instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


I don't know. I haven't read everything, I haven't heard everything, so maybe I've just missed it. But I've never heard any Catholic ever claim that Christ's Resurrection amounted to "the resuscitation of a corpse."

And yet I keep coming across Catholics who claim that Christ's Resurrection did not amount to "the resuscitation of a corpse."

To these people, I reply: Nor did Christ's Resurrection amount to a recipe for Marillenknoedel.

Now, as I say, I haven't read or heard everything, but from what I have read and heard, I have the impression that the majority of people who are particularly keen on insisting that the Resurrection wasn't merely the resuscitation of a corpse are not particularly keen on the idea that a corpse was at any point involved in the Resurrection. The idea that Jesus' physical body rose from the dead is not an idea that much appeals to them.

And I'm kind of tired of it.

That Jesus' physical body rose from the dead is, not merely a dogma of the Catholic Faith, but the absolute foundation of it.

For various reasons, this undeniable fact is denied by various pseudo-sophisticates proposing various laughable bits of hokum as enlightened theology.

I call them "pseudo-sophisticates" because -- again, from what I've read and heard -- I get a strong sense that they regard an actual resurrection as somehow too crude or common to put much faith in, as something of an intellectual embarrassment, as something they'd be just as happy to define out of Christianity. I think they think asking questions like, "What would it mean if scientists discovered Jesus' skeleton?" is taking a more sophisticated approach to their faith.

But it isn't sophisticated. It's sophomoric. The answer to such questions should be, "Whoah, dude, I never thought of that before!," because such questions shouldn't be asked once you grow up and stop thinking everything revolves around you.

I don't mean to suggest there's no place for a discussion of the distinction between the Resurrection and the various returns to life mentioned elsewhere in Scripture and in history. I do mean to suggest -- or rather, to insist explicitly, that any obstinate denial or doubt that the risen body in which Jesus appeared to His disciples is the same body that had been tortured and crucified is heresy.


It's always the quiet ones you need to watch

I've been meaning to bask in the reflected wisdom of this post at Flos Carmeli, which quotes a fellow paraphrasing a reflection on the parable of the Good Samaritan and the Carmelite Rule:
The Carmelite is the Innkeeper and Christ has come bringing the sick and the wounded asking that they be cared for--that everything possible be done to help.
The parable has a large cast: the victim; the robbers; the priest; the Levite; the Samaritan; the innkeeper. And everyone in the cast does something, except the innkeeper. The parable ends with the Samaritan saying to him, "Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back."

Jesus told the parable in answer to the question, "Who is my neighbor?," which is certainly a question we still ask today. But Christians should also recognize in the final words of the parable a promise of Christ to His disciples: "I shall repay you on my way back."

If we spend only what we have been given -- and, to avoid any Pelagian implications that we can do good without God's help, let's understand this as "if we fulfill only the demands of justice" -- then there will be nothing to repay when Christ returns. But we are to continue to work of the Samaritan among our neighbors. This work, spurred by compassion, is to approach, to anoint, to bear, and to care for, without concern for cost.

The Samaritan proposes to the innkeeper that he do this for the victim. He doesn't force him, he merely calls him to act with justice, and assures him he will be repaid for any further acts of charity he freely engages in.


Monday, April 24, 2006

Apologia pro namesake sua

Every year on the Octave Sunday of Easter, I brace myself for the inevitable criticism of my patron saint, Thomas (called Didymus). And every year, I try to add to my defense of him. A defense, not against his guilt before Christ, but more in the sentencing-phase, society-made-him-do-it sense.

This year's wrinkle is this: As everyone knows, Thomas told the other disciples, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."

Okay, but why the "put my hand into his side"? The marks of the nails, sure; when you're crucified, your hands have nail marks. But crucifixion by no means implies being pierced in the side. Yet verifying that wound is one of Thomas's conditions of faith. Why?

Perhaps, we might speculate, because Thomas witnessed the soldier piercing Jesus.

Yes, certainly, he may have merely been told of it. But he strikes me as awfully obstinate in his refusal to believe the other disciples, particularly if his knowledge of Jesus' death comes by way of those same disciples, and awfully particular about what he'll accept as proof.

Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that Thomas was himself an eyewitness to Jesus' death, or His deposition, from some suitably safe vantage point. This sets up an interesting parallel to Jesus' statement:
"Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."
Thomas saw (we suppose) Jesus die, and would not believe that Jesus rose unless he saw Him alive. We have not seen Jesus die, and we are blessed if we believe He rose without seeing Him alive.

Thomas, we might say, was in a position of finding his faith in conflict with his knowledge, and refusing to correct his faith without first having his knowledge corrected. We are, in a sense, fortunate to have no direct knowledge of Jesus in His human body, because our faith cannot be impeded by what we think we know about His life in the flesh.

Of course, our faith can still be impeded by what we think we know about Jesus apart from His life in First Century Palestine. Thomas serves as the bad example, teaching us that, whatever we think we know, we are blessed if we believe what the apostolic Church tells us is true.


What I like

I was poking about on, an international arts and crafts website, when I came across the page of the Montalvo family. Taught woodcarving by Salesian priests, the three brothers are quoted as saying, "Every piece is an opportunity to express our profound relationship with the Catholic faith."

The prices prohibit casual or binge purchasing (the above is $170, the below $149), but they seem very reasonable, and the carved cedar panels are just the sort of thing I’d like in my home.


Conversational counsels, pt. 2

Let's see what sort of "conversational counsels" -- principles directed to the removal of things that hinder the act of charity in the context of conversation, and yet are not contrary to charity -- might be generated from the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

Though there are already plenty of poor conversationalists, here a spirit of poverty would prevent someone from claiming ownership of a conversation. He might also refrain from insisting on any particular standing in the conversation, or on claiming authority others don't readily grant him.

From chastity, I'd derive something like keeping custody of one's tongue, avoiding topics and comments that, though not sinful in themselves, might tend to direct attention away from the path of increasing charity. "For the witchery of paltry things obscures what is right."

An obedient conversationalist might regard himself as the servant of those with whom he is speaking, or at least of the conversation they are having. The discussion is an opportunity for service, not for self-advancement nor for forcing one's own position on others.

As with the evangelical counsels themselves, all these proposed counsels as they might be fleshed out would need to be applied, not as rules to be followed to the letter, but through the virtue of prudence.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Et propter hoc ratio non sequitur

Speaking of conversational goals, I have a new one: to use the above Latin statement in a manner consonant with the Christian vocation to love.

Commenters should consider themselves forewarned.


What's with his spirit?

In a comment below, Jeff identifies a key element of "the Ratzinger spirituality":
But true "dialogue"--like true "love"--is something we can't do without. To engage with the other and not allow the conversation to become a contest of wills and an occasion of pride is a tremendously difficult thing to do. It becomes even more fraught with difficulty when we are convinced that we are defending something that is substantially connected with the Faith itself or with fundamental Goodness. But it is part of the Ratzinger spirituality and it is what makes him such a convincing and inspiring preacher and such a charming opponent.
There seems to be a line of thought that true dialogue and true disagreement are mutually incompatible. This leads people to choose the one they value more at the expense of the other and to assume that others will do likewise. Hence, perhaps, some of the fear of Pope Ratzinger, who was rightly believed to truly disagree but wrongly expected not to truly dialogue.

I wonder, though, supposing this really is a part of the Ratzinger spirituality, if it's appropriate to speak in these terms:
A purge coming from within is more important than one from above. Of course the Pope is setting the tone. But, instead of being the grand hatchetman, he has countless willing hatchetmen and -women on the ground. I got my hatchet right here.
If the Pope's spirituality is something to be admired, it can't be duplicitous. He can't be looking for people to do his dirty work for him which he charmingly engages opponents in true dialogue. He wouldn't want dirty work to be done at all.


Amongst our certain things are such diverse elements

At nunblog, Sr. Anne revisits the only two certain things:
  • "Do not be afraid" even if the certainties of the old order have been overthrown.
  • "Do not be afraid" even though you no longer know what you can count on, what you can rely on, what you can base your plans and prospects on.
  • "Do not be afraid" even though, with death no longer ultimate, you surely cannot look to the civic order to give you peace and security.
Now the only security is in Jesus himself.
It seems to me that the Resurrection has overthrown the certainties of the old order in a peculiar fashion. They still compose a viable system, of a sort. You can still live your life as though death were the end, and according to whatever principles and morals you choose.

Easter leaves that more or less intact. What it does is give us another choice. It says, "Or you can choose what's behind Door Number Two," which isn't a door but a large stone that has been rolled away, and what's behind it are Jesus' burial cloths, and the cloth that had covered His head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.

Death and taxes are still certain, but the sting of the former has been removed by another, new certainty, set along side the old ones but not really comparable to them.


Conversational counsels, pt. 1

So what conversational goals are consistent with the Christian vocation to love?

In trying to formulate an answer stricter than that given by general etiquette, I kept coming up with objections I could only answer along lines like, "True, this isn't a sin per se, but not doing it is objectively better." Then I realized my replies were expressed in much the same terms used to describe the evangelical counsels, which are a matter not of precept (which all are bound to follow) but of supererogation (which none is bound to follow, except to keep a vow).

As part of his consideration of the state of perfection in general, St. Thomas asks whether, in this life, perfection consists in the observance of the commandments or of the counsels. His answer is yes:
Primarily and essentially the perfection of the Christian life consists in charity, principally as to the love of God, secondarily as to the love of our neighbor, both of which are the matter of the chief commandments of the Divine law....
Secondarily and instrumentally, however, perfection consists in the observance of the counsels, all of which, like the commandments, are directed to charity; yet not in the same way.
Then he draws an interesting distinction between precepts and counsels:
For the commandments, other than the precepts of charity, are directed to the removal of things contrary to charity, with which, namely, charity is incompatible, whereas the counsels are directed to the removal of things that hinder the act of charity, and yet are not contrary to charity, such as marriage, the occupation of worldly business, and so forth.
On the question of conversational goals, then, we might say there are precepts to which all Christians are bound, precepts against acting without charity toward those you are conversing with. These precepts would look very much like etiquette guidelines, though probably stricter than most.

In addition to these precepts, we might propose conversational counsels "directed to the removal of things that hinder the act of charity, and yet are not contrary to charity." What might such counsels look like? Maybe like the evangelical counsels...


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Magnificat -- optional

Ever wondered what the result would have been if the Psalmist had tried to compose a mission statement? Me neither.


Note to self
Win an argument, lose a soul. -- Servant of God Fulton Sheen

Disagreement is not an easy thing to reach. -- John Courtney Murray, SJ

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. -- Inigo Montoya
Discussion on the "moral equivalence" charge, here and at Catholic and Enjoying It!, has again brought home to me how hard it is to engage in a fruitful dispute.

The difficulties begin with the fact that participants -- especially self-selected participants in Internet forums -- so often approach the exchange with radically different goals. They can, I suppose, be roughly divided into competitive goals and cooperative goals. Competitive goals include counting coup, crushing an opponent, and getting the final word. Cooperative goals include getting everyone to be nice, or to reach uniform agreement, or to agree to disagree.

Some of these goals can be accomplished by a participant regardless of what other participants do. If my goal is to state my position forcefully and clearly, or to mock another participant, I can meet my goal and consider the exchange a success. Other goals -- complete surrender, for example, or a good time had by all -- require something from others.

Difficulties are compounded by the differences in communication style, experience, background, intelligence, preconceptions, and all the rest of the list we're familiar with. Even the old hands who have piloted through Internet conversations for years can strike unexpected shoals, through inattention or inadvertently pressing someone's hot button or just having a bad day.

As I say, this is all again brought home to me. What's new this time is this accompanying thought:

I need to keep a close eye on my own goals, judging them both on their inherent value and on their achievability. If they aren't worth achieving, I shouldn't bother with them. If they are worthwhile, I need to make sure I'm acting in a way that might possibly achieve them. And I need to revisit these questions frequently, because goals have a way of changing as a conversation evolves.


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Invalid charges of invalid charges

I've noticed a sort of conversational tic among political conservatives, that of declaring that someone has proposed the "moral equivalence" of two acts that are patently inequivalent morally. Once the existence of an attempt at an invalid moral equivalence has been declared, everything else the person might have said is treated as answered.

I would guess this tic developed in response to explicit claims of the moral equivalence of the Soviet Union and the United States, but it's now reached the point where any suggestion that two sides in a conflict are both engaging in immoral behavior can be expected to be called an invalid charge of moral equivalence.

It's as though for some people the moral categories have collapsed into two, "Good" and "Evil," and all good things are equivalently good and all evil things equivalently evil. It's the reflexive style of thought of the soldier on the battlefield transported to the reflective environment of discussion and debate. The thought that two things can be similar -- both immoral, in this case -- without being equivalent is avoided whenever possible.

What to do, when discussing matters with people who exhibit this tic? You can avoid criticizing more than one thing at a time (per blog post, or op ed piece, or conversation). You can weigh down your words with caveats in an attempt to forestall the charge of invalid moral equivalence. You can counter the charges when they arise. You can ignore the charges. I'm not sure, though, that you can teach them not to insist you believe that all evil things are equivalently evil.


Monday, April 17, 2006

Resting in peace

It's a pity the way some of the best writing on St. Blog's happens during Holy Week, which is also a week when people are especially likely to not read blogs. Come Easter Monday, the profound and moving reflections on the passion and death of Christ have all the shelf appeal of plastic leprechaun hats at the grocery story on March 18th.

I overstate somewhat.

But Fra Lawrence has managed that most difficult task: writing a post about Holy Saturday, the S. ratti of the liturgical calendar, that is topical for more than sixteen hours a year.

He does this by quoting Fr. Geoffrey Preston, OP, in his book Hallowing the Time. Fr. Preston inverts a familiar metaphor to suggest that sleep is a kind of death:
How do we learn to die? By practising dying. How do we practise dying? By going to sleep properly night after night, letting the past day go and saying: 'Into your hands I commend my spirit.' Then we discover that it is not just obedience and acceptance of our biological situation but that we can freely and even gladly choose to fall asleep and to die. It can be a matter not just of necessity but of salvation.
This relates to something else Sr. Mary Martin de Porres of Jesus said in her Holy Thursday sermon:
We religious voluntarily make a vow of obedience until death, but the dying observe all the vows whether they want to or not.
The dying lack the strength to be physically disobedient, unchaste, or rich, but as long as their will remains they may (must, actually) choose whether to accept God's will for them. In His mercy, God gives us the opportunity to practice making this choice every night.

The Lord is Risen, Alleluia!


Sunday, April 16, 2006

When Easter comes

Right on time, as scheduled, Easter comes, ready or not. It comes for those who have kept a Lent for the ages, and for those who gave up Lent for Lent. It comes for those who forgot when Easter is this year, and for those who have never even heard of Easter.

But what it means to you when Easter comes depends very much on what you've been doing for the last six and a half weeks. The celebration of a feast by one who has kept a long fast is simply not the same as the celebration of a feast by one who hasn't. The deeper into penance one goes during Lent, the higher into joy one goes when Easter comes.

And if Easter comes, ready or not, so does Good Friday. It is the eleventh hour, when those who have kept a poor Lent, or none at all, might yet enter into Christ's passion and death, and be repaid with the blessings of Easter.

Sr. Mary Martin de Porres of Jesus, OP, prioress of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, New Jersey, speaking on Holy Thursday on the theme, "Christ for our sake became obedient unto death," said:
The antiphon says Christus factus est obediens. In Latin, factus est has both active and passive connotations: Christ became obedient, Christ was made obedient. The phrase can be translated either way and either translation is correct because, as we know, both senses of the word are true. Christ freely embraced our human state, including death, death on a cross: he became obedient. Christ did this by the will of the Father, and in conformity to the Father’s will he endured the suffering inflicted on him by sinful men, even unto death: he was made obedient.

The same is true for us. We will die, whether we like it or not, and when God wills. By our profession we have freely embraced this death in advance and try to live it every day. The measure in which we are faithful is the measure in which we will be ready to embrace the physical actuality when it comes.
And, if I may add to this, it is also the measure in which we will be ready to embrace the spiritual actuality when it comes. Good Friday comes once a year, and then comes Easter. Our own deaths will come once, and then comes the Day that has no evening. What it means to you when that Day comes depends very much on what you did on the days given to you in this life.

The Lord is Risen, Alleluia!


Saturday, April 15, 2006

Sing it

There's an interesting series of posts on the Song of Songs at JoBloggs. Interesting, how? The teaser would be this, in reference to a recent movie:
When I say that this scene makes Rowan Atkinson an extremely desirable man, fans of Mr Bean will appreciate the power of the Song!
There are five posts to date, beginning with one that proposes the Song of Songs as a "disruptive" book, and ending with the perspective found in Deus Caritas Est.

(Links per Per caritatem.)


Thursday, April 13, 2006

God or the Curl

When they're sending emails to me, you know they're really working to get the word out on God or the Girl, which premiers Easter Sunday on A&E. It sounds a bit dopey to me, but then my own viewing habits don't allow me to be too critical of the tastes of others.

In any case, my TV quota for the Festival Day will be used up by 5 p.m. Eastern.



Like the old lady who swallowed a fly, I find that buying one book on-line is a sufficient reason to buy another, and as long as I'm buying two, why not a third?

And so both the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church arrived at my house yesterday.

First reaction to the latter: Take away introductory matter, footnotes, and indices, and you're left with, like, twenty pages of text. Which is not too surprising, as there's only so many possible variations on, "Love one another."

First reaction to the former: Marked lack of enthusiasm from my children when I told them, "And we'll go through this question by question until you know it by heart."

In fact, if I were an organizer, I might try to get people to volunteer to adapt the questions from the CCCC to a child's vocabulary, and put them up on, say, WikiCath one by one, and when it's all done, we'd have a public domain CCCCC ("...for Children").


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Speaking of false bravado

What would you guess is the percentage of people who say or write to the effect that, "I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it," who actually would defend that right to the death?

Voltaire, for one -- the one, of course, to whom that statement is attributed, though more properly by way of sentiment than direct quotation -- managed to live to the age of eighty-four, dying of exertion after a triumphant return to Paris, dying in fact content with the thought "that the King is the defender of justice."

Which isn't to say Voltaire wouldn't have died defending the right of someone to say something he did not agree with, had the opportunity presented itself. But anyone who proposes things he would defend to the death ought to be particularly thankful each day the opportunity fails to present itself.


"So be it"

The last sentence of my previous post can be read with an unintended note of false bravado.

Just to be clear, I didn't mean to imply that, on this matter, here I stand, with banner unfurl'd, undaunted in the face of the foe, and fie on the shouting horde who would undo me, for I tremble not nor fear before them.

What I meant to imply is that moral principles can have political implications, and that unwanted political implications do not in and of themselves invalidate the moral principles that imply them.

I have seen arguments proposing that, when a moral principle implies a political position contrary to an already-held political position, the moral principle must be, if not abandoned, then reinterpreted until it has no contrary implications. Any argument that makes a political position more fundamental than a moral principle is unsound.


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

What I've been saying

Meaning what? As Fr. Tucker puts it,
ask yourself what we mean when we say that something is illegal. Then ask yourself what it means to apply that adjective to a human being.
This is a moral principle, not a political position. But if a political position follows from the moral principle, so be it.


Monday, April 10, 2006

His hour came, too

I just noticed unimportant Simon Peter is.

In the Gospel According to St. John, I mean. Before the Last Supper.

Unless I missed a reference, he is only mentioned by name twice before Chapter 13. In Chapter 1, he meets Jesus:
Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus. He first found his own brother Simon and told him, "We have found the Messiah" (which is translated Anointed).

Then he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Kephas" (which is translated Peter).
Rather passive, is Peter, particularly when compared to Philip and Nathaniel, whom Jesus meets in the next few verses. Of the four Apostles, Peter is the only one whose words aren't recorded here. In fact, Chapter 6 contains the only pre-Last Supper words of Peter recorded in this Gospel:
Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?"

Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."

Jesus answered them, "Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?"
That certainly is a beautiful speech Peter gives, especially coming after verse 66, which states that "many [of Jesus'] disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him." But Jesus' reaction is not that of Matthew 16:18; in this Gospel, Jesus has already given Simon the name Peter, and Peter's confession is no cause to bless him or praise the Father. For that matter, Simon Peter is largely elaborating on what his brother told him even before he met Jesus.

Considering just this Gospel to this point, there is no reason to think of Simon Peter as in any way distinguished from the rest of the Twelve. There is none of the "And Jesus took Peter, James, and John with Him" in John, no list of Apostles naming Peter "first." The only hint that his future career will be worth following closely is that Andrew is introduced as "the brother of Simon Peter."

But with the Last Supper discourse, Simon Peter comes into his own. He refuses to have his feet washed, then asks that his hands and head be washed as well; he tells John to ask who Jesus' betrayer is; he questions Jesus; he boasts of his fidelity to Him.

And, of course, he denies Jesus, after cutting off Malchus's right ear and following Jesus after His arrest and letting John ask the gatekeeper to let him in.

From the time "Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father," Peter steps forward and becomes the key Apostle. He takes the lead, and even when the disciple whom Jesus loved runs ahead of him, Peter still enters first.

And of course it is precisely Jesus' passion, death, and resurrection that change Simon Peter from an unimportant fisherman to the chief servant of the Good Shepherd. The Gospel according to St. John conceals the figure of St. Peter almost entirely prior to Christ's hour, to an extent none of the other Gospels attempt, as though to say that it is only the light of the Passion that can illuminate Peter for the sheep of Christ whom he feeds. (A similar point can be made about "the disciple whom Jesus loved," as though the fact Jesus loved him is unimportant apart from the fact that Jesus died for him.)


The universal indulgence

Fra Ephraem has come up with perhaps the only angle on the various rumors of an impending universal indult for the Old Mass that would draw my interest. I expect to have a recipe by tomorrow.


Sunday, April 09, 2006

The pitchfork point

A comment below suggests that it is possible to assert that someone made a poor decision without asserting culpability for grave sin, "and God help him on judgment day."

Sure, it's possible, but where's the payoff?

Imagine listening to a wide-ranging conversation between two philosophers. At one point, they might be discussing how best to butter a slice of toast. At another, how to determine whether a tax code is just. At any given point in time, you will be more or less interested in what they're saying, depending on the topic and the ways they present their arguments.

Now suppose you leave the room for a minute, return, and, in trying to pick up the thread of conversation, realize they're debating whether pitchforking babies is ever appropriate in a free society, and if so under what conditions.

At this point, you may well find yourself saying, "Wait a minute! You're debating pitchforking babies!??!!"

If you judge that a conversation has reached the point of pitchforks, then you judge there's no point left to that conversation. You say, "God help him on judgment day," let his poor decision follow as a corollary, and there's not much left to say.

There are some answers that ought to be self-evident, some matters that don't require debate. But it seems that which matters aren't debatable is debatable. In other words, the point at which a debate amounts to whether pitchforking babies is appropriate -- the point at which "God help him on judgment day" is easier to say than "He made a poor decision" -- varies from person to person.


Friday, April 07, 2006

Room to grow

Construction on the new monastery for the nine nuns of St. Dominic's Monastery in Washington, DC, is about to begin in Front Royal, Virginia.
By building a new monastery, [their attorney Greg] Granitto said, the nuns are building new life for their community and reinforcing that the call to religious life is still being heard by young women. The new monastery will house up to 24 nuns...

The community of nuns is not building only for themselves, but for future groups of their order. For this reason, they are using masonry for the bulk of the building.

"Monasteries traditionally have been built of stone and we want it to last," Sister Mary Paul [Murphy, the prioress,] said.

Granitto said that their determination to build a lasting structure has made the nuns very patient. The monastery will be built in a phased approach -- they will postpone what they can -- instead of substituting quality materials for cheaper materials.
The best line is from the architect:
"Usually, I put a lot of emphasis on entrance design," he said. "The entrance doesn't matter on this because you only go in one time."
Link via man with black hat.


Well, why not?

Turns out it's not just Latinists, but Pig Latinists, too.


A university's co-op program

Much has already been written on St. Blog's about the statement of the president of Notre Dame, Fr. John Jenkins, C.S.C., on academic freedom and Catholic character. I wasn't surprised that the majority of comments condemn the statement, nor by whom I've seen approve it. (My favorite comment, by far, was written by an open book reader: "Weren't the Jesuits 'Catholic' once?" I think that says so much about so much of what's been said.)

I suppose, though, I am a little surprised there haven't been more opinions that admitted more uncertainty. Maybe I just haven't come across them; maybe opinions that admit more uncertainty are less likely to be posted.

Or maybe there isn't much uncertainty involved. If we grant that a certain activity that occurs at a Catholic university supports a position clearly and egregiously contrary to certain central values of Catholicism, and that the president of the university could in principle stop that activity, why wouldn't the president be morally obligated to prevent it?

Let's look at that question: Is the president, in such circumstances, categorically morally obligated to prevent it? This question seems to me to be convertible to, Is the president's failure to prevent it formal or proximate material cooperation with evil? (Here I'll take for granted that the activity itself is evil.)

Generally speaking, it could be formal cooperation; that is, the president could himself personally support the evil. But he may well not, in which case it's not formal cooperation.

It's an understandable impulse to want to answer, "Of course it's proximate material cooperation! The activity occurs if and only if he lets it. He could stop it with the stroke of a pen." This impulse, however, should probably be tempered by a couple of other considerations.

First, it somewhat misrepresents the position of president of a university. There are very few university activities that require his explicit approval. Unless the particular evil activity is one of the few activities that truly can't happen without his explicit approval, his material cooperation is not obviously proximate.

More generally, the power to prevent something does not necessarily imply proximate material cooperation when it is not prevented. Recall St. Thomas's principle that "human law rightly allows some vices, by not repressing them."

It would seem, then, that a university president is not categorically obligated to prevent an evil activity from occurring at his university. We would need to look at the circumstances of each such activity to determine whether the lack of prevention constitutes formal cooperation, proximate material cooperation, or remote material cooperation. The first two cases are not as easily made as some may think.


Thursday, April 06, 2006

Videtur quod beatitudo non est parvis canis calidis

Last week, I wrote:
For a person to be happy, the patterns according to which he lives his life must themselves form some sort of integrated pattern.
Confidently asserted, but can I offer a compelling argument that it's true?

That depends, obviously, on what people find compelling -- and also, in this instance, on what people think happiness is. So let me first propose, as a most general an unrefined definition, that happiness is having what you want and wanting what you have.

I think this is in the ballpark of what people mean when they say they're happy. They might have everything they want and want everything they have with respect to some certain limited context (e.g., "I'm happy with my dinner."), or they might have mostly everything they reasonably want and mostly want most of what they have (e.g., "I'm happy with the way my life is going these days.").

So what does living according to patterns that form an integrated pattern have to do with having what you want and wanting what you have?

Well, I mean "an integrated pattern" to suggest that the various desires, choices, values, and so forth that compose the pattern are all mutually compatible. If they aren't compatible, then they are somehow in conflict, and if I value two things that are in conflict I won't be able to have everything I want, so by definition I won't be happy.

There's a difference, by the way, between two things being in conflict and two things being in tension. In the former, the two things relate to each other only through the conflict, so to speak; they are independent of each other and can be considered apart from each other. When two things are in tension, they have a natural and essential relation to each other, and neither can be considered in an absolute sense without also considering the other.


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Discussion questions on Deus Caritas Est, Part II and Conclusion

And last:
  1. What happened to eros and agape? (The word "agape" appears twice in Part II, once in a reference to Ignatius of Antioch describing "the Church of Rome as 'presiding in charity (agape)'," once in the construct "caritas-agape"; the word "eros" is absent.)
  2. Why the history lesson from Acts through Julian, etc.?
  3. n. 25: "The Church's deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable."
    • Would we have gotten this right on a test?
  4. 28a: "Faith by its specific nature is an encounter with the living God.... But it is also a purifying force for reason itself."
    • Do Catholics believe this? Do we live this?
  5. n 29: "The Church has an indirect duty [in the formation of just structures], in that she is called to contribute to the purification of reason and to the reawakening of those moral forces without which just structures are neither established nor prove effective in the long run.
    The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society, on the other hand, is proper to the lay faithful."
    • How are the Church's indirect duty and the lay faithful's direct duty to work for a just ordering of society playing out these days?
  6. n. 31b: "Christian charitable activity must be independent of parties and ideologies."
    • How do we manage that?
  7. n. 31c: "A Christian knows when it is time to speak of God and when it is better to say nothing and to let love alone speak."
    • Do we know? How?
  8. n. 36: "When we consider the immensity of others' needs, we can, on the one hand, be driven towards an ideology that would aim at doing what God's governance of the world apparently cannot: fully resolving every problem. Or we can be tempted to give in to inertia, since it would seem that in any event nothing can be accomplished. At such times, a living relationship with Christ is decisive if we are to keep on the right path...."
    • Is "fully resolving every problem" or "to give in to inertia" a temptation for you?
  9. n. 37: “"t is time to reaffirm the importance of prayer in the face of the activism and the growing secularism of many Christians engaged in charitable work."
    • How can we do this?
  10. n. 41: "[Mary] speaks and thinks with the Word of God; the Word of God becomes her word, and her word issues from the Word of God."
    • What can Mary teach us about eros, agape, and caritas?


A nonstarter

Catholics who believe that no humans will be damned should realize that their belief is, technically, an opinion. That is, it's an intellectual judgment expressing more or less confidence that something is true. We can't now know whether no humans will be damned; we can't have faith that no humans will be damned, since that proposition is not part of the Faith. (We can have faith in someone else's judgment, but that ultimately boils down to an opinion that someone else's opinion is correct.)

The same can be said for any other opinion someone might have about the proportion of the saved. For that matter, introducing an opinion with the words, "I believe," is commonplace whatever the subject, religious or not.

If all these beliefs are actually intellectual judgments, then there's some sort of reasoning that led up to them, reasoning that is more or less sound and that others will find more or less persuasive.

One sort of reasoning that must be ruled out from the start is the sort that depends on or produces a position that contradicts the Faith. Stated baldly, it seems obvious, but sometimes it's hard to derail a train of thought once it starts to roll.

In the context of universal salvation, for example, I think I have often seen reasoning that effectively denies the possibility -- or at least that denied the effective possibility -- of damnation. When someone starts saying things like, "God must reveal Himself irresistibly to everyone," that pretty much makes nonsense of damnation being a "real" possibility.


A puzzle

As Chris Sullivan points out, the Catechism states:
God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end.
I'm not sure what to make of this, in particular of the parenthetical, because that's not what I understood to be Catholic doctrine. As it stands, it makes salvation the "default" destiny of mankind, and that doesn't seem to quite square with the doctrine of original sin.

In fact, the Council of Florence taught, in Session 6:
But the souls of those who depart this life in actual mortal sin, or in original sin alone, go down straightaway to hell to be punished, but with unequal pains.
The emphasized phrase is missing from the Catechism's statement. What's even more puzzling is that the first statement apparently isn't consistent with this third statement, which is also in the Catechism:
Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them," allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism.
If, in fact, a mortal sin as usually understood is necessary to go to hell, then (since mortal sin requires the use of reason) we wouldn't merely hope there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism, we would know there is no way they aren't saved. (Clearly, the children in question are understood to have not yet reached the age of reason.)

Having copied the three statements into this post, I was surprised to realize the statement about hope for unbaptized children is actually more consistent with the rather dire claim made by the medieval council. The way of salvation for which we are allowed to hope would simply need to be one that includes forgiveness of original sin. ("Simply" in the sense that it's simple to make the statements consistent, not in the sense that it's simple to work out the theology much beyond "God is not bound by the sacraments.")

I think, though, that nowadays a lot of people don't take original sin quite seriously enough, treating it as more a matter of therapy (e.g., references to our "brokenness") than of the death of the soul.


Wild about curling

Disney has a new animated movie coming out called The Wild (pronounced ""ma-d&-'gas-k&r") with, of all things, a curling scene.

Meanwhile, Team USA (a.k.a., Team Fenson, bronze medalists from the Olympics) is at the top of the standings at the World Men's Championships, with a 6-1 record.


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

You can't wait for an eternity

In a comment below, Steven Riddle writes:
I have said time and again that Hell cannot be eternal in the same way God is eternal because that would imply the existence of Hell-in-God.
It's true enough that hell isn't eternal in the same way God is eternal. I think you can even say hell isn't eternal at all.

As St. John puts it,
Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.
Hell exists pretty much specifically for people who don't know the only true God and the One Whom He sent. By definition, the damned don't have eternal life. And, as Rob pointed out, there isn't some dualistic or indifferent Eternity, part of which is God and heaven and goodness and life and part of which is Satan and hell and evil and death.

As I understand it, what this means is that human life in the "new earth" will be both everlasting -- in the sense of unending -- and eternal, insofar as it will be a participation in the Divine Life of the Trinity.

The damned, on the other hand, will not participate in the Divine Life, and therefore will not experience eternity, though their existence will be everlasting.


Monday, April 03, 2006

A couple of things on the last things

I had promised Steven Riddle a post explaining why, in his musings on salvation, he was getting things exactly backward by writing such things as this: lose a majority of those you claim to love bespeaks either a failing love or an impotent will.
And this:
It would not seem to matter what words or actions I use to reject the majority of my offspring--either condition would suggest either a defect in love or a defect in strength.
And this:
What I did say was that it was rather a poor or impotent Almighty Father that would have a majority of His offspring reject Him. Not much of a sovereign will if you can't rein in the troops. Not really much omnipotence if all you can reclaim is 2% of your flock.

That is the point I am making. It is hard to conceive of an Almighty God with an ultimately loving intent unable to save 98% of those He would save. Doesn't speak well for omnipotence or for love.
There's not much point in my taking this up, since it's clear Steven has made up his mind. It might even be bad form to try to get him to change his mind, since he says his current opinion allows him to love God more.

So I will just propose two points, and leave it at that.
  1. To treat damnation as signifying some sort of failure on God's part is to mistreat damnation about as completely as possible. For that matter, to treat damnation as something God does is to mistreat damnation no little.
  2. There is no "mostly" in God. Any argument about His nature that holds if one person is damned holds if all but one persons are damned.


The invitations is extended

" prayer and fasting this coming Monday the 3rd and Tuesday the 4th of April, so that the Lord will restore peace, tranquility and security to Iraq, country of our beloved Abraham."

And I mean extended.

Two days, a day and a half, one day: it won't go to waste.