Gardeil on Garrigou-Lagrange: Nothing New Under the Sun

It seems to me that many contemporary Thomists describe as "Post-Vatican II" what have been common Thomist criticisms of Jesuits and others concerning happiness, the virtues, the beatitudes, the gifts of the Holy Ghost, etc.  I was surprised to recently read the following comments of Fr. A. Gardeil on Garrigou-LaGrange in the Revue Thomiste 24 (1929), p. 272:

Par contre, le T. R. P. Garrigou-Lagrange dans son article de la Revue Thomiste: L'Habitation de la Sainte Trinité et l'Expérience mystique, parlant de la manière dont je conçois et explique la divine habitation et l'expérience de Dieu qui en procède, m'a apporté ce précieux suffrage : « C'est là une grande confirmation de la doctrine que nous soutenons depuis plusieurs années ... La contemplation infuse des mystères de la foi est dans la voie normale de la sainteté. » Ce n'est pas à vrai dire, pour moi, une nouveauté. Dès octobre 1881, étant étudiant de première année en théologie j'entendais leT. R. P. Beaudouin, régent des Études, inaugurant son commentaire sur la IIa Pars par une Relectio sur la Théologie mystique, affirmer avec vigueur l'identité de la IIa Pars avec la Théologie de la mystique : Elle est là tout entière, disait-il, et, pour comprendre les grands mystiques, vous n'aurez jamais besoin de chercher ailleurs. J'ai, depuis lors, travaillé dans le sillon ouvert et n'ai pas eu à m'en repentir. Il n'est pas étonnant que, disciples d'une même tradition, le P. Garrigou-Lagrange et moi, aboutissions à une même conclusion.

Phone Apps for Text-Mobbing Speakers with Textual References at Conferences

I had the pleasure to witness (and to be honest, participate in unwittingly) a relatively-new phenomenon that is an interesting intersection of medieval thought and modern technology: Text-Mobbing.

In olden times (2-3 years ago), an audience member might have a question or helpful thought about the presenter’s claim about or interpretation of a text of St. Thomas Aquinas. But unless one had the encyclopedic knowledge of Thomas’s corpus such as Fr. Lawrence Dewan, O.P. used to demonstrate, the best you could do was make a note of your concern or suggestion, look up the reference upon returning home, and then follow up with the presenter in an e-mail.

Now, however, there are a multitude of useful apps for your phone that give you immediate access to the whole of Thomas’s texts in your hand, so that you can look up and find the relevant Question and Article on the fly. This permits you to immediately direct the speaker’s attention to the text itself in the question and answer period.

When the questions are particularly interesting and/or contentious, however, and multiple audience members have looked up the passages they deem relevant but did not get a chance to share their thoughts, then themoment the polite applause designating the end of the session has ceased, the speaker is approached by a zealous mob with texts in hand, eager to demonstrate their points.

Hence: Text-Mobbing.

The poor speaker is confronted with multiple phones bearing tiny text that they are implored to read, all at once. It is generally polite to enlarge the font of your text, and allow your target to focus his or her eyes on the phone before launching into your argument. And like any other polite conversation, the speaker should be allowed to conclude reading one text before somebody thrusts another phone before their eyes.

As for the sources of these texts, any smartphone, tablet or computer can point its browser to:

for the Corpus Thomisticum or to the Dominican House of Studies site for Thomas’s texts:

But if your internet connection is spotty or slow, there’s no substitute for having the whole text on your device; for that, I can recommend the following apps:

iPieta (iOS and Android)

Probably the best app I’ve found is iPieta, which has multiple modules that allow you to have Thomas’s Summa Theologiae (Latin and English), Catena Aurea and Compendium of Theology, along with the Fathers of the Church, a plethora of spiritual writings, prayers, daily readings, etc.

STh It (Android)

This is the Summa Theologiae from the Corpus Thomisticum, as adapted to the Android OS by by the Polish Dominican Fr Andrzej Nakonieczny. It has the advantage of retaining the indexing from the Corpus Thomisticum, as well as “+” and “-“ buttons to increase or decrease the size of the font with one click.

Microsoft Office Lens



Office Lens allows you to snap a picture of a sheet of paper and instantly turn it into a PDF with text recognition. This allows you to easily scan the useful handout of the person sitting next to you, when there are not enough copies to go around or if you just want your handouts available electronically for future reference.

The above apps are all available free, and can be immensely useful for finding relevant references during a talk or in polite conversation afterwards.

Common natures in God's mind: A response to Bill Vallicella

Bill Vallicella poses the following problem

Consider a time t before there were any human animals and any finite minds, and ask yourself: did the nature humanity exist at t?

Vallicella points out that, for Aquinas, the answer would be that at t humanity existed in God’s mind. He comments on Aquinas’s answer thus:

This may seem to solve the problem I raised.  Common natures are not nothing because they are divine accusatives.  And they are not nothing in virtue of being ausserseiend. This solution avoids the three options of Platonism, subjectivism (according to which CNs exist only as products of abstraction), and Meinongianism.

What Vallicella is talking about here, of course, is Aquinas's doctrine of divine ideas. But he isn’t satisfied with the solution this doctrine offers.

The problem with the solution is that it smacks of deus ex machina: God is brought in to solve the problem similarly as Descartes had recourse to the divine veracity to solve the problem of the external world.  Solutions to the problems of universals, predication, and intentionality ought to be possible without bringing God into the picture.

I don’t see any reason to concede this deus ex machina (DEM) objection against Aquinas's doctrine. Why ought solutions to the problems of universals, predication, and intentionality to be possible without bringing God into the picture? Vallicella doesn’t say.  What if I instructed you in the following way: “Solve the problem of human knowledge without appealing to an immaterial intellect”? You could legitimately ask why I’ve barred the path of inquiry in this way. What if our reflection on the evidence indicated that an immaterial intellect had to be a part of the solution? (If you’re a naturalist, suppose I tell you to solve the problem of human knowledge without appealing to the brain.) Vallicella needs to explain why God can’t be involved in the solution of the above problems.

Vallicella references an earlier post where he considers what’s wrong with arguments that rely on a DEM. Let's look at this post to see if we can find out why he wishes to object to Aquinas in the way he does.

Vallicella suggests in this post five possible ways to understand what is meant by the DEM charge when it is leveled in philosophy. Vallicella’s DEM catalogue, however tentative, is very useful and appears to fill in a gap in the literature. Here are the possibilities he proposes:

(1) Any appeal to a supernatural agent in a theory of natural phenomena is a DEM.

(2)  An appeal to a supernatural agent in a theory of natural phenomena is a DEM iff no independent reasons are given for the existence of the supernatural agent.

(3)  An appeal to a supernatural agent in a theory of natural phenomena is a DEM iff no reasons are supplied for the existence of the divine agent.

(4)  An appeal to a supernatural agent in a theory of natural phenomena is a DEM iff EITHER no reasons are supplied for the existence of the divine agent, OR the working of the agent violates natural laws.

(5)  An appeal to a supernatural agent in a theory of natural phenomena is a DEM iff EITHER no reasons are supplied for the existence of the divine agent, OR the working of the agent violates natural laws, OR the agent’s intervention in nature is miraculous in the sense in that it takes over a job that ought to be done by a natural entity.

Vallicella doesn’t think we should a priori rule out arguments to God as the cause of natural phenomena. So, he says that (1) can’t be what a DEM is. (Actually, he doesn't argue exactly like this but this is how I interpret him.)

Vallicella also concludes that (2) can’t be what a DEM is. Here's how he explains its flaw:

Why would the reasons for the supernatural agent have to be independent, i.e., independent of the job the agent is supposed to do? Suppose the appeal to a divine agent takes the form of an inference to the best or the only possible explanation of the natural explananda. Then the appeal to the divine agent would be rationally justified despite the fact that the agent is posited to do a specific job.

I’m not quite sure what Vallicella’s view of (3) is. He seems to think that it constitutes a DEM but isn't the only form it can take. It can also take the form of (4) and (5).

But if we construe DEM as (3), (4), or (5), Aquinas's doctrine of divine ideas isn't conspicuously guilty of DEM. Aquinas doesn't fail to offer reasons for the existence of the divine agent whose mind contains the ideas (cf. ST, Ia, 2, 3). There is no obvious way that the doctrine of divine ideas violates natural laws (presumably the laws of the physical world that the natural sciences investigate). And, finally, it doesn't give a job to God that ought to be done by a natural entity.

With respect to the last point, Aquinas takes the divine ideas to be God's understanding of his essence as imitable by any creature (cf. ST, Ia, 15, 2). No natural entity as such could have God's understanding of his essence. Ergo, God isn't doing a job some natural entity should do, for no natural entity could do it.

So, I'm perplexed by Vallicella's suggestion that Aquinas's doctrine of divine ideas is an instance of DEM.

Vallicella is a careful, sharp thinker, so I assume that I have misunderstood him or he has only incompletely expressed himself. It’s possible that we do simply disagree but I suspect that the point of disagreement has not yet been identified.

Objective and Subjective Sin

Does anybody know where and when the widespread use of the distinction between objective and subjective sin was introduced?  I can find plenty of medieval and modern distinction between perfect and imperfect acts, and between human and non-human acts.  For instance, there is a lot on how somebody who sleeps with another's wife does not commit adultery if he does not know that she is married to another.  But I can't find anything about how someone who knowing sleeps with another's wife might not really be committing adultery.  There has to be something in the literature.  I have seen several statements like "The Church teaches that adultery is objectively wrong, but not always subjectively sinful."  I can see why it might not be sinful if it is not formally adultery, but I don't think that this is what they are saying.

I've looked around a bit in different descriptions of why we shouldn't judge others.  There are obvious remarks on how it is not our place, how we lack the relevant knowledge, etc.  It is like one servant judging another.  There is also material on how we might not know circumstances that would mitigate or change the act.  But most medieval and early modern authors seem to assume that if someone knowingly murders or commits adultery, we can know that they sinned mortally.  Augustine states that we should then reflect on the fact that they might repent, and we might be damned, etc.  The general approach seems to involve a combination of some of at least four elements: 1) don't judge if you don't need to because it is not your place, 2) you cannot know all the relevant circumstances, especially of acts that are not intrinsically evil, 3) even if you know that the neighbor's act is mortally sinful, you don't know if it is merely on account of weakness or ignorance instead of malice, and 4) you don't know that the person will repent and become a great saint, whereas you might be damned.  I don't find any suggestions that we should consider that our neighbor is not in fact sinning by committing adultery, blasphemy, or murder.  In other words, nobody says, "You can know that your neighbor is choosing to commit objectively evil actions such as murder or blasphemy, but you can't know that he is subjectively guilty."  Where does this come from historically?  Please send an e-mail or comment if you have citations from before the twentieth century that don't have to do with the formal/material distinction, or even if you know of anything that suggests the possibility of invincible ignorance concerning the substance of the Ten Commandments.




Amoris Laetitia: Misquoting St. Thomas on Rules

There is another misuse of St. Thomas, this time on rules.  It is in a section called "Rules and Discernment."

The document quotes Thomas to justify exceptions to"rules," as if the natural law concerning sexual relations did not involve exceptionless negative precepts.  The document lacks a basic understanding of Thomas's view of how rules are applied to particular situations.  

Consider this quote: 304.
It is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule, because that is not enough to discern and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being. I earnestly ask that we always recall a teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas and learn to incorporate it in our pastoral discernment: “Although there is necessity in the general principles, the more we descend to matters of detail, the more frequently we encounter defects… In matters of action, truth or practical rectitude is not the same for all, as to matters of detail, but only as to the general principles; and where there is the same rectitude in matters of detail, it is not equally known to all… The principle will be found to fail, according as we descend further into detail”.347 It is true that general rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations. At the same time, it must be said that, precisely for that reason, what is part of a practical discernment in particular circumstances cannot be elevated to the level of a rule. That would not only lead to an intolerable casuistry, but would endanger the very values which must be preserved with special care.

347 Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 94, art. 4.

The document seems to conflate rules such as "You shalt not commit adultery" with rules such as "Return borrowed items."  But consider this statement: "It is true that general rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations."  In this case it seems to confuse rules such as "You shall not commit adultery" or "You shall not murder" with rules such as "Love God," "Help others, "Give alms."   I first thought that the passage was discussing primary and secondary precepts.  But then it seems to be discussing the difference between rules that oblige semper and ad semper and those that oblige semper and not ad semper.  Which does it mean?  And how are either relevant to the issue at hand?

For clarifying these issues, it is might be helpful to look at a good book on Moral Philosophy, such as Ralph McInerny's Ethica Thomistica.