instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Slow Blues

Something to warm up with on a cold winter's night.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Ichthyophthirius multifilis is a parasite that often turns up in freshwater aquariums. It forms tiny white cysts on a fish's body; hence its presence in a tank is sometimes called "white spot disease." More commonly, it's called "ich," or even just "ick."

There are ways to treat ich, and of course the best thing is to prevent the parasites from infecting fish to begin with, but once it gets too far out of hand the fish will die.

I was reminded of ich while reading National Review Online's editorial, "Torturing the Evidence." The editorial is an attempt to replace what it calls "the Democrats' torture narrative" with the Bush Administration's torture narrative.

According to the editorial:
Torture is illegal. And because torture is such a serious concern, our law has always defined it in such a way as to cover only truly heinous practices.
See how meaningless this is? Torture is illegal, because we have a law against it, and we are seriously concerned that we don't torture people, because that doesn't sound good, so we will count only truly heinous practices as torture, so if we don't engage in truly heinous practices, we aren't torturing, so we aren't breaking the law, so it's not a serious concern, because we defined the law that way, because the concern is serious if we torture, so we don't want to torture.

There's no premise here. There's barely argument. The United States defines torture such that the United States does not engage in torture.

In related news, the Soviet Union had freedom of the press.

Worse, perhaps, is this:
The Bush administration did not negate the Geneva Conventions' Common Article 3, which requires that captives be "treated humanely." CA3 simply did not apply.... True, U.S. military doctrine recommends the observation of Geneva protections even for non-qualified captives, but that is a policy choice -- it is not, as the Levin committee disingenuously asserts, a legal requirement.
If the U.S. is not legally required to treat our captives humanely, then the problem is not with partisan Democrats in the Senate, it's with our laws that permit us to treat our captives inhumanely.

There are plenty of logical problems with the editorial -- begging the question, equivocation, appeal to authority (ironically, one authority is the European Court of Human Rights, not generally regarded as authoritative by NRO), a through-the-looking-glass chronology -- but it's the brute amorality of the thing that is so striking.

Anyone who knows what the sentence, "Waterboarding is torture," means, and says they don't know it is true, is a liar, a fool, or both.



The Pope of Happy Valley

Phil Sheridan of the Philadelphia Inquirer explains what it means that 81-year-old Joe Paterno has been given a three-year contract extension:
Joe Paterno is going to coach Penn State football for as long as he lives, if not longer.


Monday, December 15, 2008

The high cost of prudence

I suppose we should be thankful to the chief priests and elders of the people who publicly disputed with Jesus, since we learn so much from His answers.

But in at least one instance, they did neither us nor themselves any favors:
When Jesus had come into the temple area, the chief priests and the elders of the people approached him as he was teaching and said, "By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?"

Jesus said to them in reply, "I shall ask you one question, and if you answer it for me, then I shall tell you by what authority I do these things. Where was John's baptism from? Was it of heavenly or of human origin?"
I don't know the rules for disputing in the Temple area, but evidently they disallow the "I asked you first" counter-parry. In any case, the chief priests and elders of the people acknowledged Jesus' authority over them, whether they meant to or not.

Although their deliberations --
"If we say 'Of heavenly origin,' he will say to us, 'Then why did you not believe him?' But if we say, 'Of human origin,' we fear the crowd, for they all regard John as a prophet."
-- make it sound like Jesus asked them a trick question, He really didn't. What He was really asking was, "Do you belong to Me?"

If they did belong to Him, then of course He would reveal Himself to them.

Notice, though, that in discussing the question, they consider only the consequences of the possible answers, never (in St. Matthew's telling) the actual truth about John.

By ignoring the truth, they settle on what seems like a safe reply, but what amounts to, "No, we do not belong to You, Who are the Truth." And in doing so, they deprive themselves (and us) of Jesus' answer to their question about His authority.

Now, we can find that answer elsewhere in Scripture, while they remained trapped in their impression of being trapped by Jesus' question about John. So maybe we should thank them even for this, a lesson to hear all of Jesus' questions to us as the only important question in the history of the world: "Do you belong to Me?"


Friday, December 12, 2008

An untimely poll

I forgot to post this yesterday:

If you had to learn more about the papacy of St. Damasus I, which topic would you choose:
A. His opposition to the heresies of the day.
B. His promotion of the cults of martyrs.
C. The accusations of murder and adultery made against him.
The followup question is, how do we make promotion of the cults of martyrs a more interesting story than accusations of murder and adultery?


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Who are you calling an Ianist?

Today is the dies natalis, and therefore the Memorial, of St. Damasus I, Pope and Confessor. The Roman Martyrology says, "He condemned the heresiarch Apollinaris and restored (to his see) Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, who had been forced to flee. He found many bodies of holy martyrs and wrote their epitaphs in verse."

In addition to Appolinarianism, St. Damasus faced down plain old Arianism, and also the now-obscure heresy Macedonianism, which was like Arianism, only it denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit rather than of the Son.

As far as I know, the divinity of all three Persons of the Holy Trinity isn't much questioned by Catholics these days. Whether that's because we believe it, or are just used to hearing it, or deny it without bothering to question it*, I couldn't say.

And it's not that it doesn't matter what we, individually or as the Church, believe about God; the dogmas of Faith aren't empty tokens of membership. It's that we**, in our day-to-day secularism, are so far from being the Christians we ought to be that any defect in our Trinitarianism is lost among the much greater defects in our charity.

* Have you ever had a casual conversation with a lifelong Catholic, a pillar or at least a paving stone of the parish, only to find that they're a raving material heretic? I don't think I've ever heard Macedonianism advanced, but indifferentism -- of the "I'm Catholic, so I believe this and do that, but non-Catholics should believe and do whatever they believe and do" variety -- seems pretty common.

** For suitable values of "we."


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

So that's our problem!

St. Gregory the Great explains the human condition:
For a cruel yoke and hard weight of servitude it is ... to desire things that pass away, but to be unwilling to pass away with them.
The witchery of paltry things, which obscures the good, doesn't fully obscure the goodness of life. Materialistic hedonism is a cruel yoke, because it cannot fully turn our hearts away from the happiness that we were created for.

And, if I may, thank God for that cruelty, since without the spur what would ever stop us from desiring things that pass away?


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Haste, haste

The NAB translates 2 Peter 3:11-12 (which we heard in Sunday's second reading) thusly:
Since everything is to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought (you) to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire.
The Douay-Rheims has it:
Seeing then that all these things are to be dissolved, what manner of people ought you to be in holy conversation and godliness? Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of the Lord, by which the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with the burning heat?
So are holiness and devotion means of our hastening the coming of the day of God -- i.e., making the day of God come sooner than it would otherwise -- or are they means of our hasting unto its coming -- i.e., hurrying to prepare ourselves for that thief-like day?

Could it be both/and?

Verse 9 -- "The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard 'delay,' but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" -- seems to say that Christ is deferring His return until all have come to repentance. And we know that no one the Father has given to the Son will ever perish.

So if you're one of the ones the Father has given to the Son, and you aren't now the manner of person that has reason to look forward to the coming of the day of the Lord, then shape up! You're spoiling it for the rest of us.

I don't actually think "that proper ethical conduct can help bring the promised day of the Lord" like an efficient cause, as though Gabriel has instructions to blow his horn the moment the Just-O-Meter hits 144,000. But proper ethical conduct is part of God's will for those of us awaiting His Son's return, and His Son's return presumes the fulfillment of God's will, so... shape up!


Monday, December 08, 2008

Dare we hope?

The Immaculate Conception was a gift of hope God slipped into mankind's pocket without mankind noticing. What wonders God might bring forth from a human being sinless from conception!

But a reason for hope can't cause hope if no one knows about it. The hope of Mary's conception was realized in Jesus' own, even more wondrous conception. In a sense, the window of hope opened by the Immaculate Conception closed on the day of the Annunciation, long before anyone realized what had happened.

But the Immaculate Conception is not just a historical fact or a dogma of faith. When young Bernadette Soubirous asked the lady in the grotto who she was, she answered, "I am the Immaculate Conception."

Mary herself, given to us as a mother, is the Immaculate Conception in which our hope -- our hope, the hope you and I possess today -- may be founded.

This is a stumbling block, and not just for Protestants. Among many Catholics, I think, Mary has no real place beyond decoration, and today's solemnity -- notable chiefly for its obligation -- recalls an event whose relevance is about on par with St. Lawrence's martyrdom (if not as fantastical as St. George's dragon).

Perhaps part of the reason is how little Catholics hope these days. St. Thomas proposes four conditions on what we might hope for:
  • It is something good.
  • It lies in the future.
  • It is difficult to obtain.
  • It is possible to obtain.
I'd guess all Catholics would say salvation is good, and most would say it's possible. But if we don't think it's difficult, then what's the point of getting all spun up over the means by which it might happen? And if our hearts and minds are filled with the things of today, then how much attention can we give to the things of tomorrow, much less to the things of the Day that has no evening?


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Testing the spirit

It's a common observation that many aspects of the post-Vatican II emphasis on the laity in the Roman Catholic Church -- the large numbers of layfolk who for various reasons enter the sanctuary during Mass, the professionalization of numerous parish ministries, the certificate and degree programs -- are in effect forms of clericalism. Layperson A lords it over Layperson B because A does more ministerly stuff than B.

Fr. Gregory Jensen of Koinonia extends the observation while writing about a Called & Gifted workshop he co-led:
To the degree that the Church becomes an end in itself, to the degree that it becomes "just for us" and not "for the life of the world," to that degree we lose a part of the joy that should be ours. Or, as His Beatitude [Metropolitan Jonah] put the matter,
Being Orthodox is not about what we do in church, that's maybe 5%. Being an Orthodox Christian is how we live. It's how we treat one another. It's our self-denial and our self-giving. It's our self-transcendence. And, ultimately, what does that lead to, but the complete fulfillment of our personhood in Christ, so that we become who God made us to be in a communion of love with one another...

That 5% is important, critical, essential, but it is only the starting point. We need that 5%, but, we also need to keep our priorities in order.
Metropolitan Jonah and Sherry [Weddell] were both touching on a theme near and dear to Schmemann's heart: the temptation to "secularism." When the Church becomes an end in itself, it becomes merely a part of life and not life itself and as a result, we live lives that seek always to Christ and the Gospel neatly in their places so that we are not disturbed and we can go about our lives.
Over-privileging the human activities that occur within the church building, which is what our New & Improved Post-Vatican II Clericalism does, results in under-privileging the human activities that occur outside the church building. Activities still occur outside, of course, but since they're beneath the notice of those inside, they occur without the leaven of the Church.

The result of clericalism is secularism.


Monday, December 01, 2008

Get back to work, you

I've been reading Intentional Disciples long enough that I had no choice but to hear, in the words,
He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work,
a reference to charisms.

The Catherine of Siena Institute offers a Called & Gifted workshop, where you can learn about charisms in general and begin to discern your own charisms in particular. If you can't attend a workshop, you can buy their self-administered Catholic Spiritual Gifts Inventory.

And if you don't have time for all that fancy stuff, you can follow this quick method for discerning your charisms:
  1. Figure out what graces of the Holy Spirit you have been given that directly or indirectly benefit the Church, ordered as they are to her building up, to the good of men, and to the needs of the world.
  2. These are your charisms.
Once you've discerned your charisms, what do you do with them? This:
  1. Accept them with gratitude.
  2. Use them in full conformity with authentic promptings of the Holy Spirit, that is, in keeping with charity, the true measure of all charisms.
  3. Refer and submit them to the Church's shepherds.
There you go. Now you're all set, charism-wise. No need to thank me; helpfulness is my charism.



The New Liturgical Resolution

If your New Year's resolution is to begin to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, then see the Divine Office Kit for Beginners post at V for Victory.