Papist Orthodoxy

June 16, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — Antiochian-Thomist @ 7:03 pm

Currently under the process of updating some pages. Will publish more posts in the near future. Thank you visiting.

December 5, 2009


Filed under: History, Liturgy — Tags: , — Antiochian-Thomist @ 10:48 am

From OrthodoxWiki.



Our father among the saints Nicholas of Myra, Wonder-worker, was the archbishop of Myra in southern Asia Minor in the fourth century. While widely honored and venerated […] throughout most Christian groups, little is known historically of the life of Nicholas. He is known to have been archbishop of Myra and he may have participated in the Council of Nicea in 325. In addition to being honored as the patron saint of many countries, notably Greece and Russia, and of cities, he is the patron of many occupational groups, most notably of sea-farers. St Nicholas is commemorated by the Church on December 6, and also on May 9 (The transfer of his relics) and on July 29 (his nativity).

By tradition, Nicholas born in the province of Lycia in the southern part of Asia Minor in the city of Patara to well-to-do parents. The date of his birth is not known. Having inherited his parents’ estate, he became known for his generous gifts to those in need. As a youth, he made pilgrimages to Palestine and Egypt. He was subsequently consecrated Archbishop of Myra as the fourth century began. He was imprisoned during the persecutions of Diocletian and released by Constantine after his ascension to emperor. Nicholas was noted for his defense of Orthodoxy against the Arians. He is reputed to have been present at the Council of Nicea, [some accounts say he struck Arius in the face for spouting heresy] but his name does not appear among any documents from that era. He died in Myra on December 6 in a year uncertain, but between 342 and 352.

Many of the details of his life that we have appeared during medieval times. St. Methodius, Patriarch of Constantinople, in the middle of the ninth century produced a life of Nicholas in which he noted that the life of Nicholas was unknown to most of the Christians of the time, thus indicating his composition was probably based mainly on legend. Methodius noted that Nicholas was raised well by pious and well-to-do parents and related how Nicholas contributed from his inheritance the dowry for three daughters of a citizen of Patara who had lost all his money. [hence his patronage, also, of unwed ladies]

His feast was being celebrated by the time of St. Justinian two centuries after his death. After Methodius’ life of Nicholas became available, Nicholas was acclaimed and honored throughout Europe and especially in Italy. When Myra was captured by the Saracens in 1034, many Italian cities planned to “rescue” his relics. In 1087, forces from Bari, Italy, attacked Myra and carried away his relics from the lawful Greek guardians in Myra to Bari where they were enshrined in a new church. His fame increased. The story of his rescue of sailors in the Aegean Sea during his lifetime established him as the patron of mariners. His popularity in Russia rose to the point that almost all churches had some sort of shrine honoring St. Nicholas.

In time his fame in northern Europe as a saintly bishop began changing to that of a giver of gifts to children, usually done on December 6. As immigrants from the Germanic and Nordic lands settled in the United States the image of St. Nicholas, or “Sinterklaas,” as he is known among the Dutch, slowly changed to that of “Santa Claus” with little tie to the spirituality of Christianity.

December 4, 2009

St. Peter Chrysologus (4 Dec. – Roman Calendar)

Filed under: History, Liturgy — Tags: , , , — Antiochian-Thomist @ 9:34 pm

From the Catholic Encyclopedia


Born at Imola, 406; died there, 450. His biography, first written by Agnellus (Liber pontificalis ecclesiæ Ravennatis) in the ninth century, gives but scanty information about him. He was baptised, educated, and ordained deacon by Cornelius, Bishop of Imola, and was elevated to the Bishopric of Ravenna in 433. There are indications that Ravenna held the rank of metropolitan before this time. His piety and zeal won for him universal admiration, and his oratory merited for him the name Chrysologus. He shared the confidence of Leo the Great and enjoyed the patronage of the Empress Galla Placidia. After his condemnation by the Synod of Constantinople (448), the Monophysite Eutyches endeavoured to win the support of Peter, but without success.

A collection of his homilies, numbering 176, was made by Felix, Bishop of Ravenna (707-17). Some are interpolations, and several other homilies known to be written by the saint are included in other collections under different names. They are in a great measure explanatory of Biblical texts and are brief and concise. He has explained beautifully the mystery of the Incarnation, the heresies of Arius and Eutyches, and the Apostles’ Creed, and he dedicated a series of homilies to the Blessed Virgin and St. John the Baptist. His works were first edited by Agapitus Vicentinus (Bologna, 1534), and later by D. Mita (Bolonga, 1634), and S. Pauli (Venice, 1775) — the latter collection having been reprinted in P.L., LII. Fr. Liverani (“Spicilegium Liberianum”), Florence, 1863, 125 seq.) edited nine new homilies and published from manuscripts in Italian libraries different readings of several other sermons. Several homilies were translated into German by M. Held (Kempten, 1874).

St. Sabbas the Sanctified (5 Dec – Byzantine Calendars)

Filed under: History, Liturgy — Tags: , , — Antiochian-Thomist @ 6:51 pm

From OrthodoxWiki.


The Venerable Sabbas the Sanctified was a Palestinian monastic who is credited with composing the first monastic rule of church services, the so-called “Jerusalem Typikon”. He was a staunch opponent of the heretical Monophysites and Origenist movements. His feast day is on December 5.

He was born in Mutalaska, near Caesarea in Cappadocia of pious Christian parents, John and Sophia, during the year 439. His father was a military commander. Traveling to Alexandria on military matters, his wife went with him, but they left their five-year-old son in the care of an uncle. When the boy reached eight years of age, he entered the monastery of St. Flavian located nearby. The gifted child quickly learned to read and became an expert on the Holy Scriptures. In vain did his parents urge St. Sabbas to return to the world and enter into marriage.

When he was seventeen years old he received monastic tonsure, and attained such perfection in fasting and prayer that he was given the gift of wonderworking. In 456, after spending ten years at the monastery of St. Flavian, he traveled to Jerusalem, and from there to the monastery of St. Euthymius the Great (January 20). But St. Euthymius sent St. Sabbas to Abba Theoctistus, the head of a nearby monastery that practiced a strict cenobitic rule. St. Sabbas lived in obedience at this monastery until the age of thirty.

After the death of the Elder Theoctistus, his successor blessed St. Sabbas to seclude himself in a cave. On Saturdays, however, he left his hermitage and came to the monastery, where he participated in divine services and ate with the brethren. After a certain time St. Sabbas received permission not to leave his hermitage at all, and he struggled in the cave for five years.

St. Euthymius attentively directed the life of the young monk, and seeing his spiritual maturity, he began to take him to the Rouba wilderness with him. They set out on January 14, and remained there until Palm Sunday. St. Euthymius called St. Sabbas a child-elder, and encouraged him to grow in the monastic virtues.

When St. Euthymius fell asleep in the Lord (+473), St Sabbas withdrew from the Lavra and moved to a cave near the monastery of St. Gerasimus of Jordan (March 4). In 478, he moved to a cave on the cliffs of the Kedron Gorge southeast of Jerusalem. His hermitage formed the foundation of the monastery later named after him (Lavra Mar Saba) and known in ancient sources as the Great Lavra. After several years, disciples began to gather around St. Sabbas, seeking the monastic life. As the number of monks increased, the lavra came into being. When a pillar of fire appeared before St. Sabbas as he was walking, he found a spacious cave in the form of a church.

In 491, Patriarch Salustius of Jerusalem ordained him a priest. In 494, the patriarch named St. Sabbas the archimandrite of all the monasteries in Palestine.

St. Sabbas founded several other monasteries. Many miracles took place through the prayers of St. Sabbas: at the Lavra: a spring of water welled up, during a time of drought, there was abundant rain, and there were also healings of the sick and the demoniacs. St. Sabbas composed the first monastic Rule of church services, the so-called “Jerusalem Typikon”, that became accepted by all the Palestine monasteries. St. Sabbas died in his lavra on December 5, 532 and is buried in a tomb in the courtyard between two ancient churches in the midst of the remnant of the great Lavra Mar Saba monastery. His relics had been taken to Italy in the twelfth century by Crusaders, but were returned to the monastery by Pope Paul VI in 1965 in a goodwill gesture toward the Orthodox.

St. Sabbas championed the Orthodox cause against the monophysite and Origenist movements of his day, personally calling upon the Roman emperors in Constantinople, Anastasius in 511 and Justinian in 531, to influence them in opposing the heretical movements.

December 3, 2009

The Risk of Education

Filed under: Education — Antiochian-Thomist @ 5:40 pm

Excerpt from an article written by Fr. Dwight Longenecker.

The complete article can be found at


If the educator accompanies the student as he verifies the truth, then a new perspective is opened up on the educational process. In a Catholic school, the mission becomes not simply to produce good examination results to get students into good colleges. Neither is the sole purpose simply to produce “good Catholics” who learn to “pray, pay, and obey.”


Instead, every subject is taught with the critical instinct fully engaged. The reasonableness and necessity of every subject is verified, and the students are truly educated rather than simply given facts. When an entire school embraces the vision of “verifying the truth,” the students are given an overarching principle of education that enables them to draw together the different strands of education and experience in order to prepare them for life’s adventure.


Engaging the critical instinct in education also brings teenagers into a higher level of responsibility. If he is simply learning facts, the student is not taking responsibility for his learning. But if he is engaging the critical instinct, he is automatically responsible for what he learns. As this becomes a habitual way of responding to his world, the student learns in a most natural way how to apply this critical instinct to every other aspect of life, and so learns to take responsibility for his thoughts, words, and actions.

November 30, 2009

Why Most High School Students Hate Math

Filed under: Education — Tags: , , — Antiochian-Thomist @ 6:45 pm


The denial of axioms, those first principles that are either self evident or derived from a higher science, has led to an utter separation of the mathematical arts from the linguistic arts in the general liberal arts to the detriment of both general fields of study. This process began with force with the reformulation of the ancient order of the mathematical arts beginning with the reconsideration of the classical geometry of Euclid. Once the primacy of Euclid was destroyed and geometry seen in a new light of symbolic signs from which new and further abstractions could be gleaned, the mathematical arts further developed which gave rise to the new primacies of the algebras and calculus. Though the new primacies are not necessarily to be lamented in themselves, the preoccupation with the manipulation of numbers, variables, and other symbols abstracted from nearly all intelligible realities has led the mathematical arts into an isolated world with minimal contact and sharing with the world of the linguistic arts.


The classical geometry of Euclid had a multitude of benefits which contributed to its long reign as the basic mathematical art. Firstly, it proceeded from indemonstrable first principles which were (and are) self-evident, and, thus, common to many arts and sciences. Common notions such as “the whole is greater than the part” or “things which are equal to the same thing are also equal to each other”1 were the bedrock principles upon which Euclid’s geometry was based. Secondly, the fundamental geometric realities that were the considerations of classical geometry were and are immediately abstracted from the natural, material world. Thus the concepts of magnitude, square, circle, and triangle, once the varying qualities of matter were left behind, could be considered in their perfections. Thus this conceptual art was eminently intelligible to the intellect as its conceptual realties were immediately abstracted from nature and its proofs were based on arguments that proceeded from self-evident first principles.

While its intelligibility was without question, certain aspects of the classical geometry underwent further development especially in the realm of abstraction. The proofs, although well argued, possessed an inefficiency of expression that could be “streamlined” if further abstractions were performed. Further, with these additional abstractions, alternate considerations could be applied to the signified magnitudes that were not able to be performed previously, viz. arithmetic operations. Many, including the likes of Dr. Otto Bird, assert that René Descartes pioneered this consideration. In Descartes’ work, The Geometry, he asserts:

“Any problem in geometry can be reduced to such terms that a knowledge of the lengths of certain straight lines is sufficient for its construction. Just as arithmetic consists of only four or five operations, namely, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and the extraction of roots…so in geometry, to find required lines it is merely necessary to add or subtract other lines.”2

In short, Descartes takes a magnitude and reduces it to a unity which serves to be the measure of other magnitudes. Geometric magnitudes, then, are reduced to numbers. This is done by way of assigning letters to the magnitudes themselves and then performing an arithmetic operation. With this assertion, many claim, came the dawn of analytic geometry and the birth of the Cartesian coordinate system3 and the subordination of geometry to algebra as all geometric realities become a relation of numbers, with numbers themselves as expressed as variables, and not magnitudes, becoming the principle object of consideration. It is for this reason Dr. Bird says:

“Since all the variable letters in our equation represent numbers the geometric line is no longer anything that need be done geometrically; it can be done with numbers. So lines, curves, figures, solids and their relations can all be determined by equations which ultimately are but variable expressions for numbers. Thus Euclid’s Pythagorean Theorem4 proven as a relation between the sides of a triangle, and squares erected on them can now be stated, as we saw, much more simply as A2 + B2 = C2, where at issue is a matter of numbers even though they may also be taken as the lengths of the sides of the triangle. The arithmetical algebraic expression is admittedly more abstract than the corresponding geometric expressions, but it is simpler and easier to work with. Geometry has been arithmetized.”5

In addition to the additional abstraction applied to geometry further removing the signs from the original signification, mathematicians like Descartes established a new precedent by beginning their works not from axioms or any principle from a higher science but from postulates. Granted, Euclid worked from postulates as well, but not exclusively. Rather, he proceeded from postulates stemming from axioms and definitions thus rooting his art and argument in principles that require not blind ascent but common, rational experience. Further, Galileo and Newton also proceeded from axiomatic principles, but their era saw the dawn of arts that posited their own principles that defied scrutiny from other arts and sciences. Other developments in the mathematical arts certainly contributed to the replacement of geometry as the basic mathematical art, but non so much as the first introduction to numeric abstractions and the abandonment of axiomatic principles.


With new primacies came new considerations. With old boundaries removed, so went many of the old obstacles. With the advent of variable numeric representation came the reconciliation, or rather the “ever approaching reconciliation”, of that which was formerly believed to be utterly irreconcilable: the curve with the straight and the discreet with the continuous. The efforts of Copernicus, Kepler, Brahe, Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Bonola, etc. allowed for curved realities to be given representation with discreet alphanumeric signification. Naturally, this called the necessity of the traditional mathematical arts as the principle mathematical arts of consideration into question, or, at least, called them into question insofar as how they were considered. Music and astronomy as the principle arts of ratios and mobile magnitudes respectively were replaced by more universal and abstract algebraic understanding of ratios and more universal applications of calculus to mobile beings in general. As stated before, these developments are not necessarily to be lamented insofar as they are productive of more profound knowledge of realities, whether they be concrete or conceptual. But the arts, or, rather, their proponents did not stop there.

Coupled with the abandonment of the scholastic understanding of the universe and its causes, including the disavowal of traditional metaphysics and theology, mathematics took on a new import which it previously did not enjoy and consequently affected its study insofar as its import was concerned. Theology and philosophy were no longer the highest sciences. With the sloughing of the scholastic world-view, the essence of things, natures as such, were no longer the most sought after knowledge for the means to know natures were abandoned. Instead, that which was most knowable to man became the most sublime to him: quantity. As a result, mathematics ascended to primacy among the sciences, a status it enjoys to this day. Let us return again to Descartes and his peers:

“Since the only known natural sciences with some degree of systematic coherence were astronomy and mechanics, and the key to the understanding of mechanics and astronomy was mathematics, mathematics became the most important means to understanding the universe. Moreover, mathematics with its convincing statements was itself the brilliant example that truth could be found in science. The mechanistic philosophy of this period thus came to a conclusion that was similar to that of the Platonists, but for a different reason. Platonists, believing in the harmony of the universe, and Cartesians, believing in a general method based on reason, both found in mathematics the queen of the sciences.”6

This new pedestal upon which mathematics was placed perpetuated infatuations that exacerbated its abstract nature and considerations. Abstractions and their manipulations themselves became the primary concern in many circles resulting in a “science of symbols” where often the symbols themselves were abstracted from any meaning whatsoever. Weber, Frege, and Peano were pioneers in this filed. As bizarre as this may sound its effects were far reaching, the evidence of which can be seen in most high school math textbooks to this day, much to the chagrin and consternation of many a high school student. Struik notes it well:

“…Algebra changed its ancient character. Instead of merely encompassing the theory of algebraic equations and the associated theory of invariants and covariants, it became the abstract doctrine of today with its rings, fields, ideals, and related concepts. One of the origins of the newer algebra was the development of group theory from Galois theory of algebraic equations into an abstract theory in its own right, especially in the theory of finite groups, thus setting a model for the transformation of algebra as a whole.”7

As history has shown, those arts which enjoyed primacy, if not in reality then by popular acclamation, subordinated others arts and often attempted to subsume them to themselves. Advocates of mathematics were no different. The venerable art of logic was the target for this attempted annexation with the most poignant attempts by the likes of Russel, Whitehead, Cantor, and Frege. Logic itself became the target of abstract symbols for its signification with the imposition of symbolic logic with its two subcategories, propositional and predicate. The attempt as noted by both Struik8 and Bird9 ultimately failed but the efforts persisted. The effects are still seen today in texts and graduate institutions that insist upon teaching symbolic logic in their philosophical programs.


Mathematics has abandoned the axiomatic system. This was the first and most fundamental break which has led to other divisions between the mathematical and linguistic arts. Without self-evident first principles, how can real knowledge be had? What relation then exists between the linguistic arts which are eminently grounded in reality and an art which seeks not sound and indemonstrable principles? Can mathematics now claim what it once could as expressed in the mouth of Dr. Bird?

“In fact it’s no exaggeration to claim that mathematics has provided the clearest and most explicit instance of reason, of reason itself at work, of reason reasoning, in its development of the axiomatic method. The earliest and most extensive use of this method is to be found in the thirteen books of Euclid’s Elements.


In denying that there aren’t any self-evident axioms these people are denying that there are any axioms in the old sense as principles distinct from postulates, with the result that the two words have come to be used interchangeably. In any case, an axiomatic system is one that begins from certain indemonstrable principles from which certain other propositions can be deduced as conclusions. “10

Ironically, the attempt to bridge the gap between the linguistic and mathematical arts by attempting a pure mathematics that could be propositionally inferred from earlier principles only served to broaden the chasm between the two general arts. The attempt at reducing logic to a branch of mathematics was intrinsically an attempt at reducing all sciences to the jurisdiction of mathematics –sciences that had concerns over and above that which was quantifiable. As a result, symbolic logic has been relatively ineffectual in the other arts (including philosophy in spite of its persistence) and has only enjoyed any real and lasting effects in mathematical logic. Instead of subsuming logic, mathematics, or rather mathematicians, developed its own language of logic apart from the linguistic arts. But this was not always the case with mathematics and logic. As Dr. Bird points out so well:

“…It is better to retain the old understanding of logic as the study of the principles that assure the validity of inference, and that its laws are those of the laws of the other sciences. Logic is thus the science of sciences, as Aristotle called it, or the art of arts, as Saint Thomas called it.


Mathematics since the time of its development by the ancient Greeks has always been prized for the power and beauty of its reasoning, and indeed for its ability to form and train the faculty of reasoning itself. As long as Euclid was studied as the basic introductory work to mathematics, Euclid’s geometry provided the basic training for the logic of argument. It provided the basic understanding of what a proof is and the means of constructing and establishing a proof. “11

The former complementarity enjoyed by the trivium and quadrivium through the cooperation of geometry and logic has died. If logic is found to be taught at all in schools, it is done so independent from geometry when this would never have been the case in ancient or medieval education. Hence we have one clear rift between the mathematical and linguistic arts.

Finally, a rift exists between mathematics and reality. Due to the aforementioned obsession with the manipulation of abstractions without any reference to that which is meant to be quantified, mathematics, at least in the general sense of the liberal arts as found in high school and undergraduate institutions, is practically divorced from all reality, concrete or conceptual, since it has become a “science of symbols” meant to arbitrarily signify anything in general or nothing in particular. The ancient considerations of mathematics, whether it was geometry, algebra, or calculus, though abstracted, abstracted from that which was real and considered that which was real. This was true for Euclid’s Elements, Apollonius’s Conic Sections, Ptolemy’s Almagest, Galileo’s Two New Sciences, Descartes’ Geometry, or Newton’s Principia. Now, reference to the real which was once found in the ancient quadrivium can often be more readily found in the more advanced and specialized mathematics proper to certain vocations –not to education in general. The linguistic arts have not suffered this problem; thus the widening between the linguistic and mathematical arts.


1. Bird, Otto, Ph. D. “The Mathematical Arts of the Quadrivium II”, a lecture given for the International Catholic University and Holy Apostles College & Seminary for the course, “Liberal Arts: Their History & Philosophy”, 2005.

2. Euclid. The Elements of Geometry, Thomas Health (translator), Dover Publications, New York. 1956.

3. Descartes, Rene. The Geometry, David Smith & Marcia Latham (translators), Dover Publications, New York. 1954.

4. Struik, Dirk J. A Concise History of Mathematics, fourth edition, Dover Publications, New York. 1987.

1Euclid. Elements of Geometry, Book I, Common Notions 1 and 5.

2Descartes, René. The Geometry, Book I

3Struik, D. A Concise History of Mathematics, pp. 96-99. Struik points out that many others that preceded Descartes used what could be considered a numeric coordinate system, including the likes of Apollonius of Perga, Ptolemy, and Oresme. Nonetheless, he does not deny that Descartes work was of the greatest influence on coordinate systems and analytic geometry.

4Euclid. Elements of Geometry, Book I, Proposition 47

5Bird, Otto, Ph. D. “The Mathematical Arts of the Quadrivium II”, a lecture given for the International Catholic University and Holy Apostles College & Seminary, 2005.

6Struik, D. A Concise History of Mathematics, Chapter VI, Section 3

7ibid. Chapter IX, Section 6

8ibid. Chapter IX, Section 7

9Bird, Otto, Ph. D. “The Mathematical Arts of the Quadrivium II”

10 ibid.

11 ibid.

Analogy in St. Thomas’ Philosophy

Filed under: Philosophy, Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Antiochian-Thomist @ 1:55 am

Philosophy, the love of wisdom, is a general title covering many particular disciplines which should lead its practitioners to the knowledge of the highest things from a human perspective. From the proper Christian perspective, it should culminate in and serve as a handmaid to theology for true knowledge and wisdom culminates in its highest, first, and final cause which is God. One difficulty man encounters is that he cannot know God as He knows Himself. Man must proceed from God’s effects, viz. the created material order. Even with divine revelation, that same revelation is put in the words of human language, the tongues of men. Thus it was also for the Incarnation of the Word and His redemption of mankind. Christ spoke by similitude, using analogy and parables to instruct man about God. But the infinite God is beyond the powers of the finite intellects of men. Therefore we can only get to God by a likening of Him to His effects. As all men are meant to know God in some way, to philosophize in a meaningful manner requires man to use analogy, likening the highest object of our inquiries, God, to His effects, the sensible order. Thus it was for the Common Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas. Thomas rooted his philosophy in the common, sensible, and named experiences of men rendering it accessible to everyone, and by use of analogy, unified his philosophy into an integrated whole which brought man from the his common, sensible experiences to the highest considerations of things divine.

Aristotle distinguishes between things named equivocally and univocally.1 Equivocal terms are terms which have more than one meaning, these meanings themselves having no apparent relation to each other. Univocal terms carry its meaning throughout its various uses. St. Thomas, in view of the end for which he wrote, refined Aristotle’s distinctions by employing analogous terms, terms which have more than one meaning, those meanings having some sort of relation to each other by way of comparison. D.Q. McInerny sums it up well when he says:

An analogous term might be described as a hybrid between a univocal term and an equivocal term. Analogous terminology, and behind that analogous thinking, is based upon the act of comparison, which is one of the most elemental movements in human reasoning.2

So it was that the Common Doctor, in seeking to keep an accessible consistency in his philosophy, employed analogous terms drawing comparisons between the sensible order, that order which is first known to man, and its cause – God. In order to illustrate this claim more clearly, let us look at St. Thomas’ considerations of “act” and “potency”.

In the De Potentia of the Disputed Questions, St. Thomas first asserts that one cannot consider act apart from potency for the terms are correlated. By way of a similitude, it would be difficult to consider “up” apart from “down”. Then, Thomas considers act as twofold: 1) as form, and 2) as operation. The first is first absolutely, but the second is first by our sensible experience:

I answer that to make the point at issue clear we must observe that we speak of power in relation to act. Now act is twofold; the first act which is a form, and the second act which is operation. Seemingly the word ‘act’ was first universally employed in the sense of operation, and then, secondly, transferred to indicate the form, inasmuch as the form is the principle and end of operation.3

So he begins with the sense experience wherein man sees ‘act’ as an operation – something doing something. The formal aspect of ‘act’ received its nomenclature from the operation even though the form as the principle of the operation is the cause of that operation. St. Thomas asserts that the term was literally “carried over” or “transferred” (translatum). Thus the first meaning or understanding of the term ‘act’, viz. its operation, was stretched, as it were, to encompass the cause of the operation, viz. the form, for the cause is related to the effect, the form is related to the operation. Now we have a term that has multiple but related meanings as we proceed “up”.

But before Thomas proceeds up, he proceeds “across”, for his next consideration is potency or power. He draw a similitude (similiter) with act and asserts that potentia is twofold as well drawing a direct relation with the respective twofold consideration of actus. Immediately following upon the above quotation, St. Thomas goes on to say:

Wherefore in like manner power is twofold: active power corresponding to that act which is operation—and seemingly it was in this sense that the word ‘power’ was first employed:— and passive power, corresponding to the first act or the form,—to which seemingly the name of power was subsequently given.4

Thus what was first attributed to actus by experience was similarly first attributed to potentia. If a thing acts, it follows that it has the power to act. This potency, to distinguish it, was give the appellation, “active potency” (potentia activa). Likewise, as the term, actus, was ‘transfered’ to encompass the cause which is the form, so the term, potentia, was transferred to encompass that sufferable or perfectible aspect of the form and was entitled, “passive potency” (potentia passiva). Whence it is that, by way of example, Orville the pianist can become the better pianist.5 Therefore, that which is prior absolutely received its name from its effect or operation.

This series of ‘stretching’ or ‘transferring’ from the action to the principle of action by way of analogy must find a termination; and so it does in the first act. However, as St. Thomas ascends he must begin a series of negations by which those things which cannot be attributed to God’s nature must be sloughed. As we see in Thomas’ arguments for the existence of God, that which is “able to be” must be brought into being by that which is (in act) already.6 And as God cannot suffer change and as He must be perfect, He cannot admit of a passive potency. We see how he argues this in the second part of his corpus of the same question we have been treating thus far:

Now, just as nothing suffers save by reason of a passive power, so nothing acts except by reason of the first act, namely the form. For it has been stated that this first act is so called from action. Now God is act both pure and primary, wherefore it is most befitting to him to act and communicate his likeness to other things: and consequently active power is most becoming to him: since power is called active forasmuch as it is a principle of action.7

An operation can only occur because of the form, i.e. an act can only be performed by something in act. But as we ascend up the material order to God, we must negate that passive power, for God cannot suffer or be perfected because He is perfect in Himself. Therefore, God has not passive potency but active potency, for though He cannot suffer, He is able to perform or not perform operations as He is the first principle of action.

Thomas explores this consideration of negation further to solidify and unify his argument, and he also takes the time to note the human need for analogous terminology:

We must also observe that our mind strives to describe God as a most perfect being. And seeing that it is unable to get at him save by likening him to his effects, while it fails to find any creature so supremely perfect as to be wholly devoid of imperfection, consequently it endeavours to describe him as possessing the various perfections it discovers in creatures, although each of those perfections is in some way at fault, yet so as to remove, from God whatever imperfection is connected with them.8

In short, we can only know God through his effects and name him analogously. As we believe and endeavor to describe Him as perfect, our attributions are imperfect, for no human term can adequately describe God; even our positive assertions ultimately fail. To illustrate this, the Common Doctor goes on the give the example of “being”, “substance”, and “subsistence”. “Being” describes something as complete but without the notion of “subsistence”. The term, “substance”, denotes subsistence but as also the subject of something else. Yet we still ascribe “being” and “substance” to God. We do this because our first experience with beings and substance are in the sensible order of creation. As we proceed up and as we carry over or transfer terms, we negate aspects that would be erroneous to attribute to God. Thus, though we see being as simple but inhering in something, when we speak of God, we keep the notion of simplicity as we slough the notion of inherence. Likewise, when we speak of substance as attributed to God, we keep the notion of that continuing or persisting existence while sloughing the notion of “standing under” as individual of a species or as species of a genus.9 With this illustration, St. Thomas goes on to conclude his arguments regarding act and potency in respects to God thusly:

In like manner we ascribe to God operation by reason of its being the ultimate perfection, not by reason of that into which operation passes. And we attribute power to God by reason of that which is permanent and is the principle of power, and not by reason of that which is made complete by operation.

To restate, after we have seen His effects in the created order, we ascribe operation and power, act and (active) potency, to God but not as they are exhibited in His effects, but by abstracting from the material order and negating any imperfections associated with the terms. Thus, by way of analogous naming, St. Thomas has taken us from our sensible experiences and our common usage of terms and, while preserving and expanding those terms, brought us to a better understanding of God, however indirect.

This is just one illustration of many of how the Common Doctor proceeds from effect to cause using fundamental knowledge of the material order to considerations of divine things. St. Thomas uses analogy throughout his whole philosophical system, and in so doing, unites it together into an integrated whole that proceeds from common experience and nomenclature. Truly, he could not do otherwise. Equivocal terminology would not advance knowledge as various definitions of one term are unrelated. Univocal terminology would be just as unsuccessful, for the one-to-one relation of definition to term could not apply in every circumstance, especially when treating of God. God and nature are not a computer programs which can be discerned by way of language bricks, those univocal terms which seem only to work as technical terminology in the mechanical arts. The relation cannot be one-to-one, lest we say that God is being without subsistence, or that He is a substance that is the subject of something else. Nonetheless, if philosophy is properly undertaken, it should lead us to God as from effect to cause. St. Thomas’ use of analogous terminology in his philosophy allows us to do this. The Common Doctor gives an example of the veracity of St. Paul’s declaration:

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.10


The text in Latin of the De Potentia used for this essay.

From Question 1, article 1, corpus.

Respondeo. Ad huius quaestionis evidentiam sciendum, quod potentia dicitur ab actu: actus autem est duplex: scilicet primus, qui est forma; et secundus, qui est operatio: et sicut videtur ex communi hominum intellectu, nomen actus primo fuit attributum operationi: sic enim quasi omnes intelligunt actum; secundo autem exinde fuit translatum ad formam, in quantum forma est principium operationis et finis. Unde et similiter duplex est potentia: una activa cui respondet actus, qui est operatio; et huic primo nomen potentiae videtur fuisse attributum: alia est potentia passiva, cui respondet actus primus, qui est forma, ad quam similiter videtur secundario nomen potentiae devolutum. Sicut autem nihil patitur nisi ratione potentiae passivae, ita nihil agit nisi ratione actus primi, qui est forma. Dictum est enim, quod ad ipsum primo nomen actus ex actione devenit. Deo autem convenit esse actum purum et primum; unde ipsi convenit maxime agere, et suam similitudinem in alias diffundere, et ideo ei maxime convenit potentia activa; nam potentia activa dicitur secundum quod est principium actionis. Sed et sciendum, quod intellectus noster Deum exprimere nititur sicut aliquid perfectissimum. Et quia in ipsum devenire non potest nisi ex effectuum similitudine; neque in creaturis invenit aliquid summe perfectum quod omnino imperfectione careat: ideo ex diversis perfectionibus in creaturis repertis, ipsum nititur designare, quamvis cuilibet illarum perfectionum aliquid desit; ita tamen quod quidquid alicui istarum perfectionum imperfectionis adiungitur, totum a Deo amoveatur. Verbi gratia esse significat aliquid completum et simplex sed non subsistens; substantia autem aliquid subsistens significat sed alii subiectum. Ponimus ergo in Deo substantiam et esse, sed substantiam ratione subsistentiae non ratione substandi; esse vero ratione simplicitatis et complementi, non ratione inhaerentiae, qua alteri inhaeret. Et similiter attribuimus Deo operationem ratione ultimi complementi, non ratione eius in quod operatio transit. Potentiam vero attribuimus ratione eius quod permanet et quod est principium eius, non ratione eius quod per operationem completur.


Aquinas, St. Thomas. Quaestiones disputatae de potentia dei. Corpus Thomisticum, Universidad de Navarra, Fundación Tomás de Aquino. 2006

_______. Quaestiones disputatae de potentia dei. translated by the English Dominican Fathers, Westminster, Maryland: The Newman Press, 1952, reprint of 1932, Html edition by Joseph Kenny, O.P.

Aristotle. Categories. H.P. Cooke (translator), Loeb Classical Library, Campbridge, Massachusetts; London, England: Harvard University Press, 1949 & 1996.

McInerny, D.Q. The Philosophy of Nature. Lincoln, Nebraska: Alquin Press, 2001.

McInerny, Ralph. “Analogy”. The third lecture for the course, “Introduction to Thomas Aquinas”, given by Dr. McInerny for the International Catholic University (Notre Dame, Indiana) working in conjunction with Holy Apostles College & Seminary (Cromwell, Connecticut), 2002.

1Aristotle. Categories, 1a, 1-10

2D.Q. McInerny. The Philosophy of Nature, chapter 3, p. 80.

3St. Thomas Aquinas. De Potentia, q.1, a.1, co.


5Dr. Ralph McInerny. “Analogy”. The third lecture for the course, “Introduction to Thomas Aquinas”, given by Dr. McInerny for the International Catholic University working in conjunction with Holy Apostles College & Seminary (2002).

6St. Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologiae, I, q.2, a.3, co.

7St. Thomas Aquinas. De Potentia, q.1, a.1, co.



10Romans. 1:19-20

November 5, 2009

The American Way of Abandonment

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , , — Antiochian-Thomist @ 1:06 am

by Patrick Buchanan

from Chronicles Magazine

When America is about to throw an ally to the wolves, we follow an established ritual. We discover that the man we supported was never really morally fit to be a friend or partner of the United States.

When Chiang Kai-shek, who fought the Japanese for four years before Pearl Harbor, began losing to Mao’s Communists, we did not blame ourselves for being a faithless ally, we blamed him. He was incompetent; he was corrupt.

We did not lose China. He did.

When Buddhist monks began immolating themselves in South Vietnam, the cry went up: President Diem, once hailed as the “George Washington of his country,” was a dictator, a Catholic autocrat in a Buddhist nation, who had lost touch with his people.

And so, word went out from the White House to the generals. Get rid of Diem, and you get his power and U.S. support. Three weeks before JFK was assassinated, Diem and his brother met the same fate.

When the establishment wished to be rid of a war into which it had plunged this country, suddenly it was “the corrupt and dictatorial Thieu-Ky regime” in Saigon that was simply not worth defending.

Lon Nol, our man in Phnom Penh, got the same treatment.

“In this world it is often dangerous to be an enemy of the United States, but to be a friend is fatal,” said Henry Kissinger.


Newt, Sarah, and a New GOP

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , , — Antiochian-Thomist @ 12:58 am

by Pat Buchanan

from Chronicles Magazine

“Sometimes party loyalty asks too much,” said JFK.

For Sarah Palin, party loyalty in New York’s 23rd congressional district asks too much. Going rogue, Palin endorsed Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman over Republican Dede Scozzafava.

On Oct. 1, Scozzafava was leading. Today, she trails Democrat Bill Owens and is only a few points ahead of Hoffman, as Empire State conservatives defect to vote their principles, not their party.

Newt Gingrich stayed on the reservation, endorsing Scozzafava, who is pro-choice and pro-gay rights, and hauls water for the unions.

Scourged by the right, Newt accused conservatives of going over the hill in the battle to save the republic, just to get a buzz on. “If we are in the business about feeling good about ourselves while our country gets crushed, then I probably made the wrong decision.” How Scozzafava would prevent America’s being “crushed” was unexplained.

The 23rd recalls a famous Senate race 40 years ago. Rep. Charles Goodell was picked by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller to fill the seat of Robert Kennedy in 1968. To hold onto it, Goodell swerved sharp left, emerging as an upstate Xerox copy of Jacob Javits, the most liberal Republican in the Senate.

In 1970, Goodell got both the GOP and Liberal Party nominations, and faced liberal Democrat Richard Ottinger. This left a huge vacuum into which Conservative Party candidate James Buckley, brother of William F., smartly moved.

Assessing the field, the Nixon White House concluded that, with liberals split, Goodell could not win. But Buckley might. Signals were flashed north that loyalty to the president was not inconsistent with voting for Buckley. To send the signal in the clear, Vice President Agnew described Charlie Goodell to a New Orleans newspaper as “the Christine Jorgensen of the Republican Party.”

The former George Jorgensen, Christine had undergone the most radical sex-change operation in recorded history.

Liberals went berserk, calling on New Yorkers to rally to Goodell, who began surging, at Ottinger’s expense. Buckley scooted between them both to win. Hoffman may also. But even if he does not, Palin, a conservative of the heart, did the right thing.

And the GOP has been sent a necessary message.


November 4, 2009

The Great Adventure

Filed under: Education, Sacred Scripture and Theology — Tags: — Antiochian-Thomist @ 9:14 pm

This post does not necessarily constitute an endorsement of the featured product. I am just calling it to the attention of those who wish to potentially profit more from the study of Sacred Scripture. I invite those who read this blog to review the product and offer their opinions in the comment box for this blog-post. Thank you and I look forward to reading your opinions. There is potential for interesting discussion.


From the website for “The Great Adventure”

The Great Adventure is a Catholic Bible learning system that makes the complex simple by teaching the story (the narrative) of the Bible. Every day, more and more people are encountering God’s Word through the methods taught in The Great Adventure.
Jeff Cavins developed The Great Adventure in 1984 when he realized that most people, despite their strong faith, did not grasp the big picture of the Bible. Though they knew selected stories, they were not able to connect them into a full narrative. His answer was to identify the books of the Bible that tell the story from beginning to end. By reading just these 14 narrative books, a chronological story emerges.
From this idea grew the immensely popular Bible Timeline program, which teaches the story in a way that is easy to remember and helps people to continue reading Scripture on their own. Hundreds of thousands of Catholics have learned to read the Bible through this system, which provides a solid foundation for all other reading and study.
Since the creation of The Bible Timeline, The Great Adventure has grown into a remarkable system designed to give the average Catholic a solid foundation for a lifetime of Bible reading. Parishes around the world are finding renewed faith and increased involvement among parishioners whose lives have been changed by this exciting study series.


“I am impressed with the methodology and growth of The Great Adventure: A Journey Through the Bible. The canonical approach that The Great Adventure employs is a marvelous way to introduce the faithful to salvation history. When Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium are all brought together in study the result is a clearer picture of God’s will, resulting in a road map for living. The Great Adventure, being faithful to Dei Verbum (the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on Divine Revelation), is bearing much fruit in the Church today and contributing to a stronger, more informed laity.”

–Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., Archbishop of Chicago

“I have seen real change in many of my parishioners. They have not only learned about the ‘big picture’ that contextualizes salvation history, but they’ve gained practical insights into walking with the Lord and learning to trust Him. If every parish did this program, we’d see a true revolution in the Church.”

–Rev. Tomi Thomas, St. Matthew Catholic Church, Norwalk, CT

“Wondering whether a twenty-four week course would work, I started The Bible Timeline in the parish. A solid group of about twenty-five stayed with it for the whole time. I myself got a great deal from it; for the first time I have a grasp of the chronological aspect of the story of salvation. The same group followed through with Matthew. This was a more in-depth, probing study that touched everyone’s heart. We are looking forward to the study of Acts and Revelation next year. I consider The Great Adventure to be one of the most important contributions I have made to the parish, a legacy I leave my successor after my retirement soon.”

–Msgr. Charles Quinn, St. Stanislaus, Pleasant Valley, NY

November 3, 2009


Filed under: domestic church, Liturgy, Sacred Scripture and Theology — Tags: , , , — Antiochian-Thomist @ 12:56 am

According to Christians of the East, both Catholic and Orthodox, the Domestic Church is the Christian family comprising the smallest unit of the Christian community based upon the dictates of Our Lord as found in St. Matthew’s Gospel (18:20): “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Based on this, logic clearly shows that essentially the Christian home is the gathering of two or more people because of and in the name of Christ. As the smallest extant example of the Church, it has in its microcosm the same general duties of, let’s say, a parish church: worship, Christian fellowship, charity, education in the faith, growth in virtue, evangelism, hospitality and works of mercy.

It is here that the notion of the “universal call to religious life” is to be understood. Too often Christians misinterpret this “universal call” as a universal call to some version of monasticism or priestly (ministerial) life, as if this is all that comprises what is “religious” or what is Christian. The laity, by this mindset, are relegated to something that has to be tolerated — as a group that should show up and shut up — “pay, pray, and obey” — for the laity are “weak” since they did not follow the “universal call” but instead accepted the barely tolerable state of the lay, family life. This attitude is regularly conveyed if not outright spoken. This attitude, my friends, is nothing short of CLERICALISM and is condemned by the Church. In spite of the efforts of various Popes going back to Bl. Pius IX to curtail this error, it seems that many Catholics embrace this attitude and dub it as “traditional”. “Traditional” because of what –it’s antiquity? Heresy is ancient too.

Further, some of my friends and I have been told that we must have a vocation to the ministerial priesthood because we pray, read the Bible, and go the Divine Liturgy/Mass regularly. The normal has become mistaken for the extraordinary (and folks, I’ll be the first to admit that I could afford to spend more time praying — so in this I do not feel I even meet what should be the “norm”), and the universal call of the Christian is mistaken for the special call to the ordained life. Fulfilling the basic norms of the Christian, whatever his state, is not a sign of a special calling to the priesthood or monastic life.

The universal call to the religious life is nothing more than what is fulfilled in a loving and devout Christian home, the Domestic Church: worship, Christian fellowship, charity, education in the faith, growth in virtue, evangelism, hospitality and works of mercy. St. Benedict, the Father of Western Monasticism, even says that the Christian home, too, is to be “a school for the Lord’s service”. We are ALL called to the religious life; however, NOT ALL  are called to be monks and nuns. Yes, shocking as it may be to some…marriage is a VOCATION and a SACRAMENT.

The universal call to the religious life is best exemplified in prayer; and in the Domestic Church, it is the prayer of the family. What prayer? Which prayers? Well, any really; but if you want to “bring the Church home”, as it were, then bring the prayer of the Church home as best epitomized in the liturgies. The most ancient practice of this, both East and West, was the praying of the psalter as a family around the house shrine, the icon corner, the home altar.  St. Hippolytus as far back as the second century makes reference to its common practice among the laity. The psalter, the Divine Office or the Liturgy of the Hours as it is more commonly referred to today, is the official liturgical prayer of the Church, second ONLY to the Divine Liturgy/Mass due to its sacred origins. The Psalms are divine poetry composed by God through human instrumentality and directed back to God. Who better to praise God than God? Who better to instruct in Wisdom and show us the prophecies than God? So, instead of the smorgasborg of personal, private devotions for one’s morning and night prayers, why not pray Prime or Lauds for morning prayer and Vespers or Compline for night prayer? Why not pray it as a family? This is the Devotio Antiqua. If you do this, then those artificial distinctions between “lay spiritualities” and “monastic spiritualities” and “clerical spiritualities” disappear, for the spirituality simply becomes a scriptural and liturgical spirtuality — the spirituality of the Apostolic Fathers, the Desert Fathers, and the Fathers of the Church.

Yes, be a religious, for we are all called to pray and perform works of mercy. Some of us are even called to be monks, nuns, and priests.

A Transfigured Faith?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Antiochian-Thomist @ 12:22 am

In the late summer of this year, I made a retreat at the Melkite monastic foundation of Our Lady of Solitude Cloister & Retreat in Warren Center, PA. At the end of the retreat, Rev. Hieromonk Angelus, superior of the foundation, asked me to compose an article for the Melkite Eparchy of Newton’s journal, Sophia, touching upon my retreat and the feast with which it coincided: the Transfiguration of the Lord. I did as he requested and the results are here: the article was published this month and a copy of it can be read on-line. If you are so interested, you  can find the article HERE. The piece is entitled, “A Transfigured Faith?” and can be found on page 18. If you like it or are edified by it, then praise be to God. If not, all I can do is apologize.


Festal Icon for the Transfiguration of the Lord


Chapel and Festal Icon

The Retreatant's Chapel (Left) and the Festal Icon (Right)


The Retreatant's Cabin

October 29, 2009


Filed under: Doctrine, Sacred Scripture and Theology — Tags: , , , — Antiochian-Thomist @ 10:53 pm

A priest at the seminary for the Fraternity of St. Peter said to me, “Families are the future of the Church.” Fr. Berg, the Superior General of the Fraternity of St. Peter, said on the same day that all that the seminary does is to refine in a few years what the families have been doing for 18+ years — that the families did all the real or hard work. I say, “God bless them both for their kind acknowledgement.”

However, to rephrase what these priests said, all formation begins in the Domestic Church — the Christian hearth & home. It is in the Domestic Church where we are (or should be) principally formed. Let us look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church and see what it has to say about this [and I mean the current edition].

From the Vatican website.


1655 Christ chose to be born and grow up in the bosom of the holy family of Joseph and Mary. The Church is nothing other than “the family of God.” From the beginning, the core of the Church was often constituted by those who had become believers “together with all [their] household.”164 When they were converted, they desired that “their whole household” should also be saved.165 These families who became believers were islands of Christian life in an unbelieving world.

1656 In our own time, in a world often alien and even hostile to faith, believing families are of primary importance as centers of living, radiant faith. For this reason the Second Vatican Council, using an ancient expression, calls the family the Ecclesia domestica.166 It is in the bosom of the family that parents are “by word and example . . . the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children. They should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each child, fostering with special care any religious vocation.”167

1657 It is here that the father of the family, the mother, children, and all members of the family exercise the priesthood of the baptized in a privileged way “by the reception of the sacraments, prayer and thanksgiving, the witness of a holy life, and self-denial and active charity.”168 Thus the home is the first school of Christian life and “a school for human enrichment.”169 Here one learns endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love, generous – even repeated – forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one’s life.

1658 We must also remember the great number of single persons who, because of the particular circumstances in which they have to live – often not of their choosing – are especially close to Jesus’ heart and therefore deserve the special affection and active solicitude of the Church, especially of pastors. Many remain without a human family often due to conditions of poverty. Some live their situation in the spirit of the Beatitudes, serving God and neighbor in exemplary fashion. The doors of homes, the “domestic churches,” and of the great family which is the Church must be open to all of them. “No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who ‘labor and are heavy laden.'”170


1659 St. Paul said: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church. . . . This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church” (Eph 5:25, 32).

1660 The marriage covenant, by which a man and a woman form with each other an intimate communion of life and love, has been founded and endowed with its own special laws by the Creator. By its very nature it is ordered to the good of the couple, as well as to the generation and education of children. Christ the Lord raised marriage between the baptized to the dignity of a sacrament (cf. CIC, can. 1055 # 1; cf. GS 48 # 1).

1661 The sacrament of Matrimony signifies the union of Christ and the Church. It gives spouses the grace to love each other with the love with which Christ has loved his Church; the grace of the sacrament thus perfects the human love of the spouses, strengthens their indissoluble unity, and sanctifies them on the way to eternal life (cf. Council of Trent: DS 1799).

1662 Marriage is based on the consent of the contracting parties, that is, on their will to give themselves, each to the other, mutually and definitively, in order to live a covenant of faithful and fruitful love.

1663 Since marriage establishes the couple in a public state of life in the Church, it is fitting that its celebration be public, in the framework of a liturgical celebration, before the priest (or a witness authorized by the Church), the witnesses, and the assembly of the faithful.

1664 Unity, indissolubility, and openness to fertility are essential to marriage. Polygamy is incompatible with the unity of marriage; divorce separates what God has joined together; the refusal of fertility turns married life away from its “supreme gift,” the child (GS 50 # 1).

1665 The remarriage of persons divorced from a living, lawful spouse contravenes the plan and law of God as taught by Christ. They are not separated from the Church, but they cannot receive Eucharistic communion. They will lead Christian lives especially by educating their children in the faith.

1666 The Christian home is the place where children receive the first proclamation of the faith. For this reason the family home is rightly called “the domestic church,” a community of grace and prayer, a school of human virtues and of Christian charity.


Filed under: Education, Philosophy — Tags: — Antiochian-Thomist @ 9:48 pm

The following article, though not very scholarly itself,  is on the current model of education used as the standard in public and private school systems at the primary, grammar, and secondary levels. If you are parents of children that are enrolled in a school, unless that school explicitly states that it operates with some sort of alternative method (e.g. “classical liberal arts”, “trivium & quadrivium”, “montessori” [no, I am not necessarily endorsing montessori], etc.) then your child, more likely than not, is involved with the Horace Mann/John Dewey method of education which was modeled on the Prussian and Soviet systems for the purpose of producing compliant, dumbed-down, soldiers and “citizens”. Even private schools, Catholic or otherwise, employ this system, just with a Catholic or Christian varnish, albeit without malice. This is why even in private high schools, students might graduate with piety but also with an inability to think themselves out of a paper bag.


The Public School Nightmare:

Why fix a system designed to destroy individual thought?

by John Taylor Gatto  [Two time New York State “Teacher of the Year”]

I want you to consider the frightening possibility that we are spending far too much money on schooling, not too little. I want you to consider that we have too many people employed in interfering with the way children grow up — and that all this money and all these people, all the time we take out of children’s lives and away from their homes and families and neighborhoods and private explorations — gets in the way of education.

That seems radical, I know.  Surely in modern technological society it is the quantity of schooling and the amount of money you spend on it that buys value.

And yet last year in St. Louis, I heard a vice-president of IBM tell an audience of people assembled to redesign the process of teacher certification that in his opinion this country became computer-literate by self-teaching, not through any action of schools.  He said 45 million people were comfortable with computers who had learned through dozens of non-systematic strategies, none of them very formal; if schools had pre-empted the right to teach computer use we would be in a horrible mess right now instead of leading the world in this literacy.

Now think about Sweden, a beautiful, healthy, prosperous and up-to-date country with a spectacular reputation for quality in everything it produces.  It makes sense to think their schools must have something to do with that.

Then what do you make of the fact that you can’t go to school in Sweden until you are 7 years old?  The reason the unsentimental Swedes have wiped out what would be first and seconds grades here is that they don’t want to pay the large social bill that quickly comes due when boys and girls are ripped away from their best teachers at home too early.  It just isn’t worth the price, say the Swedes, to provide jobs for teachers and therapists if the result is sick, incomplete kids who can’t be put back together again very easily. [Sweden is considered to have the best educated populace in the developed world. –Antiochian-Thomist]

The entire Swedish school sequence isn’t 12 years, either — it’s nine.  Less schooling, not more.  The direct savings of such a step in the US would be $75-100 billion, a lot of unforeclosed home mortgages, a lot of time freed up with which to seek an education.

Who was it that decided to force your attention onto Japan instead of Sweden?  Japan with its long school year and state compulsion, instead of Sweden with its short school year, short school sequence, and free choice where your kid is schooled?   Who decided you should know about Japan and not Hong Kong, an Asian neighbor with a short school year that outperforms [emphasis added] Japan across the board in math and science?  Whose interests are served by hiding that from you? [not yours, let me tell you…]

One of the principal reasons we got into the mess we’re in is that we allowed schooling to become a very profitable monopoly, guaranteed its customers by the police power of the state.  Systematic schooling attracts increased investment only when it does poorly, and since there are no penalties at all for such performance, the temptation not to do well is overwhelming.  That’s because school staffs, both line and management, are involved in a guild system.  And in that ancient form of association no single member is allowed to outperform any other member, none are allowed to advertise or to introduce new technology or improvise without the advance consent of the guild.  Violation of these precepts is severely sanctioned–as Marva Collins, Jaime Escalante and a large number of once-brilliant teachers found out.

The guild reality cannot be broken without returning primary decision-making to parents, letting them buy what they want to buy in schooling, and encouraging the entrepreneurial reality that existed until 1852. That is why I urge any business to think twice before entering a cooperative relationship with the schools we currently have.  Cooperating with these places will only make them worse.

The structure of American schooling, 20th century style, began in 1806 when Napoleon’s amateur soldiers beat the professional soldiers of Prussia at the battle of Jena.  When your business is selling soldiers, losing a battle like that is serious. Almost immediately afterwards a German philosopher named Fichte delivered his famous “Address to the German Nation” which became one of the most influential documents in modern history.

In effect he told the Prussian people that the party was over, that the nation would have to shape up through a new Utopian institution of forced schooling in which everyone would learn to take orders. [emphases added]

So the world got compulsion schooling at the end of a state bayonet for the first time in human history; modern forced schooling started in Prussia in 1819 with a clear vision of what centralized schools could deliver: [yes, make the comparisons]

1. Obedient soldiers to the army;

2. Obedient workers to the mines;

3. Well subordinated civil servants to government;

4. Well subordinated clerks to industry

5. Citizens who thought alike about major issues.

Schools should create an artificial national consensus on matters that had been worked out in advance by leading German families and the head of institutions.  Schools should create unity among all the German states, eventually unifying them into Greater Prussia.

Prussian industry boomed from the beginning.  She was successful in warfare and her reputation in international affairs was very high.  Twenty-six years after this form of schooling began, the King of Prussia was invited to North America to determine the boundary between the United States and Canada.  Thirty-three years after that fateful invention of the central school institution, at the behest of Horace Mann and many other leading citizens, we borrowed the style of Prussian schooling as our own. [emphases added]

You need to know this because over the first 50 years, our school’s Prussian design — which was to create a form of state socialism — gradually forced out our traditional American design, which in most minds was to prepare the individual to be self-reliant.

In Prussia the purpose of the Volksshule [work school], which educated 92 percent of the children, was not intellectual development at all, but socialization in obedience and subordination [emphasis added]. Thinking was left to the Real Schulen, [Real School] in which 8 percent of the kids participated.  But for the great mass, intellectual development was regarded with managerial horror, as something that caused armies to lose battles.

Prussia concocted a method based on complex fragmentation to ensure that its school products would fit the grand social design.  Some of this method involved dividing whole ideas into school subjects, each further divisible, some of it involved short periods punctuated by a horn so that self-motivation in study would be muted by ceaseless interruptions. [I knew there was a reason I hated those darn school horns/buzzers.]

There were many more techniques of training, but all were built around the premise that isolation from first-hand information, and fragmentation of the abstract information presented by teachers, would result in obedient and subordinate graduates, properly respectful of arbitrary orders.

“Lesser” men would be unable to interfere with policy makers because, while they could still complain, they could not manage sustained or comprehensive thought.  Well-schooled children cannot think critically, cannot argue effectively. [Oh boy, is this ever true.]

One of the most interesting by-products of Prussian schooling turned out to be the two most devastating wars of modern history.

Erich Maria Ramarque, in his classic, All Quiet on the Western Front, tells us that the First World War was caused by the tricks of schoolmasters, and the famous Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that the Second World War was the inevitable product of good schooling.

It’s important to underline that Bonhoeffer meant that literally, not metaphorically — schooling after the Prussian fashion removes the ability of the mind to think for itself.   It teaches people to wait for a teacher to tell them what to do and if what they have done is good or bad.  Prussian teaching paralyses the moral will as well as the intellect.  It’s true that sometimes well-schooled students sound smart, because they memorize many opinions of great thinkers, but they actually are badly damaged because their own ability to think is left rudimentary and undeveloped.

We got from the United States to Prussia and back because a small number of very passionate ideological leaders visited Prussia in the first half of the 19th century, and fell in love with the order, obedience and efficiency of its system and relentlessly proselytized for a translation of Prussian vision onto these shores.

If Prussia’s ultimate goal was the unification of Germany, our major goal, so these men thought, was the unification of hordes of immigrant Catholics into a national consensus based on a northern European cultural model.  To do that children would have to be removed from their parents and from inappropriate cultural influence.

In this fashion, compulsion schooling, a bad idea that had been around at least since Plato’s Republic, a bad idea that New England had tried to enforce in 1650 without any success, was finally rammed through the Massachusetts legislature in 1852.

It was, of course, the famous “Know-Nothing” [which was one of the most anti-Catholic political parties in America] legislature that passed this law, a legislature that was the leading edge of a famous secret society which flourished at that time known as “The Order of the Star Spangled Banner,” whose password was the simple sentence, “I know nothing” — hence the popular label attached to the secret society’s political arm, “The American Party.”

Over the next 50 years state after state followed suit, ending schools of choice and ceding the field to a new government monopoly.  There was one powerful exception to this — the children who could afford to be privately educated. (Although it may be relevant that not ALL private schools are geared to a “real” education, but are simply more of the same as the public schools, but are promoted as being for the elite.)

It’s important to note that the underlying premise of Prussian schooling is that the government is the true parent of children — the State is sovereign over the family.  At the most extreme pole of this notion is the idea that biological parents are really the enemies of their own children, not to be trusted.

How did a Prussian system of dumbing children down take hold in American schools?

Thousands and thousands of young men from prominent American families journeyed to Prussia and other parts of Germany during the 19th century and brought home the Ph. D. degree to a nation in which such a credential was unknown.   These men pre-empted the top positions in the academic world, in corporate research, and in government, to the point where opportunity was almost closed to those who had not studied in Germany, or who were not the direct disciples of a German PhD, as John Dewey was the disciple of G. Stanley Hall at Johns Hopkins.  Virtually every single one of the founders of American schooling had made the pilgrimage to Germany, and many of these men wrote widely circulated reports praising the Teutonic methods.  Horace Mann‘s [the father of the American public school system] famous 7th Report of 1844, still available in large libraries, was perhaps the most important of these.

By 1889, a little more than 100 years ago, the crop was ready for harvest.  It that year the US Commissioner of Education, William Torrey Harris, assured a railroad magnate, Collis Huntington, that American schools were “scientifically designed” to prevent “over-education” from happening.   The average American would be content with his humble role in life, said the commissioner, because he would not be tempted to think about any other role. [emphases added]

My guess is that Harris meant he would not be able to think about any other role.

In 1896 the famous John Dewey, then at the University of Chicago, said that independent, self-reliant people were a counter-productive anachronism in the collective society of the future.   In modern society, said Dewey, people would be defined by their associations –not by their own individual accomplishments.  In such a world people who read too well or too early are dangerous because they become privately empowered, they know too much, and know how to find out what they don’t know by themselves, without consulting experts. [emphases added]

Dewey said the great mistake of traditional pedagogy was to make reading and writing constitute the bulk of early schoolwork.  He advocated the phonics method of teaching reading be abandoned and replaced by the whole word method, not because the latter was more efficient (he admitted that it was less efficient), but because independent thinkers were produced by hard books, thinkers who cannot be socialized very easily.

By socialization Dewey meant a program of social objectives administered by the best social thinkers in government.  This was a giant step on the road to state socialism, the form pioneered in Prussia, and it is a vision radically disconnected with the American past, its historic hopes and dreams.

Dewey’s former professor and close friend, G. Stanley Hall, said this at about the same time, “Reading should no longer be a fetish.  Little attention should be paid to reading.”

Hall was one of the three men most responsible for building a gigantic administrative infrastructure over the classroom.  How enormous that structure really became can only be understood by comparisons: New York State, for instance, employs more school administrators than all of the European Economic Community nations combined.

Once you think that the control of conduct is what schools are about, the word “reform” takes on a very particular meaning.  It means making adjustments to the machine so that young subjects will not twist and turn so, while their minds and bodies are being scientifically controlled.  Helping kids to use their minds better is beside the point. [emphases added]

Bertrand Russell once said that American schooling was among the most radical experiments in human history, that America was deliberately denying its children the tools of critical thinking.

When you want to teach children to think, you begin by treating them seriously when they are little, giving them responsibilities, talking to them candidly, providing privacy and solitude for them, and making them readers and thinkers of significant thoughts from the beginning.  That’s if you want to teach them to think.  There is no evidence that this has been a State purpose since the start of compulsion schooling.

When Frederich Froebel, the inventor of kindergarten in 19th century Germany, fashioned his idea he did not have a “garden for children” in mind, but a metaphor of teachers as gardeners and children as the vegetables.

Kindergarten was created to be a way to break the influence of mothers on their children [Take note of this]. I note with interest the growth of daycare in the US and the repeated urgings to extend school downward to include 4-year-olds.  The movement toward state socialism is not some historical curiosity, but a powerful dynamic force in the world around us.

The state socialism movement is fighting for its life against those forces which would, through vouchers or tax credits, deprive it of financial lifeblood, and it has countered this thrust with a demand for even more control over children’s lives, and even more money to pay for the extended school day and year that this control requires.  A movement as visibly destructive to individuality, family and community as government-system schooling has been, might be expected to collapse in the face of its dismal record, coupled with an increasingly aggressive shake down of the taxpayer, but this has not happened.

The explanation is largely found in the transformation of schooling from a simple service to families and towns to an enormous, centralized corporate enterprise.  While this development has had a markedly adverse effect on people and on our democratic traditions, it has made schooling the single largest employer in the United States, and the largest grantor of contracts next to the Defense Department.

Both of these low-visibility phenomena provide monopoly schooling with powerful political friends, publicists, advocates and other useful allies.  This is a large part of the explanation why no amount of failure ever changes things in schools, or changes them for very long.  School people are in a position to outlast any storm and to keep short-attention-span public scrutiny thoroughly confused.

An overview of the short history of this institution reveals a pattern marked by intervals of public outrage, followed by enlargement of the monopoly in every case.  After nearly 30 years spent inside a number of public schools, some considered good, some bad, I feel certain that management cannot clean its own house.  It relentlessly marginalizes all significant change.

There are no incentives for the “owners” of the structure to reform it, nor can there be without outside competition.  What is needed for several decades is the kind of wildly-swinging free market we had at the beginning of our national history.

It cannot be overemphasized that no body of theory exists to accurately define the way children learn, or which learning is of most worth.  By pretending the existence of such we have cut ourselves off from the information and innovation that only a real market can provide.  Fortunately our national situation has been so favorable, so dominant through most of our history, that the margin of error afforded has been vast.

But the future is not so clear. Violence, narcotic addictions, divorce, alcoholism, loneliness… all these are but tangible measures of a poverty in education.   Surely schools, as the institutions monopolizing the daytimes of childhood, can be called to account for this.  In a democracy the final judges cannot be experts, but only the people.

Trust the people, give them choices, and the school nightmare will vanish in a generation.


Filed under: Education, Philosophy — Tags: , , — Antiochian-Thomist @ 8:36 pm

From the Original Catholic Encyclopedia.

Arts, the SEVEN LIBERAL. —The expression artes liberales, chiefly used during the Middle Ages, does not mean arts as we understand the word at the present day, but those branches of knowledge which were taught in the schools of that time. They are called liberal (Lat. liter, free), because they serve the purpose of training the free man, in contrast with the artes illiberales, which are pursued for economic purposes; their aim is to prepare the student not for gaining a livelihood, but for the pursuit of science in the strict sense of the term, i.e. the combination of philosophy and theology known as scholasticism. They are seven in number and may be arranged in two groups, the first embracing grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic, in other words, the sciences of language, of oratory, and of logic, better known as the artes sermocinales, or language studies; the second group comprises arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music, i.e. the mathematico-physical disciplines, known as the artes reales, or physiccs. The first group is considered to be the elementary group, whence these branches are also called artes triviales, or trivium, i.e. a well-beaten ground like the junction of three roads, or a crossroads open to all. Contrasted with them we find the mathematical disciplines as artes quadriviales, or quadrivium, or a road with four branches. The seven liberal arts are thus the members of a system of studies which embraces language branches as the lower, the mathematical branches as the intermediate, and science properly so called as the uppermost and terminal grade. Though this system did not receive the distinct development connoted by its name until the Middle Ages, still it extends in the history of pedagogy both backwards and forwards; for while, on the one hand, we meet with it among the classical nations, the Greeks and Romans, and even discover analogous forms as forerunners in the educational system of the ancient Orientals, its influence, on the other hand, has lasted far beyond the Middle Ages, up to the present time.

It is desirable, for several reasons, to treat the system of the seven liberal arts from this point of view, and this we propose to do in the present article. The subject possesses a special interest for the historian, because an evolution, extending through more than two thousand years and still in active operation, here challenges our attention as surpassing both in its duration and its local ramifications all other phases of pedagogy. But it is equally instructive for the philosopher because thinkers like Pythagoras, Plato, and St. Augustine collaborated in the framing of the system, and because in general much thought and, we may say, much pedagogical wisdom have been embodied in it. Hence, also, it is of importance to the practical teacher, because among the comments of so many schoolmen on this subject may be found many suggestions which are of the greatest utility.

The Oriental system of study, which exhibits an instructive analogy with the one here treated, is that of the ancient Hindus still in vogue among the Brahmins. In this, the highest object is the study of the Veda, i.e. the science or doctrine of divine things, the summary of their speculative and religious writings for the understanding of which ten auxiliary sciences were pressed into service, four of which, viz. phonology, grammar, exegesis, and logic, are of a linguistico-logical nature, and can thus be compared with the Trivium; while two, viz. astronomy and metrics, belong to the domain of mathematics, and therefore to the Quadrivium. The remainder, viz. law, ceremonial lore, legendary lore, and dogma, belong to theology. Among the Greeks the place of the Veda is taken by philosophy, i.e. the study of wisdom, the science of ultimate causes which in one point of view is identical with theology. “Natural Theology”, i.e. the doctrine of the nature of the Godhead and of Divine things, was considered as the domain of the philosopher, just as “political theology” was that of the priest; and “mystical theology” of the poet. [See O. Willmann, Geschichte des Idealismus (Brunswick, 1894), I, -§ 10.] Pythagoras (who flourished between 540 B.C. and 510 B.C.) first called himself a philosopher, but was also esteemed as the greatest Greek theologian. The curriculum which he arranged for his pupils led up to the ieros logos, i.e. the sacred teaching, the preparation for which the students received as mathematikoi, i.e. learners, or persons occupied with the—mathemata, the “science of learning”—that, in fact, now known as mathematics. The preparation for this was that which the disciples underwent as akousmatikoi, “hearers”, after which preparation they were introduced to what was then current among the Greeks as mousike paideia, “musical education”, consisting of reading, writing, lessons from the poets, exercises in memorizing, and the technique of music. The intermediate position of mathematics is attested by the ancient expression of the Pythagoreans metaichmon, i, e. “spear-distance”; properly, the space between the combatants; in this case, between the elementary and the strictly scientific education. Pythagoras is more over renowned for having converted geometrical, i.e. mathematical, investigation into a form of education for freemen. (Proclus, Commentary on Euclid, I, p. 19, ten peri ten geometrian pholosophianeis schema paideias eleutherou metestesen.) “He discovered a mean or intermediate stage between the mathematics of the temple and the mathematics of practical life, such as that used by surveyors and business people; he preserves the high aims of the former, at the same time making it the palaestra of intellect; he presses a religious discipline into the’ service of secular life without, however, robbing it of its sacred character, just as he previously transformed physical theology into natural philosophy without alienating it from its hallowed origin” (Geschichte des Idealismus, I, 19 at the end). An extension of the elementary studies was brought about by the active, though somewhat unsettled, mental life which developed after the Persian wars in the fifth century B.C. From the plain study of reading and writing they advanced to the art of speaking and its theory (rhetoric), with which was combined dialectic, properly the art of alternate discourse, or the discussion of the pro and con. This change was brought about by the sophists, particularly by Gorgias of Leontium. They also attached much importance to manysidedness in their theoretical and practical knowledge. Of Hippias of Elis it is related that he boasted of having made his mantle, his tunic, and his footgear (Cicero, De Oratore, iii, 32, 127). In this way, current language gradually began to designate the whole body of educational knowledge as encyclical, i.e. as universal, or all-embracing (egkuklia paideumata, or mathemata; egkuklios paideia). The expression indicated originally the current knowledge common to all, but later assumed the above-mentioned meaning, which has also passed into our word encyclopedia.

Socrates having already strongly emphasized the moral aims of education, Plato (429-347 B.C.) protested against its degeneration from an effort to acquire culture into a heaping-up of multifarious information (polupragmosune). In the “Republic” he proposes a course of education which appears to be the Pythagorean course perfected. It begins with musico-gymnastic culture, by means of which he aims to impress upon the senses the fundamental forms of the beautiful and the good, i.e. rhythm and form (aisthesis). The intermediate course embraces the mathematical branches, viz. arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music, which are calculated to put into action the powers of reflection (dianoia), and to enable the student to progress by degrees from sensuous to intellectual perception, as he successively masters the theory of numbers, of forms, of the kinetic laws of bodies, and of the laws of (musical) sounds. This leads to the highest grade of the educational system, its pinnacle (thrigkos) so to speak, i.e. philosophy, which Plato calls dialectic, thereby elevating the word from its current meaning to signify the science of the Eternal as ground and prototype of the world of sense. This progress to dialectic (dialektike poreia) is the work of our highest cognitive faculty, the intuitive intellect (nous). In this manner Plato secures a psychological, or noetic, basis for the sequence in his studies, namely: sense-perception, reflection, and intellectual insight. During the Alexandrine period, which begins with the closing years of the fourth century before Christ, the encyclical studies assume scholastic forms. Grammar, as the science of language (technical grammar) and explanation of the classics (exegetical grammar), takes the lead; rhetoric becomes an elementary course in speaking and writing. By dialectic they understood, in accordance with the teaching of Aristotle, directions enabling the student to present acceptable and valid views on a given subect; thus dialectic became elementary practical logic. The mathematical studies retained their Platonic order; by means of astronomical poems, the science of the stars, and by means of works on geography, the science of the globe became parts of popular education (Strabo, Geographica, I, 1, 21-23). Philosophy remained the culmination of the encyclical studies, which bore to it the relation interfere with the search for the truth which they contain. The choicest gift of bright minds is the love of truth, not of the words expressing it. “For what avails a golden key if it cannot give access to the object which we wish to reach, and why find first to obtain a firm foothold; culture was by them identified with eloquence, as the art of speaking and the mastery of the spoken word based upon a manifold knowledge of things. In his “Institutiones Oratorise” Quintilian, the first professor eloquentue at Rome in Vespasian’s time, begins his instruction with grammar, or, to speak precisely, with Latin and Greek Grammar, proceeds to mathematics and music, and concludes with rhetoric, which comprises not only elocution and a knowledge of literature, but also logical—in other words dialectical—instruction. However, the encyclical system as the system of the liberal arts, or Artes Bonce, i.e. the learning of the vir bonus, or patriot, was also represented in special handbooks. The “Libri IX Disciplinarum” of the learned M. Terentius Varro of Reate, an earlier contemporary of Cicero, treats of the seven liberal arts adding to them medicine and architectonics. How the latter science came to be connected with the general studies is shown in the book “De Architecture.”, by M. Vitruvius Pollio, a writer of the time of Augustus, in which excellent remarks are made on the organic connection existing between all studies. “The inexperienced”, he says, “may wonder at the fact that so many various things can be retained in the memory; but as soon as they observe that all branches of learning have a real connection with, and a reciprocal action upon, each other, the matter will seem very simple; for universal science (egkuklios, disciplina) is composed of the special sciences as a body is composed of members, and those who from their earliest youth have been instructed in the different branches of knowledge (variis eruditionibus) recognize in all the same fundamental features (notas) and the mutual relations of all branches, and therefore grasp everything more easily” (Vitr., De Architecture, I, 1, 12). In these views the Platonic conception is still operative, and the Romans always retained the conviction that in philosophy alone was to be found the perfection of education. Cicero enumerates the following as the elements of a liberal education: geometry, literature, poetry, natural science, ethics, and politics. (Artes quibus liberales doctrins atque ingenuse continentur; geometria, litterarum cognitio et poetarum, atque ills quae de naturis rerum, quae de hominum moribus, quae de rebus publicis dicuntur.)


ICON CORNER: A Beginning

Filed under: Sacred & Liturgical Arts — Tags: , , , , — Antiochian-Thomist @ 5:41 pm

Below are some images of the beginning of our new “icon corner” or “icon wall”. These icons were blessed and heard the Divine Liturgy at Our Lady of Solitude Cloister & Retreat, a Melkite monastic foundation in rural northeastern Pennsylvania. These new “portals to heaven” are replicas of classic Greek icons.

Most of those who read this blog (all 6 of you) are Latin Rite Catholics and might be unfamiliar with the whole notion of the “icon corner” or the “icon wall”. They might even be unfamiliar with the theology of the icon. As a preface I have excerpted some articles on icons, iconography, and the icon wall.

The New Icon Corner

With an Italian iconographic crucifix, Christ the Life-Giver, and the All-Holy Theotokos.

From Orthodox Wiki via Agios Icons.

Iconography (from Greek: εικωνογραφία) refers to the making and liturgical use of icons, pictorial representations of Biblical scenes from the life of Jesus Christ, historical events in the life of the Church, and portraits of the saints. Icons are usually two-dimensional images and may be made of paint, mosaic, embroidery, weaving, carving, engraving, or other methods. A person who practices the art of iconography is called an iconographer.

Images have always been a vital part of the Church, but their place was the subject of the Iconoclast Controversy in the 8th and 9th centuries, especially in the East. The Sunday of Orthodoxy, the first Sunday of the Great Fast (Lent) every year celebrates the reestablishment of the Orthodox veneration of icons. The use of iconography is considered one of the most distinctive elements of the Byzantine Rite.


From the first centuries of Christianity, icons have been used for prayer. Orthodox Tradition tells us, for example, of the existence of an icon of the Christ during his lifetime, the Icon-Not-Made-With-Hands, and of the icons of the Theotokos immediately after him written by the All-laudable Apostle and Evangelist Luke.

Egyptian death masks

Historically, the icon is thought to be a descendant of the Egyptian death masks that were painted on mummies wrapped in strips of glue and powered gypsum soaked linen. This led to the traditional icon painting technique of gluing linen on a board, gessoing it, and painting on it. The Christian icon also inherited the cultic task of the ritual mask and exalted this task. The task that revealed the deified spirit of the deceased resting in eternity. The spiritual essence of the old Cult was transfigured into a new cultural image manifesting itself more perfectly than the old.

Unlike the mask, the Christian icon is not part of a mummy or sarcophagus, it does not need to connect to a saint’s body. No matter where on earth the saint’s remains are, and no matter the physical condition, his resurrected and deified body lives in eternity, and the icon that shows him forth does not merely depict the holy witness but is the very witness. It is not the icon, as art, that tells us anything, it is the saint, through the icon that is teaching. This window, to the resurrected, breaks when the icon itself is separated by the observer, from the saint it depicts. At that moment the icon just becomes another thing of this world. The vital connection between haven and earth disintegrates.

“Written” or “painted”?

The most literal translation of the word Greek: εικονογραφία (eikonographia) is “image writing,” leading many English-speaking Orthodox Christians to insist that icons are not “painted” but rather “written.” From there, further explanations are given that icons are to be understood in a manner similar to Holy Scripture—that is, they are not simply artistic compositions but rather are witnesses to the truth the way Scripture is. Far from being imaginative creations of the iconographer, they are more like scribal copies of the Bible.

While the explanation of the purpose and nature of icons is certainly true and consistent with the Church’s Holy Tradition, there is a linguistic problem with the insistence on the word written rather than painted. In Greek, a painted portrait of anyone is also a γραφή (graphi), and the art of painting itself is called ζωγραφική (zographiki) while any drawing or painting can be referred to as ζωγραφιά (zographia). Ancient Greek literally uses the same root word to refer to the making of portraits and the making of icons, but distinguishes whether it is “painting from life” (ζωγραφιά) or “painting icons” (εικονογραφία). Thus, from a linguistic point of view, either all paintings—whether icons or simple portraits—are “written” or (more likely) “painted” is a perfectly usable English translation, simply making a distinction between the painting appropriate for icons and that appropriate for other kinds of painting, just as Greek does.

Some have suggested that icon writing be used because of the fact that for many centuries, (whether the early Church, the persecutions against the Christians by the pagan authorities, or more recently around the Orthodox World when the faithful have been subjected to non-Orthodox authority), icons were the books of the illiterate and through the depiction of an often simple image refer to and confirm the fundamental belief of the Church; the Incarnation. God’s becoming human, his undertaking and sanctifying of human nature and matter in general means that He can be depicted using matter.

The New Icon Corner

A close view of the icons with a traditional lantern.

And now an article on the “icon corner”. This also comes to us from Wikipedia via Agios Icons.

The Icon Corner (Greek: εικονοστάσι) is a small worship space prepared in the homes of Eastern Orthodox or Greek-Catholic Christians.

The Book of Acts and the Epistles of the Apostle Paul record that in the early Church, Christians used to meet in the homes of the faithful. (Acts 2:46, Acts 20:7-12, I_Corinthians 16:19, etc.) This tradition of the “House Church” continues to this day in Eastern Christianity. The home is considered to be a microcosm of the Church. The parents (both the husband and the wife) are the “clergy” of the house church, and the children are the “laity.” The wedding ceremony (“crowning”) is analogous to Ordination, and the house is blessed with a rite that is based upon the Consecration of a Church. Once a year, the priest will come to bless the house with Theophany Water.

An Orthodox Christian is expected to pray constantly. According to Bishop Kallistos Ware, “[I]n Orthodox spirituality, [there is] no separation between liturgy and private devotion.”[1] Thus the house, just like the Temple (church building), is considered to be a consecrated place, and the center of worship in the house is the Icon Corner.

An Icon Corner is normally oriented to face east. It is often located in a corner to eliminate worldly distractions and allow prayer to be more concentrated. Here is where the icons that the family owns should be located, normally including at least icons of Christ, the Theotokos, and the Patron Saint(s) of the family. An oil lamp normally hangs in front of the icons. The careful trimming of the lamp to keep it burning at all times is interpreted as symbolic of the attentive daily care faithful Christians should take over their souls. Relics of saints (if the family possesses any) and a Gospel Book and a blessing cross would be kept there, as well as incense, holy water, palms and pussywillow from Palm Sunday, candles from Pascha (Easter), and other sacred items, as well as a personal Commemoration Book (containing the names of family and loved ones, both living and departed, to be remembered in prayer).

Ideally, the Icon Corner is located so that it is visible when one first enters the house from the main entrance. Traditionally, when first entering the house, an Orthodox Christian would venerate the icons before greeting the members of the house.

A traditional Orthodox family will gather together every day for morning and evening prayers. Sometimes, at the end of the prayers, the head of the household will take the hand censer and cense the icons and all of the members of the household.

Often, in addition to the Icon Corner, a family will hang a small “Portal Icon” (usually of the Virgin and Christ Child) by the door, which is venerated by family and guests whenever going in or out of the house.


1.^ Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (Penguin Books, London, 1964, ISBN 0-14-020592-6), p. 310.

With the lit lantern and the smoke of the incense rising with our prayers.

With lantern lit and the smoke of the incense rising with our prayers.

Art & Architecture: A New Blog

I have found a new blog dedicated to beauty and order in the architectural arts. He (the owner of the blog) is a talented architect of enthusiasm and passion. I am happy to be able to call him “friend”. His name is Mr. Erik Bootsma, and I encourage all to look at his blog ( which shows some samples of his fine work.

You can find the link to his site in the “blogroll” in the sidebar of this blog, or click on the image below to go to his blog. Enjoy.

October 28, 2009

Historical Curiosity: The Sign of the Cross

Filed under: Uncategorized — Antiochian-Thomist @ 9:52 pm

I’m not intending to make a big deal out of this or ruffle anyone’s feathers. Pure and mere curiosity. I came across this and thought other history geeks like me might find it interesting.

Pope Innocent III (b. 1160/1161, d. 1216; reign: 1198-1216) said in his work, De sacro altaris mysterio, written and promulgated to regularize and unify liturgical practice in the West:

The sign of the cross is made with three fingers, because it is done together with the invocation of the Trinity….It is done from above to below, and from the right to the left, because Christ descended from heaven to the earth, and from the Jews He passed to the Gentiles (De sacro altaris mysterio 2, 45).

Innocent III goes on to say:

Others, however, make the sign of the cross from the left to the right….[Some priests] do it this way so that they and the people will be signing themselves in the same manner. For example, imagine the priest facing the people for the blessing — when we make the sign of the cross over the people, it is from left to right…(Ibid.)

So, when did the exception become the rule? I wonder how it changed? A curiosity, however minor.

I first read about this here.

The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language — A Book Review by David Roemer

Filed under: Uncategorized — Antiochian-Thomist @ 9:17 pm

The following is an excerpt of a book review by David Roemer on the work, The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language by Christine Kenneally. I haven’t read the book itself, but the subject is of some interest to me as I have been required to study related material in my studies of the liberal arts. The whole review can be found at the website,



The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language
By Christine Kenneally
The Penguin Group, 357 pages, $26.95
ISBN 978-0-670-03490-1

Review by David Roemer

The study of the evolution of language began in earnest in the 1990s when Paul Bloom and Steven Pinker, linguists at MIT, took issue with Noam Chomsky’s views on the subject. In an interview, Bloom said:

And then, at the same time, Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini, a colleague and friend of mine in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, published an article in Cognition on the evolution of cognition and language. His article presented in this very sharp, cogent fashion the Chomskyan view on evolution—basically he said that there was very little interesting to make of the connection between natural selection and cognition and that language has features that simply cannot be explained in terms of adaption. I strongly disagreed with it. (p. 52)

Christine Kenneally provides us with the following Chomskyan quotes:

Chomsky’s signature claim is that all humans share a “universal grammar,” otherwise known as UG, a set of rules that can generate the syntax of every human language. This means that apart from the difference in a few mental settings, English and Mohawk, for example, are essentially the same language. Traditionally researchers committed to Chomskyan linguistics believed that universal grammar exists in some part of our brain in a language organ that all humans possess but no other animals have. (p. 25)

As he wrote in 1975: “A human language is a system of remarkable complexity. To come to know a human language would be an extraordinary achievement for a creature not specifically designed to accomplish this task. A normal child acquires this knowledge on relatively slight exposure and without specific training. He can then quite effortlessly make use of an intricate structure of specific rules and guiding principles to convey his thoughts and feelings to others, arousing in them novel ideas and subtle perceptions and judgments.” (p. 36 )

In his book Language and Mind he wrote, “It is perfectly safe to attribute this development [of innate mental structure] to ‘natural selection,’ so long as we realize that there is no substance to this assertion, that it amounts to nothing more than a belief that there is some naturalistic explanation for these phenomena.” (p. 38)

Humans have the observable and definable property of being able to converse with one another. This property is closely related to the unobservable and indefinable properties of free will and conscious knowledge. We can comprehend the unobservable properties because we have the ability to transcend ourselves and make ourselves the subject of our own knowledge. Existentialism is a philosophy that arises from this self-knowledge and addresses our need to decide what to do with our lives. Kenneally acknowledges that the uniqueness of human beings is based on both existential and observable properties:

But asking what makes humans unique is almost always qualitatively different from asking what makes the antelope unique, or the sloth, or the dung beetle. These questions don’t have to be, but have historically been so, the former is never purely scientific, but is inevitably shaded by our self-regard and is always, to some degree, existential. (p. 85)


On Leo Tolstoy — Literature and Condemnation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Antiochian-Thomist @ 8:09 pm

From the official website of the Department of External Relations for the Russian Orthodox Church.

Archbishop Hilarion: It was not the Church who condemned Tolstoy but Tolstoy who condemned the Church

Speaking in the Church and World talk-show, Archbishop Hilarion, when asked about the excommunication of Tolstoy, replied, ‘It was not the Church who condemned Tolstoy but Tolstoy who condemned the Church. He condemned and discredited it, humiliated and insulted it in many of his works. For instance, in his Resurrection, he gave an utterly blasphemous description of the Divine Liturgy’. According to His Eminence, the writer’s works of this kind include the so-called ‘translation’ of the Gospel. ‘Having no knowledge of the Greek language, Tolstoy simply rendered the Gospel, distorting the text consciously by throwing out many importance passages and adding his own blasphemous comments’, he said.

Precisely for this reason, the Orthodox Church announced that this man, who had never belonged to it, placed himself outside of the church fold by his blasphemous and sacrilegious utterances. In response to that decision of the Holy Synod, Leo Tolstoy declared, ‘I have really repudiated the Church’.

‘Tolstoy excommunicated himself and announced it publicly. The Church only had to ascertain the accomplished fact. It is a different matter that before his death he must have felt agony and torments. He set off for the Optina Monastery possibly to make repentance but eventually he did not because his relatives did not let a priest to come to him. As Leo Tolstoy died without repentance, we can only commit his after-death fate to the hands of God and the Lord Himself will judge him’, the archbishop said.

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