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XXIV – The Rational Nature of Persons

When speaking of God, it does not interest me, nor is it my intention, to try to make everything a proof. When describing a loved one, we don’t gear every statement so we can conclude, “and so that proves they are loveable”. Neither is it my interest or intention merely to describe God, or my idea of God. My purpose in this, rather, is to edify. Our ideas of God should edify us. I would argue that the very idea of God can edify even the atheist, if she can uncloud her mind from pointless assumptions.

St. Thomas Aquinas, in Summa Contra Gentiles IV Chapter 54 verse 2, says this: “But the fact that God was willing to unite human nature to Himself personally points out to men with greatest clarity that man can be united to God by intellect, and see Him immediately”. That simple statement should speak volumes to anyone able (and willing) to open their minds to it. If God can become a man, that tells us that man is capable of knowing God. That is a huge leap, of faith, yes, but also of intellect. If we define God as higher than the highest, more intelligent than man can imagine, then having God become man puts us, at least potentially, in touch with that most transcendent of realities. This is real science, not the mere observance of phenomena, important though that is.

The quote above is cited in St. Thomas Aquinas, Volume 2, Spiritual Master, Jean-Pierre Torrell, O.P., [The Catholic University of America Press, Washington D.C. 2003], p.310, n. 4.]

The classic definition of the person, derived from Boethius, already carries with it a decisive illumination because, different from every other individual of a bodily nature, the human person possesses something special as “an individual substance of a rational nature.” The sober rigor of this definition runs the risk of obscuring its attraction, at least for those who are not very familiar with philosophical concepts, but Thomas speaks plainly: “Person signifies what is most perfect in all of nature, subsistence in a rational nature.” In fact, revelation confirms this dignity, since one of the reasons for the Incarnation was precisely to reveal this greatness to us: “God became man in order to instruct us about the dignity of human nature.” Among many other themes, this is one of Thomas’s most cherished, and he emphasizes it whenever the occasion presents itself. But even prior to its Christological use, remarkably, the development of the concept of person is first carried out as needed for the dogma of the Trinity. Thus it takes on an unexpected analogical breadth since it can be transposed to the divine “Persons” themselves… [italics are from the original]

This idea that human dignity comes from sharing our rational nature with God is the most uplifting there can be. How it became seen as something limiting or foolish is the result of that misnamed era of history known as the Enlightenment.

So, stop and think about this for a moment. In Genesis 1, God said, “Let us make man to our image and likeness…” In John 1, “The Word was God” and “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…” Boethius and St. Thomas Aquinas say we human persons share this rational nature with the Persons of God.

Let’s do some synthesizing here. I’m going to go back and forth between text and video. The links below will go to specific times in the videos.

Those who think “science” disproves faith in a Creator are easily hoist on their own petard. Watch Neil deGrasse Tyson’s reaction to his fellow scientist, Dr. Jim Gates, a theoretical physicist who specializes in superstring theory. Note I am including the part where Dr. Gates says, “It is always the case that our experimental colleagues prevent us from forming a religion,” because theory must be grounded in reality.

Watch video (Ad may pop up but this will take you to 1:00:19)*

*I wasn't able to add the video here and have it go to a specific time.

Dr. Gates, to Dr. Tyson’s great astonishment, suggests in a very real manner that he has come to a “strange place” where he has to question if we live in “The Matrix” because he has found computer code in the fabric of the universe. When he refers to “computer code invented by Dr. Claude Shannon in the 1940’s” he is referring to the machine language developed by Dr. Shannon to apply the logic of Boolean algebra (true/false logic using 1’s and 0’s) to switching circuits.

That sounds like we’re not discussing anything very profound except the nature of information. After a few minutes the conversation veers away, but at 1:34:15 someone asks a follow-up question to Dr. Gates:

Watch video

In another video, at 40:46, Dr. Gates explains in greater detail what he briefly explained to the questioner in the video above.

Watch video

And now, watch as Dr. Gates discusses science and faith.

In this talk, Dr. Gates lays out the difference between faith and science, why science must be protected from faith, but also why faith needs to be protected from science, and he ends by relating how he stopped a fellow scientist from claiming (a la Stephen Hawking) that science could disprove faith. This is a man of science saying what I have been wanting to say about the whole debate.

Incidentally, if you are fascinated by the subject of supersymmetry that Dr. Gates discusses, here is a talk that takes the explanations even further. I’m no expert but something about this rings true and may be what’s at the center of creation. And if you’re a believer in God, this just makes God seem that much more awesome:

The connection here, if the above videos have distracted from my train of thought, is that we have the ability to understand even the fundamental building blocks of the universe because we are rational creatures. If we did not have a bedrock belief that we have this nature that can even understand God, we would not have the confidence to trust our ability to understand creation, and without that we wouldn't have science, we would have the idols and superstitions that Christianity overcame.