Sacraments and the Divine Entrance into the World Mediated by Meaning

by David Fleischacker

I hear people wondering at times about the meaning and purpose of the Catholic belief in the seven sacraments. Traditionally, these sacraments are understood as sacred gifts given to us from God which both signify and effect grace in us. Yet, some ask, creation is given by God as well, and doesn’t it reflect God, and even provide moments of God’s grace and love, both of which transform us?  Hence, what is the big deal about the special seven?

It is a question I have heard for most of my adult life, and many of my friends who grew up Catholic with me would answer this last question with the answer “nothing.”  There is really no difference between the way that God can come to us in the seven and in the general world itself.  General revelation is more universal they would add (as a note, they would not say “general revelation” but rather “nature”).  It is more open to people of all places and times.  It really is more Catholic in the end.  However, though at one time in my head I would have agreed, in my heart and in my experience of the sacraments, I knew it was not true.  What is true is that God can and does work in just about any place and time.  Creation really is God’s and God really does speak to us through it.  However, in my own heart, I know that this was not in contradiction to the claim that the sacraments have a special place. I now would like to put some philosophical and theological flesh on these existential perceptions.

The key, I believe, resides in the acts of meaning that constitute Divine gifts that transform us in specific types of gifts given to us from God, in Jesus, through his Passion. In general, it is God’s entrance into the “world mediated by meaning” (METHOD IN THEOLOGY, 118 – 119), and this is what grounds the difference between meeting God in creation and meeting God through the sacraments, brought to us through the apostolic mediators that carry that grace. If one examines any of the sacramental rites, one finds a person to person mediation of the Divine entrance into the world mediated by meaning. God enters into a person to person conversation with us, to transform us, to let us know about that transformation, and in these gifts to actually constitute the transformation. It is different, in the end, because God has made it different. This is something that one would not experience in creation alone, as glorious as it can be at times, especially in the great events of the birth of child or the great sacrifices that some make for others.

And as glorious as the birth of a child can be, or a courageous act of self-sacrifice, these same acts become greater yet when they enter into the sacramental carriers of God’s life and love. Then the birth of a child can unite with the great Eucharistic thanksgiving, and the sacrifices of one’s self can unite with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross. What this means is that the special revelatory graces that come through the seven sacraments sublate the created natural order and its goodness (for Lonergan’s meaning of “sublation” see METHOD IN THEOLOGY, 241).

A parallel can be found in St. Augustine, in his essay against the Manicheans, which illustrates this same point of sublation, but with regard to the moral virtues rather than the sacraments. Prudence is not annihilated by God’s love but raised up into the wisdom of God. Courage not only means courage in the context of society and the natural order, but it is raised up to be self-sacrifice on the Cross. Temperance is raised up to become kingship, in which the love of God and neighbor rules over one’s mind and one’s body. Justice comes to take on a whole new meaning as giving what is due to others because it is giving what is due to God (which later becomes the virtue of religion). Hence, the moral virtues are sublated into the theological virtues.

Thus, not only are the moral virtues sublated, but so is creation when brought into the life of the seven sacraments. The theological virtues are the aim of the seven sacraments constituted by God’s entrance into our history, especially through the mission of the Son incarnate and the mission of the Holy Spirit. Through these missions, God sheds his love upon upon us. It reaches its highest levels when it comes through His Body, through His Church, through His sacraments.

As a note, Lonergan has some profound theological formulations of these missions in “THE TRIUNE GOD: SYSTEMATICS” part 6 on the divine missions. This critical edition of this book is now available to the public (Volume 12 of the Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan). I recommend this text to any serious systematic theologians interested in the Trinity. It far surpasses anything else that I have read from the 20th century, whether from Karl Rahner or from Walter Kasper or from Jürgen Moltmann. There are interesting insights in some of these other authors, but none as far as I can tell genuinely understands the great achievements of St. Augustine, Boethius, St. Thomas, or others as does Lonergan, and then creatively builds upon them.

In short, what makes the seven sacraments more important for encounter God than the “general revelation” of creation? The answer can be formulated in terms of the same relation as grace and freedom or grace and nature. Just as grace sublates nature and freedom, so the graces that God intentionally bestows upon us through the sacraments sublate us, our world, and our history.

In short, the highest and most profound and personal encounter with God comes through the seven sacraments.

Embryonic Stem Cells, Adult Stem Cells, and Medical Treatments

by Dr. David Fleischacker

Only adult stem cells work in adult tissues. Embryonic stem cells work in embryos, not mature organisms.

The Term “Stem Cell”

Unfortunately, the technical language that develops within a discipline does not always suggest what it should, especially when it is used in the general public. I think this is the case with the use of “stem cell” for both Embryonic and Adult stem cells. The term itself is not a problem, since stem cell suggests an originating cell. To that degree, the language is fine. Both embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells are origins of more mature types. However, in people’s minds, the use of the term suggests a greater relationship between the two types of stem cells than actually exists.

The relationship I believe that has been created for the political arena is that embryonic stem cells could be directly inserted into the same locations as any adult stem cell, and they will do the same thing as those adult stem cells. It is like a one stop solution, since embryonic stem cells are sold as cells which can become any type of cell in the body. However, this one stop solution simply is not true. Embryonic stem cells are designed to work properly at the beginning stages of the organism, not at its mature stage. Conversely, the adult stem cells work properly at the mature stage, not at the beginning stages. Swapping adult stem cells with embryonic stem cells does not work therapeutically for all kinds of genetic, biochemical, and organic reasons.

The Developmental Relationship between Embryonic Stem Cells and Adult Stem Cells

There is of course a relationship between embryonic and adult stem cells, one that is developmental. Stems cells of any type have a relation of finality to the mature types into which they emerge. In Embryonic stem cells, one is speaking of cells that exist early on in the life of the organism which then unfold into all of the various cells types of a mature organism, which includes adult stem cells. As this unfolding takes place, a variety of genetic, biochemical, and organic changes take place (one might be surprised that genetic changes take place. This refers to the actual packaging of the DNA molecules which causes shifts of the actual genes that can be transcribed). Adult stem cells in contrast maintain and heal the various organic systems in the body, and thus have significant differences in the genetic and biochemical schemes that are operative. In short, there are a variety of developmental stages between embryonic and adult stem cells. These stages effect a series of developmental shifts with all the accompanying changes that take place in the genetics and biochemistry of the cells.

Adult Stem Cell Therapy. There is NO Embryonic Stem Cell Therapy.

Thus, theoretically, embryonic stem cells can lead to the creation of adult stem cells, and then potential therapies from diseases that are treatable by healthy adult stem cells. But this is the key, one cannot simply use an embryonic stem cell directly in an adult without problems. ONLY adult stem cells can be used in adult tissues (and ones that would not be rejected as “foreign” cells by the immune system).

In embryonic stem cell therapies used in animal experiments, many of the troubles found are related to control of cell division and maturation. In these experiments on animals, embryonic stems cells sometimes function in the right way in adult tissues, at least in part, however they lack the rather nuanced schemes for equilibrium. What happens when equilibrium schemes fail to work properly? One of the results in these animal experiments is cancer (cancer is uncontrolled cell growth). Unfortunately, when we read of the healing successes that occur in these animal experiments that result from embryonic stem cells, the conclusion is not added in, namely that the animal then died of cancer.

The medical point thus is simple to make. For embryonic stem cells to be of medical use, they have to be “developed” into adult stem cells so that they operate properly within adult tissue systems. There is no magic to this. However, there are no such therapies derived from embryonic research yet, because little is still known about how embryonic stems cells develop into adult stem cells, and even less about creating treatments from the knowledge of these stages. In contrast, adult stems cells are already adult stem cells. They can be used in adult tissues, because that is where they are derived (as long as the standard problems of rejection by the immune system are resolved). Thus, there is no magical reason why over 100 types of human stem cell therapies exist in this world which are derived from adult stem cell research, NOT embryonic stem cell research. In fact, not a single human therapy has been developed from embryonic stem cell research. There is no magical reason to this either.

So, if you have some hope that embryonic stem cell research will prove more medically valuable, it simply is not true. Only adult stem cells work properly in adult tissues. It is a simple fact already known in the stem cell community. And it is much easier to develop therapies from adult stem cells than from embryonic, and thus, the likelihood of eventually creating embryonic stem cell therapies is minimal.

And of course, this simply addresses the direct pragmatic outcomes of stem cell research. It does not address the ethics of the means, especially when the means on the one side is the destruction of an embryonic child. That, is a topic for another blog. People might be willing to kill others for medical benefits, others might be willing to kill for scientific benefits. But killing human life for scientific or medical benefit necessarily proceeds from a hardened heart.

40 Years Since Humanae Vitae: A Metaphysical Distinction

by Dr. David Fleischacker
 
As with men, the organic and psychic life of women possesses an intelligibility that begins with the finality to conceive life.  And as in men, the lower levels are intrinsically oriented toward higher levels of intellectual, rational, volitional life, with an obediential potency to a life of sanctified grace in faith, hope, and love.
 
Before continuing with the female procreative schemes, I would like to bring some clarification to the nature of finality within the human body. This also requires a slight expansion in the notion of emergent probability as it was developed in INSIGHT, in the chapter on development (chapter 15). 
 
Schemes of Recurrence vs. Schemes of Development within Things
 
The slight expansion results from the need to make a distinction intrinsic to complex organisms between schemes of recurrence and schemes of development, both of which maintain the life of the organism.   One might think of a mature organism as a flexible range of schemes of recurrence.  This is certainly true in part.  The mature cells of the circulatory or the respiratory systems form schemes of recurrence (though many of these are only “completed” in higher conscious levels).  The respiratory system supplies oxygen and removes carbon dioxide from the circulatory system.  If oxygen decreases in an environment, the respiratory system will increase its rate to maintain the particular need for oxygen in the organism (this is also linked to neural processes).  So, the respiratory system has a “flexible” way of responding to the environment.  Likewise, the needs of other cell systems in the body for disposing carbon dioxide and increasing oxygen increase the rate at which the circulatory system operates.  Hence, as one exercises, one’s heart rate will increase (again, this is also linked to the neural system).  Then, this in turn will cause increased rates in the respiratory system. One breaths harder.  This also points to a vast flexible range of schemes of recurrence that allows us to operate in different manners in different environments.
 
However, the maintenance of our organic systems is not through schemes of recurrence.  Rather, it takes place through adult stem cell systems, which are related to these systems developmentally rather than functionally (or correlationally).  These adult stem cells possess a developmental finality that is oriented toward maintaining the organic cells systems and their ability to operate in flexible ranges of schemes of recurrence.[1]
 
In addition to maintenance however, the stem cells help to increase the flexibility of the schemes of recurrence of the cell systems. Muscle stems cells will increase their rates to adjust to greater muscle needs.[2] The circulatory stem cells will shift and expand to adjust to changing needs of the circulatory system.
 
Thus, these schemes of development (as opposed to schemes of recurrence) rooted in stem cells function both in maintaining and in increasing the flexibility of matured schemes of recurrence.[3] Complex organic systems that possess stems stem cells are thus comprised of both schemes of recurrence and schemes of development.
 
 
Returning to the Procreative Schemes of Recurrence and of Development
 
Thus the procreative system, like other organic systems, is comprised of both schemes of recurrence and schemes of development (biologists call these schemes of development “developmental pathways”).  Just as adult stem cells provide for the maintenance and increase the flexibility of adult cell schemes of recurrence, so the procreative stem cells provide for the maintenance and the increased flexibility, and the development of the human race. Thus they have a developmental relationship to that which is the conscious realization of the finality of the universe as a whole.  The procreative system thus has a magnificent horizontal and vertical finality intrinsic to it, because it has a developmental relationship to the creation and formation of adult human beings and to the fullest realization of the finality of this universe.  Adult human beings are integrations of many levels of intelligibility from inorganic and organic life through all the levels of conscious existence, and therefore the procreative system has vertical intelligibilities intrinsic to it as well.  Furthermore, human beings are “systems on the move,” which is why they are not merely single individual species defined by a non-developing set of conjugate forms, but rather, human beings are ongoing horizontal and vertical unfoldings of intellectual, rational, and volitional operations. Procreative systems therefore also possess an intelligible finality to the human person as an intellectual, rational, and volitional “system on the move.”
 
A few consequent notes on The Procreative Schemes of Development, Emergent Probability, and the Scale of Values.
 
The procreative system comes to possess one of the most far reaching intelligibilities within the order of emergent probability as a whole. Emergent probability has a general finality of increasing systematization or intelligibility and meaning, as Lonergan argues in INSIGHT, especially chapter 4, and more precisely in the later chapters on metaphysics.  The human person is the height of the increasing intelligibility of this universe, and it is elevated all the more by the fact of grace and the actuation of the capacity for self-transcendence in a love that is without bounds.  The procreative system therefore is one of the key elements that makes possible a being who is on the horizon of truth, being, and the good, and who thus comes to be the conscious realization of the finality of the universe as a whole.  This finality intrinsic to the procreative schemes of development is thus incredible.  And though it is beyond the current blog, I would like to add a pointer to the objective moral value of the procreative schemes. When one bases the horizon of the good on the horizon of the true and the intelligible as Lonergan does, then the level of intelligibility is proportionate to the level being, which in turn is proportionate to the level of objective goodness.  This elevates the procreative schemes to one of the most important schemes within this universe.
 
As I will discuss in the next few blogs, the woman’s procreative schemes are central to the emerging perfection of this universe and of the human race and all of the persons that comprise it.

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[1] The word “system” can include both the schemes of recurrence and the schemes of development. Thus, one can distinguish in these organic systems between that which is functionally related (defined by mutually related conjugate forms) and developmentally related.
[2]This is true not only for organic systems, but higher systems as well. One can think, for example, about how values are maintained in society.  Human beings are higher systems on the move, and for a variety of reasons, the way this takes place is by expansion and replacement.  The birth of the young, and their education into citizens, family members, members of culture, and religion not only maintains the life of these “institutions” but also gives those institutions a principle for greater flexibility in its mode of operation in the world and it gives those institutions the possibility of development.  In general, once someone has reached a certain level of maturity, change slows down. This stabilizes the system, and gives it endurance.  If maturation was good on the whole, then the overall life of the system will be better.  If it was a decline however, then the entire system will become less stable.  This is true in organic systems as well as in human systems.  The longer cycle of decline that Lonergan explains in INSIGHT illustrates this point.  Voegelin, in his account of ideological societies, points out that the greater the ideological structure of the society, the shorter its life.  Hence, modern ideologies, especially those that are tyrannies such as the Nazi regime, or modern dictatorships, are short lived.  Only societies increasing attuned to the “Beyond” have endurance to them.  One can point out that these same insights are found in the revelations of the Old Testament.  Societies that have apostatized will become destabilized and eventually destroyed either by an internal or external enemy.
[3]On a technical note, schemes of recurrence are grasped by combining conjugate forms (known by implicitly defined relations) and their statistical emergence and ongoing existence.  Developmental recurrences add finality to the intelligibility of how they operate.  The relationship of a stem cell and a mature cell is one of development. Thus, it is not the systematic relationship of one cellular conjugate form to another that has been actualized, but rather the relationship between the cellular conjugate forms of a stem cells and those of a mature cells, which is one of developmental finality.

Love of the gods, of God, and the Capacity for self-transcendence.

St. Thomas Aquinas argues that sanctifying grace transforms the very essence of the human soul (Summa Theologica, I-II, Q 110, a. 4). This essence is at the basis of the powers and operations of the human soul. And with grace, those powers are elevated to a supernaturally capacity.

Lonergan transposes St. Thomas’s formulation of our essence, articulating it as the capacity for self-transcendence. This capacity comes to be known, as is the essence and the powers for Aquinas, via attending to our interior operations and acts of the human person. These operations and acts form into distinct sets of groups rooted upon distinct aims of human conscious existence. Lonergan sorts these sets into four levels with which many of us are familiar, three of which are specifically human: the level of understanding, the level of judgment, and the level of decision, and one that is shared with higher animals, namely the level of motor-sensate forms and schemes. And as for the aims of each of these levels, just as St. Thomas will speak of the agent intellect as the power that aims at “being” and brings about an actualization of the potency of the intellect1, Lonergan in INSIGHT will call this agent intellect the notion of being. By notion, he means a heuristic notion, which guides and directs us toward an object. And this particular notion underpins, penentrates, and goes beyond all other heuristic notions and the objects they intend (INSIGHT, chapter 12). By the time he wrote METHOD IN THEOLOGY, Lonergan will differentiate this into three notions; the notion of the intelligible, the notion of being/truth, and the notion of the good. Furthermore, he will add the term “transcendental”, because these notions, which are transcendental in scope, are the principles that both orient us toward the Transcendent and bring about self-transcendence in us.

These transcendental notions are the basic questions in us, but these are more than just questions. Once answers have arisen, it is by these same notions that we have the power to intend the answers (the objects). Furthermore, these same notions bring up new questions in light of the answers. Hence, in METHOD, Lonergan identifies three transcendental notions which bring about the ongoing development of three levels of conscious existence:

1. Level of Understanding Transcendental notion of intelligibility
2. Level of Judgment Transcendental notion of being/truth
3. Level of Decision Transcendental notion of value/good

Futhermore, one can understand each of these notions as being related to each other in terms of sublation. Sometimes Lonergan will also speak of sublation using the language of higher and lower levels of being; of the relatively natural and supernatural (only God is absolutely supernatural); or of the infrastructure and suprastructure (for a discussion of this, see my article on “Higher and Lower Levels of Being” in the section of the workofgod.org web site called “The Living Cosmopolis”). Thus, the notion of intelligibility sets-up the level of understanding so that it can provide the lower matrix which can then provide the conditions for the life of the level of judgment. The general form of the question at the level of judgment is “Is it true?”, and the “it” literally comes from the level of understanding. And in turn, the level of judgment permeated by the notion of being enhances the life of the notion of intelligibility. One cannot reach good judgments without an adequate number of insights that need to be weighed. When we ask “Is this true?” we might both seek more evidence in larger ranges of experience, but also seek more insights to reflect upon in relationship to experience. So, when we ask the question “what” it usually is also within the context of the intentional notion that seeks being. Likewise, the notion of value (or the good) enhances and expands the levels of judgment and understanding. One cannot become attuned to what is good without knowing what is real or true. And when we are seeking what is real and true, and trying to understand, it is usually in the context of seeking what is good.

The capacity for self-transcendence thus is what one begins to grasp once one comes to understand the unified or integrated levels of the potentiality of the transcendental notions. That capacity is a basic orientation toward a complete perfection of all these notions in their integral unification. This is the essence of the human soul.

Love as the orientation of our capacity for self-transcendence.

One of the things that begins to oriente this capacity is love. Whenever we fall in love with anything or anyone, we can then give the reason why we seek understanding, being, and goodness. This love is the reason why we use our bodies as we do, why we ask questions and get insights as we do, why we seek to know the real as we do, why we want to know what is good and respond in decisions as we do. Thus, if we love our car and only our car, then the way we use our body, our hands, our feet, our eyes and ears; the way we ask our questions to understand at the level of understanding; the way we ask our questions for reflection at the level judgment; the way we ask questions for deliberation at the level of decision are guided by the love of this car. Now, such a total love for such an object would of course be a bit distorted and unexpected, even for a young teenage boy. But one can see the point. Love orients our capacity for self-transcendence, whether that love is for another person, a family, a country, or for God.

But can such a love fully actuate our capacity for self-transcendence?

God and the gods.

This is where we can begin to grasp that only one love can oriente and actuate the totality of the capacity for self-transcendence. However it is a love that really is beyond the power of this capacity.

In order to love something, we have to have some kind of basic ability to attend to it and fall in love so as to be able to oriente our being toward it. This is a basic type of knowledge of the reality of the other. It does not mean that we necessarily understand the full intelligibilty and being, and thus goodness of this other, but it does require a basic knowledge that this other exists and is worthy of our love, and thus can become a centering point of our self-transcendence. This is not naturally possible to do with God.

Why?

First, what do we mean by “God”? Lonergan, in chapter 4 of METHOD IN THEOLOGY (and in chapter 19 of INSIGHT), gives some clarity to this. The term or aim of our transcendental notions are a bit mysterious. Our questions for understanding, and most comprehensively, our transcendental notion of intelligibility, is not restricted. It includes all that is intelligible, and excludes only what is not. It includes therefore the potential reality of an unrestricted intelligiblity. But this inclusion is not like other finite intelligible beings. Rather, that which is an unrestrictedly intelligible is an analogue that one grasps when one discovers the full unrestricted range of this transcendental notion. It is what happens when one beings to wonder about the complete and total intelligible meaning of everything about everything and whether there is an ultimate meaning to everything about everything. When one has reached this unrestricted meaning of this transcendental notion, one has reached the question of God. It is a question still, because it takes a further leap to affirm that such an unrestricted intelligibility exists that actually is proportionate to the totality of the transcendental notion itself. But nonetheless, Lonergan would highlight, that the reaching of this total question is itself how we come to know what is meant by God (and we do not necessarily do it with the precision that Lonergan has spelled out in chapter 4 of METHOD).

The same happens in examining the transcendental notion of the true or of being, and of value or the good. Each of these becomes the analog by which we grasp a meaning to “God” and thus are able to raise a question about the reality of God as being the proportionate completion or aim of these transcendental notions. Only then do we understand the totality of our aims in life, and that totality is really aimed at an unrestricted intelligibility, being, and good. Our question of God is rooted in our created being and the nature of our conscios intentionality. It is one way for understanding how we are in the image of God — and image which not only has rationality like God, but which is only completed in God.

Thus, since love orients our capacity for self-transcendence, the only term that could adequately complete that self-transcendence, and thus be the real perfection of it, is love of a being who is unrestrictedly intelligible, unrestrictedly true/real/being, and unrestrictely valuable/good. And thus only by loving God could our capacity be fully completed.

Yet, our own powers to oriente our capacity for self-transcendence are limited to things that we can naturally understand, know, and respond. Why? Lonergan throughout his life argues that we understand by insight into experience. And he goes on to argue that we know by judgments based on a reflection upon the adequacy of our insights into our experiences, a reflection which might lead to sufficient evidence grasped through a reflective insight. And furthermore, that we make decisions which transform our world based upon this naturally known knowledge into our experiences. Thus, what we can see, hear, taste, touch, smell, along with our motor activities form experiences, because we can get insights, reflective insights, and evaluative insights into these. Likewise, once we have questions and insights, make judgments and decisions, we can then get insights into these questions, insights, judgments, and decisions as such. Thus we have access to a second type of experience called data of consciousness, and thus can get insights and knowledge into that nature of our own selves, and also respond in decisions to transform ourselves (and through this, we can also understand others conscious existence).

However, we have no experience of God as God, only our orientation toward God in our capacity for self-transcendence. Thus, we cannot have direct insights, reflective insights, and evaluative insights into God, and thus we cannot love God as God, as the proportionate perfection of our capacity for self-transcendence.

Hence, if we truly can love God as God, then this is a divine gift, a supernatural gift, a gift which raises the power to realize our capacity as such. It becomes a basic orientation and actualization of our capacity for self-transcendence. Thus, it can be identified as being placed into this essence of our soul. It can be described as Lonergan notes, as the love of God flooding our hearts, giving us a heart of flesh, a heart of flesh which has a supernatural destiny.

Thus, we can now define the gods.

Whenever we love something or someone who is not unrestrictedly intelligible, unrestrictedly real, unrestrictedly good as if they were, then we have turned this being into a god. It may be fleeting. It may be enduring. It could be our spouse. It may be our work, our intellects, or power. And whenever it happens, we have violated the first and greatest Commandment. We have made something to be what in reality it cannot be. And in reality, it never really can be the actuation of our capacity for self-transcendence, because just as we cannot naturally love God as God, so we cannot love a god with that kind of love of God as God. In the end, it would be a natural, finite love that masquerades as ultimate love and meaning. And this too is a lie.

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1This agent St. Thomas identifies is also known as the light of being. This is a more descriptive language which has older roots. One finds it, for example, in St. Augustine, in a number of places in his book on the Holy Trinity. The light of being is a created illuminating power within us that is analogous to the sun. As the sun illumine physical objects so that they might be seen, so the light of being illumines intelligible objects so that they might be understood and known. It seems that earlier in Augustine’s life, he identified this light directly with God, however, toward the end of the De Trinitate, he clearly says this is a created light in us. This light, or agent intellect, is the way that human beings participate in the Being of God.

40 Years After Humanae Vitae: Male Procreative Schemes

by Dr. David Fleischacker

Some say men all start with a female body, however this is only partially true as far as I can tell. This view is based primarily on morphology and how the presence of testosterone results in male morphology, and its absence results in female morphology. And since we all start with a single celled body which looks the same, it seems to be true. However, this little body is already differentiated into male or female in terms of the biochemical and genetic schemes within the zygote. I do not mean to say, however, that the gender of the zygote could not be changed. If one could change the key factors that provide the “male” biochemical schemes of recurrence into female schemes, then the zygote would become a female. This points to the contingency of existence however, and is not support for those who might claim an ultimate irrelevance as to whether one is male or female. And this does not change a basic point. The schemes in place are either male or female, even if genetic defects deform these schemes, or cause problems. These initial schemes in the zygote provide basic differences that, as they unfold, lead to the more complex differences in the cell systems that form the body. Thus, we really are either man or woman from the beginning.

However, men and women also share many similarities based on the common systems that they possess, common systems which possess common functions which are related to many other schemes on our planet. For example, our lungs and respiratory system relate us to the atmosphere that we breath. Our muscles and bones relate us to various types of movements that serve a variety of purposes from walking on the planet, with its terrain and gravitational field, to eating and chewing. Our digestive system relates us to the food sources that were and are regularly encountered in the environment. Our eyes relate us to the bulk of the light wavelengths that make their way through our atmosphere. [However, even in these “common” systems, many differences exist which relate men and women not only in complementary ways to each other, but in different ways to the ecosystems in which we live. For example, differences of average bone and muscular mass; differences in vision — women can see better at night, men during the day; differences of the skin’s sensory neurons — women have far more skin sensory neurons than men.]

However, these systems are also related to the internal structure and livelihood of the organism of our beings. They have integral relations to all the other systems in the body. For example, the circulatory system carries cells of the immune system, oxygen and carbon dioxide for the respiratory system, hormones for the hormonal system. One can say the same for all other systems of the body which thus form interconnected schemes of recurrence.

These interlocking schemes of recurrence in the body give it a great deal of interior freedom to respond to the world in which we live. It gives more niches in which we can live and move, which is also why human beings can be found throughout many types of ecosystems. There are limits however. We do not have the organic capacity to live under water or at the coldest regions of the earth. Our bodies can only adjust to certain ranges of temperature, food supply, oxygen, etc.. Conscious intentionality of course further expands the possible ecosystems in which we can live. Practical intelligence creates technologies, such as clothing, shelter, and even space-craft which create local environmental conditions suitable to the ranges in which our organic schemes can operate.

And thus, our bodies came to be formed and structured not only in relationship to the world, but in multiple relations and schemes within our own bodies as well, all for the purpose of successful living in that world with greater degrees of interior freedom.[1] Thus, we increasingly systematize our responses to both schemes in the world and in our bodies within the context of generalized emergent probability. (For more on emergent probability, see INSIGHT, chapter four, chapter eight, and its most complete intelligibility in chapter fifteen and sixteen).

In both male and female, the procreative schemes are functionally related to conception, hence the man and woman are correlated in a variety of complementary manners to each other.[2] And in both men and women, the procreative schemes possess their own way of increasing or even decreasing the probabilities for conception. If the woman’s body for example goes below a certain level of body fat–perhaps during a drought or shortage of food—her fertility shuts down. Conversely, the body provides a number of schemes that help to enhance conception. Pheromones as well as biochemical schemes actualized through the conjugal act, and even higher psychic relationships of the voice and touch, have significant ramifications both for the coming together of man and woman, and once they do, in causing biochemical and cellular changes further enhancing the likelihood for the union of spermatozoa and oocyte.

In a man, the organic procreative schemes include the meiosis that forms the spermatozoa, the neurons in the penis linked to triggering changes in its structure and form (which takes on a form for the purpose of depositing the spermatozoa in a particular place in the woman’s body) and even neurological and psychic responses to the smell of the woman when she is fertile which further attract him to her. This is to name just a few of the organic and psychic procreative schemes. All of them contribute to increasing the probability of conception. Thus, these schemes simply do not make sense except in relationship to conception.

Contraception adds something that has an intent that is contrary to the functional intelligibility of all these schemes.[3] Though some of the male procreative organs possess other functions in the body (such as riding the body of cellular by-products through urination. However, most likely, if that is all it did, men would not need to have a penis), during the conjugal act they acquire a particular form and participate in the activation of various schemes which do not pertain to fighting wars, capturing prey, tackling viruses and bacteria, gaining oxygen for the blood, digesting food, nor for any other functional relationship to the body and the planet. They are for conception. One can hopefully see how, in “the language of the body,” to use John Paul II’s phrase, biochemically and organically, thus using a condom or some other contraceptive is contrary to the very intelligible conjugates constitutive of the schemes.

Psychic Sublation of Procreative Organic Schemes

The procreative desire of a man sublates the procreative conjugate forms and schemes of his body as a man.[4] In the same way that the organic needs for nutrition are sublated into hunger, the organic procreative schemes are sublated into psychic procreative desire.

All psychic desire that sublates lower organic schemes elevates the probability for fulfilling the conditions needed to complete the schemes of the lower order. Thus, hunger elevates the probability for sustaining the nutrients of cells and cell systems, and their underlying biochemical schemes. Hunger will integrate many other systems in the body both organically, such as the muscular and skeletal system, as well as psychically, such as sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste–a series of integrations that take place in relationship to the ecological schemes that are involved in gaining these nutrients.

Procreative desire integrates the organic and psychic schemes of the body for a different reason than hunger. In the body, it will integrate muscles, bones, the hormonal system, the circulatory system, all with a complex pattern of schemes that becomes completed in the conjugal act. And psychically or experientially, it integrates the motor-sensory schemes and desires. And these schemes intrinsic to him, also relate him to the environment, more specifically it relates him to the woman both at the organic level and at the psychic level (or zoological level as it can also be called. In human beings, when this level comes to be the matrix in which higher levels of consciousness emerge, then Lonergan calls it the “level of experience”) as intersubjective–“intersubjective” since it is the relation of the psychic level to another human being. Furthermore, it does not relate him to her in just any fashion whatsoever. It relates him to her as his procreative complement. Thus, eating will not really fulfill this desire.

The importance of this procreative desire, which then becomes procreative pleasure as the schemes for the conjugate act come to be activated and completed, is clearly recognized by all of us. If it was non-existent, then it would be highly unlikely that the conjugal act would take place even if the organic changes needed for intercourse to take place could still be realized.

This highlights something interesting about the relationship of the higher psychic to the lower organic schemes in the human body. The organic schemes only become complete schemes in virtue of the functioning of the higher. Without such procreative desire-pleasure, the procreative organic schemes would simply not be schemes. This is why the organic reproductive schemes of animals has such a greater range and freedom than the organic reproductive schemes of plants. The zoological-psychic level greatly liberates the potential reproductive schemes of animals and relates those schemes to the world of motor-sensory immediacy–and thus to ecological niches.

The main point here, is that such psychic desire-pleasure has a sublational and correlational intelligibility. It sublates the finality of the organic male procreative system on the one hand. And it psychically and intersubjectively relates the man to the woman on the other. He then relates to her as the procreative other with whom he can unite and thus fulfill procreative desire-pleasure, which in turn completes the organic procreative schemes.

Male Contraception and Procreative Desire

Male contraception of course, is not designed to stop this procreative desire at the level of the psyche (experience), but rather is designed to stop the completion of the procreative schemes at the level of the organic (or biological). However, it would not want to stop all of these organic schemes. It could stop them by stopping the ability for erection and the contraction of the muscles used for moving and depositing spermatozoa. However, normally stopping these contractions would eliminate the key desire that a man wants to experience and the very reason he is engaging in the conjugal act because the neurons involved in these contractions are those that are immediately sublated into the highest psychic desire (pleasure) that ends when the spermatozoa have been deposited. Thus, male contraception could include stopping the ability to form sperm, however, most involve the hindrance of the release of sperm. And none involve the hindrance of those schemes required for the emergence of psychic pleasure linked to the depositing of the spermatozoa.

If some men could have this psychic experience that normally sublates the contraction of the muscles involved in ejaculation, they would do so. Such men would of course have to take a drug or insert some type of neural stimulants into their brains to trigger the brain neurons needed to mimic the depositing of the spermatozoa. In general I suppose, these would be the same men who masturbate. And one can imagine them hooked up to these neural stimulants for days on end.

However, there would be some who would still rather have the ability to unite with a woman, rather than just experience procreative desire. And the reason for this I suspect would be to enjoy the correlational intelligibility operative within the desire, a desire which is functionally related to the woman, and with her possess a finality for the creation of a child. As someone I met once put it, “I never had real sex with my wife until we decided to have a baby.” He had of course used contraception prior to this. Hence, for this kind of man, who wants the woman as well, there is a bit of pretending that is involved when he is contracepting. He is saying to himself, perhaps even to the woman, “for the moment, let us pretend that we are uniting to create life.”

Intellectual, Rational, and Moral sublation of Procreative Schemes

Though the focus here is upon the organic and psychic-intersubjective schemes in the man, I do want to say a bit about how these are sublated into intellectual, rational, and moral schemes. And though I will not be able to treat this in a manner that reveals why the most meaningful and intelligible conscious context that sublates the procreative organic and psychic schemes is that of a sacramental marriage, I would like to give a few pointers. I am hoping that I can develop this point by itself explicitly in a later blog.

Intelligence sublates the procreative organic and psychic schemes both descriptively and explanatorily. Because the question of conception and contraception is linked to the drama of human living, rooted largely then upon description, most people will operate from this point of view. However, in a scientific society like ours, the explanatory element becomes relevant.

Descriptively, the man learns about the coming together of men and women, he learns about his parts, and he learns how they work, and he learns what they mean within the customs and mores of his culture and his faith. His role in procreation can be described, in a healthy context, as something he gives to the woman, something he deposits into her body. And likewise, if the context is healthy and right, it is something she wants to receive. And he can descriptively recognize that intersubjectively he wants her to want to receive him. And he wants to give what he has to give. And he wants what he has to give to bear fruit in her, with her, for her body to bear the child that he helps to bring about. And he wants her to want this as well.

However, besides the basic knowledge of procreative intersubjectivity, he also comes to learn of the relationship to the woman in its social and personal elements through the mediation of culture. He learns about whether he should commit to her or not, whether he should respect her, whether he should give his life to her, whether he should merely use her at his own pleasure, whether he should seek a family with her, whether he should commit to that family, and whether as a husband and father, he will assume potential relationships with extended family members and friends. Thus, an entire context comes to provide the meaning to this relationship.

Distortions of the procreative meaning of his being happen all the time. The man may truncate the functional intelligibility and finality of his procreative organism and of his procreative psychic desire. He may not for some reason understand these, or understand his relationship to the woman. He may not have appreciated the great goods involved. The great beauty of his body or hers. The great meaning of procreativity. He may not understand the customs and culture of his time. Then again he might, and those customs may themselves distort his understanding of what should be. He may be morally corrupt either because he does not appreciate the significance of commitment or he does not follow the commitments that he knows are right. He may be merely a hedonist or a rapist. He might have no care and concern for what his body or his desires really mean. He may be an adulterer who is violating a commitment he has made to another, to his wife, to her body, to her whole being and life.

In the end, these descriptive schemes either sublate the procreative schemes in an increasing intelligible manner, or they introduce deformations in those schemes by awakening them in part then shutting them down in part, creating contradictions in the intelligible meaning of these acts.

Faith, hope, and love can also sublate the procreative organic, psychic, intellectual, rational, and moral schemes, giving an even higher vertical meaning to these schemes. The Catholic position on marriage and family is one which fully upholds the intrinsic intelligibility of the procreative schemes organically and psychically, both in men and woman, and brings these schemes into the context of Divine wisdom and love. However, I would like to save this discussion for a blog of its own.

The Male Role in Conception and Contraception: So, where do statistics fit in?

The man produces a certain ideal frequency of spermatozoa that could then be released from his body into the woman’s body in various ways. This frequency both of the numbers of spermatozoa created and the numbers of spermatozoa released can be changed in many ways.

-He could change the “ideal frequency” of the production of spermatozoa in his body, perhaps by drugs or by surgery that destroy the stem cells which differentiate into spermatozoa.
-He could change how many are released from his body by means of cutting and tying his vas deferens in a vasectomy.
-He could also change the frequency of those spermatozoa that would enter the woman’s body. He can “spill his seed” before he enters her body or he could use a condom.

However, the key here is that none of this changes the correlational intelligibility of all the procreative schemes in the man’s body. These schemes at both the organic and psychic levels are functionally related to conception.

With regard to these higher levels of intellectual, rational, and moral conscious intentionality, one must ask, how does this bring fulfillment when it activates the finality of the body and psyche, and then deactivates part of it? What is the meaning of such a contradiction in the very schemes of recurrence and the intelligibilities involved? I would suggest it is an absurdity. This means that it not only lacks completeness of intelligibility, but there is a contradiction in the activities taking place. What could be more contradictory than the schemes for procreation being activated only to introduce others that shut it down?

Natural Family Planning and Contraception

This really brings up a major difference in the manner that a man changes the statistical probabilities for conception when he is contracepting vs. using natural family planning. In the man who wants to conceive, his intelligence, rationality, and moral acts unite to make a decision to enter into the woman’s body. The contraceptive man makes the same decision. In both, conception then becomes possible. However, with contraception, the man blocks the completion of the procreative scheme of recurrence by hindering the regular numbers of release of his spermatozoa into the woman’s body. He is thus making a distinct decision separate from his decision to enter her body. In natural family planning, he is not changing anything about the statistical probabilities of sperm either leaving his body or entering the woman’s body. He is thus not introducing something that intentionally disrupts the procreative schemes of recurrence and the finality of his own body. Thus, he is not introducing an absurdity into his decisions and his personal integrity with regard to the organic and psychic-intersubjective schemes of recurrence, though he may be doing so in other ways, such as one would find in rape, casual sex, and adultery.

The moral ramifications of this depends in part upon the intentional response to the value of the procreative schemes and of conception itself. Conception is not merely a biological act, nor are the procreative schemes. As I argued in earlier blogs, the spermatozoa and the oocyte possess a finality toward the development of an intellectual, rational, and moral self-transcending being. Theologically, this being is in the image and called to the likeness of God, and thus, if one recognizes this great importance, this sacred importance of the zygote, one will also come to recognize the great value and good of the procreative schemes, at both the organic and psychic levels (and of course such recognition will raise these schemes into the higher conscious levels as well). Thus, in the man who uses contraception, he is seeking procreative fulfillment but then he turns against what he has started, and says “no” to the finality that he has awakened. Thus, he says no to the potential for the creation of one who is an intellectually, rationally, and morally self-transcending being. He says no to this being that is in the image and likeness of God. He says no to this being who would be called to becoming a child of God. And when one rejects the child of God, one is also rejecting God. So, in the end, he says no to the Creator of life.

It is important to highlight something at this point. Notice that the “no” is one that emerges only after he first says “yes” to the activation of the procreative schemes. Husbands and wives all the time make decisions to not have conjugal relations at various points in their lives because of time or place or some other rational ground that would make such relations highly inappropriate. But, if the man wants to reach the stage that results in an experience sublative of what should be the “depositing” of the spermatozoa, and then says no, he has in that “no” rejected life. There are of course many other ways that a man can reject life. He could reject it in general, and never desire to see any child conceived with his wife. He could distort his relations with his wife in a multitude of ways. The point here is simply in relation to the man using contraception. He has introduced an absurdity into decisions.

All of this is a bit different in the woman, because the structure of the procreative schemes are a bit different in her, and thus the ramifications for contraception and the place of the woman in natural family planning are a bit different. I will examine this in a future blog.

[1] For more on degrees of freedom, see Insight, page 264ff.
[2] I say “procreative” instead of “reproductive” because I think technically it is a more correct. The parents schemes do not “produce” children, but rather participate in the creation of children. Though I do not want to enter into a full discussion of this at this point, the existence of a human central form (central form is Lonergan’s transposition of substantial form), comes to be neither through efficient causality nor emergent causality. This has to do with the nature of human conscious intentionlity as constituted in its transcendental basis by the transcendental notions. These notions are what cannot be caused by that which is intrinsically conditioned by the empirical residue. The parent’s participation in the “coming to be” of their children is through schemes that are intrinsically conditioned by the empirical residue. The more immediate cause therefore of the “coming-to-be” of the central forms of their children is due to a Transcendent cause. I picked up this term from Dr. William May in his book Marriage: The Rock on which the Family is Built.
[3] Correlational or functional intelligibility is what is sought by classical heuristic structures. See chapter 2 of Insight.
[4] As with the use of procreative instead of reproductive at the organic level, so I choose to use “procreative desire” instead of sexual desire, which in this day and age tends to be divorced from the intelligibility of the procreative intelligibility. Also, I am using the term “sublation” in the manner that Lonergan defined it in Method in Theology. It is interchangeable with higher and lower levels within a “thing” as Lonergan defines this in chapter 8 of Insight.

40 Years after Humanae Vitae: Part 4, The Oocyte

by Dr. David Fleischacker

The oocyte (the unfertilized egg) has an interesting formation. Before a little girl is born, all of the oocytes that she will ever possess have already been formed in her body, already preparing for the potential creation of her own child. These oocytes are formed via the first stages of the process of meiosis, a process which already relates this young unborn girl organically to the male complement of the human race. [In general, for any organisms, mitosis results in the division of a cell into two like daughter cells. In contrast, the ultimate result of meiosis is to create cells with one half of the DNA make-up of the original, so that it can then be united with one half the DNA make-up of another organism, so as to create a new being with its own DNA make-up distinct from the parents. Furthermore, in the case of more complex creatures in which diverse ecological and social roles enhances the life of the species, sexual differentiation nuances the context of meiosis, such that then the two contributers of DNA to the progeny are male and female.]

These oocytes are found in the girl’s ovaries, linked to follicles that help to provide nutrition, immunity, and protection. At birth, this little girl will possess 1-2 milliion of these oocytes. Later, when the girl becomes a woman, and begins to release these oocytes, the release is into an environment that has prepared the way for conception and growth of a new human being. The fertility cycle of the woman’s body goes through two basic stages, the first prepares her body to increase the likelihood of conception. This includes everything from her relationship to man (it literally changes her organic and psychic make up in relationship to men), to how her body will bio-chemically and organically receive, filter, guide, and capacitate spermatozoa. The second phase provides a “womb” for the development of a fertilized egg. It provides a place to bind (through the umbilical chord), and to be protected, warmed, nourished. I will treat some of these later, but at the moment, our focus is on the oocyte itself.

The oocyte contains chromosomes, mitochondria, and other bio-chemical/molecular elements that have a variety of functions, some of which keep the oocyte alive and healthy in its maternal environment, others which have a functional relationship to future development of the zygote that results from the fusion of the oocyte with a spermatozoa.

Functional Relations to the Spermatozoa

In examining the relationship between the oocyte and spermatozoa, there are many elements known, and many more that are unknown. However, given the large reproductive industry in the US (and the world) much is known already about the biochemical and organic, and even psychological elements that effect the likelihood of union between a spermatozoa and an oocyte.

Here are just a few samples of what is known that highlight the functional relationship. On the surface of the oocyte are cilia that will be involved in binding the spermatozoa, and eventual fusion. Surrounding the oocyte like a protective atmosphere is the zona pellucida (ZP). The ZP contains proteins that both bind and transform the spermatozoa (technically called the acrosomal reaction), that releases further enzymes from the spermatozoa which then increases its activity so that it can makes its way through the ZP and get to the surface of the oocyte. These proteins will only bind spermatozoa of the same species. Thus, only human spermatozoa will bind human ZP.

Once the spermatozoa has ungone its transformation, and reached the oocyte, the cilia on the cell wall of the oocyte pull it in and bind it (other proteins are involved in this process), at which point the spermatozoa undergoes further transformation, and begins to fuse with the oocyte. Once fusion takes place, then the contents of the spermatozoa are incorporated into the oocyte itself, thus forming a zygote.

The formation of the zygote then immediately triggers a variety of reactions. Meiosis that had begun before this young mother was born is completed, and followed by mitosis, which creates two daughter cells in which the DNA from the oocyte and the spermatozoa are now united.

The spermatozoa not only contributes the DNA complement for a new human being but also other factors that are necessary for continued development, for example the centrioles that form the centrosome, which is crucial for cell division, differentiation, and development.

It is interesting to note that the “packaging” of the chromosomes in the spermatozoa is complementary to the packaging of the chromosomes in the oocyte. This packaging happened in a certain fashion such that once it was fused with an oocyte, only certain genes will be transcribed and thus provide needed proteins that complement the proteins made by the oocyte. It is the complement together that allows for the zygote to begin its ongoing division and development.

So notice, the oocyte is “designed” or formed as a functional complement to the spermatozoa. The ZP is designed to bind and transform a specific species of spermatozoa. The cell wall of the oocyte was designed to unite with spermatozoa, and then fuse with it. The DNA form a complement that is crucial for the future development of the human being.

Developmental Relations of the Oocyte: Its finality

The genetic make-up and life of the oocyte possess a form which is really aimed at the creation and then further development of a new human being. To a biologist, this may be obvious, but in a culture which makes use of the reproductive system (and its vertical integration into the psyche — which I have not addressed yet) for shared pleasure alone, this is easy to forget. The oocyte was not designed to protect the woman, or to help digestion, or to provide skeletal components, or endrine functions, or neural functions, or contribute to any other systems in the body, or to provide pleasure for the sake of pleasure. It is for the reproduction of a new human being. This “reproduction” results from the union of an oocyte and a spermatozoa, a union which results in a developing entity, a development which unfolds into all the systems of the human body: the circulatory, skeletal, neurological, immune, etc.. In turn, the neurological systems become the matrix for the vertical emergence of motor-sensory conscious intentionality. And moter-sensory conscious intentionality in turn becomes the lower matrix upon which emerges intellectual, rational, and moral consciousness (these are not caused by the emergence of the motor-sensory consciousness however, as I argued in an earlier blog dealing with when the human being begins to exist). To put this in a slightly older language, vegative life unfolds to give rise to sensate life, and sensate life then provides a dispositive cause for rational life. In a later blog, I intend on bringing this finality out more fully, after treating the moment of conception.

In short, the oocyte is functionally related to the spermatozoa, and in union with it, it has a horizontal relationship to all of the systems of vegetative life, and a vertical relationship to sensate and rational life.

St. Thomas on why there are only three Persons when there are four mutually opposed relations in the Holy Trinity

by Dr. David Fleischacker

In the first part of the Summa Theologicae, question 30, article 2, St. Thomas is presenting the intelligible grounds for the existence of three and only three Persons of the Holy Trinity. It is a rather fruitful passage to come to understand, and it reveals some of the real power of the analogy that St. Thomas was using to understand the Holy Trinity. If Tertullian and St. Augustine are famous for asking “three what?” And answered “three persons,” St. Thomas now asks the further question, “Why three persons?”

Could an analogy actually help to explain this point? The better the explanatory capacity of an analogy, the more it is going to help us understand. This analogy was based upon the interior procession of the act of understanding to the act of the word, and then from word to will/love. 

St. Thomas shows that if we suppose this set of processions to be in God, then there are three persons. And, one can even go on and say what these three would be like.  The two processions result in four relations, since each procession results in two mutually opposed relations.

Though the general question regards why only three persons exist when there are four relations, within this context, another question emerges.  Why are the two relations of the second procession [the procession of love] distinct from the two relations based on the first procession [the procession of intellect]? Earlier in the Summa, St. Thomas had proposed that in each procession, there are two mutually opposed relations. However, each of the first two relations [filiation and paternity] are not mutually opposed to either of the second two relations [spiration and “procession”]. Hence, how are filiation/paternity distinct from spiration/procession if not seemingly based on mutually opposed relations? The answer requires that one link the two processions, and that the mutually opposed relation of one set be identified with one or both of the relations in the other set.  Thus, spiration is either paternity, filiation, or both; or “procession” (passive spiration) is paternity, filiation, or both.

Here is the main body of that second article that I found particularly interesting:

I answer that, as was explained above, there can be only three persons in God. For it was shown above that the several persons are the several subsisting relations really distinct from each other. But a real distinction between the divine relations can come only from relative opposition. Therefore two opposite relations must needs refer to two persons: and if any relations are not opposite they must needs belong to the same person. Since then paternity and filiation are opposite relations, they belong necessarily to two persons. Therefore the subsisting paternity is the person of the Father; and the subsisting filiation is the person of the Son. The other two relations are not opposed to either of these, but are opposed to each other; therefore these two cannot belong to one person: hence either one of them must belong to both of the aforesaid persons; or one must belong to one person, and the other to the other. Now, procession cannot belong to the Father and the Son, or to either of them; for thus it would follows that the procession of the intellect, which in God is generation, wherefrom paternity and filiation are derived, would issue from the procession of love, whence spiration and procession are derived, if the person generating and the person generated proceeded from the person spirating; and this is against what was laid down above (27, 3 and 4). We must frequently admit that spiration belongs to the person of the Father, and to the person of the Son, forasmuch as it has no relative opposition either to paternity or to filiation; and consequently that procession belongs to the other person who is called the person of the Holy Ghost, who proceeds by way of love, as above explained. Therefore only three persons exist in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

A hermeneutical note

I would like to focus on the boldface part of the quote above with the following question. Why would linking the the relation of “procession” with Father and Son result in the procession of intellect issuing from the procession of love? One thing I want to highlight is that the inversion takes place when one considers both the Father and the Son to be a result of the relation of “procession”, not just the Father or just the Son. The small clause “or to either of them” results in a similar problem but through a slightly different logical route which I will discuss below.  However, if you notice the next sentence is refering to both the generator and the generated, hence the Father and the Son together.

The Problem

Now to return to the problem. The relation of “procession” regards the relationship of love to that from which it proceeds, the spirator.  St. Thomas is proposing a problem. If one is going to say that the relation of “procession” [as a note, I will put the relation of procession in quotes] belongs to the Father and the Son, then one must say that the procession upon which the Father and Son were based comes from the procession of love. Earlier, he had argued that in us, the procession of love comes from the procession of intellect. So, why would the relationship of the two processions become inverted?

The meaning of procession, relation, and mutually opposed relations

In general, the meaning of procession is to come forth from an origin.  So, the second term comes forth from the first.  Now, in the procession of intellect, what comes forth from the first is an image of the first.  Hence, a word.  Since an image of another that comes forth from that other is the meaning of generation or begetting, this procession is one of begetting or generation.  And, since paternity means “that which generates or begets a generated or begotten, then the relations of the first to the second is that of paternity. Likewise, since filiation means that which comes from another as an image of the other, then the relation of the second term to the first is filiation.

Notice, thus, that paternity and filiation are mutually opposed relations.  They are NOT relations that are equal.  Two friends, for example, are equal in their generic meaning, insofar as they are “friends.” Friend one has a relationship of friendship to friend two.  And, friend two has a relationship of friendship to friend one.  The meaning of friendship in both relations is equal.  Hence, these are not mutually opposed in meaning. In contrast, paternity is defined in an unequal and opposite relationship to filiation.  Hence, they cannot be switched and mean the same thing.

Why the inversion.

Understanding this mutual opposition of the relationships, and how both are based on the same procession, is key to understanding the logic of the problem St. Thomas has presented.

Like paternity and filiation, spiration [active] and “procession” [passive spiration] are each mutually opposed relations based on two different but related processions.  If “procession” (passive spiration) were the same as the Son and the Father, then they come from the spirator. However, if they come from the spirator, then they are based on the procession of love.  However what they “mean” as Father and Son is based upon the procession of intellect, because only this procession gives mean to paternity and filiation, thus one must also conclude that just as they, so the procession upon which they are defined issues from the procession of love.

What about equating passive spiration (procession) with Son? Or with Father?

One could push the exploration of this question however in directions further than that stated by St. Thomas. Instead of identifying passive spiration with both the Father and Son, what happens when it is identified with just one or the other? Well, other, similar problems emerge. One does not immediately conclude to the inversion of the relations of the processions, but one does run into some conflicting problems. For example, if the Son comes both from begetting and spirating, then the Son would then be both a word and something that is not a word (namely love).  Likewise, if the Father was both begetter and spirated, then the relation of the Father and Son would be rather bizarre.  Since the Son would not be in mutual opposition to his spirated Father, he would be one who spirates the Father.  So, the one who the Father begets, is also the one who spirates.  Thus, the Father, through the Son, also spirates, who? Himself.  So, the Father is both spirated and spirator, which conflicts.

One can keep exploring the logic of this confusion, and in every case, conclude that neither one nor both the Father and the Son can be passively spirated (and thus be the relation that St. Thomas calls
procession).
So who is based on spiration and who on procession? 

Hence the Father and the Son are the Spirator, and hence are based on spiration.  The Holy Spirit is spirated and based on “procession.”

What if only the Father or only the Son is based on spiration? 

One could further wonder why are both the Father and the Son linked to spiration, and not just one or the other. In short, conflicting intelligibilities and doctrinal positions emerge when identifying spiration with either the Father alone or the Son alone. Because then one would say that procession is opposed to the one but not the other. Intelligibly, if spiration is equated with the Father, then the Son is opposed to spiration, and not to procession. Thus, the Son is both a word and something which cannot be a word, namely love.  Likewise, if spiration is equated with the Son, then the Father would be in an opposed relation to spiration, thus he would be identical with the relation of procession.  In turn, the Father would be both spirated and begetter.  Thus, as the begetter of the Son, who then spirates the spirated, he also spirates himself by begetting his Son (a problem in reverse from what we ran into earlier).  This means that he is not opposed to spirator, but if the Son is the spirator, and the Father is not, then the Father cannot be spirator. Doctrinally, it means that either the Son or the Father are not distinct from the Holy Spirit, which is opposed to the dogmatic position. 

Thus, what is left is that both must be the spirator.  An analogical explanation which provides the intelligible grounds for the fililoque in the Church creed.

40 years after Humanae Vitae: Part 3, a note on counterpositions

by David Fleischacker

This last week, I gave a little talk on the role of the Church in the conversion of St. Augustine, and in preparation for this, I read through the first number of books of his Confessions. It reminded me of an important point that Lonergan makes regarding the notion of development and finality, and also of the difficulty of breaking from the deformations of the human soul that hinder the emergence of an understanding of the fullness of the intelligibility of conception.

Books seven and eight in the Confessions are particularly revealing. Augustine spoke many times of his inability to understand even himself, let alone God and evil prior to his conversions described in these books. What is amazing in all of this, is that theoretically, we can understand ourselves, evil, and the basic meaning of God through the natural light of our own reason. However, because of our distortions in life, we become blind to them. Augustine’s own “swirling mists of lust” (Rex Warner translation), kept him tied to the “out of doors” and would not allow him to grasp anything beyond immediate sensory and imaginative types of knowledge. He “pictures” God, Jesus, and his own soul as being made of this type of material spread throughout the universe. He created, as he says, merely figments of his imagination about his soul and God. And in the end, this means he understood virtually nothing about these non-imaginable realities.

The way many of us live in relationship to our bodies and to our procreative abilities indicates a similar type of distortion in our own minds, which ends up slanting our heuristic anticipations, which in turn distorts and severely limits the answers we discover when thinking about men, women, conception, children, family, and many other important facets of our humanity.

So, it is with a bit of fear and trembling that I continue to enter into this exploration of the intelligibility of conception.

We are in need of the same conversions through which Augustine passed. In book seven, chapter ten of his Confessions, he describes one of the first major stages of his conversion. It was a conversion of his mind, opening it from its material entrapment into the brighter and much larger world of the incorporeal. It was dispositively prepared for by the prayers and graces that came from his mother and Ambrose, his initiation into the catechumenate of the Catholic Church, and his reading of the Platonists. Through both grace and reason, God then prepared him for a moment of divine love that would flood his heart and open his mind. It allows him to grasp the very meaning of God for the first time, and along with it himself, the meaning of evil, and the deformations of his own soul caused by his own sin. However, this first conversion does not turn around his will, a second and more important type of conversion which he then describes in book eight.

Thus, I think for many of us, like Augustine, we need to pray for “the medicine of the Church” to heal our faith and to open our minds to the intelligible and true.

These conversions have direct bearing upon the topic at hand, perhaps more than many other intellectual and moral challenges in our modern world. Lonergan notes in his sections on metaphysics, that one of the reasons he put the notion of development (and its normativity rooted in operators) so far along in INSIGHT is because this notion is especially impacted by the counter-positions in philosophy. Since finality is a crucial element in the notion of development, exploring it within any facet of this universe requires a thorough-going intellectual conversion to the intelligible and the true, and how we become attuned to these through understanding and judgment.

And arguably one of the greatest and most powerful sources of the dialectic that causes intellectual and moral inauthenticity is that linked to the procreative dimension of human life. Thus, these conversions are in particular need for the current topic.

Understanding the fullness of the meaning of conception requires among correlative and statistical insights, insights into finality, both in relationship to the man and woman through whom generation occurs, and in relationship to the child that comes to be conceived and then has the potential to grow into adulthood, and even eternal life. If one’s heuristics are distorted by concupiscence, then there is little hope for breaking through into these intelligibilities.

Thus, with a note of caution, we proceed.

40 Years since Humanae Vitae, Part 2: Finality and Spermatozoan

By Dr. David Fleischacker

Sometimes, when one begins a journey, one never knows how it will entirely end. In part, this is true for what will be following in the subsequent blogs on Humanae Vitae. However, I have also been thinking about this for many, many years, and so a bit of it is simply presenting parts of a large forest that I have traveled through, and to which I have returned on occasion. Conception has continued to unfold in increasing degrees and realms of intelligibility. I must admit that it is a bit daunting to know how to introduce this forest to others until one has walked around the forest for some time, and come to know all of its fauna and beauty, and then thought for an even longer time at how to begin the introduction. So, this is my first attempt at introducing the intelligibility of conception as it has begun to illuminate my mind over the years.

I have decided to start with biology and biochemistry, not the whole of it, but some pointers. I will not go through all of the details of the experimental studies and the actual formula and equations, some of which I have read, many of which I have not. But I will give sufficient pointers to the intelligibility that is gained and how it relates to the question at hand on the meaning of conception. This will include the biology of the spermatozoa, the oocyte, the egg, the male body, female body, both in terms of the conjugate forms as well as the statistical realization of these forms. It will also require turning to the higher and lower levels of the forms (chemistry to biology for example), and moving up to the very highest levels of human conscious existence.

So, to take a cue from INSIGHT, when Lonergan was quoting positively from Descartes (which of course was not true for all that Descartes had to say), we need to start with small problems and work to larger ones. In intelligibity, what comes first is the general heuristics: The questions. And the questions then begin to modify along the way as intelligibility then begins to rise up, bit by bit, until the entire forest comes into view. Hence the forest does not come into view without careful attention to the parts. One cannot miss it by paying attention seemingly too much to the parts. One only misses it if in the end understanding does not emerge.

And, thus, let us begin with a simple starting point: the spermatozoa and the oocyte. In this blog, I will focus upon the first.

The Biological and Biochemical Structure of Spermatozoa: a functional relationship to the oocyte and the Woman’s body

Many of us have seen pictures of male sperm. But to understand the male “seed,” one needs to examine its biochemical structure. In the frontal end of the spermatozoa is a pocket of enzymes. Contained within the head of the spermatozoa is genetic material. And toward the tail end of the head is a group of mitochondria that surround the actual tail which protrudes. Mitochondria provide ATP, a high energy molecule that fuels the cells and their activities. In addition, the spermatozoa has molecules on its surface that react in various ways to its environment.

There is much more as well, but these few pieces of information give us an interesting starting point to raise some questions. What is the function of the enzymes? What is the function of the genetic material? What is the function of the mitochondria and their distribution? What is the function of the surface molecules?

One cannot answer these questions by looking at the spermatozoa alone. Observing its behavior under the microscope only gives a small part of what is needed to understand it as a whole. On a slide, it would move about for a time, depending upon the environment, and then die. Nothing would be learned about the enzymes in the frontal end or about the genetic material inside. More elaborate experiments would reveal the particular nucleotide sequences of the genetic material, the particular chemical structure of the surface proteins that react to the environment, and all the chemical and biophysical details about the mitochondria and how they drive the propulsion of the tail. Yet, dropping it onto a petri dish, studying it under a microscope, breaking it down into all of its biochemical cycles simple does not explain what it is, even if these biochemical studies prepare the way. In all of these cases, a fundamental intelligibility is still missing.

It is only when we examine it in relation to the woman’s body and the unfertilized egg that we begin to understand its form. The relationship to the woman’s body and to an unfertilized egg begins to expand the needed phantasm for insight. The frontal end enzymes dissolve a protective coat surrounding the unfertilized egg. And many, many sperm are need in order for this softening to take place. Some of the surface proteins set in motion a set of chemical and biophysical changes which allow the sperm to move up the fallopian tube drawn toward the egg. The genetic becomes an intrinsic constituent of the egg, if it is fortunate to enter. Even the mitochondria and the tail are related to this entire process, because biochemical schemes of which they are part relate ultimately, through those surface proteins mentioned earlier, to the egg itself. They literally help to propel the spermatozoa in the right direction, guided by the radar detecting surface proteins.

In other words, without a relationship to the woman’s body and oocyte, those enzymes really have no purpose or meaning. The genetic material is meaningless. The surface proteins would likewise be senseless, and really would not help the creature to do much except within the protective environment of the woman. In other words, the entire cellular form of this cell is designed to become united with an egg, and not just anywhere, but in and through a woman’s body (or in other words, to the schemes of recurrence of the woman’s body — I will examine this futher in a later blog, once I examine the statistical element in these relationships). Thus, in answering these questions, one discovers that each of these parts possess an intelligibility that only makes sense in relation to both the environment in which they operate and the destiny to which they are aimed.

The Genetic Material of the Spermatozoa: A relationship of finality to the zygote and its unfolding stages of development

The genetic material reveals a finality. It contains within it a complement of chromosomes, haploid in number relative to the full set found in standard human cells. In these chromosomes are found millions of nucleotide sequences, some of which have intelligible relations to protein formation (Proteins are complex molecules that help to carry out many functions in an organism (eg. to help catalyze chemical reactions), and hence are called genes. Now, some of these genes are found in many different species of animals, such as those involved in encoding proteins for DNA synthesis–which takes place when a cell divides into two, and both cells need to have the same “genetics”). Others tend to be unique to one creature, the human being, and some even unique to either the male or female form of our species. Most of these genes are inactive, some will remain so permanently, others will be activated when they become integrated into the egg, others only if they happen to be within cells that have differentiated along a certain line of development, and become part of a particular cellular system (skeletal, muscular, circulatory, immune, etc.). The point in all this, is that the genetic material only has a formal intelligibility that becomes developmentally actuated within a human being. Thus, this genetic material only makes sense or means something in its relation to a human being. This is quite interesting, because it means that even within the spermatozoa, the genetic material contains real existing pointers to human life, and only this “pointing” makes sense of this material and why the male body forms this spermatozoa as it is.

In other words, in its operating, the spermatozoa has a functional relationship for integration into an oocyte (more technically, it is one of the reproductive conjugate forms), and ultimately into a horizontal finality that unfolds a zygote into a differentiated multicellular system. It also has vertical relationships, however those will be dealt with in the appropriate blogs.

A Concluding Note

It is important to highlight that the pointers to the biochemistry and genetics of the spermatozoa belong to larger patterns in the reproductive schemes of human beings, and hence, one cannot really understand the spermatozoa and its “meaning” until all of these–and even higher yet–level schemes have been sufficiently understood, especially those that are the highest, which really then identify the kind of “thing” to which these schemes belong.

40 Years since Humanae Vitae: Lonergan, conception, and contraception. Part 1.

by Dr. David Fleischacker

Since it is the 40th anniversary of the publication of Humanae Vitae this year, I thought it might be worthwhile to explore one of the key issues linked to this encyclical, that of contraception. However, before such an issue is addressed, I thought it might be worthwhile to investigate the intelligibility of conception in order to provide a more adequate context for addressing contraception.

Part of what raises my own interest is a private letter written by Bernard Lonergan in September, 1968. It is a letter that has been in circulation in a variety of contexts, and subsequently, it needs to be carefully examined.

In this private letter to a priest, Lonergan is addressing the shifts in Catholic moral theology that he understands as taking place regarding the marital act. One of the shifts is a rejection of the Aristotelian understanding of the relationship between the marital act and conception. He is also highlighting the differentiated unity brought out in Vatican II and in Humanae Vitae between the procreative and the unitive (or mutual love) ends of the conjugal act.

Seemingly, the thrust of the private letter raises into serious question the position that the Church has taken against contraception. At least that is how I have seen some others make use of it. However, in the letter itself, there are no statements as far as I can tell that directly reject the Church teaching regarding contraception. There are statements in the letter that reject any positions based soley on the Aristotelain understanding of the relationship between the conjugal act and conception. However, it does not immediatelly follow that the position of the Church is wrong. Did Lonergan personally make this conclusion?

Whatever the case of Lonergan’s position in 1968, it would be worthwhile to remember a few points.

1. In 1968, there existed a great deal of confusion at that time regarding the issue. The new emphasis on the unitative end of the conjugal act and its relationship to the procreative end was not explanatorily clear to many people.

2. A private letter to a commrade that barely develops the issue historically, philosophically, and theologically should have virtually no weight of authority. Using this letter to justify any position without any real explanatory and scholarly support would border on a type of authoritarianism based on Lonergan’s name alone, something that I think would be a bit unsettling to him and should be to any of us.

So, what would I like to do? I would like to draw out further questions using the full weight of Lonergan’s philosophy, and some of the insights that would shed light upon the meaning of both conception and contraception. Already, I see many questions not raised in the letter which a more thorough treatment of the subject would demand. Here are just a few:

1. What precisely are the contributions of horizontal and vertical finality in understanding conception and contraception?

2. What does conception and what does contraception do to the relationship between the man and the woman psychologically, sociologically, spiritually, etc., etc., etc.?

3. The few references to the statistical relationship between the conjugal act and conception given in the letter need to be spelled out in far more detail. What could modern biology contribute to understanding this relationship?

4. In terms of the statistical relationship of conception, and its finality, what precisely at the level of decision is the liberty of the man and likewise, what is the liberty of the woman? As an observation, how natural family planning changes the statistical relationship is rather different than how a contraceptive changes that relationship, because the decisions involved are rather different. Hence, this has an existential ramification that needs to be explore.

So, in light of finding further questions, and exploring those questions, at least philosophically, I would like to proceed on a new set of blog questions starting with the intelligibility of conception and in this context, the meaning of contraception.