Monday, March 08, 2010

What Thomas Couldn't Know

Often people feel and know what is right. The reply to the questions of children, "That's how it's done"; or, "That's how my father taught me," captures how felt knowledge shapes us. Humans exercise critical thinking on felt knowledge, and all profit from exercising it frequently. Often critical thinking tests the helpfulness or the validity of an approach. After several tests offer confirmation, people allow themselves to be guided by what they intuit but cannot prove adequately to themselves or to others.

Thomas Aquinas reflected on creation and noted that humans are not the highest animals (Aristotle's definition of humans), but of an order exceeding animals, even while sharing much (limitations, bodies,
feelings, deterioration). Thomas relied on Sacred Scripture and the Tradition of the church rooted in scripture, and he asserted that humans are embodied spirits.

Recently, research
unavailable to Thomas--and for many centuries after him--has looked at ritual behavior and noted effects on the brain. The research "shows how intimately linked our bodies are with our souls." The research strongly suggests that our biology has has created and shaped the neural pathways to render these aspects of experience [liturgy and other ritual] useful and effective."

The conclusion of one review of the study points to the felt knowledge, which has held from ancient times, that liturgy and ritual are vital to human living.
Ritual and liturgy are powerful because they allow participants to taste, if only for a moment, the transcendent spiritual unity that all religions promise, Newberg and d’Aquili say. “One can see why so powerful a behavior has persisted through the ages and is likely to persist for some time to come.”

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