Philosophia Perennis Vol. I: An Introduction to Philosophy as Wisdom

Our next course in philosophy is cosmology. Cosmology, as Greek scholars know, means the study of the cosmos. Logy, a word which comes at the end of many names of the disciplines of science, means the rational pattern or the total knowledge of what was mentioned in the first part of the name. In this case, it is the total knowledge of the cosmos, which in turn means the universe. The philosophers of the 5th and 6th centuries would call this topic “physics” because the ancient Greek philosophers used this name. This is not the way the word is usually used today. Physics comes from the Greek word, Physis, which means nature. Therefore it is correct to say that we are talking about the philosophy of nature. The exact definition of nature will be expounded upon in greater detail in the full course on cosmology. For now, we will avoid close detail and simply work from a cursory explanation. Everything that is has a nature. And when we speak of nature, we can use the word in two senses. We can speak of the nature of water, of a bird or a lion, of a little grain of sand; but we can also talk about the nature of all these things when they make the complete, total universe in which we live.

One of the great prayers of the Church is the “Hail, Holy Queen.” Our Lady is the Queen of the universe. The kind of universe that we are going to be defending both philosophically and theologically is the kind of universe into which Our Lady fits as Queen. It is the universe in which the Resurrection and the Assumption can take place. It is a universe that started as a perfect creation, suffered under the fall of Adam, and was redeemed. It is also a universe that will be with us in a state of glory.

Like logic in our last chapter, physics, as it is used in philosophy, belongs to a trinity of ideas (every Greek philosopher had to have three parts to his philosophy). The Greek names for the members of this trinity are logic, physics, and ethics, three quite wonderful Greek words. Saint Bonaventure would say (and we must agree) that every fundamental trinity like this one is a reflection of the Blessed Trinity. This trinity reflects the three most basic verbs in English, or in any other language: to be, to know, and to love. To know is the proper area of logic. Logic is involved with knowing. When we learn logic, we learn how to think correctly so that we will know the truth. Ethics is involved with the direction of a human activity towards the good. It is involved with the realm of the will: a choice of, and means to, any end. Another term for ethics is moral philosophy. The Greeks, though, call it ethics. The third verb — and the most important of the three — is the verb to be. Therefore, the study of the nature of things that are is the realm of physics (in the philosophic sense) or cosmology.

Because of the fact that philosophic physics, or cosmology, studies the natures of things that are, one might think that everything which is (including the divine or the angelic natures) can be studied by cosmology. But this is not the case. Cosmology only leads towards the subject of the immaterial. It forces us to recognize the realm, but it does not proceed to study it as its proper object. Another definition of cosmology is found in Gredt, a standard philosophy textbook which is probably one of the greatest ever written.1 Gredt would tell us that cosmology is the study of the ens mobile (Ens = being; mobile = changing): the being that changes.

The being that changes is synonymous with the material being. For now, though, we will not say that the study of cosmology is the study of the material universe, because that is something that cosmology proves: the existence of the universe, and the nature or essence of those things in it. Cosmology leads up to these things as its end, by starting with the observable phenomenon of being in motion. But we have not yet proven anything, so we will concentrate now on the ens mobile and progress from there.

This is how cosmology begins: While one turns his attention to being, he cannot help noticing that all the objects surrounding him are in a condition of motion. (Used in this sense, motion has a specific definition in philosophy; it means change.) Once he notices this, he will subject the ens mobile to the science and art of correct reasoning (logic).2 Soon he will have conclusions about these changing beings.

The beginning, then, is motion. In many ways, the mystery of motion (or change) is one of the deepest mysteries of philosophy. There are four kinds of change. The first kind is change in place (what we would normally call motion, such as walking from one side of a room to another). The second is change in quality (such as the trees changing colors in the fall). The third is change in quantity (such as a tree growing, or a person gaining or losing weight). The fourth kind is change in substance (such as a piece of paper burning in a fire and turning to ash). Substantial change is the most radical of these four types of change. This course in philosophy, cosmology, is principally concerned with those things that change substantially.

When something is subject to substantial change, it can be started and it can be destroyed. Every material entity, including people (since human bodies are made of matter) has a beginning and an end. This is the realm of cosmology. In it we study the natures singly of all things that are, but we also study how they all form that order of all the natures, the order which we call nature. The universe is one. The word universe means “turned into one.” The universe, then, is a composite of all of those things that are in it, in a unity of order and of purpose.

There are many sciences that study the things included in the realm of cosmology. Some things we study in cosmology are the subject of more than one science. A bird, for example, as a living thing is studied in biology. As a flying thing it can be studied in physics. Some of the processes of its digestive system can be studied by chemistry. These sciences are not limited to just small things like birds. Some of the truths that are known from them apply to the material universe as a whole. For example, everything in the material order is subject to the laws of gravity and the law of conservation of matter and energy. In short, all of creation — from sand to men to comets — is a subject of at least one empirical science, and can be known according to that science.

Why, then, do we need the philosophic discipline of cosmology? This question can be answered in three statements: First, philosophy, unlike science, begins with the common experience of men. Second, it is needed because it retains the unity and wholeness of the universe, as opposed to science which divides it into parts. The third reason is that philosophy seeks the ultimate causes, whereas science cannot go beyond proximate causes. We see, then, that philosophy differs from the empirical sciences in that it begins with more important questions, ends with deeper answers, all the while using as its only tool the rational intellect informed by the senses.

There are fallacies one can fall into when he thinks that the empirical sciences are all that are necessary to study the universe. These errors are all part of a general larger problem called scientism. Scientism gives us a distorted philosophy full of imperfections, full of errors, and in many ways undermining the cosmology that God revealed (Holy Scripture does reveal to us a wisdom or a philosophy of nature). One of the things that happens when man does not use his mind the way it was meant to be used is that respect is lost for the order of values that an intelligent man must respect to be acting wisely. When this happens we end up with a distorted strictly mechanistic universe into which our Faith cannot fit. This is why so many educated men today fall into the most preposterous errors, and why so many of the respected thinkers don’t believe in God.

As we mentioned above, the first difference between philosophy and the empirical sciences is method. To state it in very general terms, we can say that philosophy begins with experience, whereas sciences begin with experiment. There is a great difference between experiments and experience. The approach of philosophy is more contemplative. It aims at a higher category of the good, the good in itself, which has a higher finality. The sciences, on the other hand, only justify their existence by aiming at utility. In other words it goes back to the same distinction we made in the last chapter between the liberal and non-liberal arts. This is why the philosophic disciplines have also to be defended in the present age, which on the whole disregards the higher values like the goodness of man in himself. Man is a value in himself, and this value flows from his contemplative nature. If there are good practical consequences of liberal education and of the philosophic disciplines, and there are many, they follow almost on their own.

The most important reason there is for man to learn is this: It is good for man to know. The first sentence of the Metaphysics of Aristotle is, “All men, by nature, desire to know.” Man is never satisfied until the highest faculty in him has been perfected by its proper object. Man must know, and he must go beyond the facts to the reason why. By contrast, the experimental sciences describe and tell what things follow what other things, but there is no explanation. They never touch the explanatory first principles. As an example, we know that apples fall down (nobody ever saw one fall up). That is the way it always happens. Based on this fact, the law of gravity was formulated, but nobody understands why. Not even the scientists know what makes that apple know where the center of the earth is, always moving in the right direction.

Let us look at the second of the important differences between cosmology and the empirical sciences: Cosmology retains the unity and wholeness of the universe. Each of the empirical sciences studies the universe under a particular aspect. This is natural to the sciences, and it is also right that they do so. The problem enters when the scientist attempts to explain everything in the universe according to his particular discipline.

There were once scientists who conducted an experiment to prove whether or not the soul existed. They weighed a man at the point of death to see if there was a change in weight from the living to the dead body. The conclusion was that since there was no difference in weight, there is no soul. To a mind thoroughly exercised in science but with no philosophic training, there is no way to demonstrate the absurdity of this position.3 We should note that in this case, as with many others, it is the misapplication of the scientific method (which is in itself a good thing) that was the root of the error. It started from the false premise that everything that is real can be weighed. Once someone starts with a false principle, he is doomed to a false conclusion. In this case, the scientists failed to grasp one of the most important concepts in the universe, the soul — the very principal of life itself — in its proper perspective.

Here is a graphic illustration of the correct approach that the philosopher takes: Suppose we were watching the great artists of the thirteenth century engaged in building some cathedral like Notre Dame in Paris. Each artist would be working on some little detail. All he could see while he was working was what was before him. But every once in a while, every one of them would stop what he was doing and go out at a distance to look at the whole thing. They knew that their respective jobs only worked if the whole picture was right. In the world of today, far more dominated by the method and approach of the sciences than by those of philosophy, people are lost in minute details and they do not see the complete picture.

The third of the differences between cosmology and science is cause: Science ends in proximate causes, whereas philosophy ends in ultimate, or final, causes. The final cause is the most important of the four causes of Aristotle. It is completely missing in the experimental sciences. The people who study experimental sciences, and never stop to contemplate, miss out on the most important explanation of things, that which introduces purpose. Cause is a complex concept which will be explained in greater detail later in this series, but for now we can illustrate the difference between proximate and ultimate cause in this manner: A biologist and a philosopher are walking in the forest and happen upon a deer which has just been shot dead by a hunter. A third person arrives on the scene and asks the two scholars why the deer is dead. The biologist would say “it was killed by a gunshot,” the philosopher would say “a hunter wanted it dead.” The philosopher, of course, recognizes that the bullet killed the deer, but he sees it as the end in a chain of causes that can be traced ultimately to the will of the hunter to kill the deer.

Another example can be taken from the history of the Crusade of Saint Benedict Center: When the members of the Center were being annoyed by little troubles, and thinking that the problems arose from people around Boston who were immediately involved in the persecution, we were dealing with proximate causes. It was only when Father Feeney perceived the ultimate cause, the fact that on the highest level in the Church there were forces trying to bury a fundamental dogma, that we were pulled up as if from one plane to a higher plane. We began to see the total picture. We see, then, that it is a very great temptation, especially in this age in which science has far more prestige and influence than philosophy, to occupy oneself with the proximate cause and never rise up to see the ultimate cause. This is a very obvious characteristic of the age in which we live today.

The three differences between cosmology and science having been explained, we will now discuss the problems that arise from the disregard of philosophy. There are many fallacies and errors that arise out of the study of the material universe only through the scientific method. The first and most obvious one is materialism. If one studies the world only through the laboratory, through the test tube, by weighing and measuring, etc., he achieves a state of mind in which all reality has to be according to those conditions. All one need do is to acquaint himself with one of these modern scientific heroes to realize that, unless balanced and corrected by liberal education and by the philosophic discipline, the scientific process in itself produces intellectual blindness for the spiritual values.

One case which illustrates this point is that of Professor P.W. Bridgman (1882 – 1961), who was the world’s greatest authority on high pressure physics in his day. High pressure physics is an area on which many important scientific theories and methods depend. Professor Bridgman was so good in his field that he won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1946. He was a characteristically unhappy man but of a friendly disposition, and did not mind being admonished by colleagues younger and less prominent than himself. Once one of them told him, “No human mind was made by God to know nothing but high pressure physics. God gave us a mind meant for something much greater. . . no human mind is happy to stay in that narrow little hole. Eventually you are going to raise your head out of that little hole; but you will think that the whole of reality is nothing but that little hole greatly magnified. You start talking about anything under the sun, from the possibility of miracles to the angels to the nature of government — you talk about marriage — about democracy — and all the principles you have in your head arise out of the one special field.” Some tried, with little success, to get him interested in the Faith or even in a broader philosophic outlook, but he was not interested. He had a very sad end in 1961. He is a type of the culture where science dominated, and wisdom, both natural and supernatural, is nowhere in evidence.

Now, let us go back to the Greeks and their threefold division of philosophy: logic, physics (cosmology), and ethics. Every Greek philosopher had to have a stand on every one of these three: the nature of knowledge, the reality of what is, and the nature of the good to be sought after. The most fundamental of these questions is the third one, “What is the nature of reality — of what is?” It is the question on which the other two questions depend. Let us consider a man who is a materialist in his physics. There are different varieties of materialism but it amounts to the same thing: he holds that nothing is real unless it is material. How is he going to handle the problem of knowledge? What kind of knowledge can man have if there is nothing real but the material? Sense experience? Sensations? Immediately ideas are denied because ideas can only be if there is a spiritual principle above matter. Therefore “sensism” is his philosophy.

A great deal of Anglo-Saxon Philosophy has been sensist or empiricist in the sense that it reduces concepts or ideas into sense impressions. The dangers of these false schools are readily seen in the application of their principles to ethics. A materialist is doomed to be a hedonist, (i.e., the only good to be sought after is pleasure). A major cause of our modern illness is that people, whether they know it or not, and whether they express it philosophically or not, actually think as materialists. Nothing to them is real except what can be weighed, measured, and experimented on in a test tube. Nothing is real that is not a part of our sense experience. Therefore, nothing is to be desired except what is pleasing to the senses. If everyone thought that way, it would mark the end of morality and the end of religion.

Some reacted against the materialism of science and became idealists. Some would say, “Oh, this is wonderful. We need more idealistic people in the world.” Actually, though, to deny the reality of matter (idealism) is just as false as to deny the reality of everything that is not material. In this brief introduction, it is not possible to elaborate the consequences of the different forms of false philosophies regarding the reality of the universe. For now, let it suffice to say that the answer is not found in big ideas, more ideologies, and blind obedience in systems standing for absolutes. We have seen in our own century the cosmic disasters caused by such regimes. It is only the truth that makes man free, and the truth about matter and the material universe is the cosmology that one learns as part of Philosophia Perennis.

There was one in the ancient world who saw through both materialism and idealism, Aristotle. He is essential to this course in philosophy. He is, in fact, so essential to the study of philosophy, that the Scholastic theologians and philosophers called him The Philosopher, a name no other ever merited. Aristotle was the third in a golden chain of geniuses of thought: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. This is a chain that is absolutely unique and unrepeatable.

Socrates was the teacher of Plato, who was the teacher of Aristotle. All we know about Socrates’ philosophy comes to us through the writings of Plato. Plato was a very inspiring thinker who almost serves as a kind of Christopher Columbus for the realm of ideas. He lifted the human mind to that realm. Unfortunately, he is also the father of all philosophic fallacies and errors. One can take almost every modern philosophy that is wrong — from Nazism to Communism — and trace it back to Plato. Aristotle sat as his disciple for twelve years, being very excited about the things he said and the way he said them. But he always had a mind that was dedicated to saying the truth and saying it even if it were to offend or contradict others, even his teacher. Eventually, Aristotle separated himself from the school of Plato.

Now we will use Aristotle to answer a fundamental question. What are some of the characteristics of what we call Philosophia Perennis when it comes to the study of the universe philosophically? Aristotle began not with ideas, but with concrete reality. The first principle of Philosophia Perennis is the tremendous importance of the individual substance. Instead of beginning with big ideas, he began with this stone, this cat, this fish, this tree, this mountain — concrete things right before him. This is at the basis of all his philosophy, and, surprisingly, at the time, it was new. One of the philosophers before him (Heraclitus) said, “Change is the only reality .” Parmenides answered him by going to the other extreme – “Change cannot be real. What is cannot become anything else.”

Aristotle set out to very carefully analyze the nature of change and came out with the very deep concepts of matter and form. These words, matter and form, have a very specific usage in philosophy. Matter is that of which all material things are made. The matter that makes up a car, and the matter that makes up a tree are the same matter, just arranged according to a different form. As for form, one should not think of it as meaning “shape.” The principle of form that Aristotle found in everything is what makes a thing to be what it is, thus conferring upon matter a specific nature. The form in water, in fire, or in a stone is what gives it the nature to be what it is. When we discuss living things, the form is what we call the soul. And when that living thing is rational, as in the case of man, then we call it an immortal soul. These are all distinctions that require a clear mind, a clear perception of order. One must be careful not to deny one tremendous section of reality and throw it out completely, ending up with some kind of monism,4 as some philosophers do, saying either “everything that is real is matter” or “everything that is real is idea.”

These concepts of form and matter are at the root of what we call Philosophia Perennis. They are important not only to the study of good philosophy, but also to the Faith.5 There is a name for the idea that every material thing is made up of form and matter: Hylomorphism. It is a Greek word composed of two other Greek words: Houle, meaning matter, and morphe meaning form. Hylomorphism is that philosophy of nature without which it is impossible to understand nature correctly. Nature is the thing that is in change, the Ens Mobile, and we cannot think about it correctly until we perceive with clarity these two fundamental principles — matter and form. Since hylomorphism is probably the most fundamental principle of the physics of Aristotle or the cosmology of the scholastics, we should explain why it is so important.

The most ancient philosophers, beginning with the first, Thales (about six hundred years before Our Lord), were all looking for the first principle of nature. Why did they think that there should be a first principle of nature? They sensed that behind the variety of things around us there is something which unites them. This truth came to them, not by experiments — because once we are dealing with an experiment we already narrow the subject; we have just taken some slice of reality and artificially done something to it — but by the common experience of all men. That is why Philosophia Perennis is the only philosophy that is continuous with the general common sense of all men. The great giants of Philosophia Perennis had a tremendous respect for the intelligence of their fellow men. Not one of them thought that truth is going to begin with “me.” That is a mark of modern philosophers, and for this reason all modern philosophy goes by labels. Some philosophers are Kantians, some are Hegelians, while still others are Cartesians. Underlying these systems is a notion that the mass of humanity is stupid, while the inventor of the particular system is qualified to think in philosophical matters. All their fathers and mothers and ancestors have known nothing. They are going to be the first ones to tell the world what it is all about.

Now, it is true that a good philosopher like Aristotle is deeper, more consistent, and can reach some very important truths that most people only sense at a distance, not having the same kind of clarity of thought and definiteness. But to disregard the judgment of men completely and think that all truth is going to start right here with “me” is sheer pride. It is the conceit of the modern philosophers, and it does not match the spirit of the philosophers of the caliber of St. Thomas Aquinas or St. Bonaventure. Even among the pagan Greeks like Aristotle, this would be considered prideful.

Here is how we learn from the common experience of men: Suppose that as we look at the world around us, we see a little seed planted in a garden, knowing that it came from a pine tree. After a period of time, we see a little plant rise and start to grow. Eventually we get the same tree from which the seed came. In the beginning was something weighing a couple of grams and now there are tons. Where did all this pine material come from? Well, it came from the soil around it, whatever kind of fertilizer was used, the water, the air, even the heat coming from the sun. That tree came from everything around it — the whole universe was cooperating to make it increase. Why did it grow up to be a pine and not an apple tree? Why did it not grow up to be a cow? The principle was in that little seed. That is sheer common-sense intelligence. The seed somehow contained the form, and the matter was supplied by everything else. What happened to the material things that were assimilated into that tree? They lost their substantial form and were assimilated by another. But something continued. That something was immediately perceived by the mind of man. It must be there. We see the truth of form and matter not by one experiment carried out in some laboratory, but by observing the world all around us.

Let us return to an idea we introduced above, the Ens Mobile. Now, Heraclitus was right to a point. Motion is the most pervasive thing in the whole world around us. It does not have to be proven in the case of humans. We know that at every instant something in us is changing. Everybody knows that each minute we are getting a little older. We are all approaching that moment of substantial change which in the case of man means death. Besides change in ourselves, we can see change all around us: the trees are changing, the wind is blowing, the water is flowing. These are all rapid changes that we can see as they happen. But even the mountain, which appears to be still and immutable is like us in this respect: Every single thing in that mountain is subject to continual change. Change is the most pervasive thing. We referred earlier to the “Hail, Holy Queen.” There is a great truth in that prayer that is very relevant to our course in cosmology: “to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.” Why is it a vale of tears? Because it is a world of change. Since the fall all this change has something pathetic about it. It is not always happy change, like growth or further experience. Every material substance is approaching its death. That is why it is the vale of tears.

There is much we can learn about change. The first place to look is Aristotle. One of Aristotle’s great contributions to philosophy was his ten categories. If a thing is real it has to fit into one of these ten categories. It must be either a substance, a quantity, a quality, a relation, an action, a passion, a time, a place, a disposition, or a habit. Aristotle named the categories and saw that change occurs significantly in four of them: place, quantity, quality and substance. First is change of place. Without changing anything else, something can be moved from one place to another. This is called locomotion. Second is change in quantity. This is the type of change that the little seed went through to become the big pine tree. The third is change of quality. The woods in the New England fall are an example of this; they change colors. The fourth, and most important kind of change is substantial change. It is more radical than the others. If one were to take this book and throw it into a fire, it would undergo a substantial change — the paper nature would disappear. Its substance would completely vanish, leaving another substance (or substances) in its place, the ashes and the smoke. In nature, there is no annihilation. The matter that was united to the form of paper becomes united to another form. All of this is something that Aristotle recognized to be so. He did not invent it. It is a concrete reality which forms part of the common experience of all men. He drew the right conclusions from that fact. He saw that something has continued while something has vanished. What is it that vanished? The substance of paper. It turned into all kinds of things. Smoke, ashes and so on. What’s the thing that must have continued? Matter, which came to be united with the form of ash and the form of smoke to be a new substance.

If a man sees a tree that was green one day and it is red the next day, he knows that the tree is the one that underwent the change. When it was a little seedling and became a big tree, no one questioned that it was the tree that went through change. As long as the substance is there it is the subject of the change. The mind cannot conceive change as a reality by itself. Change must happen to something. The rejection of this fact is one of the biggest fallacies of so many modern philosophers. Whitehead (1861 – 1947) wrote a book called Process and Reality. In it he almost invented a whole language just to fight against the very concept of substance. Most of the philosophers today attack the simple, innocent concept of substance. This concept is one of the things we defend in Philosophia Perennis. Without it, so many of the important, fundamental Christian dogmas could not be expressed. Consubstantialem Patri (consubstantial with the Father) is the way substance is used in the Creed to express the relation of the Son to the Father in the Blessed Trinity. What about transubstantiation? It means, very simply, that the substance of the bread is changed into the substance of Our Lord. Modernists and liberals do not like the word transubstantiation. Some of them speak of transignification, or some other made-up word. As soon as they use that language, we know they reject the Real Presence (and probably the concept of substance, too).

The philosophy of Aristotle has become the philosophy of Catholics: Scholastic Philosophy, or Philosophia Perennis. It is the philosophy of Catholics because Catholics accept the truth wherever they find it, and they know that all truth makes a harmonious whole. Catholic philosophy must be defended against the errors of modern philosophy. To do this, it is necessary to defend its most basic principles. The first of these would be the reality of the individual substance. The second would be the important concept of hylomorphism. We should say here that true philosophy leaves a place for liberty. It is not deterministic. It even leaves a place for miracles. We make the distinction by saying that natural philosophy cannot prove the reality of miracles, but, while understanding the true ontological status of the laws of nature, it leaves a place for the Providence of God — and God runs the universe.

On the supernatural level, from revelation we know that God created the universe, and we even know how He created it. To be a worthy work of God it has to have a sublime purpose. The Christian revelation tells us what that sublime purpose is. Revelation gives man the important position, because man is the greatest being, not in all reality — that would be blasphemous — but in the material world. God created man to His image and likeness, and made him lord over the whole material creation. The modern sciences have de-emphasized the importance of man, because “now we know that the earth is just one of the minor planets in some corner of the Milky Way which is itself only one of the millions of galaxies.” They think that there are other rational beings somewhere else in the universe. Then they prove their folly not only by words, but by their deeds. Some scientists have been broadcasting to empty space the number 6.624 times ten to the minus twenty-seven, what mathematicians call Planck’s constant. If there are intelligent beings on some of the other planets, it seems, someday they will write back and say, “Well, how did you discover Planck’s constant? Isn’t that wonderful! You know it, too.” Needless to say, they still have not received any answer. But they still broadcast into empty space.

Man is the center of the universe. It does not matter if he is not the exact geometrical center, or if the whole world does not move around him like a sphere turning on its center. Man is the most important object in the cosmos. He is obviously not as big as a galaxy. He certainly does not weigh as much as an elephant. But he is a being that is created to live forever, knowing and loving and praising God. There is nothing in the world that can compare to what man is in himself.

Another of the fallacies of modern science is its dethroning of man in the universe. Not only is it one of the fallacies of modern philosophy, it is also its greatest irony. Man becomes very proud looking up towards God and becomes suddenly humble when he looks to the apes. It should be the other way around.

We will end this introduction to the discipline of cosmology with some supernatural wisdom from the Psalms:

O Lord, Our Lord, how admirable is Thy Name in the whole earth!

For Thy magnificence is elevated above the heavens.

Out of the mouth of infants and of sucklings Thou hast perfected praise because of Thy enemies, that Thou mayest destroy the enemy and the avenger.

For I will behold Thy heavens, the works of Thy fingers: the moon and the stars which Thou hast founded.

What is man that Thou art mindful of him? or the son of man that Thou visitest him?

Thou hast made him a little less than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honour: and hast set him over the works of Thy hands.

Thou hast subjected all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen: moreover the beasts also of the fields.

The birds of the air and the fishes of the sea, that pass through the paths of the sea.

O Lord, Our Lord, how admirable is Thy Name in all the earth!

Fifteen conclusions from the study of cosmology

1. Nature is the essence of a thing considered as the principle of its actions and passions — i.e., of what it can do or suffer.

2. All our knowledge begins with the sensible universe — i.e., the reality manifest to our senses. In this world given to us through the senses, our mind (intellect) perceives the objective and valid concepts of substance and cause.

3. This sensible universe is characterized by change, and thus our first problem consists in an examination of the nature of a changing object (ens mobile). The study of a changing object is the philosophic science of cosmology.

4. Ens mobile (a being subject to change) is the philosophic name we give the visible universe and everything in it. And so the earth is a changing object, so is a star, a tree, a dog, or a grain of sand, as well as the entire universe taken as one thing.

5. Many experimental sciences deal with the world of change — notably: physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology, geology, etc. These sciences begin, on the whole, with concrete facts universally admitted and open to verification by all. Also on the whole these sciences reach conclusions that are verifiable and sometimes useful. Yet the visible universe is meant to teach us truths of an order prior to the peculiar methods and interest of the experimental sciences. No experimental science, not even all the experimental sciences put together, can adequately replace the philosophic science of cosmology. In cosmology the visible universe reveals to the mind its attributes (i.e., the attributes of a changing object), its purpose, and its order. It also leads to the knowledge that a world of change could not be the only primary reality.

6. A changing object manifests a duality of act and potency somehow united in one being. The aspect of act is that by which the changing object is something actually now, the aspect of potency is that by which the same being could become something else. An acorn is an acorn in act but a tree in potency, and a grain of dust is in potency part of a living thing like a tree. Every changing object is a composite of act and potency. In the case of a changing object that is also visible, act can be called form, and potency can be called matter. The objects of the visible universe are composites of form and matter. The visible universe is a material thing. A material thing cannot be the only reality, nor the primary reality.

7. Every material object has a nature which determines that object to act (or suffer the action of other things) in a determinate and purposive way. It is because of that nature that the object is knowable and recognizable. All the so-called laws of nature that are studied in physics, chemistry, and biology, are reducible to the innate purposive tendencies of such concrete individual natures. What justifies the concept of nature (in the universal singular sense) is the fact that the millions of individual little natures function within the scheme of one, universal, purposive harmony.

8. Every material object is either one natural substance or is made up of many natural substances. Every material substance is a composite of prime matter and substantial form, and is subject to substantial change.

9. The sensible universe teaches all men clearly that there must be an immaterial world of realities on which the material world depends.

10. The material universe manifests order and purpose, and therefore argues for an Intelligence creative of these values.

11. The two concepts of “creation” and “omnipotence” come from revelation, but a philosophically trained mind can draw all the conclusions they imply.

12. The material universe is not one substance but a plurality of substances, yet it manifests a certain unity of purpose and concerted action.

13. The material universe manifests the reality of life and the difference between living and non-living things.

14. Natura non deficit in necessariis. (Nature does not fail in what is necessary.)

15. Natura est ratio artis divinae, inditae rebus; qua moventur ad suos fines. (Nature is the effect of divine art, implanted in things by which they are moved to their end. — Saint Thomas Aquinas)

1 Gredt was a German Benedictine philosopher who spent many years as a professor at the college of Saint Anselm in Rome. The Latin name of his great work is Elementa Philosophiæ Aristotelico-Thomisticæ.

2 It is for this reason that logic precedes the other disciplines of philosophy. Correct reasoning is the foundation of Philosophia Perennis.

3 It will become evident when we study in philosophic psychology the kind of being the soul is.

4 A monism is a system of thought which reduces all reality to one single principle, with only apparent or accidental variations. Pantheism, the belief that God is everything and everything is God, is a monism.

5 This course seeks to teach natural philosophy, but it also seeks to go beyond it. We wish to introduce the reader to wisdom, both natural and supernatural, so we will be giving the principles of Philosophia Perennis, always distinguishing between what can be known by natural reason and what can only be known because God revealed it. Now, the founder of Philosophia Perennis is Aristotle, but the one who clarified it and purified it from some of its pagan adjuncts thus making it a structure of Catholic thought, was St. Thomas Aquinas. The concepts of form and matter, explained here very briefly, appear all throughout the works of St. Thomas. They are also part of the Church’s official vocabulary. Every sacrament has form and matter; heresy is divided into material and formal, and so is schism. The reader should do his best to grasp these notions as they are explained later in the series.