Philosophia Perennis

Paul Staines, Founder of Guido Fawkes blog

History shows that the idea that “the science is settled” has never been true. The atom was not the indivisible unit that was it was once accepted to be. Scientists are not infallible, they are very prone to groupthink, intellectual fashion and evil ideas like eugenics. Science advances theories that are tested and refined. Much of “the science” provides a working hypothesis upon which humanity advances. “The science” is not an end state. More scientific humility would be a good thing.


Supernatural is a dangerous and difficult word in any of its senses, looser or stricter. But to fairies it can hardly be applied, unless super is taken merely as a superlative prefix. For it is man who is, in contrast to fairies, supernatural (and often of diminutive stature); whereas they are natural, far more natural than he. Such is their doom.

– J.R.R. Tolkien, Essay on Fairy Stories (1947)

What are they on about?

“Philosophy is knowledge of things which are in so far as they are, that is, a knowledge of the nature of things which have being. And again, philosophy is knowledge of both divine and human things, that is to say, of things both visible and invisible. Philosophy, again, is a study of death, whether this be voluntary or natural. For life is of two kinds, there being the natural life by which we live and the voluntary one by which we cling lovingly to this present life. Death, also, is of two kinds: the one being natural, which is the separation of soul from body, whereas the other is the voluntary one by which we disdain this present life and aspire to that which is to come. Still again, philosophy is the making of one’s self like God. Now, we become like God in wisdom, which is to say, in the true knowledge of good; and in justice, which is a fairness in judgment without respect to persons; and in holiness, which is to say, in good- ness, which is superior to justice, being that by which we do good to them that wrong us. Philosophy is the art of arts and the science of sciences. This is because philosophy is the principle of every art, since through it every art and science has been invented. Now, according to some, art is what errs in some people and science what errs in no one, whereas philosophy alone does not err. According to others, art is that which is done with the hands, whereas science is any art that is practiced by the reason, such as grammar, rhetoric, and the like. Philosophy, again, is a love of wisdom. But, true wisdom is God, Therefore, the love of God, this is the true philosophy.”

– St John Damascene, The Fount of Knowledge, Chapter 3

“‘Tis sweet and commendable in your nature, Hamlet,
To give these mourning duties to your father:
But, you must know, your father lost a father;
That father lost, lost his, and the survivor bound
In filial obligation for some term
To do obsequious sorrow: but to persever
In obstinate condolement is a course
Of impious stubbornness; ’tis unmanly grief;
It shows a will most incorrect to heaven,
A heart unfortified, a mind impatient,
An understanding simple and unschool’d:
For what we know must be and is as common
As any the most vulgar thing to sense,
Why should we in our peevish opposition
Take it to heart? Fie! ’tis a fault to heaven,
A fault against the dead, a fault to nature,
To reason most absurd: whose common theme
Is death of fathers, and who still hath cried,
From the first corse till he that died to-day,
‘This must be so.’ We pray you, throw to earth
This unprevailing woe, and think of us
As of a father: for let the world take note,
You are the most immediate to our throne;
And with no less nobility of love
Than that which dearest father bears his son,
Do I impart toward you. For your intent
In going back to school in Wittenberg,
It is most retrograde to our desire:
And we beseech you, bend you to remain
Here, in the cheer and comfort of our eye,
Our chiefest courtier, cousin, and our son.”

– William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 2


“Among those who blamed the extraordinary life of Catharine, the most remarkable was Father Lazarini, of the Order of Friar Minors, who was then professing Philosophy with eclat, in his convent of Sienna. Not content with openly attacking the reputation of the Blessed, he resolved to come and see her, so as to find in her words and actions, materials for condemning her further: on the eve of [the Feast of] St, Catharine [of Alexandria] Virgin and Martyr he repaired to her house at the hour of Vespers. He had requested me to accompany him and I [Friar Bartholomew of Sienna] had consented to it, because I believed that he would repent of his conduct towards her. We entered her pious cell; Lazarini seated himself on a chest, and Catharine on the floor at his feet; I remained standing. After a few moments of silence, Friar Lazarini began to speak : ‘I have heard’ said he ‘many speaking of your sanctity, and of the understanding God has given you of the Holy Scriptures, and I have been eager to visit you hoping to hear something edifying and consoling to my soul.’ — Catharine replied: ‘And I, rejoice at your arrival, because I think that the Lord sent you to allow me an opportunity of profiting by that learning, with which you daily instruct your numerous disciples. I hoped that charity would induce you to comfort my poor soul, and I entreat you to do so through love of Our Lord.’ The conversation continued some time in this tone, and as the night was approaching Friar Lazarini finished by saying: ‘I see that it is late, and that I must retire, but I will return at a more suitable hour’. He arose to depart; Catharine knelt, crossed her arms, and asked his blessing When she had received it, she commended herself to his prayers, and Friar Lazarini, more through politeness than from devotion, asked her also to pray for him which she cheerfully promised to do. He went away, thinking that Catharine might be a good person, but that she was far from meriting her great reputation.

The night following, on rising to study the lesson that he was to explain to his pupils the next day, Friar Lazarini began to shed tears involuntarily. The more he wiped them, the more copiously they flowed, and he could not discover the cause In the morning, they came to call him at the hour of Class; but it was impossible for him to speak to his pupils: he wept without intermission. Returning to his cell, he continued weeping, and was indignant towards himself. ‘What ails me,’ said he; ‘what do I want: is my mother dead suddenly, or has my brother fallen on the battle-field; what can this mean?’ The entire day passed in this state, and when evening came on, he slept a few moments, being overcome with fatigue and wearisomeness; but he soon awoke, and his tears began to flow afresh, without his being able to restrain them. He therefore reflected whether he might not have committed some grave fault, and invoked the divine Mercy to recall it to him: whilst he was examining his conscience, he heard an interior voice that exclaimed to him: ‘Do you forget so quickly that yesterday, you judged my faithful servant Catharine in a spirit of pride, and requested her to pray for you through politeness?’

As soon as Friar Lazarini had received this advertisement and discerned his fault, his tears subsided and his heart became inflamed with a desire of again conversing with Catharine. At the first glimmering of day, he hastened to knock at the door of her cell. The Blessed, who was aware of what her Spouse had done, opened the door to Friar Lazarini, who prostrated himself at her feet, Catharine also prostrated, and implored him to rise, after which they had a lengthy interview, and the Religious conjured her to condescend to direct him in the way of salvation. Catharine, overcome by his instances answered him: ‘The way of salvation for you is, to despise the vanities of the world and its smiles, to become humble, poor, and destitute in imitation of Jesus Christ and your holy Father, Saint Francis.’ At these words the Religious saw that Catharine read his soul; he shed tears profusely and promised to do whatever she might command him. He accomplished his promise, distributed his money, and useless furniture, and even his books. He merely reserved a few notes, which were necessary aids to him when preaching, and became truly poor, and a veritable follower of our Blessed Redeemer.”

– ‘Deposition of Friar Bartholomew of Sienna’ in Bl. Raymond of Capua, Life of Saint Catharine of Sienna (Philadelphia, 1860), 354-356.

Is the equal dignity of all men (homines) founded in nature or in grace? Both. Matter is the principle of individuation and the highest operations of the intellect do not occur through a material organ. The capacity of the intellect to make use of man’s lower faculties, such as the imagination, may be impeded by the imperfect subjection of the body’s matter to its form (the soul) which results from the loss of the preternatural gifts but this privation (a consequence of the Fall) afflicts all men. Moral (and therefore political) questions appertain to the will and intellect as such and thus there can be no pretext for the founding of civil rights and their variation upon supposed biological variation between ‘races’. Any attempt to do so is pagan and materialist.’ Sexism and Racism are false de jure and de facto. Imagine an orchestra of identical musicians with differing instruments. In bodily terms the musicians are identical but they have only ever played, studied and practiced with the individual instrument they play in the orchestra. Their habits and the development of their bodies are entirely framed by the instrument they have grown up with. Nevertheless, each is possessed of the same theoretical capacity and with a perfect instrument and ideal training  unlimited potential. In this fallen world no one is possessed of a perfect instrument and ideal training but it will not always be thus. In fact, in the order of grace everyone is possessed of a perfect instrument and ideal training for “to them that love God, all things work together unto good”. In an unfallen world the equality of all men would be an absolute. In this world (and all possible worlds) it is essentially preserved. Under grace this essential equality is transformed into differing eternal rewards determined by charity. “In the Evening of Life, We will be Judged on Love Alone.” Of course when God crowns our merits He crowns His own gifts but though founded upon grace and the principle of predilection that judgement is not unjust. God’s grace does not conflict with the freedom of man. When we have run the race to the finish it is the equality of our starting place that displays the justice of God. That starting place is nature.

Yesterday I re-read Bl. John Henry Newman’s brutal analysis of Protestants as non-believers. Today it was rather startling to be reminded that so many of them do not even believe in God. I remember once reading a Protestant writer’s analysis of whether Mormons are Christian. I was stunned to read him approach the question through the doctrine of justification. “Do Mormons truly trust in Jesus for their salvation?”. He never even raised the fact that they do not even believe in God! He never considered that, as atheists, Mormons cannot possibly believe in God Incarnate and thus whatever it is to which they attach the name ‘Jesus’ it will not save them from their sins. Listening to Craig’s words above I cannot help but wonder how common this kind of paganism is among the children of the Reformation. See: Feser’s (extremely courteous) response and Hart’s slightly more aggressive (he calls Craig a ‘mono-polytheist’) Greek Orthodox analysis of Craig’s position.

May the most holy, most sacred, most adorable,
most incomprehensible and ineffable Name of God
be forever praised, blessed, loved, adored
and glorified in Heaven, on earth,
and under the earth,
by all the creatures of God,
and by the Sacred Heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

God knows some things that He might not have known. For example, He knows you and me. Of course He would always have known us at least as possible beings, but He need not have known as actually existing beings. If He had not created us, He would not have known us as actual beings; but He did, and so He does.

So God knows some things that He might not have known. This is a remarkable thing, which has perhaps not been sufficiently pondered among perennial philosophers. It might seem at first to destroy the assertion that God is Actus Purus, pure act. Surely, one might think, if God knows something that He might not have known, then He must have had a potentiality to know this thing, and this potentiality must have been realised, so that He now knows it. But of course this is impossible.

Why do these things that God knows, but which He might not have known, not introduce potentiality and the realisation of potentiality into God? It is because none of these things that He knows but might not have known – for example, no creature – goes to constitute God’s own act of knowledge; no creature ‘shapes’ the divine act of understanding, making it to be like this rather than like that. To use the technical phrase, nothing other than God is the specifying object of God’s act of knowledge. Creatures are real objects of His knowledge; God really knows you and me, not just an idea of you and me. But we are not the specifying objects of the one, eternal, simple, divine act of understanding. We are secondary objects of the divine knowledge. The only specifying object of the divine act of understanding is God’s own essence.

What brings it about that God knows certain objects that He might not have known? In the case of real beings, such as you and me, the answer is simple. It is because He wills to create and sustain us. The divine will, or the divine initiative if you like, brings it about that He knows us. Because He wills to create, His eternal, simple act of knowledge is not only a knowledge of Himself but also a knowledge of us. But it is important to notice that it is not the fact that His knowledge of us is the result of His free initiative which explains why His knowledge of us is not the realisation of a potentiality in Himself. We also can take an initiative and come to know things that we need not have known. For example, I can choose to learn Spanish. But however free this initiative may have been on may part, my learning of Spanish will necessarily be an actualisation of potentiality within me. Likewise, it is not the fact of the divine initiative in creating which is the formal reason why His knowledge of us is not a realisation of potentiality, but simply the fact that we are not the specifying object of His act of knowledge.

Now, what about God’s knowledge of sins? Sins also are ‘things’ which God might not have known, since He might not have created free creatures capable of sinning. But He does know them, since He forgives and punishes them. Sins are, like creatures, ‘secondary objects’ of the divine knowledge. So how does a given sin, for example the fall of Lucifer, or the sin of Adam, become a secondary object of the divine knowledge?  A priori, there seem to be two possibilities. Either it becomes such an object because of God’s initiative of choosing to create a world of which it will certainly be a feature, or it becomes such an object in virtue of the creature’s initiative.

Does this latter alternative introduce passivity, that is potentiality and the realisation of potentiality, into God? Only if the formal reason why God’s knowledge of things which He might not have known is His having the first initiative in their coming about. But as I have argued in the last paragraph but one, this is not so. The formal reason why God’s knowledge of such things introduces no passivity into God is that they are not the specifying object of His act of understanding. So if we posit that Adam’s fall becomes an object of divine knowledge not because God chose to create that universe in which Adam would fall, but simply because Adam did in fact fall, we thereby introduce no passivity into God. Of course there are other things to be said about the causal relation between the first mover and creaturely free will. But this is enough for one post.

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