Tag: Theology

A fragmentary reading on emergent notions: seraphic love and affectio iustitiae

Recently I submitted an article to a journal on eco-phenomenology and how eco-phenomenology satisfies the intentions of ecological concern. For this blog post, I thought it would be good to establish a reference point for developing my thoughts on a slightly different subject: eco-theology. On that note, it seems appropriate to discuss two notions—seraphic love and affectio iustitiae—emerging from my eco-phenomenology.

Not to give too much background, but my eco-phenomenology presents Francis of Assisi as the prime mediator (or intermediator) in service of new imagination vis cogitativa, whose actions afford us with satisfaction of ecological concern—i.e., satisfaction of the estimative power. (In this context, the estimative power is that which, by the limitation of its very nature, oppresses creatures). The visionary-love of the seraphic[1] that Francis underwent was, and is, that from which one acts-in-care for the integral good of creation. Indeed, an application of the principle of seraphic love is demonstration of care [fürsorge][2]–a hospitalization—of the souls of all creatures. And applying this principle to the appropriate degree results in satisfaction of the needs of the estimative power.

Pope Francis describes (romantically though not naively so), what an application of the principle of seraphic love looks like:

Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, [S. Francis] burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them ‘to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason.’ His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. His disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister.’” Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behaviour.[3]

In this passage, Pope Francis issues forth a specific sense of what seraphic love is as an important principle of eco-phenomenology: i.e., “[A]n integral ecology…for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human.”[4] Somewhat paradoxically, “categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology” are not categories of transcendental phenomenology, “the unknowable,” or something else. They are, rather, categories of openness in an intermediary form of life. By virtue of its openness, the actions of the intermediary send-forth an image of right-relationship that governs other forms of life, and it does this through application of particular matters toward universal notions—for example, the particular matter of gratitude toward the universal notion of social love. Enlivened by the splendor shining-forth from particular acts of gratitude unique to its own essence, the light of the intermediary illumines thus small and great things like; intelligent and dumb things, alike.

How do we attain to such light?

Seraphic love manifests via complete reception of stigmata. “Stigmata” refers, theologically, to the five crucifixion points, or wounds, of Christ’s passion: hands, feet, and side pierced by the lancea (cf. John 19:34). More specifically, it refers to a recipient taking-onthe crucifixion wounds of Christ through a process of stigmatization. Sander Vloebergs’ exploration of stigmatization presents an “inclusive” Dominican definition of stigmata as “evidence of suffering undergone in the attempt to follow Christ.”[5] According to Vloebergs, some consider S. Francis’s stigmatization as “the most famous and influential case” of serving as “the exemplar model [of] the Stigmatized, the alter Christus,” but not everyone thinks so.[6] According to Vloebergs, skepticism concerning the stigmata of Francis deals with whether the physical wounds of the stigmata were present well before his death, or not. Vloebergs presents his findings within the context of the “ambiguity between outer miracle and inner mysticism.” What is relevant here is the reception of stigmata as importantly involving the invisible nature of seraphic love, and this I term a seraphic spirit of mind.

Seraphic love as seraphic spirit of mind originates from Bonaventure’s account of S. Francis’s seraphic vision atop a Mt. Alvernia. A fragment of it reads:

This [seraphic] vision had been presented to his eyes by Divine Providence, that the friend of Christ might know that he was to be transformed into Christ crucified, not by the martyrdom of the flesh, but by the fire of the spirit.[7]

Francis is said to have received a complete reception of stigmata, visible and invisible. And in accounting for the invisible nature of it, we look to the spiritual degrees of Francis’s seraphic vision, represented by the apparition of living angelic beings, having “six wings, all on fire.” In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the role of “the seraphim” is parallel to the role of the cherubim, who are depicted as sword-bearers of God’s fiery-justice (cf. Genesis 3:24). As to what the identity of the seraphim most closely resembles,Jewish scholarship suggests “the flying fiery serpent” in the Book of Isaiah (14:29-30), which reads as follows:

Do not rejoice…that the rod that struck you is broken, for from the root of the snake will come forth an adder, and its fruit will be a flying fiery serpent. The firstborn of the poor will graze, and the needy lie down in safety; but I will make your root die of famine, and your remnant I will kill.[8]

The mythos of this passage is peculiar, particularly the seraphic spiritas “the fruit of the adder.” What could this mean? Perhaps seraphic spiritis a biting-spirit of love through which one’s passions are melded to conform to Christ-crucified, “not by the martyrdom of the flesh, but by the fire of the spirit.” The seraphic adjoining a host (in this case, S. Francis) inflames its user with a “complete conflagration of mind.”[9] The process of conflagration (i.e., the process of the fire of the spirit) is likened unto a wildfire burning and destroying the impurities of a person (cf. 1 Peter 1:6-7; Psalm 66:10). The wildfire stokes an affection for justice as it indwells the will to act righteously, in purity. The signs of wildfire in the mind of a person, or as Vloebergs might say the signs of “eternal desire” in the mind of a person, fashions an individual in virtue. In other words, the perfection of virtue results from an indwelling process of seraphic spirit. Moreover, the intention of Christ’s passion is an arming of the mind and body to “no longer [be] bound by human desires but by the will of God” (cf. 1 Peter 4:1-2). Arriving at the intentions of this passion begins with the burning away of human desire, marked by impressions of mind. When the invisible nature of stigmata is fully present in the mind, the visible nature of it may begin to manifest; for, as “God is spirit,” the spirit incarnates (cf. John 4:24). So, the invisible nature of stigmata is the presence of mental signs of God’s intention toward us in our passion, and this culminates in a complete reception, a complete incarnation, of the love of God. But we must exercise cooperation with the seraphic spirit of mind to get there.

The will’s exercise of the signs of wildfire are an exercise of what Duns Scotus calls affectio iustitiae (i.e., “affection for justice”). The affectio iustitiae is a moderatrix “restraining or moderating” the lesser passions of the intellective (or sensitive) appetites in a free will.[10] The will without this moderatrix is a will engrossed in lower passions (i.e., the “affection for advantage” or the affectio commodi); or, perhaps engrossed too much in higher passions (e.g., intellectualism). Such a will is not totally free according. According to Duns Scotus:

If, along the lines of Anselm’s thought experiment in On the Fall of the Devil, one imagines an angel that had the affectio commodi and not the affectio iustitiae—i.e., one that had intellective appetite merely as that sort of appetite and not as free—such an angel could not refrain from willing advantageous things or from willing them in the highest [detrimental] degree…that affectio iustitiae…is the innate liberty of the will.[11]

The affection for justice serves the objective of justice. “Justice,” as Duns Scotus and others have it, is “rectitude of will for its own sake [and] has to do with another.”[12] As justice is desired, an “affection for justice” (affectio iustitiae) is required to develop rectitude of will necessary for the carrying-out of justice. Undergoing the complete conflagration of mind is likened unto practicing or exercising the affectio iustitiae. One possible way to practice moderating the passions, then, is to exercise the vis cogitativa with respect to moderation. According to theologian James Keating, exercising it to moderation involves a union of intellect and heart in holiness that abnegates popular imagination for new imagination.[13] One thing seems clear about the usefulness of the abnegation of popular imagination, and that is that an act of holy union might well be contrary to political activism. This would be beneficial for eco-theology because, unlike forms of political activism, exercise of affectio iustitiae restrains the will in order to act in-rectitude for its own sake and, at the same time, for another’s ultimate, immediate good.[14] The suggestion here is that acting-for the intentions of ecological concern should not be relegated to the political sphere but to some divine sphere. By “divine sphere” we mean that which one is habituated to practice, recognize, and discern the charisms of one’s life to deeper revelation and mystery. The charisms of one’s life may include evangelical poverty, penance, charity, grace, peace, humility, and others. Such a divine sphere would emanate from one’s detachment of earthly things to “things above” (Colossians 3:2). The practitioner, by being disposed the mind set on things above, would become a seraphic practitioner, through which social love is enacted, in justice, for the integral good of creation.

So much then for thoughts on eco-theology.


Bonaventure (1868). The Life of St. Francis of Assisi. Edward, Henry (ed.). London. [Online]. Available: http://www.saintsbooks.net/books/St.%20Bonaventure%20-%20The%20Life%20of%20St.%20Francis%20of%20Assisi.pdf. (June 2020).

Duns Scotus, John (1997). “God’s Justice,” in Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality. Part IV, 183-194. Frank, William (ed.). D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press. Print.

Heidegger, Martin (2008). Being and Time. Macquarrie & Robinson (trans.). US: Harper & Row Publishers. Translated from the German Sein und Zeit (7th ed.) Neomarius Verlag, Tūbingen. Print.

Hirsch & Benzinger (2011). “Seraphim” in Jewish Encyclopedia,Available: jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13437-seraphim. (Spring 2020).

Keating, James (2015). The Heart of the Diaconate: Communion with the Servant Mysteries of Christ. NY: Paulist Press. Print.

Mcginn, Bernard (2006). The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism. NY: Modern Library. Print.

Pope Francis (2015). “Ecological Education and Spirituality” in Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home. Vatican City. [Online]. Available: w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.pdf#page=58. (Spring 2020).

Williams, Thomas (2003). “From Metaethics to Action Theory” in The Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus. Williams (ed.). UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 332-351, print.

Vloebergs, Sander (2016). “Wounding love: a mystical-theological exploration of stigmatization,” in the International Journal of Philosophy and Theology,vol. 2: 1-2. Doi: 10.1080/21692327.2016.1199968.

[1] cf. Bonaventure, The Biography of St. Francis, 163-165. The “visionary-love of the seraphic” is another way of considering the integrated product, the singular act, of S. Francis’s “seraphic vision” atop Mt. La Verna.

[2] Heidegger, Being and Time, I.2, ¶12:57. “Being towards the world [Sein zur Welt] is essentially concern” (84).

[3] Francis, Laudato si’, no. 11

[4] Ibid.

[5] Vloebergs, “Wounding love,” 3-5

[6] Ibid.

[7] Bonaventure, The Life of St. Francis of Assisi, 162-164.

[8] cf. Hirsch and Benzinger, “Seraphim.”

[9] Mcginn, Christian Mysticism, 249

[10] Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus, 343-346

[11] Ibid., 346

[12] Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality, 183-184

[13] Keating, Heart of the Diaconate, 40-42

[14] cf. Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality, 183-184

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/

Reflections of Season & Saint: Christmas and the Feast of St. Stephen

When I was young, I didn’t enjoy Christmas time much. Like many kids, receiving gifts, soaking in whatever feelings of nostalgia and comfort, and (and this could probably go without saying) having time off from school, were all things quite welcomed by me. But other things that I assume a lot of people cherish about the Christmas season (e.g., family time, merry-making, etc.), just didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. I did have a vague or obscure sense of the uniqueness of the Christmas season when I was young, but having a deep realization of the true spirit of Christmas required a lot more interior formation.

The Advent season is a time for disclosure and new spiritual birth. It’s a time during which God reveals Himself in flesh, in substance — to a degree so real and concrete that to escape it would be to escape a holy fate. Advent is a time of prophecy and revelation; new imagination replacing old; and a relative assurance of things to come, whether solemn or happy. There’s joy, fire, love, peace; there’s a looking-back, a looking-in, and a looking-forward. Following the festivities of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with my wife and daughter (and our little child who’s on the way!), I awoke this morning, the 26th, to a certain realization about Christmas. On this, the Feast Day of St. Stephen, there is a powerful reminder of the Advent season that serves to evince the true spirit of Christmas.

On December 26th, just one day after Christmas, the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Stephen, protomartyr and deacon. Traditionally, it’s said that St. Stephen was the first martyr (hence: protomartyr) in the Church and one of the first seven ordained by the Apostles to diaconate (cf. Acts vi-vii). Due to injustices committed against Hellenists in the Christian community in Jerusalem, the Apostles (who were too busy to manage the disputes of the community themselves), selected among them seven men, who were “full of Spirit and of wisdom”, to be ordained as deacons (vi, 1-3). Through the “laying-on of hands” bestowed upon these seven men by the Apostles, the ecclesial order of the diaconate was established (vi, 6). Stephen, a holy and highly influential one among these seven men, was known in Jerusalem for his teachings, which aroused and incited the anger and vitriol of the local Jews. They had him arrested. At the time of his arrest, it’s written that the Sanhedrin saw that St. Stephen’s face was “like the face of angel” (cf. vi, 15). And in a rousing testimony of faith before the Sanhedrin and local Jewish community, St. Stephen presented his apologia (a reasoned defense of the Christian faith per the oracles and cultural history of the Jewish crowd before him) with a cutting persuasive power — so much so that Stephen was to be stoned to death (cf. vii). Just before being put to death, St. Stephen gazed into heaven and, in seeing the glory of God, declared “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (vi, 56). Surely: December 26th is a marvelous feast day for a marvelous saint, martyr and deacon. But our question here is: What on earth does all this have to do with the true spirit of Christmas?

I’ve been in a serious state of growth and development over the past few years. (“Growing pains” is a popular phrase, but it hasn’t lost its bearing for me!). My inner-transformations, my perpetual conversions and my return to the heart of Jesus, has all been a concentrated focus with two words at its center: charity and the poor. These two words have been my focus partly because of the considerable amount of time I’ve spent reading Deacon James Keating’s The Heart of the Diaconate (a great little book) and The Deacon Reader (a book containing numerous different articles by different authors). Both books deal with the subject of the diaconate, which is, to put it deeper into an ecclesial context, a term suggesting what the ministry of the deacon is — that is, diakonia, “service.” A deacon is an ordained clergyman in the ecclesial hierarchy of the Church. At the top of the hierarchy: bishops; in the middle: priests; at the bottom: deacons. As an ordained clergyman, the deacon has the Sacrament of Holy Orders; therefore, they’re impressed with an indelible mark of ordination. For deacons in particular, this mark is an indelible mark of Christ the Servant, who “came not to be served, but to serve” (Mk x, 45). The diaconate then is an order or assembly of those called to the service or ministry of the deacon, which is three-fold: Word, Charity and Liturgy. Deacons minister the Word, for they proclaim the Gospel and, with the faculty of preaching, serve as homilists for the edification and growth of their fellow Christians. Deacons also administer Charity, for they’re responsible for carrying out charitable services on behalf of the Church, which includes visiting the lonely and the widowed, feeding the poor, reaching out to those imprisoned, managing the Church’s finances responsibly, and so forth. Lastly, deacons assist the priest liturgically, for they distribute Holy Communion, administer baptism, perform last rites, proclaim the Gospel, and so forth. Deacons are the ordinary ministers of ecclesial functions that Catholic Christians might do in exceptional circumstances. But the difference between the two is in who the deacon is; with their special and indelible mark of ordination, the deacon is a living icon to the Church and the World. The purpose of the deacon — as St. Lawrence, the deacon par excellence, suggests to us — is “obedience unto death” for the sake of the true treasures of the Church: the poor (Philip ii, 8).

Bl. Isaac of Stella defined charity as “the reason why anything should be done or left undone, changed or left unchanged; it is the initial principle and the end to which all things should be directed” (cf. fn.). If this isn’t a sufficient definition of charity, take the Apostle’s words to heart: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal vi, 2). The meaning of “the poor” is appreciated in a similar vein of thought — not as something having a spiritual meaning separate from an economic reality, but rather as something having a spiritual and economic reality, that, while distinct, are in no way separate from each other. This truth indicates that charity, while distinct from the poor, is absolutely inextricable from the poor and thus inextricable from the security of eternal salvation; for, as we read in the Gospel of Matthew concerning the Final Judgment, to greatly lack love for the poor — the “least of these”, the “poorest of the poor” — is to be met-with the fierce and righteous judgment of God (cf. Matt xxv). And so it is charity for the poor, even unto this great holy magnitude, that makes Christmas real; because love for the poor guides what we say, think or do with respect to our vindication before a Holy and Almighty God, it must be that this positive and benevolent guidance, this heart of charity for the poor, of God, reveals to us the true spirit of the Heart of God, which is, namely, Christmas.

What I’ve come to realize is that without a heart beating with charity for the poor, Christmas is less than what it can be, and less than what it should be, too. Imagine Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: notice the merry tidings, the gaiety, the ghost-like scenes and images of holly and wine, cheer and second-chances, family and renewal — all of this is nothing without charity for the poor. Without charity for the poor, the true spirit of Christmas amounts to an exercise of the vain, superficial, consumeristic and gross. Without a charitable spirit full of love for the poor, the doings of Christmas resound like the “clanging cymbal” of a clock tower or a Church steeple (1 Cor xiii, 1). Charity for the poor empowers one with the sacramental grace necessary to enjoy the hallmarks of the Christmas season — merry-making, family time, and much more. May we all be empowered to perform spiritual and corporal works of mercy for the poor. May we all allow individual almsgiving for the poor to be a mighty weapon of the real, holy and true spirit of Christmas. Charity for the poor evangelizes the evangelized. It is an evangelical counsel, after all. And, in fact, charity for the poor might be one of the last things capable of effecting serious change. Let’s hope so.

Pray for us, St. Lawrence!

For further reading:

cf. http://www.liturgies.net/Liturgies/Catholic/loh/week5saturdayor.htm for quote by Bl. Isaac of Stella in the Liturgy of Hours Office of Readings.

Keating, James (2015). The Heart of the Diaconate: Communion with the Servant Mysteries of Christ. NY: Paulist Press. Print.

(2006). The Deacon Reader. Keating, James (ed.). NY: Paulist Press. Print.

Day of the Flaming Heart

Sunday is a day when I especially feel like feasting; I often enjoy partaking in the banquet of life. Because a meal of simple bread and wine becomes divine, this day always looks promising. And Oh!–How the day is even more glorious on the radiant feast of Pentecost. It ignites a burner under my heart! The Spirit’s sweet food and drink transforms my simple being. 

On this particular Sunday red flames consume me; I am on fire with the body and blood of Christ. His soul and divinity starts a passion of love that arises within the deepest recess of my soul. The singing of The Gloria even sounds more glorious than usual. I promise God my day’s praises. In this day, he grants me glory. 

My newly flaming heart’s flames grow higher as the feasting continues. Our family receives an abundant harvest of chicken wings and beer as we dine at a local restaurant. The celebration must go on, after all. My husband and I enjoy the restaurant’s bar-like atmosphere in holiness as we reminisce over our encounters with religious devotees and the homeless. We agree that the poor beggar is in fact the rich one–that is, if you consider his spirit.

The cheerful weather seems to be especially designated to us this Sunday, a kind of “unspoken rule of nature” found most pleasing to my soul. Along with the feast of the Holy Spirit comes the radiant sun. This day is a simple and satisfying one. The celebration imbued with a powerful love, making this typical time of rest and recuperation also adventurous and eventful in many subtle ways.

For me, there have been other Sundays both personal and unprecedented in memory. These are only ever surpassed by grander and more glorious occasions of another weekend, ripe with a holy mass, being with family, and continuously celebrating the crossing paths of our extended family–the other members of the human race.

Sundays are my favorite days because they push the reset button on my worn and wearied path once again. My heart loves and longs for these days of blissful excitement and simplicity. It sings about seeing and hearing the sights and sounds of beautiful creation in a city of culture and nature. We are out of our typical surroundings. 

Perhaps the glorious amount of sunshine is responsible for my sheer joy in these moments. It is true that the rays give a boost of warmth and brightness to relax my body from a previous week. Or, can it be that my gladness comes from the kind of rays that are made of love–all from God’s heart, to my family, to me?

On a summer day whose flaming heat matches my flaming heart, I think so.

Elizabeth Gracy is a wife, mother & writer. Her interests include developing as a Montessori educator, growing in her Carmelite spirituality, and caring for the needs of her family. She has a degree in Speech Pathology and attended Texas A&M’s Master of Public Health program.

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].


  • 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.


[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