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June-July 2003

The War Against Being

JAMES LARSON

~ Part I ~

Introduction

It is conventional, contemporary wisdom that there is probably nothing more detached from reality, and nothing more inconsequential to the real events of this world, than is the study or promotion of the discipline of philosophy - and especially that highest branch of philosophy which is called ontology, the science of being. All that follows is meant to be a refutation of this "wisdom." The road which I shall take will not, for the most part, be the technical world of the professional philosopher - this of necessity, simply because I am not one. There is an even greater necessity which hopefully will justify my presumption as a layman in treating of the metaphysical reality of being, and the war which has been and is being waged against it, and which now seems virtually universally victorious. This necessity was personally verified for me in a passage from Etienne Gilson's book Being and Some Philosophers:

"For indeed, if being is the first principle of human knowledge [and it is], it must be the very first object to be grasped by the human mind; now, if it is, how are we to account for the fact that so many philosophers have been unable to grasp it. Nor is this all. That which comes first in the order of knowledge must of necessity accompany all our representations; now, if it does, how can being both be constantly present to the most common mind, yet prove so elusive that so many very great philosophers have failed to see it? If the ultimate lesson of philosophical experience is that the human mind is blind to the very light in which it is supposed to see both itself and all the rest, what it teaches us is worse than a paradox, it is an absurdity."

Now the reader who has no formal training in philosophy and has only some slight inclination of what the philosophical meaning of being is, should, upon a careful reading of Mr. Gilson's words, become both hopeful and interested. We have here an admission by a very prominent philosopher that something which is "constantly present to the common mind" is yet elusive to philosophers. And when he says, "the human mind is blind to the very light in which it is supposed to see both itself and all the rest.. ..", I would hope that some echo might ring forth to the reader from the Prologue of the Gospel of St. John:

"In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it."

In other words, the philosophical question of being has something very immediately to do with not only man and created things, but also with Who Christ is, and also our very intimate relationship with Him. At this point, of course, we cross over from philosophy to Divine Revelation. This is something we shall frequently do - philosophy being both the handmaid of theology and of Revelation. As Christians who have come to know Jesus Christ, we might therefore have confidence that we are equipped to come to understand what being is, and how to defend it. Certainly we should at least intuit such a need. If we consider such phenomena as the atheism and apostasy of our times, the murder of untold numbers of unborn children, moral relativism and perversion, and all those things such as alcoholism, drug-use, suicide, terrorism, and violence which speak not only of a loss of belief in God, but also a loss of contact with being and reality itself, then we should truly desire to understand and to equip ourselves with the knowledge which is necessary for this battle. We especially need to realize that it is primarily the souls of children which are the objects of this war, and that the modern secular educational establishment has been fully equipped with the ideologies and methodologies necessary for the destruction of this God-given reality in the mind, heart, and soul of every child in our modern world. So let us move on to the task.

Old Testament Epiphany

The great revelation of the Old Testament is of God Who names Himself "I AM WHO AM" (Ex 3:14). In terms of Scholastic theology this name or definition of "Who God is" encloses several astounding truths. First, to put it in very colloquial terms, "God is totally His own Man." There is absolutely no contingency in His Nature - His Being is not limited or defined by anything or anyone else. In order for this to be so, His Being must be Infinite. Second, if His Being is Infinite, then there must be nothing outside Himself which possesses any independence from Him. In other words, all of creation must be created by Him out of nothing, and must require His ever present Infinite Intellect and Will for its continued existence. Thirdly, God does not change. If He is "Who He is", then His actual existence must be the same as His Being. In the language of Scholastic metaphysics, He is pure Act, without any potentiality of becoming something new, better, worse, or different.

All this can be known through Divine Revelation. The Church teaches, however, that these same things can be known about God and creation through "the law of God written in the human heart", which is nothing less than the eternal law of God inscribed in man's rational nature. Scripture teaches that man is created in the image of God (possessing intellect and free will), and therefore it is only natural that any human soul coming upon this self-definition of God should be drawn to Him as its much longed-for Home. St. Augustine said that the soul is restless until it rests in God. In other words, an honest human heart does not require Scholastic training to know that "I AM WHO AM" is truly God, and should be the absolutely primary goal of all man's longings and desires.

Man's original sin obscures this fully "natural" knowledge of God simply because it mystifies the Being of God with its own becoming. Eve falls to Satan's temptation to doubt God's command (which is the same as to doubt His immutable Being) and "to be [become] as gods, knowing good and evil" (Gen 3:5). Eve's sin mirrors that of Satan himself who "said in his heart: I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, I will sit in the mountain of the covenant, in the sides of the north. I will ascend above the height of the clouds, I will be like the most High (Is 24:23-24)." Original sin immediately results in a "new will" and a new "unnatural law" in man according to which "Adam and his wife hid themselves from the face of the Lord God (Gen 3:8)", because "I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself." Because of the imposition of man's becoming upon God, Being is obscured and denied, as is God's creation and the very nature of human beings.

For this reason man's becoming always poses a great threat to his ability to perceive not only the truth about God, but also the reality of His own being. All of the laws and prescriptions of the Old Testament therefore have not only the purpose of rendering justice towards both God and one's fellow man, but also the additional purpose of directing all of man's aspirations in holy simplicity towards God. God's first great commandment therefore reads as follows:

"Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord./Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole strength./And these words which I command thee this day, shall be in thy heart:/And thou shalt tell them to thy children, and thou shalt meditate upon them sitting in thy house, and walking on thy journey, sleeping and rising./And thou shalt bind them as a sign on thy hand, and they shall be and shall move between thy eyes./ And thou shalt write them in the entry, and on the doors of thy house." (Deut 6: 4-8)

We tend to think of the Old Testament as a dispensation concerned only with exterior conformity to the Mosaic law. Yet there exists in all of Judeo-Christian literature no writings which are more profoundly descriptive of contemplative prayer than that which we have just quoted. In order to emphasize this simplicity as the absolutely necessary foundation for our relationship to God, I offer here a comparable passage from the great Flemish mystic of the fourteenth century, Blessed John Ruysbroeck:

"Which is the road that we may go forth to meet the Lord, the road of the most perfect resemblance and most blissful union? Every good act however small, provided it be referred to God by simplicity of intention, augments in us the divine likeness and replenishes us with eternal life.

"Simplicity of intention collects the dispersed powers of the soul into unity of spirit, and unites the spirit itself to God. It is simplicity of intention which honours and praises God, which offers and presents our virtues to Him; thus entering into and overstepping itself and all creatures, the soul finds God in its own depths. Simplicity is the beginning and end of all virtues, their splendour and their glory.

"I call a simple intention, that which aims at God alone, referring all things to Him, conformably with order and truth. It puts to flight all pretence, hypocrisy, duplicity; in every possible action simplicity should be chiefly aimed at, practiced and cultivated. This places man in the presence of God and gives him light and courage. This sets him free from all vain and servile fear, now and at the Day of Judgment. It is that single eye of which the Lord speaks, as giving light to the whole body; that is, to the whole vital energy, which it delivers from evil. It is the interior inclination of the enlightened spirit: the foundation of the whole spiritual life."

We are thus given the prescription which enables us to attain unity with God Who is The Supreme Being; while it is this same means of holy simplicity by which we attain also to union with our own true nature and being.

The Old Testament also offers us an epical view of a disastrous alternative: the separation from God, spiritual decay, and physical disaster which came to the Jewish people through rejection of God, idolatry, adultery, and sin. Interestingly enough, we are also given specific warnings against the pursuit of false science and philosophy - philosophy being defined as the attempt to understand things in their deepest cause and reasons through the use of man's unaided power of reasoning:

"Nothing may be taken away, nor added, neither is it possible to find out the glorious works of God: When a man hath done, then shall he begin: and when he leaveth off, he shall be at a loss (Ecclus 28:5-6)."

"And I understood that man can find no reason of all those works of God that are done under the sun: and the more he shall labour to seek, so much the less shall he find: yea, though the wise man shall say, that he knoweth it, he shall not be able to find it (Eccl 8:17)."

"For the works of the Highest only are wonderful, and his works are glorious, secret, and hidden (Ecclus 11:4)."

These scriptures present us with three extraordinary facts about every created substance:

  1. the origin and nature of each is wonderful, glorious, secret, and hidden;
  2. man's mind cannot understand the origin and being of anything, except as lying in the mysterious Being (Intellect and Will) of God;
  3. the attempt to unravel the depths of created reality using man's analytical mental capabilities leads to deeper ignorance, and eventually to total darkness and confusion.

It is conventional modern wisdom that the Jews knew nothing of philosophy, and that the discovery of philosophy lay with the Greeks. Yet here, in God's Revelation, lies the most profound principle of philosophy and ontology: that the unity, nature, essence, and being of any created thing lies not in anything subject to intellectual or physical analysis, but in the creating and sustaining Being of God.

New Testament Development

All these truths concerning being which are revealed in the Old Testament are profoundly encapsulated in St. Paul's speech to the Athenian philosophers:

"God, who made the world, and all things therein; he, being Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;/Neither is he served with men's hands, as though he needed any thing; seeing it is he who giveth to all life, and breath, and all things:/And hath made of one, all mankind, to dwell upon the whole face of the earth, determining appointed times, and the limits of their habitation./That they should seek God, if happily they may feel after him or find him, although he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and are... (Acts 17:24-28)."

Or, as some translations have it, "For in him we live, and move, and have our being." The philosophic quest, therefore, must always end in God. Defined as the quest for the deepest causes and reasons of all things, philosophy always ends up by meeting God, in Whom all things live, and move, and have their being. Any attempt to posit these deepest causes and reasons for created things within creation itself is always doomed to failure and confusion. We shall see later on that this is the punishment inflicted upon the hubris of modern secular science.

For now, however, we must understand the great New Revelation which is the New Testament. God is revealed fully as a Trinity of Persons. In the love which is revealed as the Being of God in three Infinite Persons is also revealed the depths of the human soul created in the image of God. Being is revealed as Love, and the One in Whom "we live, and move, and are" is revealed to be the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, Jesus Christ:

"For in him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominations, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and in him./And he is before all, and by him all things consist./And he is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he may hold the primacy:/Because in him, it hath well pleased the Father, that all fullness should dwell;/And through him to reconcile all things unto himself, making peace through the blood of his cross, both as to the things that are on earth, and the things that are in heaven (Col 1:16-20)."

Further, this primacy of Christ over all creation necessarily demands His right to universal sovereignty over all creation:

"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh./For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty to God unto the pulling down of fortifications, destroying counsels,/And every height that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every understanding unto the obedience of Christ (2Cor 10:3-5)."

This universal sovereignty of Christ necessarily includes His right to sovereignty over every nation and institution. In his encyclical on The Kingship of Christ (Quas Primas), with which he instituted the Liturgical Feast of the Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Pope Pius XI writes:

He, however, would be guilty of shameful error who would deny to Christ as man authority over civil affairs, no matter what their nature, since, by virtue of the absolute dominion over all creatures He holds from the Father, all things are in His power. Nevertheless, during His life on earth He refrained altogether from exercising such dominion, and despising then the possession and administration of earthly goods, He left them to their possessors then, and He does so today. As it is well put: Non eripit mortalia qui regna dat caelestaa - He does not seize earthly kingdoms Who gives heavenly kingdoms. And so, the empire of Our Redeemer embraces all men. To quote the words of Our immortal predecessor, Pope Leo XIII: "His empire manifestly includes not only Catholic nations, not only those who were baptized, and of right belong to the Church, though error of doctrine leads them astray or schism severs them from her fold; but it includes also all those who are outside the Christian faith, so that truly the human race, in its entirety, is subject to the power of Jesus Christ." Nor, in this connexion, is there any difference between individuals and communities whether family or State, for community aggregates are just as much under the dominion of Christ as individuals. The same Christ assuredly is the source of the individuals salvation and of the community's salvation: Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given to men whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

The Christian heart and mind which accepts God and Christ as Supreme Being naturally accedes to the Catholic doctrine of this universal sovereignty of Christ over all peoples and nations. And since Christ established His Mystical Body in order to effect the conversion of all nations, and to bring all minds into subjection to Christ, this Kingship also accords to His Church:

"All power is given to me in heaven and in earth./Going, therefore, teach all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Ghost./Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world (Mt 28: 18-20)."

The Great Scholastic Synthesis of St. Thomas

It has too often been said that the Church embraces no particular philosophy. This statement may be considered true if we think of "embracing a particular philosophy" as a dogmatic declaration that all of one man's teaching, in all its particulars, is infallible. We would do well to begin this subject, however, with some elaboration of the degree to which the Church has indeed embraced the philosophy of St. Thomas. Pope Pius XI, in his encyclical on St. Thomas, Studiorum Ducem, simply says the following:

We so heartily approve the magnificent tribute of praise bestowed upon this most divine genius that We consider that Thomas should be called not only the Angelic, but also the Common or Universal Doctor of the Church; for the Church has adopted his philosophy for her own, as innumerable documents of every kind attest. It would be an endless task to explain here all the reasons which moved Our Predecessors in this respect, and it will be sufficient perhaps to point out that Thomas wrote under the inspiration of the supernatural spirit which animated his life and that his writings, which contain the principles of, and the laws governing, all sacred studies, must be said to possess a universal character (#11).

Speaking specifically of St. Thomas' teaching concerning being, the Pope continues:

His teaching with regard to the power or value of the human mind is irrefragable: "The human mind has a natural knowledge of being and the things which are in themselves part of being as such, and this knowledge is the foundation of our knowledge of first principles" (Contra Gentiles, II, . lxxxiii). Such a doctrine goes to the root of the errors and opinions of those modern philosophers who maintain that it is not being itself which is perceived in the act of intellection, but some modification of the percipient; the logical consequence of such errors is agnosticism, which was so vigorously condemned in the Encyclical Pascendi (#15).

In order to get some idea of just why the whole concept of being and the science of being (Ontology) is so important, we shall first begin with a good definition. Paul Glenn, in his Introduction to Philosophy offers the following definition of Ontology:

"The Ontological Question is the question of reality in its most general, most abstract, most profound meaning. It is the question of being, that is, of being as such, and not of being as it stands determinate in this nature or that nature or the other nature. It is the question of being or reality stripped of the limitations that come of materiality, that is, of bodiliness or of dependence on bodily things. Hence, it is the question of non-material real being. Here we have the heart of metaphysics, and metaphysics is the heart of philosophy."

We must here be very emphatic on one point. In talking about being we are not talking about something which is a mere abstraction of the human intellect. Just as the Supreme Being is real "out there", so the being of created realities is truly real and "out there." Secondly, as Pius XI pointed out (quoting St. Thomas), "the human mind has a natural knowledge of being and the things which are in themselves part of being as such, and this knowledge is the foundation of our knowledge of first principles" (such as "The Principle of the Excluded Middle"- that a thing cannot at the same time be and not-be; "The Principle of Identity"; and "The Principle of Difference"). In other words, the human intellect has a natural ability to come into contact with and to know reality at a level which is deeper and more profound than anything which can be called "physical" or be subjected to physical analysis. Fr. Dennis Fahey, writing in his little book Mental Prayer According to the Principles of St. Thomas Aquinas, quotes from La Contemplation Mystique by Joret:

"Let us not forget that the human intelligence is intuitive by nature and predisposition. Owing to its substantial union with matter, it can only acquire knowledge by starting from sense-perceptible realities and by the help of phantasms [ideas or representations of sense data in the intellect]. But apart from this necessity, our intelligence is intuitive. Its first act is an intuition, the intuition of 'Being', or more concretely, 'of a thing that is,' and at the same time there appear to it suddenly with irrefragable (indisputable) evidence, the first principles... ."

"Thus, then, every man is intuitive, and nobody, except abnormal individuals, is deprived of the rudimentary intuitions of 'Being' and of the first principles. It is owing to this faculty that man is capable of being raised to mystical contemplation. It is to this intuitive function of the human intelligence that the gifts [of the Holy Spirit] of Intelligence, Knowledge and Wisdom link themselves to strengthen it."

Fr. Fahey also quotes St. Thomas: "The research of reason which starts from a simple intuition of the intelligence [of 'Being' and the 'First Principles'], for it is from the principles of which the intelligence is in possession that research proceeds, reaches its term also in the certitude of the intelligence, when the conclusions attained are resolved into the principles from which they draw their certitude." (III Sent., D.35, Q.l,A.2, Q.2).

All of human knowledge is therefore rooted in a non-discursive, intuitive apprehension of being - the Being of God first ("in Whom we live and move and have our being"), and secondly, the being of created things. We may say therefore that all human knowledge, though deriving from sense experience, is rooted in transcendental Being, and is predisposed to seek after this Being not only as the deepest foundation of its own natural knowledge, but also as its true supernatural home.

Both Aristotle and St. Thomas taught that there are ten categories of being. These, in turn, can be divided into substance and accidents. Substance is a reality which is "suited to exist as itself, and not as the mark, determinant, or characteristic of some other thing." Accidents are realities "which are not suited to exist as themselves, but exist as the mark, determinant, modification, or characteristic of some other thing, and ultimately of a substance." There is only one category of substance; there are nine categories of accidents: quantity, quality, relation, action, passion, place, time, posture, habit. Accidents are said to inhere in substance. Substance is said to "stand under" the accidents of which it is the subject.

If this seems to be getting too complicated, then we should realize that what Aristotle and St. Thomas have put into philosophical terminology is simply common sense. We know that somehow the mature tree possesses identity with the seed or seedling, despite the fact that there have been innumerable "accidental" but very real changes in its being. The only way of explaining this "substantial" identity in the midst of all this change is to philosophically and scientifically posit this distinction between substantial and accidental being. Without this distinction the whole concept of substantial reality is lost, not only to science, but also to simple human experience and values. All notion of substantial reality becomes lost in the ever present reality of change. In our analysis of modern errors we shall see just exactly how this has taken shape.

It is also fully in accord with common sense that any bodily substance must involve the substantial union of two principles: what scholastic philosophy calls primal matter and substantial form.

Primal matter, according to St. Thomas, "is the common substrate of all existing bodies; it is that by which a body is bodily" [Paul Glenn: Tour of the Summa]. It has no existence of its own, but only comes into existence through God's creation, and in union with some particular substantial form. We must not think that through deeper and deeper physical analysis of created things we will finally discover primal matter. In terms of physical analysis, the human mind naturally works only in terms of limited constructs - it can only work in relation to things which are "accidental", that is having spatial and temporal extension. Compounds, molecules, atoms, atomic particles, etc. only have meaning to us in relation to their ability to be "quantified" in some way. Such thing, therefore, are not, and cannot be, primal matter. They cannot, in other words, be at the root of what matter is all about. It is interesting that the quest to get to the ultimate constituents of matter and energy now has pushed the human intellect to the very limits of such spatial-temporal thinking. And if one reads the comments concerning this current situation of physics which are made by those on the cutting edge of this search, one clearly becomes aware of their sense of despair over the matter. It is almost as though, in having reached the limits of human constructs and material analysis they hear a call beckoning them beyond such constructs for the ultimate explanation of the physicality of even the most rudimentary of things. This explanation has already been given by the philosophy and metaphysics of St. Thomas. They do not want to listen, however, because they are fundamentally locked into the hubris and shallowness which refuses to believe that there can be anything "above" ("meta"-) physics. In so doing, they deny the ultimate meaning and purpose of their own science

For any particular substance to exist there must be something more to it than mere materiality, something which determines it as a specific kind of body - something which determines its essence or nature. This other principle is substantial form. The Scholastic doctrine that all bodily substances are constituted by the substantial union of substantial form and primal matter is called hylemorphism (a term made up of two Greek words: hyle, meaning matter; and morphe, meaning form).

It should be noted here again that with the principle of substantial form we have again crossed over into the realm of metaphysics, into a realm that is beyond physical analysis. We thus touch once more upon that realm of being which speaks of the direct touch of God upon both creation and our intelligible grasp of reality. Again, we must note that Thomism lays down that all our knowledge comes through the senses, and that our intellect comes to an understanding of universals or essences through a process of abstraction from the ideas or phantasms which these sense impressions imprint on the intellect. At the same time, however, we would be badly missing the profound import of Thomistic epistemology (the philosophical science of how we know things, or whether we can truly know at all) if we failed to realize that inherent in any act of knowledge is that direct and intuitive act of the intellect which grasps not only being in its general reality, but also the substantial forms which are the determinant principles of created bodily substances. St. Thomas writes:

"We must needs say that the human soul knows all things in the eternal types, since by participation of these types we know all things. For the intellectual light itself which is in us, is nothing else than a participated likeness of the uncreated light, in which are created the eternal types (la,84,5)."

Thus we have the philosophical application of that truth so profoundly and simply expressed by St. John: "In him was life, and the life was the light of men."

It has so happened in the history of the Church that the truth only comes fully into focus when confronted with its denial in the form of heresy, schism, or apostasy. Hopefully, then, the truths of which we have been speaking will boldly shine forth in Parts II and III when we examine the "modern" errors which constitute the rejection of those truths and the astonishing views of a pre-eminent Cardinal Prefect in Rome, who seeks to legitimate their rejection in order to effect "an official reconciliation with the new era inaugurated in 1789".


Click here to read Part II | Click here to read Part III