Who is obliged to believe what and on what grounds? (Part 1)

June 22, 2007

Blogger Drulogion has posed quite an interesting question about the relation of belief and the authority of the church. Dru starts with a story:

I once heard a story about a 16th century Jesuit mission in Brazil. After a long interaction with the people and some individual conversions, the chief decided to become a Christian (presumably bringing with him the rest of the tribe). As part of the process, the chief met with the leader of the mission to be examined. The priest began asking doctrinal questions. He asked the chief, “How many natures does our Lord have?”

The chief responded, “As many natures as you say he has, Father.”

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Alexander Pruss on Analogy and Divine Simplicity

June 20, 2007

I’ve been slowly working my way through some papers by Georgetown philosopher Alexander Pruss. The one which caught my attention most recently is called “On Three Problems of Divine Simplicity”. The doctrine of divine simplicity, which was enormously important throughout the medieval period has come in for several severe critiques by analytic philosophers of religion like Alvin Plantinga. At any rate, Pruss calls attention to three of the most serious of the problems for the doctrine of simplicity and then attempts to show inadequacies in each putative objection.

The first such problem comes from attempting to show the identity of God’s mercy and his justice, for if God is simple, then mercy and justice cannot be separate things in him, although to our observation mercy and justice are contradictories. Pruss resolves the problem by appealing to the doctrine of analogy. Pruss’s examples here are very nice . . . I commend his paper highly to anyone who would like to see the doctrine of analogy put to good use in contemporary philosophy of religion.

Hats off to Japanese Scotists

June 19, 2007

There is a great online edition of the prologue of Scotus’s Ordinatio thanks to Shinsuke Kawazoe. Apparently he has even produced a Japanese translation! H/T to Cal Ledsham for the tip about this important text on the relation of philosophy and theology.

Disaffected Spanish Teenagers from the 1950’s Singing Pange Lingua

June 18, 2007

One of those philosophical commonplaces I detest is that the “God of the Philosophers” (where “the Philosophers” is taken to include Anselm, Thomas Aquinas and others) is an inadequate object of worship. Heidegger has a famous remark to this effect.

In response, I point out that Thomas wrote hymns and Heidegger did not.

By the concinnity of providence, I have come across a video of disaffected Spanish teenagers from the 1950’s singing Thomas’s Corpus Christi hymn Pange Lingua in Latin on YouTube.

Go on . . . you know you want to see it.

Vos on Thomas and Barth

June 18, 2007

“Aquinas’s claim that God is the formal object of faith has been made in a slightly different way by a number of twentieth-century Protestant theologians, most notably Karl Barth, who has insisted that God must always remain the subject–the one who speaks–and never become an object in theology. Theologians must listen to God, nor can they ever free themselves from this demand. We can presume Aquinas would have agreed with the substance of Barth’s claim, but he would have bridled at the epistemological assumption that Barth seems to accept–namely, that a self-revealing subject cannot become an object. A faulty notion of objectivity is at the root of the problem. If it is the case that in attaining objectivity the mind constitutes the object rather than conforms itself to it, then God cannot become an object. For Aquinas, however, nothing of the sort is involved. For him it is precisely by holding fast to the first principle, God himself, that one arrives at the content, the material object, of theology.” (Arvis Vos, Aquinas, Calvin & Contemporary Protestant Thought, Eerdmans, 1985: 14-15)

Thomas Aquinas is not a Semi-Pelagian

June 15, 2007

À propos of nothing I would like to spend a bit of time putting forward Thomas Aquinas’ position on the relationship of nature and grace. The goal here is to exonerate Thomas of the charge of Semi-Pelagianism. This is a fairly common accusation protestants raise against the scholastics, and it would not surprise me if there were some pelagians running around in the later 14th or 15th century, but I do not think the charge sticks well against Thomas–not because I have some prior commitment to Thomas being right all the time–just because I don’t think it happens to be true.

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Alexander Pruss on the Explanatory Power of Aristotelian Forms

June 13, 2007

Over the last couple months I’ve been thinking about the idea of forms and essences and other like things that seem to have been relegated to the dustbin of the history of philosophy. I’ve written here before about essences, trying to get clear about some of the problems they involve. One of those problems was the fact that essences provide virtus dormativa explanations that don’t seem to do any theoretical work. Well, I found a neat article by Georgetown Prof. Alexander Pruss which does some interesting work comparing Aristotle and Hume on this point.

I would have a few nits to pick with Pruss’s presentation. For instance, there is a translation issue involved regarding Aristotle’s use of the word aition, which is usually translated as “cause” in English, but the Greek can also bear the sense of “explanation”. Pruss emphasizes that Aristotle’s forms are “causes,” but doesn’t note that Aristotle’s concept of cause/explanation might be a bit different from ours here. I’m not sure this hurts any of Pruss’s arguments, but it makes me hesitate a bit. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting read and I commend it to your attention.