This essay proposes (1) that the perennial philosophy posits a distinction between intelligibility and matter, but also an integration, (2) that consistent with this integration, revelation exults in matter in the Incarnation, but (3) that materialism either posits a disconnect between intelligibility and matter, placing matter in abject slavery to intelligibility, or, what is worse, relegates matter to a merely logical existence.
The Philosophical Distinction and Integration
The problem solved by Aristotle was the integration of (a) the universality of that which is intelligible and (b) the particularity of that which is material. The universal and the particular appeared to be an irreconcilable dichotomy.
Aristotle solved this disconnect not by simply claiming that material things were composites of two principles, one intelligible/universal, the other, material/particular. Rather, the principle of particularity, i.e. matter, enabled the very existence of the intelligible principle in an existing entity. The role of matter is existential.
His mentor, Plato, thought that the universals must have their own existence in a world of universals. Aristotle recognized that the universals do not possess existence as universals, but exist only in particular material entities. These particular entities are known in their particularity by the senses. The human mind has the power to abstract the universal principle from sense knowledge, thereby knowing the universal in logical form.
Implicitly, the universal principle cannot exist in itself. It is the principle of particularity, matter, which enables the existence of the universal principle, not just in one entity, but in all entities of the same universal, all entities of the same kind, such as dog. Matter enables a multitude of particular entities of the same kind differing in a variety of characteristics compatible with the universality of the intelligible principle.
There is not just one human being. There are a multitude of human beings, totally equal in the intelligibility of kind, but differing in incidental particularities due to matter. It is matter, which enables the existence and the distinctness of each human being.
Revelation and Revelry
Proverbs 8:31 identifies wisdom as finding delight in the children of men. The Church understands this passage as referring to the Son of God the Father, under the name of Wisdom, expressing God’s joy in material creation even to the extent of assuming a human nature to his Divinity in the Second Person. The incarnation is the expression of God’s exultant joy in material creation.
“The Lord begot me, the first-born of his ways, the forerunner of his prodigies of long ago;
From of old I was poured forth, at the first, before the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no fountains or springs of water;
Before the mountains were settled into place, before the hills I was brought forth;
While as yet the earth and the fields were not made, nor the first clods of the world.
When he established the heavens I was there, when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep;
When he made firm the skies above, when he fixed fast the foundations of the earth;
When he set for the sea its limit, so that the waters should not transgress his command;
Then I was beside him as his craftsman, and I was his delight day by day,
Playing before him all the while, playing on the surface of the earth; and I found delight in the sons of men.” (Prv 8: 22-31)
Mary, in carrying the Son of God in her womb ‘rejoices in God, my savior’. (Lk 1: 47) The angel, to the shepherds at the birth of the Incarnate Word, ‘proclaim(s) to you good news of great joy’. (Lk 2: 11)
It is matter which enables the existence of the fully human nature of Jesus in its hypostatic union in the Divine Person of God the Son. It is through matter that we have reason to rejoice.
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen was not one of my favorite Christmas Carols, until I saw on TV some years ago, Christmas at King’s Landing. In one scene, the merry gentlemen are singing a toast to the Incarnate Word on the occasion of his birth. In their exuberance, they continue singing of the ‘tidings of comfort and joy’ as they spill out from the tavern into the street.
Materialism’s Dismal Views of Matter
In one Materialist view, matter is solely atoms, “It is just atoms obeying the laws of physics.” In such a universe there is no meaning, purpose and love. We must create these for ourselves.
Of course, this view does not explain how such atoms or an arbitrary conglomerate of atoms can create meaning, purpose and love. In this materialist view, there is a complete disconnect between the intelligible laws of physics and the material atoms, which abjectly obey the intelligible laws.
This disconnect is confirmed by proposing a possible universe, other than our own, which consists of a single particle moving according to a mathematical equation in three dimensional Newtonian space and time.
In this proposed universe, the laws of physics are not implicit in the matter of the universe. The intelligible laws are totally apart from the material particle. It should be obvious that a solitary material particle does not imply even one dimension, let alone three dimensions as well as motion and time.
There can be no joy in matter in the Mudville of atomist materialism. In this view, matter is not an existential enabler, making material reality possible. Matter is in abject slavery to the laws of physics. There is no such dichotomy in our real, material universe.
In the real universe, the laws of physics are implicit in the material entities, which in sum are the universe. It is only through the existence of the material entities that there can exist physical laws, which are of the very nature of the material entities.
In another materialist view, matter is solely a probability. Biological entities and even universes, are identified as mathematical probabilities. Mathematical probability explains the generation of each biological species (The God Delusion) and the existence of each universe, such as ours, in a multiverse.
Ironically, this materialist view eliminates from consideration all of the material characteristics of things. Material things are reduced from having material existence to having solely logical existence.
In mathematical probability the IDs of elements of sets are solely nominal, i.e. arbitrary tags. In mathematical probability, items lack all inherent characteristics. They are merely countable. The probability of 2 in the set of the three integers, 1, 2, and 3, is 1/3. Just so, the probability of an elephant is 1/3 in the set of a paper clip, an elephant and a molecule of oxygen.
In spite of its jargon, which employs words like event and occurrence, mathematical probability deals solely with the logic of counting. It matters not what is counted.
For the materialist, joy can only be bluster. Matter is an elementary particle, defined by its obedience to external laws, thereby lacking any inherent identity. Or, matter is a probability, i.e. a logical concept defined within the relationships of mathematical sets, thereby lacking any existential relevance.
In contrast, ‘Good Christian men rejoice with heart and soul and voice’ because matter is the principle which enables our individual identity and our very existence, while matter also enables the joyous fulfilment of all hope, the Incarnation. There is reason for joy in the very materiality of creation. ‘God saw how good it was.’ (Gn 1: 31)