Monday, October 30, 2023

The “Sounder Scholastic”


The Reformation altered comparatively few of the major loci of [Scholastic] theology: the doctrines of justification, the sacraments, and the church received the greatest emphasis, while the doctrines of God, the trinity, creation, providence, predestination, and the last things were taken over by the magisterial Reformation virtually without alteration.

-          Richard Muller, “Scholasticism in Calvin

The Reformation as Renewal: Retrieving the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, by Matthew Barrett

The “Sounder Scholastic” in the title refers to Thomas Aquinas.  This is how some of the later Reformers would refer to him, “sounder” as opposed to Ockham and Biel, who were discussed in an earlier installment.

There is the stereotype of Luther’s relationship to Scholasticism, and, therefore, to Thomas as the pre-eminent Scholastic – one of complete rejection.  It is this story that will be examined here, although not precisely:

The story of Thomas Aquinas and Protestantism has yet to be written, and it is not identical with the story of Thomas and Luther.

-          David Steinmetz, Luther in Context

The story of Christendom did not require Luther in 1517 to throw mud on the legacy of Thomas Aquinas:

In 1277, the dirt over his tomb was still fresh when concepts derivative from Thomas were denounced in Oxford.  Thomas had devoted much of his career to Paris only for ecclesiastical authorities to damn his teaching that same year.

Barrett begins this chapter with a somewhat detailed examination of Thomas’s life and work: the connection to Aristotle, his work on the two Summas, etc.  I will skip over these, as these have been covered often by others and elsewhere.  Instead, I will focus on various doctrinal issues – similarities and differences between Thomas and the Reformers.

Original Sin

“All who are born of Adam can be considered as one man by reason of sharing the one nature inherited from the first parent….”

Who wrote that, Thomas or one of the prominent Reformers?  It is found in the Summa.  Thomas followed Augustine, concluding that original sin involves a habit (habitus) – meaning a disposition in one’s nature. 

Due to original sin, human nature is now infected: “Original sin is called a sickness of nature.”  Describing this habit of original sin, he would write:

“For it is a disordered disposition growing from the dissolution of that harmony in which original justice consisted.”

With the lack of original justice, we have nothing that subjects us to the will of God.  Is man’s nature totally obliterated?  Here, Thomas would offer a nuanced reply, with three points to consider: there are the powers of the soul and the like; these powers offer an inclination to the good, toward virtue; original justice was a gift bestowed to the first man.

To the first, it is neither destroyed or lessened.  After the fall, corrupted though we might be, we still retain human nature – the rational soul, the will, intellect, etc.  Barrett does not elaborate on how the Reformers would react to this point, however I will offer: it seems clear merely by observation that man retains something that makes him different from the animals, something that is retained from God having breathed into man – and only man.

To the third, original justice: this has been totally removed.  Certainly, Reformers used fiercer language, but on this point, they would have agreed with Thomas. 

However, to the second point, man’s inclination to virtue remains.  Later Barrett comes to Thomas’s understanding of grace – a necessary discussion regarding this topic.  But to summarize, grace remains the requirement, the move of the first mover.  Thomas does write that virtue is “lessened through sin.”  A Reformer like Luther would not have considered this damning enough.  But Thomas does elaborate: “The will becomes hardened against the true good,” an elaboration that would have found at least appreciation within the thought of many Reformers.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

The Road Ahead

My “ask”: is it worthwhile that I continue to post at this blog my work through these two books, or is it way too far afield?  I am not sure I will follow whatever responses I receive to this, but I do want a sense of this community on this question.

Regarding the following two books:

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones

Jesus Christ: His Life and Teaching, Vol.2 - The Sermon on the Mount, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev

I have heard you loud and clear, and am overwhelmed by your response. 

I knew that by writing on what I found meaningful about the two books on the Sermon on the Mount, I would gain much more insight than I would by merely reading it.  And I could have done this writing and just kept a running word document or some such.  But I felt without the objective of publishing at the blog, I might not stick to the writing part of the work.  And my learning would be the lesser for it.  So I asked the question, and I will publish at the blog.

These books are rather long, so the work will continue for quite some time.  To try to remain efficient at this, I am going to try to limit my focus to just a handful of other books, as follows:

These first two are rather short: I am mostly through On the Incarnation, by St. Athanasius, and will soon finish this work.  In the same field, I will follow this with Why God Became Man, by St. Anselm.  While I have for quite some time come to conclude that Christ’s work on the cross would not be complete or sufficient unless he was both God and man, I have some people close to me who are quite comfortable that His being man was enough. 

For this reason, I wanted a better grounding by reading those who are far more qualified than I am on this topic – not for my faith, but so I can be a better apologist.

I will also continue through The Reformation as Renewal: Retrieving the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, by Matthew Barrett.  This is also an extremely long book.  My interest in this book is due to finding myself falling into the pit of believing that much of what the Reformers gave us theologically was new, with little grounding in early Christianity. 

Sure, they could present good Biblical arguments for their positions, but these were ideas not found in the early Church fathers.  Concerned about my drift and that it was guided by ignorance, I decided this book would be a good vehicle through which I would gain a better-informed view.

I am sure once in a while a topic will come up on which I feel I have something of value to add.  What I will try to do is stay disciplined and focused on the books listed here without adding a few more to the active file.


At the same time, I am buried in some personal projects, and am trying to find a way to better organize my time to be more productive such that I can attend to those and pick up the pace of my writing for the blog to at least two, if not three, posts per week.  I think I will have to do this if I am ever to get through the three long books on this list in any reasonable amount of time.

Yet, returning to the present subject: I really do appreciate the positive response regarding my ask.


Tuesday, October 24, 2023

How Should We Then Live?

This blog began as a pretty hard-core thin-libertarian blog.  When I was a child and all that.  As I have grown into a man, I came to understand that moving toward liberty required much more than perfecting an abstract non-aggression principle.

As this understanding has evolved, more of my writing has focused on topics that are Christian.  I won’t belabor the reasons behind this in detail; those of you who have been around for awhile understand this evolution and the reasons behind it.  Let’s just say there is no liberty without this foundation.

I have mentioned a couple of times that I am spending and plan to spend some meaningful time on the Sermon on the Mount.  I didn’t think that I would be writing about my studies here, and still am not sure that I will after this post – I will have an “ask” at the end of this post regarding this.  My studies will involve the following two books:

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones

Jesus Christ: His Life and Teaching, Vol.2 - The Sermon on the Mount, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev

So, why am I writing about it here?  I have read the introductions to each of these books – these are before getting to the first verse in Matthew chapter five.  There are some good points that are a little more in the ballpark of where this blog has led me, so I thought it made sense to at least dive in this far.

I selected these two books because I wanted an examination of this sermon from two different theological traditions.  The book by Lloyd-Jones was recommended to me by a couple of pastors who are strong on the exegetical, expository sermon path.  Metropolitan Alfeyev, the author of the second book, is a bishop in the Russian Orthodox Church.  So, the Catholics among us don’t feel left out, the first endorsement of this second book is from Pope Benedict XVI: “This is a work of great importance…”

Why study this sermon?  In hindsight, the question answers itself, yet I never really came to the answer until recently.  First, of course, it is the longest discourse of Jesus during His earthly ministry recorded; that’s reason enough.  Per Metropolitan Alfeyev:

No other Gospel contains such as extended and systematic exposition of Jesus’ spiritual and moral teaching.

But, second, it is the ultimate statement of how we should live – man’s purpose, or telos.  In other words, by properly identifying our purpose and holding this as the north star, we are then able to properly determine natural law ethics.  And living in accord with natural law moves us toward liberty and gives our lives meaning.

How do I differentiate quotes from two different books by two authors with very long names / titles?  Let’s go with DMLJ and MHA.

DMLJ: The Sermon on the Mount is nothing but a great and grand and perfect elaboration of what our Lord called His ‘new commandment.’  His new commandment was that we love one another even as He has loved us.  … It is a perfect picture of the life of the kingdom of God.

MHA: Its very position in this Gospel, and in the entire corpus of the four Gospels, compels one to see in it a sort of spiritual and moral program that is further uncovered on the pages of the New Testament.

Yet, I have read this sermon numerous times and never really dealt with it.  Lloyd-Jones deals with this:

It is possible for us to read the Bible in such a mechanical manner that we derive no benefit from doing so.

I certainly have experienced this.  I read a couple of chapters, content to get through this.  Then what?  Nothing.  I have taken away nothing but the feeling of having progressed through the Bible.  Or, perhaps worse, I take away the verses that support my preconceived notions, and ignore those that seem to get in the way.

DMLJ: There is a sense in which it is true to say that you can prove anything you like from the Bible.  That is how heresies have arisen.

 This is clear.  Certainly, many of the earliest heretics were sincere men, in search of truth.  But in Lloyd-Jones’ view, they may have come to the Word with preconceived ideas, then found support for these everywhere in Scripture. 

He sees this manifest especially in the area of law and grace.  Yes, we are under grace, but does this mean we have nothing to do with law?  No, he offers – we aren’t under the law in the sense of being condemned by it, but we are still meant to live it – and based on this sermon, go beyond it!

DMLJ: Christ kept the law; He lived the law….

We (at least many Protestants) have so overemphasized grace that we neglect Christ’s teaching of not only living to the law, but exceeding it.  And the best way to face this question, as Lloyd-Jones sees it, is to squarely face the Sermon on the Mount.

DMLJ: what does the Sermon on the Mount mean to us?  Where does it come in our lives and what is its place in our thinking and outlook?

I will stand first in line in having failed to stare these questions right in the face.  Perhaps because to live as such seems impossible.  Well, it kind of is:

Friday, October 20, 2023

Restoring Meaning


My overall argument thus far has been that the West is entrenched in a ‘meaning crisis’ and that the institutional Church is in an ‘authority crisis’ which has altogether moved it into what I’ve called its ‘post-authority epoch.’ Consequently, the only institution that I believe can adequately respond to the meaning crisis is in no condition to do so.

Can Hermetic Magic Rescue the Church? Part III: The Magi Return, by Sebastian Morello

My interest in this three-part series by Morello is summarized in this paragraph from his part three.  I didn’t come at it because he was writing about hermeticism.  I came at it because Western man has lost meaning, and having lost meaning, he has lost everything; I came at it because I also concluded that it could only be through the Church that meaning (and liberty) can be restored.

I’ve suggested that this double crisis also represents two sides of the same problem: the slow bewitchment of the Western mind by the spell of the Enlightenment.

We are nothing but the result of randoms atoms smashing together randomly.  A few generations of such a belief and here we are.  If it is all random, it is all meaningless. 

Having divorced God from the individual and from reason, we thought we would find liberty – the liberty to pursue our purpose, a purpose as each individual defined it.  But a self-defined purpose is man created in his own image. 

There is no liberty or meaning in this – to live in a manner other than that for which man was created.  One would not describe a lion “a lion” if it acted in ways other than how a lion was purposed to act; one would not consider that such a lion was living in liberty.

In this part three, Morello will expand on what he means by hermeticism a bit more:

Typically, Christians are uneasy at any mention of Hermeticism or esotericism. This is understandable, for such terms have come to mean anything that is not modern mainstream Christian spirituality.

Instead of defining it by what it is not, Morello offers a simple definition of what it is – at least in his framework:

What I mean by ‘Hermetic’ is a set of practices and disciplines of mind, will, and imagination, that habituate in the practitioner a vision of the world that acknowledges it as God’s Icon.

When considered this way, I find many individuals and traditions that are circling the same field – offering proposed solutions to the same problem.  For example, there is a newfound embrace of more liturgical Christian worship – in the Eastern Orthodox Church and in the Latin Mass, both signs that a strictly and singularly propositional (rational) faith does not incorporate all of man and all of God.

There are discussions by individuals ranging as far and wide as Jonathan Pageau and John Vervaeke – one an Eastern Orthodox Christian and the other a cognitive scientist – both offering a path for the search of meaning.

I have written about the idea that living in accord with the natural law ethic will move man toward restored meaning (and, by the way, liberty).  All of these discussions are after the same thing – restoring meaning to lives that are devoid of meaning.

…it is the vision we likely have to recover if we’re to break the spell that established modern man, who is a disintegrated, centaurial creature due to his acceptance of the rationalist paradigm and his retreat from grace.


Morello then expands on his view of hermeticism – it isn’t gnostic as Gnosticism is traditionally understood; however, it is after deeper meaning and understanding.  I will just get to the punch-line:

Friday, October 13, 2023

Check Your Moral Compass

A new crisis, a new spirit…

·         Hamas Brutality Illuminates College Officialdom’s Broken Moral Compass

·         A Moral Compass and the Ball Peen Hammer

·         ‘No moral compass’: Joe Biden blasted for holding barbeque amid Hamas attack on Israel

·         Emphasizing that the Human Rights Council has “lost its moral compass” …

·         Jewish scientist Gad Saad suggests that society's moral compass is broken due to historical discrimination and hatred faced by Jewish people…

·         When it comes to Israel, a nation grappling with a new terrifying wave of brutal terrorist acts, Europe’s moral compass needs adjusting.

Just from a simple search online.

Some time ago I learned that I really was bad when it came to commenting on current events.  I get too much wrong, and have learned its best to stay silent.  I am not going to comment on this one either, other than to say pretty much everyone commenting really doesn’t know anything about what is really happening and why.  I personally can’t get past how the tightest security state in the world didn’t see this coming, so what on earth could I claim about this event after that?

But, this “moral compass,” trotted out to confront those who say anything about the “whys” of the grievances of Palestinians, etc.  Such people need to check their moral compass.

I check mine as follows: the only people who suffer in such situations are the common people who have or want nothing to do with such violence, who want nothing more than to raise their children, give them a good education, have a decent job, feed their families.

All of the actors – the movers and shakers?  None of them are physically at risk.  They have either put these wheels in motion or are trying to figure out how to leverage these events to their advantage – or both.

But for these yappers – “check your moral compass” … I will take anyone who says this seriously if they said the same thing when the United States destroyed Iraq, Syria, and Libya; when Azerbaijan and Turkey joined together to crush Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh; when the west extended a needless war in Ukraine; when children were sacrificed in the name of (falsely) protecting grandma; when Madeleine Albright said 500,000 dead Iraqi children were worth it; when Israeli soldiers shoot peaceful marchers.


Here is one moral compass that needs some serious checking: