Thoughts from a young theologian

Archive for February, 2011

Aquinas and the Existence of God: Contingency Part I

As promised, I have been working on (mostly in my mind) how to present to you guys what I’ve been learning about St. Thomas Aquinas and his way of showing the existence of God to you. It’s still something that I’ve been running around a few times in my head, trying to get it to the point where it’s totally clear to me so I’ll only really be presenting it how I understand it… There may be a couple of things that’ll be missing… but here goes…

St. Thomas Aquinas actually has 5 ways of showing the existence of God. These include the argument for the (1) unmoved mover, (2) uncaused cause, (3) contingency, (4) cause of all limited perfections in being and (5) teleological argument. Of these, the only one that I’ve been learning inside out (and getting pretty fascinated by) is the argument from contingency.

Before I jump into it though, I think it’s worth noting a little nuance. First of all, Aquinas came up with 5 “ways” to show God’s existence… not 5 “proofs” of His existence. The reason for this is a proof is more than often attained a priori (or deductively) rather than a posteriori (inductively). A priori or deductive reasoning is one that goes from what is universally known to a specific application of that principle. It forms the heart of a logical syllogism and its conclusions follow of necessity (they need to be true… they can’t be false). If the premises that they present are true, then the conclusions that they make need to be true too. An example is the syllogism below:

All men are mortal (universal first principle)
Socrates is a man
Therefore Socrates is mortal (particular application of the universal truth)

Because Socrates is a man, he cannot not be mortal. The deductive syllogism (a priori) is the most powerful of them all but it is also that which is most easily debunked because all you need to disprove it is to bring to me one instance where the universal first principle fails to disprove it… Find me one man who is immortal and the whole argument falls flat.

In contrast to this, the inductive reasoning (a posteriori) is a weaker form of reasoning. It starts from lots of things that are true and draws out the universal truth that binds them all together. The conclusion it draws though may not follow of necessity. Most science follows the process of inductive reasoning. In our labs we most often try and statistically show through a number of repeated experiments a conclusion that can apply universally. There’s a good chance that the conclusion we draw from it is true, but it does not follow of necessity. An example of this is as follows:

Drinking and driving cause mortal accidents

This is a form of inductive reasoning because the conclusion doesn’t follow necessarily. There are some people who are drunk who manage to get themselves home. There’s a good chance you’ll get into an accident based on the statistics and number crunching that we have but there’s also a chance you don’t.

For Aquinas, the way we show God’s existence is always inductively and not deductively. God is infinite and eternal therefore you cannot start with a universal understanding of God because it’s not at all possible to universally understand God. There’s no truth higher than infinite Truth!!! The only way to show God’s existence is by inductive reasoning–i.e. from the particular circumstances. This makes sense from a faith point of view too. If there is one proof that exists that definitively, without question shows God’s existence, than are we still free to believe and accept Him? c”,) This is of course not to say that the inductive arguments St. Thomas gives us are weak and poor arguments… Actually, they’re really pretty sound and super fun to use… but you’ll have to come back next time to hear them… I don’t want to end up writing a thesis blog… Hehehheeeh Happy Sunday everyone and God bless!!!

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The Return of “Spring”

This past week, we’ve once again resumed our “spring/summer” sports. At the beginning of the school year, we would all get together twice a week for outdoor sports activities. We played hockey, soccer, and baseball. However, as the weather got colder (and because the monastery is situated on top of a hill overlooking a valley–so we get lots of cold winds blowing past us everyday), we switched to winter sports. We divided our whole group up into around 5 sports, which included a lot of indoor sports. We needed to choose two of hockey, volleyball, badminton/table tennis, basketball, and something else… I forget. Anyway, the whole point of that was so that whoever couldn’t stand the cold (and the rains for that matter) had at least the option of staying indoors for their sports,

This week, we stopped winter sports and once more took up our community spring/summer sports. We all played soccer…

In this kind of weather:

This decision was highly contested by a lot of people… We had a bit of a debate going on during our last student council meeting however, as most of us quickly learned, there’s no real democracy in a committee… Heheheeheh Whatever they say, goes… It’s just like my committee and its choice on movies for our parties… We may offer up the option of which movie to watch but ultimately, the decision rests with our leader who overrules everything else.

So we started our sports this week. People came out in gigantic coats, toques, jackets… The deacon even brought out some sunscreen lotion and shades. It was hilarious!! The cold wore off though after the while, though I’m not sure if it was because we’d been running around a little bit or because every part of us froze that we could no longer feel it. c”,)

Though it rained a little bit at the beginning, it turned out to be a great day of soccer… Hehehehe That’s it for today! I’m working on a philosophical blog post right now, trying to share with you guys what I’ve learned on St. Thomas Aquinas’ proof on the existence of God through contingency. Hopefully, I’ll get that out soon and hopefully, it won’t be too complicated! It’s super cool though!!! There’s something to look forward to… Have a great Sunday! God bless!!


Rosary Race!!!

About a month ago, during the silent retreat for the seminarians, the minors (who were also having their silent retreat at the same time) were involved, under the direction of their rector in a very serious “battle.” They were in a contest to see who could get the most rosaries in each day. Their rector (who’s also our philosophy teacher and would tell us all these stories during our classes leading up to the retreat) gets in, I believe, well over 10 rosaries each day. Having prayed thousands of rosaries to date as a monk, he’s probably soooooo used to saying rosaries that he can do them really really quickly. At the time that he was telling us these stories, some of us were kind of protesting that they probably were really quickly blurting out the prayers and therefore, they weren’t really “saying” the rosary but Father dispelled that notion very quickly.

I’m mentioning all this by the way because this past week, a few of us too in the majors who have Father as our spiritual director have also begun a “mini rosary war.” It’s nothing like the minors had though. Some of them, at the height of their conflict, were able to get in 30 rosaries in a day! We’re only managing so far to skimp out 2-3 instead of the normal 1 or 1/2 each day… 😛 It’s certainly a lot better though for us, and we’re actually just beginning to heat up.

So what’s the logic behind saying rosaries very quickly? Father gave me two points during spiritual direction. First of all, the rosary is an aid to reflecting on the mysteries of the gospel of each decade (10 Hail Marys). The best way to ponder these mysteries is to focus, not on the words of the prayer and how we’re feeling as we’re praying it–which is what I would kind of do by praying it slowly. Rather, while we’re praying quickly, one helpful thing we can do is to contemplate the heart of Jesus (or Mary) at the time of the mystery. We’re to think about what they are feeling during the Annunciation say or during the Transfiguration and to do that, we’re to focus less on ourselves and the way we’re saying the rosary and more on them. He must increase, I must decrease… right? c”,)

Heheheehe The other reason why a fast rosary is helpful is because right now, we’re trying to get into the habit of prayer. He compared us to musicians who are still learning our scales. We need to familiarize ourselves with the process first before we work on the principles underneath the process. Just as a pianist spends hours each day working on just scales, so we too, by praying our ideal 4-5 rosaries per day are getting into the habit of praying. That’s the goal of all of this. The idea is that by focusing more on the quantity of prayers we get out each day, we start to think more about prayer each day. We get up in the morning and the first thing we think about doing is prayer. It’s actually quite ingenious!! Hehehhehe

So far, I haven’t been that fantastically good at this… I’ve only been getting around 2.5 per day with most of these coming in the morning. I’m trying to pray every time my mind is not actively doing something (like when I’m walking between the residence and the abbey church or when I’m in the shower or when I’m eating a meal) I’m hoping to get at least more and more decades in by the end of each day and work my way up to the 4 rosaries per day. I’ll let you know how that goes though!!

HOW MANY ROSARIES CAN YOU GET IN PER DAY? c”,) There’s your challenge for this week!! Heheheehe God bless!!