Saturday, April 13, 2024

Mansini on the development of doctrine

My review of Guy Mansini’s excellent new book The Development of Dogma: A Systematic Account appears in the May 2024 issue of First Things.


  1. Dr. Feser
    I looked up the book on Amazon, which led me to Fr White's 3 Vol "Principles of Catholic Theology,," March 2024. I ordered the entire set. Fr. White, as you know, is a brilliant philosopher and theologian and Rector of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas in Rome. I remember emailing him about Thomistic philosophy years ago when he was at the Dominican House of Studies in D.C and he recommended your book on Aquinas to me.

  2. I forgot to give a link to Fr. White's books

  3. Your attempted takedown of DBH and Kaspar's eschatological view of development doesn't work. DBH believes in divine relevation; he believes that God revealed Himself in the life, death, and ressurection of Christ, and that we envision the eschaton within that reality. This is neither faith "once for all delivered" nor pure subjectivism; it's the belief that in Christ, we can see the end of all things. To say that we don't always see clearly is not to conclude there's nothing to see; no objective vision of who Jesus was and what He meant for faith and reason to see. It just means that the Apostles and the Church Fathers are in the same boat that we are: they must interpret Jesus. Sometimes, so DBH thinks, they get it right, as with the Nicene Synthesis. But DBH also thinks (on purely historical grounds) that the Nicene Creed professes things that contradict the earlier doctrinal consensus, and they are justified in doing so precisely because they make better sense of who Jesus was and what He achieved than Pre-Nicene orthodoxy. Incidentally, I noticed you didn't touch on what motivates DBH to reject Newman's views: history. DBH thinks that the actual history of Christian doctrine doesn't conform to Newman's conception. So the challenge doesn't come from theologians, it comes from historians, and theologians are responding to the challenge by looking for new ways to preserve the essence of Christianity without having to rely on convenient historical untruths. You may not agree with the solution, but you can't just ignore the problem.

    1. I’m not DBH, but this is largely correct and well said. Perhaps I’d simply add that that- even where there is something of a real development or “reinterpretation” in contrast to prior authorities- it remains true to say they are nevertheless united vis a vis something of the telos, the eschatology, the apokatastasis- everything to which the entire event of revelation points.

      As for Newman. I spent many years as a faithful Catholic studying both theology and history. On historical matters, I often deferred particular difficulties in the expectation that Newman would solve them. When I later studied Newman at great length at the graduate level, I was so thoroughly shocked by how poor his arguments were that I encountered a judgment of my conscience so strong as to leave the Church. It is not merely that Newman treats of the history irresponsibly- and he most certainly does. But it is also that- on a very real philosophical analysis- his principles are either a) viciously circular or b) prove far too much. There are so many cases they can be used in precisely the way he made pretense to bound them as to vindicate an entire range of heresies.

    2. This is not Hart's published view at all; Hart has been very clear that he thinks that basing a doctrine of development on history is Newman's primary mistake. This is not because the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers contradicted what came before the Council, but because what came before them was ambiguous; you can construct a story in which it all led up to the Council, and you can construct a story in which the Council was a disruption, and the historical evidence will never be able to distinguish which is correct. Hart's argument is in fact that the kind of argument you are attributing to him is a non-starter.

      Newman is arguably not as purely historical as Hart sometimes seems to suggest, and most of what Hart thinks of as doctrinal development seems to be covered by Newman's notes of Preservation of Type and Assimilative Power, but these finer points of the question are distinct from the main structure of the argument, on which Hart seems always to be quite clear. This came up explicitly not too long ago over a discussion of development by Levering, in which Hart pointed out that his criticism of Newman is Newman's excessive focus on history, which inevitably leads either to circularity (since the historical evidence on its own underdetermines the matter) or fiction (if one attempts to force history to decide the matter):

    3. Brandon,
      I wrote the comment (“I’m not DBH…”) and didnt mean to represent his views on Newman. I remark that in passing in case you had been responding to me. Having said that, I do think DBH’s views on Newman are worth considering at some length. One particular example might be instructive:

      Newman attempts to discriminate on matters of development in one respect through a principle of chronic vigor over and against corruption as such, and he is willing to speak of a slow decay as a particular example of such corruption. Yet even in his own account, Newman is forced to grant that even true development will bear something of decay that is merely “transitory”, with no internal limits or measure therein. Hart does a relatively good job showing how Newman is only able to escape anything of the responsibility of philosophical clarity on this principle and others by retreating constantly to biological metaphors that never of themselves admit of clear application. Then, further, Hart shows how newman’s principle in even this case would yield- in truth- a much stronger argument against him than for him on even the numerius examples he himself had used. In my view, the most of poignant of those is the Monophysite Communions. Far from being evidence of “slow decay”, they embodied a vigor such that they grew and endured in a harsher environment (certain Islam rulers) and they did so without receiving anything of the political support that the Roman Church had.

      So I think DBH there quite rightly shows that A) Newman omits very real considerations of the evidence at hand and B) at the merely historical level, the evidence can always be painted in either direction.

    4. I don't see much of a difference between "history is ambiguous" and "history is counter-evidence" as far as making it the problem for Newman's views, but Hart definitely believes that the Nicene Creed contradicted the Christological views that were held as orthodox in Alexandria based on sound scriptural evidence. And that scriptural evidence means there were people in the early Church (based on the DBH translation, probably everybody) who believed that Jesus was not equal to God, but a diminished secondary divine principle who was nonetheless still God's "Son" and the highest divine being in all creation. So even if Hart thinks that the best argument against Newman is that historical evidence is always ambigious (which, to me, isn't an argument a convinced conservative Catholic should lose much sleep over), his published views on the development of Christian doctrine and early Christianity would rule out any idea of the development of doctrine as Newman understands it.

      But I will admit that, even as a fairly devoted DBH reader, I find must of his arguments extremely difficult to follow (it took me literally dozens of reading of The Experience of God to realize he was a monist of sorts and not a dualist). So it's entirely possible that you're right and I'm wrong.

    5. "...the tension between, on the one hand, the institutional claim that dogmatic pronouncements have always only preserved and reaffirmed established orthodoxy by expressing it in new and clearer formulations and, on the other, the irrefutable evidence of history that, judged solely by their dogmatic and theological antecedents, many such pronouncements look like conceptual disjunctions rather than organic developments."

      That's DBH laying out the problem that Newman failed (in his view) to answer on his Substack page. He definitely thinks the historical evidence is THE problem, and avoiding that problem is part of what motivates his solution.

    6. Whenever I read up on one of DBH's theses which stand as contradiction to something that is more or less the received history as understood in the Catholic Church, his arguments always come off (to me) as a hypothesis in search of data, and not the other way around. I am not a historian, (but then Hart isn't technically one either, though his scholarly work certainly includes historical aspects as important elements), so possibly it's more me than him. But while I am not a historian, I have read many histories, including ones by those who ARE historians technically speaking, and the difference is dramatic - even leaving aside his penchant for resorting to vituperation. I can't trust his version of historical matters.

    7. Respectfully, man, DBH is far from the only scholar to point out real historical difficulties for the Church and for Newman treatment thereof. Even just in passing, the 5th Council was an absolute shit show to the point it almost feels like the Church was pranked.

      -Vigilius was an antipope and is acknowledged as such. Bellarmine relies entirely on a flimsy argument of the sort that the legitimacy of Silverius’s papacy’s is later “transferred” to vigilius after silverius’s death without anything of ecclesiastical action and without any precedents whatsoever.
      -Vigilius is thrown out of the council and imprisoned immediately. The rest of the council is concluded entirely without him.
      -Vigilius, then imprisoned and under duress in numerous respects, allegedly consented to rather complex theological formulae written in a language he couldnt even read. Thereafter, we are told he ratified the council itself. Though the evidence suggests even there he was still imprisoned.
      -The anathemas against Origen were not part of the council decrees themselves. They were added retroactively, and one of the decrees itself was altered to include Origen in a list of named heretics. This view of the the council was then “received” by the Church as having the authority of an ecumenical council behind it. It was only much much later when these facts were no longer disputable that the Church distanced itself from saying the respective anathemas were part of the council decrees proper.

      DBH tells that story with something of color, to be sure, but you’ll find there is actually wide consensus of scholars on those sorts of facts, except among those uniquely anxious to hedge everywhere for particular principles of doctrine and development.

    8. Now, even in just those facts as outlined, a serious Catholic should recognize real problems to the self understanding of the Church as presented in any number of texts, canons, and promulgations.

      A) Is papal ratification the sort of thing that could plausibly and legitimately have taken place under duress? If we grant that it could not have, where is the explicit ratification of the council thereafter? And if this ratification is not itself explicit, then what is the precedent for merely implicit ratification of Ecumenical Councils in the first place?

      B) Is not the removal of the pope from the council and the thorough completion of it thereupon in his absence an indication that the “consensus” presupposed in such councils does not, in fact, necessitate the bishop of Rome’s consent? Even in how the council was received in the church thereafter, what evidence is there that it was any less a real and full ecumenical council, except upon Vigilius’s “ratification” thereof? And granting any of this, what then could be said on those matters in which the appearance of consensus so betrayed the actual facts of them? On even matters such as the Council of Florence, how could such consensus be affirmed when at least three patriarchal delegates did not, in fact, represent their patriarchs at all? Was not their very at the council conditional upon this representation? For there to be anything of coherency in consensus by delegation, must we not, in fact, grant that any initial appearance of such consensus is- by the very nature of delegation- provisional?

      C) In what way was the pope at the time of the 5th council any different than those men thrown out of councils for stubbornly failing to come to consensus in good will? How was he- in fact- any different than even the two Arians thrown out in the very first Council of Nicaea? For the issue here is not heresy as such. It is, rather, the conditions of consensus themselves and whether even Rome can stand above them. Whether even Rome can ratify a rock into a council.

      D) Granting that Vigilius had been an antipope before Silverius’s death- and he most certainly was- in what sense is it even plausible to say that he became a legitimate pope afterwards in virtue of the fact that many had already desired him to be so beforehand and after? What is the precedent for this? Is not the very fact of holding fast in a belief that a man is pope when he was not, in fact, pope the de facto basis by which the Church understands any to enter into real schism on such a matter in the first place? Is not that the sort of thing that renders the practical pronouncement of such schism real, intelligible, and true? Is not that- in fact- the basis for even the identification of robber councils as robber councils as well?

    9. E) And if we grant that anything of de facto schism existed thereby, how could we ever defer to the beliefs of those to which this schism pertained? Would not this very epistemology vindicate the legitimacy of many antipopes that had already come beforehand? Would not even just the overwhelming and nearly universal belief in Arian antipopes of the post Nicene period thereby trump the claims of those orthodox holdouts in what are remembered now to be the legitimate popes thereof? Would not indeed the legitimacy of such orthodox popes have been- in the manner of Silverius- “transferred” to the respective antipope of the era?

      F) And- even in those matters of the post Nicene period- how could the papacy function as any practical indication of unity and authority? Indeed, how was it anything but the subversion of such things? In a time where even your most trusted neighbors and witnesses were thoroughly misled that arians and their antipopes were the legitimate successors of the apostles and indeed even the bishop of Rome, in what manner could a man determine otherwise? In a world where he could not even drive a car to confirm controversial testimonies of then-present political and ecclesiastical facts, how could even those facts be presupposed for the identification of heresy and schism as such?

      G) How could it be expected that any common man of good will- even there- have the capacity to identify heresy and schism, when even many of the most demonstrably intelligent bishops and theologians of that era came to see the Arians as the legitimate successors to the apostles? How could we expect this in such a time where even Constantine the Great- that man who had converted to Christianity at a time when doing so was no small inconvenience to his emperorship - that man who called even the Council of Nicaea itself- when even that man recanted Nicaea in its totality and proceeded to elevate antipopes thereafter? And then a fortiori: how could we then diminish any of this by saying there was epistemic fog for “merely” 60 years? Indeed, how could we thereby say that God abandoned an entire generation to the “fog” of heresy and schism proper?

      See, these are the sorts of questions that do not arise because of hostility to the Church. Quite the contrary, they arise in an engagement with the Church on its own terms. Far beyond anything of “color” in DBH, these are the sorts of questions that Newman fails to address at nearly every turn. Even making a single hedge to account for the legitimacy of one “difficult” council can end up unraveling every council. Even granting an exception for just one antipope-made-pope can threaten to undermine papal succession for every pope. Failing to articulate even just the practical, epistemic grounds for the identification of authority, heresy, and schism can well undermine the claims pertaining to any such things. And I say all of this as someone who would otherwise return the Church, but for the seriousness and the reality of such things for my conscience. And even these are but the smallest subset of which anyone of sincerity ought be willing to address beyond “received history” as such, DBH or not.

    10. Brandon wrote: "...Hart pointed out that his criticism of Newman is Newman's excessive focus on history..."

      I wonder, would Hart's criticism of Newman apply also to Anon's avowed reasons for leaving the Church? In particular, it seems Anon may have had an excessive focus on the history of the Church as interpreted by Newman:

      "On historical matters, I often deferred particular difficulties in the expectation that Newman would solve them. When I later studied Newman at great length at the graduate level, I was so thoroughly shocked by how poor his arguments were that I encountered a judgment of my conscience so strong as to leave the Church."

    11. Same Anon here. Only just now realized I could input a handle lol. I dont want to speak for Hart as such here, but I would suggest that Christianity always begins with something of historical testimony that cant help but be subject to the way we evaluate any sort of testimony. Which is perfectly fine- am still a Christian as much as I ever was. I just cant accept the “baggage” of all those principles that dont- in my view- hold up to critical scrutiny or consistent application to the narrative itself.

    12. Are you in a fundamentally different position from the village atheist who says the Bible doesn't hold up to his scrutiny because it doesn't fit his assumptions about what a real divine revelation would be like? Are Newman's principles really all that scandalously wrong? Does that not depend on what you take them to be for, what it is you think they must be capable of accomplishing? Are they not reasonable heuristic principles, even if their historical application always proves to be contentious when applied to particular questions? Is your position somewhat analogous to Hume's (unreasonable) skeptical critique of induction? Do you think Newman's arguments are actually worthless?

    13. I’m certainly not Humean, David. You’ll notice that virtually every question I articulated arose from an engagement with the Church on its own term, excepting perhaps the very last section. Its not that the history of Christianity had to go a particular way in the abstract. Its that the Catholic Church requires- at minimum- it didnt go some ways. And you’ll find that the densest and most poignant historical analyses are actually done by otherwise faithful Catholics.

      An example would be someone like Fr. Dvornik on the Photian Crisis. If Photius died in union with Rome and we have no indication that the 879 Constantinople was ever called into question before the 1054 Schism, well thats a hell of a big deal. Dvornik could well be wrong- Perhaps the seemingly overwhelming evidence by which Paul VIII appears to have ratified the council without qualification is all forged. Perhaps Paul VIII was so deluded that the council never even had the preconditions to be ratified, whatever he believed himself to be doing. But however you slice it, it was intended and recorded as an ecumenical council before being rejected as such by Rome some 200 years later. Now that- in itself- is not fatal. We can qualify epistemic principles so as to account for that. We can say things like “it only LOOKED like it was received, but the preconditions werent there” etc etc.

      The problems arise when you realize just how frequently you have to continue hedging those same principles. Sooner or later you get backed into a corner such that- even justifying the choice to ignore those Condemnations of 1277 that hit Thomas is extremely hard. Was Tempier’s authority to excommunicate and define doctrine there merely “provisional” by the nature of delegation? Perhaps, but then we’d prove the perennial Eastern argument against the Council of Florence. Was it simply not “received” in anything of the immediacy required? Maybe. but then that would have led us to side with the arians in arguing the bishop of Rome deposed himself de facto at Nicaea. Etc etc. The point is that its not ONE thing. Its the culmination of many years of study and a judgment of conscience that there is no self-consistent narrative there, even as you might otherwise wish it to be so.

    14. As for Newman: its worth specifying what Newman you are speaking about. I’ve read all his works at some point or other in my life. I dont hate the man, and I do think hes something of a saint, just with a rather significant blind spot. Not unlike most saints. And I still enjoy many of his since-anthologized reflections on the Patristics.

      As it pertains to these sorts of questions, Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine is most pertinent. I would say the value of that essay is primarily illustrations of the way ideas cannot but be manifest over time in something of an institution. It is a plenty reasonable way to frame the idea of “Development” in the abstract. The problems are- quite literally- everything else in his methodology. Virtually every time he applies an epistemic principle to a case, it backfires profoundly not only in where he applies it, but also in where he doesnt apply it. And as it so happens, thats the sort of thing i had already been struggling with for years beforehand. I could see how he was omitting the way this principle applied in that way actually vindicated XYZ heresies as orthodoxy, but for the fact he omitted the obvious counterarguments at every turn.

    15. In the interest of adding something of levity to an otherwise overly serious conversation, I will say this: studying Church history- wherever it leads you- allows you to discover some of the most enjoyable anecdotes.

      My favorite by far is (anti)Pope and Martyr St. Felix II. After Constantine recanted Nicaea, he elevated Antipope Felix II. But somehow somebody managed to slip Felix II into the Liber Pontificalis, Rome’s most authoritative record of papal succession in that era, as the legitimate successor to Pope Liberius. And not only that, but they appear (?) to have also confused him with a St. Felix such that they additionally imputed Felix II the status of saint and martyr.

      Whatsoever happened, Pope and Martyr St. Felix II was given his own feast day, remained in that Liber, and then made his way into both the Missal and Martyrology straight on through history into their 1920 promulgations.

      At some point in the mid 20th century, somebody somewhere realized something was amiss. It became public knowledge ever so briefly, but long enough for theologians to begin arguing that Felix had met all the conditions of “equivalent” canonizations in his 1500+ year uninterrupted veneration. Indeed, the argument went that we could be certain he met the conditions as defined, and only slightly less certain that he was an antipope and probable Arian. Hence, it was argued, we ought only assume he was neither antipope nor arian. Or, perhaps, he had been coerced into his antipopery and secretly never affirmed arius in his heart.

      Needless to say, that sort of conversation wasn’t particularly well met. Felix II was scrubbed from the Liber, the Missal, and the Martyrology shortly thereafter. But there is one place he can never be scrubbed: from the name of every subsequent Pope Felix thereafter. So every one of those Felix’s bears testimony to Antipope Felix II to this very day.

      So thats how my grandmother ended up praying novenas to Antipope Felix II.

    16. "I’m certainly not Humean, David."

      Certainly not a Humean of the strict observance, but that really wasn't my point. If you want to say you're certainly not, that invites the question, what do you mean? The certainty of your not being Humean depends on the certainty of what being Humean means and the certifiability of its non-application to you.

      "You’ll notice that virtually every question I articulated arose from an engagement with the Church on its own term"

      I'm not at all sure what that is supposed to mean.

    17. Prove to you with certainty that I’m not a Humean? I think I’ll pass. Yeah, I studied standard Hume texts in the context of an ordinary classical education. Reading him affected me not at all. I could just as well ask you to prove you *shouldnt* be asking the sorts of questions to which I pointed if you have anything of serious belief in what the Church articulates itself to be. But I didnt because that sort of thing seems entirely unseemly to me in this sort of forum. Hume is also just not even interesting to me. Pick someone else if you’re trying to paint me as an unreasonable rationalist.

    18. It means he's acting according to the Catholic Church's own logic, not subjecting it to some external standard. The "village atheist" objection doesn't work because the atheist uses his own standard (usually crude materialism) and applies it to Christian teaching. Anon is playing the game by Catholicism's own rules, and the Church's historical claims still lose.

    19. It just means that the Apostles and the Church Fathers are in the same boat that we are: they must interpret Jesus.

      Part (a major part) of the point of Jesus's 3-year ministry with the Apostles is that they had direct, personal, physical and sensory experience of Jesus to go along with interior experiences in faith. That touchstone is a critical facet of Christianity. We all have interior experience, including ones of illumination and wonder and uplifting help - but being interior, we do not directly experience someone else's interior event, and cannot communicate our own in clear manner, and most certainly we cannot directly communicate the objective reliability of those interior experiences.

      But having the apostolic touchstone means that even though there might be two (or several) different theories that might work to explain what we (variously) experience interiorly, we can definitively rule out theories that directly conflict with the touchstone experiences that the 12 had NOT interiorly but concretely, physically, sensibly, and visibly shared with each other so that they COULD confirm the events and sayings and so on.

      We most definitely are NOT in the same position as the Apostles. And a theory of Christianity that tries to put the Apostles in the exact same boat as us vis-a-vis the reliability of what we experience of Jesus is not really the Christian religion that Christ handed on to the Apostles.

    20. Tony, so, here's a few reasons why you're wrong, mostly drawn from the New Testament. 1) The only apostle whose words and views are unquestionably preserved in the New Testament are Paul's. The authors of the Gospels are unknown. The letters attributed to Peter were almost certainly not written by him. The letter of James might be genuine (I think it is), but it's impossible to know. We know basically nothing about who wrote the Johannine letters, Hebrews, and Revelation. So even if the Apostles have privileged epistemic status compared to us, we don't have direct access to the Apostles (apart from Paul, who didn't know Jesus while he was alive). 2) Even assuming the Gospels accurately include the impressions of the Gospels and other eyewitnesses (and they probably do), the Gospels themselves obviously disagree on how to interpret Jesus. Mark's Jesus is moody and mysterious. Matthew's Jesus is extremely Jewish. Luke's Jesus is a prophet of social justice. John's Jesus is the Logos of God descending into the fallen world to walk among men. There are overlaps in these portraits, but they're not identical, nor can all their elements be reconciled. So even the people who saw Jesus first-hand disagreed on who he was. Even in the Gospels, the disciples frequently misunderstand Jesus's teaching (a professor of mine in college, a pious evangelical scholar who believes in the inerrancy of scripture, once described the disciples as "dumber than a sack of hammers"). And when they see him after his resurrection, many of them don't immediately recognize him. 3) There's even more direct evidence for dissention among the Apostles. It's quite obvious, even from the more massaged retrospective portrait in Acts, that Paul and Peter did not get along. Peter had more privileged access to Jesus, having actually been a disciple, but the Church assumes Paul was right on their areas of disagreement, even though he only met the risen Jesus. Why? Well, presumably Paul, being a sophisticated Hellenized Pharisee of unquestionable theological brilliance, had better intellectual resources to make sense of Jesus. It's either that or the liberal Jewish scholars who are trying to reclaim Jesus for Judaism are right, and the real community founded by Jesus was snuffed out with the destruction of Jerusalem, leaving only Paul's abberant faction in Jewish enclaves elsewhere. 4) The claim that the Catholic Church was the true guardian of the faith handed by Jesus to the apostles stood up for so long because nobody had the historical resources to investigate it. But it's not the 15th century anymore. We can read the texts of the New Testament in their original languages, in dialogue with other texts from the same period. We can place the stories of the New Testament in their real historical context rather than the one imagined by later theologians. And with that knowledge, it becomes clear that the idea that the Catholic Church can claim that it was in any sense founded by the Apostles is sheer nonsense. Jesus announced the coming of the Kingdom of God, not the coming of the Church. That was the message of the Apostles: that through Jesus's Ressurection, God had issued a promissary notice of love, justice, and mercy to be redeemed at the end of the age. The early Church was orientated towards that future: a future they (mistakenly) believed would come very soon. I think the promise of the Ressurection is still good; I think the Apostles would still think it was, too. But I doubt they would recognize the shape of institutional Christianity as it exists today.

    21. Your point is well taken, but I’m not sure it amounts to an argument against Hart’s view as articulated- that we are always in the position of interpreting Christ. A few points are instructive here:

      Luke’s account shows us that the apostles- and Peter in particular- did not even recognize Jesus resurrected in His glory.

      John’s account offers an even stronger narrative on this: Thomas must literally touch each nail mark before he can recognize the figure as the risen Christ. At which point, Jesus, remarks: “You believe by way of sight? How much more blessed are those who believe even as they do not see.”

      And then, of course, Mark, Luke, and John all attest to the fact that the women recognized the risen Christ immediately to the point of prostrating before they even spoke. Thereafter they spread word to the apostles of the resurrection, yet Thomas (rather hilariously) STILL wouldnt believe.

      Tradition tends to include the Blessed Mother among the women and treat them as a type for the contemplative life. That always struck me as an eminently appropriate exegesis of the respective passages.

      And then theres a rather strong emphasis in all (?) the Gospels of Christ healing the blind, yet their faith preceding the healing itself.

      And then that great account of Nathaniel who - even in the preliminary belief of those “without guile”- is told that even he does not yet “see” what is to come.

      Basically, the contrast between knowing God at the level of the senses and knowing Him as such is hammered home everywhere you look.

    22. Also
      “Mark’s Jesus is moody and mysterious.”

      Best sentence I’ve read in a bit, and partly because its extremely true.

    23. 1) The only apostle whose words and views are unquestionably preserved in the New Testament are Paul's. The authors of the Gospels are unknown.

      This says it all.

      On the standards of history, rather than science or a criminal trial, we know. Using the same approach as used to determine the genuineness of other ancient works, we know.

  4. Hi. I’ve been looking over the debate some years ago between Feser and Hart. Has Feser written a response to Hart’s points here:

    I’m mostly interested in evaluating Hart’s claims on
    A) The Patristics
    B) Linguistics and Etymology of the various scripture passages discussed
    C) Denziger not actually including the liceity of Capital Punishment as a point of recognized Catholic doctrine.

    1. Yes, I replied to that here:

    2. Thanks, Ed. I’m trying to cut through many weeds and keep my focus.

      -Can you explain how/where you arrive at the statements you have made regarding the scripture passage interpretations? It seems pretty obvious you have to grant the number of Church Fathers that are against you both generally and even on their specific exegeses of those passages. Are you claiming that the Church has since rejected or reinterpreted their exegesis thereof?

      -Can you link me something analogous to Denziger that isnt “limited” to dogma? I’m having a hard time tracking down any meta-collection of doctrine. The stuff people commonly cite- like the Catechism- doesnt seem like a good argument for your view.

      -Do you grant, in a more general sense- that nothing which has the consensus of the Patristics could be overturned? Even by Thomas Aquinas himself? etc etc

    3. Anon,

      Regarding your latter two questions, you will be hard pressed to find any answers. Ecclesiologists cannot even agree on what level of magisterial teaching papal documents are. Further, I don't think that the "consensus of the fathers" is a real concept, except basic ethical issues or *maybe* the divinity of the Son.

    4. I think Patristic Consensus is an idea that has pretty wide reverence in the Christian tradition, even if it is not terribly practical. But I’m not (Roman) Catholic and never have been. I brought it up merely because it seems like Feser and those who argue for the Death Penalty are frequently prooftexting the Patristics as though Patristic Consensus has some value to them. But speaking candidly, Feser and the “Thomists” treatment of the Patristics seems very poor, even to those merely watching from outside the Church. There is a bit of a quip that, if you cant even read Origen in context, you really have no right to read any of the eastern fathers.

      Also, would you do me the charity of explaining more on the other point? How is it possible Catholics don’t have a commonly accepted list of doctrine? What does it mean to be Roman Catholic in the first place if you’re not affirming a defined set of beliefs? Do you just affirm what the Catechism says one day and change your mind whenever the text changes? And I’m now reading that “ANON” claims you haven’t even defined what councils you do and don’t believe in? I’m not trying to be contentious here. I just truly don’t understand how this is possible.

  5. Hi. I couldn’t help but notice an earlier commenter mentioned the Council of Florence, and thats a matter I have personally struggled with for a while. In addition to what he asked, can you clarify whether the Church has since rejected its “Decree in Behalf of the Jacobites”?

    In general, that decree is concerned about those Mosaic practices that suggest its practitioners put their faith in such things instead of Christ. But I’ve always found it concerning just how explicit and clear the decree is on these matters:

    “Therefore the Church commands all who glory in the name of Christian, at whatever time, before or after baptism, to cease entirely from circumcision, since, whether or not one places hope in it, it cannot be observed at all without the loss of eternal salvation.”

    The issue is that the decree clearly embodies an urgency in view of the fact such things endanger the souls of those who have participated in them by no fault of their own. And then it applies all of this with a terrifying amount of precision (“whether or not…cannot…at all..”) to circumcision proper where the text is obviously conveying that those who were circumcised by no fault of their own are damned all the same as those who actually manifested a lack of faith through it. Although he tries to joke about it, I can tell one of my family members lost interest in Catholicism the day he read that decree, and I’ve never known how to talk about it.

    1. There are two circumcisions, one religious and the other pseudo-medical. The former is condemned - but not unforgivable - and the latter is not. Seems pretty straightforward.

    2. It appears that in the context of the passage, it was dealing specifically with the religious practices of the Old Covenant. It doesn't include medical practices. So, say, you're not allowed to partake in religious circumcision even if you don't put hope in it. Consider Galatians 5:2-11. It also condemns circumcision without qualification, but you can glean the same exact context by reading the passage holistically. If this decree puts doubt on catholicism, shouldn't Galatians put doubt on Christianity?

    3. Galatians actually gives you room for interpretation, though, and it qualifies itself immediately (“You who believe yourselves righteous by law…”). But this statement is formulated to exclude certain interpretations from the outset: “whether or not they place their hope in it”. And like obviously many Jews still practice circumcision. I guess I just dont understand why the notion of it being a “medical” practice would affect the emphasis on circumcision affecting those who didnt even place their hope in it to begin with.

      I dont know. I guess just dont understand why its ok to reinterpret some things but not other things when something like this seems consciously formulated to exclude such reinterpretation.

    4. Ok, maybe this would help me: why is it the case I would need to be forgiven even if I had been circumcised in such a “religious” way through no fault of my own? Like how can we say an infant mortally sins? It just doesnt make any sense to me to say that. And thats pretty much what all the commentaries on this decree are saying: “mortal sin even if you didnt intend it to be”

    5. I don't know the details of the case, but certainly a possible way to understand the decree is as a (temporary) positive precept (like don't eat meat on Fridays, or wear your virtue-signalling mask when you go to mass), i.e., not as a hopelessly ham-fisted attempt to enunciate a (universal) moral precept. Certainly in regard to mortal sin, there would be no question of suspending the basic conditions required for mortal sin. That would indeed make no sense.

    6. Thank you. The idea of it being a practical precept with maybe an expiration date seems easier for
      me to stomach than having to redefine circumcision all the time.

    7. It means exactly what it looks like it means. The language is quite unambigious; nothing in there about it being a temporary. Circumcision is still prohibited by the Catholic Church, on grounds of both natural law and covenantal theology. The simple explanation is that dishing out eternal damnation was ecumenical councils' favorite means of intimidation, and whether damning someone over circumcision made any sense morally or spiritually was beside the point.

    8. Timothy was under the new covenant but was circumcised neither because of placing hope in it nor because of medical reasons. Timothy was not damned.

  6. You worry too much, Sean.

  7. Define "Liberalism". What is the bar minimum of what someone has to believe to count as a liberal?

  8. So I commented earlier on Hart’s criticisms of Newman’s Essay and aimed to suggest that they- like my own criticisms of Newman that preceded my reading of Hart by more than a decade- did not begin in anything of hostility to, ignorance of, or strawmen toward the Church as such. Quite the contrary in my own case; I left the Church even as I would have preferred to honor my family and friends by remaining within it. Whether all that seems plausible to you is whatever you make of it. Put it aside. I want to turn to some other questions relevant to the original article and book considered here.

    Has the Church at this point defined infallibly, dogmatically, or at least doctrinally as such (explicit, intentional formulation) the set of historical events it identifies as ecumenical councils?

    When I left the Church, it hadn’t yet done so nor did it give any suggestion that it would. There was a “fast and loose” list of councils that amounted to something of Robert Bellarmine’s best guess. It was changed *significantly* and updated into a newer “best guess”: Norman Tanner’s collection of councils and decrees.

    The interesting thing about even Tanner’s list, of course, is its hardly free of controversy. He acknowledges his intentional choice to drop the Justinian Anathemas from the 5th Council and to use the council decrees themselves before they had been edited to name Origen in its list of condemned heretics. Indeed, I personally think the reasons for his doing so are very compelling. Yet, undeniably: future councils (at minimum: #6 and #7) do acknowledge the presupposition those anathemas carried ecumenical authority. Now, at this point, there were a number of different responses taking the rough forms of:


  9. A) “Tanner made a mistake. Even as I grant it is (historically) demonstrable that Origen was not in fact discussed at the council once, it has become an essential part of tradition due to its treatment thereafter. For that fact alone, it must be treated as a council decree.”

    B) “Ecumenical Councils never intended to articulate historical facts as such. We need not consider any such statements found within their decrees to have the authority of the council proper. Let us side with Tanner in striking those anathemas from the books. The tradition remains sound.”

    C) “The view in B is substantially correct, but it hasnt been followed out in full. It makes no sense to accept those doctrinal conclusions that themselves presupposed erroneous historical facts as premises. Such doctrines may have been stated and defined in sincerity, but only by way of that same false pretense that invalidated any robber council in history. Hence, we must additionally qualify the authority of teaching proceeding from them.”

    D) “The tradition as received cannot err in anything of substance. Thus, it is not only necessary to say those anathemas were council decrees proper, we must also say that no amount of historical evidence to the contrary could ever be proof against their ecumenical authority.”

    E) “If the Church can- like a marriage- annul a council that appeared to have been accepted for 200 years, then there is nothing problematic about anulling one that might have appeared to be accepted for even 2000 years. Let us simply say this council was indeed a council like any other, just not a properly “ecumenical” one with respect to authoritative teaching. Hence, we can accept its teachings so far as they are true and reject them so far as they are not.”

    I’ve done my best here to represent those positions in something of charity. If I failed to do any of them justice, it was not my intention. But hopefully those descriptions are still useful as illustrations as to how this sort of issue cannot be “ducked”. D and E are by far the most self defeating.

    D is self defeating in that the entire prospect of Christianity begins in historical testimony as such. If we found Christ’s bones tomorrow, we ought admit we were wrong. Perhaps God could or would still exist, but he’d be different than what we believed he had revealed himself to be. I believe that quite firmly.

    E is just a very sneaky way of rendering the entire concept of “infallibility” incoherent by reserving always and everywhere a right to disqualify- after the fact- anything that was considered infallible teaching in the first place. And it really does appear to have happened on more than one occasion.

    Hence: what is the list?

  10. I’ll further throw this into the convo for whomever wants to address it.

    Feser and Hart had a great argument re: the Nature/Grace debate some time ago. As it so happens, that argument that seems initially such a small point of exegesis- really does affect the way you look at utterly everything in Christendom. And if you like theology even at all, you owe it to yourself to study it in full.

    Now, Hart is eclectic in his treatment of tradition, and he certainly tends toward a strong Neoplatonism in practice. But I think one essential point of his has been proven undeniably true:

    “The natural desire for God—the cor inquietum that has no rest but in God—is not an occasional mood regarding some thing in a mind otherwise disposed to other things. It is the essential impulse of all noetic desire. Hence, a rational being in a state of “pure nature” would not seek God only as an “explanatory principle” if that being did not already naturally long for God in himself. You have skipped over the very heart of the matter. The issue—the burning issue of this whole debate—is whether any rational nature could possibly rest contented in a purely natural end. And the only sane answer is an unyielding no. How could it, if the very rational desire for God as explanans naturam requires a prior desire for Truth as such?“

    And on this point, I’ll further add that this really is Thomas’s own view in the Summa Contra Gentiles to the extent that an intellectual creature as such could not rest content in understanding God merely under the aspect of a cause. I’d recommend listening to Fr. Mallady here if you’re not in the habit of reading Thomas:

    Wherein Fr. Mallady believes De Lubac fell into a quasi-Nominalism in certain views later, yet the substance of De Lubac’s argument against Cajetan was true both at the level of exegesis on Thomas and- in my and Hart’s view- at the level of fact.

    So- Fr. Mallady aside- what do Thomists today make of the fact that so much of Thomism thereafter presupposed Cajetan’s ideas on the matter as a given?

    I’ll even further add that I believe Thomists ended up villainizing a number of faithful men that truly could have been strong, collaborative allies at vatican II. Instead, they ceded so much ground and influence that actually malicious men ran free.

    1. I do not generally have "noetic" in my ready vocabulary, so I looked it up again:

      the noetic quality of a mystical experience refers to the sense of revelation"

      If Hart is urging

      “The natural desire for God—the cor inquietum that has no rest but in God—is not an occasional mood regarding some thing in a mind otherwise disposed to other things. It is the essential impulse of all noetic desire. Hence, a rational being in a state of “pure nature” would not seek God only as an “explanatory principle” if that being did not already naturally long for God in himself. You have skipped over the very heart of the matter.

      then it appears to me that HE is begging the question: how can he simply assume that there is a noetic desire. Why doesn't he have to prove that it is there?

      Thomas, borrowing from Aristotle, holds that all knowledge in the natural order starts with sensation, and accrues through conceptualization from sense impressions worked on by the interior faculties. What, after that, leads inexorably to a noetic experience of desire, that does not involve any supernatural action upon the man?

      Doing natural theology, one can establish that there is a God above all created being, and that he is perfect beyond limited goodness. One can desire to know this God "insofar as he can be known", but this "insofar as" can be described under two different modes: (a) God as he can be known from all that I have here available to me; (b) God known as he is in himself (i.e. not in respect of any limitations). This would represent two distinct senses of "desire", if one could indeed be said to desire them both. For (a), the person can certainly actively desire it, in that he can act to pursue it. For (b), it is unclear how (without grace) he could act to pursue it, and so how could any so-called "desire" for it be a proper desire in the normative sense of desire? A desire that cannot move the appetite to act does not seem the same thing as a desire that can move the appetite to act. We have words like "wish" and such to denote things that are sort of like "desire" but in some sense fall away from it.

      God, in fact, did make Adam and Eve with sanctifying grace and in a state of union with Him, thereby including the incipient state of seeing Him, though through a veil. The later state of humans is a state of loss that reflects on that earlier state of grace, reflects that there is something missing that was once there and intended to be there. That loss might in practice give rise to a noetic desire, but would it be possible to confirm with certainty that such desire isn't at all related to the event of the loss itself rather than the mere condition of being intended by God to live in Him? That is, even if it were established that (all) men after Adam have such noetic desire, (not a manifest datum) how could we prove definitively that it exists in no wise due to the conditions of original justice followed by original sin in humanity? How could it be proven that it is in no way related to God revealing to Adam and Eve that man is called to union and that He would send a redeemer to heal the division?

    2. You may put aside the word “neotic” for the present. Hart’s points here can be illustrated even in the context of “merely” natural theology and Aristotelian epistemology.

      The order of being as such is different than the way in which we come to know it. A thing’s essence precedes anything that follows thereupon at the level of cause, even as we cannot help- in practice- learning in the “reverse” order. To that extent, your statements regarding the role of the senses are correct. They’re a good, common sense, and thoroughly Thomistic starting point for these sorts of conversations.

      Now, when we encounter a substance in practice, our experience of it is rendered intelligible on the basis of supposing (even implicitly) certain ideas that “ground” and “unify” sensory observations. We do not (or should not) naively pretend everything we see pertains directly to the essence of a substance as such, but we nevertheless do posit an underlying essence. To that extent, an investigation of the lower “elicits” an investigation of the higher.

      For Aristotle and a “knowledge of causes”, this is largely the result of a chain of explanation and intelligibility in the truest sense. The lower facts we initially access through the senses are explained, indeed “caused”, by way of the higher. Now, in fact, we’ll never exhaust the essence of even a single flower in this life. Even so, the intellect would tend toward and delight in doing such a thing.

      Now, what is important to grasp here is that- fundamentally- those are matters that bear directly upon the operation of the intellect even wherein we cannot always *literally* do it ourselves. We depend frequently upon what Aristotle calls the “help of a friend”. We rightly rely on the testimony and experience of others through the entire process not merely as a child learning to read and do biology, but even in our fullest maturity in this life. And far beyond making an “exception” for intellectual creatures, this is the norm for all biological animals.

      A wolf, for example, relies on the help of his pack, and not merely as a defenseless pup. His pack, after all, is what allows him to hunt beasts larger than himself in the first place. The potency for him doing so is there, even as the actualization of it makes reference beyond himself. Indeed, he relies on the help of the pack just as much as he relies on even the “friendship” of that bison. Even a bison is more a bison for that fact. And so considerations of this sort may well lead to investigations of an entire ecosystem. In doing so, we shed even more light on what it means to be a wolf, not less. So it is also for creatures of the intellectual sort, even as their nature itself “exceeds” that of the wolves.

      Returning, then, to natural theology; we posit God as the type of unavoidable higher fact necessary to explain everything else, considered in various ways. But we do not cease thereby in desiring to know him as He is, just as we desired to know everything else as it is throughout the entire enterprise. Such a desire or tendency is “elicited”, sure, but that is not something “superadded” to our intellect. We tend toward a knowledge of causes in the particular only because we tend toward truth as such. This is the teleology of the intellect in the fullest sense. By which even the intellect’s most basic operations are explained. By which even a “knowledge of causes” could be deemed relevant to an intellectual nature from the outset.

      Now, in my view, Thomas states these things rather explicitly at various points. And they lead him- quite rightly- to show how man could never achieve even his “natural end” in this life. Man’s intellect could never rest “content” here and now as long as God’s nature remains inaccessible. Augustine’s cor inquietum is vindicated there as elsewhere. And this is entirely true even “before” revelation. It is a fact following upon what what we are if we are of an “intellectual nature” at all. Hence it would apply even to angels, if natural theology deemed it necessary to posit their existence.

    3. So Hart’s points here are not, in fact, “novel”, even as he chooses to express them by elements of Christianity’s larger philosophical tradition that was never limited to Aristotle’s vocabulary. In point of fact, Hart (and I) believe these sorts of considerations to be the best understanding of Aristotle himself and one of the essential ways Aristotle sheds light on the rest of the tradition.

      And I’ll remark that it is no small thing at all for Cajetan to reinterpret “obediential potency” and apply it in the way he does. Far and away, the early Scholastics used this term (rightly) to speak about a potency proper to human nature that nevertheless was rendered dormant in the particular. God could intervene miraculously to restore the sight of a blind man or a woman beyond her years of fertility. But the respective faculties restored didnt cease thereby to remain proper to human nature. They were restored truly and fully by “the help of a friend”. The miracle was the means, though nature itself remained the end. It might be said that- had Aristotle been baptized in his age- he’d hardly see a reason to object to obediential potency understood in this way.

      But as soon as you use obediential potency in a manner that purports to explain how you share in some other nature, then even Aristotle is against you. He’d simply remark that you’ve done the very notions of “essence” and “potency” the most violent of violences. For they were principles by which he explained why certain facts of reality persist in the way they do. We might identify potencies that are held in common among different substances. Perhaps a flower shares that characteristically “vegetative” potency with other plants. Well and good.

      But to say that a flower had the “potency” to be something else is a simple category error. It would be the most barren observation that a flower might be destroyed as its material elements are reassembled into something else. Perhaps we will make room for that most pernicious phenomenon of substantial change. Well and good. Even still, if it has anything of potency to be something other than a flower, it is- precisely to that extent- no longer a flower.

      Which brings us full circle. I will not speak for Hart on every matter, but my own interest here isnt merely theological. I first and foremost oppose Cajetan’s reading of Thomas from the perspective of Aristotle himself. In my view, it reinterprets Aristotle’s most basic metaphysical presuppositions into those of Heraclitus. And it stemmed from an exceptionally poor and exaggerated inference drawn from a passage in De Caelo that never pertained to biological creatures at all, let alone the rational sort.

    4. I acknowledge that Thomas specifies that we have only one end that wholly fills our intellect's possibility for knowing, which entails knowing God as he is in himself. But he says other things that color in the picture as more difficult to characterize.

      Returning, then, to natural theology; we posit God as the type of unavoidable higher fact necessary to explain everything else, considered in various ways. But we do not cease thereby in desiring to know him as He is, just as we desired to know everything else as it is throughout the entire enterprise.

      Let me suggest, ANON, that I am afraid that here you rather gloss over very the difficulty itself: the question is just whether we really do desire "to know him as He is, just as we desired to know everything else as it is". Perhaps the way to get at this is to ask, again, whether what is going on there is properly called "desire".

      First, St. Thomas says (I forget where) that the knower naturally apprehends according to the mode of the knower. Humans, being a spirit-body composite, naturally know by way of senses and abstraction from that to essences. We know physical things like animals most readily because we can sense them, and their mode of being is closer to our mode of being. Things that are far below us, like minerals, having no soul, are known according to the mode of the knower, I suspect, in part by our subtracting from our own anthropic attention even more than we have to subtract to know animals and plants - and we do it less readily. But subtraction (in apprehension) from what we are is possible for the knower, whereas addition (for higher beings than us) is only "possible" in a relative sense, we do it by way of negation: recognizing the higher being is not limited in our way of being limited. This is, precisely, NOT knowing the higher being as it is in itself.

      And, again, while we can rightly philosophize that angels can understand themselves better than we can understand them, and we can speculate about being raised up supernaturally to a higher mode of apprehension, the question is whether can we DESIRE that elevation in an active sense, by our natural power alone? Under our own natural power, we cannot do anything at all to accomplish that elevation. Nor, without revelation, can we determine definitely that God intends and purposes that elevation. And so, there being no activity open to us TOWARD that elevation, is our awareness of the theoretical possibility of it the basis that should be called "desire" of it? Where "desire" is the natural act of the appetite toward the being's fulfillment?

    5. There are other things not within our natural ability that we kind of "would like" to have, but (I think) would not qualify as "desire for". Take, for example, various animal capabilities that we don't have: birds can fly, dolphins can use sonar, sharks can sense by electric fields. We can - sort of - wish that we had those abilities or senses. I say "sort of" for a reason: we cannot actively desire to have the sense of sonar as a natural trait, if having that capacity means being a different KIND of being than being human. We could not properly desire to be an unthinking animal (and humans who would desire so are deformed), and we cannot properly desire to have wings to fly if that implies we would not have, say, the mass needed to carry our large brains (and the required large lungs and heart and skull) required to support rational animal functions. At most we could WISH that we could add flight to our natural abilities, while knowing that it is not actually compatible with our nature. So, wish is not the same as desire.

      This problem is not the same as the difficulty of the required supernatural elevation, so I offer it as an analogy showing why different senses of desire are involved. Is it proper to say we desire it, if we cannot know - without revelation - that God definitely intends to grant that elevation? It would be circular to argue that we can know God must intend it because we desire it and He would necessarily grant what is necessary to fulfill what we desire.

      (I am not familiar with what Cajetan said about obediential potency, I am familiar only with what Thomas said.)

    6. Other examples of wishes that cannot be called "desires" properly speaking: a man cannot properly desire to be an angel: yes, being an angel is a better thing than being a man, but to be an angel implies being something of a different nature, which a being with a given nature cannot tend toward.

      A grown man cannot be said to "desire" to be born without original sin. Yes, being born in the state of original justice is a better thing, but he cannot desire a condition that is merely a different past than the past that is his own past life.

      If we were to suppose that there are partial excellences of natural inborn capability that are mutually exclusive (e.g. a person may be excellent at big-picture vision and management, or be excellent at fine-grained minutiae, but not BOTH because the natural in-born prerequisite physical and temperament conditions for one preclude the natural prerequisites for the other, it would be odd to say of a person with one aptitude that his wish to have the competing aptitude (as a naturally in-born aptitude) a "desire", because there would apparently be no sense in which he could tend toward that condition by any choice, action, or movement. He could acquire many of the skills and habits of the other excellence, but not by natural disposition toward that excellence. He could have had different in-born aptitudes, but he cannot tend toward having innately a competing set of aptitudes.

    7. Tony,
      “Obediential Potency” is where the rubber meets the road on this issue for Thomists who follow Cajetan’s account of pure nature in any general sense. But it doesnt need to distract us from a plenty good conversation about the issues in their own right through the sort of language accessible to most Christian philosophers.

      First, let me say I agree with a distinction between a wish and a desire. It is true that I cannot *actually* conceive of being other than what I am essentially, even as people believe themselves to do so in a way. The fact is that I believe a wish is a type of legitimate desire in its own right, but with some rather peculiar features. A wish or “daydream” is presented as the exploration of- to take feser’s example- my “being a bat”. But analytically, it is actually an exploration of what it would mean to “be like a bat”, or to possess a fact of the bat’s ordinary existence. So there is, undeniably, some confusion in the way the average man might speak about that sort of experience.

      But that experience remains a rather valuable investigation of the bat itself, howsoever it initially lacks in clarity. I cannot literally fly, no. But I do experience movement, and I can even move upward with certain types of assistance. I might even construct mechanical wings. To that extent, I am learning what it means for the bat to fly in the manner it could apply to me without ceasing to be what I am. Indeed, I’ll even take a step farther as to say we could imagine having biological wings precisely to the extent certain facts of human biology are contingent, even “tangential”, with respect to human nature as such. We remain human even as our coccyx no longer supports a tail, etc. Those sorts of facts might indeed be otherwise without- at bottom- changing what we are essentially. But to speak further on that matter require a level of analysis and precision that would take us too far afield.

    8. Now, a power such as “echolocation” is more complex. We could well imagine it to be a “higher” power of sensory perception, even as we dont regard the bat a higher being in its own right. We can conceive of echolocation in a way through a type of synesthetic application of our experiences of both vision and hearing, and we can even reformulate this hypothetical “experience” as we observe what it enables the bat to do in practice. The way in which even a superhero movie might present this sort of “blended” sense will be inadequate, but even that limited presentation is a step to understanding what a bat is in “the mode of the receiver”.

      Returning, then, to the heart of the matter- even there I must a posit something of an essence. This essence grounds and unifies any further explanations even when initial explanations are merely “partial” and “unrefined”. But the fact here as elsewhere is that there of something of real delight to be found in it. Were this not the case, the ladder wouldn’t be climbed beyond anything of immediate, practical necessity.

      So even in their confusion, these things represent a real attempt to understand facts of nature. And, as you might have guessed, I argued that this is the case for God as much as any other “fact” of existence. A natural philosopher posits him under the aspect of first cause, among other things, and unavoidably so. I’ll even suggest by way of Ratzinger that the intelligibility of nature unto itself is a fact that points to Him like anything else.

      But long before revelation proper, a natural philosopher does that in the manner of seeking explanation, and he does not stop seeking it. Nor did Aristotle posit a Demiurge and conclude all such discussions thereby. God is a fact of existence that is both evident and distant to us. We only predicate by analogy, certainly; yet even that recognition attests to an attempt to understand Him on His own terms. So far from merely “assuming” the heart of the matter, I cannot “see” it otherwise. I cannot fathom knowing even one iota of that lily like which not even Solomon was clothed, but for the desire to know God as He is,

    9. We only predicate by analogy, certainly; yet even that recognition attests to an attempt to understand Him on His own terms. So far from merely “assuming” the heart of the matter, I cannot “see” it otherwise.

      I am unable to pierce your account to find an argument that I can understand, reasoning to the conclusion that we naturally desire to know God as he is. It seems to me that you somehow pass from a probably incorrect analysis that we can in part answer a question like "what is it like to be a bat" by imagining doing things that are somewhat bat-like, but remaining rational all the while so never experiencing those bat-like activities in a bat-like "mental" housing, (we don't even have a good term for the non-mind home plate of a non-rational animal's experiential focus), to the disputable claim that analogical predication "attests" to an attempt to understand him as he is, when to me that predication attests to our limitations without being (itself) a hint that WE can go elsewhere. Perhaps the lack is in me. But even if that's the case, the problem remains for me, that what you find obvious, I don't. Thank you for the discussion.

    10. ANON,
      Your analysis of Thomas Aquinas is one-sided. Lawrence Feingold gives a much more nuanced analysis in The Natural Desire to See God According to St. Thomas and His Interpreters. In a debate with Feingold, David Bentley Hart himself conceded that several passages in Aquinas argue against the view that he taught that man has a natural desire for the beatific vision.

    11. Tim,
      You mean on the Summa Contra Gentiles passage Fr. Mullady explicated in what I linked? Or elsewhere in Thomas? I’ve read Feingold’s works on the matter before, and I know the various spots in Thomas that can be read in either direction. I never found that problematic, as I believe even the greatest geniuses in history are occasionally inconsistent. So I would personally contend that Aquinas at his best understands it in the way I have laid out.

      But- of course- I made it a point to show that my motivations aren’t merely exegetical. I think its a much more legitimate use of Aristotle and the larger Christian tradition.

    12. Also, if you have a link to the full debate or a text of it, I’d enjoy seeing it. All I’ve ever had are the portions here since the video was removed:

      But I’ll be honest in saying even those portions of Feingold grant what I argued re: desire and telos of intellect. The question that remains is whether obediential potency can do what he argues for. Which is a perfectly legitimate argument to have. But even on that, I’ll point out in passing that the usage of obediential potency has always been the weakest portion of modern Thomists’ exegetical defense of Cajetan.

    13. Posting this at “top” level to keep it from getting too small. Its primarily a response to Finlay’s last comment re: Hart v Feingold.

      The audio quality of that recording is unfortunate. This appears to be a reasonable summary transcription:

      Nevertheless, you do need to listen to the audio to do justice to both sides. There is an excellent point of agreement near the 31 minute mark, but I would suggest that what is most significant for me personally takes places in the ~6 minutes preceding. I’ll get to that in a moment.

      In truth, Feingold ends up ceding waaaay more to Hart than you’ve suggested, even just at the level of granting most of de Lubac after some 30 (?) years of Thomists arguing against him in toto. And even beyond Feingold’s concession of ground everywhere he frames the argument, he consistently grants that Hart represents the argument accurately. That is no small thing, considering almost every modern Thomist critique of Hart I’ve seen accuses him of precisely the opposite. But what is most relevant to me personally is this:

      Feingold draws 4 distictions regarding the desire for God, of which the first two- Elicited and Proportionate- are overwhelmingly the grounds where the larger debate was and is had. Now, I’ve already taken some pains to show why it is entirely reasonable in Aristotle’s eyes to say that we can be proportionate to an end that we nonetheless cannot achieve without the help of another. And that such help actualizes a potency proper to our nature without that actualization thereby ceasing to be a gift. Etc. But I want to turn to the fact of elicited desire.

      Hart rightly asks Feingold: “Is it possible for God to have created us [as rational agents] without any elicited desire?” To which Feingold responds “Yes”. If Feingold wishes to hold by Humani Generis’s (entirely unqualified) claim, he has to say that. No way around it. Thereafter, Hart makes a few arguments as to why that sort of idea is inconceivable in the way of a square circle. I believed that long before I even knew of Hart, but you can judge those arguments for yourself.

      But what is most interesting to me is that- when the hotseat returns to Feingold- he doesn’t even bother to engage with that point. He simply lays out the (uncontroversial) 3rd and 4th distinctions and continues onward to reframe the debate in the manner of “talking about pure nature isnt helpful”. And then he doesnt even circle back at the numerous further points it would be otherwise convenient transitions to do so.

      But thats precisely the issue even from even a “merely” philosophical view, right? I want a Thomist to minimally illustrate what such an intellect would look like in practice if the desire for truth were not elicited by natural facts, how it could do- indeed- what it does, why- in fact- it would do so at all, why God alone would not elicit an otherwise universal desire, and- granting any of that- what sense of “intellectual” remains to apply to such a nature coherently. Thats the sort of thing that- truly- I see Thomists duck everywhere even as I see them grant the role of elicited desire everywhere else in the intellect.

    14. ANON,
      I don't have my copy of Feingold's book with me at the moment, but I shall reply to you on Tuesday. I did enjoy the video by Father Mullady that you linked to and notice that he claimed that DeLubac's solution was worse than the problem.

  11. A further point of clarification to ensure I didnt misrepresent him: Fr. Mullady believes De Lubac’s arguments contra Cajetan are accurate exegetically. Ie: they are much closer to what Thomas actually argued in the texts so thoroughly treated throughout the debate. But he still believes in the idea of “pure nature” for reasons beyond the scope of this forum. Hart and myself part with him and other Thomists on that.

  12. Tony, I’ll respond to your (thoughtful) comments a bit later. As to the ealier questions of what Hart does and doesn’t believe regarding tradition, I suspect this is the best “summary” of his views thereof:

  13. I think I found it and will try to watch it in its entirety a bit later today or tomorrow.

  14. I have a question: If angels got their knowleade of the world by apriori thinking AND intellecutalism is true (means, Humans act according of insignts in Truth, not because of Will like in Voluntarism), THEN how can there by fallen angel?
    Does God fool them with wrong apriori? Or have they a free will and choice to be evil? Both is not the case.
    So, isn't this a disprove of intellecutalism?

    1. The fall of the angels is a really good issue to think about in terms of understanding Thomas’s epistemology, and its relation to the will. Its actually quite Platonic. My best summary answer:

      Angels apprehend forms directly without sensible mediation. They always struck me as a very obvious proof for Plato, but lets put that aside. They are thus created with perfect knowledge, with the lone exception that they do not possess the Beatific Vision upon their creation. If they had possessed the Beatific Vision, they indeed could not have fallen.

      But once the absence of the Beatific Vision is granted, Thomas argues that a defect in the intellect conditions the will to the extent to that an angel could misidentify its “own” good for something other than “the” good as such. Thus it can choose against God. At least, thats my summary reading.

      I’ll admit I dont understand how its possible for such a (supernatural) being to- by nature- see all forms directly without seeing God’s nature as well. You’re on your own for that one.