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dinsdag, 25 december 2012 02:19

Book Review: Robert Macfarlane, author

Mountains of the mindWriter Robert Macfarlane, of Cambridge, Great Britain, recently published the third book in a "loose trilogy about landscape and the human heart". Through tracing the history first of man's relationship with mountains,  then with wilderness and lastly with pathways, Macfarlane finds some of the most insightful ways to uncover and explore man's own depth, height, nature and quests.

Indeed, the natural world around us is not simply an object of admiration or exploitation... Man has lived with, struggled  with, discovered, used, enjoyed and ignored the physical world, the history of which is so intimately woven into his own.The wild places

The author's uniquely skillful yet beautifully simple usage of English, at times humble and ordinary and often brilliantly poetic, allows him to paint true masterpieces where the deftness of expression is a quite wonderful demonstration of how words can communicate something of the deepest and most subtle of man's truest experiences. Reading these books is an essential reminder of how depth of thought is available to all, however cheap an environment we have come to live in.

The old waysMountains of the mind, a history of fascination (Granta 2003)

The wild places (Granta 2007)

The old ways, a journey on foot (Hamish Hamilton 2012)


vrijdag, 21 december 2012 20:48

Approaches To Reality (1)

science and philoThe following translation of a book by Brother Samuel Rouvillois is about science and philosophy. Despite walking hand in hand at the beginnings of western thought, the two have in recent centuries more often been brought into harsh opposition with eachother. This apparent clash of approaches to reality has the advantage of bringing us to question once again what understanding of reality is... or what type of knowledge leads us the closest to grasping something about the world and ourselves. The original French title of the book is "Quel reel?"... emphasising that philosophy and modern science not only often disagree about what reality is but now offer very different approaches to knowledge itself, such that when attempting understanding of things they seem to be talking about completely different realities.

We hope to progressively post a translation of the entire book. 


Approaches To Reality (1)

Foundations for a dialogue between science and philosophy

By Br. Samuel Rouvillois


In today’s world modern science is experiencing a deciding moment in its history. Born with Galileo and cartesian thinking, it saw triumph in the domains of both discovery and thinking, to the point of becoming a philosophical model of thought in Augustus Comte’s positivism. But at the very moment of the explosive development of contemporary science, as it is enjoying unprecedented success through the mastery of reality it affords, it is paradoxically entering into a profound and unfamiliar crisis in its relationship with the truth.

Indeed, though at the height of its dominion, the scientific project which aimed to offer humanity objective, unified and universal knowledge, is today coming under question.

(to be continued...)


pJeanPhilippeIn this testimony ("Let He Who Has Never Sinned..."), father Jean-Philippe tells of his experiences as a priest for prisoners, homeless, drug addicts and prostitutes. His testimony also includes both the painful and the redemptive apects of his own life... from the violence he suffered as a child to his meeting with Jean Vanier of l'Arche... from the alchoholism of his parents to his encounter with father Marie-Dominique Philippe, founder of the community in which he is now a brother and priest. Having begun the organisation Saint Jean Esperance, a full time program for young drug addicts, Father Jean-Philippe now lives in Paris and spends his daytime hours as chaplain of a prison, and his nights in the Bois de Boulogne, a red light district where he and a team of volunteers spend hours talking, laughing, weeping and praying with transvestite prostitues... father Jean-Philippe's "proteges".
Here below is a recent book review from La Croix.
du P. Jean-Philippe
Éditions de l’Œuvre
Qu’est-ce qui a bien pu mener le P. Jean-Philippe Chauveau au beau milieu du bois de Boulogne, où son habit de moine ne passe pas inaperçu chez les travestis et les prostituées dont il est l’aumônier ? Dans Que celui qui n’a jamais péché… , ce prêtre atypique, qui fut l’un des premiers frères de la communauté Saint-Jean, livre en un peu plus de 300 pages un témoignage fort, sans concession, entre les souvenirs de sa douloureuse enfance et l’aide qu’il apporte aujourd’hui aux prostituées et aux prisonniers.
Suivre le P. Jean-Philippe dans son tortueux cheminement, c’est aussi toucher du doigt l’alcoolisme de ses parents, les austères pensionnats religieux, l’humanisme de son compagnon d’atelier, Fernand, « le catho de chez Renault » , sa rencontre avec Jean Vanier et celle du P. Marie-Dominique Philippe, le dominicain fondateur de la communauté Saint-Jean. Le style est direct et le langage souvent fleuri, chez cet ancien gamin marqué par son enfance passée au septième étage d’un HLM d’une cité de la Garenne-Colombes, non loin du quartier de la Défense, et dont l’argot, confesse-t-il, fut « la langue natale » .
Avec plus ou moins de rudesse, il épingle parfois sans tergiverser cette Église qui l’a longtemps rebuté : les « bonnes sœurs »  du pensionnat de son enfance, « sans cœur, dures, revêches » , les séminaires dispensant selon lui une « formation au rabais » , ou l’ordre des dominicains « traversé par la crise de l’Église »  au milieu des années 1970.Avec humour, il dépeint son arrivée au « Club Cyrillus », affectueux surnom dont il affuble sa nouvelle paroisse de Sainte-Cécile de Boulogne, où il est envoyé après un séjour en Afrique. « En Afrique, on chante, on danse, on tape des mains, on salue tout le monde. À Boulogne, on reste raide, on psalmodie du bout des lèvres comme si on allait se décrocher la mâchoire, on se dit bonjour entre amis, sans trop faire attention aux autres – je caricature, bien sûr. Il m’a fallu un temps d’adaptation. »
Un temps d’adaptation, il lui en faudra aussi un pour découvrir l’univers des prostituées, avec lesquelles il tisse de patientes relations, au fur et à mesure de ses visites à bord du camping-car de son association, présent toutes les nuits dans les allées du bois de Boulogne. Entre les milieux très différents dans lesquels il navigue, ce prêtre atypique tâche de s’appliquer toujours une devise : « Si ton frère est dans le besoin, c’est à toi de t’abaisser jusqu’à lui. »  

Article de Loup Besmond de Senneville, La Croix, 26.09.12


maandag, 10 december 2012 16:32

5 forms of fear :o

fearWhile taking a look at how fear is involved in our human lives, Saint Thomas analyses the different types of fear, upholding Saint John Damascene and Saint Gregory of Nyssa’s texts on the subject. We’re all familar in some way with the things mentioned below, though perhaps not with an understanding of them as types of fear of something. Food for thought! 


“I answer that, as stated above.., fear regards a future evil which surpasses the power of him that fears, so that it is irresistible. Now man's evil, like his good, may be considered either in his action or in external things. In his action he has a twofold evil to fear.

First, there is the toil that burdens his nature: and hence arises ‘laziness,’ as when a man shrinks from work for fear of too much toil.

Secondly, there is the disgrace which damages him in the opinion of others. And thus, if disgrace is feared in a deed that is yet to be done, there is ‘shamefacedness’; if, however, it be a deed already done, there is ‘shame.’

On the other hand, the evil that consists in external things may surpass man's faculty of resistance in three ways.

First by reason of its magnitude; when, that is to say, a man considers some great evil the outcome of which he is unable to gauge: and then there is ‘amazement.’

Secondly, by reason of its being unwonted; because, to wit, some unwonted evil arises before us, and on that account is great in our estimation: and then there is ‘stupor,’ which is caused by the representation of something unwonted.

Thirdly, by reason of its being unforeseen: thus future misfortunes are feared, and fear of this kind is called ‘anxiety.’ ”

(Extracts from the Summa Theologica, part II, question 41)

Immaculate Conception"In this mystery of the Immaculate Conception, Mary is indeed the model given by the Holy Spirit at the starting point of the growth of our Christian charity. She shows us what our birth into glorious life will be. In heaven we shall be all immaculate as she is. Christ’s blood will then take complete possession of our soul to give it this total purity in divine love. In this mystery, Mary is actually the prototype of the birth of our divine life. Our Christian grace leads us directly and efficaciously towards this mystery of which is not foreign to us; it is an essential part of our divine life. But the birth of our divine life has already begun. Every movement of love makes us live by everlasting life. All our charitable impulses will be fully efficacious in so far as their starting point is intimately united to this mystery of Mary. All our efforts and resolutions to grow in divine love, when made outside of the Immaculate Heart, are always tainted with pride, vanity, selfishness... The initial impulse is thus somewhat contaminated, and often for this very reason, it will not last...The bird was still tethered by a string! After a first flight full of generosity, it fell down again. If our resolutions to grow in love... are made voluntarily with Mary, by relying on her Immaculate Heart and by entrusting them to her, they will then have an absolutely divine purity; they will be truly efficacious. In her mystery of the Immaculate Conception, Mary is thus the proper place for every authentic starting point in the growth of love."

Excerpt from Mystery of Mary, by M.D. Philippe o.p., p. 22.

vrijdag, 07 december 2012 19:13

Grace and the human person (IV)

(Nature, Person and Grace by Br. M.-D. Philippe o.p., continued...)

child of GodThe human person and the child of God

          This is why we should not consider nature alone but also the human person: the human person at the metaphysical level and the human person in the perspective of wisdom as child of God. When we baptise someone we are baptising a human person, even if this person is not yet very developed, as in the case of a child - in this case they are a person-in-becoming, in hope and his parents, godfather and godmother choose for him. It is much more perfect to consider the gift of grace for the human person than for human nature: the human person as person is the one who recieves grace. To understand this clearly we must consider the person at the level of wisdom, assuming the metaphysical perspective. In the perspective of wisdom, of First Philosophy of that-which-is, we deepen our consideration of the human person, who posesses intelligence and will: the capacity to know the true and the capacity to love the good. And the human person is capable of developing his intelligence and his will. Of course, the human person also implies the body (his substantial conditioning), the capacity to realise a piece of work (art), as well as being capable of prudence which enables him to give himself orientation and to order his strengths towards his end. However, from the standpoint of the finality, the human person implies first of all the intelligence which, in a search for the truth, is capable of discovering that God exists, and the will, capable of loving and adoring Him. Is this not indeed what the Holy Father underlined when he asserted that only an intelligence which has attained wisdom can be "in harmony" with the faith and enable one to explicate the Word of God in order to develop a theology1? To grasp the cooperation of the intelligence with faith it would therefore seem necessary to have an intelligence capable of asserting the existence of God and a will capable of loving and adoring Him.

          We can understand how, in considering the relationship between the human person as person and grace, the perspective is completely different because we situate ourselves at the level of the finality. The following question thus arises: what is the finality of the human person? And what is the transformation of this finality operated by grace? We can grasp the relationship between the human person and grace most clearly and profoundly at the level of the finality. Through grace the human person becomes a new person. We become sons, children of God, capable of saying: Abba, Father2. The son to father relationship is precisely that relationship which can only be understood perfectly if we consider the finality: the Father is the One who communicates to His son the possiblity of recieving His heritage, His happiness, His own end.

          The human person, capable by its intelligence of contemplating God naturally, is transformed in its very finality by grace in order to not only contemplate God analogically (as it can do at the level of philosophy), but to be able to see God face to face and to live perfectly of the patrimony of our Father who is in heaven. When a father is truly father, he communicates his patrimony to his son, to his children, to those he loves. He gives them what constituted his happiness, his life, his own life. At the supernatural level, God the Father, through grace, fully communicates His patrimony to us. He communicates it to a human person capable, through grace, of living what He Himself lives. It is lived in charity; and of course, here below it is also lived in faith and hope3. But to live in faith and hope is to already live substantially, in a hidden way, what God lives.

          We thus understand that the relationship between the human person and grace should no longer be expressed using the formal cause but through considering the bonds which exist between an end which offers us an inchoative, imperfect happiness, and a perfect end. It is much more powerful to see things in this way because then we can grasp that the gift of grace assumes the very substance of the human being in order to transform it into a divine person, a child of God. In this way we grasp this relationship in a much more intimate way. Indeed, we can say that the most profound desires of the human person are satisfied by grace and by charity; in a way which is, of course, obscure and imperfect as long as we are on earth, but the supernatural beatitude has been promised us:  it is therefore already present in this promise, in our desire, in hope. The relationship between the natural order (the human person) and the supernatural order (the son of God) is much clearer since our natural desire, our radical desire, i.e. our desire for our end, is thus assumed. Of course, we do not naturally have an explicite desire to see God but we have the natural substantial desire to be attracted by Him, in the way He would wish us to be. The supernatural order, the gift of grace, develops and clarifies this desire, raising is up through the virtue of hope and through charity. We can thus grasp it as the relationship of a human person, a child, a son of God, with God the Father. Our effort in philosophy to study the human person at the metaphysical level and at the level of wisdom, and to understand that the desire for truth is the first moment of man's cooperation with God, Creator of our soul and Father of our intelligence, disposes us to, or orientates us towards this new relationship with God through grace: that of becoming a beloved son of the Christ's Father by recieving from Him His own life, His own happiness, his patrimony.

          We can therefore grasp what differentiates a consideration of the relationship between nature and grace from a consideration of the relationship between the human person and the child of God: on the one hand we remain in the order of the formal cause4, and on the other we situate ourselves immediately in the order of the final cause. This should encourage us to look at things from the standpoint of metaphysical wisdom. In that way we can understand that Saint Thomas is not the theologian of nature but of the person, something which can only be fully developed and clarified in mystical theology, i.e. in a theology of love and of the finality. We can thereby also see the important and interesting aspects in modern philosophy and phenomenology. But to grasp this in a correct and true way, we need to not forget the development of a philosophy of being: such a philosophy is above nature and it culminates in the study of the human person. Phenomenology, however, goes no further than vecu; alas, it brackets being5 and fails to ever reach it, as if the intelligence could only be itself by rejecting that for which it is made in first place; it can then do nothing other that contemplate itself. In order to discover the cooperation of the intelligence with faith we must look to a philosophy which is a wisdom. Only a philosophy which first of all reaches being can discover the existence of God and thereby become a wisdom.

(End of article)


1 "To be consonant with the word of God, philosophy needs first of all to recover its sapiential dimension as a search for the ultimate and overarching meaning of life" (FR, n° 81); ref. M.-D. PHILIPPE, "L'encyclique Fides et ratio et les enjeux philosophiques d'aujourd'hui" Aletheia n° 16 (decembre 1999), p. 9-32.

2 Rm 8, 15; Ga 4, 6.

3 "My dear friends, we are already God's children, but what we shall be in the future has not yet been revealed. We are well aware that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he really is. Whoever treasures this hope of him purifies himself, to be as pure as he is." (1 Jn 3, 2-3)

4 "Furthermore, substance is nobler than quality. But grace is nobler than the nature of the soul, since we can do many things by grace, to which nature is not equal, as stated above (109, A1,2,3). Therefore grace is not a quality." (ST, I-II, q. 110, a. 2, ad 1).

5 According to the terrible words of Husserl.

dinsdag, 04 december 2012 22:40

The Christian vocation: discovering the Lamb

following Jesus"The first moment of the Christian vocation consists in discovering the Lamb, thanks to the testimony of John the Baptist, the testimony of the one whom Providence has placed on our path to indicate: Behold the Lamb of God. We must hear these divine words as John did from the mouth of John the Baptist. The first moment of the Christian vocation consists in discovering the Lamb and following Him, following in Jesus’ footsteps. To follow someone is to accept that He not look at us. It is not always easy to follow someone. We must accept that he go ahead and that we only see his back. According to the Old Testament, God can only be seen from behind. The same holds true for this first moment of the Christian life. We must follow Jesus by placing all our trust in Him, for He is the Lamb, in other words, the mystery of love and mercy."

Excerpt from “Wherever He Goes, a retreat on the Gospel of Saint John"

p. 251, by M.D. Philippe, o.p.

maandag, 19 november 2012 14:15

Remedies for sadness :'(

Saint Thomas Aquinas analyses what remedies we have for sorrow or pain: pleasure, tsadnessears, friends, truth, sleep and baths!

(Extracts from the Summa Theologica, part II, question 38)


"...As is evident from what has been said above (Question 23, Article 4), pleasure is a kind of repose of the appetite in a suitable good; while sorrow arises from something unsuited to the appetite. Consequently in movements of the appetite pleasure is to sorrow, what, in bodies, repose is to weariness, which is due to a non-natural transmutation; for sorrow itself implies a certain weariness or ailing of the appetitive faculty. Therefore just as all repose of the body brings relief to any kind of weariness, ensuing from any non-natural cause; so every pleasure brings relief by assuaging any kind of sorrow, due to any cause whatever."


"Augustine says (Confess. iv, 7) that when he mourned the death of his friend, 'in groans and in tears alone did he find some little refreshment.'

...Tears and groans naturally assuage sorrow: and this for two reasons. First, because a hurtful thing hurts yet more if we keep it shut up, because the soul is more intent on it: whereas if it be allowed to escape, the soul's intention is dispersed as it were on outward things, so that the inward sorrow is lessened. This is why men, burdened with sorrow, make outward show of their sorrow, by tears or groans or even by words, their sorrow is assuaged. Secondly, because an action, that befits a man according to his actual disposition, is always pleasant to him. Now tears and groans are actions befitting a man who is in sorrow or pain; and consequently they become pleasant to him. Since then, as stated above (Article 1), every pleasure assuages sorrow or pain somewhat, it follows that sorrow is assuaged by weeping and groans."

Compassion of a friend

"The Philosopher [Aristotle] says (Ethica ix, 11) that those who are in pain are consoled when their friends sympathize with them.

...When one is in pain, it is natural that the sympathy of a friend should afford consolation: whereof the Philosopher indicates a twofold reason (Ethic. ix, 11). The first is because, since sorrow has a depressing effect, it is like a weight whereof we strive to unburden ourselves: so that when a man sees others saddened by his own sorrow, it seems as though others were bearing the burden with him, striving, as it were, to lessen its weight; wherefore the load of sorrow becomes lighter for him: something like what occurs in the carrying of bodily burdens. The second and better reason is because when a man's friends condole with him, he sees that he is loved by them, and this affords him pleasure, as stated above (Question 32, Article 5). Consequently, since every pleasure assuages sorrow, as stated above (Article 1), it follows that sorrow is mitigated by a sympathizing friend."

Contemplation of truth

"Augustine says (Soliloq. i, 12): 'It seemed to me that if the light of that truth were to dawn on our minds, either I should not feel that pain, or at least that pain would seem nothing to me.'

...the greatest of all pleasures consists in the contemplation of truth. Now every pleasure assuages pain as stated above (Article 1): hence the contemplation of truth assuages pain or sorrow, and the more so, the more perfectly one is a lover of wisdom. And therefore in the midst of tribulations men rejoice in the contemplation of Divine things and of future Happiness, according to James 1:2: "My brethren, count it all joy, when you shall fall into divers temptations": and, what is more, even in the midst of bodily tortures this joy is found; as the "martyr Tiburtius, when he was walking barefoot on the burning coals, said: Methinks, I walk on roses, in the name of Jesus Christ." [Cf. Dominican Breviary, August 11th, commemoration of St. Tiburtius.]

Sleep and baths

"Augustine says (Confess. ix, 12): 'I had heard that the bath had its name [Balneum, from the Greek balaneion] . . . from the fact of its driving sadness from the mind.' (...)

...sorrow, by reason of its specific nature, is repugnant to the vital movement of the body; and consequently whatever restores the bodily nature to its due state of vital movement, is opposed to sorrow and assuages it. Moreover such remedies, from the very fact that they bring nature back to its normal state, are causes of pleasure; for this is precisely in what pleasure consists, as stated above (Question 31, Article 1). Therefore, since every pleasure assuages sorrow, sorrow is assuaged by such like bodily remedies."


Saint Thomas has an entire analysis of human activity, of which the analysis of the 11 passions is one part. It is all shaped and ordered within a theological perspective, and these sections are of real value for seeking to better understand the human creatures that we are.

donderdag, 01 november 2012 16:52

Grace and the human person (III)

(Nature, Person and Grace by Br. M.-D. Philippe o.p., continued...)

Rembrandt Nicodemus

Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus: a new birth

In order to adhere better to the mystery of grace through faith, let us consider carefully what Jesus says in the Gospel of Saint John, in conversation with Nicodemus. This is a conversation we should have a particular love for because it is precisely that of Jesus with a theologian. Jesus offers a lesson in theology to a Doctor of the Law - and one might say that Jesus should do the same with theologians from time to time! What does He think of what His theologian disciples have to say about the mystery of God? Jesus gives us a living word. He must often consider that what theologians have to say is much less alive than what He has to say and which flows out from the source. In this regard to the mystery of grace this is a particularly sensitive domaine!

The Gospel underlines the fact that Nicodemus was a good Doctor of the Law; he was even a very good and very renowned one. He was a "leader of the Jews1", a noble, and was conscious of his dignity. He greets Jesus with great repsect: "Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher; for no one could perform the signs that you do unless God were with him.2" Jesus didn't recieve many greetings like that! It is a quite extraordinary greeting because it is coming from a Doctor of the Law. Jesus responds immediately - we can sense that His heart is burning: He is faced with an intelligent man who is seeking the truth since he has come to see Jesus; but he has come by night because he cannot compromise himself. It is too dangerous a thing to do: when one is a renowned Doctor of the Law one has to be carefull about one's reputation. Immediately, without returning the greeting, Jesus says to him: "In all truth I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.3". Jesus says this in such a realistic way that Nicodemus, who is not stupid, is deeply struck. And so he says something a little ironic in order to gain some time because he does not know what to say in reply - he does not understand but does not want to show it and so begins to discuss about the “how” of what Jesus has said: "How can anyone who is already old be born? Is it possible to go back into the womb again and be born?4" Poor Nicodemus, he knows full well that he could not enter his mother's womb a second time, that it is completely impossible. So the kingdom of God is over for him! Jesus is obliged to reassure him by showing him that it is not a question of biological birth. It is about another birth but a true birth: "In all truth I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born through water and the Spirit; what is born of human nature is human; what is born of the Spirit is spirit.5" Jesus indeed uses the term birth. This is a very powerful thing to say: one must be born from above in order to enter the kingdom of God. For this to come about grace is necessary.

zondag, 18 maart 2012 00:05

Grace and the human person (II)

(Nature, Person and Grace by Br. M.-D. Philippe o.p., continued...)

Grace presupposes nature...

The classic expression, which Saint Thomas himself uses, is that "grace presupposes nature1". This is very true: the child we baptise is already alive; whether he is baptised the day he is born or a month later, he is both cases alive with human life. Grace therefore presupposes human nature. Birth to the life of grace presupposes birth to human life. What's more, a child is born with "sin of nature2", i.e. original sin and its consequences. He can do nothing about it. As a descendent of Adam and Eve, as one of the human race, he bears the weight of it. But through baptism he is ransomed by the blood of Christ; baptism confers christian grace upon him which wipes away original fault and gives him the virtues of faith, hope and charity. This grace which he is given through baptism makes him capable of recieving Jesus in the Eucharist which enables his baptismal grace to fully flourish: he becomes a living being who finds his nourishment in the bread of Heaven, the body of Christ. Thanks to baptism, he is capable of living of the Word of God through faith. The Word of God acquires meaning for him and eventually, growing in wisdom and love, he is able to put his whole intelligence at the service of his faith. We do this every day: when we pray or study theology we put our intelligence at the service of our faith. And the more our intelligence is awake the stronger our faith is and the more our theology, which comes from this cooperation of faith with the intelligence, is capable of being aware, beautiful, great, alive.

By reflecting on the relationship between grace and human nature we will be able to go further in precision and say that human nature is in "obediential potentiality3" with regards to grace. This means that, on the one hand, human nature is capable of recieving sanctifying grace, or christian grace (which gives it a special and elevated noblesse since, through grace, man becomes a son of God4, a child of the Father5); and on the other hand that human nature does not of itself have a positive disposition to recieving grace: grace is freely given, human nature is not of itself actively ordered towards to it.

From there we can go on to say that, on the one hand, grace is not "according to nature", but also that it is not against nature, i.e. it "does not eliminate nature6". It is "above nature7" and perfects it.
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