Interview: Drieu Godefridi

This is a new series we are launching – interviews with important thinkers of our time.

For our inaugural interview, we are very honored to have Dr. Drieu Godefridi. He obtained his PhD from the Sorbonne in philosophy, and he has written several important books on gender, the IPCC and environmentalism.

Dr. Godefridi’s books may be found here.

The Postil (TP): Welcome, Dr. Godefridi. Thank you for giving us this opportunity. To start, do you think the West is in crisis, where everything must be questioned so that it can be replaced by something “better?” Or, is it simply bad political management, in that we are in a period of kakistocracy?

Drieu Godefridi (DG): There is an element of risk in answering such a broad question. The West is more powerful than ever, its military might is peerless and its cultural impact is probably greater than ever. At the same time, the threats to this hegemony are evident — mass migration, economic stagnation in Europe, self-destructive totalitarian environmentalism — and a Left getting more and more extreme by the day.

TP: Why does the West still want to be “moral”, while also being aggressively atheistic (where science alone is the arbiter of truth)? Can this contradiction be easily resolved, or will it only produce chaos?

DG: I don’t see either the United States or Eastern Europe as being particularly “atheistic”. What you say is true only of Western Europe, and of the American Left. This is not “the West” as a whole; the Kulturkampf is still very much ongoing. As for the “morality” of Western Europe, for instance regarding foreign affairs, it leads nowhere, as Henry Kissinger predicted in his formidable book Diplomacy. After Brexit, I see the European Union — beyond its function as a common market — as condemned; it is now only a question of time. When Germany is unable to pour huge amounts of money into Eastern Europe anymore — which will soon come about, given the utter folly of the Energiewende, Germany’s energy transition to poverty — Eastern Europe will exit, too.

TP: The native populations of the West have constructed all kinds of myths about their own “evil” (white supremacy, colonialism, misandry, environmentalism, and now genderism). These are very powerful myths which now determine global intellectual and socio-political discourse. Where does this self-loathing come from? And how can we diminish its harmful impact?

DG: Myth and ideology are consubstantial with mankind. That aside, I see no commonality to those ideologies, for instance, you may think that colonialism was economically deleterious — as F.A. Hayek did — yet be radically opposed to the other ideologies you mention. Nevertheless, one thing they do have in common it is that they are false. To say that the West is “white supremacist” is grotesque and does not deserve serious consideration, no civilisation has taken in so many people from every race, continent, creed, religion and origin as has the West over the last 50 years. And genderism, basically the idea that sex is a cultural creation, not a biological reality, is a false theory with absurd consequences, particularly detrimental for women. As for environmentalism that is a very powerful and comprehensive ideology that is the subject of my latest essay.

TP: You have long defended Liberalism, while also refuting Libertarianism (or perhaps, “Rothbardianism”). Why is Libertarianism a failed project? And why is Liberalism still important?

DG: Capitalism is fundamental to the West and is the embodiment of freedom in economic affairs. I’m very much in favour of capitalism. Libertarianism as an apriorist theory that pretends to “derive” all rules of law and of morals from a single axiom —non-aggression— which seems to me a very simplistic contrivance. An anarchist political theory is a contradiction in terms.

TP: Is Croce correct in observing that liberalism has been replaced by “active libertarianism?” And is Croce also correct in calling “active libertarianism” a form of fascism?

DG: I do my utmost to avoid those words. The word ‘Liberalism’ had been employed, particularly in English, in so many different and irreconcilable ways, that even Joseph Schumpeter and Hayek were sceptical of its usefulness back in their day. It’s even more true nowadays. People in favour of infanticide — postnatal abortion — and euthanasia without consent or those viewing sex as a cultural creation are not libertarian, liberal or whatever: they are merely rationally and morally wrong. 

TP: You have also written about George Soros and his efforts to construct his own “empire.” This “Sorosian” imperialism has its roots in the ideas of Karl Popper (which is Marxism without Marx, in that the desire to change the world remains valid). But Soros is also a highly successful capitalist. How can “Sorosian” imperialism (making the West into an “Open Society”) be properly critiqued, while retaining the importance of capitalism?

DG: The political philosophy of Mr. Soros is international socialism with a heavy accent on “crony-capitalism” — he is himself the ultimate insider, and has been criminally convicted as such. Mr. Soros, who has invested $35 billion not in true philanthropy but in the promotion of his political ideas, must be seen as a sui generis phenomenon. You are right regarding its origins, for his foundation was named after the “open society” of Karl Popper. But in fact Soros is no Popperian at all. Popper was in favour of democracy; Soros is funding hundreds of extreme NGOs; some of which use violence and intend to abolish democracy in the name of Gaïa, Allah or whatever. Soros is no Popperian, he’s an international socialist who fancies himself as some kind of god. Popper defined himself as a liberal in the classic sense of the word, close to the philosophy of Hayek and the Founding Fathers of the Unites States.

TP: You have just written a very important book on the dangers of environmentalism, which we had the pleasure of reviewing. Why did you write this book?

DG: My goal is to show that the end result of the green ideology will be misery and the complete abolition of freedom. If human CO2 is the problem and we have to reduce it to zero —as stated by the IPCC, the EU, the UN and the American Left— there is no room left for freedom. Freedom = CO2. Whichever perspective we choose, be that theoretical or practical, contemporary environmentalism brings us back to this truism, this obvious truth: if human CO2 is the problem, then Man’s every activity, endeavor, action, and ambition is the problem.

TP: Why has environmentalism become the West’s new religion?

DG: People in Western Europe do not believe in God anymore so were ready for a new source of “meaning”. As Ayn Rand stated, real atheism is not for the weak. Most people try to find a substitute for God. Gaïa — the “All-Living” — is exactly that to the environmentalists.

TP: Freedom is disappearing very rapidly. Theoretically, freedom is a Western virtue. But in current Western socio-political policy, freedom has become a crime. Why this contradiction, and how can we overcome the emerging oppression?

DG: By winning the Kulturkampf. Cultural submission to the Left — the European way — is no solution. We must fight for freedom and defeat these extremists within the framework of the constitutional order — which is the American way, thanks to the ultimate fighter Donald J. Trump, probably the most important political figure of our time. You do not collaborate with the enemies of freedom: you fight them, you defeat them. There is no middle ground. We will not be subordinate to “Gaïa” — which is a concept devoid of meaning — nor material “equality” — which is a natural impossibility — we are the resistance; we are freedom fighters.

TP: Lastly, what do you think is the most important issue of our time? And why?

DG: Freedom is the most important issue of all time in the West because, from ancient Greece to today, it is the value on which our civilisation rests and is, at the same time, the driving force of our society. If you abolish freedom, you abolish the West as a distinct concept.

TP: Thank you so much for giving us this opportunity to share your valuable ideas with our readers.

DG: And I’d like to thank you for the recent appreciative review of my humble essay on the totalitarian essence of environmentalism.

The image shows, “Green Graveyard,” by the Brazilian artist, Benki Solal.

What Is God’s Image And Likeness?

“The internal counsels of the Blessed Trinity when He deigned to create man have been mercifully revealed to us in the book of Genesis: “Let us make man to our image and likeness” (1:26).

This passage, frequently cited, is not widely understood. In what way may it be said that man is in God’s image and likeness? Is this likeness to God natural or supernatural? What is the purpose of man being so made?

The questions are worth pondering because they touch directly upon man’s origins, his nature, and his ultimate purpose.

In Question 93 of Part I of the Summa Theologiae, Saint Thomas Aquinas considers “the end or term of the production of man” in nine articles. What I propose to do in this Ad Rem is, first, to give a truncated summary of all nine articles, with the help of Father Paul Glenn, whose work I have used with my own embellishments; second, I purpose to dwell in more detail on some select points Saint Thomas makes regarding the nature and purpose of the divine image in man.

Here are each of the articles as Saint Thomas posits them, with a summary of what he says under each heading:

1. Whether the image of God is in man? YES. An image is a kind of copy of its prototype. Unless the image is in every way perfect, it is not the equal of its prototype. Finite man cannot be a perfect image of the infinite God. Man is therefore an imperfect image of God.

2. Whether the image of God is to be found in irrational creatures? NO. Of earthly creatures, only man has a true likeness to God; other creatures have a trace or vestige of God rather than an image.

3. Whether the angels are more to the image of God than man is? The angels are more perfect in their intellectual nature than man is, and, therefore bear a more perfect image of God than man does. In some respects, however, man is more like to God than angels are. For man proceeds from man, as God (in the mysterious proceeding of the divine Persons) proceeds from God; whereas angels do not proceed from angels. Also, the manner of the human soul’s presence in the body has a likeness to God’s presence in the universe. But these human resemblances lacking in angels are only accidental qualities. Substantially, angels bear a more perfect image of God than man does.

4. Whether the image of God is found in every man? YES. There are three ways that man is in the image of God (which will be considered below).

5. Whether the image of God is in man according to the Trinity of Persons? YES. The divine image in man reflects God in Unity and also in Trinity. In creating man, God said (Gen. 1:26): “Let us make man to our own image and likeness.”

6. Whether the image of God is in man as regards the mind only? YES. The image of God in Trinity appears in man’s intellect and will and their interaction. In God, the Father begets the Word; the Father and the Word spirate the Holy Ghost. In man, the intellect begets the word or concept; the intellect with its word wins the recognition or love of the will. God’s image is not in the body, where there are only to be found “traces” or “vestiges” of God (just as in brute creation), by virtue of God’s being the cause of man’s body.

7. Whether the image of God is to be found in the acts of the soul? YES. The image of the Trinity is found in the acts of the soul. In a secondary way, this image is found in the faculties of the soul, and in the habits which render the faculties apt and facile in operation.

8. Whether the image of the Divine Trinity is in the soul only by comparison with God as its object? YES. The image of God is in the soul, not simply because the soul can know and love itself or other created things, but because it can know and love God. And the divine image is found in the soul because the soul turns to God, or, at any rate, has a nature that enables it to turn to God. (More on this below.)

9. Whether “likeness” is properly distinguished from “image”? YES. The image of God is discerned in the acts and faculties and habits of the soul. The likeness of God is either a quality of this image, or it is the state of the soul as spiritual, not subject to decay or dissolution.

Essential to the notion of an image is “that it is copied from something else.” Every image is a likeness, but not every likeness is an image. Saint Thomas gives the example of two eggs being like each other, but the one is not the image of the other, because it is not copied from it.

For a copy to be an image of the original, it need not be equal to it; for instance, the reflection of a man in a glass, which is an image, is not equal to the man himself. Because the only-begotten Son of God — “who is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15) — is the only image that actually equals God, He is a perfect image of God, whereas each man is an imperfect image of God. Of the only-begotten Son of God, it may be said that he is the image of God simply; of man it may be said that he was made “to the image of God,” says Saint Thomas, because, “‘to’ signifies a certain approach, as of something at a distance.”

Saint Thomas follows Augustine in saying that “image” and “likeness” are not identical. Certain passages in the writings of Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, of Saint John Damascene, and of Peter Lombard could lead us to interpret the word “image” to mean man’s nature as a rational, free-willed creature, and “likeness” as a closer resemblance to God by grace. This is not exactly how Saint Thomas views the question.

For him, “likeness” signifies two distinct things, one lower, the other higher. First, a likeness is a “preamble” to image inasmuch as it is “more general than image”; but, in a higher way, a likeness is a “perfection” of the image. (It is to get ahead of ourselves, but “likeness” in this higher sense as a perfection of the image admits of degrees:

Mary is more like God than the great Saints; those higher in heaven are more “God-like” than those lower; and on earth, the members of the Church Militant in a higher degree of grace and charity are more divinized or “like God” than their less perfect brethren.)

There are three ways that man is in God’s image. Saint Thomas’ explanation of this is clear and easy to understand:

“Since man is said to be the image of God by reason of his intellectual nature, he is the most perfectly like God according to that in which he can best imitate God in his intellectual nature. Now the intellectual nature imitates God chiefly in this, that God understands and loves Himself. Wherefore we see that the image of God is in man in three ways.

“First, inasmuch as man possesses a natural aptitude for understanding and loving God; and this aptitude consists in the very nature of the mind, which is common to all men.

“Secondly, inasmuch as man actually and habitually knows and loves God, though imperfectly; and this image consists in the conformity of grace.

Thirdly, inasmuch as man knows and loves God perfectly; and this image consists in the likeness of glory. Wherefore on the words, “The light of Thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us” (Psalm 4:7), the gloss distinguishes a threefold image of “creation,” of “re-creation,” and of “likeness.” The first is found in all men, the second only in the just, the third only in the blessed.”

The image of God in man is not merely the image of the divine nature or the image of one or other of the divine Persons, but it is specifically the image of the Trinity. The proofs for this that Saint Thomas offers are a very theological and would take too much space even to summarize here. But Thomas’ explanation of how man images the Trinity is within our grasp. He bases himself on the doctrine of the Trinitarian processions he has already developed:

“As the uncreated Trinity is distinguished by the procession of the Word from the Speaker [the Father], and of Love [the Holy Ghost] from both of these, as we have seen…; so we may say that in rational creatures wherein we find a procession of the word in the intellect, and a procession of the love in the will, there exists an image of the uncreated Trinity.…”

The question Saint Thomas asks in article eight (“Whether the image of the Divine Trinity is in the soul only by comparison with God as its object?”) is difficult to grasp, but worth considering for its richness and how it perfectly corresponds to Saint Thomas’ teaching on grace. Indeed, it is a prelude to that beautiful doctrine.

I will try to simplify the article.

God knows Himself and loves Himself, and thence originate the Trinity of Persons. Is man in God’s image because he can, like God, know himself and love himself, or is he is God’s image because he can know and love God? The ability to know and love himself would make man like God is some way, as he would resemble God’s abilities to know and love.

But, this would not make man attain a “representation of the species,” i.e., a resemblance to the form or mental idea of God, which is required for man to be in the “image” of God. “Wherefore we need to seek in the image of the Divine Trinity in the soul some kind of representation of species [i.e., mental concept, form, or idea] of the Divine Persons, so far as this is possible to a creature. … Thus the image of God is found in the soul according as the soul turns to God, or possesses a nature that enables it to turn to God.”

Hard to understand, I know, especially if the reader is not familiar with the scholastic concept of species. The argument is Saint Thomas’ attempt at explaining why Saint Augustine said, “The image of God exists in the mind, not because it has a remembrance of itself, loves itself, and understands itself; but because it can also remember, understand, and love God by Whom it was made.”

What this implies is that, even in God’s very creation of man in His own (Trinitarian) image and likeness, God orients man toward Himself as the end of our knowledge and love.

By nature, we have the capacity to know and love God as He is naturally knowable, but, with grace and the infused theological virtues, we can know and love God supernaturally, as He has revealed Himself. We can thereby merit, and the reward of that merit is the consummation of our knowledge and love of God in Heaven.

Thus man’s final cause, or purpose – of which the philosophers say that it is “the first [cause] in intention and the last in execution” – was placed in him when he was created, being made to God’s own image and likeness.

Brother André Marie is Prior of St. Benedict Center, an apostolate of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Richmond New Hampshire. He does a weekly Internet Radio show, Reconquest, which airs on the Veritas Radio Network’s Crusade Channel.

The photo shows, “God the Father on a throne, with Virgin Mary and Jesus,” ca. 15th-century, anonymous.

The Trinity: A History

When the first Sunday of Advent comes and the new liturgical year begins, the Church once again relives the Mysteries of Christ for a whole year. She also summarizes all of history, from Creation to the end of time. The four Sundays of Advent symbolizing the four thousand years of the Old Testament (if we rely on the Vulgate, not the Septuagint), we are, as it were, mystically transported back to the time before the Incarnation of the Man-God. It is opportune, then, to dwell during this time on the Law of types and figures to see New-Testament realities hidden in it.

Saint Augustine has it that novum testamentum in vetere latet. Vetus testamentum in novo patet — “the New Testament is hidden in the Old. The Old Testament is revealed in the New” (see reference information here and here). This canon of interpretation is a standard part of the Catholic approach to the Bible. Let us look, then, for the Blessed Trinity “hidden” in the Old Testament.

We begin at the beginning, Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created heaven, and earth.” The Hebrew for “God created” is bara Elohim, which has the linguistic peculiarity of a plural noun followed by a singular verb, something which actually does not violate the grammatical rules of Hebrew.

The particular kind of plural here used means three or more, (there is, in Hebrew, a plural that indicates only two). A conventional way of dismissing the trinitarian interpretation of this name for God is to say that it is a plurality “of majesty,” much as the queen or the pope might say “we” instead of the first person singular.

This, of course, is not how Christian exegetes classically understood such passages. See, for instance, Saint Lawrence of Brindisi, a man learned enough in Hebrew to preach in it:

“Therefore, since Moses, inspired by the Holy Ghost, wrote bara Elohim, literally, ‘the gods, he-created’ (a plural subject with a singular verb), without doubt we understand the sense of these words: he means plurality of divine Persons in the word Elohim and the unity of essence in the singular verb, ‘he-created.’ That is to say, three divine Persons are not three gods, but one God” (Explicatio in Genesim, Ch. 1).

Nobody, of course, says that this passages proves that there is one God in three divine Persons. That would be a reach. But it does foreshadow what the New Testament later reveals clearly when it indicates a plurality of Persons in the Godhead.

We can say the same about two other passages in Genesis where the so-called “plural of majesty” is found: “And he said: Let us make man to our image and likeness…” (Gen. 1:26), and “Come ye, therefore, let us go down, and there confound their tongue, that they may not understand one another’s speech” (Gen. 11:7). The first is the divine utterance preceding the creation of Adam, while the second concerns the builders of the Tower of Babel.

God created man in His own image, in the image of God. He was not speaking to the angels, in whose image man was not created, but to Himself in Gen. 1:26. In both Latin and English, we have a plural hortatory subjunctive verb, “Let us make…” in verse 26, followed in the next verse by the singular indicative verb, “God created.” This is substantially the same in the language of inspiration: see an interlinear translation of the Hebrew — v. 26 and v. 27 — for proof.

In confounding the tongues at Babel, there is a similar structure: in Genesis 11:7, the two verbs for “let us go down and confound…” are plural, while the subsequent verse eight has a singular verb for “the Lord [Yahweh] scattered….”

In both cases, Moses was privileged to know — and we to read — the internal counsels of God, speaking in a plurality of Persons.

Remaining in Genesis for one more account, we turn to Chapters eighteen and nineteen, where Moses relates the interaction of the three angels with Abraham and then with Lot. This is the account that terminates in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The whole thing is quite mystical, for Genesis alternately calls these three persons “men” and “angels” — as do the Gospels, by the way, concerning the angels who appeared to the women after the Resurrection. More mysterious is that these three angels show up just after Genesis eighteen mentions that “Yahweh” appeared to Abraham, of whose appearance nothing else is said, unless we assume that the appearance of the three angels is the appearance of Yahweh. Moreover, Abraham “adored down to the ground. And he said: Lord [Adonai], if I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away from thy servant” (Gen. 18:2-3).

If these angels did not stand in the place of God, such an act would be a shocking violation of the Old Testament’s strict monotheism. By comparison, when Saint John bowed down to the feet of an angel (Apoc. 22:8-9), the angel stayed him, and forbidding that he should receive such honors: “See thou do it not: for I am thy fellow servant… Adore God.” But the angels who received similar honors from Abraham made no such remonstration, probably because they were standing in the Person(s) of God.

Saint Augustine interpreted this passage in a Trinitarian sense in book two of his On the Trinity(see here for a brief but interesting discussion of this passage). According to Monsignor Pohle, Saint Augustine was of the opinion that the three angels of Genesis eighteen were just that, angels, not actually God Himself, but their mission was such that the words they spoke were understood to be the words of God; they were, in other words, standing in God’s place. This opinion was shared by Saints Athanasius, Basil, Cyril of Alexandria, Chrysostom, Jerome, Gregory the Great, and others. This “standing in the place of” would help us to make sense out of the Angel’s willingness to allow Abraham to “adore down to the ground”: the adoration was going to the three divine Persons whom they were visibly manifesting.

As can be seen from the list in the last paragraph, it is not only Western but also Eastern Fathers who read this episode as a Trinitarian theophany. One of Christian Russia’s most celebrated icons, the Trinity, by Andrei Rublev, is a depiction of Abraham’s hospitality to these three angels, but with a clear Trinitarian interpretation.

Still remaining in the Pentateuch, we come to the Book of Numbers 6:24-27. This is the blessing that God instructed Moses to teach to Aaron and his priestly sons: “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee. The Lord shew his face to thee, and have mercy on thee. The Lord turn his countenance to thee, and give thee peace.” The blessing is threefold, leading many Christian commentators to see in it the Holy Trinity. Notice that the “face” the Levitical priest wishes God to show us is the second of the three: it is the Holy Face of Jesus! For a brief explanation of this blessing by an exegete who is apparently not a Catholic, see this YouTube video.

Many Franciscan priests will use this formula of Numbers six to bless people. The story of how this blessing came to be known as “the blessing of Saint Francis” is edifying.

We pass now to the Prophesy of Isaias, chapter six, which gives us the Sanctus in our Holy Mass. Here is what Monsignor Joseph Pohle says on it in his text on the Trinity (pg. 12):

“The clearest allusion to the mystery of the Blessed Trinity in the Old Testament is probably the so-called Trisagion [“thrice holy”] of Isaias (VI, 3): “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God of Hosts, all the earth is full of his glory,” which is rightly made much of by many Fathers and not a few theologians. This triple “Holy” [uttered by the seraphim, the highest angelic choir] refers to an ecstatic vision of the Godhead, by which Isaias was solemnly called and consecrated as the Prophet of the Incarnate Word, an office which won for him the title of the “Evangelist” among the four major prophets.”

The Hebrew word for “holy” is Kadosh (or qā-ḏō-wōš). Regarding the tripling of the word, some authors claim that there is no regular way of forming the comparative and superlative degrees of the adjective in Hebrew, and that this triple utterance of the adjective is an effort at the superlative. I’ve seen this contested by others, who say that the tripling of the adjective is merely an “intensifier.” I will let the Hebrew specialists fight it out; either way — whether constrained by the conventions of Hebrew usage or the desire to be “intense” — the Holy Isaias taught us that God is not simply “holy,” but “Holy, holy, holy”; and the Church has seen in this sublime utterance of the seraphim a foreshadowing of the full revelation of the Trinity.

In another indication of plurality in the Godhead, the same Isaias also presents the future Messias as God. Here are some of his descriptions of Christ to come: “the Wonderful, the Counsellor, the Prince of Peace… God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come” (Is. 9:6, cf. Luke 1:32); “Emmanuel,” literally, “God with us” (Is. 7:14, cf. Matt. 1:23); “God himself will come and will save you” (Is. 35:4; cf. Matt. 9:5); “Prepare ye the way of the Lord… . Behold, the Lord God shall come with strength” (Is. 40:3, 10; cf. Mark 1:3).

Of the Messianic Psalms, I will select only two passages: “The Lord hath said to me: Thou art my son, this day I have begotten thee” (Ps. 2:7) and “The Lord said to my Lord: Sit thou at my right hand . . . from the womb before the day star I begot thee” (Ps. 109 [110]:1-3). Here, the Messias is shown to be the Son of God. Moreover, He is “my [David’s] Lord,” who is at the same time the Son of “the Lord”; He is, in other words, both Son of God and God. During His public life, Our Lord confounded the Pharisees with the mystery hidden in Psalm 109 (cf. Matt. 22:41-46). If they had had good will, His enemies would have asked Him to explain the passage, which was perfectly fulfilled in Himself, but they held their tongues. Concerning Our Lord’s enemies, Saint Augustine pointed out that the unbelieving Jews of His day understood more of Christ’s claims than the Arians did, for the unbelievers understood Him to call Himself God simply because he called God His Father (cf. Jn. 5:18, and Jn. 10:33; note that Jesus did not deny the accusation), whereas the heretics missed that point, and denied Him divine honors. All of this shows a plurality of persons in the Godhead, at least as concerns the Father and the Son.

One last strain of Old-Testament prophesies that show the plurality of persons in God comes to us from the Wisdom Books. To keep this Ad Rem from getting too long, I will refer the reader to Monsignor Pohle’s page sixteen and following: “The Teaching of the Sapiential Books”.

Those who would like to read more of our offerings on this tremendous Mystery are invited to view a small catalogue of them on Catholicism.org.

The Mystery of the Holy Trinity is a “pure Mystery” or an “absolute Mystery,” meaning both that we have no way of knowing it without the benefit of supernatural revelation, and that we cannot comprehend it fully. Because It is such a Mystery — indeed, it is the greatest of our Mysteries — we cannot know everything about It, but we can know what God has taught us through the Church. And that is both true and sufficient for us to adore the Three:

“Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen!”

Brother André Marie is Prior of St. Benedict Center, an apostolate of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Richmond New Hampshire. He does a weekly Internet Radio show, Reconquest, which airs on the Veritas Radio Network’s Crusade Channel.

The photo shows, “The Holy Trinity,” by Luca Rossetti da Orta, fresco, 1738-9, St. Gaudenzio Church at Ivrea (Torino).

The Reach Of Philosophy

Can we imagine knowing anything much about the world without the microscope and the telescope? Our knowledge of the world around us has become so much dependent upon such instruments of science, becoming more and more sophisticated and “technical” in their use, that without them we appear to be as children or naifs if we try to explain things without relying upon those who are expert in their use.

Yet it is easily forgotten that these are relatively recent inventions in the long course of the history of human knowledge and science. It is important to appreciate that such artificial aids to our understanding need to be used with discretion.

Marvelous as they are, we can become overawed by their power. We ought from time to time to put them aside and look at the world with our own natural eyesight. That is to say we should not forgo our common sense and the philosophy of life that we are able to build upon this natural basis of all knowledge. Almost without our realizing it, the possession of these powerful instruments of modern science has changed the “focus” of the eyes of our understanding.

We need to be careful that these magnifying glasses do not in fact narrow our focus instead of enlarge it; that they do not direct our attention away from the real world rather than towards it, according to the warning contained in the celebrated French saying: ce que l’on voit se cache ce que l’on ne voit pas; “that which one sees hides that which one does not see”.

Such an artificial concentration of attention can mean that we miss seeing much that is nearby, and otherwise obvious, to ordinary eyesight. The astronomers, for instance, tell us there is no evidence of God in the outer reaches of the Universe; the bio-chemists tell us that there is no evidence of an invisible principle of life in the innermost parts of the human body and endeavour to explain its vitality without recourse to any soul.

Yet these intangibles are conclusions of the natural and superior wisdom of the sages of mankind, such as Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, and are almost universally recognised, if indistinctly, by people of ordinary common sense. One has only to refer to the common language of all peoples to see this is so.

John Young has done us a great service by reminding us of the real world around us, which we have almost forgotten about because we have come to neglect “old” Philosophy in our admiration for the latest science. For there is much, indeed in a real sense everything, within the Scope of Philosophy.

The title is significant. We do not need a telescope to see a distant God; the Supreme Being, as a conclusion of reason, is within the scope of philosophy. We do not need a microscope to observe the soul; it is within the scope of natural philosophy as known to Aristotle, no mean example of human intelligence (il maestro di color che sanno; “the master of those who know”. Inferno 4, 131).

It is of course an ambitious project, to deal with the scope of philosophy within 340 pages. Indeed, it can only be an introduction, but it is a necessary re-introduction for many of us. The author’s plan is a good one. A brief survey of the history of philosophy is a good way to start, dealt with by a degree of familiarity with the subjects and a clarity of exposition that will satisfy I believe both expert and general reader.

Then follows a comparison of philosophy with other kinds of knowledge; beginning with common sense knowledge, the important connection with which is sadly overlooked in many other books on philosophy. He includes here, of course, the much-vexed matter of the relation of philosophy to science as understood today.

Necessarily, this can only be touched upon in a short overview. Finally, he mentions the relation of philosophy to Sacred Theology. As an evident admirer of St. Thomas he brings out well the intimate connection but clear distinction between these two.

As a concession to the somewhat excessive concentration in modern philosophy upon knowledge as such, rather than starting with the study of reality as obviously known, the author deals next with the nature of knowledge, devoting three chapters to it, treating first of knowledge in general, then of sense knowledge and intellectual knowledge.

This I believe is a good strategy. For, unfortunately, the main difficulty today with studying Philosophy is the underlying skepticism that seeks to undermine our confidence in human reason. Following upon this is a chapter with a critique of various schools of modern and contemporary philosophy. This fits appropriately after the discussion of knowledge.

Then there is a chapter on human nature which also appropriately follows the treatment of human knowledge. Within the confines of such a short treatment many issues have to be dealt with rather perfunctorily. Some “technical” terms of Thomistic philosophy may cause some difficulty.

But, overall, the author succeeds to maintain a clear and coherent presentation. One of the virtues of this author is his ability to present concepts and principles in an easy to understand manner. A chapter outlining the classification of the various parts of philosophy follows.

This makes use of St. Thomas’s classification of theoretical sciences in his commentary on Boethius’s De Trinitate, of which there is a translation in English under the title The Division and Methods of the Sciences.

To this he adds the division of the practical sciences. It is the traditional Aristotelian division. The terminology may prove a bit off-putting to some, but the author generally explains it clearly and simply. As to the content of the division one might quibble here and there about details but it gives a good overview.

I would have liked a bit more to have been said about the rational art of Dialectic as defined by Aristotle and its relation to Logic. Omitting it leaves Logic a bit stark on the philosophical landscape. Aristotle in fact includes Logic in a whole complex of rational arts. The remaining chapters deal with “some questions in philosophy”.

It is a good sample of the more principal parts of philosophy, including Metaphysics, Ethics and “Poetics”. This last one concerns the philosophy of the fine and useful arts (though he treats almost exclusively of the fine arts). It ought not to be confused with “Poietics” as used by Aristotle, which is concerned with the literary arts such as drama and poetry.

Finally, there is a chapter on the importance of philosophy, perhaps something that ought to have been placed at the beginning. But there can be no doubting that John Young has produced a book that is of the utmost importance to our time. There is no more crying need today than a return to reason in the ordinary sense of looking at the world with our own eyes and reasoning things out.

The value of the telescope and the microscope is not to be denied. But they have not necessarily extended the scope of our understanding; rather have they helped to fill in the details of what lies beyond the ordinary range of our senses. Philosophy is a universal kind of knowledge, founded on our common knowledge of things, on experience available to all.

Science, especially modern science, tends more and more to be a series of specialisms, in many respects the preserve of a few in whom the rest of us must put our trust. An increase in specialized knowledge does not, or should not, change our common sense grasp of things and our basic philosophy of life.

Unfortunately, the modern philosophical fashion of ignoring the obvious and promoting a radical skepticism has encouraged many to endeavor to reconstruct reality upon speculative theories, purportedly based on the findings of highly specialized sciences, that fly in the face of common sense.

John Young’s book, hopefully, will show up the spuriousness of this “scientific” vision of the world. It will certainly prove to be a tonic for those wanting to see a restoration of a sane philosophy to its rightful place in the culture and educational institutions of our society.

Don Boland is a lecturer at the Centre for Thomistic Studies, in Sydney, Australia.

The photo shows, “Lady Philosophy offers Boethius wings so his mind can fly aloft.” The French School (15th Century).

What Is Free Will?

The act of the will is much less known to us than the act of the intellect. However, it is not impossible for the human intellect to prove the freedom of the will basing this proof on the root of freedom which is understood good.

The will is the appetitive power of the intellect, so that before any act of the will can take place, there must be an act of intellect preceding it; for the will is not a knower, it is a ‘goer’. It goes towards what the intellect presents to it as good and appetible and away from what is presented to it by the intellect as being non-appetible.

The problem about free will is this: as said above, the will is subordinated to the intellect, its acts must be about what the intellect presents to it. But the intellect is not free, it is tied to evidence. Consequently, it seems, that the will is not free either.

One could go no further and decide that the will is not free since it is under compulsion to follow the intellect. But the difficulty is this; we are quite conscious that the will is free. This is very obvious from the way we act: for we are conscious when we do something that we need not have done it, that we could have acted in another way; besides, we have laws, and laws pre-suppose that we are free; we have such things as rewards and punishments. Sometimes we praise people and at other times we blame them; all these things point to the fact that the will is free.

The solution of this problem must consist in reconciling these two truths, (a) that the will is an intellectual appetite and must follow intellect and (b) that the will is free to choose this or that or to act or not to act; for no problem is solved by denying either of the terms, for to deny either of them would be to suppress the problem.

The freedom of the will is exercised in the act of choice or election which follows and is subordinated to the act of intellect which is called the practico-practical judgment.

At this point it will be a great help to us to have a good look at these two acts. Here we are considering both these acts as they are about some particular good which of necessity is a limited or a mixed good, mixed, because it is made up of act and potency; for as we see in other places, the will is not free about a pure good or good in common or universal good.

Since the will is an appetite for understood good, and not ‘this good’, by its nature it has to appetise what seems to it to be absolutely good with no admixture of evil. Regarding a mixed good the will is together able and unable to will it. It follows then that when the intellect understands something to be somewise good and somewise not good, the will is indifferent to will it or not to will it.

Still in order to do the elective act, the will must make a choice between one particular good and another, or a choice to act or not to act. But for the will to pass from a position where it is indifferent to act or not to act, or to choose one thing rather than another, and to arrive at a determinate choice there has to be an act of intellect which makes it possible for the will to come to a decision, that is, the will cannot move from indetermination to determination by itself without the intellect intervening, for that would imply contradiction, since to be able to choose and not to be able to choose are contradictories.

In other words, the will follows the practico-practical judgment which is about a paticular good which the will may or may not go for since every particular good has in it a reason to be loved by the will and a reason for the will not to love it.

If the will is going to make a choice it must follow a judgment by the intellect presenting the thing to it as completely good and as completely befitting it. This means that for the will to will the particular good there must occur a change in the practico-practical judgment, so that this change must be caused either by the particular good itself, or by the will, for if two things are not in agreement, they can be brought to agree only by changing one or the other.

Since the particular good remains the same, the change must occur in the will so that the intellect can be presented with a new object by the practico-practical judgment and make a decision about the particular thing in question.

But, the intellect can judge that the particular thing befits the will only if new evidence arises. This evidence can only come from the will itself since, as said above, the particular thing remains unchanged, so it must be from the will acquiring a new reality within it, that is a new order of befittingness towards that particular thing, so that the will has itself towards that thing, as from its nature, it has itself towards universal good.

This order of befittingness or coaptation of the will for the thing makes it possible for the intellect to judge that the particular thing it is considering, is that which perfectly suits the will here and now, because now the intellect is looking not at the will alone but at the will together with its dispositions, (a new object). Then, this new judgment by the practico-practical intellect becomes the form according to which the will makes its choice. It is about this new judgment by the practico-practical judgment that Aristotle said “of what sort each one is, such is the end that to him seems good.” In other words we judge as we are disposed.

It follows from this that it is the will itself that causes (efficiently) and determines (objectively) the very form accordiing to which it acts and that it does this not from necessity, since from its nature the will is indifferent to appetise this or that particular good.

But, the question may be asked, how does the will effect this change in itself? The answer is that it does this by using the new judgment put before it by the intellect for this new judgment is the potential mover of the will. It uses it as a man uses a crutch; the crutch moves the man and the man moves it.

Let us recall here two principles: the principle that causes are causes to each other in diverse order of cause. This principle is the key to the problem of free will. (Causation and cause are simultaneous in duration; the priority of the cause is only an ontological priority). The principle of Denis is that every perfection loved, inclines the will towards it. St. Thomas says in Con. Gent. IV, a 19, “the loved is in the will as inclining and in a certain manner intrinsically compelling the living (subject) towards the very thing loved.” It is in this way that the loved is in the lover.

Just as in understanding, something is produced in the intellect, namely a concept, wherein the thing is known and the concept is specified by the known thing—which is the object—so in the will when it loves something, a certain inclination or love or weightedness arises in it, which inclination or coaptation inclines it towards the beloved;.

By this coaptation, which arises in the will, the will is changed and consequently it presents a new object to the intellect. This makes the intellect judge that the thing is perfectly suited to the will and makes it possible for the will to will it. But what makes the will inclined towards the thing in the first place is a certain connaturality of the will with the thing, a certain inclination towards it (there is a certain mystery here). This inclination in the will is a physical reality, specified by the loved thing which makes the beloved present to the will.

It is the will itself that is the efficient cause of its weightedness, it makes itself love by loving. It is by loving that the will produces in itself its lopsidedness towards the loved. John does not love Mary until his love has produced that lopsidedness. So John’s love for Mary is determined by his dispositions.

So it is that the weighted will presents new evidence to the practico-practical judgement which unlike the speculativo-practical judgment (which merely judges that something is good), judges the good thing in relation to the will as it is affected by its weightedness (i.e. by its dispositions.)

The will can will one thing in preference to another only if, by itself, it adjusts itself to it. In this way the will turns an indifferent form into a determinate form (i.e. a ‘can-move’ into a ‘does move’) i.e. uses the practico-practical judgment to make its choice.

In two orders of causality the practico-practical judgment goes before the act of choice, and in two orders of causality the choice goes before the practico-practical judgment. This reciprocity of causes is what is peculiar to the free act, it is found only in the free act. This interaction between the two acts has to be explained.

The two causalities exercised by the intellect on the will are: objective causality and final causality. The intellect from itself has no efficient causality. It has only extrinsic formal causality, that is, specific causality, by doing that it provides the will with final causality. By the particular object presented by the intellect to the will is specified the nature of the quality weighting the will towards this object.

The will exercises only one act by which it has two influences on the intellect; a) objective causality and b) efficient causality. This act is formally one, but virtually two (causations). As it is efficient it explains the ‘be’ of the practico-practical judgment in the intellect, as it is objective it explains the ‘be-such’ of the practico-practical judgment.

The two causalities the will exercises on the intellect are: Efficient (bends the intellect down from considering good simply to considering a particular good) and Objective causality (provides the intellect with an evident reality which it can judge.) So it is the will that provides the intellect with a new object and also moves it efficiently to make the judgment about this new object.

Therefore, it is the will that picks the form according to which it acts. But to pick the form is to pick the ‘be’ and to pick the ‘be’ is to pick the ‘do’. But to pick one’s do is to be free. Therefore the will is free.

It remains to explain that the loved is in the lover in a different fashion from which the known is in the knower. For the will is not loving the thing as it is something in it, but as it is out in the real, whereas the concept is that wherein the thing is known. “Good and bad are in things but true and false are in mind”.

Although it is true to say that the known is in the knower and the loved is in the lover, it must be realised that the intentionality of the intellect is vastly different from the intentionality of the will; for whereas knowledge is terminated at the word as it is in the intellect, in such fashion that the intellect reposes in it, the loved existing intentionally in the will is there as an impulse whereby the will is weighted and inclined towards the thing outside, although it is vitally elicited by the will for “insofar does it weight the will, insofar as it is voluntary and not from without, for the will is inclined only voluntarily” John of St. Thomas Curs. Theol. IV ed vives 927 disp. 12, a. 7, n XII.

It all comes from the will and all from the object but from the object as the specificative and from the will as the efficient cause.

All particular goods are equally unfit to move the will because all of them are infinitely deficient from being a universal good.

Therefore, if the will prefers one particular good to another, it is not necessitated by the object of the intellect (because the intellect is tied to evidence and does not move the will efficiently), but because it chooses to do so.

Therefore, the will is free since it is not under necessity to will what it wills – neither by necessity of nature not by necessity of instinct. It follows that the will can’t will a particular good unless it wills it freely, it is the cause of its own loves. So the two terms of the problem, are solved. The will is subordinated to the intellect, but nevertheless it is free, since it has dominative indifference over its acts.

This proof is reduced to the fundamental doctrine of act and potency since it is because there is potency in things that the will is free about them.

Alice Nelson is a lecturer at the Centre for Thomistic Studies, in Sydney, Australia.

The photo shows, “Echo,” by Ellen Thesleff, painted in 1891.

Having And Wanting More

Addictions are strange things. I have a friend who says that the problem with alcohol is that there “simply isn’t enough.” Non-addicts frequently misunderstand. I once heard someone say to an addict, “When you decided to go down that road…” There is very little decision within an addiction. The disease of addiction itself does the choosing. The person involved often watches helplessly as they go through the motions of yet another round, watching everything head in a direction over which they feel powerless.

First the man takes a drink.
Then the drink takes a drink.
Then the drink takes the man.

This is easily described in terms of alcohol and drugs. However, I believe we are a culture of addicts. Those on drugs and alcohol are simply lucky enough to be able to see their addiction more clearly.

Within the list of sins that come up in the Scriptures, “drunkenness” has its honorable mentions. However, there is a deeper addiction, far more pervasive, that plays a greater role, both in Scripture and in our own lives: greed. This little English word seems rather quaint. It sounds like something that belongs in a Dickens novel. Indeed, it is so removed from our working moral vocabulary that it can be proclaimed (without blushing), “Greed is good.” Greek has a much richer term: pleonexia. It means “the desire to have more.” And that definition suggests a much larger and pervasive problem indeed.

“To have more” lies at the heart of modern civilization. Wealth and prosperity at ever-increasing levels are held as promises to be desired. We often measure our economies by growth rather than any measure of well-being. Greed for us means nothing more than wanting too much. We fail, however, to challenge the wanting itself.

I am not concerned with economic theory here, except in the relations that can be called the “spirituality” of the culture. If there is a spirituality of consumerism, it is best described as pleonexia, greed. It is what drives consumers. It is sadly true that if greed were to cease tomorrow, the world as we know it would collapse. We have no inherent control on greed other than the limits of our credit cards.

If our desire to have more is to be maintained at its required level, we ourselves are required to believe in it and to agree to participate in it. And here our addiction comes to the fore. We not only desire to have more, we often find ourselves powerless to desire less. “Buyer’s remorse” is not a fiction – it is the consumer’s version of a hangover.

If the desire to have more were limited to material goods, it would, perhaps, be but a bothersome thing. However, the disease of pleonexia is spiritual and infects the whole of our lives. Pleonexia is not a disease that can be isolated to a single area of our lives. We want more of everything: more things, more sex, more food, more entertainment, ad infinitum.

In the Kingdom of God, self-emptying is the principle of true existence (cf. Phil 2:5-11). And so we find ourselves enthralled by a spiritual principle of the deepest irony: we crave more which draws us further and further away from our very being. The more we gain, the less we exist.

“What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?” This saying of Christ is daily being fulfilled in the course of our lives. It is worth noting that the great writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn rediscovered his faith when he was in the Gulag prison system of the Soviet Union. Strangely, the emptiness of that bleak existence became a treasure for him. When he was first released into external exile, he managed to find a small shack in which to live. He had no money to furnish it. He found a couple of boxes to serve for a bed. When his circumstances later improved and he gained an apartment, he took the boxes with him for his bed. He feared the road of pleonexia and treasured the spiritual freedom he had found in poverty.

The Orthodox way of life purposefully asks us to renounce the spirit of Mammon. We fast, we practice generosity – and we do so as a way of life. We were not created for acquisition. Our life is found in the Cross. The Cross is both the place Christ accomplished our salvation, as well as the way of salvation itself. It is the wisdom as well as the power of God. The wisdom of the Cross is the self-emptying of Christ. This self-emptying is not anti-life, but the actual mode of true-existence. “Whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Mat 16:25)

There are many who concern themselves greatly about how a nation’s economy works (just post an economic thought on Facebook and watch the traffic). Most of our thoughts are generated by the same consumer/political/information conglomerates who press us towards consumption in the first place. For the time being, Christians should satisfy themselves that their own renunciation of consumerism will not bring the entire economy to a halt. But if we refuse to turn away from the manifold forms of pleonexia, then the whole of our soul will be in danger.

Thinking about the spirituality of pleonexia, we do well to examine the whole of our lives. Our desire to have more drives others away from us, or places them in the position of begrudging competitors. They interfere with my time, my plans, my interests, my pleasure, etc.

For Christ’s sake, lose your life. Why should you keep trying to gain the world?

Father Stephen Freeman is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, serving as Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.

The photo shows, “Girl With a Basket in a Garden” by Daniel Ridgway Knight.

True Beauty

Converts are drawn to the Catholic Church for many different reasons: her historical credentials, the clear moral witness of pro-life Catholics, reasons of doctrine and truth, etc.

Some, particularly former high church Anglicans, have spoken occasionally of being impelled by conscience to convert despite the vast doctrinal confusion and liturgical ugliness they found in certain Catholic parishes.

Conversely, some have been drawn to the Church for aesthetic reasons — by the beauty of Gregorian chant, Palestrina, Chartres, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, the breath-taking vision of Dante, and the majestic traditional Latin liturgy itself.

Converts from non-liturgical backgrounds attest to the compelling power and beauty of even simple gestures, like kneeling, genuflecting, and the Sign of the Cross.

What is the relation of beauty to truth? Usually truth is understood as a matter of propositions or judgments.

The Medievals distinguished three acts of the intellect: (1) understanding, (2) judging and (3) reasoning. Logically, the object of understanding is a term (“rose”), the object of judging is a premise (“All roses are red”) and the object of reasoning is a syllogism (“All roses are red/This flower is a rose/Therefore, this flower is red”).

In these examples, a flaw is readily apparent in the syllogism because of the false premise: it is not true that all roses are red. This tells us something important: truth applies to judgments, the second act of the intellect. Judgments can be true or false.

But can the term “rose” be true or false? Clearly not. It is either understood or not; but the question of truth seems irrelevant to understanding, the first act of the intellect. Or, at least, so it seems.

The poet, John Keats, once declared: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” What did he mean? Is there a sense in which the beautiful can be true?

Beginning with Plato, a number of ancient and medieval philosophers have referred to the good, the true and the beautiful as though they were somehow inter-penetrating concepts.

Medieval philosophers related these to other concepts like “being,” and called them “transcendentals” (from Latin, transcendere – “to climb over”), meaning they transcend or “climb over” all divisions, categories and distinctions between and within beings.

For example, anything in the world, by the mere fact of its having been created by God, is good. Evil, then, cannot be some sort of existing thing, but rather a kind of non-being, as blindness is the non-being of sight.

The goodness of something (like sight) does not add anything to its being, but is simply an aspect under which its being may be considered.

The same is true of all the other transcendentals: Truth is being as known, Goodness is being as rightly desired, and Beauty is being as rightly admired. Being considered (1) as the object of the intellect is Truth; (2) as the object of right desire is Goodness; and (3) as the object of right aesthetic delight is Beauty. Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, then, are various aspects of Being as apprehended by the intellect, will, and emotions.

A little sticking point might be the terms “right” in the definition of Good as the object of “right desire” and Beauty as the object of “right admiration.”

After all, is not the proverbial maxim, De gustibus non est disputandum (“there is no disputing about taste”)? Isn’t “beauty” purely subjective? Aren’t “goodness” and even “truth” considered purely subjective these days? Who is to say what is “really” true, good, or beautiful? Isn’t that presumption a trifle arrogant?

This is hardly the place for a full-blown discussion of criteria for adjudicating differences of opinion over judgments of truth, goodness, and beauty. Suffice it to note several conditions that will serve to define the framework of a traditional Catholic approach to these questions.

First is the conviction that reality is intelligible and that the intellect can know it — maybe not exhaustively, but adequately. Hence, Truth is defined as the correspondence between intelligible reality and the knowing intellect (adaequatio rei et intellectus).

Second is the conviction that what is really (as opposed to merely apparently) good for us is knowable and that we ought to desire it. Hence Goodness is defined as the object of right desire.

Third is the conviction that what is really (as opposed to merely apparently) beautiful is knowable and that we ought to admire and delight in it. Hence Beauty is defined as the object of right admiration.

Beauty has been called “the synthesis of all transcendentals” since it is related not just to one faculty but to the intellect and will and emotions. It is therefore the most complex of the transcendentals.

St. Thomas Aquinas defines it in one place as, id quod visum placet (“that which pleases upon being seen”), which underscores its subjective aspect. The beautiful is pleasing to us. Yet this is not the end of the matter, because we clearly do dispute whether certain objects rightly warrant aesthetic admiration.

Accordingly, St. Thomas adds three objective criteria to his subjective criterion of pleasure: (a) integritas (unity), (b) consonantia (harmony), and (c) claritas (splendor or radiance).

Thus, when John Paul II entitled one of his encyclicals, Veritas splendor (“The Splendor of Truth”) he seems to have touched on the inter-penetrating quality of transcendentals: Truth is beautiful. It exhibits qualities of beauty: unity, harmony, and splendor (or radiance). One could also refer to the goodness of truth. Well, you get the picture.

Can we also speak of the truth of beauty, then? There does seem to be some reason for supposing that truth need not be limited to judgments alone.

While it makes little sense to speak of a beautiful rose as “true” in a strictly propositional sense, a rose nevertheless presents itself as an object of the intellect, and as an intelligible being created by God in correspondence to His own intellect and will.

At the very beginning of his Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas refers to “God, in whose power it is to signify His meaning, not by words only (as man also can do), but also by things themselves.”

Thus, God signifies not only His existence, but His power and majesty by the sheer beauty of His creation (see Romans 1:19-20). Likewise, the beauty of music, liturgy, and religious art can serve, as do Sacraments themselves, as signs that point to realities and truths beyond themselves.

Professor Philip Blosser teaches philosophy at Sacred Heart Major Seminary. This article is courtesy of his blog.

The photo shows, “Eternal Peace,” by Isaac Levitan, painted in 1894.

Divine Impassibility

It is fascinating how the ever-changing needs of the times often call us to tread again the same ground once covered by the Fathers. In their day the need was to show how the Scriptural account of God’s self-revelation was consistent with a more Hellenistic and philosophical view of the impassable divine nature.

Such a project was required in their day if they were to commend the Hebrew Scriptures which the Church received as divinely-inspired to the wider pagan audience which viewed the divine nature as eternal, impassable, transcendent, and unchanging.

The problem, of course, is that this philosophical view of divinity didn’t seem to line up with what people read about the Hebrew God in the Hebrew Scriptures.

People believed—correctly—that the divine nature was unchanging and unchangeable, that it was eternal and untroubled. Or, in the words of St. John of Damascus, that “He is invariable and unchangeable, and it would not be right to speak of contingency in connection with Him. [The divine nature is] uncreated, without beginning, immortal, infinite, eternal, immaterial, good, creative, just, enlightening, immutable, passionless, immeasurable, unlimited, undefined, unseen, unthinkable, wanting in nothing” (Exact Exposition, book 1, chapters 13, 14).

St. John Cassian said the same thing at an earlier time: The idea that God has physical limbs “cannot be understood literally of Him who is declared by the authority of Holy Scripture to be invisible, ineffable, incomprehensible, inestimable, simple, and uncompounded, so neither can the passion of anger and wrath be attributed to that unchangeable nature without fearful blasphemy” (Institutes, book 8, chapter 4.)

What both John of Damascus and John Cassian meant was not that the Scriptures were unreliable, but that they needed interpretation. For if one read the Hebrew Scriptures with a simple heart and insufficient subtlety, one might come away with an erroneous view of the Hebrew God.

One might imagine that Yahweh had a short fuse, that He sometimes lost His temper and needed calming down, that He did not know everything in advance, and sometimes needed to find things out by investigation and then might need to change His mind.

They might imagine that mere human beings could ruffle the divine feathers and get Yahweh worked up, and that He was subject to passions and emotions such as jealousy, uncontrolled rage, as well as bouts of happiness, and that His emotions could see-saw between extremes of happiness and sadness.

Even simpler readers might conclude that Yahweh had arms, fingers, eyes, ears, and a mouth because the Scriptures spoke of these things.

And some people even justified their own human rage by referring to the divine wrath mentioned in the Bible: “We have heard some people trying to excuse this most pernicious disease of the soul [i.e. anger] in such a way as to endeavour to extenuate it by a rather shocking way of interpreting Scripture: as they say that it is not injurious if we are angry with our brethren who do wrong, since they say God Himself is said to rage and to be angry” (Institutes, book 8, chapter 2).

These overly-simple interpretations of Scripture flew in the face of what an intelligent pagan audience believed about the divine nature, and led a number of them to dismiss the Scriptures and the Church which received them as infantile and unworthy of true philosophy.

Of course, they said, the divine nature cannot be subject to such human passions. In fact, the Church had been saying the same thing about the pagan gods for some time, pouring scorn on the pagan myths and stories of Jupiter becoming angry and lustful.

But if it was true, as the Church always taught, that divine nature was essentially impassable and beyond the reach of change and passion, how could the Church’s Hebrew Scriptures have any credibility when they seemed to present a very changeable and passionate God? That was the problem that the Fathers had to grapple with as they presented the Christian Faith to a pagan world.

The Fathers’ solution is well known: they affirmed the philosophical view of God and interpreted the Scriptural account of God’s limbs (such as His mouth, eyes, and hands) metaphorically, as well as the Scriptural narratives about God’s wrath and seeming changeability.

St. John Cassian again: “By God’s mouth we should understand that His utterances are meant…by His eyes we can understand the boundless character of His sight with which He sees and looks through all things. By the expression ‘hands’ we understand His providence and work”.

But the Scriptural references to His divine wrath, though they should not be understood as declaring that God is subject to the passion of anger or that our sins cause Him to throw a fit, are not to be explained away.

Thus Cassian: “When we read of the anger or fury of the Lord, we should take it not according to an unworthy meaning of human passion, but in a sense worthy of God, who is free from all passion, so that by this we should understand that He is the judge and avenger of all the unjust things which are done in this world, and by reason of these terms and their meaning we should dread Him as the terrible rewarder of our deeds, and fear to do anything against His will.”

It is clear therefore that God still has wrath against sin, in that He will judge and avenge human wrong. Because of this divine vengeance we should “dread Him and fear to do anything against His will”.

The Fathers do not declare that God has no wrath, but only that His anger is just and not the result of fits of passion or pique. God’s anger is not like human anger, and is consistent with the divine impassibility. God is always good, and His beneficence never changes.

Whether or not we experience His kindness or His severity (see Romans 11:22) depends not upon His shifting moods, for He is not subject to shifting moods. Rather it depends entirely upon us and how we live.

St. Irenaeus said as much even earlier still: “As many as according to their own choice depart from good, He inflicts that separation from Himself which they have chosen of their own accord. But separation from God is death and separation from light is darkness and separation from God consists in the loss of all the benefits He has in store…It is in this matter just as occurs in the case of a flood of light: those who have blinded themselves are forever deprived of the enjoyment of light. It is not that the light has inflicted upon them the penalty of blindness, but it is that the blindness itself has brought calamity upon them.” (Against Heresies, book 5, chapter 27).

God’s unchanging nature remains light; those who experience calamity and the divine wrath do so because of their own actions, not because God is no longer light or willing to enlighten.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose: in the Fathers’ day, many took offense at the Scriptural teaching about the wrath of God, saying that this was incompatible with the divine nature, the objection taking its force from the philosophical conviction that divine nature cannot be subject to emotions of any kind (including presumably nice emotions, such as happiness).

Today also many take offense at the Scriptural teaching about the wrath of God, saying that this is incompatible with the divine nature, the objection taking its force from our modern conviction that a loving God could not also have wrath.

We have seen that the Fathers’ teaching overthrows both objections. The Fathers agree that God’s nature is good and unchanging and unaffected by our sins. They also assert that the Scriptural teaching about God’s wrath is true, and that God will one day act as “the judge and avenger of all the unjust things which are done in the world”.

The modern attempt to deny this latter truth by appeal to God’s good and unchanging nature cannot be sustained, and those who attempt to use the truth of divine impassibility to deny the truth of divine wrath are in error.

I suggest that those making this attempt are not motivated by the venerable philosophical appreciation for the doctrine of divine impassibility so much as by a very modern squeamishness about the doctrine of divine wrath.

The Fathers affirmed both divine wrath and divine impassibility, and we must tread in the way that they walked, following along the path they blazed for us.

Father Lawrence Farley serves as pastor of St. Herman’s Orthodox Church in Langley, British Columbia, Canada. He is also author of the Orthodox Bible Companion Series along with a number of other publications.

The photo shows, “Moses on Mount Sinai,” by Jean-Léon Gérôme, painted ca. 1895-1900.

Walter Benjamin On Violence

“Critique of Violence” (Zur Kritik der Gewalt) is notorious for its obscurity, which, at least partly, is due to the impossibility of translating several of the key terms used by Benjamin into English.

The immediate encapsulation of the task of a critique of violence conveyed in the German title and the first couple of sentences is entirely lost in the English translation. An etymological clarification is therefore important if we aspire to understand what a critique of violence consists of.

Critique (Kritik) should not primarily be understood as a negative evaluation or condemnation, but in the Kantian tradition of judgement, evaluation, and examination on the basis of means provided by the critique itself.

A more significant problem is however the translation of Gewalt—which in German carries the multiple meanings of (public) force, (legitimate) power, domination, authority and violencewith the English “violence” which carries few of these senses (particularly, institutional relations of power, force and domination or even non-physical or ‘symbolic’ violence).

That the task of a critique of violence is to be understood as expounding the relationship of violence (Gewalt) to law (Recht) and justice (Gerechtigkeit), is thus much less artificial and obscure.

Two further etymological clarifications are however necessary to fully understand the task of Zur Kritik der Gewalt. Recht, as the Latin Ius, carries the meaning of both rights and law (as in the general system of laws), which is juxtaposed to specific laws, Gesetz corresponding to the Latin Lex. Sittliche verhältnisse, translated to “moral relations,” presents a more significant problem in terms of translation.

In English it is not immediately clear why the sphere of law and justice can be understood as the sphere of moral relations. Morality carries the Kantian tradition of an abstract universal law (Moralität) in English, than the Hegelian tradition (Sittlichkeit). In Philosophie des Rechts, Sittlichkeit is the term used for the political framework of ethical life, that is, the family, civil society and the state.

Violence is thus to be critiqued on basis of its relations to law and rights within the framework of ethical life in the state (sittliche Verhältnisse). For a cause” Benjamin writes “becomes violent, in the precise sense of the word, when it enters into moral relations.”

Benjamin is thus not interested in force or violence of nature (Naturgewalt); but the violence present within the framework of the society, and ultimately, the state.

The critique of violence can only be undertaken through the philosophy of the history of violence (or we might add, in a “deconstruction” of the philosophy of the history of violence), Benjamin argues. In his “deconstruction” of the relationship between violence, law and justice, Benjamin erects several pairs of opposition.

However, as Derrida pointed out, many of these deconstruct themselves. The first such pair of oppositions is natural law (Naturrechts) and positive law (positive Rechts), which even though they in general are understood as antithetical (natural law is concerned with the justice of ends, positive law is concerned with the justification of means) share a fundamental dogma, namely that a relationship of justification exists between means and ends.

For this reason, the two theories agree that violence as a means can be justified if it is in accordance with the law. Benjamin raises the following objections against this dogma: if the relation of justification between means and ends is presupposed, it is not possible to raise a critique of violence eo ipso but only applications of violence.

Hereby, the question of whetherviolence in principle can be a moral means even to a just end is made impossible to address. By insisting on critiquing violence in itself, Benjamin challenges the fundamental dogma of jurisprudence, namely, that justice can be attained if means and ends are balanced, that is, if justified means are used for just ends.

The question, thus, is how violence and law relate to one another? Benjamin argues that the intimate relationship of violence and law is twofold. Firstly, violence is the means by which law is instituted and preserved. Secondly, domination (violence under the name of power (Macht)) is the end of the law: “Law-making is power-making, assumption of power, and to that extent an immediate manifestation of violence.”

Benjamin distinguishes between lawmaking violence (rechtsetzend Gewalt) and law-preserving violence (rechtserhaltende Gewalt) on basis of whether the end towards which violence is used as a means is historically acknowledged, i.e., “sanctioned” or “unsanctioned” violence (named respectively “legal ends” and “natural ends”).

If violence as a means is directed towards natural ends—as in the case of interstate war where one or more states use violence to ignore historically acknowledged laws such as borders—the violence will be lawmaking. This violence strives towards a “peace ceremony” that will constitute a new historically acknowledged law; new historically acknowledged borders.

The establishment of borders after a war is a clear example of the institutionalisation of a relation of domination inherent in all lawmaking violence. In guise of equality before the law, the peace ceremony is a manifestation of violence in the name of power; “in a demonically ambiguous way,” Benjamin writes, the rights are “‘equal’ rights: for both parties to the treaty, it is the same line that may not be crossed.”

This demonically ambiguous equality of the law, Benjamin writes, is analogous to that which Anatole France satirically expressed when he said: “Rich and poor are equally forbidden to spend the night under the bridges.”

In contrast hereto, if violence as a means directed towards legal ends—exemplified by compulsory general conscription where the state forces the citizens to risk their lives to protect the state—the violence will be law-preserving.

The distinction between lawmaking violence and law-preserving violence is however deconstructed in the body of the police and in capital punishment, whereby the “rotten” core of the law is revealed, namely, that law is a manifestation of violent domination for its own sake.  In both capital punishment and police violence the distinction between lawmaking and law-preserving violence is suspended.

Capital punishment is not merely a punishment for a crime but the establishment of a new law; police violence, though law-preserving can for “security reasons” intervene where no legal situation exists whereby the police institute new laws through decrees. In capital punishment and police violence alike, the state reaffirms itself: law is an immediate manifestation of violence or force and the end of the law is the law itself.

This violence of the law—the oscillation between lawmaking and law-preserving violence visible in police violence—is explained by Benjamin with reference to the Greek myth of Niobe.

Niobe’s boastful arrogance towards Leto—she having fourteen children and Leto only two—challenges “fate,” (Schicksal). The never defined concept of “fate” seems to refer to a relation of power (Macht). What Niobe challenges is not the law, but the authority or the legitimate power of Leto. When Apollo and Artemis kill her sons and daughters, it is thus not a punishment but the establishment of a law (“neue Recht zu statuiren”).

Niobe is turned into a crying stone (a statue) which is a physical manifestation of the law (the statute) as the power of the gods instituting “a boundary stone on the frontier between men and gods.” For this reason, Benjamin writes, power (Macht) is “the principle of all mythic lawmaking.”

Having now expounded the relation between law and violence, the question of the relationship between law and justice can be raised. Benjamin is not only speaking in metaphors when he writes: “Justice is the principle of all divine end-making, power the principle of all mythic lawmaking.”

Justice is an end which in principle cannot be reached within the realm of law: justice belongs to the realm of religion and it is not something we can obtain deliberately through law or reason: “For it is never reason that decides on the justification of means and the justness of ends: fate-imposed violence decides on the former, and God on the latter.”

Benjamin is however fundamentally interested in justice; Zur Kritik der Gewalt is the closest we get to a Benjaminian “theory of justice”. The impossibility of justice within the immediate manifestation of violence/force in the mythic “power-making” of law makes the destruction of law in principle “obligatory.”

The political general strike that merely aims at a coup d’état is therefore insufficient; the “force of law” can only be overcome if law in principle, and hereby state power as such, is destroyed. What is called for is therefore a proletarian general strike that aims at the destruction of all state power.

A paradoxical perspective in Benjamin’s text is that even though justice is transcendent (it is God who decides upon the justness of ends) it does not mean that human actions cannot be an expression of divine justice. The problem, as Derrida saw, is that we can never know whether actions have been a manifestation of divine violence.

Justice is possible (but not knowable)through an act of divine violence, which in all respects stands in complete opposition to the mythic violence of law: “If mythic violence is lawmaking, divine violence is law-destroying; if the former sets boundaries, the latter boundlessly destroys them; if mythic violence brings at once guilt and retribution, divine power only expiates; if the former threatens, the latter strikes; if the former is bloody, the latter is lethal without spilling blood.”

Divine violence is exemplified by God’s judgement on the company of Korah, who without warning or threat and without bloodshed is annihilated by God: the earth opens beneath them, swallows them, and closes again without leaving any mark.

In contrast to mythic violence, divine violence does not aspire to institute as law a relation of domination: divine violence accepts sacrifice. This is not sacrifice for its own sake like the murder of Niobe’s children, but “for the sake of the living” (the company of Korah is annihilated not for the sake of God but for the sake of those who are spared). “In annihilating” Benjamin writes, divine violence “also expiates” (entsühnend); it is however not the “guilt” (Schuld) that is atoned for by the divine violence; divine violence purifies the guilty, not of their guilt but of the law.

How can we understand the purification of the guilty of the law by divine violence? What is “pure” (rein) about divine violence (die göttliche reine Gewalt)? The German rein as the English pure carries the double meaning of something clean, and something absolute and unalloyed.

Firstly, divine violence is pure (meaning clean) because it has not been bastardized with law; it is pure as before the fall of man; it is pure from the guilt of the law (the guilt Niobe feels for the death of her children). Secondly, divine violence is “pure” (meaning absolute or unalloyed) because of the way it relates as a means towards an end.

Where mythic legal violence does not differentiate between mediate violence (violence as a means towards and end) and immediate violence (a manifestation of anger, or a relation of domination), divine violence is “pure” and immediate because it puts forward independent criteria for means and ends.

Where mythic violence conflates means and ends, divine violence separates means and ends. As Benjamin argues, just ends can only be decided by God, and no law can be given for justified means; what we have is only a guideline (Richtschnur).

The sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” is an example of such a guideline. Benjamin’s use of the word Richtschnur is very telling in this context: “Thou shalt not kill” is exactly not a law (Recht) but a guideline (Richt-schnur). A Richtschnur (which in German also is known as a Maurerschnur) is a mason’s line: a string (schnur) which is used to measure or correct (richten) out a plane for a building by the masons or bricklayers.

A Richtschnur is an approximation used practically to build a house. To build a good house the masons, in general, would have to follow this Richschnur but sometimes, because of a broken ground, a good house could only be built if the Richtschnur is ignored.

By substituting law (Recht) with the almost homophone Richt, Benjamin establishes the fundamental difference between mythic power (mytische Gewalt) and divine power (göttliche Gewalt). The commandment is not law but a guideline which in general would have to be followed for human beings to live a good life, as the masons in general have to follow it to build a good house. There might however be situations where it would have to be ignored.

Neither is the commandment law in the sense that a judgment of an act that ignores the guideline can be derived from the commandment: “No judgment of the deed can be derived from the commandment,” Benjamin argues “and so neither the divine judgement nor the grounds for this judgment can be known in advance.

Those who base a condemnation of all violent killing of one person by another are therefore mistaken.” This misunderstanding has to do with the general misunderstanding, argues Benjamin, that just ends can be the “ends of a possible law.” This misunderstanding is grounded in the belief that just ends are capable of “generalization,” that it, in other words, is possible a priori to discriminate between right and wrong.

This “contradicts the nature of justice,” Benjamin argues, “for ends that in one situation are just, universally acceptable, and valid are so in no other situation, no matter how similar the situations may be in other respects.” For this reason, no law can incapsulate justice.

The only thing we have is the “educative power” (erziehriches Gewalt) of the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” which can educate us how to live a good life in the same way the masons can learn from their Richtschnur. The commandment “exists not as a criterion of judgement, but as a guideline for the actions of persons or communities who have to wrestle with it in solitude and, in exceptional cases, to take on themselves the responsibility of ignoring it.”

What are these exceptional circumstances? For Benjamin, the decayed mythic violence of the law of the modern state seems to make up such exceptional circumstances: the destruction of all legal violence and the state becomes an “obligatory” task for the pure immediate violence; divine violence.

The proletarian general strike and the abolishment of state power which constitutes a break with the oscillation between lawmaking and law-preserving violence will lead to a foundation of a new historical epoch (neues geschichtliches Zeitalter).

Here, we see why Derrida summarizes Benjamin’s position as “messianico-marxist or archeo-eschatological” (Derrida, Force of Law). The Critique of Violence is Benjamin’s political demand for a revolution: “the existence of violence outside the law, as pure immediate violence,” Benjamin writes, “furnishes proof that revolutionary violence, the highest manifestation of unalloyed violence by man, is possible, and shows by what means.”

Benjamin is “messianico-marxist” in that he argues that divine violence signals the coming of the Messiah in form of the revolutionary general strike which will bring a new historical epoch.  

He is “archeo-escatological” in that he argues that the eschatology of the revolutionary general strike, manifested in the true war (wahrend Kriege) or the multitude’s Last Judgement on the criminal (Gottesgericht der Menge am Verbrecher).

The multitude’s judgment on the state, will “expiate” the crimes committed by the mythic violence of law and return us to the time before the decay (Verfall) of the law: “Once again all the eternal forms are open to pure divine violence, which myth bastardized with law.”

In Benjamin’s final condemnation of mythic violence, the Judaeo-Christian connotations become apparent: “Verwerflich aber is alle mythische Gewalt.Verwerflich meaning unrighteous, something that has to be condemned, comes from the verb Verwerfen, to dismiss or to abolish, which again comes from the verb werfen meaning to throw: the law is thus as the Fall of man: an unrighteous and condemnable (Verwerflich) deed that has dismissed (verwerfen) the guilty from Paradise.

Divine violence, however, has the power to purify the guilty of the law. In this way, Benjamin calls for a revolution, which also carries the original astronomical meaning of the completion of a cycle: the revolution which constitutes a new historical era will return human kind to the time before divine power was bastardized with law; in a word “archeo-eschatology.”

Signe Larsen main interest lies within political theory and philosophy of law.

The photo shows Walter Benjamin’s passport photo, ca., 1928.

What Is Abandonment?

In his distinctive concern for etymology, Nancy notes that abandonment contains the semantic unit bandon, which is “an order, a prescription, a decree, a permission, and the power that holds these freely at its disposal.’”

A ban in this context should be understood as a general proclamation of the sovereign rather than specific prohibition. To abandon, therefore, is to be delivered over to the sovereign ban and, as such, one always abandons to a law.

What does such a law prescribe? Nothing but abandonment. Both law and abandonment are conceived ontologically, where :abandonment remains the sole predicament of being.”

Given the multiple ways of thinking and speaking being, abandoned being is abandonment to the very possibility of such multiplicity, to the law of existence that opens on to the world in its efflorescence. At the same time, abandonment implies the exhaustion of transcendentals, the terminal insufficiency of any constructed sense of originary being.

As such, the being of human being is in abandonment to the extent that it enters a forgetful oblivion, “to be abandoned it to be left with nothing to keep hold of and no calculation.”

Being abandoned to the entirety of law means abandonment cannot lose respect for law. This is not a forced respect. This is how it is, “‘it cannot do otherwise’ means it cannot be otherwise.”

The idea of respect, from respicere, literally means to look back. Abandonment is therefore the glance, regard or better still, the consideration towards what comes before abandonment, that is to say, the considered relation to law in its totality. To lose respect for law would be to lose the very relation that is its sense, “by respecting the law, abandonment respects itself, so to speak (and the law respects it).

If the law commands nothing but abandonment, then this can now be more precisely articulated as the command to see or behold being in its abandonment. This is so in spite of the impossibility of containing being within a partial vision. Being, to this extent, remains invisible.

Yet being is still there (the ‘y’ of il y a), which means being is also here and the “[here] opens a spacing, clears an area upon which being is thrown, abandoned.”

Abandonment is thus the inaugural throwing of being, from the very birth of being, and there is nothing upon which abandoned being relies, which makes it non-dialectical, and nothing to which abandoned being can go back to, which renders being in a permanent state of being born.

Abandonment is the dereliction of being or the forsaking of being, which enables us to speak in general terms of autonomy, freedom and the possibility of thinking.

Postscript

Jean-Luc Nancy’s analysis of abandonment contains ideas that I anticipate many will consider not only very difficult but also problematic, in particular, the idea that abandonment cannot lose respect for law.

If we are beholden to law in our very being, does this mean it is impossible to be outside the law — an outlaw? Are there no more rebels? What about the very important political act of disobedience?

If you were wondering this then you can count on Giorgio Agamben for company, who writes with reference to Nancy that “[o]nly if it is possibile to think the Being of abandonment beyond every idea of law … will we have moved out of the paradox of sovereignty toward a politics freed from every ban.”

On this account, Nancy does not seem to offer much for critical legal theory, especially that branch of it that is interested in thinking outside or against the law.

But let’s not be too quick to dismiss him. To appreciate better what is happening here we need to further understand his analysis of Kant’s intimate association of law with freedom.

We need to understand how, as a consequence, the law of freedom becomes the law of the law and, in its radical emptiness, the law without law or the law that does not cease freeing itself from law. We are then left with a radiant paradox: the law guarantees the outlaw, it guarantees the exception to the exception, indeed it becomes their condition of possibility.

Gilbert Leung, LLB, LLM, DEA, PhD, is the Director of Counterpress, and Editor of Critical Legal Thinking.

The photo shows, “Vampire” by Edvard Munch, painted in 1895.