Catholicism and the University: The Analogy of Catholicism

by Andrew Simmons                                                                           Saturday,  March 14, 2015


In the City of God, Augustine presented the world as being divided between two groups: the City of God and the City of Men. The rift between these demonstrate the clear “otherness” each city displays towards the other. As Christopher Dawson relates in his Dynamics of World History, the two cities have served as a metanarrative for the medieval world’s inconclusive attitude towards Church and State. This rift appears again within the current spheres of the secular and the religious insomuch as each are credited with their own autonomy. Tensions arise when either of these institutions seek to assert themselves upon the other. One particular focal point of this tension can be found in the Catholic university. How does it identify itself when the secular and religious compose its student demographic? Has it not become a sort of unitive point in which both cities have been interwoven with each other? It is my view that this conflict arises from the burden poorly handled by those assuming the catholic identity. Moving from the whole to the particular, an answer to this dilemma can be found in harkening back to the very understanding of this identity: Catholic.

The philosophical stance by which the Church identifies the nature of the world is the analogia entis. Proponents of the stance can trace their origin to the works of St. Thomas Aquinas and his Aristotelian stance in the 12th century. As clarified by Erich Przywara, the analogy of being stipulates that the transcendent is “in-beyond” the nature of creation; the transcendent is outside of the world while also remaining immanent to what it does . There remains no radical ontological separation between the created and uncreated within the analogia entis. What is presented is a unity of what are two very distinct philosophical stances: The Platonic and the Aristotelian.

The founders of these two schools held two very different views of the world. Plato viewed truth and reality as entirely pertaining to the transcendent in which the created domain is an image of these transcendent forms. To unify the multitude of forms, Plotinus proposed that these forms are in the mind of God and united within his one Being. Aristotle differed by asserting that these divine ideas are immanent to the created world, while proposing that the divine is indifferent to the operations of the created world. There is no personal God by which the world refers to. Rather, there is merely many beings united in an act of existence with their reality fully within them. Man need not work to ascend a divine ladder, but focus on contemplating themselves and the idea that is within them; God contemplates himself, while creation works to contemplate itself amid its own changing. This difference between the two schools is seen in Aristotle’s rejection of Plato’s assertion that the arts can be inspired by a divine agency.

The response with the dynamics of history have shown how the unity of these two schools have been a difficult and tumultuous road. From the Platonic/Neo-Platonic perspective, the secular and the Church in this world share the same status as images but distinct in that they reflect different eternal ideas. Plotinus further adds to this by making both of these ideas intermingled in the unity of God’s Being. For the Aristotelian view, both share existence but contain different principles within their very actions. Yet, in history, the actions of both are intermingled and confused which halts an immediate knowledge of pure difference. The Church works to be the form of the secular by making it part a divinely oriented society. Meanwhile, the secular perceives the Church as arising from the same social institutions that compose the secular.

This conflict proceeds from the Medieval struggle to distance the two. The monastic communities were able to succeed by separating themselves from the feudal system, while the Pope could not amid the Investiture crises. Medieval society was able to maintain two strictly different codes of law, but the practice of these laws differed in regards to bishops and popes who maintained both ecclesial and secular authority. Universities, especially within Aquinas own time, shared this struggle between whether the Church or the secular should lead it. Essentially, the struggle pertained to whether one community would restrict the ability for students and teachers to perform their duties. The ecclesiastical fear was that the secular would reduce the university to serving particular needs of the local bureaucracies. Concerns such as this are practically reversed today as the secular fears a limitation of knowledge by the Church; fears which have become justified following the implementation of the Codex of Errors. The Church’s response to modernity has hard-locked the identity of the Church from the secular; meanwhile, the secular’s antipathy towards the ancien regime has created an antithetical structure. Each has proceeded to police and monitor those among their ranks for issues of liberalism or conservatism. From where does the synthesis arise that resolves these two?

What needs to be recognized, regardless of the feud, is that there has never been a clear and definitive break within the shared intellectual history. Any such breaks within a system of thought has continued within that thought’s very history. To point out an example of this, the Church’s history brings with it the continued knowledge of its detractors. The heretic continues on through the historical data just as much as the orthodox. The Gnostics, Nomians, Antinomians, Ebionites, and Docetists are recorded within its earliest histories. Arius follows alongside Nicea, and Nestorius proceeds alongside Chalcedon. Modernity’s principles continue to be entirely accessible from the Church’s own writings in Vatican I. If this knowledge was to be confined to some punitive abyss, it should have been forgotten. Rather, the Church has become a nexus of knowledge in which its benefactors and detractors are united within the historical procession towards the divine. Secular history also contain this nexus as the “Age of Reason”, the Enlightenment, Modernity, and Postmodernity have also continue to appeal to the ancients. As Umberto Eco points out in his From the Tree to the Labyrinth, the Enlightenment, for all its assaults on the aforementioned ancien regime, still keeps the knowledge of its antithesis in its encyclopedic pool of knowledge.

The nexus not only provides a structure for a continuation of knowledge, but also points to a proper understanding of what it means to refer to one as “catholic”. In regards to its very etymology, when one is identified as being catholic, they are identified as “universal”. There never is, historically speaking, a pure mimesis of what is contrary to it, as the detractors are caught up in its very universality. The heretics and excommunicants are the Church’s excommunicants and heretics; they are still identified in regards to it and still compose its history. Duns Scotus speaks of language as the symbols by which the understandings of our minds are expressed to each other. As such, the word “catholic” is not some Derridean construct from rhetoric detached from the intellect. Catholic, much like “multiplicity” or “all”, are these singular expressions of understanding that contain all particulars within them. To use a Deleuzian phrase, it is the “One-All” term that unites the many within one understanding, definition, and identity. As such, there should never be a willingness to cast something out of this unity, especially within the Catholic university. Anything less would detract from this universality. If one is going to assert that transcendent principles are in-beyond all, it must assert that true universality of this phrase.

Andrew Simmons is a graduate from Aquinas College and  a student of the Ukrainian Catholic University. He is working on a masters in philosophy <and theology>, but has to go through a lot of language courses. He finally remembered that he has his own blog


Modern Indulgences

by Andrew Simmons                                                                           Saturday,  February 28, 2015

When reading about Reformation Europe, there is also that recourse to the practice of paid indulgences within the Church. The main point of this recourse is to discuss the issue with the notion of buying one’s way into heaven. While, as many apologists no doubt have said, the notion of buying one’s way into heaven is a overly reductionist explanation. Indulgences exist prior to the economical method of the Reformation era. But there is a fundamental question related to economically buying one’s way into a good ethical standing. The importance of such a question is evident when one looks at the socio-economical ethics that seems common in our business models today.

The practice of paid indulgences arose in the 15th-16th as the result of changing European society. Leonard Hoff’s insightful text The Analogical Turn: Rethinking Modernity with Nicholas of Cusa describes this change as the severing of the old medieval communitas <more specifically, the liturgical common space>. One contributor to this was the growing economic conditions within Christendom that lead to the development of a distinct merchant class. Within the Divine Economy <the many ways by which God draws his people to salvation>, the paid indulgences became a common occurrence to suit those within this merchant class. Indulgence practices would very over what was viewed to be the most appropriate method to the individual. Usually, what this would lead to would be fiscal payment by the rich, and physical labor (e.g. pilgrimages) for the poor.

"A Question to a Mintmaker" by Jeorg Breu Elder

“A Question to a Mintmaker” by Jeorg Breu Elder

From my experience, the furor over this between the Reformation era Catholics and modern day commentators differ. Nobility generally complained about what the money was being used for <with harsh critiques of the Papal States for using them to help with its prestige>. Among the peasants, the class distinction between them and the rich <merchants, priests, nobility> inspired more hostility as presented in texts such as Peasant’s Fire: The Drummer of Niklashausen by Richard Wunderli. Even within Luther’s Catholic early writings, the hostility was more drawn towards malpractice that always followed the paid method, not the indulgences themselves. The modern critique, on a more normative level, revolves around the notion of buying one’s way to heaven. While certainly influenced by the faith v works dichotomy of the Reformation, the view, at least among the secular, can be said to revolve around buying one’s ethical status. The question is, with current trends, have the moderns lost the validity of this critique?

Within the current economical mindset, consumption is rewarded by buying into charity with every purchase. For instance, when buying fast food, one is commonly asked to contribute money to St. Jude’s Hospital. Starbucks promotes assisting the countries they export from; Chick-fil-A found itself benefiting financially from the American culture war. The ethical and economic spheres are grounded together within our culture. While certainly one will say, “Well of course ethics and the economy are grounded together. An ethical economy is a healthy economy.” True. The point I wish to present is the relationship between one’s ethical status and the medium by which it is accomplished. To refer back to the Chick-fil-A example, the conservative Christian perceives his consumption as a means of holding back the domineering Liberal threat. The act of consumption has become the medium by which the Right is supporting its views of traditional marriage. What is derived from this is an ethical status derived from consumption not sacrifice. The money paid for fast food is not sacrificial, it is consumptive.

As a final note, there should be a brief reference to another critique which simply is the emphasis on heaven in indulgences. Perhaps, from a more atheistic perspective, paying for some fictional status in the afterlife is what makes indulgences unethical. Fair enough, but the notion of heaven is no purged from the atheistic model; it is rendered material or at least immanent. I do not believe the rise in volunteer work, ethical capitalist alternatives, and environmental care are the result of some self-masturbatory need to feel good. There is this sense of contributing to a better world. This is not a transcendent heaven, yes, but it is a better future than what it currently present. Regardless of the atheistic or the ethical critiques, upon looking at our society, we are throwing our money towards an ethics. We are indeed making a system of paying for the sins of our own system.

Andrew Simmons is a graduate from Aquinas College and  a student of the Ukrainian Catholic University. He is working on a masters in philosophy <and theology>, but has to go through a lot of language courses. Sooner or later he will work on his course material, but there are blog posts to write! 

Crusading One’s Way Into the Ground

by Andrew Simmons                                                                           Wednesday,  February 11, 2015

Generally, when one hears a statement that is pedestrian, the best course of action is to regard it for what it is: a pedestrian statement. Obama’s remark really should just be passed a long and forgotten; but, this current political sphere has decided to elevate it to an absurd level. What has been unleashed is a sleuth of media releases concerning the “true history” of the Crusades. This post will not be counted amongst the Crusader apologists. What is presented to you, the esteemed reader, is a former-apologist’s recantations of his former charge. When I converted to Catholicism, there was this spirit of needing to solidify the ground by which I chose to stand. Years later, views have changed and information was re-analyzed. As such, this is a very brief counter to the ideological views that both the promoters and detractors learn by.

1. The Amorphic Mass of Mohammedans

Appeals to the great Muslim Other’s conquering hordes is a trend appearing on my Facebook feed as of late. The basic summary of this position is that the Crusades were launched against this coordinated Islamic horde that had conquered a lot of East Christian territory. This view is usually always accompanied by the map of the Umayyad Caliphate because “Look at all that conquest!”


One point needs to be very clear: the Umayyad Caliphate was very short lived. The Islamic unity did not withstand the schism between the Sunni and Shiites which divided this caliphate. This is not what the Crusaders were fighting. The Crusader, specifically during the First Crusade, were primarily fighting the Sunni Seljuk Turks and the Sultanate of Rum in Anatolia. The Egyptian Caliphate at the time was Shiite <although this would change under Saladin who politically converted Egypt to Sunni>. The stories of pilgrims being slaughtered on their way to Jerusalem are true, but it must be remembered that this itself was not even coordinated. The Seljuk fought under the decentralized authority of military leaders who primarily gained wealth from plunder. The Levant, while still having Arabic leaders, was primarily a frontier of Turkish warbands. If anything, the Muslim leaders had very little control over what was happening and they too also suffered economically from this. The Crusaders were primarily fighting these warbands which would become progressively more centralized under Kilij Arslan against the Crusaders <who, for the record, was busy fighting other Turks before fighting the Crusaders>.

2. But the Crusades were ethical due to Just War theory!


The Fall of Constantinople

Another defense centers primarily on the Church’s stance concerning Just War and what is needed for a just cause. The problem I have with relying heavily on the causa bellum argument is that the just war theory pertains to one thing: the initiation of a war. Just War theorists, in my honest opinion, continue to run into an issue that an initially just cause equates to an overarching value judgment of a war despite the incidence that occur within the war. In short: good cause means good war despite bad occurrences. This might have further underpinnings, especially among Catholic scholars, with the claim that effects are never greater than their cause. The initial issues that I have with this position is that it relies on the broadest denominator of judgment in order to discern value. Within the pursuit of knowledge and clarity, refinements are necessary in order to properly assess information. When studying the Crusades, there are instances of heroism but also instances of depravity. The Gesta Francorum presents pious figures such as Raymond de Toulouse, and horrendous acts such as the cannibalism of dead Islamic soldiers <which, to be fair, horrified the Crusaders as well>. The Fourth Crusade with the sack of Constantinople also appears as giant black mark on the Crusader record. Specifically with regards to Constantinople, the claim that good causes remain sound despite bad effects can be challenged. Just War theory acts as if the causes and effects of a particular situation are isolated enough to be adequately valued. Rather, the causes of wars themselves find themselves as effects of causes that led to them. The further split between East and West, the collapse of the Shiite Caliphates, the rise of the Sunnis, the recurring infighting in Christendom, et al emerge as effects that act as causes that lead to much greater events in history than that which triggered the Crusades. And what triggered the Crusades? According to Pope Urban II, the violence done to pilgrims and Eastern Christians by the Turks <who were not even affiliated with the Umayyid Caliphate…>.

3. For the Wealth!

To conclude this, a brief mention must be made about the secular responses to the Crusades. The general opinion of secular scholars is the Crusades were immersed within economic causes. The issue I have had with the economic interpretation is that it does not adequately match up to the data. Christendom, after the First Crusade especially, was generally plunged into economic ruin as debts would be made and the debtor would inexplicably die overseas. The time after a particular Crusade were generally violent pursuits to re-solidify an economy broken by war debts. Financially theories, in my opinion, are more applicable to the Reconquista of Spain as the Spanish territories were more valuable than the Levant. This is also true for the Albigensian Crusade which occurred in Toulouse, a crucial trade route between the Spanish and French kingdoms. If anything can be ascertained by the invalidity of a pure economic theory <in addition to the bellicose views of the apologists>, the Crusades covers a grey area of conflicting motives. The apologist may find shelter in the moral haziness, but the grey still does not shine with the light of grace.

Instead of a bilbiography, a very short recommended reading list:

Warriors of God by James Reston

God’s War: A New History of the Crusades by Christopher Tyerman

Andrew Simmons is a graduate from Aquinas College and  a student of the Ukrainian Catholic University. He is working on a masters in philosophy <and theology>, but has to go through a lot of language courses. He wishes people would take a deep breath and calm down before sending the painful controversy train onward….maybe chill with yoga and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.