Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Readings: Deut 4:32-34.39-40; Ps 33:4-6.9.18-19.20.22; Rom 8:14-17: Matt 28:16-20

I believe that because we are (understandably) slow to simply let go of the glory of Easter, this week the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, known more simply as Trinity Sunday.

Our Gospel reading for this solemnity is a passage from the last chapter of St Matthew's Gospel known as the "Great Commission." It is our response to the risen Lord's Great Commission that makes the Church apostolic, that is, those who are sent. We're sent not only to baptize, but, prior to baptizing, to "make disciples." If the Rite of Christian Initiations of Adults (RCIA) is, or ought to be, anything, it is disciple-making.

Grace is God's gratuitously sharing divine life with us. It is through Baptism that we come to share in the very life of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In Baptism the nature of our relationship with God is changed (by God) from one of creature to Creator (albeit much loved and even sought after creature) to one of adopted child of God through Christ Jesus, which adoption is effected by the power of the Holy Spirit. Maybe a better way of stating this is that in Baptism God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - makes explicit what is implicit in each every human being, each one of us being constituted by the divine image we bear.

This morning I read the first chapter of Daniel Speed Thompson's book The Language of Dissent: Edward Schillebeeckx on the Crisis of Authority in the Catholic Church, entitled "Human Experience, Knowledge, and Action: Schillebeeckx's Epistemological Framework." Thompson begins this chapter by recounting the nearly forgotten philosophy of Dominicus De Petter, a Louvain philosopher who greatly influenced Schillebeeckx when he was a young Dominican friar just out of the novitiate in the mid-1930s.

According to Thompson, De Petters was a Thomist engaged in "rethinking" the Angelic Doctor "in relation to contemporary philosophy" (Language 14). More specifically, De Petters sought to draw from phenomenology, arguing for what he called "implicit intuition," a pre-conceptual kind of knowledge that comes prior to any conceptual form of knowledge and that undergirds and provides the basis for,conceptual knowledge (I am not certain how these might relate to Kant's categories other than they are more dealt with more existentially, one might even say more subjectively, than Kant's categories, which are ontological).

Thompson writes very cogently about implicit intuition: "Prior to their knowledge and use of concepts, human beings have an epistemological link with the world around them" (14). At least in my view, this succinct statement along goes a long way towards toppling the at times seemingly insurmountable subject/object distinction, which philosophical problem is usually and, at least in my view, quite rightly, blamed on Descartes, which Husserl sought not so much to do away with, which doing away would merely be to land squarely in some kind of idealism or monism, but to clarify. While in the hands of some philosophers phenomenology has veered off in idealistic directions, I see it as not only very compatible with, but complementary to Thomistic realism.

St Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor

For further explication of De Petters' epistemology, Thompson turns to an article by Philip Kennedy that appeared in New Blackfriars: "Continuity Underlying Discontinuity: Schillebeeckx's Philosophical Background":
[De Petters'] theory asserted that human knowledge involves more than concepts. He explained a non-conceptual element in knowledge by claiming that intuition forms an intrinsic part of the human intellect. Intuition is here conceived as a contemplative or spiritual link between an individual subject and the reality which is external to the subject. Intuition is thought to be a direct experience of objective reality as well as a participation in the absolute meaning of reality (Language 14)
The last phrase from the excerpt of Kennedy's article takes me back the definition of grace I invoked above. To share in the divine life of God - Father, Son, and Spirit - is nothing other than to participate in the absolute meaning of reality. So, this implicit intuition not only links us to the world, but to God. The sacraments (the Church herself being a sacrament), which are liturgical celebrations, mediate God's grace to us. Along these lines, if our human intuition is implicit, then expression of it has to be mediated by concepts, by language and symbols that serve as signs.

In what does our participation consist? St Paul, in our second reading, taken from his Letter to the Romans, tells us: "The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him" (Rom 8:16-17).

Without going to deeply into it, I think it also bears noting that one thing our first reading demonstrates is that, at least in part, our implicit intuition of God, which is nothing other than what Msgr Luigi Giussani constantly reiterated - the human person is a direct relationship with the Mystery - is what we might call a moral intuition.

Building on this basic outline of De Petters' basic epistemic insight, Thompson seeks to apply this to human knowledge of God: "Knowledge of God... has both a positive aspect - the direct grasp on God's reality provided by implicit intuition - and a negative aspect - the recognition that all human concepts used to express this intuition themselves do not directly apply to God and fall well short of capturing the divine reality" (Language 14-15).

This seems to fit quite nicely with something written recently by Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart:
Because God is not a finite object over against you as a subject, you cannot simply turn away towards ‘something else.'; He is the ground and end of all desire and knowledge as such, the Good in itself. You cannot choose or not choose God the way you would choose or not choose a cup of coffee. You desire anything because of your original desire for God as the transcendental Good and Beautiful; you know anything because of your original intellectual appetite for God as the transcendental Truth as such. Even in desiring to flee God, you are desiring God as the ‘good end’ you seek in godlessness (see "David B. Hart on Universal Salvation and Human Freedom" on Fr Kimel's blog Eclectic Orthodoxy)
This is also what the Catechism seeks to set forth:
God transcends all creatures. We must therefore continually purify our language of everything in it that is limited, imagebound or imperfect, if we are not to confuse our image of God --"the inexpressible, the incomprehensible, the invisible, the ungraspable"-- with our human representations. Our human words always fall short of the mystery of God (par 42)
With this, we bring May to a close.

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