Saturday, 20 June 2015

Plato's 'Phaedo': The Desirability of Death

Merely because I find it so fascinating, I am posting an excerpt from the Platonic dialogue, Phaedo, wherein Plato attempts to show that the philosopher must have a certain desire for death. Socrates has been condemned to death, and seeks to convince his friends that he has good reason not to be afraid in such circumstances.
And now I will make answer to you, O my judges, and show that he who has lived as a true philosopher has reason to be of good cheer when he is about to die, and that after death he may hope to receive the greatest good in the other world. And how this may be, Simmias and Cebes, I will endeavor to explain. For I deem that the true disciple of philosophy is likely to be misunderstood by other men; they do not perceive that he is ever pursuing death and dying; and if this is true, why, having had the desire of death all his life long, should he repine at the arrival of that which he has been always pursuing and desiring?
Simmias laughed and said: Though not in a laughing humor, I swear that I cannot help laughing when I think what the wicked world will say when they hear this. They will say that this is very true, and our people at home will agree with them in saying that the life which philosophers desire is truly death, and that they have found them out to be deserving of the death which they desire.
And they are right, Simmias, in saying this, with the exception of the words "They have found them out"; for they have not found out what is the nature of this death which the true philosopher desires, or how he deserves or desires death. But let us leave them and have a word with ourselves: Do we believe that there is such a thing as death?
To be sure, replied Simmias.
And is this anything but the separation of soul and body? And being dead is the attainment of this separation; when the soul exists in herself, and is parted from the body and the body is parted from the soul-that is death?
Exactly: that and nothing else, he replied.
And what do you say of another question, my friend, about which I should like to have your opinion, and the answer to which will probably throw light on our present inquiry: Do you think that the philosopher ought to care about the pleasures-if they are to be called pleasures-of eating and drinking?
Certainly not, answered Simmias.
And what do you say of the pleasures of love-should he care about them?
By no means.
And will he think much of the other ways of indulging the body-for example, the acquisition of costly raiment, or sandals, or other adornments of the body? Instead of caring about them, does he not rather despise anything more than nature needs? What do you say?
I should say the true philosopher would despise them.
Would you not say that he is entirely concerned with the soul and not with the body? He would like, as far as he can, to be quit of the body and turn to the soul.
That is true.
In matters of this sort philosophers, above all other men, may be observed in every sort of way to dissever the soul from the body.
That is true.
Whereas, Simmias, the rest of the world are of opinion that a life which has no bodily pleasures and no part in them is not worth having; but that he who thinks nothing of bodily pleasures is almost as though he were dead.
That is quite true.
What again shall we say of the actual acquirement of knowledge?-is the body, if invited to share in the inquiry, a hinderer or a helper? I mean to say, have sight and hearing any truth in them? Are they not, as the poets are always telling us, inaccurate witnesses? and yet, if even they are inaccurate and indistinct, what is to be said of the other senses?-for you will allow that they are the best of them?
Certainly, he replied.
Then when does the soul attain truth?-for in attempting to consider anything in company with the body she is obviously deceived.
Yes, that is true.
Then must not existence be revealed to her in thought, if at all?
And thought is best when the mind is gathered into herself and none of these things trouble her-neither sounds nor sights nor pain nor any pleasure-when she has as little as possible to do with the body, and has no bodily sense or feeling, but is aspiring after being?
That is true.
And in this the philosopher dishonors the body; his soul runs away from the body and desires to be alone and by herself?
That is true.
Well, but there is another thing, Simmias: Is there or is there not an absolute justice?
Assuredly there is.
And an absolute beauty and absolute good?
Of course.
But did you ever behold any of them with your eyes?
Certainly not.
Or did you ever reach them with any other bodily sense? (and I speak not of these alone, but of absolute greatness, and health, and strength, and of the essence or true nature of everything). Has the reality of them ever been perceived by you through the bodily organs? or rather, is not the nearest approach to the knowledge of their several natures made by him who so orders his intellectual vision as to have the most exact conception of the essence of that which he considers?
And he attains to the knowledge of them in their highest purity who goes to each of them with the mind alone, not allowing when in the act of thought the intrusion or introduction of sight or any other sense in the company of reason, but with the very light of the mind in her clearness penetrates into the very fight of truth in each; he has got rid, as far as he can, of eyes and ears and of the whole body, which he conceives of only as a disturbing element, hindering the soul from the acquisition of knowledge when in company with her-is not this the sort of man who, if ever man did, is likely to attain the knowledge of existence?
There is admirable truth in that, Socrates, replied Simmias.
And when they consider all this, must not true philosophers make a reflection, of which they will speak to one another in such words as these: We have found, they will say, a path of speculation which seems to bring us and the argument to the conclusion that while we are in the body, and while the soul is mingled with this mass of evil, our desire will not be satisfied, and our desire is of the truth. For the body is a source of endless trouble to us by reason of the mere requirement of food; and also is liable to diseases which overtake and impede us in the search after truth: and by filling us so full of loves, and lusts, and fears, and fancies, and idols, and every sort of folly, prevents our ever having, as people say, so much as a thought. For whence come wars, and fightings, and factions? whence but from the body and the lusts of the body? For wars are occasioned by the love of money, and money has to be acquired for the sake and in the service of the body; and in consequence of all these things the time which ought to be given to philosophy is lost. Moreover, if there is time and an inclination toward philosophy, yet the body introduces a turmoil and confusion and fear into the course of speculation, and hinders us from seeing the truth: and all experience shows that if we would have pure knowledge of anything we must be quit of the body, and the soul in herself must behold all things in themselves: then I suppose that we shall attain that which we desire, and of which we say that we are lovers, and that is wisdom, not while we live, but after death, as the argument shows; for if while in company with the body the soul cannot have pure knowledge, one of two things seems to follow-either knowledge is not to be attained at all, or, if at all, after death. For then, and not till then, the soul will be in herself alone and without the body. In this present life, I reckon that we make the nearest approach to knowledge when we have the least possible concern or interest in the body, and are not saturated with the bodily nature, but remain pure until the hour when God himself is pleased to release us. And then the foolishness of the body will be cleared away and we shall be pure and hold converse with other pure souls, and know of ourselves the clear light everywhere; and this is surely the light of truth. For no impure thing is allowed to approach the pure. These are the sort of words, Simmias, which the true lovers of wisdom cannot help saying to one another, and thinking. You will agree with me in that?
Certainly, Socrates.
But if this is true, O my friend, then there is great hope that, going whither I go, I shall there be satisfied with that which has been the chief concern of you and me in our past lives. And now that the hour of departure is appointed to me, this is the hope with which I depart, and not I only, but every man who believes that he has his mind purified.
Certainly, replied Simmias.
And what is purification but the separation of the soul from the body, as I was saying before; the habit of the soul gathering and collecting herself into herself, out of all the courses of the body; the dwelling in her own place alone, as in another life, so also in this, as far as she can; the release of the soul from the chains of the body?
Very true, he said.
And what is that which is termed death, but this very separation and release of the soul from the body? 
Simply speaking, according to an Aristotelian philosophy, this argument fails; for man is a creature composed of both body and soul, whereas Plato regards man as a soul encaged within a body. Consequently, Plato holds that man cannot have speculative knowledge unless he divorces himself from the body, which is otherwise an obstacle to the acquisition of this knowledge. The Aristotelian, on the contrary, recognizes that man cannot exercise philosophy or even have any kind of speculative knowledge without the aid of the body; for the agent intellect must abstract from the phantasm in the imagination, which in turn only exists because of the senses themselves. 

That being said, I do think there is a way in which a Thomist theologian - who is also an Aristotelian philosopher - may elevate Plato's idea to a conformity with Christian theology. In this life, the Thomist says, natural knowledge can only be attained with the aid of the bodily senses. But due to fallen human nature, the body has also become a burden and a hindrance. The flesh rebels against the spirit, influences it, sometimes deadens it. Consequently, in order to rise to perfect contemplation of the truth - the divine truth - one must first prepare oneself by rising above the senses, mortifying the body, checking the bodily passions, etc. This is necessary until death, after which - hopefully - the harmony of the human person will be restored, and the soul will rest in the vision of the divine essence, and the body will enjoy the fullness of its own perfection. For the Christian, death is desirable not for its own sake, but only because it is a necessary step to a fuller life.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Corpus Christi - Readings from the Office of Matins

This is somewhat belated, as the feast of Corpus Christi was yesterday, but I believe it used to have an Octave, so traditionally we should still be celebrating the feast. The following excerpts constitute some of the lessons for the office of Matins for this feast in the Tridentine breviary, as found here. A more complete presentation of St. Thomas' work in composing the office, including more excerpts in the lessons, may be found here. This exemplifies St. Thomas' profoundly liturgical and Eucharistic mysticism. He was not merely the rational thinker whom he is normally made out to be. He was motivated by an intense piety, which can be seen in this, probably his greatest masterpiece, the office of Corpus Christi.

Reading 4
From the Sermons of St Thomas of Aquino.
17th or 57th of his Opuscula, or Lesser Works.
The immeasurable benefits, which the goodness of God hath bestowed on Christian people, have conferred on them also a dignity beyond all price. " For what nation is there so great, who hath gods so nigh unto them, as the Lord, our God, is" unto us? Deut. iv. 7. The Only-begotten Son of God, being pleased to make us " partakers of the Divine nature," 2 Pet. i. 4, took our nature upon Him, being Himself made Man that He might make men gods. And all, as much of ours as He took, He applied to our salvation. On the Altar of the Cross He offered up His Body to God the Father as a sacrifice for our reconciliation He shed His Blood as the price whereby He redeemeth us from wretchedness and bondage, and the washing whereby He cleanseth us from all sin. And for a noble and abiding memorial of that so great work of His goodness, He hath left unto His faithful ones the Same His very Body for Meat, and the Same His very Blood for Drink, to be fed upon under the appearance of bread and wine.

Reading 5
How precious a thing then, how marvellous, how health-giving, how furnished with all dainties, is the Supper [of the Lord !] Than His Supper can anything be more precious ? Therein there is put before us for meat, not, as of old time, the flesh of bulls and of goats, but Christ Himself, our very God. Than this Sacrament can anything be more marvellous ? Therein it cometh to pass that bread and wine are bread and wine no more, but in the stead thereof there is the Body and there is the Blood of Christ; that is to say, Christ Himself, Perfect God and Perfect Man, Christ Himself is there, under the appearance of a little bread and wine. His faithful ones eat Him, but He is not mangled ; nay, when [the veil which shroudeth Him in] this Sacrament is broken, in each broken piece thereof remaineth whole Christ Himself, Perfect God and Perfect Man. All that the senses can reach in this Sacrament, [look, taste, feel, smell, and the like, all these] abide of bread and wine, but the Thing is not bread and wine. And thus room is left for faith ; Christ Who hath a Form That can be seen, is here taken and received not only unseen, but seeming to be bread and wine, and the senses, which judge by the wonted look, are warranted against error.

Reading 6

Than this Sacrament can anything be more health - giving Thereby are sins purged away, strength renewed, and the soul fed upon the fatness of spiritual gifts. This Supper is offered up in the Church both for the quick and dead it was ordained to the health of all, all get the good of it. Than this Sacrament can anything be more furnished with dainties The glorious sweetness thereof is of a truth such that no man can fully tell it. Therein ghostly comfort is sucked from its very well - head. Therein a memorial is made of that exceeding great love which Christ showed in time of His sufferings. It was in order that the boundless goodness of that His great love might be driven home into the hearts of His faithful ones, that when He had celebrated the Passover with His disciples, and the last Supper was ended, the Lord " Jesus, knowing that His hour was come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end," John xiii. 1, and instituted this Sacrament, this Sacrament, the everlasting forth - " showing of His death until He come " again, 1 Cor. xi. 26, this Sacrament, the embodied fulfilment of all the ancient types and figures, this Sacrament, the greatest miracle which He ever wrought, and the one mighty joy of them that now have sorrow, till He shall come again, and their heart shall rejoice, and their joy no man take from them. John xvi. 22.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Theodore of Mospuestia on the Eucharistic Liturgy

The following passage is taken from a work by the Church Father, Theodore of Mospuestia, on the liturgy of the Eucharist. Here he speaks of the relation of the Eucharistic liturgy to the sacrifice of Christ and to the liturgy which Christ performs in heaven. All of these are versions or manifestations of one and the same work of Christ, which He performs for man's redemption and for the worship and praise of the Father. Through the liturgical symbolism, we attain to a contemplation of certain realities of Christ's work. On the one hand, we reap the effects of His passion and death when He was on earth. On the other hand, we have a glimpse, as it were, of the heavenly liturgy.
We must first of all realise that we perform a sacrifice of which we eat. Although we remember the death of our Lord in food and drink, and although we believe these to be the remembrance of His Passion—because He said: "This is my body which is broken for you, and this is my blood which is shed for you"—we nevertheless perform, in their service, a sacrifice; and it is the office of the priest of the New Testament to offer this sacrifice, as it is through it that the New Covenant appears to be maintained. It is indeed evident that it is a sacrifice, but not a new one and one that (the priest) performs as his, but it is a remembrance of that other real sacrifice (of Christ). Because the priest performs things found in heaven through symbols and signs, it is necessary that his sacrifice also should be as their image, and that he should represent a likeness of the service of heaven. It would be impossible for us to be priests and do priestly service outside the ancient law if we did not possess the likeness of heavenly things.

The blessed Paul said about Christ our Lord that "if He were on the earth He should not be a high priest, seeing that there were priests of the law who offer gifts according to the law and who serve to the example and shadow of heavenly things." He means by this that all the priests according to the law performed their priestly service on earth, where all the law was made to suit mortal men, and the sacrifices consisted of irrational beasts led to be slaughtered to death, which meant that they were fit for this mortal sojourn on earth. It is indeed clear that all the injunctions and ritual of the law were only partially suitable. Circumcision, Sabbath, holy days, observances of days, and distinctions in food: all these suited a mortal nature, and none of them has any place in an immortal nature, and to people who performed such things even sacrifices of irrational beasts are not suitable, as these are slaughtered and |80 die in the act of sacrifice. As to Christ our Lord, if He were about to perform His priestly service on earth, it was necessary that He also should perform this service according to the Divine law, which was something that harmonised with the (Mosaic) law; and if He did not perform a priestly service according to the law, He would not have been a high priest, as He would then be performing a priestly service not according to the law of God. Now, however, He performs the priestly service in heaven and not on earth, because He died, rose, ascended into heaven in order to raise us all up and cause us to ascend into heaven, and made a covenant with those who believe in Him that He will grant them participation in the resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven.

He performs a real high priesthood and offers to God no other sacrifice than Himself, as He had delivered also Himself to death for all. He was the first to rise from the dead, and He ascended into heaven and sat at the right hand of God in order to destroy all our adversaries, as the blessed Paul said: "He offered one sacrifice for our sins for ever, sat on the right hand of God, from henceforth expecting till His enemies be made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected for ever them that are sanctified." He calls His enemies those who fight against us, and their destruction is clearly seen in our perfection, as the work of a high priest consists in his drawing near to God first and then in drawing also the others to Him through himself. The blessed Paul rightly calls Him high priest because He was so in reality, as through His resurrection He was the first to ascend into heaven; and He sat on the right hand of God, and granted us through Himself to be near to God and partakers of good things. "The high priest of all of us is," as the blessed Paul said, "Christ our Lord, who did not, like the high priests of the law, serve to the example and shadow of heavenly things, but He is the minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which God pitched and not man," so that through them He might make manifest |81 the heavenly things. He refers by the word "sanctuary" to heavenly things which do not contain anything that is contrary or reprehensible, and by the sentence "the true tabernacle which God pitched and not man" to the heavenly abode, because the tabernacle of the law was pitched by man, but heaven is made not by men but by God, and it is of it that the Apostle said that Christ is the minister, as He ascended into heaven and there performs service for all of us, so that He might draw us to Him by all means, according to His promise. It is for this reason that he said in another passage that "He is at the right hand of God and making intercession for us." He calls "intercession" not a supplication made for us in words, as this intercession is made in deeds, because through His ascension into heaven He makes intercession for us to God and is anxious that all of us should ascend into heaven to Him.

If, as the blessed Paul said, Christ our Lord should not be a priest if He performed His priestly service on earth, it follows that He does not perform His service according to the ritual of the law, but since priesthood and the service of the law were made manifest by God on earth, it was not necessary that it should be rejected by God and another one be substituted on the same earth. He is then rightly a priest because He performs priestly service in heaven, where there is not a single association with earthly things, and in this way no blame attaches to the priests of the law. Since these are said in another place to do their work among mortal and earthly men, while He performs His priestly service in immortal and heavenly things, which are much higher and loftier, is it not clear that neither can we be priests appointed to do priestly service for earthly things? It is indeed well known that the priesthood of the law suited earthly and mortal men, while Christ is the high priest of heavenly things, and will cause all of us to ascend into heaven at the right time.

As to us who are called to a new covenant, as the blessed Paul said, we received salvation and deliverance in hope, and although we have not seen them we expect "by our patience to be absent from the body and be with our Lord." We walk by faith and not by sight because we are not yet in the reality, as we are not yet in the heavenly benefits. We wait here in faith until we ascend into heaven and set out on our journey to our Lord, where we shall not see through a glass and in a riddle but shall look face to face. These things, however, we expect to receive in reality through the resurrection at the time decreed by God, and now it is only by faith that we draw near to the firstfruits of these good things: to Christ our Lord and the high priest of things that belong to us. We are ordered to perform in this world the symbols and signs of the future things so that, through the service of the Sacrament, we may be like men who enjoy symbolically the happiness of the heavenly benefits, and thus acquire a sense of possession and a strong hope of the things for which we look.

As the real new birth is the one which we expect through the resurrection, and we nevertheless perform this new birth symbolically and sacramentally through baptism, so also the real food of immortality is that which we hope to receive truly in heaven by the grace of the Holy Spirit, but now we symbolically eat the immortal food which is given to us by the grace of the Holy Spirit, whether in symbols or through symbols. It follows that a role of a high priest must needs be filled, and it is found in those who are appointed for the service of these symbols. Those who have been chosen as the priests of the New Testament are believed to perform sacramentally, by the descent of the Holy Spirit, and for the confirmation and admonition of the children of the Sacrament, these things which we believe that Christ our Lord performed and will perform in reality.

This is the reason why they do not immolate at all times new sacrifices like the priests of the law. These were ordered to offer to God numerous and different sacrifices of oxen, goats and sheep, and offered new sacrifices at all times. When first sacrificial beasts had been slaughtered, had died and suffered complete dissolution, others were always immolated in the place of those which had been slaughtered a long time previously. As to the priests of the New Testament they immolate the same sacrifice always and everywhere, because one is the sacrifice which has been immolated for us, that of Christ our Lord who suffered death for us and who, by His offering this sacrifice, obtained perfection for us, as the blessed Paul said: "By one offering He perfected for ever them that are sanctified." All of us, everywhere, at all times, and always, observe the commemoration of that sacrifice, "for as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup we do show the Lord's death till He come." As often, therefore, as the service of this awe-inspiring sacrifice is performed, which is clearly the likeness of heavenly things and of which, after it has been perfected, we become worthy to partake through food and drink, as a true participation in our future benefits—we must picture in our mind that we are dimly in heaven, and, through faith, draw in our imagination the image of heavenly things, while thinking that Christ who is in heaven and who died for us, rose and ascended into heaven and is now being immolated. In contemplating with our eyes, through faith, the facts that are now being re-enacted: that He is again dying, rising and ascending into heaven, we shall be led to the vision of the things that had taken place beforehand on our behalf.

Because Christ our Lord offered Himself in sacrifice for us and thus became our high priest in reality, we must think that the priest who draws near to the altar is representing His image, not that he offers himself in sacrifice, any more than he is truly a high priest, but because he performs the figure of the service of the ineffable sacrifice (of Christ), and through this figure he dimly represents the image of the unspeakable heavenly things and of the supernatural and incorporeal hosts. Indeed, all the invisible hosts did service to that Economy which transcends our words and which Christ our Lord accomplished for us. "They are all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation" as the blessed Paul said. Matthew, the evangelist, showed also this when he said: "and the angels came, and ministered to Him." This is also attested by our Lord who said: "Hereafter you shall see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending to the Son of Man." Incidents in the Gospel show also events that happened through them, whether it be through those who at the birth of our Lord sang: "Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth and good hope to men," or through those who at His resurrection revealed to women what had occurred, or through those who at His ascension explained to the Apostles that which they did not know. It is necessary, therefore, that here also, when this awe-inspiring service is performed, we should think that the deacons represent an image of the service of these invisible spirits, and that they have been appointed to minister to this awe-inspiring service by the grace of the Holy Spirit which they received.