What’s wrong with this? “Cogito, ergo sum; thus if I think I am reverent, I am”

This is sure to delight readers with a predisposition for the older form of Mass, or at least Roman-style worship, and those with a predilection for St. Thomas Aquinas.

I received a curious email about an organization called the Institute of Advanced Physics.

This organization, the Institute of Advanced Physics, is very interesting. It is devoted to promoting Thomistic philosophy in modern physics with the aim of uprooting the pervasive Cartesian idealism from society in general and from the Church specifically, and [take note…] its members all attend Latin masses[I think that means they attend the Traditional Latin Mass, rather than simply "Latin Mass", which could be in either use of the Roman Rite.  Qui bene distinguit bene docet.] It is devoted to the Thomistic tenet that all intellectual knowledge comes through the senses (Nihil est in intellectu quod non prius in sensu.), and it firmly believes that the denial of this is the cause of many problems, e.g., [NB:] thinking that kneeling while receiving communion is no different from standing and receiving it in the hands because "Cogito, ergo sum; thus if I think I am reverent, I am" [Interesting.] and sterilizing the Novus Ordo form of the mass of its sensory elements, physicality being essential to a sacrament. The IAP thinks that most in the Church simply don’t realize how scientism has stealthily poisoned the modern Catholic Church. We are going to lose the war on scientism unless we, and especially Catholic scientists, genuinely say, "Ite ad Thomam."


Fellow travelers.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Mark R says:

    While it may be a Thomistic tenet that all knowledge comes from the senses, I wonder if St. Thomas ever taught that.
    Anyone following Theresa of Avila’s writings will immediately descry traces of the scientific method…it was in the air when she was praying and writing.
    Standing for Communion has less to do with Descarets than with a liturgical historicism that assumes Eastern practices are the oldest.
    One could just as well accuse modern Tridentine Mass adherents of thinking themselves reverent and therefore being so as well as persons following modern disciplines since restored practices can be received and put in practice as contrived and self-consciously as the new things done in a Novus Ordo liturgy.
    I wish physicists would stick to physics instead of applying superficialities from philosophy to matters more profound than science or philosophy.

  2. pfreddys says:

    I wish them all sucess! I enjoy watching all the scientific shows on Discovery etc. EXCEPT for when they give their little aside digs to the Church as being backwards. They always talk about the big bang theory but NEVER mentioned it originated with a Catholic priest: Monsignor Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître. Read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges_Lema%C3%AEtre great stuff!

    Any contact information on this group?

  3. rakesvines says:

    Cogito is subjective and individual. However, the Eucharistic service is a communal event. Hence, it can scandalize others and cause some disorder.

  4. Gail F says:

    Mark R: I think he did teach that; I’ll have to go look it up, but I read Joseph Pieper’s book on T.A. a couple of months ago and I believe there was an extended passage on that very thing. As far as physicists sticking to physics goes: It hasn’t been all that long since the sciences were considered part of philosophy, and I think these physicists have got a valid point.

  5. Jack Hughes says:

    Interior reverence is essential ,exterior reverence is optional (although desirable and should flow from interior reverence) e.g. I spent so much time on my knees in Fatima that it hurt to kneel, therefore apart from moments such as the consecration I have refrained from kneeling whilst at Mass/praying however I was kneeeling in my heart – where it counts.

    Anyone who practises exterior reverence without interior revrence should remember what Our Lord said about whitewashed sepulchres full of dead men’s bones.

  6. GoZagsGo says:

    Interestingly, while St. Thomas still worked from an a priori notion of the created world, his methods were the origin of the inductive reasoning that would be at the core of the Scientific Revolution. Even Newton, who is haled as the father of the Revolution, still worked with a profound belief in God and his organization in the universe. The importance of Newton’s discovery of gravity, is not in the law itself, but in the implications of the existence of that law. With the discovery of Universal Law, it stood to reason for many that God, by definition, could not abrogate his own law, thereby denying the existence of miracles and by extension doctrinal and theological mystery (thus Thomas Jefferson’s Bible). Despite these implications, however, you can still see that they are based on an a priori notion of God. It is not until Bacon that you get the idea that observation itself will eventually lead to a theory. This is the Baconian Fallacy, that one (an historian in particular) can work without preconceived hypotheses, yet it is one that has been absorbed and taught in our culture. Aquinas had the answer to these problems: one comes to the knowledge of God through the senses and through observation in the universe. However, faith and revealed truth are NOT at odds with reason, and they must compliment each other. It is not outrageous, imho, to think that the Sci Revolution that occurred in the seventeenth century would have occurred several hundred years before, without its atheistic bent, on the coat tails of the Summa Theologica had it not been for the black plague…

  7. Jack Hughes: I feel your pain!
    When all I can do is show up for Divine Office, offer the Holy Sacrifice, and then lay down for a while, I am humiliated beyond belief (my physical infirmities get the best of me). But I try; whether or not it is pleasing to God, I will find out when I die. But I try to love Jesus and be reverent in all ways that I can…it is very frustrating, at times, that my physical energy and abilities are limited, at times.
    We do what we can.

  8. Traductora says:

    People who have difficulty due to age, disability or other things that prevent them from kneeling are, obviously, not required to do so (although many do anyway and just get up slowly). However, it’s very rude for perfectly healthy people to remain standing while everyone else is kneeling: those who are kneeling find themselves staring at a large backside right in front of them. I have noticed that this is very common in Europe: while most people will kneel, there are some, usually late middle aged couples, who will stand there looking rather defiant. I know it’s not health related, unless they both have the same problem, and I have heard some Europeans say that they think kneeling or even genuflecting is “demeaning.” Incredible.

  9. JFrater says:

    Mark R: yes, Thomas Aquinas DID teach the peripatetic axiom as derived from the work of Aristotle. It was, in fact, the foundation of Thomism and one of the major errors of Plato and the Neo Platonists was denial of that axiom. If all our knowledge does not come from the senses, then that knowledge must exist elsewhere and be infused in us in some way. The first thing humans know is “esse” or being. It gives us the fundamental concept of non-contradiction – “I exist, therefore I do not NOT exist”. I am sure you can see how important this principle of non-contradiction is for truth.

    Just to confirm that St Thomas DID indeed teach this, you can find it in his work De veritate, q. 2 a. 3 arg. 19:

    “Praeterea, nihil est in intellectu quod non sit prius in sensu. Sed in Deo non est ponere sensitivam cognitionem, quia materialis est. Ergo ipse non intelligit res creatas, cum non sint prius in sensu.”

    I should also point out that Thomistic philosophy does not exclude empiricism – Aristotle was one of the greatest empirical scientists of his age. It is not until the enlightenment that we saw a divide between philosophy and so-called “modern science” in which the discovery of truth through reason was rejected. Leaving us only with truth through observation which can only ever be probable.

  10. JFrater says:

    Correction on my above post – I meant “ens” not “esse”.

  11. Bornacatholic says:

    Communion Posture? I have never seen it explained better than Dr. John Zmirak did:

    This book isn’t the place for the critique of recent liturgical changes in the Church-particularly the method of dispensing Holy Communion. But we’d like to suggest an experiment.

    From now on, to get a movie ticket, Americans should have to kneel before a consecrated celibate wearing ceremonial robes and take the ticket between their teeth – never daring to touch it with their hands. Within a generation or so, they’d all develop certain ideas about movie tickets and their significance.

    Now take the Eucharist and reverse the process, treating it like a movie ticket…Enough said.

    Page 70. “The Bad Catholics Guide to Good Living.” John Zmirak & Denise Matychowiak

  12. everett says:

    For those parents who are involved in home schooling and have choices in curricula (please no more fundamentalist Protestant science), I’d highly recommend IAP’s Physics text, “Physics for Realists.” They’ve got a solutions manual, which I know many parents need, and while the material is challenging, it is pretty accessible. One note for people who are familiar with Fr. Robert Spitzer, Dr. Rizzi considers Spitzer to be an Idealist, which I believe Spitzer would object strongly to. In this sense Dr. Rizzi holds a very strict view of what constitutes physical realism.

  13. Jack Hughes says:

    Nazareth priest

    My sympathies Father, fortunately my knees have healed in the fortnight since I got back. Thinking about Fr Blakes follow-up post, one of the things I like about the Extrodinary Form is the amount of time we spend on our knees, which tends to remind ourselves to put God first

  14. AnAmericanMother says:

    My dear husband has horrible knees (too many sports when young and too much avoirdupois now) but if they are too painful to kneel, he will kneel but take most of his weight on the edge of the pew.

    I know that Sister Mary Attila would have rapped him between the shoulder blades, but it’s better than standing or sitting.

  15. B.C.M. says:

    haha avoirdupois… now that’s funny. :-D

    So.. these IAP chums… are they taking applications for their institute?

  16. robtbrown says:


    I would not agree that St Thomas was working from the notion of a created world. His arguments move via abstraction from sensible knowledge to metaphysical knowledge. From the fact that the limited being that comprises all material existence needs a cause (and that an infinite chain of essential causes is impossible), he arrives at the knowledge of the existence of the First Cause, Whom we call God.

    The very fact of limited being means that it must have been created, and so there is nothing a priori about his concept of a created world.

    Perhaps you’re thinking of his famous questions on duration of the world.

  17. TonyLayne says:

    I have Anthony Rizzi’s The Science Before Science. It’s not as accessible as Mortimer J. Adler’s Aristotle For Everybody, but it does go into many interesting sidebars on what he calls “empiriometric science”. It also stretches backwards not only before St. Thomas to Aristotle but also forwards to Jacques Mauritain and Fr. Stanly Jaki.

    @Mark R.: “I wish physicists would stick to physics instead of applying superficialities from philosophy to matters more profound than science or philosophy.”

    I’m having a little trouble understanding the nature of this objection. Philosophy at its best is man’s effort to rationally comprehend those profundities, and is only superficial when one tries to boil them down to sound bites and bumper stickers. The first principles we begin with as thinking creatures shapes how we receive both scientific discovery and divine revelation … even if we can’t articulate those principles or we’re unconscious that we carry such things. We especially need Thomist philosophy because of the modern assumption that religion and reason are mutually exclusive; as far as I can see, only Thomism provides the intellectual rigor capable of withstanding the reductionist materialism and Cartesian dualism on which post-modern secularism thrives. Perhaps I’m misreading you … could you develop the thought a bit?

  18. catholicmidwest says:

    Yikes, logical positivists, and not very good ones either, by the sounds of it.

    Tony, philosophy can be trite & superficial when it’s intellectually dishonest, which is more common than you might think.

  19. catholicmidwest says:

    Fr Z,
    What specifically is the point of this organization?
    1) to foster the honest investigation of the science of physics?
    2) or to foster the honest endeavor of philosophy wherever it might go?
    3) or to foster the development of the Latin Mass?
    4) or what?

    As described, it seems more like a campaign to assert something and then find support for it than anything else. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with trying to find connections between things IF THEY EXIST, but this sounds like a bit of begging the question to me. To wit, the point seems to be: Here’s a point of view, and here are the only rules one can use to support it, which incidentally are the point of view. Bad logic.

    There’s nothing quite like the misuse of science, but it’s very common.

  20. Geremia says:

    @Jack Hughes — 7 May 2010 @ 2:01 pm: What is the difference between interior and exterior reverence? How can there be, for example, a reverence from the soul that is different than the reference from the body? Do you mean something more like “rend your hearts, not your garments?”

    Regarding all the kneeling for communion comments, would you agree that kneeling in front of, say, your angry boss is different from confronting him standing? 90% of communication is non-verbal. Why would it be different when communicating with Christ?

    @catholicmidwest — 8 May 2010 @ 2:26 am: What makes you think this group is logical positivist? It seems they, if they are faithful to St. Thomas, would be the furthest from that.

    @catholicmidwest — 8 May 2010 @ 2:46 am:

    What specifically is the point of this organization?

    The email said: “It is devoted to promoting Thomistic philosophy in modern physics”

    As described, it seems more like a campaign to assert something and then find support for it than anything else. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with trying to find connections between things IF THEY EXIST, but this sounds like a bit of begging the question to me. To wit, the point seems to be: Here’s a point of view, and here are the only rules one can use to support it, which incidentally are the point of view. Bad logic.

    So, do you think St. Thomas’s philosophy is just a “point of view” and not the “perennial philosophy,” as the Vatican II council called it, praised by numerous popes, such as Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Aeterni Patris?

    From Vatican II’s Optatam totius:

    15. The philosophical disciplines are to be taught in such a way that the students are first of all led to acquire a solid and coherent knowledge of man, the world, and of God, relying on a philosophical patrimony which is perennially valid* and taking into account the philosophical investigations of later ages. This is especially true of those investigations which exercise a greater influence in their own nations. Account should also be taken of the more recent progress of the sciences. The net result should be that the students, correctly understanding the characteristics of the contemporary mind, will be duly prepared for dialogue with men of their time.

    *perenniter valido in the Latin version, which has a footnote to Pope Pius XII’s Humani Generis, which says:

    31. If one considers all this well, he will easily see why the Church demands that future priests be instructed in philosophy “according to the method, doctrine, and principles of the Angelic Doctor,” since, as we well know from the experience of centuries, the method of Aquinas is singularly preeminent both of teaching students and for bringing truth to light; his doctrine is in harmony with Divine Revelation, and is most effective both for safeguarding the foundation of the faith and for reaping, safely and usefully, the fruits of sound progress.

    So, in line with tradition, Vatican II supports Thomism.

  21. catholicmidwest says:


    There are a great number of ways to describe “all knowledge comes from experience,” and all of them have consequences and systems associated with them. There are entire books–no libraries of books–written on this precise subject and its corollaries, which you should know about before you try to assert much in this regard. Arm-waving is not pretty.

    Also, I hate to burst your bubble, but when it comes to Aquinas’ philosophical work, his propositions & accompanying logical structures are points of view in the philosophical sense. You would know this IF you knew much about philosophy. Philosophy is about thought and it always amazes me when people don’t realize this. Aquinas himself knew this and that is clearly displayed in the methods and arguments he used in bringing Aristotle into the Western philosophical mainstream as he did. You understand, I hope, that Aristotle was a PAGAN. There was much controversy!

    The point of the organization in question is still not clear, however. In order for it to be clear, the organization would have to find syllogisms which link, according to formal logical rules, the topics they are spouting about and assuming the relationships between. Again, I hate to burst your bubble, but far greater people than anyone in this organization have tried and failed to do this. Repeatedly.

    Look, one of the tenets of the philosophical method is that any and all sentient beings can partake of it. But that doesn’t mean any and all sentient beings are any good at it, or get anywhere with it, regardless of the fact that the worse they are at it the more they fancy themselves on a par with honking Aristotle. But what is, is. Truth always has its day eventually. Have at it if you want, but that doesn’t mean that reality is going to agree with you, nor will all thinkers agree with you. Deal with it. Don’t like that? Then don’t meddle in philosophy.

    And the point of this organization is still not at all clear. In fact, it may be circular, as I noted before. They may be very nice people going to latin mass, and they may have very nice conversations over coffee, but that doesn’t prove a relationship between these ideas they seem to have linked here.

  22. catholicmidwest says:

    PPS, Geremia, think about this: Philosophy is the means; theology is the ends. Another way to put this is that philosophy teaches the toolset, while theology teaches the content.

    The existence of the toolset of philosophy is lost on a lot of people who don’t even percieve that there are technical tools involved in consistent and formal thought. Those tools teach you how to think in a very precise, formal and coherent way. Once mastered, THEN you can move on to the content discipline, missing far less of the consequences and detail one would otherwise miss, while realizing what goes nowhere. There are whole dictionaries of words to describe precise and discrete modes of thought. Most working philosophers have them and use them. (Most people don’t know that and won’t admit they don’t know that. Sometimes they even ridicule it. But the arguments they always use are in the dictionaries too. Ho hum. The more things change, the more they stay the same.)

    One of the reasons that we have the abysmal situation we now have in the church is that incoherence and silly posing is widely acceptable in the church on the common level. We apparently don’t require thought anymore for a proposition to be accepted, so all kinds of awful & stupid things happen and people can’t figure out why. Confusion is rampant.

    Even in seminaries, much ridiculous nonsense passes for philosophy training. Many ordained men can’t manage even the basics of formal logical thought. You think about that the next time a priest tells you something ridiculous. It may not be as much his fault as it appears.

  23. Jack Hughes says:

    Dear Gemma

    I am not trying to seprate the soul and the body (rather the form and the matter as together they form the soul- oh dear I’m being acussed of platonism:) ), all I am saying is that there are times when one wishes to demonstrate reverence towards Our Lord through our external actions but is unable to do so because of factors such as physical infirmity/fear of being riddiculed/accused of superficial piety . In this situation I believe (someone correct me if I’m wrong) God accepts the genuflection/kneeling/prostration of our hearts – even if the external action would have been nice.

    Regard Kneeling for Communion its different becasue Christ is King of the Universe and he condecends to come to us under the appearence of Bread and Wine and we ought to show due reverence and not simply treat the Blessed Sacrament of the Alter as a ‘just another piece of food’ when in fact it is Our Divine Saviour himself.

  24. robtbrown says:


    1. The objection to Aristotle in the 13th century had almost nothing to do with him having been a pagan. Plato, also a pagan, had long been respected by Catholic thinkers.

    Aristotle’s philosophy had been taken over by Arabic philosophers, e.g., Ibn Rushd (Averroes). Their interpretation of him produced such concepts as one agent intellect for all men, and the necessity of the universe. Siger of Brabant of the low countries was also a proponent of Averroism.

    Certainly, there was (and still is) a certain distrust of the use of reason in theological arguments, instead relying only on arguments from Scripture and the Fathers. St Thomas’ thought in the Summa Theologiae, however, is ripe with both Scripture and Patristic thought.

    2. St Thomas’ philosophy is not merely that of Aristotle. I consider it a syntheses between the philosophies of Aristotle and Plato. St Thomas synthesizes the Platonic concept of participation and Aristotle’s four causes.

    Certain famous Thomists such as Gilson and Fabro devoted much of their work to trying to restore the understanding of the Platonic elements of St Thomas.

    3. I do not consider philosophy to be the tools, theology the content. In fact, certain philosophical questions have the same obiectum formale quod as theology–not only God but also human actions (morals). They differ, however, in the formale quo: Theological questions are taken up in the light of Revelation, philosophical questions only using reason.

    I have pointed out here before the importance in Catholic thought of the existence of fides mixta (some call it dogmata mixta) and fides pura. There are certain articles that can be known only by the faith (fides pura), e.g., the Incarnation, Trinity, Immaculate Conception.

    On the other there are also articles of faith that can also be known by reason alone (thus the phrase fides mixta). Among which are the existence of God, the human soul with its immortality, and the goodness of certain human actions.

  25. Mark R says:

    I certainly have no issue with St. Thomas Aquinas. Though I am not a philosopher, I have read a nice amount of St. Thomas but lots more Pieper and have sat through more Dominican homilies than what I have read from both of those luminaries put together. (I have since gone in another direction from the Dominican and Thomist aesthetic.) It can be difficult to distinguish, for a nonspecialist, what St. Thomas wrote from what a Thomist wrote, at times. I just cringe a bit when anyone, let alone physicists, take a well known tag and extrapolate a trend in piety from it.

  26. catholicmidwest says:


    That’s simply not true. Classical works were lost to the West for many centuries after the burning of the great library in Alexandria. Some works were lost for good, however Aristotle’s work survived because it was kept as a possession in the Muslim world, gained by conquest. Just before the time of Aquinas, these works were purchased one by one, and translated into Latin. Aquinas is widely credited with bringing the works of Aristotle back into Western philosophy by this route. It’s what he did.

    When you look at Aquinas, because you’re a catholic in the 21st century, you tend to focus in on his “holy key words,” but suspend that for a minute and look at the structure next time you see Aquinas. Compare it to Aristotle’s treatises on logic and you will see a wonder–a whole new approach to religious reason for the age when it was written.

    Most of the works of Plato, Euclid and many others also survived, were purchased and translated, but some did not. If you read the ancient classics you will come across reference to them, but you can’t use the references because the documents no longer exist–which leaves holes in our knowledge. They were treasures lost forever.

    As for the controversy over Aristotle in Paris c. 1260, there are many books with details of this business, laying out the arguments of Aquinas over against traditional Islamic & Jewish points of view as argued by his contemporaries at the university in Paris. The overriding issue was whether there had to be a contradiction between the teaching of a pagan, which Aristotle was, and the Christian faith. Traditional Islamic & Jewish points of view said yes; Aquinas said no because he saw that the universal nature of logic, for example, transcended the pagan issue with respect to Aristotle’s person.

    As an example of a book about this topic, see “Aquinas Against the Averroeists,” by Ralph McInerny. (ISBN-10: 1557530297)

  27. catholicmidwest says:


    As for your item 3, you tell me why seminarians take philosophy BEFORE theology then. What good would philosophy be to them if it were merely a competitor to theology? Or are they supposed to be philosophers, qua philosophers? Why bother?

    There are things that can only be known by revelation–on that we agree. However, it doesn’t stop there. Theology develops by means of logical thought–that’s what theologians do. They don’t just repeat the same things over and over on a parrot level, and they don’t spend all day staring at their belly-buttons hoping for canned inspiration from beyond because it’s the only way to proceed. No. They think, using the tools the good Lord gave them and the methods they know are appropriate and logical.

    I don’t know if you’ve ever been tasked with producing an exegesis, but it’s an interesting exercise. It’s all at once literary (syntactic, semantic, referential, linguistic), philosophical and theological. All those tools are required or it doesn’t ever become an exegesis of any sort–but rather a third-rate recitation without understanding.

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