instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Saturday, August 09, 2003

She's going to make it!

I've received word that Katy Zeitler will be entering the Nashville Dominicans on August 14 as she'd hoped. She found out on the Vigil of St. Dominic that a priest she knows will be taking care of the balance of her loan, so she's free and clear to become a postulant.

Prayers for Katy, for all postulants, and for all those facing obstacles to a religious vocation, continue to be appropriate.


Friday, August 08, 2003

O lumen Ecclesiae

I found this in an on-line collection of Domincan clip art.

The books St. Dominic is holding would include the Gospel of St. Matthew and the Conferences of St. John Cassian, the two books he is said to have always carried with him.

And don't forget to check out Kevin Miller's series of posts on St. Dominic at Heart, Mind, and Strength. Duncan Maxwell also has a series of posts there on praying the Rosary with children.


Thursday, August 07, 2003

Happy Feast of St. Dominic!

Reginald the Tiger Quoll says:

And from the archive, last year's post on St. Dominic. Also the "Top Ten Reasons to Join the Dominican Order."


Reeves in the Summertime, cont.

“Who invited the Vatican apparatchik?”

The speaker, a tall, thin specimen named Figg from one of those Northeastern colleges, looked at Cardinal Fratricidelli like a cobra appraising a particularly ill-kempt mongoose.

“Bishop Booster did,” Berggo injected before I had a chance to clear my throat.

“Ah, Professor Figg,” the cardinal said with a grimace that would have made an abbess think she had food on her chin. “Teach any good heresies lately?”

“Only that old one about God loving everyone equally,” the professor replied. “How about you, Cardinal? Betrayed anyone to the tender mercies of the Inquisition this week?”

“Oh, yes, one a day without fail. That’s why this room is filled with fear.” Cardinal Fratricidelli waved his hand to indicate the groups of people chatting amicably before the afternoon session came to order.

I was standing a bit too close and flinched when he gestured, which seemed to irritate him. “Bishop Booster,” he said, “weren’t you going to say a few words?”

“Oh, ah, yes. Seeing that you two already know each other, no introductions needed and all that, reminds me of the story of the fat nun who went into a casino –“

“Not a few words to us! To the entire group!”

Figg’s glasses flashed in my direction. “Is this true, Bishop Booster? I thought you were here in strictly a learning capacity.”

I leaned in toward Figg, the better to avoid seeing the expression on the cardinal’s face. “That’s right. That is to say, no, although I was. To speak.”

Figg was taken aback, or at least took a step backward, and said, “I, ah, see.”

I turned to murmur in Cardinal Fratricidelli’s ear. “I’d better just go remind Mr. O’Brien that I was planning on speaking after lunch. He, erm, may have forgotten.”

The cardinal’s face did not register unadulterated credulity, but he said nothing. He happened to know Milton O’Brien, and therefore knew it was entirely possible for O’Brien to forget almost anything that wasn’t related to the amusement business. The morning’s exposure had taught me O’Brien was a decent enough sort, but a bit of an ass. You know the type.

Berggo joined me as I strolled, as casually as possible, over to where O’Brien was staring glassy-eyed at the laicized priest sociologist, who was gesturing freely toward him with a glass of ice water.

“What are you going to say?” Berggo asked me sotto voce.

“I haven’t decided,” I answered. Cardinal Fratricidelli hadn’t been more than two feet from my elbow since I made up my nipping-dissent-in-the-bud story (passing it off as one of Reeve's plans was a rare stroke of genius from Berggo), and although strictly speaking the elbow is not directly involved in rational thought, the proximity was enough to keep me from doing any advanced planning.

Still, a Booster is never wholly unprepared, and no bishop is unfamiliar with speaking extempore. I possessed a few stalwarts that could be trusted to see me through anything. My a capella rendition of “Come Holy Ghost” was a sure crowd pleaser, for example, and I had a sermon on the parable of the sower that was adaptable to any occasion.

“Well, whatever you do,” Berggo said, “for pity’s sake spare us the parable of the sower.”




A couple of comments from T.S. O'Rama -- including this one:
I can't picture Thomas Aquinas' journal as anything but clear-headed and calm and full of peace.
-- makes me wonder what St. Thomas's to-do list might have looked like. In addition to illegible, that is.

    Facere list for Feast of St. Remigius
  • Say Mass.
  • Assist at Mass.
  • Breakfast.
  • Check w/ Gabr. on # & order of angelic choirs.
  • Confess. [Don't forget grave sins against charity in facere list.]
  • Refute Correct Averroist error re: single intelligence.
  • Lunch.
  • Pray.
  • Teach class. [Ask fr. Reg where classroom is.]
  • SquishNote weaknesses in St.-Amour's latest broadside published arguments like a bug.
  • Dinner w/ king. [Ask fr. Reg king of France's name again.]
  • Pray.


Burning down the House

After a spirited debate, the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, USA, voted yesterday to change the name of their church to the Trinitarian Universalist Church (TUC).

Opposition to the measure was led by a group of centrist bishops who feared that the change would lead to an exaggerated sense of the importance of the doctrine of the Trinity, alienating both progressive church members and prospective converts. Supporters affirmed and acknowledged that concern, but still maintained the new name should be adopted because, in the words of one bishop who spoke in favor of the change, "Whatever."

After the voice vote, the bishops issued a statement that read in part, "We know that many fearful, small-minded, and backward-looking people will wake up tomorrow surprised to find that they are no longer Episcopalians. But so what?"

"The word 'episcopalian' comes from a Greek word meaning 'overseer,'" one bishop who supported the name change explained. "And as a church, we really aren't into that anymore."

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

A real logic problem

Here's a puzzle I don't think can be solved:

Start with a three-legged stool. While sitting on the stool, saw off two legs. How long can you sit on the stool before you fall over?

Update: In the four years since I posted this, not a month has passed when someone didn't visit this page due to a web search for "clip art" and "Three legged stool." So here you go:


Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Reeves in the Summertime, cont.

I staggered into the hotel bar, feeling like a three pound trout hooked on a ten pound line. I was trying to gather my wits enough to speak to the bartender, but before I had a chance he waved his hands and a drink materialized on the counter before me. I clutched at it and tasted. A perfect bourbon and s.

I gazed in awe at this wonder-worker standing before me, but the barman simply shrugged. “We’re three blocks from the USCCB, bish,” he explained. “I’ve seen that look before.”

He frowned suddenly at something behind me, and another revitalizer hit the bar just as Berggo hit the stool next to mine.

“This is ghastly,” Berggo sputtered before taking a long draught of bourbon.

I nodded. “If the Knights of St. Celestine ever hear about this meeting, I’ll be in for years of decidedly frosty luncheons.”

“I should have suspected something was wrong when Sister Agatha encouraged me to come here. But I assumed the meeting was sound, since Reeves let you come.”

“Er, yes, quite. Look, why don’t we move to a booth?” I dropped some money on the bar, knowing from experience that to wait for the Most Rev. Patrick Berger to offer to pay was a near occasion of the sin of despair.

Once tucked into a booth, Berggo fortified himself with another healthy sip of restorative before unburdening himself. “I was cornered by this … this …”

“Hearty female academic?” I suggested, drawing from my own experience.

“The mot juste. Or mots justes, I suppose, although it doesn’t make much difference while speaking, does it? Anyway, this hearty female academic collared me during the first break and launched into some prepared remarks on deontology and Greco-Semitic socioculturalism, the upshot of which was to thank me for breaking with the Vatican in my support for women priests.”

“What did you do?”

“I gave her a look of stern disapproval.”

“And she …?”

“Offered me an antacid.”

I nodded. Berggo’s looks of stern disapproval are often mistaken for looks of mild stomach discomfort. “A laicized priest sociologist followed me into the men’s room to press me for statistics on reception of Communion at weddings in my diocese,” I said. “Apparently, there is a conjecture in something called game theory he believes proves Canon Law permits Methodists to receive Communion.”


“He says he needs further data on Presbyterians.”

Berggo suddenly let out a sort of squawk, like a slumbering parrot grabbed from behind by a four-year-old.

“You spoke?” I said.

“I was just laughing at how much that ex-Marine-type fellow who just came into the bar looks like the papal nuncio.”

“Gark,” I said, or words to that effect.

“But of course it can’t be Cardinal Fratricidelli,” Berggo went on, “because he’s in Washington, and we … we’re ….” His voice trailed off.

Had someone detonated a lightweight but powerful landmine under the table in the next booth just then, I would not have heard it over the sound of Cardinal Fratricidelli’s voice. “Booster! Berger! What are you doing here?”



Monday, August 04, 2003

Which switch?

Here's a fiendish little puzzle:

There is a set of three light switches (each with the on and off switches properly marked) in the ground floor entryway of an old house. Each controls one of three outlets in a windowless workroom in the basement. The only light in the workroom is provided by a hundred watt lamp plugged into one of the outlets. The geometry of the house is such that there is no way to tell, while standing in the entryway, whether the light in the workroom is turned on.

If you turn on the light switches one at a time, checking to see whether the workroom lamp was turned on each time, you can determine which switch controls the outlet the lamp is plugged into in at most three trips to the workroom.

Is there a way guaranteed to determine which light switch controls the outlet the lamp is plugged into with exactly one trip outside the entryway? If so, what is it?

[Having someone else check doesn't count; no special apparatuses or explosives are allowed; the bulb in the lamp is not blown; you're not allowed in the workroom before the attempt.]


Saturday, August 02, 2003

A game to avoid meditating on your spiritual progress

I was meditating on my spiritual progress when I composed this
Nighttime Examen for the Phenomenally Tired
Naturally, I tried to think of a corresponding Morning Prayer for the Unreasonably Busy, but none of them were any good.

On the up-side, they make decent ink-dinks, as ink-dinks go.

An ink-dink, for the puzzled, is a riddle whose answer consists of two words that rhyme. (Formally, an ink-dink's answer is two one-syllable words; an inky-dinky is two two-syllable words; an inkity-dinkity is two three-syllable words.) The riddle is supposed to be two words, too. (For example, "Irish wolfhound" is "bog dog" and "proposal deflection" is "marry parry.")

Try these:
  1. Praise YHWH.
  2. Loving equality.
  3. Helps' arrangement.


Friday, August 01, 2003

Reeves in the Summertime

"Oh, Reeves," I said as my secretary glided into my office. "Fancy a trip to our nation's capital?"

"For what purpose, your excellency?"

"I've just got off the phone with Milton O'Brien. You recognize the name?"

"Yes, your excellency. Mr. O'Brien is the CEO of Gunthorp Amusement Corporation, which operates amusement parks in sixteen states."

"The very fellow!"

"Company profits have increased at an annual rate of fourteen percent since Mr. O'Brien assumed control of Gunthorp in 1998."

"Have they?"

"Mr. O'Brien first entered the amusement business in 1974, having patented a device –"


"Yes, your excellency?"

"I was merely asking whether you knew who Milton O'Brien was."

"Yes, your excellency."

"The point has been sufficiently established for our purposes."

"Yes, your excellency."

"The time may come to share the whole fascinating story of his climb to prominence in the world of amusements, but that time is not now."

"Yes, your excellency."

I gave him a reassuring smile. Things had been somewhat strained between us, due to some dated ideas Monsignor Reeves harbored regarding the proper facial expression for a bishop in his official press photograph, and I didn't want the situation to deteriorate.

"As I was saying," I went on, "Milton O'Brien has just called to invite me to an informal meeting he is arranging in Washington to discuss certain matters pertaining to the Church and society away from the public eye."

"It sounds somewhat irregular, your excellency. How many other bishops have been invited?"

"Just a few, I gather. O'Brien said I was just the sort of bishop the meeting needed, and there aren't too many of us out there, you know."

"No, your excellency."

"Broad minded, I mean, with a listening ear."

"Quite so, your excellency."

"In any case, the meeting is next Wednesday."

"I should advise against it, your excellency. While Mr. O'Brien may have the best of motives, there's a question of appearances –"

"Excuse me, Reeves." Reeves is an invaluable asset to me as a bishop, but he requires the occasional glimpse of the iron fist beneath the velvet glove to keep him from overstepping his bounds. "I was not informing you of this to ask your advice, but to tell you of my decision to attend."

"Very good, your excellency."

The semiquaver beat before he spoke belied his words. I put it down to his ongoing discontent with the smile I had used when photographed.



Thursday, July 31, 2003

Pledge break

Katy Zeitler is the 2003 college graduate who will be entering the Nashville Dominicans as a postulant in fifteen days if she can pay off the money she owes from college.

In true Dominican fashion, she's relying on prayer and begging.

At this point, she's whittled the debt down to under $6,000. If every regular reader of Disputations sends, oh, $300 to the Laboure Foundation ("for Katherine Zeitler"), then I think we could confidently let God worry about getting the balance paid off.

At the very least, prayer for Katy and all the other would-be religious in her situation (I gather August is a popular time to begin postulancy) is a loving spiritual work of mercy.


Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Calliopean musings

I've written in the neighborhood of 400 clerihews, the majority on saints and most of the rest on fictional detectives and their creators. I started writing clerihews when I found out that they paid the same as limericks ($2 each), but were one line shorter. (Plus the clerihew meter is easier.)

But now I'm thinking I've been a bit of a mug to waste all that creativity coming up with two pairs of rhymes, and I wonder whether the ideal two dollar poem isn't a three-liner, rhyme scheme ABA, of irregular meter. Something like this:
St. Dominic founded the Order of Preachers.
A penchant for arguing all night
Remains one of its features.
Or maybe ABB:
St. Catherine of Siena
Is remembered for bossing around popes.
But not only for that, one hopes!
Or perhaps in dubiis libertas.

The next step, of course, would be a 2-liner, but I'm not sure there's enough flexibility for sustained, non-Ogden Nash-ripoff output. Besides, I once read a couplet called something like "The Maid's Schedule" that sets the bar higher than I could ever hope to reach:


Tuesday, July 29, 2003

I don't know Jack the Giant Killer

I love folk tales. I just never realized how little I know about them before.


Monday, July 28, 2003

How to avoid intellectual stagnation

Learn something new every year.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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."


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.


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.


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!")


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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").