instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Saturday, March 29, 2003

Always happy to oblige

T. S. O'Rama admits to "an increasing curiousity about what my fellow blogland toilers look and sound like." For those wondering what I look and sound like, wonder no more.


Friday, March 28, 2003

La corrupciĆ³n de lo mejor es lo peor

Hernan Gonzalez, not terribly impressed by St. Blog's warblogging, points out a couple of reasons so many people decry the sins and failings of the U.S. but don't mention the sins and failings of Iraq:
I had hoped that a Catholic would at least remember that Jesus lays into the Pharisees more than the Sadducees, the scribes more than the publicans, the Jews more than the Romans... And don't they know that the corruption of the best thing is the worse thing?



If it's Friday, it must be Steal Ideas from the Kairos Guy Day. In a comment below, he writes:
For I am sort of a Heisenberg-prayer kind of guy: if the outcome of a prayer isn't yet known, it hasn't yet been determined. So, my prayer at 9:00 can potentially prevent something from happening at 8:45am if I don't already know that thing is happened.
I suppose this sort of prayer is very common. "Dear Lord, don't let it be anyone I know who was hurt in that accident I heard about on TV."

I know a priest who uses an interesting term for this: Superstition.

I'm not sure how to even begin to find out whether Heisenprayer is theologically sound or merely a comforting habit.


The neglected prayer of a just man doesn't availeth much

The Kairos Guy feels the world revolves around him, even though he knows it doesn't:
A horrible fear possesses me that one day I will forget to say my perpetual novena to Mary and Patrick for a disruption of terrorists, and that that will be the day that terrorists achieve their next major attack.

In spite of the flippant title to this entry, I'm very serious about this. We're all possessed of a certain amount of solipsism (ask anyone why it rained on the day they forgot their umbrella, and you know the umbrella-forgetting will be blamed) but honestly....
With me, it's more of a nagging sense than a horrible fear, and nothing so formal as a perpetual novena, but yes, I know what he means.

The feeling may not be entirely due to self-aggrandizement. A secondary cause may be an experience of the power of prayer.

The Gospel of Mark records this astonishing statement by Jesus:
Have faith in God. Amen, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, "Be lifted up and thrown into the sea," and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it shall be done for him. Therefore I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours. [Mark 11:22-24]
It's natural to think that Jesus was exaggerating. After all, as the Venerable Bede pointed out, "we have never been able to change mountains."

But he goes on to add, "It could, however, be done, if necessity called for it...." I'm inclined to think this is one of those "the happiest man was too poor to have shoes" paradoxes, whereby those who have faith enough to move a mountain have no desire, and those who have the desire don't have the faith.

Though well short of moving mountains, I have still experienced God answering my prayers. The more obvious the answer, the more unnerving. But if God answers some prayers in obvious ways, might He not be answering others in less obvious ways? And if He is actually responding to my prayer, then isn't a world in which I offered that prayer different from, and better than, a world in which I didn't offer it?

I think part of J.B.'s solipsistic fear is that his prayers are the only thing standing between the terrorists and their victims, as though all across heaven and earth other and better prayers aren't being offered for the same intention. But even that I don't find completely ridiculous. The underlying truth is that sincere prayer is a cause of God's grace in this world; the particular bit of grace, so to speak, that J.B.'s prayer causes can be given to the world by no other means. Even if the effects of that grace are not discernable, they are very real.


Thursday, March 27, 2003

Tis the season

I don't know why anyone would go to a mall to see a "Spring Rabbit". Spring rabbits are all over my yard.

And soon, perhaps, in my kitchen.


Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Three weeks in

Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent. We're almost halfway through. How are your prayer, fasting, and almsgiving going?

Fr. James Sullivan, OP, preached at my church last night, highlighting a couple of new (to me) angles to these old traditions.

First, notice that we have three kinds of difficulties in this life: difficulties with God; difficulties with ourselves; and difficulties with others.

How can we resolve our difficulties with God? Prayer. "Lord, I'm not very happy with what You've been up to lately. We need to talk."

How can we resolve our difficulties with ourselves? Fasting. "Am I irritable and mean-spirited because I stay up too late watching mean-spirited TV shows?"

How can we resolve our difficulties with others? Almsgiving. "Gee, I gave her my full attention for ten minutes ... and I survived!"

Second, Fr. Sullivan mentioned that the Catechism refers to "the triple concupiscence that subjugates [fallen man] to the pleasures of the senses, covetousness for earthly goods, and self-assertion, contrary to the dictates of reason." [CCC 377]

How can we combat subjugation to the pleasure of the senses? By fasting.

How can we combat covetousness for earthly goods? By almsgiving.

How can we combat self-assertion contrary to the dictates of reason? By prayer. "O Lord, You are He Who Is, and I am he who is not."

Prayer, fasting, almsgiving: these are not burdens imposed by the joyless on the joyless, these are the means by which we become what we are supposed to be. And not just for forty days a year.


Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Journalist goes beyond parody, likes the view

I've always had strong reservations about what Rod Dreher writes about Catholicism. I honestly think, for all the inside dirt he's privvy to, for all the priests who lament to him off the record, that he has some pretty basic and significant misunderstandings about what the Church is.

But now he's shown himself to be simply irrational on the subject of the Pope's opposition to the war against Iraq. Based on a 92-word Reuters report, which directly quotes fourteen words of the Pope -- "large part of humanity," "vast contemporary movement in favor of peace," and "comfort and hope" -- he writes:
Who would have thought that Karol Wojtyla would have thrown in with the communists of International ANSWER? Who would have thought that the hero of the Cold War would have turned into Jimmy Carter? St. Catherine of Siena, ora pro nobis.
This is not an encouraging post. It is the panicked, reflexive response -- complete with stock villains -- of Rod from Brooklyn, a radio talk show regular who half-overhears a news report before calling in with his take.

Think about it: If the Pope takes comfort and hope from a vast contemporary movement in favor of peace, then Rod Dreher's world is turned upside down. This, quite simply, is not a mindset from which to expect reliable commentary on the Church in the world.

Update: A Zenit article provides enough context for Rod Dreher to accept the Pope's words. He has admitted the fault of being hasty.

"Without a conversion of heart," the Pope said, "there is no peace!"


Carmelites say "to-may-to"

Dominicans say "We have seen that the formal constituent of the divine nature according to our imperfect mode of knowledge is subsistent being, for this distinguishes Him from every other being and is the source from which all His attributes may be deduced, as man's characteristics are deduced from the fact that he is a rational being." *

So when Steven of Flos Carmeli writes:
My answer to the question of "why was Scripture give to us, if not for us to engage in 'the monumental task of completely exploring scripture for the truth'?" is very simple. It was given to us to teach us to love.
I must answer, "Well, nuts, what is the truth but to love?" And not just to love, but to love with the true mad deep love that would sacrifice your only son for your beloved?

And when La Madre says, "We are not called to know much but to love much," I answer that she should look who's talking, Mother Doctor of the Church and articulator of the profound mysteries of union with God. God grant I know in eterninty as little as she did at Alba de Tormes.

Yes, the end of knowledge is love, but we cannot love what we do not know.

I think part of Steven's concern here is to caution me against confusing my personal interpretation of what Scripture says about God with God Himself. That's certainly a risk I run, but the reason I began this whole look at universal salvation was in response to what I believe to be others' confused personal interpretations of what Scripture says about God. I think Scripture teaches us more about God than some people think, and I think it teaches us different things about God than some people admit.

And yes, I do mean Scripture teaches us, with all the study and argument and fallible reasoning and disputation that implies. If we do it right, it will be primarily a matter of listening to God's conversation within us, but frankly if I'm going to run the risk of advancing my own confused personal interpretation, I'd much rather base it on Scripture than on what I feel in my heart.

* This quotation appears immediately beneath the section heading "The Divine Simplicity" in Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange's Providence. "If that's God's simplicity...."


Sunday, March 23, 2003

A soul full of God and a body full of suffering

I just received an embarrassingly large shipment of books in the mail. My long-suffering wife asked whether it is part of the Dominican charism to buy books when so many remain unread, and I mumbled that in fact the saints of the Order caution against it. Then I slinked away to put the new books on the shelves where, like so many volumes of purloined letters, she won't much notice them.

If I ever do read the books, I will know ever so much more than I know now, and I will of course share this knowledge with you. (I have to share it with someone; my wife plugs up her ears and hums whenever I start preaching to her about the six daughters of prudence.)

As a teaser, let me quote from the introduction of Johann Tauler's Spiritual Conferences:
What then remains to the man formed after God's image? There remains to him a soul full of God and a body full of suffering.
I'd say we have much more control over how full of God our souls are than over how full of suffering our bodies are, and most of the little control over bodily suffering we have is such that the more we suffer the fuller our souls become with God. Despite that, and despite the fact that our bodily sufferings will one day end but our souls will always be full of God, we pay a great deal more attention to our suffering than to our God. Why is that?

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.


Saturday, March 22, 2003


Just to remind myself, I'm in the middle of a series of posts looking at universal salvation. At this point, I'm examining Scriptural support for what I'm calling "necessary universal salvation," the doctrine that every single human will necessarily be saved. The necessity is generally attributed to God's sovereignty, which would be compromised if His will that all be saved were frustrated by a man's free choice.

It's a bit uncomfortable to work through a list of Scripture verses, taking them one at a time and saying, "Nope, that's not what it means. Nope, this one doesn't mean that either." Scripture is the Word of God, and I have very little confidence in my ability to slice up the Word into individual words, piece them back together, and wind up with anything like the fullness of truth.

I think it's particularly awkward to pit different verses against each other, then choose a winning side based on total number of verses, or which verses are most quoted, or some other external measure. It must always be interpretations that are in competition, not verses -- a house divided against itself cannot stand.

But then we're faced with the fact that even the best interpretation is only a gloss atop a mystery. If the final conclusion is that perfect understanding has been reached, dump the final conclusion. Any coherent interpretation is going to leave some aspect of Scripture too lightly dealt with, and the risk an advocate of an interpretation runs is, as I suggested in the post immediately below this one, to take a passage that is particularly opaque under his interpretation and say little more than, "It obviously doesn't mean what the plain meaning of the words is."

Any truth that fits completely inside your head is too small to be God's truth.

There's one other principle that I hold, though as with all the above I'm not sure I always adhere to it: In trying to interpret Scripture, we should move from the clearer passages to the more obscure, from the straightforward to the symbolic.


"I simply don't know the reason...
... this tendency to be so dismissive of statements from bishops and the pope has arisen in faithful, good-willed, intelligent Catholics.
-- Minute Particulars
I don't know either, but my hypothesis is that it's the same reason as always: When someone says something I agree with, he's right; when he says something I disagree with, he's wrong. And it doesn't really matter who the someone is. Most of us have a private list of Gospel sayings we know Jesus didn't really mean.

The situation between faithful, good-willed, intelligent Catholics and their bishops is probably especially bad these days because these Catholics are so well educated in their religion. (Not necessarily their faith, but their religion.) While the men who are now bishops were learning how to maintain financial records and dealing with lonely parishioners who just needed to talk to someone, lay Catholics could at their leisure pore over the records of the disputes that led to the Third Ecumenical Council and highlight favorite passages from St. Robert Bellarmine, or simply collect the tracts and magazine articles that were the fruits of other layfolks' labors.

And of course, for ten years now autodidacticism has becoming increasingly easy. Anyone who's mastered Google's search syntax can become an expert -- or at least a relatively informed debator -- on any subject in a matter of hours.

One result of all this is that the laity no longer look to the episcopacy to teach them the Faith. Bishops are still acknowledged, albeit sometimes grudgingly, as governors, and they're welcome to sanctify (principally by ordaining priests and confirming teenagers), but who needs them as teachers anymore?

And yes, the bishops have not uniformly covered themselves in glory as teachers since the Second Vatican Council, but the idea of a uniformly glorious episcopacy is one of those myths of Catholic history that should have been exploded by all the laity's study.


Thursday, March 20, 2003

You do what you see

It occurs to me that the much-lauded motto, "Give to others the fruits of your contemplation," is something of a tautology. The fruits of contemplation is what everyone gives, all the time. What else do we have to give?

To contemplate is to look upon. Those who look upon -- and I mean literally look, not just think about -- human misery caused by war and oppression give others the fruit of what misery really is, of what it means for a bomb to fall on your house. Those who look upon their children peacefully sleeping give others the fruit of the imperative to make their children's lives as safe as possible.

This is why, whatever else we look upon, we have to look upon the things of God -- and God Himself, including perhaps especially Christ on the Cross -- so that the fruits we have to give are the fruits the world needs.


Mirror of patience

Hernan Gonzalez suggests an aspect of St. Joseph's virtue I haven't heard mentioned before: that no one has ever done so much for God's plan of salvation with so little to show for it.

If we think of the Holy Family as a symbol of the three cardinal virtues, then, it's clear that associating St. Joseph with Hope is not simply a matter of what's left after pairing Jesus with Love and Mary with Faith.


Wednesday, March 19, 2003


Gospel Minefield has some notes on last night's talk by Fr. Giles Dimock, OP, including this:
According to Fr. Dimock, much of the ancient Gregorian chant was a joyous expression of what today's charismatics call "Singing in the Spirit." I always call it improvising in the joy of the Lord: taking off from the song you started with and, just using a few chords, singing either with or without words in joy or sorrow to the Lord.

Fr. Dimock demonstrated with a beautiful example of an old Dominican chant in honor of the Blessed Mother. This impromptu "jamming," if you will, has a name within the Church: "JUBILATION!" I was delighted to find that out!
Dominicans chant the O Lumen hymn to St. Dominic every night. Click on the link to read the music; that page also has a sound file if you want to listen to someone singing it.

In English, the first line of the hymn -- "Light of the Church" is four syllables. In Latin, with the "O," it's seven syllables. Chanted, it's twenty-one notes. The next six syllables ("doctor veritatis," "teacher of truth") take eighteen notes.

The first time I heard it, I thought, "That's, um, a lot of notes right there." Since I was trying to learn how to sing it, and since -- how shall I put it -- I am not a talented singer, I didn't find all those "extra" (not to say excessive) notes very appealing.

But now that I've learned it (after my fashion), I find that all those runs up and down the scale make it a simply joyful thing to sing (preferably alone in the car). Jubilare, indeed!

On a related note (ha!), today my copy of The Prayers of Catherine of Siena arrived, in plenty of time for Easter. The first page of the introduction says of St. Catherine, "when she prayed alone, especially in the garden, she liked to sing."

Gaudete in Domino! Rejoice in the Lord! Yes, even now, during this joyful season of Lent.


He made him lord over His household

St. Joseph is an excellent model for Christians today who want to do God's will. Notice how the idea "to do God's will" implies both activity, which culturally we're pretty good at, and reflection -- how else, after all, will we know what God's will is? -- which many of us are less accomplished at.

The Little Office of St. Joseph is one of four little offices that (last I heard) are still explicitly indulgenced. There's a version of the three daytime hours (Terce, Sext, None) of the Little Office of St. Joseph that fits on a wallet-sized accordion-folded piece of paper here.

If you really like wallet-sized pieces of paper with prayers to St. Joseph printed on them, you can find the Litany of St. Joseph here.

You probably know that devotion to St. Joseph came relatively late to the Church. There are a lot of reasons for this, but I think the habit of referring to him as Jesus's foster-father couldn't have helped. Personally, I invoke him simply as the father of Jesus. If it was good enough for Mary, it's good enough for me.

One of the charming things about Bl. Margaret of Castello (1287 - 1320), who may have been the first young, unmarried woman allowed to join the Dominican Third Order, was her devotion to St. Joseph. By nature, she was shy and unassuming, but when the subject turned to St. Joseph, her conversation erupted. Perhaps in part because she had one of the worst fathers in the history of Christendom, she would talk and talk and talk about St. Joseph until her listeners grew tired and excused themselves.


A letter from Baghdad

I don't endorse everything in this letter, but I think citizens whose country is about to be invaded are allowed to say what they think.
Baghdad. To all people of good will round the world,

Love and Peace of Christ be with you.

We are addressing President Bush and all the American people as human beings, not as a president of United States. We presume that as Christians you have hearts full of love and compassion. You will pity our Iraqi children, our elderly, and our youth that have no hope in a better future and a decent life. We, Dominican sisters and brothers in Iraq, are living and sharing with our people in their sufferings. The Iraqis have been going through hard times for twenty-three years, for they have witnessed two disastrous wars. If President Bush starts another military attack against Iraq, we think this will be a catastrophe. We believe that you can feel the danger that is looming over the Iraqi civilians. That is why millions of people from different countries round the world are demonstrating, writing letters and trying to put pressure on President Bush not to initiate a new military attack.

President Bush defends the rights of animals. Have we less value than animals? He claims that he is trying to defend human rights in Iraq. He is willing to build a new Iraq. He tried to convince the people in the US and the peoples round the world that he will only bomb the army and the weapons in the country. He promises that he is not going to bring any harm to the civilians. Is he throwing flowers on people? He is going to use mass destructive weapons, which are going to result in great damage to our culture, our land, and history, and cause the death of thousands of our innocent people of all ages.

As some of you who have visited Iraq may know, the army camps are very close to people's houses. We have two convents: one at the beginning of the army camp and the other at the end. Will the bombing kill the soldiers or the people? We are living in great fright, panic, and extreme worry. We are suffering not only a military war, but also we have been suffering from very hard psychological situation since President Bush has started his inhuman threats to initiate another war on our people. The uncertain moments and the hard current times have made us wait for our death in no time. Everyday we thank God for being alive because we do not know what tomorrow has hidden for us. The nightmare of the new war is haunting us always and everywhere.

God has granted us life freedom as His precious gifts. Why Does President Bush want to take it away and deprive us of our freedom?

You cannot imagine that even our children can no longer stand these threats and can no longer bear the psychological tension and despair. They inquire, when will the war begin?

You are deceived and we are captured by your mass media, which is the biggest liar. Our children, women and people are dying of malnutrition and starvation because of the inhuman sanctions. The sanctions have caused the death of one million and a half of Iraqi people, mostly women and children. Why do you want to finish them by a new war?

We will ask the American youth, "Do they face or wait for their death every single moment? If so, will they not explode?"

Why should the American people have the right to live in peace, safety and prosperity? Is their life more valuable than the life of other people, for instance the Iraqi people?

Our university students have waved goodbye to each other on Saturday, the 15th of March and they are prepared for the war. They have no mood for study. We think they are right because they are disappointed and hope for them seems the most hopeless thing.

A couple of days ago, we could dream of safety and peace, but now we no longer know what these words mean because violence, suffering, and fear are enfolding us.

At last we would like to say that we are not cured of the Gulf war. How can we persevere the effects of the new one, which will be even worse?

The war is not only disastrous and destructive in its direct effects, but also in its lasting effects. The innocent people will not only be the victims of the bombing, but also the preys of contaminated drinking water, polluted environments, depleted uranium, inadequate medical supply, and crippled electric power.

We ask all of you who have compassionate heart and love for humanity to bring the suffering and the worry of the Iraqi people in every pulpit, every classroom, and every place where the Word of God is preached. Let everyone hear about the truth of the Iraqi people's pain. Please listen to the cries of the Iraqi children and double your efforts to stop the new war from happening. In this way only you can eliminate the anguish, calm down the cry of the Iraq Children in the midst of their sleep: "Here are they come to bomb us and bring about our death."

Is it fair to be going through all this? Is it acceptable? Is our crime that we are floating on a huge sea of black gold? What is the use of it, except to pay for our death? Why are we unable to dream of a bright future and a decent life?

We greatly appreciate your efforts on our behalf and also you prayers. Love and prayers can work miracles.

God blesses you all.

Your Dominican Sisters in Iraq


Tuesday, March 18, 2003

It had to happen some time

I sent my first email message to someone I'd never met in 1986. Since then, I've met dozens of people whom I'd known from the Net, and none of them looked the way they were supposed to. (Neither do I; if you've never met me, I look younger and even less prepossessing than you think.)

Tonight, however, I was privileged to meet Kathy the Carmelite, who looks exactly like "Kathy the Carmelite" from Gospel Minefield.

She came to a talk by Fr. Giles Dimock, OP, on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I asked him which of the charismatic gifts of the Spirit he thought the Church in America was most in need of, and he answered, "Joy."

Most of us can reel off, without stopping for breath, half a dozen reasons against American Catholics feeling any sense of joy right now, which is probably evidence enough that Fr. Dimock is right.


Saturday, March 15, 2003

Judging prudential judgments

Mark at Minute Particulars wonders
if those taking comfort in the fact that a judgment doesn't require assent ... might be dismissing the opinion in part because it doesn't require assent.
I've been wondering about the dual of this, which is accepting the prudential judgment of another simply because that judgment is his to make.

It is up to my prudential judgment to determine the best way of educating my children, but that doesn't mean the Pope -- or my mother-in-law -- can't tell me he (or she) thinks I'm wrong. The fact that I use all available prudence in reaching a judgment doesn't mean that my judgment is correct, nor that it must be accepted passively by others who have an interest in the consequences of my acting on my judgment.


Friday, March 14, 2003

More on Dominican contemplation

I know someone who, having spent a little time among Dominicans, was surprised to learn that one of the mottoes of the Order is Contemplare et contemplata aliis tradere, usually translated as "To contemplate and to give to others the fruits of contemplation." "The friars I know don't seem very contemplative to me," she said.

There is a push in the Order to "recover the contemplative dimension," to use the title of Fr. Paul Murray's talk at the 2001 General Chapter. Part of the difficulty in doing this is that it's not easy to say what this contemplative dimension is.

The blame for this lays squarely on the Carmelites, particularly Sts. Teresa and John of the Cross, whose writings sit atop the summit of mystical theology. The term "contemplation," if it means anything nowadays, means what St. Teresa said it did.

So the first point that needs to be made about Dominican contemplation -- by which I mean the thing Dominicans tell each other their supposed to give the fruits of to others -- is that it is not Teresan contemplation. When a Dominican speaks of contemplation, odds are he's using it in a way a Carmelite wouldn't.

This is somewhat comforting, because the "heights of contemplation" are, according to the Carmelite masters, attained by realtively few in this life, and only through unearned grace from God, at His pleasure and in His wisdom. If the fruits of these heights are what Dominicans distribute, it would follow that most of us are there simply to support those happy few who are actually able to harvest the fruits.

The existence of this something lower than the heights is also a challenge, since it's something o which we -- and here I mean everybody, not just non-mystical Dominicans -- can and ought to aspire. It's a cop-out to say, "I'm no one much myself and not picked by God to be one of those automatic mystics. I'll leave all that contemplation to holy people and stay on my own, plodding course." Everyone is supposed to be holy people. For that matter, I suspect the rarity of the true Teresan contemplative is not due to God's stinginess with His gifts, but to Christians' stinginess in accepting those gifts. If becoming the saint you're supposed to be isn't an exceptional and unique vocation, I don't know what is.

So what is this contemplation that Dominicans are supposed to be doing, even as Carmelites smile and murmur, "You call that contemplation?"? St. Thomas defines it this way, quoting Richard of St. Victor to distinguish it from meditation and cogitation:
"Contemplation" regards the simple act of gazing on the truth; wherefore Richard says again (De Grat. Contempl. i, 4) that "contemplation is the soul's clear and free dwelling upon the object of its gaze; meditation is the survey of the mind while occupied in searching for the truth: and cogitation is the mind's glance which is prone to wander." [ST II-II, 180, 3, ad 1]
In the body of the same article, he writes:
Accordingly, then, the contemplative life has one act wherein it is finally completed, namely the contemplation of truth, and from this act it derives its unity. Yet it has many acts whereby it arrives at this final act. Some of these pertain to the reception of principles, from which it proceeds to the contemplation of truth; others are concerned with deducing from the principles, the truth, the knowledge of which is sought; and the last and crowning act is the contemplation itself of the truth.
Maybe the way to put it is this: Dominicans aren't called to contemplation so much as to the contemplative life. The contemplative life involves "many acts" in addition to, but taken as means to the end of, the "final act" of simply "gazing on the truth." (And further, this "gazing on the truth" is experienced in various ways, the highest or Teresan form of which is, I'm told, something like having the Truth gaze on you.)


Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Drawing all men to Christ

John 12:32 is the first verse whose "universalist" interpretation I can't simply deny:
"I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself."
I mean, I can say that Christ's drawing all men doesn't necessarily entail His saving all men, but I don't see, in context, why it couldn't. So if we can give it a universalist interpretation, but we don't have to, how should we interpret it?

I, obviously, do not interpret it as meaning that all men will be saved. If this were what Jesus meant, then I can't make any sense of this saying:
"If anyone hears my sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. He who rejects me and does not receive my sayings has a judge; the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day." [John 12:47-48]
What can this mean, if not that whoever rejects Christ will be condemned on the last day because of that rejection? But if Jesus's death, resurrection, and ascension are to draw all men into beatitude, then either the word Jesus spoke won't be our judge or no one will reject Jesus, and what would be the point of Jesus saying all this? John 5:28-29 poses a similar interpretive problem:
"Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.
Returning to John 12:32, how do I interpret it? It is through Jesus' death that man's relationship with God is restored. Moreover, through our baptism into His death we become members of His body, children of God and participants in the life of the Trinity. It is this participation for which we were created; uniting ourselves with Christ is the only means of obtaining that highest good for which every human heart yearns. Thus every human heart is drawn, consciously or not, to Jesus Crucified, Risen, and Ascendant. But that every heart is drawn to Him does not mean every heart necessarily reaches Him.


Tuesday, March 11, 2003

"Never tell the Carmelites or the Jesuits, but ..."

It was Father Cahal Hutchinson, O.P., who gave a young novice the two secrets of Dominican contemplation. That novice became a priest who used Fr. Hutchinson's advice as the closing to his talk, "Recovering the Contemplative Dimension," at the 2001 General Chapter of the Order of Preachers.

Fr. Richard Woods, O.P., gave a talk the following Spring on the same subject, drawing from St. Thomas, Meister Eckhart, and St. Catherine in exploring the roots of Dominican contemplation:
What we contemplate, as Dominicans, is Truth - with a capital T - Divine Truth. And it is that Truth which we have encountered in contemplation that we hand on to others through our preaching and teaching and other ministry. William Hinnebusch pointed out long ago in this regard that the simple word "Truth" does not merely point to the object of our collective vision and mission, but expresses exactly what we mean by "contemplation."

Contemplation can be regarded, therefore, if not actually defined, as an unflinching and loving look at Reality as divine, or in Meister Eckhart's language a generation after Thomas,

"seeing God in all things and all things in God."


Monday, March 10, 2003

War is always a disaster

Sorry, Kairos Guy, but on this one I have to go with my cardinal, my pope, and Minute Particulars. The fact that cowards say war is always a disaster doesn't make it any less true. Nor does the fact that every option other than war might be a worse disaster.

I might even be talked into accepting that, so far from being "a hideous copout from serious moral judgment," the opinion that war is always a disaster must necessarily be held by anyone who lays claim to serious moral judgment about war.


Giving to others what you contemplate

Kathy the Carmelite is curious:
Do any of you conversants know your Myers-Briggs personality type? I think I'm either an INTP or an INFP. In perusing a book I have on the subject, Prayer and Temperament, by Rev. Chester Michael and Marie Norrissey, I wonder if the "S/N" difference is a significant factor in whether one is drawn to one type of spirituality or another (obviously, God's supernatural call trumps all natural inclinations; it is often His glory and delight to surprise people!).
My guess is that Myers-Briggs isn't a reliable indicator for spirituality -- at least not for Dominican spirituality, since no one has been able to define it.

Well, plenty of people have defined it, but they all disagree with each other. (But that's just the way we INTPs are, right, Kathy?)

This gives me an excuse to mention
 The Two Secrets of Dominican Contemplation 
  1. Pray.
  2. Keep at it.
Feel free to print out a copy and carry it in your wallet.


Friday, March 07, 2003

Where was I?

Oh, right, universalism. Specifically, whether Scripture can reasonably be read as teaching that all will necessarily be saved.

It's generally acknowledged that the answer is yes, there are verses that can be interpreted as implying universal salvation. So the real question is whether they ought to be interpreted that way.

To answer that question, we need to know which passages are being considered. I don't have Scripture memorized (though Lent is still young), so I have to go with whatever "Biblical Evidence for Universalism" lists of verses I come across. I was recently presented with this list of "universalist passages" in the New Testament:
Matthew 18:14; John 3:16; John 5:24; John 6:37; John 12:31-32; John 16:33; John 17:2; Romans 5:12-21; Romans 11:26,32; 1 Corinthians 3:11-15; 1 Corinthians 15:22-28; 2 Corinthians 5:14, 19; Ephesians 1:10; Philippians 2:10-11; Colossians 1:20; 1 Timothy 2:4-5; 1 Timothy 4:10; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 9:27-28; 2 Peter 3:9;Revelation 21:1-2
That's an impressive list, widely distributed throughout the New Testament. My first thought on seeing it was, "I didn't realize the idea of universalism has so much Scriptural support. Maybe I should be treading softer."

When I looked up the passages, though, my impression of the list changed. It seems to me that the above list is padded, and a fairer subset of passages with significant universalist implication is this:
John 12:31-32
Romans 5:18-19
1 Corinthians 15:22
Ephesians 1:10
Colossians 1:20
That's still a significant set of verses, as sets of verses in support of specific doctrine go, and I'll look more at them in a subsequent post. In the meantime, though, what happened to the rest?

Well, four of them have, as far as I can tell, nothing to do with the question of who is saved, and one of these (Revelation 21:1-2) comes just a few verses before a list of the people whose "lot is in the burning pool of fire and sulfur, which is the second death," which suggests that the author of that passage was not trying to teach universal salvation. (The other unrelated passages are Jon 3:16, John 16:33, and Philippians 2:10-11.)

Seven of the passages -- Matthew 18:14, John 5:24, John 6:37, John 17:2, Romans 11:26,32, 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, and Hebrews 9:27-28 -- I read as teaching, not that God will save everyone, but that God will save everyone whom He calls. At least of these appear in a context that, in my reading, also suggests not everyone is called by God (John 6:64-65).

(Romans 11:26 is a curious verse: "... and thus all Israel will be saved ...." Clearly, even the salvation of every individual member of Israel does not imply the salvation of every individual member of the human race, but even then we have to try to understand this statement along with Romans 11:13-14, where Paul writes, "I glory in my ministry in order to make my race jealous and thus save some of them." Will some be saved, or all of them? Deep waters.)

Finally, as I read the remaining verses (2 Corinthians 5:14,19, 1 Timothy 2:4-5. Titus 2:11, 2 Peter 3:9), they teach that God desires that all be saved. Here we are faced with the great mystery of the tension between God's sovereignty and human free will. If God desires that all be saved, doesn't that mean that all will be saved?

There are a variety of ways of attempting to understand this mystery, some better than others, but the simple answer that if God desires all be saved, then all will be saved is unacceptable. Why? Because we know that what God desires does not always happen, unless we think God desires us to sin, which is the same as saying that God wants us to do what God doesn't want us to do, which is a peculiar way of resolving a paradox.

At the same time, God remains sovereign, and there is a meaning of "desires" according to which what God desires, happens. How do we know which meaning to assign to, say, 2 Peter 3:9: "The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard 'delay,' but He is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."

I suggest that first, the "any" and "all" most likely refer to the "you" to whom 2 Peter was written, rather than to everyone who has ever lived. That I take as the literal sense of the verse, but the full sense need not be limited to that. So I next look at 2 Peter 3:7: "The present heavens and earth have been reserved by the same word for fire, kept for the day of judgment and of destruction of the godless." This I take in a sense contrary to universal salvation. The only way to reconcile this with verse 9 is to understand by the word "wishing" the weaker sense of what God desires -- His antecedent will, rather than His consequent will, to use St. John Damascene's terms (by way of St. Thomas).

Which is probably enough for this post.


Thursday, March 06, 2003

Late have I loved Thee

It is said that God is love. Sometimes this is interpreted as implying a contrast between freedom and law, with the old Mosaic Law just around long enough to form a people from which the Messiah might come, Who taught that God loves love, not obedience, and Who set His disciples free from the law as children of God. In short, God wants us to love Him, not follow a bunch of rules.

But it occurs to me that the one is impossible without the other.

What does it mean to love God? It means to act in a certain way toward Him. But what way?

God is immortal, impassible, unbounded, unlimited. We can't actually do anything to Him or for Him. We can't make Him any happier than He already is, He has no imperfection we can remove, no hurt we can salve. He is perfect.

With what utterly gratuitous love of His own, then, did God give Moses the Law, fulfilled in Christ Jesus. By giving the Law to Israel, God made it possible for humans to love God. Loving God is the goal of human existence, so enabling that love was an act of love, a willing the good for us we could not even begin to obtain by ourselves.

As Moses said in Deuteronomy:
If you obey the commandments of the Lord, your God, which I enjoin on you today, loving him, and walking in his ways,
and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees, you will live and grow numerous, and the Lord, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him.
The Mosaic Law gives us a way to love God as His beloved servants, and by fulfilling the Law Jesus has given us a way to love God as His very children.

Someone who thinks commandments aren't important, love is, understands neither commandments nor love.
"If you love me, keep My commandments."


Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Blessed are the peacemakers

For they shall be called the children of God.

In 1571, Pope St. Pius V asked all Christendom to pray the Rosary for victory. Christendom prayed. Victory was obtained.

In 2003, Pope John Paul II asked all Christendom to pray the Rosary for peace.


Tuesday, March 04, 2003

What to read

Amy Welborn has created an entire blog devoted to the question of what to read during Lent.

Gerard Serafin has a counter-cultural suggestion: Stick to the Bible. (Plus no more than two classics of Catholic spirituality.) I don't know how to argue against that -- "Well, the Bible's okay, one supposes, but for real insight one looks to Ignatius Press" -- so I'll side-step it by pretending that my non-Scriptural reading between now and April 20 doesn't count as part of my Lenten observance.

I'm not sure what I'll be reading yet, in part because I don't remember all the books I own but haven't read yet. (Which explains the two copies of To Know Christ Jesus I have. If I can find them.)

I like Fr. Tucker's idea of attending to the deficiencies of the good, the true, and the beautiful in our lives. Maybe I'll look for a book to help me with each.

That's the one good thing about being so deficient: it's so easy to improve.


Final pre-Lenten words on Iraq

Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, recently gave an interview on the Iraq crisis to Vatican Radio. It's mostly a restatement of the position of the Pope, the Vatican, and the U.S. bishops on the matter:
Three things have to be said. Number one. We approach the situation recognizing this is a regime that is not a model democracy in any way, a regime that is really not a model government....

Now, on the other hand, the second thing that I would like to say is that we feel that war is always a disaster....

Finally, having said that, we believe there is always a possibility that war can be justified if it is ultimately a matter of self-defense....

I always use the example of the man with a knife. If he has his knife out in his hand and he's going to strike you, obviously you may kill him if necessary but you certainly can protect yourself against him. If a man is standing in front of you with a knife in his pocket, then you can't kill that person. You can't shoot that person unless you have absolute proof that he is going to pull it out and go after you. We don't have, it seems to me, and I think to the bishops of the United States, that proof right now.
Now a lot, and I mean a lot, has been written about how reasoning about Iraq is a matter of "prudential judgment," and how the U.S. government has information the U.S. bishops don't have, but I think too many people are embracing these points without noticing what they've rushed past. Let me set it by itself, separate from all questions of prudence, in the words of Cardinal McCarrick:

If a man is standing in front of you with a knife in his pocket, then you can't kill that person.

It's one thing to say, "It's a prudential judgment whether the situation with Iraq is more analagous to a man with a knife in his pocket than to a man with a knife out in his hand and he's going to strike you. The government has better information than the bishops, and therefore the government's judgment is better."

But I think I've also heard the equivalent of this: "Saddam may be like a man with a knife in his pocket, but he's got the knife in order to use it, and it would be imprudent to wait until he's pulled it out of his pocket to stop him."

The problem is that this second line of reasoning is contrary to Catholic moral teaching.

I think a lot of people don't realize this. They're focussed on how the spiritual cannot infallibly proclaim on the temporal and on how judgment rests with him who wears the crown, not him who wears the pallium. They don't even notice that, "You cannot kill a man whose knife is in his pocket," is a moral principle, not a disputed question on which people of good will can differ.

One other point: I don't think a Catholic can, strictly speaking, be undecided about the justice of an attack on Iraq. A war that is not justified is unjust. If you aren't convinced that an attack is justified, you must believe that it is not. (In this sense, at least, the just war tradition has a presumption against war.) But if a Catholic can't be undecided, I do think he can be unqualified. That is, he can say, "I, personally, am not convinced an attack is justified; therefore I can't counsel in favor of an attack, and if I were in charge I would have to decide against it. At the same time, I don't know enough to have confidence in my ability to correctly reason my way on the matter, nor to assert that those who know more than I are reasoning incorrectly."

And that, I hope, concludes my posts with the words "just war" in them until Lent is over, since I hope to spend the next several weeks on more important matters than these academic disputes. (Unless someone in a decision-making position is reading this, in which case please contact me at my new email address.)

Pray the Rosary for peace. Not just for victory, nor just for avoidance of war, but for peace.


Metablogging: New email

My email address has been harvested, so now my inbox is looking too much like spam, egg, spam, spam, bacon and spam. Which means a new email address for me, and more work for anyone who wants to email me (changing the "_amphora_" to "@"), but what are you gonna do.


Monday, March 03, 2003

Some real numerology

So I order my cheesesteak (with, if you're interested), in honor of St. Kate of Philly. Total for my lunch at a pricey cafeteria: $6.97. I pay with a sawbuck, which means that my change is...

Three dollars and three cents.

Now if that isn't a heavenly reminder that today is March 3, I don't know what is.

(On the other hand, if I'd had it with celery along with onions and peppers, and the total had been $6.67, then maybe those other guys would have had a point.)


Right intention

Am I the only one who shifts uncomfortably in his seat when he hears the anti-anti-war argument that concerns over civilian casualties are not worth worrying about because the U.S. doesn't target civilians and hey, people die anyway?

Of course, the group Catholics for a Just War (did anyone run that name past a canon lawyer?) used more nuanced language in its "Open Letter from Lay Catholics to President Bush":
Norms governing the conduct of war. Here again the focus of Bishop Gregory's attention is on the very important question of harm to the civilian population of Iraq. And, again, we urge you to take this consideration very seriously, but also to consider the likely harm to innocent people of failing to deter aggression by the Iraqi regime, as well as the possibility of restoring to the Iraqi people freedom from the merciless tyranny of Saddam Hussein.
Maybe I've spent too much time disputing war with Iraq, but I find this, and pretty much the entire letter, to be laughably simple-minded. "Harming civilians is a very serious and important issue, but Saddam Hussein is evil and we aren't, so you can fill in that box on the Just War Checklist."

It seems to me there are two points that have been raised time and again by the Roman Catholic hierarchy that any group of Catholics arguing that a war against Iraq would be just must address: whether the current circumstances meet the "lasting, grave, and certain damage" standard of the just cause principle; and what role the U.N. must play for a war to be declared according to the legitimate authority.

Both of these points are brushed off in the CfJW letter:
"No 'expansion' of traditional moral and legal limits is necessary or being called for."

Ah, well that settles that question.

"We also endorse your efforts to enlist United Nations support, though any failure of the United Nations to live up to its own responsibilities should not deter you from acting with those nations that are prepared to join with the United States to prevent aggression."

Perhaps someone should notify the Pope of this moral fact.
It's not that no argument can be made to support either of these assertions, it's that no argument was made. "Prudential judgment" is a term that's been thrown around a lot recently, but too often it seems to be used as though it means "personal judgment."

More curiously, the letter seems to step all over itself on the one principle I'd have thought would have been settled by now: right intention. But in order to know whether the intention in fighting a war is right, we have to know what the intention is. Is it to defend Israel? To defend the U.S. against terrorist attacks? To destroy all Iraqi WMDs and its capacity to manufacture more? To depose Saddam? To stop Saddam from blackmailing the world into concessions? To enforce the U.N. resolutions? To free the Iraqis from an oppressive regime? To prevent Iraq from taking over the Middle East as Hitler did Europe?

These really aren't fungible matters, and the intentions really don't add up algebraically. Determining whether force is being used in a truly just cause, and only in such a cause, is not like determining who was the greatest running back in NFL history according to whose list of accomplishments is longest.

That's a frivolous comparison, but I have a hard time taking this letter seriously. Is this really the best case lay Catholics can make in favor of a military attack against Iraq?


Sunday, March 02, 2003

Is universal salvation really necessary?

The Bible doesn't contain a verse that can be paraphrased as, "At the instant of death, everyone who doesn't possess salvific grace will be given an irresistable vision of God's majesty, causing them to have faith in Christ and thereby be saved." So where does the idea of "necessary universal salvation" come from?

I think every idea in Christian theology that isn't a literal quotation from Scripture or statement of Tradition has one of the following three sources: a particular interpretation of Scripture; theological speculation ultimately founded upon Revelation; somebody just makes it up.

Of the three, the last is the easiest to reject but the hardest to overcome. If, for example, someone is convinced that communing directly with God in His glory is inadequate for eternal happiness in a heaven without Whiskers the cat, nothing anyone can say or do will dislodge this conviction, even if, "Is too!" suffices for the counter-argument from a rational perspective. So I'll leave alone the arguments from folk theology for necessary universal salvation.

What about more proper theological arguments? Here is where the "not an expert on the state of the question" aspect comes in. I don't know any of the proper theological arguments that attempt to demonstrate we can know hell is empty well enough to critique them precisely. I can only respond to the few arguments I do know as well as I understand them.

It seems to me such arguments take one of two related approaches. One is to appeal to God as Love, in Whom mercy triumphs over judgment. According to this position, it is unthinkable for God to create a person only to damn him eternally for some finite act. Damnation is not an act of love, and mercy cannot triumph over an eternal judgment.

The other approach appeals to God's justice as being one that seeks correction rather than punishment. Some argue that it is unthinkable for God to sustain a person in existence eternally simply to punish him eternally. After some point, punishment for any wrong becomes cruel and excessive.

I think such arguments are fairly persuasive, and I'm not sure how to answer them on their own terms. The love and mercy I can conceive God having for the damned is dry and academic when contemplated before a crucifix, and a punishment that literally cannot be conceived of by the wrongdoer doesn't sound like perfect justice when you put it that way.

But these arguments don't have to be answered on their own terms; we can use the Church's terms instead. What an "It's unthinkable for God to do X." statement really means is "it's unthinkable for humans of this time and place to think of God doing X."

Now, theologians have long used "unthinkable for God" type arguments, but they are only sound when the thing it is unthinkable for God to do is a contradiction to some known truth. It is unthinkable for God to break His promise, because God is truth. It's unthinkable for God to act contrary to His nature, because He is His nature.

The arguments for necessary universal salvation, though, are not based on contradiction, but on paradox. We don't know how to reconcile perfect love and mercy with perfect judgment and justice. Such things are beyond us; it's not just a failure of human language but of human intellect.

So what do we know? For one thing, we know this:
It is the irrevocable character of their choice, and not a defect in the infinite divine mercy, that makes the [fallen] angels' sin unforgivable. "There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death." [CCC 393, quoting St. John Damascene On the Orthodox Faith 2, 4]
So however mercy and justice are reconciled in God, this reconciliation is consistent with the eternal damnation of the fallen angels. It is evidently not unthinkable for God to damn the demons. Is it really unthinkable for Him to damn a human?

Then too there are the words of the creed: Jesus "will come again to judge the living and the dead." The Catholic faith is defined in terms of a God who judges between the living and the dead. What sense can we give these words if we insist that God by His nature cannot judge someone to be dead?

In the end, then, despite its appeal in a soft-hearted age, the idea that God's nature cannot encompass a plan in which men are eternally damned is itself contradicted by what we know of God.

Which brings me to the first source of the idea that everyone is necessarily saved: a particular interpretation of Scripture. If Scripture teaches it, then it is true, whatever the Catechism might say. What Scripture says, and how to interpret it, will be the focus of my next post on universalism, Deo volente.


Feast of St. Katharine Drexel

Monday, March 3, is the feast of St. Katharine Drexel, a woman worthy of much better than this:
Higgledy piggledy
Katharine Drexel was
Richer than Midas and
Orphaned while young.

Who won the hand of this
Jesus the Lord to Whom
Praises be sung.
St. Katharine Drexel, friend to the poor, pray for us.


Preparing for Lent

I don't feel well this evening. I've been preparing for Lent since Wednesday, which works out to 3 1/7 boxes of Girl Scout cookies a day to empty the house by midnight of Fat Tuesday.

Which reminds me of pie, and that doesn't help.

In addition to pleasure, for Lent I'm also giving up telling others how to live their lives, so I've spent a very busy weekend giving family and friends their 40 day plans. It's worth the effort though; all that's left is for me to email Kathy Shaidle tomorrow, to tell her to throw away all her bulging files and rename her site Relaxed Catholic, at least through Pentecost.

Word has it that over on New Gasparian (which should really be called "Now Gasping Again" if he doesn't cut back on all the travel), Fr. Keyes is offering a Lenten On-Line Retreat from the letters of St. Gaspar.

I'm looking forward to other Lenten programs on other Catholic blogs, too, but I don't expect there to be anything special here at Disputations. Maybe more mention of Jesus Christ and less of the United Nations; we'll see.

Other than all the sugar, the week before Lent is one of my favorite times of the year, because it's the one time when I feel like I have an excuse for not improving. Reversing the backsliding since Candlemas is plenty of progress for the first half-week of Lent.


If they were serious about it...

... they'd be praying at 3:33 a.m.

(Link from Disordered Affections.)


  Lenten lecture series in Silver Spring, MD

The Bishop Fenwick Chapter of the Dominican Laity, in conjunction with the parish of St. Andrew Apostle, is sponsoring its third Lenten lecture series at St. Andrew Apostle Catholic Church in Silver Spring, MD.

Every Tuesday evening, from March 11 through April 8, the Soup and Scripture program will run as follows:
  • 6 pm: homemade soup served in the parish community room.
  • 6:45 pm: Rosary in the church.
  • 7:30 pm: Mass in the church.
  • 8 pm: A one-hour presentation by a guest Dominican friar.
The speakers and their topics are:
  • March 11: Very Rev. Peter Batts, O.P., "American Catholic and Citizen: Challenge and Opportunity"
  • March 18: Rev. Giles Dimock, O.P., "The Holy Spirit: The Lord, the Giver of Life"
  • March 25: Rev. James Sullivan, O.P., "New Beginnings for an Old Church: Seven Steps for Renewal"
  • April 1: Rev. Laurence Donohoo, O.P., "Called by Our Desires: The Personal Path to Holiness"
  • April 8: Rev. Albert Paretsky, O.P., "From Transfiguration to Cross: Journeying with Jesus on the Road to Calvary"
Don't be put off by the semi-colons in the topics. I've heard most of these men speak before, and they are preachers, not lecturers.

I know there are a lot of Washington area bloghounds; I hope some of you all can make it for at least one night. Wear a big funny hat so I can recognize you.