instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Why the United Nations?

A lot of American Catholics are wondering why the Vatican, along with bishops throughout the world, are so insistent that (as the U.S. bishops' letter put it) "recourse to force ... should take place within the framework of the United Nations." This is especially puzzling for those American Catholics who regard the U.N. as little more than a boondoggle gabfest for second-rate junior yes men.

Most recently, Bishop Mandagi of Ambon in Indonesia co-signed a letter asking governments "to trust the United Nations, as the organization representing all states, to find a just and peaceful solution" to the disarmament of Iraq.

I don't think it's unreasonable to ask why the U.S. government should "trust the United Nations," particularly given the way votes and vetoes are allocated in the Security Council.

What I think I discern, though, in all these appeals to the authority of the U.N., is an appeal to the U.N. to prove itself trustworthy.

I know nothing about international law or the precise nature of the authority of the U.N. and its Security Council. But I think the Pope and other Catholic bishops are inviting countries to recognize the U.N.'s authority in this case so that it will, in fact, have that authority in this case. Once it has the authority, though, it must exercise it: it must prove to its member countries that it can act with prudence and justice, or else it really will be just a gabfest, and any sensible country will withdraw its recognition of U.N. authority, and not just in the case of Iraq.

Why would the Church want this sort of authority to be found in the U.N.? Consider paragraph 1911 from the Catechism:
Human interdependence is increasing and gradually spreading throughout the world. The unity of the human family, embracing people who enjoy equal natural dignity, implies a universal common good. This good calls for an organization of the community of nations able to "provide for the different needs of men; this will involve the sphere of social life to which belong questions of food, hygiene, education, . . . and certain situations arising here and there, as for example . . . alleviating the miseries of refugees dispersed throughout the world, and assisting migrants and their families." [Gaudium et spes 84 § 2]
My guess is that the Vatican sees the U.N. as the only existing candidate for such an organization, and is doing what it can to make the U.N. actually become such an organization.


Monday, February 10, 2003

It means "universal"

There's a discussion at Gospel Minefield on favorite female saints.

My own favorite female saint is the Blessed Virgin, but as of now the folks over there haven't so much as slipped her in tied for number five.

But hey, that's their choice, right? It's not like completely forgetting the Theotokos makes a person any less Catholic. Different people have different tastes. In all things charity, that's my motto.

Actually, completely forgetting the Theotokos when listing one's five favorite female saints is a phenomenon related to the observation of Caryll Houselander I quoted (with rampant editing) last month:
When we are attracted to a particular saint it is usually the little human details which attract us. These touches bridge the immense gap between heroic virtue and our weakness. Of our Lady such things are not recorded. We complain that so little is recorded of her personality, so few of her words, so few deeds, that we can form no picture of her, and there is nothing that we can lay hold of to imitate. But it is Our Lady -- and no other saint -- whom we can really imitate. The one thing that she did and does is the one thing that we all have to do, namely, to bear Christ into the world.
(For the record: 1) Mamma Mary. 2) St. Catherine of Siena. 3) St. Katharine Drexel. 4) St. Zdislava of Lemberk. 5) Bl. Margaret of Castello. The #5 spot is generally reserved for whomever I've most recently read about.)


Benefit of doubt

For those with the time, Al Sharpton's fifty-minute stump speech at Saint Sabina's yesterday can be listened to over the Internet.

My impression (based on the twenty minutes I listened to, plus Fr. Phleger's ten-minute introduction) is that Sharpton and Fr. Phleger are welcome to each other.

The incongruity of the whole production was, for me, perfectly captured by Sharpton's invitation to the congregation to pull out their King James Bibles and read along with him from the Book of Joshua.

But it has occurred to me that one of the reasons I am not particularly upset by Cardinal George's decision not to forbid Sharpton's appearance -- aside from the many assurances I've had that any order against Sharpton would have been ignored by Fr. Phleger -- is that Cardinal George strikes me as a bishop who is visibly and publically trying to serve Christ and His Church. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, while others, for the same reason, say they are extremely disappointed by his inaction.

What would I have thought, what if anything would I have bothered to write, if I had an unfavorable impression of the bishop in question? Suppose it had been Bishop Jotterbury of Malaize, by construction the worst serving American bishop. If he were faced with an equivalent prudential judgment, and he reached the equivalent prudential decision, would I have attributed this to his prudence or to his pusillanimity? Might not a coward run away for the right reasons?

So remind me again why I should be passing judgment on the actions of the bishop of a far-away diocese.


Art lessons

In preparing for February 18 -- the feast of Blessed Giovanni da Fiesole, Beato Angelico, on the Dominican calendar (his memorial is March 18 on the Roman calendar) -- I am reading an art history book on his life and work in the context of Fifteenth Century Italian humanism. So far, I have learned that I know nothing about art history and Fifteenth Century Italian humanism, and at this stage I may have to settle for knowing there's a whole lot more going on in Fra Angelico's paintings than I'll ever understand. Mostly I just like pretty pictures.

But I was delighted to read at Video meliora, etc. the "Good Point" that, at the Domincan convent of San Marco, the young, middle-aged, and older friars got the Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries, respectively (if you'll pardon the anachronism). These frescoes were painted after Fra Angelico did several altarpieces and predellas for public churches. The works for secular viewers are on the whole more narrative and descriptive. The friars were given much simpler and more symbolic paintings for their meditations.

Of course, simpler is relative. Can you imagine being a Dominican friar in Florence five hundred years ago, and seeing this every time you return to your cell:


Sunday, February 09, 2003

Blogdom's gain

Kathy the Carmelite's Gospel Minefield is on the air.

(Note for the irony enabled: she doesn't have comments.)


Saturday, February 08, 2003

Cheap indignation

Reacting the the news that Cardinal George won't prevent venal demagogue Al Sharpton from speaking at a Catholic Mass in Chicago, Mark Shea writes:
Another spinectomy perfomed on an American bishop. How long, O Lord?
I don't think Sharpton should be speaking in a Catholic church, and I know he shouldn't be speaking during a Catholic Mass, and I would cheer Cardinal George if he showed up in person to kick Sharpton off Church property and publically rebuke the priest who invited him.

Why isn't the Cardinal doing just that? According to his press release:
The Cardinal believes ... that making a case of this invitation at this time would be a futile gesture and a waste of effort.
Is this spinelessness? Or might it possibly be prudence?

One of the advantages bloggers -- and writers generally -- have over bishops is that our indignation is free. Well, not entirely free: it might cost a few readers who disagree with us -- although it might also gain a few who like a certain amount of indignation in their reading diet. But as a rule, we can rend our garments and bemoan the times with impunity.

A bishop, though, can't indulge his indignation so generously. He has an actual, God-given duty to teach and to govern the people in his diocese. This is not a formal duty, that can be discharged by reciting canon law and saying, "There, I taught you what to do, now do it." It isn't enough for him to teach; the souls in his care have to be taught.

We live in a time when the words that fall from a bishop's lips are not gathered like pearls by the faithful. It doesn't strike me as at all unlikely that, in a particular instance, with a particular parish and a particular priest, "making a case" of inviting Al Sharpton really would be futile and a waste, particularly given such short notice. There's reason to think there are other efforts Cardinal George wants to advance, other gestures he wants the archdiocese to find meaningful, and that the results of these other efforts and gestures could be harmed by playing Sharpton for the Balrog at Khazad-Dûm.

Finally, if this were an example of true spinelessness, would the Cardinal have sent out a press release, or merely let the event go on without comment?


Friday, February 07, 2003

More dogma from the antidogmatic

The Secularist Critique makes this common and undeniable observation:
Science is very useful, no doubt about that. But the questions that are really significant for man, the existential questions like what is the good life, how should I live my life, is there an ultimate purpose to my existence, and others that effect the core of our being and determine ultimately how we live our lives, when it comes to these kinds of questions, science is quite impotent.... When it really comes down to the important things, science is utterly insignificant.
When I say this observation is undeniable, I mean no one who understands what science is and how it works would deny it, nor would people who don't know and don't care what science is nor how it works. And since science in this context basically means a systematic application of the scientific method, almost no one who has ever lived has known enough science to apply it to anything, yet many such people (e.g., Buddha and Socrates) have still managed to reason about the important things.

So the observation isn't strictly undeniable, and of course the sciencists who commented on the post have denied it. One responds:
As for science being insignificant regarding the "important things," if you're talking about value judgements you might be right. If you're talking about medicine, technology, etc (all of which I consider pretty important), you're dead wrong. But, science has never proclaimed to be the bringer of values; values are what we assign to the result of science.
Take a moment to consider the mindset of a person who considers the technology of his society "pretty important," in the same sense determining what is the good life and whether there is an ultimate purpose to existence is "important." One of the purposes of any secularist critique is to highlight the fact that secularist thinking is not simply Western thinking minus all that god stuff. It's a radical break from the whole of the Western tradition. When "Will this pill cure my disease?" is as important a question as "How am I to live my life?", you aren't improving our culture, you're replacing it.

(And yes, a lot of people are more interested in the first kind of question than the second, but as a culture we've always recognized which kind of question is really important.)

Which brings me to the remarkable notion, "values are what we assign to the result of science." Keep in mind that science is a relatively new and relatively limited phenomenon, so the result of science has been available to a markedly limited subset of all the people who have ever lived. According to this notion, then, a considerable subset of all the people who have ever lived had nothing to assign values to. Perhaps they had values, but they would have been unable to actually value anything.

This is nonsense, of course, although I'm not sure the fact people value things other than the results of science can be established to the satisfaction of sciencists; they are notoriously difficult to satisfy. But I think it gives a good insight into the way a sciencist thinks. It certainly explains why they're so hung up on scientific evidence of God; how can any rational person value something that isn't the result of science?

[For the terminologically curious, by "sciencist" I means an adherent of "sciencism," by which I mean more or less the dogma that the scientific method is the sole basis for establishing existence and determining truth.]


Prayer in [a dark corner of] the Dominican tradition

Is there really nothing short of a full-scale military invasion of Iraq that could resolve the current crisis? Is there anything more than the Master's letter the Dominican tradition can offer to the West?

For some reason, I recall a time early in the history of the Order, when (along with the Franciscans) its very existence was at risk in the face of an attack against its exemptions from direct episcopal control. As William Hinnebusch, OP, put it in his The Dominicans: A Short History:
The danger became acute when the University of Paris joined the conflict, seeking to terminate the teaching of the friars. In November 1254, Innocent IV, prompted by William of St. Amour and delegates of the University, revoked the friars' privileges and subjected their ministry to the local clergy. However, their victory was short-lived. Two weeks later Innocent was dead and the friars claimed they had prayed him into his grave. Alexander IV canceled the bull of Innocent one month after it had been issued.
Providence isn't just the name of a fine college.


Outside the box

As Therese points out below,
Until Middle-easterners and/or Middle Eastern leaders do not view the west as enemies, the current conflict will continue. The only thing that will change the situation is for the two peoples to reach out to each other.
Declaring war is a risky way of getting another country to stop viewing you as an enemy. But what choice do we have?

The French foreign minister suggested tripling the number of UN inspectors.


What if the UN sent a million inspectors to Iraq? Give each of them US$1,000 or equivalent, and tell each of them to talk to 25 Iraqis to ask them about weapons of mass destruction. For about five billion dollars, including air fare, we could talk to every Iraqi, make a personal connection between Iraq and the West (I suppose China and Senegal could send inspectors too, if they want), and who knows what the result might be?

And some people say we've tried everything short of war.


My thoughts on the Master's letter

fr. Carlos Azpiroz Costa writes:
Peace is worth the risks while war is the easy way out.
War is the easy way out, in the sense that it's easier to figure out how to win a war than how to win a peace.

My question is whether war is a risk that must be taken in order to obtain peace.

At this point, I'm almost prepared to grant that a just cause for the use of force exists -- does anyone think the oilmen in the White House invented the evidence shown Wednesday at the U.N.? -- but shift concern over to proportionality. That's another problem with a first-strike war: Even if damage is lasting, grave, and morally certain, how do you judge proportionality when the damage hasn't occurred yet?

I don't unreservedly endorse everything in the letter; note how my highlighting stops when its attention turn to the West. But I am trying to listen to fr. Carlos's call to find something between resignation to war and "angelism or naiveté." I haven't yet, but then I haven't been praying enough.

It seems to me from a natural perspective there is nothing between war and capitulation. That leaves the Divine perspective, and it's the job of the Church to bring this perspective to the world.


Letter from the Master on Iraq

by fr. Carlos A. Azpiroz Costa, OP, Master of the Order of Preachers
fr. Dominique Renouard, OP Vicar of the Master of the Order , 2/7/03
[emphasis in bold added by J da F]

Rome. On a visit to Iraq, we heard the sound of an Anglo-American plane and the noise of exploding bombs in the distance. We were walking along the streets of Qaraqoch, a small Christian village a few kilometers from Mosul. We soon learned that the bombing is a daily occurrence here but it still surprises strangers. The Chaldean priest who accompanied us simply commented that "those are your bombs". When children hear the noise, they climb on roof tops to see where they fall.

During our eight days in Iraq in October 2002, we met the Dominican friars and most of the Apostolic Sisters present in the country as well as many Lay Dominicans.

The friars are located in Mosul and Baghdad where they are responsible for the teaching and formation of the Christian communities in Iraq. They publish a journal,
La Pensée chrétienne (Christian Thought) which has an impact beyond the Christian community. Additionally, the friars have a Theological Centre, created some ten years ago, which they look after in collaboration with others. The Centre attracts 500 to 600 students who attend theology courses on Monday nights. There are approximately 800 who register annually and 300 to 400 who complete the yearly cycle.

The Iraqi Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, founded by the friars 110 years ago, is a dynamic community which is present in Christian villages. The sisters live close to the people and serve the local church. They serve as catechists, run clinics and some teach in their old schools from which they were expelled some thirty years ago. They also direct a house of spiritual exercises and Christian formation, near the University of Mosul. The sisters also have communities in Baghdad as well as abroad in Jordan, Italy, Sweden, Turkey, Lebanon and Palestine. The sisters breathe a joy of life in the communities and their presence provides comfort to Christians. However, their situation is becoming more difficult because of the arrival of groups adhering to Wahabbi Islam, who are very aggressive against Christians.

In Baghdad, the community of the Sisters of Charity, Dominicans of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary including their novices, run a clinic which is one of the best in the city that provides great services in spite of the difficulties in obtaining medicine and drugs as well as medical supplies. Their maternity ward is especially appreciated by everyone and, in recognition of the work of the sisters, a number of Muslim families have named their children Joseph and Mary.

In Mosul, the sisters of the Presentation operate a small guest house for Christian female students who are subjected to pressures to convert to Islam.

Lay Dominicans are organized in three regions consisting of eight groups with about 500 members. Besides their formation activities, they are also very involved in their parishes as well as in charitable activities. One of the activities consists in working with the sisters to provide financial help to families who must cover the travel costs of students who wish to attend school. Schools are free but travel costs are more than the families can afford.

The possibility of war in the near future and its consequences for Christians and other religious minorities is uppermost in the minds of people. The situation also contributes to a large emigration of the Iraqi elite, especially among Christians. However, people continue to plan for the future. Notwithstanding the menace of a war, the friars and sisters themselves are building and developing projects and activities in common. At the same time, those we met all expressed concern for the immediate future, viewing the increase of Islamic fundamentalism and the effects of the embargo as a dangerous mix. Malnutrition is one of the causes of the deaths of four to five thousand children per month. In spite of this, they remain hopeful and this in itself is a testimony of faith founded on a history of martyrs. The presence of religious is a sign of hope, especially since these last years they have continued to put up new buildings and restore old ones that were in disrepair. Their endeavors are examples of service to the Christian and Muslim populations in the country.

The Iraqi regime is certainly not exemplary and people are aware of this fact. Iraqis are the primary victims of the situation, which is aggravated by the embargo that adds to the material and economic constraints the regime imposes on them. We can at least raise the question of the moral legitimacy of a 12-year embargo that has failed to achieve its goal of ending the regime. We can as well question the moral legitimacy of the concept of a "preventive war". This concept would appear dangerous for a number of reasons: who establishes the criteria for determining the launching of such a war? if this reasoning is acceptable, who would prevent another country from doing likewise in the face of a "potential danger" of its own design?

In terms of the embargo, it has brought about a general impoverishment of the population with a consequent quasi disappearance of the Iraqi middle class that was previously a relatively important and cultured one. In a country that, according to many accounts, was secular and religiously tolerant some years ago, impoverishment has paved the way for the development of fundamentalism.

In the present context, the action of religious and lay Dominicans in the Western World is limited. It is evident that as well as praying for peace, they also have rights and duties as citizens and, therefore, it is possible for them to inform and put pressure on elected officials. Since one of the main challenges is the lack of balanced information, members of religious communities with their independent information networks can help to develop a less simplistic public opinion on the situation, for instance in reminding people that there have been Christians in the Middle East since the Apostolic age and inviting all to pray in union with them. This can take place, for example, in parishes and would be a response to a request often heard from Iraqi Christians: "Don't forget us!" Furthermore, certain symbolic actions such as fasting are possible even though they will not attract wide attention from the media. This was undertaken by a number of Dominican men and women who fasted for one month in September 2002, in New York City. The fast ended with a Liturgy of the Word presided by the Master of the Order in the gardens of the UN and had a strong impact on the participants including the homeless of Union Square who supported the fasters. Regretfully, the fast was barely mentioned in a media that is dominated by a single way of thinking. It is also worth noting two initiatives of the Dominican Leadership Conference, an organization made up of the leadership of the Dominican sisters and brothers of United States. The first initiative was a petition addressed to members of the US Congress, which was widely circulated. The second one was an invitation for Dominicans to wear a badge, which reads: "I have family in Iraq". Such initiatives could be repeated elsewhere in line with local context and requirements.

We recognize that there are other actions being undertaken for peace beyond the ones mentioned above. All actions for peace are useful including gestures of solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Iraq. The situation is complex and therefore it is necessary to analyze it and to highlight what is at stake, without falling into angelism or naiveté. We need to act without prejudice but with all the boldness and the radicalism which the Gospel inspires. Peace is worth the risks while war is the easy way out.

We encourage all members of the Dominican Family to work resolutely for peace through prayer and actions inspired by the Spirit. Your lobbying activity vis-à-vis elected officials and governments can make a difference. Non-violent action carried out in a serious and determined way, in the name of justice and peace and with reference to the Gospel, can still avoid a cataclysm that could lead to disastrous results for the Iraqi people as well as for the Middle East and its relations with the rest of the world.


Thursday, February 06, 2003

Doubtful matters
"That leaves the impression that it's fine to call yourself a Catholic and also hold views that are contradictory to the Catholic faith. Well, I said it's not fine." -- Bishop William K. Weigand of Sacramento, on California Governor Gray Davis's boastfully pro-abortion rights position
Looking again at Fr. Philip Kaufman's essay (well, book chapter, but it can stand by itself) "Probabilism: The Right to Know of Moral Options," I think I've spotted his error.

He is correct in writing that probabilism says "that in doubtful matters people could follow the probable opinion of a competent minority of theologians." (Although if he really thinks probabilism has been adopted over probabiliorism as a rule in the confessional "throughout the Catholic Church," there are a couple of priests I could introduce him to.)

Fr. Kaufman's mistake is in how he defines what a "doubtful matter" is. He seems to think that if "reputable theologians defend positions on moral issues contrary to the official teaching of the Roman magisterium" then these moral issues constitute doubtful matters and therefore probabilism may be applied to them.

This raises the immediate question of what makes a theolgian "reputable." Fr. Kaufman suggests
that the criteria should be those used to judge the competence of scholars in other intellectual disciplines: economists, sociologists, biologists, physicists, etc. How do they rank with their peers? Are their articles and books taken seriously? How reputable are the schools in which they teach?
This is reputation by bootstrap. If enough theologians agree with each other, then their very agreement becomes the source of their reputability, and hence their ability to generate "doubtful matters."

The problem with this is that theology is not just an intellectual discipline; it is an examination into Revelation. We can distinguish two meanings of "theology": one is the academic study, with professors and journals and tenure; the other is the genuine study of God and His Word. The two meanings aren't mutually exclusive, but they are distinct. (Similarly, there are two meanings of "physics," one being the scientific study of mass and energy, the other being what actually happens when masses and energies interact.)

Fr. Kaufman's suggestion fails radically when theology in the academy fails, and at least one theologian (who is also a cardinal) has strongly implied that, in the U.S. at least, theology in the academy has failed.

Take another look at the idea of "reputable theologians defend[ing] positions on moral issues contrary to the official teaching of the Roman magisterium." The official teaching of the Roman magisterium * on any number of controversial matters is in no doubt. The law of the Church is clear and unambiguous.

Where does the doubt come from, then? From "reputable theologians." But if the job of a theologian is to explain the teaching of the Church, then is a theologian who rejects the teaching of the Church doing his job? If not, if he isn't even being a theologian, then in what sense (other than the academic, which is meaningless in this context) can he be a reputable theologian?

I'm oversimplifying here -- a theologian is not simply a scribe of Magisterial teaching -- but I think my complaint of the circularity of Fr. Kaufman's argument holds.

(Thanks to Kevin Miller for the link to Bishop Weigand's statement.)

* And don't you just love the tendentious use of "Roman" for an American readership? See also his association of probabiliorism with "the side of law, traditions, Church authorities, and rigoristic confessors," contrasted with probabilism's concern "more for the needs of the individual conscience." Or his use of the term "the birth control encyclical."


No, more war!

The Kairos Guy has convinced me to clean up my language.

Specifically, I will use "pacifism" to mean, more or less, the doctrine that war is wrong, and "nonviolence" to mean, more or less, a personal proscription against violent means.

Responding to my "two ways to address conflict" post, Tom T. asks:
If the Church takes a position that a particular conflict is or is not a just war, however, then the two responses of pacifism or just war can no longer co-exist as to that conflict, correct? Those within the Church must follow its teaching as to the justness (or not) of a particular war?
The wrinkle here is that the Church teaches it is up to the competent authority, not the Church, to judge whether a war is just. The Church, in the persons of her bishops, can say something like, "If the circumstances are thus, then a war is not just," but she can't always say, "The circumstances are thus."


Wednesday, February 05, 2003

...probably pure guff

The Contrarian has long wondered
how the old Jesuit moral system of probabilism interacts with an ordinary teaching of the magisterium....

The logic of probabilism has been construed by some Catholic authors who dissent from magisterial teaching to mean that, if one or two theologians reputed for their craft and skill and prudence oppose a teaching of the ordinary magisterium in some respect, then the Catholic may legitimately act in accordance with the opinion of the dissenting theologian and not the teaching of the magisterium. This view is proposed by a Benedictine priest named Philip Kaufman in his book Why You Can Disagree And Remain a Faithful Catholic....

If the magisterium has not specifically legislated that the probabilist system cannot be applied to a teaching of the magisterium, then it is at least plausibly doubtful whether such a law exists. Assuming that a reputable theologian teaches Kaufman's point of view, then a person may then safely use the probabilist system in the manner which Kaufman advocates, even if the majority of theologians believe otherwise, thereby opening the door for Catholics to act in a manner contrary to that which is taught by the magisterium with a clear conscience.

Now my head is starting to spin.
I'm no more qualified than Patrick to give an informed opinion, but let me suggest the following as a framework to begin to reason about it:

"A version of probabilism holds that, if a few theologians dissent from a magisterial teaching, then anyone may act contrary to the magisterial teaching with a clear conscience. But this is absurd. Therefore, this version of probabilism is ..."


An irony of evangelical atheism

An evangelical atheist, commenting at The Secular Critique, let fly what must be among the sharpest barbs in his quarrel: "You're not scientifically-inclined, eh?"

This is an ironic criticism of religious belief for two reasons. First, the commenter and his fellow evangelicals demonstrate a poor understanding of what science is, how it works, and how it fails. I don't know how scientifically inclined the host of The Secular Critique is, but his antagonists in the discussion over there seem to be scientifically misinclined. I think this comes from defining human reason (or, more popularly, "rationality") in terms of the scientific method.

The second, related, but larger reason it's ironic for evangelical atheists to accuse others of being scientifically disinclined is that their own understanding of science is completely ad hoc. To them, physics is just a free-floating collection of facts, unconnected to any underlying metaphysics. In fact, their minds seem completely untroubled by any thoughts of metaphysics at all.

The irony of this lies in the fact that the motive for studying physics, the motive for all science, is wonder. The first step up the ladder of wonder -- logically if not chronologically -- is metaphysics. Without a philosophy of being, the "hard" sciences cease to be science; they are reduced to sets of things people have noticed.

There is nothing wonderful in the numbers written in a lab notebook. It's only when there is a framework within which these numbers can be interpreted that the wonder arises when we see that my numbers look a lot like your numbers, which look a lot like Michaelson and Morley's numbers.

That framework is not possible without metaphysics. Evangelical atheists complain that religious language is "completely devoid of content," without ever noticing that "E=mc2" is completely devoid of content if you don't know what mass is, and you can't know what mass is if you don't know what existence is.

So when you have no metaphysics at all -- or, to be generous, when your metaphysics is, "To be is to be observable by the scientific method" -- you've removed the whole purpose for your physics. Instead of a product of human wonder, science becomes an obsession of human reason. A sciencist who says, "By definition, the universe is everything that exists," is no friend to science, however scientifically inclined he believes himself to be.


Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Wise as serpents

I've seen several claims to the effect that witholding money is the only control layfolk have over their bishops. This strikes me as a form of clericalism.

Okay, that may be too fancy, but I think it is an implicit yielding of the whole of our faith to the clergy.

Can't a layman pray? Can't he fast? Can't he light a candle, or go on a pilgrimage, or wear sackcloth?

For that matter, even if we stick to secular approaches, can't he write letters, organize meetings, sit on the ground outside the bishop's residence?

The "money is the only thing" mentality sounds uncomfortably like the mentality of people for whom money is the only thing.

Now, will prayer and fasting, sackcloth and candles result in a bishop's mending his ways? My answer is, "Yes, and prove me wrong," although I could accept, "Probably not, but we do it anyway." How many Catholics, though, believe the answer is, "Surely you're joking"?

Given layfolk who are praying and fasting, does it follow that their only secular recourse is to withhold money from the diocese? I don't see how it can. If people believe the failure of the bishop is severe enough that they are willing to suspend their canonical obligation to provide for the needs of the Church (and giving to the St. Vincent de Paul Society doesn't seem to satisfy the obligation described in Canon 222), then I think they ought to be willing to do something that actually inconveniences them.

Again, the idea of acting by omission rather than comission is a distinctly secular form of protest. People boycott grapes in far greater numbers than march with migrant workers.


"Dogma is what you people do."

That, of course, is a dogma of dogmatic atheism, put in unusually pithy form by a dogmatic atheist commenting on Catholic and Enjoying It! (and he's showing up elsewhere as well).

Something similar can be found in the comments at The Secularist Critique, a website that I think is trying to engage thoughtful atheists, but so far has attracted mostly dogmatic atheists, such as the one who declares, "To posit a creator god prior to and separate from all of existence is a contradiction in terms."

Now, anyone who says that is demonstrating that he simply doesn't understand what he is talking about, any more than the person who thinks dogma is what religious people do. It takes someone with more patience for this sort of foolishness than I have to keep the discussion going much beyond this, and I pray for all those so blessed to be more successful than I've been in my few abortive attempts at it.


It could be worse

T.S. O'Rama pulls out a statement Kathy the Carmelite made in a comment below:
But I suspect that some of the vehemence that denies the possiblity of a just war is actually a function of unbelief in life eternal.
What does "unbelief" mean here?

It seems to me that a person can have a belief in eternal life that is as solid as a rock and as lively as a rock. Someone can have no doubt whatsoever that an afterlife awaits us all, at the same time he lives as though that makes no difference in this present life.

St. James might say that such faith is dead, but it is faith of a sort nonetheless.

I think the problem lies in radically disconnecting this life with the next life, as if they were two acts of a play. But life eternal has already begun in us. That's what baptism is, that's the meaning of Easter, that's the good news. Baptism isn't something we get now to use later, like a pair of skis during a summer sale. It is a participation, right now, in eternity.

Jesus came in the flesh and died on the Cross to "free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life," as the Letter to the Hebrews says. I don't know how many evangelical pacifist Catholics think death is the worst thing that can happen to us, but if any do, I hope they will realize that death has already happened to us, and that we won.

(Making the same point to the just war supporters, there are worse things than being killed by weapons of mass destruction.)

T.S. O'Rama wonders whether this sort of thinking is how the Church once justified persecution of heresy, whether
in the past they believed that the killing of some heretics was justified, by the souls they were saving of countless others who would have been damned.
St. Thomas's support for the execution of heretics is well known. He saw heretics as committing a much graver offense than "forgers of money and other evil-doers" who were subject to execution. But the persecution, and possible excommunication followed by execution, of heretics, served a different purpose for the Church:
On the part of the Church, however, there is mercy which looks to the conversion of the wanderer, wherefore she condemns not at once, but "after the first and second admonition," as the Apostle directs: after that, if he is yet stubborn, the Church no longer hoping for his conversion, looks to the salvation of others, by excommunicating him and separating him from the Church, and furthermore delivers him to the secular tribunal to be exterminated thereby from the world by death.
So it might be fairer to say that excommunication was justified to save the souls of others while execution was justified as punishment for the offense of heresy, but that is a mighty fine distinction.


Monday, February 03, 2003

Both/and, even with either/or

I think I'm just coming to appreciate the significance of this statement, from the U.S. Bishops' 1993 letter, "The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace":
The Christian tradition possesses two ways to address conflict: nonviolence and just war.
I mentioned below that the homilist I heard yesterday made this point, and last week I came across the same idea expressed this way:
Pacifism and the just use of force are understood to be complementary responses to evil in the world.
These words, from Fr. Rick Peddicord, O.P., appear in the current Dominican Life, the on-line newsletter of the Central U.S. Dominican Province. Dominican Life is itself an example of how these two responses are both within the Christian tradition; the current edition links to the story of a Racine Dominican sister who is going to Iraq to express her abhorrence at the thought of war, as well as three opinion pieces written to balance the impression of univocal pacifism made by previous issues of the newsletter. (I have to say I think the graphics on this second page -- of the Pope, holding his head, between Bush and Saddam -- are brilliant.)

Okay, nothing new here, except that I am just noticing that the Chrisitan tradition possesses both nonviolence and just war responses. It's not that one response is being inflicted on us; neither is an accretion that will, with luck, slough off the Church in the years ahead. They are both ours as a Church, even if they can't both be ours as individuals.

It's wrong, then, to say just war is an oxymoron, or pacifism in the face of evil is evil, or that the one is what God really wants, even if He has to put up with the other given the feebleness of Christians. As a Church, we need to accept both.

But don't they contradict each other? Not necessarily. There are certain forms of each that would refuse the other to anyone. The idea that all war or all pacifism is wrong is necessarily false. What we need to do -- and it's probably already been done, in which case we need to publicize the results -- is to figure out how both can coexist within the Church.

I suspect that the reason both must coexist is because we are enfleshed creatures stuck in time and space. As bodies composing a Body, we are numerous and varied parts, and (if St. Paul will indulge me) there are times when different parts of the body must work against each other to accomplish the body's mission. I row a boat by pulling with my arms and pushing with my feet.

We cannot individually signify the whole of Christ's mission to the world. But neither can we collectively signify the whole mission if we are missing a piece of His Body.


Worthy of the Cross

The visiting Franciscan priest gave an excellent homily yesterday, by which I mostly mean that I agreed with everything he said.

He began by saying that he watched the congregation during the second reading, to see if our eyes began to light up and we shifted forward to the edges of the pews. We didn't, of course; we may find the Faith comforting or satisfying or challenging, but very few of us find it exciting.

The second reading, you remember, is Hebrews 2:14-18:
Since the children share in blood and flesh, Jesus likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the Devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life. Surely he did not help angels but rather the descendants of Abraham; therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.
Yes, yes, we're freed from the slavery of the fear of death; now what's the offertory hymn?

The priest used a striking phrase to describe the knoweldge that Christians have, whether they think about it or not: that the message of Jesus' sharing in blood and flesh is that in God's mind we are worthy of the Cross.

I think he primarily meant that, in looking at us, God sees creatures for whom He is willing to sacrifice His Son. We are creatures worth the Cross Christ bore.

But if I may riff on this a bit: We aren't of ourselves worthy. To God's "I Am Who Am," we are "We are who are not." It is God's infinite -- more than infinite -- condescension to place His image and likeness within us, to declare, "I make them worthy." If you go for unbearable metaphors, you could say that we are God's banknotes; we have value because, and only because, God says so.

Then we get to a secondary meaning of the statement, "We are worthy of the Cross." Jesus tells us to pick up our own crosses daily and follow Him. We know that the way to heaven is the way through Calvary.

We don't like this, we resist, we say, "God can't possibly mean for me to go through this." But if my cross is the way to heaven, then my cross is a gift. If I am worthy of this gift, it can only be because God makes me worthy, because He says, "I will give this person this cross, and by it he shall triumph with My Son." When God gives us a gift, He also gives us the strength and the will and the knowledge and the wisdom to use the gift as it should be used.

No greater love is there than to lay down your life for your friends. If you are worthy of the Cross, then God is giving you all you need to live this greatest love, to be holy as He is holy, and to join the saints in heaven by being a saint on earth.


On the outliers of American Catholicism

Based on the things I've read, my suburban American parish must be an anomaly. Yesterday alone, I heard a prayer of the faithful that we parishioners, rather than the government, be moved to help the homeless; I heard a visiting Franciscan priest say that the Church is not pacifist, although there is a place for pacifism within the Church; I heard the director of religious education, who was speaking to a roomful of seven year olds (and their parents) preparing for First Confession during Lent -- prior to their First Communion during Eastertide -- use the terms "mortal sin" and "venial sin" (and even, evidently symbolically, "altar rail").

Come to think of it, that's not all. The school parents' association moved its annual gambling night outside Lent this year. The associate pastor keeps inviting people to come to confession, and when they show up suggests they come more often. At this rate, the average parishioner will soon be a better Catholic than I.

It's very disconcerting.


Sunday, February 02, 2003

Alls I'm saying... that if they made it a solemnity instead of just a feast, a fellow would be more likely to double-check the calendar to see whether it takes precedence over a Sunday in Ordinary Time.

I hope your Candlemas was merry!


Friday, January 31, 2003

More on reason

To make any sense of the following, read Camassia's post and the comments on it first. Then read her follow-up.

(The writer should be the one setting the context, not the reader, but that's life in hypertext.)

Anyway, Camassia writes:
First of all, what is "reason" in this scheme, and what does it have to do with goodness?
Roughly speaking, by "reason" I mean the ability to correctly determine how good a thing is. The "clouding of reason" I mentioned as a consequence of original sin means I am likely to think something is better or worse than it actually is, so given a choice I am likely to choose what is actually less good.

(If no one minds, I'll set aside the question about what kind of sex is rational for now. I don't have anything original or persuasive to say on the subject.)
Reason can, of course, be helpful in ethics -- making them more consistent, for instance. But ultimate judgments about good and evil aren't based on it. Consider St. Paul's concise summary of ethics in Romans 13:9:... "Love your neighbor as yourself." I don't see what reason has to do with that.
Since by "reason" I basically mean "that by which judgments about good and evil are based," I think we've got a problem with terminology.

We could suppose, though, that "Love your neighbor as yourself" is a revealed precept that human reasoning alone would not arrive at. Then what? Then I have to figure out how to love my neighbor as myself, by figuring out what love is, how I love myself, and what means are available to me to love my neighbor in the same way.
LF seems to be saying that the need to control and suppress our feelings is an effect of our fallenness, while Tom seems to be saying that was in the original plan, we're just not doing it right. One version says being moral is fighting our nature, the other says it's harmonizing with it.
What I'm saying is that in the original plan there was no need to fight our nature, because there was to be no strife between reason and passion. If everyone always agrees on where to go for lunch, there's no need to fight over it. Wolves are not conflicted, toads are one with their emotions, because they aren't fallen.

Well, that was the original plan. Now we're on Plan B, which Louder Fenn describes as "all about fighting your...fallen nature." We most certainly are not to harmonize with our nature, since our nature is distorted. It would be like straightening your hair in a broken mirror. What we are to do is to perfect our nature, which we do by cooperating with God's action in our lives, with His grace.
On Tom's side, we have the problem of what this "harmony" means in practical terms. In fact, homosexuality is an especially good example of this. This is an emotion that, in Catholic thinking, should never be acted upon. It serves no conceivable good purpose to feel it. So as a sin, it's an absence of...what? In a theoretical pre-fallen Eden, what happens to it?
Homosexuality isn't a sin; it's an inclination or preference. I believe it is objectively disordered, and as such wouldn't occur in a pre-fallen Eden. I don't know what I'd say it's an absence of; maybe the discrimination of proper from improper objects of sexual attraction.


A science experiment

In a comment below, Joseph McFaul offers an interesting bet:
I bet that women's ordination could be "developed" if we gave 10 theologians the job of ghostwriting a future Pope's decision to permit women's ordination. I don't think those 10 would take too long in developing a document that could reasonably be characterized as a "development" and not a "reversal."
I wouldn't bet against him. In fact, I'd guess that there are more than 10 theologians now living who feel they've already done this, and are now just waiting for a future pope to recognize it.

But can't we turn it around, and say that 10 theologians could ghostwrite a future pope's decision to formally and explicitly pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma that only men can be ordained? And which group of ten, do you think, would have an easier job of it?

I see a significant problem with the "ten theologians on typewriters" sort of reasoning, which is that it makes theology a sort of sophistry. Ask a theologian what is truth, and he'll say, "What do you want it to be?"

But theology is actually a science, in the old-fashioned sense of a discipline that makes true statements. We forget that, because so much of the theology we hear these days is highly speculative, but that, I think, is because so much of the easy theology has already been done. (Of course the easy theology is being rejected these days -- that's an even easier way to bang out a scholarly paper -- but that's a separate matter.)

So what sort of data does theology operate on? Among other things, it operates on papal statements. When Joseph proposes that ghostwriting team, he is actually proposing a new datum: that a pope has decided to permit women's ordination.

But that's like saying 10 physicists can prove the existence of ghosts if a ghost agrees to be tested in a physics lab. The proposal substantially changes the nature of the question.

From the other side, so does the proposal that a pope wants to explicitly invoke divine revelation to declare women's ordination impossible.

How, then, do we think with the mind of the Church on this matter? It seems to me that we try not to interject any hypotheticals into our thinking -- in particular, what a future pope might want to do -- and satisfy ourselves with the data we have. And I cannot come to any other conclusion, based on the data we have, than that women's ordination is impossible.


Thursday, January 30, 2003

Yankee dispatch from south of the Mason-Dixon line

One of the secrets to keeping Disputations a family friendly place of < html >-to-< /html > sweetness and light is that, when I'm feeling particularly unbearable, I will go and leave a comment on someone else's blog. Then I return, refreshed and relaxed, to write some more balanced commentary in the Dominican tradition here.

Despite the obvious advantages, for both myself and Disputations readers, there is a regrettable downside to this. I need to work on that.

Still, I doubt there is a less sympathetic ear than mine to "War for Southern Independence"-type talk. When I read that Southerners resent Lincoln, I have to think that they are trying to have it both ways, to hold a dual USA-CSA citizenship. I wrote below about mutually incompatible desires; this may be an ideal political example.

There is a lot to regret about the Civil War and its aftermath. But to regret that the North won, while at the same time to be happy and proud that the South is part of the United States ... well, that may be how people feel, but it's a self-contradicting way to think.


The purpose of pointing things out

Mark Shea explains why he points out bishops' miscreancy:
It seems to me that, if it is truly the purpose of the Pope to compel the bishops to face the people they have hurt and betrayed, then it is the duty of the betrayed to speak clearly to those bishops about just how they have (and in some cases, continue to) hurt us by their lousy fidelity to their office.
Fair enough. I'll even go a step further and say it's the duty of the betrayed to speak clearly to those bishops regardless of the Pope's purpose.

But I wouldn't characterize most of what I read along these lines on Catholic blogs as the betrayed speaking clearly to lousy bishops. I would characterize it as gossip.

(I pick on Catholic and Enjoying It! because it's one of the few blogs that indulges in the sport of bad bishop baiting that I enjoy reading nonetheless.)

In a comment on Mark's post, Rod Dreher writes of me:
He makes it appear that there's no difference between orthodox laymen working to get rid of a bishop whose leadership has brought rack and ruin to the diocese, and VOTF... Does Disputations really believe the only legitimate reaction for faithful orthodox Catholics faced with this kind of prelate is to keep their heads down, not complain, and keep giving?
I explicitly mentioned three differences between Dallas and Boston; the difference I'm looking for is the one that matters. I really believe the only legitimate reaction for faithful orthodox Catholics faced with the kind of prelate Bishop Grahmann is accused of being is to hold their heads up, complain prudently, and keep giving.


It is easy for little monkeys to forget

I am puzzled by the enthusiasm expressed for the Dallas cabal that is trying to depose the bishop. What I am missing, I suppose, is the significant difference between the situation in Dallas and the situation last year in Boston, when public calls to stop contributing to the archdiocese were treated as a power grab.

It's not that I don't see several differences. The "ad hoc committee" in Dallas already had power, enough to summon the bishop and make him agree to the "facts" it "presented," including his own resignation. They were certainly more discreet, waiting nearly six years before revealing details of a private meeting in the magazine one of them owns; I'd expect VOTF to fax the minutes of such a meeting to the Boston Globe from the hotel lobby during coffee breaks. I'll even grant, for the sake of argument, that the intentions of the Dallas committee are better than those of VOTF.

What I can't see, though, is why any of that matters. Is supporting your local Church really a morally neutral act, such that in one set of circumstances refusing that support is good, and in another it is evil?

I should admit, if it's not already clear, that I find Wick Allison's editorial extremely off-putting. He complains that Bishop Grahmann "reneged on a deal to resign," a deal dictated by a self-appointed group of laymen who forced his "back to the wall." I would expect people who shudder at the thought of the American laity electing their own bishops to be just as unhappy at the thought of secret oligarchies making the decisions.

I also find the historical interlude very peculiar. Allison implies that, because a Moroney assisted at the founding of the diocese, it's a Moroney's business to tell the Church how it should be run:
In the same issue of Texas Catholic that denounced the News, a separate story announced the donation of a new 49-bell carillon by another publisher of the News, Jim Moroney's father, who is leading the campaign for the renovation of the bishop's own cathedral. That cathedral might not exist, and Dallas might not even have a bishop, if a Moroney had not been here to raise the money for it, to campaign for it, to protect it, to fight for it.
So there is his justification. Not, as with VOTF, an idiosyncratic interpretation of the Second Vatican Council, but good old fashioned money. "We own the dancehall, the stool you're sitting on, and the pipe you're playing, so you'd better play the tune we call."

I don't find any of this inspirational.


When the knowledge of sensible things is directed to something harmful

Complaining about other people doesn't make me a better person. I suspect it doesn't make anyone a better person. In fact, I'd even argue that complaining about other people prevents the complainers from becoming better, if only as far as time spent on the faults of others is time not spent on the faults of oneself.

So I don't think Mark Shea's running "Worst Still-Serving American Bishop" award gag serves a good purpose. Folks who have never been and never will be in New Hampshire or Texas are gossipping about bishops there as though such gossip were itself meritorious.

And yes, my complaining about the complaining of others isn't meritorious either, although I pretend to justify it by using it as the context in which to point out that

Curiosity is a vice. It is a form of intemperance, an inordinate desire to know.

It's one of my chief vices, if you couldn't tell, which is why it bothers me so much to see it in others.


Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Moving right along

This is supposed to be a happy occasion. Let's not bicker and argue about who misrepresented who.

A question is asked:
How do I know, when I survey Church teaching on various controversial subjects, the difference between doctrine subject to legitimate development and doctrine that cannot change?
This is a tough question, and I'm not qualified to give a complete answer.

But for the vast majority of Church teaching, I don't think it's tough to make this distinction in practice. You avoid over-literalism in one direction ("Obviously 'outside the church' includes those protesting on the steps.") and in the other ("But where does it actually say we aren't descended from space aliens?"). You try to "think with the mind of the Church" -- which means understand things the way the Church understands them.

And you find, or at least I find, that the areas of legitimate controversy are much more limited than it might first seem. A lot of the arguments on one side are based on heretical Protestant theologies -- and I mean explicitly heretical, like with the anathemas of ecumenical councils and everything -- of the Nineteenth Century. A lot of the arguments on the other side are based on heretical Jansenist theologies -- and I mean ditto. A lot of the remaining arguments on all sides are based on ahistorical splicings of very small sets of texts, either producing or precluding wiggle room that, in context, none of the cited texts can seriously be held to have intended.

The stock problem of usury is not one I've look at much, but I'm willing to accept for the purpose of argument that, had I lived several centuries ago, I would have said the Church has always taught that earning 3% on a savings account is immoral, and that that teaching could never change. (I mean, I didn't live then, so anything is possible.) The question then becomes, "What is the usury of today?"

My answer is, "How would I know? If by assumption I didn't know the usury of usury's day, why would I be able to pick out a usury of today?" (Conversely, how does the other guy know? Maybe several centuries ago he would have been a disciple of Bruno.) It's a bit sophist, but I think the sophism sits on top of a sound argument.

How do I decide which of the teachings that, as best I can tell, the Church says are irreformable really are irreformable? I decide that they all are. Is it possible I'm wrong? Sure. I could be wrong about what the Church teaches; even the Church's teachers could be wrong, in certain ways, about what the Church teaches. But that's what I mean when I say, "I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church." If I knew all this stuff, it wouldn't be a matter of faith.


Tuesday, January 28, 2003

The magic word

In a comment below, Lisa pointed out:
most of the folks who advocate women's ordination ... view women's "inclusion" as a matter of human rights & simple justice.
When I admitted to finding this view absurd, she replied:
the issue is power ...
You have to read the comments to get the proper context of all this, of course.

But I note again that in one step we move from talk of justice to talk of power. What is the priesthood about? Power! Writing governing documents, naming sins, making the rules. Why would anyone, man or woman, want to be called to that?

I think Lisa is concerned that the particular natural power that prevents women from becoming priests lies wholly in the hands of men. This is a tough challenge to combat. It's not only true, it's necessarily true if God doesn't want women ordained. As an observable fact, it's hardly a reason to suspect that God wants women ordained; in fact, given the way the Church works, isn't it a reason to suspect He doesn't?

But why would it matter that power lies wholly in the hands of men anyway? Unless priests somehow represent men in a way they don't represent women, in which case there is some difference between men and women that has a significant effect on the nature of the priesthood ... but I wouldn't think that's a line of reasoning women's ordination advocates would be eager to pursue.

And if it isn't a men vs. women thing, but that power lies wholly in the hands of the particular men who hold it, well, what of that? When I hear, "Men have all the power in the Church," my first thought is, "Not this one." I don't have any more power, by virtue of my sex, than any woman in the Church. If the problem is which men do have the power, where do we go from here? Do we keep cycling through bishops until we hit a configuration that will permit women's ordination, then say, "Aha! At last we have properly discerned God's will!"

I can't help but think there's an awful lot of question begging being done by women's ordination advocates. (It can be argued that there's a lot being done by its opponents, too, but "But we've always done it this way" does actually count for something in the Church.) I suspect that the first question begged is the bedrock principle of women's ordination, that it's "a matter of human rights & simple justice."

Let me briefly explain why I think this bedrock principle is absurd. It's not an original explanation, but it's pretty straightforward. Ordination to the priesthood is a mystery, a sacrament instituted by God for our supernatural salvation. It is by definition not a matter of human rights; no human has the inalienable right to be a priest. Justice is the giving of what is due to whom it is due; to no human is ordination due. Ordination is no more a matter of human rights than it is a matter of aesthetics or sport.

Now, the way (the only way, as far as I can see) it could be a matter of human rights and justice is if the Church could ordain women, but refuses to. But that's not an argument, that's an assertion. The teaching authority of the Church, meanwhile, more asserts than argues that the Church cannot ordain women. But the teaching authority of the Church can make such an assertion; making such assertions is the business of the teaching authority of the Church. So again, the arguments for and against begin by assuming what they set out to prove, and again, only one side has the authority to do that.

I'm not accusing anyone of bad faith or mean spiritedness, but some people do seem to be trying to construct arguments on a non-existent foundation.


Desires right and wrong

Someone who should have her own blog (possibly shared with a should-have-a-blog Carmelite, if one could be found, and called "In Black and White") points out "there are hundreds of churches in various states of separation from Rome that have" the various things what can be called "progressive Roman Catholicism" is campaigning for. This is certainly true; in fact, there are plenty of "autocephalous Catholic" organizations that seem to define themselves in precisely this way, as Roman Catholicism minus the rules and regulations.

Still, there's wanting and there's wanting. For example, I want to be married to my wife, and I want to own a pistol crossbow. I happen to know these wants are mutually incompatible; they will not both be satisfied in this life. This knowledge doesn't stop me from wanting a pistol crossbow, just from ever expecting to own one.

Similarly, I don't expect Roman Catholics who want women to be ordained to stop wanting women to be ordained. But they must recognize that being Roman Catholic and being a woman priest are mutually exclusive. To fail to see this, in particular to agitate for women's ordination, is to engage in a form of syncreticism, only instead mixing paganism into Catholicism, they're mixing in Congregationalism.

I can sympathize with the desire for things to be other than how they are, and with the experience of desiring two things I cannot both obtain. The moral choice, though, is the greater good. To the extent that people remain Catholic while wanting women's ordination, they are making the correct choice, even if it leads to such wearisome consequences as the National Catholic Reporter's editorial policies.


Happy Universalis Day

Several people have wished me a happy St. Thomas Aquinas Day, and I wish it right back at them.

Today is a feast day for Dominicans, and a patronal feast day for me, so I observe it with somewhat more enthusiasm (and more calories) than most, but please remember that St. Thomas is a saint of the Universal Church, and so "belongs" to all of us.

Think of him as a tuba player in the symphony that is the Church. The other tuba players may feel closest to him, playing the same notes on the same instrument, but he is playing the same song, for the same reason, as the violins and the oboes. (A wrong-minded metaphor is thinking of the different orders as different countries; when I wish Australians a Happy Australia Day, it doesn't make much sense for them to say, "And to you as well!")

St. Thomas has a reputation as a difficult writer to understand. This is true, in more ways than one, and I think when we thank him for his contributions to the Church, we ought to thank his secretary Reginald de Piperno as well. To see what I mean, here is a sample of St. Thomas's handwriting:

On Summa Contra Mundum, Karl Schudt writes, "The model for Aquinas is not his own preferred activity, but the activity of Christ." It's true that the activity of Christ is his model, but we should probably keep in mind that he was writing during a time of confrontation between the established religious customs and the emerging customs of the mendicant orders. The "active life that consists in passing on to others through preaching and teaching truths that have been contemplated" Aquinas says is "more perfect than the solely contemplative life" happens to be precisely the life the Dominicans considered their own. To the extent St. Thomas was a philosopher, he was bucking the trend, but to the extent he was a Dominican, he was greasing the rails.

Finally, don't forget to make a hearty and filling pot of Dumb Ox Tail Soup tonight.


Contemplative prayer

Eve Tushnet asks what contemplative prayer is, then answers her own question:
There have definitely been times when I felt really sharply focused on one aspect of God, for example God the Creator, or the Crucifixion--almost always this was in the presence of the Eucharist, often right after receiving Communion. Basically it was like I snapped into a visceral awareness of God, an intense "noticing" of an aspect of God and a sense of how this aspect is directly relevant to my own life. Seeing what is always there, in other words, underneath the inattention and pride and other accumulated grime of the Fall--as if a curtain had moved away from a window, or the sun come out from clouds.
I think the difficulty with recognizing this experience as prayer -- in fact, the highest form of prayer -- is that it isn't active and discursive. Since we in the West are active and discursive, and since from our mothers' laps we have been trained in the ways of active and discursive prayer, a prayer that is receptive and ineffable seems like a completely different thing than prayer, rather than its perfection.

Fr. William McNamara, OCD, defined contemplation as a long, lingering, loving look at the real, and in a natural sense this is something we can (and should) do every day. The most real real, though, is God, and we cannot look upon God in this life. In His love for us, He occasionally moves the curtain for us, so that we can (and must) look at Him. This experience is what I understand by contemplative prayer. And it's for everyone, not just the professional contemplatives.


Sunday, January 26, 2003

On married priests

A follow-up to the last post, in which I wrote progressive Roman Catholics often prefer that priests can marry.

I'm sure you know the stock exchange on married priests, the one with the words "discipline, not dogma," and the comparison with the Eastern Churches.

But I think we should recognize that, among progressive American Catholics, what's really being recommended is that priests be allowed to marry, not just that married men be allowed to be ordained priests.

Married bishops? What do you think the answer will be, from people who think the answer to the question of whether women can be ordained is, "Sure. Why not?"

Their model is not Eastern Orthodox, but Episcopalian. Which again, is not a move in a direction I can imagine marks progress from where the Church is today.


No token of esteem

Katherine of Not for Sheep has discovered that being "the token progressive in St. Blog's" could be lucrative, if only the shots taken at her weren't so cheap.

But while, as the word is used nowadays, her opinions on a lot of things do make her "progressive," that only reminds me of my dissatisfaction with the way the word is used nowadays.

The sorts of things that are usually taken to distinguish a "progressive Roman Catholic" from a "conservative Roman Catholic" include preferences for priests who can marry, for women priests, for giving Communion to divorced-and-remarried Catholics, for giving Communion to non-Catholics, for recognizing gay unions, for liturgical innovations unconnected with Church tradition, indeed for personal preference over tradition generally, for the morality of contraception and often enough of abortion, for action at the expense of contemplation, for the laity at the expense of the hierarchy.

When I bundle these things up and imagine a church that adopted them whole, it seems to me to mark an advancement toward Unitarianism as compared to the Church as she exists today. With apologies to my Unitarian readership, I cannot believe that such a change would mark progess for the Church founded by Jesus Christ.

There are legitimate tensions between "progressive" and "conservative" dispositions, between the personal and the general, the immediate and the universal, the laity and the hierarchy, the immanent and the transcendent, the becoming and the being. But the "progressivism" of the National Catholic Reporter is suspiciously like the "progressivism" of the American media culture. Do we really think Hollywood movie stars are more faithful prophets of God than is the Church?


Friday, January 24, 2003

Stop proving my point before I've made it!

I believe this statement by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is supposed to draw appreciative nods from the National Catholic Reporter readership:
"I didn’t think I wanted to be a nun. But I thought I might want to be a priest. There seemed to be a little more power there, a little more discretion over what was going on in the parish."
There's that magic word. The word that explains too much about the Roman Catholicism of Nancy Pelosi and NCR.


Including the headline, the word "power" appears five times in this article. The word "service" doesn't appear at all.

(Link via Amy Welborn.)


Pacifism and fortitude

De Virtutibus has an insightful post on pacifist virtues, and how they might relate to warrior virtues.

It may be time for those of us who are neither pacifists nor warriors to start figuring out the virtues of those who only stand and wait.


Thursday, January 23, 2003

Just because

I need to do truth before I even get to beauty, but


Lost by the translation

Hernan Gonzales might be saying something bad about me:
Leyendo ahora la explicación de Jim del corporal, parece que la teoría de John, sin dejar de ser perfecta, tiene el inconveniente de estar en contradicción con los hechos.

Bueno... No me acuerdo quién fue el que dijo -es de esas frases de atribución variada ... creo que la leí adjudicada a Lenin- lo de «Si los hechos no se corresponden con mi teoría, peor para los hechos». Pero, si uno puede esperar eso de un político, de un intelectual ideologizado, (y de algún científico moderno...), uno mantiene la ilusión de que un dominico jamás lo va a decir...
I will simply note that the fact that a theory is false does not imply that it must be discarded entirely. One might keep it around, like a dried alligator head, for conversational purposes.

Here, however, Babelfish utterly fails me:
Cuando leí esto -en su contexto ... y en el mío- me dije: «Este Tomás... es un capo».
Because I'm pretty sure Hernan is not saying, "This Tomás... is I castrate". (Nor, per FreeTranslation, "This Thomas is a boss.")

Still, at least now I have a word to scream out at the world should I ever be driving in Argentina.


I feel better now

I got that whole Washington Post front page thing off my chest.


Anger-filled subscriber

Despite having been a subscriber for several years, I was still surprised by the front page of this morning's Washington Post. Below the words, "Anger-filled anniversary" was a picture of a few ABORTION RIGHTS SUPPORTERS screaming at pro-life marchers.

The utter, filthy mendacity of using the three abortionistas in a sea of fifty thousand pro-lifers as the visual, full-color, above-the-fold icon of the March for Life is beneath contempt. This should prompt several resignations from the Post, if only from a sense of personal integrity.

Oh, if you really care, you can go to the Metro section to actually read an article about the march. Apparently, tens of thousands marching in Washington is only a front-section story when they're opposing killing babies outside the U.S. But that's to be expected from the Post.


Wednesday, January 22, 2003

I will not put a pun here

Camassia is probably right that our dialogue is winding down. If I do have a that's-just-the-way-it-is attitude, I think it would be because we are pretty close to the point where, in fact, from the Catholic perspective, that is just the way it is.

I think the questions she's been asking are tremendously important, particularly for Christians, but as I've written before, fundamentally they aren't the sort of questions we can answer adequately. Not after a lifetime of contemplation, much less prior to making a leap of faith into Christianity.

I don't see this as a weakness of Christianity, though. I see it as a mark that Christianity preaches something bigger than human reason, and if anything should be unsurprising it's that reality is bigger than human reason.

However, since no one has yet commented on another of Camassia's posts, I thought I'd give it a shot:
I disagree that the "will" must be some sort of free-floating entity within the mind.... Reason and emotion -- not to mention our many conflicting reasons and emotions -- are ultimately part of one organism. I think of my "will" as what I end up doing once all those factors play out within myself.
I'll buy that. Traditional language does make it sound as though the will, the intellect, the emotions, and so forth exist as little boxes exchanging messages inside a human person, but that's mostly a formalism to provide a more or less rigorous way to talk about how and why people act. The will is simply the "faculty," the means by which a person makes choices. That such means exist can be inferred from the fact that people make choices, but speaking of "the faculty of the will" doesn't imply that the will is somehow physically or spiritually separate from the rest of the person.
...Christians say unbelievers "choose to reject God," as if everybody looked coolly over the situation -- Jesus, love and heaven or sin, death and hell -- and inexplicably chose the latter.
Yes, that does sound as if a written test will be administered following an extensive explanation of the options. What it means, though, is that the choices a person makes amount to a choice for or against Christ, whether the person thinks so or has even ever heard of Christ.

This can lead to all sorts of problems and paradoxes in trying to figure out whether a person in a particular situation has or has not chosen God -- which makes me think trying to figure out whether a person in a particular situation has or has not chosen God is not something a Christian is supposed to do, unless the person in question is himself.
God is supposedly our Creator. So even if we are not his slaves, he made us complete with our impulses and desires and capacities and what have you. While you cannot control what is in your slave's heart, God can control our hearts -- he made our hearts. Where does the love in your heart come from? Do you will it? Or does it just happen? What does freedom really mean here?
Following the principle that all goodness comes from God, the love in my heart comes from God. But we should also follow the principle that God is more unlike us than He is like us. If I say, "God put my love for Him in my heart," I'm speaking analogically. God doesn't put things in my heart the way I put pennies in a coin bank. He is the "first cause" of things, and He causes things in a way wholly different from the way I cause things, mostly because He is not a thing Himself.

I know I can't make myself very clear on this -- and frankly, this is a subject on which there are longstanding and bitter divisions within Christianity -- but God can cause me to cause myself to love Him. A common analogy is the rose: does God cause the rose to bloom, or does the rosebush? My answer is that both God and the rosebush cause the rose to bloom, but in very different ways: God as the first cause making the rosebush as the second cause make the rose bloom.
I can't say, of course, what goes on in the mind of a Christian. But I wonder, again, how serious the option to walk away is. Many Christians -- if not all of them -- wrestle with belief in God, but I doubt many have believed firmly in God and chosen to walk away. Again, the question seems to be of faith rather than morality or even choice.
Oh, my yes, the option to walk away is extremely serious. And extremely appealing.

Now "walking away from God" need not entail apostasy, a categorical and intentional renunciation of one's faith in Christ. A Christian walks away from God whenever he choses something instead of God; in other words, each time he sins. And remember, one's choices reflect one's faith; you can't choose God without faith, and you can't lose faith without choosing against God.

So it is a question of both faith and morality. It's sort of like reading a paperback while on a date; the action is a sure and certain indication that you are not fully committed to the relationship.


Fideism makes perfect sense...

when you're unable to reason.

Of the last fifteen hundred Masses I've assisted at, exactly one was said according to the 1962 Rite. During that Mass, a dog wandered in through an open door and strolled around the church for a few minutes. That was the only Mass during which that happened.

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "A return to Latin means dogs wandering around our churches." But you would be wrong, because two of the Masses I've assisted at that were said according to the Paul VI Rite were in Latin, and no dogs wandered around during either of them.

So let's not say that Latin causes wandering dogs, when it's clearly the 1962 Rite that causes it.

O yes, all you traditionalists, I know: The 1962 Rite is approved by the Church, supported by legitimate authority, and all that. I'm not saying the 1962 Rite, as found in the liturgical books, requires wandering dogs. I'm just saying that, in my experience, its use inevitably leads to wandering dogs.

So I know which rite I seek out, and which I avoid.


The changing of the guard

The Washington Post has a front-page story today about the young people involved on both sides of the abortion debate. The picture of the anti-abortion young people is of the punk Christian band Last Tuesday performing in a Capitol Hill hotel.

The picture of the pro-abortion young people is of several glum-faced white female college sophomores at a feminist group meeting. It is such a stereotypical representation of glum-faced sophomore feminism The Onion could use it for an article like, "Feminism's Next Generation: Less Militant, Just As Cranky."

To my mind, glum-faced sophomore feminism is self-refuting. If it really does pose a serious threat to pro-life efforts, there's something profoundly wrong with pro-life efforts.


Another perfectly good theory ruined by facts

Fr. Jim Tucker, explaining the use of the corporal at Mass, writes
Any bread or wine to be consecrated at that Mass ought to be placed upon the corporal, for two reasons: (1) they will become Christ’s Body and Blood at the consecration, and the Eucharist must rest upon a corporal; (2) the general (or “default”) intention of the priest is only to consecrate the elements upon the corporal and so, unless he specifically intends otherwise, bread and wine outside the corporal (for instance, if he leaves a cruet of wine upon the altar) will not be consecrated.
I did not know about this limiting general intention, and I find its existence inconvenient for a pet theory of mine, which holds that the reason the valid ingredients for the bread used for consecration are so constrained is to prevent the Cheerios the little kids in the back of the church are dropping from being consecrated.


Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Another way of looking at it

If we divide all wars, from the perspective of a nation fighting them, into offensive wars and defensive wars; and

If we define a "defensive war" as a war begun in direct response to an attack by another country; and

If we define an "offensive war" as a war not begun in direct response to an attack by another country; and

If we use this definition of "offensive war" in the U.S. bishop's 1983 statement that "Offensive war of any kind is not morally justifiable"; and

If we note that a country always maintains the right to legitimate defense against unjust attack; then

Offensive wars are always unjust; defensive wars are always just. We can skip all that "proper authority" and "just cause" jazz and hop right into questions of ius in bellum.

My guess is that, since the U.S. bishops have not skipped the "proper authority" and "just cause" jazz since 1983, it follows that their definition of "offensive war" is not "war not begun in direct response to an attack by another country."

The Kairos Guy is concerned that the Church is moving toward declaring that war is by its nature unjust. I don't share his concern; as recently as the last U.S. military operation, those notorious leftists in the U.S.C.C.B. supported the use of military force.

But I do see the scope of what constitutes a just war narrowing. Why? At least in part because, to use St. Thomas's phrase, a just war requires "that those who are attacked should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault." The world now affords means other than war of punishing a country because they deserve it on account of some fault, and almost all means of redressing injustice are preferable to war.

I think it's unfortunate that American Catholics are having to work through the current hard case with Iraq without ever having fully digested Magisterial teaching on the morality of the Cold War. We are a results-oriented society -- "Hey, we won, right? Good thing we didn't listen to the Church!" -- and that's a bias we need to overcome if we want to make prudent decisions.


I wish I'd said that

At the end of his "2002 in Review," Greg Krehbiel of Journeyman writes:
John Paul II added five new mysteries to the rosary. Since I don't pray the rosary it doesn't matter much to me, but that's probably the only thing that happened in 2002 that will be significant in 3002.


Monday, January 20, 2003

In practice, theory isn't even the same as theory

Catholics often appeal to just war theory when reasoning about the use of force against Iraq. That different Catholics come to different conclusions isn't due entirely to differences in prudential judgments.

There has been a divergence of thought about just war theory into two competing camps. According to one, the fundamental presumption is a presumption against war, that war is so terrible a just cause for it exists only in extreme cases. The other camp begins with a presumption against injustice, that a just cause for war exists when one nation sufficiently impedes the good that is due another nation (or possibly its own people).

Both camps appeal to the just war tradition, but it seems to me that the "presumption against injustice" side has the better case to make that, for example, they are closer to what St. Thomas had in mind when he discussed war.

Granting that, though, it doesn't follow that the "presumption against injustice" side has the better case to make for how to judge just cause. St. Thomas is an excellent source to start thinking about a problem with, but unless the question is, "What did St. Thomas think?," he does not necessarily get the last word.

I've seen arguments along these lines: "The U.S. bishops, the Vatican, and the Pope all say just war theory entails this. St. Thomas, however, said it entails that. Therefore the U.S. bishops, the Vatican, and the Pope are wrong." (Some arguments go on to disparage the minds and hearts of those said to be wrong.)

I would say, though, that in a situation when the U.S. bishops, the Vatican, and the Pope all agree, and St. Thomas disagrees, you really have to go with the Magisterium over the theologian. (I'm not saying, by the way, that St. Thomas would disagree with the Magisterium; I think the fairer way to put it is that what the Magisterium has been saying, from here to Brunei and even unto the ends of the earth, represents a natural development of what St. Thomas wrote 750 years ago.) It seems pretty obvious in the case of most living theologians; I don't see why it should be less obvious in the case of a dead one.


Salvation by what?

As expected, Camassia did not find what I wrote about the Atonement to be entirely satisfying, which may be about the only sense in which I resemble St. Paul:
Romans was pretty confusing to me too, especially on the topic of Jewish law. The gist seemed to be that God laid down the law but no one followed it perfectly, hence the need for Jesus to come and render forgiveness. What I can't tell is whether this was because giving the laws to Moses was a previous attempt at getting people to live right that failed, or whether the Law itself is somehow inherently inadequate to actually make people good enough to meet God.
My understanding is that following the Law sufficed to maintain the proper Creator-creature relationship, but that no one was able to follow the Law perfectly ("the just man falls seven times"). Even if someone did follow it perfectly, though, I don't think he would be able to enter into the Father-Son relationship that Jesus' life, death, and resurrection makes possible.

To my mind, the wider purpose of giving the Law was as preparation for the coming of the Messiah. Putting it awkwardly, there had to be a people who knew the Law well enough to recognize its fulfillment in Jesus.
But anyway, this is a roundabout way of getting to the question that I asked earlier: what was the fate of those who lived before Jesus? ... So no man can see God and live, but what of the afterlife? If none were righteous, was everyone damned? Could Christ save the dead?
Yes, Christ could save the dead; this is what the Apostles' Creed refers to when it says, "He descended into hell." Traditionally, this is called "the Harrowing of Hell," when Christ brought the predestined souls of those who died before Him into heaven.
I am also a bit doubtful that Catholics believe that mankind's whole side of the bargain was paid through the Crucifixion. Aside from the faith caveat -- an awfully big one -- people also evidently have to repent their sins. Maybe I'm taking Shakespearean theology too seriously, but I was under the impression that even a believer who died "in his sins," that is before repenting them, was destined for otherworldly punishment.
Well, yes, but then again no.

The whole side of the bargain was paid through the Crucifixion, but each of us must still choose whether we are on Christ's side. Our choice is indicated by whether we have faith in Christ, and whether we have faith in Christ is indicated by whether we follow him. ("If you love Me, obey My commands.")

To "die in one's sins" generally means to die in mortal sin, which leads to damnation. To commit a mortal sin means to refuse the bargain struck between Jesus and the Father, which is to say to reject faith in Christ. One can also die in venial sin, which leads to purgation before entering into God's presence; this isn't so much a "payment" in addition to Jesus' sacrifice as recognition that nothing imperfect can bear the sight of God.

Camassia continues to be unhappy with "the idea that your whole salvation rests on faith in one person," because, as she wrote earlier, "you don't choose what you believe... belief replaces morality as the criterion for how God treats you." Here she is, I think, both right and wrong.

Faith in Christ is a gift of God, offered to everyone. We are each free to accept or reject this gift, which is to say we are each free to believe in Christ or not. As a free choice, our decision is a moral decision, and so our eternal destiny is based on morality, as well as belief, as well as God's grace. Thinking our eternal destiny is based only on one or two of these things, instead of all three (and likely more things I'm not thinking of right now), leads to a variety of errors (from the Catholic perspective, at least).

Camassia's point, of course, is that, by its nature, belief is not something we choose. You either believe something or you don't; you can't will yourself to believe something. I don't know whether belief cannot be willed, but I agree with her that this position raises a fundamental objection to Christianity, which insists that belief in Christ be willed for salvation.

But if I say I'm a Christian, and I say that being a Christian means believing that belief in Christ must be willed for salvation and believing that some are saved, aren't I saying that belief can be willed? It sounds like it, but it may not be necessarily true. Belief in Christ is different from, say, belief in one's government, because it is a gift of God. And I'm not prepared to rule out God's ability to offer a gift to us -- the gift of a faith that cannot be willed -- in such a manner that we are free to choose whether we accept it.