Friday, October 28, 2011

The precepts of the natural law

Image from Tom Woodard

As a preparation of a discussion on natural law with a friend of mine. I write below my summary of Question 94 of Summa Theologiae. 

The precepts of natural law  (I-II, Q94,2)

What are the precepts of the natural law?

The precepts of natural law are self-evident principles of the practical reason, the reason that is directed to action. In a similar way, the axioms and the demonstrations are self-evident principles of the speculative reason. 

What self-evindent means, though?  

By self-evident Thomas means an internal property of the propositions, this is, 
that the subject and the predicate imply each other. They are self-evident in themselves.

However, In relation to us, these principles are not necessarily self-evident. Some of these
principles are apprehended universally, but others only the wise can gasp.
An example of a self-evident principle that is not gasped by everyone is that
angels are not circumscriptively in a place. This is because angels are not bodies.  

What are the first principles that man apprehends?

The first thing that man apprehends universally is the notion of being.
As a consequence,  the first self-evident principle of reason is the principle of no contradiction, 
since "being" and "not being" cannot be affirmed (or denied at the same time).

The first principle that the practical reason apprehends universally is the notion of good.
This is because good (or something under the appearence of good) is what all things seek after.
Therefore, the first self-evident principle of the practical reason is "seek good and avoid evil" 

Classification of the precepts of the natural law

The following precepts belong to the natural law, classified according the order of natural inclinations:

a) precepts following from the nature that man has in common with all substances
b) precepts following from the nature that man has in common with all animals
c) precepts following from the nature that man has in common with himself, what is proper to man. 

Thomas' examples of the precepts of natural law according its classification

a) every substance seeks good, and, according to its nature seeks the preservation of its being,
thus, whatever helps the preservation of the human being belong to the natural law.

b) nature has taught to all animals sexual intercourse and education of the offspring,
thus, sexual intercourse and education of the offspring belong to the natural law

c) finally, in accordance to the proper nature of man, that of reason, man has a natural
inclination towards knowing the truth about God, and to live in society. Thus to shun
ignorance and to avoid offending fellow citizens belong to the natural law, regarding
the inclination of man that follows from its rational nature. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Notes on identity: imitation of Jesus

As you probably know, next weekend I am going to a retreat with the folks of my parish. The recurring theme will be the topic of identity, which will be wisely approached from different perspectives. In some sort of preparation for the retreat I have been more attentive lately to the passages of the gospel that could shed some light on this topic and talk to our lives. In one of my readings, I came across the following passage.
I tell you the truth:  the Son can do nothing by himself, but what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son also does in the same manner. (Jn 5,19)
This passage strikes me as very fundamental. What Jesus does is to imitate the Father. He does not claim anything of his own, but he only does what he sees the Father doing. He is the less original guy ever. (!) All he does is completely rooted in the Father.  So possessed is Jesus by the Spirit of the Father, that whoever has seen him, has seen the Father (Jn 14,9). He is his perfect image.

Now, does not all these stand in contrast to the common delusion of the world that asks us to be original? A world that seems to be saying that to be ourselves we need to claim or be different from the rest of the people? This is not what we see in Jesus though, he claims no originality.  

If René Girard is right, our identity as humans is constructed by imitation of the desire of another. Therefore the key point is not whether we should be original or not (assuming that we could be), but who is going to be our model, from whom are we going to draw our personality.

Jesus imitates the Father. Because of this he is not of the world. Likewise we are called not to be of the world, building up our identity from mimetic rivalries, but to do the same as Jesus, to be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5,48). And, since whoever see Jesus sees he Father, we are then called to imitate Jesus.

Finally, it is interesting to remember what Paul said to the Corinthians: Imitate me, as I imitate Christ. Very interesting phrase, that can spur some discussion! It may simply mean that we need to learn how to imitate Jesus in part by looking of how other followers of Jesus imitate him.

All in all, originality is over, when thinking about your identity, look at this question: who are you imitating?

Language note. For the geeky ones that, like me, want to translate the passage themselves, the above verse (Jn 5,19) in Greek is:
Ἀπεκρίνατο οὖν ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς· ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, οὐ δύναται ὁ υἱὸς ποιεῖν ἀφ’ ἑαυτοῦ οὐδέν, ἂν μή τι βλέπῃ τὸν πατέρα ποιοῦντα· ἃ γὰρ ἂν ἐκεῖνος ποιῇ, ταῦτα καὶ ὁ υἱὸς ποιεῖ ὁμοίως. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Notes on identity: Family

In two weeks, together with more than twenty people, I will go on a weekend retreat at The Friars, a monastery near Aylesford. Since the topic of the retreat is the very interesting subject of "identity", I thought that I could devote some posts of the blog to it.

In this second post I would talk about family. We are all born into a family, or at least most of us are. Putting aside those exceptions, we all begin our lives in close relationship with very few but relevant people. These people are our family and, specially in our early years, almost completely saturate our meaningful univereses. It is easy to see then why they are so influential regarding our identity. At the start of our lives, we don't know who we are. We need to learn it, slowly, across all our years. At the same time, even when we are so young that we are beginning to learn who we are and who we can become, during this very time, we still need to have a view of ourselves. And, since we have none, but are in need of one, we borrow it from our surroundings. And remember, our surroundings are saturated by our family. Consequengly, we come to view ourselves as our family does, and, in many aspects, we tend to grow up according to this view.

Summary: identity and family are very related: we tend to view ourselves as our family does.

Let me talk now a little about my growing up, about my family. To me, being born into a family meant that I was born into a place where my mere existence was a motive of joy. And you can relax into this joy. From it I grew up as a happy and confident kid. And a very lucky kid indeed. Not only I had (and have) loving parents and a brother, but I also had (and have) an extended but very close family of cousins, aunties, uncles and grandparents, a family that always made me feel very welcomed. I am quite certain that this contributed a lot about I growing up with a positive and trustful view of life.  Finally, I also want to say that my family was the place where I first learned what is to take care of another. And this seems to me quite important to remember.

Family: a place where I am always welcomed, where I am a motive of joy, and where I learn to love.

After all I wrote here, I hope that the relevance and influence of the family on everyone's personal identity is quite clear. What is more, having a loving family helps you to have a better and happier life. This may seems trivial to say, but what seems trivial for some people is not trivial for other people. Some might even claim that an un-loving family makes you good because prepares you for the hardness of life. In fact the opposite is true, the hardness of life is better faced having experienced love!

As always, I have many more things to say about family, specially in its relation to Christ, the Church, and our neighbours, but these will need to wait until another day. My blessing to you all, and don't forget to comment, if you wish!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Peter Rollins on Identity

Here is Peter Rollins talking about identity. Even if I am too theologically nerd for formulating things his way, or maybe because of it, because some times I need to listen through his words, instead of at his words, I found that he could be inspiring. Not that these details matter to most of you. So here we are, I hope you will enjoy it.