instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

A little sorbet

To cleanse the blogging palate.

Whether borogroves are all mimsy

Objection 1. It would seem that borogroves are not all mimsy. For to say that one thing is all or entirely another is to say that the idea of the first thing is entirely contained in the idea of the second. But mimsiness is, as the Philosopher states (Organon), an accident, while a borogrove is a substance. And no substance can be an accident. Therefore borogroves cannot be all mimsy.

Objection 2. Further, borogroves are subject to change, which implies that either their mimsiness changes, in which case as its mimsy diminishes a borogrove cannot be all mimsy, that is to say, the perfection of mimsiness; or that something other than their mimsiness changes, in which case it is manifest that the borogrove is not entirely mimsy.

On the contrary, Lewis Carroll states, "All mimsy were the borogroves."

I answer that, to say that borogroves are all mimsy can be understood in three ways. First, in the sense that borogroves belong to mimsy as a species to a genus. Second, that borogroves always possess complete mimsy. Third, that under certain circumstances borogroves possess complete mimsy, and it is in this third sense that we understand the borogroves to be all mimsy.

Reply to Objection 1.This is the first sense, of relating species to genus, and this is not the sense intended.

Reply to Objection 2.This is the second sense, but that this is not the sense intended is shown by Lewis Carrol's observation that "'Twas brillig," implying that, if 'twasn't brillig, the borogroves would not necessarily be all mimsy.


Everything's coming up roses

Hernán González has been posting a whole series of comments and reflection about St. Therese of Lisieux at fotos del apocalysis. She, in turn, was gracious enough to thank him by joining him for lunch.


Monday, April 07, 2003

No hard feelings

Irritated by my typically true-but-useless words, Steven replies to my post below:
I, for one, would be vastly comforted to know how I am not sinning by complicity in support of a regime that we know destroys innocent human lives, and how I am not sinning in supporting a war that might be unjust (and if unjust, therefore a sin).
Let me start by saying that one reason my words are so often useless is because I have no particular competence to judge circumstances as they actually exist in the world. I am far more confident in my ability to parrot principles enunciated by others than in my ability to correctly apply them. Which is to say, in my memory than in my virtue.

I take "sinning in complicity" to mean "sinning by doing nothing to stop an evil." I don't really buy the "for us or against us," "objectively pro-Fascist" dichotomy that is sometimes proposed; I don't think omitting to act against a regime is a form of support for that regime.

But is "doing nothing to stop an evil" always a sin? Well, one ought to pray at least generally that everyone avoid evil and do good, and for the end of all current evil, so in the sense that prayer is doing something it's wrong to do nothing. But beyond prayer and fasting, is it always a sin of omission to fail to do something to stop an evil?

I don't think so. For one reason, beyond prayer and fasting, there is often nothing a person can do to stop an evil; what can I do (other than prayer and fasting) to stop, say, adultery in Bhutan? Further, in my judgment there is more evil in the world than I have time to fight (other than by prayer and fasting); there are two dozen armed conflicts per year, just for starters.

On the other hand, "doing nothing to stop an evil" is certainly a sin sometimes. How do we decide about a particular case?

It makes sense to say that, for it to be a sin, it is necessary to be able to stop the evil. But we need to be careful about what "to be able" means. It doesn't mean "physically able;" the U.S. is physically able to stop adultery in Bhutan by systematic nuclear strikes. Instead, it means "morally able," that moral means exist to achieve the end of stopping the evil.

Killing everyone living in a particular country is clearly not a moral means. Invading a country, perhaps even in the form of a decapitation attack, is not so clearly immoral. However, the fact that one country is physically able to invade another country and remove its oppressive regime does not imply that doing so is moral. In other words, just because our army can beat up their army, that doesn't necessarily mean it is a sin if we don't attack.

So it doesn't follow from necessity that someone who doesn't support the war against Saddam's regime is sinning by complicity in support of a regime that destroys innocent human lives.

Now, is it a sin to support a war that might be unjust? Again, I think we need to start by defining terms, in this case what "might be unjust" means. I'll take it to refer to an act whose justness I am not morally certain of.

The justness of a war is, as we know, a slippery thing to establish, but I don't think it is necessary for a private citizen to reach a prudential judgment that a war is just for him to support the war. Not so much because he should trust the proper authorities to make the proper prudential judgment as because the support of a war declared by an authority is, I think, a different moral act from the declaration of the war by the authority. The circumstances in which the individual is reasoning necessarily include the fact of the declaration of war; the choices he has to make, the likely effects of those choices, and the overall range of outcomes is different for the individual than for the authority.

In the particular case of the war in Iraq, once the fighting started I think there could be no worse outcome -- for Iraq, the West, and the world -- than for the coalition forces to unilaterally withdraw. I think the cease fire requested by the bishops of Baghdad -- an entirely understandable request, coming from a city under attack -- would be a military and political disaster. Since March 19, then, my prayer has been for a swift, complete, and bloodless victory, followed by a just peace. I don't see that so much as support for a war that might be unjust as support for the best possible outcome given the circumstances as I know them. (With, as always, the recognition that what I think is the best possible outcome is unlikely to be quite what God thinks it is.)


Sunday, April 06, 2003

A bad feeling

Flos Carmeli has a series of recent posts expressing conflict over conflict. It seems to me, though, that you can't resolve moral difficulties by denying what you know.

After stating, "Just war seems to me an irreconcilable verbal construction," Steven writes:
I also wonder whether it is just not to oppose and depose a person who oppresses, represses, tortures, and kills his people systematically. Don't we have Biblical precedent for this (Judith, for example). I speculated a while back that it might not be all that great a sin to remove someone like Hitler who was slaughtering millions rather than to stand by and allow them to be slaughtered. Are there instances in which the good of the many outweight the good of the few. John da Fiesole said, "Never," in my previous discussion of this, and I must submit to the logic of it--but this is where I do not trust logic.
Note that Steven speaks of "logic," rather than "reason." Who, after all, likes logic? Reason is a dubious enough enterprise, but logic is downright cold, inhuman, dead.

Personally, I wouldn't even call it "reason." The term I'd use is "revelation": "And why not say--as we are accused and as some claim we say--that we should do evil that good may come of it? Their penalty is what they deserve." [Romans 3:8]

Note also this expression Steven uses: "it might not be all that great a sin." Why not say that we should do not all that great an evil that great good may come of it? Ask St. Paul.
I cannot imagine that God regarding the relative merits of say Hitler and his would-be assassin would place them in the same frame. (Sorry, John, all the logical arguments in the world will not move me from the intuition that love expresses itself sometimes in actions that do not seem very loving--a deep love for humanity might have driven an assassin of Stalin, and the world might have been a better place sooner.)
When the standard for a Christian becomes, "I'm okay as long as I'm less evil than Hitler," the devil must throw back its head and laugh until sulfur tears roll down its cheeks. And I find the thought of an assasin acting out of "a deep love for humanity" terrifying.
So even apart from a just war--the meaning of which I find sufficiently slippery to be suspect, there are times at which we are given a choice of two evils--allow someone to continue killing, destroying, and terrorizing, or remove that person. Either one of them might be regarded as a sin. But personally, I would rather be complicit in the removal of a tyrant than in the destruction of a single innocent life.
Here Steven makes a very simple error, by claiming that it is possible to be in a situation in which one must sin. There's an equally simple syllogism that demonstrates his claim is false --
  1. God commands us to avoid sin.
  2. God never commands the impossible.
  3. Therefore, avoiding sin is not impossible. --
but Steven, distrusting logic, prefers his intuition that love of God sometimes demands disobedience to God.

Well, my intuition is that an intuition that leads to an impossibility is a bad intuition. As the Kairos Guy pointed out regarding torture:
A person under threat of nuclear annihilation has very much less free will than a person not under such threat, in determining how best to extract information about the threat.
This is why we ought to reason about such things when we aren't under threat. What we ought to seek is not an excuse for doing evil, nor a clean conscience about doing evil, but an abhorrence of evil in our own souls at least as great as the abhorrence of the evil in the world as a whole. Such an abhorrence is not the selfish concern for ritual purity of the priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, but an awareness that we are God's adopted children and temples of the Holy Spirit, and it is not for us to choose to defile our souls as a means to obtain some temporal good.


Friday, April 04, 2003

The three-sided cup

In his Gospel, Mark uses the word "cup" six times:
"Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward." [Mk 9:41]

Jesus said to [James and John], "You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" They said to him, "We can." Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized." [Mk 10-38-39]

Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many. Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God." [Mk 14:23-25]

[Jesus] said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will." [Mk 14:36]
Notice that there are three ideas associated with the image of a cup: comfort and pleasure (9:41, 14:25); suffering (10:38-39, 14:24); and the blood of the covenant (14:24).

The suffering and the pleasure are clear contrasts. Many religions see suffering as something to be endured, if it can't be avoided. The special genius of Christianity, if I may so speak, is that it sees suffering as the very means to the joy and comfort to come.

I don't think many Catholics look at the chalice during Mass and think of it as the cup of suffering. It contains, rather, the Blood of the New Covenant, poured out for our salvation, and by receiving It we join ourselves more firmly to the Mystical Body of Christ.

But what if we identify the cup Jesus speaks of to James and John, that He asks be taken away in Gethsemane, with the cup He passes to His disciples in the upper room? Then by the same single act, we attach ourselves to Jesus as our savior and we accept the cup of suffering that Jesus accepted. Saying, "Amen," when we drink from the chalice is saying, "Not what I will but what You will," to the Father. It is an act of will that accepts the sufferings that might come our way as Jesus accepted His.

I've read that the Passover celebration of Jesus' day involved drinking quite a lot of wine. Who blames Peter, James, and John, after accepting the cup from Jesus, for falling asleep in the middle of the night while Jesus accepted the cup from the Father? But we do not, as a rule, show up for Mass after drinking and staying up late. Are we nevertheless asleep when we drink the Cup?


Thursday, April 03, 2003

Note to self

Next time I agree to let what I write here be cross-posted to a Dominican website at the editor's discretion, I will stick to criticizing Jesuits for at least a week.


Signifying nothing

According to the three Dominican sisters arrested last October for depridation of federal property, painting a cross on a nuclear missile silo with their own blood (carried in baby bottles) symbolically "identifies the effects of war and portrays the essential element of life."

On the natural level, I find painting a cross in blood to be creepy and revolting. Using blood extracted earlier and carefully transported to the site -- which is something of the in thing in certain Dominican circles -- strikes me as a silly bit of contrived grandstanding.

But on the symbolic level, where does the idea that painting a cross in blood symbolizes the effects of war come from? Fr. Peter Murnane, OP, who soiled a carpet in the U.S. consulate in Auckland, New Zealand, claimed, "We made the sign of the cross. That's a sacramental gesture to sanctify the solidarity with the people of Iraq and to confront the power of the United States with the sacrilege that they are doing."

No. No, it's not a sacramental gesture. It's not the sign of the cross. The sign of the cross is a blessing. The gesture these people made was a curse, a curse using a sacred symbol of their faith in a ritual which, if not actually pagan, is certainly utterly foreign to Christianity.

If their acts did signify what they claim, why the extended "action statements" to explain them? According to the sisters,
We come in the name of Truth, an-Nur, the Light.... We walk in the name of the Shepherd, ar-Rashid.... We act in the many names of God the Compassionate, ar-Rahim.... We pray in the name of al-Qabid, the One who holds the whole world....
In my ignorance, let me say that this statement does not bear a stamp of St. Dominic that is visible to me. (The sisters are members of the Grand Rapids Dominicans, one of a distressingly large number of women's religious congregations affiliated with the Dominican Order that have managed to construct mission and vision statements that do not mention Jesus Christ. In fact, according to Google, the word "Jesus" appears on four pages of the Grand Rapids Dominicans' website, while the term "social justice" appears on thirty-nine pages. The entire site seems to have forty-one pages.)

In his statement, Fr. Murnane at least made explicit reference to Jesus Christ. But he also made explicit reference to his pouring of blood in the shape of a cross as "a covenant of [his] opposition" to the U.S. actions in Iraq. The idea of blood being poured out as the sign of a covenant is, of course, not unheard of in Christianity, but using your own blood ... that's just too close to blasphemy for me, whatever the expressed intent.

We are physical creatures, and the things we do have a meaning that we are not entirely free to define. I may read a statement asserting that my spitting in your face is a sign of love and respect, but spitting in your face does not signify love and respect.

Just to state the obvious: Although others may speak for the oppressed of Iraq or for an-Nur ar-Rahim ar-Rashid, I don't speak for anyone but me.


Circumstantial torture

Some committed Catholics have, in recent weeks, expressed the opinion that torture is acceptable under certain circumstances; the canonical circumstances feature a terrorist with knowledge of where a nuclear bomb that will blow up in one hour is concealed in a large city.

Here is a description of what those who hold this opinion argue for:
To the marines of 40 Commando and myself it was becoming abundantly clear the building in this captured suburb of Basra was, in fact, a house of torture used to inflict pain and suffering on possibly hundreds of civilians.

Confirmation came in an upstairs room, the contents of which made us shudder.

There were two rubber car tyres and a long electric lead attached to the mains - still live....

One marine chief who had spent time in the Balkans on UN service told us his thoughts on the tyres and cable.

He said: "This is something we came across a lot in Bosnia.

"The interrogator would stand on the tyres while prodding the captive with the live cable. His own feet were insulated from the high voltage by the rubber.

"Primitive maybe, but a pretty effective and recognised form of torture in a lot of Third World countries.

"Electrocution is not only incredibly painful but also very frightening. The interrogators usually get more out of the shock effect of it rather than the actual pain the burns cause."
"Oh, give me a break, Mr. Moral Equivalence," some might rejoin. "We aren't talking about systematic torture and oppression of whole populations."

True, there is a difference. But it's a difference in degree, not in kind. An attempt to justify torturing the terrorist but not the populace is an attempt to cast the question of torture as a prudential judgment: One person may be tortured for the sake of ten million. Ten million may not be tortured for the sake of one. Where is the point, as you move people from victim to beneficiary, that the scales are even?

Catholics hold by faith that a single act of disobedience caused the fall of the entire human species. Can we really believe that a single act of torture will have no effect on the society that endorses it?



Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Do you want to be well?

In a homily on John 5:1-16 yesterday, Fr. Lawrence Donohoo, OP, pointed out that the ill man at Bethesda didn't answer Jesus' question -- "Do you want to be well?" -- but rather explained why he had no living hope of being well: "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me."

Fr. Donahoo suggested five reasons why, if Jesus were to ask us, "Do you want to be well?", we might say, "No, thank you, Lord." (This answer, odd at first thought but seen to be common on second thought, amounts to saying, "I do not want to be saved on Your terms, but on mine.")
  1. Our wounds enable us to obtain attention and pity from others.
  2. Our wounds give us an excuse to ignore other, deeper wounds we might have.
  3. Our wounds give us an excuse to ignore the wounds of others.
  4. If we were made well, we would have to change how we live, and we may be comfortable with our life as it is.
  5. Being healed is likely to be a painful process, and we may prefer the known pain of our wounds.
The suggestion, of course, is that we examine our own lives to see whether we are using any of these perfectly rational yet wholly inadequate excuses to slip out of God's healing embrace.


Tuesday, April 01, 2003

That hope which is in you

Christians -- particularly those raised as Christians -- often seem to forget just what it is that the promises of Christ entail. Jesus tells us, "Whoever loves me ... my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him." [John 14:23]

"Beloved," John assures us, "we are God's children now." In the next life, "we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." [1 John 3:2]

Think about what this means:
  • We are God's children now. Not in some vague sense that the Creator is by a weak analogy said to be the "father" of mankind, but as individuals we share in the sonship of Christ. When the Father looks at us, He sees His beloved Son.
  • We shall see God as He is. Seeing God as He is is not something a lot of people are all that interested in doing, but that is the delight with which we will (by God's grace) spend eternity.
  • We shall be like God. Can there be a more outrageous claim than that the fellow behind you at Mass -- you know, the guy who says, "May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of God's name, for our good and the good of all God's church," who reaches over your shoulder to grab your hand during the Our Father -- shall be like God for eternity?
  • And even in this life, the Trinity will make Their dwelling with us. This isn't simply pouring the watering can of grace over us from heaven, nor even speaking to us face to face, but actually dwelling within our souls, turning our hearts into heaven itself. And this doesn't happen only in the next life. It's happening right now, as you read these words, if you've been baptized and are reconciled to God.
All of this is amazing beyond telling, and the cause of true Christian joy.

The problem is, I haven't been able to find out the easy way to obtain all that is promised us. I elided some words from John 14:23 above; the quotation begins, "Whoever loves me will keep my word." 1 John 3 goes on to say, "No one who remains in him sins; no one who sins has seen him or known him."

So sure, we can have eternal beatitude, even beginning in an imperfect but real way in this life, but in order to do so we must allow the Holy Spirit to love God and neighbor through us. Everything has a catch.


Saturday, March 29, 2003

Always happy to oblige

T. S. O'Rama admits to "an increasing curiousity about what my fellow blogland toilers look and sound like." For those wondering what I look and sound like, wonder no more.


Friday, March 28, 2003

La corrupción de lo mejor es lo peor

Hernan Gonzalez, not terribly impressed by St. Blog's warblogging, points out a couple of reasons so many people decry the sins and failings of the U.S. but don't mention the sins and failings of Iraq:
I had hoped that a Catholic would at least remember that Jesus lays into the Pharisees more than the Sadducees, the scribes more than the publicans, the Jews more than the Romans... And don't they know that the corruption of the best thing is the worse thing?



If it's Friday, it must be Steal Ideas from the Kairos Guy Day. In a comment below, he writes:
For I am sort of a Heisenberg-prayer kind of guy: if the outcome of a prayer isn't yet known, it hasn't yet been determined. So, my prayer at 9:00 can potentially prevent something from happening at 8:45am if I don't already know that thing is happened.
I suppose this sort of prayer is very common. "Dear Lord, don't let it be anyone I know who was hurt in that accident I heard about on TV."

I know a priest who uses an interesting term for this: Superstition.

I'm not sure how to even begin to find out whether Heisenprayer is theologically sound or merely a comforting habit.


The neglected prayer of a just man doesn't availeth much

The Kairos Guy feels the world revolves around him, even though he knows it doesn't:
A horrible fear possesses me that one day I will forget to say my perpetual novena to Mary and Patrick for a disruption of terrorists, and that that will be the day that terrorists achieve their next major attack.

In spite of the flippant title to this entry, I'm very serious about this. We're all possessed of a certain amount of solipsism (ask anyone why it rained on the day they forgot their umbrella, and you know the umbrella-forgetting will be blamed) but honestly....
With me, it's more of a nagging sense than a horrible fear, and nothing so formal as a perpetual novena, but yes, I know what he means.

The feeling may not be entirely due to self-aggrandizement. A secondary cause may be an experience of the power of prayer.

The Gospel of Mark records this astonishing statement by Jesus:
Have faith in God. Amen, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, "Be lifted up and thrown into the sea," and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it shall be done for him. Therefore I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours. [Mark 11:22-24]
It's natural to think that Jesus was exaggerating. After all, as the Venerable Bede pointed out, "we have never been able to change mountains."

But he goes on to add, "It could, however, be done, if necessity called for it...." I'm inclined to think this is one of those "the happiest man was too poor to have shoes" paradoxes, whereby those who have faith enough to move a mountain have no desire, and those who have the desire don't have the faith.

Though well short of moving mountains, I have still experienced God answering my prayers. The more obvious the answer, the more unnerving. But if God answers some prayers in obvious ways, might He not be answering others in less obvious ways? And if He is actually responding to my prayer, then isn't a world in which I offered that prayer different from, and better than, a world in which I didn't offer it?

I think part of J.B.'s solipsistic fear is that his prayers are the only thing standing between the terrorists and their victims, as though all across heaven and earth other and better prayers aren't being offered for the same intention. But even that I don't find completely ridiculous. The underlying truth is that sincere prayer is a cause of God's grace in this world; the particular bit of grace, so to speak, that J.B.'s prayer causes can be given to the world by no other means. Even if the effects of that grace are not discernable, they are very real.


Thursday, March 27, 2003

Tis the season

I don't know why anyone would go to a mall to see a "Spring Rabbit". Spring rabbits are all over my yard.

And soon, perhaps, in my kitchen.


Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Three weeks in

Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent. We're almost halfway through. How are your prayer, fasting, and almsgiving going?

Fr. James Sullivan, OP, preached at my church last night, highlighting a couple of new (to me) angles to these old traditions.

First, notice that we have three kinds of difficulties in this life: difficulties with God; difficulties with ourselves; and difficulties with others.

How can we resolve our difficulties with God? Prayer. "Lord, I'm not very happy with what You've been up to lately. We need to talk."

How can we resolve our difficulties with ourselves? Fasting. "Am I irritable and mean-spirited because I stay up too late watching mean-spirited TV shows?"

How can we resolve our difficulties with others? Almsgiving. "Gee, I gave her my full attention for ten minutes ... and I survived!"

Second, Fr. Sullivan mentioned that the Catechism refers to "the triple concupiscence that subjugates [fallen man] to the pleasures of the senses, covetousness for earthly goods, and self-assertion, contrary to the dictates of reason." [CCC 377]

How can we combat subjugation to the pleasure of the senses? By fasting.

How can we combat covetousness for earthly goods? By almsgiving.

How can we combat self-assertion contrary to the dictates of reason? By prayer. "O Lord, You are He Who Is, and I am he who is not."

Prayer, fasting, almsgiving: these are not burdens imposed by the joyless on the joyless, these are the means by which we become what we are supposed to be. And not just for forty days a year.


Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Journalist goes beyond parody, likes the view

I've always had strong reservations about what Rod Dreher writes about Catholicism. I honestly think, for all the inside dirt he's privvy to, for all the priests who lament to him off the record, that he has some pretty basic and significant misunderstandings about what the Church is.

But now he's shown himself to be simply irrational on the subject of the Pope's opposition to the war against Iraq. Based on a 92-word Reuters report, which directly quotes fourteen words of the Pope -- "large part of humanity," "vast contemporary movement in favor of peace," and "comfort and hope" -- he writes:
Who would have thought that Karol Wojtyla would have thrown in with the communists of International ANSWER? Who would have thought that the hero of the Cold War would have turned into Jimmy Carter? St. Catherine of Siena, ora pro nobis.
This is not an encouraging post. It is the panicked, reflexive response -- complete with stock villains -- of Rod from Brooklyn, a radio talk show regular who half-overhears a news report before calling in with his take.

Think about it: If the Pope takes comfort and hope from a vast contemporary movement in favor of peace, then Rod Dreher's world is turned upside down. This, quite simply, is not a mindset from which to expect reliable commentary on the Church in the world.

Update: A Zenit article provides enough context for Rod Dreher to accept the Pope's words. He has admitted the fault of being hasty.

"Without a conversion of heart," the Pope said, "there is no peace!"


Carmelites say "to-may-to"

Dominicans say "We have seen that the formal constituent of the divine nature according to our imperfect mode of knowledge is subsistent being, for this distinguishes Him from every other being and is the source from which all His attributes may be deduced, as man's characteristics are deduced from the fact that he is a rational being." *

So when Steven of Flos Carmeli writes:
My answer to the question of "why was Scripture give to us, if not for us to engage in 'the monumental task of completely exploring scripture for the truth'?" is very simple. It was given to us to teach us to love.
I must answer, "Well, nuts, what is the truth but to love?" And not just to love, but to love with the true mad deep love that would sacrifice your only son for your beloved?

And when La Madre says, "We are not called to know much but to love much," I answer that she should look who's talking, Mother Doctor of the Church and articulator of the profound mysteries of union with God. God grant I know in eterninty as little as she did at Alba de Tormes.

Yes, the end of knowledge is love, but we cannot love what we do not know.

I think part of Steven's concern here is to caution me against confusing my personal interpretation of what Scripture says about God with God Himself. That's certainly a risk I run, but the reason I began this whole look at universal salvation was in response to what I believe to be others' confused personal interpretations of what Scripture says about God. I think Scripture teaches us more about God than some people think, and I think it teaches us different things about God than some people admit.

And yes, I do mean Scripture teaches us, with all the study and argument and fallible reasoning and disputation that implies. If we do it right, it will be primarily a matter of listening to God's conversation within us, but frankly if I'm going to run the risk of advancing my own confused personal interpretation, I'd much rather base it on Scripture than on what I feel in my heart.

* This quotation appears immediately beneath the section heading "The Divine Simplicity" in Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange's Providence. "If that's God's simplicity...."


Sunday, March 23, 2003

A soul full of God and a body full of suffering

I just received an embarrassingly large shipment of books in the mail. My long-suffering wife asked whether it is part of the Dominican charism to buy books when so many remain unread, and I mumbled that in fact the saints of the Order caution against it. Then I slinked away to put the new books on the shelves where, like so many volumes of purloined letters, she won't much notice them.

If I ever do read the books, I will know ever so much more than I know now, and I will of course share this knowledge with you. (I have to share it with someone; my wife plugs up her ears and hums whenever I start preaching to her about the six daughters of prudence.)

As a teaser, let me quote from the introduction of Johann Tauler's Spiritual Conferences:
What then remains to the man formed after God's image? There remains to him a soul full of God and a body full of suffering.
I'd say we have much more control over how full of God our souls are than over how full of suffering our bodies are, and most of the little control over bodily suffering we have is such that the more we suffer the fuller our souls become with God. Despite that, and despite the fact that our bodily sufferings will one day end but our souls will always be full of God, we pay a great deal more attention to our suffering than to our God. Why is that?

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.


Saturday, March 22, 2003


Just to remind myself, I'm in the middle of a series of posts looking at universal salvation. At this point, I'm examining Scriptural support for what I'm calling "necessary universal salvation," the doctrine that every single human will necessarily be saved. The necessity is generally attributed to God's sovereignty, which would be compromised if His will that all be saved were frustrated by a man's free choice.

It's a bit uncomfortable to work through a list of Scripture verses, taking them one at a time and saying, "Nope, that's not what it means. Nope, this one doesn't mean that either." Scripture is the Word of God, and I have very little confidence in my ability to slice up the Word into individual words, piece them back together, and wind up with anything like the fullness of truth.

I think it's particularly awkward to pit different verses against each other, then choose a winning side based on total number of verses, or which verses are most quoted, or some other external measure. It must always be interpretations that are in competition, not verses -- a house divided against itself cannot stand.

But then we're faced with the fact that even the best interpretation is only a gloss atop a mystery. If the final conclusion is that perfect understanding has been reached, dump the final conclusion. Any coherent interpretation is going to leave some aspect of Scripture too lightly dealt with, and the risk an advocate of an interpretation runs is, as I suggested in the post immediately below this one, to take a passage that is particularly opaque under his interpretation and say little more than, "It obviously doesn't mean what the plain meaning of the words is."

Any truth that fits completely inside your head is too small to be God's truth.

There's one other principle that I hold, though as with all the above I'm not sure I always adhere to it: In trying to interpret Scripture, we should move from the clearer passages to the more obscure, from the straightforward to the symbolic.


"I simply don't know the reason...
... this tendency to be so dismissive of statements from bishops and the pope has arisen in faithful, good-willed, intelligent Catholics.
-- Minute Particulars
I don't know either, but my hypothesis is that it's the same reason as always: When someone says something I agree with, he's right; when he says something I disagree with, he's wrong. And it doesn't really matter who the someone is. Most of us have a private list of Gospel sayings we know Jesus didn't really mean.

The situation between faithful, good-willed, intelligent Catholics and their bishops is probably especially bad these days because these Catholics are so well educated in their religion. (Not necessarily their faith, but their religion.) While the men who are now bishops were learning how to maintain financial records and dealing with lonely parishioners who just needed to talk to someone, lay Catholics could at their leisure pore over the records of the disputes that led to the Third Ecumenical Council and highlight favorite passages from St. Robert Bellarmine, or simply collect the tracts and magazine articles that were the fruits of other layfolks' labors.

And of course, for ten years now autodidacticism has becoming increasingly easy. Anyone who's mastered Google's search syntax can become an expert -- or at least a relatively informed debator -- on any subject in a matter of hours.

One result of all this is that the laity no longer look to the episcopacy to teach them the Faith. Bishops are still acknowledged, albeit sometimes grudgingly, as governors, and they're welcome to sanctify (principally by ordaining priests and confirming teenagers), but who needs them as teachers anymore?

And yes, the bishops have not uniformly covered themselves in glory as teachers since the Second Vatican Council, but the idea of a uniformly glorious episcopacy is one of those myths of Catholic history that should have been exploded by all the laity's study.


Thursday, March 20, 2003

You do what you see

It occurs to me that the much-lauded motto, "Give to others the fruits of your contemplation," is something of a tautology. The fruits of contemplation is what everyone gives, all the time. What else do we have to give?

To contemplate is to look upon. Those who look upon -- and I mean literally look, not just think about -- human misery caused by war and oppression give others the fruit of what misery really is, of what it means for a bomb to fall on your house. Those who look upon their children peacefully sleeping give others the fruit of the imperative to make their children's lives as safe as possible.

This is why, whatever else we look upon, we have to look upon the things of God -- and God Himself, including perhaps especially Christ on the Cross -- so that the fruits we have to give are the fruits the world needs.


Mirror of patience

Hernan Gonzalez suggests an aspect of St. Joseph's virtue I haven't heard mentioned before: that no one has ever done so much for God's plan of salvation with so little to show for it.

If we think of the Holy Family as a symbol of the three cardinal virtues, then, it's clear that associating St. Joseph with Hope is not simply a matter of what's left after pairing Jesus with Love and Mary with Faith.


Wednesday, March 19, 2003


Gospel Minefield has some notes on last night's talk by Fr. Giles Dimock, OP, including this:
According to Fr. Dimock, much of the ancient Gregorian chant was a joyous expression of what today's charismatics call "Singing in the Spirit." I always call it improvising in the joy of the Lord: taking off from the song you started with and, just using a few chords, singing either with or without words in joy or sorrow to the Lord.

Fr. Dimock demonstrated with a beautiful example of an old Dominican chant in honor of the Blessed Mother. This impromptu "jamming," if you will, has a name within the Church: "JUBILATION!" I was delighted to find that out!
Dominicans chant the O Lumen hymn to St. Dominic every night. Click on the link to read the music; that page also has a sound file if you want to listen to someone singing it.

In English, the first line of the hymn -- "Light of the Church" is four syllables. In Latin, with the "O," it's seven syllables. Chanted, it's twenty-one notes. The next six syllables ("doctor veritatis," "teacher of truth") take eighteen notes.

The first time I heard it, I thought, "That's, um, a lot of notes right there." Since I was trying to learn how to sing it, and since -- how shall I put it -- I am not a talented singer, I didn't find all those "extra" (not to say excessive) notes very appealing.

But now that I've learned it (after my fashion), I find that all those runs up and down the scale make it a simply joyful thing to sing (preferably alone in the car). Jubilare, indeed!

On a related note (ha!), today my copy of The Prayers of Catherine of Siena arrived, in plenty of time for Easter. The first page of the introduction says of St. Catherine, "when she prayed alone, especially in the garden, she liked to sing."

Gaudete in Domino! Rejoice in the Lord! Yes, even now, during this joyful season of Lent.


He made him lord over His household

St. Joseph is an excellent model for Christians today who want to do God's will. Notice how the idea "to do God's will" implies both activity, which culturally we're pretty good at, and reflection -- how else, after all, will we know what God's will is? -- which many of us are less accomplished at.

The Little Office of St. Joseph is one of four little offices that (last I heard) are still explicitly indulgenced. There's a version of the three daytime hours (Terce, Sext, None) of the Little Office of St. Joseph that fits on a wallet-sized accordion-folded piece of paper here.

If you really like wallet-sized pieces of paper with prayers to St. Joseph printed on them, you can find the Litany of St. Joseph here.

You probably know that devotion to St. Joseph came relatively late to the Church. There are a lot of reasons for this, but I think the habit of referring to him as Jesus's foster-father couldn't have helped. Personally, I invoke him simply as the father of Jesus. If it was good enough for Mary, it's good enough for me.

One of the charming things about Bl. Margaret of Castello (1287 - 1320), who may have been the first young, unmarried woman allowed to join the Dominican Third Order, was her devotion to St. Joseph. By nature, she was shy and unassuming, but when the subject turned to St. Joseph, her conversation erupted. Perhaps in part because she had one of the worst fathers in the history of Christendom, she would talk and talk and talk about St. Joseph until her listeners grew tired and excused themselves.


A letter from Baghdad

I don't endorse everything in this letter, but I think citizens whose country is about to be invaded are allowed to say what they think.
Baghdad. To all people of good will round the world,

Love and Peace of Christ be with you.

We are addressing President Bush and all the American people as human beings, not as a president of United States. We presume that as Christians you have hearts full of love and compassion. You will pity our Iraqi children, our elderly, and our youth that have no hope in a better future and a decent life. We, Dominican sisters and brothers in Iraq, are living and sharing with our people in their sufferings. The Iraqis have been going through hard times for twenty-three years, for they have witnessed two disastrous wars. If President Bush starts another military attack against Iraq, we think this will be a catastrophe. We believe that you can feel the danger that is looming over the Iraqi civilians. That is why millions of people from different countries round the world are demonstrating, writing letters and trying to put pressure on President Bush not to initiate a new military attack.

President Bush defends the rights of animals. Have we less value than animals? He claims that he is trying to defend human rights in Iraq. He is willing to build a new Iraq. He tried to convince the people in the US and the peoples round the world that he will only bomb the army and the weapons in the country. He promises that he is not going to bring any harm to the civilians. Is he throwing flowers on people? He is going to use mass destructive weapons, which are going to result in great damage to our culture, our land, and history, and cause the death of thousands of our innocent people of all ages.

As some of you who have visited Iraq may know, the army camps are very close to people's houses. We have two convents: one at the beginning of the army camp and the other at the end. Will the bombing kill the soldiers or the people? We are living in great fright, panic, and extreme worry. We are suffering not only a military war, but also we have been suffering from very hard psychological situation since President Bush has started his inhuman threats to initiate another war on our people. The uncertain moments and the hard current times have made us wait for our death in no time. Everyday we thank God for being alive because we do not know what tomorrow has hidden for us. The nightmare of the new war is haunting us always and everywhere.

God has granted us life freedom as His precious gifts. Why Does President Bush want to take it away and deprive us of our freedom?

You cannot imagine that even our children can no longer stand these threats and can no longer bear the psychological tension and despair. They inquire, when will the war begin?

You are deceived and we are captured by your mass media, which is the biggest liar. Our children, women and people are dying of malnutrition and starvation because of the inhuman sanctions. The sanctions have caused the death of one million and a half of Iraqi people, mostly women and children. Why do you want to finish them by a new war?

We will ask the American youth, "Do they face or wait for their death every single moment? If so, will they not explode?"

Why should the American people have the right to live in peace, safety and prosperity? Is their life more valuable than the life of other people, for instance the Iraqi people?

Our university students have waved goodbye to each other on Saturday, the 15th of March and they are prepared for the war. They have no mood for study. We think they are right because they are disappointed and hope for them seems the most hopeless thing.

A couple of days ago, we could dream of safety and peace, but now we no longer know what these words mean because violence, suffering, and fear are enfolding us.

At last we would like to say that we are not cured of the Gulf war. How can we persevere the effects of the new one, which will be even worse?

The war is not only disastrous and destructive in its direct effects, but also in its lasting effects. The innocent people will not only be the victims of the bombing, but also the preys of contaminated drinking water, polluted environments, depleted uranium, inadequate medical supply, and crippled electric power.

We ask all of you who have compassionate heart and love for humanity to bring the suffering and the worry of the Iraqi people in every pulpit, every classroom, and every place where the Word of God is preached. Let everyone hear about the truth of the Iraqi people's pain. Please listen to the cries of the Iraqi children and double your efforts to stop the new war from happening. In this way only you can eliminate the anguish, calm down the cry of the Iraq Children in the midst of their sleep: "Here are they come to bomb us and bring about our death."

Is it fair to be going through all this? Is it acceptable? Is our crime that we are floating on a huge sea of black gold? What is the use of it, except to pay for our death? Why are we unable to dream of a bright future and a decent life?

We greatly appreciate your efforts on our behalf and also you prayers. Love and prayers can work miracles.

God blesses you all.

Your Dominican Sisters in Iraq


Tuesday, March 18, 2003

It had to happen some time

I sent my first email message to someone I'd never met in 1986. Since then, I've met dozens of people whom I'd known from the Net, and none of them looked the way they were supposed to. (Neither do I; if you've never met me, I look younger and even less prepossessing than you think.)

Tonight, however, I was privileged to meet Kathy the Carmelite, who looks exactly like "Kathy the Carmelite" from Gospel Minefield.

She came to a talk by Fr. Giles Dimock, OP, on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I asked him which of the charismatic gifts of the Spirit he thought the Church in America was most in need of, and he answered, "Joy."

Most of us can reel off, without stopping for breath, half a dozen reasons against American Catholics feeling any sense of joy right now, which is probably evidence enough that Fr. Dimock is right.


Saturday, March 15, 2003

Judging prudential judgments

Mark at Minute Particulars wonders
if those taking comfort in the fact that a judgment doesn't require assent ... might be dismissing the opinion in part because it doesn't require assent.
I've been wondering about the dual of this, which is accepting the prudential judgment of another simply because that judgment is his to make.

It is up to my prudential judgment to determine the best way of educating my children, but that doesn't mean the Pope -- or my mother-in-law -- can't tell me he (or she) thinks I'm wrong. The fact that I use all available prudence in reaching a judgment doesn't mean that my judgment is correct, nor that it must be accepted passively by others who have an interest in the consequences of my acting on my judgment.


Friday, March 14, 2003

More on Dominican contemplation

I know someone who, having spent a little time among Dominicans, was surprised to learn that one of the mottoes of the Order is Contemplare et contemplata aliis tradere, usually translated as "To contemplate and to give to others the fruits of contemplation." "The friars I know don't seem very contemplative to me," she said.

There is a push in the Order to "recover the contemplative dimension," to use the title of Fr. Paul Murray's talk at the 2001 General Chapter. Part of the difficulty in doing this is that it's not easy to say what this contemplative dimension is.

The blame for this lays squarely on the Carmelites, particularly Sts. Teresa and John of the Cross, whose writings sit atop the summit of mystical theology. The term "contemplation," if it means anything nowadays, means what St. Teresa said it did.

So the first point that needs to be made about Dominican contemplation -- by which I mean the thing Dominicans tell each other their supposed to give the fruits of to others -- is that it is not Teresan contemplation. When a Dominican speaks of contemplation, odds are he's using it in a way a Carmelite wouldn't.

This is somewhat comforting, because the "heights of contemplation" are, according to the Carmelite masters, attained by realtively few in this life, and only through unearned grace from God, at His pleasure and in His wisdom. If the fruits of these heights are what Dominicans distribute, it would follow that most of us are there simply to support those happy few who are actually able to harvest the fruits.

The existence of this something lower than the heights is also a challenge, since it's something o which we -- and here I mean everybody, not just non-mystical Dominicans -- can and ought to aspire. It's a cop-out to say, "I'm no one much myself and not picked by God to be one of those automatic mystics. I'll leave all that contemplation to holy people and stay on my own, plodding course." Everyone is supposed to be holy people. For that matter, I suspect the rarity of the true Teresan contemplative is not due to God's stinginess with His gifts, but to Christians' stinginess in accepting those gifts. If becoming the saint you're supposed to be isn't an exceptional and unique vocation, I don't know what is.

So what is this contemplation that Dominicans are supposed to be doing, even as Carmelites smile and murmur, "You call that contemplation?"? St. Thomas defines it this way, quoting Richard of St. Victor to distinguish it from meditation and cogitation:
"Contemplation" regards the simple act of gazing on the truth; wherefore Richard says again (De Grat. Contempl. i, 4) that "contemplation is the soul's clear and free dwelling upon the object of its gaze; meditation is the survey of the mind while occupied in searching for the truth: and cogitation is the mind's glance which is prone to wander." [ST II-II, 180, 3, ad 1]
In the body of the same article, he writes:
Accordingly, then, the contemplative life has one act wherein it is finally completed, namely the contemplation of truth, and from this act it derives its unity. Yet it has many acts whereby it arrives at this final act. Some of these pertain to the reception of principles, from which it proceeds to the contemplation of truth; others are concerned with deducing from the principles, the truth, the knowledge of which is sought; and the last and crowning act is the contemplation itself of the truth.
Maybe the way to put it is this: Dominicans aren't called to contemplation so much as to the contemplative life. The contemplative life involves "many acts" in addition to, but taken as means to the end of, the "final act" of simply "gazing on the truth." (And further, this "gazing on the truth" is experienced in various ways, the highest or Teresan form of which is, I'm told, something like having the Truth gaze on you.)


Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Drawing all men to Christ

John 12:32 is the first verse whose "universalist" interpretation I can't simply deny:
"I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself."
I mean, I can say that Christ's drawing all men doesn't necessarily entail His saving all men, but I don't see, in context, why it couldn't. So if we can give it a universalist interpretation, but we don't have to, how should we interpret it?

I, obviously, do not interpret it as meaning that all men will be saved. If this were what Jesus meant, then I can't make any sense of this saying:
"If anyone hears my sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. He who rejects me and does not receive my sayings has a judge; the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day." [John 12:47-48]
What can this mean, if not that whoever rejects Christ will be condemned on the last day because of that rejection? But if Jesus's death, resurrection, and ascension are to draw all men into beatitude, then either the word Jesus spoke won't be our judge or no one will reject Jesus, and what would be the point of Jesus saying all this? John 5:28-29 poses a similar interpretive problem:
"Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.
Returning to John 12:32, how do I interpret it? It is through Jesus' death that man's relationship with God is restored. Moreover, through our baptism into His death we become members of His body, children of God and participants in the life of the Trinity. It is this participation for which we were created; uniting ourselves with Christ is the only means of obtaining that highest good for which every human heart yearns. Thus every human heart is drawn, consciously or not, to Jesus Crucified, Risen, and Ascendant. But that every heart is drawn to Him does not mean every heart necessarily reaches Him.


Tuesday, March 11, 2003

"Never tell the Carmelites or the Jesuits, but ..."

It was Father Cahal Hutchinson, O.P., who gave a young novice the two secrets of Dominican contemplation. That novice became a priest who used Fr. Hutchinson's advice as the closing to his talk, "Recovering the Contemplative Dimension," at the 2001 General Chapter of the Order of Preachers.

Fr. Richard Woods, O.P., gave a talk the following Spring on the same subject, drawing from St. Thomas, Meister Eckhart, and St. Catherine in exploring the roots of Dominican contemplation:
What we contemplate, as Dominicans, is Truth - with a capital T - Divine Truth. And it is that Truth which we have encountered in contemplation that we hand on to others through our preaching and teaching and other ministry. William Hinnebusch pointed out long ago in this regard that the simple word "Truth" does not merely point to the object of our collective vision and mission, but expresses exactly what we mean by "contemplation."

Contemplation can be regarded, therefore, if not actually defined, as an unflinching and loving look at Reality as divine, or in Meister Eckhart's language a generation after Thomas,

"seeing God in all things and all things in God."


Monday, March 10, 2003

War is always a disaster

Sorry, Kairos Guy, but on this one I have to go with my cardinal, my pope, and Minute Particulars. The fact that cowards say war is always a disaster doesn't make it any less true. Nor does the fact that every option other than war might be a worse disaster.

I might even be talked into accepting that, so far from being "a hideous copout from serious moral judgment," the opinion that war is always a disaster must necessarily be held by anyone who lays claim to serious moral judgment about war.


Giving to others what you contemplate

Kathy the Carmelite is curious:
Do any of you conversants know your Myers-Briggs personality type? I think I'm either an INTP or an INFP. In perusing a book I have on the subject, Prayer and Temperament, by Rev. Chester Michael and Marie Norrissey, I wonder if the "S/N" difference is a significant factor in whether one is drawn to one type of spirituality or another (obviously, God's supernatural call trumps all natural inclinations; it is often His glory and delight to surprise people!).
My guess is that Myers-Briggs isn't a reliable indicator for spirituality -- at least not for Dominican spirituality, since no one has been able to define it.

Well, plenty of people have defined it, but they all disagree with each other. (But that's just the way we INTPs are, right, Kathy?)

This gives me an excuse to mention
 The Two Secrets of Dominican Contemplation 
  1. Pray.
  2. Keep at it.
Feel free to print out a copy and carry it in your wallet.