Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wisdom from…

THOMAS DE VILLANOVA (1486–1555): The glory of the Virgin was all within

For a long time I have wondered and been at a loss to understand why the evangelists should have spoken at such length about John the Baptist and the apostles, and yet told us so little about the Virgin Mary, who in life and distinction excels them all. Being at a loss, as I say, to understand this, all I can think is that it pleased the Holy Spirit that it should be so. It was by the providence of the Holy Spirit that the evangelists kept silent, because the glory of the Virgin, as we read in the psalms, was all within, and could more truly be thought of than described. The most important fact of her life, that Jesus was born of her, is enough to tell her whole story. What more do you want to know? What further inquiry would you make concerning the Virgin? It is enough for you that she is the Mother of God. What beauty, I ask you, what virtue, what perfection, what grace, what glory does not befit the Mother of God?
(Birth of Mary, Sermon 2, 7-9: Opera Omnia IV, 298-300.)

Thomas, an Augustinian friar and archbishop of Valencia, became known as the Beggar Bishop and father of the poor for his devotion to the poor. His many sermons had an influence on Spanish spiritual literature.

ST. AUGUSTINE: Mary and the Church

Mary is holy; she is blessed. Yet the Church is better than the Virgin Mary. Why? Because Mary is a part of the Church, a holy member, an excellent member, of the Body. If Mary is a part of the whole Body, it is clear that the Body is greater than its mother.
-- Sermon 72A, 7

Prayer. Let our beautiful God, the Word with God, come to us that we may gaze upon him with the eyes of our minds. He was beautiful in the womb of the Virgin where, in taking on our humanity, he nonetheless did not lose his divinity.
-- Commentary on Psalm 44, 3


[1] From this [i.e., that there is no passive potency in God, Quod in Deo non est potentia passiva] it is likewise evident that God is not matter [Deum non esse materiam].

[2] Whatever matter is, it is in potency [Quia materia id quod est, in potentia est].

[3] Matter, furthermore, is not a principle of acting [Item. Materia non est agendi principium]. That is why, according to Aristotle, the efficient cause and matter do not coincide [Physics II, 7]. But, as we have said, it belongs to God to be the first efficient cause of things. Therefore, He is not matter.

Aristotle's distinction between efficient causes and the matter upon which they act can be seen this way: since every change matter undergoes must be caused by something, the cause for its alteration cannot be in the matter itself, otherwise one and the same matter would both retain and alter its exact proportions. Hence, only if an efficient cause is distinct from matter can the matter retain its exact characteristics and yet still undergo changes. Matter is that which undergoes change, and therefore it is passive with respect to efficient causes, and indeterminate with respect to formal causes. Matter becomes determinate ("specific") by being informed and, by the same token, becomes active by means of efficient causes, which are themselves ordered toward some end.

[4] Moreover, for those who reduced all things to matter as to the first cause it follows that natural things exist by chance. Aristotle argues against these thinkers in Physics II [8]. Hence, if God, Who is the first cause, is the material cause of things, it follows that all things exist by chance.

The reason a purely material world can only give "chance" explanations for natural phenomena, is that matter [hyle] intrinsically lacks its own determining principles, otherwise efficient and formal causes would be unable to "revoke" matter's principles and produce material variability. Since matter per se lacks intrinsic formal and efficient principles, it is "open" the so to speak mutable determinateness which efficient and formal causes bring to bear upon it. As such, if everything were matter, there would be no intrinsic principles for why each thing is what it is. We could only cite "chance," or, in other words, sheer ignorance. Chance is a code word for ignorance, not a meaningful explanation.

[5] Again, matter does not become the cause of something actual except by being altered and changed [Item. Materia non fit causa alicuius in actu nisi secundum quod alteratur et mutatur]. But if, as we have proved, God is absolutely immobile, He cannot in any way be the cause of things according to the mode of matter.

[6] Now, the Catholic faith professes this truth, namely, it asserts that God has created all things, not out of His own substance, but out of nothing [qua Deum non de sua substantia, sed de nihilo asserit cuncta creasse].

[7] On this point, however, the madness of David of Dinant stands confounded. He dared to assert that God is the same as prime matter on the ground that, if He were not, He would have to differ from it by some differences, and thus they would not be simple. For in the being that differs from another by a difference, the difference itself produces a composition. David’s position was the result of ignorance. He did not know how to distinguish between difference and diversity […qua nescivit quid inter differentiam et diversitatem intersit]. The different, as is determined in Metaphysics X [3], is said relationally [ad aliquid], for every different is different by something [omne differens aliquo est differens]. Something is called diverse, however, absolutely, from the fact that it is not the same [diversum autem aliquid absolute dicitur, ex hoc quod non est idem]. Difference, therefore, must be sought among those things that agree in something, for we must point to something in them according to which they differ: for example, two species agree in genus and must therefore be distinguished by differences. But in things that agree in nothing we need not seek the whereby they differ; they are diverse by themselves [In his autem quae in nullo conveniunt, non est quaerendum quo differant, sed seipsis diversa sunt]. In the same way, opposite differences are distinguished from one another [Sic enim et oppositae differentiae ab invicem distinguuntur]. For they do not share in the genus as a part of their essence, and therefore, since they are by themselves diverse, there is no need to seek that by which they differ [et ideo non est quaerendum quibus differant, seipsis enim diversa sunt]. In this way, too, God and prime matter are distinguished: one is pure act, the other is pure potency, and they agree in nothing [Sic etiam Deus et materia prima distinguuntur, quorum unus est actus purus, aliud potentia pura, in nullo convenientiam habentes].
(SCG, I, xvii)


My God! When will we receive the grace to have the holy virgin come and be born in our hearts? For my part I see that I am unworthy of this favor, and certainly you think the same about yourselves. But was not the Divine Son born in a stable? Courage, therefore! Let us prepare a place for Mary. She loves humble places of stark simplicity, yet spacious in charity. She is very happy to stay close to a stable and at the foot of the cross; she was not worried about having to go into exile in Egypt, far from every comfort, so long as she had her Child with her.
(Letters 308; O. XIII, p. 91)


A PHILOSOPHER cannot talk about any single thing, down to a pumpkin, without showing whether he is wise or foolish; but he can easily talk about everything without anyone having any views about him, beyond gloomy suspicions.
('G. F. Watts.')


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