Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Some angel material ...

- angels from St. Gabriel's Abbey, Prague

I've come upon today: A paper, Why can't angels think properly? by Martin Lenz. And a book, Angels in Medieval Philosophical Inquiry by Isabel Iribarren and Martin Lenz. Here's a bit from the introduction .....

[...] The golden era of scholasticism, roughly between the early thirteenth and the mid-fourteenth century, saw an enthusiastic reception of Aristotelian thought ..... attempts to articulate Aristotelian philosophy within the demands of Christian theology gave light to the thirteenth-century notion of theology as ‘the Queen of Sciences’ .... it is no coincidence that the most notable advocate of natural theology was also honoured with the title of Angelic Doctor. Indeed, Thomas Aquinas saw himself as part of a philosophical and theological tradition whose chief concern was to guarantee the compatibility of the natural order with God’s will and the essential continuity from creatures to God. In this view, angels were purported to represent, on a cosmological level, the harmonious balance between natural and supernatural epitomized in the notion of ‘natural theology’

Aquinas’s outlook, however, proved to be a double-edged sword. The notion of theology as a science was not without its problems, especially when it came to justifying how its working premises, the articles of faith, were to function as self-evident principles. Either we admitted, with the risk of fideism, that theology was incapable of yielding positive knowledge about God, or we forced reason into faith in favour of a coherent philosophical system but at the expense of Christian doctrine .... This incipient strain in the working relation between philosophy and theology finally snapped in 1277, as the Bishop of Paris, Stephen Tempier, issued a condemnation against the University [Condemnation of 1277] .....

The period following the condemnation saw the gradual waning of the thirteenth century endeavour to build up a system of positive knowledge about God. By the turn of the fourteenth century medieval thinkers begin to be more critical of their classical inheritance, as they tend to question the legitimacy of philosophical reasoning in the domain of revelation. This gave way to new forms of religious spirituality, whereby what brings humans closer to God are no longer quasi-divine ‘intelligences’ in a static hierarchy leading to the first principle, but rather the merits of humans who led sinless lives and have accordingly received the divine gift of grace. This dynamic reinterpretation of the relation between God and humans went hand in hand with the angels’ loss of theological significance.

Admittedly, in the centuries succeeding the Middle Ages angels seem to lose their theological reality and cosmological function as chief mediators and warrants of world order. But this development was not wholly detrimental to our spiritual ambassadors. For as angels became lost in theological and cosmological relevance, so speculation about them gained in philosophical pertinence. Representing ideal beings in their perfect cognition and immateriality, angels provide privileged grounds for exploring a wide range of issues from epistemology, metaphysics, to philosophy of mind and language. Even contemporary philosophical discussions could have thus much to benefit from the lens provided by medieval angelological discussions. It is this second question about the philosophical importance of angels to which we will now turn .....


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