Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Reading the Catechism: week 2

Below, you are reading my notes/comments/extensions to the second week reading of the Catechism, mostly about knowing God.

                                          Knowing God

God never ceases to draw man to himself. He never ceases to call every man to seek him, so as to find life and happiness. The desire of God is written in the human heart.  As St Augustine says: "our heart is restless until it rests on you" [#27,30]

Church teaching
"As the sacred synod has affirmed, God, the beginning and end of all things, can be known with certainty from created reality by the light of human reason (see Rom. 1:20)" [Dei Verbum 6]
This is, the existence of God, as beginning and end of all things, can be know by reasoning from the created reality. There are other truths about God, that should be know though revelation.

Ways of knowing God's existence: Informal explanation

Ways of knowing about the existence of God: starting from the world (contingency, change, existence, beauty) or starting from the human person (morality, introspection of the soul).

I like how Rowan Willams explains this to the 6 years old Lulu, that was asking who invented God:

[...] I think God might reply a bit like this –
‘Dear Lulu – Nobody invented me – but lots of people discovered me and were quite surprised. They discovered me when they looked round at the world and thought it was really beautiful or really mysterious and wondered where it came from. They discovered me when they were very very quiet on their own and felt a sort of peace and love they hadn’t expected.[...]

Ways of knowing God's existence, formal explanation

One can use here Aquinas proofs, only summarised in the Summa Theologica. Some points better explained in Contra Gentiles. One could start by reading the Summa of the Summa, by Peter Kreeft.

Language of God

Our language of God is limited, since our knowledge of his is limited too, and always will be because we cannot exhaust God.

Analogical language, is the regular way to talk about God: Between Creator and creature no similitude can be expressed without implying a greater similitude. [Lateran Council IV, DS 806]

Even if we can only talk positively about God in analogical way it does not mean that anything is proper, the language may be analogical but it is not indifferent.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Objective Morality or Relativism?

Here, some very nice summary from Elliot of The Paraphasic about the problem of objective morality.

6. So it comes down to this. The moral relativist needs to ask himself whether he can establish some fundamental incoherence within the idea of objective morality which serves to unravel any system based on it. The moral objectivist needs to ask himself whether the denial of moral truth establishes some fundamental incoherence which makes it impossible to meaningfully speak about such things as morality, and then, if this is the case, whether it can be shown that the intelligibility of the moral relativist’s own speech and acts suffers (fatally) as a result. Can the relativist make sense of what he’s doing, given his relativism? Can he talk about things coherently? 
7. I think it’s very difficult for the relativist to establish his side of the problem. I have never heard someone say that objective morality is fundamentally incoherent. However, the objectivist seems to have an easy time showing that relativism causes difficulties. This is what I was getting at in #4. A moral relativist (really, any sort of relativist) quickly loses the ability (are you reading this, E-Prime people?) to share a moral universe with anyone else. The motivations for acts the understanding of prohibitions and imperatives, etc., can no longer flow from things, but begins to be imposed on things by the mind. Instantly we end up with a thrasymachean world (which, given their rhetoric, is probably not what the relativist wants). 
8. But more basically it’s impossible to explain to oneself why these things are desirable and other things are not. In other words, we’re reduced to a dichotomy: on one hand we have to resort to some nature to ground morality, in which case we find that we are actually objectivists; on the other hand, we can deny that any nature grounds morality, in which case we have to say that the moral agent is natureless, causa sui, and fundamentally unintelligible. We might say (like Sartre) that the moral agent is the ground of the intelligibility of his actions, but this really doesn’t explain anything. How do I positively bestow goodness on things? When do I choose to do this? Why would I choose either way at all? And in this case any rational or intelligible decision-making process dissolves completely, and another dichotomy presents itself: either human beings are machines suffering from an illusory consciousness and generates lies about its own behavior, or human beings are big fleshy random output generators and any attempt to make sense of what they do is futile. Whichever you choose you’re a nihilist, and no one wants to be a nihilist. (Provided their toes are all intact.) More relevantly, any talk about morality becomes meaningless.
9. So it seems like the moral objectivist wins. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Reading the Catechism: week 1

 For this Year of Faith, Pope Benedict has encouraged the faithful to study and reflect on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I have enrolled to the project to read the full Catechism in a year, every day a bit.  You can enrol to this feed and you will receive few paragraph every day in your email.

I will comment from time to time (maybe every week?) on what I have read. For the week one, this is what I like to remember:

The Catechism starts with very beautiful paragraphs expounding the love of God for the mankind and how he comes and invites us to share his blessed live. [# 0,1,2]

The Catechism presents and organic synthesis of the essential and fundamental contents of Catholic doctrine, as regards to both faith and morals [#1] and is intended primarily for those responsible of catechesis: first of all bishops [#12]

Teachers must not imagine that a single kind of soul has been entrusted to them, and that consequently it is lawful to teach and form equally all the faithful in true piety with one and the same method! [#24]

Moreover, in whatever is proposed for believe, hope or action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive to love. [#25]

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Augustine on Interpreting the Scriptures in the light of scientific knowledge

"Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion. [1 Timothy 1.7]"

St Augustine (354 - 430 AD) in his work The Literal Meaning of Genesis ( De Genesi at litteram libri duodecim) as translated by J.H. Taylor in Ancient Christian Writers, Newman Press, 1982, volume 41.