Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Priority of Jesus Christ: The Upward Trend of Christianity

I am writing this article primarily in response to a couple articles which I have seen posted on Facebook-- "Why Millenials are Leaving the Church" and "Young Evangelicals are Getting High"--but I wish to touch more on the reasoning behind this "upward trend". If you have not read either of those articles, this one will make little sense to you (be forewarned).

Our story actually begins in the 18th and 19th century Enlightenment era. The Enlightenment attempted to put religion under the umbrella of "universal reason". This became the dividing line in Protestant theology between "conservative" and "liberal" (here, I do not mean those terms in the political sense we use them today). If you were a conservative Protestant, you rejected the notion that everything in Christianity is totally rationalize-able, and therefore one must take many things on his personal understanding of faith. If you were a liberal Protestant, you accepted the notion that everything in Christianity is ultimately rationalize-able because it was Logic (in the prologue to the Gospel of John, "Word" or "Logos") who became incarnate. Conservative Protestantism came to be understood as "Evangelicalism", and liberal Protestantism came to be understood as, well, "Liberal Protestantism" (that's Liberal with a capital "L", because it's an underlying ideology). Here we see the development of some well known one-or-the-other ideas (called "dichotomies") such as faith vs. science or faith vs. reason, person vs. institution or hierarchy, man vs. woman, and most fundamentally, God vs. man.

The Effects:
The list goes on, and it has a very fracturing effect, hence the rampant denominationalism we see today. In fact, it seems that many people have "given up" because of it. There is a throwing in of the towel in regards to orthodoxy and even dogmatic theology because anybody's sliver of truth is as good as anyone else's sliver of truth. The effect? Christ becomes one figure among many, because then he exists, not as God, but as a totally grasped idea within the human mind or emotion in the heart. Once the individual believer attains some sort of knowledge of Christ or emotional attachment satisfactory to his or her liking, the real and concrete person of Jesus can be discarded. The individual believer then becomes the center, not Jesus Christ. If Jesus Christ is not the center, then what kind of Christian theology is being fostered? This is the dilemma.

Both "conservative" and "liberal" are... Unorthodox?
 In the late 20th century, a Christian theologian by the name of George Lindbeck wrote a controversial book called "The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age". This book, while very small for being so important (about 150 pages), placed a large question mark--among other things--in the way that Christianity was to respond to the Enlightenment, especially in Protestant Christianity. His approach (we will look at that in a moment) essentially came to the conclusion that both the Evangelical "conservative" and Liberal Protestant theologies displaced Christ as the center of theology with themselves. That is, that their theology was a "self-glorification" (a phrase by Karl Barth, a Swiss Protestant theologian, who criticized modernist Protestantism and advocated a return to the theology of the Reformers). Lindbeck was the first to construct a postliberal theology. He attempted to get past the "liberal" mindset of both the Evangelicals and Liberals and get to the mind of Christ instead.

The Topic at Hand
What has any of this got to do with "Why Millenials are Leaving the Church" and "Young Evangelicals are Getting High"? The trend in the theological world is upward towards "high church" Protestantism (think Anglican, Episcopalian, older strains of Lutheranism and Presbyterianism, etc), Eastern Orthodoxy, and Catholicism. The impact foreseen in the 20th century is slowly trickling down into the "real world". What does this mean? It means people are tired of watered down theology. People are tired of placing their relationship with Christ on purely the ground of their emotions or of their intellect. Rather than themselves as the center, they want Christ to be the center, and this is a good change. What does this mean, in the approach of Lindbeck? It means that a different perspective of the the Christian Church is arising--one that is founded in the liturgy, in the Church fathers and councils, in a Christocentric approach to scripture, and in sacred Tradition. These are the places that the person of Christ has been passed on from generation to
generation in the Body of Christ.

For those of you who are curious what this sort of theology looks like, I will pull from Fr. Robert Barron's "The Priority of Christ: Toward a Postliberal Catholicism". Fr. Robert Barron, for those of you who don't know, is the same guy who did the "Catholicism" series and has many, many, many commentary videos on YouTube about various and sundry things. But here is a quote from the above listed book and a video with which I will end this blog post:

The Priority of Christ
"I follow Colin Gunton and John Milbank's suggestion that the modern can be viewed as a sharp reaction to precisely the elements in late-medieval Christianity that I have been highlighting. ...Dupre has remarked the subjectivism as such is not a distinctive quality of the modern, for no one was more subjective than Plato, Plotinus, or Augustine. Rather, it is the claim that the subject is itself the ground of meaning and value [that the individual him or herself can determine the meaning of his or her own life; and that any impeding on that freedom is an offense against the individual. Reality, then, is seen as a power struggle between aggressive, self-contained, and narcissistic individuals]. ... Lest all of this seem to abstractly philosophical, the modern preference for the freedom of the individual is no more baldly and forcibly defended than in the U.S. Supreme Court's judgment in the case of Casey v. Planned Parenthood: "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, of the mystery of human life." ... In all of this modern assertiveness, we see the reaction of the many against the one, of individuals against the tyranny of institutions and of that threatening Other lurking, acknowledged explicitly or not, behind them. ... Modernity and liberal Christianity are enemies in one sense, but in another sense, they are deeply connected to one another and mirror one another.  ... I am convinced that both need to be saved, precisely by that person [emphasis mine] who throws everything off, including and especially the competitive understanding of God and the world that produce the conflict between them in the first place." pgs. 15-16

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Reflection on the Lord's Prayer, Pt. 1

Reflection on the Lord's Prayer, Pt. 1

God as the Gatherer
The prayer that Christ gave to us starts with a proclamation of familial and communal love, our Father. Firstly, we could read this as "our Father", a Father shared by all who is the progenitor of all, and so assimilates and gathers all His children into one family, one community, by His own being; just as an earthly father gathers his children into a family by merely the act of being or becoming a father. The common proclamation, "our Father", of His children is, then, not their own gathering themselves together and so saying, but a surrendering to the already present gathering force of the Father who is actively at work in love. That is, in saying "our Father" we are not making Him our Father, but surrendering to Him who has chosen us as his adopted children.
This is evident in the parable of the Prodigal Son, where the estranged son finds very quickly that without the gathering force of the father, everything scatters to the wind. It is not until he surrenders to the loving kindness of his father that he participates in the life of the family and so receives it once again.

There is certainly something to be noted in this gathering force inherent in this divine Fatherhood: the force is one of familial love, reciprocity, and synergism. Sonship or daughtership through the Father requires participation, because the family is always actively in love. Said participation in the family life as sons and daughters is the cooperative element which returns the received love back to the Father. For the adopted sons and daughters of God, this means a participation, not only in the family of the Church, but in the holy life of the blessed Trinity itself!

Returning to the parable of the prodigal son, the son sought to objectify his relationship with his father by demanding his material inheritance. Another way of saying this is that he tried to say "my Father" in a grasping way, attempting to seize the gratuitous relationship so he could be the one to say, you are my father. In doing so, however, he forfeited his familial inheritance--his participation in the family life. This is because love is, by nature, free. Any attempt to stifle the flow of love for one's own purposes is to disrupt the very thing one was first trying to grasp at! Without the familial community, his situation became much like winning the lottery while being stranded on an island! While he was indeed a son and brother all along by the very act of his father's being, what was his sonship without the family community? Indeed, his uniqueness was destroyed, not augmented, by self-isolation. He had, as the father remarked upon his return, "died", and became otherwise identity-less. And yet even the greatest amount of material inheritance certainly could not buy sonship from the beginning! When the son sought reconciliation of the relationship between him and his father by surrendering to his father's love and gratuity, the flow of communal love continued again, and the son came back to identity and life in it. When we surrender to the Father as sons and daughters, we do more than accept God's fathership: we accept our commitment to the family community by accepting our sonship or daughtership. That is, the family community which is the Church!

God as Universal and Ultimate Patron
Secondly, we could read this as "our Father", a universal Father of all. And in so being, He is the creator, protector, and caretaker of all; the ultimate paragon of Fatherliness from whom all other fathers derive their paradigmatic role. Furthermore our Father would be an authority figure, leading the way as the head of the family community. "Leading the way into what?" is an interesting question to ask here. An earthly father may pass on a craft or pay for the education of his offspring so that they may be successful in the world. But for the ultimate Father, there is no "world" outside of the family. The Father's family is the origin and central axis of all that exists. Rather, the Father leads the family deeper into itself in an endless play of love: He leads his children into the Trinitarian life. The trade of the family is to love, which thrives in the total self-giving economy of loving.

God as Source of Life
Next, the prayer continues "who art in Heaven...". If we assume our Father to be the ultimate and universal Father, of which no greater Father exists, then we must now make a decision: where is our home? Fathers exist to procreate, protect, and take care of their offspring and home. And yet if one were to look at the history of the world, there seems to exist very little protection, taking care, and in more recent times, upholding of the dignity of procreation. Either this is our home and our "Father" is not a very good one, or we have in fact found ourselves separated from Him. We have found ourselves in a lifeless terrain that has rejected God, rejected his life, and rejected his love. So our home, to which we are wayward journeyers, is the place of life and the place of love which we are seeking, because it is the place of our Father. In this sense, the Father is not only the author of all Life, but the active source of it: He is the origin of the Trinitarian Life which he leads his children into to participate.

God as Eternal Being
Hallowed be thy name... In chapter 3 of Exodus, Moses encounters God in the burning bush and is sent by God to confront the Pharaoh, who held the Israelites hostage. When Moses hears of this, he begins to ask questions, and one of the first is what God's name is. God then replies, "I Am Who I Am." Rather than procuring a name, as one who could be nominally called "father", God displays his true nature of eternal being, the one who is our Father; the one by whose very eternal being that all his children are a family and a community. We proclaim, in saying this, that the divine Fatherhood is in essence and substance the same as the holy and eternal nature of God. And we proclaim the relationship between the I AM and His children to be one of faithfulness, for by His name of divine to-be and Fatherhood--his being--He gathers His children to himself into an eternal family, such as the source of life of the family is the eternal being of the Father.

God as Lord and King
Thy kingdom come... Now, we proclaim a different paradigm of the Father. He also our Lord giving direction to his family as a royal people. He has assigned us each a vocation and integral role in his kingdom for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Him. And we confess that the fullness of that kingdom is yet to come; that it is our Lord's will for each of his children to fulfill, by their vocation, a portion of the kingdom. Whether the vocation be something "great" and "wonderful", or small and unnoticed, we are reminded that each is noble, for we are a noble people; it is our Lord's will that these things be done, and, being the Father that He is, he sweetly notices, gently commends, and loves us in all our efforts to cooperate. Here we see an interesting spectacle: while God as Father leads His children indefinitely deeper into the family life of love, He leads as Lord His nobles to a definite fulfillment of the kingdom. While we acknowledge His infinite Love and capacity as Father, He graciously and mysteriously incorporates our finite nature into His infinite plan of participation in his life of love. In this way, God is both our Lord and our Father.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Lord of the Rings Commentary: Part II

Part II: The "Opposition"
Up until this point in the story, the Ring of power is the central focus. Now, the focus is turned from the festering power and greed of Sauron, which took into pusillanimous grasp each and every ring-bearer, to a simple and unnoticed adventuring hobbit--Bilbo Baggins. The scene cuts to the Shire in the present, where he is shown to be writing his own story, There and Back Again

"Where our [hobbit] hearts truly lie is in the peace and quiet... For all hobbits share a love of things that grow. It is no bad thing to celebrate a simple life. Things are made to last in the Shire."

The great wizard, Gandalf the grey, an old friend of Bilbo, arrives in the Shire in a cart, and is joyfully greeted by Bilbo's nephew, Frodo Baggins (the protagonist), who is shown to be lying in a meadow reading a book. There is hustle and bustle about the Shire, as they are preparing for Bilbo's 111th birthday. The relatively oversized Gandalf meets Bilbo in his halfling sized home, and Bilbo confides that he will be going away after his birthday. During his "impromptu" birthday speech (not really), Bilbo slips on the Ring and becomes invisible, much to the surprise of everyone in the audience. He laughs to himself as he secretly walks back to his hobbit hole, but is startled by the presence of Gandalf in his house, ready to verbally reprimand him. As Bilbo is about to set off on his leave, he and Gandalf enter into a fight concerning leaving the Ring behind: Bilbo, tempted by the pusillanimous presence of Sauron in the ring mutters, "Why shouldn't I keep it?".  After a spectacle of monstrous shouting by Gandalf, Bilbo snaps back to his normal mindset and returns to Gandalf with tears, an apology, and a hug. He then drops the ring on the floor, and leaves to Caras Galvador (elven "capitol"). Everything Bilbo leaves behind is inherited by Frodo--including his protagonism (Read: The Hobbit).

What first strikes me as interesting is how something like an evil Ring, the lifeforce of Sauron, is passed down willy-nilly from one hobbit to another; and this is done to protect the rest of Middle Earth from the forces of darkness ever getting a hold of that Ring again. As far as legendary tales go, the unsurpassed stature and fame of a hobbit isn't the first choice of protagonist really for anyone. But, this makes sense when we consider that this is our own story being played out in the colorful and wonderful world of Middle Earth. The individual, in the context of the world society, is sort of nondescrip. Seeing as how the story is about the human experience, it is actually very fitting that the one who inherits the problem of the evil in the Ring be very little, unnoticed, and relatively weak in more ways than one. 

This theme of humility is consistent throughout the story. Frodo plays a central role and carries the burden of the Ring, but the burden of evil in general is de-centralized. If Frodo wishes to destroy the Ring, he must rely on his stronger friends to get him there. Where Sauron had no friends (or so it seems) but merely dominated others for his own purposes, Frodo is called upon to give himself away, the opposite of domination, not for his own purposes, but for the good of all people. The meekness and inherent lack of self-sufficiency in his being a hobbit makes Frodo, in retrospect, a profound and somewhat emotional choice of protagonist. Where Sauron is the pitiful and pusillanimous antagonist captured in a Ring but still seeking to dominate, Frodo is the laughable protagonist who must choose of his own will, that is, true freedom, to have a magna anima.

The story serves as a sort of challenging question to the world-view of the intent listener: will you have the courage and the magnanimity to surrender to whatever role you must play in the story of your life--even if, in the greater scheme of things, you are not the protagonist? No story is isolated. Even in the attempt to make all stories your own story through dominating them (as in Sauron), and even if one is successful in that domination, the story of the individual person results in bitter defeat. Attempting to dominate other stories forfeits the unique individuality and personhood which one was pusillanimously grasping to preserve in the first place. The human person, as shown in the story, is of utmost importance to the greater picture. That is, each actor in the story of life has a place and stage directions. The magna anima seeks to preserve the individuality and dignity of each person, because it knows that each person has a role to play and potential to fill. But neither does it consider each part to be isolated from any other. Somehow, the utter uniqueness of each role is gained, not by isolation, but by its relationship with the other roles. This, in turn, makes the play beautiful.

On this note, I wish to mention a couple occurrences in the story that will align with this idea of humility: all the characters who have not been consumed by darkness are most certainly dynamic as they are tempted with pusillanimity and as they choose magnanimity; the big spirit is that way because it is always growing, while the small spirit is unchanging because it has shrunk into the infinitesimally small border between being and non-being. 

The first of which is Gandalf, and his growth prior and up to to his own self-sacrifice at the hands of the fire demon Balrog in Moria. Before the Fellowship entered Moria, Gandalf instructs Frodo to "rely on your own strength" in regards to ensuring the Ring will be destroyed. This advise is challenged when Gandalf after boasting about his extensive knowledge of ancient languages, is unable to procure the password to open the door to Moria. The answer appears only when the meek Frodo asks a simple question: "How do you say 'friend' in elvish?". Gandalf utters the word, and the door opens. The humility required of Frodo far surpasses even the wisdom required of Gandalf. In this, the both of them grow in humility and trust in one another. With the fate of Gandalf the grey in mind, it is interesting to note that the word "demon", stemming from the Greek word "diabolos", literally means "the one who scatters by throwing". After Gandalf is apparently killed, must fight the urge and tendency to disintegrate. They learn very quickly that without the spontaneous intercession of the angelic and prophetic figure, they must rely on their faithfulness to each other as they are thrown headlong into the mess of growing evil.

When the Fellowship reaches Caras Galvador, Frodo meets another angelic and prophetic figure, Galadriel. He says to her, "I cannot do this alone..." to which she replies, "to bear a ring of power is to be alone". Frodo's humility is again tested as this advice now from a second figure rests on his shoulders. After choosing to leave the Fellowship, Frodo sets out on his own, but he is hounded by the magnanimity of his friend, Sam who, though he cannot swim, jumped into the water in a struggle to reach and join Frodo. Frodo yells out, "I'm going alone to Mordor, Sam!" to which Sam replies, "I know, and I'm going with you!". Realizing his mistake, Frodo pulls nearly drowned Sam into the boat. Sam, in his magnanimity, both realized the unique situation of Frodo, but stubbornly denies that Frodo's own story is isolated--even if he is the protagonist. While the antagonist and all of his followers are starkly presented as pure evil, the opposition is not presented necessarily as pure good. So, the dynamics of the story take place both within the individual and outside him, truly reflective of the human experience.

"Gandalf's death was not in vain. Nor would he have you give up hope. You carry a heavy burden Frodo.".. We do not know the full purpose of his life. Yet hope remains while the company is true." - Galadriael.

To read Part I, click here.

Lord of the Rings Commentary: Part I

To read Part II, click here.

As I've been pulling away the layers of this movie--watching, rewinding, contemplating, etc.--I've become increasingly moved on an intellectual, yet emotional, level at the subtle motifs throughout the storyline. I typically write more along academic and "lofty" idealistic lines, but there is a certain theme throughout the movie accessible to all people--precisely because we are people. A story is, to some degree or another, accessible and understood by every intent listener. I gather that's because every story is not an isolated one. In stories, fantasy or real, we find a piece of ourselves. We recognize ourselves in those stories. Especially when we recognize our identity in fantastic wonderlands and legendary tales, something as extraordinary as those stories takes place. I'm given to understand that when a fantasy or legend "comes to life", it's actually we who are "coming to life"; or rather, something deep inside of us, fundamental to our experience as a person, is being shaken and awakened that we may open our eyes and see what we were blind to once before.

The human experience has it's highs and lows, joys and sorrows, and above all mysteries and revelations. This reality has been intricately woven into the fantasy world of the Lord of the Rings series. And I must say, I am excited to share what I have found. My sincerest hope is that you will understand your own life as a fantastical story unfolding, a magnificent play, and more importantly to entice you to wonder about who's directing.

Part I: Evil, Power, and Love
"The world is changed. None now live who remember it..."
The story begins, not with the introduction of the main characters (as one would expect), but with the essential problem and threat to anyone and everyone. The problem of evil is presented as a universal problem, affecting everyone and escaped by no one. And this blanket problem is woven, not by some entity that predates time. Rather, evil is said to start within time, by the misuse of power. Called front and center is the result of that abuse and, at a deeper level, the essential definition of will or freedom. Properly speaking, the movie title is referring to Sauron, the "Lord of the Rings". But why name the title after the antagonist? I think this is because the fundamental human experience, as we know it, is so deeply entrenched in the problem of evil. It's simply inescapable that the world is imperfect, and this impacts the way we live our lives in virtually every aspect. The story, while told in a fantastical way and decentralized from the human race, is the human story. After all, our story is really the only story we know. We recognize ourselves in the storyline.

Evil, as described by the movie, is the pursuit of domination and power over everything. Sauron, while we know little directly about him, is bent on grasping, consuming, and destroying. He is the personification of evil in Middle Earth. This grasping, consuming, and destroying is simply unquenchable. Sauron is desperately trying to become totally self-sufficient and autonomous. He is, in the words of Robert Barron, the embodiment of the pusilla anima, or pusillanimous, literally "little spirited". In more modern day usage, pusillanimous means "lacking courage". The question becomes "the lack of courage to do what?" Sauron is certainly not fearful of confronting others or going into battle. He is afraid of self-giving and self-sacrifice--namely, love. And so he clings desperately to self-sufficiency because, as it would seem, he would rather dominate and struggle than confront his fear of being selfless and at peace. 

This same intrapersonal conflict is present in each and every character of the movie. In his pursuit of autonomy, the attempt to make himself a god, Sauron has consumed himself and dissolves into profound emptiness. All that's left of him is his "little spirit", bound only by a simple golden ring as he watches Middle Earth by his fiery and consuming eye, perched atop a tower. Boromir insightfully remarks in the story, "It is a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt about so small a thing--such a little thing." He is at once referring, I think, to the ring, and the inherent littleness, pusillanimity, of Sauron. The fear and doubt that Sauron has experienced in his pusillanimity has been reflected onto the world of Middle Earth, by force.
"It is a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt about so small a thing--such a little thing..."

While the forces of evil, goblins and orcs and such, are represented as obvious destructive powers of pure evil, those that resist are not necessarily "pure good". There is a subtle hint that love, which is for our purposes self-giving and self-sacrificing, is an act of the will, unadulterated by power. Love cannot be forced, because to love, as Thomas Aquinas puts it, is to will the good of another. True freedom, the proper use of the will, is hinted at being not in use of power for the purpose of domination, but in the purpose of self-giving in love.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Love and Sacrifice

"Yet even now," declares the LORD, "Return to Me with all your heart, And with fasting, weeping and mourning; And rend your heart and not your garments." Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in loving-kindness and relenting of evil."  Joel 2:12-13

Within the context of modern society, the idea of evil is seen as an archaic and limiting. The real answers are said to be neutral psychological problems that a person may have. As a result, people are not held accountable for sin. For any Christian, this is dangerous business. Every single person struggles with vices, their "personal demons". To cover our eyes, ears, (and now mouths if we want to be politically correct) about the concept of sin is to wash our hands the same way Pilate did.

No need to worry about that fault of yours! It's not even really a fault. It's just a desire you have. As long as it doesn't get out of control, then you're fine!

I cannot stress how deep a lie that is. I'm sure we've all observed a child or young teenager question their parents, "Why can't I stay up one more hour? Is one more hour so bad? Why can't I have one more cookie? That's not so bad!" At this age, the question is rather innocent. But when adults (young or old) begin to ask themselves this, "what's so bad about one more?", we hit a critical point, because when that person slides down the slippery slope they edge, they will blame the slippery slope instead of taking accountability. We are tempted to throw away our sensitivity to sin, and become fodder for our "personal demons". We become tempted to explain our actions as caused by something other than ourselves.

Where Love assimilates and gathers, Sin scatters and destroys. Before the Fall, Adam lived in perfect harmony and communion with God and Eve. When Adam and Eve sinned, they severely damaged their relationship with God. When God questioned Adam, the figurehead for mankind, why he sinned, Adam blamed his own wife. He tried to explain his actions away as caused by something other than himself. This severely damaged his relationship between the himself and God and Eve. In a single act of disobedience, Love through humility was kicked to the street in favor of pride.

How often do we excuse ourselves from loving others, simply because we do not wish to take accountability for sinful tendencies we may have? How often do we tell ourselves that the battle cannot be won or should not be fought on account of our past failures? Love is an indispensable force. The very fabric of creation is held together by Love. More importantly, Love is ours to receive. It gave itself totally and fully to us through Jesus Christ, who is Love incarnate. God is Love. Only with Love, the great assimilating force, can our broken pieces be gathered back together and our habits be set straight. We can start cooperating with this Love by doing very simple and small things: say no to the "one more" today. That's the sacrifice that Love demands, not to strip you of your dignity, but to make room in your heart for It.

Stay away from the slippery slope. Rend your heart and passions, not your garments.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Ontological-Metaphysical Argument (1)

Ontological-Metaphysical Argument for the Existence of God
Which is Uncaused, Omnipotent, Purely Actual

I. Through observation, it is axiomatic that something exists.

II. It can be logically deduced that existence must exist in order for any possible existent to exist.
a. Through observation, it is axiomatic that some existents exist.
b. Existents are contingent; that is, they do not exist out of intrinsic necessity, but by extrinsic necessity; causal factors.
c. By extension, it is axiomatic that existence exists as an ontological principle, because existence applied as a property in an existent is not in any situation necessary.
d. It is not necessary that any particular existent exists.
e. Existence is an axiomatic principle, because it necessarily precedes (a).

III. Existence must exist in order for any possible existent to exist.

IV. A principle cannot exist more in its essence than it is; a principle is the maximum of an abstract quality, e.g. The principle of X cannot be more X than it is.

V. Existence could be considered the absolute principle, because its essence of existence is its own quintessential paradigm; e.g., existence cannot exist more in its essence, which is being, than it exists.

VI. By its essence, existence is pure actuality, because it is being.

VII. Existence can be applied as a property.
a. Through self-consciousness (metacognition), it is axiomatic that the conscious self exists.
b. The self perceives change: either by intrinsic necessity (nature) or extrinsic necessity (causality)
c. If by nature, then the self cannot be an unchanging entity-principle and therefore it is an existent by which existence is applied as a property
d. If by causality, then an existent outside of the self is acting on the self causing a perceived change, and existence is necessarily applied as a property to those existents.
e. Also, if assumed that the conscious self and the entity-principle are the same, there exists a contradiction: self-consciousness is axiomatic, and yet if it is subject to a perception of change, consciousness could not be substantial, and yet it is, axiomatically.

VIII. It can be logically deduced that the first existent(s) can only have be actualized by the entity-principle of existence.
a. If only the entity-principle existence exists out of necessity, eternally, then there became time itself and a point therein where both external necessity (causality) and existents began to exist, as they do not exist eternally.
b. Metaphysically preceding time, eternally, there existed only the entity-principle of existence.
c. This entity-principle metaphysically preceded all possible hypothetical existents.

IX. Potential existents are not actualized by intrinsic necessity; Existents do not exist by intrinsic necessity.
a. If existents existed by intrinsic necessity, it would exist eternally, and yet clearly it does not by observation of change (see VII. d. & e.).
b. Potential existents exist by extrinsic necessity, which is causality.

X. It is therefore necessary, by virtue of being in itself first and necessary, for the entity-principle, existence, to be both uncaused, and the first cause.
a. Existence is, in its essence, uncaused because it is that which necessarily is.
b. Nor is it self-caused because it always actual, according to its own essence.
c. Existence is, in its essence, the first cause by virtue of existing independent of causal necessity.

XI. The gap between the existence and non-existence of an existent is infinite.
a. The amount of power needed to bring a non-existent  potential existent into existence is infinite.
b. The entity-principle is the only possible source of being, shown by both intrinsic necessity, and by deduction.
c. By deduction, it is necessary that the entity-principle has the infinite amout of power, omnipotence, needed to bring a non-existent and potential existent into existence.

There can be said to be an uncaused, omnipotent, and purely actual entity-principle which we call God.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

IV. Heraclitus' Word

Back to III. The Pythagorean Society
Forward to V. Parmenides and Melissus

Heraclitus' Background
Heraclitus was an Ephesian noble and was born somewhere between 504-501 BC. He was a very melancholy, somewhat bitter, and very sarcastic in tone. He was solitary his entire life and was, as it seemed quite cynical of people. He once said, "The Ephesians would do well to hang themselves, every grown man of them, and leave the beardless lads". And another time, "asses prefer straw to gold".

Heraclitus' Doctrine
Heraclitus conception of God was a pantheistic one. Aristotle writes, in his Metaphysics, about Heraclitus saying, "all things are in motion, nothing steadfastly is." Commonly attributed to Heraclitus is the phrase, "all things are in a state of flux", as well, although historically this does not seem to line up with his philosophy. Heraclitus' contribution to philosophy lies in that he conceives a sort of subjective unity in diversity. While conflict and disharmony was considered counter-intuitive to the previous philosophers, Heraclitus asserts that  the One only exists in contrast. This is not to say that he did not believe in the One, rather that change was essential to the One. We can term this concept as a Identity in Difference.

Heraclitus also returned to the notion of an ultimate element. For him, this is fire. While this seems to be a retrograde once again, he had good reason to think so. Fire consumes things and, by the physics of Heraclitus' time, turns whatever it is burning into fire. He once said, "Fire is want and surfeit." And he also says, the cosmos is "an ever-living Fire, with measure of it kindling and measure going out." His conception of the elements are as follows: First, he distinguished what is the upward path and the downward path. The upward path is when things are moving towards a state of fire, and the downward path when things are moving away from it. According to Heraclitus, when fire undergoes some sort of condensation, it becomes water. When water cools as hardens, it turns to earth. This is the downward path. When earth is liquefied, it turns into water, and when water undergoes evaporation, it turns into fire. 

Heraclitus held that God is the universal Logos, or law, which governed all things. It is this Logos that brings all things into unity by determining the constant flux. He also believed that humans should endeavor to seek after the truth of this Logos, not for the sake of entirely understanding it, but for the sake of participating in it. This paved the way for the ideas of Stoicism in the future.

III. The Pythagorean Society

II. Back to the Milesian Philosophers
IV. Forward to Heraclitus

The Founder
Pythagoras was an astronomer, geometer, and musician as well as a philosopher. Principally, he taught that Number is the One, as it is undefinable and unlimited. He also believed that Reason is immortal, and that it is the substance of the soul--whereas the entire universe is Reason, and that the human soul is a fragment of it. As far as geometry goes, he determined the formula for determining the hypotenuse of a right triangle by using the square root of the sum of the squares of the other two sides.

The Pythagorean Demeanor
The Pythagoreans were firstly notable by their ascetic and religious character, as an attempt to create a genuine religious revival, and supply a spiritual element to their otherwise philosophic ideals. While we cannot properly consider the Pythagoreans to be theologians, we can certainly call them spiritualists, ascetics, and numerical-metaphysicians. This soul-culture temperament is a result of the doctrine of the transmigration of souls (metapsychosis)--which is the reincarnation of the soul of a person after death. Practices of purification, such as the cultivation of silence, music, and the study of mathematics were all seen as aids in tending to the soul.

Pythagorean Doctrines
Numeric Being and Subtrate
Perhaps the most unique feature of the Pythagoreans was their belief that everything was a number. While it is easy to fathom how things can be numerable but not numbers themselves, we should consider how the Pythagoreans viewed the number. The Pythagoreans regarded numbers spacially.  For example, one is a point, two is a line, three is a plane, and four is a solid. For them to say that all things are numbers is to assert that all things consist of points in space which, when taken collectively in regards to the whole, constitute a numeric value. Effectively, the Pythagoreans did not view geometry as something abstract or as a calculation. Rather, they viewed it as real. It would seem that they regarded numbers as the One which Parmenides was to identify.

Cosmological Model
Cosmologically speaking, the Pythagoreans believed in a first limited cosmos which is surrounded by the second unlimited cosmos. Interestingly, the Pythagoreans did not believe in geocentricism, but neither did they believe in heliocentricism. Rather, the earth, the planets, and the sun revolved around a central fire--the "hearth" of the universe.

Also notable is that the Pythagoreans broke away from the de fide materialism of the Milesian cosmologists.

Friday, November 30, 2012


Contra Sola Fide
From the Westminster (Reformed) Confession:

II. After God had made all other creatures, He created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after His own image; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfill it; and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject unto change. Beside this law written in their hearts, they received a command, not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; which while they kept, they were happy in their communion with God, and had dominion over the creatures.
Westminster Confession Chapter IV, Paragraph II

      I. The Assertion of the Reformers, and its Falsity
      The Reformers asserted very strongly that man was in "communion with God" before the Fall. This is correct. The error lies wherein they asserted that this communion was somehow due to man by his nature; after His own image... and the power to fulfill it. The conclusion is that man, without sin, is due a friendship (communion) with God because of his nature and image. This is wrong for two reasons:

      A. Because God's supernatural virtue is incommunicable by means of the natural. God's holiness can only be communicated by the supernatural mystery of grace.
B. Because communion with the Creator, when as a friendship and virtue, is disproportionate to the nature of the creature. Therefore, God's friendship can only be communicated by the supernatural mystery of grace.

  1. The Ramifications of this Assertion on the Human Nature
    A. That man was to be elevated to heaven not by grace, but rather by his nature through tribulation.
    B. That the supernatural end of man is attainable without grace, by virtue of being sinless.
    C. That the only impediment to man's attainment of this end is sin.
    D. That man, by his nature, is either in a state of freedom and grace or sin and death.
  1. The Ramifications of this Assertion on their Theology of Grace
    A. That grace does not elevate, but merely heals sin.
    B. That grace, therefore, has no need to be infused, but rather imputed as a means of justification.
    C. That grace, because it is for covering sin, is not a participation in the divine life of the most blessed Trinity.
    D. That beatitude, because it must be attainable by sinless nature, is not a true participation in the divine life of the most blessed Trinity.
  1. The Ramifications of this Assertion on their Theology of Sin
    A. That sin must claim dominion over the entire will, because man is either in a state of freedom and grace or sin and death.
    B. That sin must truly corrupt the entire nature, so as to keep it from naturally attaining its end.
    C. That there is no distinction in sin between venial and deadly, because all sin is effectively deadly.
  1. The Ramifications of this Assertion on their Theology of Works
    A. That man is ultimately saved by grace alone, but then limiting the operative function of grace to faith (sola fide)
    B. That man is ultimately incapable of good works, because grace heals nature, but does not elevate.
    C. That the good works necessary for salvation are therefore the works of Christ, imputed, not infused onto the regenerated person.
The Catholic Response to such Assertion, and to the Ramifications thereof:
  1. Response to these Ramifications on the Human Nature
    A. That man was to be elevated by grace to partake in the divine nature.1
    B. That the supernatural end of man is not attainable except by the grace of God.2
    C. That the two impediments between man and salvation is his sin and need for grace.3
    D. That man, by his nature, is not elected to partake in the divine nature, but rather his election, and therefore that man, by his nature, is not confined to the dichotomy of sin and life; only by his election.4
  1. Response to these Ramifications on the Theology of Grace
    A. That grace heals and elevates man to his final elected end.5
    B. That grace, therefore, is infused into the soul of man to increase his virtue and merit.6
    C. That grace, because it elevates man, brings him to partake of the divine life of the most holy Trinity.1
    D. That grace, because it elevates man to the virtue of the divine nature, allows him to partake in eternal life.7
  1. Response to these Ramification on the Theology of Sin
A. That sin does not claim dominion over the entire will, because man's works are to be true fruits of his living faith.8
B. That original sin, while deteriorating the nature of man, does not destroy it, as the preternatural gifts and communion with God are not integral to the nature of man.
    C. That there can be distinction between venial and deadly sin, because all sin need not be deadly.

    V. Response to these Ramifications on the Theology of Works
    A. That man is not ultimately saved by works or by faith, but by both, which is fully in grace.9
    B. That man, in a state of grace and life, is capable of good works by the grace of God.
    D. That the good works a man produces are the works of Christ infused by grace into the person's soul.10
1. 2 Peter 1:4, 1 John 3:2, 1 Corinthians 14:49
2. Ephesians 2:8, Romans 3:24, Acts 15:11
3. Romans 3:23, 2 Corinthians 9:8
4. Romans 5:13, Romans 7:25
5. St. Augustine, On the Spirit and the Letter (A.D. 412), Chapter 20
6. St. Augustine, On Merit and the Forgiveness of Sins (A.D. 412), Chapters 10-11
7. John 3:16, Titus 1:2, 1 John 5:11, 1 John 1:2, 1 Corinthians 13:12
8. 2 Corinthians 9:10, Galatians 2:20-21
9. James 2:26, James 4:7-10
10. John 15: 4-5, 8, 2 Corinthians 4:16-17, Galatians 2:20-21 

Suggested resources:

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Why Christian?

Why Christian?
A friend of mine recently reminded me on the importance of uprooting ignorance (as Plato would state it), and so I was moved to write this article on Christianity from a philosophical point of view on the topic of Ultimate happiness. Hopefully this article will also clear up the sensationalist views of heaven. With that in mind, this article will not be addressing the more empirical concerns of the skeptic  but rather an explanation of the rationality of this specific ideology.

The Question of Happiness
Often, the ultimatum of eschatology (Revelation, Apocalypse) is left to the sensationalist, who hastily goes to writing a book (or a series) about it. Unfortunately, there are not many sensationalist books, if any, that embody the theological substance of the subject matter. The ultimate question underneath is the question of happiness. Firstly, what is heaven, and why does it exist within this ideology? Heaven, unlike every other religious discipline, does not ultimately serve the purpose of constituting a justice on the part of humanity. e.g. This person was good so they went to heaven, etc. Rather, heaven is the intrinsic union of a person to himself, and to the Logos. I will explain both:

It is necessary to note that the human person is imperfect. That is to say, man seeks something outside of himself for completion and happiness. While he, as a whole, seeks peace and rest, his inner person is a war between intellect and passion. For example, many times each day does a person want something (passion) he knows he shouldn't or can't have (intellect). Or knows something that is true (intellect) but refuses to accept it (passion). This discontinuity, even within the individual points to a solution that must be greater than the individual himself. This much, most people experience. But then the problem goes further. Even if man were to experience all the greatest pleasures, he would still be unhappy. Why is this? Firstly, man seeks something disproportionate to his capacity (due to his passions). He does not seek even an infinite quantity of finite goodness. He wants an infinite quantity of infinite goodness. That is, he wants Goodness itself. In other words, man intuitively thinks of his happiness on an infinite and eternal scale, although he intellectually assents to the knowledge of his coming death. Secondly, man can question his happiness and thus be aware of it (due to his intellect). Until his entire being is oriented to the object of ultimate Goodness (resulting in interior unification), man will keep searching for it.
Logos, λόγος, is the Hellenistic (Greek) word for "Word". Now, the Greeks did not use "Word" like we do today. For the Greeks, "Word" was a strong diction of "spoken Reason"--the principle of knowledge. Another way to say this is, "Word" meant "that which is spoken and ultimately true". John's Gospel starts out as such:
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
And the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God. 
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
Jn. 1:1-3

St. John uses Logos as a very strong and succinct definition of the Son (within the Trinity). Putting aside a lengthy and tedious process of splitting hairs, The Father is the Bearer of Truth, The Son is the Spoken Truth of the Father, and the Spirit is the Truth itself which proceeds from the Father and the Son. Keeping in mind the orientation of man toward the object of ultimate Goodness, let's take a look at some quotes from two of the great classical philosophers.

"The philosopher is in love with truth, that is, not with the changing world of sensation, which is the object of opinion, but with the unchanging reality which is the object of knowledge." -- Plato

"But what is primary for desire and for intelligibility is the same; for what is desired is what appears good, and the primary object of rational choice is what is good. Certainly, an end is desired because it seems good; it does not seem good because it is desired. -- Aristotle

Plato highlights for us the reality of truth, "the unchanging reality which is the object of knowledge", and gives us a point of leverage in interpreting Aristotle's much denser statement. Aristotle points out the discrepancy between what is and what appears to be, namely, within the deepest observation of a person. Both of these ideas are important to understand in conjunction with the orientation of man towards the object of ultimate Goodness, as Plato highlights the struggle of the intellect, while Aristotle highlights the struggle of the passion. We can look at it in this way: man lives in a world of change and, to Plato, the intellect is always in search of that which is unchanging (which he calls truth, the object of knowledge); man lives in a world of change, and so the passions, which are concerned in indulging in change and flux, bitterly fail in seeking out the object of ultimate Goodness (if ultimate Goodness were ever-changing, it would not be the ultimate).

A mostly accurate, though simple and not particularly rigid,
diagram to help illustrate the Trinitarian concept.

Now how does this matter in regards to the Trinity? If we consider the Trinity to be the ultimate Goodness, wherein there is a final rest (Mt 11:28) and communicated activity, then the dogma of the Trinity alone meets the entire end of the human person. Allow me to explain:

The dogma of the Trinity is unique to Christian theology, such that there are three divine persons, but of one nature, substance, and essence (activity). Theosis (also called beatific vision, which is the directed end of "salvation" and "redemption") is the participation of the person in the Life of the Logos (I Pt 1:4). So, in beatific vision, just as the intellect is fully realized and reaches the end of ultimate Goodness (I.Cor 13:12), so the passions are also fully realized and reach the end of ultimate Goodness, as they partake in the activity of the ultimate Good (which is Love; I.Cor 13:13). Thus, the person is completed in a sense that otherwise could not be achieved in any other dogma or theological tradition.

Answering Objections

Objection: Could a God of one person not be the unifying principle to the internal problem of the human person?

Answer: No, because the human person is comprised of a rational appetite (intellect) and an irascible appetite (passions). A God that that is ultimately one, but has no activity, solves the problem of the intellect, but not of the passions. I recommend Dr. Lawrence Feingold's series, The Mystery of Israel and the Church, on Man, Called to Share in the Divine Life: Beatific Vision.

Objection: Does this bring into consideration the Resurrection of the Body? Many other religions do not believe in a resurrection of the body, so the irascible appetite would not be a problem.

Answer: This ultimately backtracks the question of why humans have a body in the first place. Are we merely trapped in a body, or is the body substantially part of the human person? If it is the first, then I refer you to St. Maximus the Confessor's Ambiguum 7, On the Beginning and End of Rational Creatures. He does a splendid job at explaining this. If it is the second, then there is no real problem, as the Resurrection of the Body is an important part in the unification of the human person.

Objection: How can the Trinitarian God be both at once an activity and a final rest?

Answer: The persons of the Godhead denote the activity of Love, while their consubstantial nature determines the final rest of Truth. It is important to realize that the relationship between the Father and Son is an actual person, the Holy Spirit, so the "activity" is a participation in a single state of Being. If you're interested in reading more into this, I refer you to St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica, Part One, Questions 27-43.

Objection: Why should we assume that the discord within the human person is not merely a flaw in evolution or natural development?

Answer: For two reasons, we should assume otherwise. Firstly, because the discord points outside of the human person, not within himself. Secondly, because the direction of the pointing is towards a unifying principle even outside of the universe itself--that is to say, supernatural. Also from Dr. Lawrence Feingold's series The Mystery of Israel and the Church, I recommend Man, Called to Share in the Divine Life: The Natural Desire to See God and Man's Supernatural End.

Objection: Why should we not assume the solution to the problem is merely death?

Answer: This is probably the most important objection, as it merits the most important answer. The answer is Jesus Christ, whose Incarnation, Passion, Death, and Resurrection gives meaning to death (which is otherwise simply the forfeiting of an answer to the problem). Without Jesus Christ, we would have no knowing if the human race is elected to participation in Eternal Life (even if there would otherwise be an omni-benevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent Trinitarian God). The most profound reason (in my opinion) to believe in the Christ is the proof of his Church. There are many good reads on this subject, such as Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis) and Reason to Believe (Richard Purtill) to name a couple.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

My Discernment of the Priesthood

This semi-formal "article" (if it could even be called that) is on my current discernment for religious life as a diocesan priest. For many people that know me, this includes a large amount of inquiry as to what "this" actually is. Most anything about the priesthood that anyone encounters is extremely secularized and Hollywood-esque, or overly technical (e.g. resources for a seminarian or even spiritual director), and requires a lot of background knowledge. I hope to bridge those two ideas in a way that is relate-able.

Starting off, I'd like to share this video. For all practical purposes, it articulates the general idea of the diocesan priesthood in a way that the general public can understand:

(If the video above isn't loading, try this link)
But for those of you who don't have the time or patience to watch a 20 minute video, I'll skip to some general Q&A:

Q: What is the life of a priest about?
A: Often times, when people think of a "priest", they think of "The Exorcist" (the power of Christ compels you!), and so the priesthood is typically thought of as corny, to say the least. Let me at least pretend to be the first to say that notion is entirely inaccurate and wrong. Nor is the priestly life one of sitting in a church or rectory all day, praying in solitude, and anxiously lamenting the sour state of humanity in today's society. While there is certainly a time for the weeping and reflection, it serves merely as a counterbalance to the energy-filled life of a priest. From the seminaries and abbeys (and parishes) that I've visited, the beehive state of affairs is one that rivals even most people's own lives. With that said, the life of a priest is one life of self-sacrifice, and thus joy, because it is a life following in the footsteps of Christ. Christ said "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life". The most life-filled lifestyle is necessarily one that seeks after Christ in his compassion and Love. Ultimately, the priesthood is a life of Love, which, as we learned from the Beatles, is all we need.

Q: What does a priest do?
A: First and foremost, the priest is the celebrant of the Holy Mass--the "service", as known in other Christian circles--which has been passed down in the Church since her beginning over 2000 years ago. If you've never been to a Catholic Mass (or haven't been to one since your childhood), I strongly encourage you to go to one. If you try and understand what's going on, you will not be disappointed. Apart from the Eucharist (Holy Communion) celebrated in the Mass, the priest also administers the sacraments of Baptism, Reconciliation (or Penance), Anointing of the Sick, and presides over Matrimony (Marriage). Furthermore, the priest is rightly a "man of the people", as he is called to help individuals to grow in Love with Christ by reaching out to them. In general, he is a counselor, always open to fostering the growth of an individual, and helping them overcome obstacles in their lives.

Q: Why were you drawn to this life?
A: From my perspective, it nearly seems like a natural progression of my spiritual life. I am deeply fulfilled by a) helping others to know what they ought to do and b) intimately helping other to achieve what they ought to do. And really, this is what the priesthood is--being a steward of souls.

Q: Have the recent sex abuse scandals had any impact on your discernment?
A: If anything, they've driven me forward to be a model of what a strong Catholic man should be. There are always some that slip through the cracks. In a way, I suppose it plays on the larger picture of Evangelization, which is to make the Truth known. Certainly, the scandals have been detrimental to that, which is really the mission of the Church. Fr. Robert Barron's "Catholicism" comes to mind.

Q: Do you think you will be lonely or unhappy?
A: The consensus of most priests that I've asked is that people won't leave them be, never mind being lonely. A good point to address here is that happiness has been utterly sexualized by secular society. The Church has known this to be a false notion since she was founded. While sexuality is a strong drive in the human person, it is not an overwhelming passion that must be indulged in at the risk of being unhappy (despite common misconception). Some people are called to live out their lives in celibacy as a discipline. In this case, celibacy is a means of freeing the person to serve others more greatly. While every vocation (be it the married, single, or religious life) has it's lonely moment, if you are called to that life, then you will not be unhappy. As St. Thomas Aquinas once said, "Joy is the noblest of human acts". To answer the question more directly, do not think I will at all be unhappy. I will admit, however, that when I began to hear the call, this was a fear of mine. As you can tell, this is not a fear I have anymore.

Q: Within the priestly life, are you aiming for any specializations?
A: Yes. I greatly enjoy teaching dogma, catechetics, and philosophy. Perhaps a position as a professor will be in store. We'll see what develops.

Monday, October 29, 2012

II. The Milesian Philosophers

Back to I. The Roots of Ionian Philosophy
Forward to III. The Pythagorean Society

The Milesian Philosophers
If anything, the early Ionian philosophers were pioneers in the realm of thought. Before them, thought and concept were merely tools subservient to subsistence. Now, within scholarly circles, they were becoming tools used for the explanation of existence. The cradle of early Ionian philosophy was the city of Miletus, on the eastern coast of the Aegean sea, and the Milesian scholars were the first true philosophical school. The three most influential philosophers from the Milesian school, Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes will be described briefly below as per their contributions to Ionian philosophy. 

courtesy of wikipedia

I. Thales (635 - 543 B.C.)
As mentioned earlier, the first and primary question of the philosopher is that of the unchanged One. Thales first introduced the idea of an element in this regards. The most important doctrine of Thales' is that he believed all things to be different states of a single element. According to him (and the cosmology that influenced him), the ultimate essence or composition of all things was water, or that all essences originally came from water. "The earth floats on water, which is in some way the source of all things." For Thales, a very sensible philosopher, his conjectures rested on his practical knowledge of the operation of water. As it heats up, it seems to turn into air. As it cools down, it seems to turn into a solid--perhaps even rock if cooled down enough. Compressed air (clouds) seems to fall as rainwater. Water is the principle of all things, for Thales. While his ideas may seem primitive, they are actually an inauguration of the notion that all things are really made of a fundmanetal substrate, to some degree or another. Most importantly, this is Thales attempt to rationalize the symbolic, archetypal, and theological meaning of water of the time. For this, Thales' work is invaluable to the development of Greek philosophy, cosmology, and even physics. Interestingly, though not entirely important to the developement of his philosophical doctrine, Thales believed in some sort of world-animating-force, as he says "all things are full of gods" (upon discovering a play of magnetics between magnesian stone and amber). The precise nature of his assertion is not entirely clear, but at the least, we can know he asserted a semi-divine, albeit material, life force.

courtesy of

II. Anaximander (610 - 546 B.C.)
Succeeding Thales was Anaximander, a very sensible philosopher and also a cosmologist who absorbed himself in practical sciences and mathematics. Unlike Thales, however, Anaximander rejected that the primary element was water. Rather, he promoted an "indeterminate", or super-element, which he called αρχη, which is "beginning" or "origin". He says, "It is neither water nor any other of the so-called elements, but of a nature different from them and infinite, from which arise all the heavens and worlds within them."

courtesty of

III. Anaximenes (585 - 525 B.C.)
At first, the ideas of Anaximenes appear to be a retrogression to the primitive thought of Thales. He leaves Anaximander's idea of αρχη, and proposes that Thales' primary element was not water, but air. There is an obvious difficulty in attempting to explain how the origin of all things is actually air, but Anaximenes shows a trace of genius. He introduces the idea of condensation and rarefaction. As air condensates, it would turn into wind, then cloud, then water, and then earth. As air undergoes rarefaction, it turns into fire. For Anaximenes, air was the mid-way point between fire, water, and earth. 

courtesty of

IV. In Brief
Overall, the Milesians can be given credit for two fundamental notions (albeit one is fairly implicit):
-- That everything is made of simpler substances.
-- That the unifying principle of the universe (unchanged One) is something material.

I. The Roots of Ionian Philosophy

Back to Introduction
Forward to II. The Milesian Philosophers

I. The Roots of Ionian Philosophy

The threads of western thought were already being spun well before the great Greek city-states or schools of philosophy were formed. In fact, our story begins before even the conception of pre-Socratic philosophy. As the old Aegean culture was submerged by Dorian invasions, the surrounding lands of the Asia Minor sea-board became a breeding ground for poetry and other fine arts, thanks to the patronage of the Achaean aristocracy. Born from this were the two great "epic poets", Homer, and the lesser known Hesiod. In addition to the grandeur of the poetry of the time, trade with Egypt and Babylon delivered two important subjects that would evolve into early Ionian cosmology: from the Egyptians, practical mathematics; from the Babylonians, astrology. The Greeks, who had little use for the mathematics determining planting methods after the inundation of the Nile, put a far more geometrical and abstract spin on the subject. Likewise for astrology gained from the Babylonians, the Greeks approached it more scientifically, resulting in astronomy. The fusion of these two subjects--abstract mathematics and astronomy--lead to the birth of early Ionian cosmology, which would heavily impact the growth and development of Greek philosophy. But back to the Poets. Put in perspective, the Poets could be thought of as the predecessors to the lineage of Ionian philosophers in Miletus. Hesiod's theogony is a prime example of this, as it is the attempt to unravel the genesis of the gods within the fabled world they reside. But even more interesting is that theogony was immediately succeeded, not by philosophy, but by the cosmogony (the literal birth of the cosmos) of the Ionian cosmologists. Still, we should consider the poetic fables of Homer and Hesiod to be the immediate predecessors, as they are concerned with the subjective value and moral considerations (albeit wrapped in myth and lore) rather than the objective speculation of the universe. It could be said that the prior is in regards to the human condition, while the latter is in regards to the universal condition. Both are considered in philosophy, but the human self-understanding always precedes universal speculation.

Dionysus, Greek god of revelry, wine, and indulgence

From a historical point of view, it is important to note the early spread of ideas was not merely through arbitrary means of story-telling, but also through even aggressive engagement in polity. The Athenians were a strong military force, and so as strong unbridled powers often do they adopted a militaristic might-is-right policy. Considering this, the idea of poetic justice and moderation was brought into consideration within the fables and myths spread about the region--that is, by the vassals lamenting over their treatment by the Athenians. Specifically in regards to fables and myths, the contrast between the gods Dionysus and Apollo--who were mythological concepts of indulgence and moderation, respectively--put a title on the two competing cultural movements within Greece at that time. For the Ionian philosophers, this meant the idealization of change and transition. How can there be contrast in true ideas without an axiom? If change is from one real thing into another real thing, then there is necessarily a most real thing that precedes change itself--as change cannot exist without at least one un-changed thing which is reality. It seems that change only happens when there is something from which to change. Since the reality of of a thing is independent from the change which flows from it (i.e. a thing is what it is, regardless of whether or not it will change in the future), and change is dependent on the independence of the reality of a thing, then there is necessarily a First which is unchanged. The question of what this unchanged One actually is would become the primary question for philosophers from then until now.

Apollo, Greek god of light, healing, art, and moderation