The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Archive for October, 2007

I’ll be offline for a while

Posted by Dim Bulb on October 21, 2007

Finally, the cleaning and fixing up are done and we will be moving into my grandparents old house.  I’m not sure when I will be able to have internet access, it depends on how quickly Time-Warner Cable can get too it.  I’m told it sometimes takes weeks.

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An Explanation Of Aquinas’ Views Concerning Knowledge

Posted by Dim Bulb on October 18, 2007

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The Schoolmen of the thirteenth century paid special attention to the function of knowing and willing. They regarded these as the peculiar and privileged possession of the human race, situated as it is at the boundary where matter and spirit meet. For, the dignity of man results from a certain way of knowing which is peculiar to him, and which is called intelligence. This we must define more closely. In order to understand in what sense scholasticism can be described as an intellecutualist system of philosophy.

What is knowing? An object is known when it is present in a certain way in the knowing consciousness. When I see a stone lying in the road, the stone is present in me, but not indeed in the material way in which it is present outside of me in the external world. For it is perfectly clear that “the stone is not in me so far as its own peculiar existence is concerned.” In the same way, when I grasp mentally the constituent nature of the molecule of water, and the law which governs its decomposition, the material composition of the molecule does not in any way enter into or form a part of me; but there is produced in me a kind of reflection of a non-ego. The privilege of a being which knows consists precisely in this ability of being enriched by something which belongs to something else.

Knowing beings are differentiated from non-knowing beings by this characteristic; non-knowing beings have only their own reality, but knowing beings are capable of possessing also the reality of something else. For in the knowing being there is the presence of the thing known produced by this thing.

In what does this presence or reflection of the object in me consist? The schoolmen to not pretend to fathom the mystery of knowledge; their explanation is a mere analysis of the facts revealed by introspection.

Knowing, they observe, is a particular kind of being, a modification, or a vital action of the knowing subject. “The thing known is present in the knowing subject according to the mode of being of the knowing subject”; it bears its mark. “All knowledge results from a similitude of the thing known in the knowing subject.” These two quotations, which were common sayings, sum up well the view of the thirteenth century psychologists. In consequence, knowledge does not result merely from the thing; but rather, the thing known and the subject knowing cooperate in the production of the phenomenon. This intervention of the knowing subject shows us why scholasticism rejected “naive realism’, which disregards the action of the knowing subject, and considers the object known as projected in our minds like an image in a lifeless and passive mirror. On the other hand, since there is an activity of the thing known upon the knowing subject, our representations of reality will be to some extent faithful and corresponds to that reality.


It is of great importance to note that scholasticism distinguishes between two different types of knowledge: sense knowledge, and intellectual knowledge. In the case of the first- the perception of an oak tree, for example- everything that I grasp is particularized or individualized, and intimately bound up with conditions of space and time. What I see is

  1. this oak tree,
  2. with a trunk of this particular form,
  3. with a bark of this particular roughness,
  4. with these particular branches and these leaves,
  5. in this particular spot in the forest,
  6. and which came from a particular acorn at a particular moment in time.

If I touch the tree with my hand,

  1. the resistance which I encounter is this resistance,
  2. just as the sound I hear in striking the bark is this sound.

Our external senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch) put us in contact either with something which is proper and peculiar to the object of one sense and which each sense perceives to the exclusion of all others (sensible proprium), for instance, color in the case of sight; or else the common object (sensible commune) of more than one sense, for instance, shape in the case of sight and touch. But in every case the reality perceived by sense is always endowed with individuality.

The same is true of those sensations which are called internal, and which originate, in the scholastic system of classification.

  1. from sense-memory (a),
  2. from sense-consciousness (b),
  3. from instinct (c),
  4. or from imagination (d).

These are simply so many labels attached to psychological facts which have been duly observed and noted. A few examples will make this clear.

(a) Sense-memory: When I have ceased to look at the oak tree, there remains in me an after-image, which is said to be ‘preserved’ in memory, since I am able to ‘reproduce’ it. We thus possess in ourselves a storehouse of after-images received through the senses which can be reproduced either spontaneously, or at at the command of the will. It is clear that these vestiges of past sensations, retained and produced in this way, are individualized just as the original sensation. If I picture to myself and oak tree, it will be a picture of one oak tree. In the same way, when we realize that a sense perception, or a conscious act of our physiological life, has a certain duration, or takes place after another activity, this realization, which itself involves sense-memory, is once more individual and singular, and presents us with this particular time. The recognition of past time involves reference to particular psychological events, following each other.

(b) Sense-consciousness: Moreover, when I look at an oak tree, something tells me that I see. I am aware that I am seeing. My sense perception is followed by ‘sense consciousness,’ and the content of this sense-consciousness is particularized. Again, the complex sense cognition of this oak tree as an object is the result of the coordination of man perceptions coming from different senses: the height of the tree, the roughness of its bark, the hollow sound which its trunk gives when struck. There is reason to attribute to the higher animals and to man a central sense, which combines the external sense perceptions, compares them, and discriminates between them. But, in this case also, the result of these operations is individualized, and if we compare for instance two complete sense perceptions of oak trees, each is itself and not the other.

(c) Instinct: We can apply the same to the way in which we recognize that a certain situations is dangerous to us or otherwise. We posses a discriminating power which estimates certain concrete connections between things. We naturally flee from fire, and a shipwrecked man clutches instinctively to a plank, much in the same way as a lamb looks upon a wolf as dangerous, and a bird considers a particular branch of a tree as a suitable resting-place for its nest. This act of sense knowledge is always related to a particular, concrete situation.

(d) Imagination: Again, constructive imagination, which takes the materials supplied by sense-memory and combines them into all sorts of fantastic images- when I imagine, for instance, oak trees as high as mountains, and monstrosities half lion and half man- deal with what is particularized. What modern psychologists might call a composite image is to the Schoolmen simply a particular image, made up of characters derived from other particular images.


Introspection show us that we possess another kind of knowledge with characteristics quite different from those we have found in sense knowledge. Intellectual knowledge, instead of being concrete and particularized, is abstract and general. Let us consider this twofold character.

The act of vision of an oak tree, localized in a particular spot, is spontaneously accompanied by notions such as height, cylindrical form, local motion, color, vital activity, cell, matter, being. These notions are indeed derived from this oak tree, but the aspects of reality which we grasp by them are no longer bound up with this particular individual; they reveal to me whatness or essence (essentia, quidditas), or in what height, local motion, life activity, combustion, ect., consist. We confine our attention to certain elements of the thing under consideration, shutting out all the other elements, and stripping them of all particularizing determinations. Abstractions consists precisely in this function and in nothing else. In what height consists is considered apart from everything else, this selected aspect of reality is no longer related to this reality.

It is precisely because this representative content, or object of though, is no longer bound up entirely with sight of any particular oak tree, or of a [articular human being, ect., that is is seen upon reflection to be applicable to an indefinite number of beings which move, which are cylindrical in form, which manifest vital activities, which are material in nature, ect,. This applicability is indefinite–it is ‘universal’ or general, and extends to possible realities as well as existent ones. Universality, therefore, follows upon abstraction, as Thomas remarks.

An abstract notion of mankind seizes what mankind is, as distinct from the whatness of an elephant or a particle of radium. A universal or general notion of mankind implies that such a reality is represented as being able to belong to an endless multitude of men. An abstract notion is thus not necessarily universal, but it may become so. If we bear this in mind, we shall be able to understand better the scholastic solution of the problem of Universals.

We said above that there is no such thing as a general image. Here we say that there is such a thing as a general idea- in fact, that all ideas are general. There is not contraction here. but those who are unaccustomed to introspection are often unconscious of the vital distinction between image and idea which underlies our two statements. The average man labels his mental content as ‘images’ and ‘ideas’ indisciminantly. Yet reflection will show that they are quite different, and that one is the general while the other is not. This will be made clear from the example of a geometrical theorem- for instance, that the angles of a triangle are together equal to two right angles. We go on to at once picture a triangle, and we say, “Let ABC be a triangle,” and so on. But this image of a triangle is a particular one, whereas our reasoning applies to any and all triangles, existent or only possible. It is thus obvious that the idea or concept triangle is abstract and general, whereas the image is not. The image is here simply a help to our mental considerations and reflection.

The knowledge of reality by means of abstract and universal notions is quite distinct from the particular, individualized knowledge of the external senses. The Schoolmen emphasize this difference by attributing abstract to the intelligence or reason. The prominent place occupied in scholasticism by this doctrine of abstract and general knowledge, which may be described as ‘Psychological Spiritualism’ or better still as Intellectualism, gives the system a definite place in the brilliant group to which belong Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Plotinus, and in latter times, Descarte, Leibnitz, Kant.

Abstraction is the privilege and the distinctive act of man. It is likewise the central activity of our conscious life. The intellectualism, which results from this theory, has an influence over all branches of philosophy, and we shall see that the rights of human reason are proclaimed and defended at every stage of thought.

Several forms of Intellectual Knowledge: Idea, Judgment, Reasoning

Just as the sense knowledge of particular things has many forms, so also intellectual or abstract knowledge presents several stages- simple apprehension, judgment, and reasoning. They are all fundamentally abstract knowledge, i.e., an understanding of what something is, apart from the particularizing conditions in which it exists, or is capable of existing, outside the mind. What are the psychological features of these three forms of thought?

In simple apprehension or concept or idea, the mind considers what a thing is, without affirming or denying anything about it. Example: triangle, square, whole, part.

The act of judgment consists in realizing that the content of the two ideas- or two objects present to the mind-are in mutual agreement or disagreement. Why is it that we say, “The sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles,” “Wine is changing into vinegar when exposed to air?” Why are we not simply content to form the ideas ‘triangle’, ‘wine’? The answer lies in the richness of reality, and in the weakness of our minds. We are incapable of grasping by one single insight, or by one adequate intuition, all that there is in a real being. Only the penetrating eyes of God can exhaust the intelligibility of things by a single intuition, as Leibnitz says, and read in a blade of grass the network of relations which constitutes the history of the universe. Only God is able

To see a World in a grain of sand,

And a Heaven in a wild flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,

And Eternity in an hour.

Our human mind, on the contrary, has to grasp reality piecemeal, and by partial aspects, or partial abstractions. We hunt and stalk reality, in the expressive language of the schoolmen, but never completely capture it. We discover in a triangle its properties and relations, we seize the activities, the reactions of water. Then, after this mental dissection, we refer back to the thing we are studying-now become the subject of a judgment-each and all of the aspects discovered during our patient investigations, These several aspects correspond to several predicates of our judgments. Thus, we say, S is P, “water freezes at 0 degrees celsius, it is composed of H2O, it boils at 100 degrees celsius, ect.” The mind unites things, after it has decomposed them, it makes a synthesis, and thus presents us with a complex object of knowledge. This explains why the notion which a chemist has of water is much richer in content than that of an ordinary person. Likewise, in a fragment of a Greek statue, the common man only knows superficial realities: marble, hardness, whiteness, ect., whilst the archaeologist places the whole statue in the history of art as part of an entire civilization. Judgment, then, which unites or separates, begins and ends with abstraction.

It follows from this that any of the aspects of and object (S) may become the predicate (P) of a judgment- not only those aspects which a qualities or attributes, but also activities displayed, state of existence, a relation, a situation in time or space. For example, the horse (S) is drawing a carriage, is sick, has more endurance than a mule, appeared in prehistoric time, in Northern Europe (P). Each of these aspects, which plays a part in making up the richness of the real object (S) is referred back to (S) by the mechanism of judgment through the copula “is”. The verb “is” does not indicate an inherence in the subject of any of those aspects, but the mental agreement of the subject and the predicate.

The same remarks apply to the process of reasoning, which is simply the production of a new judgment by means of two others, and whose final aim is to enrich the store of abstract knowledge about the special material (such as plants, human acts, numbers, ect.) upon which a special science turns its attention.

The Wide Field of Consciousness

Just as we become witnesses of our sense perceptions, so also consciousness accompanies the exercise of our ideas, our judgments, our reasonings.

Not only is it the case that each act of thought is spontaneously accompanied by a sort of intuition of what is happening in us, but in addition, by an effort of will, we can turn back to this act of thought and investigate either the operation itself as a modification of the ego (psychological consciousness), or else as a mental content, a representation of something (objective consciousness). This is brought about by a sort of twisting or turning back upon ourselves, which we can not better describe than as reflections (Re-flect: to bend back). When I reflect upon the idea of local displacement, of life, or of any other object of thought, it is this object itself which I encounter in the first place, and which I make the material of my inquiries (objective consciousness). The subjective operation which this inquiry involves, the relation of the object to myself, or the internal mechanism of my operation (subjective consciousness) all call for a further concentration, which is much more complicated and difficult. This agrees with and confirms the Thomistic doctrine that knowledge, whether spontaneous or reflective, puts us in presence of ‘something’ which is not merely my own activity, as idealists maintain.

Man alone possess this privilege of reflecting, or of bending his consciousness upon itself, for reflection is peculiar to spiritual beings. Animals do not reflect; even the human senses cannot do so, and that is the reason why our senses are incapable of correcting by themselves alone the illusions or errors of which they may be victimes. Without reflection, I should have no means of knowing that a stick plunged in the water is really straight, in spite of appearances to the contrary. I should remain forever the dupe of sense appearances, for these continue to exist even while reflection is correcting them.

Consciousness accompanies not only our sense perceptions and thoughts, but also certain functions of our physiological life, our appetites, volitions, and sentiments or affections. Further, not only does it accompany the exercise of our activities, but it attains in a more obscure way the ego, which exists in these activities. “I think, therefore I exist,” is an intuition, which St Augustine and Thomas Aquinas formulated long before Descartes. (Excerpted from THE PHILOSOPHICAL SYSTEM OF ST THOMAS AQUINAS by Maurice De Wulf. The book is public domain)

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I’ve Updated My Other Site

Posted by Dim Bulb on October 8, 2007

I spent a good part of yesterday updating Catholic Bookworm.

Towards the end of this month I will be off-line for a while as we are going to move.  Time-Warner/Road Runner can turn off our internet service at a moments notice but it takes them weeks to get it hooked up again.

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A Sermon on the Holy Rosary (Part 1)

Posted by Dim Bulb on October 7, 2007

The foolish things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the wise, and the weak things of the world has God chosen, that he may confound the strong, and the mean things of the world, and the things that are conteptable, hath God chosen, and things that are not, that he might destroy the things that are- 1 Cor 1:27

How different are the ways of God from the ways of man!  If man wishes to perform a great action, he has recorse to great and important means to accomplish it; but if God wills to perform anything unusually grand or sublime, he makes use of small and apparently contemptible instruments.  He used the rod of Moses to effect his great miracles, and help to deliver the Israelites from slavery.  He chose a shepherd boy to slay a mighty enemy of the same chosen people with a sling and a pebble taken from a brook.   He bade Gideon to select three hundred warriors out of thirty-two thousand to confound the cruel power of the Midianites.  He chose the cross, the once accrsed tree and sign of ignominy, toi be the means of our redemption.  And to convert the universe, he sent forth twelve poor, unlearned fishermen.

The present festival, my beloved brethren, commemorates, also, an object small and contemptible in itself, which God has chosen for the performance of great things- THE HOLY ROSARY.

I.  It has been an instrument in the hands of God in destroying infidelity and heresy outside the Church.

II.  It has been a blessed means of eradicating impiety, and of effecting many miraculous results within the pale of the Church itself.

What has it done, you ask, for those outside the Church?

a.  To form an idea of what it has done, we must go back, my brethren, several hundred years, even to the time of great St Dominic.  He was not, however, the inventor of the beads; they were in existence before his time, and were used by the pious hermit in the desert and by the monk in the cloister; but until St Dominic’s day, the Rosary was a comparatively unknown to the great mass of Catholics.

b.  Up to the twelth century of the Christian era, many heresies sprung up, causing ruin and havoc in the Church.  The immaculate spouse of Christ sat as one in desolation and mourning.  Every day, she saw her children snatched from her bosom, infected with the plague-spot of heresy.  There were thousands who still dared call themselves Catholics, but who were as rotten as branches, fit only to be cut off from the tree of life and cast into the fire.  St Bernard, and other zealous servants of God, bewailed the fatal schisms and scandals of their time, but still the evil went on increasing.  The heresy of the Albigensians had carried along with it whole nations, with their sovereigns and rulers.  Jesus Christ had been taken from his altar, and the idol Baal set thereon.  The statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary had been trodden under foot by those who denied her glorious title the Mother of God, her spotless virginity, and all those other wonderful priveliges conferred on her by the Almighty.  But the time came when God had pity on his Church.  The great St Dominic had deplored the spread of evil, but found himself powerless to cope with it, until one day, inspired by the Holy Spirit, he contemplated the string of beads he was accustomed to use, and cried out: “Behold the means by which the enemies of God are overcome!”  He meditated long on this incident, and the result was he went forth conquering and a conqueror.  His followers journeyed through Europe by his direction, and, passing from nation to nation, everywhere recommended the use of the Rosary to the people, instructing them how to practice that beautiful devotion.  Blessed be the powerful intercession of the Mother of God!- the Church began to triumph.

It was no uncommon sight in those days, to see thousands casting themselves at the feet of the saint, and asking to be reinstated in their priveliges as Christians.  We are told that he would sometimes leave in their lands tens of thousands of Rosaries, enjoining them to practice that beautiful devotion to the end, that heresy might be destroyed from the face of God’s earth.

c.  The age of St Dominic passed away, my beloved brethren, but not the devotion to the Rosary.  In the year 1571, when Christendom was threatened by the infidel, the holy Pope, Pius V., prayed fervently upon his beads, that the enemies of God might be scattered, and at the same moment the unbelieving host was destroyed at Lepanto, not so much by man as by God.  Nearly two hundred years after, another holy Pontiff, Clement XII., caused the festival of the Rosary to be celebrated in all parts of the world, to commemorate the victory gained by the comparatively small army under Prince Eugene of Savoy, over the forces of the Mahomedans, thus sanctioning what was then believed, that the triumph was due to the prayers of the Rosary Confraternity at Rome.In our own times, my beloved, you have all been witnesses of the extraordinary devotion of our illustrious Pontiff, Leo XIII., to the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, inasmuch as he has added to her litany the invocation: “Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, pray for us!”  and has counseled, for the past two years, the devout recital of the beads by all the faithful, not only on the Festival of the Rosary, but on every day of the month of October, hoping thereby again to defeat the enemies of the Church.  Ah! yes, my brethren, God makes use of little things to accomplish great ends.

How many would be outside the true fold, this day, were it not for the devout Catholics who have prayed fervently year after year, reciting the beads for the conversion of unbelievers!  The Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been called “the increase of Christians,” because it has been so efficacious in bringing back the wandering sheep of the fold to the feet of the Good Shepherd.  Pope after pope, bishop after bishop, have united in sanctioning this beautiful devotion, which is at once so simple and so holy; and thus one of the smallest of things has become one of the greatest instruments of God for the conversion of heretics to the true faith. – Taken from NEW AND OLD SERMONS: A MONTHLY REPERTORY OF CATHOLIC PULPIT ELOQUENCE, compiled by Augustine Wirth O.S.B.   The work is in the public domain.

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