Four Causes, Four Pillars

A Fullness of Description

How can we know Love.” “Let me count the ways.”

(ST. ALBERT THE GREAT PRIORY – Irving) If you want to give someone a complete description of something, what kind of information do you need to provide? You would want to make sure you explained what it was for, right? But is that enough? If you say, “This thing is used to hold other things,” have you fully explained it? You could be talking about a basket, a hook, a drawer, a cupboard, a wallet, a bowl, etc.

What if you simply described its shape. “This thing is roughly a square, with an empty area, it has wheels and a sort of handle that you use to direct it.” Ok, that could be a shopping cart, a rolling suitcase, a car, or a wagon. Or maybe something else.

What if you wanted to emphasize what it is made out of? You could say, “This thing is made of metal.” But, why metal and not some other material. Does it matter if it is wood or sugar or ice or reeds or plastic? Maybe, maybe not.

What if you explained that it was made by a line worker at the local factory? Is that important? Does it matter where it was made? What if you need to make one? Do you need to understand how it was made?

The Four Causes:
The notion of Four Causes arises from Aristotle’s efforts to explain change, which is part of a different topic involving Act and Potency, and which we need not explore at present. But, as Aristotle worked out how to account for change, he developed these Four Causes. Please note, he uses the term “cause” in a broader sense than most of us do today. We can gain some insight by using the term “explanations” or “descriptions” along with “causes.” You can also think of “cause” as that which answers the question, “Why?” or “How?”

I described these four causes in the beginning of this article though I did not designate them as such. They are, Formal (loosely, what is it’s shape, what form does it take), Material (what is it made of), Efficient (how it came to actually exist), and Final (why it was made, what it does.)

N.B. The formal cause is easily overlooked because it seems obvious. If you want to carry things, you obviously need something shaped in a way that will carry them. Also we are not used to thinking of a shape as a cause. Yet, when we describe something, its form is part of a complete description.

The object I have in mind is in fact a shopping cart. I want an actual thing that is well made for holding things and moving them about easily, and which can do so over and over again reliably. This is the Final Cause. This is why it is in the shape of a lidless box with wheels, the Formal Cause. To be reusable and sturdy it is to be made of steel and rubber, the Material Cause. And then in some manner it needs to come into existence, which is the Efficient Cause.

You may have noted that I began my description of this thing with its Final Cause. That’s because when someone is going to make something, they start with an end in mind. There is a Greek word, “telos”, which means “end”, “purpose”, or “goal”. The study of ultimate ends is called teleology.

The end of something just is the reason it was made. So, when you need to make something, you start at the end, that is to say, you have in mind, before you start, the purpose of the device, the goal you mean to achieve by making this thing. You have in mind what the final product of your efforts will be.

This end or final cause then leads to the formal cause. We have to figure out how best to carry a large amount of products and move them about easily. The formal cause next determines what material cause is needed in order to have something sturdy, reliable and reusable. And then we need the efficient cause, we have to figure out how to make it, or hire someone to make it for us, so that we can in fact have it.

Consideration of things in the context of the Four Causes is a very useful way to explore the world. Why was this made? Why was it made in this shape? Why was it made from these materials? How did it come to be made? Because I am a Lay Dominican I am driven to apply this Aristotelian/Thomistic world view to, well, almost everything. And so why not apply to Dominican Spirituality?

The Four Pillars:
Dominican Spirituality is best described by the Four Pillars. They are Prayer, Study, Preaching, and Community. We have a framework here that can be set in terms of the Four Causes. Dominican Spirituality has as its goal The Beatific Vision, Communion with God. This is a precise way of saying “salvation.”

The Formal Cause is Prayer. It is what Communion looks like. In order to commune with God we have to communicate with God. Seem obvious? Remember, I said the formal cause is easy to overlook because it seems obvious. Prayer is the shape of Dominican Spirituality.

The Material Cause is Study. Can you truly commune with (love) someone you don’t know? We study and contemplate what we have studied so that we can more fully know God that we may more perfectly love God. Study is the raw material of Dominican Spirituality.

The Efficient Cause is Preaching. We take our prayer and our study and we bring forward the fruits of our contemplation to build up our Community, both Dominican and our extended community, the family of man. Preaching is how we make Dominican Spirituality.

The Final Cause is Community. Communion with God and Man. Our Dominican Community prepares us for Communion with God. It is the proper goal of all legitimate spiritualities. Union with God is the End or Purpose of Dominican Spirituality.

Mark C. is a permanently professed Lay Dominican and our Treasurer. You can check out more of his musings at truthvsreality.com.

2019 Retreat – Lord, open my lips.

On September 14th the Lay Dominicans of DFW held their 2019 Retreat. The theme was Lord, open my lips. The inspiration for the retreat came from the readings for the 24th Sunday of Ordinary time, specifically from the responsorial psalm, Psalm 51. The contributions from the members of our group were tremendous. With council contributions such as artwork contributed by Jana Sullinger, music contributed by Jeremy Childress, general event organization by Roy Johnston, liturgical and sacramental assistance by Jenny Norton, general oversight by Natasha Childress and breakfast provided by numerous members of the laity, a memorable experience was had by all.

After a brief ritual calling to mind our baptismal promises, Fr. Jude Siciliano, OP worked with the retreatants giving a brief introduction to the lectionary. Our retreat was dynamic and communal experience. We talked and shared at length, sharing our experience with sacred scripture and the impact it has had on our lives.

As we moved forward, we began to pray deeply with Psalm 51. Each reading of the psalm brought the retreatants closer together with heartfelt sharing. A time of reflective silence and meditation was offered with simple instructions – Each of us were asked to write our own psalm. These instructions were intentionally excluded from the workbook. The only individuals aware of this exercise were those involved in the planning of the retreat. Dwelling on inadequacy being a favorite human pastime, it was decided to omit mentioning this so that individuals could approach the idea whole heartedly. Though many had trepidations about such a task, each individual ‘retreated’ to the quite places in the priory to write their personal psalm.

All of the Psalm writing leading to a deep sense of trust in the Lord, and quite the appetite. Individuals brought their own lunch, snacked on leftover breakfast and got to know each other in the Priory day room. With 34 retreats, 5 of which were novices and 12 of which were not lay members, one of our favorites of Dominican spirituality was embraced – Community.

Our retreat finished out after lunch with more discussion on Psalm 51, more singing, and a love offering for the priory. During our closing ceremony of the retreat, individuals were given the opportunity to share their psalm with the group. Going into this part of the retreat in prayerful and sacred silence, retreatants shared their hearts with each other. Some psalms paraphrased Psalm 51. Others embraced rhyme and meter. Some were penitential and others lifted hope and praise. Collectively, our chapel was consecrated with the hearts and prayers of all in attendance. After prayer and an anointing for the journey, the retreatants went out to the world with a renewed heart and opened lips.

2019 Retreat photos

Retreat Psalms

After the retreat, we invited individuals to share their psalm for this post. Below are a few to enjoy.

Psalm 51 – 5~7~5, by Mr. Mark Connolly, OP

O merciful God,

You know I am a sinner.

Yet, you love me still.

My soul is shattered,

I am helpless in my sin,

I cry out to you.

Grant me your mercy,

Remember not all my sins,

Renew me this day.

Am I not worthy?

You made me, make me again.

I want to love you.

A Dominican?

You want me as a preacher?

Am I truly fit?

Well, no, not hardly.

But if You wish, here I am.

Gonna need your grace.

Order of Preachers!

Let us set the world on fire,

And bring Truth to all.

Psalm by- Dr. Jana Sullinger OP, MD

O’ merciful God,

Forgive my sins against you.

Cleanse what I defiled.

My sins I know well…

Ever present before me,

Against you alone.

Right is your judgement!

Before my birth-a sinner,

Seen and known by you.

Those in truth-you love.

Your hidden wisdom-teach me.

That I shine-wash me.

With joyful music

You fill my broken spirit-

Blinded to my sin.

Create a new heart…

For me, a right, new spirit.

Cast me not aside.

Lord, renew my joy.

Do guide and strengthen my will,

So that I may preach.

Remove my sorrows.

Open my lips to proclaim

Your praise and goodness.

My gift, does not please.

A shattered spirit, I give.

A new heart, welcomed.

In love, renew us.

Recreate and reshape us.

Lord, open our  lips!

A psalm to my Lord by ~ Roy Johnston

Eye me with compassion, Lord. That which I withhold from others.

Those transgressions against them, against you – done without shame, those sins suffocate me. My guilt robs me of the breathe freely given by you.

With perfect clarity you know, see and understand my selfishness; born of pain, pride and arrogance – wrought with guilt and shame.

Redirect my passions; align my compass, my orientation to you alone.

I know that the river of your grace flows into an ocean of mercy that must drown me if I am to every breathe freely.

May my lungs burst from your compassion. Let my consumption overflow like a song, reaching all that would hear your praise.

My offering is my poverty, the broken pieces I have remaining of my misdirected will.

Turn not away from me.

Transform those things.

Let not my offense keep us separated, but your grace bind me to you and all that lives in you.

~Forever

On Knowledge…

Mark C. blogs at http://truthvsreality.com

This space is for the members of our chapter to express some of their ‘Dominican-ness’. Some people would call that ‘preaching’. After some gentle nudging people are providing me their thoughts and on different topics. In this way, you will get to some of who we are and how we think, grow and experience Dominican Spirituality.

Mark is a temporarily promised member of our Chapter. Here is a blurb from his blog, truthvsreality.com

Mr. Mark Connolly, OP, MTS, is a Catholic blogger and podcaster who blogs here at Truth vs Reality, and as a guest blogger at Joe Catholic.  He is a co-host of the podcast My Stogie Mystagogy.

Mark has been a featured speaker at Catholic men’s conferences giving talks on what it means to be a Catholic man engaged in the world, and has served as part of the team presenting the monthly Positively Catholic formation talks at his local parish. He is a regular speaker for Joe Catholic, a men’s apostolate, giving talks on topics from Saints to Sacraments, the Documents of Vatican II, and Catholic Social Doctrine. He is a 3rd Degree Knight of Columbus and is enrolled in the Angelic Warfare Confraternity. Mark is also a lay Dominican.

Professionally, Mark is Director of Human Resources for a privately held company in the DFW Metroplex. Mark is a Lay Dominican and holds a Master of Theological Studies in Pastoral Theology conferred by Ave Maria University in Florida and also holds the SHRM-SCP HR certification. Mark lives in Carrollton, TX with his wife Rosie Connolly and their dogs Yeti and Ghost. And Lanier.

Gaining Knowledge

How does a good Catholic gain knowledge? What, in that case, is knowledge. There is a lot of data. Is having lots of data the same as having lots of knowledge? Am I going to answer any of these questions?

Let’s play with koans. Koans are a Zen Buddhist thing. No, I am not Thomas Merton blending and confusing mysticisms. Koans are a tool used by Zen monks to test their apprentices. They are designed to challenge the status quo, to instill a doubt, to possibly confuse. We don’t like confusion. Our natural inclination is to seek a resolution,and sometimes this creates the environment for a breakthrough.

Probably the one everyone has heard is, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

Not all koans are questions. One koan goes something like this: “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”

I seem to gravitate to the statement version. I made some up. You should try it, it’s fun!

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him think.

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach him to think and he will always be hungry. (At least, I think I made that up. When I google searched it, it came back with me.)

Give a man a book of zen koans with answers if you hate him.

Data is data, not knowledge. If you just give someone the answers, you specifically teach them not to think. But we have rational souls, and the best teachers teach you to think. And why should we think? To know truth.

The value of a zen koan consists in the relationship between the master and the student. It’s not a test, per se. It is a challenge to one’s mind. The right challenge at the right time is the genius of the master. One may never be asked if they can describe the sound of one hand clapping because the master may not find that particular koan useful for this particular student. That a book exists with the “answers” is both funny and sad.

In some traditions, a student is given one thought to ponder for the rest of his life. It makes sense, if everything is in fact interrelated. So, what does he do for the rest of his life if he finds the answer one day in the stacks at a library?

I will wager that some of the best and most productive koans have been lost to history because they were developed on the spot by the master for a specific student, and then were set aside.

And probably many glimpses of truth simply go unrecognized or are just ignored.

Here is a koan: “I am to be crucified. Follow me.”

*All posts are the thoughts and expressions of the original author. Please do not cite, copy, or share without their express permission. The views expressed in this post are the author’s alone.*