Wednesday, March 1, 2017



Commentators Introduction

            In what follows I will provide my own translation of the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas. I intend to work my way, slowly but surely, through the entire Summa. Each translated section of the Summa will be followed by a short commentary in which I hope to point out some important interpretative keys to understanding the text. We begin, as is appropriate, with Aquinas's short prologue to the Summa.


            Because the true universal [catholicae] teacher must not only instruct the advanced, but those also who are beginning, according as the Apostle [says], in the first letter to the Corinthians 3:1, “just like to small children in Christ, I gave you milk to drink, not meat”, our intention, in this work, is to put forward all that is pertinent to the Christian religion, and to do so in such a way as is adapted to the teaching of beginners.
            For, we have observed that many beginners are hindered in these doctrines by the diverse writings on these subjects: this is partially due, no doubt, to the multiplication of useless questions, articles, and arguments; this is also partially because, in those great things which are so necessary to know, they do not submit themselves to an order of instruction, but, rather, pursue commentaries of books, or to whatever debates they may have the opportunity to be exposed to; this is also partially because they are frequently given over to repetition, which has bred contempt and confusion in the soul of the student.
            Striving, therefore, to avoid these same things, we will attempt, trusting in divine assistance, to briefly and clearly describe, according as the material allows, all that which concerns sacred doctrine.


            “Our intention, in this work, is to put forward all that is pertinent to the Christian religion, and to do so in such a way as is adapted to the teaching of beginners.
The reaction of most people who open the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas, for the first time, is confusion. That is, it appears, to the contemporary novice, that Aquinas’s explanations and articulations of Christian doctrines are so complicated that they are inaccessible, or worse, they cause confusion and misunderstanding. It comes as a shock to many, therefore, to discover that this work was written for the benefit of those who were beginning their studies in theology: “adapted to the teaching of beginners”. Some medieval background might, at this point, be helpful.

            The university, as a center of education and research, was a creation of the church,[1] which set up universities in major cities such as Paris and Oxford (the two most important universities). Before the creation of these universities, education was given in monasteries and churches.[2] From the 12th century on, universities multiplied (with more than 75 universities in Europe by 1400),[3] and, after the Protestant reform, the creation of Protestant universities. Cairns reminds us that virtually all the great European universities of our day were founded in this period,[4] and often founded by the clergy of the church from the school they had in their churches. Earle E. Cairns notes, for example, that the University of Paris, one of the most important universities in human history (Peter Abelard was one of the founders of the University of Paris,[5] Thomas Aquinas taught at this university, and Jean Calvin was educated for 3 years at the University of Paris, not to mention some of the great names who also received their education here, such as, Ignatius Loyola, Victor Hugo, Claude Levi-Strauss, Peter Lombard, and Paul Ricoeur), starting as a school in the cathedral of Notre Dame.[6] The University of Oxford was founded because of the conflicts between England and France. These conflicts motivated the Anglophone students, who were studying at the University of Paris, to return to England. Hence, the University of Oxford was founded.
A program of study in a medieval university could be outlined as follows:[7] a baccalaureate was awarded when the Trivium (the study of rhetoric, grammar, and logic-accomplished, in part, by the study Of the great works of literature and philosophy); A master's degree was awarded when the Quadrivium had been completed (the study of mathematics, astronomy and music, which might include the study of geography and other natural sciences); We received the title of doctor when we had completed advanced studies in law, theology or medicine.

The study of pagan literature, and the sciences, had always been important for the church. J. W. Adamson notes that “Christian thinkers from Tertullian in the second century onwards agreed that this pre-Christian learning was necessary to an understanding of the Scriptures.”[8] What pre-christian learning? The writings, both poetical and philosophical, of the great Greek thinkers. Indeed, as early as the fourth century we see Basil of Caesarea writing an important work called On the Right Use of Greek Literature, in which he explains that the study of the great Greek authors (poets and philosophers) is a necessary precursor to the study of theology.[9]

Augustine would later, in his On Christian Doctrine, state that Christians are to appropriate, for the glory of God, anything in the pagan authors (philosophers and poets) that is true and useful.[10] Indeed, Henri-Irénée Marrou, in his Saint Augustin et la Fin de la Culture Antique, states that « This is the cycle of studies that Saint Augustine imposed on future philosophers. Grammar, dialectics, rhetoric; arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy; philosophy. Aside from those which go beyond the limits of the preparatory culture: what have we here, if not the cycle of the seven liberal arts, the outline, theoretical at least, of high medieval culture.”[11] Marrou goes further to point out that the acquiring of Christian culture (which is based entirely on divine revelation in scriptures),[12] is preceded, necessarily, by a “preparatory culture”. Says Marrou, “It is because he saw the rich and complex training that ancient tradition imposed on his studies that saint Augustine thought it necessary to provide the Christian scholar with a certain preparatory culture.”[13] This is not, notes Marrou, something that was unique to Augustine, on the contrary, “In general, from Origen to saint Basil, from Tertullian to saint Jerome, all of the predecessors of Augustine proclaim the necessity of a relationship between the preparatory studies, nourished from the entire tradition of the pagan schools, and the properly Christian activity of the intellect, once formed.”[14]

What are the things that Augustine proposes as necessary preliminary studies, prior to theology? Marrou provides the following list, along with some of the reasons: (1) “Grammar: because God wished to give us His revelation via a book written in a human language, it is, therefore, necessary to have learned one of the language in which this book was translated.”[15] Latin was the obvious grammar to be learned at this point in time, and for hundreds of years after Augustine. Other languages to be learned were Greek and Hebrew. (2) Next is World History, as it helps to understand the place of human religions in human history, and knowledge of history is necessary to defend the truths of Christianity.[16] (3) Next is Geography and Natural History, then (4) the Mechanical arts.[17] Augustine then mentions (5) Rhetoric, and (6) Dialectic, the art of reasoning. The latter is of great importance for “it is logic, the science of the formal laws of reasoning, that allows the exegete to rigorously treat every question that is raised by the profound study of the Bible, to insure the coherence of the workings of his mind, and to avoid falling into major errors.”[18] The next subject to be studied is (7) Mathematics, and related subject such as music and mechanics.[19] (8) “The cycle concludes with philosophy: the Christian must assimilate all that the ideas that the classical thinkers discovered that agree with true faith.”[20] This is the program of study that any serious student of scriptures must undertake, says Augustine, if they wish to get the most out of their study of scriptures.

Augustine’s approach to Christian education was not unique to him, and it is this approach to education that would go on to influence the course of study in the Medieval university, and would continue to influence the course of study in the early reformed universities. It is this course of study that is presupposed by Aquinas’s comment to the effect that the Summa Theologiae is for beginners, novices, in theology. Aquinas assumes that those who will be reading and studying the Summa Theologiae, as an introduction to Theology, will have already passed through the entire course of studies that we have just outlined. New to Theology, not to education; Novice theologians, but well-educated and cultured thinkers.

“For, we have observed that many beginners are hindered in these doctrines by the diverse writings on these subjects: this is partially due, no doubt, to the multiplication of useless questions, articles, and arguments.”
Aquinas now goes on to explain why his intention, in the Summa Theologiae, is to explain all the doctrines of the Christian faith in a way that will be helpful for the beginner. Thomas sees that many students of theology, as they move from one part of their studies to the study of theology, have difficulty assimilating the truths of Christianity; and, this, since there are so many different writings on the subject, presenting so many different opinions on the various doctrines. This problem is still present today, only now we have the unenviable problem of not only having many different published opinions (many of them as useless as those in the time of Aquinas), but of having many different published “introductory works”. There is now an introductory work for just about every position under the sun. The purpose of the Summa Theologiae was, and still is, to help to the beginner to understand the key subjects and discussions that take place in Christian Theology, and to properly navigate the theological waters which were becoming more and more dangerous, as more and more opinions, and positions, were being made public.

“This is also partially because, in those great things which are so necessary to know, they do not submit themselves to an order of instruction, but, rather, pursue commentaries of books, or to whatever debates they may have the opportunity to be exposed to.”
“Those great things”, refers to the great truths of Christianity. Aquinas here notes that, and this problem has not changed, the students were having difficulty grasping the important nuances of the theological discussions because, rather than follow a rigorous order of learning, they pursued, without discernment, any book, commentary, debate, or teacher that they could find. Rather than submit to a recognized teacher of orthodox doctrine, to follow a well thought out educational program that brought them through those steps that are necessary to move from “novice” to “master”, they unwisely gobbed up whatever presented itself to them, and ran after any theologian or thinker they thought was particularly interesting. No wonder they were confused! There is an order to theological inquiry, and if we truly desire to possess truth, we must follow that order of inquiry. Thomas Aquinas sets out, in the Summa Theologiae, that coherent way that the mind must follow in order to arrive at a proper knowledge of the truths of Christianity.

“This is also partially because they are frequently given over to repetition, which has bred contempt and confusion in the soul of the student.”
Finally, notes Thomas, the teachers that the students sit under do not use a method that is proper for the teaching of theology. This, rather than leading the student to greater understanding and a greater desire to understand, leads the student into confusion and contempt of the truth. Aquinas proposes to provide, in the Summa Theologiae, the proper way to teach the doctrines that he will consider. This is that dialectical method that is well-known to scholastic theologians, and seen in many of Aquinas’s works. After having outlined the specific area of study that we will be examining, the teacher notes the contrary opinions. The contrary opinions are those arguments and conclusions which raise themselves up against the truth. The teacher then quotes an, sometimes more than one, authority who teaches the truth—against the contrary opinions. This is followed by an explanation of the truth of the matter—the respondeo. The teacher then concludes the question by responding to each of the contrary opinions in turn. It is important to understand this method if one wishes to properly understand the Summa Theologiae.

            “Striving, therefore, to avoid these same things, we will attempt, trusting in divine assistance, to briefly and clearly describe, according as the material allows, all that which concerns sacred doctrine.”
            Having explained why he seeks to write an introductory work of Theology, Thomas concludes by noting that he will seek to avoid these pitfalls, and teach everything that is necessary for a proper understanding of Christian teachings. Note that he trusts his endeavor to the hands of God, Thomas knows, very well, that such a task is certainly not easy, and should not be undertaken in a haphazard manner. Christian theology is a matter that requires great commitment, a desire for truth, and the understanding that we are delving into matters that are beyond us. We also, in our pursuit of knowledge of God, must commit our way to the Lord, as Thomas does, here, in the conclusion of this prologue.

[1]J. W. Adamson, “Education”, in The Legacy of the Middle Ages, ed. C. G. Crump and E. F. Jacob (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1926), 255.

[2]Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church, 2nd ed. (1967; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1980), 260.

[3]Cairns, 260.


[5]Ibid., 261.

[6]Ibid., 261.

[7]Ibid., 261-262.

[8]Adamson, “Education”, 268.

[9]Basil, On the Right Use of Greek Literature, in Essays on the Study and Use of Poetry, trans. and ed. Frederick Morgan Padelford (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1902).

[10]Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana, ch. 40.

[11]Henri-Irénée Marrou, Saint Augustin et la Fin de la Culture Antique (Paris : Éditions E. De Boccard, 1958), 211. My translation. A little bit later Marrou concludes that there is one certain statement that can be made about Augustine, “saint Augustin n’a pas cessé de réserver dans ses projets de culture chrétienne une place, la première place, à la culture philosophique, à la sapientia. (Ibid., 368.) »

[12]Ibid., 357-385.

[13]Ibid., 389. My translation.

[14]Ibid., 394. My translation.

[15]Ibid., 403. My translation.

[16]Ibid., 404-405.

[17]Ibid., 405.

[18]Ibid. My translation.

[19]Ibid., 406.

[20]Ibid., 406. My translation.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Questions & Réponses: Doit-il y avoir une hiérarchie dans l'univers? Dieu n'est-il pas libre de créer l'univers comme il veut?

La question que j'ai reçu:

Mais l'idée que l'univers DOIT comporter une hiérarchie me laisse perplexe, Dieu n'est-il pas libre de créer l'univers qu'il veut ?

Ma Réponse:

C’est bien. J’apprécie vos questions parce que ça me permet de me replonger, à nouveau, dans les œuvres de Thomas d’Aquin, que j’apprécie tellement. Quand on dit que l’univers doit comporter une hiérarchie, ce n’est pas enlever une liberté à Dieu. Thomas d’Aquin est, plus souvent que non, plus intéressé à expliquer ce qui existe et pourquoi c’est le cas, que d’imposer des « standards » sur Dieu. Maintenant, la réalité est qu’on observe une hiérarchie dans l’univers (comme celui que je souligne dans ma blogue sur la hiérarchie du monde, cliquer ici.). La hiérarchie est déjà là. La question est, justement, pourquoi est-ce que Dieu à créer cette hiérarchie. Pourquoi autant de diversité? C’est un des points auxquelles je réponds dans mon blogue sur le sujet. Il y a autant de diversité parce qu’il y n’a pas une seule créature qui peut, tout de seul, représenter la gloire divine. Pour révéler, la plus possible, ce qu’il est, Dieu à créer une énorme diversité de choses. Mais, pour avoir diversité de choses, les choses doivent être différent. 

Quoi que la matière est principe d’individuation (qu’il y a des individus dans la même espèce), c’est le forme qui est principe de la différence entre les espèces (autrement dit, chaque espèce est différent à cause de sa forme). Donc, pour créer une diversité de choses (qui était nécessaire pour représenter, la plus possible, la gloire divine), il fallait créée des choses qui diffère en forme. Mais, aussitôt que tu as deux choses qui diffèrent en forme, il y a un qui est supérieur à l’autre dans les capacités qui sont relier à sa forme (par exemple, la forme d’un arbre comparer à la forme d’un chien). De là la nécessité de la hiérarchie. Sans la hiérarchie tous les choses créées seraient exactement pareil! Mais, nous voyons, c’est la réalité, qu’il y a une hiérarchie dans les choses crée. Donc, on ne cherche pas à prouver qu’il y a une hiérarchie, mais à expliquer pourquoi il y a un hiérarchie—la raison étant que Dieu, voulant révéler la plus que possible sa gloire, a dû créée une diversité d’êtres qui révèlent, chacun dans sa propre manière, la gloire divine. Ce n’est pas un nécessité qui est extérieur à Dieu, mais un nécessité qui se base sur sa nature propre—donc, un nécessité intrinsèque.

Je vous cite (cette fois dans un traduction francophone) Thomas d’Aquin sur ce point : « Aussi faut-il dire que la distinction entre les choses ainsi que leur multiplicité proviennent de l’intention du premier agent, qui est Dieu. En effet, Dieu produit les choses dans l’être pour communiquer sa bonté aux créatures, bonté qu’elles doivent représenter. Et parce qu’une seule créature ne saurait suffire à la représenter comme il convient, il a produit des créatures multiples et diverses, afin que ce qui manque à l’une pour représenter la bonté divine soit suppléé par une autre. Ainsi la bonté qui est en Dieu sous le mode de la simplicité et de l’uniformité est-elle sous le mode de la multiplicité et de la division dans les créatures. Par conséquent l’univers entier participe de la bonté divine et la représente plus parfaitement que toute créature quelle qu’elle soit. Et c’est parce que la distinction entre les créatures a pour cause la sagesse divine, que Moïse l’attribue au Verbe de Dieu, dessein de sa sagesse. Aussi lit-on au livre de la Genèse (1, 3) : “ Dieu dit : Que la lumière soit. Et il sépara la lumière des ténèbres. ” (ST I, I, q. 47., a. 2, respondeo)»

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Questions & Réponses: Thomas d'Aquin sur le mal et la hiérarchie de l'être: Dieu est-il, chez Thomas, cause du mal?

Je vais commencer à faire un section de question & réponses sur ma blogue. Voilà un des question que j'ai reçu dernièrement.

Dernièrement j'ai reçu la question suivante: 

Thomas affirme, dans ST I, I, q. 48, a. 2, et dans SCG III, c.71, que la perfection de l'univers requiert des inégalités de perfection entre les êtres. Conséquemment, être bon et pouvoir faillir est une différence ontologique avec l'infaillible qui est requis à la perfection de l'univers. Or, dit Thomas, ce qui peut faillir, il est inévitable qu'elle faillisse.

L'ensemble de ces affirmations me rend perplexe.

Surtout l'idée que ce qui peut faillir/déchoir faillira un jour. Il semble que ce soit un fatalisme étranger à Thomas. Mais ça me donne le goût de prendre le parti de Blocher dans Le mal et la croix, qui dit que Thomas calomnie ici la nature créée par Dieu, et calomnie Dieu indirectement, en le rendant responsable d'avoir mis en nous le germe du mal.

Blocher dit que le thomisme « sort le mal du mal » en le banalisant ainsi, en le mettant dans l'ordre de l'univers (Thomas semble mettre le mal naturel dans l'ordre : génération/corruption, mais comment mettre le péché dans l'ordre ?).

Il me semble que le mal doit être se qui déroge de l'ordre, et c'est ce que Thomas affirme, mais il me semble que Thomas l'insère ici dans l'ordre comme déterminé vers l'utile, alors que Dieu est seulement supposé utiliser le mal pour l'ordre une fois que la créature l'a introduit dans la création.

Voici ma question très précise : qu'en penses-tu ?

Voilà ma réponse:

Okay, bien. Il y a beaucoup de points ici. Premièrement, il faut lire ST I, I, q. 48, a. 2 dans le contexte de ST I, I, q. 47, a. 1 et 2. Dans ces articles Thomas explique ce dont je vais parler dans le troisième point. Je ne vois pas, dans l’article ST I, I, q. 48, a. 2, où Thomas dit que les choses qui ne sont pas Dieu « doivent » faillir, seulement qu’ils « peuvent » faillir. Je vous le cite : « Alius autem gradus bonitatis est, ut sic aliquid bonum sit, quod a bono deficere possit. » Notez le mot « possit ». Ici on parle de « capacité pour » ou possibilité. On traduirait la dernière phrase, « ce qui peut (possit) faillir en bonté. » Un peu plus tard Thomas dit, « ita perfectio universi requirit ut sint quaedam quae a bonitate deficere possint; ad quod sequitur ea interdum deficere. » Ici il dit que la perfection de l’univers oblique qu’il doit y avoir des choses qui peuvent faillir en bonté (peuvent être déficient en bonté); de là il suite qu’il y a des choses qui failli en bonté. Encore, il n’y pas question de nécessité, seulement de probabilité. C’est-à-dire, avec autant de choses qui peuvent faillir en bonté, il est attendus qu’il y a certaines de ces choses qui faillit en bonté. Il n’est pas en train de dire que la nature doit faillir en bonté, mais que la nature est telle qu’on n’est pas surpris de découvrir qu’il y a des choses qui ont failli en bonté. Donc, je ne vois pas ici, nullement, la notion que « ce qui peut faillir, doit faillir. »

Deuxièmement, chez Thomas d'Aquin, comme chez Augustine et la plupart des pères de l'église, le mal est l'absence du bien. Ceci s'applique autant de manière ontologique à des différentes êtres, que de manière axiologique à des actions humaines. Ce point est très important pour le prochain point.

Troisièmement, quand Thomas discute le fait que "la perfection de l'univers requiert des inégalités de perfection entre les être", il est en train de faire référence à ce qu'on appelle la hiérarchie de l'être (tu peux consulter un blogue que j'ai écrit là-dessus, en résumé de la doctrine, cliquer ici. L'article est en anglais, et je t'invite de regarder aussi les commentaires pour quelques clarifications.). Maintenant, si un chose est bon et parfait dans la mesure qu'il est en acte (et actualise sa nature), alors ce qui est acte pure est à la fois absolument parfaite et bon. Donc, on dit que Dieu est parfaite et bon de manière absolue. Ce même principe nécessite que la plus qu'un chose s'éloigne de l'acte vers la puissance (autrement dit, la plus qu'un chose est matière), la moins qu'elle est parfaite et bon (comparé à ce qui est acte pure); et, donc, la plus qu'elle est "mal" (considérer comme l'absence du bien comparé à ce qui est absolument bien). Ce n'est pas le mal (comme catégorie morale), c'est seulement le mal ontologique (comme l'absence du bien parfait!). Donc, techniquement, tout ce qui n'est pas acte pure est, parce que mélangé avec puissance, moins que parfait (comparé à ce qui est acte pure). Parce qu'il y a absence du bien absolue, il y a mal. Ce n'est pas, je répète, le mal morale (ou axiologique), mais, le mal ontologique (l’absence du bien au niveau de « la possession » de l’être)

Voilà un niveau sur lequel on peut dire que tout ce qui est créé, parce que créée, est mal (parce qu'en étant créé X est moins que parfait). Dans ce sens, Dieu seul est bon, tout qui est création est mal. Un autre niveau, aussi ontologique, sur lequel on peut dire que quelque chose est mauvais est dans le sens suivante. Le bien de chaque être est la possession parfaite de son essence—sa fin immédiate. Donc, dans la mesure qu'un être ne possède pas parfaitement sa nature, l'être est mauvaise. Encore, on ne parle pas, ici, d’un mal axiologique, mais du mal ontologique (l’absence du bien au niveau de la possession de l’essence).

Une troisième manière dans lequel on peut dire que des choses sont mauvaises, c’est dans le sens axiologique—au niveau de l’action (que l’action manque de la perfection, que l’action n’est pas ce qu’elle est supposée d’être). Dans ce sens on dit que l’homme est mauvais parce qu’il pèche (il fait le mal au niveau axiologique). 

La Bible ne dit pas que Dieu n’est pas la cause immédiate des choses mauvaises. Au contraire, la Bible dit que Dieu est la cause des nations qui écrase Israël et l’amène en captivité. Dieu est la cause de tous les êtres, et il s’assure que chaque être agis selon sa nature (par exemple, Dieu s’assure que les hommes agis librement). Quand la Bible dit que Dieu n’est pas le cause du mal, le « mal » qui est en vue est le mal axiologique de l’homme qui pèche. Dieu ne pèche, ne cause un autre de faire le péché, ni tente les hommes à péché! L’homme seule est la cause du péché.

Je pense que ce que je viens de dire résous, ou, du moins, donne ce qui est nécessaire pour résoudre, le problème que tu soulèves. Concernant l’idée d’un certaine « fatalisme » chez Thomas, je ne le vois pas. Du moins, je ne le vois pas plus que la Bible, Augustine, et Calvin (qui disait que l’homme est libre seulement pour courir vers le mal, il ne peut pas poursuivre le bien à moins que Dieu fait en sorte qu’il cour vers le mal). 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


Introducing Christian Ethics: A Short Guide to Making Moral Choices. By Scott B. Rae. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016. 189 pp. $16.99. ISBN978-0-310-52118-1.

            In the study of moral philosophy, we discuss the most controversial subjects of our time. Thought it is, by far, preferable to begin discussing moral issues once we have a solid foundation in metaphysics and the philosophy of human nature, a minimum of instruction in ethical subjects is necessary for living a moral life—assuming that one wishes to live a moral life. So it is that, for those who will never pursue studies in moral philosophy or theology, an introduction to the subject could certainly be quite informative, and helpful. Introducing Christian Ethics, by Scott B. Rae, professor of Ethics at Biola University, is just such a book. We will here provide a brief overview of this book, followed by some comments as to its relative worth.

            The author does not explicitly state either the purpose of the book, or the intended audience. However, it seems obvious that the book is intended for neophytes to moral philosophy, and is written with the purpose of providing a brief overview of the primary themes that are discussed in moral philosophy. The book is composed of 12 chapters which are followed by subject and a scripture indices. In chapter 1 Rae introduces the reader to some notions of moral philosophy, such as the ontological foundations of morality, the relationship between moral philosophy and Christian theology, and the relationship between morality and the law. He also discusses some of the main elements of moral assessments. He proposes that Natural theology and God are the sources of human morality. In chapter 2 he outlines the foundational principles of a moral theology. In chapter 3 he summarizes a number of approaches to morality that are prevalent in our contemporary society (such as Deontology, Utilitarianism, Egoism and Relativism). He shows how these different approaches come to moral claims, and brings out some of the difficulties they must deal with. In chapter 4 Rae discusses moral dilemmas in general, and how to properly resolve them. He provides us with an example, and then uses his 7-step method to answer the dilemma in his example.

            In chapter 5 the author first considers, and refutes, arguments in favor of abortion. He then considers arguments against abortion. He finishes with a brief discussion concerning stem cell research and the harvest of fetal tissues. In chapter 6, Rae looks at a number of options in reproductive technologies. He summarizes how they work and mentions the major areas which are liable to cause moral questions. Rae attempts to provide biblical principles as guidelines for approaching this question, and, in general, does fairly well. He does not answer all of the moral issues which are brought up by these technologies, though he does suggest some areas of potential moral conflict. In chapter 7 he provides a brief discussion of bioethical subjects related to reproduction, such as genetic selection and cloning. He does not provide very clear positions, in this chapter, on the morality of each issue.

            In chapter 8 Rae discusses end of life issues, such as physician-assisted-suicide, euthanasia, and the termination of treatment. These are issues that more people should know about. In chapter 9 the author addresses subjects related to the death penalty. Without explicitly taking sides in the debate, Rae looks at the pros and cons of both sides of the debate. In chapter 10 the author looks at discussions about war between pacifists and just war theorist. He provides a summary of the positions and appears to lean towards Just War Theory. He then discusses torture in a very summary fashion (he takes no clear position, and does not define his terms). In chapter 11, probably the longest chapter in the book, the author explains the various issues related to the numerous moral debates in sexual ethics. Though he does not take a clear position on some issues, he does introduce most of the important debates in this area. In the twelfth and final chapter of the book the Rae discusses economics and a Christian workplace ethic. He also talks about how all occupations should be seen as “ministry”.

            This is a very short introduction to some of the main issues in contemporary ethics. Each chapter is no more than an introduction to the subjects discussed, which, to be covered properly, could take up many books. Though the author does not take a clear position on many of the subjects discussed, and the subjects are covered in a cursory manner, this book most definitely will be helpful for a particular audience. In my humble opinion this book will be overly simplistic even for those who are in undergraduate studies in philosophy. However, this book, written for a Christian audience, is a must read for those Christians who do not plan on pursuing studies in moral philosophy or theology, but who wish to better understand the moral issues that they will be confronting in our contemporary society. This book is a great introduction to the issues, and would be a great addition to every young persons, parents, and pastors library.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Discovering the Septuagint: A Tool for the Student of the Greek language

Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader. Edited by Karen H. Jobes. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2016. 351 pp. $39.99. ISBN 978-0-8254-4342-8.

            Learning any language is difficult, even one’s own. So, learning Greek, specifically that Greek which was used in the first century of our era, can seem like a daunting task. Yet, learning this language is such a rewarding and important pursuit. Rewarding because by learning to read Greek, a whole world of literature is opened to the reader, including not only the New Testament manuscripts, but, with some differences, many of the Greek texts of the early church fathers, and the ancient Greek philosophers. What is more, one will also be able to read the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament that is known as the Septuagint. The Septuagint was the version of the Old Testament that was used by many Jews in the time of Christ, and it became the “Old Testament” of the early church (being referred to by such great Christian thinkers as Justin Martyr and Tertullian). The most common practice for learning Greek in Seminaries is to introduce the student, bit by bit, to the Greek New Testament—frequently starting with the Gospel of John, or the Epistles that bear his name. Advanced courses in Greek may look at different, more difficult, books of the New Testament. Now the student of Greek can also interact with the Greek Old Testament.

Discovering the Septuagint introduces the intermediate Greek student to a number of important texts from the ancient Greek Old Testament. After a short explanation concerning the purpose and best use of the book, and a short introduction to the Septuagint, the student of the Greek language is introduced to many important Old Testament texts. The selections are taken from Genesis 1-3, Exodus 14-15, Exodus 20, the entire book of Ruth, the non-canonical sections of Esther, several Psalms (including Psalm 22), selections from Hosea, the entire book of Jonah, Malachi, and sections from Isaiah. Each of the major sections, which present various selections from different Old Testament books, are edited and introduced by different specialists. This means that the reader of this book is being taught how to read the Septuagint by those who have spent years studying the Septuagint. Each passage is given a verse-by-verse treatment, meaning that we first read a verse in Greek, followed by a detailed explanation of some of the more difficult or nuanced words. Each section concludes with a note about where the verses in that section might be quoted in the New Testament, and a full translation of all the verses looked at in that section.

This book is a welcome addition to the already enormous selection of Greek study materials. Students of Greek will find in this book an excellent introduction to the Greek of the Septuagint, and an excellent resource, not only for improving their ability to understand Greek, but, also, for improving their understanding of Old Testament exegesis. 

I received this book from Kregel publications, free of charge, so that I could write an unbiased review.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The ScrewTape Letters by C. S. Lewis: A Commentary, part 10

Key Themes in The Screwtape Letters, or,
What we learn from Screwtape: part 6

          This is part 10 in a series of blog posts that is dedicated to The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. To see part 1, click here; to see part 2, click here; to see part 3, click here; to see part 4, click here; to see part 5, click here; to see part 6, click here; to see part 7, click here; to see part 8, click here; to see part 9, click here. In part 1 we introduced the Screwtape Letters and provided a brief outline of the book. In parts 2-4 we provided an analysis of the literary sources that inspired the Screwtape Letters. We saw that the two most obvious literary sources for The Screwtape Letters are (1) the biblical teachings on angels, demons, and sin, and (2) John Milton’s Paradise Lost. We then looked at a number of other influences, and references to other literature, that can be seen in the ScrewTape Letters. In part 5 we began an exposition of the key themes that are brought up in the Screwtape Letters. Due to the nature of the Letters, it is important to understand that Lewis is not providing an indepth philosophical or theological analysis of each subject, but, rather, is providing what might be called a popular-level analysis.
 In part 5 we looked at some comments that Lewis makes concerning the Natural Sciences, Time and Change (which might be considered a sub-category of natural philosophy, or Metaphysics--depending on how the subject is approached), and Metaphysics. In part 6, we looked at some comments that Lewis makes concerning Theology Proper (the doctrine of God), and Christology. In part 7 we looked at comments that Lewis makes concerning Human Nature, Hamartiology (or the doctrine of sin), and Ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church). In part 8 we considered some comments on sanctification, heaven and hell, and some final thoughts concerning demons and angels. Then in part 9 we looked the approach that C. S. Lewis takes to the relationship between divine sovereignty and human free-will. Now, in part 10, we will consider, one of the most interesting subjects in the Screwtape Letters (in my humble opinion), C. S. Lewis's attempt to answer the problem of evil with a soul-making theodicy.

A Soul-making Theodicy

            If we pay close attention as we read this book, we will see Lewis proposing, through the pen of Screwtape, a powerful soul-making theodicy, by which he seeks to explain the existence, in this world, of all kinds of evil.[1] Evil is not the fruit of hazard, but, rather, used by the all-powerful God to bring men to Him, and to make them become like Him. Lewis addresses two types of evil in this work: (1) Devastating evil (both natural and man-made such as wars and natural disasters by which men are brought face to face with their natural mortality), and (2) the evil of the difficult times that all men experience (periods of personal depression, sadness, poverty, and other difficulties which weigh heavily on man, but without forcing him to confront his own mortality).

            Lewis explains, early on, that God allows devastating evil to arrive in our world, first of all, so that men are forced to confront their mortality, and in so doing, turn to God.[2] He later expands on this theme, noting that God allows these disastrous evils to arrive in order to teach men to value true virtues—such as courage. Screwtape says, “We have made men proud of most vices, but not of cowardice. Whenever we have almost succeeded in doing so, the Enemy permits a war or an earthquake or some other calamity, and at once courage becomes so obviously lovely and important even in human eyes that all our work is undone.”[3] Screwtape continues, a little bit later, “If we promoted justice and charity among men, we should be playing directly into the Enemy’s hands; but if we guide them to the opposite behaviour, this sooner or later produces (for He permits it to produce) a war or a revolution, and the undisguisable issue of cowardice or courage awakes thousands of men from moral stupor. This, indeed, is probably one of the Enemy’s motives for creating a dangerous world—a world in which moral issues really come to the point.”[4] So, says Lewis, devastating evil exists in this world, both manmade evil (such as wars), and natural evil (implied by the phrase “a dangerous world”), so that man, confronted with his mortality, will learn to value true virtue, and turn to God.

            There is, however, another type of evil that is seen in this world, and it is the draining, oppressing, subsiding but ever-returning, evil of lived human experience. This evil comes and goes, or it presses on with no sign of an end in sight. Man is not impressed with his mortality, but is oppressed by difficulties that never seem to end, and when they do, after a brief reprieve they return in a different form. Lewis explains why this type of evil exists in the 8th letter. Screwtape begins by noting that humans are changing creatures who live through highs and lows. Indeed, their lives are just a continual sequence of highs and lows. “Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation—the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks.”[5] Screwtape hopes to help Wormwood to understand why God created humans this way, and points out that God indeed relies on these difficult periods, “in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else.”[6] This seems obviously absurd. How could such a tactic work?

            Lewis goes on to explain that in order see why God uses this tactic, we must first understand just what God is after. Lewis explains that “the obedience which the Enemy demands of men is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself—creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His.”[7] God is seeking to make humans into perfect reflections of Himself.

This is why, proposes Lewis through Screwtape, God constantly allows humans to go through these difficult times. “That is where the troughs come in. You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment…Merely to over-ride a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo.”[8]

How does it work? How does these difficult times form man into the image of the son of God? “He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be.”[9] That is, says Lewis, God “wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles.”[10] The difficult times are the divine equivalent of an earthly father taking his hand off of the bicycle, so that his son can learn to ride by himself. Will the boy fall? Perhaps. Will he hurt himself if he falls? Most likely. Will he learn to ride by himself if the father never takes his hand off of the bicycle? No. So the potential pain is necessary for the learning process. This is why God allows us to pass through difficult times—to mould us into the image of His Son. Indeed, returning to an earlier part of the book, Lewis notes that God has taught his followers that perseverance through persecution is a necessary part of their redemption to become sons of God.[11]

Screwtape concludes by noting that, “Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”[12] Evil, then, of all kinds, is not random pain cast upon man by some sadistic deity, but, rather, the loving hand of God who is helping us to learn to walk on our own. God desires grown sons and daughters, not babies.

[1]Note that there are two primary responses to evil. A Defense, by which we show that the presence of evil and the existence of God are not self-contradictory states. A Theodicy, by which we attempt to explain why God allows evil things to happen in this world.

[2]Ibid., 31.

[3]Ibid., 147.

[4]Ibid., 148.

[5]Ibid., 44.

[6]Ibid., 45.

[7]Ibid., 45-46.

[8]Ibid., 46.

[9]Ibid., 47.


[11]Ibid., 32.

[12]Ibid., 47.