Monday, 17 July 2017

About Me... and things more important

My Alma Mater: Thomas Aquinas College, in Santa Paula, California
I am a recent graduate of Thomas Aquinas College, where I studied philosophy, theology, and the liberal arts and sciences for four years, and received a Bachelor of Art's Degree in Liberal Arts. I wrote my Bachelor's thesis on the subject of liturgical symbolism, from the point of view of Neoplatonic and Thomistic philosophy. I am currently in the midst of preparations for moving across the Atlantic to Europe in the fall, where I will be studying for a Master's degree in philosophy at the Katholiecke Universiteit Leuven, in Belgium - provided that everything goes according to plan. I hope eventually to pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy (or theology?), settle down to teach at a university, do an amount of research and publication, raise a Catholic family, and have a small farm.

Where I'm headed.
My major, at Leuven, will be specifically in Ancient, Medieval, and Renaissance philosophy, and I hope to specialize topically in Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Religion. I hope to focus my historical research on the influence of Plato, Aristotle, and late antique Neoplatonism on the philosophical and theological doctrines of St. Thomas, and on medieval scholastic metaphysics generally. Topically, I am interested in mastering the metaphysics of Plato and the Neoplatonists, and in formulating a doctrine of religious symbolism on the basis of that metaphysics, especially as it relates to the Neoplatonic doctrine of theurgy - a subject which bears immense importance in the understanding of Christian liturgical worship. I am also interested in seeking out the ways in which Plato and Aristotle harmonize with each other, rather than the all-too-common focus on how they differ. 

Aside from these subjects, which I hope to pursue specifically during my time in graduate school, I have a growing scope of other interests as well, in both philosophy and theology, and liberal education in general. One goal that in many ways summarizes the entirety of my intellectual aspirations is the desire to grasp the whole of life and being: the great interconnection of all the parts of human life, the life of the whole cosmos, the many academic disciplines, the practical and fine arts, the moral virtues, and religion; the organic harmony and hierarchy of everything in its final ordering towards God. Everything is connected; all the multiplicity of existing things can be unified under the single aspect of their procession and return to the divine First Principle.

Consequently, I have other interests that are not directly academic, but which I think are very relevant to the intellectual life, and which I hope to ennoble by my intellectual concerns. I am, and have been for many years, an active classical musician. I play the piano, the organ, and several other instruments, and I have a passion for the musical traditions of the Church's sacred liturgy, especially the Gregorian Plainchant of the Roman Rite. Music is one of those avenues of contemplation which has a more evident bearing on the human experience as a whole. Music is a universal expression of human feeling and desire, a complex symbol of the harmonies and disharmonies of the human soul, and a reflection of the motion of the cosmos. I find both listening to and creating good and beautiful music to be a soul-forming, or at least soul-resting, experience. When I sit at the piano and sight-read the fugues of Bach for an hour or two, or pour out my soul in Romantic improvisations, or simply listen to a Rachmaninov concerto, it is almost like a kind of alchemy of sound; and along with the development of sound there is a corresponding movement of the soul into metaphysical realms beyond the expression of words.

Along similar lines, I have a few aspirations of recent origin that have not yet become incorporated into the practice of my life - aspirations that are not yet hobbies. Part of the dream for my life is to embed my intellect in context, so that not only is it nourished by healthy activity - whether of moral or artistic nature - but all activity itself is ennobled and ordered by right vision. What I pursue interiorly by my mind I hope to express exteriorly in a healthy diversity of activity, just as the it is only through the Logos that all things were made. In the realm of fine arts, besides music, I am something of an aspiring poet, though the muse is with me only rarely. I hope to write a novel someday too. In the practical or useful arts, I am a strong believer in the possibility of contemplation even in those arts, which can be made "finer" by a real concern for beauty even in utility. Of such activities, the agricultural arts bear a special importance, though I have not yet made it an immediate goal to practice them now (for reasons of circumstance). As a man, I hope to realize, in some degree, the human vocation of steward or priest of the earth: to tend to God's creatures and bring to fruition their inner spark of divinity, by which they glorify God through my knowledge of Him in them. Related to the agricultural arts are the culinary arts, in which I am in no degree proficient, but in which I have only recently begun to perceive the depth of meaning. So much of culture and even religion pertains to the mystery of food, its origin in the earth, and its preparation, that it seems almost worthwhile in itself to practice. In short, I have begun to realize the importance of the practical arts - and in this way they are not unlike even the fine arts - as a way of bringing into full actuality the inherent meaning of nature, its ordination to the good and true. The most practical activity is good insofar as it has this contemplative end; contemplation frees even the smallest things from superficiality.

Above, I gave a summary of all my interests that was something abstract - to see the unification and interconnection of all things under their common First Principle, from which they proceed and to which they return. Almost the concrete form of this summary of interests is the sacred liturgy of the Catholic religion itself. The liturgy is preeminently contemplative, and preeminently practical, and maintains the order between these two spheres in wonderful harmony by the sacred practice of ritual. All knowledge and all art seem to culminate in the liturgy itself, which is the pinnacle of contemplation and the summit of activity. The paradigm and archetype of how the Logos influences all spheres of life is the sacred liturgy, in which the Logos Who became flesh becomes something like flesh once again, in the sacred symbols of Christian theurgy, especially the sacraments and the Eucharist. Indeed, I can very honestly say that so many of my interests, academic and otherwise, would not have been, were it not for the treasures that I have still only begun to discover in the liturgy. It was, in a large way, the liturgy which brought all things under one ratio in my mind, namely God and His communication of Himself unto His creatures. Consequently, the liturgy will almost inevitably be central to all the work in philosophy, theology, and simply life itself, which I hope to achieve and make some sort of record of here on this blog.

This blog will likely be a record that is sometimes academic and rather impersonal, and sometimes testimonial and quite personal. I firmly believe that the intellectual life, as abstract and speculative as it is, is really quite inseparable from human experience and the concrete. Real learning cannot be divorced from real and substantial personal growth. "Alas, how terrible is wisdom, when it brings no profit to the man that's wise!" (Oedipus Rex) I hope to make my growth in wisdom overflow into all my faculties, abilities, and encounters with the world, so that it may bear lasting profit for me. Philosophy, for me, will (I hope) be something more than a mere academic specialization - it will certainly be that - but also and more importantly a whole way of life that encompasses everything in me that makes me human. Therefore, a journal of my progress in learning will necessarily also pertain to my progress in deeper personal experience. 

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