I sometimes feel appalled at the thought of the sum total of human misery all over the world at the present moment: the millions parted, fretting, wasting in unprofitable days – quite apart from torture, pain, death, bereavement, injustice. If anguish were visible, almost the whole of this benighted planet would be enveloped in a dense dark vapour, shrouded from the amazed vision of the heavens! And the products of it all will be mainly evil – historically considered. But the historical version is, of course, not the only one. All things and deeds have a value in themselves, apart from their ’causes’ and ‘effects’. No man can estimate what is really happening at the present sub specie aeternitatis. All we do know, and that to a large extent by direct experience, is that evil labours with vast power and perpetual success – in vain: preparing always only the soil for unexpected good to sprout in. So it is in general, and so it is in our own lives. (J. R. R. Tolkien, letter to Christopher Tolkien, 30 April 1944)
Archive for January 2014
Our experience of things is not a confrontation with something utterly alien, but a way of absorbing, and being absorbed by, the world to which we naturally belong. The mind does not primarily depict, reflect or mirror the world; rather, it assimilates the world as it is assimilated to the world. . . . Thomas [Aquinas] takes for granted this non-subject-centred way of being in the world. We are inclined to begin with the mind, asking how our mental acts relate to the world; he begins on the contrary with the external objects which evoke intellectual activity on our part, and thus bring to fulfilment the capacities with which we are endowed.
We are inclined to assume that the objects of our knowledge remain totally unaffected. To be known, for an object unaware of it, is as if nothing had happened. This surely misses something. On Thomas’s view, articulating as it does the doctrine of creation in terms of the metaphysics of participation, the object, in being known by the subject, is brought more clearly into the light and to that extent its nature and destiny are fulfilled.
It is easy to see how our minds are affected, changed, enriched and so on, by absorbing what comes to view in the world. But for Thomas it makes sense to hold that, even if there were no human minds, things would still be ‘true’ – in relation, that is, to God’s mind (De veritate). He does not look at the world and see it as simply all that is the case, in itself; rather, he sees the world, and things in it, as destined to a certain fulfilment, with appointed ends, modes and opportunities. It is perhaps not too much to say that Thomas sees the way that things are in terms of the way that they ought to be. Certainly, he does not picture knowing as the subject’s projecting value and intelligibility upon raw data. Rather, we exist at all only by participation in being (the doctrine of creation), and, since minds are what we are, we participate, by exercising our intellectual capacities, and of course to a very limited extent, in God’s own knowledge of the world.
(Fergus Kerr, “Overcoming Epistemology,” in After Aquinas: Versions of Thomism, pp. 31–32)
Almost every intellectual claims to have the welfare of humanity, and particularly the welfare of the poor, at heart: but since no mass murder takes place without its perpetrators alleging that they are acting for the good of mankind, philanthropic sentiment can plainly take a multiplicity of forms. (Theodore Dalrymple, “How – and How Not – to Love Mankind,” in Our Culture, What’s Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses, p. 77)
A wonderful passage from Douglas Farrow, working from Irenaeus’ Adversus omnes haereses:
In the light of the ascension of Jesus, the eternal is something to which the temporal may aspire without abandoning its temporality. There is in fact a creaturely form of eternity, consisting in an existence that is fully engaged with God, open to the inexhaustible possibilities generated by communion with God. If the temporal world is not yet so engaged, its very temporality is the consequence of God’s invitation to such engagement; it has, therefore, a proleptic reality lent to it by God himself along the way of that invitation. (Ascension and Ecclesia: On the Significance of the Doctrine of the Ascension for Ecclesiology and Christian Cosmology, pp. 50–51)