instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, June 04, 2007

Spare me

What to make of this:
I suppose I'm fascinated by St. Pio for the same reason I read Tom of Disputations. They are both so spare & unsentimental when it comes to matters of faith.
My first instinct is to distinguish between blog and blogger, since I myself am quite sentimental. In my own way. After a fashion.

Be that as it may, the better distinction may be between respecting sentiment and practicing sentimentalism. We all have all sorts of sentiments, and as incarnate beings we cannot simply ignore ours or those of others. At the same time, sentiment does not, merely by virtue of being felt, create or suspend laws, rights, or responsibilities.

So I suppose I am, both on the blog and in person, opposed to sentimentalism, to ceding the objective truth or justice of a question to whomever feels strongest whatever it is they feel.

More generally, though, I like to think that what I'm about is being non-pastoral. Or, if you prefer, as impractical as possible.1

And the reason for that is because I think I can be of some help to people in figuring out the generalities and principles, and of little to no help in figuring out the particulars. Particulars are dashed particular, if you see what I mean, and have a way of changing with circumstances like who, what, and when.2

In St. Thomas's terms, I'm happy to volunteer my understanding, but not my counsel.3

In fact, when it comes to questions of practical reason, for the most part I don't really have counsel as such to give; what I have is my own experience. And while sharing our experiences with each other can be helpful, it can also be harmful, either because the experience teaches a false lesson or because it is taken to be normative.

This last point, of the problems arising when my experience is taken to be what your experience ought to be, has been sharpened for me recently while listening to people with many positive religious experiences talk with people with few or none. But that's a topic for a separate post.

1. In keeping with tradition. Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, O.P., former Master of the Dominican Order, tells it this way:
I am reminded of a man who was drifting across the country in a hot air balloon. He came down in a tree, with no idea where he was. He saw a couple of people wandering near by and he shouted out, ‘Where am I?’ One of them replied, ‘You are in a tree.’ And he replied ‘You must be a Dominican.’ ‘Oh, how did you know?’ ‘What you say is true, but no help at all.’
2. The full list of circumstances, per Cicero:
"Quis, quid, ubi, quibus auxiliis, cur, quomodo, quando--
Who, what, where, by what aids, why, how, and when."
3. Those links treat understanding and counsel as gifts of the Holy Spirit, a topic that's been on my mind, but I don't mean to suggest, the context in which I linked them notwithstanding, that I am regifting when I provide my own understanding and counsel. (And I will provide my counsel if asked.)