Let us briefly outline some essential characteristics of modern thought. We shall focus on the negation of the distinctions between substance and accident, of being and appearance. Doing this, modern thinkers obscure the nature of intention as a conscious state of the subject's being, which is realized in a free and rational will, distinct from its acts which it nonetheless shapes. Additionally, modern thinkers attempt to overcome the principle of causality. We will conclude with a discussion on the negation of the category of essence, another fundamental premise of modern thought, focused mainly on the speculation of Martin Heidegger.
We hope that this exposition will show the intrinsic incompatibility of "modern thought" with Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics, and the intrinsic weakness of the "negations" and "overcomings" on which modern thought is based. The modern school of thought deliberately places human thought, will, or instincts at the center of everything, denying any legitimacy to the very idea of the supernatural.
Discussing The Errors Of Modern Thought
An Overview of the Traditional Concepts
Let us begin with the concepts of substance and accident as summarized by St. Thomas Aquinas.
first concept, that of "substance," aims to express
that which constitutes the very essence of a thing or entity:
that on account of which something is what it is. Even in
everyday speech we are accustomed to speak of "the
substance (or essence)" of a thing in indicating the
essential aspect of a thing, event, or situation, its inner
or constitutive nature, fundamental structure or essence.
The word substance is often used as a synonym for
essence. The second concept, that of "accident,"
denotes by contrast that which appears to be an external
quality or characteristic of a thing, whether permanent
Applying These Traditional Concepts to "Transubstantiation"
would result if we were to look at a dogma of the Catholic
Faith without the help of the notions of substance and accident,
philosophically of Aristotelian origin, re-elaborated in
Scholastic thought, and in particular that of St. Thomas?
Without this philosophical apparatus it is not possible
to understand the singular wonder of transubstantiation
in the most rational and thus the best possible way, in
conformity with a sane intellect.
How Traditional Concepts Are Denied in Modern Thought
The faculties of discernment and judgment are hard to exercise, yet are of vital importance. Modern thought fails to supply any principle worthy of the name, prone as it is to simplify reality from the perspective of the subject. French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wrote:
here presents principles that he would apply both to nature
and to man. These principles epitomize the characteristic
tendency of modern thought towards a constant, progressive
reduction to a single entity which is not God but man. If
man-whether as an individual or as a collective subject-were
to take himself as the source of the meaning of
existence, of the whole, he would tend to repress
not only every idea of essence but also every idea of transcendence,
of First Cause, of the supernatural! He would then find
himself enclosed in a reality that appears to be constituted
by a simple series of appearances,
by phenomena that could not be reduced to a deeper reality,
would not depend on a first cause, and would not be marked
by a final cause. It would thus be appearance, that is,
the situation, that would make us what we are.
Ethics could no longer be based on absolute principles-because
such principles express an immutable essence that transcends
phenomena-but would rather be a situational ethics
and thus the mere reflex of a finite reality that constitutes
and justifies itself by the demands of action.
A Criticism of the Materialistic Foundations of Contemporary Nihilism
To respond to this traditional objection, materialists have from ancient times responded that matter should be understood as eternal and uncreated. This amounts to an act of faith in matter. Matter is endowed with divine attributes; matter is implicitly supposed to contain an intelligence that gives order to the world.
Lucretius (c. 98-54 BC) wrote that things cannot be born from nothing by a divine act (De Rerum Natura I, 150) because otherwise reality would be dominated by chaos and "we would see everything born from everything, and nothing would have its own seed, men would be born from the sea, scaled fish on land, birds would jump from the sky (ibid. I, 158-63). Nature shows that every thing is born in a definite and ordered way, through the operation of a generative power that acts from its own seed (ibid. I, 168; 173-74) and develops not arbitrarily but in accordance with a determinate, specific and finite form. To understand this one must recognize that "a finite part of matter was given to all things, a limiting part was given to every existent thing for the purpose of generation out of which it is clear what can arise" (ibid. I, 203-4). The poet's lyrical formulation begs an obvious question: "Who has given a finite matter and thus a determinate form to each and every thing?" Was it the gods?-No, the Olympian gods, infinitely distanced from the world, cannot be understood in this manner; the gods of Epicurus are neither creators nor judges, but mere ciphers, so to speak. Was it then matter that gave itself an order on its own, without the intervention of a demiurge or artificer?...
Lucretius does in fact think of matter as an entity that produces and orders itself on its own without need of a mind and a power to create it. This conception, with diverse nuances, is at the foundation of all materialistic philosophies through succeeding generations. It is the well-known argument of the shoe that makes itself, without need of a cobbler. Common sense argues that it is absurd.
Yes, it is absurd. But there is no error that does not have its share of truth, its appearance of truth and its subtleties with their own power of fascination. Thus one should attempt to refute it with rational and measured arguments. Against Lucretius and his disciples the following arguments are to be made:
Lucretius writes that, if things had appeared out of nothing, chaos would reign, because everything would come to be spontaneously without any order. Here he contradicts the traditional principle, which he himself repeats several times, that nothing can in any way be created from nothing (nil posse creari de nilo, op. cit., I, 156-57). In fact, only nothingness can come from nothing and thus nothing can be produced by nothing, not even chaos (i.e., birds falling from the sky, fish born on earth, etc.). Nothingness produces nothing. It abides forever in its absolute non-being. Non-being is always something that has no potential being. Nothing is born in nothingness, nor does anything develop in nothingness, whether order or chaos.
Nevertheless, our criticism cannot stop here. The philosophy of Lucretius obliges him to suppress a concept that is in itself valid-that of creation out of nothing, as revealed by revelation-by representing it in a mistaken way. That's important to look at.
The target of Lucretius's polemic is the pagan religion that he knew. In the introductory verses of his poem he exalts Epicurus for trampling on religion with his materialistic philosophy. He cites the (legendary) sacrifice of Iphigenia in Aulis as an example of the evils caused by religion. The concluding verse of this episode contains an invective that has been cited over centuries by all the enemies of religion, that is, "Religion had the power to induce the practice of such evils," though the word "'religio" in this context is better translated "superstition."
Lucretius lived in the age of Cicero, when Roman society was in grave crisis because of the ongoing civil wars. This crisis arose from social, political, and economic causes. Religion in itself can hardly be cited as a cause of the crisis, understood in the strict sense. But Lucretius's visionary and poetically seductive materialism seems to express a more profound crisis than that derived from the lost political ideals of the Roman republic. It manifests the spiritual crisis of an entire civilization which could no longer find a place to stand. In such a situation the world-view of Epicurus was seductive. It proclaimed a philosophy of renunciation, of the hidden life, of egoistic retreat into oneself, compensated at the same time by exaltation of the self as an atom that, believing itself projected into the eternity of matter, imputed to itself a lasting cosmic dimension.
The idea of creation from nothing cannot be found in the religious mythology nor in the mystery religions of paganism, nor in Greek philosophy. The Platonic demiurge does not create matter from nothing, but forms its elements from an abiding substrate dominated by chaos:
In fact, creation from nothing is a Biblical concept, testified by divine revelation. Human thought did not arrive at it on its own. But we cannot suppose that Lucretius meant to polemicize against the Book of Genesis. The Septuagint, the celebrated Greek translation of the Old Testament, was composed from 250 BC to about 130 BC and was not part of the intellectual furniture of Greek and Roman intellectuals in the first century BC, even if some general and indirect knowledge of its teachings cannot be excluded a priori.
Be that as it may, the concept of creation out of nothing as criticized in Lucretius's De Rerum Natura is not the same as that revealed in the Bible. I must make this clarification to oppose the mistaken belief that Lucretian criticism is applicable to the Biblical doctrine. The creation of the world as described in Genesis does not suppose the existence of matter prior to the Creator, and thus does not imply the capacity of matter to give order to itself independently of a Creator. Creation took place according to the mind of God who thought and made all things issue forth from nothing. This happened in a sudden manner, according to the well-known fiat known from the Bible. This creation is not the work of nothing but of God, who makes all things (including man) originate from a state of nothingness with respect to themselves, not with respect to God. This means that the nothingness from which things arise is that of their prior lack of existence, not that of an absolute Nothing-Non-being-which cannot exist if God exists. But God exists "from eternity" and will always exist. Lucretius, who did not believe in a reality outside the senses, clearly understood by "creation out of nothing" either the creative act of an absolute Nothing, of nothingness as a whole, which, if its existence be admitted, itself makes the concept of creation impossible; or else, and more likely, he understands it as the act of the Platonic demiurge, which makes the world out of an original substrate which would constitute "nothingness" as a primordial disorder. In either case his criticism of the idea of a creation out of nothing cannot be applied to the true conception of "creation out of nothing" as reported in the Sacred Scriptures.
If no one gave matter the capacity to distribute itself according to a form, to grow in a regulated and finite way, something that implies a plan, an end, it is then necessary to admit that matter possesses on its own that capacity which can be seen in a thought or a mind at work. But this implies that matter as such thinks, that it is capable of conceiving itself according to all the forms which it can possibly take. Matter would thus contain not only creative power but also thought itself, the mind that directs it. But mind and thought can only be conceived as something spiritual. Matter would thus contain a reality (thought) whose characteristics are not those of matter, which is characterized first of all by extension. Mind lacks extension and thus, by virtue of this fact alone, its operations cannot be reduced to that of matter. They lack that essential condition of finite and sensible beings, that spatially determined limit that characterizes matter. The "mind," intelligence, thought, spiritual ways of being that have their roots in our soul, this complex and entirely spiritual reality seems in effect unlimited in comparison with matter. As Anaxagoras said:
If matter were to think, would it not have to be capable of explaining itself? Instead, it always appears as endowed with form and forms itself [i.e., as weather elements swirl and become a hurricane -Ed.] according to a direction and an end, without ever being able itself to give any explanation of its being and action, of why it is what it is. But this insuperable incapacity of matter seems nevertheless at the same time connected to its ordering itself according to the idea of an end. Such a connection, explains St. Thomas Aquinas, legitimizes or even necessitates the hypothesis of the existence of a Mind that creates and directs matter. As he says in his Summa Theologica:
"Nature" Doesn't Run on Auto-Pilot
The argument of Lucretius for the eternal conservation of all nature by nature's own operation is totally unacceptable.
The fact that the world has not disappeared up to now does not result from the fact that every thing has been absorbed into the constituent parts of its nature. A natural entity dissolved by death never returns. If it did, one would be obliged to admit the absurd concept that the dead body of one's father is contained in the seed of each one of us and so on infinitely through the generations. The fact that the world persists up to now results from the fact that it is maintained in its being by new births that continually replace the dead. This self-reproduction involves a compensation of life and death that appears thought out and willed by Someone in function of the equilibrium of the whole.
["Theodicy," by the way, is the philosophical apologetic that confirms the justice of God and whereby right reason demonstrates the principles of the Faith, the existence of a personal God, and the necessity and discernibility of revelation -Ed.]. Pope St. Pius X in Pascendi Gregis said about Lucretian concepts:
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