Thomas Aquinas: prayer and study


From REALITY—A Synthesis Of Thomistic Thought by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.

” In [Thomas Aquinas'] doctrinal controversies carried on exclusively in defense of the faith, he was always humble, patient, and magnanimous, courageous indeed, but always prudent. Trust in God led him to unite prayer to study. William de Tocco, his biographer, writes of him: “Whenever he was to study, to undertake a solemn disputation, to teach, write, or dictate, he began by retiring to pray in secret, weeping as he prayed, to obtain understanding of the divine mysteries. And he returned with the light he had prayed for.” [9].

The same biographer [10] gives two striking examples. While writing his commentary on Isaiah, the saint came to a passage which he did not understand. For several days he prayed and fasted for light. Then he was supernaturally enlightened. To his confrere, Reginald, he revealed the extraordinary manner in which this light came to him, namely, by the apostles Peter and Paul. This account was confirmed by one of the witnesses in the saint’s canonization process.

A second example is reported. [11] In the friary at Naples, when the saint was writing of the passion and the resurrection of Christ, [12] he was seen, while praying before a crucifix in the church, to be lifted up from the floor. Then it was that he heard the words: “Thomas, thou hast written well of Me.”

Continue reading


The Power of the Free Market (?)

I’ve been reading about the free market a lot in Michael Novak’s work and other people’s writings. This video – yes, an ad – demonstrates Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ and the necessity of free markets incredibly effectively. The providing of services which each of the people enjoy creatively working within, all in a mutually supporting market. It might seem dull and dry and lacking but it’s the meat and bone of America’s success in the past.

Which raises a question? Why does it seem dull and lacking? Why – when the free market is raised – do people immediately react against it as cold and impersonal and greedy and selfish?

One possible answer – for myself at least – is that, if taken only within itself, the free market doesn’t address the questions which are most fundamental to existence, those pesky questions of meaning and suffering. And some people do take the market to be fulfilling of man’s heart. (One of my friends at a Young Americans for Freedom conference leaned over during a video presentation and said to me, “So, the Free Market is Jesus?”) And if taken as the fulfillment of man’s potential, then we are doomed to cultural nihilism (too extreme, perhaps – but perhaps not). But the free market can be a moral institution which buoys up culture and allows for its existence.

There remains an uneasiness when I speak about it – it sounds all too coldly financial – but I still believe it to be essentially good. It does allow for creative expression of individual citizens – through their work, religion, etc.

Your thoughts?

My Picks from Pope Francis’ Lenten Message

Pope Francis“It has been said that the only real regret lies in not being a saint (L. Bloy); we could also say that there is only one real kind of poverty: not living as children of God and brothers and sisters of Christ.”

“Charity, love, is sharing with the one we love in all things. Love makes us similar, it creates equality, it breaks down walls and eliminates distances.”

“When power, luxury and money become idols, they take priority over the need for a fair distribution of wealth.”

“Dear brothers and sisters, may this Lenten season find the whole Church ready to bear witness to all those who live in material, moral and spiritual destitution the Gospel message of the merciful love of God our Father, who is ready to embrace everyone in Christ. We can do this to the extent that we imitate Christ who became poor and enriched us by his poverty. Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.”  - Pope Francis

Full Text here: Vatican


Two Forms of Feminism: Your Pick

Femen 1 - editedThe National Women’s Encounter occurred last October in Posadas, Argentina. 25,000 women came to gather and “provide a pluralist space to debate issues that are specific to women and the feminist movement.” (Argentina Independent) Yet their “premise of democracy and horizontal organisation” didn’t prevent 7,000 women from organizing online, planning to  profane the Cathedral of Buenos Aires (WOG). In reponse Pagina Catolica called for Catholics to defend the cathedral from attacks. 1,500 Catholic men and women encircled the cathedral, linking arms and continuously praying the rosary while topless women spray painted them with swastikas, drew Hitler mustaches on them with markers, sexually assaulted them, and performed sex acts in front of them.

The young men who defended the Argentina Cathedral recounted their impression that this was a “satanic attack” with “demonic figures.” The video is harsh and not recommended viewing for weak-stomached or easily offended.

Front Page Mag reports: “They performed obscene sexual acts in front of them and pushed their breasts into the men’s faces, all the while shouting “get your rosaries out of our ovaries,” a catchy slogan for which the subtext is “We demand the right to murder our own children.”


They then burned an effigy of Pope Francis (presumably in front of the Cathedral). While the attack was going on, 700 people were praying inside with Bishop Alfonso Delgrado – alongside the 1,500 who were praying outside.

Apparently “horizontal organization” meant mobs, and their “premise of democracy” implied a lot of graffiti and spray paint. InfoBae reported “the whole city awoke to graffiti in favor of abortion.” Fr. Rómulo Campora, the parish priest, commented on the protesters: “If they don’t respect life, we can’t expect them to respect the buildings.”

This form of protest is popularized by FEMEN. One of their more recent ‘protests’ was in Germany where a topless woman climbed on top of the altar where she proceeded to shake her hands up in the air with “I am God” written over her chest and stomach. The servers, deacons, and priests struggled to drag her down and remove her from the church. Continue reading

Latin Literature all sounds like epithets.

Just had an insight into why it sometimes seems like all of the Roman world spoke in small catchy phrases.

Because of their wont to write in subordinate clauses and retain only one main verb for a thought, their are many many more relative clauses than English. In English we usually only use relative clauses when we want to say something pithy and memorable. To explain:

Ubi tu es, ibi est frater tuus.

Literally translated: Where you are, there is your brother.

But when in English would we ever say that thought in that manner? Never. We’d say, “You’re where my brother is.” or “Your brother is in the same place as you.” Not this ridiculous heavy-handed Jesus-sounding “Where you are, there also is your brother.” Which brings me to a second point, how much of Jesus’ words have been diluted from their linguistic immediacy to this 17th century pithiness? The King James Bible perhaps sounded normal when written, but there’s a great loss to be had when we never hear what was said in the first place:

Εἶπεν δὲ καὶ παραβολὴν αὐτοῖς. μήτι δύναται τυφλὸς τυφλὸν ὁδηγεῖν; οὐχὶ ἀμφότεροι εἰς βόθυνον ἐμπεσοῦνται; – Greek from New Advent

And he also told a parable to them: “Surely a blind man cannot lead a blind man? Won’t they fall into a pit?” – my translation

And he spake a parable unto them; Can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into the ditch? -

The difference isn’t the most immediate there, but perhaps stilted and over-literal translations of important Greek and Roman and Christian figures have led to an a ridiculous view of both them and the relevance of their words to us now.

On Peter Singer’s ‘Abortion’ Essay (w/ William Blake)

Peter Singer wrote in the Oxford Companion to Philosophy a diabolically smart article about abortion. to distill it: The argument against abortion is as follows:

It is wrong to kill an innocent human being.
A human foetus is an innocent human being.
Therefore it is wrong to kill a human foetus.

He says that most supporters of abortion bypass the first premise and deny the second, saying that a foetus is not really a human being. Singer argues that if you attacked the first premise, you might either (1) have more success or (2) be consistent in your ethic (he doesn’t clarify what he means by being on ‘stronger ground’). “It needs to be shown,” he claims, “why mere membership of a given biological species should be a sufficient basis for a right to life.”

Beautiful. Squarely in our modern milliue of cartesian doubt it is enough for our philosophers to simply doubt – not answer. We ask that our leaders free us from tradition and loose us into the shadowy waters of individual subjectivity (which, unfortunately for moderns, are governed by their own rules).

Singer appears to be altruistically claiming that our homo sapiens species is no special thing. But let’s look at etymology: homo sapiens means ‘wise man’ or ‘knowing man.’ A quote from Jerome Lejeune springs to mind:

At universities, I have often seen extremely intelligent people holding conferences, nodding as they considered whether their children were some sort of animals when they were very young. But at the zoo, I have yet to see a conference of chimpanzees consider whether their children would grow up to be college professors!

My small counter-argument is simple. Being a member of homo sapiens considered as a biological phenomenon is nothing special. Singer is challenging us to retrace our dignity to its origin. If I reduce humanity to a mechanical conception, like Hobbes’ automata, then Singer is right. I answer, albeit in an unorthodox manner, with William Blake.

Blake saw this problem in the empiricist philosophy. In There is no Natural Religion, Blake states the necessary conclusion when starting with a empiricist (esp. Lockean) view: “The desires and perceptions of man, untaught by anything but organs of sense, must be limited to objects of sense.” But Blake responds himself, “The desire of man being Infinite, the possession is Infinite, and himself Infinite.” To explain, if we are merely physical, we could desire nothing but physical objects. On the other hand, we do desire spiritual objects. Blake is begging the intuition, ‘therefore, we are not just physical.’

This is humorously represented in his very title of the poem: There is no Natural Religion. If man is simple natural phenomenon, then there is no natural religion. But if we look around us, there is natural religion. Ergo we are not simply natural (physical) creatures.

Singer, meet Blake.

Cicero v. Locke

ImageI read the first book of Cicero’s De Officiis (On Moral Duties), and came across this delightful refutation of Locke’s main premise of our natural state:

“And it is not true, as certain people maintain, that the bonds of union in human society were instituted in order to provide for the needs of daily life ; for, they say, without the aid of others we could not secure for ourselves or supply to others the things that nature requires; but if all that is essential to our wants and comfort were supplied by some magic wand, as in the stories, then every man of first-rate ability could drop all other responsibility and devote himself exclusively to learning and study. Not at all. For he would seek to escape from his loneliness and to find some one to share his studies ; he would wish to teach, as well as to learn ; to hear, as well as to speak. Every duty, therefore, that tends effectively to maintain and safeguard human society should be given the preference over that duty which arises from speculation and science alone.”
- pg 161-2, trans. Walter J. Miller

Whereas Locke (though he held that man was a social animal of sorts, so I read) believed that the state was a social contract whereby we could exchange our total right over ourselves for protection and fulfillment of needs which we otherwise couldn’t manage without.

Cicero points out that our daily needs, those things we couldn’t create or make ourselves, are not the primary reason for society. Rather, society is man’s natural and perhaps one of his most fundamental desires. Cicero asserts that it is the sharing of goods which we need beyond the goods themselves. Aristotle would probably agree with his πολιτικος ανθρωπος. Cicero, as a politician, naturally holds up the common good higher than any individual good of learning – criticizing Plato in the process, by pointing out that the coercion necessary to bring philosophers back to civic duty injures the goodness of their participation.

That loneliness which society conquers (or attempts to) is something that Locke (or probably Hobbes) never takes as a weighty factor.

I also found the following passage funny, because of my adventures in Europe this summer, which included busking (that is, playing music for money in public streets):

“But flagrant breaches of good breeding, like singing in the streets or any other gross misconduct, are easily apparent and do not call especially for ad- monition and instruction.”
- pg 149, trans. Walter J. Miller

To a Young Man on Leaving School


While reading Walter Miller’s translation of Cicero’s De Officiis I discovered he was not only a classical philologist but also a Catholic and poet. I hope to have recourse to his poems as I push on this semester, but this jewel demanded immediate publication. This goes to everyone of my friends who recently graduated Ave Maria University, but particularly to my brother Charles, without whom I’ll be pushing onwards at Ave. Here’s to ya.

To a Young Man on Leaving School

Trust not the world – it will betray thee oft; -
Let not thy heart’s young faith and promise rest
Where truth on every fickle wind is tossed,
And the false flatterer is the first caressed.

Use goodness well – it will return the use, -
And doubly is he blest who rightly tells
On his advantage – he has still the gift
And giver, and contentment where he dwells.  Continue reading

Dulce et Decorum Est pro Patria Mori

Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen wrote the famous anti-war poem ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ in 1917 during WWI (give it a quick read, it won’t disappoint). It is powerful and criticizes a patriotism which justifies the horrible deaths young soldiers must suffer. It also draws from Horace’s Ode III.2: Dulce et Decorum Est (from which it borrows the title).

Question: does Owen change the meaning of Horace? Is he misrepresenting Horace’s patriotism?

Horace writes: (i will not translate the whole poem)

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori:
mors et fugacem persequitur virum
nec parcit inbellis iuventae
poplitibus timidoque tergo.

Virtus, repulsae nescia sordidae,
intaminatis fulget honoribus
nec sumit aut ponit securis
arbitrio popularis aurae.

Virtus, recludens inmeritis mori caelum,
negata temptat iter via
coetusque volgaris et udam
spernit humum fugiente penna.

It is sweet and proper to die for home country:
and death pursues the fleeing man nor spares
the knee of the peace-loving youths
nor the cowardly back.

Virtue, unaware of filthy rejections,
gives light with unsullied honor
nor takes up or puts down the ax
to the windy judgment of the people.

Virtue, disclosing heaven to the guiltless dead,
having been denied forges the right road
and spurns the meeting by the vulgar crowd
and wet soil with a fleeing plume.

To clear up some idioms that don’t quite make sense: Horace is saying in the second stanza that Virtue obeys a higher standard than the arbitrary will of the people. In the third, he states that Virtue leads the innocent who have died on the battlefield to heaven. The “vulgar crowd” is presumably the common-folk who do not know how to be noble, and the “wet soil” fled “with a fleeing plume” could as well be translated: “soaring (on wing) away from the blood-stained ground.” Virtue “having been denied” seems to mean ‘killed,’ meaning the dead men. Continue reading