When something stops working, our first reaction is often to find someone who knows how to fix it. Whether it’s a car, a computer, or a toaster, most of us aren’t inclined to try and tinker around with some machine that we are just as likely to make worse as better. We are all pretty good at telling when something isn’t working right, but it’s far more difficult to discern why. Clearly this piece of technology is designed to do some useful task, and when it stops doing that task, we need someone to reorder its parts to get it working again.
Being alone. It’s that all-too-familiar human experience. It lies at the root of our fears, ultimately making the vast wilderness frightening and the dark so haunting. The unnerving experience of being alone often descends upon men and women and has the power to paralyze them or otherwise entrap them in illusions of helpless desperation or worse, despair.
“Words, words, words,” replied Hamlet with despair-filled irony.
In a social setting suffused and encompassed by words, sound bites, snippets, and advertising, the mind cannot help but be overwhelmed. There is also the further complication that many of these words are unhelpful; things are not always what they seem, what they profess to be. When one’s glance falls upon abortion clinics named “Women and Family Centers,” stores selling exclusively pornographic and fetishist paraphernalia called “Adult,” and rock stars naming their children Dweezil and Moon Unit, it can appear that beyond being merely deceptive, some names simply fail to communicate altogether.
We go to restaurants to be made dinner and to theaters to see plays. We go to concert halls to hear music and to cafes to drink coffee. Agreed. However, when I am at such places, I nonetheless sometimes find myself wondering what we are all doing there.
“Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?’” (John 18:38a)
In a few days, we will see Jesus standing in the praetorium and Pontius Pilate, a government official and not a philosopher, asking Him this question. Neither Pilate nor the ancient philosophers may have been able to associate truth with God as Christians know Him, but a philosophical understanding may help us to articulate some of the why and how beyond the what of Pilate’s question.
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?
When Socrates had received his sentence, he stood up to address the assembly for the last time. He predicted that those who had convicted him would incur a bad reputation. To the Western mind, that’s putting it mildly: as an account of martyrdom for the sake of truth, the Apology of Socrates is second only to the Passion of the Christ. But Socrates hasn’t pleased everyone: Nietzsche had his doubts, and, what’s more, some museum-goers in Chicago are positively unimpressed.
People often criticize St. Thomas Aquinas for being “boring.” Today, on the feast of the Angelic Doctor, I offer this light-hearted reflection in his own idiom:
Whether Thomas Aquinas is fittingly called boring?
Some people are surprised when they first find out that the Church requires years of philosophy for those preparing for the priesthood. In the midst of my Ancient Philosophy course, I was prone to lose sight of its helpfulness toward the end goal. Does it really matter whether Thales thought the universe was made of water? Do I really need to know why Parmenides said that motion was impossible? I mean, no one in our society denies motion, but people do deny the Eucharist and objective morality. How easy it is to want to get on with philosophy and get to theology—the good stuff.
O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem fortiter, suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
Tonight, with Christmas Eve only a week away, the Church’s liturgy intensifies in anticipation for the coming of the Savior. Each evening until then, at the Magnificat, the Church prays one of the O Antiphons, a series of invocations to the Lord, each beginning with one of the titles applied to Him in the Old Testament. The first one, quoted above, is sung at Vespers this evening:
O Wisdom, who hast proceeded from the mouth of the Most High, who reaches from end to end mightily and orders all things sweetly, come to teach us the way of prudence” (cf. Ws 8:1).
The idea of wisdom is not unique to the Scriptures.