instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, July 28, 2003

How to avoid intellectual stagnation

Learn something new every year.

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Sunday, July 27, 2003

For what remains of the summer

Here's a fun little problem to keep the mind agile and young during the dog days of summer. (So if you're reading this from the Southern Hemisphere, save it for six months.)

Find the smallest integer greater than 1 such that:
  • dividing it by 9 leaves a remainder of 8;
  • dividing it by 8 leaves a remainder of 7;
  • dividing it by 7 leaves a remainder of 6;
  • dividing it by 6 leaves a remainder of 5;
  • dividing it by 5 leaves a remainder of 4;
  • dividing it by 4 leaves a remainder of 3;
  • dividing it by 3 leaves a remainder of 2;
  • dividing it by 2 leaves a remainder of 1.

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Friday, July 25, 2003

Reginald the Tiger Quoll says:



What does it mean for a blog to take a vacation? For one thing, the posts shouldn't be work, either to write or read.

Basically, I'll be ramping way down on the instruction and enlightenment for several weeks, but leaving the entertainment simmering.

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A hopeful direction

This is where my devastating critique of the equivocation of those who share Balthasar's "hope 'that all men be saved'" was supposed to go. The idea is that a lot of people use "hope" to mean both the desire that all be saved and the theological virtue that is one of the three things that remain, and so confuse their personal desire with virtue.

I still think that's true, but the Catechism was no help at all in supporting me. In fact, in its discussion on hope, the CCC seems to go out of its way to contradict me:
In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere "to the end" and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God's eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ. In hope, the Church prays for "all men to be saved." [CCC 1821]
The analogy is undeniable. My hope is to my salvation as the Church's hope is to all men's salvation. Even if some people equivocate, there is a correct sense in which the hope that all men be saved is a theological virtue. (Not that you'd expect Balthasar to have made such an obvious equivocation anyway.)

On reflection, though, this makes sense. (I love saying that about new stuff I notice in the Catechism.) "Hope," CCC 1817 defines, "is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness," and it is the [Holy Spirit acting in and through the] Church that desires the kingdom of heaven and eternal life for all people. The Church is the soul of the world, and so the hope for the world's salvation is found in the Church, just as the hope for my own salvation is found in my soul. Furthermore, the existence of this hope in the Church is no more a proof that all men will be saved than the existence of hope in my own soul is proof that I will be saved.

The Catechism notes two sins against hope,
namely, despair and presumption:

By despair, man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins. Despair is contrary to God's goodness, to his justice - for the Lord is faithful to his promises - and to his mercy.

There are two kinds of presumption. Either man presumes upon his own capacities, (hoping to be able to save himself without help from on high), or he presumes upon God's almighty power or his mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit). [CCC 2091-2092]
For the Church to not hope that all men are saved is, in effect, to despair of the personal salvation of some particular individual, yet to move from this hope to a presumption of universal salvation is to presume upon God's mercy without conversion.

I think there's something to be teased out here about how an individual Christian "hopes" for the salvation of all. In the exercise of his baptismal priesthood, the Christian hopes with the hope of the Church. As an individual, though, can I hope (in the theological sense) for someone else's salvation? St. Thomas has a remarkable answer to this question:
Therefore hope regards directly one's own good, and not that which pertains to another. Yet if we presuppose the union of love with another, a man can hope for and desire something for another man, as for himself; and, accordingly, he can hope for another eternal's life, inasmuch as he is united to him by love, and just as it is the same virtue of charity whereby a man loves God, himself, and his neighbor, so too it is the same virtue of hope, whereby a man hopes for himself and for another. [ST II-II, 17, 3]
If I love you with the same love with which I love God and myself, I hope for your salvation with the same hope I hope for my own.

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Hernan Gonzales is also a better Catholic than I am

There is another, excellent critique of my position at fotos del apocalypsis. I offer the uncorrected Babelfish translation, for those who don't read Spanish and didn't read this at Hernan's site before it slipped past the 1000-word limit. (One obvious hint: "I am not safe" means "I am not sure.")
Interesting discussion has considered in Disputations, shot by Steven de Flos Carmeli (discussions DES these bloggers Yankee - Dominican and Carmelite they are of most substantial than it has the world of blog catholic).

Briefly: Steven said that it said by the souls of the children of Saddam Husseim.
Tom responded that he no.

In general, encounter the convincing argumentations of Tom and - for my taste firm and balanced; in individual, also. In general, I agree with him. In individual, this case, no. Or at least, I am not safe.

Four points:
First, Is happen to believe that, if anyone is damned, Odai Hussein is damned. Is also happen to believe that people plows damned. Under...
As the same Tom clarifies later, this does not imply that he believes in the necessary condemnation of this Odai. But it implies - I say a species of evaluation in the amount of badness - distance of God of the person: except for errors of appreciation or conversions of last moment, we would say, this type in the last would be put; and then, if God does not put a threshold under that so it lets pass to all, this one would not have to happen...
It is to me difficult to accept this like "reason" not to say. In any case, this would be a feeling; and probably bad (of the things that "stains").
I do not have problem in accepting that the rule of "you will not judge" must be taken in its true sense, and that it is not prohibited to us (in certain occasions, rather is demanded us) to evaluate the morality of a man. But it is happened to me that, when the rule of not judging is a dead (and contemplated "in as much died" ) becomes absolute, to say it somehow.
Similarly: I understand that the one to love and to request by the enemies does not imply affective nor moral nirvana (it is not which we do not have enemies); but I believe that a dead never can be an enemy.
Second, of the tens of thousands of people who died yesterday, what commends these two to my private prayers? Nothing, except that evil they were infamously. It seems dwells fitting to for me to pray those whose deaths went unmarked by The Washington Post and Cnn.
Reasonable, but it does not convince to me either. We must request by all, but specially by the near ones, the fellow.
But the son of Saddam is not my fellow, indeed! - he will say some to me.
You are safe? - I will say.
I do not know... One assumes that the parabola of the Samaritan one ("enemy" of the Jew, on the other hand) is that it sets the standard. And fellow would be that that we crossed ourselves in the way, with that we have "a human" relation, a contact. However: I believe that Steven, Tom and so many others have been crossed the dead; they have a personal relation with him (to the point "to judge it", to horrify by its sins, to think about the destiny of its soul). This forces, perhaps, to consider it as "fellow" and therefore justifies (if it does not force) to say specially by him.
Eh - some will say -. With that criterion, "the famous" people must right to bind more orations than the rest! That objection is false in its 3/4 parts; and the 1/4 rest is not an objection.
Third, I get nowhere to near the end of the list of people who have to rightful claim on my prayers. My family, friends, relatives, Co-workers, Co-parishioners, Co-religionists, Co citizens; my priests and bishops and pope; the needs I to encounter on the Internet. For Until I managed to pray sincerely all these needs, it would be unjust to pray for two evil, non- Christian souls that have not claim on me.

Similar answer. He is reasonable to have a hierarchy of adressees of orations, but that hierarchy is not static nor follows other laws that same ' projimidad' that we said. "for Until I managed to pray sincerely all these needs..." We go! If it could not begin to say by the second of the list once I have completed the quota of first... never I would begin.
Fourth, for I pray daily the souls in purgatory and leave it to God to appears out what to do about it. In the event the Husseins' souls plows in purgatory -- which, again, Is don't believe to be true, but that doesn't piss it's not -- they're welcome to to their just share of that intercession.
Well fact. But, again, the génericas orations do not imply the uselessness of the individuals; and there are cases where the individuals specially are indicated (and perhaps necessary).

And aside from all this: since oration one is, perhaps it agrees not to lose of Vista that - in good catholic doctrine the "mechanism" of the oration is more complicated and mysterious of which it seems (or of which an idolater creates... no). Even if we restricted ourselves to the request oration, one is not (one does not only treat ) an order to God so that it does something by third (and where the one that says would be outside the effect of the oration); the oration has an effect on which it says, and on its relation with God. It has - we say a inmanente sense in the oration, that is essential.

Today, the catholics - on all the traditionalistic ones we tend to watch with distrust those explanations, that accentuate the beneficial effects of the oration on which it says, because they sound dangerously near ch?chara of autoayudadores or doubtful psychoanalysts... and already we know of the damage of the inmanentismo, and how that "divinity" ends up degenerating in a mere ghost of the imagination, for consumption and personal consolation: -"Acaso God does not exist, but vos rez? equal; it does well".

This is gansada. But all gansada that drags (all heresy) really has its part, and it is not question to forget it. "God does not need that you tell what to things tenés him to request to him; but vos yes necesitas." (it was not Osho the one that said it, but San Agustin). Applying it to the case: perhaps the such Odai does not need your orations (it is because it has gone away derechito to the sky, is because it has gone away to hell); but, since vos tenés some personal relation with him, since in some sense you knew it, since (accurately or no; perhaps justly or) you did not judge it in life... today you need to say by him. By the own health, we say. And we clarify to conclude (to think that I only wanted to write four lines): That the one of Tom de Disputations much more is clarified that what here I can be giving to understand. That it agrees to read it everything, in its context, discussions including (certain element... but good pity, by something I do not want to have system of commentaries). That hardly the moral obligation is deduced of my "arguments" to say by such-and-such person (in truth, not I create it). That more than arguments they are objections or reservations. And that I only know that I do not know anything. And that if me hardship not to postear this, and I reread a pair of times, erase it.

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The Fatima Prayer

The Fatima Prayer is sometimes offered as evidence of contingent universal salvation. According to some sites, the translation of the words spoken at Fatima is this:
O my Jesus, forgive us, save us from the fire of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need.
The argument is that Mary wouldn't ask us to pray for something that won't happen even if we pray for it, and this prayer asks Jesus to lead all souls to heaven.

I don't find this very persuasive. We would hardly pray, "Lead some souls to heaven." We don't pray, even by omission, for anyone's damnation.

But an even stronger counter-argument can be found in the other reported words of Our Lady at Fatima:
"You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go."

"Pray, pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and pray for them."
Hell isn't where the souls of poor sinners would go; it's where they do go. If you accept Fatima as a genuine apparition, and so accept the Fatima Prayer as a genuine prayer given us to pray by Our Lady, I don't see why you wouldn't also accept that "many souls go to hell."

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Praying for the past

In the on-going and wide-ranging discussion sparked by Steven Riddle's post about the Husseins, an idea has several times been advanced that I call the "praying for the past" doctrine. In a comment at Catholic and Enjoying It!, Fr. Paul puts it in these words:
... God is outside of time (he kind of like... created time, you know). The prayers we offer now may have helped attain the grace of final repentance for the deceased. After the fact.
Now, this doctrine certainly passes the Flos Carmeli "With God all things are possible" test. God is outside of time, so He could allow our prayers to influence the past just as they influence the present and the future. Still, without a more authoritative teacher (no offense, Fr. Paul), I have a difficult time finding this doctrine to be very credible.

I see two major problems with it. The first is that, as the doctrine is applied, while God is not bound by time, He is bound by my knowledge of the past, and that seems like a very odd binding.

If I learn that someone is sick, I will pray that the person recovers. But if I learn that someone took sick and died, then my prayer for the past would be (if I understand things correctly) that the person who died had a happy death. Why the lack of parallelism? If my prayers can be effective in preventing the person from dying separated from God, why can't they be effective in preventing the person from dying at all?

And just as I have never heard anyone advocate praying for something we know didn't happen, I've never heard anyone advocate praying for something we know did happen. Why not? If the prayers we offer now may have helped attain the grace of final repentance for a deceased sinner, why may they not have helped attain the grace of final repentance for a deceased saint? Would St. Lasar have died a holy death if I don't pray for her next week?

In practice, then, we pray only for those things we don't already know -- or maybe even only those things we can't ever know in this life.

Praying for the past has a lot of the same theoretical causal problems time travel does. I'm inclined to think these problems are resolved by the past being out of range of our prayers. Not because of a limitation on God, of course, but because of a limitation on ourselves. I see it as a fundamental change to, not the perfection of, human nature to be able to change the past.

The other major problem, in my opinion, is the implications being able to pray for the past have on our duties as Christians. It's not a matter of praying for whichever evil man makes the news this week (is Idi Amin still hanging on?), but of praying for everyone who has ever lived. For the grace of final repentance, yes, but also for happy marriages and healthy children and good crops and peace with their neighbors.

This all sounds fine speculatively. It's a way of expressing charity to those who have gone before us, and expressing charity is always a good thing. But is it effective?

Several people have pointed out that, whatever praying for others does for them, it makes us better. Well, but does it? Or does it make us feel better? ("Gosh, I'm praying for the victims of the Black Death. What a caring heart I have!") I don't know, which is why at this point I can't believe the doctrine that we can effectively pray for the past.

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Thursday, July 24, 2003

More undercommentaried Scriptural passages

Kathy the Carmelite suggested the following as a better example of sudden death without evidence of salvation:
On an appointed day, Herod, attired in royal robes, (and) seated on the rostrum, addressed them publicly. The assembled crowd cried out, "This is the voice of a god, not of a man."
At once the angel of the Lord struck him down because he did not ascribe the honor to God, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last. [Acts 12:21-23]
Somehow the word "unlamented" comes to mind, whatever the doctrinal implications of these verses be.

Another handful of verses, this time from Proverbs:
Lie not in wait against the home of the just man, ravage not his dwelling place;
For the just man falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble to ruin.
Rejoice not when your enemy falls, and when he stumbles, let not your heart exult,
Lest the LORD see it, be displeased with you, and withdraw his wrath from your enemy. [Proverbs 24:15-18]
Although it's usual to interpret falling and stumbling as sinning, the NAB interprets the just man falling seven [i.e., many] times as meaning he "overcomes every misfortune which oppresses him," which I suppose means the just man hopes while the wicked despairs.

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Another interesting thing...

...about this discussion regarding whom to pray for is how invisible some of my words seem to be.

In my original post, I wrote, "I happen to believe that, if anyone is damned, Odai Hussein is damned." Several people have read this as, "Odai Hussein is damned."

Some of the confusion might be because I'm not as careful with words as I should be. In the two "Sudden death" posts, for example, I've largely abandoned Thomistic clarity and gone for a frankly partisan tone (especially with the Mussolini crack; how does that advance my argument?).

Still, I do believe I am more careful with words than ... let's say, than some people expect. People don't expect others to be careful with words, because people aren't, generally speaking, careful with words. When people aren't careful, they are neither precise nor accurate, and there's no point in drawing distinctions between points that are neither precise nor accurate. "I believe this is true" and "This is true" become equivalent, and substitutable, statements, because nowadays saying "I believe this is true" is just the way you say "This is true" when you're paid by the word. (Sort of like why all the characters in the old pulp stories always emptied their guns. "Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!" pays a nickel more than "Bang!")

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Sudden death in Scripture

Just for the sake of discussion, let me quote a couple of New Testament passages about sudden death.

The first is Jesus' parable of a rich man:
"There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, 'What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?'
And he said, 'This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, "Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!"
But God said to him, 'You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?'
Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God." [Luke 12:16-21]
Yes, yes, it's a parable; standard parabolic conditions apply. Still, it's a parable about God speaking to a man about to die. What God says to the man is not the sort of thing people who believe in some sort of irresistable revelation of Divine Charity at the instant of death imagine it to be. If the parable doesn't prove universal instant-of-death salvation is false, it certainly poses a challenge to the belief that needs to be answered.

The second passage is the story of Ananias and Sapphira:
A man named Ananias, however, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property. He retained for himself, with his wife's knowledge, some of the purchase price, took the remainder, and put it at the feet of the apostles.
But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart so that you lied to the holy Spirit and retained part of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain yours? And when it was sold, was it not still under your control? Why did you contrive this deed? You have lied not to human beings, but to God."
When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last, and great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men came and wrapped him up, then carried him out and buried him.
After an interval of about three hours, his wife came in, unaware of what had happened. Peter said to her, "Tell me, did you sell the land for this amount?" She answered, "Yes, for that amount."
Then Peter said to her, "Why did you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen, the footsteps of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out."
At once, she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men entered they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things. [Acts 5:1-11]
Once again, this does not disprove the universal-salvation-at-instant-of-death theory. Once again, it does present an example of sudden death that is not particularly consistent with the theory. We have the added problem of the fear that came upon the whole church; it doesn't seem as though the Apostles believed Ananias and Sapphira made their peace with God as they fell to the ground.

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Sudden death

Even Hitler might be in heaven, you know. We don't know what happened in the instant before he died. It's possible he repented.

Ever notice it's always Hitler who might have repented in the instant before he died. No one seems to care about Mussolini.

But anyway, yes, it's possible a particular evil man repented in the instant before he died. It's possible every evil man repents the instant before he dies.

It's also possible that, the instant before an evil man dies, God transports his spirit into a moon rock, where it remains for ten thousand years and forty-seven days, there to ponder its life and possibly atone for its sins, and after ten thousand years and forty-seven days, the spirit is spirited back in time to the instant before death. But I'm not going to start lighting votive candles for moon rocks.

The question isn't whether a thing is possible, but whether it's credible. What reasons are there to believe in last-instant salvation as a wide-spread phenomenon? Do the reasons apply equally to the moon rock theory?

Personally, I suspect a very popular reason for belief in last-instant salvation is sentimentalism. Surely no one is so perverse as to be damned! Surely God isn't so mean as to damn anyone! And hey presto, we're in the warm and sunny land of Catholic Universalism, where the Faith is still true, pretty much, but if I don't evangelize you, no skin off either of our noses.

It's interesting that, in former times, there was such great emphasis on the hour of death, when the devil might come to tempt a person into one last, unrepented mortal sin. Using the Bookkeeping Model of salvation, you winked in and out of salvific grace like a lightning bug, and if the bell tolled for you while you were in a grace deficit, tough for you. Even if you stayed in grace for years, indulging a single bad thought at just the wrong moment would snuff out your salvation eternally.

Such an understanding of grace is no longer very popular, but its dual seems to be gaining support: Even if you stayed in mortal sin for years, indulging a single good thought at just the right moment would guarantee your salvation eternally.

Now, it's not that this isn't true, strictly speaking, and it even seems to happen (as David points out with the story of St. Therese and Henri Pranzini). But does it happen regularly? Usually? Universally?

The thing is, human beings exist in, and persist through, time. I am the same person today that I was twenty years ago. At the same time, I am the person I am today because of the choices I've made over the past twenty years. If I had made different choices, I would still be the same person in terms of identity, but I would be a different person in terms of habit and grace.

We don't arrive at the instant of death in some sort of random or arbitrary state relative to salvation, like a photon as likely to be spin up as spin down. Our entire lives have made us who we are at that instant, and while again it's possible to reject in an instant everything we've done to make us who we are, I have to wonder why it is likely, or even as some would have it necessary, for this to happen.

Note, by the way, the difference between the hour of death and the instant of death. In an hour, there is time for deliberation, debate, judgment, and choice. In an instant, there is only time for choice, and the choice I make in an instant is generally determined by the habits I've developed.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Steven Riddle is a better Catholic than I am,

but you knew that already.

I have a few problems with praying for Odai and Qusai Hussein.

First, I happen to believe that, if anyone is damned, Odai Hussein is damned. I also happen to believe that people are damned. So...

Second, of the tens of thousands of people who died yesterday, what commends these two to my private prayers? Nothing, except that they were infamously evil. It seems more fitting to me to pray for those whose deaths went unmarked by The Washington Post and CNN.

Third, I get nowhere near the end of the list of people who have a rightful claim on my prayers. My family, friends, relatives, co-workers, co-parishioners, co-religionists, co-citizens; my priests and bishops and pope; the needs I encounter on the Internet. Until I managed to pray sincerely for all these needs, it would be unjust to pray for two evil, non-Christian souls that have no claim on me.

Fourth, I pray daily for the souls in purgatory and leave it to God to figure out what to do about it. In the event the Husseins' souls are in purgatory -- which, again, I don't believe to be true, but that doesn't mean it's not -- they're welcome to their just share of that intercession.

I would like to be able to pray for them, but that would require me to accept what I've called contingent universal salvation -- the belief that everyone happens to be saved -- and, to me, contingent universal salvation makes complete guff out of a great deal of what Scripture says and the Church teaches.

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The Catholic habit of mystery

If you want to think with the mind of the Church, you have to be able to think about, around, and among mystery.

In speaking of "the mystery of God," the Catechism sets the two benchmarks that must be kept in sight when thinking about all mysteries:
Our human words always fall short of the mystery of God.... nevertheless [our language] really does attain to God himself, though unable to express him in his infinite simplicity. [CCC 42-43]
Our words, and by extension our thoughts, always fall short of the mystery, yet they do (or can) attain to the mystery itself.

My question is: Do Roman Catholics in the United States -- in particular, those who are going to be determining what Catholic life in the U.S. will be in 2010, 2020, 2050, ... -- have the "habit of mystery," of thinking about things that cannot be fully comprehended?

How shall I describe a mystery? It is like a deep well in the country, built by whom no one knows, how deep no one knows. A man can peer into the well, but he will never perceive its depths, even with the aid of a light lowered into the well.

There is a contemporary religious trend, though, that would replace mystery with doubt. Did Jesus think He was the Messiah? Did the Resurrection happen? Did the Virgin Birth happen? Well, you know, once you start analyzing the written records of the first and second century Christians, you see that things aren't as clear-cut as those dogmatic old men of the ecumenical councils tried to make them. Is anything you read in the Gospels actually true? Ah, now that's a mystery!

Of course, it's not a mystery at all. It's ignorance, and once someone has confused falling short of comprehension with not knowing anything at all, his confusion is likely to spread in any and all directions. We're no longer dealing with a well, but a swamp, one no one knows how to get through safely.

But it isn't just religious liberals and their novelty-loving followers who may have lost the habit of mystery. Simply accepting the fact of a mystery doesn't mean you habitually think with that mystery, any more than accepting the fact of a well because it is marked on a map you trust means you habitually visit that well. To think in terms of black-and-white, us-vs.-them, real Catholic vs. so-called Catholic, is to cultivate the habit of polarization, and polarized thought destroys mystery. That's not to say a person can't have both habits, but that the habit of mystery will be erased by the habit of polarization if it isn't positively cultivated as well.

My concern is that the habit of mystery will all but disappear from Catholic life in the U.S. -- which is to say that genuine and fully Catholic thought will all but disappear. This will happen if the Catholics defining Catholic life no longer dwell on (or in) the mysteries of the Faith. A person can fail to dwell on the mysteries of the Faith either by effectively abandoning the Faith or by dwelling on things related to the Faith other than its mysteries. He can fail to attain to God Himself, or he can forget that he falls short of the Divine mystery.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Just more theory

Steven Riddle of Flos Carmeli doesn't think much of Just War Theory; he asks a series of questions he's wrestling with:
Is [Just War Theory] dogmatic, does it have the weight of doctrine? Or is it something taught by theologians with long and venerable history, but not necessarily with the might of the magisterium behind it.... Even if taught by the magisterium, how do Vatican comments regarding the justness of the war weigh into the calculation? Or do they? Is there an objective standard possible, or is everything subjective--if so, on what basis can one reliably determine the justness of a war. And even if those in the government determine that a war is just, is it necessarily? If Hitler decides that the Sudetenland has historically been a province of Germany and poses a threat to German security, do we have a just war?
One of the pleasures of being an amateur is that I can both admit I don't know the answers and supply them anyway.

In terms of what has the weight of the Magisterium behind it, I think we can make do with our old friend, CCC 2309:
The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
- the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
- all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
- there must be serious prospects of success;
- the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the "just war" doctrine.

The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.
I see JWT as a negative theory: it says, "You can't do this unless that," rather than, "You can do this if that." Put another way, I think it enumerates necessary conditions for legitimate defense by military forces, rather than sufficient conditions.

So as a matter of positive dogma or doctrine, I'm not sure there's much beyond, "There is such a thing as legitimate defense by military forces, and any such legitimate defense will exhibit these characteristics."

JWT requires "those who have responsibility for the common good" to reach a prudential judgment as to whether the Just War conditions hold. To my mind, this means comments from the Vatican are to be considered in evaluating the conditions, but are not necessarily determinative. Two types of comments are possible: one, regarding the particular circumstances ("they aren't a threat"); the other, regarding the theory itself ("pre-emptive war is immoral"). A comment of the latter type needs to be given a great deal of weight, I'd say, if your intent is to follow JWT as understood by the Church.

I think JWT is by its nature subjective; it relies on prudential judgments, which can be wrong. But that is true of everything that relies on prudential judgments. It's sort of the nature of being human. The only way to avoid this is dogmatic pacifism -- the belief that there is no such thing as legitimate defense by military force.

So how can you reliably determine the justness of a war? Maybe you can't; it's not necessarily true that any particular person happens to have enough knowledge to make sound prudential judgments about a war. If you do have all the information you need, then you need to be reliably prudent in evaluating the information. If you aren't reliably prudent, you try to find someone who is.

I suspect it's easier to determine whether a war was "subjectively just" -- that is, whether those who decided to fight a war followed JWT to the best of their ability. Still, as we're seeing, even this isn't very easy to agree on.

One thing I've heard several times is that, if to fight a war is just, then to not fight it is unjust. This doesn't seem to be true always -- there might be a situation in which to fight a just war is one of several mutually exclusive choices facing a country, and another choice will benefit the country as much or more than fighting (think, for example, of a country that can't afford both a war against an unjust agressor and, say, rebuilding after an earthquake). But I'm not sure whether it's usually true, and even if it is, I'm not sure whether JWT tells us a war is positively just, rather than not obviously unjust.

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Sunday, July 20, 2003

The Passion pro-gnosis?

I'm thinking Bill Cork has a serious case of ill-wishing for Mel Gibson's current film:
The way the secular critics are talking, though, if it is worse that "Braveheart," it could even come out with the dreaded "NR." Will all those gushing about its "accuracy" and "power" and "faithfulness" take their children to see it? I don't think so.
Since Mel Gibson has been quoted in interviews as saying it's unsuitable for most 12-year-olds, the relish with which Bill writes this tastes a little off.

But, as always, let's make a distinction. This time, it's between The Passion being what many are hoping it will be ("A stunning work of art! A devout act of worship! A miracle!," in Barbara Nicolosi's words) and it being a commercial success. Stunning works of art and commercial successes are not highly correlated phenomena.

Still, Bill has invested a fair amount of time in attacking The Passion, so his ill grace over its commercial prospects aren't as surprising to me as Mark of Minute Particular's take on those gushing about the trailer:
In fact, I wonder if there's something a little Gnostic, to use a worn out term that barely supports any meaning anymore, in all of this speculation about the film's impact. I say "Gnostic" because there's either a desire for (for those who think the film will work wonders) or a fear of (for those who think it should stay in the can) some esoteric sliver of insight, some depiction or vantage point, some "experience" of substance that could only come from viewing the film.
Of course, I read everything from my own perspective, but nothing I've read about The Passion has suggested anything esoteric to me. I don't think anyone expects to learn anything from the movie -- at least, nothing he shouldn't already know.

But consider Matthew 27:26:
Then he [Pilate] released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.
Good daily Rosarians that we are, we all know Jesus was scourged. Many of us have read about what a Roman scourging was like, and understand it to be quite nasty. But this is, for many, an undeveloped knowledge and understanding. "Yes, Jesus suffered and died for our sins. Must have been horrible. Doubt I'd have done it in His place. Ooh, what's that shiny thing on the ground?"

It's the development of this sort of knowledge that I think its boosters are hoping The Passion will offer viewers. Possibly a distortion, of course, but I doubt it will be more of a distortion than what is currently in the minds of a lot of potential viewers.

So it's not that this movie will teach us something nothing else could, but that it might show us something we've never bothered to look at before.

Oh, and if you've missed it, there's a great discussion in the comments on the post below. I think there's a lot more to be said, pro and con, about the idea of a devotional movie, as distinguished from a religious movie, which itself can mean either "a movie about a religious theme" or "a movie with a religious sensibility" (respecting, as Neil Dhingra suggests, the "absence at the centre of the Christian imagination").

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Thursday, July 17, 2003

"Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah..."

It's kind of interesting that, during Jesus' earthly ministry, people who saw Him understood Him in such different ways, and that the same thing is happening now with The Passion.

After several days of raves about the trailer, there finally comes a pan. Bill Cork writes:
Get a grip, folks. It is a movie. It is subject to criticism. It is properly the subject of questioning of its script, its vision, its interpretation, and the intent of its director.

As for me, from what I saw in the trailer, I don't think Mel Gibson has approached the vision and reverence of Franco Zeffirelli's "Jesus of Nazareth." Gibson seems interested in "shock and awe," with his exaggerated graphic violence and gore.
Bill has already made several negative posts concerning The Passion and its alleged anti-Semitism, so it's not surprising that he is underimpressed by the trailer, just as it's not surprising that people who have been looking forward to seeing the movie since they first heard of it seven months ago were blown away.

I suspect the same thing will happen when the movie is released. People who expect to see anti-Semitism will see it, people who don't won't.

Bill does make an important point, that "the Gospel is not reducible to the last twelve hours" before Jesus' death. There's a tendency to separate Jesus' life from His death and focus on one while ignoring the other. (Which one a person ignores says a lot about him.) But then, the movie is called The Passion, not The Gospel.

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Monday, July 14, 2003

A debatable value

St. Stephen's Musings links to several posts on the value of on-line Christian debate.

Considering the title of this blog, it shouldn't be surprising that I think valuable on-line Christian debate is possible and worth pursuing. But one thing that has become increasingly clear to me is that, to succeed, all parties involved in the discussion must want to uncover the truth. Not to win the debate, not even to convince those who begin by disagreeing with you, but to reach the truth.

If everyone does want to uncover the truth, the debate will be successful, even if at the end contradictory opinions about what the truth is are still held. It will be successful because bonds of charity will have been forged or strengthened, and at least one party will possess more of the truth than he began with.

If, however, one party's primary interest is not to uncover the truth -- showing off, scoring points, annoying others, and feeling like a proud witness of Christ are some other interests that might take precedence -- the debate will be a failure, both for the people directly involved who were seeking the truth and for all those observing the debate.

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From your friendly neighborhood Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

The Social Agenda, a collection of magisterial documents on the Church's social teaching, was published in 2000 and has now been made available to us cheapskates on-line.

Now that we've got this, what are we going to do with it?

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Friday, July 11, 2003

"I am sure I could feel any lump/Even if it were under the mattress...."

In a comment below, Joseph D'Hippolito suggests the following enhancement to my critique of the charges that Fr. Thomas Doyle, OP, has become a Protestant:
The reason such men call Fr. Doyle a "Protestant" is because he says things that threaten their sentimental, lackey-like adherence to theological correctness, Catholic-style.
I suspect the reason is something else.

First, I think Kevin Miller simply used what Mark Shea and Leon Podles wrote as an illustration to his main point, that past results as a "conservative" is not a guarantee of future performance as orthodox.

But Mark writes of his interpretation of Fr. Doyle's comments:
Perhaps I misread him due to my own years long experience as a Protestant being taught *precisely* this doctrine (to the degree that my old church group practiced no sacraments whatever) and therefore was over-sensitive to the danger.
I've noticed this sort of hyper-sensitivity before, when a Catholic strenuously resists all suggestion of a non-Catholic doctrine he once held but later rejected on his way into the Church. Catholics who were once deep into New Age spirituality might dislike perfectly orthodox mystical writing on the grounds that it affords a New Age interpretation; objections to Harry Potter come particularly from Catholics who got wrapped up in the occult in the past.

A cradle Catholic who's never yet had to reject a closely-held doctrine, I may be the most insensitive Catholic alive. But I think those who are sensitive to a particular doctrine and those who aren't can learn from each other. Those who aren't sensitive can show the truth in a contentious idea, while those who are can show the risk of not purging falsehood from it. That will both broaden the truth and make it stronger.

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Thursday, July 10, 2003

A very thoughtful prayer

On Santificarnos, a new blog "for helping Catholics who bear the Cross of Divorce," Jesus Gil shares his method of praying the Rosary:
In a nutshell, I try to make each mystery relate to some personal attribute or quality that I can work on....

Before saying each mystery, I brainstorm a bit on what are some attributes of that particular mystery....

So here's how I put this into practice: I start each mystery by thinking on the attribute being taught, and that I want to live, and I come up with a phrase that sums up that attribute, and which I will repeat during the recitation of that decade. Here's how it works:
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Here I say the attribute upon which I'm meditating. And then continue reciting the Hail Mary...
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
At least in my mind, I find special significance that I'm asking for that attribute right after Jesus' name, and the last half of the prayer then becomes a plea for Mary to also pray that I may be granted that attribute.
If you have any thought on the role the Rosary can play in helping people through divorce, annulment, or marriage, please stop by Santificarnos and share them.

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Take scandal. Please.

St. Thomas's consideration of the sin of scandal is characteristically clear-headed and helpful.

Following St. Jerome, he defines scandal as "something less rightly said or done that occasions spiritual downfall." This involves two sins, in the person who says or does something less rightly that occasions a downfall, and in the person who responds with a spiritual downfall. These are called active scandal and passive scandal, respectively.

St. Thomas points out that active and passive scandal are distinct acts, and one can occur without the other. If I do something to try to get you to sin, but you don't, that's active scandal without passive scandal. If I do something blameless that provides an occasion for you to sin (like say "Good morning!" when you're in a fell mood), that's passive scandal without active scandal.

But wait! There's more!

Active scandal may or may not be intentional. If I do something with the intention of getting you to sin, that's direct active scandal. If I do something inordinate without intending to cause you to sin, that's accidental active scandal. St. Thomas says direct active scandal is "directly opposed to fraternal correction, whereby a man intends the removal of a special kind of harm." (Formally speaking, only this direct active scandal is a special kind of sin.)

Two types of passive scandal can also be identified. There's a malicious passive scandal, the "scandal of the Pharisees," where someone takes advantage of another's action to sin out of malice for the other. St. Thomas refers to Matthew 15:14, saying Jesus teaches us "we ought to treat such like scandal with contempt." There's also an innocent passive scandal, the "scandal of little ones" proceding from weakness or ignorance.

On the question of whether spiritual goods need to be given up to avoid giving scandal, St. Thomas writes:
In order to avoid [innocent passive] scandal, spiritual goods ought to be either concealed, or sometimes even deferred (if this can be done without incurring immediate danger), until the matter being explained the scandal cease. If, however, the scandal continue after the matter has been explained, it would seem to be due to malice, and then it would no longer be right to forego that spiritual good in order to avoid such like scandal.
So?

The stock-in-trade of large portions of American Catholic journalism and commentary is scandal. More specifically, of publicizing the sins of others as "scandalous."

St. Thomas, however, answers the objection that all sin is scandal by writing, "Any sin may be the matter of active scandal," but if it's an accidental active scandal -- if the sinner didn't intend to cause others to sin -- then formally it's not scandal. If by going to the sorority party Fr. Dipsomanian didn't intend to cause anyone else to sin, his action, formally speaking, is not scandalous.

And yet people say they are scandalized. That seems to mean they are tempted to sin, and I suspect many do in fact sin, committing passive scandal.

Doesn't there come a point, though, when such passive scandal passes from innocence to malice? After two months, or two years, or some finite period, of a steady or expanding diet of the publically revealed sins of others, doesn't a person's taste for scandal become a thing worthy of contempt?

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Scripture Knowledge Quiz

This month's Wodehouse Logic Challenge is "The Scripture Knowledge Logic Challenge!" Did Blinky outscore Deadeye? Did The Blob carry home the prize? Figure it out!

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The evolution of language

A Religion of Sanity is being updated again, and Maureen links to an article about a medical report that claims, essentially, women might ovulate at any time. (Yes, yes, a newspaper report on a medical study; standard caveats apply.)

Still, consider this sentence:
The results help explain for the first time why some women get pregnant while on birth control pills, and why the window for safe sex may not exist at all for many women -- because there may always be an egg sac waiting to release an egg.
There was a time when "safe sex" meant, to me at least, "sex without transmission of a potentially fatal disease." Evidently pregnancy, for the Ottawa Citizen, is a potentially fatal disease.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Whisper down the line

It started with an extended interview with Fr. Thomas Doyle, OP. It continued, via an excerpt and brief comment at Touchstone, through a couple of glosses at Catholic and Loving It!, to an I-told-you-so at Heart, Mind, and Strength, in which Kevin Miller says "Doyle may have intended orthodoxy in the past" and implies that Doyle is no longer orthodox.

Having gone from Kevin's note to Mark Shea's gloss to Leon Podle's comments to Fr. Doyle's original interview, I think it's fair to say both glosser and commenter mischaracterize the interviewee's statements, while noter seems to accept glosser's take as accurate.

But are Fr. Doyle's comments those of "a good Protestant," are they the "rejection of the priesthood and authority of the Roman Catholic Church," as Podles claims? That's a strong charge, and I don't think it has a reasonable basis in fact, much less that it holds.

Keep in mind the facts that Fr. Doyle is: a Dominican; a canon lawyer; angry; giving a spoken interview. The first two facts mean that he is likely to think with a certain uncommon precision; the second two that he is likely to speak with a certain common vagueness.

Of the two partial paragraphs Podles quoted, the first explicitly describes "the way a lot of people are looking at" the Church post-January 2002. The second partial paragraph is largely the same, although Fr. Doyle expresses more support for this way:
But as they grow, as their own spirituality starts to mature, they realize that spiritual strength is something we have with each other. It's among us. I don't need to go into a church building, I don't need to have a priest or bishop tell me I'm okay, I don't need to ask one of them to pray for me. I'll take care of it myself. There's really a maturing; it's a return, I think, in many ways to what primitive early Christianity was all about.
Leon Podles and Mark Shea interpret Fr. Doyle as meaning the ordained priesthood is unnecessary. But that isn't what Fr. Doyle says; he says priests are unnecessary for my spiritual strength. "I don't need to have a priest or bishop tell me I'm okay" in order to be okay; here being okay is, I think, a spiritual state rather than a moral state.

To say, as Mark does, that "I don't need to ask [a priest or bishop] to pray for me" means, "I don't need the Mass," is, in my judgment, an absurd stretch when the context is people who have been brutalized by priests, then brutalized again by bishops. Surely it means, "I am not helpless apart from the arbitrary good graces of those who have harmed me."

We can see that, I think, by what Fr. Doyle said next, which Leon Podles didn't think worth quoting:
If you look at the life of Christ and the way he interacted with people, he didn't treat them like a bunch of dodos. He certainly didn't treat them like dumb sheep; I hate that analogy -- you know, the shepherd and the sheep. The laypeople out there are not dumb sheep waiting to be shorn or fleeced. But that's what happens.
So exactly what is "a return ... in many ways to what primitive early Christianity was all about"? An understanding that the Christian faithful "are not dumb sheep waiting to be shorn or fleeced."

If this constitutes Protestantism, God grant the Church many more Protestants.

But of course it isn't Protestantism, it's not a rejection of the priesthood or of the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. It's an observation that the life of the faithful comes from God, not from priests and bishops. That's not a rejection, but a restatement, of what the Church has always and everywhere taught, even if it hasn't always and everywhere been lived.

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A defining moment

What's wrong with envy?

As a word, I mean. When someone tells a friend about her upcoming weekend in the mountains, the friend replies, "I'm so jealous." But the friend isn't jealous, she's envious. Why do we say "jealous" when we mean "envious"? Because it's shorter?
  • If you have a good and I don't want you to have it, I am envious (of you).
  • If I have a good and I don't want you to have it, I am jealous (of the good I have).
This much we all know, but the possibilities don't end there.
  • If you have a good and I want you to have it, I am benevolent.
  • If I have a good and I want you to have it, I am generous.
  • If I have a good and I want to have it, I am delighted.
  • If I have a good and I don't want to have it, I am slothful.
  • If you have a good and I want to have it, I am covetous.
  • If you have a good and I don't want to have it, I am restful.
The most interesting of these, I think, is sloth, or acedia; the idea that having something good can make us sad sounds counterintuitive, until you think about the last time you sighed when it was time to get up or get ready for Mass.

The least satisfying of these, to me, is "restfulness," but I mean it to oppose the restlessness of coveting another's good.

Then, of course, there are all the cases where something bad happens to one of us. I have a harder time coming to terms with them.
  • If you have an evil and I don't want you to have it, I am pitying.
  • If I have an evil and I don't want to have it, I am distressed.
  • If I have an evil and I want to have it, I am despairing.
  • If you have an evil and I want you to have it, I am hateful.
But what of the remaining four cases?
  • If I have an evil and I want you to have it, I am ... malicious?
  • If I have an evil and I don't want you to have it, I am ... noble?
  • If you have an evil and I want to have it, I am ... perverse?
  • If you have an evil and I don't want to have it, I am ... rational?
Well, okay, precise choice of terms aside, what's the point of all this.

First: Don't use "jealous" if you mean "envious" or "covetous." That just spoils the word "jealous" for the rest of us.

Second: Humans have a lot of weird passions. Desiring evil is an intellectual contradiction, and yet those in despair can somehow enjoy their sorrow. We use the word "schadenfreude" to describe pleasure in another's misfortune, which I think makes that pleasure sound more highfalutin and wry than it really is. Above, I used the term "hateful" where "schadenfreudal" would have gone if "schadenfreudal" were a word. "Hateful" is really a much more general passion, but I think it's worth realizing that "I am happy at your misfortune" necessarily implies "I hate you."

Third: Christianity does weird things to some of humanity's weird passions. I called wanting someone else's evil perverse, but what is the Cross but the desire to take evil away from others and upon oneself? Countless saints and spiritual guides have learned and taught the way of accepting, even rejoicing in, the evils that come our way, and of fleeing and rejecting the good things.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Not bad, for a Protestant

Excellent, excellent stuff from the cluttered desk of Telford Work.

First, there's a fascinating essay continuing his look at the book The Meaning of Jesus. It amounts to an overview of ways of understanding Jesus', and the early Church's, understanding of the Crucifixion:
For atonement is the reconciliation not just of God and individual human beings, but the collective restoration of humanity's intended end. It is the reuniting of who we are with who we are meant to be. Exile is estrangement not just from some uncaused cause, but from ourselves. Sin takes us far away from home; and home for God's chosen people is Jerusalem: not Jerusalem as a city ruled by pagan oppressors and a corrupt priesthood, but as a new city that enjoys God's justice and good provision in spirit and in truth, whose temple is the Lamb.
Second is a two-part response to the question of what drives people to believe in religion; he begins with the question of
whether Christian faith is essentially a specific instance of something generic called "religion" or "faith" or "belief," or whether it is something coherent and self-contained that bears only "family resemblances" with other things often called religions or faiths.
And concludes that Christianity isn't like "any religion":
But remember that the multitudes grumbled and pined for Egypt and the crowds thinned away and disappeared when Jesus got challenging. The ones who stayed were more the sought than the seekers. Moses and Peter weren't on vision quests; Moses was looking for sheep and Peter was looking for fish. Abraham wasn't looking for anything, so far as I can tell. They didn't find God; God found them. My experience is much the same. Jesus came to me before I came to him, in ways I don't expect to find reproduced in anyone else, even fellow believers.

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Not all labels are created equal

People involved in the current discussion on qualified Catholics have so far avoided (from what I've read) the very great error that, "No qualifiers are needed because I'm the only kind of Catholic there can be."

I don't think I'm entirely imagining that there are people who in effect believe that Mother Angelica is 100% Catholic and that any deviation from her opinions, tastes, and preferences implies a reduction in how Catholic you are. (There may be more people who feel Pope John Paul II is the standard, but somehow that seems less peculiar to me.)

Now, I will happily grant that Mother Angelica is 100% Catholic. But Catholicism is, so to speak, the domain of Christ the King, not His point. You can score considerably less than 100% on the Mother Angelica scale and still be 100% Catholic.

There are sub-domains of Catholicism that are distinct from each other, just as my hand is distinct from my foot but no less a part of my body. The most obvious sub-domain is "Roman" Catholic, but within that there are such sub-sub-domains as "Dominican," "Carmelite," "Charismatic," and "Neo-Catechumenate." A lot of these terms used to identify ways of being Catholic, or streams of Catholic spirituality or activity, aren't often used as qualifiers to "Catholic." People don't usually say, "I'm a Franciscan Catholic," and when they do it may well be to distinguish them from Franciscan Anglicans rather than from Ignatian Catholics.

This suggests a rule of thumb that has been at least implicit since Amy Welborn began the discussion last week, that qualifiers should never be used to distinguish "real" Catholics from "ersatz" Catholics, or "full" Catholics from "partial" Catholics.

Mark Shea adds another important distinction in a comment on Amy's blog: "the distinction between *who* is/isn't really Catholic and *what* is/isn't really Catholic." If we accept the claim of every baptized Catholic who claims to be Catholic, think of all the time we'll have saved to debate whether what they claim is true about Catholicism is true. Because what we're all interested in is knowing and loving the truth, not defeating our opponents, right?

Finally, it's said that "orthodox Catholic" really does mean something, but I don't see how it passes the rule of thumb above. Besides, everyone who thinks they're Catholic also think they're orthodox. As was pointed out to me long ago, no one believes he's wrong-thinking.

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Depressing if true

Hernan Gonzalez makes an interesting suggestion: that, as Christians, we have the atheists we deserve.

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Monday, July 07, 2003

"So-called" "'so-called' Catholics"

Amy Welborn has several posts on using the term "Catholic" without qualifiers such as "orthodox," "progressive," and so forth. I generally agree the qualifiers aren't helpful -- although I wonder whether "no one is satisfied to be just Catholic and no one believes the person next to them in the figurative pew is a real Catholic." I want to believe American Catholics on the Internet are not representative of American Catholics.

I am lazy enough to appreciate the benefit of using something like "conservative Catholic" as shorthand in a specific context. But the context is critical; the qualifiers don't really mean anything in themselves.

One qualifier I think we can get rid of instantly and never miss is "so-called." I see it used mostly in reference to public figures, particularly politicians, who make statements contrary to Church teaching.

The problem with this is that the Church's standards are -- by necessity -- very low. Once you're in, you're in, and there aren't too many things you can do to get booted out against your will. (On top of which, technically you can't ever get booted out, once baptized.)

Some might say, "Heretics are automatically excommunicated, and the number of heretics in my 'so-called' Catholic parish is legion." But heresy doesn't seem to be such a casual matter -- again, perhaps, by necessity. Sure, you aren't a Monothelite, but can you be sure about all the knights in your local council? Scratch a member of the ladies' sodality, and who's to say you won't find someone who thinks in order for your sins to be forgiven you have to be certain they're forgiven?

The Church distinguishes between formal and material heresy. I've seen it suggested that, in order to be automatically excommunicated and therefore a real "so-called" Catholic rather than just a real Catholic with dodgy opinions, a person needs to be both diligent and malicious or at least culpable in his obstinate denial of a truth of the Faith. Frankly, I'm not prepared to give a lot of so-called "so-called Catholics" that much credit.

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Friday, July 04, 2003

To correct the expectations of new readers

Reginald the Tiger Quoll says:



I'll explain Catholicism as best I can, and try to explain the reason for the hope within me, but I'm not prepared -- literally, I have not made the necessary preparations -- to offer a systematic or complete defense of the truth of the Catholic faith against all comers. You want apologetics, try somewhere else.

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Thursday, July 03, 2003

"What makes a good death?"

According to Fr. Myles Sheehan, SJ, a doctor of geriatrics:
A good death is one where you have the comfort of the sacraments, good pain control, your symptoms are adequately controlled, people who love you are nearby, and--this can be the hardest part--you can die in a place of your choosing.
My father managed four out of five, failing only with the hardest part because his family wouldn't have been able to be with him if he had died in the place of his choosing. (Diamond Tooth Gertie's dance hall late on a Saturday night, not that it's any of your business.)

A contributing factor to the peacefulness of his death (complete with wife and parish priest praying at bedside) was the opportunity for preparation. Spiritual preparation, certainly, but also medical, legal, and ethical preparation.

As the interview with Fr. Sheehan points out, you can't always count on the neighborhood priest for proper ethical direction. I wouldn't bet my life on a random doctor at a random Catholic hospital, either.

At the risk of sounding un-American on the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle (a.k.a., Fourth of July Eve), let me recommend spending some time preparing for the medical, legal, and ethical issues surrounding end-of-life care for those you care about. The time and effort required to learn the Catholic positions on these issues, and to make whatever decisions are appropriate now, are quickly repaid.

Spiritual preparation is never wasted, either. What's that saying, "Pray now and avoid the rush."

As someone who insists on the plenitude of non-miraculous miracles, I also liked this passage in Fr. Sheehan's interview (link via Sursum Corda):
I also believe there is an everyday miracle we fail to attend to. We look for the miracle we have decided we want rather than the one God is supplying us. So you see families that have been at each other's throats for years, and here they're all around the bedside praying. You see people reconciled, you see an opportunity for change or forgiveness or laughter. But we say, "Nah, that doesn't count."

Sometimes a family will say, "We're going to pray for a miracle." Now I've learned to say, "So you believe in God's goodness and care for your mother?" They'll say yes.

Then I'll say, "Do you have enough faith to let God bring the miracle God wants rather than the one you're going to dictate to the Lord?"

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The scandal of scandal

Camassia points out that "the scandal of particularity" is the theological term for the difficulty in believing God would reveal Himself as a particular man in a particular place at a particular time, rather than in some more universal way.

It occurs to me that what makes something scandalous in the religious sense -- that is, a stumbling block to faith -- is that it is contrary to our expectations. We know what God would and would not do, or perhaps rather what would and would not do for God. I'd guess almost nobody would, on their own, think it would do for God to become man and to die on a cross ... although the Resurrection sort of fits with a natural image of God, which may explain why it took the disciples so long to recognize Jesus (the scandal of the Gospel witnesses), and even feed the contemporary "Jesus of History" vs. "Christ of Faith" bifurcation.

But stop a moment. I am scandalized by something that is contrary to my expectations. Okay, but since when have my expectations defined reality? I expect amphibians to have legs and to lay eggs; that doesn't mean all amphibians have legs and lay eggs. I expect God to show more decorum than Jesus did; I expect God to arrange the universe to make it dead simple for me to believe whatever I need to believe about Him. Since when did God conform Himself to my expectations?

Isn't it contrary to my expectations to expect nothing God does to be contrary to my expectations? Isn't there a scandal of scandal?

I'll toss this suggestion out without thinking too much about it: Non-Christians are more scandalized by the Incarnation than by the Crucifixion; Christians by the Crucifixion than the Incarnation.

And a related idea I've read somewhere but do not wholly endorse: Where Protestants and Catholics disagree, Protestants are always on the side more scandalized by the Incarnation.

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Always distinguish

Google reveals a lot of variants on an old axiom about affirming, denying, and distinguishing. The most popular may be
Never deny, seldom affirm, always distinguish.
Other versions include
Never affirm, seldom deny, always distinguish.
Rarely affirm, seldom deny, always distinguish.
Never affirm, never deny, always distinguish.
Benedict Ashley, OP, offers a distinct version that might imply more affirmation than the others:
Affirm when possible, contradict seldom, but always distinguish.
A lot of people think the Jesuits thought this one up, others think it's an old scholastic maxim, or even a favorite saying of St. Thomas.

Whatever its history, and whatever the best version be (personally, I'd vote against any with "never affirm"), the conclusion is the same: Always distinguish.

I find myself making a lot of distinctions. I don't know whether they're good or significant or germane or critical distinctions, but they seem to be distinctions others aren't making. That takes no great effort of concentrated thought, because (it seems to me) a lot of people carry out a lot of conversations without making any distinctions at all, other than Good and Bad.

Making distinctions isn't important only for pleasant philosophical conversation. A sane person makes decisions based on choices each of which is good considered from some aspect. If your reasoning is unreasonably polarizing, if it fails to distinguish the ways in which Good things are Good and Bad things Bad, you are likely to wind up making effectively insane decisions. Theologically, failure to distinguish can lead to such aberrations as Feeneyism and the Catholicism-as-idolatrous-paganism errors that have been discussed recently.

More topically, there are American Catholics who don't or can't distinguish between an American bishop and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, or between the parish priest and the Roman Catholic Church, or between a bishop and the ecclesial office of bishop in the Church founded by Jesus Christ -- or, for that matter, between a monk and a friar. All this leads to a lot of bad reasoning, poor argument, and absurd opinion.

I'm not sure how to correct this cultural habit. News reporting seems to follow a maxim like, "Always affirm, always deny, only distinguish two sides." Opinion pieces seem to prefer, "Never affirm, always deny, never distinguish." But then, news reporting and opinion pieces aren't intended to help us make the best decisions; they're intended to sell newspapers and opinions, respectively. Distinctions make buying something more confusing.

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