instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Laetare Thursday

Bill White's strict Lenten regime has obviously uncluttered his mind, as he has "been researching bourbon the last day or two." The result of his research: "I'll start with Maker's Mark."

The question, "Which bourbon?" is like the question, "Which Bible translation?" Both have the same answer: "The one you find in your hand."

Bourbon, like all work of human hands, can be good or bad, which is to say well-made or ill-made, which is to say artistic or not. And like all the arts, the art of bourbon produces works that are only partially ordered by "goodness" (in the artistic, not moral, sense). By that I mean, given two bourbons, it's not necessarily true that one is "better" than the other. On the other hand, though it's only partial there is an ordering, so one particular bourbon genuinely can be better than another particular bourbon.

My claim is that all the arts are partially ordered by "artistic goodness," which is one reason those "100 Greatest" lists always generate so much discussion. Such lists are an attempt to force a partial ordering to be a full ordering, which results in claims as defensible as, "Green is better than burlap."

I will even go so far as to claim that mankind, considered as a set of individual creations the artistry of God, is only partially ordered by artistic goodness. This may be heresy; it is certainly a break with the tradition of an at-least implicit full ordering in the goodness of people, with of course Mary at the top of the order and everyone else lining up single-file behind her.

But it's also a break with the current mode of thought whereby we're all equally loved by God, me for being me and you for being you. What God loves is goodness, which is to say Himself, but love is by its nature fecund, so God has created Creation, which reflects His goodness and gives Him more to love. (Well, not more, strictly speaking, since the goodness of creation is really a participation in the goodness of God; really, creation gives God creatures to love. It's like (but not very like) adding crystals to the inside of a spherical mirror to give new ways the light inside can be reflected upon itself.)

So if humans really are partially ordered by artistic goodness, then there are two humans of whom it can be said one is better made by God than the other, and therefore the one is better loved by God than the other.

I don't think American Catholics on the whole are comfortable with saying such things these days, or at least not with allowing the possibility that there might be two more or less average adults of whom God loves one more than the other. But I don't think it makes sense to say instead that we're all equal; then you run into the problem Rob brought up on Camassia's blog: "[I]f you and I are both fully redeemed and 'perfect', in what way can we differ from each other?"

Parents necessarily adopt the habit of saying, "I love all my children equally," but I think we really mean, "I don't love any one child more than any other." God, though, can and (I say) does love some of His children more than others, because some of His children are better likenesses of His Only Begotten Son.

At the same time, though, I think some of God's children are neither better, nor worse, nor equal likenesses of His Only Begotten Son. I may be wrong, obviously; the goodness of humans may be fully ordered, so that quality of singing voice and perceptivity and all other human perfections are somehow commensurate, and they can be added up, as it were, to produce a univocal "goodness rating." I suspect, though, that between the painter and the poet there is not a ranking, nor even an equivalence, but merely the perfections of both.

From which the same would follow regarding the painting and the poem. And, for that matter, between the bourbon and the scotch.