Thoughts from a young theologian

Posts tagged “aquinas

Aquinas and the Existence of God: Contingency Part II

All of our knowledge comes to us from our senses. That’s a very Aristotelian and Thomistic first principle. If I couldn’t see, smell, hear, touch or taste, I could not know anything. For Aristotle, the process by which we attain knowledge of the sensible things of this world, he called abstraction. Abstraction is the picking up of certain aspects of a sensible object and leaving other parts of it behind. It’s for him, the way we think. He proposed 10 categories of objects, i.e. 10 things we can “pick up” when looking at an object namely: substance, quality, quantity, relation, time, place, action, passion, situation and habit. If I look, for example at a fire hydrant, I notice first of all that it is a fire hydrant (substance). I see that it is red (quality). I see just one hydrant (quantity). I see it’s on the corner of such and such a street (place). I see what’s being done to it (passion) — like if there’s a dog peeing on it… c”,) I can also see what it is doing (action) so if it’s spewing water out or not.

Of these categories, apart from the first one which is the substance (what something is), the rest are accidents of it. Accidents are those which don’t make a fire hydrant be a fire hydrant. I can spray paint that hydrant into blue, changing its color (quality) but it would still be a fire hydrant. Accidents do not exist apart from the substance but neither does a substance exist without accidents (except God). When I say red, I can’t just say red… It’s always a red something… c”,) Similarly, when I look at a fire hydrant, apart from picking up what it is, I can also pick up a number of things about it (that it is red, or in this place, etc…)

Substance is the thing that makes a thing be what it is… It is both the individual, particular existing thing (i.e. this particular fire hydrant on this intersection) and the universal, general thing (the idea of what a fire hydrant is). Not all hydrants are alike… The hydrant on Granville might be very different from that on Seymour. The individual, particular existing thing may differ but the idea always remains the same.This universal idea of a fire hydrant is called its essence. It is what allows me to go up to you and start talking about fire hydrants with you. I assume you know exactly what a fire hydrant is. It is the common idea we both have of what a fire hydrant is… in short, it’s its definition.

St. Thomas, looking at all things noticed that one of the accidents of everything is their existence. The essence (the definition… what it is) is separate from its existence (that it is). How do we know that? By experience! If existence was part of something’s essence, it cannot not exist. It would have to exist forever. If existence (that we are) is part of what makes us human, we can’t help but continue existing… forever. But we’re confronted with death everyday!! That we exist is not what defines us at humans… In a way, it’s just an attribute of ours. The best way of showing that essence is not existence in anything is by going back to what I was talking about earlier on abstraction. It is very possible for us to abstract existence out of something. When I look at John, for example, I can abstract his essence (that he is a man) separately from his existence (that he IS). He doesn’t have to be the way he is… In fact I can consider him in my mind wearing a top hat or having purple hair or being on the planet Mars. I can even consider him dead at that very moment. His very existence as he is this very moment is not part of what he is because it is something that is always changing. That distinction is super important because from once you make it, you’ll be led to the same conclusion Thomas had!!!

If essence is different, separable from existence… if existence is just an accident of something then our existence is, in a sense, a gift! It has got to come from something that is pure existence. Hmmmmmmm…. There’s something for you to think about… I’ll finish this little mini paper-blog next time! Take care and God bless!!!

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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!!!


The Eucharist–not the “real” body and blood of Jesus?

I mentioned a few days ago how I was so surprised by the guys who, despite the freezing cold, still managed to play hockey. With the wind too, they had to chase the ball all around as it moved on its own… It was actually pretty hilarious to see, although I immediately went back inside to stay warm… Heheheheheh

Well, for the first time this week, something happened that actually prevented the others from their precious hockey…

It was actually pretty hilarious!! It’s been snowing like crazy here at the abbey, pretty much the whole day so while I’m explaining my little heretical (or is it?) statement up above, I’ll kind of sprinkle in some pictures of the snow here.

So this actually came up during my philosophy class… We were discussing substances and accidents… For those who don’t know philosophy, a substance is something that has existence in itself, like a man, or a tree. An accident is something that we predicate off of substances and don’t exist on their own. There are 9 kinds of accidents for Aristotle, including quantity (like 1, 2, 3), quality (red, big), relation (double, half), etc… None of these exist without substances… You always say a red something, one something… they need something in order to exist. Basically, everything is either a substance or an accident.

Aristotle also calls some things artifacts–these are things like houses and boats that are made by man. They exist kind of like substances, but in reality they’re not because artifacts have their identity and purpose outside of it (in the mind of the person who built it). That’s all a weird way of getting started on the Eucharist. A question came up during the class about the eucharist. Bread is an artifact, being made by man and made up of different substances, like wheat, etc…

Well in answering it, Father Peter said something that made our heads all turn. He said that once the bread is transubstantiated in the Eucharist, it has one identity. It becomes the sacramental body and blood of Jesus, not the real body and blood of Jesus. The key thing is a sacrament always has a sign value–it always has an inner reality that is signified. It’s a symbol but it’s not just a symbol… it’s a symbol that makes the reality present.

There’s basically 3 kinds of realities according to St. Thomas Aquinas… There’s the earthly reality, the heavenly reality and … the sacramental reality. They’re all real and have very different ways of existing. The sacramental reality is its own separate ontology–it’s its own kind of being.

Suppose Father Peter is celebrating mass and at the moment of consecration, the bread disappears and the heavenly Jesus appears in front of everyone surrounded by his angels and standing on the altar, then it would be a heavenly real presence, on longer a sacramental real presence. There’s no sign anymore, it’s only the reality of what the sign signifies.

An exception also happens when we have the eucharistic miracles where the bread is turned to real flesh or the blood turned into real blood. Those are no longer sacraments either. It’s pointing again to the reality of what the sign signifies… Any sacrament, but most especially the Eucharist always needs to be a sign as well as the reality it signifies.

How’s that for some food for thought… If this kind of interested you, you can check out the book “The Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist” by Ansgar Vonier. He’s highly recommended by Fr. Peter and the monks here. I’m going to definitely start reading up on that one too… There’s something else I want to say about the Eucharist but I don’t want this post to be too long so I’ll leave it for a little later on… God bless!!!