instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, March 10, 2006

More good men and women

And while I'm on the subject of Dominican vocations, let's not forget the Third Order.

Third orders in general are something of a mystery, with "What do you do?" and "What's the point?" being two of the biggest questions people have. The prayer and study angles are fairly straightforward, but in the case of the Lay Fraternities of Saint Dominic, how do we handle the preaching part?

That's a question we're still asking of ourselves.

They say that, if you've met one Dominican, you've met one Dominican. There are differences between members of the same chapter, between chapters in the same province, and between provinces. With that in mind:

Lay Dominicans live out the Preaching charism in all different ways. Some do churchy things -- teach RCIA or CCD, or work directly for the Church. Others choose a personal or group apostolate; I know of one chapter that sponsors an annual winter coat drive, another that writes letters to politicians, newspapers, and so forth on the moral matters of the day.

Some Lay Dominicans have no particular activity they regard as an apostolate; instead, they go out into the marketplace, as all lay Christians are called to do, but through their formation they go out as Dominicans, offering the fruit of Dominican style contemplation (prayer (Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, Rosary, etc.) and study (particularly the thought and spirituality of the Order's great saints).

Still others serve the mission of the Order through prayer. The idea that the job of each and every Dominican is to go out and preach is both a novelty in the history of the Dominicans and (I suspect) a minority view. Preaching is the mission of the Order, of the community as a whole; it's not the aggregate of tens of thousands of individual missions.

In my chapter, we have people who serve the Province by running the Third Order bookstore (the only such bookstore in the U.S.), helping with the provincial magazine, and serving on the Provincial Council. (A word of warning: competence (or even, in my case, regular attendance) runs the risk of being elected to all sorts of offices and councils; the upside is, they all come with terms of office that do eventually expire.) One member is a DRE for a nearby parish; another is devoted to presenting the thought of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (yes, a Carmelite; the Holy Spirit blows where He wills).

As a chapter, we have sponsored various programs hosted at the parish where we meet. There is also a new initiative throughout the Province whereby each chapter is to sponsor a Bible study program; we'll be starting that up in the fall.

Do all these things really amount to preaching?

That's a subject of lively debate within the Order. There's the position that says pretty much every activity counts as preaching. There's the position that says only speaking to an audience counts. And everything in between.

My personal position is this: The charism of preaching expresses itself in many different ways. However, "preaching" properly speaking is speaking the Word to an audience that is physically present in the same room, and this preaching properly speaking is a unique and privileged means of expressing the charism, one without which the Order of Preachers ceases to be an order of preachers.

Beyond that, we don't record points or keep score. What "counts" is the salvation of souls.

Finally, anyone who's curious about the Order should be sure to ask any other Dominicans they meet or know these same sorts of questions, since they're sure to get at least a different slant, if not a diametrically opposed answer. If you've
asked one Dominican, you've asked one Dominican.


More than a few good men

I see the brothers in formation at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC, have revived the vocations blog for the Province of St. Joseph. Look for an update every week or two. (The students also have their own site, and their own PDF newsletter, the Dominican Review.)

Coming soon to a pulpit near you: the novices and student brothers of the Eastern U.S. province.


Shows what I know

I figured there wouldn't be many, if any, comments on the previous post, since I didn't think it was coherent enough. Maybe the four dozen comments reflect the readiness of people to respond to love, however imperfectly expressed.


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

As though we understood good

I'm beginning to believe God is love.

I've been struck by the inchoate notion that to speak of "the problem of evil" is to miss the fact that the problem we are truly facing is the problem of good. The real question isn't, "How can an all-powerful, all-good God permit bad things?," but, "How do we face the fact of an all-powerful, all-good God?" To theologize by thinking in terms of evil, as though we understood good, is like doing zoology by thinking in terms of objects that create elephant-shaped shadows, rather than in terms of elephants.

Okay, it's not very much like that at all. I said it's an inchoate notion.

But if God loves, then His love isn't just human love ramped up a million times, or even to infinity, any more than His existence is just a superduper form of our existence. It isn't just present in the things of creation as seasoning or leaven. It isn't really present in a manner similar to anything other than itself.

It's odd that something so explosive, something that simply replaces everything that is not itself, should be so easy to overlook, to ignore, and to forget. Love is weird stuff.


Monday, March 06, 2006

The way of the cross, iii

I suggested that Matthew 16:24 describes a three-step process:
Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wishes to come after me must
  1. deny himself,
  2. take up his cross, and
  3. follow me."
(And before any Carmelite gets the heebie jeebies, let me explain that this is a logical process, where the subsequent steps depend on the presence of the prior steps, not a chronological process, where each step occurs in sequence in time.)

I also suggested the first step amounts to deposing one's own will as the center of one's existence.

If these suggestions are sound, then in order to take up your cross it is necessary to depose your own will as the center of your existence. Why might what follows from such denial of self be considered the taking up of a cross?

Well, what does the taking up of a cross signify? I'd say it signifies the somehow voluntary acceptance of a foreseen path of suffering. It's not merely the stoic acceptance of an instance of suffering, but of a whole route of pain and sorrow, a route whose details may be unknown but whose end, Golgotha, can be seen from the start.

If, as the old love song has it, this world is a vale of tears, then pretty much every path through it is one of pain and sorrow. What distinguishes carrying a cross is the willingness (which is not simple resignation) to suffer, and to some extent the choice of a path that does not minimize suffering.

I'd say that what denying yourself contributes to taking up your cross is this: At every moment you bear your cross, you are tempted to set it down. "Setting it down" means bucking against the suffering, or even abandoning the path for one of less suffering. If you have not denied yourself, if your own will is still the center of your existence, two things follow. First, there is nothing but your own willpower keeping you from setting down your cross, and at any moment you might change your mind. Second, the cross you are bearing is in some sense defined by your will; it is a cross you design for yourself, rather than a product of the fallenness of the world itself.

Note, finally, that in what I've written about both denying yourself and taking up your cross, there is nothing explicitly Christian. You can depose your will in favor of all sorts of things -- of the Party, of a charismatic leader, of social forces. And you can choose a path of suffering from all sorts of causes; you can suffer for your Art, or for your children, or for the sheer cussedness of it.

Thus the final step of the process: "Follow Me." If we are following Christ, the first two steps become specific. It is God's will that becomes the center of our existence. It is the suffering of a Christian that we shoulder, with its twin character of internal self-discipline and external buffeting.


Sunday, March 05, 2006

Lenten Discussion Series in Silver Spring, Maryland

We have come to believe in God's love.

Is your Lent not penitential enough? Then come and listen to me lead a discussion on Deus Caritas Est at St. Andrew Apostle Catholic Church in Silver Spring, MD, this Tuesday, March 7, beginning with Evening Prayer at 7:30 p.m.


Friday, March 03, 2006

On the "Statement of Principles"

I read the "Statement of Principles By Fifty-Five Catholic Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives," and without bothering to pick it apart, the overall impression I got was:

They're asking for partial credit.


Thursday, March 02, 2006

The way of the cross, ii

It might be worthwhile to take a look at the passage from Matthew that introduces the idea of "taking up your cross":
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.

Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, "God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you."

He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
I shall now demonstrate my mastery of the obvious.

The disciples are here taught three lessons: that Jesus is the Messiah; that the Messiah must suffer; and that those who would follow the Messiah must suffer likewise.

Only after His disciples confess that He is the Messiah does Jesus begins to teach them that the Messiah must suffer and die. Led by Peter, the disciples first learn who Jesus is (more or less), and only then does He go on to say what that truly implies. That He must teach them step by step is vividly illustrated by Peter's reaction to Lesson Two.

In this passage, Lesson Three follows hard on Jesus' grading of Peter's comprehension of Lesson Two. Note the repetition of "must" in these lessons: "that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly," "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself." To be a student is to imitate the master. Perhaps that thought added a little extra to Peter's emphatic, "God forbid, Lord!"

Okay, now I come to the crux (man, I slay me) of the matter:
"Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me."
What Jesus describes is a three-step process, and I would suggest that understanding the second step requires understanding the first step.

The NAB note on this says that "to deny oneself is to disown oneself as the center of one's existence." The Catena Aurea quotes St. Gregory as writing, "He denies himself whosoever is changed for the better, and begins to be what he was not, and ceases to be what he was... He also denies himself, who having trode under foot the risings of pride, shews himself in the eyes of God to be estranged from himself." St. John Chrysostom is more expansive:
He that disowns another, whether a brother, or a servant, or whosoever it be, he may see him beaten, or suffering aught else, and neither succours nor befriends him; thus it is He would have us deny our body, and whether it be beaten or addicted in any other way, not to spare it.
To deny yourself, then, is to change, if not completely sever, your current relationship with yourself. Broadly (and figuratively) speaking, the change involves taking your will -- the satisfying of which is, for those turned away from God, the greatest good -- and trampling it underfoot.


The way of the cross, i

The periodic discussion on What is the Cross the Christian Must Take Up -- in particular Whether the Daily Trials of Life Count -- re-emerged yesterday, and continued over on Flos Carmeli.

Rob presents the objection:
But I firmly believe that it borders on blasphemy to equate the pain that comes of illness, failure of expectations, even loss of loved ones to death, as "crosses."

The only kind of affliction that rises to the level of a cross, is affliction that is endured for the sake of the Word. When one is afflicted for the sake of one's Christianity, and one accepts that affliction with praise for Our Lord at the opportunity, then, and only then, has one taken up one's Cross.
Steven answers it:
I would say that the attitude that separates suffering from the cross tends to make a mockery of human suffering. The strong implication of your words is that human suffering really doesn't have any meaning at all. I would pointedly differ with this. But if we accept that it does have mean, then it only has meaning as united to the sufferings of Christ on the cross.
Steven says it all better than I can, but I'll make what middling insights I have in the next post.


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Have yourself a squishy little Ash Wednesday

Let me come out on record as 100% behind an unabashedly, unhesitatingly squishy fast.

Want to do more than the Church requires? Excellent! God will reward you in the spirit with which you fast.

Want to do no more than the Church requires? Excellent! God will reward you in the spirit with which you fast.

Want to do less, but wind up doing what the Church requires, while feeling guilty for not keeping a stricter fast? Excellent! God will reward you in the spirit with which you fast. The guilt, though, you're putting on yourself, and you should take it off yourself, too.

Keeping Lent, like keeping Christmas, can be a touchy subject. I think it helps to recognize that we can admire others without envying them, and that ideas can be shared without being prescribed.



In the comments on a post below, the discussion turned to the question, Whether it is harder for "cultural Christians" to become "true Christians" than for atheists to become "true Christians"?

Setting aside the question of defining and distinguishing "cultural Christian" and "true Christian,"* the basic idea of the Yea side is that those who are born and raised in a Christian culture tend to settle into a little well of complacency, so to speak, from which they are not easily roused. Atheists (or non-Christians in general), being less accustomed to hearing [what they are told is] the Gospel message, much less hearing they are good Christians, have a greater potential to accept Christ's call in their lives.

My take on the question is that we say which transition is easier, not only because we don't actually know, but because it's an ill-posed question to begin with. How "hard" it is for someone to become a true disciple of Christ is not determined by whether he is a cultural Christian or an atheist, and in fact the very difficulty of becoming a disciple -- an act which is, after all, utterly dependent on God's grace -- is not something that admits of being measured at all, much less between people.

The question begins by assuming a too-simple state flow:

But these are hardly the only possibilities. An atheist who becomes a Christian does not necessarily become a true Christian; giving oneself over to Christ is a process, often a long slog for the best among us. The just man falls seven times a day, and so forth. We can immediately explode the state transitions, and still not claim to have covered everything:

Does it make sense to rank these transitions categorically, according to difficulty?

If you think it does, and if you're inclined to try, then you should be sure to compare things that are comparable. For example, I don't think it's right simply to compare those atheists who became true Christians with those cultural Christians who did not, i.e., the red portion of this diagram with the green portion:

This sort of comparison neglects, not just the cultural Christians who become true Christians, but all the atheists who don't become any kind of Christian. A fairer comparison, I think, would look like this:

That is to say, don't ask what a cultural Christian would have to do to become a true Christian, ask what a former cultural Christian did have to do. And similarly with a former atheist. Otherwise, it becomes an exercise of listing the factors that keep cultural Christians complacent without listing the factors that keep atheists atheistic.

Again, though, I'm not sure it's a sensible question to begin with. And whatever else, we shouldn't lose sight of the central role of God's merciful grace in all of this.

*. For the most part, this discussion can be rephrased in terms of "cradle Catholics," "adult converts," and "Catholic disciples of Christ," with what I'll assume are obvious enough changes to not need specifying.


Tuesday, February 28, 2006

It really is sweeping the nation

Or at least the Maryland-National Capital Park system.

The Potomac Curling Club had an open house over the weekend. It was well attended.

I attended an open house there when the curling rink opened shortly after the 2002 Winter Olympics. There were a respectable number of visitors, but no lines out the door and down the sidewalk.


The penitential is personal

PAT: And what will you be giving up for Lent then?

MIKE: Sure and begob, I won't drink whiskey and beer until after the Easter Vigil.

PAT: Not drink whiskey and beer? Faith and begorrah! How will you manage?

MIKE: Well, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I'll drink whiskey without beer, and the rest of the week it's beer without whiskey.


Monday, February 27, 2006

Facing a dilemma

Yesterday's homily began with a question most Catholics (particularly in places where the Church is well established) should ask themselves from time to time:

Do you think of yourself primarily as a disciple of Christ, or as a Catholic? As a follower of a Person, or as a member of an institution?

Obviously, "disciple of Christ" and "Catholic" aren't contrary labels. "Catholic" ought to imply "disciple of Christ," and "disciple of Christ" ought to imply at least "in communion with the Catholic Church."

But ten thousand oughts do not make one is. There are unquestionably people who call themselves Catholics who would never call themselves disciples of Christ. You can follow good discipline -- in terms of receiving sacraments and following precepts -- without ever asking yourself if you're practicing good discipleship.

The key word in the question, though -- the one that prevents it from being a false dilemma -- is "primarily." You can understand yourself as both a follower and as a member, but at any given time one will take priority, one will be the way by which you understand yourself as the other.

The homilist proposed that those who understand themselves primarily as Catholics will tend to understand Lent primarily as a time of special rules. They fast during Lent because Catholics are to fast during Lent. The Church says Lent is a time for reform and repentance, so they reform and repent. They follow a program of rule-based growth in virtue.

The readings point to a new way of sanctification. As St. Paul writes, "the letter brings death, but the Spirit gives life." To live in the Spirit is to imitate Christ, to follow Him on His path to Golgotha and beyond. What Jesus did, the new wine He poured into new wineskins, was to preach the coming of the Kingdom of God, to bring Divine Mercy to those who called out for it (including those who thought they were just calling out for a medical cure), and to pray.

Jesus prayed. He stayed up late, He got up early, He went off by Himself to pray.

He fasted as well, of course, forty days in the wilderness, an act which in the Divine Economy prepared not only Jesus for His ministry, but the Church for her ministry, refreshed each year during Lent.

A disciple imitates his master. Perhaps we can't perform miraculous medical cures (do we even try?). We might not even be prepared to volunteer as preachers. But we can pray, and we can fast, and we can give spiritual alms by testifying to God's mercy at work in our own lives. And if our testimony is stammering and vague, we might at least (as we pray for the Spirit to speak through us) be thankful that no one will take us for glib snake oil salesmen, or agree with us merely because our words tickle their ears.

And we can do these things, not because the Church tells us to, but because Christ did them first.


An observed pattern

Most every group in which membership is voluntary is susceptible to a pattern of behavior that goes like this:
  1. Someone whose attitudes, preferences, or inclinations are, by the standards of the group, iffy or fringe, joins the group.
  2. Having joined, he puts a lot of effort into demonstrating that his attitudes, preferences, or inclinations are perfectly legitimate by group standards.
  3. Having demonstrated this to his satisfaction, he goes on to insist that his attitudes, preferences, or inclinations are not merely legitimate, but positively normative.
  4. Having talked himself into believing his views are normative, he begins decrying the standards of the group as iffy or fringe.
From there, all sorts of interesting things can happen. The group might accommodate him, allowing contradictory understandings of the nature of the group to co-exist. The group might kick him out, at which point he might repeat the pattern with another group, or become a professional embittered ex-group member, or find a group more suited to him. The group might split, with those sympathetic to the fringe member joining him in a new group.

Then again, the pattern might terminate at any point in the process. The fringe member might recognize that he is fringe; he might allow that his views are not normative; he might not think contrary views are beyond the pale.

The only thing that is always a safe bet is Step 1. Any organization that people can choose to join that is not exceptionally careful about who is allowed in (assuming membership can be formally denied) is going to wind up with fringe members.


Friday, February 24, 2006


We're Number 3! We're Number 3!

A bronze medal in curling! An American Olympic team that exceeded expectations! How cool is that?


Orthodoxy is twice as nice

In a comment below, Jonathan Prejean (formerly of Crimson Catholic) refers to the Third Council of Constantinople, which condemned Monotheletism, the heresy that Jesus possessed only one will.

Monotheletism is one of those heresies -- or if you prefer, ditheletism is one of those doctrines -- that's hard to get overly worked up about. Granted that we're perfectly willing to assent to the belief that Christ possessed both a human and the Divine will, the question remains, what are we supposed to do with this belief?

The Fathers of Constantinople III saw Monotheletism, not as a dry error on an obscure matter, but as
a heresy ... intent on removing the perfection of the becoming man of the same one lord Jesus Christ our God, through a certain guileful device, leading from there to the blasphemous conclusion that his rationally animate flesh is without a will and a principle of action.
As with so many heresies, Monotheletism strikes at the Incarnation, without which we're all pretty much just Shriners. The Council defines the orthodox dogma in these words:
Believing our lord Jesus Christ, even after his incarnation, to be one of the holy Trinity and our true God, we say that he has two natures shining forth in his one subsistence in which he demonstrated the miracles and the sufferings throughout his entire providential dwelling here, not in appearance but in truth, the difference of the natures being made known in the same one subsistence in that each nature wills and performs the things that are proper to it in a communion with the other; then in accord with this reasoning we hold that two natural wills and principles of action meet in correspondence for the salvation of the human race.
Moreover, as they explain just before this definition:
And the two natural wills not in opposition, as the impious heretics said, far from it, but his human will following, and not resisting or struggling, rather in fact subject to his divine and all powerful will. For the will of the flesh had to be moved, and yet to be subjected to the divine will, according to the most wise Athanasius.
So Jesus' human will, even in Gethsemane, did not resist or struggle against His Divine will.

And yet: He ... began to feel sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, "My soul is sorrowful even to death... My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me...." He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.

We know, then, that having a human will perfectly subject to God's will doesn't mean never feeling distress. It doesn't even mean always desiring, of one's own volition, what God desires, though of course it does mean always choosing what He desires. We are not called to agree with God, but to obey Him. But obedience is the road to perfection, and the more we obey God, the more our human wills become, not merely subject to His, but genuinely like His. I speculate.


Thursday, February 23, 2006

On balance, more pro than con

I've never been very sure that "Crunchy Conservatism" was much more than an example of how prejudices can be wrong, with the strong emotional relief of self-described Crunchy Cons at learning that there were others like them an indication, not of a significant but inchoate subspecies of conservatism, but of how hurtful prejudice can be.

However, Rod Dreher has seen his initial observation through to a book -- and as a bibliophile and erstwhile writer, I congratulate him on that -- and provided what he calls "A Crunchy Con Manifesto". And if neither granola nor political conservatism hold much interest for me, I find enumerated sets of principles irresistible.

The italicized statements are the manifesto; the rest are my comments:
1. We are conservatives who stand outside the conservative mainstream; therefore, we can see things that matter more clearly.

Right away, it's clear he's not talking about me, since I'm not a conservative. As Amy Welborn puts it, "It's not my identification, it's not my circle, as if I even have a 'circle', and while there is a lot about modern political conservatism that just drives me batty, much of which Rod touches the end, my self-identification and loyalties are elsewhere."

But the "standing outside the mainstream implies clearer vision" is tendentious, to say the least. It may well be that Rod sees things that matter more clearly than mainstream conservatives; if so, though, it's not because he's standing outside the mainstream, but because of where, specifically, he stands.

2. Modern conservatism has become too focused on money, power, and the accumulation of stuff, and insufficiently concerned with the content of our individual and social character.

I suspect this is true, though I don't know whether it's a characteristic of conservatism per se, or of the fact that conservatives are human beings. It does seem fair to say that conservatism has a much more positive view of wealth and wealth creation than does liberalism.

3. Big business deserves as much skepticism as big government.

I'll buy that, though I'd phrase it, "Big business deserves skepticism as much as big government," since I'm not interested in figuring out exactly how much skepticism big government deserves.

4. Culture is more important than politics and economics.

Amen! (Recognizing that "more important than" sets the ordering of these interrelated things, and that "less important" doesn't mean "unimportant.")

5. A conservatism that does not practice restraint, humility, and good stewardship -- especially of the natural world -- is not fundamentally conservative.

Well, okay, that's for people who debate what "conservative" means.

6. Small, Local, Old, and Particular are almost always better than Big, Global, New, and Abstract.

While I'm sympathetic to the spirit expressed here -- it's sort of a Principle of Cultural Subsidiarity -- that "almost always" makes it an empirical statement I don't know how to even begin to determine the truth of.

I think I'd want to change it to, "to the extent that Small, Local, Old, and Particular are more personal than Big, Global, New, and Abstract, they are more human," and then kick that around some to see a) whether it's true, and b) whether it means anything.

7. Beauty is more important than efficiency.

Absolutely, in an absolute sense. When you're trying to solve a problem -- like, say, evacuating houses as a wildfire approaches -- you might not define success in terms of aesthetics.

8. The relentlessness of media-driven pop culture deadens our senses to authentic truth, beauty, and wisdom.

I agree.

9. We share Russell Kirk's conviction that "the institution most essential to conserve is the family."

Okay (in what I take to be the political context Kirk had in mind).

10. Politics and economics won't save us; if our culture is to be saved at all, it will be by faithfully living by the Permanent Things, conserving these ancient moral truths in the choices we make in our everyday lives.

Not much to dispute there. (There might be a hint that saving our culture is a good to be sought for its own sake, but if it's saved by faithfully living by the Permanent Things, then it would be something worth saving for its own sake (though not, of course, as the final end we seek).
That makes me, though certainly not a Crunchy Con, generally sympathetic to the manifesto. Whether it represents a real movement or bloc or phenomenon -- whether, in fact, it's really any more than political conservatives who think there are more important things than politics -- is for others to hash out, but I'd say it has to be a good thing for conservatism to order itself according to the Permanent Things.


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Quid est pax?

It would seem that how much at peace a man is with himself is not a necessary test of whether he possesses spiritual wisdom, since many saints in Christendom knew little peace within them (but trusted God nevertheless).

I respond, using St. Augustine's definition of peace as "the tranquility of order," we start by noting that wisdom (of the kind that comes from above, which is the only kind we're considering here) is right judgment in light of the Divine Will. To be wise is to know things as they are, and to act accordingly.

Now, to act according to the way things are is to accord each thing its proper place. In other words, it is to act so as to bring about, restore, or preserve the "order" in St. Augustine's definition of peace. It is, as I suggested before, almost literally to make peace.

There's no denying that a saint who trusts God is a peacemaker in this sense, acting to bring about, restore, or preserve the order willed by God both within his heart and between himself and others. What I guess is denied is that acting to create this order necessarily results in tranquility. Ordermakers, so to speak, aren't necessarily peacemakers; in fact, merely acting with wisdom may even fail to result in order, much less peace.

To take the last argument first, acting with wisdom does necessarily result in order: specifically, the order within one's will by which the wise thing is done and the foolish thing avoided. True, this isn't the only order the wise man seeks, but it is virtuous in itself and apart from any question of the success of his actions.

If acting with wisdom necessarily creates an order of some sort, does this order necessarily create a tranquility of some sort?

In distinguishing peace from concord, St. Thomas writes that
man's heart is not at peace, so long as he has not what he wants, or if, having what he wants, there still remains something for him to want, and which he cannot have at the same time.
Tranquility, then, can be understood as the absence of contradictory desires. (This tranquility is true peace when the complimentary desires are all ordered to the Eternal Law.)

So the question can be rephrased: If someone acts with wisdom, is he in some way necessarily free of contradictory desires?

I'll tentatively say yes in a limited sense, and no in a more general sense.

Consider Jesus in agony in Gethsemane. Was His heart at peace? I think most of us would say no. People at peace don't sweat blood. St. Matthew writes that He felt "sorrow and distress." He could not do the Father's will and have the cup passed Him by at the same time.

In a narrow sense, though, there was a kind peace in His heart. "Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will." His desires were ordered to the Father's will, so much so that the desire to be spared -- which superficially conflicts with the desire to do the Father's will -- was actually conditional. His desire wasn't simply "to be spared," but "to be spared if the Father willed it."

From this perspective, then, even in His agony Jesus did not have contradictory desires, and in this sense He had peace in His heart. Not a very satisfying peace, from a natural perspective, but then, as He says in the Gospel of John (which, of course, does not record the Agony), "my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you."

Perhaps this peace of God -- which, as you know, surpasses understanding -- isn't so easy to detect in another's heart, after all. (Or maybe it takes a saint to know a saint.)

Still, Jesus immediately adds, "Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid." The gift of heavenly wisdom does seem to guarantee a certain spot of peace, even in an otherwise roiled heart, just as it does in an otherwise roiled world.


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

You're nobody in this town

... until you've made the Google Doodle.


The gladness of spiritual desire

Summa Minutiae quotes St. Benedict on Lent:
Let us devote ourselves to tearful prayers, to reading and compunction of heart, and to abstinence.

During these days, therefore, let us add something to the usual amount of our service, special prayers, abstinence from food and drink, that each one offer to God "with the joy of the Holy Ghost" (1 Thes 1:6), of his own accord, something above his prescribed measure; namely, let him withdraw from his body somewhat of food, drink, sleep, speech, merriment, and with the gladness of spiritual desire await holy Easter.
Compunction of heart with the joy of the Holy Spirit. Withdrawal from merriment with gladness.

The canonical story is that the fast of Lent is followed by the feast of Easter. St. Benedict shows that Lent itself can be a time of feasting, if you do it right.


Wise are the peacemakers

St. James describes two kinds of wisdom, the first of which might better be called cunning:
Wisdom of this kind does not come down from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice.

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity.
St. Thomas quotes this last verse, describing the wisdom from above, as an objection to associating the gift of wisdom with the beatitude of peacemaking. If wisdom is first pure, and also gentle, compliant, and so forth, how can it be said to correspond particularly to peacemaking?

Well, first, why associate wisdom with peacemaking at all?
Now a peacemaker is one who makes peace, either in himself, or in others: and in both cases this is the result of setting in due order those things in which peace is established, for "peace is the tranquility of order," according to Augustine. Now it belongs to wisdom to set things in order, as the Philosopher declares, wherefore peaceableness is fittingly ascribed to wisdom.
According to St. Augustine's insight on the true nature of peace, "peacemaking" can pretty much be defined as "wisdom at work."

And the rest of the characteristics St. James lists? Well, Rule #1 for doing right is, "Don't do wrong":
... the first thing, to be effected in this direction of human acts [by wisdom] is the removal of evils opposed to wisdom: wherefore fear is said to be "the beginning of wisdom," because it makes us shun evil....

Hence James said with reason that "the wisdom that is from above" (and this is the gift of the Holy Ghost) "first indeed is chaste," because it avoids the corruption of sin....
The rest of the list -- "gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity" -- St. Thomas sees as "the means whereby wisdom leads to peace." Gentleness (which moderates desire) and compliance (to the true wisdom of others) "are conditions required that man may be at peace with himself." The other characteristics are, of course, requirements that man may be at peace with others; being full of mercy and good fruits brings right order to a neighbor's deficiencies.

The Biblical text St. Thomas was working with read that wisdom involves "judging without dissimulation," where the Vulgate reads "without judging, without dissimulation." He understood "judging without dissimulation" to refer to correcting a neighbor's faults in charity, which is certainly a condition of true peace between neighbors.

It seems to me that being "without inconstancy or insincerity" is also a requirement of true peace between neighbors. As long as we don't insist on James 3:17 being a unique and complete enumeration of such requirements, I think we can preserve St. Thomas's idea of the descriptions referring to conditions for peace both within and between men.

All of this suggests that one test of someone's wisdom, a test that doesn't require much soul-reading, is how much at peace he is with himself and with others. (Whether others are at peace with him is less relevant.) Passing the test doesn't suffice to prove wisdom -- fools may well be perfectly tranquil amidst great disorder -- but failing it might just disprove wisdom.


Monday, February 20, 2006

A word from Balaam's ass

The Letter of St. James is perhaps best known nowadays for verse 2:17, "So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead." (Odd, though perhaps a sign of hope, that verse 2:20 isn't the standard apologetical proof text.)

There's a less celebrated parallel between St. James's notions of faith and wisdom:
Indeed someone might say, "You have faith and I have works." Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works. [2:18b]

Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show his works by a good life in the humility that comes from wisdom. [3:13]
Just as faith without works is dead, so too is wisdom without works.

And wisdom is what, exactly?

I remember reading the Book of Wisdom, in particular the extended praise of Wisdom in chapters 7-10, and thinking, "It's nice that Wisdom is wonderful and all, but the fellow neglected to mention what it is." Looking again, I find that I was not quite right about that:
[Wisdom] is an aura of the might of God and a pure effusion of the glory of the Almighty; therefore naught that is sullied enters into her. For she is the refulgence of eternal light, the spotless mirror of the power of God, the image of his goodness.
I suspect the first time I read this I took it as more of the poetical praise of Wisdom that comes earlier in the chapter. Now, I suspect, this is about as good a definition as you're likely to get.

There is the Wisdom that is God Himself, the Wisdom that is Love that is Justice that is Truth that is Goodness that is Beauty. From the Godhead comes the divine Wisdom that is the aura of the might of God, the spotless mirror of His power. This image of God's goodness is to God as sunlight is to the sun; it's what we see when we look toward God. We might say this divine Wisdom is the sight of God at work.

When we receive this sight into our hearts, we receive the gift of wisdom; St. Thomas defines this gift in a way analogous to natural wisdom:
...wisdom denotes a certain rectitude of judgment according to the Eternal Law.
The Eternal Law is divine Wisdom; perceiving this Wisdom, the wise act according to it, like a dancer following her partner's lead.

I don't think we need to settle for the tautology that acting according to divine Wisdom is wise. Divine Wisdom itself is acting according to God's love for us. To be wise, then, to employ the gift of wisdom, is to turn to face God and receive that love, and that -- quite apart from commandments and legalities -- is always the right and good thing.


Sunday, February 19, 2006

From "The Illustrated Dictionary of Curling Terms"

sweep: v., to brush the ice in front of a stone with a broom. Sweeping melts the surface of the ice, causing moving objects to travel faster and straighter.


Friday, February 17, 2006

Divine comedy

In the early 1950s, when the TV ratings for Bishop Fulton Sheen's Life is Worth Living were beating his own show, Milton Berle is said to have explained it this way: "He has better writers." Of course, he didn't mean he had better comedy writers... but maybe he could have.

Here's an interesting reflection on the relationship between humor and faith Donald Casadonte sent me:
Faith is an assent to truths in possible worlds which we cannot see, which do not seem possible to the naked eye, but cannot be dismissed because of the authority of the one making the claim (God). Thus, an atheist can make jokes about death in which death is all there is, but for the Christian, there is a real heaven, even though we cannot see it. Thus, we too, have restrictions on what we see to be funny.

If you remember that the purpose of a joke is to resolve an apparent contradiction by projecting the answer into another possible world, then the possible worlds which Christians have access to, but non-Christians do not, forms the deposit of Faith. These other realizable possible worlds are given access to us at Baptism. Thus, Christians have access to "ways out" which non-Christians do not.

Who gives us these accesses, these permissions to enter: Jesus, by his death and Resurrection. When he said, "In the world you will have troubles, but BE OF GOOD CHEER, I have overcome the world," Jesus was letting us in on the joke. More than that, he was telling us that he was the head writer. The situation may be unbearable, but the way out has already been provided for and so, a Christian can always look forward to Heaven and see the resolution to his problems which only Jesus can provide.

This is why Jesus gives his followers permission to laugh at hopeless situations. Jesus is the Way and has given us that hope that the apparent contradiction is, after all, not so real as the world would have us believe because this is not the real world, after all. That "imaginary" heaven of the pagans or atheists is the real one.

So, just as humor involves moving between a real and an imaginary world, just so, the Christian moves also between a real and an imaginary world, except, "this" vale of tears, the atheist's real world is, in fact, the imaginary, transient one. And Jesus says to every Christian at Baptism, "Surprise". This is why Christians should be of good cheer.

The first words he said to the disciples on Easter was, "Shalom." Peace is the tranquility that flows from God's right order (to paraphrase Augustine). Jesus said, "Peace," meaning, "Don't worry any longer, it is finished -- the right order has been re-established." The apparent reality of Adam's post-sin world has been relegated to the imaginary nightmare it was always meant to be. The joke is on the Devil.

Thus, in a sense, Jesus is the Divine Comedian and we Christians are his Court Jesters!


Just an observation

Because of the strategy involved (honest), curling is sometimes called "chess on ice" (honest).

Visually, though, it reminds me more of another sometime-enthusiasm of mine, the game of go. Both involve the thoughtful placement of stones according to very general patterns.

In go, such patterns are called joseki. They're sort of locally optimal ways for both players to prepare a corner of the go board for the battle for territory that will come later in the game.

In curling, the battle for placement comes a lot sooner, and the choice of viable patterns is restricted by many more factors, a major one being that you can't just lean over a block of cherrywood and pop the curling rock on the exact spot you want it. On the other hand, you are allowed to take out your opponents' stone, if you can.


Thursday, February 16, 2006

From "The Illustrated Dictionary of Curling Terms"

takeout: n., a shot that knocks one or more opponent stones out of play.


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Word to the would-be wise

One of the cool things about reading exhortative books of the Bible like James is that you almost can't help but run into other things that remind you of some verse. A passage about how a Christian should act is going to be relevant to how Christians (and others) actually do act.

For example I read these verses in James recently enough to remember them:
But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it. But he should ask in faith, not doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed about by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a man of two minds, unstable in all his ways.
And you might think, "Well, of course I want wisdom, and I certainly don't doubt that God will give it to me generously and ungrudgingly. It's not like He wants men to be foolish." If anyone is wise enough to ask God for wisdom, how can he be of two minds in wanting that wisdom?

And then Zadok draws attention to this observation by St. Bernard:
Clearly, you pour forth wisdom or understanding from your lips in three ways: if on your lips there is the admission of your own sinfulness, thanksgiving and the voice of praise, and words that encourage.
So the question becomes: are you of two minds about keeping the words that pour forth from your lips to those of confession, thanksgiving, and encouragement? If so, then if you ask God for wisdom, you aren't really asking for wisdom itself, but for some half measure that allows you to persist in your preferred foolishness. And God, not one for half measures, will give you what you ask for, which is what you already have.


And now for something complete

So now let me give you one complete email Donald has written in response to the comments previous excerpts have generated:
Dear Tom,

Thank your comboxers on Disputations for some interesting comments. It is useful to know how well one is expressing oneself in trying to discuss matters that pertain to Christ's consciousness and humor (apparently, I'm not doing so well). I did not realize that I would start a fight over what Christ knew, although the matter of humor does involve what one modern theory calls, "knowledge states," in interpreting or creating a joke, and so, Christ's knowledge is a legitimate question.
It's almost impossible to know what is going to start which fight. Who woke up last Friday expecting a clerihew fight?
What does it mean to "get the joke" or to "make a funny"? Humor researchers call this a matter of "joke competence," and it depends on several factors, such as the knowledge that the listener has of the matter under discussion, the interaction (and cueing) from the audience as to what is funny, etc. For example, I once reviewed a book of mathematical humor (yes, there is one, called, Comic Sections, by the Irish mathematician, Desmond Machale) where the punchline to one joke in the book was, "Okay, assume a Borel space..." Now, unless you happen to know some topology or advanced statistics, you might not find this joke funny (except as an example of absurdity). You would have no joke competence for this joke. In order to "get a joke" one has to be able to access the knowledge necessary and actually imagine (at least as an observer) that one is in the possible worlds of the joke.

As I pointed out in my original e-mail, there are some knowledge areas (such as sin) that Christ is not able to access in a direct fashion (although he does know evil by its lack) and there are some knowledge areas which the pre-resurrection apostles did not appreciate (such as walking on water). Jesus can see sin in front of him (such as the woman caught in adultery or the hypocrisy of the Pharisees), but he cannot participate in sin, nor cause another person to sin. We have God's word on it:
Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
Those desires that we have that lead to sin (and form the possible worlds of dirty jokes), Christ cannot have.

The problem here with Chris Sullivan's argument that I have limited Christ's humanity is not that it proves too little, but that it proves too much (by the way, Basil Hall is a colleague and humor research I know from New Zealand, in case Chris want to try to track him down). Christ is fully God and fully man, but Christ is not just fully man, he is The Man (Ecce Homo), the perfect moral man -- he has no moral flaws or imperfections. This must be the case, otherwise, he could not be the "new Adam." He is a man like us, except for sin (as Adam was, originally). Jesus could not tell dirty jokes; I can. My range of possible worlds includes sinful worlds.

Christ cannot have access to those without degrading his human perfection. Christ is excluded from telling dirty jokes. Period. Is this a limitation on his humanity or does our ability to tell dirt jokes reveal a degradation of ours? The problem is not one of his limitations, but of his perfections.

Perfection is itself a limiting process. We hone and strip away all that is not perfect. Jesus is the best of moral men, not the most average. That is the meaning of the sentence, "A MAN like us in all things, but sin. He is the best of us in all things that pertain to the moral life (it is an open question whether or not Christ would be the world's best speed skater if he tried). Jesus is not limited in his ability to tell jokes; rather, his ability to tell jokes is in the nature of that perfection which should belong to all men. That perfection seems like it imposes limitations to a fallen man, who can also sin, but it is the sinful man who has too much room, not Jesus who has too little room to maneuver.

The inability to tell dirty jokes or misjudge people is not just a choice on Christ's part as a man, but it is a necessity of his two natures because of a theological doctrine which comes from the Eastern churches called, perichorisis (or circumincision or co-inherence). Perichorisis is a doctrine which is used to explain the inner life of the Trinity. It says that there is such a loving bond between each member of the Trinity that they share all knowledge and all will. The only thing they do not share is that particular aspect which we would call relationship. Thus, there can never be a disagreement within the Trinity. The term is also used to explain the relationship within the inner life of Christ. He is one person, but two natures, but just as in the Trinity the will of three persons is united, in the hypostatic union the will of Christ's two natures (and to the extent possible in the distinction between finite and infinite beings, the knowledge) are so united in love as to form a perichorisis between Christ's human and divine natures. Thus, whatever will Christ's divine will has, his human reasonable will exactly conforms to it. There are two wills in Christ (to say otherwise is a form of the monothelitism heresy), a divine and a human will, but we may also say that there are sub-categories to that human will and it is only the rational part which necessarily shares a perichoretic nature with divine part.

St. Thomas says in the Summa:
I answer that, As was said (Articles [2],3), in Christ according to His human nature there is a twofold will, viz. the will of sensuality, which is called will by participation, and the rational will, whether considered after the manner of nature, or after the manner of reason. Now it was said above (Question [13], Article [3], ad 1; Question [14], Article [1], ad 2) that by a certain dispensation the Son of God before His Passion "allowed His flesh to do and suffer what belonged to it." And in like manner He allowed all the powers of His soul to do what belonged to them. Now it is clear that the will of sensuality naturally shrinks from sensible pains and bodily hurt. In like manner, the will as nature turns from what is against nature and what is evil in itself, as death and the like; yet the will as reason may at time choose these things in relation to an end, as in a mere man the sensuality and the will absolutely considered shrink from burning, which, nevertheless, the will as reason may choose for the sake of health. Now it was the will of God that Christ should undergo pain, suffering, and death, not that these of themselves were willed by God, but for the sake of man's salvation. Hence it is plain that in His will of sensuality and in His rational will considered as nature, Christ could will what God did not; but in His will as reason He always willed the same as God, which appears from what He says (Mt. 26:39): "Not as I will, but as Thou wilt." For He willed in His reason that the Divine will should be fulfilled although He said that He willed something else by another will.
The distinction between the sensual will and the rational will answers another question beyond humor. Although Christ is a man like us in all things, but sin, this does not mean that he is a man like me in all particulars. This is one of the flaws in using the Evangelical formulation of, "What would Jesus do," to solve problems in life. The question only applies in the moral (reasoning) sphere, not the sensual sphere. Whatever kind of car Jesus would buy would be the perfectly prudent car for him, but not necessarily for me (I might be too short to reach the gas petal or I might not like the color he choses). I might (say) be allergic to wheat; Jesus was not. Jesus could eat the Passover bread; me, it might kill. A woman might be pregnant; Jesus could not be. Christ can will to let suffering touch him, but that will is contingent on his humanity. Unless Jesus were willing to be all manner (i.e., have all possible attributes) of men simultaneously (which would then make him something other than simply man), then we have to say that Christ's suffering in his humanity was his own suffering and not mine, in a unique sense. Christ's sensitivity to sunlight as he was when he walked the earth was probably not what mine is. My (say) easy ability to get a sunburn did not exist in the set of things that Christ suffered in his humanity qua humanity (i.e., in his sensual appetites). Christ does will to understand and share all human pain, including those he had no sensual experience of, such as the pain of pregnancy, but he understands and participates in those suffering that are not uniquely his because he has all knowledge as a direct apprehension in his state of perfection. In fact, due to the way in which he obtains this knowledge, his knowledge of the pain of pregnancy is more direct and clear than that of even the pregnant woman, herself. I don't know if I have stated this clearly enough. In other words, Christ can have particular preferences, even in humor, where the rational will can allow the sensual will some latitude. It cannot in the case of dirty jokes. It can in other forms of wordplay. Thus, Christ's humor is limited more than ours because it runs into the barrier of a perfect rational will which must conform with the divine will.

Thus, my point is that in understanding the range of Christ's humor, we have a tool for probing what it means to be holy.

Donald Casadonte

P.S. On the subject of Christ's consciousness, beyond the link to the Catholic Encyclopedia article already cited in the combox, I would recommend an article at EWTN's website:

The Double Consciousness of Christ

as well as the book by Fr. William Most, The Consciousness of Christ Arlington, VA: Christendom College Press, 1980 . In addition, Ott's, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, has some good articles on the beatific vision and Christ's development. Tom, please thank everyone on the comboxes. These "disputations" have helped to clarify my own thinking. I hope I have given people who read the blog something to think about. I am sorry that I could not give a detailed discussion about how humor operates (there are several theories). Perhaps that would have helped explain what philosophers mean by the use of possible world logic and counterfactual reasoning which is so essential in at least one theory of humor and forms part of my discussion in earlier posts.


The philosophy behind the punchline

I'm not sure I'm doing Donald Casadonte any favors by posting small chunks of some lengthy emails he's written. Humor is one of those subjects everyone has an opinion on, and it's the nature of blogging (and particularly blog commenting) to give your opinion immediately upon reading something. When the something you've read is one seventh of a complete thought from someone who's been thinking about the matter systematically and rigorously for years, there's likely to be miscommunication.

In any case, Donald informs me:
If anyone wants to know about possible worlds and counterfactual logic, there are excellent articles by real "experts" at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and not bad articles from Wikipedia.

The links:

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Possible Objects

Possible world
Counterfactual conditional


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Dissecting the frog

Judging by some of the comments, I may have over-edited Donald's email in this post. He wasn't speaking of humor in general so much as of telling jokes. (Telling jokes and laughing at them is a big part of humor, but far from all there is to it.)

More from Donald's email:
Let me explain how jokes work (simply and some of this is controversial, as there are different theories of humor): essentially, a set-up establishes a context with a system of belief points. The punchline states a word or phrase which is consistent with the possible belief points in one sense, but not another. The statement of the punchline causes a "crisis in belief" in that two, apparently contradictory truth claims must be believed. Obviously, the rational mind cannot handle this and would, ordinarily, reject one of the claims or deny the communicative structure of the story (i.e., it is non sequitur). There is, however, a very large class of such dual belief activators (punchlines) in which it is possible to "project out" one of the beliefs into an alternate possible universe (a counterfactual universe) which could exist, "just in case". I am using terms like, "belief points", rather than, "attribute sets," because I want to, eventually, link the discussion to issues of Faith and Hope. For instance:

Did you hear the one about the guy who fell into a vat of gum at work? The boss chewed him out...

Now, the belief points are: 1)boss = traditional human being, and, 2)chew out = to yell at. The punchline, however, presents a case where, apparently, the boss actually could have extricated the worker or yelled at him. One has therefore, a chimerical boss: one who, apparently, has a normal set of teeth, and one where the boss has a very strong, large set of teeth. Both cannot be simultaneously right in the same possible world, but they can exist in two different worlds that the imagination is able to cross between. Thus, the mind oscillates between:

chew out (world 1) = to yell at
chew out (world 2) = to extricate by mastication

We accept world 1 as the correct world matching our world of experience, but we cannot completely discard world 2 because the context will not allow us to exclude it. Thus, we have an oscillation between a "real" world and an "imaginary" world as a way of circumventing the Law of Non-Contradiction by projecting out the incongruity into an alternate possible world which accepts a truth claim from the original context of the joke. Humor theorists call this, "script switching as a way of resolving an incongruity."
To the extent this is "how jokes work," there are jokes that Jesus would not find funny that His disciples would -- and vice versa, I suspect -- because, being Divine and sharing in His Father's power, He has a different set of "belief points."

I don't know, though, whether not finding it funny is a moral impediment to telling a joke the audience would find funny. I tell unfunny jokes to my children, expecting they will laugh. Sometimes I tell unfunny jokes to my children, expecting them to laugh at how unfunny the jokes are. I suppose that moves the incongruity to be resolved from the joke itself to the telling of it.


Capturing the excitement of curling

Some people just can't picture it.

Some people can:

(Photo credit: Marion.)


A gap-truthed simile

Zippy offers the sort of argument I thought he was alluding to in earlier comments here.

It seems to me that this depends on a specific and highly technical definition of "gap" -- one that uses the expression "complete and consistent" in the mathematical sense -- and it's far from clear to me that it is the only reasonable definition.

Consider a certain curling rock, traveling across the ice. Is there a "gap" in our knowledge of what caused it to move?

My contention is that whether there is a "gap" depends on what class of "knowledge" we're speaking of. If the class is kinematics, then no, there really isn't a gap: we know that when one rock smacks into another at a given point with a given velocity, it causes the smacked rock to travel in a predictable direction at a predictable speed.

If you keep asking "Why," as in, "Why does a moving rock cause a stationary rock to move?," you soon move out of the sphere of kinematic knowledge. Much the way a parent soon moves out of the sphere of parental knowledge when faced with an inquisitive child and says, "Because it just does, okay?"

But that is a gap in the knowledge of the individual, not in the set of knowledge of the given science. (Analogically, there is a gap of an infinite number of numbers between 0 and 1, but there is no gap between them in the ordered sequence of whole numbers).

Without thinking too much about it, I'm guessing this would make a particular body of scientific knowledge incomplete. But being incomplete needn't mean there are "gaps." A gap, to me, suggests a missing piece between two pieces that I have, and the sort of questions kinematics can't answer don't have kinematic answers beyond them. Scientific knowledge need not have gaps, even if it must (per Goedel) leave some questions unanswered.

Now, whether this notion of "gap" has any relevance to anything is a separate question.

And let me again insist that God is God of everything: of what we know, of what we don't know, of what we can't know. Knowledge and mystery are not contradictory. We know the laws of motion, but that doesn't mean there is no mystery to motion, or to objects capable of motion. Trying to separate knowledge and mystery -- not within a science, but within a person -- is what gives rise to the "God of the gaps" fallacies.


Sunday, February 12, 2006

No, seriously, what would He laugh about?

My throw-away title for this post turns out to be a question Donald Casadonte has given a lot of thought:
There are really two questions that one could ask: at what did Jesus laugh, and did Jesus ever cause anyone else to laugh. To answer the second question, first (and the topic of your blog), for instance, in the exchange with the Sadducees on the subject of marriage...

Why did Jesus not gently mock his accusers? The probable reason was the context. Jesus had the perfection of virtues and, as such, would not have mocked his accusers because it would have been imprudent in the context. It would have made the crowds laugh, but it would have infuriated the people he was trying to correct. Thus, on the matter of Jesus making jokes, he could have made them, but his range would have been more restricted than ours because his vision was unlimited (at least in his divinity)...

There are different classes of possible worlds: physically possible worlds, logically possible worlds, morally possible worlds, semantically possible worlds, etc. Because of Jesus's divinity, he is able to access certain worlds which to us are only possible. For instance, we can imagine a possible world where we can walk on water, but Jesus can realize such a world.

Thus, the class of jokes where walking on water is the imaginary world would be non-accessible for Jesus, because to him, it would be an realizable world...

In fact, because Jesus can do anything which does not violate his divine attributes, he has access to a restricted number of possible worlds, and thus, his joke set is much smaller than mere mortals. He can, however, access some.

Which? Well, possible worlds depend on the imagination and imagination lends itself to the formation of metaphors and Jesus did use metaphors in the form of parables. This gives us a clues as to his set of possible worlds and how closely they match our range of possible worlds. Thus, a possible world where men's souls are like wheat (as in weeds among the wheat) could be an imaginary world which Jesus could use to form a joke. He could also make jokes from possible worlds which, to us, would be imaginary, but not to him. In that case, what we would perceive as a joke, he would see as a truth revealed by a subsidiary truth.

Jesus, as we are, would be restricted from accessing possible world where the moral virtues are not as they are in this universe. He could consider such universes, but he could not hold them as contingent and possible with this universe, because then he would have to imagine the case where he, as a Unitary God, would contradict himself in his divinity and *this* application of the Law of Non-contradiction, cannot be projected out In other words, Jesus could not make jokes about God being both just and unjust. He could not make jokes involving pornography (imprudence prevents this). Mere mortals can make sinful jokes which access immoral possible worlds (although we should not). Jesus cannot do this because he cannot sin. Thus, although we are restricted to certain morally "clean" possible worlds, but can violate this restriction, Jesus cannot and thus, he is more restricted than we are in terms of morally accessible worlds.

As for logic or semantics, Jesus has full access to all logically/ semantically possible worlds where they do not violate the restrictions from the physical or moral possible worlds. We see, in fact, a prime candidate for a joke in the saying: "Come with me and I will make you fishers of men". This would be classified as a mild semantic joke.

Does Jesus respect jokes? The non-sinful ones would, I suspect, be appreciated where the possible worlds could be accessed. Walking on water jokes would be truth statements, not incongruities for Jesus, but the statement of the Syrophoenician woman about, "Even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the Master's table," impressed Jesus so much as a type of desperate play on words (if I may use the term, although the woman was not in a playful mood), that he said: "For making that response, go home, the demon has left your daughter." Why did it impress Jesus, beyond being a play on words? It is because the woman was willing to accept the impossible world where she could be reduced to a dog and still ask for a dog's rights. She treated Jesus as if she were the dog and he were her master. It was a profound statement of faith. Humor depends on the switching between a real world and an imaginary possible world which isn't right in the original context, but cannot be dismissed.