Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What metaphysics does the Catholic Catechism present?

In a December 19, 2013 post, I reviewed the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In a series of new posts,  I intend to look at particular aspects of the Catechism that relate to the war between reason and mysticism in the USA in our time. The series begins with a look at the Catholic worldview. The first post, below, collects my notes on the nature of the metaphysics that the Catechism presents.

The most fundamental branch of a worldview is its metaphysics, that is, its view of the nature of the world around us. The Catholic metaphysics is generally clear. God is "the first principle and last end of all things ...." (Catechism, paragraph 36) God is the cause of all things that exist, and he is the end toward which all things are moving. What is God's nature? He is omnipotent: "Nothing is impossible with God, who disposes his works according to his will." Consequently, God "is the master of history ...." (par. 269)

The world that God created is orderly, not chaotic. Quoting the Old Testament Bible's Book of Wisdom, the Catechism says: "Because God creates through wisdom, his creation is ordered: 'You have arranged all things by measure and number and weight'." This passage appears in a section having the title, "God creates an ordered and good world." (par. 299) God's plan for his created things has "unity," that is, it is an integrated whole. (par. 117)

Adding to the orderliness is a metaphysical hierarchy, that is, an arrangement of created things from the least perfect, such as worms, up to the more perfect, such as man. (par. 342) Presumably near the top of the hierarchy are angels. God created them as spiritual, non-corporeal beings. (par. 328) Above the hierarchy is God, who is perfect. (See Arthur O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being for a history of the idea of a metaphysical hierarchy.)

The world that God created is lawful: 

In creation God laid a foundation and established laws that remain firm, on which the believer can rely with confidence, for they are the sign and pledge of the unshakeable faithfulness of God's covenant. For his part man must remain faithful to this foundation and respect the laws which the Creator has written into it. (par. 346)

The universe was created 'in a state of journeying' (in statu viae) toward an ultimate perfection yet to be attained, to which God has destined it. We call 'divine providence' the dispositions by which God guides his creation toward this perfection.... (par. 302)

God causes everything that is and acts. Often God acts through secondary causes, that is, through the actions of his creatures acting on other creatures. (pars. 306 and 308) There is, however, no chaos. Everything that exists and everything that happens does so according to "the unity of God's plan." (par. 117) This is a kind of metaphysical integration. Everything is connected to its common cause.

(Curiously, the detailed, 65-page Subject Index for the Catechism contains no entry for "miracle," that is, events which God creates outside the operation of naturally occurring actions. The Catechism does, however, speak of the miracles of Christ, such as Christ dying and then rising from death—for example, at pars. 639-655. The Catechism calls this a "mystery." It is one of many mysteries in Catholicism, as will be explained in a later post here.)

In summary, the reader of the Catechism can infer that God is all powerful; he has created everything that exists; and he controls the actions of everything, but generally in a regular pattern. That state of being raises questions: Is God himself knowable? Is the universe he created knowable? If so, how?

Next: The Catholic epistemology. as presented in the Catechism.

Burgess Laughlin
Author of The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith, described at

No comments:

Post a Comment

I welcome all pertinent comments and questions from readers who follow my strict rules of etiquette. I will not publish improper comments. If your screen name is not your first and last real name, be sure to include your name -- first and last -- in the body of your comment. Example acceptable forms of a name are: Burgess Laughlin; B. Laughlin; and Burgess L. or something similar that would be recognizable. The burden is on you to identify yourself.