Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ecumenism Questions

1. What is the church's source(s) of authority?
2. How does the church view Sacred Scripture?
3. What, if any, sacraments are celebrated by the church?
4. What, approximately, is the worldwide membership of the church?
5. What is the church's moral stance on issues like homosexuality, contraception, and abortion?
6. Who are the leading figures in the foundation of the church / denomination? Who are the leading figures today?
7. What is the church's attitude toward ecumenism?
8. What are common devotions, prayers, and practices within this church?
9. Based on these answers, how closely would you say the church is to the Catholic Church?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Ut Unum Sint

We are examining Pope John Paul II's encyclical on ecumenism. A link to the document is below. As a class we are only reading sections 10 - 13. The encyclical is a very large document - we are just looking at one small excerpt.
After reading the excerpt, please answer the following questions - in complete sentences, of course.
*Please note, when I use the word "Church", capitalized, I am referring to the Catholic Church. All other uses of "church" refer to other, usually Orthodox churches.
1. What is ecumenism, and what is the Church's attitude toward it?
2. What is meant by the statement, from Vatican II, that "the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church"?
3. The document notes that "many elements of sanctification and of truth can be found outside her visible structure." What do you think some of these elements might be? (see section 12. if you get stumped.)
4. The elements mentioned in question 4 have "an inner dynamism towards Catholic unity." Which means, um...what does that mean?
5. The beginning of section 11. is an admission of some faults and flaws of the human element of the Church. However, the Pope writes that these "cannot destroy what God has bestowed on her as part of his plan of grace." Why can't the flaws and faults of the human element of the Church nullify the Truth of the Church?
6. The Pope acknowledges that the degree to which other churches or ecclesial communities are in communion with Rome differs from one to another. Which are the churches that are most in communion with Rome and why? Which are those that are least in communion with Rome, and again, why?
7. Condense the two paragraphs in section 13. into one sentence each. Then assess how these two sentences compare your original assumption about the attitude of the Church toward other churches.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

On teaching the Truth with Love

"And so I try not to get discouraged but to try to continue to speak the message in a way that people can understand. I try not to be -- and I don’t believe that I have been -- harsh or angry in my teaching. Certainly, I always could’ve been more effective in it, but try to speak the truth with love as the Holy Scriptures say, but also to realize that one has to continue to proclaim the message in season and out of season, and whether it’s being warmly received or not being received or being resisted or criticized doesn’t excuse the bishop or the priest from teaching clearly or steadfastly."
- Raymond Cardinal Burke,
prefect of the Apostolic Signatura

"And I ask Blessed Mary, ever virgin..."

The title of this post comes from the confiteor, a prayer of repentance offered during the penentential rite at mass.

The post itself is in response to some discussion in class regarding the Perpetual Virginity of the Blessed Mother. The objections were:

1. There is no proof

2. It's not in the Bible

3. It was probably conveniently made up by some pope who thought it should be that way.

First, as we have discussed, there are many things that we can find no empirical proof for, but this lack of tangible evidence does not call into question the Truth of the matter. We discussed this at length earlier in the year.

Secondly, there are a number of things that are "not in the Bible", but they are nonetheless true. We forget that the Bible itself was created by the bishops - the Fathers of the Church, and it was their authority that assembled the books and guides our interpretation of it. They did not create the Bible to serve as a replacement for their authority. In other words, if you accept the authority of the Church on which books are Divinely inspired, why not accept its authority on other Truths that are not explicitly mentioned therein?

Finally, a hunch, or suspicion, or a feeling is not a solid foundation for doubting a doctrine. In fact, establishing the Truth on the basis of a hunch is precisely what "some pope" is being accused of. So instead, let's look at some of the writings of the Church Fathers - wise and holy teachers of the first centuries of the Church, who, I might add, were unanimous in their belief in the Perpetual Virginity of Our Lady. If you feel compelled to dig a little deeper, feel free to check out the excerpts of this book: Mary and the Fathers of the Church: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Patristic Thought by Luigi Gambero. Much of the book is available online at Google Books. It may not put to rest your doubt, but it will at the very least present to you the generations of evidence that refute your hunch.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Colonialism Illustration

While mildly inappropriate, this video illustrates the injustices of colonialism in a brief, and over-simplified form.

IUPUI Library Book Renewals

Students, you must go to the following link to renew your books from the IUPUI library.
Remember, they can be returned at any IMCPL branch, the Marian University Library, or the Speedway Public Library.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Service Hour Reminder

Students, please remember that the deadline for the completion and submission of your five service hours is only a few weeks away. The form can be found on the school website at
and will also be uploaded to school weblockers.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Be still my beating heart...

"Did you know that your heart stops when your sneeze?"

We all love to share these little tidbits of information that we pick up on our journey through life, but what are we really doing when we share or repeat this type of information? Are we trying to make ourselves look smart? interesting? clever? Many saints have encouraged us to be humble, even as we grow in knowledge, and remind us that silence and humility are sure paths to holiness. However, to put to rest the common belief - No, your heart does not stop beating when you sneeze. Your heart, as I mentioned in class, is controlled in part by a bundle of nerves that we call a "pacemaker" because it sets the pace of your heart, causing the rhythmic contraction and relaxing of the heart chambers. This is completely unrlated to the respiratory response to nasal irritation known as a sneeze. This would be like having the toilet flush in your house every time you turned on the garbage disposal.

We sometimes feel a change in pressure in our chest from quickly inhaling then forcefully exhaling, but in no way does our heart "stop". Don't believe me? Check out the links below to the Penn State University "Medical Myths" page or the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences "myth" page.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Infamous "-ism" Project (Due October 26 & 27)

A Historical Examination of Injustice
Investigating the social, political, and economic ideologies that gave rise to injustice:

Goal: students will conduct research into one of the ideologies below to gain a better understanding of how it led to the rise of injustice. Students will then write a short, informative paper detailing their research and present their findings to the class.

Sources: While the internet is a seemingly endless font of knowledge, only a small percentage of the information available comes from a credible source. Therefore, students must submit an annotated bibliography attesting to the authorship and origin of their information. Every student must use at least two (2) books and no more than two (2) web-sites.

Potential Topics:

Research Questions:
1. Provide a definition of the ideology based on how it was implemented. (Avoid a simple dictionary-definition. Instead, synthesize your own definition.)

2. Identify the leading proponents of the “ism” and how they came to develop or embrace the ideology.

3. Explain the geographical and historical context: when and where was the ideology prominent? What circumstances was the ideology intended to rectify?

4. What problems or injustices were brought about as a result of the ideology? Who were the victims of those initial problems?

5. What is / was the Church’s response to the “ism”? What might the Church posit as the fatal flaw of the ideology? How does it fail or go wrong?

The informative essay should be approximately two pages in length and utilize APA format for citations.

The presentation should be approximately 5 minutes in length, introduce students to the main ideas of the questions listed above, and contain one technology component.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Objective Truth

We have completed our study of Objective Truth and from it you need to draw 10 major points:
1. It's definition
2 - 6. Alternative Theories of Truth (and their flaws)
7 - 10. Attacks upon the concept of Truth. (and their flaws)

Check out the Prezi below to pick up on these main points.

Rationalism & Liberalism

Your assignment today is to read "Rationalism...the heresy of modern times.", Which is actually a chapter from R.J. Meyer's The Science of the Saints, published in 1907. (You can find the full text online if you like - Google Books.)

Here below is a synopsis along with some questions for you to answer.


Rationalism is detrimental to a life of faith because it sets up "unaided reason" as the ultimate standard of truth or falsehood, right and wrong.

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that "Grace builds on Nature". This means that human reason, which is a natural human ability, is aided or "built upon" by God's Grace. Rationalism strips away the role of grace - and ultimately the role of God - in human affairs.

Rationalism is usually veiled or disguised as another, seemingly beneficial, ideology. In the author's case, he deals with Liberalism. He laments having to use the term because it is so often misapplied or misunderstood, (and I lament having to use it as well, because it immediately calls to mind "liberal" politics, which are certainly related to, but by no means the extent of liberalism in our culture today.) However, since the term was used by the Church to label the popular system of ideas that oppose Christian teaching and moralit, in the end the author uses the term as well.

Liberalism Defined: it is literally "a system favorable to liberty". Being in America, we all have a fairly high opinion of liberty or freedom. If Mel Gibson taught our culture anything in the 1990's it was that Freedom is Good and the British are Bad. (While I take issue with the latter, the former is spot on.)

The problem is that liberalism demands freedom not only so that one may do good without being coerced, but so that one may also do evil - as though we have a natural right to do so. An example would be the issue of abortion. One would think that if there are two rival or opposing groups and one of them is Pro-Life, then the opposing faction would be Pro-Death. However, those who oppose the Pro-Life movement consider themselves to be "Pro-Choice", knowing that most people, particularly most Americans equate choice with freedom and freedom is good. (Likewise, they can then portray the Pro-Life movement as an "Anti-Choice" movement, a restriction of freedom.)

Meyer (the author) then looks to the origin of the Rationalist mindset, and points to the Protestant Reformation. (I wish that we had an extra month to study the Reformation, but alas, we must gloss over it and move on.) He points out that the Reformers established private judgement as the ultimate arbiter (decider) in all religious matters, and that one should have no external authority (or Magisterium) to guide personal decisions.

Martin Luther, for example, rejected some books of the Bible and didn't include them in "his" teaching. If Luther was free to go this far, what would stop someone else from rejecting other books? And why not reject the entire Bible itself? or Natural Law? or anything else. This is essentiallly what happened, and Western Europe began a slide down a slppery slope that lasted half a millenium. (We will explore these historical events later.)

Like a series of dominoes falling we have the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and Reign of Terror, Industrialization, Fascism, Communism, and ultimately the relativist nihilism which is our cultural atmosphere today.

Meyer points out that in the midst of this historical development we have come to demand respect for the rights of man while ignoring, if not denying the rights of God. We don't often think of God as having rights. He is, after all, omnipotent, and has no need of being protected by a Bill of Rights. But God does have natural rights - meaning they are part of His very nature. If God is truly God, the supreme Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of the Universe, then is He not entitled to our worship and adoration? As evidence of this disregard for the Rights of God Meyer lists a number of things that have in fact happened or continue to happen in the name of liberty and progress.

Most liberalists, Meyer contends, don't think much for themselves, but rather depend upon self-interest, popularity, and a number of other factors to determine what it is they believe. This leads to a great diversity within liberalism, but their common thread is a rejection of the principle of authority, which is the foundation, he says, of faith.

Ironically, while liberalism hangs its hat on the idea of freedom (or tolerance) it is rather strict and intolerant for those who oppose it. Give an example to illustrate this idea:

Meyer cautions against drawing conclusions based on a man's words, when he may in fact mean something else, such as:______ give examples here as well.

Just as liberalism is a disguised form of rationalism, so to is liberalism often prone to disguise itself, appearing under the banners of: Progress, Patriotism, Philanthropy, et al. "It always follows thetendency of the age and floats along upon the tide of public opinion...."

What then, do Catholics need to be "liberated" from in the view of liberalism? From Creed? From the teaching authority of the Church (Magisterium)? From The liturgy and ritual of the sacraments? These things exist only to protect, provide for, guide, and support the people of God.

The arguement is made that Creed should be interepreted by the individual, who is free to reject what he dislikes, and embrace what he likes. (today this is commonly called "cafeteria catholicism"). The argument continues that the Church should be governed by democracy rather than a hierarchy. They see the liturgy as a theatrical performance rather than a sacred encounter with divine mystery, and they look down their noses at popular or traditional expressions of devotion. The vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience are chains that bind the will, and the religious orders of the Church are seen as warts, or worse, tumors on the body of Christ.

The author admits that the Church is in need of continual reform, but it is her Human element, not her Divine, that is subject to correction.

Finally, the liberal or progressive movement wants to set aside the past and place its loyalty at the feet of science. We have studied extensively how misguided this approach is, and will touch on it in class.

So the question remains, "is a liberalistic Catholic really a Catholic at all?"

Monday, September 20, 2010

Pope Benedict to the Youth of Scotland

Pope Benedict, in his homily at a public mass in Scotland, made the following remarks to the young people gathered there, remarks I now share with you because they both reinforce what we have been learning, and because ultimately, they are directed at you.

"Finally, I would like to say a word to you, my dear young Catholics of Scotland. I urge you to lead lives worthy of our Lord (cf. Eph 4:1) and of yourselves. There are many temptations placed before you every day – drugs, money, sex, pornography, alcohol – which the world tells you will bring you happiness, yet these things are destructive and divisive.

There is only one thing which lasts: the love of Jesus Christ personally for each one of you. Search for him, know him and love him, and he will set you free from slavery to the glittering but superficial existence frequently proposed by today’s society. Put aside what is worthless and learn of your own dignity as children of God.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks us to pray for vocations: I pray that many of you will know and love Jesus Christ and, through that encounter, will dedicate yourselves completely to God, especially those of you who are called to the priesthood and religious life. This is the challenge the Lord gives to you today: the Church now belongs to you!"
For excellent coverage of the Papal Trip (and all other universal Church happenings, check out

Unit I Review

I. Stephen Hawking Article
A. Metaphysics (why) vs. Physics (how)
B. Knowledge (Fact) vs. Wisdom (Knowledge applied to experience in the pursuit of Truth)
C. "God of the Gaps" theory - and its flaw (parent analogy)
D. The Relationship between Science & Faith

II. The Allegory of the Cave
A. Be able to name & describe the elements of the Allegory.
B. Apply the Allegory to the Christian Narrative (the story of Chrsitianity)
C. Apply the Allegory to our Society
D. Apply the Allegory to the Matrix

III. Laughter will Save the World
A. Generation of Addicts
B. Escape from Reality
C. Laughter from Despair
D. Temptation of all thinking people: Ignorance is Bliss
E. We laugh due to incongruities: we are both human, and yet divine (made in God's Image).

IV. What it Means to be Human
A. Two different perspectives
1. Materialist
2. Idealist
B. The concept of Self is unique to humanity.
C. View persons as Subjects, not Objects
D. The Devil's work is to convince us to view persons as Objects, not Subjects
E. God is Personal (God is a "self")

V. Identity
A. We are unique in our capacity to fail to achieve our potential.
B. To lose our goodness is to lose our being. (when we fail to be good, we fail to be what we are intended to be.)
C. When we possess an object it in turn possesses us.
D. To attain ourselves we must give ourselves away.
E. Every choice we make has an impact on the core of our being, the part of our being that makes choices.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Identity by Peter Kreeft

The Article is available online at this link.
"Triangles can never be non-triangular, and rocks are always guaranteed to be rocky...but humans can be inhuman."

1. Why do you think we have the ability to be inhuman? Can you theorize any benefits from us having the capicity to be inhuman? Explain what the world would be like if we were as bound to our "humanness" as a triagle is to triangularity.

"Whatever is must be good." - Boethius
2. What is Boethius saying here? Does that mean nothing that exists is evil? How do you explain the presence of evil in the world if whatever is must be good?

"That's what happened in Eden. Once we laid hands on the fruit we desired, the horrible effect took place immediately: it laid its hands on us."

3. How are we possessed by that which we possess? Why is that, at least in Kreeft's estimation, a bad thing? Give some examples of being owned by what you own.

"Frodo and Sam...attain themselves and save their selves only because they give themselves away – for others, for the Shire, for the world;"

4. This statement defies logic: how can you attain something by losing it or giving it away? Explain how it is more noble, more dignified, to attain one's self by giving ones' self away?
" Gollum is obsessed with his cause, with his possession of the Ring. He almost has no self left, he's so selfish. He talks to himself more than to others. He makes no distinction between himself and his "Precious". He's confused about who he is."

5. Many of the "gurus" or experts in our culture say that the first step toward solving our individual (or social) problems is to "find ourselves." According to the line of thinking in the quote above, why might we never be able to truly find ourselves?

"Sauron is uncomfortably familiar. He's only an exaggeration or an enlargement of us, or at least, of one possibility for us."

6. What can be done to avoid the "monster we might become"? Sauron seems to have become a monster because he put so much of himself into something beyond himself. Aren't we encouraged to do this all the time with sports, hobbies, even school work? How do we keep from becoming defined by the things we put ourselves into?

"Countless people who are caught off guard, children especially, fall in love with Aslan...Aslan is Jesus. ... You feel towards Aslan, spontaneously, the way Jesus' contemporaries felt towards Him."

7. Are you familiar with the Narnia Chronicles? In what way is Aslan like Jesus? If you are not familiar: what is another example of a character from a story you know that is Christ-like? What makes the character like Jesus? Is it obvious from the start? Is it more effective if it is not obvious?

C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, which I know you ALL read this summer: " "Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you... into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into either a heavenly creature or a hellish creature...Each of us at each moment is progressing towards the one state or the other."


9. What is Kreeft's solution for avoiding becoming a lowly worm, a proud pharisee, or a wishy-washy Charlie Brown?

"What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own self?" People hear that and resist it because it's direct and challenging because it's familiar. They read Tolkien's story and see it, and they can't resist it.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

What it means to be human

When we reduce Manet's painting to mere pigment on canvas we completely miss the "woman" that is portrayed. Gone is any hint of emotion - the piece fails to evoke from us any response. However, when we suspend the knowledge of the paints and the canvas, the image strikes us and begins to stimulate a response. Then, we are free to reintroduce the knowledge that we are looking at paint on fabric and we are able to appreciate not only the power of the image, but also the skill of the artist who created it.
Read Roger Scruton's article on What it means to be human, then answer the questions below.
(Note: the painting above was recreated with 5000 Pantone Swatches - the little squares of color you find in the hardware store. Though the color and basic composition remains, there is no trace of the "fading innocence" of the young woman at the bar.)

1. Scruton asks at the end of the first paragraph if biology is not sufficient to explain the human condition. He also asks, and so do I, Why must we bother with this consept of soul? On what grounds do we believe that the soul exists or that it is the final end of of our existence?

2. The author remarks that one who does not see the intangible elements of this (or presumably any painting) "doesn't understand what he is looking at." Explain why you agree or disagree.

3. "The concepts that we spontaneously use to describe the human being do not explain; they interpret." Offer your own account of the difference between an explanation and an interpretation, using examples to illustrate your meaning.

4. Explain the quote from John Milton's Paradise Lost: "For smiles from Reason flow...and are of love the food".

5. What is the one concept that, according to Scruton, differentiates humans from other organisms? How much of a difference does that make, really?

6. Immanuel Kant argued that self-consciousness and freedom are two sides of a coin. What does this mean? and how does Kant resolve the paradox?

7. What is the "Devil's work"? Who is actively involved in doing to Devil's work in our culture or community? Provide as many examples as you can. Finally, and you don't have to commit this to paper, but answer it to yourself: how often do you find yourself in the Devil's employ?

8. What is your reaction to the author quoting the Koran and using a muslim conept as a means to explain the concept of soul?

9. Scruton writes that humans are "subjects in a world of objects." What does this mean, and what are the implications of this perspective.

10. What is significant about God's use of a reflexive pronoun? Why is that a "crucial detail" in the understanding of human nature?

11. "If Manet's work were perfectly copied and then burned, we would confront a new canvas but the same woman." How is this so? What does this reveal to us about human identity and immortality?

There. Not 12 questions... only 11.
Ad Jesum per Mariam,
Mr. Basso

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Laughter Will Save the World


We read a brief essay by John Jalsevac. I had students ask me: "Why did you have us read about underage drinking and pot-heads?" Now, if you are walking away form this essay with the impression that it is about underage drinking or cannabis consumption then I have to insist that you read it again.
The essay was Jalsevac's reflection on the despair and sadness he finds in his peers and people of his, that is, of YOUR generation.
Please answer the following questions about the essay:
1. Jalsevac calls laughter the "most natural expression of awe and appreciation." Write about the last time you had a hearty laugh? Then briefly describe the last time you felt a genuine sense of awe or appreciation? What do these two events have in common?
2. Comment on the idea that "the pleasure of breathing alone" could be enough to make the author "rock with laughter". If this seems absurd to you, explain why? If it seems reasonable, then defend the statement. (note: writing "it's just breathing" is not an explanation, but an observation.)
3. Why, after two years of being "clean" would someone revert back to such self-destructive behavior as drug use? What do you think the author means by the "vague, ethereal, despairing 'spirituality' of drug users."? Give an example if possible, to illustrate what you mean.
4. Twice we find the observation that "words are not enough" to convince someone to break an addiction. What will succeed where words fail? Why?
5. Jalsevac desribes his (your) generation as a "generation of addicts". Explain why he comes to this conclusion. After offering his explaination in your own words, assess whether you arrive at the same conclusion.
6. The author describes this generation of young people as one that "laughs so seldom" and when laughter comes, it is not the laughter of joy but of despair. Yet, as a teacher of teenagers, I find that you all seem to laugh quite a bit (of course, some more than others). So is the author correct that your laughter is out of despair? Do you seek humor 0nly as an escape from the harsh reality that confronts you? Or is your laughter at least occasionally a laughter of genuine joy?
7. Often young people (and old) resist watching the news, or turn to sources like the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. Do you think this is because the author is correct that to be well informed is to have one's "peace being repeatedly shattered" by what we find in the news? Elaborate on your response. (video of laughter from despair on the Daily Show. WARNING - mildly offensive language)
8. Go to a mainstream media source and observe how many stories are "depressing" and saddening. What percentage of the headlines seem to be about these types of "dark" stories? What type of image do you get of our society by a quick glance at the headlines?
9. The author writes "I think maybe I should...join my generation in their restless orgy of forgetfullness. I think that I should be squeezing out of thought altogether, not just reading and listening; that I want to squeeze out of thinking, to shed that rotten skin." Do you think this is why so many teenagers turn to the mind-numbing pleasures of alcohol, drugs, sex, etc.? Is it the pursuit of anything positive that these pleasures actually provide? Is it merely to escape the monotony and boredom of their very existence?
10. Jalsevac comments about teens at a party, "They drank with a curious desperation, as though every sip was vital to their continued existence at that precise moment." Statistics regarding underage drinking in high schools and binge drinking in colleges seems to bear witness to this. What is it about alcohol that provides the illusion of being so "life-giving"? How is it, in fact, rather life-stealing?
11. Why does the author think that humans laugh? How does our laughter grow out of our understanding of and relationship with God? How does making gods of ourselves steal our laughter and leave us in despair?
12. How is the laughter of a saint different from that of an ordinary person? How may it be "the only theological lesson that this desperate generation will liston to."?
Ad Jesum per Mariam,
Mr. Basso

Allegory of the Cave Applied to the Matrix

One of the most direct examples we find of Plato's allegory anywhere is in the film the Matrix, a movie that is as full of philosophy as it is special effects.

Below are the two clips we viewed in class for you to revisit. In the first Neo is given the option of leaving the "cave" of the matrix. In the second we see the traumatic impact of being liberated from the only existence on has ever known.
Clip 1: the red pill or the blue pill?

Clip 2: emerging from the matrix

Look for the "Laughter will save the World" questions coming soon.

Ad Jesum per Mariam,
Mr. Basso

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Allegory of the Cave

The following is a dialogue from the Seventh Book of Plato's Republic and is commonly referred to as the allegory of the cave.
Socrates: Now then, I proceeded to say, go on to compare our natural condition, so far as education and ignorance are concerned, to the state of things like the following. Imagine a number of men living in an underground chamber, with an entrance open to the light, extending along the entire length of the chamber, in which they have been confined, from their childhood, with their legs and necks so shackled, that they are obliged to sit still and look straight forwards, because their chains render it impossible for them to turn their heads round: and imagine a bright fire burning some way off, above and behind them, and an elevated roadway passing between the fire and the prisoners, with a low wall built along it, like the screens which conjurors put up in front of their audience, and above which they exhibit their wonders.
Glaucon: I have.
S: Also figure to yourself a number of persons walking behind this wall, and carrying with them statues of men, and images of other animals, wrought in wood and stone and all kinds of materials, together with various other articles, which overtop the wall; and, as you might expect, let some of the passers-by be talking, and others silent.
G: You are describing a strange scene, and strange prisoners.
S: They resemble us. For let me ask you, in the first place, whether persons so confined could have seen anything of themselves or of each other, beyond the shadows thrown by the fire upon the part of the chamber facing them? Certainly not, if you suppose them to have been compelled all their lifetime to keep their heads unmoved. And is not their knowledge of the things carried past them equally limited?
G: Unquestionably it is.
S: And if they were able to converse with one another, do you not think that they would be in the habit of giving names to the objects they saw before them?
G: Doubtless they would.
S: Again: if their prison-house returned an echo from the part facing them, whenever one of the passers-by opened his lips, to what, let me ask you, could they refer the voice, if not to the shadow which was passing?
G: Unquestionably they would refer it to that.
S: Then surely such persons would hold the shadows of those manufactured articles to be the only realities.
G: Without a doubt they would.
S: Now consider what would happen if the course of nature brought them a release from their fetters, and a remedy form their foolishness in the following manner. Let us suppose that one of them has been released, and compelled suddenly to stand up, and turn his neck round and walk with open eyes towards the light; let us suppose that he goes through all these actions with pain, and that the dazzling splendour renders him incapable of discerning those objects of which he formerly used to see the shadows. What answer should you expect him to make, if someone were to tell him that in those days he was watching foolish phantoms, but that now he is somewhat nearer to reality, and is turned toward things more real, and sees more correctly; above all, if he were to point out to him the several objects that are passing by, and question him, and compel him to answer what they are? Should you not expect him to be puzzled, and to regard his old visions as truer than the objects now forced upon his notice?
G: Yes, much truer.
S: And if he were further compelled to gaze at the light itself, would not his eyes, think you, be distressed, and would he not shrink and turn away to the things which he could see distinctly, and consider them to be really clearer than the things pointed out to him?
G: Just so.
S: And if some one were to drag him violently up the rough and steep ascent from the chamber, and refuse to let him go till he had drawn him out into the light of the sun, would he not, think you, be vexed and indignant at such treatment, and on reaching the light, would he not find his eyes so dazzled by the glare as to be incapable of making out so much as one of the objects that are now called true?
G: Yes, he would find it so at first.
S: Hence, I suppose, habit will be necessary to enable him to perceive objects in that upper world. At first he will be most successful in distinguishing shadows; then he will discern the reflections of men and other things in water, and afterwards the realities; after this he will raise his eyes to encounter the light of the moon and stars, finding it less difficult to study the heavenly bodies and the heaven itself by night, than the sun and the sun's light by day.
G: Doubtless.
S: Last of all, I imagine, he will be able to observe and contemplate the nature of the sun, not as it appears in water or on alien ground, but as it is in itself in its own territory.
G: Of course.
S: His next step will be to draw the conclusion, that the sun is the author of the seasons and the years, and the guardian of all things in the visible world, and in a manner the cause of all those things which he and his companions used to see.
G: Obviously this will be his next step.
S: What then? When he recalls to mind his first habitation, and the wisdom of the place, and his old fellow- prisoners, do you not think he will congratulate himself on the change, and pity them?
G: Assuredly he will.
S: And if it was their practice in those days to receive honour and commendations one from another, and to give prizes to him who had the keenest eye for a passing object, and who remembered best all that used to precede and follow and accompany it, and from these data divined most ably what was going to come next, do you fancy that he will covet these prizes, and envy those who receive honour and exercise authority among them? Do you not rather imagine that he will rather imagine that he will feel what Homer describes, and wish extremely"To drudge on the lands of a master, Under a portionless wight." and be ready to go through anything, rather than entertain those opinions, and live in that fashion?
G: For my own part I am quite of that opinion. I believe he would consent to go through anything rather than live in that way.
S: And now consider what would happen if such a man were to descend again and seat himself on his old seat? Coming so suddenly out of the sun, would he not find his eyes blinded with the gloom of the place?
G: Certainly, he would.
S: And if he were forced to deliver his opinion again, touching the shadows aforesaid, and to enter the lists against those who had always been prisoners, while his sight continued dim and his eyes unsteady, - and if this process of initiation lasted a considerable time, - would he not be made a laughingstock, and would it not be said of him, that he had gone up only to come back again with his eyesight destroyed, and that it was not worth while even to attempt the ascent? And if anyone endeavoured to set them free and carry them to the light, would they not go so far as to put him to death, if they could only manage to get him into their power?
G: Yes, that they would.
S: Now this imaginary case, my dear Glaucon, you must apply in all its parts to our former statements, by comparing the region which the eye reveals, to the prison-house, and the light of the fire therein to the power of the sun: and if, by the upward ascent and the contemplation of the upper world, you understand the mounting of the soul into the intellectual region, you will hit the tendency of my own surmises, since you desire to be told what they are; though, indeed, God only knows whether they are correct. But, be that as it may, the view which I take of the subject is to the following effect. In the world of knowledge, the essential Form of Good is the limit of our inquiries, and can barely be perceived; but, when perceived, we cannot help concluding that it is in every case the source of all that is bright and beautiful,- in the visible world giving birth to light and its master, and in the intellectual world dispensing, immediately and with full authority, truth and reason;- and that whosoever would act wisely, either in private or in public, must set the Form of Good before his eyes.


1. How might you apply the Allegory of the Cave to the narrative of Christianity?

2. How might you apply the Allegory of the Cave to contemporary culture?

3. Where, in the allegory, do you find elements that represent Truth? Elements that represent Facts? Explain your answer.

4. On the basis of the allegory alone, what do you think Plato's personal metaphysical stance is and why?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Metaphysics and Mystery

The following article by Father Raymond J. de Souza appeared in the National Post, June 10th, 2010.

Stephen Hawking, the biggest brain among the big brains of physics, took the star turn here for the recent World Science Festival. That he is now spending several weeks at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ont., is a feather in the cap of Canadian science.
But before he left New York this week, he gave a widely noticed interview to Diane Sawyer, in which she asked him about the biggest mystery he would like solved. “I want to know why the universe exists, why there is something greater than nothing,” Hawking explained.

That is, as the ancient Greeks did not say, the granddaddy of all philosophical questions. Why is there something rather than nothing? No matter how clever you are, if you don’t have a compelling answer to that question, you can only aspire to knowledge — albeit impressive knowledge — but not wisdom.

It is a question for which natural science — astronomy, physics, mathematics — offers no help. In order to do science, there has to be something to observe. Science explains a great deal about how things behave, but nothing about why things exist in the first place. Moreover, science presupposes a certain order in the natural world in order to apply the scientific method. How order can emerge from nothingness is not a scientific question, but a philosophical one. It is, as the ancient Greeks did say, beyond physics. The word for that is metaphysics. And Stephen Hawking, a master of physics, is perfectly in line with the ancient philosophers when he acknowledges that physics itself points to the deeper questions of metaphysics.

Hawking does not believe in the personal God of Abrahamic revelation, whose creative love is the answer to the question of why there is something rather than nothing. That’s fine insofar as metaphysics does not have to be theological. Metaphysics is simply the point to which human reason, applied in rigorous research, arrives. The study of how things develop and change must drive the even mildly curious intellect to ask why things exist at all. As Hawking acknowledges, his discipline cannot provide an answer to that “mystery” — but it forces the question.
Yet in today’s academy, metaphysics has almost disappeared. Natural scientists pay it no heed, and philosophers devote themselves to matters obscure and trivial. Theology has no significant place in the modern university. So the great mysteries — the ones little children ask their parents about — are neglected by our most sophisticated thinkers.
The philosophy of science is the name given to the study of what aspects of reality are addressed by the various scientific disciplines, and the limits of their competence. For example, mathematics is essential to understand the nature and properties of music, yet mathematics is not particularly useful in explaining the reaction of a young woman serenaded by the one she loves. Our scientists today study almost nothing of the philosophy of science. Neither do our philosophers.

“Religion has run out of justifications,” [author and journalist, Christoper] Hitchens concluded in his last book. “Thanks to the telescope and the microscope, it no longer offers an explanation of anything important.”

Hawking knows better. We have very powerful telescopes, but even the most powerful cannot tell us what there was before there was anything to see. The microscope can allow us to observe the atom, but what instrument can measure love or liberty or justice?
There was a session at the World Science Festival titled, “The Limits of Understanding.” It dealt with the idea that there are some mathematical truths that cannot be proven. It is an exceedingly complex and fascinating proposition. Yet all disciplines need to know the limits of their understanding. Theology is important, but of little use in determining whether a tumor is malignant or benign. Biochemistry can tell us in exacting detail the constitutive elements of a human being, but not why he has human rights. Theoretical physics tells us marvellous things about the order in the universe, but tells us little about what is beyond physics, including the origin of that order itself.

The great mystery of why there is something rather than nothing is not one that can be solved in the way that Stephen Hawking would like. Yet the fact that he knows it remains a mystery shows that he has achieved a measure of wisdom, the search for which begins with the realization that there are realities which our eyes alone, even extended by the telescope and microscope, cannot see.
National Post
But as it is written: "What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him," this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God. 1 Cor. 2: 9 - 10
1. What is the great mystery that Hawking would like to solve?
2. What is the difference between knowledge and wisdom?
3. What must you do in order to "do" science? What must you presuppose about the world in order to apply the scientific method?
4. What is metaphysics? Why will all rational thought ultimately arrive at metaphysics?
5. Why does Christopher Hitchens think that religion has essentially outlived its usefulness to humanity?
6. Be able to formulate your own theory about the relationship between science and theology. Are they opponents, allies, or do they merely tolerate one another? Why?

Welome to Senior Theology

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Ad Jesum Per Mariam,
Mr. Basso