Sunday, March 26, 2017

Dorothy L. Sayers, The Man Born to Be King

Introduction

Opening Passage: From "Kings in Judea":

THE EVANGELIST: The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God...Now, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King, behold there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem....

(the rattle of dice and the sound of a lute)

EPHRAIM: Four, six, two....Oh, stop strumming, you idle monkey!...Your throw, Captain.

PROCLUS (throwing dice): Five, three, six.

EPHRAIM: You win, Proclus....What was all that noise in the street last night? Right under the palace windows--disgraceful!

PROCLUS: A bunch of fools who'd got hold of some rumour or other. (p. 48)

Summary: The Man Born to be King consists of twelve plays, initially presented about a month apart:

(1) "Kings in Judea": King Caspar of Chaldea, King Melchior of Pamphylia, and King Balthazar of Ethiopia come to King Herod the Great to congratulate him on this newborn heir, whose birth they have seen in the stars, the scion of the House of Judea who shall rule in Rome as priest and king. The paranoid Herod, whose position is as a client-king of Rome who replaced the priest-king dynasty of the Hasmoneans, sends them off quickly but, taking their prophecy seriously, takes thought for how he will deal with this threat.

(2) "The King's Herald": A man named John is preaching repentance in the wilderness and baptizing in the River Jordan, along with a number of his disciples, including Judas Iscariot, Simon and Andrew the sons of Jonah, and John and James the sons of Zebedee. John baptizes his cousin, who makes an impression on several of John's disciples; He tells them to seek Him out when John no longer has need of them.

(3) "A Certain Nobleman": Mary is helping at the wedding of a close friend and her son, Jesus, arrives with several of his friends, Philip, Nathanael, Andrew, Simon, James, and John, thus increasing the number of guests beyond what had originally been planned. They run out of wine, but Jesus turns water into wine. Later, one of the guests at the wedding, named Benjamin, learns that his son has been dying; he sends for Jesus, who has been causing a scandal by driving the moneychangers out of the Temple with a whip. Jesus heals the son with a word.

(4) "The Heirs to the Kingdom": Jesus picks up two new disciples, Matthew and Judas Iscariot, as his healing ministry begins to worry the priests. The High Priest Caiaphas, a political schemer whose position is due to Rome's influence, begins to develop a plan to play the Jesus movement and the Roman government against each other; a Zealot named Baruch happens to know a man in Jesus' retinue, because they had discussed nationalist issues before. The man will see through any crude attempt at corruption, but he may nonetheless serve their purposes; his name is Judas.

(5) "The Bread of Heaven": Jesus sends his disciples out with the power to heal and cast out demons; Philip is exhausted from having done so, and Judas, who has only been preaching, is jealous. They stay at the house of Baruch, and Judas and Baruch discuss the possibility that Jesus is the Messiah who will save Israel from oppression. But to do so against the might of Rome requires a popular uprising -- which Baruch can provide. Baruch raises a worry: so many purported saviors and prophets turn out to be corrupt; Jesus seems incorruptible, but what if he is not? Judas refuses to have anything to do with Baruch's plans, but Baruch's suggestion eats at him. Jesus' miracle of feeding the crowd increases his popularity, but his claims that he is the bread of life and people must devour him turn many off; Simon receives the name of Peter.

(6) "The Feast of Tabernacles": The Feast of Tabernacles approaches and Jesus declines to go up to Jerusalem with his family. Claudia, the wife of the Roman governor, hears about a remarkable Jewish prophet from her Syro-Phoenician handmaiden. Jesus takes Simon Peter, James, and John to the top of a mountain and shows them his splendor. A Zealot named Barabbas is captured by the Romans, and Caiaphas sends guards to arrest Jesus when he finally comes to Jerusalem and begins preaching in the Temple; the guards, however, refuse. Caiaphas, not trusting Baruch, makes direct contact with Judas, who assures the Jewish leaders that Jesus' kingdom is not political but spiritual. When Caiaphas suggests that even noble men may become corrupted, Judas insists that Jesus will not, and Caiaphas sees how he can use him: "People with ideas are always jealous of their leaders" (p. 176).

(7) "The Light and the Life": Jesus is staying at the house of his friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus when the disciples come to tell him that there is trouble brewing over a blind man who had been healed by Jesus -- the local elders are excommunicating him from the synagogue. Jesus increases the tensions by claiming that God is His Father and He and His Father are one. Matthew, who knows money despite having given it up, has reason to believe that Judas is using his role as treasurer to embezzle from their common purse, but has no proof. Judas is getting frustrated with his inability to get straight answers from Jesus. Jesus and his disciples learn that Lazarus has died; Jesus returns and raises him from the dead. Caiaphas has to maneuver Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, who are Jesus sympathizers, into not interfering with his plans.

(8) "Royal Progress": Baruch sends a message to Jesus warning him that the priests and Pharisees are scheming to turn him over to Rome, and asks for a sign of Jesus' intentions: Baruch has prepared a war horse and an ass's colt for Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, and if Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the war horse, he will have all of Baruch's men in support of him. Jesus sends back saying that Baruch will have his sign, and Judas learns of it in a garbled form suggesting that Jesus will take Baruch up on his offer. Jesus enters Jerusalem on the ass's colt and crowds hail him as king. The Jewish leaders hire hecklers to try to trap Jesus, but he is too witty for them. Judas comes to Caiaphas in anger at Jesus' hypocrisy and the fact that the less intelligent disciples are more in Jesus' confidence than Judas is. We learn that Judas has been using the disciples' funds to spy on Baruch; Caiaphas promises to pay him thirty pieces of silver for his help.

(9) "The King's Supper": Jesus and his disciples celebrate the Passover feast. In private discussion, Judas realizes that Jesus suspects him, and he goes to Caiaphas urging speed. At supper, Jesus says many baffling things, but the disciples are still exultant after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane.

(10) "The Princes of this World": Jesus becomes part of a complicated political game between Caiaphas and the Roman governor Pilate. Jesus is examined by Annas, the High Priest Emeritus who was removed by Rome and replaced by Caiaphas. Peter denies Jesus. Judas learns from Baruch that Jesus refused Baruch's offer and that Caiaphas has been manipulating him. Jesus is tried by the Sanhedrim, and Caiaphas manipulates the situation to guarantee a conviction despite the fact that the hurried nature of the situation makes it difficult to get the witnesses required by Law. Judas confronts Caiaphas, who pays him and dismisses him; Judas refuses the money and flees in shame. The Jewish leaders bring Jesus to Pilate to get ratification of the death penalty for him; Pilate sends Jesus to Herod on the jurisdictional technicality that he is actually a Galilean from Nazareth; Herod, discovering that Jesus was actually born in Bethlehem, sends him back. Pilate tries to save Jesus by using the custom of releasing a prisoner for the Feast, but the crowd, which has gathered to support Barabbas, forces his hand, especially when Caiaphas claims that if Pilate does not comply it will be regarded as a refusal to uphold the authority of Caesar against a man claiming to be king. Pilate washes his hands of the matter and in petty retaliation for being outmaneuvered commands that Jesus' cross be labeled, "The King of the Jews".

(11) "King of Sorrows": Jesus is led out to be crucified between two thieves. Caiaphas insists to Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea that his way is the only way to save the Jewish people from the heavy hand of the Empire. Claudia has a dream in which a great voice cries, "Great Pan is dead", and in which Pilate is remembered forever for the shame of having crucified a god. The Centurion Proclus and Balthazar of Ethiopia, whose paths had crossed before in the court of King Herod the Great, meet once more beneath the foot of the cross. Caiaphas has guards set on Jesus' tomb.

(12) "The King Comes to His Own": The disciples are scattered in fear and sorrow, but the women must still tend to the body. They discover that the body is gone and meet Angels. Peter and John confirm that the body is gone, and Mary Magdalen meets Jesus. Joseph of Arimathea is accused in the Sanhedrim of having aided the disciples in stealing Jesus' body; Nicodemus has a public breakdown over the events. Caiaphas realizes that he must arrest Jesus' disciples in order to prevent them from spreading claims that Jesus has risen from the dead. Cleophas and Mary Cleophas come to the disciples with a story of having met Jesus on the road to Emmaus. As Claudia and Pilate leave the city, Claudia hears gossip that people are claiming Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus proves to Thomas that he is real, and Thomas replies: "You are my Lord and my God" (p. 340). Jesus and Peter speak and Peter is forgiven, and Jesus ascends into heaven.

There are many specific choices that have to be made in a cycle like this, and there are many things that can be done in different ways, but the choices Sayers makes contributes to an excellent story. Two things in particular are outstanding. The first is her portrayal of the political scheming of Caiaphas, which I think partly comes out in the summary above. He has to outmaneuver the Zealots, and he has to outmaneuver Rome. He has to outwit Pilate, who has every reason to be noncooperative, and he has to outmaneuver his opponents in the Sanhedrim, some of whom sympathize with Jesus and some of whom, while not sympathizing with Jesus, would be more than happy to see Caiaphas fall on his face, and what is more, he has to do so on a point of Law in a room full of rabbis on the spur of the moment. And all of his maneuvering is successful, but it all comes to nothing in the end.

The second is the portrayal of Judas Iscariot, the only disciple who actually understands the truth that Jesus' kingdom cannot be political, and who is destroyed by not recognizing the limits of his understanding. He is an intellectual idealist, as Sayers says at one point, and, like so many intellectuals and academics who spend their lives in a world of highminded ideas, has difficulty distinguishing between his ideal of something and the way it really ought to be, and ends up devoting everything to the former rather than the latter. She also does very well at portraying his frustration that his intelligence is not getting him special consideration, and his devastation at the discovery that he was all the time just a pawn in the games of far more practically competent schemers, and not the brilliant strategist he had convinced himself he was. It is an extraordinary depiction of the corruption and self-destruction of an intellectual.

Favorite Passage: This passage, shortly after the Triumphal Entry and just before the Passover supper, captures perfectly the complete cluelessness of the disciples about what is about to smash into them broadside:

JESUS: The Kingdom is very near.

MATTHEW: And 'ere we sit, a-tasting of it, in a manner of speaking, beforehand. There sits the Master, like it might be in his royal palace, with his counsellors about him--John one side and Judas the other--between the 'eart and brains of the undertaking, as you might say.

JUDAS (unpleasantly): I am glad to learn what is John's official capacity.

ANDREW: My brother had a position given him too. Hadn't you? And a title.

PETER: That'll do, Andrew.

JAMES: Keeper of the Keys, wasn't it?

ANDREW: There you are! Judge of the Supreme Court.

JUDAS: It sounds more like the Head Gaoler.

ANDERW: Judas, that's rude....No, Peter was to be the foundation-stone of the Church.

NATHANAEL: High Priest then.

JAMES (slightly shocked): Oh, but he's not of a priestly house. Now our father Zebedee--

PHILIP: Of course, James, of course. All right--John shall be High Priest and Judas the Lord Treasurer.

MATTHEW: Don't I get anything? I've been a government official. A bad job, and a dashed bad government--still, experience counts for something.

THOMAS: Are all the appointments going to you people at the head of the table?

JUDE: That's right, Thomas. How about you and me and Simon here?
(pp. 244-245)

Recommendation: Sayers does excellent work in fulfilling her goal of telling that story; Highly Recommended.

****

Dorothy L. Sayers, The Man Born to be King. Gollancz (London: 1969).

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Glorious Gabriel Hailed Her

Feast of the Annunciation
by Christina Rossetti


Whereto shall we liken this Blessed Mary Virgin,
Faithful shoot from Jesse's root graciously emerging?
Lily we might call her, but Christ alone is white;
Rose delicious, but that Jesus is the one Delight;
Flower of women, but her Firstborn is mankind's one flower:
He the Sun lights up all moons thro' their radiant hour.
'Blessed among women, highly favoured,' thus
Glorious Gabriel hailed her, teaching words to us:
Whom devoutly copying we too cry 'All hail!'
Echoing on the music of glorious Gabriel.

Lent XXII

Then Jesus said to those Jews, who believed him: If you continue in my word, you shall be my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:31-32)

He says that three things make a person right. First is the rectitude of affection, and this is noted in being a disciple of Christ. Second is the rectitude of intellect, and this appears in knowledge of the truth. The third is the rectitude of effect through freedom from sin, and this is noted in the freedom of truth. Another interpretation is: You will be disciples on the way through imitation. You will know the truth in the beatification of the soul. And you will be freed by the truth from all corruption in the happy union of soul and body.

[St. Bonaventure, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Karris, tr. Franciscan Institute Publications (Saint Bonaventure, NY: 2007) 480-481.]

Friday, March 24, 2017

Four Poem Drafts

Of Your Eyes

How splendid shine your limpid eyes,
lucid-wise with heaven's gleam.
I dreamed of loves, but they were lies:
unless they die, they merely seem.
For never love was ever true
save newly born again like ray
that plays at dawn upon the dew,
imbuing it with Easter day.

A fleshly love will fail at need;
it heeds not motive but its greed;
but when from flesh a love is freed,
an angel's light bursts from its seed.

Dead Pan

The breath of the world had stopped, had stayed,
that once on the foaming wave had played,
that once for the sailing ship had made
a rapid voyage home.

The ship was a-drift near land, near isle,
and all were awake, a-watch the while,
and clear through the air, by league and mile,
a voice was calling out.

"O Thamus," the voice said, strong and clear,
"Buthrotum now draws close and near;
when thereby you have come to steer,
announce that Pan is dead."

O Pan, who with shepherds danced and played,
O Pan, to whom rustics roughly prayed,
O Pan, who with shout the host had stayed,
O Pan, you are now dead!

The gods are undone, their power slain,
by God who on Cross had borne the pain,
by whose labor the light was birthed, was gained;
now men outlast the gods.

Arthur Prince of Wales

Sometimes the future
dies before its birth,
with pain and bitter shiver,
exhaustion and cold sweats;
sometimes a Spanish bride,
pure of heart and regal,
is left bereft, so swiftly,
five months only married.

The future having died,
presenting no heir to the present,
a usurping era enters,
and disaster is what inherits.

Futures found in chaos
make unruly heirs.

Hymn to St. Catherine of Alexandria

O sainted maid of splendid grace,
O lady wise of mind most fair,
with light shine down your blessed face
and raise to God for us a prayer
that we be saved from toil and care,
that in our heart's God's light be seen,
that great may be our souls to dare:
pray for us, O Catherine queen.

O word that echoes God's own Word,
inspired of love inspiring all,
your prayers by God are surely heard.
The wheel itself truth could not stall.
As Stephen won, though he did fall,
your death did not your life demean:
refuting those who us enthrall,
pray for us, O Catherine queen.

Each angel in each rank and choir,
apostle, martyr, virgin, king,
rejoiced when you endured the fire,
and of your faith forever sing;
their acclamations thunderous ring,
as, near the Queen of Heaven seen,
you stand nigh Throne where cherubs wing:
pray for us, O Catherine queen.

Skeptical Theism and Reasons Appropriate to Us

'Skeptical theism' is the somewhat misleading name for the position that (in McBrayer's words) "God exists but that we should be skeptical of our ability to discern God’s reasons for acting or refraining from acting in any particular instance" in such a way that our inability to find a reason for something is not a good basis for concluding that God is unable to have a reason for it. I say misleading because this is in fact a standard part of historical theisms, and it is arguably a necessary one for any theism that holds that God is omniscient. Certainly classical theism accepts a principle of remotion, that, as we do not have any direct insight into the divine nature or mind, nothing can be known about God except as grounded by causal reasoning from effects; and remotion seems to require that claims about God's reasons not be accepted unless and so far as they can be established by causal reasoning from effects. Historically speaking, 'skeptical theism' just is what most philosophical theists have accepted throughout history.

In analytic philosophy, 'skeptical theism' usually refers to an insistence on this idea in the context of atheist arguments from evil. There are a number of explicit analytic formulations that are commonly discussed, but Bergmann's ("Skeptical Theism and Rowe’s New Evidential Argument from Evil", Nous 35, pp. 278-296 (PDF)) is arguably the most discussed. According to Bergmann:

(ST1) We have no good reason for thinking that the possible goods we know of are
representative of the possible goods there are.

(ST2) We have no good reason for thinking that the possible evils we know of are
representative of the possible evils there are.

(ST3) We have no good reason for thinking that the entailment relations we know of
between possible goods and the permission of possible evils are representative
of the entailment relations there are between possible goods and the permission
of possible evils

(To which has often been added since,

(ST4) We have no good reason for thinking that the total moral value or disvalue we perceive in certain complex states of affairs accurately reflects the total moral value or disvalue they really have,

but this will not be relevant for this post. Notice, incidentally, that not one of these is actually skeptical theism itself, and the question of whether they are true is entirely independent of any question in natural theology.)

The most famous response to Bergmann is by Almeida and Oppy ("Sceptical Theism and Evidential Arguments from Evil", Australasian Journal of Philosophy 81, pp. 496 – 516 [available here]). In response to it, they argue:

Suppose we take seriously the idea that it follows from our acceptance of (ST1)-(ST3) that it is not unlikely that there are goods beyond our ken--or relations beyond our ken between goods and evils (which themselves may or may not be beyond our ken)--which justify a perfect being in not preventing E. Suppose further that we are, right now, witnesses to E, and that we could intervene to stop it at no personal cost. What we have just conceded is that, merely on the basis of our acceptance of (ST1)-(ST3), we should insist that it is not unlikely that there is some good which, if we were smarter and better equipped, we could recognise as a reason for a perfect being’s not intervening to stop E. Plainly, we should also concede—by parity of reason—that, merely on the basis of our acceptance of (ST1)-(ST3), we should insist that it is not unlikely that there is some good which, if we were smarter and better equipped, we could recognise as a reason for our not intervening to stop the event. That is, our previous concession surely forces us to allow that, given our acceptance of (ST1)-(ST3), it is not unlikely that it is for the best, all things considered, if we do not intervene. But, if we could easily intervene to stop the heinous crime, then it would be appalling for us to allow this consideration to stop us from intervening.

I have always been baffled by this argument. Let's start with the the basic idea, which is that, given that an evil E is not prevented and that we are in a position to prevent and that (ST1)-(ST3) are accepted:

(A) It is not unlikely that there are goods beyond our ken which justify a perfect being in not preventing E.

They then claim that something like this would then follow:

(B) It is not unlikely that there is some good which, if we were smarter and better equipped, we could recognize as a reason for a perfect being not intervening to stop E.

It is quite obvious that (B) does not follow from (A) on the most obvious interpretation. (A) doesn't tell us anything about what we could recognize if we were smarter and better equipped. It is entirely consistent with (A) and all the rest to say that perhaps the relevant good could only be recognized by a perfect being. One could perhaps get the following from (A) and (ST1-ST3) and the existence of E:

(B') It is not unlikely that there is some good which, if we were perfect beings, we could recognize as a reason for a perfect being not intervening to stop E.

Note that this, unlike (B), is a per impossibile conditional; it does not imply that there is any level of "smarter and better equipped" that we could actually have that would put us in a position to recognize it.

Almeida and Bergmann do actually recognize in a footnote that there is an issue here, but claim that it would not fundamentally change the argument -- it would complicate the exposition, but the argument would still go through. They give no reason for thinking this, and, as will soon be seen, I do not see how it could possibly be true.

In any case, they then go on to say that, by parity of reasoning, we should then also accept:

(C) It is not unlikely that there is some good which, if we were smarter and better equipped, we could recognize as a reason for our not intervening to stop the event.

But this quite clearly does not follow by any parity of reasoning even if one accepts (B); it requires the assumption that the relevant reason would be a generic reason applying to any agent who recognized it, rather than a reason applying to a perfect being.

The parity of reason occurs only if we read (B'); but then we should get

(C') It is not unlikely that there is some good which, if we were perfect beings, we could recognize as a reason for our not intervening to stop the event.

This, again, is a per impossibile conditional; it does not imply that it is actually possible that we could recognize such a reason.

They then say that we should then conclude:

(D) It is not unlikely that it is for the best, all things considered, if we do not intervene.

But this does not follow even if we accept (C); it requires the assumption that we can act on reasons that we know exist even if we do not know what they actually are, which is at least controvertible, and the assumption that a reason we could recognize if we were smarter and better equipped is relevant to us given that we are not, in fact, smarter and better equipped. That is, it makes the assumption that our reasons are not affected by how smart and equipped we are, so that if we would have a reason if smarter and better equipped, we would have it even given that we are not.

This is certainly false. If John could be a professional driver, and as a professional driver would have a reason for not slowing down, it does not follow that John, who is not actually a professional driver, has the same reason for not slowing down -- indeed, given that John is not a professional driver, he may only have reasons for slowing down. If I would have a reason to skip a step in a calculation if I were smarter than I am, it does not follow that I have such a reason given that I am not smarter than I am.

I find their response to a similar objection equally baffling as the rest. They say:

Yet, if we do not have good reason to assign a low probability to the claim that there are goods which, if we were smarter and better equipped, we would recognise as reasons for us not to prevent E, then how can we have good reason to interfere and to prevent it?

But the answer to this seems fairly obvious: since we do not know what the reason in question actually is, we do not know if its being a reason for not acting would actually be independent of our being smarter and better equipped; for all we know, the reason why our smarter and better equipped selves would have such a reason is only because they are smarter and better equipped. Our having good reasons or not to interfere, as we are, is not in any way affected by the question of what reasons we would have if we were different from what we are. Trying to latch the two together seems absurd, as if one were to claim that, since I would have reason not to buy the cheapest product if I were a millionaire that I therefore don't have reason to buy the cheapest product given that I am not, or as if one were to claim that, since I would have reason not to buy health insurance now if I knew that I would be very healthy for the next fifty years, I must therefore not have reason to buy it given that I am not privy to this information. An expert may have excellent reason to do something while the kids have excellent reason not to try it at home; and the same is true for not doing things. What actions are reasonable is affected by how intelligent and effective our plans can be, and thus how smart and well equipped we are. You can't assume that if you were smarter and had better means that your reasons for acting or not acting would remain the same; this would have to be proven. Not all reasons that would be good if we were different are reasons that are good given that we are not.

And what actually seems to follow, anyway, is not (D) but something more like:

(D') It is not unlikely that if we were perfect beings, it would be for the best, all things considered, if we did not intervene.

Again, a per impossibile conditional. And it doesn't imply anything about what is the best for us given that we are not perfect beings.

(B'), (C'), and (D') are completely useless for the argument that is being made; they follow from (A), but that's just because they are ways of restating (A) in per impossibile form. What they actually need is (D), but (D) very definitely doesn't follow from (C), much less (B) or (A).

Almeida and Oppy have another argument that is related, that we use an inference in moral reasoning that is closely analogous to the 'noseeum inference' that (ST1)-(ST2) are supposed to prevent (a 'noseeum inference' is an inference from 'I don't see any' to 'There aren't any'). But it seems, even if we assumed that this was true, to make the same error noted above: in moral reasoning, we are considering the reasons appropriate to us, and we have ways of running through the different reasons appropriate to us so as to eliminate possible counterexamples -- which is how noseeum inferences are rationally supported. But the whole point of skeptical theism is that we have no way of doing this if we are non-omniscient reasoners talking about omniscience. If you have a problem that requires searching or testing of a restricted set of possibilities, this may be soluble; but this solubility implies nothing about problems requiring search or test of unlimited possibilities -- or even necessarily about problems requiring search or test of a different set of possibilities.

It is very possible that I am missing something, but, as I said, I find every part of the argument completely baffling. Would I have reason to accept it if I were smarter and better equipped? I have no idea, but even if I did, I do not know what it would be.

Lent XXI

And the dragon was angry against the woman: and went to make war with the rest of her seed, who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Rev. 12:17)

To keep the commandments of God in the faith of Jesus Christ is to fight with the dragon and to challenge him to battle. Thanks be to God, who foils the raging dragon's attempt. For lo! he who exerted every effort to destroy the Lord born in the flesh, is frustrated by the resurrection. Labouring thereafter to undermine the confidence of the apostles' teaching, he strove to carry off the woman -- that is, the whole Church -- from the sphere of human affairs. but as his indiscriminate attacks have been in vain, he now turns against each of the ages of the faithful.

[Bede, Commentary on Revelation, Wallis, tr., Liverpool University Press (Liverpool: 2013), p. 197.]

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Music in His Golden Mouth and Laughter in His Eyes

Desdichado
by Dorothy Sayers


* This is the Heir; come let us kill Him.

* Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her Beloved?

Christ walks the world again, His lute upon His back,
His red robe rent to tatters, His riches gone to rack,
The wind that wakes the morning blows His hair about His face,
His hands and feet are ragged with the ragged briar's embrace,
For the hunt is up behind Him and His sword is at His side, . . .
Christ the bonny outlaw walks the whole world wide,

Singing: "Lady, lady, will you come away with Me,
Lie among the bracken and break the barley bread?
We will see new suns arise in golden, far-off skies,
For the Son of God and Woman hath not where to lay His head."

Christ walks the world again, a prince of fairy-tale,
He roams, a rascal fiddler, over mountain and down dale,
Cast forth to seek His fortune in a bitter world and grim,
For the stepsons of His Father's house would steal His Bride from Him;
They have weirded Him to wander till He bring within His hands
The water of eternal youth from black-enchanted lands,

Singing: "Lady, lady, will you come away with Me,
Or sleep on silken cushions in the bower of wicked men?
For if we walk together through the wet and windy weather,
When I ride back home triumphant you will ride beside Me then."

Christ walks the world again, new-bound on high emprise,
With music in His golden mouth and laughter in His eyes;
The primrose springs before Him as He treads the dusty way,
His singer's crown of thorn has burst in blossom like the may,
He heedeth not the morrow and He never looks behind,
Singing: "Glory to the open skies and peace to all mankind."

Singing: "Lady, lady, will you come away with Me?
Was never man lived longer for the hoarding of his breath;
Here be dragons to be slain, here be rich rewards to gain . . .
If we perish in the seeking, . . . why, how small a thing is death!"

The title is an allusion of Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, in which the hero enters a tournament under the assumed name Desdichado (Unfortunate, although Scott translates it as Disinherited).

Lent XX

They answered him: We are the seed of Abraham, and we have never been slaves to any man: how sayest thou: you shall be free? Jesus answered them: Amen, amen I say unto you: that whosoever committeth sin, is the servant of sin. (John 8:33-34)

...[when a thing does] whatever is appropriate to it according to its nature, it acts of itself; but when it is moved by something exterior, it does not act of itself, but by the influence of that other: and this is a kind of slavery. now according to his nature, man is rational. And thus when he acts according to reason, he is acting by his own proper motion and is acting of himself; and this is a characteristic of freedom. But when he sins, he is acting outside reason; and then he is moved by another, being held back by the limitations imposed by that other. Therefore, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. "Whatever overcomes a person, is that to which he is a slave" (2 Pet. 2:9).

[St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Chapters 6-12, Larcher, tr., CUA Press (Washington DC: 2010), p. 126.]

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

So that the Porters of the Pylons Shook

Dead Pan
by Dorothy Sayers


* At the hour of Christ's agony a cry of "Great Pan is dead!" swept across the waves in the hearing of certain mariners; and the oracles ceased. PLUTARCH.

* For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth together in pain until now.

* I fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ.

And there was darkness all over the land
Three hours; and in the dark so wild a cry
That all men hearing sought to understand
What thing it was that in such pain must die.

But there was darkness, so that none may say
What there befel, except the midnight bird
Whose staring face is still struck white to-day
For blank amaze at all he saw and heard.

He that maintained unblinded vigil there
Told us: "There were vast shapes which loomed and grew
Around, and He was fearfully changed: I swear
They were goat's feet the nails had stricken through.

"How mourned pale Isis, 'neath the hideous rood
Crouched in the dust! How passed in one fierce sound
Side-smitten Balder! For what grim festal food
Smoked forth the blood of Mithra to the ground?

"But Pasht my cousin, the wise African,
Looked from the judgment hall toward the North,
And knew all things fulfilled when thus began
The deathless Ritual of the Coming Forth;

"For One came treading those eternal floors
That was the Word of the tremendous Book,
Crying throughout the long-drawn corridors
So that the porters of the pylons shook:

"I am Osiris! and the gates reeled back
Before the God twin-crowned with white and red,
And an echo rose and went in the wind's track
Over the Middle Sea: Great Pan is dead! . . .
Whereat the oracles fell mute," he said.

Plutarch himself, of course, does not say that it was at Christ's death; but the story of the voice that cried out to the sailors, "Great Pan is dead" is found in his De defectu oraculorum, which is trying to explain why the divine oracles were not effective in his day. Eusebius of Caesarea, in his Preparatio Evangelica, Book V, Chapter XVII, quoted Plutarch's story and then notes the timing Plutarch attributed to the tale:

But it is important to observe the time at which he says that the death of the daemon took place. For it was the time of Tiberius, in which our Saviour, making His sojourn among men, is recorded to have been ridding human life from daemons of every kind: so that there were some of them now kneeling before Him and beseeching Him not to deliver them over to the Tartarus that awaited them.

The story is a fairly common part of the poetic treasury of English literature. It is referred to in a poem by Milton and by G. K. Chesterton; Elizabeth Barrett Browning also has a poem on the theme.

Rosmini and the Traditionary Argument

Rosmini has some interesting discussions of issues relevant to the traditionary argument. In the Theodicy (1845), he has a chapter called, Divine Origin of a Part of Language:

100. Without sensible signs, man could not even conceive abstract ideas. In fact, what are abstract ideas? They are simply qualities of beings contemplated by the mind in their ideality, and apart by themselves; they are mental conceptions. Now, where are the objects of such ideas to be found? Nowhere but in the mind itself....

...Now, how is this mode of conceiving possible? I answer:—

102. By means of an external sign, a sign which by holding the place of whiteness apprehended by the mind, gives it an existence also outside the mind; a sensible sign of the idea which is not sensible; in short, a word directed to single out the whiteness from among the other objects that surround it so long as it is perceived along with the bodies in which it really exists.

Here we have the essential feature of linguistic or semiotic rationalism: we have abstract ideas despite not sensing them; we cannot create abstract ideas by pure force of reason; we must have sensible signs of abstract ideas in order to think of abstract ideas. (Rosmini insists fairly strongly elsewhere on the 'abstract' qualifier; he does not hold that this is true of words that do nothing but mark common sensible experience.) In the New Essay Concerning the Origin of Ideas (1830), he summarized it quite straightforwardly (at section 521):

Humanity has no existence outside of the mind; it cannot therefore attract our attention, unless in some sensible sign which, being external to the mind, holds the place of that idea, giving it, as it were, subsistence. It is impossible, then, for the mind to conceive abstract ideas, that have no realities corresponding to them, unless it be moved thereto by sensible signs which may take the place of those realities and represent, or, to speak more properly, raise them before it.

To return to the Theodicy. On the basis of semiotic rationalism, we move on to get an indirect formulation of the traditionary argument itself:

From this it is plain that external signs were necessary to man in order that his mind might associate and bind up abstractions with them. But he could not invent those signs by himself, for the reason that to invent, he must already have been possessed of abstractions, which, nevertheless, he could not acquire save by means of words. God, therefore, imparted to him a language; that Supreme Instructor taught him the use of some words, in which the abstractions, contemplated together with them, might, so to speak, appear outwardly subsistent. These words could attract to themselves the attention of the mind, and determine it to fix itself on special qualities apart from the objects in which they exist. All this in accordance with the general law, that the human mind must primarily be moved to act by the impressions made on the sense by external objects.

Let's call the claim that inventing signs requires that one already possess abstractions that can only be acquired by means of signs, the Prior Possession Principle (PPP). It plays a key role here, since it is what motivates the rejection of the idea that human beings could invent their own language to speak about abstractions. To invent a language suitable for abstract ideas, one would already need abstract ideas; to develop abstract ideas, there would need to be a language already in existence. Thus the human mind must receive language from the outside, by a teacher; and from this one can get to a first teacher, who cannot be human or have a mind limited in the way human minds are.

Later, however, in the Psychology (1846), Rosmini will pull back from PPP:

We have elsewhere expressed the opinion that men could never by themselves have come to think and designate pure abstractions, for the reason that had they not in nature any stimulus to do so, and hence we inferred the divine origin of this portion of language. Since then, we have given this subject more mature reflection, and now that proof does not seem to us irrefragable. Let us, therefore, distinguish between the question of fact and that of simple possibility. As to the fact, there can be no doubt that the first man received his impulse to speech from God Himself, Who, by speaking to him first, communicated to him a portion of language. The arguments that prove this we shall set forth in another place. But confining ourselves to the simple metaphysical question of whether the human family (not an isolated man) might possibly in the course of time have come to think at least a few abstracts, designating them at once and with one and the same complex operation, by words or other signs, it seems to us now that it may be answered in the affirmative, and that we have discovered the stimulus we had vainly sought for before, by which the human understanding might have been moved.

(I'm not sure what 'other place' Rosmini has in mind here.) This is not, of course, a rejection of semiotic rationalism; Rosmini immediately goes on to say that "it is undoubtedly necessary that we should be able to find in real nature something to link the abstracts to, so as to serve as a natural sign of them; because it is only on this condition that the attention of the human mind can rest on them and seize them." What has changed is that he thinks that human beings who are already using a rudimentary language already (at least sometimes) have (some) such signs available. This happens by metonymy: 'hand', which you can just use to label your hand, becomes used for the things you can do with it (thus, although this is recognized only in retrospect when we have produced the abstract idea, hand+power), because it's much easier to keep using the same words than to keep inventing new ones. Once you are doing this, though, you already have the sign and therefore can form the abstraction. And thus effectively, given the sign 'hand' you can get the idea of power, and it's even the case that over a long time you might use it almost solely to mean power.

If we think of the traditionary argument as having certain basic elements, we can say that Rosmini accepts Deficiency of Empiricism and Necessity of Language (and thus upholds the semiotic rationalism of the traditionalist; but over time he came to think that teaching (in the traditionary sense of receiving one's language from another) was not strictly necessary, although there were reasons to think that, in fact, some language use does trace back to divine teaching. This is in part, however, because he holds that language has different 'portions', and it is only one portion -- the portion of language used for reasoning with abstract ideas -- for which the question is even raised. He continues to hold that a single human being could not possibly invent language for discussing abstract ideas. But he later comes to think that as long as a group of interacting human beings had developed a rudimentary language for labeling things they actually sense, this would actually suffice: laziness, so to speak, would lead to using labels loosely, and this loose use of signs serves as the semiotic basis for abstraction. This would not convince a hardcore traditionalist, I think; I think the traditionalist would argue that Rosmini is already attributing to pre-abstract thought things that could only be possible with abstract ideas. But the route he takes, appealing, in effect, to figurative language to get us beyond mere labeling of things we can sense, and thus to provide a way around PPP, is an interesting one.

Lent XIX

Save, O Lord, thy people, and bless thy inheritance: and rule them and exalt them for ever. (Psalm 27:9; 28:9 in most modern Bibles)

Christ, the head of the Church, having been glorified, it remains that his body, the people of God, who are his peculiar inheritance, he having acquired it with his blood, should be equally glorified. Christ then says to his Father, or the Prophet says to Christ, "Save thy people," and, in order to save them, "Bless them," by justifying them; "Rule them," by shielding, by protecting them on the road; "Exalt" them, by glorifying them, by glorifying them to eternity.

[St. Robert Bellarmine, A Commentary on the Book of Psalms, O'Sullivan, tr. Loreto Publications (Fitzwilliam, NH: 2011) p. 57.]

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Shannon and Boole

An interesting thing I did not know:

Shannon’s paper is in many ways a typical electrical-engineering paper, filled with equations and diagrams of electrical circuits. What is unusual is that the primary reference was a 90-year-old work of mathematical philosophy, George Boole’s The Laws of Thought.

Today, Boole’s name is well known to computer scientists (many programming languages have a basic data type called a Boolean), but in 1938 he was rarely read outside of philosophy departments. Shannon himself encountered Boole’s work in an undergraduate philosophy class. “It just happened that no one else was familiar with both fields at the same time,” he commented later.

I came across this with good timing; I'll be doing a class Thursday on the history of logic for my Intro Phil course.

Kingdoms Are but Cares

Henry VI is an interesting figure. The only son of Henry V, he came to the English throne at the age of nine months, and the French throne shortly afterward. This is an obvious recipe for a weak king -- a king so young he will spend all his early years entirely in the power of others, and who has moreover inherited a tangled political situation -- in this case the Hundred Years War, which was about to begin a major reversal due to a certain Jeanne d'Arc -- about which he could not do anything. Even making it to adulthood, such a king has already started adulthood in a state of great dependence, and strength of rule does not come of such things. What made it worse was that the young king, when he came into his full powers at the age of sixteen, was shy and averse to conflict; sufficiently strong-willed nobles could pretty much do as they pleased. To add to the problems, in 1453, in his early thirties, he had a mental breakdown over the war with the French, which by that point was going so badly almost nothing remained of the massive French territory that had been gained by his father. For an entire year he was almost completely nonresponsive to everything around him. When he regained his senses on Christmas, 1454, he found himself with a court of nobles who were not particularly interested in obeying his commands. The War of the Roses exploded all around him. He was thoroughly defeated by Edward of York -- now King Edward IV -- and had to flee to Scotland; Henry himself was soon captured, and his resourceful wife, Margaret, had to find a way to win his throne back. This, with a little luck, she managed, but Henry, still a very weak and dependent king, lasted less than six months. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London; exactly when and how he died is unknown, but he died by a blow to the head, probably in May of 1471.

Posthumous history would be kinder to Henry than life had been, and one of the ways it treated him more kindly was by spreading his reputation for piety. He was known to be quite devout, and his death had the overtones of martyrdom. Stories of miracles started collecting around his tomb, and it became, for a while, a popular pilgrimage site. This reputation was encouraged by the Tudors, who started advocating for his canonization. All of this infant tradition of veneration ended with Henry VIII and the overthrow of so many things in his wake, but popular devotion for a while ran far ahead of the slow process of formal canonization; in England on the verge of the Henrician reformation, Henry was already venerated as a saint. Some prayers were written for him:

As far as hope will yn lengthe
On the Kyng Henry I fix my mynde
That be thy prayer I may have strenkith
In vertuous life my warks to bynde
Though I to thè have been unkynde
Off wilfulnresse long tyme and space
Off forgeveness I aske the grace
Hop hathe me movyde to seke his place
In trust of socor thyn old properte
Was never man cam beforne thy face
Rebellion or oder yn adversitie
Off thyn compassion commaunded them goe free
Now for thi pety to hym that all schall deme
Pray for me thy servaunt and pilgreme.

Lent XVIII

My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the bed of aromatical spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies. (Song 6:2 [6:1 in the Vulgate])

Surely the bed of spices is the mind of the faithful, which is instructed in the discipline of true faith as though it were constituted with equal sides all around and as though a skillful gardener had turned it frequently so as to remove all superfluous plants, doubtless because the gardener scrutinizes it carefully and considers intently to make sure that it contains nothing profane, nothing unclean, nothing at all detrimental to heavenly salvation. He strives to make it worthy so that his beloved (namely, the beneficent sower of justice) should plant the spices of virtues in it and water it with his grace and continual assistance so that it never withers....

...Now he feeds in the gardens because he delights in the pious deeds of the saints....He gathers lilies when the just attain the perfect splendor of merits, and he leads them from this life to the heavenly kingdom....

[The Venerable Bede, On the Song of Songs and Selected Writings, Holder, tr. Paulist Press (Mahwah, NJ: 2011) p. 176.]

Monday, March 20, 2017

Lent XVII

The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the protector of my life: of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 26:1 -- 27:1 in most modern Bibles)

Tribulation brings on darkness, prosperity brings light and serenity; for tribulation confuses and confounds the soul, so that it cannot easily see how it ought to act, and thence is provoked to impatience, or to some other sin. But should God, by his divine light, dispel the darkness, the soul at once sees that the tribulation, which in the darkness of the night brought such horrors with it, was temporary and trifling; and sees, at the same time, that tribulation, when God protects us, can not only do us no harm, but even tends marvelously to our good.

[St. Robert Bellarmine, A Commentary on the Book of Psalms, O'Sullivan, tr. Loreto Publications (Fitzwilliam, NH: 2011) p. 53.]