Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lent 2009: Scientia

"Remember MAN that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return."
(cf. Genesis 3:19)

"I am made from the dust of the stars..."
Rush, "Presto"
Yes, yes. Hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, sulfur, and a bit calcium, iron, sodium, potassium, chlorine, and tiny bits of zinc, copper, iodine and a few others... Ashes from nuclear furnaces.

What does it all mean? Our body is just matter - what does it matter?

Does it matter?

Yes. Here's why.

The Body was no longer what it was when Plato and Porphyry and the old mystics had left it for dead. It had hung upon a gibbet. It had risen from a tomb. It was no longer possible for the soul to despise the senses, which had been the organs of something that was more than man. Plato might despise the flesh; but God had not despised it. The senses had truly become sanctified; as they are blessed one by one at a Catholic baptism. "Seeing is believing" was no longer the platitude of a mere idiot, or common individual, as in Plato's world; it was mixed up with real conditions of real belief. Those revolving mirrors that send messages to the brain of man, that light that breaks upon the brain, these had truly revealed to God himself the path to Bethany or the light on the high rock of Jerusalem. These ears that resound with common noises had reported also to the secret knowledge of God the noise of the crowd that strewed palms and the crowd that cried for Crucifixion. After the Incarnation had become the idea that is central in our civilisation, it was inevitable that there should be a return to materialism, in the sense of the serious value of matter and the making of the body.
[GKC St. Thomas Aquinas CW2:493]
Yes, our world, our body, our senses, the knowledge we gain through our senses - all this matters in a whole new way.

And so now the Church calls upon the Heart of Jesus "in Whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (St. Paul wrote those words to the Colossians. Col 2:3), and calls upon Mary with the title of "Seat of Wisdom" - for surely He Who is Wisdom Incarnate sat upon her lap as an infant:
All things were created by him and in him. And he is before all: and by him all things consist. [Col 1:16-17]
We attest to this when we recite the Nicene Creed: "Per quem omnia facta sunt" = "Through Him all things were made."

But what does all this mean?

It means if we are to begin to understand a little about ourselves, and about our place in the world (which is called "cosmos" in Greek) and have some faint sense about how all that depends on Jesus, we are probably going to need science.

Yes: hard, physical science. Physics. Chemistry. Biology. Astronomy. And Mathematics.

It is somehow felt that there is some sort of collision - or chasm - between science and philosophy, because philosophy seems to be always in the mind, about thought, about intangibles, and science is always about exterior things, and the senses.

But a great philosopher, speaking in the voice of a much greater philosopher, explained it in this way:
"I believe that there is a middle field of facts which are given by the senses to be the subject matter of the reason; and that in that field the reason has a right to rule, as the representative of God in Man." ... Thus began what is commonly called the appeal to Aquinas and Aristotle. It might be called the appeal to Reason and the Authority of the Senses.
[GKC St. Thomas Aquinas CW2:429]

And thus also begins my attempt at a Lenten series of meditations, which shall be on the Great Catholic Scientists of history. You may hear some familiar names, and some which are not familiar. But I do hope you will be surprised, and join with me in working with Aquinas and Chesterton, for "The rebuilding of this bridge between science and human nature is one of the greatest needs of mankind." [GKC The Defendant 75]

Let us pray in this special time of grace that the Holy Spirit strengthen within us His gift of scientia = knowledge, that we may come to know more about God, and so come to love Him more, and our neighbor, too.


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