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CUA PHIL. LECTURE: Number & Species in Augustine

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2006 Fall Philosophy Lecture Series at CUA

I really did not get to take my day off on Wednesday, so I sneaked out this afternoon and went to a lecture at Catholic University by Professor Kevin White entitled, “Augustine on Number and Species”.  My friends Genna (a philosophy student) and her Dad were there and I also got to see Sr. Marion Brady, a delightful religious who teaches there and whom I had not seen in some time.  It has been twenty years since I really criss-crossed the campus and I had a devil of a time finding the building where the lecture was given.  There have been a lot of changes and construction on campus since I was a theology student.  I understand that this year’s Freshmen class is about double the enrollment from last year, with a greater stress on local kids.  That is fine and good, I only hope we do not have a repeat of the crime epidemic from last year.

tiredfrjoe.jpgI did not have a camera to take pictures at the event and so I have included photos of people who might have attended had they been able.  I am not saying that they “exactly” resemble attendees.  Oh, enough with rationalizations, it is just too much fun to pass up!

It was Genna that reminded me of the talk.  What she said nothing about was that the Life Cycle Center, where the talk was held, was on the other side of the campus from the Shrine parking lot!  Panting up a couple of hills, heck the whole route was uphill, I finally made it.  The kids were nice though:  “Are you okay, Father?”  “Are you sure you can make it?”  “Should we get an ambulance?”  Yes, nice kids, and I made it with time to spare.

pipeboy.jpgDr. White gave us a nice outline and spoke clearly on the subject matter.  Since he is writing an article on the subject, I cannot post much about it.  I can, however, make a quick reflection about NUMBERS that intrigued me in his message.

I enjoyed the talk by Dr. White very much.  I have to admit that I never gave St. Augustine’s numerology a great deal of consideration, particularly as the notion of an ontology in their regard seemed to go further than any authorized ecclesiological appreciation.

I did recall that as a Christian, St. Augustine saw God as the Creator and that everything he created was good.  Evil was viewed as an aberration from our side of the equation.  It is within the context of creation that the great saint speaks about order and numbers.  He held, as we heard in the talk, that nothing can exist apart from numbers.  He said,

“Neither by bodily sense nor by the thinking mind can you find any mutable thing which is not contained in some numerical form” (Hyman 51).

moesmom979.jpgOne person asked after the talk whether we all had the same number or different numbers.  The person was also on to something important.  Everything exists in numbers.  The connection was made with modernity and how St. Augustine might be delighted by something like DNA and how science has revealed the numbers of creation.

I wondered to myself, what his take might have been on a film like THE MATRIX where the artificially produced reality of most people is composed of the ones and zeros of a complex computer program?  It is a fanciful story, but still, even pixels in a computer generated image is readily understood as numbers in certain positions.  My thoughts also went back to my boyhood when I would paint pictures in special paint-by-the-numbers sets and watercolors.  Ah, I digress…but it is so much fun, even if silly.

sweetyredribbon.jpgThere is commonality but there is also a number for me and for you and for the other guy.   The form (in numbers) that belongs to created things are existentially dependent upon that changeless form (truth) which we call God.  We can attribute to God every created thing and everything has measure, number and weight (or order) [the three themes discussed by Dr. White].  Given my bulk, “weight” is an attribute I try NOT talking about–ha ha!  (Yes, I know he means a different kind of weight, just kidding!)

The observation also came up at the talk that an awareness of numbers was not just something derived from the senses but by the rational mind.  St. Augustine writes:

“In no wise; for even if I perceived numbers by the bodily senses, I was not able by these same senses to perceive the laws of the division and addition of numbers. For it is by the light of the mind [luce mentis] that I correct anyone who gives me the wrong result of adding or subtracting. Moreover, I know nothing of how long sensibly perceived things like the heaven, this earth, and the other bodies therein will endure, but seven and three are ten, not only now but always, nor was it ever true in the past that seven and three were not ten nor will seven and three sometime in the future not be ten. Such then is the incorruptible truth of number which, as I have said, is common to me and anyone else who reason.”  (De lib. arb., II, viii, 21)

Our rational intellect embraces truth while the senses do not; only the intellect can grasp order, the truth about numbers.  Given that the idea of oneness or unity cannot be grasped from sense perceptions of corporeal things, such must be the case.

I particularly liked the way Dr. White broke down St. Augustine’s understanding of numbers into easy lists.  It all goes a long way in appreciating species.

NUMBERS IN MUSIC:

  1. numeri progressores
  2. numeri sonates
  3. numeri occursores
  4. numeri recordabiles
  5. numeri iudiciales

NUMBERS IN CARPENTRY (NATURE OF THINGS):

  1. rational numbers
  2. habitual numbers
  3. action numbers
  4. spatial numbers

photohats3.jpgProfessor White spoke about Augustine’s perfect number, III (3), which has a beginning, middle and end.  Six (1 + 2 + 3) is also pertinent and St. Augustine tells us that God opted to create the world in a perfect number of days, 6.  Of course, St. Augustine’s numerology was not that of the authors to the Hebrew Scriptures.

The professor said he would look again at St. Augustine’s ON THE TRINITY, he even joked that we should all read it.  It is filled with three’s of various sorts.  St. Augustine felt that God had left his Trinitarian fingerprint upon creation, including men.

Many of the questions at the end of the talk were good, although I felt a few were strained.  For instance, one person wanted to know the if there was a difference between something like five apples in a basket and five fingers on a hand.  I thought the question peculiar, because obviously five fingers is demonstrative of the nature of man while a collection of apples or anything is a bit arbitrary.  The use of number is obviously different.

stickthemup852.jpgAnyhow, time for me to shut the little grey cells down for the night.  They are not what they used to be, and thinking such thoughts as these can give one a headache.  Just thought I would share a few thoughts while the inspiration was alive.    Maybe it is gibberish, maybe not?  In any case, it is time for the aspirin…and something mindless.  Now where did I put the television remote control?  I hear they are showing reruns of THE DUKES OF HAZZARD.

Here are some interesting links:

Whether the essence of goodness consists in mode, species and order?

Numbers in the Bible

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