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Edith Stein on Faith and Philosophy

In Dignity of the Person on October 28, 2012 at 5:38 pm



It would seem that faith and philosophy are opposed to each other.  At first glance, when compared to philosophy, it is faith that appears subjective, irrational or emotional.  Also, it seems that considering philosophy in light faith is how philosophy was done in the olden days, way back in the Middle Ages or during the pre-Scientific Revolution times, or in pre-Modernity.  So, even if this is a valid way of doing philosophy how could be relevant now? So much time has passed, so much “water under the bridge” already, that it seems irrelevant to the Information Age, or the post-Modern era to even begin to discuss seriously faith and philosophy. Well, Edith Stein, the female phenomenologist and saint thought quite differently and seriously about how the two could work together even today.

In her book, Knowledge and Faith, (Trans. Walter Redmond. ICS Publicastions: Washington, DC, 2000, p. 11) Stein says, “Phenomenology proceeds as though our reason had no limits in principle.”  The beauty of phenomenology is its openness to knowledge from all sources.  Such an epistemological disposition is only limited by one’s capacity for imbibing knowledge, understanding it and interpreting it.  For Stein, the only problem with natural reason alone is that it is incomplete.  She continues, “Certainly, it grants that its task is endless and knowledge is an unending process.  But it heads straight for its goal: that is, the full truth, which as a regulative idea sets the course it is to take.”  One might say that the only limit to the phenomenologist is her intentions and her capacity for the reception of knowledge, ultimately finding the truth.  But Truth is what the phenomenologist is searching for in all being.  She says, “From the perspective of philosophy, there is no other way to the goal.  St. Thomas’s view is also that this is the way of natural reason.” (p.11) Truth in its totality, truth in all of its manifestations, therefore includes faith as a subject.  She continues discussing natural knowledge that “Its way is endless, and this implies that it can never reach its goal but only approach it step by step.  Another consequence is that all human philosophy is bound to be fragmentary.” (pp. 11)  Fragmentary knowledge fails to display being in its totality ontologically.  Such a failure begs for completion, the true phenomenologist wouldn’t fail to search faith for this missing insight.  Surely, Stein understood this when she says, “This it grasps in faith, which on our earthly pilgrimage is a second way of gaining knowledge alongside the natural way.  At our goal, both what we now know and what we now take on faith, we will know in another way.”(p. 13)  In other words, in Eternity, we will attain knowledge in its totality according to our capacity, while faith supplants that lack here and now through supernatural reason with the addition of our natural knowledge through reason.  She says, “For philosophy is also a mater of ratio for me (in the broad sense that includes natural and supernatural reason.)  And you gather, of course, from what I was just saying, that I do not take faith to be irrational at all; that is, having nothing to do with truth and falsehood.”  What Stein seems to be interpreting of Saint Thomas Aquinas here, is that faith is not unreasonable, or irrational, or devoid of logic, but rather it is a reasoning that starts with Revelation and proceeds with its supernatural reasoning with an openness to the insight from faith about the knowledge that God has made known to man about Himself which he otherwise would not know or be able to grasp with out the aid of Revelation, certainly not reason alone.  As a consequence, for Stein “…faith is a way to truth.  Indeed in the first place it is a way to truths–plural–which would otherwise be closed to us, and in the second place it is the surest way to truth.”  This is a strong statement, to say that faith is the surest way to truth.  However, when analyzed from from a phenomenological perspective, the claim is that those who have received this Revelation start from a position of contemplation of what is purported to be divine knowledge, and when such knowledge proves to be reasonable supernaturally, it carries with it a certainty that natural reason neither claims nor can claim by itself.  She continues, “For there is no greater certainty than that of faith; what is more, for human beings [in the state of being on our earthly journey] no knowledge lends a certainty that can come up to that proper to faith…”(p.17)  In other words, with knowledge coming from faith one can behave in real, materially manifest ways, which include resting one’s entire life upon faith’s truth and even investing one’s eternal life on the truth of faith.

Who would be willing to rest his life on knowledge solely based upon human reason without belief?  Who can say that what she knows by reason alone, she is therefore willing to risk her life upon it?  Surely not her eternal life upon it. Whereas, the person of faith would be willing to risk both her earthly life and eternal life on her supernatural knowledge from faith if necessary, and many martyrs in the history of Christianity have done that very thing.  Whereas, any rationalist who was willing to risk both her earthly life and the possibility of her eternal life on what she knew by reason alone would be thought of as a fool.  Hence, it would behoove philosophers to consider faith more seriously, as Stein did saying, “Philosophy aspires after truth to the greatest possible extent and with the greatest possible certainty.  If faith makes accessible truths unattainable by any other means, philosophy, for one thing, cannot forego them without renouncing its universal claim to truth.” (p. 17)  All philosophers seek truth, truth is their aim from whence it comes.  If it comes from faith, as Stein discovered, in order for philosophy to claim to seek truth honestly, it cannot renounce the truth deriving from knowledge of faith without giving up its universal claims, which can be said that some Postmodernists have done in order to ignore and to discount that very discovery.  Stein wisely advises philosophers who neglect truth deriving from faith by saying, “Furthermore, it cannot forgo these truths without risking that falsehood will creep even into the body of knowledge left to it, since, given the organic interrelationship of all truth, any partial stock, when its link to the whole is cut off, can appear in a false light.  One consequence then, is a material dependence of philosophy on faith.”  The importance of the aforesaid cannot be understated, for more than 500 years some philosophers since Machiavelli have actively excluded availing themselves to faith as a source of truth, (which would have been considered strange in the prior 1500 years).  Stein says, “Then too, if faith affords the highest certainty attainable by the human mind, and if philosophy claims to bestow the highest certainty, then philosophy must make the certainty of faith its own.  It does so first by absorbing the truths of faith, and further by using them as the final criterion by which to gauge all other truths.” (p. 18)  Blessed John Henry Newman, in his The Idea of the University, refers to this phenomenon in the university, of having removed the study of theology and philosophy from the academy, as one of the greatest pedagogical errors of the West.  Stein alludes to a similar sentiment toward philosophers at large in the prior quote saying that philosophy informed by the aid of faith would contribute to its own certainty rather than simply the aid of natural reason alone, instead with this aid of supernatural knowledge philosophers could benefit even in their judgement of being with the use of natural reason.  Stein exhorts phenomenologists by recalling Thomas Aquinas saying that, “He would never admit that this is the only way of knowledge, nor that truth is but an idea that must be actualized in an unending process–and hence never fully.  Full Truth is; there is a knowledge that embraces truth completely, a knowledge that rather than unending process, is unending, infinite, fullness at rest.  Such is the divine knowledge.”(p. 12)  In other words, divine knowledge, or knowledge from faith, does not endlessly seek more and more knowledge or does not continually process for the sake of processing, as if knowledge or process is the end in itself, but that the fullness of truth is God and faith embraces this knowledge, a knowledge that is both infinite yet complete, unending but at rest.   God, as Pure Act, knows His Self perfectly and completely, the person of faith recognizes this, loves this and appreciates this Truth as genuine knowledge with a certitude that no other natural knowledge can claim, yet it is only the starting point of reasoning for the philosopher who is a person of faith.  The philosopher who adds the aid of her reason with the supernatural knowledge of faith is no longer confined as the Heideggerian being in time and space, but a new being in time and space who is also simultaneously a being outside of the cosmos, outside space and time, with insight from faith of the knowledge of God.  This advantage is truly something about which we should celebrate and be grateful.

Can Science Be Consistent with Faith and Virtue? Roger Bacon, the originator of the Scientific Method thought so…

In Special Topic on October 15, 2012 at 7:12 am

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It would seem that virtue and faith are really not that important to science.  Such ideas seem to be guided by a much more simple time, the Middle Ages perhaps or earlier, but it seems that many Modern scientists couldn’t imagine being encumbered by the principles of a religious institution or the societal cultural mores thereof.  So, it wouldn’t seem likely that Modern science wouldn’t have any future interest in faith or virtue either because it appears irrelevant now.  Rather, it seems that what drives science’s success sometimes is its “cutting edge” research and venture capital occasionally led by the pragmatic maxim that “If it is possible, then it is necessary, therefore moral.”  Faith and virtue would seem contrary to and obstructions to these goals of science.

Science and Virtue?

Well, Roger Bacon, the 13th Century English theologian, philosopher and scientist had a different notion of how science should progress.  Firstly, Roger Bacon, who is considered the earliest founder of the scientific method based upon Aristotle’s logic, said the following in his Sixth Part of the Opus Majus on Experimental Science “For this reason true philosophers have labored the more in morals for their integrity of virtue, concluding among themselves that they can not see the causes of things unless they have souls free from sins.”(Selections From Medieval Philosophers Vol II. Ed. Richard McKeon.  Charles Scribner’s Sons: NY. 1930. p.76)  Bacon thought it essential for the philosopher-scientist to be free from faults, free from vices, free from selfishness or evil, in a word: holy.  Why?  Well, he said, “Virtue, therefore, clarifies the mind that man may understand more easily not only moral things, but scientific things.”(p.77)  A clear mind, a mind that is able to apprehend the truth in moral reasoning spiritually, will have an advantage discerning the truth in scientific reasoning mentally about what he is sensing in his judgement in the world.  Bacon said, “For this reason the Scripture says, Wisdom will not enter into an ill-disposed soul.  For it is impossible that the soul repose in the light of truth while it is stained with sins, but it will recite like a parrot or a magpie the words of another which it learned by long practice…”(p. 77) In other words, the character, the disposition, the virtue of the scientist matters to his science.  He is not a disembodied objective Cartesian mind without a body, soul and personality, but a whole person.  The Presocratic philosophers or “philosophers of nature,” from Thales, Democritus, Pythagoras, and Anaxagoras, among many others, were really the first Western scientists, but it was common for most of them to have works on the nature of the soul, ethics and religion, and this certainly continued into the Middle Ages in Europe.  Roger Bacon is an example of this tradition.

Science and Faith?

What about science and faith?  These two things are often considered inconsistent with each other today and therefore incompatible.  Well, Roger Bacon says that “…[scientific] experience does not suffice man, in that it does not certify fully concerning corporeal things because of its difficulty, and it touches on nothing at all of spiritual things.”(p.75)  In other words, when the scientist wonders about nature and attempts to understand the essence or nature of a thing, he encounters various difficulties intellectually, resources, time among other material needs.  But, the scientist is also a person, and experimental science has nothing to say about “spiritual things” to him.  What Bacon seems to be implying in the coupling of these two shortcomings of science is that the scientist not only has to overcome his material difficulties in his research but also needs the help of faith to answer his wondering.  He says, “Therefore it is necessary that the understanding of man be aided otherwise, and therefore the holy patriarchs and prophets who first gave the sciences to the world, received interior illuminations and were not dependent only on sense.  For the grace of faith illumines greatly and divine inspirations likewise not only in spiritual but in corporeal things and in the sciences of philosophy, according to what Ptolemy says in the Centilogium, that the way to come to a knowledge of things is twofold, one by the experience of philosophy, the other by divine inspiration, which is far the better he says. (p.75)  Bacon suggests that from the earliest times in history, the holy patriarchs and the prophets, who also practiced science, did not depend solely on their external senses for knowledge but actively sought it out spiritually in their contemplative prayer.  The famous Second century astronomer and geographer, Ptolemy, thought that divine inspiration was a superior source of knowledge of things,  not to the exclusion to the experience of scientific knowledge, but in addition to it.  Bacon said wisely, “And, therefore, he who acts contrary to the truth, must necessarily be ignorant of it, although he may know how to put together very elegant phrases and to quote the opinion of others…”(p. 76) In other words, the inspiration from faith and scientific reasoning together stretch the imagination of the mind in order to discover the creativity and complexity of nature in a way that is not possible when they are separated from each other.  If the scientist does this, he’ll have new ideas, new knowledge, new discoveries, breakthroughs, instead of parroting back his teachers’ teachings.

Roger Bacon, the preeminent theologian, philosopher and scientist, laid the foundation for the modern Scientific Revolution with his contributions to the establishment of the scientific method from his study of Aristotle 400 years before Francis Bacon, Sir Isaac Newton and Rene Descartes’ refinement of the method.  It is ironic that the most prestigious prize in all of science, The Nobel Prize, only exists because the preeminent scientist who invented dynamite, Alfred Nobel, at the end of his life really regretted the possibility of having an immoral legacy for inventing the very thing that would cause so many people to die.  Instead, Nobel changed his life and left his immense earnings in a trust to be conferred as prizes for those scientists who would create a new legacy in science (among other fields) for discoveries and inventions with the greatest benefit of mankind.  It seems that if every scientist is truly concerned about his or her own legacy as well, he or she would consider seriously how faith and virtue informs their science and life, for the benefit of all mankind.

What Is Faith? Nicolas of Cusa thought it was God’s greatest gift

In Dignity of the Person on October 12, 2012 at 6:51 am



It would seem that between faith and reason, that faith is the weaker.  Rather, it would seem that reason, the mind, the intellect, these are man’s greatest strengths.  Isn’t it through the mind anyway that we come to know nature, the world and our identity?  Isn’t reasoning with the mind responsible for so much of our knowledge of science, mathematics, nature and the universe?  Isn’t it through the intellect that we come to know indubitably both the interior world of our mind and the exterior world of the world?  So, with such prolific evidence of the great power of reason, it would seem that faith is opposed to reason and a less powerful faculty.

Faith and Reason Together

Well, Nicholas of Cusa, the 15th Century philosopher and theologian, looks at how faith and reason could work together rather than separately, according to what Karl Jaspers says in his book Anselm and Nicholas of Cusa (Edited by Hannah Arendt, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich:NY. 1966). Nicholas of Cusa implies that faith could be a problem for the philosopher when he says, “Faith produces conflict in the mind.  The mind assents necessarily to what has been proved.”(p.56) This is entirely understandable, the philosopher wants to use his mind logically, going slowly in his reasoning process in order not make a single mistake, as Descartes said.  In Aristotelian terms, when the mind abstracts the universal, learning takes place and the mind has therefore assented, induced the universal from the particular phenomena.  But, faith, works with divine revelation, revealed truth, divine reasoning, not man’s reasons or reasoning, therefore a conflict of possible answers could cause a dilemma for the philosopher.  He says, “But faith must struggle.  The improbability of its content clashes directly with discursive reason.”(p. 56) This doesn’t mean that a person doesn’t have to work mentally to assent to the proofs that reason provides, but rather the person of faith assents to divinely revealed proofs through belief. Whereas, the mind assents to proofs through reason, no belief is necessary to struggle through because the logic has been worked out in the mind, whereas the clash between faith and reason arises between the sources of the proofs: human versus divine.  The person of faith has to struggle, in a sense, to fight, to figure out for himself his belief in the divinely revealed truth, rather than simply accepting the assent of his mind as with a logical proof.  Instead, with faith, his will has to assent to the truth of faith: that is the struggle, the clash that Nicholas of Cusa speaks of, it seems.  He says, “Without courage in the struggle that faith must wage, there is no victory. (p.56)  In other words, faith requires fortitude order in to believe, to trust the testimony of a predecessor without all of the discursive reasoning, without extensive rationalist proofs, but based upon simple and profound faith.  Just as a soldier risks his life based upon the commands of a commander, or a child trusts his mother completely, the believer entrusts his or her life now and in the next life to the truth of the revelation of God, completely.  Nicolas of Cusa continues, “Because of its weakness, discursive reason looks for points of support in demonstration and proof.  Because of its inherent strength, faith needs no external support.”(p.56) What could be insightful here is Nicholas of Cusa’s famous doctrine that “all oppositions are united in their infinite measure, so that what would be logical contradictions for finite things coexist without contradiction in God, who is the measure of all things…”(The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Ed. Robert Audi. Cambridge UP: NY. 1995, p. 531).  Faith and reason seem to be logical oppositions, but given infinite time, which is the realm of God, things can coexist without contradiction.  We live in time currently, we live in a realm that inheres in space and time, where the law of non-contradiction applies, in reason, but given that faith takes the timeless view, and the person is the composite of the two, time with the timeless, reason and faith, taken together seems to be the perspective of God, from what Nicholas of Cusa says. This is the modus operandi for the believer, he says, “Christians believe in God’s revelation without it [discursive reason].”(p.56)  Protagoras and rationalists, believed man to be the measure of all things, if man can know it, it exists, if he can’t it doesn’t.

Nicholas of Cusa analyzes faith from a philosophical perspective.  He says, “The believer’s self-understanding is called knowledge of faith.” (p.56) In other words, faith is knowledge.  Faith is not non-knowledge, anti-reason or irrational.  It is knowledge of revealed wisdom, knowledge of divine revelation, of divine truth, and it is through this knowledge, knowledge of faith, that a believer truly “knows thyself.” He says, “Only by reflecting upon faith do we achieve clarity about it.”(p. 56) Faith is not unthinking, faith is not blind but rather, faith is open to the contemplation of the truth of God who is the ultimate measure of all things; rather than judgment by man’s measure, his reason alone, encapsulated by space and time, which is its “weakness” as Nicholas of Cusa calls it.

A Person’s Will and Faith

Maybe the most interesting ideas Nicholas of Cusa has to say about faith are about its relation to the will.  He says, “The humble man, however, does not understand unless he believes.”(p.57)  We can be reminded here of Anselm’s famous statement, “I believe so that I may understand.”  Here too, the believer starts with his will open to belief, not a-critical, but also not pessimistic or skeptical, but rather, open to all possibilities of knowledge, including faith.  This humility is critical to understanding as Nicholas of Cusa says, because he “…does not understand unless he believes.”(p.57)  It seems that we could say the same thing but in reverse, that “The prideful man, however, does not understand because he does not believe.”  It is almost frightening to think that because of one’s faults, bad character, erroneous conscience or poor disposition, that one could be closing oneself off to the most important source of man’s knowledge, faith.  Nicholas of Cusa says, “The ability to believe is our greatest virtue; it is the power of the will, God’s greatest gift.”(p.57)  It seems that what he is saying here is that the “power of the will” or our individual human freedom as a person is exemplified in our faith, in our ability to believe, not in our ability to reason alone.  It seems appropriate that he uses the word “virtue” here, because it reminds us of the other virtues, and like all virtues, human, intellectual and theological, they all have to be worked at, they all take time, effort, diligence, perseverance to obtain their reward, so too with the faith, which he calls our “ability to believe.” Believing is also an ability, a skill, a mental openness to the Word of God.  It makes sense that reception of the most important gift, what he calls “God’s greatest gift” requires constant virtue, constant work, a continual earning of it, regularly maintaining it, and showing our gratitude for the gift throughout life, not a simple one time acknowledgement and getting on with life.  Nicholas of Cusa calls faith “the power of the will” which we should consider more closely.  When we think of reason, we wouldn’t call it the “power of the will” necessarily but rather the power of the mind.  Reason, as he says, assents to proofs, but it seems that what he is saying is that faith is “the power of the will” to assent to Divine Revelation.

Nicholas of Cusa says, “Faith is the light of the soul…the light of the living faith surpasses ‘the natural light of the senses and even the intellect, as we see in the sacrament of the Mass, where the senses are vanquished by faith.  In this faith the visible coincides with the invisible.”(p.57)  Similar to Robert Grosseteste’’s metaphysics that God is Light, and that just as in the physical world we know being via light, so too, we can say that in the spiritual world do we know God via spiritual light, revelation.  Gregory of Nyssa says we know God via two manifestations, creation and revelation.  For Nicholas of Cusa, he seems to be saying that, “faith” itself is the vehicle through which the soul transmits itself, through which the soul shines.  Just as Nicholas of Cusa’s reference to light, that it is through light we know being through the senses, thus analogously, in the Mass, through the light of faith our soul learns knowledge of God.  As a consequence, the person of faith can see the world from the perspective of God’s knowledge of the world through his faith, in addition to his knowledge of the world through his senses and his mind.

Contrariwise, the atheist rationalist is always confronted with the problem of insufficient knowledge, yet he continues to believe that preferencing reason alone will lead him to his ultimate answers, only to discover he needs more knowledge, again, again and again, ad infinitum.  Whereas, the believer reasons that there will always be a knowledge deficiency for man when comparing his capacity for knowledge against God’s infinite knowledge, and therefore, he preferences God’s knowledge through faith.  The believer sides with not presuming to be able to know everything himself, but recognizes the limits of his reason and his own ability to understand, and instead entrusts his lack of knowledge to God, who really does know all things completely.  Whereas, the rationalist sides with not recognizing his own inherent limits of knowledge and understanding but believes his system of knowledge can surpass his own limits, when he can’t possibly know anything completely through reason alone through all of space and time.

Faith as Power

The rationalist sees faith as devoid of power, whereas the faithful see faith as power.  Nicholas of Cusa says, “Faith surpasses nature by what it itself is and by the goal it has in view.  It also surmounts the power of nature, for nothing is impossible for the believer. “(p.57)  The person of faith has real, human knowledge from his senses and can process it in his mind just like the rationalist, however, the person of faith adds an additional dimension to his knowledge by attempting to learn the perspective of God on the things he knows with the aid of communication with God: prayer.  The rationalist lacks this dimension.  The rationalist assumes that this dimension is neither real nor valid, even imaginary.  But the difference is that the person of faith sees nature timelessly, whereas the rationalist cannot escape the urgency of his present because the present is his only knowledgeable perspective on nature, on being.  Whereas, the person of faith seeks to return all materiality and interiority to its source in its entirety, back to God, as gift.

Faith seeks God, who is infinitely beyond the confines of space and time.  Whereas, man, by nature, with his reason alone, is always limited to and immersed in the confines of space and time.  The person of faith has humility not fool himself into thinking that he has the ability to know all things.  The person of faith knows with certainty that God knows with certainty and prudently hesitates to conjecture about what he himself knows with or without certainty.  Whereas, the person without faith and puffed up with pride has imprudently fooled himself into believing that he can know all things and thus brashly conjectures about what he thinks he knows with certainty while also conjecturing about the things he doesn’t know with certainty, especially the past or the future.

Nicholas of Cusa says, “Faith raises us above every limitation.”(p.57)  It raises us above every limitation because the faithful person believes in the God, the Infinite Being, the Eternal Being, the unlimited Being, unchanging Being, whereas the rationalist is always working with finite being, temporal being, which are highly limited and ever changing.  Reason limits, while faith unlimits: together the person struggles with and attempts to make sense of both.  Nicholas of Cusa says, “The believer knows what he wants.  His knowledge of God is both his strength and his power (potentia).”(p.57)  The believer knows a priori that God knows all things with certainty and completely: that is the believer’s strength and power; that God really does know even when he himself doesn’t know or no one else knows. God knows.  The person of faith knows that God knows  and therefore he knows that it is not merely knowledge of things that he wants, but he wants to know the source of all things, the cause of all things, the essence of all things, the origin of all things, the ceaseless goodness of God.  Just as Aristotle correctly says, in his Metaphysics “All men desire to know,”  one could say that all believers’ preferentially desire to know God, who by definition will never be entirely knowable to us, but He who quenches our thirst also teaches us that there are still infinite oceans left to drink.  Whereas, the man of reason alone is not only ignorant a priori but also only knows a posteriori yet incompletely, neither stepping in the same river twice nor once.

Nicholas of Cusa concludes his disquisition by saying, ” He who knows what he desires to know, and who is what he knows,’ has achieved ‘the peace that passeth understanding.'”(p.57)  The believer has a goal, his goal is God.  The rationalist has a goal, his goal is more knowledge and knowledge as power, a sort of gnosticism, and consequently, he is ever weaker in his own knowledge of himself, because he specifically excludes knowledge of God who is his source of life and being.  The faithful person knows what he desires to know, God, ineffable knowledge, and as a consequence comes to know his true self in relation to his knowledge of God who is his final destiny.  The common problem with more knowledge is that it does not necessarily lead to more understanding or peace.  Whereas, as Nicholas of Cusa said, the humble, faithful person who constantly seeks more understanding of God through his faith certainly receives more peace. Who doesn’t want more peace?  So it seems fairly reasonable to say, that the one thing we really do need more of in this life, is faith.

Augustine On Happiness

In Friendship on October 8, 2012 at 7:22 am

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It would seem that most people know naturally what makes them happy or not.  Given this, why would someone who is already happy inquire about happiness any further, and if someone is unhappy isn’t he actually happy about having freely chosen what makes him unhappy?  Augustine, in his Confessions (Trans. Garry Wills. NY: Penguin Books. 2002) gives a very biographical sketch of his search for happiness, and his successful discovery of it, in God.

Augustine begins with the quest for God, man’s search for ultimate meaning.  He says, “Men go out to wonder at mountain heights, at immense sea surges, the sweep of wide rivers, the ocean’s range, ‘the stars’ revolvings’- and neglect [the spectacle of] themselves.” (p.220) Augustine points out here that we are always searching the exterior world to find happiness, to find God, when God is within us.  He asks himself, “But how, Lord, do I look for you?”(p. 230) This is such a good and simple question from Augustine.  In one sense, it is a prayer, a cause for contemplation.  How do we look for God?  In what do we seek God?  Where do we find God?  In one sense, whether directly or indirectly, we are all seeking God in all things throughout life. Our soul has an infinite capacity and infinite desiring; God is infinite.  All of our human pursuits are finite, they have an ending point, especially our own personal bodily death.   Our soul however, with its infinite capacity, actually yearns for the fulfillment of this infinitude with great pining, unending longing, which only God is big enough to fill.  Augustine says, “In looking for you, I seek the happy life.”  La dolce vita!  We all want the good life, and the good life is the happy-life.  But what makes us happy?  Augustine says, “It is ‘life for my soul I look for,’ since you vivify the soul as the soul vivifies the body.”(p.230)  All that we know is our experience of life, but we do know changes in our levels of happiness from our experience.  So what is this “life for my soul” that Augustine says?  The Greeks had a term, eudaimonia, roughly defined as “happiness of soul.”  This is the happiness that lasts forever, we can say, when our soul is happy, then we are truly happy.  This is the intimate contentment that we experience when we are happy because we know we are doing the will of God, not necessarily what we want.  Augustine says, “How shall I look for this life of happiness?  I do not yet have it, or I could say: This is all I need.”(p.230)  Truly, a happy soul is all we need, conversely, if we had a sad soul, or no happiness, all that we would desire is the fulfillment of that desire for happiness.  But how?  Augustine very honestly and bravely approaches happiness as an epistemological question, “Or is it an unknown thing some instinct for knowledge prompts me to discover—a thing unknown entirely, or unknown in the sense that I no longer remember having forgotten it?”  Is our desire for happiness merely an instinctual desire for more knowledge? Augustine implies that this is possible because, truth, happiness and God are all linked together.  We need them all.  He says, “What is a life of happiness but what all men want, what man can not want?”  In one sense, nobody wants unhappiness.  Nobody actually wants to be unhappy. Then, like Socrates, he humbly admits he doesn’t know but says, “Somehow, I know not how, we do want it.”  This sort of vague knowing, moving forward, pursuing happiness, seems to be part of who we are, our character, part of our development over the life course.

Interestingly, Augustine ties happiness to memory.  He says, “…I am what I am remembering, my own mind.”(p.226) In other words, we could say, its not that I need only joyful experiences of life so that I can be happy by remembering my life as full of joyful memories.  Rather, he says that our memory is like a “kind of mental belly” just as we can no longer taste food in our stomach, so too, we cannot really be happy or sorrowful about memories of our past, rather they simply exist, they are there in our memory, but part of our life experience but out of reach, no longer “taste-able.” He says, “All have the concept of happiness, and all would answer yes if asked whether they want it—which could not happen if happiness and not merely the word for it, were not remembered.” (p.230)  This is a good point, in our pursuit of happiness, we can lack clarity about what exactly we want or what we are calling “happiness,” our identifying it, remembering what it looks like, so to speak, but everyone wants it, everyone has an idea of what it is, and everyone has a word for that phenomenological experience they term “happiness” or “being happy” when they glimpse it.  Augustine smartly points out that we may be trying to retrieve a whole time period in our life, where we were “happy,” a time we remember.  Well, it is likely that this time is in childhood, in our youth, feeling lucky and care free.  But again, Augustine, ever wise points out that though we may have been joyful in our past, happiness comes from God. He says, “Let me not, Lord, in this my heartfelt testimony to you, accept as happiness every joy that I encounter.” (p.232)  In other words, as we seek happiness in this life, we may have joyful experiences, which are good, but we should remember in those moments that this joy is not the total fulfillment that we seek with God in Eternity.  He says, “This is true happiness in life, to take joy in you, for you, because of you—this, nothing else, is happiness.   Those who do not know this pursue their joy elsewhere, and though it is no true one, yet they cannot wrench their desire entirely free from some representation of that joy.”(p. 232) In one sense, Augustine is saying that we should exhaust all of our energies in the pursuit of God, because this pursuit is really the only pursuit in life that is worthwhile. It is the only goal we can set for ourselves that will fulfill our infinite desires and never leave us empty or with that fleeting sense of joy, because everything else that is not God, is less than God, more finite, a mere representation, a copy, and therefore incapable of our satisfaction, thus leaving us unhappy.

Augustine shows the connection between truth, happiness and God.  He straightforwardly explains, “Yet when I ask anyone if he prefers to find true joy or false, he is as quick to say he wants the true one as he is to say he wants happiness—yet happiness is itself a joy in the truth, and that is a joy in you, God, who are the truth…”(p.232)  Everyone wants to know the truth and everyone wants to be happy, just as no one wants to be lied to and no one wants to be unhappy.  Augustine takes this a step further saying, “…happiness is itself a joy in the truth…,” meaning that the truth is good to know by itself and the truth makes you happy to know it.  He continues on the importance with which we all naturally treat the truth, but points out the shortcomings of people who deceive that, “They love a supporting but not ‘a rebuking truth.’  Because they hate to be lied to, but like to lie, they love to find things with the help of truth, but hate to be found out by it.”(p.232)  In other words, because a person who lies still wants to be happy and still wants to know the truth in spite of his lies, hates the experience of being corrected for his lies and runs from his discovery and the consequences of it.  So, Augustine concludes that the liar cannot be happy saying, “To this, even this, is the human mind reduced, to this blind, weak state, that it wants to hide its foul vileness from others, but wants nothing hidden from it.  But truth turns this upside down—so that the mind does not hide the truth, but the truth is hidden from it.”(p. 232) Augustine says that the mind of the person who lies or lives a lie has the truth hidden from his mind because he refuses to discontinue his love for what is not truth and what is not God, and therefore he remains devastatingly unhappy.  Instead, Augustine affirms what took him so long to discover, “You are the happiness that everyone desires, the only happiness”(p.231).  The saint, who spent a good part of his life running from God, famously said, “Late have I loved you Lord,” was grateful to discover God later in life, rather than not at all.

Max Scheler On the “Order of Love” (Part 2)

In Dignity of the Person, Friendship on October 1, 2012 at 7:11 am


Max Scheler uses one of Pascal’s theses on love as a philosophical foundation for his idea of “ordo amoris.”  Pascal’s famous quote is “Le coeur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point,” (The heart has reasons that reason does not know). Scheler says, “The heart is itself a structured counter-image of the cosmos of all possible things worthy of love; to this extent it is a microcosmos of the world of values.” (Selected Philosophical Essays Max Scheler. Ed. John Wild et al., Northwestern University Press: 1973, p.116) It is only through the heart that we understand the true meaning of the person and the person’s place in the universe, the meaning of the universe itself and where he finds himself in relation to God.  Scheler believes Pascal’s point to be that the mind formulates its reasons, but so too does the heart formulate its own reasoning, its own understanding, both are autonomous, but the heart’s reasons are based upon moral values not strict logic.

Scheler says that if you have the ordo amoris of a person, you understand the person, because within the parameters of his values paradigm, there is a range of his behavior which he is wont to follow.   Scheler says, “Where his ‘heart’ is attached, there for him, is the ‘core’ of the so-called essence of things…His actual ethos, that is, the rules of his value-preference and value-depreciation, defines the structure and content of his world-view and of his knowledge and thought of the world…This is true of individuals and of races, of nations, of cultural circles, of peoples and families, of parties, of classes, of castes and of professions.”(p.111)  The ordo amoris is transcultural, everyone universally experiences value instantiation in their life from their culture and this is the window out of which they view the world.  Scheler continues, “Within the world-order which is valid for all men, every particular form of the human is assigned some definite range of value-qualities.  Only the harmony of these, their fitting together in the structure of common world-culture, can display the greatness and expanse of the human spirit.”(p.111) Scheler seems to be saying that each culture has a series or system of values that it emphasizes, and taken aggregately, the whole of the world’s mix of cultures creates a tapestry of the one world’s soul, this is the world’s spiritual magnanimity.  Somehow if awareness of this commonality is promulgated successfully, then the world will experience greater peace.

How about the ordo amoris at the personal level?  What if we don’t want others to depend on us or us on them?  Well, that’s not going to work according to Scheler, it simply isn’t reality.  Scheler emphasizes the fact that as persons, we are all intimately interdependent upon each other, not just for resources and community life, but even to the point of influencing each other’s individual eternal salvation.  In other words, from a spirit perspective, Scheler says that not only is there a macrocosmic universe that God is ordering based upon love, but that each individual person’s destiny is tied to all other persons.  If each person’s life is a universe and mystery unto himself, and each person’s individual destiny is a story of salvation, then the billions upon billions of persons who make up the history of humanity from Adam and Eve to the last person at the end of human history and beyond into the afterlife of eternity, all people constitute the central part of the macrocosmic drama of salvation history, or Time, into Eternity.  With this in mind, we all have a duty to serve the interests not only of our own salvation but that of all others persons we come in contact with everyday of our lives.  Our life experience with another person is part of that individual’s salvation history which is directly tied to the macrocosmic end of the universe and eternity.   No act is small when it is done out of love because it is an integral part of all of the ordo amoris.

Edith Stein On the State and Religion

In Special Topic on October 1, 2012 at 1:10 am


It would seem that the topic of the relationship between the state and religion has no new insight to be had since it is such an old topic.  The role of the state in Western societies has long been the topic of many historic philosophers from Socrates in Plato’s works, to Aristotle to John of Salisbury and Thomas Hobbes, to modern theorists, except, many people probably haven’t heard what one of the first female phenomenologists, Edith Stein, who studied under the famous founder of phenomenology Edmund Husserl and worked with Martin Heidegger, has said about this relationship which she witnessed first hand.  Stein was from a Jewish family, became an atheist in her teenage years, converted to Roman Catholicism becoming a nun and was later killed with the millions of Holocaust victims during World War II, and declared a saint in 1998.  Stein explains the inherent conflict between the state and religion and the possibility of compromise between the two if and when possible.

In her book, An Investigation Concerning the State (Trans. Marianne Sawicki. ICS Publications: Washington, D.C. 2006), Stein first shows the structural conflict in the person between loyalty to one’s religion and loyalty to the state.  Stein says, “First and foremost, every human being stands under the supreme sovereign, and no earthly relation of sovereignty can change anything about that.  If the believer receives a command from God…then he must obey, whether or not he defies the will of the state in doing so.”(p. 185)  What is interesting about this statement is that she says “every human being,” seemingly implying believers and non-believers, atheists, agnostics, cynics, skeptics alike, still are subject to the sovereign omnipotence, omniscience and will of God.  This reality affects all persons and therefore those in positions of authority in government, whom are mortal persons too.  It is also a nice reminder that she says “…no earthly relation of sovereignty can change anything about that,” meaning that no matter how hostile a regime may become, the regime has no power or authority over the cosmic justice of God over all things.  Socrates and Edith Stein both died with the assured belief that the regimes that had power over their earthly lives, had no control whatsoever over their next lives.  So, it makes sense that Stein would say, “If the believer receives a command from God…then he must obey, whether or not he defies the will of the state in doing so,” this idea can remind us too of the courage of believers who have confronted government’s unjust laws of state sanctioned slavery, racial segregation and abortion (which is the “death penalty” for innocent unborn persons, totally hidden from public view, which Michel Focault fails to mention in his Discipline and Punishment) for example, among many other important issues.  Socrates believed that he was following the will of God in pursuing wisdom no matter where it led him, whether questioning those politicians in power, the poets or the craftsmen.  Edith Stein heroically met her death by the Nazi regime, like millions of other persons in the tragedy of the Holocaust.

It is also the case that the state can uphold the laws that the believer believes,when there is concordance between positive law and the natural law.  However, when governments go against the natural law, Socrates says in the Gorgias that even the sovereign himself still must answer to God.  Stein says, “Therefore it’s entirely understandable if the state treats the individual believer, but above all the church–with distrust and occasionally with open hostility.  Conversely you can understand that the among believers the conception of the state as an Antichrist would emerge again and again.”(p.185)  Jean Jacques Rousseau pointed out a similar conflict in The Social Contract that there is an inherent conflict internally in the believer and in his patriotism to the state.  However, Stein is wise to use the word “distrust” here, that the state though sovereign on earth is not omniscient, and therefore fallible; as a consequence, it cannot always be trusted because of that very fallibility.  Whereas, as she points out, believers who do believe in the infallibility of the Church’s teachings are simultaneously aware of the limitations of the state while also aware of the state’s immediate authority over them and therefore she says, “There is no solution in principle for the conflict arising from the properties of the civil and religious spheres.” (p. 185)  This is a very difficult compromise to live and a regular tension between the church and state.  But, she follows, “Only a factual compromise is possible…through the word of the Lord: Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.  This indicates that the state and obedience with regard to it are willed by God or at least permitted by God.” (p. 185)  In other words, just as Jesus Christ taught to tolerate the just demands of the state, regarding taxes, therefore, by implication  the other necessary duties of the state for its self-sustenance.  Since the Magna Carta of 1215, in the West, it has been necessary to acknowledge the compromise of the co-existing, parallel dual sovereigns of the church and the state, separation of church and state.  So, it is possible for the two to live together in mutual distrust unfortunately, which is a reminder that this life is not the life, fortunately.