Friday, 19 February 2016

Principle of limitation? NOMa? What would Augustine say?

I was just writing to Dimond Brothers that in an encyclical by Benedict XV, the passage relating to Heliocentrism being just possible correct or rather Geocentrism being just possibly incorrect is not at all the matter of the encyclical.

The encyclical was an endorsement of Dante. More precisely, of Divina Commedia. He did NOT expressis verbis endorse De Vulgari Eloquentia or De Monarchia, which contain Dante's ideology in clear ideological terms. He did not for that matter endorse La Vita Nuova, which might be taken to be about an illicit passion (nor did he condemn it as doing so). He chose Divina Commedia [henceforth abbreviated DC].

It is a peace of theology fiction. It contains pieces of Medieval science some of which we can be sure are wrong, although it is less certain these are involved in DC - apart from crystalline spheres. By this encyclical Benedict XV maintains that Dante while writing theology fiction was not overstepping his bounds, was not "lying about things pertaining to God", since everyone knew and knows it is meant as fiction. The dream setting was a typical code for "don't take this as Gospel truth".

The list of things he cites would include Dante knowing nothing of Harvey, not sure how that is irrelevant for DC, but that is because I haven't read all of it. And in that list, which is a list of concessives embedded in an "even if" clause, comes the concession to modern critics of Dante who would say his cosmology was flawed.

He maintains that DC retains its edifying quality despite any possible errors of science, including in that area.

Benedict XV was not involved in making any specific point about each of these scientific discoveries, real or just presumed, he was not sifting, he was just thinking of what a modern reader would perhaps be aware of like a difference in Dante's learning from ours. That was the point, this did not matter.

I had said this to them a few years earlier, but this time I added that DC was, in his book, licit presumable even if it included admiration for an enemy of the Church - namely Henry VII. My new point was, even some errors about things involving morals do not ban us from reading DC by DA.

Obviously, what he says in that encyclical is not (as I had said earlier too) concerned with taking sides about the matters he regarded as scientific possible advances. Any single example of that list would be to the encyclical an obiter dictum.

Now, Galileo not only takes it that the Bible also has obiter dicta, but he cites St Augustine as support for his theory.

He even interprets a point of Trent that way.

I found this here:

Could There Be Another Galileo Case?
Galileo, Augustine and Vatican II
Gregory W. Dawes
University of Otago, New Zealand

[6] A helpful starting point for our discussion of Augustine's position is Ernan McMullin's excellent essay on Galileo's hermeneutics. In this essay, McMullin tries to spell out the interpretive principles which Augustine outlines in De Genesi ad litteram. Among the principles which Augustine employs, McMullin argues, is one which he calls the "principle of limitation." As articulated by McMullin, this states that "since the primary concern of Scripture is with human salvation, texts of Scripture should not be taken to have a bearing on technical issues of natural science" (1998: 298). The key text here is one found in chapter nine of book two of Augustine's commentary, where he deals with the question of "the form and shape of heaven according to Sacred Scripture." Here Augustine states that while "in the matter of the shape of heaven the sacred writers knew the truth, but . . . the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, did not wish to teach men these facts that would be of no avail for their salvation" (1982: 2.9.20).

[7] This passage from Augustine is one of those cited by Galileo in his letter to the Grand Duchess (Finocchiaro: 94-95). In describing this as a "principle of limitation," McMullin is certainly offering a correct description of Galileo's intention. In a way which echoes his predecessor Johannes Kepler (60-66), Galileo understands Augustine's remark to mean that biblical authority should not be invoked in debates about astronomy. He develops his argument by making, in effect, two points. Galileo's first point is that it was not the intention of the sacred writers to teach astronomical matters. As he writes,

it is the opinion of the holiest and most learned Fathers that the writers of Holy Scripture not only did not pretend to teach us about the structure and motions of the heavens and the stars, and their shape, size, and distance, but that they deliberately refrained from doing so, even though they knew all these things very well (Finocchiaro: 94).

Nor was it the intention of the Holy Spirit, who inspired the sacred writers, to teach us about the working of the heavens:

the Holy Spirit did not want to teach us whether heaven moves or stands still, nor whether its shape is spherical or like a discus or extended along a plane, nor whether the earth is located at its center or on one side. . . . But if the Holy Spirit deliberately avoided teaching us such propositions, inasmuch as they are of no relevance to His intention (that is, to our salvation), how can one now say that to hold this rather than that proposition on this topic is so important that one is a principle of faith and the other erroneous? (Finocchiaro: 95).

[8] These statements could be read as nothing more than an application of Augustine's words, cited above (1982: 2.9.20), regarding the purpose for which Scripture was given. But Galileo's second argument takes this idea further. He not only argues that the purpose of Scripture is different from that of the natural sciences; he draws the conclusion that the authority of the Bible is effectively limited to matters with which the natural sciences cannot deal.

I would say that the authority of Holy Scripture aims chiefly [principalmente] at persuading men about those articles and propositions which, surpassing all human reason, could not be discovered by scientific research or by any other means than through the mouth of the Holy Spirit (Finocchiaro: 93-94).<4>

Galileo's attempt to limit the range of matters with regard to which biblical authority could be invoked is also evident later in the letter, when he makes reference to the Council of Trent (1545-63). The Council had decreed that in matters of faith and morals (in rebus fidei et morum) no one should presume to interpret the Bible in a way that is contrary to the teaching of the Church or to the consensus of the Church Fathers. In paraphrasing this passage Galileo makes a significant addition (not evident in at least one English translation, i.e. Finocchiaro: 109): he speaks of "those passages alone which are matters of faith or of morals" (quei luoghi solamente che sono de Fide, o attenenti a i costumi; emphasis mine). What Galileo wishes to highlight is what he sees as the restriction implicit in the Council's words.<5>

I have found this council canon cited here, even if note 5 doesn't open:

Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent
The Fourth Session
Celebrated on the eighth day of the month of April, in the year 1546.
English translation by James Waterworth (London, 1848)

Praeterea ad coercenda petulantia ingenia decernit, ut nemo, suae prudentiae innixus, in rebus fidei et morum ad aedificationem doctrinae Christianae pertinentium, Sacram Scripturam ad suos sensus contorquens, contra eum sensum, quem tenuit et tenet sancta mater Ecclesia, cuius est iudicare de vero sensu et interpretatione Scripturarum Sanctarum, aut etiam contra unanimen consensum Patrum, ipsam Scripturam Sacram interpretari audeat, etiamsi huiusmodi interpretationes nullo umquam tempore in lucem edendae forent. Qui contravenerint, per Ordinarios declarentur, et poenis a iure statutis puniantur.

Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, It decrees, that no one, relying on his own skill, shall,—in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, —wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church,—whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures,—hath held and doth hold; or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers; even though such interpretations were never (intended) to be at any time published. Contraveners shall be made known by their Ordinaries, and be punished with the penalties by law established.

[I have reworked this from my first scratch, since originally misrecalling as if the phrase was absent.]

As Gregory Dawes rightly says, the word solamente is not there.

[9] Perhaps the clearest indication of Galileo's desire to limit biblical authority is to be found in a third set of passages, where he discusses what should be done when the results of the natural sciences seem to come into conflict with the Bible. Galileo first adopts the traditional line - for which he also cites Augustine - that biblical authority should not be invoked in opposition to the firmly established results of natural enquiry (Finocchiaro: 96, 105). But he then goes further in suggesting that biblical authority should not be invoked to oppose any claims that might be firmly established in the future.

I should think it would be very prudent not to allow anyone to commit and in a way oblige scriptural passages to have to maintain the truth of any physical conclusions whose contrary could ever be proved to us by the senses and demonstrative and necessary reasons. (Finocchiaro: 96)

The same point is made later in the letter, where Galileo attributes his view (somewhat rashly, it seems) to the Church Fathers.

The intention of the Holy Fathers is that in questions about natural phenomena which do not involve articles of faith one must first consider whether they are demonstrated with certainty or known by sensory experience, or whether it is possible to have such knowledge and demonstration [o vero se una tal cognizione e dimonstrazione aver si possa]. When one is in possession of this [la quale ottenendosi], since it too is a gift from God, one must apply it to the investigation of the true meanings of the Holy Writ at those places which apparently seem to read differently. (Finocchiaro: 105; see also 110).

Here, too, Galileo refers to matters which might be established in the future. It is not only matters which have been demonstrated with certainty which are - in practice - to be exempted from the authority of the Bible. It is also matters which are capable of being "demonstrated with certainty or known by sensory experience."

Gregory Dawes is very right in saying "somewhat rashly".

If we look at the quote from St Augustine, given here embedded in the commentary of Dawes:

The key text here is one found in chapter nine of book two of Augustine's commentary, where he deals with the question of "the form and shape of heaven according to Sacred Scripture." Here Augustine states that while "in the matter of the shape of heaven the sacred writers knew the truth, but . . . the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, did not wish to teach men these facts that would be of no avail for their salvation" (1982: 2.9.20).

If God did not intend to instruct us "in things which would be of no avail for their salvation", this does not mean that we can assume He allowed any author to make any direct error about them either. If that had been the case, He would not have been truly author. Note, verbal inspiration does not in any way take away freewill from the human authors.

Whatever God says with exactitude about anything, even for ill, will not in itself (unless specifically stated, as not so with Pharao's hardened heart, but too so with Nebuchadnezzar's seven years of madness) take away freewill from human actors who need to do exactly the right thing in order for God's word to be true.

God has other ways of bringing about exactitude than taking away freewill. He is, for instance, the root cause of its freedom.

I like to give as analogy what CSL writes about God as a novelist. A novelist doesn't ignore what his characters want to do. He just writes the novel so that characters do what they want to do while the novel goes where the author wants. NOTE, it is not the Bible, but the total of creation and of created existence which is the parallel to the novel. The Bible's inspiration would be the equivalent of a novelist speaking to his characters. Truthfully - and by some means included in its action. Say that I write a paragraph about Susan Pevensie (yes, I am not very original, I write fan fiction of what another - C. S. Lewis - already invented), and next to it on the paper I write a true paragraph about sth which is true in the novel (whether generally outside it or not). This does not make Susan Penvensie in my novel grasp this as a message from me. So, I would (and I won't, I'm not the hero whose truth she needs to hear!) have to write some other thing in which this paragraph was conveyed somehow from me to the characters in the novel.

Now, God knows me and you and sundry and the real Pope and the real Antichrist and the real first men and everything else, and, point in case, the real Gospellers and Moses and Joshua far better inside out before He decided to create them. THis may seem a paradox. God has from all eternity known them. And God has from all eternity decided to create them. THere has never been an actual time in which God already knew them but hadn't decided to create them. BUT the ones He did decide to create, He knew much better than I know anything about Susan Pevensie or my own Spivvins (I invented a secret for him I bet CSL had not thought of, when HE kept Spivvins' secret as much though not as heroically as Eustace). This means that though in the creation He granted them they and we all enjoy exactly the same freewill as when God studied them (or us) He chose to create precisely those whose precise freedom woul give the exact precise effect for His word to be entirely true. This includes freedom of naming and freedom of action for Antichrist - but it also includes the freedom of thought and expression of the hagiographers. Nothing they chose to think or express (and sometimes in voluntary and loving obedience to dictations or admonitions - these are not the same - from God), would be their word, in those sacred texts, in such a way that it was not also God's own.

So, no, Galileo means that the Holy Ghost did not want to instruct the hagiographers, and St Augustine is saying the opposite, He did very much instruct the hagiographers, but also tell them not to waste many words on those matters.

In cases like Heliocentrism and Darwinism, I think their most explicit rejections in Holy Bible were very much included for our salvation - for us not to swallow Galileo's attitude or catastrophic practical consequences of the theories therein rejected (like questioning special creation of Earth due to proposed, not so much vastness of universe - that was known - as its supposedly non-perspicacity from our point of view, or like treating men like cattle, because both are supposed to have evolved from sth lower even than cattle).

And Heliocentrism turns Thomistic philosophy and knowability of the visible creation upside down too. That would be why Saint Robert Bellarmine, better informed than Galileo, condemned the thesis in 1616 (Galileo himself got a warning not to repeat it, not a condemnation or even vehement suspicion of his person, like in 1633). Unless one should rather say that he gave a blanket approval for using Bible in science (if done without hasty interpretations) - because it is the Bible, simple as that.

Now, St Augustine would not allow us to take this or that passage in the Bible without all the rest and build a remote cosmological description on it as if the passage had been given as a text book. But neither would he have allowed us to go with Galileo and treat the passage as if text books could be written correctly while actually contradicting what the passage actually, well analysed, says. Unlike encyclicals of Benedict XV, there are no obiter dicta in Holy Writ. If they are very unconcerned with the salvation of people in one time (or seem to be, when we look only at theological debates, might be less so if we could see and sometimes we do glimpse, what they meant for poetry), they may even so be extremely concerned with the salvation of people in our time.

And Dawes actually tells us so, straight off:

[11] What may we conclude? Galileo's Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina contains a variety of assertions about biblical authority, which stand in some tension with one another. But there can be little doubt that in this letter Galileo was attempting to impose limits on the scope of biblical authority. Indeed his preferred view seems to alternate between the weak and the strong positions espoused, respectively, by McMullin and Pera. What I want to argue is that neither position - neither a principle of limitation nor a principle of independence - can plausibly be attributed to Augustine. It is worth noting that McMullin himself seems uneasy with doing so. He does so only with the concession that Galileo holds to a much broader form of that principle than Augustine would have accepted. Augustine holds only that Biblical authority should not be invoked when it comes to "technical issues of natural science" (emphasis mine), while Galileo suggests it should not be invoked with regard to any kind of natural knowledge (1998: 306). But this is a slippery distinction. At what point, for instance, does a knowledge of nature in general, where Augustine does invoke the authority of Scripture, fade over into "technical issues of natural science," where apparently he would not? In any case, a close examination of De Genesi ad litteram suggests that Augustine's position is not accurately described as a "principle of limitation," in any sense of those words. Unlike Galileo, Augustine is not interested in limiting the authority of the biblical writings. He therefore holds to an entirely different principle, with a rather different set of implications. Augustine's hermeneutical principle in the matter of what we would call science and religion is better described as a "principle of differing purpose." It corresponds to only the first of the two points made by Galileo.

[12] It would be easy enough to show that Augustine does rely on Scripture for knowledge about the natural world, knowledge which we might describe as "scientific."<7> But that would only suggest that Augustine does not espouse the strong form of the principle of limitation (Pera's "principle of independence"), as McMullin rightly suggests. Augustine does not distinguish natural and revealed knowledge by arguing that they deal with subjects which never overlap. He would have no time for Gould's NOMA principle! ...

And later:

To test this idea, we need to find a passage which deals with something corresponding to a "technical issue of natural science," so that we may examine Augustine's attitude to the authority of Scripture in such a case. The only clear example I can find in De Genesi ad litteram is in another passage from book two, where Augustine tackles the question of whether the sun, moon and stars are of equal brightness. As he writes,

certain persons are also wont to ask whether the luminaries of heaven, that is, the sun, moon, and stars, are in themselves equally bright, on the supposition that the unequal distances from earth may cause them to appear with greater or lesser brilliance to our eyes. Those who hold this opinion have no hesitation in saying that the brightness of the moon is less than that of the sun, by which, they say, it is illumined. Concerning the stars, they go so far as to maintain that many are the size of the sun, or even larger than it, but that they appear small because of their greater distance (1982: 2.16.33).


[13] How, then, does Augustine respond to this question? His initial response might seem to be in accordance with McMullin's principle of limitation, that is to say, the principle that "texts of Scripture should not be taken to have a bearing on technical issues of natural science." In Augustine's words, "for us it would seem sufficient to recognize that, whatever may be the true account of all this, God is the Creator of the heavenly bodies." In other words, the true account may be left to the natural philosopher to decide; all the Christian need do is to acknowledge God as Creator. Yet the words which follow suggest that Augustine's view is not so simple. For he immediately adds: "And yet we must hold to the pronouncement of St. Paul, There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another of the stars; for star differs from star in glory [1 Cor 15:41]." In other words, whatever position one accepts, Augustine insists it must be compatible with 1 Corinthians. If he truly held to a principle of limitation, he would not have regarded 1 Corinthians 15:41 as having a bearing on this matter at all.

I can only concur.

Anyone who is presented with an extra corny misapplication of a very well known text from De Genesis ad Litteram Libri XII can from exactly same book quote a shorter and more to the point one:

"And yet we must hold to the pronouncement of St. Paul, There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another of the stars; for star differs from star in glory [1 Cor 15:41]." [Said in context of discussing cosmology.]

Hans-Georg Lundahl
Nanterre UL
Ember Friday of Lent

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