instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Who was I to be able to hinder God?

Msgr. Pope expresses puzzlement over the newish custom of displaying a church's holy oils in glass containers inside an ambry with a glass door. It's not particularly safe or secure, as he points out, and there are some questions about how exposing the holy oils in this way fits into Sacramental theology.

I am unlearned enough to be unconcerned about this practice. Without declaring that these are the winning arguments, I'll say that I think there's an aesthetic case to be made, since the oil itself is a pleasing color. When displayed in the sanctuary, they remind an observer of the relationship between the Sacraments in which they are used and the Blessed Sacrament, and of the relationship between the church and the bishop.

That said, I do think that at times the American impulse for the functional exceeds its balance with the Latin impulse for the form:


Thursday, October 27, 2011

An abundance of flour

"To what," Jesus once asked,
"shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch of dough was leavened."
Three measures of wheat flour, the NAB informs me, is
an enormous amount, enough to feed a hundred people.*
The Church Fathers, as you might expect, were not about to leave that "three measures" unexegeted. The Catena Aurea includes quotations interpreting the flour as simply "a great abundance," but also:
  • "the whole world"
  • "the whole soul"
  • "those three things in man, with the whole heart, with the whole soul, with the whole mind"
  • "the three degrees of fruitfulness, the hundred-fold, the sixty-fold, the thirty-fold"
  • "those three kinds of men, Noah, Daniel, and Job"
  • "spirit, soul, and body"
  • "reason, anger, and desire"
  • "the Law, the Prophets, and the Gospels"
  • "belief in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; which when it has fermented into one lump, brings us not to a threefold God, but to the knowledge of one Divinity. This is a pious interpretation..."

So while what I'd thought was the basic meaning of the parable -- that a small amount of Christians can leaven the whole world -- is attested in the Fathers, but so too is a meaning on a more modest scale -- that a small amount of Christianity can leaven the whole Christian.

There is clearly work to be done in leavening the whole world. And if the whole soul is not yet leavened, grab another pinch of the kingdom of God and mix it throughout all three measures.

* This sort of thing, we are told, was a real knee-slapper in Jesus' day. "Three measures of wheat flour? Why, that's nearly four and a half pecks! How tired the woman's arms would have been! Landsakes, is that ever amusing in its hyperbole and ridiculous in its exaggeration!"

Well, maybe it was; I wasn't there.


A disordered act

In July 2010, I formally requested dispensation from my promises as a member of the Lay Fraternities of St. Dominic.

I'll characterize the reasons this way: While I think I was pretty solid on the theory, in practice I was a lousy Dominican, and I judged it better to not be a Dominican than to be a lousy one.

I haven't publicly mentioned this till now mostly because it's humiliating, but also because I don't want my own faults to reflect poorly on the Lay Fraternities. At this point, though, I'd say there's a greater risk that the virtues of the Lay Fraternities will reflect falsely on me.

So, while I stand behind all I've written about the Dominicans, what I've written about my own vocation to the Order is wrong.


Monday, October 24, 2011

A towering conclusion

In the general rush to downplay "Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority," I haven't seen mention yet of the document's final paragraphs:
Through the account of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), the Bible warns us how the "diversity" of peoples can turn into a vehicle for selfishness and an instrument of division. In humanity there is a real risk that peoples will end up not understanding each other and that cultural diversities will lead to irremediable oppositions. The image of the Tower of Babel also warns us that we must avoid a "unity" that is only apparent, where selfishness and divisions endure because the foundations of the society are not stable. In both cases, Babel is the image of what peoples and individuals can become when they do not recognize their intrinsic transcendent dignity and brotherhood.

The spirit of Babel is the antithesis of the Spirit of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-12), of God's design for the whole of humanity: that is, unity in truth. Only a spirit of concord that rises above divisions and conflicts will allow humanity to be authentically one family and to conceive of a new world with the creation of a world public Authority at the service of the common good.
I found the first paragraph a bit odd, since of course God directly caused the diversity of languages at Babel, in order to keep mankind from never "leav[ing] off from their designs, till they accomplish them in deed" (Gen 11:6). To me, this is less a warning of the risks of diversity than a natural consequence which the LORD took advantage of to keep mankind from getting too big for its britches. Surely the failure of the plan to build a tower the top whereof may reach to heaven was not a bad thing.

Which is not to deny that the story of Babel is instructive when considering the context of global public authority. In the second paragraph quoted above, the true foundation of global unity is rightly said to be found in the events of Pentecost, a Divinely-caused inversion of the events at Babel. And what is that true foundation of global unity, that "unity in truth"?
"And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved." (Acts 2:21)
The Spirit of Pentecost, thought, was not a spirit of mere concord. "There can be concord in evil between wicked men," as St. Thomas observes -- and, if I'm not mistaken, as the account of the Tower of Babel illustrates. (Whether the account of the ongoing economic troubles illustrates the same principle I leave to others.)

So I would say that the story of Babel not only warns us that we are bound to lack concord if we don't speak the same language, but -- reading it in parallel with the story of Pentecost -- that the concord upon which any global authority must be founded to thrive in virtue is nothing less than the peace of Jesus Christ.

As a practical matter, the world is some way away from establishing that foundation. Whether Christians possess the peace of Jesus Christ in sufficient fullness to serve as the cement which, when mixed with the world's crushed stone, can form a concrete of sufficient strength to bear the weight of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace's proposals is, I suppose, open to question.


Promote the common good through an upright life

To this point, I've only seen one response to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace's document, "Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority." That response, a tweet, was unfavorable.

I expect many more unfavorable responses. After all,
  • Poor Pope Benedict XVI can't possibly control all those damn socialists running amok in the Vatican.
  • The current Pope, like all the recent Popes, is a hopeless socialist himself.
  • The Church ought to have learned by now to keep its nose out of matters that don't concern faith and morals, like economic arrangements.
  • All this is just a distraction from the Church's one true mission of opposing legalized abortion.
On the other hand,
  • Isn't it great to see the theocon ultramontanists so discomfited?
  • To oppose the U.N. is to oppose the Church.
  • Catholics in the U.S. have a good reason not to vote for a candidate who doesn't campaign on a platform of surrendering national sovereignty to an international body.
Having cynically weaponized the statement, let me suggest we'd be better off trying to digest it instead. To that end -- or rather, as a first, tiny step on the road to that still-distant end -- let me quote my favorite passage of the [provisional English translation of the] "Conclusion":
As Benedict XVI exhorts us, agents on all levels -– social, political, economic, professional -– are urgently needed who have the courage to serve and to promote the common good through an upright life. Only they will succeed in living and seeing beyond the appearances of things and perceiving the gap between existing reality and untried possibilities. [Emphasis added]
An upright life is probably as good a way as any to start.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Not America's Greatest Catholic Intellectuals, that's for sure

The Gregorian Blog's list of "America's Greatest Catholic Intellectuals" strikes me as a roundabout way of saying, "On the whole, America's Catholic intellectuals haven't been so great."

It's not just the poverty of thought that would put George Weigel on such a list (or keep Archbishop Chaput off the list only through a technicality). That's explainable by sampling bias.

It's the fact that half the list doesn't write itself, that there aren't at least half a dozen names on the Gregorian Blog's list that would be on any list of "America's Fifty Greatest Intellectuals." (For that matter, would any of the Gregorian Blog's Greatest Catholic Intellectuals count as one of America's Fifty Greatest Intellectuals? My inexpert guess would put Fr. Murray as the most probable.)


Wednesday, October 05, 2011

How to overcome envy over the depth and beauty of other people's blogposts

There are several effective methods. Here is a non-exhaustive list:
  1. Convert envy to zeal. "Boy howdy, I'll write a blog post of my own, with this as my model and exemplar!"
  2. Convert envy to pride. "I've got to admit, I can really spot a deep and beautiful blogpost when I see one."
  3. Convert envy to vainglory. "This, clearly, is the pearl produced by my comment on that post back on June 26."
  4. Convert envy to sloth. "You know, I bet if... say, when do the Brewers play?"
  5. Avoid envy altogether. "I don't read that blog anymore."


Sunday, October 02, 2011

On my reading

We should be less concerned about whether Mt 21:43 --
Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.
-- is anti-Semitic than whether it is anti-American.