 in the aforementioned work:

Newtonian Absolute Space.  As the picture of our universe expanded with the empty space of the new Syrian astronomy, the introduction of the telescope, and the new Copernican astronomy of Galileo and the 16th-century science, the vast distances between the heavenly bodies (sun, moon, planets, stars) and the earth forced the re-introduction of the notion of space (first held by the Presocratic Democritus with his atoms falling in an infinite void). Newton organized this mathematically and spelled out the properties required by this space as interpreted through Euclidean geometry, i.e., infinite empty space as a kind of container for all bodies, with a reality of its own, endowed with the properties of Euclidean geometry. It is this concept, with all of us today have inherited and according to which most ordinary people still live their lives and speak the standard language of space – bodies are “in space,” “move through space,” “out into space,” etc. – that raises serious metaphysical problems as to its status in being. Can it possibly be some mode of real being, as Newton himself thought? Our answer will be “No,” that it can only be a mental being, a mathematical construction of the mind that cannot exist as a real being, but does have a foundation in the real world, in the relational movement of bodies toward and away from each other, in a word, Leibniz’s conception of space as a relational system of bodies in motion.

     Properties of Newtonian Space.  They are following, according to him: (1) It is an infinite field, extending infinitely in all directions, in which all physical bodies are “contained” and through which they move. (2) Yet it is absolutely empty of all bodies, not even a field of real energy, but pure, empty extension, devoid of any action of its own. (3) Its only properties are geometrical ones: i.e., it is homogeneous everywhere, governed by the two great laws of Euclidean geometry: the shortest distance between two points is a straight line; and parallel lines never meet. (4) Metaphysically, it is conceived by Newton as a reality, underlying and supporting our whole material cosmos. It is so real for him, in fact, that because it is infinite – a property belonging only to God – he calls it the sensorium of God” – a kind of immaterial “sense organ” or medium for the divine presence to all bodies.

Critique. Such a concept cannot be thought through metaphysically as referring to anything real in itself, existing objectively outside of our minds and imaginations.

 Reasons: 1) It is declared real but is absolutely empty of all real bodies and yet is not a spiritual entity, nor does it have any action of its own at all. BUt action is a primary property and criterion of all real being; without action there is no way of knowing that any real being is present.

2) It is an actually infinite quantity, which is impossible. Every real quantity must be definite, hence finite. Also actual infinity can only be a qualitative property proper to God alone. It certainly cannot be an immaterial sense organ of God, distinct from him. If it is God himself as omnipresent, then it is a purely spiritual active presence and cannot be anything extended, which is a quantitative notion.

3) It is declared to have the properties of Euclidean space only, as though this were the only possible mode of geometrical space. But we now know there are other possible kinds of space, equally coherent as Euclidean and actually more useful for the great distances in outer space, e.g., Riemannian space, where the space is curved, and the shortest distance between two points is always a curve. For all these reasons it is impossible for space as Newton conceived it to be a real entity in itself.

What is Newtonian space, then? It is as such a mental being, or “being of reason” (ens rationis), an abstract construction of the mathematical mind, extrapolated outside the mind by the creative imagination as a convenient image for talking about the world we live in. We get so used to it that we end up treating it as though it were a reality in itself. It is convenient because we constantly speak of particular things being “in” something else (in this room, in this city, country, solar system, etc.); so it is easy to think of all bodies as being inside something, the ultimate container of all things, empty space, the ultimate “empty box” in which all things are located.

But it is not a pure projection of the imagination; it does have a certain foundation in the real world, in two data of our experience: (1) physical bodies do have real extension within themselves; (2) these bodies, in relation to each other, are really distant from each other, and take time to move toward and away from each other. What is real, then, is the set of relations of bodies to each other as regards distance and motion. And all that needs to be said about “space” can be said in terms of these relations of bodies towards each other. There is no need at all to speak of these bodies as located “in” something, or moving “through” something, or out “into” something which we call space. This is an extra importation of the imagination for convenience. Leibniz showed this brilliantly long ago when he proposed the relational concept of space as closer to reality than Newton’s. But it never caught on with ordinary people; the container concept of space won out, and we all are caught up in it now, partly because of the great prestige of Newtonian physics, which seemed to depend on it, though in fact it doesn’t. It is all right to use “space-as-container” language; but don’t be taken in by it philosophically!
Note that the same critique holds against any concept of space that is declared to be real yet empty, and with no action of its own, especially if its dimensions are said to be infinite.” – W. Norris Clark, The One and the Many, 2001, pp. 174 – 176

Brief Notes on Reason & Faith

For Aquinas, the existence of God is a philosophical issue, not just a theological one. It’s something one can arrive at through natural reason. But, the God one arrives at through reason is “Actus Purus” or the “subsistent act of being”[1]. The notion that God is triune, or becomes incarnate, is not something natural reason can tell one. All arguments purporting to show these doctrines a priori from reason (such as those from Richard Swinburne) are false, and guilty of a kind of category error. On the flipside, saying “I only believe in the truths of reason” as one’s reason for not believing the Articles of Faith is really a kind of tautology. Truths of reason belong to the order and apparatus of reason, truths of faith belong to the order and apparatus of faith. To state that one does not believe in the latter because it cannot be proven by the former is a category error. While I use the term “category error” here, this is not to indicate a “hard bifurcation” between faith and reason per se. For Aquinas, truth is totally unified, and reason/faith both lead us to truth. Yet, the two are distinct. This distinction does not require them to be separable. Some aspects of the one truth are accessible to reason, and other aspects of this same unified truth are only accessible by faith.

So what relation can reason have to faith?
Thomas says that reason can do two things regarding the articles of faith.
1) It can demonstrate that the Articles of Faith contain no *formal* contradictions. But it can never exhaustively demonstrate that they contain no *latent* contradictions.

2) It can provide arguments of “appropriateness”. For example, we might say “It is appropriate for God to be triune because <insert reasoning here>”. But this is a far-cry from saying one has found an argument that binds one, on pain of irrationality, to posit God’s tri-unity.

[1]The fact that God is, in some sense, not totally impersonal is for Aquinas also a truth of philosophy, not theology.
Although “Actus Purus” can sound pretty cold and impersonal, Aquinas gives philosophical arguments for why God must be in some sense “personal.” To make a long argument very short, if Aquinas’ Fifth Way is successful, it follows that God has something like an intellect. If God has an intellect, then (re:Aristotle, will always follows intellect) God must have something like a will. If God has something like an intellect and a will, then it follows that God cannot be totally “impersonal”- something cannot have “intellect” and “will” and be validly described as “not a person”. From this argument, Aquinas pivots to his “Argument for the Divine Attributes”, which flow from Actus Purus’ having something analogous to an intellect and a will. Once we get these divine attributes slotted in (the attributes are 1) simplicity, 2) perfection, 3) goodness, 4) infinity, 5) ubiquity, 6) immutability, 7) eternity, and 8) unity), we are definitely looking at some form of theism (though admittedly, we are very far from the God of the Bible, it would appear!). It is most certainly not the totally impersonal God of the deists or pantheists, etc.

Let’s take it back a step further. This is where we must deploy common sense from our everyday experiences. If we analyze ourselves and how we come to deploy reason -and arrive at conclusions- we will surely see that at the beginning of every rational process lies a fiduciary element. An implicit, un-proveable trust in the reality’s consistency- its disclosure of itself- and of our ability to cognitively apprehend said reality. If there is a “seed” of faith at the bottom of every rational process (which seems pretty self-evident to me) which reason needs to get off-the-ground, why should we then go along with the Enlightenment project of positing a harsh bifurcation between these two faculties? It seems to me much more in keeping with the data of our actual lived experience to see the relationship of reason to faith as inherently nuptial- something which cannot actually be put asunder. Human beings possess reason/faith as “one coin” – yet it is certainly a coin with two sides. Both sides of the coin work together to bring us to understanding in the most basic aspects of our cognitive processes.

The Thomist position, it needs to be stated, is neither rationalist nor fideist. It is compatibilist. It is fitting then that the Catholic Church has condemned both rationalism and fideism as heretical. Both of these extremes are distortions.
Rather, the Thomist position sees reason and faith as the “two wings” which the human soul needs in order to take flight into true enlightenment. Both fideism and rationalism are the equivalent of trying to fly with only one wing.

In closing, I will leave the reader with something to meditate on.
Aquinas would say that we only know the truths of faith through the virtue of wisdom.
What does it mean to know something “through a virtue”?
Why did the early moderns not see this sort of robust virtue-epistemology as a viable option, and is it a viable option today? I think that it is, but that will have to wait for future discussion.


For a detailed analysis of Aquinas on faith, epistemic justifications, and answers to traditional objections, Eleonore Stump’s 2008 book, “Aquinas,” looks very promising. She writes:

“While in Aquinas’ view it would be a mistake to suppose that faith is acquired by an exercise of reason, reason may nonetheless clear away some of the obstacles that bar the believer’s way to faith. On this way of thinking about faith, the intellect assents to the propositions of faith in virtue of the will’s moving it to assent because of the will’s desire for God’s goodness when the object of the will is not sufficient by itself to move the intellect. Nonetheless, the resulting belief is not simply a case of wish-fulfillment beliefs. Aquinas’ metaphysics of being and goodness gives an explanation for why belief in the propositions of faith is justified, in a way that other wish-fulfillment beliefs could not be. In addition, although the metaphysics of goodness and being explains the certitude of faith as regards the propositions believed, it is the will’s cleaving to God’s goodness that explains the certitude of faith as regards the believer. … Finally, Aquinas’ account of faith has the advantage of explaining why an omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good God would let the epistemic relation of human beings to himself rest on faith, rather than knowledge, and why a person’s having faith should be thought to be meritorious in any way, because it holds volitionally produced faith to be the beginning of salvation for a person, in the process of justification by faith, to which I now turn.”

Bergsma and de Lubac on Exegesis

I recently read Hans Bergsma’s book on patristic biblical exegesis, Scripture as Real images2222Presence. In this work, Bergsma provides ample evidence that, for the Church Fathers, the Old Testament always already contains the Christ-event (similar to treasure buried in a field). For the Fathers, the Christ-event is the archetype, res, and aletheia under-girding the whole Old Testament. Rather than foretelling Christ, the Old Testament scriptures such as Isaiah 53 actually consist of a forth-telling of Christ, who is already implicitly present in them. The author’s intent when writing these passages, whatever it may have been, does not determine the “one true meaning” of the text, which is polysemous and positively shaped by divine Providence and the organic interpretive tradition that grew out of the Church over the centuries.

To quote Bergsma on this, “we can express the church fathers’ view by saying that God doesn’t speak first, only to act later: God’s word and his act are one and the same. God’s promise is never an empty announcement, to which a later event may (or may not) correspond. God’s speech act is always performative in character: in its very utterance it accomplishes what it proclaims.” (pp. 248) And again he says, “the church fathers could not possibly understand either the nation of Israel or the prophet himself as the ultimate truth (aletheia) or the reality (res) contained conveyed in the poems [of Isaiah]. The only proper horizon for spiritual interpretation was found, therefore in Christ and the church.” (pp. 240) “This means that although the church fathers knew that prophecy chronologically precedes fulfillment, they were convinced that in a more important sense it is fulfillment that precedes prophecy. Because they believed that the inward reality or mystery precedes the outward type or sacrament, the church fathers were confident that the types contain details modeled on specific aspects of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. The church fathers believed that the providential link between reality (or archetype) and outward sacrament (or type) could be seen throughout the biblical account … and they do so out of a strong conviction that the relationship … is grounded in the faithfulness of a God who acts in analogous or similar ways throughout history.”

One should probably pause here to meditate on the above, and how it ties into ideas contained within the New Testament itself. For example Revelation 13:8 refers to Christ as “the Lamb, which was slain from the beginning of the world” – even though Christ was actually slain in 30 AD. What is this understanding of time?

Now, this is all fine and well for providing a basis for giving spiritual interpretations of the Old Testament, but what about reading the New Testament in a spiritual or typological sense? After all, if the Old Testament was the “shadow” or the “field” containing the treasure of Christ, does it not follow that in the New Testament, the treasure would be out in the open? Why, then, would we be justified in looking for deeper spiritual meanings within the New Testament texts?

Bergsma quotes Henri de Lubac to help answer these questions. de Lubac writes that there is an “unceasing transformation of the Gospel at the level of the senses into the spiritual Gospel. Just as it cannot be determined by the work of scientific exegesis, even when carried out in the spirit of faith, it will never be fixed in a certain number of established and controlled results, in a series of objective meanings, capable of being inscribed in a kind of canon. This way of understanding it would allow its essence to escape. This spiritual understanding is, so to speak, the breathing of the Christian reflection because it translates rhythm of  Christian life. … It is the whole New Testament, understood as the complete progress of the Christian economy unto the last day, that also appears to him [i.e. Origen] to be oriented toward a more profound, absolutely and solely definite reality; a reality that it has the duty to make known by preparing for it, serving thus as intermediary between the Old Law and the ‘eternal gospel’” (pp. 250 – 251) Bergsma goes on to add that “Spiritual understanding doesn’t just look for a historical reconstruction – not even the events described in the Gospels or in the theology and the injunctions presented by the apostle Paul. Christian reflection has a much more important task, namely, to translate the rhythm of a Christian mode of existence. … The New Testament has given the fullness of the mystery of Christ. The treasure hidden in the field can now be seen. But the depth of this mystery and the contents of this treasure remain there for Christians to explore and perfect in their lives.

So, what is the upshot of all this? I would say that I once thought, contrary to de Lubac, that it was possible to boil the verses of the Gospel texts down into a set of objective meanings. I now seriously doubt this prior belief of mine. If de Lubac is correct, this is an impossibility. While the Old Testament was the field with treasure buried within it, and while the New Testament has indeed made that treasure visible, it is not the case that we can plumb the depths of this treasure in its entirety before the Judgment Day. Therefore, de Lubac speaks of an “unceasing transformation of the Gospel at the level of the senses” and Bergsma says that “the depth of this mystery and the contents of this treasure remain there for Christians to explore and perfect in their lives.” The Gospel which we have, which we read every Sunday at Mass, is leading us forward to what Origen referred to as the “eternal gospel.” If such is the case, then spiritual/typological readings of the New Testament (even the epistles of Paul) are justified. And, as the Church continues this process of “translating” the Gospel into the lives of its members, new meanings will open up and become apparent in the text and within the lived tradition of the Ecclesia.

The Time-Bending Properties of the Eucharist

The aspect of the Eucharist that fascinates me the most is drawing out the logical img_3757implications of the Real Presence. One aspect that I feel goes unnoticed is the fact that not only is Jesus Christ really present in the Eucharist, but at each Eucharistic liturgy, we are really present in the Upper-Room for the Last Supper. We are also really there at Calvary on Good Friday, and at the empty tomb on Easter Sunday. Since a recent poll shows many Catholics are forgetting the concept of the Real Presence, I think its fitting that we look at some quotes dealing with this subject.

“The next time you go to Mass, try to remember this great truth: At Mass, you are in the Upper Room, on Calvary, at the empty tomb. “- Henry Libersat

“We were there then during that Crucifixion… We were not conscious of being present there on Calvary that day, but He was conscious of our presence…. Calvary is one with the Mass, and the Mass is one with Calvary, for in both there is the same Priest and Victim.” – Bl. Fulton J. Sheen

“So when we are present at Mass, it is as though we were present for the whole redemptive act of Christ. … we are present at the tomb of Lazarus; we are present in the upper room in Jerusalem, and we are present at Calvary where He bled and died.” – Unknown

“Since during Mass we are present at the drama of the passion, which unfolds before our eyes…” – Enrico Mazza

I was greatly intrigued by quotes like those above, so I set out looking for something a bit more official from the Church- especially regarding how this impacts our understanding of “linear” time. It turns out that St. Pope John Paul II discusses this at length in the document “Ecclesia de Eucharistia“. So I will share relevant excerpts below:


“In these or similar words the Church, while pointing to Christ in the mystery of his passion, also reveals her own mystery: Ecclesia de Eucharistia. By the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost the Church was born and set out upon the pathways of the world, yet a decisive moment in her taking shape was certainly the institution of the Eucharist in the Upper Room. Her foundation and wellspring is the whole Triduum paschale, but this is as it were gathered up, foreshadowed and “concentrated’ for ever in the gift of the Eucharist. In this gift Jesus Christ entrusted to his Church the perennial making present of the paschal mystery. With it he brought about a mysterious “oneness in time” between that Triduum and the passage of the centuries.

11. “The Lord Jesus on the night he was betrayed” (1 Cor 11:23) instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice of his body and his blood. The words of the Apostle Paul bring us back to the dramatic setting in which the Eucharist was born. The Eucharist is indelibly marked by the event of the Lord’s passion and death, of which it is not only a reminder but the sacramental re-presentation. It is the sacrifice of the Cross perpetuated down the ages.9 This truth is well expressed by the words with which the assembly in the Latin rite responds to the priest’s proclamation of the “Mystery of Faith”: “We announce your death, O Lord”.

The Church has received the Eucharist from Christ her Lord not as one gift – however precious – among so many others, but as the gift par excellence, for it is the gift of himself, of his person in his sacred humanity, as well as the gift of his saving work. Nor does it remain confined to the past, since “all that Christ is – all that he did and suffered for all men – participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times”.10

When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the memorial of her Lord’s death and resurrection, this central event of salvation becomes really present and “the work of our redemption is carried out”.11 This sacrifice is so decisive for the salvation of the human race that Jesus Christ offered it and returned to the Father only after he had left us a means of sharing in it as if we had been present there. Each member of the faithful can thus take part in it and inexhaustibly gain its fruits. This is the faith from which generations of Christians down the ages have lived. The Church’s Magisterium has constantly reaffirmed this faith with joyful gratitude for its inestimable gift.12 I wish once more to recall this truth and to join you, my dear brothers and sisters, in adoration before this mystery: a great mystery, a mystery of mercy. What more could Jesus have done for us? Truly, in the Eucharist, he shows us a love which goes “to the end” (cf. Jn13:1), a love which knows no measure.

12. This aspect of the universal charity of the Eucharistic Sacrifice is based on the words of the Saviour himself. In instituting it, he did not merely say: “This is my body”, “this is my blood”, but went on to add: “which is given for you”, “which is poured out for you” (Lk 22:19-20). Jesus did not simply state that what he was giving them to eat and drink was his body and his blood; he also expressed its sacrificial meaning and made sacramentally present his sacrifice which would soon be offered on the Cross for the salvation of all. “The Mass is at the same time, and inseparably, the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the Cross is perpetuated and the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord’s body and blood”.13

The Church constantly draws her life from the redeeming sacrifice; she approaches it not only through faith-filled remembrance, but also through a real contact, since this sacrifice is made present ever anew, sacramentally perpetuated, in every community which offers it at the hands of the consecrated minister. The Eucharist thus applies to men and women today the reconciliation won once for all by Christ for mankind in every age. “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice”.14 Saint John Chrysostom put it well: “We always offer the same Lamb, not one today and another tomorrow, but always the same one. For this reason the sacrifice is always only one… Even now we offer that victim who was once offered and who will never be consumed”.15

The Mass makes present the sacrifice of the Cross; it does not add to that sacrifice nor does it multiply it.16 What is repeated is its memorial celebration, its “commemorative representation” (memorialis demonstratio),17 which makes Christ’s one, definitive redemptive sacrifice always present in time. The sacrificial nature of the Eucharistic mystery cannot therefore be understood as something separate, independent of the Cross or only indirectly referring to the sacrifice of Calvary.

Some thoughts on Classical and “Neo” Theism


Recently, “The Laborious Game,” a philosophy blog here on WordPress, shared some interesting thoughts on naturalism, Spinoza, and theism. In this post I want to offer a reply to some (but not all) of the ideas at play in that post. While the aforementioned post motions towards the differences between classical theism and neotheism, I would like to flesh out those differences a little more fully. Having no formal training in philosophy, however, I must state up front that I am very thankful to all who offered me their ideas.

Arguments are only as good as their presuppositions. Aristotle used the term proton psuedos to describe how an original error could render even the most complex and meticulous philosophical system null and void (even if the conclusions follow from the premises). [1]

When modern “neotheists” or “theistic personalists” (to use a term coined by the Dominican philosopher Brian Davies) talk about God, they do so using a conception of God which is entirely out of sync with the bulk of the great faith traditions, East and West. I will refer to this older general milieu as classical theism. The Laborious Game is to be commended, however, for mentioning both forms of theism. But I hope in this post to throw into starker relief the differences between classical theism and the neotheism of thinkers like Richard Swinburne.

A Definition of God

Let’s begin with a definition of the classical theist conception of God. Please indulge me in sharing a lengthy quote from the continental philosopher David Bentley Hart. As a Catholic, I cannot say I agree with all aspects of Hart’s theology (I don’t even find him all that original a thinker), yet when it comes to giving definitions of barebones classical theism, he is hard to beat. He writes:

“God is not “the supreme being” or any kind of being among other beings; God is Being itself. God doesn’t “exist” as you and I exist: rather, he is existence itself. He isn’t composite and is therefore indissoluble; he is infinite and unconditioned and therefore not dependent on anything else; he is eternal and so does not come into being; he is the source of his own being and hence in him there is no division between what he is and that he is.

These affirmations arrive chiefly as a sort of deductive negation from all the obvious conditions of finitude. One can see what it is about, for instance, a tree that makes it contingent. And thusone can see how these same features must be absent from the uncaused cause onwhich things like trees depend. […]

The very idea that there could be such a thing as ‘necessary being’ seems a difficult one for many modern Anglophone philosophers who, fettered as they are to certain analytic presuppositions, think of necessity as only a logical property of certain propositions, such as mathematical axioms. And, frankly, many theistic analytic philosophers who feel they have to justify the idea in terms amenable to those presuppositions often create the greatest confusions of all. I should step back before completing that thought, however. And point out that philosophers often distinguish between the claim that something is ‘metaphysically necessary’ and the claim that something is ‘logically necessary’. The former would describe something that, if it happens to exist at all, also possesses the quite wondrous attribute of being eternal and incapable of dissolution. Aristotle, for instance, considered the cosmos to be necessary in this sense, since he believed it to be without an origin and incapable of coming to an end. Necessity of this sort is a kind of property inhering in a certain kind of substance, but is in no way an explanation of the existence of that substance. To say that something is metaphysically necessary is to say only that it is physically unoriginated and indestructible. But this still tells us nothing of why that thing exists at all. In the case of God, therefore, it would clearly not be enough to say that he possesses only metaphysical necessity. As the formidable atheist philosopher J.L. Mackie observed, any being that just happens to be necessary in this sense would be just there.

Quite inexplicably endowed with the strange but enviable, or for that matter unenviable, state of being incapable of not existing. Its just-thereness would be no less magical, no less purely happenstantial, so to speak, than that of the absolute contingent universe in which the naturalist believes. So, a God conceived as necessary in only this sense would not provide any ultimate solution to the question of existence, but would himself be just another existential mystery added to all the others. The regress of ontological causes would still not have reached back to its first term. […]

The great theistic philosophers have always understood this. Thomas Aquinas and Ibn Sina, for instance, were willing to use the term necessity in its Aristotelian acceptation and so to ascribe metaphysical necessity to a number of created things, but they also quite clearly stipulated that such necessity was only of a derivative kind- a necessity by way of another. God alone, by contrast, has necessity in and of himself. That is, if the word “God” has any meaning at all it must refer to a reality which is not just metaphysically indestructible but “necessary” in the fullest and most proper sense. It must refer to a reality that is logically necessary, and that therefore provides the ultimate explanation of all other realities without need of being explained in turn. Logical necessity is nothing less than the analytic, that is, the a priori impossibility of something either not existing otherwise than it is. It is, in a sense, perfectly convertible with the essence of what it defines, in the way that the necessity of a mathematical equation is convertible with the correct definition of all the parts of that equation. […]

To put the matter very simply, the great traditions would not speak of God merely as some being who might exist in some possible world, if only because that seems to make God’s reality conditional on some set of prior logical possibilities, which would appear to exclude real logical necessity from his nature at the outset, as well as to contradict the essential claim that He, and He alone is the source of all reality. Rather, they proceed in just the opposite fashion, and seek to show that the logical possibility of any world at all is conditional on the prior logical necessity of God. That is to say, God is not “a being” who “might” and therefore “must” exist, but is absolute being as such, apart from whom nothing else could exist, either as a possibility or as an actuality. In God, logical possibility does not translate into logical necessity. It is instead God’s necessity as the unconditioned source of all things that makes any world possible in the first place. In the simplest terms, no contingent reality could exist at all if there were not a necessary dimension of reality sustaining its existence. And that is the dimension to which the word “God” properly points. […] That than which it is impossible to conceive anything greater is not a being among other beings, not even the “greatest possible of beings”, but is instead the fullness of being itself. The absolute plenitude of reality upon which all else depends. And manifestly, it would be meaningless to say that “being lacks being” or that “reality is not real.” [Ed. Yet, compare Kant on this below.]

What then, at last, does it really mean to say that “God is being” or “reality” or “the source and ground of all reality.” What does it mean to think of Him as Sufism’s al-Haqq, or Jewish mysticism’s Great Reality, or ‘Root of all Roots,’ or Thomas’s actus essendi subsistens (subsistent act of being), or Eckhart’s Istigkeit (‘Is-ness’), or so on? Can it mean anything at all? Or have all the intellectual traditions of the great faiths throughout their long histories – and despite the enormous number of very impressive minds that have contributed to them- been mired in sheer nonsense on this matter? Some contemporary philosophers- theist, atheist, and agnostic alike, think that they have been. They are quite mistaken, in fact, but theirs is at least an instructive mistake.

The Experience of God, David Bentley Hart

Now, Hart goes on to argue why this talk of God as being as such is not mystical obscurantism. But, my focus here is not to defend that matter at great length, but merely to highlight the difference in the basic concepts, for which the foregoing quote will suffice. At any rate, this essay is long enough as it is.

Kantian Conundrums

Now, having explored this notion of God not being a “being among beings” but rather “being as such,”  let us finally get to one of the objections to theism which The Laborious Game mentions, this one citing Kant’s dictum that Being cannot be a property of anything:

“Consider, in addition to his claim that being cannot be a property of anything, this point made by Kant:”

There has been much written in response to Kant’s claim here (and it would seem Thomists can partially agree with him), so I won’t belabor the point, but please see the footnotes for further reading [2][3][4]. Moving on:

“If the supreme being stood in this chain of conditions, then it would itself be a member of the series of these conditions; and thus it would–like the lower members to which it is superior–still require further investigation considering its own, still higher basis. On the other hand, if one wants to separate the supreme being from this chain and keep it–as a merely intelligible being–from also being included in the series of natural causes, then just what bridge can reason build so as to reach this being? For all laws of the transition from effects to causes–indeed, all synthesis and expansion of our cognition as such–pertain to nothing but possible experience; hence they pertain merely to objects of the world of sense and can have signification only in regard to them.”

Critique of Pure Reason, A621/B649

I bolded certain terms in the above quote because I want to draw out just how different Kant’s notion of God is from that of the classical theist. In both “horns” of this dilemma, clearly, the notion of pure being as such, pure actuality, in whom we live, and move, and have our being, is not really on his radar here. God is a discrete entity inhabiting the universe, apparently. Of course, for the classical theist, such an entity would not and could not be called “God” at all. Kant makes his “ontological point” (to use the phrase of The Laborious Game) by completely bypassing the classical conception of God in both horns of his dilemma. For, as we have seen in the foregoing, God is not “a being,” not even “the supreme being,” but “pure being as such.” This Kantian objection passes by the classical theist notion of God in the same manner as two ships passing in the night. But, that’s not much of a response, so I will offer a few more.

②Even taken on Kant’s own terms (and arguing as a neotheist), could one not just say that God is a necessary being (a being that has to exist), and that only contingent beings need a cause? Why, exactly, is there a problem “connecting” a necessary being with the world of contingency? At least based on what has been provided, it remains unclear. (Credit to Alexander Pruss at Baylor for pointing this out to me).

③Of course, I do not wish to argue as a neotheist, and it is quite clear from the classical theistic definition of God which I provided above that the first “horn” of the dilemma has been set aside. What about the second horn? Kant’s dilemma here is a false one for the classical theist, as it has “bracketed out” two tools in our arsenal for deriving knowledge: 1) the via negativa and 2) the analogia entis. Kant, it would seem, needs both of these to be invalid in order for the dilemma to work.

<The Via Negativa>

For Kant (and Hume) a priori knowledge based on experience is invalid. Hume says there is only sensation, and Kant says a priori is innate without connection to unconditioned being. They create, based on these presuppositions, (internally) logically consistent systems of thought, to be sure, but why would the classical theist want to accept those presuppositions? The classical theist traditions also offer internally logically consistent systems of thought, and though it goes beyond the scope of this post, I would argue that whichever “knowledge loop” (that is, set of presuppositions followed through to their consistent conclusions) offers the greater explanatory power for the mystery of being should be preferred to those which offer less explanatory power. But back to the Via Negativa.

Listen to Aquinas,

“Now, the mode of supereminence in which the abovementioned perfections are found in God can be signified by names used by us only through negation, as when we say that God is eternal or infinite, or also through a relation of God to other things, as when He is called the first cause or the highest good. For we cannot grasp what God is, but only what He is not and how other things are related to Him, as is clear from what we said above.”

Summa Contra Gentiles (book 1 ch. 30 article 4)

Or, as Hart puts it more simply above,

“One can see what it is about, for instance, a tree that makes it contingent. And thus one can see how these same features must be absent from the uncaused cause on which things like trees depend.”

Anyone with knowledge of being can, through negation, arrive at knowledge of not-being. Any anyone with knowledge of contingent being can arrive, through negation, at what non-contingent being is like. This has been the hallmark of the thinkers of great theistic traditions from Ramanuja to Ibn Sina to Eckhart to Aquinas. Would Kant deny that we have knowledge of contingent being? Can we not negate what it is about a tree that makes it contingent? Perhaps the reason he says this is that in the Kantian system we cannot have knowledgeof reality at all- only perceptions and thoughts about those perceptions. We would prefer to speak in terms of “knowledge” as opposed to “thought” and “reality” as opposed to “perception.” As Etienne Gilson points out, a form of the “problem of the bridge” affects all Idealist systems. For all Idealist systems (and that includes Kant’s), once one starts with a percipi, the only place one is going to end up in the end is with a percipi. Yet the Realist (and that includes everyone I have mentioned in the classical theist tradition, from Ramanuja to Aquinas) does not start with a percipi. And thus, from different presuppositions and starting points flows this fundamental divergence.

<The Analogia Entis>

The second tool in our arsenal for deriving knowledge which Kant says that we cannot derive is that of the “Analogy of Being” or the Analogia Entis. Now, this is a controversial matter, even among classical theists. For the sake of brevity, I shall not delve into the debate here, but merely remark that in a moderate realist schema such as the one utilized by Aquinas, it seems to me perfectly valid to, abstracting by degrees, rise via proportionality to an analogous knowledge of pure being as such. Thus one commentator writes “Thomas’s thought culminates not in a via negativa but in a via eminentia. […]Thomas intends to express through proportionality, which sets no limit to transcendence yet retains the analogical connection founded in the act of the creature which is of course bestowed by God[…]”[4]

④Finally, and an aside, according to all the major classical theistic traditions, God is metaphysically simple and so does not have any accidental properties. Here, it would seem that Kant is treating existence as an accidental property which admits of greatness, while God, as perfectly simple, cannot admit of more greatness.

Spinoza and Naturalism

“The scholastics start from things; Descartes starts from thought; I start from God.”

Baruch Spinoza (as quoted in ‘Methodical Realism’ by Etienne Gilson)

The one above is a tantalizing proposition, and I must confess that somewhere, my sympathies are with Spinoza. His desire for divine immanence is one reflected in all major theistic traditions.

Consider St. Augustine,

“God is at once both nearer to what is inmost to me and beyond what is highest in me.”

Yet, as the Kantian pole leaves us with an utterly transcendent God which we can have no knowledge of, the Spinozist pole takes us to the opposite extreme- a completely immanentized deity. Only in classical theism is the delicate tightrope walk pulled off, both of these extremes avoided, and we arrive at Pure Being as Such, the God who is at once immanent and transcendent.

I do not wish to write some sort of “refutation” of Spinoza (even if such a thing were possible, it’s certainly beyond the scope of my meager abilities, and at any rate, such decisive victories are quite rare in philosophy). Rather, I merely would like to offer some thoughts on why his position, from any Aristotelian perspective, does not get off the ground.

As the Existential Thomist philosopher Etienne Gilson points out, there are some critical issues with Spinoza’s idea of “starting from God” from the outset, which we can refer to as the problem of “metaphysical fissure,” which runs between necessary and contingent being, and between uncreated and created being. The relationship here is an asymmetrical one. The latter cannot be deduced from the former, while the former can be deduced from the latter.

“Not only can one not deduce the existence of the [contingent] world from the existence of God, but equally, because we are ourselves part of the world, our knowledge comes up against the same metaphysical breach as our being. The human mind cannot have God as its natural and proper object. As a creature, it is directly proportioned only to created being, so much so that instead of being able to deduce the existence of things from God, it must, on the contrary, of necessity rest on things in order to ascend to God.”

Etienne Gilson, Methodical Realism pp. 52-53

I should point out that, from an Aristotelian-Thomist perspective, God’s essence just is his existence. Only in God are these two unified. Contingent beings (creatures like us, for example), participate in God’s pure existence. This, coupled with what I outlined above, overcomes the fissure between creator and creation. But we have to start with our natural object.

The Laborious Game also gives us this tentative definition of naturalism,

“Thus, one might define naturalism in terms of the following conditions:

  1. All beings are governed by the same principles.
  2. All beings are logically contingent.”

Notice here how the question of being as such is not so much answered, but avoided (or so it seems). We are led once again, by the contingency of all things to look with wonder (which Plato and Aristotle tell us is the beginning of all true philosophy [5][6]) to that great mystery, the wellspring and ground of being, in whom we live, and move, and have our being (via participation, of course).

I should stop here, though, and say that while I do believe Spinozism is completely incompatible with classical theism (at least in the forms I am familiar with), it does indeed seem that it is Spinozism which is causing The Laborious Game to, at certain points in his post, cast an eye toward certain concepts associated with classical theism. And if it’s Spinozism that gets people to thinking about some classical theist ideas, well, I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much.

A Note on Swinburne
The Laborious Game shares the following thought-provoking passage from Richard Swinburne’s The Existence of God.

I do not believe that there can be any absolute explanations of logically contingent phenomena. For surely never does anything explain itself.[…] For a full explanation is, as we have seen, such that the explanandum (that is, the phenomenon requiring explanation) is deducible from it. But you cannot deduce anything logically contingent from anything logically necessary. The Existence of God, Chapter 4

Having no formal philosophical training of my own, I must say that I am not in a position to tango with Swinburne on this. I did, however, reach out to Dr. Alexander Pruss at Baylor University, who had this to say on the matter:

The view that if p explains q, then q logically follows from p has been rejected by more and more philosophers of science starting with the 1960s, and I doubt any major figure holds it now. See Salmon’s Four Decades book[8].‎ Scientific explanation almost never satisfies the entailment condition. I discuss this in my book on the PSR[9]. What about full explanation instead of just explanation? I am dubious. In any case, the PSR concerns explanation.

I shall simply leave this note hanging here for reflection at a later date.

Concluding Remarks on Ideas Going out of Fashion

Over the course of this essay I cited some ideas which are far from what is considered mainstream these days. Furthermore, the philosophers I cited are far from household names (inasmuch as philosophers become household names, at least). One might even be forgiven for thinking that I trotted out a “coterie of cranks” [10] for my responses. And as The Laborious Game points out, by way of a question, aren’t most philosophers atheists? Out of fashion as they are, doesn’t the very fact that these thinkers and their ideas occupy some realm of academic obscurity tell us something about their truthfulness? Surely it is wiser to remain in the warm, comfortable light of “philosophical consensus,” right? I ask to be indulged one last time as I defer to Hart for an answer to these questions.

“If philosophy had the power to establish incontrovertible truths, immune to doubt, and if philosophers were as a rule wholly disinterested practitioners of their art, then it might be possible to speak of progress in philosophy. In fact, however, the philosophical tendencies and presuppositions of any age are, to a very great degree, determined by the prevailing cultural mood or by the ideological premises generally approved of by the educated classes. As often as not, the history of philosophy has been a history of prejudices masquerading as principles, and so merely a history of fashion. It is as possible today to be an intellectually scrupulous Platonist as it was more than two thousand years ago; it is simply not in vogue. Over the last century, Anglo-American philosophy has for the most part adopted and refined the methods of “analytic” reasoning, often guided by the assumption that this is a form of thinking more easily purged of unexamined inherited presuppositions than is the “continental” tradition. This is an illusion. Analytic method is dependent upon a number of tacit assumptions that cannot be verified in their turn by analysis: regarding the relation between language and reality, or the relation between language and thought, or the relation between thought and reality’s disclosure of itself, or the nature of probability and possibility, or the sorts of claims that can be certified as “meaningful,” and so on. In the end, analytic philosophy is no purer and no more rigorous than any other style of philosophizing. At times, in fact, it functions as an excellent vehicle for avoiding thinking intelligently at all; and certainly no philosophical method is more apt to hide its own most arbitrary metaphysical dogmas, most egregious crudities, and most obvious flaws from itself, and no other is so likely to mistake a descent into oversimplification for an advance in clarity. As always, the rules determine the game, and the game determines the rules. More to the point, inasmuch as the educated class is usually, at any given phase in history, also the most thoroughly indoctrinated, and therefore the most intellectually pliable and quiescent, professional philosophers are as likely as their colleagues in the sciences and humanities (and far more likely than the average person) to accept a reigning consensus uncritically, even credulously, and to adjust their thinking about everything accordingly. Happily, their philosophical training often aids them in doing so with a degree of ingenuity that protects them from the sharper pangs of conscience. […]

All I mean to urge here is that one should never be too naive regarding the quality of the current philosophical culture, or imagine that the most recent thinking is in any meaningful sense more advanced or more authoritative than that of a century or a millennium or two millennia ago. There are certain perennial problems to which all interesting philosophy returns again and again; but there are no such things as logical discoveries that consign any of the older answers to obsolescence. Certain classical answers to those problems endure and recur, sometimes because they remain far more powerful than the answers (or evasions) produced by later schools of thought. And, conversely, weaker answers often enjoy greater favor than their rivals simply because they are in keeping with the prejudices of the age.”

David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God


Additional References

[1]Aristotle, Prior Analyticus (the Organon), (1895b, p. 352, n. 1)

[2]Joseph Owens, ‘Existence as Predicated’, Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, Toronto,

[3]Gyula Klima, ‘The Semantic Principles Underlying Aquinas’s Philosophy of Being,’

(consider also: Gyula Klima, ‘On Kenny on Aquinas on Being: A Critical Review of Aquinas on Being’ )

[4]Martin Heidegger, ‘The Basic Problems of Phenomenology’, page 91, “Existere is something other than essence; it has its being on the basis of being caused by another. ‘Omne quod est directe inpraedicamento substantiae, compositum est saltem ex esse et quod est’ (De veritate, q.27); each ens, therefore as ens creatum is a compositum “ex esse et quod“, of existing and of whatness. This compositum is what it is, compositio realis; that is to say, correspondingly: the distinctio between essentia and existentia is a distinctio realis. Esse, or existere, is conceived of also, in distinction from quod est or esse quod, as essequo or ens quo. The actuality of an actual being is something else of such a sort that it itself amounts to a res on its own account. If we compare it with the Kantian thesis, the Thomistic thesis says — indeed, in agreement with Kant — that existence, there-being, actuality, is not a real predicate; it does not belong to the res of a thing but is nevertheless a res that is added on to the essentia. By means of his interpretation, on the other hand, Kant wishes to avoid conceiving of actuality, existence, itself as a res; he does this by interpreting existence as relation to the cognitive faculty, hence treating perception as position.”

[5] Christopher J. Malloy, University of Dallas, reviewing Erich Przywara, Analogia Entis: Metaphysics: Original Structure and Universal Rhythm

[6] Plato, ‘Theaetetus’ 155d, “[W]onder is the only beginning of philosophy…”

[7]Aristotle, ‘Metaphysics’ 982b, “It is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophise…”

[8] Wesley C. Salmon, Four Decades of Scientific Explanation, 2006

[9] Alexander Pruss, The Principle of Sufficient Reason: A Reassessment (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy) 2010

[10]I should note that while the majority of philosophers in the Anglophone world are atheists (by one study, 62%), only a minority of philosophers specialize in the field known as Philosophy of Religion. Within this specialized field, however, a 2009 survey done by PhilPapers revealed that 72.3% were either theists or leaning towards theism.

While the Richard Swinburnes and Alvin Plantingas of the Anglophone world certainly seem to have won the day in terms of “philosophical celebrity” as theists, I would like to point out that there are a number of currently active classical theist philosophers who, though working mostly in obscurity, have published solid work on the subject. This list is by no means exhaustive:

・Brian Davies, Fordham University・Stephen R. L. Clarke, Univeristy of Liverpool・John Haldane, Baylor University/Royal Institute of Philosophy・Brian Leftow, Rutgers University・David Oderberg, University of Reading・Gyula Klima, Fordham University・Christopher Martin, University of Auckland・Eleonore Stump, University of St. Louis・Ed Feser, Pasadena City Community College・David Bentley Hart, Notre Dame・Rob Koons, University of Texas・Alexander Pruss, Baylor University・Thomas Weinandy, Dominican House of Studies・Robert Pasnau, University of Colorado, Boulder (Theist?)・Michael A. Augros, Thomas Aquinas College・Daniel Vecchio, Victor Valley College・John Knasas, University of St. Thomas, Houston・John P. Hittinger, University of St. Thomas, Houston・Bryan Cross, Mount Mercy University・Simon Oliver, University of Durham・James Dolezal, Cairn University・Gaven Kerr, Mary Immaculate College・Christopher F. J. Martin, University of St. Thomas・Thomas Joseph White,  Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas・John F. Wippel,  Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas・Anselm Ramelow, DSPT (Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology)