instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, October 02, 2006

Heart and hearth

Reading a review copy of Meredith Gould's book The Catholic Home: Celebrations and Traditions for Holidays, Feast Days, and Every Day, has got me thinking about the trend in certain circles to rediscover Catholic traditions.

The book itself I can dispatch by saying I don't recommend it at all. It's a messy jumble, seemingly of whatever the author could think of to write on the various topics that come up. I can forgive the messy jumble -- I blog, after all -- but between the inaccuracies (Advent begins the Sunday after St. Andrew's Day? You pray the Glorious Mysteries "on Wednesdays and Saturdays from Easter until Advent"?) and the peculiar advice she gives (she dismisses as unreasonable the idea of buying the four volume Liturgy of the Hours, for example, while advising everyone to take an icon writing workshop), I get the sense of a great deal of enthusiasm for physical expressions of faith, but not much ordered spiritual depth.

But to the trend of reviving Catholic traditions: What is happening, it seems to me, is not so much a rediscovery of traditions as an interest in discovering any and every tradition. The Swedes do St. Lucy's wreaths? The Italians do St. Joseph's tables? The Poles bless food baskets on Holy Saturday? Great, let's do them all! Isn't that "what Catholics do"?

Well, it might be what Swedish-Polish-Italian Catholics do, if any such exist. I'm not sure it's quite true to say it's what German-Irish-American Catholics do, though.

I do like to read about these various traditions, though, and I'm not above adapting some of them to my own time and place. (Particularly the ones involving food. Particularly the foods involving fried dough.)

To the extent adopting various traditions out of a book or off the Net helps Catholics enter into the rhythms of the liturgical calendar, it's great. I'd caution against a too-dogmatic approach, as though adapting a custom to our time and place is somehow a betrayal -- you can bet the peasants who first made it a custom had no hesitation to change things around -- but my guess is there aren't too many dogmatists on, say, the question of whether anything but goose can be served on Martinmas.

Still, considering that Catholics in the United States today are, to a much greater degree than Catholics of previous generations, cut off from a rich body of cultural and spiritual traditions, we would do well to look around, and even forward, in addition to looking back, for the sort of actions and activities that will sanctify these days and those to come. Few of us live in medieval Catholic villages, and our means for achieving sanctity of heart and of hearth are not necessarily those that worked hundreds of years ago on another continent.

In particular, there aren't going to be too many venerable peasant customs of praying the Divine Office or of lectio divina, but I'll guess they will lead to living an authentic Catholic life better than any number of bonfires or cakes.

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October is the Month of the Holy Rosary!

"It is as if every year Our Lady invited us to rediscover the beauty of this prayer, so simple and profound... I would want to invite to you, beloveds brothers and sisters, to recite the Rosary during this month in family, the communities and the parishes for the intentions of the Pope, the mission of the Church and the peace in the world."

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October is Proust Month!

Time to pick up where you left off last Halloween.

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Friday, September 29, 2006

Unexpecting disciples

"Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him."
It isn't only the just man's words, but his whole life that says, "God will take care of me." "Because his life is not like other men's, and different are his ways" (v 15).

Figuring out how to live in the different way that says, "God will take care of me," can be tricky. To be a person of true hope -- full-bodied, theological virtue-type hope -- is hard, in part because hope is so easy to simulate.

It can be simulated by presumption, of course, if we conclude our salvation is certain by, so to speak, subtracting God out of the equation. You can't have faith in a deterministic process.

It can also be simulated by expectation. Unlike presumption, expectation isn't sinful per se, but it can confuse us into not growing in true hope.

Hope, properly speaking, is founded upon God and God alone; it is also a virtue that comes from God alone. The injunction, "Hope in God," is perhaps more true than we realize. What can properly be called "my hope" really is in God; His goodness and His power contain my hope, produce it, and provide it.

Expectation, though, is founded upon my judgment. Having considered all the information available to me, I determine the probabilities and effects of various outcomes, and so conclude what I can expect as a result. My expectation may depend on the action of another, even of God, but that dependence doesn't make it a hope. Hope is an absolute and complete dependence on another (the other must be God, or it's a foolish hope). My expectation of another depends on my evaluation of the person and the circumstances. As soon as I put something that is properly my own between me and the other, I am not talking in terms of hope.

Perhaps part of the reason most of us aren't likely to be put to a shameful death is that we don't much hope in God. We live, not in hope, but in expectation. We expect things of ourselves and of other humans, but we have learned not to expect things of God. That doesn't sound good, but I think it's the correct lesson; God has a way of doing the unexpected, and it's hard to construct expectations around that.

We're left busily expecting things today and tomorrow, and leaving all that hope in God stuff for after we're dead. A hope like that isn't likely to stir the wicked to revilement and torture.

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That's what I'm talking about!

So I was thinking, why is it always angel food cake? Is cake the only food angels eat?

And sure enough, there's angel food pie.

Even better: angel food candy!

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Happy Michaelgabrielandraphaelmas!

Have you ever heard that, if you eat a carrot just before the morning and noon Angelus bells, then you'll be able to see the angels singing the evening Angelus with you?

Well, now you have.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Laudcast, anyone?

Lee has an excellent suggestion:
...I wish I could tune in to The Office of Readings and Lauds in real time at a real monastery or convent. I actually think that would be very welcome to many non-Catholics and a beautiful window into the life of the Church. What a beautiful way to spend a morning commute, and a beautiful way to begin the day.
Think about how much beauty the Church creates every day in her liturgies, beauty that by its nature is transient, fleeting, and continually re-created. And think how easy it is, technologically speaking, to make that beauty available to those who cannot participate directly.

Surely some monastery must be broadcasting its liturgies live over some medium...?

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When in doubt, Venn it

As a boot-licking Vatican toady, I disagree with those who say Pope Benedict XVI intended the furor caused by his quoting Emperor Manuel II Paleologus.

Some who say he intended it think it was wrong of him, and disparage him for it. We boot-licking Vatican toadies are categorically opposed to disparaging the Pope.

Others who say he intended it think it was right of him, and praise him for it. I can't see how to square this interpretation with his subsequent comments in a way that doesn't amount to him lying after the fact, and at the very least completely changing his mind from last year.

It seems to me that what Pope Benedict described in his speech (and elsewhere) is a situation like this:


Faith alone  religious violence
Reason alone  diminution of man
Faith and Reason  peaceful human flourishing


What message is the Pope sending?
A. "Dear Secularists, Let us gang up on Islam before they slit both our throats."

B. "Dear Muslims, Let us gang up on the secularists before they corrupt the whole world."

C. "To Whom It May Concern, Don't leave home without both Faith and Reason."

D. Both A and B.

E. None of the above.
My answer is, of course, C.

If the Pope is as smart as everybody who says he intended the furor says he is, then he will know better than to think he can obtain an ally in either Islam or Secularism by pointing out the faults of the other.

And though I have not religiously read every word that has fallen from his pen, none of his words I have read make me think he's keen to start a fight against either Islam or Secularism.

It seems to me that the challenges Pope Benedict issues are not martial, but intellectual. "Do you embrace Reason without Faith? Then you will be no more able to comprehend other cultures in the world than to comprehend what is in your own heart. Do you embrace Faith without Reason? Then there is nothing your co-religionists may not do in the name of your religion, including repudiate whatever you do." This is a challenge that holds true for everyone, Christians included.

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"My job is to run out the clock with style"

Orthonormal Basis draws attention to Oakland's Bishop Vigneron's Ten Rules for Handling Disagreement Like a Christian.

Let me give in to prejudice and list them this way:

Hey, Progressives:Hey, Conservatives:Hey, Everybody:
The Rule of Publicity: "Think with the mind of the Church."The Rule of Legitimate Freedom: "What the Church allows is not to be disallowed."The Rule of Charity: "Charity is primary."
The Petrine Rule: "Nobody ever built up the Church by tearing down the pope."The Rule of Catholic Freedom: "There's something for everybody, but not everything is for everybody."The Rule of Integrity: "To do evil in order to accomplish good is really to do evil."
The Rule of Mystery: "Not all the habits and attitudes which belong to a society governed by a representative democracy are appropriate in the Church."The Eschatological Rule: "The victory is assured; my job is to run out the clock with style."The Rule of Realism: "Remember that Satan is eager to corrupt my efforts to build up the Kingdom, and he's smart enough to figure out a way to do it."
The Rule of Modesty: "Not all of my causes are God's causes."

Update: Per Gregg the Obscure's observation, Everybody now has the most rules.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Happy World Tourism Day!

I'm not sure I knew there was a World Tourism Day, and I am sure I didn't know there was a secretary-general of the World Tourism Organization. (Personally, I'd recommend World Tourism Day be observed, not today, but on May 16.)

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First time listener

I, um, guess I'll tune in to The Catholic Channel. At some point. When they play a bad song. But that doesn't happen very often.

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It's all Google to me

One of the nice things about the Internet is that you can be learned without having to do all that pesky learning. For example:

What can I tell you about the word "'εναγκαλισ'αμηνος"? Other than the obvious stuff, I mean, like that it's the aorist inflection of "'εναγκαλ'ιζομαι," meaning "to take in one's arms"?

I can tell you that this verb appears exactly twice in the New Testament, both times in the aorist, both times in Mark, both times with Jesus as the subject and children as the object:
Taking a child he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it he said to them, "Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the one who sent me."

And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, "Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it." Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.
I note that Mark, the brisk no-nonsense Gospel, adds the embrace that Matthew omits. This is a highly personal detail that suggests to me a personal witness; embracing the child isn't strictly necessary for the doctrinal point about accepting the kingdom of God like a child, but it was something remembered and found worth passing on. The embrace turns the child from an object (literally an "it" in the NAB translation of Mark 9:36) to a subject who receives the love of Christ.

I note also that, in the second passage from Mark, where the parents merely wanted Jesus to touch their children, which the disciples thought too much, Jesus goes beyond this desire and embraces them.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Look who's talking

It's hard to read these words and not think of the chief priests, with the scribes and ancients, plotting against Jesus:
Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him.
St. Matthew, for one, seems to have picked up on the similarities.

But wait a moment. The speech in Wisdom 2 is put into the mouths of "the wicked" who didn't "count on a recompense of holiness nor discern the innocent souls' reward." The chief priests, with the scribes and ancients, were not materialists and hedonists; they (or at least most of them) believed in the resurrection of the just. And no one thinks of the Pharisees as "gather ye rosebuds while ye may" types.

Here we're faced with one of the great risks of reading Holy Scripture: one moment, you're cheering the downfall of the wicked, and the next you're realizing that the wicked is us.

Not always, maybe, and not in every way. We may not literally condemn many people to a shameful death; we may not even put people to the test that we may have proof of their gentleness and try their patience.

But if we are reproached or charged with violations of our training, do we react with self-righteousness? Do we know without reflection that the charges are false because... well, because they're directed at us?

If nothing else, this speech should teach us that being religious is no guarantee against being blind.

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Theonomy unleashed

Don't miss the blogflood, after a long drought, at A Religion of Sanity.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Obnoxious, si

Among the questions raised by Wisdom 2 is this:

Granted that one can be obnoxious without being just, can one be just without being obnoxious?

The specific charges against "the just one" are these:
  • he sets himself against the doings of the wicked (v 12)
  • he reproaches them for transgressions of the law (v 12)
  • he charges them with violations of their training (v 12)
  • he professes to have knowledge of God (v 13)
  • he styles himself a child of the LORD (v 13)
  • his life is not like other men's (v 15)
  • his ways are different from other men's (v 15)
  • he judges the wicked debased (v 16)
  • he holds aloof from their paths as from things impure (v 16)
  • he calls blest the destiny of the just (v 16)
  • he boasts that God is his Father (v 16)
Which of these is optional for the disciple of Christ?

Clearly all these actions must be governed by charity, but even the confrontational ones -- the reproaches, the charges -- cannot be renounced altogether, since true charity may require such actions.

But even when the Christian is not actively reproaching others, his very life may serve as a reproach; as v 14 puts it, "To us he is the censure of our thoughts; merely to see him is a hardship for us."

So perhaps the answer is, if no one finds you obnoxious, then either you're not just or you don't know enough wicked people.

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Religious, si; obnoxious, no

Yesterday's first reading was an excerpt from a speech in Wisdom 2 in which the wicked confirm each other in their wickedness. It's an interesting progression:
  1. Life's a bitch, and then you die, (vv. 1-5)
  2. So laissez les bons temps rouler! (vv. 6-9)
  3. What we can do, we may do, (vv. 10-11)
  4. And that religious guy sure is obnoxious, (vv. 12-17)
  5. So let's kill him. (vv. 17-20)
If you take this as a Signs of the Times checklist, things don't look good for obnoxious religious guys. But then, when do they?

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Speaking of little words

Jeremiah 31:33 is certainly a heart-warming verse:
But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
It's a well known and comforting prophecy. But the oracle continues in a less familiar vein:
No longer will they have need to teach their friends and kinsmen how to know the LORD. All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the LORD, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.
That little word "for" is something of a surprise. That all shall know the LORD, yes, that makes sense. That He will forgive all their evildoing and remember their sin no more, yes, that's the Gospel promise. But that "for" joining them suggests that, in some way, all shall know the LORD because He will forgive their evildoing.

Maybe the old saying that to forgive is divine has something to it.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

One jot, or one tittle shall not pass

As many times as I've heard or read James 2:14, I didn't really notice that little "that" until this past Sunday at Mass:
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
I've always read James from the perspective of The Great Faith v. Works Debate, and not given it much thought, since the Catholic position of "both/and" (to put it crudely) always made perfect sense to me.

But of course what I know as The Great Faith v. Works Debate did not arise until the Sixteenth Century, so that can't have been the context in which St. James was writing. And in verse 14, James doesn't ask, "Can faith alone save him?", but, "Can that faith save him?"

"That faith": among all possible faiths, the faith that does not produce works. I don't think he is saying we need to add works to our faith, as though salvation were due to an additive combination of that univocal thing Faith and that univocal thing Works. Rather, he is saying that there are two different faiths. When he writes, in verse 18:
Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.
The "your faith" and the "my faith" are not the same faith. Verse 26 caps it off:
For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
Note that a body without a spirit is literally substantially different from a body with a spirit. A human being is not the additive combinations of a corpse plus a soul. Similarly, the dead faith lacking works is substantially different from the living faith with works.

And all from finally noticing the little word "that." (Which, incidentally, is missing from the King James Version and the Douay Rheims.)

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A dangerous coincidence

Coincidence in the sense that they coincide, not that their coinciding is by chance:

Today, as you know, is International Talk Like a Pirate Day*.

It is also the official publication date for Saints Behaving Badly**, which as you'll recall includes the story of St. Olaf. He was a Viking***.

I need hardly point out the risk this poses of rekindling the Great Pirates vs. Viking Debate.



*. It is not, however, International Type Like a Pirate Day, which is why this blog is pirate lingo free.
**. In case you thought that was about the worst title possible, The Way of the Fathers demonstrates that it could have been called Saint Misbehavin'.
***. Note that "viking" is also a verb, meaning basically "acting like a Viking," though I don't think "to vike" quite made it into English, which is a shame.

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Monday, September 18, 2006

News in Black and White


Today: It is the Feast of St. Juan Macias, OP. Have you had your rice today?

Tomorrow:
Fr. John Langlois, O.P., will lecture on the history and spirituality of the Holy Rosary on Tuesday, September 19, 2006 at 7:00 pm at the Dominican House of Studies. The lecture, The Origins of the Rosary and Why We Should Pray It, is free and open to the public. Light refreshments and discussion will follow.
October:
Vocation Weekend 2006!

On into the Third Millennium: The Province of St. Joseph is planning to build a new academic center at the Dominican House of Studies. It's the lighter colored building in the lower left in the artist's rendition. Duc in altum, indeed!

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

An everlasting trophy

You probably know that Happy Catholic has been featuring selections from The Ignatian Workout: Daily Spiritual Exercises for a Healthy Faith, by Tim Mul. Today, Julie quotes a passage on the meaning of Jesus' wounds, still visible after the Resurrection:
That the risen Jesus still bears his wounds is good news, for it tells us that there is a continuity between the lives we have now and the lives that we will enjoy in the Resurrection. Jesus is the same person. His wounds, though, are different: they are not a source of suffering but a source of recognition.
St. Thomas lists the Venerable Bede's five reasons "[i]t was fitting for Christ's soul at His Resurrection to resume the body with its scars":
  1. "[F]or Christ's own glory. For Bede says ... that He kept His scars not from inability to heal them, 'but to wear them as an everlasting trophy of His victory.'"
  2. "[T]o confirm the hearts of the disciples as to 'the faith in His Resurrection.'"
  3. "'[T]hat when He pleads for us with the Father, He may always show the manner of death He endured for us.'"
  4. "'[T]hat He may convince those redeemed in His blood, how mercifully they have been helped, as He exposes before them the traces of the same death."
  5. "'[T]hat in the Judgment-day He may upbraid them with their just condemnation.'"
St. Thomas also seems to follow St. Augustine's supposition that, following their Master, the martyrs too will bear their scars into the New Creation:
But the love we bear to the blessed martyrs causes us, I know not how, to desire to see in the heavenly kingdom the marks of the wounds which they received for the name of Christ, and possibly we shall see them. For this will not be a deformity, but a mark of honor, and will add lustre to their appearance, and a spiritual, if not a bodily beauty.
At the very least, representing martyrs with their wounds in paintings and statues calls to mind some of the reasons St. Bede taught Christ still bears His wounds.

Here's a thought: The suffering we experience in this life and offer to God, in reparation or expiation or obedience or charity, will in some way be transformed into a spiritual beauty, to the glory of Christ, in the heavenly kingdom. The suffering we experience but don't offer to God will be washed away (in the water from Christ's side, it could be said), but will not produce any spiritual beauty within ourselves.

That potential for spiritual beauty won't be wasted -- it will be exercised, so to speak, in Christ's act of washing away that suffering -- but it will be a missed opportunity for us to bring glory to God. (And it's because it all redounds to God's glory that it's a false modesty that would say, "Oh, I don't care about my own spiritual beauty." Would I say, "Oh, I'm not vain about my appearance, so I'm not going to shave before going to a party at my wife's friend's home"?)

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

If we'd do it anyway, it wouldn't need to be a rule

And if being decent were easy, everyone would do it.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Made fishers of fish

The cover of this book reminds me of a couple of T shirts I saw recently that said:
Jesus said, "Go fishing,"...
   and
Jesus said, "Go for a walk,"...
Below, in smaller print, they went on along the lines of, "He didn't say, 'Take out the garbage, mulch the trees, dust the bookcase, recaulk the bathtub,....'"

On a related note, here's an article titled, "Cast Your Nets: Fishing at the Time of Jesus." It has some interesting information, but I'm not particularly sold on its exegesis of the miraculous catch of John 21:
When winter comes, the musht, which are tropical fish, congregate in shoals in the northern part of the [Sea of Galilee] where they are attracted to the warm water of the springs rising at the foot of the Eremos hill flowing into the lake. The attraction is fatal to the fish for it offers the fishermen an opportunity to make abundant catches. It was probably here that Jesus, having seen a shoal of musht, told Peter to let down his net, and he made a successful haul.
Who wouldn't conclude that someone capable of seeing a shoal of musht is the Lord?

(First link via open book.)

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Priorities and balance

St. Thomas begins his study of morality, not with the question, "What ought man do?," but with, "Why does anyone do anything?" Though he's writing as a teacher of beginning students of sacra doctrina, his approach is also pastorally congenial, as I suggested below.

You do things because you want things, and above all you want to be happy, a state St. Augustine defined with deceptive simplicity as "the complete attainment of all we desire."

Of course, people desire all sorts of things, good and bad, many of which are mutually incompatible. To achieve happiness, then, isn't merely a matter of obtaining everything you might happen to desire. You first have to make sure that everything you desire can be completely attained.

This fact is a big reason virtue-based morality -- expressing what man ought do in terms of virtues (good habits we should cultivate) and vices (bad habits we should eliminate) -- is preferable to rule-based morality -- expressing what man ought to do in terms of proscriptions and prescriptions. You can follow all the rules and still not be happy.

Which is not to say proscriptions and prescriptions are unimportant, but that they work neither as a starting point nor as an ending point if the human moral life is to flourish. As Fr. Romanus Cessario, OP, puts it in A Short History of Thomism [p. 22]:
In moral philosophy, Thomists agree that by nature man enjoys the right to dwell in community and to pursue personal happiness within the common good, and that the right conduct of human beings is best described by appeal to the virtues of human life, although laws, both natural and positive, also legitimately direct human action.

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Friday, September 08, 2006

Morality is getting what you want

When St. Thomas begins "to treat of [God's] image, i.e. man, inasmuch as he too is the principle of his actions, as having free-will and control of his actions," the first question he looks at is man's last end, which is, per St. Augustine, happiness.

See how his thinking works? He's writing a textbook on sacra doctrina, on the science of divine revelation, and so begins naturally enough with its object -- viz, God. Man first enters into the discussion as a special feature of God's creation.

The specialest feature of man is his free will, and how he does and ought to use it is basically the subject of the whole Secunda Partis. The thing is, St. Thomas begins this discussion with the question of why man uses his free will. To the fundamental question of moral theology, "What must I do?," St. Thomas replies, "That depends on what you want." Seven articles in, St. Thomas recalls the words of St. Augustine:
But if he had said, You all will to be blessed, you do not will to be wretched; he would have said something which there is no one that would not recognize in his own will. For whatever else a man may will secretly, he does not withdraw from that will, which is well known to all men, and well known to be in all men.
The remaining 303 questions in this part of the Summa look at what "to be blessed" means and how to achieve it.

Note how natural, human, and congenial this approach to moral theology is. Natural, because it situates moral theology in its proper place within the whole of sacra doctrina*. Human, because it considers the human act of moral choice as it is in itself, an act of free will directed by reason. Congenial, because it begins by asking what you want, and everyone, of whatever age and whatever spiritual stage, wants to be happy.




* I use "sacra doctrina" not merely to be pretentious, but because I've been told it's a tricky term to translate to English. "Sacred doctrine," "holy teaching," and suchlike evidently don't quite capture the full scope of the term as St. Thomas used it, and as early as the first article of the first question of the first part of the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas distinguishes between sacra doctrina and theology.

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

You can't take the Dominican out of the Thomist

A Short History of Thomism, by Fr. Romanus Cessario, OP, is perfectly described by its title. It runs to a mere 96 pages, justifying the "Short," and its ten-page index suggests the density with which the history of Thomism is covered.

In the conclusion, Fr. Cessario writes:
In the brief space that a study of this kind allows, it has been my intention to stress the real, dare I say personal, unity that binds all these diverse members of the Thomist school. By examining, even in a brief and cursory way, the work of past and present Thomists, their manuscripts and printed volumes, their translations, commentaries, and compendia, I have endeavored to establish clearly that Thomism is not an abstraction, but an active force that has shaped the minds of clerics as well as of lay and religious scholars in a most personal way.
The book is certainly brief and cursory. While it mentions the various debates between Thomists and Scotists, Molinists, etc., it will cover the point of contention -- which in some cases practically consumed entire careers -- in a page or less, and if you want to learn much more about any particular Thomist than when he lived and the name of his most important works, you'll probably have to look elsewhere. As for the various schools of Thomism that are around today, they're mentioned, but again not in enough detail to really understand the differences involved.

The question, "What is Thomism?" is not easily answered, though a couple of passages do give, not categorical definitions, but descriptions of Thomism; I may get around to quoting those passages. For now, I'll finish with the final words of the book, which offer a suggestion of why the question might be worth asking:
Thomism, we know, centers the searching mind on God, from whom all blessings flow, and then moves to capture the searcher's heart. The supreme blessing that first drew the attention of Aquinas is the mystery before which he knelt each day, the blessed gift of the hidden Godhead, which under the figures of bread and wine held Aquinas captive to his Lord, and which today continues to sustain those Thomists who want to enter into his thought with the most perfect assurance.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A dumbell model

Prudence, as you know, is right reasoning about a thing to be done. To be prudent requires, among other things, knowing the difference between what must be done and what may be done, between what is prescribed (or proscribed) by law and what you are free to choose.

Sometimes, the moral law is overstated at the expense of human freedom. This can happen by inventing laws where none really exist, as I suggested happens with Grand Theories of Pure Living. It also happens with rule-based morality, where human freedom is for the most part left implied in whatever isn't covered by an explicit rule.

Sometimes, too, human freedom is overstated at the expense of the moral law. Some seem to hold that freedom always trumps the law, others that the law is a very vague and general thing, still others that the law comprises only a small and specific set of edicts (e.g., those found in dogmatic canons of Ecumenical Councils).

And then, sometimes, the proper balance between law and freedom is found, although of course it will look imbalanced to those whose own balance is misplaced.

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A Short History of a Thomist

Among several new posts on the Dominican Province of St. Joseph's Vocations Blog is an interview with Fr. Romanus Cessario, O.P., whose A Short History of Thomism I started a couple of days ago. Fr. Cessario identifies three things St. Thomas can teach theologians today:
First, that theology remains at the service of the Church and therefore is subject to the pleasure of the Roman Pontiff...

Second, that the Christian thinker must interest himself in both nature and grace, faith and reason, Church and State....

Third and finally, that the Christian thinker himself must live a holy life.
By "a holy life," Fr. Cessario means something other than sinlessness:
To live a holy life in the Thomist sense is to observe the rhythms of sin and forgiveness, of sacramental mediation and the personal renewal that it ensures, and to keep one's eye on the mystery of God's love which always exceeds our expectations and our imaginations. Aquinas lived his own life according to the adage that God loves us not because we are good but because He alone is good. The creature can only participate in this goodness, which for angelic and human persons includes the possibility of elevation to divine friendship through grace.
From this perspective, the distinction isn't between a holy person and a sinner, but between someone who seeks friendship with God and someone who doesn't. In a sense, whether the one seeking divine friendship sins matters little more than whether the one not seeking it doesn't sin.

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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Theoretically speaking

Today is not a good day to press the case for a Grand Theory of Pure Living.

Grand Theories of Pure Living purport to demonstrate the incompatibility of the Christian Faith with some particular aspect of modern life, leading to the conclusion that that particular aspect of modern life must be forsworn by all Christians who are serious about their faith. Particular aspects of modern life vary from Grand Theory to Grand Theory; examples are television, the suburbs, democracy, and veal.

What makes today a good day for Grand Theorists to stay off the soapbox is the Lectionary, which offers us, not one, not two, but three readings that pour sand in a Grand Theory's gearworks. Deuteronomy 4:2 commands,
In your observance of the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin upon you, you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.
A Grand Theory that does not command is not a Grand Theory. James 1:27, meanwhile, teaches,
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
A Grand Theorist, though, is not satisfied with one's religion keeping oneself unstained by the world. Rather, he condemns what might stain, or what sometimes stains someone, and would change matters of prudence to matters of precept.

Finally, in Mark 7:18-20, Jesus teaches us,
Do you not realize that everything that goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters not the heart but the stomach and passes out into the latrine? ... But what comes out of a person, that is what defiles.
These verses pose a grave challenge to Grand Theories, which insist that things that go into a person from outside defile.

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