Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt: Family as the foundation of culture.

Dear friends in Christ,

Since the beginning of man’s life on earth, the family has served as the cornerstone of society.  The integrity of the family set the standard for society from the beginning of time as the underpinning of our civilization, reflecting the beneficial differences between men and women and the complementarity of their hearts, minds, and bodies.

Aristotle argued that the natural progression of human beings flowed from the family via small communities out to the polisThe state itself, then, as a natural extension of the family, mirrors this critical institution.

Inspired by Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas writes, “man is by nature a social being since he stands in need of many vital things which he cannot come by through his own unaided effort. Hence he is naturally part of a group by which assistance is given him that he may live well.  He needs this assistance with a view to life as well as to the good life.”[1]  And Pope Leo XIII develops Aquinas’ thought further, recognizing that “man’s natural instinct moves him to live in civil society, for he cannot, if dwelling apart, provide himself with the necessary requirements of life, nor procure the means of developing his mental and moral faculties.”[2]  Indeed, just as our communities and the state itself imitate the structure of the family, our economy is also modeled after oikonomia—the Greek word for household management.

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Editor’s note: This is a fairly long piece, but it is worth a read. This is what good Catholic bishops are supposed to do – teach!

The egalitarian ideology of our time cuts the human heart and soul out of the profession of the teacher.

Forty years ago, a few wise men at the college where I teach, motivated both by that acknowledgment of authority and by their belief in the ontological equality of all mankind, embarked on a brave reform.

At the time when the elite colleges were scrapping their curricula, effectively burning the books of three thousand years of our Western heritage, our faculty dedicated themselves to something beyond themselves, deserving of their honor. What if the elites at Harvard no longer honored and studied Dante? The students at our college would do so—the children of ordinary people, not rich, and perhaps not destined for riches, either.

What if the technicians of education no longer saw any use for the political wisdom of Aristotle and Plato? The faculty at our school, not exalted technicians with conveniently reductive equations, but rather human beings asking the human questions, would try to recover and hand on something of their wisdom.

They welcomed those young people with equal heartiness into a world of glorious inequality. I cannot say we have always succeeded at the task. But it has at least been a human enterprise. And that is more than I can say for most of what goes on in the egalitarian prison house that goes by the name of “school.”

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Pope on teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas: Reason provides a three-fold service to faith

In his theological work, St. Thomas presupposes and makes concrete this rationality. Faith consolidates, integrates and enlightens the patrimony of truth that human reason acquires. The trust that St. Thomas accords to these two instruments of knowledge — faith and reason — can lead back to the conviction that both proceed from the one source of all truth, the divine Logos, which operates both in the realm of creation as well as in that of redemption.

Together with the agreement between reason and faith, it must be acknowledged that they make use of different cognitive procedures. Reason accepts a truth on the strength of its intrinsic evidence, indirect or immediate; faith, instead, accepts a truth based on the authority of the Word of God who reveals himself. At the beginning of his Summa Theologiae St. Thomas writes: “The order of the sciences is twofold; some proceed from principles known through the natural light of reason, such as mathematics, geometry and similar ones; others proceed from principles known through a higher science: as perspective proceeds from principles known through geometry and music from principles known through mathematics. And in this way the sacred doctrine (namely, theology) is a science because it proceeds from principles known through the light of a higher science, namely, the science of God and of the saints” (I, q. 1, a. 2).

This distinction ensures the autonomy both of human sciences as well as of the theological sciences. However, this is not the equivalent of separation, but implies rather a reciprocal and advantageous collaboration. Faith, in fact, protects reason from every temptation to mistrust its own capacities, it stimulates it to open to ever more vast horizons, it keeps alive in it the search for foundations and, when reason itself applies itself to the supernatural sphere of the relationship between God and man, it enriches its work. According to St. Thomas, for example, human reason can without a doubt attain to the affirmation of the existence of one God, but only faith, which receives divine Revelation, is able to attain to the mystery of the Love of God, One and Triune.

On the other hand, it is not only faith that helps reason. Reason also, with its means, can do something important for faith, rendering it a threefold service that St. Thomas summarizes in the preface of his commentary to Boethius’ De Trinitate:

“To demonstrate the foundations of the faith; to explain through similarities the truth of the faith; to refute the objections that are raised against the faith” (q. 2, a. 2).

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Life, death, resurrection … and some heavy-duty summer reading

Flannery O’Connor, in a letter to William Sessions, wrote of the different presuppositions we must make when we deal with Protestants and Catholics:

When the Protestant hears what he supposes to be the voice of the Lord he follows it regardless of whether it runs counter to his church’s teachings. The Catholic, on the other hand, suspects that the voice may in fact come from the devil, unless it’s in accordance with the teachings of the Church. You are judging the old man as if he should act like a Catholic. The prophets were Jews and old Tarwater is a Protestant and his being a Protestant allows him to follow the voice he hears which speaks a truth held by Catholics. One of the good things about Protestantism is that it contains the seeds of its own reversal. It is open at both ends — at one end to Catholicism, at the other to unbelief.

Here, the big problem returns as the need to contrast our own freely chosen picture of the world — which we create for ourselves by our actions and the thoughts from which they flow in order to explain or justify what we do — over and against that picture of the world that we find in reason and revelation.

The Catholic bets that the picture held in the tradition of the Church about the highest things, about what is, is better for him than anything he might concoct for himself, even if it comes from a “voice” in the wilderness. The Catholic’s wager, to recall Pascal’s famous word, is that his ultimate well-being — including his very physical well-being as reflected in the doctrine of the resurrection of the body — is the true picture of the world in which he is to live. Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, stated the issue succinctly: “For if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Faith in the heart leads to justification; confession on the lips to salvation” (10: 9-10). In these brief words we are asked clearly to state what we believe — that Jesus is Lord and that He rose from the dead. And we are asked to state these things not only to ourselves in private but to confess them to the world; so both words and deeds are expected of us.

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Philosophy 101: Naturalism vs Christianity

Naturalism

Naturalism is a worldview that asserts that the universe is a closed system in which matter and energy are the only realities. This perspective rules out the existence of any supernatural beings including God. According to naturalism, the world operates according to natural laws in which there are a series of cause and effects. Because the universe operates according to natural processes there are no miracles or events that have any supernatural cause. Thus, everything in the universe is subject to scientific study and verification. Naturalism would be consistent with materialism and monism in which all of reality is inherently connected to the physical realm. Naturalism disagrees with dualism and its assertion that reality is made up of two distinct substances—the material and the immaterial. This rejection of dualism means that naturalists do not believe that people have an immortal soul that can survive physical death. For naturalists, the present life of a person is the only life he or she will ever have. There are no past lives to due to reincarnation nor is there a future life in some state of bliss or torment.

Because naturalism rejects any concept of the supernatural this view is intrinsically linked with atheism, the belief that there is no God. Naturalism also usually leads to the rejection of moral absolutes since there is no divine being or law that determines standards for right and wrong. Thus, naturalism often leads to ethical relativism in which individuals and societies are free to determine their standards for right and wrong.

David Hume was a key figure in laying a philosophical basis for naturalism. He refuted the idea of miracles claiming that testimonies of miracles were most likely false reports. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was also important in that it offered a purely naturalistic explanation of origins. Naturalism is well-represented today and is the prevailing worldview in the academic and scientific communities of the West.

Christianity and Philosophy

Christianity is often viewed as one of the world’s major religions, but Christianity also offers a philosophy of life that has greatly influenced Western society for nearly two thousand years. Thus, to ignore Christianity in the study of philosophy is a great mistake.

Christianity was founded by Jesus of Nazareth (c. 4 B.C.–A.D. 33) who is famous for his teachings, miracles, death, and resurrection from the dead. The Christian movement was furthered by Paul of Tarsus who through his missionary travels took Christianity to many areas of the known world. Much of Judaism is found within Christianity such as beliefs in one God and a linear view of history in which God will eventually triumph over evil and establish a new heavens and a new earth. Christianity differs from Judaism, though, in its assertion that Jesus was the divine Son of God and the Messiah of Israel. Christianity also uniquely asserts that Jesus’ death on the cross was a substitutionary atonement for the sins of the world.

While Christianity itself is rooted firmly in the life of Jesus and the writings of both the Old and New Testaments, this religion has often intersected with the discipline of philosophy. Some early Christians rejected any merger between Christianity and philosophy. For example, the church father, Tertullian, (160–225) declared, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” to show that Greek philosophy has nothing to do with Christianity.  Other church fathers, though, were positive toward the value of philosophy. Justin Martyr (c. 100–165), for example believed that God scattered “the seeds of his Logos [Word]” throughout the world before sending Jesus. Thus, Justin believed that the world had experienced some truths of God through philosophy even before Jesus came into the world. Justin also held that Christianity brought to fulfillment some of the insights of classical philosophy including that of Platonism. Another church father, Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–215), asserted that God gave philosophy to the Greeks in order to prepare them for the coming of Christ. Thus, Greek philosophy was not a competing worldview. According to Clement, Jesus was the fulfillment of philosophy.

The influential theologian and philosopher, Augustine of Hippo, also viewed philosophy favorably. Although acknowledging that some areas of philosophy were not valuable, he believed that there was no reason why Christians should not adopt the good things of philosophy and use them in their Christian walk and witness. Augustine, himself, relied upon several major teachings of Plato and Plotinus, the founder of Neo-Platonism. Augustine credited Neo-Platonism for helping him reject the Manichean view that all reality was material. Augustine also adopted Plato’s theory of forms, placing these “forms” in the mind of God. In fact, until the thirteenth century, the Christian church often looked favorably upon the ideas of Plato. During the thirteenth century, though, Christian scholars rediscovered the writings of Aristotle. Thomas Aquinas (1225–74), for example, attempted a merger between Aristotelian ideas and Christianity. Aquinas used Aristotle’s concept of a Prime Mover who caused all motion in the universe as support for his idea that the Christian God must have created and designed the universe.

Dictionary of Philosophy (A-Z)