No News is New

A Catholic view on old heresies in the news

Pope says the same old thing, everybody freaks out.

The older I become, the more I realize when the pope says the same old news, everyone thinks it’s new.  This article is about the popes’ new encyclical, in which he criticises capitalism for ignoring the needs of people.  For quite obvious historical reasons, this issue is dear to the pope.  After all, he came from Argentina, which recently suffered a major economic depression after the liberalization of economic policies.  The Catholic understanding of Capitalism complements Pope Francis’ own experiences.  Our catechism (from the 1997 Latin revision) states, “A theory that makes profit the exclusive norm and ultimate end of economic activity is morally unacceptable.  The disordered desire for money cannot but produce perverse effects” (Paragraph 2424).  The pope is making a claim the Catholic Church has widely publicised for a long time — the free market doesn’t work to provide social justice.

How capitalism treats people.

How capitalism treats people.

Does the Pope then support wealth redistribution through communism?  Hardly.  Our catechism teaches “Regulating the economy soley by centralized planning perverts the basis of social bonds; regulating it solely by the law of the marketplace fails social justice… Reasonable regulation of the marketplace and economic initiatives, in keeping with a just hierarchy of values and a view to the common good, is to be commended” (Paragraph 2425).  Within this context, the pope writes, “The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and to the return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings.”  The redistribution the pope argues for is one of just wages and opportunity, given by the rich to those who are less well off.  This could be by the wealthy influencing Congress to make just laws, or on a more personal path like Harris Rosen, and what he did at Tangelo Park.

Harris Rosen, best Millionare I know

Harris Rosen, best millionaire I know about.

The Limitations of Papal Infallibility

There is a pervasive misunderstanding about the dogma of papal infallibility, both by some Catholics and by some non-Catholics.  This article articulates that misunderstanding when it states: “By the way, when have you ever heard a prominent member of the Catholic Church actually try to diminish the power of their pontiff, who is supposed to be infallible in all things?”  Ironically, the author even linked to the wikipedia page on papal infallibility which, in its’ very first sentence, limits papal infallibility to matters of faith and morals.

Our last Pope, "infallibly" hanging out with his pet cat.

Our last Pope, “infallibly” hanging out with his pet cat.

It turns out, the extra ordinary use of papal infallibility is very limited.  Any extra ordinary use of papal infallibility must be an explicit use of infallibility, and it can only cover matters of faith or morals.  Infallibility has only been employed in this way twice.  Once to agree with the Orthodox that Mary was bodily assumed into heaven, and once to explicitly state Mary was conceived without sin (her immaculate conception, not to be confused with Jesus’ virgin birth).  Both of these confirmed already existing Catholic beliefs.

Now, the ordinary use of papal infallibility is when the pope is in agreement with a Church council.  His agreement with the council is a sign the council as a whole was correct in what they assented to or denied.  From these we get the full list of dogmas, all 252 of them (I encourage all to read the list of dogmas.  The vast majority are quite mundane, such as, “there is only one God”).  Beliefs outside of these have various degrees of theological certainty, and could be elevated or lowered in certainty as we further employ reason to understand in a deeper way our faith.  As Catholics, we are taught to take these other beliefs seriously, with an assent of faith to those who teach us, even though the beliefs might be lowered in certainty in the future.


The total of all this means that, from the article, Cardinal Dolan is correct that, “a pope by his nature can’t make doctrinal changes”.  What a pope does is clarify and confirm, not change.  A pope must do that within the confines of Sacred Tradition, that presence of the living Christ in our faith which remains constant across time (because Christ remains constant); and Sacred Scripture, which are the writings of the first Catholics guided by the Holy Spirit.

Aristotle -> Aquinas -> Atheism, Part 5

Proof 3: Contingency

The proof from contingency works as follows: Some finite things depend upon other things. To have a chair it is first necessary to have a tree, to have a tree it is first necessary to have soil, to have soil it is first necessary to have sand, to have sand it is first necessary to have rock, and so forth. The nature of things is such that other things are used to make them.

Aristotle’s material cause points out that the materials that are used to make something will shape what that thing will be like. A rock made from magma will be different from a rock made from sediments. Aquinas uses this principle to think about where matter came from. If things come from other things, we have an infinite chain which can never find its start. Therefore there must be a being like from the first two proofs that exists outside of contingent things to get the world started.

As Monseigneur Lemaître’s big bang theory goes: first there was nothing, then it exploded.

Lemaitre and Einstein, rocking out new physics theories.

Lemaitre and Einstein, rocking out theories of physics.

There must have been a cause of that explosion, by which material things gain their matter. This cause, like the two before it, has to be eternal and non-material to make any logical sense.

To sum the first three proofs then is to point out that our world makes no logical sense if we don’t have an eternal, non-material and not caused source of our world. According to Aquinas, this source is what we call God.

Dawkins argues that the above definition of God doesn’t yet include his other attributes, such as “omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, creativity of design” and so forth. How true this is, but then again, it’s only three arguments for the existence of God out of many arguments. The countless others help flesh out these five from Aquinas, who isn’t concerned with proving God per say, but very concerned with showing faith mixes with reason.

“The difficulty of explaining ‘why I am a Catholic’ is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.” – G. K. Chesterton

“The difficulty of explaining ‘why I am a Catholic’ is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.” – G. K. Chesterton

Dawkins other argument is that the above three proofs all amount to cosmological arguments from which God himself can’t escape. In other words, why doesn’t God also need to be caused?

Understood within the context of Aquinas trying to process Aristotle, this counter argument makes little sense. The non-theistic philosophy of Aristotle proved these causes must exist, and need to have a start at some point. All Aquinas does is to describe that start as God. It would be a truism that God is immune from the infinite regress problem because he as been defined by Aquinas as the eternal source pointed to by both Aristotle and the Prophets — pointed to by Reason and Faith.

Dawkins argues that the above definition of God is misleading, because there could be a natural source. However, this counter argument doesn’t fit within the logical framework of Aristotle nor does it match our current scientific understanding of the world. Aristotle showed any natural endpoint to the infinite regressions above would need to be eternal, and science, through it’s wide acceptance of the Big Bang Theory (a term originally coined by atheist Fred Hoyle to denigrate the priest who came up with it), has shown that in nature there is no such thing. Only by rejecting the logic of Aristotle and what scientists currently tell us might we consider a natural endpoint to the regressions.  Aristotle might be shown to be incorrect, and science might tell us something different in the future, but Dawkins argues for neither of these points.

Aristotle -> Aquinas -> Atheism, Part 4

Proof 2: First Cause

Drawing on the previous proof of the first mover, Aquinas says there should also be a first causer.  Because we can deduce a single eternal source of motion from the fact that some things move, we can work in the same fashion to show that because some things have causes there must have been a first cause to set those causal chains in motion.

This works well because Aristotle was looking at change; how one thing can become another.  His word for motion had a much broader sense to it, and could encompass the idea of the motion of cause to effect and not just object to object.  Because our modern idea of motion is much more limited, this proof fleshes out what the first proof showed.

The proof also allows us to see the emphasis Aquinas placed on universals, which follows from his acceptance Aristotelian thought.  The two universal concepts (motion and cause) are proved the same way.  This is in contrast with the nominalism of the Franciscans Scotus and Ockham.  In nominalism there are no universals, only particulars which happen to appear similar to each other.  Subsequently we can only understand movement or cause in so far as we actually experience those things happening in particular cases.  We are unable to reason about first causes or motion because we have no experience with those things, so Aristotle (and consequently Aquinas) are seen as overstepping the bounds of reason.  In other words, if we could reasonably reason about these things, Aquinas would have a great proof, but regrettably we cannot reasonably reason about them, so they don’t provide good proofs of God.

Nominalism reintroduced the division between faith and reason in such a way that further fostered scientific development.  If we cannot reason about things we don’t experience, we better pay a lot of attention to all that we do experience.  By paying such close attention, the experimental side of science was confirmed and supported to the expense of metaphysics.  In a sense, we still live with this legacy.  Science even today only answers how things work the way they do, not why.  We have laws of science, but no reasoning as to why laws should exist rather than chaos.  The current understanding of metaphysics in our world is woefully inadequate.

Further, this division between faith and reason is also being lived out in daily life.  Recall the atheist picture showing all the contradictions in scriptures, and the religious picture of dinosaurs living with people, from part 2.  The denial of universals is part of why this division exists.  Some religious people deny scientific reasoning and some atheist people deny the contextual faith distinctions in scripture.  When we rely upon universals like Plato and Aristotle, this division can be erased.  By focusing on particulars and denying universals, we end up dividing reason and faith.

Recall from the last post how Dawkins considers Aristotle to be making the vaguely phrased, “unwarranted assumptions”.  A far better critique is to deny universals exist, as the nominalists did.  While this denies such abstract universals as “Love” or even “Tree”, it does successfully denude Aquinas of any meaningful claim to proof of God’s existence.  Again though, this denuding of Aquinas is only because it first denudes Aristotle of any room to reason about things people haven’t directly experienced.

Aristotle -> Aquinas -> Atheism, Part 3

We turn now to looking at each proof in it’s own right, and how that fits within Aristotelian causes and how that in turn effects the Christian and New Atheist (through Dawkins) understanding of the proofs.

Proof 1: The unmoved mover.

This proof of God relies upon the efficient cause.  In particular, the efficient cause in relation to motion, and why anything moves.

Aristotle first shows that there is an unmoved cause of all motion.  He does this by pointing out how motion is an everlasting quality, things always have the property of motion (A force vector might sum to 0, but it still has the property of being a force vector).  To be in motion that is more than zero feet per second, there needs to be a something to cause that motion.  As this website states: “Efficient causes, according to Aristotle, are prior conditions, entities, or events considered to have caused the thing in question.”  There must then be some unmoved prior condition which effected (aka, caused) the first movement.  As Aristotle states: “for in fact there is something that initiates motion without being movable” (Physics, Book 3, 201a).  This cause of motion is outside the realm of moveable things because it is a prior condition to movement.  In short, the argument he makes is that all moving things we know about have been acted upon by another agent.  I can think of nothing now moving that wasn’t first forced into motion.  As Isaac Newton’s first law of motion reminds us, resting objects will stay resting unless forced to do otherwise.

Following this, Aristotle goes on to say: “Since motion must be everlasting and must never fail, there must be some everlasting first mover, or more than one.  The question whether each of the unmoved movers is everlasting is irrelevant to this argument; but it will be clear in the following way that there must be something that is itself unmoved and outside all change, either unqualified or coincidental, but initiates motion in something else.” (Physics, Book 8, 258b)  Simply put, there must have been one or more than one prior conditions to achieve motion in our universe.

Aristotle then ends up with: “If, then, motion is everlasting, the first mover is also everlasting, if there is just one; and if there are many, there are many everlasting movers.  But we must suppose there is one rather than many, and a finite rather than an infinite number.  For in every case where the results of either assumption are the same, we should assume a finite number of causes; for among natural things what is finite and better must exist rather than its opposite if that is possible.  And one mover is sufficient; it will be first and everlasting among the unmoved things, and the principles of motion for the other things” (Physics, Book 8, 259a)  In this way Aristotle shows there is only one eternal unmoved mover.  An eternal condition which creates movement.

Stealing the whole shebang from Aristotle, Aquinas points out that a singular eternal source of motion sounds an awful lot like how Christians describe God as creator and sustainer of life.  As wikipedia translates him:

The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.

At this point it should become apparent that Aquinas isn’t in an fight to prove the existence of God, but rather to engage Aristotle in such a way as to unite Aristotle’s reason to Christian faith.  Those Christians who utilize this as a proof of God shouldn’t treat this argument as though it exists in a vacuum.  Only upon accepting Aristotle as correct in his secular logical argument that we need an eternal unmoved mover does this point of Aquinas hold any water.  As Dawkins treats the first three proofs of Aquinas as one, I’ll hold off discussing his rebuttal of Aquinas ’till the third proof.  Suffice it to say, Dawkins disagreement is that Aristotle’s eternal unmoved mover should also be subjected to motion.  In his book, The God Delusion, he fails to point out any logical problems with Aristotle’s (and subsequently Aquinas’) proof, and he instead denigrates Aristotle by saying his logical proof of an unmoved mover immune from movement is merely an “unwarranted assumption” (for more, see the third chapter of his book).  It’s hard to believe someone so bright as to be called “The First Teacher” could have made an oversight both as grand and as previously unnoticed as Dawkins seems to propose it is.

He was so smart, there are more brains in this bust of Aristole than in my noggin.

He was so smart, there are more brains in this bust of Aristotle than in my noggin.

Aristotle -> Aquinas -> Atheism, Part 2

Both Christians and Muslims had a great challenge in learning how to cope with Aristotelian ideas.

One Islamic approach to dealing with a comprehensive and reasonable system that didn’t include God was to further develop the “Theory of Two Truths”.  This was done by primarily by the brilliant Muslim philosophers Avicenna and Averroes.  This approach considered there to be two bodies of truth, religious and secular.  By creating incompatible sets of truth so solve the problem of Aristotle being so secularly awesome, a new problem was created.  Why adhere to the secular body of truth when the religious one is equally true but given by God?  This ended up stunting Islamic thought because truth that was reasoned to was harder to attain than truth revealed.  Why work through reason when revelation will give different but just as true answers?  This stunted growth in thought is one reason why Christian countries pulled ahead of Islamic ones in production of science, whereas before the development of the Theory of Two Truths the Islamic societies were more advanced and developed.

The theory of Two Truths is very useful if kept within limits.  Erving Goffman’s work The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life touches on the idea that even in our own lives, we present different versions of the truth to different people.  Scripturally this means that various passages aren’t all meant to be understood in the same way.  Some passages are poetry, some are history, some are myth (I’m looking at you, Tobit), but all are used to portray an accurate picture of God.  The single truth of God, just like the single truth of ourselves, are presented in a variety of different and sometimes superficially contradictory ways.  Simply put, there is a truth in the story of say, Noah, about who God is.  Changing the story to make it more historically factual would lose that truth.  However, changing the story to express the truth of God can mask the truth of what historically happened.  Two truths — both contradicting each other, but neither wrong if understood within its own context.

Just as secular people are doing today by ignoring the context of scriptural truth, a la below:

Bible conntradictions according to some atheists.

Bible contradictions according to some atheists.

So too do some religious people do when they ignore the contexts of scientific truth, a la below:

dinofeedingThis is the downfall of the Theory of Two Truths.  It becomes easy to ignore one truth for the sake of another.

So why did Christian countries not end up with a similar incompatibility between faith and reason?  Why is the Theory of Two Truths a fringe theory in Western society today?  The answer is in that great dumb ox, Aquinas.  He synthesized Aristotle and Christianity by applying Aristotelian reason to Christian truths.  In this way neither faith no reason was separated from the other, so that both could flower together rather than one supersede the other.  One major way he did that was by utilizing the four causes of change that Aristotle came up with and showing how they can fit within Christian belief.  The five proofs of God Aquinas gives aren’t so much to prove God exists (Aquinas already believed that), but rather to prove secular reason isn’t incompatible with God.  This was a big question in his day, as Islamic scholars had only recently introduced Aristotle to Western Europe; whose scholars seldom had any training in Greek (this again shows how much more advanced Islamic society was then Christianity society was at that time).  Had Christian scholars taken the approach of their Islamic brothers, we might never have had the scientific revolution.  Therefore the five proofs of God Aquinas came up with mark quite a turning point in our intellectual history: not because they definitively proved God exists but because the definitively proved faith and reason can intermingle.

Next Time: The first cause of change.

Stealing From The Poor

This is a sad article about how clergy are losing their tax free housing.  It reminds me of the story of St. Lawrence, who lived in the early 200’s.  While there are now doubts about the historical accuracy of the story, it goes like this:

During the persecution of the Roman Emperor Valerian, the prefect demanded that Deacon Lawrence gather up and bring to him all the treasures of the Church.  When Lawrence returned to the prefect’s presence, he brought with him a huge throng of poor and sick that the Church cared for.  Outraged, the prefect had him burned alive on a grid-iron.


Clearly clergy are not under such a threat, but there remains a parallel in governments misunderstanding the church.  The church is seen by governments as a tool of wealth rather than as a body of poor souls.  Taxing the Church is seen as taxing a faceless organization, but lets look at those faces effected by the law.


Above is the interior of St. Patrick’s in New York.  There is an enormous about of cost in constructing and repairing this building, and yet, it is freely open for all to enjoy (note the visitors!).  Contrast this with the Guggenheim Museum in New York, which will set you back about 20 bucks.  This is true of the fine art in Churches all across America.

St. Francis Basilica, free for all to enjoy.

St. Francis Basilica, free for all to enjoy.

Who pays for these churches to be up and running?  It is the poor who pay.  And they do their best to keep the caretakers of their parishes well cared for.  However, the average priest makes only $40,000 a year, which is hardly great money.  It’s less than your average kindergarten teacher.  By increasing the tax on priests, the effect will be a tax on the poor, who then need to work harder to maintain their parish and to ensure their priest has a respectable livelihood.

This tax won’t change much for the government, it is projected to raise taxes by 700 million.  That is  only about 6% of one of the navy’s new air craft carriers.  The burden on the poor will be much greater, a couple thousand more dollars needed every year.

Aristotle -> Aquinas -> Atheism, Part 1

There is a connection of thought between Aristotle and Aquinas that is sometimes overlooked when both Christians and New Atheists look at Aquinas’ five proofs for the existence of God. By understanding this historical context we can see in what sense the proofs were originally meant, and thereby see how modern Christians overstate the proofs and how New Atheists (in particular, Mr. Dawkins) actually argue against secular Aristotelian thoughts instead of Aquinas’ Christian thoughts.

To begin, no news is new. Aristotle (some 2,300 years ago), like most Greek philosophers, put in great effort to understand change. When I finish replacing the parts of a boat one by one, do I still have the original boat? If it has become a new boat, at what point did that happen? How does change occur?

In an effort to understand this problem and other problems associated with change, he recognized four causes of change.

  1. The efficient cause: this might also be understood as the external (or perhaps the proximate) cause of change.  The efficient cause of a chair is the carpenter.  It is the thing outside the object causing change within the object.
  2. The material cause: what a thing is made of can “cause” what it can be turned into – no one makes a chair out of Jello because Jello cannot effectively be a material for chairs.  The natural fracture lines in marble limits what that marble might be carved into.
  3. The formal cause: the concept (or platonic form) of chair will effect how finished chairs will look.
  4. The final cause: the purpose of a chair causes chairs to be made in a particular way (otherwise they couldn’t be sat upon).

In his work Physics, Aristotle shows how these four causes effect all change in nature. The anger of Zeus didn’t cause a dry spell and ones crops to fail, but rather these four natural causes. The bold claim of a way to understand the world without recourse to gods would have a tremendous impact upon both Islamic and Christian thought.

Next time: Examining the impact of Aristotle.

Are Men and Women Different?


There is quite a strong current in feminism to homogenize men and women.  For some, the equality of value of the sexes implies an equality of roles.  This misunderstands the nature of the masculine and feminine aspects of humanity.  Our bodies are whole, and so our gender is woven into that wholeness.

Contrary to Ms. Gilman, who breaks a prerson into pieces, the Chuch sees people holisitically.

Contrary to Ms. Gilman, who breaks a person into pieces, the Church sees people holistically.

What do our bodies tell us about the purpose of our gender?  First, gender isn’t important in the workplace.  Most jobs aren’t physically demanding enough that only the strongest of men can handle it, and women are better educated than men so if a workplace requires education, we would be wise to hire women first.

graduationRather than work, our gender difference tells us that men and women both have a nobler role than simply “breadwinner”.  Quite frankly, men are expendable.  After providing a wife with a child, a man isn’t necessary physically or economically.  A man’s relation to life is as servant.  This matches what Jesus says, that the one who wants to be great should become the least.  It is noble and honorable to serve those around us.  As men are more expendable, they can serve in a greater number of ways.  In the house around toxic chemicals to clean to allow the wife access to the work force, or to act as a wage slave if she would rather be in the home.  His body makes him versatile.

Please bear with me as I get to the point.  Sometimes people think of the Catholic hierarchy as people who are above the laity.

ErroneousUnderstandingofChurchHierarchyThe correct understanding flips that around to this:


The Pope is the servant of the servants of God, he’s there to help mediate disputes by his infallible pronouncements, to guide my journey of faith by teaching me the truth, to make it so I don’t have to go to seven years of school just to begin to get a grasp of how to live out the faith.  Priests do a lot of the heavy spiritual lifting for us, so we can live our lives without undue spiritual burden and go out to love one another.

Most obviously this service is seen in the sacrifice of the Mass.  It is the priest or deacon who lays out the table, who prays for the consecration, who then even serves each of us coming for communion.  He is our servant, and when we recline to reflect after the meal he’s still up cleaning the sacred vessels.

This is not to say a woman can’t be a servant in some ways, but is to say that femininity is more geared to caring.  A mom is meant to love, a dad is meant to give, even to the point of imaging Jesus and sacrificing himself for his family.  He can do this because biologically he’s more expendable and less necessary.  It’s not coincidental that as the understanding of the priesthood developed, so too did priestly celibacy.  Priests sacrifice family to better serve.  No one wants to be dying and not be able to have Last Rights because their priest is busy watching a t-ball game with the family.  Their masculine sacrifice helps them serve better.

There is much overlap between feminine and masculine.  Service and love aren’t mutually exclusive.  However, it is in our natures as male and female to have unique strong points.  Only some women can care by giving birth, and no men.  Only some men can become servants in the priesthood, and no women.

The woman in the article for today is not, as the title suggests, bending rules.  She’s breaking them so severely that her actions amount to play acting, like this boy pretending to say Mass:


Or this one pretending to breast feed:


Both by nature are unable to do what they are pretending to, just as by nature the woman is unable to consecrate the Eucharist.  It doesn’t make her less valuable as a person that she cannot consecrate it, but it is a misunderstanding of the priesthood and what that priesthood is for, as well as a misunderstanding of why she is a female.


The Degradation of Beauty


Sometimes I wish I lived in the Star Trek universe, where we have moved beyond the desire for money and peoples’ needs are taken care of so that we might focus upon self improvement.  Sadly we don’t, and so people degrade what is good and beautiful to survive in the harsh environment of capitalism.  The above Newsweek article dives into how increased costs for health care are driving an increase in prostitution.  Oh, euphemisms like “Sugar Daddy” are employed to try and mask what’s happening, but it’s sex for money/goods: which is the definition of prostitution.

People desire what is good, but in a ruthless capitalistic world, the good sought often becomes destroyed in the process of acquiring it.  The purpose of our lives on this earth is unity with others and God.  Sex is pleasurable and good because it helps to reinforce that unity of two people.  This is why the best sex is monogamous.  In seeking the pleasure without the attachment the good is degraded and the sex is less pleasurable.

I think this rise in prostitution is part of the “widespread mentality of profit, the ‘throwaway culture,’ which now enslaves the hearts and minds of many”.   Our capitalist culture encourages wealthy johns to debase women rather than aid them; using their wealth as a tool to manipulate those who are poor.  Enslaved to greed, the johns misunderstand the purpose of sex, and so falsely think they are getting the real deal when the best sex is actually married sex.

EDIT: I just noticed this article which came out the day after I posted, which talks about how casual sex causes depression.