The Divine Lamp

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Archive for the ‘Logic’ Category

Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 16 (with notes)

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 13, 2012

Text in red are my additions.


THE psalmist has found in the Lord his true happiness, for the Lord gives peace to His faithful ones in Israel. From idol-worship and its abominations he turns to the Lord, who alone is his allotted possession. He gives thanks for the prosperity of his lot, and is sure that in the protection of the Lord he can, at all times, despise all peril. The Lord will not suffer His loyal friends to fail; at the end He will give them the fulness of joy in the vision of Himself.

This poem seems to point to a time when many Israelites had begun to practise various forms of heathen worship. Indeed, it would almost seem as if the Sancti (holy or pious ones)—the loyal servants of the Lord, were few as compared with those who “ran after strange gods.” It is difficult to find a suitable occasion for such a poem in the life of David. But David could have composed it in his character as prophet, and perhaps, in his role as type of the Messias. The New Testament (Acts 2:22-31; Acts 13:35) takes the psalm as descriptive of the Messias, or rather, as composed by the Messias through the mouth of David, Modern critical writers are inclined to take the poem as a song of the Exilic period, during which many of the exiles in Babylon fell away from the worship of Yahweh. The psalm is of great religious importance, implying, as it does, a hope of a blessed immortality to be attained in the vision of God.

Psa 16:1  The inscription of a title to David himself. Preserve me, O Lord, for I have put my trust in thee.

tituli inscriptio ipsi David conserva me Domine quoniam in te speravi

The Latin title, Tituli inscriptio, is not more or less clear than the Hebrew Mikhtam. Tituli inscriptio translates the Greek stelographia, i.e. an inscription on a pillar. The word titulus would by itself, perhaps, express this idea of a conspicuous inscription; inscriptio makes this sense of titulus more obvious. The two words might be translated, “an inscribed (or engraved) text.” The name of the psalm suggests, perhaps, its abiding worth. Containing prophecy and unusually deep theology it deserved to be carved, like a royal inscription, on a stela. The Hebrew Mikhtam cannot be explained. Jerome has “Humilis et simplicis” as if mikhtam were really two words, makh= lowly, and tam= perfect. Even today the meaning of the Hebrew term מכתם (Mikhtam) is unknown. Most understand it to be based upon the word מכתּב (miktâb =something written, see Isa 38:9), from the root כּתב (kâthab). This last word refers to a socket (recess) in a stone or mortar wall, used to receive a wooden beam. when one inscribes something onto stone, ostrica, etc., one is causing a recess, hence the connection with writing, or inscribing.

Psa 16:2  I have said to the Lord, thou art my God, for thou hast no need of my goods.

dixi Domino Dominus meus es tu quoniam bonorum meorum non eges

Thou dost not need them, for Thou hast them already. But the Hebrew seems to mean: “I have no good thing that goes beyond Thee,”  i.e. “Thou art my chiefest good.”  Jerome translates: Bene mihi non est sine te. Verses 2-4  (esp. 3 & 4) are full of problems as any major commentary will note.

Psa 16:3  To the saints, who are in his land, he hath made wonderful all my desires in them.

sanctis qui sunt in terra eius mirificavit mihi; omnes voluntates meas in eis

The Latin here differs from the Greek, the latter being somewhat closer to the Hebrew. The Latin speaks of the Lord as fulfilling wondrously (mirificare) his (the psalmist’s) own wishes towards the pious of Israel. The Greek says that God carried out wondrously His own kind designs for the pious ones. As in the early Christian period the faithful were called “Sancti,” so, in the psalms, the loyal friends of the Law often get this title.

Psa 16:4  Their infirmities were multiplied: afterwards they made haste. I will not gather together their meetings for bloodofferings: nor will I be mindful of their names by my lips.

multiplicatae sunt infirmitates eorum postea adceleraverunt non congregabo conventicula eorum de sanguinibus nec memor ero nominum eorum per labia mea

This text describes the lot of those who have gone aside from the worship of the Lord. Their troubles have increased because they have run after stranger gods (postea, i.e. idola). The Hebrew puts the thought clearly: “Many are the woes of those who run after Another” (i.e. another god). The psalmist goes on to say that he will have nothing to do with their false worship. He will not summon (or, possibly, “join “) their cult-gatherings because of the deeds of blood done by the idolaters, or, perhaps, because of the bloody offerings (such, possibly, as human sacrifices) which are presented by the idolaters to their divinities. He will not even so much as mention the names of the apostates. It is possible, however, to take de sanguinibus directly with conventicula, and understand the combination to mean conventicula cruenta, i.e. assemblies at which libations of blood were poured: so in Hebrew: “I will not pour their libations
of blood.” Here also there may be suggested the idea of human sacrifices, and libations of human blood.

Psa 16:5  The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and of my cup: it is thou that wilt restore my inheritance to me.

 Dominus pars hereditatis meae et calicis mei tu es qui restitues hereditatem meam mihi

In contrast with the idolaters, the psalmist looks on the Lord as his sole portion and possession. As the Hebrew paterfamilias (father, head, patron of the house) poured into the cup of each guest at table the portion appointed to each one, so has the Lord been apportioned to the psalmist. The Lord is also the peculiar possession, the special portion, as it were, of a farm left by will, which has been assigned to the poet. The renegade Israelites serve foreign gods; the Lord is the possession of the faithful. The picture of the cup may have been suggested here by the libations of blood in the preceding verse. The Lord is, in a sense, the well-filled cup of Israel.

Restitues (“restore”), “establish”—so that it cannot be interfered with.

Psa 16:6  The lines are fallen unto me in goodly places: for my inheritance is goodly to me.

funes ceciderunt mihi in praeclaris etenim hereditas mea praeclara est mihi

The thought of an inheritance suggests the idea of the measuring out of portions of land. For the measuring, measuring-ropes were needed; the portion which the measuring-lines of the psalmist have enclosed is pleasant. In præclaris for in prælara: funis (or funiculus), is equated by metonymy with the space measured. Cf. Ps 105:11:  funiculum hereditatis vestræ, “the inheritance measured out to you.” The “pleasant inheritance” may be the land of Chanaan (Canaan).

Psa 16:7  I will bless the Lord, who hath given me understanding: moreover, my reins also have corrected me even till night.

benedicam Domino qui tribuit mihi intellectum insuper et usque ad noctem increpaverunt me renes mei

The reins are often regarded as the seat of perception. The Lord has advised the psalmist as to the path he should follow. The path has led to success, and so the singer thanks the Lord. Usque ad noctem, “even in the night.” God’s inspiration was at all times urgent.

Psa 16:8  I set the Lord always in my sight: for he is at my right hand, that I be not moved.

providebam Dominum in conspectu meo semper quoniam a dextris est mihi ne commovear

He has determined to keep the Lord before his eyes. When the Lord stands at his right hand, he has no fear of any danger.

Psa 16:9  Therefore my heart hath been glad, and my tongue hath rejoiced: moreover, my flesh also shall rest in hope.

propter hoc laetatum est cor meum et exultavit lingua mea insuper et caro mea requiescet in spe

His mind and body (caro mea) are in perfect security. He is untroubled in mind, and secure from bodily peril.

Psa 16:10  Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; nor wilt thou give thy holy one to see corruption.

quoniam non derelinques animam meam in inferno non dabis sanctum tuum videre corruptionem

The ground o his hope and confidence is that the Lord will not give up to destruction His faithful worshipper. Infernus and corruptio are made equivalent by the parallelism. Infernus is the Hebrew Sheol, the dwelling-place of the dead. The idea is that God will not permit His loyal friends (a possible reading of Hebrew would give here the plural, sanctos) to see death—a lasting destruction. It is clear that this hope in the full sense, was not realised in any one but Christ, so that the New Testament reference of this passage to Our Lord is fully justified (Acts 2:24-32; Acts 13:34-37). But, on the other hand, in a wider sense, as implying the continuance of the higher life of the spirit and, therefore, the immortality of the soul, it has a general application.

Psa 16:11  Thou hast made known to me the ways of life, thou shalt fill me with joy with thy countenance: at thy right hand are delights even to the end.

notas mihi fecisti vias vitae adimplebis me laetitia cum vultu tuo delectatio in dextera tua usque in finem

The hope of an immortality in the light of God’s face seems to be here also implied. God has taught the psalmist the genuine path to life—the life which will be spent with God Himself. Cum vultu tuo, “by Thy countenance,” i.e. by the vision of Thy face. The Hebrew says: “Fulness of joys is with (i.e. united with) thy face” (=presence); or, possibly, “Fulness of joys is before Thy face.” Jerome has, plenitudinem lætitiarum ante vultum tuum. The Lord holds delights ever (usque in finem) ready in His right hand, to distribute them to His friends.

Posted in Bible, Catholic, Christ, Devotional Resources, Logic, Notes on the Lectionary, NOTES ON THE PSALMS, Quotes, Scripture | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Tuesday, August 9: Pope John Paul II’s Commentar/Meditation on Deut 32:1-12

Posted by Dim Bulb on August 6, 2011

1. “Then Moses pronounced the words of this song from beginning to end, for the whole assembly of Israel to hear” (Dt 31:30). This is how the canticle we have just heard begins. It is taken from the last pages of the Book of Deuteronomy, to be precise, from chapter 32. The Liturgy of Lauds took the first 12 verses, recognizing in them a joyful hymn to the Lord who lovingly protects and cares for his people amid the daylong dangers and difficulties. On examination the canticle is shown to be an ancient text, later than Moses, that is put on his lips to give it a solemn character. The liturgical canticle is placed at the root of the history of the people of Israel. On that prayerful page there is no lack of reference and links with a few of the psalms or the message of the prophets:  hence it was a moving and intense expression of the faith of Israel.

2. Moses’ canticle is longer than the passage used in the office of Lauds, which is only the prelude. Some scholars think they can identify in the composition a literary gender that is technically defined with the Hebrew word “rîb”, namely, “quarrel”, “court litigation”. The image of God present in the Bible is not at all that of a dark being, an anonymous and brute energy, an incomprehensible fact.

Instead, he is a person who experiences sentiments, acts and reacts, loves and condemns, participates in the life of his creatures and is not indifferent to their actions. So, in our case, the Lord convokes a sort of trial, in the presence of witnesses, denounces the crimes of the accused people, exacts a punishment, but lets his verdict be permeated by infinite mercy. Let us now follow the traces of this event, even if only reflecting on the verses proposed by the liturgy.

3. First of all he mentions the cosmic spectator-witnesses:  “Give ear, O heavens, … let the earth hearken …” (Dt 32:1). In this symbolic trial Moses acts almost as a public prosecutor. His word is effective and fruitful, like the prophetic word, expression of the divine word. Note the significant flow of the images that define it:  They are signs taken from nature like rain, dew, showers, drizzle and the spraying of water that makes the earth green and covers it with grain stalks (cf. Dt 32:2).

The voice of Moses, prophet and interpreter of the divine word, announces the imminent appearance on the scene of the great judge, the Lord, whose most holy name he pronounces, exalting one of his many attributes. In fact, the Lord is called the Rock (Dt 32:4), a title that is repeated throughout our Canticle (cf. Dt 32:15, 18, 30, 31, 37), an image that exalts God’s stable and unchanging fidelity, so different from the instability and infidelity of the people. The topic is developed with a series of affirmations on divine justice:  “how faultless are his deeds, how right all his ways. A faithful God, without deceit, how just and upright he is” (Dt 32:4).

4. After the solemn presentation of the supreme Judge, who is also an injured party, the objective of the cantor is directed to the accused. In order to describe this, he takes recourse to an effective representation of God as father (cf. Dt 32:6). His much loved creatures are called his children, but, unfortunately, they are “degenerate children” (cf. Dt 32:5). In fact, we know that already in the Old Testament there is an idea of God as a solicitous father in his meetings with his children who often disappoint him (Ex 4:22; Dt 8:5; Ps 103:13; Sir 51:10; Isa 1:2; 63,16; Hos 11:1-4). Because of this, the denunciation is not cold but impassioned:  “Is the Lord to be thus repaid by you, O stupid and foolish people? Has he not made and established you?” (Dt 32:6). Indeed, rebelling against an implacable sovereign is very different from revolting against a loving father.

In order to make concrete the gravity of the accusation and thus elicit a conversion that flows from the sincerity of the heart, Moses appeals to the memory:  “Think back on the days of old, reflect on the years of age upon age” (Dt 32:7). In fact, biblical faith is a “memorial”, namely, a rediscovering of God’s eternal action spread over time; it is to make present and effective that salvation that the Lord has given and continues to offer man. Hence, the great sin of infidelity coincides with “forgetfulness”, which cancels the memory of the divine presence in us and in history.

5. The fundamental event that must not be forgotten is that of the crossing of the desert after the flight from Egypt, major topic of Deuteronomy and of the entire Pentateuch. So the terrible and dramatic journey in the Sinai desert is evoked, “a wasteland of howling desert” (cf. Dt 32:10), as described with an image of strong emotional impact. However, there God bends over his people with amazing tenderness and gentleness. The paternal symbol is intertwined with an allusion to the maternal symbol of the eagle:  “He shielded them and cared for them, guarding them as the apple of his eye. As an eagle incites its nestlings forth by hovering over its brood. So he spread his wings to receive them and bore them up on his pinions” (Dt 32:10-11). Then the way of the desert steppe is transformed into a quiet and serene journey because of the protective mantle of divine love.

The canticle also refers to Sinai, where Israel became the Lord’s ally, his “portion” and “hereditary share”, namely, the most precious reality (cf. Dt 32:9; Ex 19:5). Thus the canticle of Moses becomes a collective examination of conscience, so that in the end the response to the divine benefits will no longer be sin but fidelity.

Posted in Bible, Catholic, Devotional Resources, Logic, Notes on the Lectionary, PAPAL COMMENTARY ON THE PSALMS, Quotes, Scripture | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

A Simple Summa: The Divine Names

Posted by Dim Bulb on October 12, 2010

The following is taken from The Compendium of the Summa Theologiæ, a summary of the Summa authored by St Thomas himself. Sadly, the Saint died before he was able to finish the work. Previous posts on the compendium can be found here. The pertinent Question and Articles of the Summa which are treated in this post can be found here.

God can be named by us only from the analogy of creatures, not from what He is in Himself; but we name Him as He is known to us through creation by way of excellence, and by way of negation, that is, in an affirmative and negative sense. In this life we do not know the Essence of God as He is, and because we know Him as imperfectly represented by creatures, all such names are imperfect and are inadequate to express the Divine Substance. So when we say “God is good” the meaning is not, God is the Cause of good, or God is not bad; it means that what is called good in creatures pre-exists in God in a higher sense. For it does not follow that goodness is attributed to God because He is the Cause of goodness; rather, conversely, because He is Himself good He diffuses goodness in creatures, as St. Augustine says: “Inasmuch as He is good, we are.”

Some names are properly applied to God because of their meaning, and to Him first and more properly than to creatures, such as goodness, life, etc. These, indeed, are perfections existing in God in a more eminent manner  than in creatures, but in respect of their mode of signification they cannot be, strictly speaking, applied to God, because such a mode is on a level with creatures, and such perfections are understood by us as they exist in creatures, and are named by us as they are thus understood. Although the names attributed to God signify one, still they signify it in a multiform and diverse aspect, and are, therefore, not synonymous; for perfections exist united and absolutely in God, whereas creatures can receive them only in a divided and multiform manner.

Nor are those terms which are applied to God and creatures used in the same sense, and the reason is because an effect which does not equal the force of the cause is a recipient of that, divided and manifold, which in the cause is simple and uniform. Thus in a man to be wise means something distinct from the essence of man. But neither are they used equivocally (i. e, in a wholly different sense) of God and creatures, for were that so, nothing could be known or inferred from creatures about God, contrary to that shown above; it is, therefore, by way of analogy, i. e. proportion, that the same terms are applied to God and to creatures, for there is a certain orderly relation of the creature to God, as He is the Principle and Cause in Whom pre-exist excellently all created perfections. This way stands between the two, pure equivocation and simple univocation; forasmuch as in analogy there is not one idea only, as in the univocal order, nor that entire difference which marks the equivocal order, since there is signified in it diversity of proportion in relation to the unit.

Names which are applied metaphorically to God are derived from creatures, and not from God, forasmuch as when they are spoken of God they only signify His likeness to certain creatures, as when we apply to God the name of “Lion” we signify that the strength of God shown in His works is like the lion’s strength in its sphere of action; while, on the contrary, what is signified by the name belongs first to God rather than to the creature, for perfections flow from God to creatures. When we consider the imposition of the name, however, we give it first to those we know first, to creatures.

Names also implying temporal relations to creatures are assigned to God, for although He is outside the order of the universe, all creatures being ordered to Him as their End, and not, conversely, He to them, they bear a relation to Him, while God has no relation to creatures, except as a notion, for God and creatures are not of the same order. Thus the names of “Lord,” “Redeemer,” and others like them, implying temporal relations, may be given to God.

The very name of “God” belongs to the Divine Nature as regards that to which it is given, but as regards that from which it is taken, it expresses effect or operation, being derived from the idea of universal Providence, for when we speak of God by this name we mean to express that He takes care of all. And as this name is used to signify the Divine Nature, which is not multiple, it cannot be communicated in reality, except only in the .opinion of those who assert there are many gods; yet still it is communicable, not in its full meaning, but according to some kind of likeness, as those are called gods who participate in the Divine Likeness, while if it were a name that signified not the Nature but the Personality of God, such a name would be wholly incommunicable. And this name of “God” is not applied to God univocally nor equivocally, that is in quite the same or quite a different sense, but analogically, by participation, and according to nature and notion: for when we name God by participation, we mean by the name “God” anything that has the likeness of the true God; and when we call an idol god, we mean something that men think is God: thus the meaning of the name has various aspects, though one is contained in the rest, from which we infer that it is used analogically. The name “He is” or “I am ” is most strictly applicable to God, for it signifies not form but His very Existence, and in God alone is His
Essence His own very Existence, and everything else is denominated by its form; whilst it is evident that the Essence of God cannot be understood by us in this life as it is in itself, and hence everything that is understood in any explicit way falls short of God as He is in Himself. Hence the more extended and less determined names are the more suitably applied to Him Who is the
Infinite ocean of substance and indetermined. Moreover, it is plain that because existence signifies the present, it is most properly said of God, Who knows neither past nor future. And further, because God in Himself is One and Simple, and we cannot see Him as He is, we understand Him according to different conceptions, for we cannot see Him as He is, but we understand Him in various ways that correspond, as we know, to one and the same. Hence the notional plurality in our minds represents the predicate and subject in that guise; nevertheless, unity is realized in the mind of composition.

Posted in Catholic, Dogmatic Theology, Logic, Philosophy, Quotes, ST THOMAS AND THE SUMMA, St Thomas Aquinas | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

St Thomas Aquinas: Whether it is Natural for Man to Possess External Things.

Posted by Dim Bulb on July 30, 2010

Objection: 1. It would seem that it is not natural for man to possess external things. For no man should ascribe to himself that which is God’s. Now the dominion over all creatures is proper to God, according to Ps 23,1, “The earth is the Lord’s,” etc. Therefore it is not natural for man to possess external things.
2. Further, Basil in expounding the words of the rich man (Lc 12,18), “I will gather all things that are grown to me, and my goods,” says [*Hom. in Luc. xii, 18]: “Tell me: which are thine? where did you take them from and bring them into being?” Now whatever man possesses naturally, he can fittingly call his own. Therefore man does not naturally possess external things.
3. Further, according to Ambrose (De Trin. i [*De Fide, ad Gratianum, i, 1]) “dominion denotes power.” But man has no power over external things, since he can work no change in their nature. Therefore the possession of external things is not natural to man.

On the contrary It is written (Ps 8,8): “Thou hast subjected all things under his feet.”
I answer that External things can be considered in two ways. First, as regards their nature, and this is not subject to the power of man, but only to the power of God Whose mere will all things obey. Secondly, as regards their use, and in this way, man has a natural dominion over external things, because, by his reason and will, he is able to use them for his own profit, as they were made on his account: for the imperfect is always for the sake of the perfect, as stated above (Question [64], Article [1]). It is by this argument that the Philosopher proves (Polit. i, 3) that the possession of external things is natural to man. Moreover, this natural dominion of man over other creatures, which is competent to man in respect of his reason wherein God’s image resides, is shown forth in man’s creation (Gn 1,26) by the words: “Let us make man to our image and likeness: and let him have dominion over the fishes of the sea,” etc.

Reply to Objection: 1. God has sovereign dominion over all things: and He, according to His providence, directed certain things to the sustenance of man’s body. For this reason man has a natural dominion over things, as regards the power to make use of them.
2. The rich man is reproved for deeming external things to belong to him principally, as though he had not received them from another, namely from God.
3. This argument considers the dominion over external things as regards their nature. Such a dominion belongs to God alone, as stated above.

Posted in Bible, Catechetical Resources, Catholic, Christ, Devotional Resources, fathers of the church, liturgy, Logic, Notes on Luke's Gospel, Notes on the Lectionary, ST THOMAS AND THE SUMMA, St Thomas Aquinas | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Resources for Sunday Mass (August 1)

Posted by Dim Bulb on July 30, 2010

Note: THIS POST WILL BE UPDATED tonight and tomorrow. It  contains links to resources (mostly biblical) for both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite. A number of these posts appeared on this site over the past week, and interested readers can find resources for upcoming Sunday Masses as well as for the daily Masses throughout the week on this site. For those who may have missed last weeks resources, they can be found here.

ORDINARY FORM OF THE ROMAN RITE, 18th Sunday In Ordinary Time:

Readings from the NAB.

Bishop MacEvily’s Notes on Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11 for Sunday Mass (August 1).

Bernardin de Piconio on Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11 for Sunday Mass (August 1).

Pope John Paull II on Psalm 90 for Sunday Mass (August 1).

Notes on the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21) for Sunday Mass, August 1.

Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Luke 12:13-21 for Sunday Mass (August 1).

Word Sunday:

  • First Reading. Brief commentary.
  • Psalm. Text of entire Psalm with brief commentary.
  • Second Reading. Text in both a popular and literal translation, followed by notes and commentary.
  • Gospel Reading. Text in both popular and literal translation, followed by notes, commentary, and catechism themes.

Haydock Bible CommentaryText of the Douay-Rheims Bible followed by notes from the old Haydock Commentary.

The Fool’s Vanity. A brief podcast by Dr. Scott Hahn which usually links the readings together. Text also available.

St Augustine on the Parable of the Rich Fool.

Whether it is Natural for Man to Possess External Things From the Summa Theologica of St Thomas Aquinas.

Lector NotesHelpful notes giving theological and historical background.

Historical Cultural Context.

Thoughts From the Early ChurchTaken from St Basil’s Homily on Riches.

Scripture In Depth Usually does a good job of relating the readings together.

Prepare for Mass. a collection of brief music and meditative videos relating to the themes of the readings.

EXTRAORDINARY FORM OF THE ROMAN RITE, Tenth Sunday After Pentecost: Note: the readings for the EF differ from those of the OF.

Cornelius a Lapide on 1 Corinthians 12:2-11 for Sunday Mass

Cornelius a Lapide on Luke 18:9-14 for Sunday Mass

Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Luke 18:9-14 for Sunday Mass

Haydock Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:2-11 for Sunday Mass

Haydock Commentary on Luke 18:9-14 for Sunday Mass

NOTE: The following are links to online books; you can increase the text size for easier reading by using the site’s zoom feature.

Goffine’s Devout Instructions on the Epistles and Gospels. Scripture readings with explanation, prayers, etc.

St Augustine: Homily on the Gospel.

Pride: A homily on Luke 18:14. By Father Augustine Wirth, O.S.B., a famed preacher of the 19th century.

Humility: A homily on Luke 18:13. By Father Augustine Wirth.

Sermon Notes on the Epistle and Gospel Readings. These can be used as points for meditation, further study, and, of course, for constructing a sermon.



Bishop Bonomelli on the Epistle. The Epistle reading followed by a homily by a renowned preacher.

Bishop Bonomelli on the Gospel. The Gospel reading followed by a homily.

Posted in Bible, Catholic, Christ, Devotional Resources, fathers of the church, Logic, Notes on 1 Corinthians, Notes on Luke's Gospel, Notes on the Gospel of Matthew, Notes on the Lectionary, Quotes | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Philosophy Of The Sophists

Posted by Dim Bulb on June 4, 2010

Permission was granted to post the following copyrighted essay which appears on The Radical Academy website.  The article citation, copyright notice and page URL appears at the end of the essay.

I. Background Information

The second period of Greek philosophy occupies the entire fourth century before Christ. The problem which claims the interest of thinkers during this period is no longer the cosmological question, but man in his concreteness, namely, in his knowledge, his morality, his rights.

The causes which determined the above passage were many, and the most important of these were the following: (1) The Greek victory over the Persian army, which showed how much a small but cultured people can do against a numberless but disordered multitude of barbarians; (2) Contact with other populations living in different countries and practicing different customs, and the resultant investigation of the real value of morality and justice; (3) The democratic constitution of Athens, by virtue of which every citizen could aspire to some position in public administration and, with this end in view, the necessity of everyone’s developing his personality through culture and education.

These facts determined a crisis in Greek life at the end of the fifth century before Christ. The exponents of this crisis were the Sophists, molders of thought who, distrusting the results of the preceding thinkers, intended to educate youth according to the new exigencies of the times.

The Sophists centered their efforts on the problem of knowledge as well as on the problem of morality and justice. This is why Socrates rose against them and established once and for all the fact that true knowledge means knowing through concepts. Never, perhaps, had the human mind made a greater advance in the philosophical field than that which was achieved after Socrates had shown in what true knowledge consists.

First, Plato developed the Socratic concept, and finally Aristotle systematized the entire body of Greek thought. The results obtained in this period were to influence all subsequent ages.

The teaching of Socrates was to give rise to the Minor Socratic Schools, which in turn were to give origin to Stoicism and Epicureanism. The thought of Plato was revived in the later Academies, and in particular in the last important movement of Greek thought, Neo-Platonism. The philosophy of Aristotle was later enriched by Medieval thought, and is still accepted as the traditional philosophy or perennial philosophy even in this contemporary age.

II. General Notions

Those who impersonated this new state of mind were the Sophists, philosophers from all parts of the Grecian world in search of fortune. They were said to possess and encyclopedic knowledge, and they offered, at a price (for the first time requested for teaching the liberal arts), to instruct youth in the art of governing.

The means was oratory, in which some (such as Protagoras, and above all Gorgias) became most highly admired. In fine, it was the aim of the Sophists to create in youth the ability to argue over the proper use of words (Eristic Method), or their misuse (Sophistic Method). Plato, implacable enemy of these philosophers, was the first to call them by the name of Sophists, which has remained their title in history.

In the picture of history, Sophistic thought can be considered as a transition from the old cosmological concepts to the new ideas about man. Its importance is slight in so far as, both in the problem of knowledge and in that of morals and justice, it logically resulted in Skepticism, as we shall soon see. However, one cannot deny the Sophists the merit of having recalled philosophy to an analysis of the subject; and though Sophism remained incipient, it would in the immediate process of time culminate in the high speculations of Plato and Aristotle.

III. Theory of Knowledge

The Pre-Socratics had turned all their attention to the physical world (cosmology) and in a diversity of opinions they (with the exception of Democritus) had shown that the world has a divine origin. In this search, man, even if he had not been completely passed over, had been considered as one of the many phenomena of the physical world.

The disagreement among philosophers who had not succeeded in establishing what had been the germ element or elements of the world, and the changed conditions of the time combined to direct the attention of philosophers away from the object and toward the subject, from the world to man, from cosmology to psychology.

The Sophists were the first to show complete indifference to the problem of the world of matter and to center their efforts upon man. But man can be an object of study in his sense knowledge as well as in that more profound one of reason. The Sophists stopped at the first, at the immediacy of sense impressions. (The analysis of reason was reserved to Socrates and his disciples.)

The Sophists stopped at the data of experience, at empirical and not rational knowledge, and from this point of view they wished to judge the world of reality. With them was born relativism of knowledge and Skepticism: the man-measure of Protagoras, and the “nothing exists” of Gorgias.

In the fragment of Protagoras which Plato has preserved for us, it is stated:

“Man is the measure of all things, of those that are in so far as they are,
and those that are not in so far as they are not.”

From this he deduces that the subjective phenomena of our sensations become judges of reality. There is no reality of itself, but only reality as it appears to us:

“Man is the measure of what exists.”

Thus to two different individuals the same reality can appear in opposite aspects; e.g., air is hot for one, cold for another; both sensations are true and both denote states of reality. Everything is relative. Reality being thus reduced to the subjectivism of experience, it was easy to make the transition of Gorgias to complete Skepticism.

“Nothing exists,” said Gorgias; “if something does exist, we cannot know it; if we come to know it, we cannot teach it to others.” This transition from the relativism of Protagoras to Skepticism seems logical. If reality is relative to the knowledge of empirical data, there is no reality of itself. Hence nothing exists. If it should exist, it would be impossible for it to be known by us as it is in itself, because we can be witnesses only of the impressions in their sensible immediacy, and no one assures us that this is representative of reality. Nor can we teach others what we know, since everyone has a different manner of feeling, and the manner of feeling of the master is not the same as that of his students.

Hence the only thing remaining is the use of the word, and Gorgias affirmed that all things can appear true and just, if oratorical power is capable of revealing things as true and just, beyond every pretension of reality of content.

IV. Ethics and Right

The traditional belief of the Greeks had been that their cities had received their laws from some divinity, protector of the city, and that good (happiness) consists in conforming one’s life to these laws, accepted as divine and eternal. The Sophists shook this faith to its very roots.

As in the case of the problem of knowledge, by defending relativism they ended in Skepticism; so also in the question of morals, by the same subjectivist prejudice they end in utilitarianism and hedonism. Thus, that is good which satisfies one’s instincts and passions.

The belief in immutable principles upon which ethics may be founded is a prejudice and often an impediment which it is necessary to remove. The good, as experience shows, consists in securing for oneself the greatest possible quantity of possessions, without regard for the means used to attain them; for these goods can satisfy the instincts and the passions in which happiness consists. To strive to strengthen one’s personality in order to surpass others in violence and in the contest or struggle for earthly goods — this is the moral ideal of the Sophist.

The Sophist also violently attack the traditional belief about right — that derivation from principles based on justice — and they substitute the concept of force for that of justice. From the moment changed political conditions and the participation of the people in democratic power began to bring about the change of many laws, the Sophists profited from the situation not only to discredit positive and political right, but by nature they did not mean the rational part of man, but his instincts and passions. Hence for them right is that which succeeds in imposing itself through force, or an imposition established by force and violence.

Men by nature are not equal; there are the strong and the weak, and the moment right consists in force it becomes the office of the strong to command and make laws; the weak must obey. The Sophist Thrasymachus, in the first book of Plato’s Republic, maintains that natural law “is the right of the stronger.” It is the strong man who, despising all laws advanced by the weak in the name of justice, imposes his will, which becomes right, as Callicles maintains in Plato’s Gorgias.

Here we are at the same extremism that we noted in the Sophists’ doctrine. Such extremism must have been pleasing to the youth of Athens in the time of Pericles. All young men were anxious to obtain offices which would assure them wealth and pleasure. Sophistic teaching, by battering all the orders of ethics and justice, opened up to men a way that made possible and justified the use of all deception and the most violent passions. Thus is explained the popular favor that surrounded certain Sophists, such as Protagoras, who was received with triumph and entertained as a guest in the homes of the most noted Athenians.

So also is explained the noble mission of Socrates who, to restore the values of a morality sacred and inviolable because based upon reason and not unruly passions, spent his entire existence, and not in vain. See: The Philosophy of Socrates.

Source: “The Philosophy Of The Sophists,” Center for Applied Philosophy: The Radical Academy, n.d.,

The Radical Academy Homepage.

Posted in Logic, Philosophy, Quotes | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

On Misrepresenting the Thomistic Five Ways

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 3, 2010

An online article by Professor Joseph A. Buijs looks at common error concerning the famous five ways.  Here is what the abstract states:

A number of recent discussions of atheism allude to cosmological arguments in support of theism. The five ways of Aquinas are classic instances, offered as rational justification for theistic belief. However, the five ways receive short shrift. They are curtly dismissed as vacuous, arbitrary, and even insulting to reason. I contend that the atheistic critique of the Thomistic five ways, and similarly formulated cosmological arguments, argues at cross purposes because it misrepresents them. I first lay out the context, intent and structure of Aquinas’ arguments, then show in what way recent discussions misrepresent them, and finally conclude with a comment on metaphysical orientation, which I take to be central, not only to a proper understanding of the Thomistic five ways but generally to the debate between atheism and theism on the existence of God.

Read The Article (pdf).

Posted in Catholic, Logic, Philosophy, ST THOMAS AND THE SUMMA, St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentes | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

1,007 And Counting

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 16, 2009

My simple list of links to ONLINE WORKS BY AND ABOUT AQUINAS has topped 1,ooo views on Scribd.  My follow up to this, MORE ONLINE WORKS ABOUT AQUINAS has now been viewed 649 times.  My list of links to the PAPAL COMMENTARY ON THE MORNING AND EVENING PSALMS has been viewed 987 times.  My personal COMMENTARY ON THE PROPHET AMOS has been viewed 883.

Posted in Aquinas morality, BENEDICT XVI CATECHESIS, Bible, Logic, NOTES ON AMOS, PAPAL COMMENTARY ON THE PSALMS, Philosophy, ST THOMAS AND THE SUMMA, St Thomas Aquinas | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Audio/Video Lectures

Posted by Dim Bulb on October 18, 2009

These come from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

Natural Law, God, and Human Right, by Robert P. George.  Audio, 41 minutes.

The Uniqueness of the West, by Bruce S. Thornton.  Video, 48 minutes.

Is God Dead?  Atheism vs.  Christianity.  A debate between Peter Kreeft and Michael Tooley.  Video, 1 hour, 21 minutes.

How To Put Your Soul On Ice: Freedom and Autonomy in Dante’s Divine Comedy.  Video, 40 minutes.

The Spirit of Capitalism: Why Weber Was Wrong About The Commercial Society.  Audio, 40 minutes.

Posted in Audio/Video Lectures, Logic, Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Videos: Aristotle, Giant of Philosophy

Posted by Dim Bulb on October 3, 2009

A seventeen part audio series narrated by Charlton Heston.  The first three can be listened to below.  All seventeen parts can be accessed here.

Posted in Aristotle, Audio/Video Lectures, Logic, Philosophy | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

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