Category: Philosophy

The Dog, Butterfly, and Owl

One day, as Dog was walking around his big green yard, a Butterfly landed on his nose.

Dog squinted.

“Hello friend,” Dog said. “How are you today?”

Butterfly fluttered her wings nervously. “Hello. I am not feeling so well today. My friends and I must travel a great distance and we fear the Great Owl looming nearby. Will you help us?”

As Butterfly flew from Dog’s nose, Dog saw an Owl perched atop the fence post nearby. Owl was a terrifying figure, particularly for a Butterfly. Dog, however, thought Owl was an amusing sight to behold.

Dog leapt across the green yard to Owl.

“Hello Dog,” said the Owl, looking down at the four-legged creature inquisitively. “How may I be of assistance?”

Dog marveled at Owl’s cool demeanor and great intelligence. Dog noticed Owl’s beak glinting in the sunlight. It appeared very sharp.

“Hello Great Owl,” smiled Dog. “My friend, Butterfly, is deeply concerned. She and her friends are worried that you will hurt them as they undertake a great travel. Are you aware of this?”

Owl narrowed his eyes playfully at Dog. “Yes, I am aware, but must I not eat? Are they not a good food source for me? What would you have me do?”

Dog, amassing as much wit as possible, looked down, then up, and then, speaking carefully so as not to insult Owl’s great intelligence, began, “Good Owl, you are truly wise and fearsome. We know that you fulfill a great role in the world. Your spirit is high and far reaching. I am just a humble dog. I serve my master and complete the work he has assigned me. The influence of my life is of little evidence, but I live a joyful life full of meaning. Allow me to ask, Wise Owl: Don’t you know there are creatures more deserving of your appetite? There are Rats causing a lot of harm around here and my master wants me to get rid of them. I’m sure they would be far tastier for you than Butterflies.”

Dog flashed Owl a look of insight. Owl grinned with pleasure.

“I see you know my kind,” said Owl. “Very well. You have my word: I will leave these poor Butterflies alone. Now, if you would be so kind, please show me where these delicious Rats are.”

Dog let out a yip and ran over to the side of his master’s house where he had seen Rats scurrying just a day before. Owl flew over to a nearby perch and scoured the ground with his impeccable vision as dog flushed the Rats out.

“There!” said Dog. “Do you see them?”

Without hesitation, Owl flew in and caught his meal.

Owl looked at Dog with affection. With a nod and a hoot, he said, “Thank you, Dog,” and then flew away to enjoy his fresh catch.

Butterfly rejoined Dog, perching sweetly upon his nose, and chimed, “Hurray! Good work, Dog! We would not have thought to approach Owl with that idea. You have saved us. Thank you!”

Dog yipped back joyfully, “You are welcome, Butterfly! Have a safe travel!”

Dog then heard his master call for him to come inside, where a warm bed and good meal awaited.

The purpose of wisdom is to protect the vulnerable from the powerful.

A Theology for the Homeless (from a Philosophy for Dogs)

In graduate school, I wrote a master’s philosophy thesis on the concept of animal souls, ethics, psychology, and other related things. One of the most outstanding things I discovered during the writing process is that many philosophical and theological authorities attest to psychological continuity between humans and non-human animals. (Yes, even Aquinas! [i]). Basically, what this psychological continuity means is that humans and non-human animals may share a common psychological life. While all humans and non-human animals are “subjects of a life”, what’s most striking about psychological continuity is that some humans and some non-human animals share psychical experiences in common with each other [ii]. It’s an exceptional discovery, but for some reason I found it almost impossible to apply in a specific and concrete way.

Until a few days ago.

Along with my interest in dogs, I have a deep, abiding interest in the poor. In fact, my patron saint, St. Roch, is not only the patron saint of dogs, he’s also a Franciscan mendicant that most would label “poor.” The poor, dog-loving saint: sounds good, doesn’t it? I could say a lot about my love and devotion for the poor and dogs here, but for now I’ll leave it with the words of Bl. Frédéric Ozanam, who said, “Knowledge of the poor and needy is not gained by poring over books or in discussions with politicians, but by visiting the slums where they live, sitting by the bedside of the dying, feeling the cold they feel and learning from their lips the causes of their woes.” [iii] We could say the same things about dogs, too.

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time with the poor. There’s an image I return to often when I recall my time spent with the poor. It’s the image of a homeless man sitting near a bridge with his Border collie. Whenever I see this man, he appears tired and worn out. His skin is strikingly tan and leathery, as if he were some old buffalo hide used to keep villagers warm. Seeing him is like seeing the wounds of Christ — which are unseen seen from afar — that would become manifest if one were to only approach close enough to the man’s venerable appearance. There’s a lovely Border collie that accompanies this venerable-looking man. Anyone with eyes could see that the two of them are an inseparable pair. And that’s what I think when I look at them: Why do they appear so inseparable?

“Knowledge of the poor and needy is not gained by poring over books or in discussions with politicians, but by visiting the slums where they live, sitting by the bedside of the dying, feeling the cold they feel and learning from their lips the causes of their woes.”

~ Blessed Frédéric Ozanam

People sometimes become sensitive about issues concerning psychological continuity between human and non-human animals. And rightfully so. I imagine they become sensitive about it for a number of reasons: for one, they don’t like the idea of psychological ‘sameness’ or ‘parity’ between humans and non-human animals; or else, they’re scornful about the ecological and ethical ramifications involved with there being psychological continuity between humans and non-human animals. Whatever their issue might be, it seems like there are good reasons to get sensitive about psychological continuity. I mean, think about it: Aren’t dogs treated better than the homeless sometimes?

I think what really bothers people is not that a homeless man and his Border collie together represent psychological continuity between humans and non-human animals; instead, what bothers people is that they can’t disregard the poor, especially when the poor are accompanied by the sentiments of an animal that represents their struggles. In one sense, the homeless man and his Border collie represent what’s good about the meaning of psychological continuity; in another sense, they represent everything miserable about it. On one hand, they represent what it means to regard the idea of psychological continuity positively. (The homeless man and dog “stick-it-out” together because only that will do when humanity chooses to not care!) It’s beautiful, really. But, on the other hand, they illustrate what it means to disregard the idea of psychological continuity as something positive. (The homeless man has to keep a representation of his injustice and plight with him just to get his fellow humans to notice!) The central question in either case is whether the life of the vulnerable is being regarded with adequate care and concern.

We are quick to dismiss the suffering and plight of the homeless. We judge, but we don’t do so sufficiently because we do it without charity. Then, we try to excuse ourselves, but in doing that, we miss out on the rationale of simple love and action. Capturing the eternal law for the poor is what really matters, because so many actions, even if they’re noble or honorable, pale in comparison to the higher lawfulness of merciful acts of justice and charity in feeding, caring and sheltering the poor, oppressed, hungry, thirsty and vulnerable.

“It is the notion that, in truly witnessing dog and man in a ‘bond of love’ — in a bond of psychological unity — the fire of compassion toward humanity is lit.”

Don’t worry though. I have a way to help inspire these actions of eternal significance. The notion of the Dog of God can be our guide. With this notion, we’re inclined to regard the life of the poor, especially if, alongside the poor, the common plight of our canine friends is evident therewith. The Dog of God is the notion that, in truly witnessing dog and man in a “bond of love” — in a bond of psychological unity — the fire of compassion for humanity is lit (Col. iii, 14). Witnessing this inspires us, but given the temporal nature of the bond of love between man and animal, one must act soon or else lose their inspiration and, with it, their willingness to act in mercy, justice and charity. The spiritual gift or reward for acting promptly? – the exuberant and waggish joy a dog feels when he has pleased his master. It’s a little gift for a “little dog” [iv]. Won’t the Eternal Master, Who is seated at the right hand of the Father, shower his flock with a higher gift than that of a natural dog? Yes, and the feeling of this spiritual gift is likened unto “entering into the joy of your Master”! (Matt. xxv, 21).

After being afflicted with a serious disease, St. Roch laid in a forest, dying, awaiting his death. Low and behold, it was the heroic action of a local man’s little dog who saved St. Roch’s life by bringing him the “bread of life.” There, together, the poor mendicant and the little dog represented not merely psychological continuity and unity between humans and non-human animals, but a holy image (see above) that signifies the loss of psychological diseases and the obtainment of Heaven. Let’s use this holy image to cure our own psychological disease of indifference towards the poor and the common plight of all creatures, who are all “subjects of a life.” In so doing, we follow the example of the holy life of charity. Those subjected to such a life (and follow it willingly) know that in visiting the poor, “we gain much more than they do.” [v] And let it be so.


See “About the Editor” for more on the author.

[i] cf. Judith Barad’s treatment of this in Aquinas on the Nature and Treatment of Animals (US: International Scholars Publication, 1995), print.

[ii] cf. Tom Regan’s “The Case for Animal Rights”

[iii] cf. http://vincentians.com/en/quotes-collection/frederic-ozanam-quotes/

[iv] cf. Greek kuón in Matt. xvi, 26

[v] ibid; http://vincentians.com/en/quotes-collection/frederic-ozanam-quotes/

Calling of Devotion: Discerning the Charisms of Franciscan Spirituality

Introduction

My wife and I have been discerning a call to religious life — that is to say, we’re currently discerning a call to a religious and spiritual way of life in one of the Church’s Third Orders. Before my wife and I married, we discerned the possibility of a religious and spiritual way of life in one of the Church’s Primary Orders. I discerned joining the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin (O.F.M. Cap.): a First Order within the general Franciscan religious and spiritual sphere; and my wife discerned joining the Carmelites (O. Carm.): a Second Order within the general Carmelite religious and spiritual sphere. The Church’s First and Second Orders are the thing most people have in mind when they think of a nun, a monk, or friar. Those in First and Second Orders usually wear habits, live in monasteries and/or convents, and so forth. For those in Third Orders, things are quite different, even though Third Orders are, in at least some ways, the same as First and Second Orders. Normally, members of Third Orders are married and have children. They don’t wear a full religious habit but may wear a scapular or another form of habit. In addition, they don’t normally live in monasteries and/or convents. What members (i.e., tertiaries or oblates) in Third Orders do similarly to those in First and Second Orders includes prayer; adhering to general charisms (i.e., spiritual grace(s) and/or gift(s) given to a particular organization by God to build up His Church) as well as rules and principles established by the founder of the Order; and they live in fraternity with other members of the Order. The identity of Third Orders can be summarized as that which exercises and practices essential features of the religious and spiritual life of First and Second Orders, — without being held to specific or particular Rules of the First and Second Orders. For those out there like me and my wife, Third Orders are an answer to the calling to integrate the vocational attributes of the Sacrament of Marriage with the deep sense of religious and spiritual obligation to the Church and the World. This obligation is something we, and so many others, feel compelled to do.

When my wife and I first met, I told her that St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s parents, Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin, discerned a calling to a spiritual and religious life. Eventually, God called them to the vocation, the Sacrament, of marriage; however, their call to marriage didn’t imply that there was no religious calling for them to answer whatsoever. After all, everyone is given the universal call to holiness [i]. And although Lumen Gentium was before their time, Sts. Louis and Zélie nevertheless answered the universal call to holiness through integrating particular forms of religious and spiritual devotion into their family life: St. Zélie is said to have been active as a Third Order Franciscan, and St. Louis was very active in the ministry of charity as a worker for the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Both Saints devoted their respective religious and spiritual sensibilities to states unique to them as individuals, and their unique individual-states of devotion helped them to rediscover their identity as a married union. Undoubtedly, their respective forms of devotion to Christ and His Church helped them to develop the inner-life and witness of their daughter, Thérèse, who developed her own form of devotion by witnessing that of her parents. St. Thérèse changed the world through her “little doctrine” of holiness — a way of “abandonment of the little child who goes to sleep in its Father’s arms without fear”, which culminates in the “divine furnace” of God’s love [ii]. St. Thérèse’s form of devotion has inspired millions of people. By witness to the life of St. Thérèse, a calling to a religious and spiritual way of life can be just the beginning my wife and I, as a married couple, need to change the world. As St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) discussed in her Nobel Prize speech: First, we begin praying and loving in the home; soon, that praying and loving can expand to the care of a neighbor far away, and after a while, we have impacted the whole world [iii]. We all want to help change the world. To do that, we must first love and pray well. As my wife an I understand it, loving and praying well involves religious and spiritual devotion to God and His Holy Church.

My wife thinks proper religious and spiritual devotion to God and His Church is exemplified well through St. Thérèse’s own form of religious and spiritual devotion: that of the Order of Discalced Carmelites (O.C.D.). That’s one reason why she wants to be a Carmelite, and it’s quite agreeable to me! I have zero qualms about her preferences. In another post, it’d be great if my wife described the charisms of the Carmelites and what about them draws her to the Carmelite Order. But for now, I’d like to describe my own preference, which is a life of devotion with the Secular Franciscans. What draws me to the Secular Franciscans is their religious and spiritual charisms that are, to me at least, the totality of Christ’s gospel in the glorious seraphic love and vision of the episodes, stories, teachings, and other contents, of the life of St. Francis of Assisi. These charisms include Poverty, Penance, Peace, and Secularity [iv]. I’d like to describe each of these charisms of the Secular Franciscans and discuss what about them draws me to the Franciscans. After providing some detail about each of them, I’ll conclude this post with some final thoughts.

The Charism of Poverty

“Poverty” does not have much of an economical designation in Franciscan spirituality. In Franciscan spirituality, ‘poverty’ does not simply denote “being below the poverty line” or “having little money.” It can, of course, and most often does; but for Franciscans, poverty is perhaps better understood as something denoting a life of radical simplicity; a life of detachment from earthly things and attachment to “things above” (Col 3:2). Franciscans also consider poverty as a source of wisdom. Poverty as a source of wisdom is given definite expression in the account of St. Francis of Assisi’s stigmatic vision (or his “vision of seraphic love”) of Christ crucified while he was praying and contemplating atop Mt. Alverna. Franciscans understand the source of wisdom and poverty as that through which they, by following the imitation of Christ in the life of St. Francis of Assisi, emanate “the vision of seraphic love” to creation — especially to those who, whether economically-wise or not, are truly “poor in spirit” (Luke 6). Franciscan poverty does, in seraphic love, the Beatitudes of Christ. It’s how Franciscans live Christ’s gospel.

The Charism of Penance

Penance requires “the sinner to endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practice complete humility and fruitful satisfaction.” [v] Accordingly, penance, whether committed by interior or exterior methods, engages the sinner’s recognition that they have sinned; by failing to do that which is “contrite of heart,” the penitent acknowledges thus the possibility of denying their selfishness, and by this acknowledgment, the penitent examines and acts upon a judgment of the self so to release, and turn from, “works of the flesh” (Gal 5:19-21). This meaning of penance is related to the Franciscan meaning of poverty as a source of seraphic love, wisdom and vision, for both poverty and penance take as their fundamental source a “transformation into the likeness of Christ crucified” through the “complete conflagration of mind.” [vi]

The Charism of Peace

Franciscans don’t take peace to be a “let’s-all-be-nice-to-each-other-and-sing-kumbaya” sort of thing. Instead, it’s a sort of “do no harm to others” whereby Franciscans are obliged to not retaliate with lethal weapons against others. Franciscans may self-defend, but this self-defense may refer to circumstances in which a Franciscan is being “attacked” with incomplete, erroneous, inconsistent, or misguided doctrines and actions. A rather famous example of such a circumstance is Bl. John Duns Scotus and his defense of his doctrine(s) of the Immaculate Conception [vii]. Some have taken St. Francis of Assisi’s charism of peace by misconception, and have thereby accused Francis and his Order of being peace-loving in the same way “hippies” are; but this accusation misinterprets the Franciscan charism of peace and what it actually entails. In good estimation, this accusation and/or misconception has been dealt with accordingly [viii].

The Charism of Secularity

Some people think “secular” only means “immoral” or “of the world” or something closely-related to such. Franciscan spirituality does not, nor does it intend, to practice immorality of any kind. Franciscan spirituality renounces things “of the world.” Therefore, the meaning of “secular” or “secularity” must be something else aside from the typical gross conception of ‘the secular.’ Indeed, for the Franciscan, “secular” or “secularity” simply implies apostolic activity in the world, not apostolic activity of the world. The meaning of the “Franciscan secular” furthermore suggests that Secular Franciscans do not stay cloistered in monasteries or convents contemplating the divine. Rather, Secular Franciscans are active-contemplatives who contemplate the divine in the world as they live their being in it. To state it another way, Franciscan secularity means “going into the world” to “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). And by “preach the gospel to every creature,” we really do mean every creature.

Conclusion

In conclusion, what’s your religious and spiritual devotion? For a long time, I wanted to be like the great Archimedes; I wanted to use a fulcrum and lever to move the world. I realize now that the Saints are the ones who have obtained the “fulcrum and lever of God”: the fulcrum, “God Himself”; the lever, prayer which “sets on fire with a fire of love.” [ix] We obtain both through religious and spiritual devotion. If you don’t yet have a form of religious and spiritual devotion, I encourage you to get one!


REFERENCES

[i] cf., Pope Paul VI (1964). “Chapter V: The Universal Call to Holiness in the Church” in Lumen Gentium. (Web accessed, June 2019). DOI: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-iii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html.

[ii] cf., Six, Jean-François (1998). Light of the Night: The Last Eighteen Months in the Life of Thérèse of Lisieux. Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press; 88. Print.

[iii] cf., Mother Teresa (2019). NobelPrize.org (Eds.). “Acceptance Speech.” Nobel Media AB. (Web accessed, June 2019). (Actual speech took place 10 Dec. 1979). DOI: https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/1979/teresa/26200-mother-teresa-acceptance-s    speech-1979/.

[iv] cf., Vail, Benjamin (n.d.). “In Search of a Secular Franciscan Charism.” Blog post. (Web accessed, Jun 2019). DOI: https://onepeterfive.com/secular-franciscan-charism/.  

[v] Catholic Church (n.d.). “Part Two: Celebration of the Christian Mystery” in Vatican Online format of Catechism of the Catholic Church; 1450. (Web accessed, June 2019). DOI: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c2a4.htm. *Note: Print version reference to be provided upon update.

[vi] cf., Mcginn, Bernard (2006). The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism. New York: Modern Library; 229. Print.

[vii] Author Unknown (n.d.). “Blessed John Duns Scotus.” Blog post. (Web accessed, June 2019). DOI: https://www.franciscanmedia.org/blessed-john-duns-scotus/.

It is commonly held in the Church that Bl. John Duns Scotus defended the doctrine(s) of the Immaculate Conception during a time in which many, including St. Thomas Aquinas, did not. Bl. John did indeed defend the doctrine(s), and it can be considered a form of self-defense given his singular-stance on the doctrine(s). His singular-stance on the doctrine(s) of the Immaculate Conception were declared dogma in 1854 by Pope Pius IX.

[viii] cf., Chesterton, G.K. (2008). St. Francis of Assisi. New York: Dover Publications; 70-81. (Originally published in 1924). Print.

[ix] cf., Six, Jean-François (1998). Light of the Night: The Last Eighteen Months in the Life of Thérèse of Lisieux. Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press; 140. Print.

On Knowledge and Faith: The Philosophy of Edith Stein, Edmund Husserl & Thomas Aquinas


My readings lately have involved an interest in Thomistic and Husserlian views on philosophical investigation and/or methodology. The Thomistic view on philosophical investigation and/or methodology is about what the most principled way of doing philosophy is, or, otherwise, what the most principled way of exercising practical behavior is [i]. In slight contrast, the Husserlian view on philosophical investigation and/or methodology is about what it means to ‘catholicize’ modern, or modernistic, philosophy. Notwithstanding, it seems many people think these views are necessarily antagonistic to each other. What I contend in this post is that the methods of these two views are, at their core-function, the same. There is really no need to resign ourselves to a necessary antagonism between them, and we have Edith Stein to thank for that.

Uh, what’s an “Edith Stein”?

Edith Stein (1891-1942), known by her religious name as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, was a Jewish-German philosopher, Carmelite mystic, nun, and martyr who lived during the tumultuous period of Nazi occupation in Europe. According to the New World Encyclopedia, her martyrdom preceded some pretty nasty political retaliation:

            “[T]he Dutch Bishops’ Conference had a public statement read in all the nation’s churches condemning Nazi racism on July 20, 1942 […] the Reichskommissar of the Netherlands, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, retaliated by ordering the arrest of all Jewish converts to Catholicism on July 26, 1942. On August 2, Stein was transported by cattle train to the death camp of Auschwitz, where she died in the gas chambers on August 9. Stein’s younger sister Rosa, also a convert, died there as well.

Canonized in the Roman Catholic Church by St. Pope John Paul II in 1998, St. Edith Stein has been bestowed the honor of being one of the patron Saints of Europe [ii]. Her scholarly works, among which include: Finite and Eternal Being, Knowledge and Faith, On the Problem of Empathy, her translation of Aquinas’ De Veritate, The Science of the Cross: Studies on John of the Cross (in German: Studie über Joannes a Cruce: Kreuzeswissenschaft), and others, demonstrate a remarkable spiritual insight that is so wonderfully typical of a religious affiliation with the Discalced Carmelite Order, her own religious order. Indeed, her writings have served not only the Church, but the atonement and cleansing of Europe, the world, and the souls of numerous individuals.

Edith was a student of the Göttingen School — an association of thinkers at the University of Göttingen that stood for, or otherwise represented, one of the most prominent philosophical and academic movements of the early 20th century: phenomenology, which may be defined generally as “the study of first-person experience” or as “the study of individual phenomena according to an individual’s authentic experiences of that phenomena”. The discovery of the Göttingen School, and/or the phenomenological method associated with it, is attributed to Edmund Husserl, who is sometimes called the “father of phenomenology”. Edith Stein eventually reached her philosophical end by means of Husserl’s phenomenological method, and this end was, among other things, a spiritual and vocational calling to the Discalced Carmelite Order as a nun and mystic. If we want to understand how Edith reached her end, we ought to review the method that helped her reach it: i.e., Husserl’s phenomenological method. To do this, we can begin by comparing Husserl’s method to that of another.

It appears clear that Edith favored Husserl’s phenomenological method above other methods, like that of the philosopher Martin Heidegger. Indeed, Edith’s phenomenological method was virtually indistinguishable from Husserl’s; and Husserl’s method differed from that of Heidegger’s. Husserl’s and Heidegger’s method can be distinguished by revealing what Edith identified with about each phenomenological view. What Edith identified in Husserl’s phenomenology was an adequate foundation upon which to build her own philosophical view; his was a method of application [iii]. Edith identified with Heidegger’s phenomenology in a much less satisfactory way. Edith identified Heidegger’s phenomenology as a “being-in-need” of greater, and more exact, phenomenological description [iv]. According to an account of Stein’s critique of Heidegger’s Being and Time, Heidegger’s phenomenology, and therefore his philosophical method, lacked a sense of what Husserl termed “exact science” [v]. In critiquing Heidegger’s phenomenology, Stein raises key issues about the value of mere description vs. exact description approaches to doing philosophy.

Stein’s critique of Heidegger’s Being and Time focuses on “the faithfulness of Heidegger’s phenomenological description of Dasein[vi]. Stein argues that Heidegger’s concept of Dasein (i.e., Heidegger’s term for a “being-there”), provides “no real account for the body and the soul, for they are obscured by the vocabulary of being” and, by lack of this real account of Dasein, Heidegger never really draws out the implications of his concept of Mitsein (i.e., Heidegger’s term for a “being-with”) [vii]. According to Stein and others, Heidegger’s phenomenology proposes that the “individual is charged with the task of achieving an eigentliches Sein (authentic being), whereas the community is only a receptacle for a fallen or fleeing Dasein[viii]. Stein critiques Heidegger sharply on this point: Doesn’t the community play a much greater role than that in the formation of Dasein? [ix]. Stein’s questioning points to a particular, yet more reasonable, method required for a greater phenomenological description of Dasein. She points to a need for a peri-phenomenological method, a method of exact description, or a method of descriptive science that centers on “being-around” others by means of “ostensibly peripheral phenomena” [x]. Stein also points out an inadequacy of Heidegger’s phenomenological method, because according to Stein’s own phenomenological method, we need others, the community, to help us; we need to ‘be-around’ a community so to address our faults adequately and therein be restored from our, or Dasein’s, fleeing, fallen status. According to an account of Stein’s phenomenology, our method of being is not exact without others and/or the community. Heidegger, in contrast, takes community to be something accidental, and not essential to, the restoration of Dasein. So while Stein held that an adequate philosophical method required, essentially, a “being-in-need” of community, Heidegger did not; and while Heidegger did not outright reject that a philosophical method can never include a “being-in-need” of community, he certainly didn’t think it was essential to his philosophical method.

At any rate, Stein’s critique of Heidegger’s Being and Time brings us back to our initial emphasis about the core-sameness of Husserl’s and Aquinas’ philosophical method. In Knowledge and Faith, Stein gives us three core-functions for doing philosophy. In holding to these functions, we have an adequate philosophical method and foundation that contains the key to sufficient description and which, furthermore, may free us from committing philosophical errors or mistakes, like those of, supposedly, Heidegger. For Stein, these three core-functions are three agreements shared by both Husserl and Aquinas. They are: (1) sensation, (2) intellectual processing, and (3) passivity of understanding [xi].

Sensation

  • Agreement #1: “All knowledge begins with the senses.”

Commentary: It’s important to note that Aquinas and Husserl agree on a particular thing about this proposition — namely that, “[One] is very far from requiring any particular kind of sense intuition, such as an actual external perception, as a support for all knowledge” [xii]

Intellectual Processing

  • Agreement #2: “All natural knowledge … is acquired through the intellectual processing of sense material.”

Commentary: Accordingly, intellectual processing of sense material is “intellectus dividens et componens [i.e., the understanding dividing and composing]”; and, in reference to Husserl’s phenomenology, intellectual processing is an “act of consciousness that intends or refers to any object by way of a noema or noematic sense (i.e., a ‘reason of supernatural sense’).”[xiii]

Passivity of Understanding

  • Agreement #3: The meeting, or agreement, of “opposition” to “any subjective arbitrariness” is of “the conviction that intuiting, in the sense of passively receiving, is the proper contribution of the understanding and that all of its action is but a preparation for it.” [xiv]

Commentary: The passivity of understanding is not a proper form of contribution to X because it does not contribute to X by a proper form of action. In other words, the passivity of understanding is intuition without a proper form of action; as such, it does not properly contribute to X.

In summary, the contribution of understanding as something by perception alone is not what Aquinas and Husserl agree upon. What Aquinas and Husserl agree upon is the notion that the contribution of understanding is not by perception alone. They also seem to agree that the contribution of understanding is an intellectual processing of perception that manifests by a form of proper activity. In other words, Aquinas and Husserl agree on the method of doing philosophy, and this agreement is something worthy of our attention because it signifies an objectivity to the way philosophers do philosophy, and this is evinced in Edith’s analysis of virtually the same philosophical method in that of Aquinas and Husserl. What Edith Stein gives to us is a reasonable demonstration of the core-methodology that philosophers have been utilizing for at least 800 years. Given the influence of Aristotle’s philosophical method on that of St. Thomas Aquinas, it’s probably closer to 2,500 years. Once more, we have Edith Stein to thank for such a contribution to our understanding, so thanks Edith!

I mean, of course, Saint Edith.

Lance H. Gracy serves as contributor and editor-in-chief of TheEruditePress. If you want to know more about him, check out the “About the Editor” page.


REFERENCES

[i]  Edith Stein (2000). Knowledge and Faith: The Collected Works of Edith Stein. (Redmond, Walter, Tr.). Washington: ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies; 35. (Original published under the title Erkenntnis und Glaube). Print.

[ii] cf., “Edith Stein” in the New World Encyclopedia. DOI:  https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Edith_Stein. (Web accessed, summer 2019).

[iii] cf., introduction to Jon C. Wilhemsson’s The Philosophical Contributions of Edith Stein (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016). Print.

[iv] Calcagno, Antonio (2007). The Philosophy of Edith Stein.Pennsylvania: Duquesne University Press; 116-18. Print.

[v] Casey, Edward S. (2017). The World on Edge.Indiana: Indiana University Press; 9-12. Ebook.

[vi] Calcagno’s The Philosophy of Edith Stein, 116

[vii] Ibid., 116, 118

[viii] Ibid., 118

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Edward’s The World on Edge, xviii.

[xi] Edith Stein (2000). Knowledge and Faith: The Collected Works of Edith Stein. (Redmond, Walter, Tr.). Washington: ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies; 41-7. (Original published under the title Erkenntnis und Glaube). Print.

[xii] Ibid., 41-2

[xiii] Ibid., pp. 44-5; also, see Smith, David Woodruff, “Phenomenology”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2018 Edition), Edward Zalta (ed.), URL = <plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2018/entries/phenomenology/>.

[xiv] Ibid., 46

The Judgments of Conscience

I’ve enjoyed reading about the life of St. Thomas More, in, Saint Thomas More: Selected Writings (New York: Vintage Spiritual Classics, 2003). What I enjoy about this book, besides the excellent editing work of John Thornton and Susan Varenne, is the preface to the book, written by the Jesuit, Joseph W. Koterski. In the preface, Koterski gives us a concise and to-the-point outlook and overview of the significance of St. Thomas More’s life. His analysis of the “judgments of conscience” is most striking.

Some background about the life of St. Thomas More is in order. St. Thomas More (1478-1535) was a scholar, lawyer, statesman & humanist. More lived in England during a time of “new learning” in Europe. As a friend of the remarkable Dutch humanist, Desiderius Erasmus, More contributed greatly to the scholasticism of his day. His literary works (e.g., Utopia and The Sadness of Christ) showcase an understanding of a wide range of theological and philosophical subjects. As a lawyer and commoner, More ascended to the highest levels of diplomacy in England during the reign of King Henry VIII. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), More was executed by Henry VIII in 1535 because of his silence on the issue of Henry VIII’s desire to obtain a divorce from Catherine of Aragon, so to marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn, which, according to Koterski, involved “a question of a truth based on revelation and the determination of authority [by the Roman Pontiff]” (xii, xvii). More’s trial was tense, to say the least. It is supposed that More was eventually charged with treason only because Sir Richard Rich (1496-1567), a prominent lawyer himself, committed perjury. Notwithstanding, once More was charged with treason, he chose to no longer keep silent about the issues surrounding his sentencing, and so he discharged his views about Henry VIII’s actions and the sentencing thereof. More’s “stance” at trial still serves as a remarkable testimony to truth and law. He said:

And forasmuch as this Idictment is grounded upon an Act of Parliament directly repugnant to the laws of God and his Holy Church, the supreme Government of which, or of any part whereof, may no temporal Prince presume by any law to take upon him, as rightfully belonging to the See of Rome, a spiritual pre-eminence by the mouth of our Saviour himself, personally present upon earth, only to St. Peter and his successors, Bishops of the same See, by special prerogative granted; it is therefore in law, amongst Christians, insufficient to charge any Christian man.” (xiii)

On a spring day in 1535, More was executed. At his execution, it is written he said, “I die the king’s good servant but God’s first”. He knelt down, prayed the Miserere (Psalm 51), kissed his executioner in “an act of forgiveness”, and then succumbed to the swift blow of the executioner’s ax (lxiv). More was canonized in 1935 by Pope Pius Xi in Saint Peter’s Basilica. Pope Pius XI praised More as an example of “Christian fortitude” and described him as a “star of sanctity that traced a luminous path across that dark period of history” (lxvi). St. Thomas More’s patronage in the Catholic Church includes lawyers, statesman and politicians. He stands as an witness to law, truth, wisdom and knowledge amidst the fiery trials of martyrdom, and he stood for it all in the face of tremendous political adversity.

But how did he “stand” for it all?

It is said that the Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, dictated two sources by which he would relegate himself to a trial of authority: (1) by testimony of Holy Scripture; and (2) by his own conscience. Thomas More is said to have done so by two related sources: (1) by the authority of Christ’s Holy Church; and (2) by the “inner seat of reasoning and judgment about moral matters” (xv). On account of both of these sources, More stood before the world-court with a formed conscience, a conscience that exercised “proper authority and reason’s discovery of the natural law” (xv). Indeed, he stood before the world-court with a strong conscience.

Thomas More appears as someone who demonstrated an unusual sense of wisdom in relation to law and the governance thereof. His unusual sense of wisdom in relation to such is most likely due to a few reasons. One reason is that More was associated with the Carthusian Order in his youth, and so he most likely participated in the monks’ spiritual exercises of meditation and prayer (xxxvii). He also most likely read St. Thomas Aquinas on the judgments of conscience: i.e., a three-fold exercise that More could use in conjunction with the Carthusian spiritual exercises. The three-fold division of the judgments of conscience includes:

“(1) The recognition that we have done or have not done something (in this regard, conscience is said to be a witness);
(2) the judgment that something should be done or should not be done (here conscience binds and incites us to some action); and
(3) the judgment that something is well done or ill done (thus conscience is said to excuse, accuse, or torment us).” (xv)

The first of these judgments of conscience may be known to many, to Christians in particular, as an “examination of conscience”. It is important to note that the first step of the judgments of conscience, (“the recognition that we have done or have not done something”), is not the same as steps two and three of the same. In steps two and three of the judgments of conscience, there is a judgment done to the conscience. As such, steps two and three of the judgments of conscience are not strictly identical to the recognition or examination of the judgment of conscience, also known here as step one of the judgments of conscience. Examining or recognizing one’s conscience is not a direct judgment upon one’s conscience, but rather merely only an examination or recognition of the conscience that may lead to formal judgment of the conscience. In other words, examination or recognition of the judgments of conscience is not in-itself a judgment of the conscience. It is, rather, a step in bearing out actual judgment upon the conscience. The judgments of conscience themselves are, on the other hand, a step-beyond only examination or recognition of the conscience or of the judgments of conscience, for the judgments of conscience bear down on the conscience, convicting it, accusing it, tormenting it, binding it, inciting it, and so on. So it is steps two and three of the judgments of conscience I am most concerned with here, for these are crucial in identifying the life of a Martyr and Saint; they are crucial in identifying the life of St. Thomas More.

In conclusion, we might all do well to transition from merely examining or recognizing the judgments of conscience to actually judging the conscience. This sort of exercise of the conscience is what Martyrs and Saints are made of. And if you “delight in the law of God in your inmost self”, perhaps you should make it your exercise too (Romans 7:22).

Lance H. Gracy serves as contributor and editor-in-chief of TheEruditePress. If you want to know more about him, check out the “About the Editor” page.

REFERENCES

All in-text citations found in:

Thornton, Varenne (Eds.) (2003). Saint Thomas More: Selected Writings. New York: Vintage Spiritual Classics. Print.

Citations from Holy Scripture according to the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).