Living Tradition
Editor: Msgr. John F. McCarthy, J.C.D., S.T.D.Distributed several times a year to interested members.
Associate Editor: Rev. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., M.A., S.T.D.  Not to be republished without permission.
Please address all correspondence    e-mail:
Living Tradition, Oblates of Wisdom, P.O. Box 13230, St. Louis, MO 63157, USA

No. 123 Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program May 2006

In this issue:


reviewed by John F. McCarthy

[Anthony Rizzi, The Science Before Science (Baton Rouge, LA: IAP Press, 2004
– xx plus 390 pages – available from
and also from ]

Anthony Rizzi is an accomplished physicist known throughout the world for having been the first to discover a definition of "angular momentum" in the general theory of relativity. He holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a master’s degree in physics from the University of Colorado, and a doctorate in physics from Princeton University. He is specialized in gravity wave research. Dr. Rizzi has also a long-developed knowledge of Aristotelian and Thomist philosophy, and he has used his expertise in both of these fields of learning to compose this treatise on the need of valid philosophical principles for correct scientific thinking at all levels.

Rizzi starts out with the fact that, in contemporary Western culture, only "scientific conclusions" are considered to be true knowledge, while all other ideas are taken to be mere opinion. And by "scientific conclusions" people usually mean the results of empirical science alone (p. xv). The word "science" comes from the Latin scientia, which means "knowledge," and can for present purposes be defined as "certified knowledge." But the empirical sciences are not the only fields that offer certified knowledge. We can have proper knowledge from the direct experience of our sensory faculties as well as from correct reasoning from facts and principles that we have personally "seen" and recognized to be true. Otherwise we have to depend on prudent trust in what others tell us (pp. 11-12). The dominant theme of this book is that sound philosophy is a science on a par with the empirical sciences and is actually a prerequisite for proper thinking even in the empirical sciences. Philosophy is that field of certified knowledge "that seeks and studies first principles of all things" (p. 4). A general problem that is treated throughout Rizzi’a book stems from the common attitude among empirical scientists that philosophical principles are foreign and even harmful to their field of study. But their very opposition to philosophy is itself an implicit philosophy (p. 9).

The trouble is that those who refuse to recognize any sound philosophical principles in their thinking about empirical science become the victims of blind religious, or more often anti-religious, opinion that ends up in religious fideism having no foundation in reason or in a subjectivism which subordinates objective reality to their own ego (p. 19). Rizzi uses the moderate realism of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas to develop a mental structure that begins from one’s sense knowledge and personal experience and extends through the physical sciences to the ontological analysis of being considered in itself. He shows throughout his book that the knowledge particular to the empirical sciences must logically be rooted in objective reality, and he shows that all physical scientists do in fact maintain a working assumption that they are dealing with objective reality even though they may claim otherwise (pp. xvi and 57). But wrong philosophies have always been with us, to the extent that "the most formidable enemy of science today is subjectivism" (p. xix). Rizzi treats of various idealistic systems of philosophy, such as those of Heraclitus and Parmenides in ancient times and of Descartes, Kant, Hegel and Leibniz in modern times, always to show how their great minds "fashioned great systems of clarity and force that, nevertheless, crashed against the rock of reality" (p. 11).

I have elsewhere defined "science" as "the knowledge of reality as such," that is, "the knowledge of reality as reality,"1 and I think that Dr. Rizzi is following the same concept in his treatment of the methods of empirical science, where he says that "Our proof that something is true comes from conformity with reality, not from systems of ideas" (p. 57), and again where he points out that, properly speaking, "to know" is to know things, not to know mental abstractions (p. 86). First comes simple adherence to the realities of common experience (Rizzi, p. 20), and this may also be called "common sense" (p. 31), or "common science."2 But, on the other hand, things known only through common sense can often be shown to be inexact or even false. And this is where technical science comes into the picture. Rizzi divides technical science into the "pure sciences" of metaphysics, physical science, and mathematics, the applied sciences of ethics and the arts, and the methodological sciences of analytics, dialectics, poetry/rhetoric, and linguistics (p. 143). Prescinding from the question of whether arts such as poetry and rhetoric are sciences, Rizzi concentrates his argument upon the pure sciences in a sustained effort to show that physical and mathematical science become false guides if they are not underpinned by the higher principles of metaphysics. For instance, while Kurt Gödel in the twentieth century demonstrated mathematically that there are always propositions within any system of thought that cannot be proved from within the system to be either true or false, he only showed that the fundamental principles of every lower science, such as mathematics and empirical physics, must be taken from what is self-evident in a higher science, such as that of metaphysics (pp. 55-60). What is usually called "modern science" is very specialized and narrow in its perspective, to the extent that it tends to exclude all philosophical questions from its methodology (p. 23). Thus, modern physics studies sensible being "as sensible and as expressible mathematically" (p. 150). Rizzi calls this approach "empiriometric," as distinguished from the classifying approach of biology and similar sciences, which he calls "empirioschematic" (p. 152).

Both of these empirical sciences in their investigations make use of beings of reason which do not necessarily depict the objective reality that they are supposed to represent and can cause thinking within empirical science to become divorced from the real world. For instance, the way in which physicists express the concept of light waves in an electromagnetic field involves a number of beings of reason that are several steps away from the ontological reality that they are analyzing (p. 162). Or take the notion of the atom and its parts. Empirical scientists don’t know for sure whether the electron is a particle (a substance) or a wave (an accident). "We only know in the most vague form what it is really, and, in most cases, it is vagueness with a low probability of truth" (p. 167). What is an atom? Is an atom made up mostly of empty space between the nucleus and its surrounding electrons, as most people think? Dr. Rizzi, as a physicist and as a philosopher, makes very interesting observations regarding this question. Having noted that the first modern ideas of the existence of atoms were deduced from purely mathematical observations (p. 352), he goes on to show that no one has ever seen an atom, but in contemporary physical theory the kind of electromagnetic interaction recorded between electrons seems to be in effect throughout the whole atom at various intensities and moments, indicating that between the nucleus and its electrons there is some intangible thing which fills the intervening space and which is the subject of the observed fluctuations and changes. Hence, whatever the atom actually is, it not made up mainly of empty space (p. 354). Again, with reference to electric fields, Rizzi visualizes the electron and the proton as being in act and potency to each other in such manner that each one "activates different potencies in the others, giving rise to the requisite new form in a way that is hidden by the empiriometric entanglement of the various objects involved" (p. 250). A point that is being made here is that, if the new form itself is excluded by definition from the view of the observer, the full reality of what has taken place cannot be recognized.

In The Science Before Science, the reader is led methodically to an awareness of the metaphysical principles needed to understand the mathematical findings of empirical science in the fuller context of the world of objective reality. Rizzi shows the importance of knowing the difference between matter and form, act and potency, essence and existence, substance and accident, quantity and quality, and he illustrates with many examples the errors that occur when thinkers are unaware of these distinctions. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), for instance, has had great influence over the thinking of many modern physical scientists. Kant, following in the subjectivist line of thinking of René Descartes (1596-1650), made empiriometric science the ground of his philosophy and thus, for certified knowledge, gave beings of reason priority over what exists in objective reality (p. 169). Rizzi’s point is that empirical science can go astray if it neglects the insights of the higher science of metaphysics, such as the fact that all true science must be based upon objective reality, and that attitudes of scientists that offend against these more evident insights are anti-scientific. Kant and many others like him have produced systems of thought that are highly organized and consistent with their own defined principles, but which are inconsistent with more fundamental principles that stand outside of and above their system. "To the degree we leave (objective) Being out, even implicitly, that is the degree we allow irrationality to reign" (p. 344), and again, "Knowledge is about reality, not about knowledge" (p. 351). That is why metaphysics is the science that comes before all other sciences.

Rizzi locates the valid set of metaphysical principles needed for the pursuit of all other science in the philosophy of Aristotle, especially as interpreted by Thomas Aquinas. In doing so, Rizzi is opposing the common falsehood that Catholic thinking has always been an impediment to scientific progress and that it was not until the physical sciences finally escaped from the clutches of the Catholic Church that they were able to develop into the magnificent fields that they are today. This is an unfactual, anti-Catholic bias. Modern science grew out of medieval Catholicism (pp. 185-186). What medieval thinkers like Thomas Aquinas contributed to modern physics in things like theory of mechanics, relativity, and spatial motion has been greatly underplayed in modern times (p. 199). But what about the trial of Galileo, as opposed to the heliocentric theory, and the Big Bang as opposed to the "six days" of creation? The heliocentric theory was actually first proposed by a Catholic priest, Nicholas Copernicus, and Rizzi here recalls that the theory of the Big Bang was also first proposed by a Catholic priest, Father Georges Lemaitre, using Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity (p. 215, note 367).3 As a physicist, Rizzi notes that the theory of the Big Bang lends support to, although it does not prove, the idea that the universe came into existence at a definite point of time as an act of creation by God (p. 232).

The academic project promoted through this book is very much needed today. Anthony Rizzi is bringing out the importance of a correct methodology, not only for empirical scientists, but also for the educated public in general. On the one hand there is today unfortunately an "anti-religious" and "anti-metaphysical" mentality reigning in the field of empirical science, and, on the other hand, there is a general unawareness of this fact even among educated Catholics, who, for the most part, have been educated according to the same anti-metaphysical mentality. Pope Pius X pointed out in 1907 that the defense of truth against false ideas is to be had through the use of Scholastic philosophy, yet this philosophy, and, as a salient example, the Aristotelian "cosmological" concepts of substance and accident, matter and form, potency and act, essence and existence, formal and final causality have fallen more and more into disuse even among Catholic academics and intellectuals. A prominent example is the way in which courses in Aristotelian/Thomist cosmology have disappeared from college programs of philosophy or have been converted into simple introductions to modern physics and chemistry. The work required to update Aristotelian/Thomist cosmology in terms of modern findings has in large part not been done by Catholic intellectuals, and it is precisely this work that Dr. Rizzi has undertaken to do. For instance, how can the Aristotelian theory of matter and form be reconciled with modern atomic theory and with the notion that objects like the human body are actually collections of a huge number (1028) of atoms made up mostly of empty space? As noted above, Rizzi has brilliantly addressed this question, and he explains the answer in detail in his book. Thus, he explains that atoms are actual when separated from larger bodies, but only virtual when existing in a larger body (p. 354). The notion is there that being a body is a higher form that exists only potentially in atoms as such, and that even extension, which is the first quality of bodies, may not exist in the same way in particles of matter that are smaller than bodies (p. 201, note 337).4 Similarly, with the presence of that non-mechanical "ether" within the atom that is indicated by recent observations in modern physics, the Aristotelian principle of "no action at a distance" finds a solution (p. 242). In fact, whole new vistas of knowledge are waiting to be discovered through a metaphysical processing of the data of modern empiriometric and empirioschematic science (pp. 181-182). Rizzi cordially invites other empirical scientists and philosophical scholars to join him in this work (p. 261).

As Dr. Rizzi explains, the "big picture" of the universe, observable from a metaphysical viewpoint, needs to be brought back into focus in scientific studies. The theory of the Big Bang depends upon evidence from empirical science, not from metaphysics, but, to the extent that this theory may be demonstrably true, it does "lend support" on a metaphysical level to the fact of an initial act of creation out of nothing by the one true God (p. 232). And apart from the initial act of creation, metaphysics tells us that the existence of all things and the happening of all change in the universe somehow depend upon the action of God (p. 250, note 438). Hence, when it comes to the existence of living organisms on the face of the Earth, the Darwinian notion of emergence by chance alone cannot stand up under intelligent scrutiny, even though, when actual causes are methodically excluded from the purview of empirical scientists, the results will, of course, appear to have taken place purely by chance (p. 248). And, contrary to the modern mechanistic point of view, living beings do have within themselves the source of their own activities (p. 123).

With regard to the rise of biological life on Earth, Rizzi recognizes the need of special creative acts of God, and he identifies these particular interventions with what Jacques Maritain called "the superforming action of God." By this Rizzi means that, at the point at which the potency of developing matter, instilled at the first moment of creation, according to the design and purpose implanted by God, calls for the first living form, "God’s general superforming action ‘automatically’ brings the first life form into being." He distinguishes these divine interventions from the physical laws of nature but finds that they are not interferences in the workings of the original plan of creation, because "it is God who bound Himself to make this action necessary (in a relative way) right from His initial giving of being to the universe" (pp. 251-252). These acts of God would be necessary and yet they would be free in the sense that they had been freely determined by God Himself from the first moment of creation. This way of describing the rise of biological life acknowledges the inability of mere chemical reactions to rise from their own innate potencies to the level of living organisms, and it, therefore, posits the need of certain divine interventions, but does it adequately distinguish such divine interventions from the ordinary working of natural laws? This is an interesting question. How could such divine interventions ever be distinguished by human thinkers from mere natural processes? It is true that St. Augustine of Hippo suggested a sowing of the potency for life into the matter of the universe from the first moment of creation, but he also left room for historical interventions of God that would be distinguishable as miracles from the workings of created nature and would leave room for distinguishable nature-miracles, such as those recorded in Sacred Scripture. In all probability, Rizzi makes the same allowance, but, while Louis Pasteur and many others after him have proved that "life comes only from life," Rizzi seems here to be in his own way leaning somewhat towards the former idea of "spontaneous generation" as the cause of the rise of biological life on Earth.

Rizzi speculates that it is even likely that human technicians will some day be able to make "from scratch" all of the ingredients of at least simple animal organisms, and that, when all of the material ingredients will be present and properly arranged, the organism will spring into life (p. 252, note 443). Again, taking the example of the human soul, which is admittedly a spiritual form that cannot arise from matter but must be individually created by God (p. 124), Rizzi avers that, when the required material conditions are there, such as when the male sperm penetrates the female egg, but prescinding from the question of the exact time of ensoulment, God will always "automatically" create a human soul for that disposed matter. As Rizzi expresses his idea, "The infusion of the human soul is part of the workings of the universe" and is a unique case in which God "directly participates in the action of a law" (p. 126). Now, it is to be granted that, in normal human procreation, God does always instill a human soul in every human zygote, and, therefore, this divine creative act would seem to illustrate a statistical law of nature that cannot materially be distinguished from a purely natural happening. But this whole question is ripe for new and cautious deliberation both on the part of philosophers and on the part of the Church. Technicians are now cultivating babies in vitro and striving to do so also by cloning. Has God obliged Himself to instill a human soul in each and every one of these productions? At any rate, in vitro fertilization and cloning are at least productions of life from life, but what about the possibility (remote as it seems to be) of organic life being built some day "from scratch" by laboratory technicians? Will it "automatically" spring to life?

It is refreshing to read how a qualified physicist takes up the five proofs of St. Thomas for the existence of God and shows that they are all still valid in terms of modern science. Of course, elements of physics and chemistry that have been updated since the middle ages need to be adjusted, but the fundamental arguments remain the same. In reaffirming these five proofs, Rizzi opposes the nominalism and occasionalism of William of Ockham (p. 263) and develops the Thomist argument for the need of a necessary Being in order that all unnecessary beings may exist.

Since empirical scientists who neglect the truths of ontology are impelled by ignorance to make absurd statements (p. 341), they need the broadening influence of correct philosophical principles to escape the false philosophies that otherwise will stand implicitly in their place (p. 346). In The Science Before Science, Anthony Rizzi invites empirical scientists to open their eyes to the whole of science, and he also invites Aristotelian philosophers to reaffirm the validity of their field vis-à-vis the findings of modern empirical science. The time is long overdue when the Aristotelian theory of matter and form should once again take its rightful place that is winnable today in the totality of certified knowledge, so that the materialistic, mechanistic, subjectivistic world-view that has come to be identified with contemporary scientific knowledge will at last be replaced by the fuller view that is the heritage of the Western world through Greco-Roman philosophical insight and the intellectual accomplishments of the best medieval thought. Without this needed new effort on the part especially of Catholic writers, courses both of science and of philosophy in Catholic schools will remain defective and impoverished. Contributions to the Catholic cosmological heritage have been made right along, but other Catholic writers have tended to neglect them. With regard to questions related to modern physics, examples are to be seen in the writings of Pierre Duhem (Rizzi, p. 189)5 in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and of Peter Hoenen6 and Filippo Soccorsi7 in the mid-twentieth century. And there have been many other articles and books published along the way. I am looking at a licentiate thesis written by Mary Teresa Tenbusch under the direction of Christoph Schönborn and accepted in 1993 by the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. Entitled Scientific Cosmology and the Doctrine of Creation, this 150-page essay takes the "autonomous world" of modern empirical physics and relates it to the certified notion of creation by God as presented in the inspired word of Sacred Scripture. It is this kind of work, and a lot of it, that needs to be done in these times by writers of textbooks, not only of empirical science, but also of philosophy, and in this challenging enterprise, Anthony Rizzi is leading the way.


1. J.F. McCarthy, The Science of Historical Theology, (Rockford, IL: TAN Books and Publishers, 2nd printing, 1991), p. 36.

2. McCarthy, ibid., p. 42.

3. When, in 1933, at a meeting of physicists, Father Georges Lemaitre described his idea of a "Big Bang," Albert Einstein stood up, applauded, and then remarked: "This is the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I have ever listened" (Rizzi, p. 229, note 392). The theory of the Big Bang does not conflict with the description of creation in the Book of Genesis. For an explanation of this, see my six-part essay, "A Neo-Patristic Return to the First Four Days of Creation," in Living Tradition, nos. 45-50.

4. See also Rizzi, p. 245, on the idea of John of St. Thomas that "minimal parts" have "imperfect extension."

5. A list of the pertinent works of Pierre Duhem, most of which have been translated into English, is also given by Rizzi on p. 359.

6. Petrus Hoenen, S.J., Cosmologia (Rome: Gregorian University, 1949).

7. Philippus Soccorsi, De physica quantica: quaestiones scientificae cum philosophia coniunctae (Rome: Gregorian Univ., 1956).

Anthony Rizzi, The Science Before Science: A Guide To Thinking In The 21st Century
Click here to buy it from Amazon


reviewed by John F. McCarthy

[Blessed Columba Marmion, Christ, the Life of the Soul (Zaccheus Press, 4605 Chase Avenue,
Bethesda, Maryland 20814, USA]

Marmion was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1858, but spent most of his priestly life as a monk of the Benedictine Abbey of Maredsous in Belgium, of which he was abbot from 1909 until his death in 1923. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in the year 2000. The present book is a new edition of this famous work with a completely new translation by Alan Bancroft from the French edition of 1920. The original English edition of 1922, translated by a "Nun of Tyburn," was a great publishing success, but it is now dated in a certain sense and it has been out of print for many years. While Blessed Columba Marmion was a native English speaker, this book, as also his other books, such as Christ in His Mysteries, Christ, the Ideal of the Monk, and Christ, the Ideal of the Priest, consists of a series of spiritual conferences given originally in French and in such a manner as to develop his spiritual theme with strict adherence to the faith and doctrine of the Church. The result is magnificent. Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922) is quoted as having said: "Read this. It is the pure doctrine of the Church."

The first part of the book develops the theme of our adoptive predestination in Jesus Christ, with special focus upon Jesus Himself as the one and only Model of spiritual perfection, as the Author of our salvation and sanctification, and as Head of his Mystical Body, the Church, which lives by the grace of the Holy Spirit, who is also the Spirit of Jesus. The second part applies this theme to the life of the Christian believer in terms of the exercise of faith, the use of the sacraments, the practice of the virtues, devotion to the Holy Eucharist, and the life of prayer. This is an outstanding book for meditation and spiritual reading. Hatred of sin is clearly brought out in the context of the call to holiness and the need to strive for personal perfection and deliverance even from venial sins. There is constant recourse to quotations from Sacred Scripture, woven into the text in a masterful way, so as to bring the letter of Scripture alive in the mind of the reader. The figure of Jesus becomes present in all his reality as Lord of Heaven and as living here on Earth for us. The Church too is presented as the living Mystical Body of Christ, whose life blood is the Holy Spirit. A chapter is dedicated to the role of Mary, Mother of the Incarnate Word, in the spiritual life of the devout believer. The reader is not presented as alone in this endeavor to become holy. Marmion relates this personal undertaking to the prayer of the whole Church and the insights of great Catholic spiritual writers of the past. The dogmas of the Church are there in all their fullness, but as living in all their richness in the mind and heart of the true believer.

The spirit of this world, also in our day, is constantly at work, seeking to draw our minds away from our divine Lord and the life that He has prepared for us, and it is up to each of us to fill our minds with the right kind of objects and ideas that spiritual writers have provided for us. There exists a set of great books for spiritual reading that everyone who has set out on the path of perfection should get around to reading. We think of writings like the Introduction to the Devout Life of St. Francis de Sales, The Story of a Soul of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, The Soul of the Apostolate of Dom Chautard, and so many others. Among these great books of spiritual reading fittingly stands in its own uniqueness Abbot Marmion’s Christ, the Life of the Soul.

Go to: Roman Theological Forum | Living Tradition Index | Previous Issue | Next Issue