instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Archbishop Wuerl on the Rosary

A Catholic TV mini-series on the mysteries of the Holy Rosary, presented by Archbishop Wuerl of Washington, featuring the mosaics of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The first episode, on the Joyful Mysteries, will be on line at some point this Friday. (Archbishop Wuerl talks about the series here, starting at about 20 minutes in. I've always thought that if this whole successor to the Apostles thing doesn't work out, he could have a great career in voice-over work.)

Link via the Archdiocese of Washington's very own blog.


What wouldn't Jesus do?

In the Gospels, Jesus is shown to be an accommodating fellow. When people ask Him to heal them, He does. When people tell him someone is too sick to come to Him to be healed, He goes to where the sick person is. When crowds gather around Him, He feels pity for them and preaches the Good News to them. Once or twice He slips away when no one is looking, but when He's discovered and surrounded once more, He's a good sport about it. He allows people to sing "Hosanna" as He enters Jerusalem.

Jesus even lets the demons enter the swine, and if it had been anyone else I'd say that was too accommodating.

What doesn't He do that people ask Him to do?

For one thing, He won't perform, not even for the devil or King Herod. People who asked for a sign or miracle out of curiosity rather than faith go home disappointed. Bad-faith questioners don't get the answers they claim to want.

Nor will Jesus cooperate in His judicial trials, beyond a few brief statements to point out, for those who have ears, just what is going on.

The only crown He accepts is made of thorns. The only death He accepts is the cup His Father would have Him drink.

For me, perhaps the oddest example of Jesus not doing what someone asked of Him is recorded in Luke 12:13-14:
Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me."

He replied to him, "Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?"
The man in the crowd must have expected a different answer from this teacher who spoke with authority of justice and charity. Unfortunately for him, this Teacher's authority is divine, and divine authority is not invoked on behalf of greed.

(This exchange also stands in amusing contrast with the previous verses, in which Jesus tells His disciples not to plan their defense "before synagogues and before rulers and authorities... For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say." At that moment, "Tell my brother to share," was evidently not what he should say.)


Monday, June 29, 2009

St. Peter's Guide to Fruitfulness

If you would like to avoid being idle or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ,
make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion, devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love.
We talk a fair piece about faith and love; virtue and knowledge are also common topics, and self-control (Douay-Rheims has "abstinence") comes up every Lent, at least.

Endurance (DR: "patience") seems like a virtue that would be particularly important to the greenhorn Christians of the First Century, who woke up every day thinking surely today He'd return, then spent their waking hours trying to explain why it wasn't necessary to beat or kill them just because they believed Jesus is Lord.

These days, few Christians, and even fewer Catholics, are het up over exactly when Jesus will return. We are less likely to suffer from naive expectations than from world-weary accommodation. We can fail to endure, not from a lack of patience but from an excess of it, if you will. We get the bumper sticker joke, "Jesus is coming! Look busy," because we know the idleness of those with knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

If I may use another Apostle's metaphor here, we are not in a sprint (as the first Christians thought), but we are in a race (despite the idleness of our own time). Every day until the Last Day, Christians need to endure in their self-control, in the mastery of the spirit over the flesh, if they are to bear fruit for the Master of the Vineyard.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Looking forward

Divine Impassibility and the Mystery of Human Suffering, a collection of essays from the 2007 Providence College symposium of the same name, will be coming out later this summer. (Links via Ordo Praedicatorum.)

Also, the 2009-2010 Thomistic Circles schedule of talks at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC, has been announced:

September 24, 2009
Honorary Lecture by Dr. Alasdair MacIntyre
"What Should a Philosophical Education be Nowadays?"
Dominican House of Studies, 7 PM

October 16-17, 2009
"Thomism and the Renewal of Contemporary Theology"
A Theological Conference
Fr. Richard Schenk, O.P. (DSPT, Berkeley, CA)
Fr. Romanus Cessario, O.P. (St. John’s Seminary, Boston)
Dr. Rudi Te Velde (University of Amsterdam)
Dr. Matthew Levering (University of Dayton)
Dr. Reinhard Hütter (Duke Divinity School)
Dr. Bruce D. Marshall (Perkins School of Theology at SMU, Dallas)
Dr. Greg La Nave (PFIC, Washington, D.C.),
Fr. Thomas Joseph White, O.P. (PFIC, Washington, D.C.).

February 19-20, 2010
"Secularism and the Natural Desire to Know God"
A Theological Conference
Keynote Address: His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.
Fr. John Corbett, O.P. (PFIC, Washington, D.C.)
Dr. Russell Hittinger (Warren Chair of Catholic Studies, University of Tulsa)
Dr. Paul Griffiths (Warren Chair of Catholic Studies, Duke Divinity School)
Dr. Bruce D. Marshall (Perkins School of Theology at SMU, Dallas)
Dr. Reinhard Hütter (Duke Divinity School)


Friday, June 26, 2009

No argument here

Here's something else I didn't know: According to the NAB, when Jesus heals the leper and tells him, "See that you tell no one, but go show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them,"
the Greek can also mean "that will be proof against them." It is not clear whether "them" refers to the priests or the people.
Why write clearly when you can write in Greek?

Proof has, I'd say, an uneasy relationship with faith. Proof is a matter of reason, and it leads to direct knowledge; faith is an acceptance of someone else's knowledge. Proof and faith work together in the life of the Christian, but they are contraries. You can't prove something you must accept on faith, and (strictly speaking) you can't believe something you've proven (though you might only believe, rather than know, you've proven it).

In practice, certainly, there have been a lot of disputed proof claims in Christianity. St. Thomas's five "proofs" of God's existence aren't going to be universally accepted or rejected any time soon. The term "proof texting" is often used derisively, even though all Christian traditions quote Scriptural verses to prove things.

Jesus Himself offered various kinds of proofs of Who He Is. He fulfilled the prophecies of the Messiah, a kind of proof for those who have eyes to see. He countered the Pharisees' arguments against Him by quoting Scripture, and He constantly pointed out evidence of His identity to His disciples that they would have otherwise missed.

At bottom, though, Jesus wasn't big on detailed debate and formal demonstration. He Is Who He Is, and He commands His disciples, not to follow His line of argument, but to follow Him.

Jesus is the Truth, believe it or not. His works are proof enough of that, which makes His works proof enough against all who don't believe.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The gamut of errors, from Α to Β

Human reasoning can be thought of as a process for moving from ignorance or doubt to knowledge or firm opinion. From this perspective, our human reason can fail in two major ways*:
  • We can overreach, so to speak, by arriving at a wrong conclusion.**
  • We can underreach by not arriving at a right conclusion.
We can cut down on our tendency to overreach by disciplining our reason, to notice when we're treating guesses as facts, possibility as proof, or preference as evidence. The more comfortable we are saying, "I don't know," or, "I don't have a strong opinion,***" the easier it should be to avoid overreaching.

The likelihood of underreaching can be reduced by training our reason, to understand insofar as we can the different ways we can reach the right conclusion starting with where we are now, and by learning what we can about the subjects we need or want to reason about. It seems to me in particular that knowing how to apply reasonable arguments from authority may often help you get into the neighborhood of the right conclusion on a question for which you don't have good personal knowledge to start with.

*There are truths that aren't accessible to human reason, but not arriving at these truths by human reason shouldn't count as a failure of human reason, any more than not telling you what to have for dinner should be counted as a failure of your toothpaste.****

** I'll count getting lucky -- reaching the right conclusion despite improper reasoning -- as overreach, if only because you wind up with false knowledge about the basis for your conclusion.

*** I am strongly of the opinion that people should say, "I don't have, need, or want a strong opinion," a lot more often than they do, even given the selection bias of usually not noticing when people say that.

**** Of course, our human reason can still fail when applied to truths that aren't accessible to human reason. We might overreach, by concluding that an inaccessible truth is accessible, or underreach, by concluding that an accessible truth is inaccessible.*****

***** This sort of thing is why most people don't reason about reason very often.


He ain't hairy, he's my brother

The Lectionary does something interesting today.

Yesterday's Gospel was Matthew 7:1-5. Today picks up at verse 6:
"Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces."
I suppose that would be a rough way to have ended the Gospel yesterday, so I can see why the chapter was broken up this way.

Next, vv. 7-11 are skipped. These compose the "Ask and it will be given to you" passage, which is on the Sunday rotation, so that too is understandable within the logic of the Lectionary.

As a result, today's liturgical proclamation skip from v. 6 to v. 12:
"Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets."
It makes for a curious juxtaposition, a don't followed by a do. Don't give what is holy to dogs, yet do to them what you would want them to do to you.

What you would want (I trust) is that they would give what is holy to you, in the sense that they would share with you what they have received from God.

So should we or should we not share with "dogs" and "swine" (per the NAB, "Jewish terms of contempt for Gentiles") what we have received from God?

I'd say the answer is surely yes, once we have helped raise them up from dogs to men. We do that by telling them about Jesus, and inviting them to become His disciples and our brothers.

"Do not give what is holy to dogs," then, is fundamentally a command, not to refrain from something, but to do something extra.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Don't ask me why

I'm not sure myself. Though I do think I have a knack for bathetic aphorisms.


Maritime theodicy
A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up.

Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"
That's the real question, isn't it?

Not, "How can God be both omnibenevolent and omnipotent in the face of human suffering?" That's at best a fruitless exercise of reason, at worst a sophomoric attempt at sophistication.

The real question, the question people really ask, is not asked of each other. It's asked of God. Whatever the words used, what we want to know is not "Does God care?," but, "God, do You care?"

The disciples didn't know Who Jesus was as He slept through the storm; they were still calling Him "Teacher," not "Lord." But their question to Him reflects our question to Him, Whom we do call Lord.

And His answer to us is the same as His answer to them: "Do you not yet have faith?"

It's not the answer we want. The answer we want is, "Oh, my, yes. Sorry. The perishing stops... now!"

When Jesus stopped the perishing of His disciples, they were filled, not with faith, but with awe, and with questions. Awe and questions are fine for those who are not yet His disciples, but it is only our faith in Jesus that will save us.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Practical speculation

In a recent online discussion about graces received through the Eucharist, someone asked if people who received Communion more often (e.g., daily) had more grace than people who receive Communion less often (e.g., weekly).

It struck me that this was the wrong sort of question to ask. Instead of speculating about how two groups of people stack up relative to each other, we should ask ourselves the practical question, "Would I love God and neighbor better if I arranged my life to receive Communion more often than I do?"

At first, I thought the difference was between doctrine regarded as a matter of science -- where a certain tenet fits into the whole mosaic of religious truths -- and doctrine regarded as a matter of prudence -- how a certain tenet helps us determine what to do.

Now, though, I think the difference is better seen as one between doctrine regarded as inert fact and doctrine regarded as living truth.

Much of theology is, so to speak, a matter of dissecting the Faith to see how it all works together. Or better, maybe, to call it vivisection, since the Faith is alive and not even the driest scholastic can kill it.

But theology might make the Faith look thoroughly lifeless. A freeze frame of grace in action can give you the sense that grace is just there, just a word for life's token currency, so much spiritual Monopoly money to be added up at the end of the game to see who wins and who loses, when in fact grace is the Holy Spirit Himself acting in our lives. You can't find a topic of study more alive and real and meaningful than God.

Good theology knows that whatever is not attached to the Living God is dead, but we aren't all always good theologians. It's easy to fall into classroom mode when you start hearing about the various ways grace has been categorized, and worry more about whether your notes are complete and correct than about how well you love God and neighbor. (It's also easy to say, "This won't be on the test," and dismiss the whole business as stuff and nonsense.)

Which brings me back, sort of, to asking the practical question: "Now that I know this, what do I do with it?" If it isn't helping you love God and neighbor, then something's wrong.


Monday, June 15, 2009

True knowledge can be imperfect

In commenting on the previous post, Marion put her finger on the precise point St. Thomas went on to make in his commentary on the story of the Samaritan woman at the well:
"You either have true knowledge of God, according to St. Thomas, or you have no knowledge of Him at all."

But what about faith communities different from our own, who have what recent Popes have described as an "imperfect knowledge" of God?
St. Thomas contrasts three groups and their knowledge of God:
GroupIdea of GodWorship of God
SamaritansFalseAn imaginary being they think is God
JewsTrue but imperfectIn bodily rites and symbols
ChristiansTrue and perfectIn spirit and in truth

Christian knowledge of God is "perfect" in the sense that it is the Son's own knowledge of His Father, and Christian worship of God is likewise "perfect" in the sense that it is the Son's own worship of His Father. It doesn't follow that a particular Christian, or even any Christian ever, has perfect knowledge or offers perfect worship. And actually, for my part I seem to bounce between all the kinds of knowledge and worship in the above table.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

No middle ground

In his commentary on Chapter 4 of the Gospel According to Saint John, St. Thomas has an interesting argument about knowledge of God:
It should be pointed out that, as the Philosopher says, knowledge of complex things is different than knowledge of simple things. For something can be known about complex things in such a way that something else about them remains unknown; thus there can be false knowledge about them. For example, if someone has true knowledge of an animal as to its substance, he might be in error touching the knowledge of one of its accidents, such as whether it is black or white; or of a difference, such as whether it has wings or is four-footed.

But there cannot be false knowledge of simple things: because they are either perfectly known inasmuch as their quiddity is known; or they are not known at all, if one cannot attain to a knowledge of them.

Therefore, since God is absolutely simple, there cannot be false knowledge of Him in the sense that something might be known about Him and something remain unknown, but only in the sense that knowledge of Him is not attained.

Accordingly, anyone who believes that God is something that He is not, for example, a body, or something like that, does not adore God but something else, because he does not know Him, but something else.
You either have true knowledge of God, according to St. Thomas, or you have no knowledge of Him at all.

And since to adore something requires knowledge of that something, you either have true knowledge of God, or what you adore is not God.


Friday, June 12, 2009

Rail on in utter ignorance of what each other mean

You know the story of the blind men and the elephant. Suppose one of the blind men were to say,
"This fellow over here says an elephant is like a wall, and therefore can be used to hide behind. In fact, though, an elephant is like a rope. Now, how can anyone be so foolish as to think you can hide behind a rope?"
The thing is, this fellow over here is not (as far as we know) so foolish as to think you can hide behind a rope. The only foolishness the speaker has warrant to suggest is the foolishness of thinking an elephant is like a wall.

If the speaker were to ask, "How can anyone be so foolish as to think an elephant is like a wall?," and if he honestly wanted to know the answer, he'd be on the right path to learning something he doesn't know about elephants.

Anyone who really cares about revealing and uncovering true and false will make every effort to trace a contradiction back as close to its source as possible.


What's your dealbreaker?

A letter in today's Washington Post shows what we're up against. Note your reflexive reactions as you read it:
Please tell me it's not true that President Obama ordered foie gras in Paris. I voted for him because he seemed like a smart, compassionate, down-to-earth man with impressive leadership and motivational skills.

Eating a product that is produced by force-feeding birds until their livers expand to as much as 10 times their normal size is anything but kind and classy, and it sets a poor example for the American people, who are becoming increasingly concerned about animal welfare. I'm counting on the president to make America a kinder, more enlightened place, not a crueler one. This starts by supporting humane practices.

My own reflexive reaction was along the lines of, "Please tell me it's not true that someone wrote a letter to the Post complaining about President Obama ordering foie gras in Paris."

Now imagine an analogous letter ruing Obama's reversal of the Mexico City Policy (the Post may well have printed one). How many Post readers, how many Americans, would be as reflexively dismissive toward that as I was toward the above?

I make two observations:

First, in our representative democracy, whatever enough people say is important becomes important (and how much is "enough" depends on which people are talking). The Catholic laity cannot stop talking about what is important to God, for our own sake and for the sake of the country.

Second, almost nothing that we broadcast -- on line, on TV, in print -- is going to change anyone's mind. Generally speaking, people aren't interested in changing their minds. The number of people who are both willing and able to join in a mutual search for truth, at a particular time and on a particular matter, is bound to be pretty small.

In other words: A lot of people think your opinion is silly, and they don't care why you hold that opinion.

The conclusion, I suppose, is that the Catholic laity have to talk about what is important to God directly to, and out of love for, their neighbors. And this implies that the Catholic laity have to talk to God, both to find out what's important to Him and to fill up on love for their neighbors.


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Salt of the earth

St. Hilary was impressed by Jesus' "salt of the earth" metaphor:
There may be here seen a propriety in our Lord's language which may be gathered by considering the Apostle's office, and the nature of salt. This, used as it is by men for almost every purpose, preserves from decay those bodies which are sprinkled with it; and in this, as well as in every sense of its flavour as a condiment, the parallel is most exact.
A few more parallels:
  • Properly used, salt enhances the flavor of food, while too much salt ruins a dish. So salt is a good symbol of grace perfecting nature.
  • Salt is extremely valuable, but its value lies in its being poured out. Salt never used to season or preserve food, salt horded, might as well be savourless salt trodden underfoot. Salt is a necessity, yet it is important only for its effects on other things.
  • Reportedly, rock salt really does lose its savour if exposed to the elements. So, too, will the one sent by the Lord if he leaves himself exposed to the elements of the world rather than applying himself to its seasoning and preservation.
The disciples of Jesus are salt from the earth and salt for the earth. Jesus tells them this, not to praise them, but to inform them of what discipleship means -- and also to warn them that, if they give up on their discipleship, they will be worse off than before.


Monday, June 08, 2009

To wit

When we speak of "prayer for vocations," we usually have in mind vocations to the priesthood. The broadminded also include vocations to vowed religious life.

But there are other vocations:
  • to chastity
  • to the Christian apostolate
  • to communion with God
  • to cooperation with God in creation
  • to divine beatitude
  • to divine worship and to the service of the Church
  • to enter the Kingdom
  • to establish the new People of God
  • to eternal life
  • to life in the Holy Spirit
  • to love
  • to manifest God
  • to marriage
  • to parenthood
  • to seek God
And so forth.

If we think God designed His Church so that priests do everything and laity just sort of follow along, then we aren't listening.


Take some and pass it on

In today's first reading, St. Paul teaches the Corinthians about the Divine plan for passing things round:
For as Christ's sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow.

If we are afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation;

if we are encouraged, it is for your encouragement, which enables you to endure the same sufferings that we suffer.
To keep either our sufferings or our encouragement to ourselves is to treat ourselves as the final end of God's saving action in the world. And the final end of God's saving action in the world is quite a bit more than any of us.


Friday, June 05, 2009

Awful delight

Today's Gospel reading is a bit on the oblique side:
As Jesus was teaching in the temple area he said, "How do the scribes claim that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, said: 'The Lord said to my lord, "Sit at my right hand until I place your enemies under your feet."' David himself calls him 'lord'; so how is he his son?"

The great crowd heard this with delight.
Questions come to mind, such as, "Erm, but the Christ is the son of David, right? The scribes are right about that, aren't they?"

Theophylact takes Jesus' point to be:
Because Christ was coming to His Passion, He corrects a false opinion of the Jews, who said that Christ was the Son of David, not his Lord.
The Venerable Bede says that the Jews of his own time,
acknowledging that Christ is to come, assert that He is a mere man, a holy Person descended from David.
Jesus, then, correctly interprets the psalm as showing that the Christ will greater than David. The scribes are right to assign the title "son of David" to the Christ, but they interpret it backwards. The Christ is not honored by being the son of David; David is honored by being the father of the Christ.

This, perhaps, answers yet another question about the Gospel reading, viz, "If the great crowd heard this with delight, doesn't that mean the great crowd needs to get out more?" I mean, to be interested in a spot of exegesis is one thing, but to be delighted by it?

My cynical interpretation of the crowd's delight was that it arose from the discomfiting of the scribes, whom I assume (with little justification) weren't greatly loved by the common folk.

But now I can see how appreciation of the lesson Jesus is teaching -- Look! Your own inspired songs point to a Messiah Who is greater than you've been taught! You are awaiting, not merely David's son, but his Lord! -- could be a source of genuine delight proceeding from love of God.


Thursday, June 04, 2009

Little did I realize

That we long ago had our first Vatican II rock band.

I now also suspect the country is awash in Vatican II consultancy LLCs.


Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The method to the madness?

When I first read that some Catholics regard President Obama as more Catholic than -- oh, say, Archbishop Chaput -- I thought that was just plain nuts. In an article in America, Fr. John W. O'Malley, SJ, just may identify the root cause of the insanity:
The [Second Vatican C]ouncil spoke in a new style, a style different from all previous councils... It employed words that espoused a new model for Christian behavior... words like brothers and sisters, cooperation, partnership, human family, conscience, collegiality and especially dialogue...

The shift in vocabulary had profound ramifications. It meant a shift in values and priorities. Critical among these new values was civility in dealing with persons of different faiths or convictions and a willingness to listen to them with docile heart and mind. This civility was not a superficial tactic but a manifestation of an inner conversion. It of course did not mean surrendering one's beliefs, but it did mean a willingness to learn from others and a refusal to condemn them without a hearing. Such openness of mind and heart is the essence of genuine dialogue. [emphasis added]
Set aside, for the moment, the question of the extent to which Vatican II espoused a new model (new, that is, "to council vocabulary") for Christian behavior. The important point here, I think, is that progressive Catholics have accepted such a model as an essential aspect of the spirit of Vatican II.

It follows, then, that when a president whom progressive Catholics are already crazy about uses words like "cooperation," "partnership," and especially "dialogue", they can't help but be reminded of [the spirit of] Vatican II. And if that president uses those words often, then it will be perfectly natural for them to say, with Fr. O'Malley and with all evident sincerity, "We have a Vatican II president."

Now if we go back to the question of the extent to which Vatican II espoused a new model for Christian behavior, we might at least agree that a shift in vocabulary (to the extent there is one) means ... well, something. (I think it means the Council Fathers believed the Church was ready to move past the Counter-Reformation, but what do I know?)

And if when the Church uses words like "cooperation," "partnership," and especially "dialogue," it means something -- perhaps even something with profound implications -- then it's easy to assume that when a president you're already crazy about uses those same words, it also means something. Perhaps something with profound implications, but at the very least a manifestation of an inner conversion. It certainly can't be a superficial tactic.


The habit of being recommended

Rodak has long been a devotee of Simone Weil, and recommends her to all. And if no one gives a hoot about Rodak's recommendation, he is still hopeful that some will give a hoot about Flannery O'Connor's recommendation. Hence, a (to-date) four-and-a-half-part series of posts on O'Connor's discovery of and reaction to Weil.


For example

Yesterday's Responsorial Psalm, Psalm 112, is a good example of what Scripture teaches about truth prevailing. The NAB translation begins:
Hallelujah! Happy are those who fear the LORD, who greatly delight in God's commands.
The psalm goes on to mention how those who fear the LORD will have mighty descendants, and wealth and riches in their homes, and eternally enduring prosperity (literally, "justice"; the translators seem to have been a bit playful with this psalm).

Sounds like a pretty good deal, right?

The problem is, we know from experience that those who fear the LORD don't always have the familial and material success the psalm describes. We know that this spiritual sense of verse 5 --
All goes well for those gracious in lending, who conduct their affairs with justice.
-- cannot be that all worldly affairs go well for everyone who is gracious in lending. In some circumstances, conducting your affairs with justice is is a good way to wind up broke at best.

The psalmist goes on to say that those gracious in lending "shall never be shaken," and that the just "shall not fear an ill report" and "their hearts are tranquil, without fear." These, I'd say, are the sort of near-term blessings those who hope in the LORD obtain, with their hope eventually being fulfilled on the Last Day.

Note that talk of mighty descendants and prosperity enduring forever are essentially future blessings. The triumph of the just over the wicked, whose "desires come to nothing," is final and absolute, but it is also eschatological, not temporal, much less political.


Monday, June 01, 2009

μεγαλη η αληθεια

3 Esdras 3:1-5:6 tells the story of three servants of King Darius who decide to have a contest of wisdom. Each argues for what he considers to be the strongest thing in the world.

The first says wine is strongest, because "it leads astray the minds of all who drink it."

The second says the king is strongest, because "whatever he says to [his subjects] they obey."

The third says women are strongest, because women "have the mastery over men." But he adds that truth is victor over all things. He explains:
The earth is vast, and heaven is high, and the sun is swift in its course, for it makes the circuit of the heavens and returns to its place in one day. Is not the one who does these things great?

But truth is great, and stronger than all things. The whole earth calls upon truth, and heaven blesses it. All God's works quake and tremble, and with him there is nothing unrighteous.

Wine is unrighteous, the king is unrighteous, women are unrighteous, all human beings are unrighteous, all their works are unrighteous, and all such things. There is no truth in them and in their unrighteousness they will perish.

But truth endures and is strong for ever, and lives and prevails for ever and ever. With it there is no partiality or preference, but it does what is righteous instead of anything that is unrighteous or wicked. Everyone approves its deeds, and there is nothing unrighteous in its judgment. To it belongs the strength and the kingship and the power and the majesty of all the ages. Blessed be the God of truth!
The story continues:
When he stopped speaking, all the people shouted and said, "Great is truth, and strongest of all!"
The Septuagint has the people saying, "megale he aletheia kai huperischuei," which I understand to mean, "Great [is] the truth and [it] prevails." This is the source of the motto of the Laetare Medal, and the inspiration for the conclusion of Judge Noonan's Laetare Remarks a few weeks back (remember?):
We can work together, serenely secure in that trust that the truth will out.
Does the above story bear the interpretive weight Judge Noonan ascribes it? Certainly pro-life people can work together with pro-abortion people to some extent, perhaps even to a great extent, but in what sense do we have serene security that "the truth will out"?

I'm coming back to this a lifetime (in blog-years) later, because I think it's worth understanding what we can by faith have serene security regarding.

In particular, given that the truth prevails, does it prevail in a way that gives serene security that abortion will soon be outlawed in the United States? I don't see how the context of the story in 3 Esdras supports the claim that it does. And if it doesn't, then what serenity or security does faith that the truth prevails give pro-lifers in working together with pro-abortioners?