Saint Thomas Aquinas, Patron Saint of Philosophy, Angelic Doctor of the Church

When I finally made it to the university, I went to a school named for this man, The University of Saint Thomas, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, named for Saint Thomas Aquinas; I studied philosophy there, as well as theology and the classics.

It was a grand place, it felt like a university, with its tall stately buildings made from massive blacks of light tan stone, Minnesota sandstone quarried from the river bluffs nearby. The moment I passed through the arches into the quad I felt like I had arrived.

My time at this school was reasonably well spent. Saint Thomas prepared me for advanced studies elsewhere, and I continued my theological work, though not as exhaustively as our Patron Saint, his Summa Theologica remains a unique achievement in the history of Western thought, more important for the mode of thinking he transmitted his ideas in than for the conclusions that he made.

Saint Thomas bridged the gap between the ancient philosophers: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle et al, and the proto-renaissance period of Western Europe, re-discovering the use of intellectual tools like such as formal logic and discursive reasoning, and re-employing them in a way that allowed Europeans to leave the Dark Ages, clearing the way for the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason that followed.

Saint Thomas died on March 7th, 1274. In 1969 the Church moved the day we celebrate his feast to January 28th, we celebrate his sainthood today.

Saint Thomas was Italian by birth and a member of the Dominican order, a scholastic, and he was famous in his day. He died while making a pilgrimage on the Appian Way, death took him at the Cistercian abbey of Fossanova, and the monks there, fully cognizant of his fame, knowing that he would become a saint of great renown, they coveted the relics of his body.

They boiled his carcass down and polished his bones, preserving all of the water for distribution in the relic-trade, they refused for years to turn his body over to his Dominican brothers, parceling out his bones and the water bit by bit over time, keeping his skull until the very end.

The University of Saint Thomas has a vial of that water in its collection of sacred artifacts, a silly business, really, and beneath the dignity of the intellectual giant that Aquinas was known to be.

On his death bed it is reported that he gave an estimation of the value of his own contribution to the doctrine and dogma of the church, of which he said: everything is just straw.

There is a prayer that Thomas wrote carved into a column of the main entrance to the school grounds, the same arches that I first walked through my first day on campus, two stories below the offices of the Philosophy Department. I recited it aloud every day that I attended classes on the campus in Saint Paul.

It is a prayer that I carry with me still, as if it were written in my heart:

Grant, O Merciful God

That I may ardently desire,

Prudently examine,

Truthfully acknowledge,

And perfectly accomplish

What is pleasing to thee

For the praise and glory

Of thy name

In the year 2021 CE, seven hundred and forty-seven after the death of Saint Thomas, the world has become enmired in another kind of dark ages, which is odd and sadly ironic because the current tide of anti-rational, anti-intellectual sentiment that has griped the world has been seeded through the prevalence of digital media platforms that are in themselves a function of our mastery of light, as a means of communication.

We now find ourselves leaving in a cultural milieu that disdains the truth, scientia, science and knowledge, which undermines place of reason in public discourse.

In Western Europe the so-called dark ages are considered to have begun around the year 500 CE, with the reign of the emperor Justinian, roughly the same length of time seven hundred and fifty years after the golden age of the philosophers, and roughly seven hundred and fifty years before Saint Thomas wrote his Summa.

Let me be clear, I am not suggesting that there is anything inherently ominous in the pattern I have articulated, the numbers themselves are arbitrary and it would be unreasonable to suppose otherwise. However, we would be wise to acknowledge this, the descent of darkness has a cycle all of its own. We have fallen into this before and we are susceptible to falling into it again, once we have fallen, it could take centuries to emerge back into the light.

Saint Katherine of Alexandria – Patron Saint of Philosophers

As a Roman Catholic Theologian, and a student of philosophy, Saint Katherine of Alexandria is my patroness.

I have this image of her, painted by the renaissance master Raphael tattooed on my right arm.

Her legend tells us that she was born in Alexandria, Egypt around the year 287 CE, and that she died as a martyr during the reign of the Roman Emperor Maxentius c. 305.

She was broken on the wheel; she was tied to it, impaled on its spikes, and crushed beneath it as it was rolled through the streets.

Katherine was only eighteen years old but gifted with a rare intellect. She was from a wealthy family and used her fortune to hold salons where she invited pagan philosophers to debate with her and other Christian scholars on matters concerning the central tenets of the faith and the doctrines of the Church.

Katherine is always depicted in the saffron and ochre robes of the philosopher, which had been the tradition throughout the ancient Near East and Hellenistic Civilization since at least the time of Socrates (mid-fourth century BCE). It is likely that these colors, and their association with philosophy come from the Buddhist missionaries travelling west from as early as the sixth century BCE.

Given First 11.25.2020

Full title: Saint Catherine of Alexandria Artist: Raphael Date made: about 1507 Source: http://www.nationalgalleryimages.co.uk/ Contact: picture.library@nationalgallery.co.uk Copyright © The National Gallery, London

The Feast of Saint’s Peter and Paul, Founders of the Church

Not all Christians celebrate the lives of the Saints, but many do, and today is the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, who after Jesus were the principle founders of the Church.

We celebrate their feast on the day of their ascension, which is most often the day of their death, in the case of Peter and Paul it is the date they were martyred, the day they were killed as enemies of the Roman State.

Their influence on Christian doctrine was greater than Jesus’, more enduring. Paul, through his letters wrote the core pieces of Christian Doctrine, and Peter was the first pope, the Bishop of Rome, and Patriarch of the Latin Church.

Peter and Paul did not always see eye to eye, though Peter bore the title of chief among the disciples, Paul was the greater teacher and more closely approximated the way of Christ.

As I mentioned, Peter is given credit for founding the church of Rome, the lore of the Church tells us that he was its first bishop, this is a myth however, that title was not even in use during Peter’s day.

It is accepted as true that both men were put to death in Rome, martyred there on account of their commitment to the Church and its mission, they were mot put to death so much for the content of their beliefs, but for leading the kind of secretive society that was feared by the emperors of Rome. Christians were perceived as a threat that has to be curtailed.

Paul was a Roman citizen, he travelled broadly throughout the empire and for from his home of Tarsus. He founded many churches in the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor, his letters are the earliest known Christian writings, and though not all of those ascribed to him were written by him, Paul’s actual influence is imeasureable.

A casual observer of history may find this odd because Paul he never met Jesus, and prior to his conversion he was the type of man who would punish other members of his community if they were not properly observing the traditions of his synagogue, Christians were his chief target.

After Paul’s conversion to Christianity he led the mission to the gentiles, opening the teachings of the church to the masses, he made it so that a person did not need to become Jewish first in order to become a Christian.

Peter initially opposed him in this but once their dispute was settled at a meeting in Jerusalem officiated by Jesus’ own brother Saint James, the matter was settled and the gentiles were allowed the full franchise of membership in the community of the blessed.

Peter and Paul

Given First 06.29.2020

The Feast of Saint Justin Martyr, the Philosopher

Today is the feast of Saint Justin the Martyr, a Christian philosopher from the second century CE. He and his students were put to death at the very beginning of the Christian era, around the year 165 CE.

Few of his writings have survived, but the work we do have demonstrates how influential Saint Justin was in shaping our understanding of Jesus as the second person of the trinity, the Son of God, and the incarnation of the divine logos.

Justine established the theology that Jesus of Nazareth, Joshua bin Joseph was the embodied manifestation of God’s reason and rational aspect in the world.

Justin’s work also fixed into Christian consciousness the notion that all people carry a seed of the Word within them, insofar as all people are created in the divine image and share in being of God.

This doctrine is referred to as the Logos Spermatikos and it stands in stark distinction to the much more pessimistic theology of Saint Augustine of Hippo three hundred and fifty years later, who devised the doctrine of Original Sin.

The theology of Saint Justin the Martyr suggested that when God breathed life into Adam, God imparted to him God’s own self in the form of the divine logos, making Adam, and all humankind subsequent to him, into the creatures that Aristotle referred to as “the rational animal,” unlike every other animal on Earth.

What Justin taught was this: human beings bear the fullness of God within themselves, but Adam’s sin has corrupted us and occluded it, causing the seed lying within us to go dormant, thereby cutting us off from our inherent potential, the ability to live our lives in the fullness of God’s promise.

Our capacity to understand the truth, perceive beauty and do good, our desire for justice and mercy became more or less latent.

Saint Justin taught that waters of baptism were to the seed of the Word, what ordinary water is to a seed of any kind, actuating that potential, like the germination of a seed, and a source of nourishment for the Word dwelling within us, showering us with grace.

He taught that the sacrament of baptism provides us with grace that activates our potential and sets on the path to living a full spiritual life.Justin Martyr
Given First 06.01.2020

Trog

There is movement all about me, forms I can’t discern, floating in my dreams
There are shadows on the cavern walls, wavering in chaotic streams

Questions scrape my bones like hungry wraiths, solutions never see the light of day
Bundle up the answers, bind them like sheaves of straw, set to fire in the night

The furies rise from the ash beds, there is no phoenix, no morning sun

Bury seeds in the cold-field, bits of knowledge, pushed into the wet earth
Fragile little plantlings hungry for life, set their roots and stretch out for the light

Heedless of the storm descending, turn to face the darkened horizon, resisting
As dreams fall like stars from the sky, the harvest rots while and fields are set on fire

There is phoenix rising, only the furies fly from the ash beds, their swarm blots the sun

We heard the promise and followed its call, we stood beneath the open sky
To bask in the solar wind, blind as the troglodyte emerging from the cave

Fyodor Dostoyevsky – Author

When I was still a teenager and began to move away from reading science fiction, fantasy, and my comic books, when I got past the authors I had been introduced to in school, the so-called American Classics such as Lewis, Fitzgerald and Steinbeck, it was then that I discovered Dostoyevsky.

A whole new dimension of literature opened up to me, literature became philosophy.

Through the great Russian novelist I came to understand the power of narrative, and its effectiveness at conveying certain truths that are universal to the human condition.

For whatever reason there are no authors more adept at this function than the Russian’s, with Dostoyevsky being the foremost at the craft.

His influence on me was profound.

From Crime and Punishment and Notes from the Underground, to The Idiot and the Brothers Karamozov, which are perhaps his most famous works in English, I spent years all through my twenties and into my thirties tracking down his cannon, until I was left with translations of his notebooks to read, which I did.

I purchased the notebook for A Raw Youth, at a used bookstore in Minneapolis (Majors and Quinn). It was the first one that I discovered, In its pages I could see the way he constructed the arc of his stories, and developed his characters from ego to id, and I found an Imperial Ruble, tucked into its pages, a bookmark left behind by whoever was last to read to it.

The note was wrinkled and faded but still a treasure to me.

I considered Dostoyevsky to be the father of existentialism, and through him I learned to love Dickens, who Dostoyevsky considered to be the greatest author of all time.

It has been one hundred and thirty-nine years since he died, and his influence has not waned.
Given First – 2020.02.09

Dostoyevsky

Saint Thomas Aquinas, Patron Saint of Philosophy, Angelic Doctor of the Church – A Reflection

Saint Thomas AquinasWhen I finally made it to university, I went to a place named for this man, The University of Saint Thomas, in Saint Paul, Minnesota and I studied philosophy there.

It was a grand place, it felt like a university, with its tall stately buildings made from massive blacks of light tan stone, Minnesota sandstone quarried from the hills nearby, when I passed through the arches into the quad I felt like I had arrived.

I studied philosophy, theology and the classics during my time there. Saint Thomas prepared me for advanced studies elsewhere, I continued my theological work, though not as exhaustively as he, his Summa Theologica remains a unique achievement in the history of Western thought, more important for the mode of thinking he transmitted his ideas through, than for the conclusions that he made. His work bridged the gap between the ancient philosophers: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle (and others), re-employing the tools of logic, and discursive reasoning that allowed Europeans to leave the Dark Ages, clearing the way for the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason that followed.

Saint Thomas died on March 7th, 1274. In 1969 the Church moved the day we celebrate his feast to January 28th, we celebrate his sainthood today. He was Italian by birth, and a member of the Dominican order, a scholastic, and he was famous in his day. He died while making a pilgrimage on the Appian Way, death took him at the Cistercian abbey of Fossanova, and the monks there knowing that he would be famous, and a saint of great renown, coveted the relics of his body.

They boiled his carcass down and polished his bones, preserving all of the water for distribution in the relic-trade, they refused for years to turn his body over to his Dominican brothers, parceling out his bones and the water bit by bit over time, keeping his skull until the very end.

The University of Saint Thomas has a vial of that water in its collection of sacred artifacts, as silly business, really, and beneath the dignity of the intellectual giant that Aquinas was known to be.

There is a prayer that Thomas wrote, it is carved into a column of the main entrance to the school grounds, and I read it every day or recited it aloud every day that I attended classes on the campus in Saint Paul.

It is a prayer that I carry with me still, as if it were written in my heart:

Grant, O Merciful God
That I may ardently desire,
Prudently examine,
Truthfully acknowledge,
And perfectly accomplish
What is pleasing to thee
For the praise and glory
Of thy name
Given First 2020.01.28

Self-Analysis

Crawling the walls inside my head, scratching
At the barriers in my mind, feeding my anxieties, unwittingly
The beast that presses in on me
There is decay, the stink of it is everywhere
Leaves molding in the compost heap, the off gassing of self-analysis
Full of rot and decay, the trappings of entropy
Self-diminishment, pursuing the illusion to oblivion
An equation for the will, spiraling malaise, the slow poison of fear
Paralyzed by trepidation, lost in the labyrinth
There are mirrored halls and corridors, stretching
Forever, each plane is a door, locked and forbidden, I am keyless
But I have a hammer, and am crashing through the void
Digging in the earth with Leibniz
Plum the mysteries of my secret world, caught in the reflection
Of the present, like Enkidu in the wild
Adrift on a sea of confusion, as Gilgamesh drowning
Caught in time, trapped in space, always subject to flooding tides
Beneath the black skies on a starless night
I have forgotten the moon, lingering too long in limbo
At the brink of despair, the pit of uncertainty, the abyss is whispering
I am deaf to it, I was never taught to listen
There is a language to the soul, it is universal, sounding
Down the pathway of my heart, the echoes of reason beat my bones to dust
The destroyer comes with songs of praise
Cleverness is no substitute for, genius we paint our demons
In a bright colors, the infinite palate Leibniz says, and we dance
In the shadows of the ego, falsafah, the flowage of dreams
My Id crawls over me, like a worm that never dies
The compulsion to fail, as it swallows its tail, the serpent of Midgard
Kali comes riding with her pack of dogs, each one a cynic
Barking with spite

Philosopher solve thyself