Posted on: January 5th, 2021 Language, Reality, & “Awoman”

On Sunday, January 3, 2020 U.S. Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (at the time serving provisionally as the chaplain of the House), ended a prayer offered on behalf of the House not with the traditional “Amen,” but rather with “Awomen.”

However well-intentioned Cleaver may have been in that moment, I’m reminded of the words of Cyril O’Regan, discussing Hans Urs von Balthassar’s rejection of a traditional theological maxim—a litmus test for Catholic orthodoxy—put forth my Vincent de Lérins (a maxim rejected by Joseph Ratzinger as well, and hence by the official posture of the Second Vatican Council):

Lérin’s definition [was] in danger of denying the symbolic nature of all language with respect to the divine and promoting the view that doctrine is adequate to the mystery to which it refers. (Tracey Rowland, Benedict XVI: a Guide for the Perplexed, 55.)

Believe me, I’m not expecting Mr. Cleaver to grasp the deep import of O’Regan’s words here, but if one wants an actual, serious, theological rationale for rejecting the foolish revision of theological language (in legion of its forms), this is a good starting point.

In short, advocates for the revision of traditional theological language, more often than not, are laboring under the illusion that such language—especially in liturgical contexts—are univocal or “literal.”

But they were never intended to be.

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Posted on: July 3rd, 2020 Theology Necessary for Philosophy

In an insightful article on Bonaventure’s Hexaëmeron, Junius Johnson writes:

Bonaventure believes that human understanding in its natural state ought to be able to arrive at the contemplation of God as the first principle. This is Bonaventure’s version of natural theology. Yet philosophy recognizes that to attain this [ultimate] science the virtues are necessary. And so natural reason must be exercised in the exemplary and Cardinal virtues. At this point it looks as if the text is progressing directly to understanding elevated by contemplation, and yet this is the 4th vision, not the second. The problem is that, because of the fall, the virtues are not able to reach their end apart from grace. But the knowledge that the human soul is fallen and the consequent knowledge that the effect must be healed and satisfaction made before the virtues can be truly exercised cannot be reached by reason, but requires faith. Understanding endowed by nature thus naturally arrives at the second vision, understanding elevated by faith.[1]  

This is a clear and succinct argument for how and why philosophy needs theology. If the emergence of something like contemplation (I’m thinking here of Bk. X, ch. 7 of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics) is native to the very endeavor of philosophy, then theology is required. Why? Because contemplation requires virtue (as even the philosophers admit), which is why this topic appears only at the end of the Ethics. And yet, for someone like Bonaventure, after the fall full virtue (or the virtue required for the purposes of this discussion, at least) is off-limits to the human being, apart from “theological givens/gifts” such as grace, revelation, and faith.

By the way, I see an analogy in St. Thomas with this line of Bonaventurian thinking, in the Angelic Doctor’s treatment of sapientia in the Summa Theologiae. There he treats wisdom twice, in two different contexts: not only is it an intellectual virtue (in line with Ethics VI) that applies science or scientific thinking to the highest causes/realities (I-II, 57.2), but it is also a divine gift (II-II, 45.3). The upshot here is that full sapientia—surely part and parcel with ultimate contemplation—requires grace.

[1] Junius Johnson, ““Unlocking Bonaventure: the Collationes in Hexaëmeron as Interpretive Key,” The Thomist 83 (2019): 277–94, at 286.

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