instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, October 29, 2004

Sweet Truth

In Prayer 24, after a few ejaculatory words, St. Catherine gets to the point:
And what can I say about your truth?
Like any good Dominican, St. Catherine was keenly interested in God's truth, and indeed in God as "Sweet, Supreme and First Truth." For her, the truth of God fed her love of God, which in turn fed her desire to know the truth of God more perfectly.
You, Truth -- You tell me about the truth, since I don’t know how to talk about the truth.
I wrote yesterday about how St. Catherine asked theologians how to talk about the truth, yet here is St. Catherine herself, less than a year before her death, telling God she doesn't know how to do it.

I was going to suggest two causes of this contradiction -- St. Catherine's deep humility and her deep relationship with God -- but her humility and her relationship with God are too tightly linked to count as two separate causes. As with truth and love, St. Catherine teaches us that humility deepens our relationship with God, which in turn deepens our humility. And really, it's the same process, since humility is simply the acknowledgement of the truth about ourselves, and our relationship with God is one of love.

What St. Catherine knows about God is that He, and He alone, is the source of truth. (This knowledge has an obvious implication, that neither St. Catherine nor any other human is a true source of truth, however good they may be at carrying the truth from the Source to others.) So when she desires to learn the truth, she knows to Whom to turn.

We, by which I mean I, often don't turn to God when we want to learn the truth, which is kind of odd since the Scriptures are full of promises that God will teach us the truth if we ask Him. But we don't really trust that God will do that, so we turn to books or spiritual directors or the Internet to find out the truth. Far be it from us, after all, to be like the man in the story who drowns in the flood after turning down all the offers of help because "the Lord would provide" for him.

Besides, as I wrote below it's part of our human nature to learn from each other. Why bother God with our questions when we can just Google them?

Let us not, though, be an "either/or" people. We are commanded to pray always, and it's a sort of false humility to refuse to ask God for knowledge just because we have a book on the subject, just as it's false humility not to ask God for our daily bread just because we have a full refrigerator.

To return to St. Catherine, let me just note two more things.

First, why does she say to God, "You tell me about the truth"? Because she doesn't "know how to talk about the truth." God's word of truth will not return to Him empty. St. Catherine wants to hear about the truth so that she can talk about the truth, talk about it to others so that they may become more perfect disciples of Christ.

Second, what truth does she ask God about? Nothing about the Divine Nature, nothing about angels, nothing about the ten thousand difficulties posed by the doctrine of predestination. Rather, the central mystery any seven-year-old could explain as well as most forty-seven-year-olds:
Tell me, then, the truth about Your cross
and I will listen.


Thursday, October 28, 2004

In health news

The week before a major election can be a time of great, indeed fatal, stress.

Fortunately, there are over-the-counter medications available that have been shown to reduce the risks associated with Hyper-Cerebral Blogosis.


Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Prayer of St. Catherine

It's been three weeks since I posted one of St. Catherine's prayers as a marker for me to return to. I wish I had put the blog to better use in the meantime. In any case:

St. Catherine began this prayer with the sort of ejaculations that begin most (all?) of her written prayers (prayers, that is, that were written down as she prayed them; these weren't composed to be prayed by others later):
Oh Godhead!
Godhead, Love!
I wonder how long it would take a person who doesn't like holding hands at the Our Father to locate the nearest exit should he find himself in a room with a young woman who suddenly burst out with these words after a period of deep silence.

One thing to keep in mind about St. Catherine is that at the same time -- quite likely during the same conversations -- she was teaching the learned theologians who gathered around her the sublime doctrines revealed to her by God, they were teaching her theology.

St. Thomas's "all as straw" remark is often invoked to point out that theology isn't our end, and almost as often to imply that the sooner we abandon theology, the better off we'll be.

That may be, although St. Thomas was doing theology by the age of five ("What is God?") and kept at it for forty-five years or so until three months before his death.

St. Catherine, on the other hand, began having mystical experiences of Christ as a child of six or seven and didn't really get exposed to much theology as such until she started making the local Dominicans nervous as a young woman about whom remarkable stories were told. When the opportunity came, though, she leapt at the chance to ask the friars all about biblical interpretation and other aspects of Church doctrine.

Why? Why would someone who regularly spoke with Christ want to speak with a theologian?

Well, St. Catherine hasn't told me, so I don't know for sure, but I suspect her interest in what a bunch of spiritually sluggish priests might have to tell her was due in large part to the fact that theology is a -logy. It gives us words. It prescribes and proscribes how we say what we know (and, of course, what we don't know) about God and His revelation to us.

St. Catherine's mystical experiences impelled her to serve others, to hunger for their souls. But a mystical experience of God is difficult to comprehend, much less to explain to others. The learned priests who were both her fathers and her sons gave her the words she needed to teach them (and us) what God had shown her. (As a practical matter, too, it doesn't hurt for a mystic to ask Dominicans questions if she wants to avoid saying something that will bring ecclesial censure.)

True, she could have learned the language of the scholastics from her mystical experiences. If (as the story goes) Jesus could teach St. Catherine to read, He surely could have taught her how to interpret the Letter to the Romans. There are many reasons, though, why He might have let the friars teach Catherine. It brought them into contact with her, and thereby her into contact with us, in a profound way, for example; it also afforded St. Catherine a source of humility.

I wouldn't underestimate the naturalness of being taught by teachers, either. By that I mean that it is in accordance with human nature that we learn what we can learn from other humans. With theologians so thick on the ground in Siena, it wasn't necessary for Jesus to teach St. Catherine theology. When God acts in our lives, it's to perfect what we have naturally, not to short circuit it or step all over it or interfere with it.

In any case, even in prayer St. Catherine was careful to make theologically precise statements:
This light is the light of faith. You give it to each of us Christians when, through the sacrament of baptism, You pour into us the light of Your grace, and of faith, thus washing away the original sin we had contracted.
Yet, when she begins to pray, St. Catherine begins in a way that cannot be taught by another human being, not really, but only prayed in response to God's own movement within our hearts.
Oh Godhead!
Godhead, Love!


Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Secret identity revealed?

Has anyone ever seen Zippy and Alasdair MacIntyre together?


Hey kids, let's have a campaign!

Is your local public library going to have a copy of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church? I'll bet they will if you ask them to.


Monday, October 25, 2004

Dies Domini

A description of Sundays in a Dominican monastery:
There is no "weekend" in the monastery. The idea just doesn't exist and this is hard for young women at first. But there is Sunday! It is a day full of sacredness and joy and much loved by each sister. It's not exactly a "retreat day" but very similar. It is a day focused on the Beloved in joy and in silence. Except for the sisters in the kitchen (and we rotate the Sunday kitchen schedule) there is time to read, take a nap, go for walks on our property and extra time to pray whether in the Choir or in one's cell or outdoors. It is a day simply "to be". Meals are simple but special and what seems to be the universal law of monasteries there is always ice cream on Sunday nights--even in Lent!
How easy it is to make Sunday special: serve ice cream!

Ah, but for that to be special would mean not eating ice cream Monday through Saturday. Which is fine for nuns, maybe, but who can expect those of us who live in the world to be that holy?


Nothing beats the classics

In writing about the value of memorized prayers, Amy Welborn recalls a retreat she attended as a high school senior, at a time when she knew:
Rote recitation of prayers written by dead people was not the practice of a spiritually mature person....

As night fell, I sat in the back of the monastery chapel, struggling to follow along as the monks prayed Compline, the final prayer of the day. And then, as Compline drew to a close and night settled, the monks started singing.

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy

It was what all monks sing at the end of Compline, everywhere [friars, too]. The Salve Regina. I had never heard it before in my life.

Our life, our sweetness and our hope.

The chant drifted through the chapel, settling around us like stars emerging from the night sky.

To thee do we cry, Poor banished children of Eve

Yes. I cry, banished, my own shortsightedness and failure bringing tears to the lives of others. What could I do?

To thee do we send up our sighs, Mourning and weeping In this valley of tears.

All of us. My babies. My disappointed parents. Me.

Turn then, most gracious Advocate, Thine eyes of mercy towards us,


O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary!

The monks raised their voices in hope at the end of each phrase, and then paused a great pause in between, letting the hope rise and then settle back into their hearts. My own heart rushed, unbidden by me, uncontrolled, right into those pauses and joined the prayer. A prayer written by a eleventh-century bedridden brother, chanted by monks in the middle of Georgia, and joined by me and the silent folk scattered in the pews around me, each with his or her own reasons to beg the Virgin for her prayers.

My days as a prayer snob were over.


James Cardinal Hickey, R.I.P.

Eternal rest grant him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

That said,

Cardinal Hickey, pray for us.

I don't know what the profound respect of the Washington Post means, but Cardinal Hickey had it:
When asked by The Washington Post in 1989 what he would like people to say about him after his death, he replied: "First, I'd like them to say that he was always loyal to his church. Second, that he was a friend to Catholic education. And third, if they don't want to say the first two, at least I hope they would chisel on the stone, 'He served the poor.'"


Friday, October 22, 2004

"That can't be right!"

In a comment below, Zippy touches on something I suspect many, many Christians have failed to truly come to grips with:
I think the Catholic in the most difficult situation is a divorcee in a second (invalid) marriage with children (not my situation). The only way out of that one is straight up Calvary.
How many Christians think accepting the Gospel could ever possibly be a way straight up Calvary? How many would admit the possibility of the need for that road in their own lives?

I'm not thinking here in terms of suffering for the sake of witnessing to Christ, nor of joining what suffering life brings to Christ's suffering. I mean the idea of someone who wakes up every day in Gethsemane, and every day must consciously choose that God's will be done, despite the great emotional suffering that choosing God's will that day will bring, despite the ease with which the suffering could be avoided, despite perhaps even the advice given by many who take the suffering as evidence that it is not God's will.

Following Christ can't be that hard, can it?

(Many people ask the dual question, "Following Christ can't be that easy, can it?" Some from the perspective of the laborers in the parable who worked all day and complained at the wages the latecomers were paid, others from the perspective that God cannot be as merciful and loving as He has revealed Himself to be.)


Tell-tale hearts

The Curt Jester links to a newspaper column titled "Anti-abortion sermons and Catholic women." The trick for good Catholics such as myself to reading this (a trick I haven't entirely mastered) is to get over the sense of indignation that people actually believe the things described in the article and ask, "How can we help them arrive at the truth?"

What struck me most was this comment from a woman who had aborted her first child because she was told the baby had "a lethal genetic defect":
"I certainly could not tell my priest, because he would say I should have carried the baby to term and let nature run its course. And we don't talk openly at church, so I have no idea who there would support my decision.... The priest is up there condemning women like me, and he has no idea what we go through when we make that choice. It's insulting, and it hurts."
As a good Catholic, the first thing I notice is that the woman is looking, not for moral formation, but for emotional affirmation. She wants comfort, not truth.

Very well. Tsk, tsk. Shameful, etc.

Now what?

It seems to me it's extremely risky for good Catholics like myself to be satisfied with criticizing bad Catholics looking for the easy way out. Criticism as the last word seems, somehow, like the easy way out.


Thursday, October 21, 2004

Memento mori

Today on the Dominican calendar is the memorial of Bl. Peter of Citta di Castello. He often preached on the theme of meditating on your own mortality. The prayer from his office includes this:
Through the prayer and example of Blessed Peter, may we so bear in mind our temporal death that, through sorrow for sin, we may avoid eternal death.
I have to say, this is a tough prayer for me to offer with much eagerness and sincerity.


The boys of Indian summer

The best thing about major league baseball is that the season only lasts six weeks, from the middle of September to the end of October. Sure, I know some people follow the pre-season friendlies they play starting in April, but I'm a sports fan, not a statistician.

I realized this morning a curious fact: that because I generally like the Red Sox and want them to do well, I don't particularly want them to win the World Series. If they do win, they become just another baseball team (and one of the many, moreover, that have won the World Series a whole lot more recently than the Phillies), and it'll be another thirty years (or a Phillies World Series title, whichever comes first) before I would care how they do.


Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Graphical aid

Since the discussion below has turned in the direction of distinguishing between the object of an act and the intention of an act, I thought a little diagram would be helpful.

How I think about human acts

Traditionally, moral theologians analyze a human act (that is, an act freely chosen by a rational human being) according to three components: the object, the intention, and the circumstances.

Figuring out what is the object of a specific act, as opposed to the intention of the actor, is not always simple. In fact, just figuring out what the act under consideration is can be hard. Is this act one of chewing, or eating a salad, or eating dinner, or obtaining nutrition, or remaining healthy, or self-preservation?

A way I avoid some of the difficulty in all this is to think of acts as "nested." A particular act, bound it however you like, has a particular object, intention, and set of circumstances. That whole bundle can serve as the object of a more general act, which has additional intentions and circumstances. In the other direction, the object of the act can itself comprise the object, intention, and circumstances of a more limited act.

The diagram above represents three acts. O1, O2, and O3 are the three objects; I1, I2, and I3 the three intentions; and C1, C2, and C3 the three sets of circumstances. O2 is the O1-I1-C1 bundle; O3 is the O2-I2-C2 (or O1-I1-C1-I2-C2) bundle.

(The representation is not precise. Its object, intention, and circumstances do not comprise an act itself, but rather the factors that determine the morality of the act.)


Monday, October 18, 2004

The needs to happen test

In a comment below, Chris Sullivan argues against Archbishop Chaput:
To say that this unjust war does not have the premeditated objective of destroying innocent life is just sophistry.
I don't agree, and I think (with middling confidence) Chris is misreading the archbishop.

In the same comment thread, Zippy refers to the "miracle test" as a way of determining the intent of an act: "if by some miracle the intended outcome is achieved without the unintended (but otherwise certain) bad effect, then the bad effect is not intended."

Let me propose a similar test to determine the object of an act: Whatever doesn't need to happen for an act to be committed is not intrinsic to that act. So, for example, chewing is not intrinsic to the act of eating, since it is possible to eat without chewing.

According to this notion, is the destruction of innocent life intrinsic to the act of "unjust war"? No; no one need die for an unjust war to occur. But the destruction of innocent life is intrinsic to the act of “genocidal war”; if no innocents are killed, there is no genocidal war. (This obviously distinguishes between the act itself and the intent of the actor.)

And abortion? That’s like genocidal war. If no innocent life is destroyed, whatever act is performed is not abortion.

To this point, charges of sophistry – sure, in principle an unjust war could be fought without casualties, but realistically how often is Italy going to invade France? – are premature, since all I’ve done is merely a matter of terminology and classification.

Still, if there is a distinction between abortion and unjust war, is that distinction morally significant? I can see how it might be significant, but Archbishop Chaput goes further and says it is determinant. That’s farther than I can see on my own right now.


Friday, October 15, 2004

A question answered

In an interview with a reporter, Archbishop Chaput of Denver used the word "intrinsic" to describe the difference between abortion and war as evils:
You know some moral issues ... are dependent on the basic principles of human life. The dignity of human life. You never violate it.... And you can never justify it. You can sometimes justify going to war. You may think that the Iraq was is horrible, but there may be sometimes when you can justify [going to war]. It doesn't have the same moral weight. And it's not calculating 40 million abortions against 40,000 deaths in Iraq. That's not how you do the calculus. The calculus is on the intrinsic act itself.
Taking rude advantage of his Excellency's internet savvy, I sent him an email:
As I understand things, the moral character of an act is determined by the object, the intent, and the circumstances of the act. It seems to me, then, that a hypothetical war undertaken for the purpose of invading another country and exterminating its population is just as contrary to the basic principles of human life as a hypothetical law that allows abortion in the first trimester, despite the fact that war is not intrinsically evil and abortion is.

If you could write just a few words on why the calculus looks, not just first, but only at the intrinsic act, I would greatly appreciate it.
And, being the stand-up fellow he is, he took the time between a baptism in South Dakota and the Eucharistic Congress in Mexico to reply:
The kind of war you describe is deliberately genocidal, and therefore always gravely wrong. It has the premeditated objective of destroying innocent life. But not all wars, not even all preemptive wars, are such. Each and every abortion always has, as its objective and end result, the destruction of an innocent human life. The Iraq War may or may not be gravely wrong -- honest Catholics argue every day about that, and you'll remember that I opposed our preparations for the conflict -- but it is not, and never was, a war of extermination. In contrast, abortion always has one objective: killing an innocent life.
I need to noodle this about some more, but I think the point is becoming clearer to me. The archbishops' implied prudential judgment is that the Iraq War does not have the premeditated objective of destroying innocent life. If their judgment is correct, then this war is less evil than abortion, and so cannot be counted as grave as an issue as abortion.

That much makes sense.


An odd claim

Kevin Miller writes, apropos the U.S. presidential election:
As soon as you admit that "one candidate breaks all the 'moral non-negotiables'" and the other one doesn't, you are implicitly admitting - like it or not! - that the election of the other one would be the objectively better outcome. And if you don't vote for that other one, you are - like it or not! - increasing the odds that the first one will win. And that, I maintain, is not prudent.
Let's unspool this a bit.

In my opinion, a second Bush term would be objectively better than a Kerry presidency, notwithstanding my judgment that Bush advocates objectively evil policies.

Kevin says my failure to vote for Bush would increase the odds that Kerry would win. Is that true?

Not technically. In a state with about two million likely voters, a single vote has no statistical significance, hence no effect on the probability of Kerry winning, hence no effect on the odds of Kerry winning.

It's not true practically, either, since Kerry has a double digit lead in recent polls (in a state Gore won by 16 in 2000). I expect to be morally certain on election day that Kerry will win my state.

My not voting for Bush increases the odds of a Kerry victory only in the sense that they would have tied if I had voted for Bush and Kerry wins by one vote. If failing to act to avoid this possibility is imprudent, then my understanding of prudence is so deeply flawed I shouldn't be allowed near a voting booth regardless of what my specific vote in this election might be.

Kevin goes on to make this interesting argument, which has what must be an unintended corollary:
The statement that the fact that someone simply isn't going to win isn't a proportionate reason to vote for a different candidate is an assertion, not an argument, and I think it's also mistaken. If the point of voting is to elect someone - if, more generally, politics is by definition about "realism" ("the art of the possible") as well as about principle - then one may certainly take into account whether a candidate will win.
If "one may certainly take into account whether a candidate will win," then in an election with an outcome that is morally certain, it isn't imprudent to fail to vote for the major-party loser.

Again, I note the appeal to realism by someone arguing that it's objectively wrong not to vote for Bush. It always strikes me as unrealistic.



A new Dominican blog

From some old-style Dominicans.


Cafeteria Catholics: The Movie

Not very subtle, but kind of funny.


Thursday, October 14, 2004

Let those who have ears hear

There have been some fascinating posts over the past months at In Today's News, chronicling the collapse of a pro-life progressive Catholic's reason when faced with the fact he will be voting for a rabidly pro-abortion candidate against a pro-life president who is prosecuting a war he despises.

Yesterday, jcecil3 attempted a new tack in justifying his vote for Kerry:
I do not believe [Kerry] is saying the law should support abortion rights. If he is saying this, he may be in sin.

Rather, I understand him to say that the law does support abortion rights, and he is sworn to uphold the law. This is a different intention, and may not be a sin.
Well, what does Kerry say? At a NARAL celebration honoring the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the candidate who jcecil3 doesn't believe is saying the law should support abortion rights said:
What is at stake is not just the right to choose. Never in my years in the Senate have the rights of women been at such risk -- never have women been assaulted in their citizenship here at home or womanhood around the globe as they are by this administration. NARAL is without question the front line defense in this struggle and when judgments are made, the judgment is inescapable that Kate Michelman is one of the most effective and important civil rights leaders in our time....

Lose this right and more than 50 percent of America will not be free. As I said 18 years ago in my maiden speech in the U.S. Senate: "the right to choose is a fundamental right; neither the Government nor any person has the right to infringe on that freedom." If I get to share a stage with this President and debate him, one of the first things I'll tell him is: "There's a defining issue between us...."

We will never go back. We will never, ever let this right be taken away!
Can I get an amen?

This sort of deafness to what candidates actually say is common enough, but jcecil3 goes on to write:
Without a consensus for a Right to Life Amendment, it could be argued that it would be immoral for him to propose one against the will of the people he represents.
A self-described pro-life Republican has reached the point where he's willing to suggest that Kerry's pro-abortion policies are positively virtuous!

If that's what it takes to screw your courage to the sticking post and cast a vote for Kerry, I'll pass.


Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Self-knowledge, humility, and...

...the breakfast of champions.

Because man is both spirit and body.


Lesson One

One good thing about being a beginner is that you always know how to make progress. Whenever I get off track, I'm sure to find that I've wandered out of the cell of self-knowledge, leaving humility behind.
" further ask the will to know and love Me, who am the Supreme Truth. Wherefore I reply that this is the way, if you will arrive at a perfect knowledge and enjoyment of Me, the Eternal Truth, that you should never go outside the knowledge of yourself, and, by humbling yourself in the valley of humility, you will know Me and yourself, from which knowledge you will draw all that is necessary."
It may be possible to fail as a disciple of Christ without failing at self-knowledge and humility, but I never have.


Tuesday, October 12, 2004

A day for questions

Neil Dhingra concludes a lively discussion with these questions:
1. Do we have any sort of reliable sociological study that would let us reach any conclusion about, say, the decline in the abortion rate in the 1990's, and make any prediction about the possible effects on the abortion rate of criminalization versus a stronger safety net? Or must we conclude that the abortion rate remains a mystery?

2. Given that Kerry (because of the reasons given by Bradley and George) and Bush (because of the reasons given by Roche) may very well severely damage the common good, and there is no concrete pro-life reason to support Bush in spite of his other policies*, is [this] article, by the most prominent Evangelical historian in America, at all convincing?

*Regarding Bush and the New Deal, see, for instance, the last paragraph of
On Question 1, I will just note the doubtful dilemma of "criminalization versus a stronger safety net." Pro-life politicians are not per se opposed to strong safety nets, nor is the government the only possible safety net provider. Pro-abortion politicians, on the other hand, are per se opposed to criminalization, and many even favor criminalizing certain private efforts to persuade women not to get abortions.

On Question 2, I will just note my astonishment that someone as well-read as Neil can claim "there is no concrete pro-life reason to support Bush."


There it is again

Paul, commenting below, repeats something that has never made sense to me:
To be certain there is no moral equivalency, such that comparison of Bush?s decision to go to war against Hussein and Kerry?s decision to enthusiastically support all forms of abortion anytime, anywhere does not allow for Kerry to emerge favorably in any manner. If the war truly remains in the realm of prudential judgment then the former remains an issue on which people of good will may differ whereas the Kerry's position per se is condemnable and without upright defense.
Here the second sentence is, I assume, intended as the argument for the conclusion expressed in the first sentence. It's as much a non sequitur here as in George's and Bradley's article.

Can "people of good will" have different opinions about the war? Of course.

The question, though, is whether people of good will can hold the opinion that the war is as evil as Kerry's pro-abortion policies. "No, because people of good will can hold the opinion that the war is just" is not a valid argument.


Repeating my question

The one objection I would make to George and Bradley's article regards this paragraph:
Roche's next move concerns the war in Iraq. He suggests, without ever quite saying so, that President Bush's decision to use military force to remove Saddam Hussein violates "the Catholic doctrine of 'just war.'" It is true that the Pope opposed the use of force. But he did not declare the war to be unjust; nor did he forbid Catholics from supporting it or Catholic soldiers from fighting in it. He respected the teaching of the Catechism and the entire tradition of Catholic thought about just war: It is up to the leaders of nations, and not to Church officials, to make the crucial prudential judgments as to whether a threat is sufficient to warrant the use of military force, and whether the legitimate alternatives to force are exhausted or will prove unavailing. Of course, Catholics needn't think that President Bush made all the right prudential judgments, nor need they agree with the president's strategic conduct of the war. But no one can legitimately claim a moral equivalence between Bush's decision to go to war against Saddam Hussein and Kerry's efforts to preserve, pay for, and even extend the practice of killing innocent human beings in utero and in vitro.
It's true that it is up to a nation's leaders to make prudential judgments on the use of force. But it's true in the sense that only the leaders have the authority to make such judgments, not that everyone else is incapable of making them. Who can't make a judgment about Germany's prudential decision to invade Belgium in 1914?

So I'm not sure what George and Bradley mean when they write that "no one can legitimately claim a moral equivalence." Coming right after their point about the authority of a government to make decisions about the use of force, the natural meaning seems to me to be that, because going to war wasn't my decision to make, I can't think Bush's going to war can be as evil as Kerry's abortion and medical research policies.

Well, maybe Bush's going to war isn't as evil as Kerry's policies, but that doesn't follow from the fact that I am not the president. As with the archbishops' statements I wrote about earlier, this looks like an arguably true statement intended as the conclusion of an argument, but I can't see how the argument itself is valid.

If someone believes the war is, not just objectively, but intentionally unjust, then they probably believe the deaths caused by the war violate the identical right to life that abortions violate. They violate that right in different ways, which means how they compare is not simply a numerical question, so a simple assertion that there's no legitimate claim to moral equivalence doesn't suffice.

[Side note: Many conservatives are, I think, too quick to complain about invalid "moral equivalence," quicker sometimes than most progressives are to assert invalid moral equivalence. The willingness to compare the morality of two acts does not imply an assertion the acts are morally equivalent.]


Good question[s]

Robert P. George and Gerard V. Bradley reply to Mark W. Roche:
The point of the piece was to explain to Catholic citizens why they can in good conscience — indeed, why they should — vote for John Kerry.

But, you may be asking, isn't John Kerry in favor of legal abortion? Indeed, doesn't he support the public funding of abortions? Hasn't he consistently voted against efforts to prohibit partial-birth abortions? Didn't he even vote against the Unborn Victims of Violence Act that would have held murderers of pregnant women and their unborn children liable for both deaths?

Doesn't John Kerry vigorously support embryo destruction for biomedical research? Doesn't he condemn those who oppose this killing for putting "right-wing ideology" ahead of curing people? Indeed, going beyond the killing of embryos currently stored in assisted-reproduction clinics, hasn't Kerry proposed to create, at public expense, massive numbers of human embryos by cloning in order to use them as disposable research material?

Hasn't John Kerry voted against every effort to place meaningful restrictions on the practice of abortion or embryo-destructive research? And hasn't he attempted to implicate Catholics and other pro-life citizens in the slavery-like evil of these practices by paying for them with taxpayer dollars?

By what logic, then, does the author of the New York Times essay conclude that Catholics should vote for the United States Senate's most faithful supporter of what he says ought to be regarded, and some day will be regarded, as an injustice on a par with the evils of torture and slavery?

The answer: He reaches his conclusion by very shoddy logic.


Monday, October 11, 2004

On the other hand

I criticize people for criticizing other people for doing poorly what the other people weren't trying to do at all. (Which is different from criticizing people for not doing what they should do.)

So I should perhaps criticize myself for criticizing Archbishop Burke's recent pastoral letter and Archbishop Meyers's recent "Voter's Guide" because they left me with more questions than answers.

It's been suggested that the archbishops weren't trying to illuminate dark corners in moral theology for a boot-licking Vatican toady like myself, but rather to cut off at the knees a far more common (or at least more often expressed) position just today given voice by Mark W. Roche, Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Notre Dame, in a New York Times op-ed piece:
When values come into conflict, it is useful to develop principles that help place those values in a hierarchy. One reasonable principle is that issues of life and death are more important than other issues. This seems to be the strategy of some Catholic and church leaders, who directly or indirectly support the Republican Party because of its unambiguous critique of abortion.
That Dean Roche would write "seems to be the strategy" rather than "is the strategy" doesn't give me much hope that Strunk & White is being taught at Notre Dame. I'm not sure what the point of that indirection could be, other than to avoid pointing out that the "some Catholic and church leaders" happen to be, you know, the Pope and the bishops teaching in communion with him. To avoid pointing out, that is, that these "principles" "it is useful to develop" happen to be the official teaching of the Catholic Church. Rather than dwell on that fact, though, Dean Roche finishes his sentence on the important point: that such principles support Republicans.

He continues:
This position has two problems. First, abortion is not the only life-and-death issue in this election. While the Republicans line up with the Catholic stance on abortion and stem-cell research, the Democrats are closer to the Catholic position on the death penalty, universal health care and environmental protection.
One problem with teaching that the intentional killing of innocent human life violates the fundamental moral right is that it doesn't feature the Democrats' position on environmental protection in a flattering light.

This is an absurd equivocation on "life-and-death issue," without even bothering with the fact that it begs the question of whether, in fact, the Democrats are closer to whatever might be said to be "the Catholic position" on "environmental protection." (You can read for yourself what Dean Roche adds about the role just war theory plays in the election, and judge the importance of the fact that, "[w]hile Mr. Kerry, like many other Democrats, voted for the war, he has since objected to the way it was planned and waged."
Second, politics is the art of the possible... History will judge our society's support of abortion in much the same way we view earlier generations' support of torture and slavery - it will be universally condemned. The moral condemnation of abortion, however, need not lead to the conclusion that criminal prosecution is the best way to limit the number of abortions. Those who view abortion as the most significant issue in this campaign may well want to supplement their abstract desire for moral rectitude with a more realistic focus on how best to ensure that fewer abortions take place.
Here Dean Roche does yeoman's work to prepare for the conclusion he so earnestly desires: viz., that he won't have to vote for a Republican in the foreseeable future.

Note first, that he takes for granted that, one day, abortion "will be universally condemned." Since we're guaranteed victory, why quibble over short-term details like Supreme Court appointments and federal funding for embryonic research?

Next comes "criminal prosecution." Eeek! Poor, traumatized women thrown in prison! Those heartless Republicans! Because, after all, criminal prosecution is the only effect of making something illegal. Just look at Latin America as compared to the Low Countries, two regions all but identical except for their abortion laws.

Finally, Democrats can inoculate themselves against voting Republican for pro-life reasons because all "who view abortion as the most significant issue in this campaign" do so only out of an "abstract desire for moral rectitude," and if a Democrat wanted to be a Pharisee, he'd be a Republican.

Phew! That was close. We almost had to allow ourselves to be taught by the Church.

I don't, as a rule, go in much for fisking New York Times op-eds, but coming so soon after last week's discussions on the archbishops' letters, this piece was so... well, so fat-headed, I was moved to comment. The one reassuring point is that, having little to do with athletics or alumni relations, Dean Roche doesn't seem to hold a position of much importance at Notre Dame.


The lepers' Mass

As Jesus ... was entering a village, ten lepers met him. They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying, "Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!"The Penitential Rite
And when he saw them, he said, "Go show yourselves to the priests."Liturgy of the Word
And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.Liturgy of the Eucharist
Then he said to him, "Stand up and go; your faith has saved you."Ite, missa est.

"Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?"


My contribution to the discussion on Catholics in the public square:

Voting is the stone in the Stone Soup of Catholic political responsibility.



Friday, October 08, 2004

While we're at it, ii

The final thing about the archbishops' statements I want to mention is the way they seem to make the enormity of an evil directly proportional to the effect a candidate's support for that evil will have on the common good.

Archbishop Meyers was particularly clear on this:
Thus for a Catholic citizen to vote for a candidate who supports abortion ... one of the following circumstances would have to obtain: either (a) both candidates would have to be in favor of embryo killing on roughly an equal scale or (b) the candidate with the superior position on abortion ... would have to be a supporter of objective evils of a gravity and magnitude beyond that of 1.3 million yearly abortions....
In other words, the proportion of a proportionate reason to vote for a candidate who supports an evil is the proportion of the evil itself.

But if, as Archbishop Burke puts it, we have a "duty to vote, in order to choose those representatives who will best serve the common good in government"," why is it the absolute number of abortions that must be weighed, rather than the overall effect of a pro-abortion candidate's election on the common good?

My understanding of the moral concept of "proportionate reasons" is based on my understanding of the principle of double effect, in which what gets compared are the good and bad effects of an action that is not itself immoral per se. Archbishop Meyers, however, seems to be saying that it's not the difference between what two candidates would do that matters, but the difference between what they would support. If voting is an act directed at the common good, though, shouldn't we look at how the candidates would affect the common good relative to each other?

Archbishop Burke writes that same-sex "marriage" "erode[s] the very foundation of the common good," and I agree. But doesn't an unjust policy of the use of military force also attack the common good, and might not a particular unjust military force policy do more damage to the common good than a particular same-sex "marriage" policy?

My problem is that I can't tell, first, how literally and formally to take what the archbishops wrote; and second, how much of what they meant by what they wrote they intended as official teaching, binding judgment, personal opinion, or illustration. I know a lot of Catholics love it when a bishop writes a forceful document, but forcefulness isn't always a sign of clear and unambiguous writing.


While we're at it, i

There are two more things that I find puzzling in the quotations from Archbishops Burke and Meyers I'd like to mention.

First, they seem to mix without distinction Church teaching and prudential judgment. Archbishop Meyers, for example, writes, "Certainly policies ... the war in Iraq... do not provide a proportionate reason to vote for a pro-abortion candidate." Why? Because, "[i]n the context of contemporary American social life, abortion and embryo-destructive research are disproportionate evils."

But isn't this statement a prudential judgment on the part of the Archbishop? As I've written below, I don't see how it follows from the fact that "Catholics may, in good conscience, support the use of force in Iraq or oppose it."

For his part, Archbishop Burke writes that "we must ... safeguard marriage and the family now." In his judgment, same-sex "marriage" would undoubtedly harm the common good more than war.

I should mention that I don't mind bishops including prudential judgments in their public statements. I'm just not sure how binding such judgments are on their flocks, or even whether they're intended to be binding.


Thursday, October 07, 2004

One explanation

It's been suggested in comments below that what the archbishops are trying to do by pointing out that war is not intrinsically evil is address the argument, "Sure, the Church opposes abortion, but she also opposes war, so I can choose which issue is more important to me." The concept of intrinsic evil does come into play when discussing the difference between Catholic opposition to abortion and Catholic opposition to war.

That's a sensible explanation, I suppose, and one I much prefer to the explanation that they meant to teach that support for intrinsic evil, however minor, is disproportionately more harmful to the common good than support for non-intrinsic evil, however grave.

But if that were their point, I'd have to say they need better copy editors.


Yes, your Excellencies, but...

Honestly, I'm not sure what to make of the statements I quoted below.

Archbishop Burke's main point is, I think, this:
One cannot justify a vote for a candidate who promotes intrinsically evil acts which erode the very foundation of the common good, such as abortion and same-sex "marriage," by appealing to that same candidate's opposition to war or capital punishment.
But I can't see how this statement is supported by what comes before it.

For one thing, I'm not sure how to understand "opposition to war." In its most literal sense -- a categorical opposition to military force against another country -- what the Archbishop writes is undeniably true, but I'm not sure what relevance that literal sense has to do with any practical situation Catholic voters face or are likely to face in the future.

If it means opposition to the current war, though, I think we need to be more careful. Archbishop Burke points out that war is not intrinsically evil, and implies this is because the "practice" of war doesn't include "the direct intention of killing innocent human beings." But what if a particular war does include the direct intention of killing innocent human beings? Or, more generally, if it entails some practice that is intrinsically evil?

As I read the Archbishop's letter, I take him to be implying that it is categorically impossible for a candidate's opposition to any particular evil act that is not intrinsically evil to justify voting for him if he supports any particular act that is intrinsically evil.

If this is in fact the implication of the passage, then it would also follow that a candidate who supported legalized masturbation could not be voted for against a candidate who supported the violent annexation of Mexico (assuming, of course, they each opposed what the other supported). I suppose my respectful question is: Assuming I understand the point correctly, that support for something intrinsically evil is always disproportionately worse than support for something evil but not intrinsically evil, why is the point not absurd?

As Aurochs and Angels put is, "Intrinsic ≠ Really Bad."


Consider the source

Let me quote Archbishop Burke's recent pastoral letter, for reference in my next post:
Some Catholics have suggested that a candidate's position on the death penalty and war are as important as his or her position on procured abortion and same-sex "marriage." This, however, is not true. Procured abortion and homosexual acts are intrinsically evil, and, as such, can never be justified in any circumstance. Although war and capital punishment can rarely be justified, they are not intrinsically evil; neither practice includes the direct intention of killing innocent human beings. In some circumstances, self-defense and defense of the nation are not only rights, but responsibilities. Neither individuals nor governments can be denied the right of lawful defense in appropriate circumstances (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 2265 and 2309). While we must all work to eradicate the circumstances which could justify either practice, we must stop the killing of innocent unborn children and the practice of euthanasia, and safeguard marriage and the family now. One cannot justify a vote for a candidate who promotes intrinsically evil acts which erode the very foundation of the common good, such as abortion and same-sex "marriage," by appealing to that same candidate's opposition to war or capital punishment. [n. 30]

Summary Point #6
We are morally bound in conscience to choose government leaders who will serve the common good. The first priority of the common good is the protection of human life, the basis of all other social conditions.
There can never be justification for directly and deliberately taking innocent human life: abortion, destruction of human embryos, euthanasia, human cloning.
Legal recognition of same-sex relationships undermines the truth about marriage and sanctions gravely immoral acts.
For the sake of the common good we must safeguard the good of human life and the good of marriage and family life.
The death penalty and war are different from procured abortion and same-sex "marriage", since these latter acts are intrinsically evil and therefore can never be justified. Although war and capital punishment can rarely be justified, they are not intrinsically evil.
While I'm at it, here's a similar passage from Archbishop Meyers's "Voting Guide":
Certainly policies on welfare, national security, the war in Iraq, Social Security or taxes, taken singly or in any combination, do not provide a proportionate reason to vote for a pro-abortion candidate.
Consider, for example, the war in Iraq. Although Pope John Paul II pleaded for an alternative to the use of military force to meet the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, he did not bind the conscience of Catholics to agree with his judgment on the matter, nor did he say that it would be morally wrong for Catholic soldiers to participate in the war. In line with the teaching of the catechism on "just war," he recognized that a final judgment of prudence as to the necessity of military force rests with statesmen, not with ecclesiastical leaders. Catholics may, in good conscience, support the use of force in Iraq or oppose it.
Abortion and embryo-destructive research are different. They are intrinsic and grave evils; no Catholic may legitimately support them. In the context of contemporary American social life, abortion and embryo-destructive research are disproportionate evils. They are the gravest human rights abuses of our domestic politics and what slavery was to the time of Lincoln. Catholics are called by the Gospel of Life to protect the victims of these human rights abuses. They may not legitimately abandon the victims by supporting those who would further their victimization.


Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Fine art, and not so fine art

Church of the Masses is the blog to read for cautionary tales directed at those who think the rules of art don't apply when the intentions are pure.

I'm still not entirely sure what's wrong with moderately wealthy Christians saying, "We need to stop begging and find creative new ways for Christians to make entertainment!" Barbara Nicolosi says:
We DON'T need "creative ways" for Christians to find success in Hollywood. We need to do it THE way. We need to do what everybody has to do, just as well, and arguably even better. It takes time, lots of it. It takes paying our dues. There won't be anything sneaky or clever about it. The cleverness must all be in our work.
If the suggestion was to cut corners, then I can see the problem. I once came down like Evelyn Waugh's nastier brother before his morning coffee on someone who one day popped onto a Catholic writers mailing list to inform us that he had written some wonderful poems and had decided we were to provide him with the contact information for the magazine that would publish them. I don't think it was, for him, so much a matter of cutting corners as of being completely oblivious to the fact that there are corners.

Still, I note the difference between "ways for Christians to make entertainment" and "ways for Christians to find success in Hollywood," before conceding that I know even less about movies and television than I do about poetry.

Barbara's story of her involvement with the people who made Therese reminds Hernan Gonzalez of a hundred-year-old Leon Bloy quotation:
... modern Catholics hate art with a wild, atrocious hatred; Beauty scares them, like a sinful temptation... and the boldness of Genius horrifies them like the face of Lucifer.
I'm not sure that Hernan calls this one correctly. By all accounts, the man behind the Therese movie is a fine artist; he certainly doesn't fear beauty. As I understand it, the problem is that he is not a fine, or even a particularly capable, moviemaker, and he didn't think it would matter.

Barbara's message to all wannabe Christian moviemakers is that it does matter.


October is Proust Month

If you've been meaning to read or finish Marcel Proust's À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, now is the time to get to it.

Yes, it's a daunting task, but if you can make the time to read just one sentence a day every Proust Month, you'll be able to finish all seven volumes in just fifteen years.

For those lacking the time but not the social aspirations, Proust can be efficiently summarized.

It is regrettable but unavoidable that, having dropped the fact you have read Proust, some supercilious berk will wrinkle his nose and say, "Not the Moncrieff-Kilmartin, surely?" The proper response is a look of confusion, a murmured, "En francais," and avoidance of all further eye contact with the rube.


Monday, October 04, 2004

My doctor said, "Don't do that"

I wanted to make a small point based on a prayer of St. Catherine of Siena, but when I looked at the prayer, I saw that I would have to quote more of it than I'd expected in order for it to make sense.

To put the part I wanted to quote into context, which came almost at the end of the prayer, I needed several earlier bits. To put those into context, I needed even earlier passages.

You'd think an extemporaneous prayer offered in or close to rapture might come across as a bit disjointed. This one didn't. So I'll just post the whole prayer here and maybe come back to it over the next couple of weeks. It's Prayer #24 from the collected prayers of St. Catherine, offered some time during the last year of her life.
Oh Godhead!
Godhead, Love!
And what can I say about your truth?
You, Truth --
you tell me about the truth,
since I don’t know how to talk about the truth.
I only know how to talk about the darkness,
because I have not followed the fruit of your cross,
I have only known and followed the darkness.
I admit that those who know the darkness
know the light as well.
But not I --
I have followed the darkness.
Still, I have not for all that
known it perfectly.
Tell me, then, the truth about your cross
and I will listen.

You say that some people persecute
the fruit of your cross.
Now you yourself are the fruit of your cross --
you, oh Word, God’s only-begotten Son,
who because of your boundless love for us
engrafted yourself like a fruit
onto two trees.
The first was human nature,
so that you might reveal to us
the invisible truth of the eternal Father,
the truth you yourself are.
The second was the engrafting of your body
on the wood of the most holy cross,
and neither nails
nor anything else but your boundless love for us
held you on that tree.
All this you did
to reveal the truth of the Father’s will,
the will that wants nothing but that we be saved.
From this engrafting sprang your blood,
which by its union with the divine nature
has given us life.
By the power of this blood we are cleansed from sin
through your sacraments,
and you have stored this blood
in the wine cellar of holy church,
giving the keys and guardianship of it
to your chief vicar on earth.

The only way we can know and comprehend
any of these things
is by means of your light,
the light with which you illumine the soul’s noblest aspect,
our understanding.
This light is the light of faith.
You give it to each of us Christians
when, through the sacrament of baptism,
you pour into us the light of your grace
and of faith,
thus washing away
the original sin we had contracted.
And we are given enough light
to lead us to our final goal of blessedness.
We have only not to blind our eyes
with the wickedness of sensual selfishness,
the eyes illumined by your grace in holy baptism.

We blind ourselves, then,
when we put over our eyes
that cloud of cold and damp,
our selfishness.
When we do this
we know neither you
nor any true good.
We call good evil,
and evil good.
And so we become ungrateful
and most ignorant.
and it is worse for us to lose the light
once we have known the truth,
than before we had received the light.
Such false Christians
are worse than unbelievers,
and the consequences are worse --
except insofar as whatever little light of faith
they still have
makes it easier to accept the medicine
their sickness calls for.

People such as these, my Lord,
are persecutors of the fruit of your cross,
persecutors of your blood.
They do not follow you, Christ crucified,
but they hound you and your blood --
especially those who rebel against your cellarer
who holds the keys to the wine cellar
where your precious blood is stored
as well as the blood of all your martyrs
(whose blood has no strength
except by the power of your blood).
They get into this rebellion
and every sort of sin
because they have lost the light of your truth,
the light acquired through faith in you.
This is why the philosophers,
even though they knew many truths
about your creatures
could not be saved
because they did not have faith.
What I wanted to point out is that St. Catherine says the light of God's truth is acquired, not by study, but through faith in Christ. It's an important check on the virtue of studiousness, a check the studious are probably well aware of by the light of study, a check that is perhaps well suited to Dominicans on this day.

By the way, The Prayers of Catherine of Siena, which I keep linking to, is a book that repays prayerful study but not (at least among us beginners) cursory reading.


That mutual charity cherished above all things

On October 4, the Dominican Order observes the Feast of Our Holy Father Francis of Assisi. True, the friendship between Sts. Francis and Dominic is often exaggerated; only one meeting between them, a few months before St. Dominic's death, can be attested to from historical data. It's also true that there has been a certain amount of competition between the orders at times in places over the years.

Still, the Franciscans and the Dominicans have a lot in common, and they (and the Church) do better when they support and encourage each other. A few decades after the deaths of Sts. Francis and Dominic, the Masters General of the two Orders co-wrote a letter to all their brothers. It reads in part:
Finally, how shall we be known as true disciples of Christ, unless our love for one another is manifest?

How shall we sow in the hearts of others that mutual charity which because of our preaching is cherished above all things by everyone, if our love for one another is wounded or becomes fragile?

How shall we stand against so many threatening persecutions, if we are divided by some disturbance?
This was written at a time when the very existence of the mendicant orders was being challenged in the Church, so this letter wasn't an entirely academic exercise.

If we pull the above passage out of its context, though, I think it fits only too well into the conversation within the Church today. The problem with factionalism is not principally that my faction is right and your faction is wrong (although that is generally true), but that our factions are divided against each other. It's not the position of one or another group, but the relationship among all the groups.

A lot of people will think this is a distinction without a difference. But the difference is this, that if the problem is your position, I can place all the responsibility for resolving the problem upon you. If the problem is our relationship, though, then I have a clear stake in, and responsibility for, resolving it. As Bls. Giovanni Buralli, OFM, and Humbert of Romans, OP, recognized, no one can effectively preach mutual charity who does not live it.