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B. Preliminary remarks

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26 September 2005, 04:01 PM
B. Preliminary remarks
Metaphysics might sound like a scary word, conjuring up all sorts of images like psychic phenomena, the occult, or who knows what! Eeker Actually, it's an ancient and venerable branch of philosophy, studying the nature of beings and the relationships of beings to one another. A formal definition is, The branch of philosophy that examines the nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, substance and attribute, fact and value. But even that can sound pretty heavy, I'm sure.

So let's try this. Let's consider three realms of knowledge, which we will describe as follows:

A. Empirical science - what we can know about reality using the scientific method. This includes the "hard sciences" such as physics, chemistry and biology, and also some aspects of psychology and sociology.

B. Philosophy - pursuit of knowledge beyond what the empirical sciences can affirm. Conclusions, here, ought not conflict with what the empirical sciences. There are many branches of philosophy, including ethics, aesthetics and metaphysics.

C. Theology - literally, the study of God. Another common defintion is that it is reason reflecting on faith. Good theology doesn't conflict with good philosophy and sound scientific study.

When we speak of Christian metaphysics, then, we are referring to the study of the nature of things in the light of Christian revelation. In this sense, it is more theology than philosophy, for it avails itself of the truths of revelation in developing its reflections. It is nonetheless metaphysics, however, in that it sticks to the topic of being, and the relationships among beings.

It is unusual that there hasn't been more written about Christian metaphysics through the centuries. Indeed, there are hardly any books on the topic. Nevertheless, there are many who are interested in these kinds of issues, as evidenced by the sale of books and the proliferation of web sites on Eastern and New Age metaphysics. In this series, then, we will explore the interface between metaphysics and theology, with a special interest in how the latter informs our understanding of the former.

Questions and comments will be welcomed, on this and other threads.

Shalom. Phil
29 September 2005, 01:06 PM
I think one of the things that drew me to metaphysics was my curiosity about how everything is connected and what makes it all tick. You ever get in a conversation with a very curious child wherein one question led to the next, then to another and yet another, almost interminably? And they finally took you to the point where you'd say: "Go ask your Mom (or Dad, or teacher)!" or, perhaps: "Go look it up in the encylopedia (or at the library or, nowadays, on the Internet)!"

One thing such curiosity led to, in my case, was a passion for pigeonholing, for bookmarking, for categorizing, for organizing ... ... bits of knowledge. How is this related to that? And thus it is the human noosphere has been diced and sliced, whether by internet domains, the Dewey Decimal System or the list of academic disciplines at the local university. If you, in the least, have a fetish for such --- every idea having its place and every idea in its place ---, then you'll really enjoy metaphysics. In other words, if you are an Enneagram 5, doing metaphysics could be as great a weakness as it is a strength Eeker

All that said, and after so many years, I have made up my own grand schema of things. It doesn't correspond perfectly with others' categories but it works for me --- as far as pigeonholing goes. Why it differs from other schemes is part of metaphysics, itself. (More later, maybe).

I group things in a set of pigeonholes that, if they were a spreadsheet or matrix, would have four categories going across the top (the x-axis or horizontally) and four categories going down the side (the y-axis or vertically). This makes for sixteen little mailboxes in which to place various parcels of reality each day (to be read when others are counting sheep or if Letterman is otherwise unappealing that particular night).

Across the top, I place: A) Truth B) Beauty C) Goodness D) Love.

Down the side, I place: 1) Facts about different parts of reality 2) Rules about different parts of reality 3) Facts & Rules about the whole of reality 4) Human Responses to all of these facts and rules.

Of course, I have names for each of my sixteen mailboxes. One might have fun guessing what they are. I'll address them later. For that matter, one might have even more fun constructing their own mailboxes. I hope you have fun and I'll do my best to keep it fun (because, after all, who wants to play Post Office alone?).

Best, pax
02 October 2005, 08:05 PM
re: the mailboxes

Other names for the categories regarding

1) Facts - the descriptive sciences; the positivistic realm; the practical and theoretical and heuristic sciences

2) Rules - the normative sciences; the philosophic realm

3) Facts and Rules about the reality as a whole - metaphysics, ideologies, worldviews, theories of everything; the theistic realm

4) Human Responses - different conversions; the theotic realm

So, those categories might roughly correspond to Daniel Helminiak's realms of concern. The other categories in the matrix correspond to the divine attributes: a) truth, b) beauty and c) goodness ... ... and d) love.

None of this is hard and fast, but the pigeonholes would thus be:

1) facts
a) science
b) arts & humanities
c) law
d) relationships

and all of the above, so to speak, broadly conceived

2) rules
a) logic
b) aesthetics
c) ethics
d) politics

3) facts & rules - theories of everything
a) epistemological
b) cosmological & ontological
c) axiological
d) teleological

4) human responses (Lonergan)
a) intellectual conversion
b) affective conversion
c) moral conversion
d) social-political conversion

When religion informs our perspective:

3) facts & rules - theistic theories of everything
a) creed (doctrine, dogma)
b) cult (ritual)
c) code (law)
d) community

A quote from Thomas Merton's Sign of Jonas:

I wish I had gone into my study of theology with something more of the mind of St. Dominic. The thing I lack most is the outstanding Dominican characteristic of sharpness, definiteness, precision in theology. I admit that sometimes their precision is the fruit of oversimplification: but it is good anyway. The sharp contrast between the Dominican colors -- black and white -- is a good symbol of the Dominican mind which likes clear cut divisuions and distinctions.

A day later, in his journal, he wrote:
Sana doctrina! What an ideal! Clean and precise thinking --- sweeping the world clean of the dust of heresy and bad theology. I need that sana doctrina and it will not hurt me at all to realize that everyone who loves Truth is, in this world, called upon in some measure to defend it.

So, there are my oversimplifications ... and my measure of defense.

03 October 2005, 10:39 AM
Nice going, jb. I like your schema of things and am anxious to see how you think it resonates with the presentations I'm preparing, which, admittedly, draw upon insights from divine revelation. Your approach seems to focus on what one can affirm without recourse of revelation, and that's a very helpful comparison.

I wonder what you would think about the Catholic Encyclopedia essay on what we can affirm about the nature and attributes of God? They have a section on what we can know through natural reason and I found it helpful.
03 October 2005, 04:51 PM
Originally posted by Phil St. Romain:
I like your schema of things and am anxious to see how you think it resonates with the presentations I'm preparing, which, admittedly, draw upon insights from divine revelation. Your approach seems to focus on what one can affirm without recourse of revelation, and that's a very helpful comparison.

I very purposefully developed the schema without overt religious references in order to facilitate dialogue between all worldviews. The sixteen "mailboxes," formed by that matrix of divine attributes in relationship to the various foci of human concern, comprise a model of reality. Any given worldview should have a certain degree of modeling power of reality and necessarily competes with other worldviews in terms of modeling power. Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, here, let me unhesitatingly affirm that Revelation greatly enhances one's modeling power of reality, something your presentations will make very clear. As things unfold, we can discuss some of the criteria one can profitably employ in making such comparisons between the manifold competing worldviews (and these criteria can be categorized per the heuristic of these sixteen "mailboxes" to help us stay organized and think straight).

Originally posted by Phil St. Romain:
I wonder what you would think about the Catholic Encyclopedia essay on what we can affirm about the nature and attributes of God? They have a section on what we can know through natural reason and I found it helpful.

As with most Catholic Encyclopedia essays, I like that one, too. I am always amazed at the wisdom contained in these near century-old articles (drawn further from the medieval yet timeless philosophical insights of Aquinas and, even further back, from the early Church Fathers in the Patristic period!). Would you think it fair to suggest that, through natural reason, alone, one could pretty much confidently affirm the God of deism? Through revelation we encounter the intimate and merciful Abba, our Daddy? This is not to say that some might not otherwise properly hypothesize a loving God, or the metaphysical God of Duns Scotus, Who resembles the teilhardian Omega, Who required no felix culpa to effect the Incarnation. Still, for a universally compelling image of Our Father as loving and merciful, of the cosmos as friendly, Jesus is clearly Via, Veritas et Vita --- and, God knows, we are all sometimes tempted to doubt even that in our ongoing theodicy struggles.

pax, amor et bonum,
03 October 2005, 05:13 PM
Another quote from Thomas Merton:
In the short Prologue of St. Thomas Aquinas to his Summa Theologiae is a very beautiful paragraph containing a whole discipline of study: his three points are that students -- beginners, but it applies to all -- are impeded from arriving at truth by 1) the great number of useless questions, arguments and articles 2) the lack of order in the way doctrine is presented 3) repetition which produces confusion and boredom.

The Dominicans and Cistercians had at least this in common --- that they wanted to get rid of all non-essentials.

I can best relate to the need for order. I can even relate to the distinction between useless and useful questions and arguments. My biggest mea culpa in sharing my interests in metaphysics has been doing so without being both confusing and boring! I made some snide remark, just today, about Enneagram 2's not setting boundaries and my dear wife, self-described as a flaming 2, promptly pointed out that others of us have our own faults, too! And I readily admitted that one of my chief characteristics was being ... um ... ... uninteresting Razzer

Thus, aside from my pigeonholing fetish, we'll be leaning heavily on Phil's teaching charism Smiler

04 October 2005, 08:03 AM
Still in a preliminary remark mode, there are some general observations one can make regarding the difference(s) the Gospel makes in our vision of reality.

First, we might consider what the Good News does NOT address in those realms of the positivistic-descriptive sciences (facts) and philosophic-normative sciences (rules), or even rearding our various metaphysics and theories of everything. It doesn't tell scientists when to use Euclidean geometry or imaginary numbers, or Einsteinian or Newtonian physics, or how to best marry quantum mechanics and special relativity. It doesn't tell philosophers whether to be pragmatists or phenomenologists, platonists or aristoteleans, humean* (see note below) or kantian. It doesn't tell thomists whether to be analytical or transcendentalists, existentialists or personalists. It doesn't recommend thomism over scotism, for that matter. It doesn't tell metaphysicians what to use as a root metaphor, whether substance or process or experience or something else. It doesn't even tell us exactly how to do aesthetics or ethics or politics, how to write literature or practice law. It doesn't recommend socialism over communism over tribalism, democracy over a monarchy, or napoleonic code over common law.

The Good News DOES cloak all of reality with purpose, crowning creation in glory and humankind with dignity, affirming that we are precious and honored in God's sight and that His banner over us is love. The Good News does provide the lens of realism in these affirmations of reality. It affirms the cosmos as rational: humankind is intelligent and, furthermore, reality is intelligible. In our epistemologies, whatever they are, we must at the least be realists, which is only to say that we affirm that we really can know reality, however fallibly and partially. In our metaphysics, whatever they are, we must at least be realists, which is to suggest that our cosmologies and ontologies really do describe, however fallibly and partially, our ever-tightening grasp of reality. In our ethics and moralities, we must at the least be realists, which means we affirm that there really are objective laws and norms of behavior, however dynamic, that we can come to understand better and better. Whatever one's scientific or philosophical or metaphysical outlook, the Gospel affirms a critical realism, a metaphysical realism and a moral realism.

There is another type of realism, which is more related to the notion of being realistic, that can best be illustrated by the idea of political realism, which is also part of our Gospel tradition. Political realism is realistic in the sense that it recognizes both humankind's finitude and sinfulness. This is to say that, whatever our ideals and values may be, it is to be expected that, notwithstanding our origin and destiny in Love, we will fall short. Our immersion in finitude and sin, both our own and that of others, calls for a certain pastoral sensitivity, in other words, compassion. At the same time, our immersion in grace and mercy calls for a response, too, and a reasonable set of expectations regarding our journey of transformation through ongoing conversion, our responsibility to the Good News.

In conclusion, one doesn't really need to know a whole lot about the details of science or philosophy or metaphysics. One needn't be conversant with any of the terms I used to describe the manifold and varied approaches of science and philosophy in the above-paragraph that spoke to the issue of what the Good News does not address (sigh of relief). As a Christian, even without knowing all of the nuances and details of scientific advances and philosophic musing, one can expect that any scientist, philosopher, metaphysician or ethicist, claiming to be rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, will be a realist: epistemologically, metaphysically, morally and politically, because, whatever your stance toward Coca Cola, Jesus is THE REAL THING, what the world needs today!

pax, amor et bonum,

Note: The Gospel does make each of our 16 little hermeneutical mailboxes a holon of sorts, all containing and reflecting the whole of reality in an interaction of truth and beauty and goodness and love. We do, therefore, reject the naturalistic fallacy, the notion that one cannot get from is to ought, from the given to the normative, from the descriptive to the prescriptive, or what have you. So, as for the *humean approach ... well, it's very problematical to me (to put it mildly).
04 October 2005, 11:07 AM
Would you think it fair to suggest that, through natural reason, alone, one could pretty much confidently affirm the God of deism? Through revelation we encounter the intimate and merciful Abba, our Daddy? . . .

You're just going to love the first session . . . if you don't end up writing it yourself on this thread, that is. Wink

I think your post above also points up some of the contributions of revelation in helping to form our vision of reality. I'll be taking that approach more than comparing various worldviews. This thread would be a good one to pursue that topic, however, and it might be helpful to do so. Let's see what kind of interest we find, there.
04 October 2005, 03:43 PM
Originally posted by Phil St. Romain:
I think your post above also points up some of the contributions of revelation in helping to form our vision of reality. I'll be taking that approach more than comparing various worldviews.

For some, it can be useful to compare worldviews, using other perspectives as a foil and dialogue as a tool, to deepen one's understanding and appreciation of one's own. In my experience, however, most people get along quite well without having to rack their brains over such things. I think your approach will be quite enriching and very stimulating just as you've planned it. Smiler
05 October 2005, 07:46 AM
My name is Naomi Stone, and I am in the Alpha Group, which to me means that I never stop learning and never stop listening....and hopefully, I never stop loving and never stop creating. I am open to all that is God, anywhere, everywhere, within, without, and I am energized and captured by a metaphysical God that interacts with us.

The details of my life seem unimportant before the contemplation of God.

The idea that anyone would take on this kind of study and discussion delights me. You are a brave soul, Phil. You have learned the delicate art of sharing what is known without preaching and inviting us to think and feel with you as you go. I commend you. I rarely find people with my ongoing hunger and thirst for God in all His manifestations. I no longer look for theological answers, but I do find human consolation in SHARING and LIVING the questions....and as Rilke day living into the answers with others. Perhaps we can plan a Trinitarian Feast Day to celebrate the wonders we have been given.

Naomi (ns)

This message has been edited. Last edited by: Naomi,
13 October 2005, 09:45 PM
Just sticking this here for possible discussion later, metaphysically speaking Eeker

By Philip Pullella
Thu Oct 13, 9:00 AM ET

It was the first day of school, so some students were understandably nervous. But then again, they were not taking just any course, but one run by a Vatican university to teach aspiring demonologists and exorcists.

"There is no doubt that the devil is intervening more in the life of man these days," Father Paolo Scarafoni told the students, most of them priests who want to learn how to tackle the demon if they should ever encounter him.

"Not all of you will become exorcists but it is indispensable that every priest knows how to discern between demonic possession and psychological problems," he said.

The four-month course, called "Exorcism and the Prayer of Liberation," is being offered for the second year by Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University on Rome's outskirts.

The about 120 students from around the world will hear lectures on topics such as the pastoral, spiritual, theological, liturgical, medical, legal and criminological aspects of Satanism and demonic possession.

One planned lecture is called: "Problems related to exorcism and correlated issues."

One priest, who asked not to be identified, said he decided to take the course after a "very unsettling experience" while hearing the confession of one young member of his parish.

"Her voice changed, her face was transformed and she started speaking in a language that she did not know," he said. "I've met people who are suffering from this problem and it is not as rare as we might imagine."

So, will he be ready to wrestle with demons of the kind who may have possessed his parishioner in the confessional box?

"If, after this course, my superiors decide that it will be useful for me to become an exorcist, I will do it," he said.


Interest in the devil and the occult has been boosted by films such as this year's "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," and last year's "Exorcist: The Beginning," which was the sequel to the original "The Exorcist" in 1973.

But forget the films. The students will have several real-life and well known exorcists to teach them.

One is Father Gabriele Nanni, who attended Thursday's opening class and spoke to Reuters during a break.

"First thing is the priest has to know if the devil is at work in a person or if the problem is somewhere else," he said.

Nanni said there are four sure signs that pointed to demonic possession rather than psychological problems.

He listed them as:

"When someone speaks or understands languages they normally do not; when their physical strength is disproportionate to their body size or age; when they are suddenly knowledgeable about occult practices; when they have a physical aversion to sacred things, such as the communion host or prayers".

According to some estimates, as many as 5,000 people are thought to be members of Satanic cults in Italy with 17-to 25-year-olds making up three quarters of them.

In 1999, the Vatican updated its ritual for exorcism.

It starts with prayers, a blessing and sprinkling of holy water, the laying on of hands on the possessed, and the making of the sign of the cross.

The formula begins: "I order you, Satan..." It goes on to denounce Satan as "prince of this world" and "enemy of human salvation". It ends: "Go back, Satan."