Category Archives: Waxing Philosophical
When the philosophical bug bites…
“Bloom where you’re planted” is a piece of advice I follow fairly well. I’m pretty good at being content, peaceful, and reasonably happy with where I am in life – at least when I take a step back and look at the big picture. I realized the other day though that I need work in the daily application department.
I was on my way home from daily Mass and ran into a wretched patch of traffic along a road that is usually very clear. The street was backed up nearly a mile, and as I hit the brakes and came to a stop, the mental grumbling began. I tried to see around the car ahead of me to find out WHY the road had spontaneously become a parking lot, but no reason could be seen. I leaned back into my seat and let out a very long sigh… I was in for a delay, and overly-punctual me was not happy.
As I sat stewing in my mental grump, I looked around in an effort to find something for my brain to chew on while I waited, and noticed the median to my left was covered with wild flowers. I started examining an especially curious-looking bloom. Shortly, I noticed the car ahead of me had moved up. Disappointed I couldn’t remain to admire the pretty little flower, I moved up. Once stopped again, I noticed another flower, slightly different than the first, but just as pretty. No sooner had I settled in to enjoy its beauty, the traffic started up again, and I was obliged to proceed out of sight. This scenario repeated itself a few times, and before I knew it, I was at the intersection to turn off of this mightily congested road.
As I drove the rest of the way home, I thought about the life lesson that had just played out before my eyes. Every second I was focused on getting to the next thing as fast as possible, the more antsy and ill-tempered I became. When I took my focus off the waiting and enjoyed the beauty right before me, not only was my heart much more peaceful, but the wait itself became negligible.
As I wait for the Lord to bring to me the next phase of life, I beg Him for the grace to find and enjoy the sweet little wild flowers He has placed along my path.
Note: This was a research paper I wrote for a class last semester – usually my blog posts aren’t quite this long!
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through Him, and without Him nothing came to be…” John 1:1-3. This opening to the Gospel of St. John gives a glimpse of the order and structure with which the world was created. God Himself is orderly. As a work of art naturally reflects the mind of the artist who created it, so also God’s creation will reflect His Divine and orderly Nature. God Himself is imprinted on His creation so irrevocably that His fingerprints can be seen in even the most basic elements. This is revealed in a variety of ways; this paper will explore the concept of God being reflected in the properties and characteristics of zero. As the properties of zero are examined, discussed, and compared to the characteristics and attributes of God the Father, the traces of His Omnipotent Fingers will become evident.
Zero is an integral member of the Arabic number line. It is the source and origin of all other numbers; without zero, 1, 2, 3, and so on would have no value or meaning. It is a number’s location relative to zero that gives that number either a positive or negative value. Zero as a number itself is poorly understood, and has been a source of controversy among mathematicians and philosophers for centuries. It has also been said that zero is not a number at all, but is merely a reference point. (This opinion held by John Wallis (1616-1703), a mathematician who made significant contributions to the world of trigonometry, calculus, and geometry and George Berkley (1685-1753), an Irish philosopher and Bishop in the Anglican church). John Wallis believed that it was possible to divide by zero, and the result was infinity, no matter the number being divided. German mathematician Martin Ohm (1792–1872) believed that division by zero was undefined, and it is this theory that is still taught in American schools. If early mathematicians were correct, one could deduce that counting begins and ends with zero, or that zero is the beginning and the end.
The idea of a point of origin being vital in understanding what encompasses it is not unknown to other great minds in other fields of study. Saint Thomas Aquinas, Philosopher, Catholic priest, and Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church, wrote extensively about another vital Reference Point in his work “Summa Theoligica,” written 1265–1274. He theorized that in order for a being to be considered more or less good, true, noble, etc., there must be something or someone that is all good, perfectly true, and irrevocably noble. If something is “hotter,” it is only in relation to that which is “hottest.” In order for there to be being, there must be an origin of being, or a point from which being may be derived. This source of being is God. These characteristics of God, captured so beautifully in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, are also reflected in the properties of zero that we have discussed. Zero must be used as a reference for the numeral 1 to have a positive value, or for -1 to have a negative value. Without God as a moral reference, there is no good, and there is no evil. In contrast to zero, God is not a neutral source point that is neither good nor evil. He is the “all Good, perfectly True, and irrevocably Noble” to which may be compared better, truer, and nobler.Whether or not zero is a number, or if division by zero is possible, it is an invaluable reference point. Zero is not positive or negative, but must be used as a source for any other number on the number line in order for it to have a positive or negative value. If zero was removed from the number line, the number line itself as we know it would cease to exist. Even though zero is not understood, it must be in place to understand what is around it. The number line would be meaningless without zero as the point of origin.
Modern Catholic writer and professor of philosophy at Boston College Peter Kreeft explored another aspect of the mystery of God that is reflected in zero. In his book “Jesus-Shock,” he wrote, “[God] changed history, splitting it open like a coconut and inserting eternity into the split between B.C. and A.D.” This is a perfect reflection of the simple number line, with zero being the mentioned insertion. The infinite, unsearchable qualities of zero lend themselves as a type of the incomprehensible and unfathomable Nature of God. It is also God that gives meaning to actions. Using the moral compass He gave us in His Law, an action may be accurately classified as good or evil. Another Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church, Saint Augustine, wrote on the nature of good and evil, and theorized about what exactly good and evil are. Gregory Koukl explored Augustine’s thoughts in his article “Augustine on Evil.” God created all things good, so good they must be. Evil was not created by God, therefore, evil not a thing. Evil is merely a lack of good. To choose evil is merely to choose the lesser good, or to choose the opposite of good. Like dark is the absence of light, so evil is the absence of good. It could be said of negative numbers that they do not actually exist either, but are merely the absence of a positive value. There must have been an object present at one point in time in order for it to be missing in another. However the ‘missingness’ or absence of the object cannot be an object itself.
Like God, zero has no beginning and no end; zero simply is. There is no way for zero to have ever been created, nor is there any means for it to be removed or destroyed. It must always be, or all numbers cease to exist along with it. Zero is also the beginning and the end. It is the beginning of positive, and the end of negative. Similarly, God always was, is, and always will be; He is the beginning and the end. He is the creator, the source, and the sustainer of all creation.
Obviously, God cannot be contained into one idea – He is uncontainable. However, it behooves the believer to explore different aspects of the mysterious nature of God. When God created the world, He left His unmistakable fingerprints on everything. The order of the universe, the natural world, and the interaction of the elements are a few such examples of His Divine Fingerprint. Zero, and its relationship to numbers, is another. Although all of the attributes and qualities of God cannot be contained by anyone or anything, His reflection can be seen in His creation. Like an artist’s interests, style, and sometimes even personality is reflected in the art they create, so too is God reflected in His creation. Because He is the creator, and we are His created beings, His creatures, we cannot understand Him. That is one of many ways that we know He does indeed exist, and is our Source – He cannot be understood. It is this attribute that He left reflected in the theory of zero, and its relation to numbers. No one ever has debated that 2 comes after 1, or that 4 plus 4 equals 8, but as scientists and mathematicians attempt to define, explain, and understand zero, they are left more and more perplexed, and controversies abound. Perhaps it would benefit the world of science to address the theory that some things are not problems to be solved, but beautiful mysteries to be admired.
“I am incurably convinced that the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” – G. K. Chesterton
The mind is a precious thing. Besides an eternal soul, the mind is the most wonderful gift God gave to the human person. Secular media is highly critical of ‘closed-mindedness,’ equating it with intolerance, arrogance, and intellectual snobbishness, when it is actually a very healthy thing to do, most particularly when there is danger lurking. If a dangerous dog were to stray into your backyard, you would immediately sequester yourself and your family behind locked doors, would you not? Why then are we ordered in no uncertain terms to keep the door of our mind wide open at all times? The mind is a terrible thing to waste, but it is even more terrible to leave it unguarded, lest it is invaded by the enemy. Relativism, secularism, modernism, and many other ‘isms,’ are afoot. They are wolves, prowling about guised as harmless lambs, ready to invade a good mind, and destroy whatever truth is found there.
While it is important to be aware of these errors and to be equipped to defend against them, one must use great caution in how they train to fight intellectual attack dogs. Arm yourself with veritas, with truth, and study how the great warriors of the mind have fought and conquered such errors in their time. Only by learning from those who know will we glean knowledge and wisdom to protect our own mind from the dangers of the worldliness we are bombarded with daily.
Who is safe to open the door of your mind to though, you may ask. A very sound question! Consider admitting the One Who created it! The Designer best understands the design, so the One Who is Way, TRUTH, and Life, would be the best possible choice. There are many who have, wisely, opened their minds to close them again on the most solid food a mind could receive – The Word of God. (Also suggest opening your hearts (and mouths) to close them on the Word made Flesh! But I’ve already ranted about that.) There is nothing to fear in this battle for the mind because we stand on the shoulders of intellectual giants. And those giants stand on the shoulders of THE Giant – Christ.
Christ, Who IS Knowledge.
Christ, Who IS Wisdom.
Christ, Who IS Truth.
And when you know Truth, He will set you free.
Suggested writers from whom one may glean highly effective mental battle tactics:
St. Augustine of Hippo
St. Thomas Aquinas
St. Therese of the Child Jesus
St. Teresa of Avila
Bishop Fulton Sheen
Peter Kreeft (Personal favorite! –Mary’s Ghillie)
(This list is by no means complete – just a few men and women who have easily-accessed writings of an excellent nature that I would recommend sinking your mental teeth into!)
Law. The first thought that this word brings to mind is something restricting and binding. Perfect law, i.e., the Law of God, is quite the opposite. But how?
“The Law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.” Psalm 18:7
Because we are created in God’s image, we are most perfectly ourselves when we most resemble God. However, due to the effects of Original Sin (weakened will and fallen nature), we no longer easily choose perfection. Our true selves seek fulfillment that can only be found in God, but our selfishness seeks to fulfill this need elsewhere – in various imperfect things and people. We seek to go against our natural need for God, and “throw out the instructions.” But any parent will tell his child that if the toy is not used properly, it will break. We are the same. We need our Maker’s Instruction Manual. It requires the Law of God to call us from our now-natural selfishness to what we were created for – perfect union, perfect communion, with God. Therefore, the Law of God is freeing.
Think of your closest and dearest friend. You have love for him, therefore there is no need for the law, “Thou shalt not kill.” You are free from that law in this instance – you have no desire to kill your best friend. Your relationship has reached a higher level of perfection. This is the state that Adam and Eve lived in before the Fall from Grace that weakened their wills, damaged their nature, and required their expulsion from the Garden of Eden.
Now think of your worst enemy. You do not get along at all, and perhaps they’ve done some great evil to you. Still, as a disciple of Christ, you are called to love. However, because your relationship with this individual has not reached the level of perfection mentioned previous, you must be bound by the law, “Thou shalt not kill.” It is this law that calls you to a higher perfection – to rise above your fallen nature, and have the love Our Lord demands towards your enemy. This law ‘frees’ you from sin, to love like Christ. It is the call to return to the original Grace we were designed for. And when something is functioning properly, is being used how it was designed to be used, it is truly free.
Because of our fallen nature, we must have God’s Law to be free. A train is only free to be a train if it has tracks.