instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, June 30, 2006

Straining at gnats

Mark Mossa, SJ, is once again defending his order in a semper reformanda kind of way, this time sparked by a trio of rants by a couple of Jesuitophiles (and supplemented by several additional posts at You Duped Me Lord).

What I don't understand about critics of the Company is why they always go on about how it's all messed up and led by heretics and should be suppressed and other suchlike trivialities, without ever mentioning the real problem with the Jesuits: congruism.


Thursday, June 29, 2006

A draft syllabus of opinionated errors
This is a day in which all men are obliged to have an opinion on all questions, political, social, and religious, because they have in some way or other an influence upon the decision; yet the multitude are for the most part absolutely without capacity to take their part in it. -- Ven. J.H. Cardinal Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, Vol 5, no 3

The following propositions are false:
  1. It is good, important, or laudable to have an opinion about every matter that comes to your attention.
  2. A reflexive, visceral response to a matter that comes to your attention constitutes an opinion on that matter.
  3. If you do not have an opinion about a matter, then you do not think the matter is important.
  4. The more important a matter is, the more important your opinion about the matter is.
  5. Subjective certainty implies objective certainty.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Speaking of identity through time

In giving to the Church the gift of the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary, the blessed Pope John Paul II wrote:
Certainly the whole mystery of Christ is a mystery of light. He is the "light of the world" (Jn 8:12). Yet this truth emerges in a special way during the years of his public life, when he proclaims the Gospel of the Kingdom...
Each of these mysteries is a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the very person of Jesus.
(Emphasis in the original, of course.)

The thought occurs that the Church herself is a revelation of the Kingdom now present in the very Person of Jesus. The five Luminous Mysteries reflect the Church in action from the day of her birth:
  1. Christ's Baptism in the Jordan is continued in the Baptism that brings new members into the fold.
  2. Christ's self-manifestation at the wedding of Cana continues in the Church's blessings of marriage.
  3. Christ's proclamation of the Kingdom of God, with his call to conversion, continues in the missionary and preaching activity of the Church.
  4. Christ's Transfiguration is recalled in the Church's worship of our Lord and our God.
  5. Christ's institution of the Eucharist, as the sacramental expression of the Paschal Mystery, continues as the source and summit of the Christian life.
This notion tracks closely with the alignment of the mysteries with the Seven Sacraments, as you might expect considering the relationship between the Church and the Sacraments. The difference (in my mind at least) is that the sacramental view is more personal and the ecclesial view is more corporate, treating the Church as the Body of Christ that endures through time for no other purpose than to reveal the Kingdom now present in the very Person of Jesus.



Successor to a successor to an Apostle

St. Irenaeus taught me that the Church is apostolic.

Some years back, I was reading something he had written -- I don't remember what, I don't remember why -- and what struck me was how utterly Catholic it was.

I'd read a passage here and a short letter there from the Patristic Age, which was all well and good, but for the most part what I'd read all seemed quite ancient. Bishops going in chains from town to town? Offerings to the gods? The numerological significance of seventy-two? Connected to us today, certainly, but by way of a long, dusty trail.

And then whatever passage it was of St. Irenaeus, and it could have been written today. This is what the Church believes, and hey, that's what I believe, and the words I'd use to say it! This is what the Church does, and hey, that's what I do, and the reason I do it!

Coincidentally, I caught a few minutes of EWTN radio last week, during an interview with Alex Jones. To quote from the ad page for his book, No Price Too High:
Alex Jones was an "on-fire" Pentecostal minister in Detroit who was a completely dedicated shepherd of his flock. He greatly loved his people and they loved him. In seeking to give his flock the most genuine experience of the early Church prayer and worship services, he carefully read Scripture, the Fathers of the Church and writings of the early saints.
As he tells the story, his Pentecostal church didn't much like his reconstructed worship service. "It was 'too Catholic,'" even though at the time he had never been to a Mass.

There's a reason for that, of course, which he has since come to see; he's now a permanent deacon in the Roman Catholic Church.

More and better on St. Irenaeus is of course to be found at The Way of the Fathers.


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Excelsior Principle

Paula at More Light quotes Ilia Delio's book Franciscan Prayer:
Although St Clare sought a unity with God through contemplation with the crucified Spouse, union is not the goal of the relationship with God, rather, the goal is imitation. The gaze on the crucified Spouse is to lead to imitation of the Spouse.

We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become. If we love things, we become a thing. If we love nothing, we become nothing. Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ, rather it means becoming the image of the beloved, an image disclosed through transformation. This means we are to become vessels of God´s compassionate love for others.
That is, perhaps, a Franciscan formulation of St. Thomas's maxim of bringing to others the fruits of one's contemplation. The final end is, in fact, resting in union with God, but in the meantime contemplative union assumes the active form of imitation.

"We become what we love." In Scriptural terms, "For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be." This metaphor is embraced today by sports fans who claim to bleed their team colors, an extremely literal expression of becoming what they love.

God, too, became what He loves, "that man might become God," as the saying goes.

But if we become what we love whether we intend it or not, we can embrace what can be called the Excelsior Principle: "Love the highest, that you might become the highest." A critical part of the Good News is that man is capax Dei, capable of God. We can love God Himself -- and that "Himself" is also critical. We don't have to settle for loving God-the-Lawgiver, which would make us lawgivers, or for loving God-the-Sovereign, which would make us sovereigns set over and apart from creation. We can love God-the-Father-the-Son-and-the-Holy-Spirit, which will make us God's adopted children and eternal sharers in the Divine Life of the Trinity.


Archbishop Wuerl's installation homily

May be read here.


Monday, June 26, 2006


In other Dominican news, friars and sisters -- and plenty of others -- joined "the herculean efforts of the Third Order Dominicans of New Hope, KY," to help pull off the second annual Ignite Your Torch Youth Conference. (I'm not sure I've ever seen a conference registration form that directs attendees to bring a rosary but no low-riding pants.)

And there's a new batch of eight novices for the Dominican Province of St. Joseph. Varied backgrounds, from six different states plus two other countries, generally young, several are musically inclined, most like sports, a couple of Domers, might be one Redskins fan. A typical Dominican crew.



No, no, no, no, no, no, no!

No, the "New Cosmology" is NOT "the critical lens from which all preaching needs to flow and all justice action should emerge."

The CROSS is, you ridiculous persons! The CROSS!


Worth a third of a picture

Here, briefly, is my position on the question of pro-abortion politicians and the Eucharist:

To begin with, whoever acts in formal or proximate material cooperation with legalized abortion should not present himself for Communion.

That said, whether a particular person who presents himself for Communion is to be denied on the basis of imputed formal or material cooperation with legalized abortion is a matter of prudential judgment, not Church precept or canon law. A bishop has the authority to make this judgment for the Masses celebrated within his jurisdiction.

The above paragraph contains two concepts I think are often mangled. The first is of something being "a matter of prudential judgment." Being a matter of prudential judgment doesn't mean that the thing is a matter of moral indifference, that an objectively wrong decision can't be made, much less that a viciously immoral decision cannot be made. Intentionally or not, prudence can fail in matters of prudential judgment in ways similar to ways justice can fail in matters of judicial judgment. But it does mean there's no law that can be cited to determine fully what must be done. A matter of prudential judgment is a classic example of the incompleteness of rule-based morality.

The second concept a lot of people seem to mangle is that of episcopal authority. That doesn't merely mean the bishop is the one who gets to make the rules; again, rule-based morality is inadequate. The bishop's authority is apostolic, and the Christian faithful reject that authority at the risk of rejecting the authority of the Apostles, which was given to them by Christ.

Rejecting authority takes many forms that fall short of explicitly denying that the bishop has it. Lumen Gentium goes to far as to say that "the faithful must cling to their bishop, as the Church does to Christ, and Jesus Christ to the Father, so that all may be of one mind through unity, and abound to the glory of God." I don't think the claim that some Catholics today fail to cling to their bishop as the Church does to Christ is very controversial.



Sunday, June 25, 2006

The new normal

The new parochial vicar of my parish, Fr. Greg Shaffer, was ordained not quite a month ago. Today he announced that he has started a blog as
a forum for St. Andrew parishioners to leave comments and questions to my posts. Please feel free to ask ANY (appropriate) questions about the Catholic faith, related or unrelated to my posts.
If you check his profile, you'll see he's already an old hand at blogging.

Fr. Greg at his First Mass of Thanksgiving

How long, I wonder, till the question is, "Your parish doesn't have a blog?"


Friday, June 23, 2006

Same as the old crows

Evidently, Archbishop Wuerl got it wrong, as did the blessed Pope John Paul II before him. The threefold task of the bishop is actually to teach, to sanctify, and to deny Communion to pro-abortion politicians.

Or so it would seem from the comments of some people who today are not the Archbishop of Washington, nor even the Pope. As a service to them, I offer this image, which they may print, complete, and hang in their kitchen:


But who's counting?

This (via this) I did not know:
When Pope John Paul wanted to give a speech to the Cardinals reminding them that the cardinalatial red signified a readiness to die for the faith, there was only one Cardinal martyr that he could refer to.
And St. John's martyrdom was all but completed before he was named a cardinal.

In defense of the thousands of non-martyr cardinals, though, by the time the office developed it was quite uncommon for a bishop to be martyred, which isn't altogether a bad thing. One might also suggest some cardinals, such as Cardinal Kung, have been white martyrs, although that doesn't do much to illustrate the cardinalatial red.

And of course the question is never, "How did your team do?" Who can count the number of lay martyrs? Does that make layfolk feel complacent, as the dearth of cardinal martyrs might make cardinals feel uneasy?


Habemus Archbishopem



Thursday, June 22, 2006

Always in stock

"Can we say 'both/and'?" is one of my stock questions (see the full stock in the left-hand column).

Generally, the things to be linked with the "and" have something of a competitive or adversarial relationship. They aren't naturally additive, like tea and crumpets; they're the sort of things that might be easier to take one at a time. Hence the question's implied "... rather than 'either/or'?"

The word I usually use to describe this sort of relationship is "tension." You have to be careful with that word, or you might wind up using it to trap the other side of the argument: "Yes, I agree, these two values are in tension. [There, I've conceded the point that you have a point. Now I can freeze your point there, and step around it thusly:] But in these circumstances, it is clear that my value determines the proper course."

It seems to me, though, that you have to be particularly careful with an argument that acknowledges no tension. In general, and assuming good will on everyone's part, everyone in a disputation has a point. Any particular point may happen to be beside the point, but if there is disagreement it has to be coming from somewhere, and it should at least be acknowledged.

I'll even go so far as to suggest that, in certain matters of the Faith, the absence of any tension in an argument may be evidence that the arguer has failed to actually engage the matter.

Mark Shea anticipates this suggestion somewhat, in listing "a number of curious currents of thought that puzzle and intrigue me" about how some people interpret Scripture:
...readers give not the vaguest hint that it disturbs them at all that God should command genocide in the Pentateuch. Hey! He's God! ...

The weird notion that if something in Scripture is mysterious, that's a bad thing....

The correlative notion that anybody who wrestles with these mysteries and comes up with different answers is, not just mistaken, but an "imbecile", an enemy, and a heretic.

The peculiar notion that someplace else, there's a happy land without ambiguity and mystery where diagrams rule and persons can be safely dismissed.
Setting aside a certain baffling hostility toward diagrams, Mark's point is that, since Scripture does not give a closed answer to every question asked of it, closed answers aren't always a good thing.

The Catholic Faith is inherently and inescapably mysterious, and I suggest part of that mystery lies in tension between things -- free will and grace, omnibenevolence and evil, and so forth -- the final key to which Revelation has not provided human reason.

Now, the fact that free will and grace, to choose a much-discussed pair, are in tension doesn't mean that nothing can be said about how they co-exist. It might even be possible to resolve the tension, in the sense of showing how both fit into the entirety of the Faith.

But if the tension is not even recognized, there's a good chance the whole question is being mishandled. And if the tension is completely dissolved -- by, for example, getting rid of free will altogether -- then it's almost certain the answer is wrong.


"I feel bad for him. He just wants to eat."

Sometimes I suspect the wisdom Waiter distills from his daily life only seems deep by comparison to the shallowness of the people involved. Even if so, it's effective.


Moving bishops

In chess, a bishop can only move diagonally. Not so in the Church.

Whispers in the Loggia has three posts in a row about moving bishops, and two of them involve bishops moving up. The third is about bishops moving sideways.

At this point, I'm only interested in one possibility for such a sideways move. Bishop Edward Dominic Fenwick, OP -- founder of the Dominican Province of St. Joseph in the United States, first Bishop of Cincinnati, and namesake of my Lay Dominican chapter -- is currently buried in a cemetery associated with neither the Archdiocese of Cincinnati nor the Dominicans, and there has been some talk of a more fitting resting place (which would make his fifth grave, if my count is correct; an itinerant preacher once responsible for Ohio, Michigan, and Points West, not even death stopped his moving about).

As for the "boom" of the Curial movements: I have only accidental interest. There's a rumor Cardinal Sodano is a Third Order Dominican, and Cardinal Szoka's an American.

Now, the installation interests me keenly. Not the installation itself -- I've got other stuff to do this afternoon -- but its effect, viz, a new archbishop of my archdiocese.

As I think I mentioned before, today is an auspicious day to assume a see, it being the Feast of St. John Fisher, who from all accounts was a most excellent man and a red hot bishop. We shall see whether a red hat arrives in Washington with more timeliness than it arrived in Rochester.

Today is a doubly auspicious day to assume the see of Washington, it being the Feast of St. Thomas More, patron of statesmen (and also of politicians (or at least some of them). Coincidence, message, or joke, the date can't have gone unnoticed and I'm sure won't go unremarked.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Not just the law

While I'm thinking of it, let me strike a blow for Virtue-Based Morality by taking up a point made by Herbert McCabe in his posthumously published The Good Life (and touched on in a comment below by JohnMcG).

To repeat myself, what makes an act of giving to neighbor his due virtuous is that the act is chosen as an act of giving to neighbor his due. The wicked judge gave the widow her due so she would stop bugging him. He chose his act, not as a just act, but as an act that would shut her up. Even though he did "the right," he did not act with justice.

In addition to virtue and self-interest, there is a third way in which one can choose "the right," which is to choose the act as in accordance with rules. A different judge, for example, might give the widow what she asked for, not because it is the right thing to do, nor because it will get her out of his chambers, but because that's what the law tells him to do. Should the law change, his decision would change.

In effect, such a rule-based justice doesn't recognize natural rights; the positive law defines the set of positive rights, and those are the only rights that matter. From this perspective, "unjust law" is a meaningless expression, and anything that is not contrary to an explicit law cannot be unjust.

Of course it's true that a virtue-based concept of justice follows the positive laws -- at least those that are not "a perversion of law," i.e., those that do not violate natural law -- but it does so because following a just positive law is just. That may sound like a meaningless distinction, but it preserves both concepts of "unjust law" and "unjust but legal."



Justice and magic

Let me now offer a response to my question, "In what sense, if any, can it be said that a man acts in accordance with the virtue of justice when he mistakenly fails to give to another his due?"

Well, again, "Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor." As St. Thomas puts it, justice is in the will. It's the habit of choosing the right thing to do as the right thing to do.

Imagine a judge who settles questions by using a Magic 8 Ball he bought at a local toy store. He does this because it's easier than trying to figure out all those laws and stuff. He does not act with justice, even when his decision does happen to give their due to the parties before him, because he is not choosing to do what he does because what he does is the right thing to do.

Now suppose that Magic 8 Ball is actually magic (or, if you prefer, guided by an angel), that to every yes-or-no question that has a correct answer it gives the correct answer. Then in every instance the judge would be giving the parties their due, but he still wouldn't be a just judge -- that is, he still wouldn't possess the virtue of justice, because he still wouldn't be choosing to act according to what is due to the parties.

As a final wrinkle, suppose the judge was for whatever reason morally certain that the Magic 8 Ball gave the correct answer to every yes-or-no question that has a correct answer. In this case, he consults it because he knows it will tell him how to act in order to give to the parties their due. He chooses to do what he does because it is the right thing to do.

Where I'm going with this, of course, is that the question of whether the judge "acts justly" in the sense of giving what is, in fact, due the parties involves is not the same as the question of whether the judge "acts justly" in the sense of willing to give what is due the parties. If the judge chooses to give to the parties what he judges is their due -- whether his judgment is based on faith in a Magic 8 Ball or on a free and full confession -- then he is acting in accordance with the virtue of justice.

And if he's wrong? Then his error lies not in the will, which is constantly and firmly directed toward choosing to give the parties their due, but in the intellect, which for whatever reason muffed the determination of what is due the parties.

This doesn't entirely settle the question, since I'm left with the case of the well-meaning fool who is wrongly convinced his Magic 8 Ball is magical. Surely there's a stronger connection between willing to give their due to God and neighbor and actually giving them their due.

But if we were to insist that the former, the willing to give others their due, counts for nothing, then we would essentially get rid of justice as a concept we can talk about. To answer the question, "Is it just?" would require a logical certainty unavailable in the real world, and in the theoretical case we would have to say the judge with the magic Magic 8 Ball always acted justly.


Monday, June 19, 2006

Breaking the habit

Since his habit (intentional or not) of twisting conversations to his personal hobbyhorse is a temptation against both charity and temperance for me, I've banned Chris from commenting here. It might reflect badly on my fortitude that I just couldn't take it any more, but I'm flat out of hope that he'd ever stop on his own. It seems to me that it is just, though, since I don't think anyone has a natural right to post whatever comment he wants wherever he wants to.


A gathering up

Fra Lawrence of Contemplata aliis Tradere is taking a blogging break, an investment in introversion that will (God willing) pay off by October:
As I now enter the final stage of my Novitiate and (hopefully) prepare to make Simple Profession in September, it would be expedient for me to take a break from this blog. I ask my readers to pray for me and for my brother, Paul Mills in these months ahead as we hope to proceed towards making first vows on 20 September. I shall need to apply for an extension for my religious visa too and ask your additional prayers for this intention.
He goes on to quote Johann Tauler:
"Moreover, should a going forth, an elevation beyond and above ourselves ever come about, then we must renounce our own will, desire and worldly activity, so that we can orient ourselves single-mindedly toward God, and meet Him only in complete abandonment of self..."
You can't be much truer to your blog name than that.


Saturday, June 17, 2006


I've tried, and I just can't do it.

I don't know what this says about me as a Catholic blogger, but I flat don't much care about the vote to approve the new English translation of the Order of the Mass. Other bloggers are all spun up -- most one way, a few the other -- but I have looked into my heart regarding this, and all I have found is an "Eh."

I can't even generate much theoretical satisfaction that the logical and theological principles of Liturgium Authenticam will soon be followed in the United States. The poster child for all this is, "And with your spirit," and say what you like about it, that's not the vernacular of any English I ever spoke.


Friday, June 16, 2006

There's justice, and there's justice

Zippy is going to town on a question of justice, the kernel of which can be asked this way: "Is it justice when an innocent man is executed by mistake?"

The way the conversation has played out, though, suggests that it is not a well-posed question. "Justice" has two distinct, though analogous, meanings, and different people assume different meanings in answering the question.

The Catechism (naturally following St. Thomas, who naturally followed Publius Iuventius Celsus) defines the virtue of justice as "the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor." But we also use the word "justice" analogously, to refer to the object of the virtue, to what is objectively due to God and neighbor. (St. Thomas uses the word ius to refer to the object of justice, but "just" has basically the same dual meaning as "justice." The English Dominican translation of the ST uses "right" for "ius," which probably wouldn't be a helpful substitute.)

So I think the question might be rephrased and generalized into something like this: In what sense, if any, can it be said that a man acts in accordance with the virtue of justice when he mistakenly fails to give to another his due?


Thursday, June 15, 2006

Folly to the Greeks

Paula of More Light is doing things that puzzle some of the people who know her. The key to the puzzle is that it isn't a puzzle, it's a mystery.

(Now, put a rosary in someone else's purse, and we're well into slightly nuts territory.)


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Not just a great name for a rock band

Er, so what is "an accidental infinity of ends," anyway?

In that article, St. Thomas is arguing that there is a last end of human life. (In the next article, he argues that there is only one last end.) It's something of a reprise of the Unmoved Mover argument, but in this case what is moving is the human will rather than the entire cosmos.

St. Thomas identifies two "first movers" of the will, one "in the order of intention," the other of execution. If there's no first principle or mover in the order of intention -- which is to say, if there's nothing we want that causes us to want things -- then "there will be nothing to move the appetite." On the other hand, if there's no first mover in the order of execution, "none would begin to work at anything."

But in fact we do want things, and we do act to attain them, from which St. Thomas concludes that there is not an infinite chain of desired ends in either direction. Note that it's the forward direction that is the last end; the first principle of intention is the final end of man.

In other words, every end we actively want is linked, by a finite chain of ends ("I want this so I can have that, which I want so I can have the other thing, which I want so..."), to both a first end that we actively wanted and a last end that is the ultimate cause of us wanting all the other ends in the chain. From this it follows that the first end is linked to the last end by a finite chain.

But what doesn't follow is that the total number of ends linked to any given pair of first and last ends is finite. The first and last end are joined, not simply by a finite, linear chain of ends, but by a whole web of chains and sub-chains of ends, most of which aren't necessary to arrive at the last end. As St. Thomas put it, these non-necessary ends "are ordained to one another not essentially but accidentally." Here he's using "accident" in Aristotle's sense of something that can change without changing the essence of a thing.

One example of accidental ends he gives is this, from Objection 3: "I can will something, and will to will it, and so on indefinitely." In his reply, he explains that we know this indefinite sequence is accidental because "the will reacts on itself indifferently once or several times." In other words, it makes no real difference how many times I will my willing. I will will to will to will to will what I will if it occurs to me to do so, but whether or not it does, I still will what I will.

I'm sure that clears up everything.


An accidental infinity of ends

Commenting on my post on the range of ends available to us, Steven Riddle writes:
A copacetic end is always achievable by moral means. Indeed, moral means always end and are the only means that can end copacetically. The problem is that we don't really know what copacetic looks like AND we tend to look at the very short term. So it is the exchange of the immoral seemingly copacetic short-term for the moral truly-copacetic long-term that becomes difficult to envision and execute.
While taking his point, I think it's important that we are careful not to dehumanize moral reasoning.* By that I mean this:

As human beings, we are temporal and carnal beings; we have bodies and we exist moment to moment in time. Everything we do as humans, we do for some end. St. Thomas even insists that every end we seek, even to tell a funny joke, is ordained to the last end, our "consummate good."

It's certainly true that this last end, our consummate good, is a copacetic end always achievable by moral means. But the last end is not the only end; "there is an accidental infinity of ends, and of things ordained to the end." These ends are no less genuine ends for being accidental, or for being ordained to the one last end.

To deny that humans necessarily act for these accidental ends -- to deny, in other words, that the way humans achieve our last end is through achieving a lifetime's sequence of secondary ends -- is, I say, to dehumanize morality. It's to insist that humans act in a way humans don't, and even can't, act.

So we can't say, for example, that to be murdered isn't lousy if the victim goes to heaven. "She is murdered" is not a last end, but it is still an end a human being can work to achieve or to avoid. More strongly, it's just the sort of end that indicates what kind of last end we're ordering our lives toward. And it is, really and truly, a lousy end that sometimes can't be avoided by moral means.

*. As anyone who has ever read his blog should know, I don't mean to suggest that Steven is dehumanizing anything, just that we need to be careful when speaking of "short-term" and "long-term" ends.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Comfort and security: the promises of Christ

Let's see where we wind up starting with Rob's comment:
Jesus instructs us to *take up our cross* and follow Him. Certainly, by "take up your cross" He did not mean that we should pursue comfort and security as the greatest goods of life on earth.
We'll start with categorical agreement.

And let's continue by calling to mind some of the things Jesus did say about comfort and security:
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal, for where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.

Do not worry and say, "What are we to eat?" or "What are we to drink?" or "What are we to wear?" All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.

Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.
And so on.

I suppose the usual way of putting it is that the comfort and security Jesus promises His disciples refers, not to life on earth, but life in the world to come. And in fact, passages like Luke 6:20-26 ("Blessed are you who are poor.... But woe to you who are rich....") actively contrast comfort and security in this life with comfort and security in the life to come.

But let's not be too hasty. There's a difference between comfort and security in this life and the comfort and security of this life. Faith in Christ brings comfort even amidst the discomforts of life. Hope in Christ brings security even amidst insecurity.

We shouldn't be too quick to separate this life from eternal life, since through Baptism our eternal life has already begun. Jesus does promise us comfort and security, not as a reward after we die, but as a gift right now, right here. It's not the material comfort and security we might want, but it is no less real, no less present in our fallen world, for being spiritual.

In fact, to the extent comfort and security are subjective measurements of how we perceive ourselves, it doesn't make much difference whether they are based on material or spiritual reasons.

The question, then, is to what extent material comfort and security can be sought without interfering with spiritual comfort and security. And the answer, I suppose, was given by Jesus: "Seek first the kingdom of God...."


Monday, June 12, 2006

The first precept

It is the universal experience of mankind that, sometimes, things turn out lousy.

Faced with this prospect, we turn to our practical reason in order to devise means by which things might turn out copacetic. Sometimes, though, the best we can do is devise means by which things might turn out slightly less lousy than they would have anyway.

Now, practical reason is "the reason that deals with things to be done for an end." It is contrasted with "speculative" reason -- which "judges and delivers its sentence about intelligible matters" -- not with "impractical," "ivory tower," or "pie-in-the-sky" reason.

As St. Thomas explains, the first precept of the natural law, from which the practical reason derives human law, is "good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided." When practical reason is working properly, then, it will avoid proposing evil means, even when evil means are the only means to a copacetic end.

All that said, there's still something attractive about the idea that a copacetic end is always morally achievable. It's a special case of the ends justifying the means, where the appeal is made, not so much to the copacetic end the means would achieve, but to the lousy end that will occur without those means. And it's not an explicit, "These bad means become good since we're using them to achieve this end," but more like, "These ends must be good! Just look at what the end will be if we don't employ them!"

Alas, the natural law is not suspended in case of emergency.


Not a puzzle

There's a good meditation for Trinity Sunday at Sacramentum Vitae, which concludes:
Properly appreciated, therefore, the doctrine of the Trinity tells us what life is for. The doctrines of the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection of Christ tells us how God made it possible for us to attain the goal. For motivation's sake, it's always best to keep that big picture in view.
The homilist I heard yesterday, an old-fashioned Dominican who gives a six-minute homily week in and week out, made the distinction between knowing that God is a Trinity and knowing how God is a Trinity. Knowing the former is for this life, knowing the latter for the life to come.

That's a distinction that can be lost, to our detriment. We shouldn't treat the Trinity as a puzzle, but as our God. It is, after all, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, not the Solemnity of the Dogma of the Most Holy Trinity. We pray and worship the One God Who is Three, not the fact that the One God is Three.

And while "functional unitarianism" is a common enough phenomenon, it's not a difficult habit to break. In much the same way we learn to say "please" and "thank you," we can learn to think and to pray in a Trinitarian manner, simply by doing it.


Friday, June 09, 2006

Continuing on discontinuity

I see by the discussion my last post sparked that others have given the matter at least as much thought as I had.

Chris Sullivan responds to my hypothesis (which was "that the willingness of lay Catholics to study the writings of the Church has contributed significantly to the popularity of the hermeneutic-of-discontinuity interpretation."):
On the contrary I'd assert the opposite.
The problem isn't Catholics reading the documents but Catholics not reading them enough and not reading all the documents in question.
But Chris's assertion isn't contrary or opposite to my hypothesis, unless he means the problem he identifies is literally the problem, that it alone explains the discontinuity interpretation entirely. My hypothesis may even be viewed as a special case of his assertion, focusing on one way of misreading the documents.

At An Examined Life, Scott Carson takes the discussion to a point far broader than anything I had in mind:
If one is a devotee of the hermeneutics of discontinuity it is probably because one is already committed to a kind of postmodern rejection of the notion of objective truth. Simili modo those to whom the hermeneutics of reform is attractive will be those folks for whom the Magisterium represents the last vestige of moral and theological realism. Only the former, however, could ever endorse the intellectual egalitarianism that Free Speech Americans have enthroned above the Gospels, and they would think and argue that way whether or not they engaged in more reading and arguing about Church documents.
Scott is writing of those who say, "Vatican II is a discontinuity, and that's a good thing," while I'd written thinking more of those who say, "Vatican II is a discontinuity, and that's a bad thing."

Maybe all the above can be synthesized this way: I suggest some Catholics favor the discontinuity interpretation because the style of argument they use inherently discounts evidence that favors the reform interpretation. Chris suggests some Catholics favor the discontinuity interpretation because they misread the evidence, if they read it at all. Scott suggests some Catholics favor the discontinuity interpretation because they want there to be a discontinuity. Of the three suggestions, I find mine the least probable.


Thursday, June 08, 2006

Autodidactic discontinuity

In a comment below, Jeff uses the expression "hermeneutics of discontinuity," which comes from a speech Pope Benedict XVI gave last December to the Roman Curia:
Why has the implementation of the Council, in large parts of the Church, thus far been so difficult?

Well, it all depends on the correct interpretation of the Council or - as we would say today - on its proper hermeneutics, the correct key to its interpretation and application. The problems in its implementation arose from the fact that two contrary hermeneutics came face to face and quarrelled with each other. One caused confusion, the other, silently but more and more visibly, bore and is bearing fruit.

On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call "a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture"; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the "hermeneutic of reform", of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.
My hypothesis for this week is that the willingness of lay Catholics to study the writings of the Church has contributed significantly to the popularity of the hermeneutic-of-discontinuity interpretation.

The idea is that, as Catholics (particularly layfolk) became more adept at arguing from source documents, they became more dependent on source documents for their arguments, which gave rise (or at least vigor) to the whole "my source document is more authoritative than your source document" style of debate. With the Second Vatican Council, you suddenly get a whacking great load of highly authoritative source documents, a fact that in itself makes the 1960s a decade unlike most any other in the history of the Church.

In the Church, though, such highly authoritative source documents are, literally, extraordinary. The ordinary way the Church teaches, and even if we may say learns through development of doctrine, is far more plodding and far harder to trace. A treatise isn't condemned, a canon law goes unenforced, a new idea is well received among the Curia.

But most or all of this is invisible to the self-taught reader of encyclicals and conciliar documents. You might say that, to some extent, the Church doesn't show her work between ecumenical councils and encyclicals. For that matter, doesn't the expectation that the Pope would write frequent doctrinal letters to the whole Church really only go back to Bl. Pius IX?

If as a matter of procedure you only consider doctrinal statements above a certain level of authority, that's sort of like only looking at mountaintops that poke above a cloud layer at a certain altitude. There's no way to see how, or if, they might be connected.

(There do seem to be those who insist that the connections must be perfectly straightforward without concern for what lies below, but that's not quite my understanding of the Catholic understanding of how the teaching office of the Church works.)


Here comes everybody

Since our Apostolic Administrator is more catholic than the Pope, the annual archdiocesan Pentecost Mass for New Movements and Ecclesial Communities has for several years included an invitation to those of us in Old Movements like the Dominican Third Order and the Secular Franciscan Order.

This year, there was a reception beforehand, featuring presentations from the various new movements and communities. (The old orders seem to be on the invitation list but not on the Archdiocesan Council on Ecclesial Communities and New Movements.)

I was struck by both the new movements' similarity to and their difference from the Dominican Third Order as I understand it ("as I understand it" because my understanding of the Dominican Third Order isn't necessarily the only or best one).

The similarity is straightforward enough; you might say the formal causes of all these associations are variations on Christ's call to perfection and evangelization.

The difference, though, is a subtler matter, harder to state without having to take most of it right back, and I probably shouldn't even try. I'll just say that the terms "movement" and "order," calling attention to activity and structure respectively, do seem to reflect something of the difference. Even, in a sense, the difference between "new" (as it connotes energy and activity) and "old" (as it connotes "stable" and "enduring").

Also, "movement" might suggest "mass movement," and I certainly got the sense that a lot of the new movements see themselves as something everyone could, in principle, join. Dominicans are very aware of the fact that most Catholics would not enjoy being Dominicans, and we have no real degrees of involvement or association.

True, for purposes of chapter governance, there's a distinction between the various stages of formation and the commitments that have been made to date, but basically you're either on track for final, lifelong profession, or you're not a Third Order Dominican. (Many congregations of Dominican sisters do have associates, and there are a variety of confraternities whose members share in the spiritual works of the Dominican Order, but these aren't tied directly to the Third Order.)


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A provoking contention

It was disappointing (though not surprising) to read this contention regarding Just War theory by Joseph Bottum at On the Square:
For the application of all this to the contemporary struggle over American intervention in Iraq, George Weigel's recent essay in First Things is the most provocative and serious analysis available.
I just got around to reading Weigel's essay this past weekend, and it left me thinking that the pro-war argument had better have a better defense than that.

Or at least a more serious one. The essay vacillates between an attempt to apply "classic just war thinking" to the Iraq War and an attempt to score cheap points against various opponents.

I'll grant that (largely due to the point-scoring efforts) the essay is provocative, although since I'm not a magazine editor I don't think provocativeness is much of a virtue. If I want snarks about "the vapors of Anglican bishops," I'll read a blog. If I want a serious look at the moral principles involved, without 600-word asides about how lousy the U.N. is, I'll read... well, I'm not sure, but it won't be Weigel's essay.

Without getting too far into it, it seems to me the chief unexamined assumption in the essay is that what Weigel calls "classic just war thinking" is normative. He uses the word "classic" nearly twenty times in this way, without once (that I noticed) troubling to explain why "classic" thought should be preferred over "contemporary" thought. And if it hadn't been proposed as a "serious analysis," I wouldn't even point out Weigel's suggestion that a find-and-replace operation on the U.S. government's National Security Strategy "might have helped accelerate needed fresh thinking among just war analysts and churchmen."


Monday, June 05, 2006

Cause the Bible tells me so
WARNING: This post contains violence against basic philosophical concepts that may be too intense for some Aristotelians. Reader discretion is advised.
The previous post is by way of introducing something not quite entirely unlike the Four Causes into the discussion of Jesus' four promises that whatever His disciples ask will be given.

If we look at the first promise -- "And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son." -- we find it mentions two things that might come to be: a request from a disciple; and an action from Jesus. We could then ask what would cause these two things?

And if we're writing informally on a blog, we might get away with suggesting that the material cause of the request -- what the request is made out of, if we can speak of requests being made out of something -- is a desire on the part of the disciple. This desire is turned into a request, so to speak.

What produces the request? The disciple, of course, who makes the request to Jesus. I think, though, we need to recognize that making a request to Jesus isn't exactly like making a request to a hot dog vendor. Jesus gives examples of asking -- the widow before the unjust judge, the neighbor knocking in the middle of the night -- that suggest there's more to it than simply asking once and immediately receiving.

The form of the request also involves more than the form of any common or garden request. Specifically, the form is a participation in the Son's dependence on the Father. "If you remain in me and my words remain in you" is the pre-condition Jesus attaches to His promise in John 15:7. The request that will be answered is the request of a heart that has been formed in the image of Christ (which also impacts the material cause, since such a heart will be constrained in what it desires).

Finally, why does the request exist? In order to obtain what is requested. (See, I can give a simple answer to a simple question.)

Now briefly to the response of Jesus, Who will do what His disciples ask. His response can be said to come from His love, its form is of love (agape, even), it is caused by His sovereign power, and it is done "so that the Father may be glorified in the Son."

As the warning suggests, this is a speculative post, and even as I'm writing it I can see all sorts of ways it could be tidied up or counter-argued. Of the eight causes proposed, there are really only three I'm interested in developing: the formal cause of a request being Christ's presence in the disciple's heart; the efficient cause of a request being determined prayer; and the final cause of the response being the glory of God. Those three together seem to me to contain the whole meaning of the promise.

But let me just add this bit of wordplay: If the stuff out of which God responds to a request is His love (which is to say, Himself), then this means there is potential in Him, "stuff" lying around ready to be made into something else. Since this isn't possible, it follows that God responds to such requests from eternity, making them a part of His eternal will. Which brings us right back to the idea that a disciple of Jesus will not ask for anything God won't grant anyway.


The beginning of philosophy

Remember the "Calvin and Hobbes" strip where Calvin shows Hobbes how a toaster works? After the toast pops up, they both wonder where the bread went.

Aristotle could have told them the bread was the material cause of the toast, and through the efficient cause of the toaster, which effected the formal cause of toast, ceased to be bread and became toast, with the final cause of... well, maybe to be eaten, or perhaps to be used to build a fort on the living room floor. With Calvin, the final cause isn't always straightforward.

In short, the material cause of a thing is what it is made out of; the formal cause of a thing is what it is to be that thing (i.e., its form); the efficient cause of a thing is what produces that thing; and the final cause of a thing is what it is for.


Recipe for Franciscan Potato Soup
A volunteer entered the kitchen and asked, "What are you making, Brother Xavier?"

Brother Xavier answered, "Potato soup."

The volunteer looked around the small, cramped kitchen and didn't see any potatoes. And so he asked, "Where are the potatoes, Brother?"

Brother Xavier answered, "We have no potatoes."

The volunteer asked, "Then how are you making potato soup?"

Brother Xavier said, "The Lord will supply."

Well, you can imagine the volunteer rolling his eyes and thinking…what a sweet, pious thought... but the people are lining up in the yard and we need to serve them in an hour.

A few minutes later, there is a knock at the side door.
More Light posts selections from Gerry Straub's commencement address at St. Francis University in Loreto, PA. It's Straub's conversion story, one of those rich-and-unhappy to poor-and-happy stories -- in his case, he went from soap opera producer to Franciscan filmmaker -- that make people feel good about others and uncomfortable about themselves.


Sunday, June 04, 2006

Just what we needed

A few days ago, I suggested in no great seriousness that the Visitation could be considered the birthday of the Church. I was surprised both by the energy with which this suggestion was resisted and by the persuasiveness with which Pentecost as Church's Birthday was argued. My surprise was mostly due to the fact that the statement, "Pentecost is the birthday of the Church," always struck me as too twee to be particularly meaningful.

Well, I know a little better now, thanks to those who responded, and was able to listen to the homily today (by a permanent deacon, one of fifteen, ordained yesterday for the Archdiocese of Washington) without disengaging when it opened with a proclamation that we were celebrating our birthday today.

"No birthday is complete without a gift," the deacon preached, and of course on Pentecost the gift was the Holy Spirit. A comfortably Thomistic notion from one so newly ordained; St. Thomas taught that "Gift, taken personally in God, is the proper name of the Holy Ghost."

It's also interesting (to me) that Pentecost is a birthday because, and only because, a birthday gift was given. And God said, "Happy Birthday!," and it was a birthday. God is sovereign that way.


Friday, June 02, 2006

How did Achilles know which of his slave girls stole his golden cup?

Rosie fingered Dawn.

Sancta Sanctis offers an insightful post on the enduring relevance of the Iliad, in particular to Christians. Worth reading for this line alone:
If the heroes of the classics were punished for their hubris, then our God was punished for His humility.


Ad verecundiam

A baffling argument from credentials has led me to think about theological arguments from authority in general. (That baffling argument can be found here, but the background and resolution are too tedious to revisit.)

St. Thomas, as you may know, dealt with arguments from authority in an article of the very first question in the Summa Theologica:
Objection 2. Further, if [theology] is a matter of argument, the argument is either from authority or from reason. If it is from authority, it seems unbefitting its dignity, for the proof from authority is the weakest form of proof. But if it is from reason, this is unbefitting its end, because, according to Gregory (Hom. 26), "faith has no merit in those things of which human reason brings its own experience." Therefore sacred doctrine is not a matter of argument....

Reply to Objection 2. This doctrine is especially based upon arguments from authority, inasmuch as its principles are obtained by revelation: thus we ought to believe on the authority of those to whom the revelation has been made. Nor does this take away from the dignity of this doctrine, for although the argument from authority based on human reason is the weakest, yet the argument from authority based on divine revelation is the strongest.
An argument from authority based on human reason takes the form, "X is true because Y, having given it some thought, says X is true." Generally speaking, that's not a very strong argument, even if it suffices for a particular practical matter (as when X is "My keys are on the table downstairs" and Y is "my wife").

But an argument from authority based on divine revelation takes the form, "X is true because God says X is true," and you only have to read three verses into the Bible before you find that this argument confers absolute conviction (assuming you believe God says X is true).

Well and good. But in practice, Christian theology makes heavy use of arguments from authority based on human reason, a practice St. Thomas justifies thusly:
Hence sacred doctrine makes use also of the authority of philosophers in those questions in which they were able to know the truth by natural reason, as Paul quotes a saying of Aratus: "As some also of your own poets said: For we are also His offspring" (Acts 17:28). Nevertheless, sacred doctrine makes use of these authorities as extrinsic and probable arguments; but properly uses the authority of the canonical Scriptures as an incontrovertible proof, and the authority of the doctors of the Church as one that may properly be used, yet merely as probable. For our faith rests upon the revelation made to the apostles and prophets who wrote the canonical books, and not on the revelations (if any such there are) made to other doctors.
St. Thomas, then, identifies three authorities, each conferring a different level of conviction:
AuthorityAccepted As
Divine Revelationincontrovertible
Church Fathers
and Doctors
proper but
merely probable
Philosophersextrinsic and probable

Remember, these are cases of arguments from authority: Y says X, therefore X. Any particular authority can also offer an argument, which can then be considered on its own merits.


Thursday, June 01, 2006

Whatever you ask of God

A couple of weeks ago, I quoted the four times in the Last Supper Discourse Jesus told His disciples that anything they asked for would be given.

There's a fifth time in St. John's Gospel that the "anything you ask for" construct is used, and it may shed some light on what Jesus was getting at:
Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you."
And of course, what Jesus asked is that Lazarus would come forth from his tomb.

So that's the sort of thing that will be given if asked for.

St. John takes great care to recount the deliberation with which Jesus acts -- beginning with His decision to not act, to remain where He was for two days. Contrast this with the miracle at Cana, which Jesus seems to perform rather casually. Yet in both cases what is asked for is given.

I'm not sure which is the more astonishing sign. I mean, raising someone from the dead is just the sort of thing you'd expect God to do. But a hundred and fifty gallons of the best wine? For a party that had already gone through all the wine they had? Isn't that a bit... frivolous? Yes, it's different in important ways from giving a bicycle or a pony, but it's certainly looking in that direction.

I'll suggest, then, that Jesus' promise of whatever is asked for does not depend on the magnitude or the necessity of the thing asked for.


Integral to our faith

This comment by Jonathan Prejean has been rolling around in my head for a week:
All creatures have God as the ground of their being, but only rational creatures can participate in this active side of Trinitarian life.

Blessed Jan van Ruusbroec (John Ruysbroeck) is, IMHO, the theologian par excellence on this subject, even addressing the issue of how an unchanging, perfect, and simple God is simultaneously by nature personal and active (in which motion, creatures finitely participate).
The insightful post this comment was going to be a springboard to is not forthcoming; in the meantime, this will have to do:

There's something about the doctrine of an unchanging, perfect, and simple God that many people find offputting. Even the idea of God as a bearded old man condemning sinners to eternal flames might seem more welcoming; at least it gives the imagination something to work with. All that "God of the philosophers" stuff makes Him seem about as loving and lovable as Pluto's moon -- and Pluto's moon at least moves!

Not only is there little about absolute simplicity, immutableness, and so forth that appeals to the human heart, it all seems completely incompatible with what we read in the Bible, what we hear at Mass, and what we do as Catholics. Tell the pagan philosophers God is immutable, and they'll say, "Yes, quite right!" Tell the psalmists He's immutable, and they'll say, "What world do you live in?" And between Athens and Jerusalem, shouldn't we be choosing Jerusalem?

Well, of course Athens and Jerusalem aren't mutually exclusive choices for the orthodox Christian, and the various non-intuitive dogmas on the Divine Nature shouldn't be rejected simply because they're non-intuitive. But the difficulty of resolving the apparent conflicts -- or better, perhaps, of integrating two very different ways of thinking about God -- remains, and is not at all helped by the fact that so many people first encounter the theological doctrines in the words of others who have themselves barely understood them.

These would-be teachers may know the content of the doctrines; they may even be able to derive them from Revelation and reason. But I suggest that too many don't really know what the doctrines mean, or how to integrate them (i.e., to make one complete whole) with the rest of the Christian faith. The result is a bifurcated faith: when you pray, God is love; when you think, God is goodness.

Sophomoric stages like that are common when humans learn difficult subjects, but it's important to recognize that this is just a stage to be passed through. Some people find it hard to read St. Thomas's article explaining how God is the same as His essence. Harder still, I suggest, is to read a biography of St. Thomas and believe his experience of God was as sterile and dispassionate as the statement, "God is the same as His essence." And St. Thomas was as Pluto's moon compared to many of the Church Fathers who taught the same doctrine!

Ah, but then St. Thomas and the Church Fathers were saints. Their faith and reason were both enriched by their experience of God in their lives, by their closeness to the impassive, passionately loving Father and His unchanging, incarnate Son.

So there is a way to integrate Athens and Jerusalem: by drawing them both into and out of a life joined to the Trinity. And even those of us who are not yet close enough to God to do this properly can at least see that it can be done properly, and perhaps be given the occasional glimpse into what that's like. At the very least, we should be aware that bifurcating the faith is doing it improperly, and treat these matters with at least a dash of humility.