Who is Tom Bombadil?

Frodo asks this question of Goldberry, to which she answers “He is.” In one of his letters Tolkien identifies him as “the spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside…” (L 26). Another possible description: Bombadil is G.K. Chesterton as nature spirit.

Aristotle’s "Categories": Semantic or Metaphysical (or Ontological)?

Wehrle, W. “The Categories: Aristotelian Semantics.” In The Myth of Aristotle’s Development and the Betrayal of Metaphysics. Rowman and Littlefield, 2001.

Wehrle critiques the development-hypothesis claim that Aristotle’s Categories contradicts his Metaphysics and therefore represents a different stage of Aristotle’s thought, arguing instead that the distinction between and ordering of primary and secondary substances in the Categories is semantic rather than metaphysical, and is therefore consistent with the privileging of substantial form over the individual composite found in the Metaphysics. The semantic nature of the Categories has long been recognized by Aristotle’s Neoplatonic interpreters (Porphyry, Ammonius, etc.), yet their reading has been unjustifiably ignored as a mistaken attempt to reconcile the thought of Aristotle with that of Plato. Yet the consequence of the development hypothesis is that it makes Aristotle out to be less sophisticated and consistent than he really was.

One area where Wehrle’s argument could possibly be clarified: he argues that the Categories is semantic rather than metaphysical, but then also points out that for Aristotle ontology, or the question of “what there is”, is not the same thing as metaphysics, or the question of the causes of “what there is.” This raises a question that Wehrle doesn’t directly answer, but which might help clarify the nature of his argument: even if we grant that the Categories is semantic rather than metaphysical, might we still also say that the Categories, and in particular, its distinction between primary and secondary substance, is at least ontological, even if it is not metaphysical? In the order of ontology, which is to say, the order of what there is, after all, the individual, physical substance is primary in a way that the substantial form of the substances is not, even if at the metaphysical level the substantial form is the cause of, and is thus primary to, the individual substance.

Aristotle's teleological nature

Bolotin, David. “The Question of Teleology.” In An Approach to Aristotle’s Physics. State University of New York Press, 1997.

Bolotin’s “The Question of Teleology” opens with the observation that modern philosophy and science have not so much proven the non-existence of teleology in nature as they have simply ignored it. There is an irony involved in modern science’s denial of teleology in nature, which we do observe, all the while formulating its laws in terms of mathematical idealizations which have “no immediate basis in experience and with no evident connection to the ultimate causes of the natural world.” What is more, the inherently provisional nature of science, according to which it “cannot claim, and it will never be able to claim, that it has the definitive understanding of any natural phenomenon,” means that it cannot ever rule out the possibility of purposes of nature. The heart of Bolotin’s argument, however, is his claim that Aristotle’s theory of the purposiveness in nature presupposes the prior existence of intelligent forethought in nature. Bolotin shows that the purposiveness of nature cannot be reduced to chance, for Aristotle’s definition of chance already presupposes his account of nature, including its purposiveness. Chance, therefore, presupposes and is derivative of a purposeful nature, and the notion of a purposeful nature presupposes the notion of intelligence or mind. The final page gives a good summary of the dependence of Aristotle’s notion of chance on his notion of a purposeful nature, and the dependence of his notion of a purposeful nature on a notion of a divine, ordering intelligence.

Aristotelianism in Paul's Cosmology and Anthropology?

Padgett, Alan G. “The Body in Resurrection: Science and Scripture on the ‘Spiritual Body’ (1 Cor. 15:35-58).” Word & World 22, no. 2 (Spring 2002): 155-163. (Available online here.)

Helpful only in that Padgett gives the possible Aristotelian anthropological and cosmological context to and influence upon St. Paul’s remarks about the resurrected body in 1 Cor. 15, but positively unhelpful in its utter and un-argued reduction of Paul’s anthropology and cosmology in 1 Cor. 15 to that of classical philosophy, and all without any consideration of how the thorough Hebraism and Christianity of Paul’s theology would have invariably qualified and conditioned his appropriation of the philosophy of his day. The inevitable, liberal conclusion drawn by Padgett is that, to the extent that Paul’s remarks are based on an antiquated cosmology (spherical cosmos, geocentricism, quintessence, etc.), to that same extent must his theology of the resurrection be re-read according to the verities of modern science.

Being for eternity

Q. 3.1 of Bonaventure’s Commentary on Ecclesiastes asks what Solomon means when he says that all human labor under the sun is vain, when this would seem to include even those labors done in the service of God (an “heretical opinion”). Bonaventure’s answer is to proffer yet another distinction, one that nevertheless adds an important and helpful perspective or qualification to Bonaventure’s remarks in general about the “vanity of changeability.” Amongst created things, Bonaventure says, there are those things which come into being concurrently or “with time” (angels and matter) and those things which come into being “in time” (they have their being within time and thus “after” time itself had started). Of these latter beings, some exist “in and under time” (i.e., they have both their beginning and ending in time). Of these, finally, he further distinguishes between those things which exist “for and under time” (they both “cease work and bearing fruit” in time) and those which are “for eternity” (they “cease work” in time, but they “continue to bear fruit” after time). They are the works of the former camp (those that exist only “for and under time”) that Solomon has in mind when he refers to the work of men done under the sun (i.e., “under the sun” means “under time”), and which are therefore done in vain. And although Bonaventure does not make the point expressly, he would presumably have us place those aforementioned works, for example, done in the service of God in the latter category, of those things that are done “for eternity” and which therefore “cease work” in time while nevertheless continuing to “bear fruit” into eternity. For Bonaventure, in short, then, there are two kinds of works: those that are done “under sun,” which therefore not only terminate in time, but also have their “fruit” terminate there as well; and those that are done in time (and thus, in this sense, are “under the sun”), but which are nonetheless “for eternity”: like all human labors they will cease in time, but their “fruit” or consequences will continue to reverberate throughout eternity.

As I mentioned above, this distinction amongst things which have their beginning and ending in time, by dividing them into those which, ceasing to work in time, either continue or fail to continue to bear fruit into eternity, would seem to soften or qualify Bonaventure’s general indictment of all mutable or changeable being with a kind of “vanity.” In this way Bonaventure might be seen to redeem creaturely mutability through Christian eschatology. A dominant trend in much Greek thinking, after all, was to distinguish between changeable becoming and unchanging being and to denigrate the vagaries of the former in light of the stability of the latter. Here Bonaventure may be seen to bridge the difference through the distinction between what which begins and ends “under the sun” (i.e., the temporal) and that which may have its beginning “under the sun” but which nevertheless will continue, or at least have its “fruit” continue, on into eternity. In this way there is an aspect of changeable being, we might say, which is allowed to escape or be “rescued from” the vanity that otherwise characterizes the changeable realm, by allowing it to participate and endure in that which is eternal. Put differently, viewed from this vantage point, the central distinction is perhaps no longer to be placed between the vanity of changeability and the permanence of the unchangeable, but between that which is not only changeable, but unlasting, and that which, while changeable, will nevertheless be blessed with an endless and enduring legacy. The answer to the ancient philosophical problem of change or mutability, therefore, is not a present transcending (which is to say, escaping) of time through contemplation or intellection into the eternal, unchanging realm of being, but is a present, eschatological hope that in the future we will see even our deeds done here on earth taken up and, as it were, memorialized for all eternity.

Bonaventure on charity vs. inordinate desire

In the intro to his Commentary on Ecclesiastes, Bonaventure notes that because the good which men desire is twofold—the temporal and the eternal—the love whereby men might be drawn to this twofold good is similarly twofold: love or charity and inordinate desire(libido). Bonaventure is not saying, however, that charity is the love or desire of the eternal good, whereas inordinate desire (which is sin) is the love or desire of the temporal good. Rather, the point is that the existence of these two different kinds of goods creates the possibility for loving or desiring these goods in the wrong order. Augustine, for example, defines inordinate desire (libido) as “a desire of the mind, by which some temporal goods are put before eternal goods.” This is what puts the inordinate ininordinate desire: it is a form of love in which the objects of love have become disordered.Charity, by contrast, is ordinate or ordered love, and as such presupposes a plurality of loves which must be set in their right hierarchical order. Charity, therefore, is not the love of the eternal good to the exclusion of the temporal good, but the love of the eternal goodbefore the love of the temporal good. Indeed, later Bonaventure will hold that charity, or the love of the eternal good, positively requires the love of the temporal good precisely for the sake or on account of the love of the eternal good. Bonaventure’s own way of distinguishing charity from inordinate desire is to say that charity “returns” the lover to, and so terminates in, what is eternal, whereas inordinate desire “returns” the lover to, and so terminates in, what is merely temporal. Put differently still, what distinguishes charity and inordinate desire is not that one is the love of the temporal good while the other excludes it, but rather that inordinate desire terminates in, and so leaves the lover at the temporal good, whereas charity by contrast takes the lover through the temporal good to deliver him over to the eternal good. For this reason, what Bonaventure does say is that “the love of charity and inordinate desire are so opposed to one another that they cannot exist together”; what he does not say is that the love of the eternal good and the love of the earthly good themselves are so opposed to one another as to not exist together. In summary, then, in inordinate desire, the temporal good is a destination, whereas in charity the temporal good is freed from the suffocation of being its own, finite end, and liberated to be an open path and vehicle to the greater destination still of an eternal good that knows no limits. This is the hermeneutics of desire necessary for understanding Bonaventure’sCommentary on Ecclesiastes.


A threefold vanity

vanity of the heart flows from vanity of exterior things, and from this arises vanity of exterior works (73). Bonaventure introduces a threefold distinction of vanities: vanity of heart, also called “guilt”; vanity of exterior things, also called “change” or “vanity of nature”; and vanity of exterior works, also referred to as “punishment,” “wretchedness,” and “misery.” He also points to a causal order between these three forms of vanity: just as the existence of temporal goods creates the possibility of the inordinate desire which seeks the temporal before the eternal good, so the “vanity of exterior things” or of “nature” (i.e., temporal goods) creates the possibility of disordered love, “guilt,” or the “vanity of the heart.” But like the sun which rises and sets and hastens to the place where it began, so the cycle of vanity which begins in external things, after manifesting itself in the human heart, returns to the world as the “punishment” of futile, misery-inducing “exterior works.”


Bonaventure's "real distinction" between essence and blessedness

blessedness and power belong alone to God by essence, but our blessedness comes through participation (67). This is a delightful variation on the scholastic/Aristotelian distinction between essential and participatory being. Aquinas famously argues in Summa Theologiae 1.3.4 that creatures exist only by participation, whereas only God exists by his essence, his essence being nothing other than his existence. Where creatures have being, God is being. In Bonaventure’s hands, the application of this distinction to the subject matter of Ecclesiastes results in a distinction between God being blessedness by his essence and creatures enjoying blessedness, much as they enjoy their being—for being isblessedness—to the degree that they participate in God who is blessedness himself. As Bonaventure will go on to explain, it is this blessedness-by-participation, moreover, that constitutes the metaphysical “vanity” of creation.