Saturday, December 15, 2007

I Vote for Woughoughaught

"w00t" (with zeroes) was recently voted Merriam-Webster's word of the year. James G. Poulos, the Postmodern Conservative, replies:

Let me be blunt. Online gamers are not cool people. Making up the word 'w00t' is not cool. Making up the word 'w00t' is like being in eighth grade and writing the word 'WaReZ' on stuff. This should not be emulated in the real world, much less actively recruited into it. A more efficient way of representing the alphabet is texting '4' instead of 'four', or '2moro' instead of 'tomorrow'. That's cool. What's not cool is writing in public correspondence or a class paper -- because that's what you do with words -- the phrase h0LLaZ @ ya 8itChz. That's hella stupid. That's not 'simply a different' form of dictionary English -- at least not until Merriam-Webster gets its trite, self-abasing hands on it. What real word are you more efficiently representing with the letters 'w00t'? Woot? Woughte?

Dictionaries have come a long way since Johnson. It's a long way towards pointlessness, but a long way.

UPDATE: Fixed a link.

A Puzzling Sentence

A somewhat puzzling sentence in Diggins's recent review of Charles Taylor's A Secular Age:

Descartes could scarcely break free from the Calvinist conviction that the will, rather than exercising sovereign control over the body, remained in bondage to the sins of the flesh.

Puzzling, because Descartes didn't need to break from any Calvinist convictions; he was Catholic, and seems to have had no interest in Calvinism. And the sovereignty of will had a longstanding Augustinian pedigree. There are a few other slightly puzzling claims in the review, although for the most part I think they arise because I read Taylor somewhat differently than Diggins seems to read him. But that one stood out.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Triads and Julian of Norwich

I came across the following some time ago when going through some papers; it is a short essay written in the summer of '98 (the date on the paper is 15.7.98), my sophomore year of college, for a course on women and literature in the later Medieval and Renaissance periods. Needless to say, there are a number of things I would do differently now, and it's all very clumsily expressed, but in the main it is right, and I thought it would be interesting to put it up.

Use of Triadic Form in Julian's Revelations of Divine Love

With careful examination one can find many literary, as opposed to theological or philosophical, qualities in Julian's Revelation of Divine Love. One such literary characteristic is Julian's use of syntactic features, such as parallelism or repetition, to further the themes of her work. This is perhaps most easily seen in her continual use of the triad to emphasize the Trinitarian aspects of the message of the Revelation.

By far the most common triad in Julian's work is that of might, wisdom, and goodness. The first instance of this occurs in the first chapter, in her summary of what will follow in Revelation XIII. The sense of the usage is that, just as God has made everything with might, wisdom, and goodness, everything will be made right again by means of the same might, wisdom, and goodness (1:38-40). This is shown to be a good preparatory summary in the fact that this same triad is mentioned in Revelation XIII in a context that elaborates on this very thought (35:26-35). In these passages, however, Julian is not speaking of might, wisdom, and goodness as general characteristics of the Godhead, but of the three together, functioning as a unity, being the very Godhead. Each of the three characteristics, might, wisdom, and goodness, are [sic] proper to one of the three Persons of the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. THus, when Julian says in Revelation XIV that it is neither in the might of God, nor in the wisdom of God, nor in the goodness of God to be wrathful (46:33-35), she is saying that the very substance of God, threefold yet one, is not in any way wrathful. That this is the case is given in a passage later during the same Revelation. In this passage she gives the identification very clearly: "And thus in oure makyng god almyghty is oure kyndly fader, and god all wisdom is oure kindly mother, with the loue and the goodnes of the holy gost, whych is all one god, one lord" (58:12-14). Here are found the elements of might, wisdom,a nd goodness, each identified with one Person of the Trinity. Thus, might is the characteristic of God the Father; wisdom is the characteristic of God the Son, who is also referred to in Julian's works, as here, as the Mother; and goodness is a characteristic of God the Holy Spirit. For Julian, therefore, human interaction with the Godhead is highly Trinitarian. When a human being experiences God, it is an experience of "souereyne myghte, souereyne wysdom and souereyn goodnesse" (68:12-14).

Another triad is found on multiple occasions in the Revelations, which is sufficiently similar to the previous to be considered a variation, to wit, might, wisdom, and love. In matter of fact, the two triads are identical in their referents and interchangeable; what this new triad, the second most common in the work, does is to give an idea of what Julian means the reader to understand the work of the Holy Spirit to be. This is shown by Julian's assignation of the characteristic or property of love, along with the characteristic of goodness, to the Holy Spirit in the quotation from Revelation XIV above. The relationship between love and goodness as seen by Julian is even more clearly brought out in a passage that occurs earlier in the same Revelation. In this passage, Julian, speaking of how God created humanity, speaks of "loue made of the kyndly substanncyall goodnesse of the holy gost" along with the might of the Father and the wisdom of the Son (53:36-39). Love and goodness are, as was said, interchangeable in the triad, since they have the same referent, but in Julian give a somewhat more active implication than does goodness. Thus, one finds that when Christ in Revelation III speaks of himself as the one who leads all things to the end he has ordained, he uses this triad (11:53-56). In the same place the soul is said to be "examynyd" in the vision "myghtly, wysely, and louyngly" (11:56-57). This is an elaboration of the theme summarized for this Revelation in the first chapter, where Julian uses this triad for the first time (1:10-13). Might, wisdom, and love are also brough together in Revelation XIV, in a passage in which Julian speaks of the way in which God keeps the souls of the believers (62:5-10). Perhaps the most important use of the triad occurs earlier in this same Revelation during the discussion of how God has no wrath. In one sense, what is used here is not a triad but a tetrad, since it has four members: might, wisdom, charity, and unity (46:31-32). It can be easily seen, however, that unity does not function at the same level as the other three, because it is that which joins the other three together. The conclusion is obvious: here Julian is emphasizing the Trinity, not merely as the Godhead of Three Persons, but also, simultaneously, as one God. At times the property of goodness also serves as this function; one example of which can be seen at the end of Revelation I.

There are several lesser variants of these two primary triads that fulfill the same function of further Julian's Trinitarian theme. Some of these triads are similar in that they refer to God the Father with the property kind. These are often less obviously Trinitarian than the triads given above, but the Trinitarian trace can still be found in them. In a pssage found in the long Reverlation XIV, Julian uses the triad kind, mercy, and grace, in a way that, upon investigation, can be seen to refer to the Trinity: "For in kynde we haue oure lyfe and oure beyng, and in mercy and grace we haue oure encre and oure fulfyllyng" (56:43-44). Kind, or nature, is reserved to God the Father, whos it he beginning point of the Trinitarian procession of Persons, and so is, in a sense, the very substance of the Godhead. In mercy one can immediately see the saving action of God the Son, who died on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, while grace is a characteristic of God the Spirit, who is the gift given by God the Father and God the Son to the Church, as, for example, at Pentecost. A similar triad is found later on, when Julian is discussing the nature of Motherhood in the Godhead, which is, she says, nearest, readiest, and surest: "nerest for it is most of kynd, redyest for it is most of loue, and sekerest for it is most of trewth" (60:14-16). Kind, as has been seen, is a characteristic of the Father, and love, of course, of the Spirit. The relationship between wisdom and truth, should be obvious, particularly in how, if one applies to the Second Person of the Trinity, the other can also reasonably be said to apply.

Other variant triads refer less to the substance of the Persons of the Trinity and focus more on their operations. An example of this is found in Revelation I, where Julian says that God made human beings to himself, restored them by his Passion, and keeps them in his love (5:44-46). God the maker, God the restorer, and God the keeper are, in fact, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as any sharp eye might perceive. In the same Revelation Julian speaks of how no one can know the homeliness of the Father in this life unless they receive it by a special showing from Christ or by an inwardly given grace of the Holy Spirit (7:55-58). These are just a few instances that show how dominated by the Trinity Julian's theological thought is.

Perhaps one of the most interesting uses to which Julian puts the triad to further her Trinitarian emphasis is in speaking of the human being. In Revelation XIV Julian says that "oure soule is a made trynyte lyke to the unmade trynyte" (55:40-41), an integral part of Julian's anthropology that could have been discovered from a study of her use of the triadic function. In several places Julian uses triads in describing the human being in such a way as to leave no doubt about how important the Trinity is in her view for understanding humanity. In one place, speaking of human nature when apart from God, she says that it is "vnmyghty and vnwyse of hym selfe, and also his wyll is ovyr leyde in thys tyme he is in tempest and in sorow and woe" (47:17-19). In this can be seen the transformation of the human soul, made in the image of the Trinity, into the reverse of the triad of might, wisdom, and love or goodness. Similarly, she says that the Christian's willing assent to the presence of God involves loving Him with all one's heart, soul, and might (52:23-26), in which one can also see the human type of the Trinitarian antitype. Further on she says, "Oure feyth comyth of the kynde loue of oure soule, and of the clere lyghte or oure reson, and of the stedfaste mynde whych we haue of god in oure furst makyng" (55:14-16). Here is shown the exact manner in which Julian conceives the human being to be made in God's image, once again Trinitarian in form: humanity has "stedfaste mynde" like the Father, reason like the Son, and love like the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps more important than these, however, is her assertion in Revelation XVI of the three ways in which God is worshipped and human beings are "sped, kepte and savyd," namely, one's own reason, the teaching authority of the Church, and the experience of the interior working of the Spirit (80:1-8). Each of these three are given to use by God and are, as a result to be respected and used. The human reason, in a sense, proceeds from God the Father, who created it. The teaching authority of the Church proceeds form God the Son because He is both the Head of the Church and the subject matter taught by the Church's gosepl. These two, when added to the graces bestowed through the Holy Spirit, constitute what might by [sic] called Julian's theological epistemology. By means of these three gifts, which the Christian must continually use, one come [sic] to know oneself and God; because from these three sources come the virtues of faith, hope, and charity, in which the entire Christian life is grounded (7:58-65).

So rich is Julian's work with triads, it is soon seen to be far beyond the capability of a short essay to investigate the entire depth of meaning Julian is able to place in her words by means of this simple syntactic device. It is certain, however, that she uses the mechanism with ease and mastery, giving every triad a use that is more than merely rhetorical. Nor can one say that it is only the Trinitarian aspects of Julian's revelations that are shown by her use of the triad; as was seen above, some of her most obviously Trinitarian triads further anthropological, ethical, and epistemological themes as well. Given this, and the wealth of other well-used syntactic devices found in the Revelations of Divine Love, one can truly say that Julian of Norwich is a masterful writer.

Notes and Links

* John Heard on Spe Salvi:

This sense that Christianity is not just a demonstration - not only the sort of thing that might please a secular academic or a scientist - but also a performance, is a rebuke to pagan, secular and other urges that seek to replace hope with nihilism.

If what we do in faith is not just philosophy but also an encounter and relationship with reason and meaning Himself, if human beings are, by hope, clicked into some new way of living, Christians "know in general terms that…life will not end in emptiness."

* Biblia Clerus is a great website, run by the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy, that allows you to look at what Church Fathers and Doctors have said on various passages of Scripture. It takes a bit to figure out how to navigate it, and it still needs some work (particularly with regard to the amount of content offered in different languages) but it's worth it.

* On the daughters of sloth, Michael Gilleland gives the Latin for Isidore's list. It seems reasonable to give the Latin for Gregory's list as well:

Assignat autem Gregorius, XXXI Moral., sex filias acediae, quae sunt malitia, rancor, pusillanimitas, desperatio, torpor circa praecepta, vagatio mentis circa illicita....

* St. Photius's Mystagogy, which I've argued before should be taken more seriously in the West. (ht)

* I am currently reading Lamoreaux's translations of the works of ninth-century Melkite theologian, Theodore Abu Qurrah (PDF). It's good stuff; you can expect a post or two on it in the coming weeks.

* Please keep GoodSearch in mind as an easy way to raise a bit of pocket money for your favorite charities.

* Bent Flyvbjerg, Five Misunderstandings About Case-Study Research (PDF)

* Mark Wilson, Duhem Before Breakfast (PDF). A problem with the article is that Duhem is not an anti-realist, in any general and meaningful sense of the term; he is, rather, a positivist about physical theory, and the two positions are not the same. But the paper does a good job of noting a type of argument in Duhem that is often overlooked, and the problems that can be posed for it.

* Michael Pakaluk notes a connection between the White Rose Society and Plato.

* Must One Believe in God Before Miracles? at "FQI"

* Atheist Sunday schools. I actually think it's a good idea for atheists to consider this sort of thing (the Unitarian Universalist approach to atheism, so to speak); but I confess I can't imagine a bunch of people singing "I'm Unique and Unrepeatable" to the tune of "Ten Little Indians" without finding it hilariously funny, in a way that, say, the lovely "Die Gedanken Sind Frei" or even the overrated "Imagine," which put solidarity front and center, are not. Perhaps next they can sing "I'm Special" or "I Am Special".

* Speaking of which, YouTube has a good selection of songs from one of the best cover bands out there, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes.

Juan de la Cruz

We must remember that the Word, the Son of God, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is hidden in essence and in presence, in the inmost being of the soul. That soul, therefore, that will find Him, must go out from all things in will and affection, and enter into the profoundest self-recollection, and all things must be to it as if they existed not. Hence, St. Augustine says: "I found You not without, O Lord; I sought You without in vain, for You are within," God is therefore hidden within the soul, and the true contemplative will seek Him there in love, saying,

"Where have You hidden Yourself?"

O you soul, then, most beautiful of creatures, who so long to know the place where your Beloved is, that you may seek Him, and be united to Him, you know now that you are yourself that very tabernacle where He dwells, the secret chamber of His retreat where He is hidden. Rejoice, therefore, and exult, because all your good and all your hope is so near you as to be within you; or, to speak more accurately, that you can not be without it, "for lo, the kingdom of God is within you." So says the Bridegroom Himself, and His servant, St. Paul, adds: "You are the temple of the living God." What joy for the soul to learn that God never abandons it, even in mortal sin; how much less in a state of grace!

From the Spiritual Canticle of soul and the Bridegroom Christ (stanza 1).

Thursday, December 13, 2007

On Trying Not to Scream Unduly Loud

Elliot at "Claw of the Conciliator" has a post on Robert Hugh Benson. I like Benson's preface to Lord of the World:

I am perfectly aware that this is a terribly sensational book, and open to innumerable criticisms on that account, as well as on many others. But I did not know how else to express the principles I desired (and which I passionately believe to be true) except by producing their lines to a sensational point. I have tried, however, not to scream unduly loud, and to retain, so far as possible, reverence and consideration for the opinions of other people. Whether I have succeeded in that attempt is quite another matter.

Robert Hugh Benson.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

La Morenita del Tepeyac

It's a big religious holiday today. A bit of trivia for you: what is the most visited pilgrimage site in the Western Hemisphere? If you guessed this church, you're right.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Daughters of Sloth

Horace Jeffery Hodges of "Gypsy Scholar" has recently had a series of posts on Western views of curiositas (discussing various aspects of Hans Blumenberg's discussion in The Legitimacy of the Modern Age). The most recent post is an especially interest on Aquinas's discussion of the link between acedia, the vice of sloth, and curiositas, the vice of curiosity. Aquinas's whole discussion of sloth is interesting, and so I thought I'd put up a post on the 'daughters of sloth'.

Acedia, the shunning of difficult good, is a 'capital sin', that is, it serves as the fountainhead of other sins, which are called its 'daughters'. Aquinas addresses two lists of daughters of sloth, one by Isidore and one by Gregory the Great.

Isidore's List

Isidore (De Summo Bono ii, 37) distinguishes between sorrow and sloth. In sorrow a man shuns difficult good because he finds it difficult or burdensome; in sloth he shuns it because he is overly inclined to rest and repose. From sorrow come the following:

spite, faint-heartedness, bitterness, despair

From sloth come the following:

idleness, drowsiness, uneasiness of the mind, restlessness of the body, instability, loquacity, curiosity

Aquinas will reject the view, found in Isidore and Cassian (De Instit. Caenob. x, 1), that these are distinct vices, and so will treat them as one list.

Gregory's List

Gregory, whose list is the one from which Aquinas will primarily draw, lists the daughters of sloth as follows (Moral. xxxi, 45):

malice, spite, faint-heartedness, despair, sluggishness in regard to the commandments, wandering of the mind after unlawful things

Aquinas defends Gregory's listing by distinguishing two steps by which someone fails with regard to some unpleasant good: first he comes to withdraw from, or shun, the good itself, and then he comes to pass it over in favor of something more pleasant. Likewise, when someone shuns the unpleasant, there are two steps: first he begins to avoid it, then he begins to struggle actively against it. "Despair" is then the avoidance of spiritual good considered as an end in itself; "faint-heartedness" is the avoidance of spiritual good that is the reasonable means to the end in matters of genuine difficulty; "sluggishness about the commandments" is the avoidance of spiritual good that is the reasonable means to the end in matters of common righteousness. These are all cases where we shun spiritual good by trying simply to avoid it. When our vice becomes aggravated, we move on to struggling against it. When our struggle against unpleasant spiritual good leads us to attack those people who lead others to that good, we have descended into "spite," and "malice" arises when we descend to detesting the good itself. This leaves the last step by which the vice of sloth generates other vices, namely, where we pass over the difficult or unpleasant good in favor of something easy and pleasant, such as when people devote themselves to fleshly pleasures because they find no joy in spiritual or intellectual things. This is "wandering after unlawful things."

The Combined List

How are the two lists related to each other? Thomas argues that the elements on Isidore's lists (both the list for sorrow and the list for sloth) reduce to elements on Gregory's list. This leads us to the full list of the daughters of sloth:

Sloth involves shunning the unpleasant good:

A. By avoiding it
  1. Considered as an end: despair
  2. Considered as a means in difficult matters: faint-heartedness
  3. Considered as a means in matters of common righteousness: sluggishness
    3a. By omitting it altogether: idleness
    3b. By pursuing it negligently: drowsiness

B. By struggling against it
  1. Indignation against those who lead us to it: spite
  2. Detestation of the good itself: malice

C. By passing on to more pleasant things
  1. In matters of intellect: uneasiness of mind
  2. In matters of imagination: curiosity
  3. In matters of speech: loquacity
  4. In matters of physical motion: restlessness of body
  5. In matters of purpose: instability

Strictly speaking, Thomas gives two different possible accounts of Isidore's "instability," not deciding between them (i.e., either in matters where the body moves from place to place or in matters of purpose). All of the five under C are various ways in which people exhibit a mental unsteadiness, a lack of dependability and self-control wherever difficulty may be involved, a pursuit of pleasant distractions rather than genuine good.

One of the interesting things about this list of the daughters of sloth is how easily it could be turned into a ringing indictment and critique of our contemporary society. A modern-day Dante, looking for examples by which he might people the slothful ring of hell, would find plenty from which to choose. It is one thing, for instance, to criticize this or that move by Theresa of Calcutta; it is another, as is sometimes done, for people to try to spin every action by which she tried to exhort people to good as somehow evil. That is spite; and, what is more, it is spite that tends to malice. If an archangel were to look out on all our society, would he issue the following judgment?

This is a slothful nation, desperate and faint-hearted, idle and drowsy in pursuit of goods that are difficult, spiteful and malicious towards goods that are unpleasant, drowning itself in trivialities, in words, in frivolous and useless pursuits.

I think he might well do so. We do very little to discipline our reason so that it does not consent to "the dislike, horror and detestation of the Divine good, on account of the flesh utterly prevailing over the spirit"; without such discipline it becomes difficult to overcome the temptation when it arises. The only remedy is to chase it out by its opposite: which is charity, in its aspect of joy in the good, regardless of its difficulty or pleasantness. We need more celebration of the good for which you have to labor and sometimes toil; more celebration of it as good, as worthy even of the labor and toil required, as in some sense transfiguring that labor and toil into a worthwhile task of its own.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Balder the Beautiful

"There is always a thing forgotten
When all the world goes well;
A thing forgotten, as long ago,
When the gods forgot the mistletoe,
And soundless as an arrow of snow
The arrow of anguish fell.

"The thing on the blind side of the heart,
On the wrong side of the door,
The green plant groweth, menacing
Almighty lovers in the spring;
There is always a forgotten thing,
And love is not secure."

G.K. Chesterton, The Ballad of the White Horse, Book III.

So on the floor lay Balder dead; and round
Lay thickly strewn swords axes darts and spears
Which all the Gods in sport had idly thrown
At Balder, whom no weapon pierc’d or clove:
But in his breast stood fixt the fatal bough
Of mistletoe, which Lok the Accuser gave
To Hoder, and unwitting Hoder threw:
’Gainst that alone had Balder’s life no charm.

Matthew Arnold, Balder Dead

I heard a voice, that cried,
"Balder the Beautiful
Is dead, is dead!"
And through the misty air
Passed like the mournful cry
Of sunward sailing cranes.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Tegner's Drapa

Various Links

* The Prince Caspian trailer

* You can also see The Golden Compass trailer (you'll have to click the link yourself), if you haven't yet. It's apparently not doing well in the North American box office, although it is doing somewhat more respectably elsewhere. Unless its fortunes improve, it may struggle to reach profit, which will be a major factor in determining whether the sequels are put on screen.

* Pullman's interview with Peter Chattaway.

* A good post on the myth that Kierkegaard advocates a 'leap of faith', at "Bosphorus Reflections".

* "Self and World" has a post on a myth about Hegel, namely that his dialectic is in terms of thesis-antithesis-synthesis.

* Currently reading: A Review of Extended Probabilities (PDF; ht)

Toby Ord, The Scourge (PDF) (This argument seems to me to involve the same dubious moves as Bostrom's dragon story; and, moreover, it makes the mistake of taking 'moral status' to be a serious moral category rather than a colloquial phrase that can summarize a number of completely different issues. It is noteworthy, in any case, that people who are worried about the 'full moral status' of embryos tend to be pro-choice; pro-lifers tend to worry instead about whether the embryo is human enough to have rights.)

Anna Christina Ribeiro, Point-of-View Shots, Symbolic Perspectives and Imagining from the Inside (Word)

* Facts, Ideas, & Logic is an interesting website for reading about philosophy in the news and online.

* Daniel has an interesting post on Kant and transcendental realism at "SOH-Dan".

* John Wilkins has placed Gosse's Omphalos online at the Internet Archive.

* Incidentally, I find that St. George Mivart is well-represented at the Archive.

* I was amused by this news story and even more by the campaign on which it reports. Yes, that's a real issue with global warming: all those Jews lighting the menorah. I very much like Rabbi Lau's response to it, about tikkun olam. In any case, I think a more sensible campaign would have been to advocate more use of olive-oil based menorahs (olive oil is a potentially carbon neutral fuel) plus some program for developing and increasing olive orchards (a potentially carbon negative practice) plus serious observance of some of the restrictions of the Hanukkah Sabbath (potential emissions reduction) plus information about Jewish approaches to linking Hanukkah with environmental activism (consciousness raising). It would still be a little silly, as a matter of overall priorities, but it would be a much more competent statement of concern and action on the matter of global warming.

Birth of the Baptist

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, "No; he is to be called John." They said to her, "None of your relatives has this name." Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, "His name is John." And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, "What then will this child become?"