Saturday, April 03, 2010

Refined with Bright Supernal Fires

Easter Eve
by John Keble

As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth
thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water. Zechariah ix.

At length the worst is o'er, and Thou art laid
Deep in Thy darksome bed;
All still and cold beneath yon dreary stone
Thy sacred form is gone;
Around those lips where power and mercy hung,
The dews of deaths have clung;
The dull earth o'er Thee, and Thy foes around,
Thou sleep'st a silent corse, in funeral fetters wound.

Sleep'st Thou indeed? or is Thy spirit fled,
At large among the dead?
Whether in Eden bowers Thy welcome voice
Wake Abraham to rejoice,
Or in some drearier scene Thine eye controls
The thronging band of souls;
That, as Thy blood won earth, Thine agony
Might set the shadowy realm from sin and sorrow free.

Where'er Thou roam'st, one happy soul, we know,
Seen at Thy side in woe,
Waits on Thy triumphs--even as all the blest
With him and Thee shall rest.
Each on his cross; by Thee we hang a while,
Watching Thy patient smile,
Till we have learned to say, "'Tis justly done,
Only in glory, LORD, Thy sinful servant own."

Soon wilt Thou take us to Thy tranquil bower
To rest one little hour,
Till Thine elect are numbered, and the grave
Call Thee to come and save:
Then on Thy bosom borne shall we descend
Again with earth to blend,
Earth all refined with bright supernal fires,
Tinctured with holy blood, and winged with pure desires.

Meanwhile with every son and saint of Thine
Along the glorious line,
Sitting by turns beneath Thy sacred feet
We'll hold communion sweet,
Know them by look and voice, and thank them all
For helping us in thrall,
For words of hope, and bright examples given
To show through moonless skies that there is light in Heaven.

O come that day, when in this restless heart
Earth shall resign her part,
When in the grave with Thee my limbs shall rest,
My soul with Thee be blest!
But stay, presumptuous--CHRIST with Thee abides
In the rock's dreary sides:
He from this stone will wring Celestial dew
If but this prisoner's heart he faithful found and true.

When tears are spent, and then art left alone
With ghosts of blessings gone,
Think thou art taken from the cross, and laid
In JESUS' burial shade;
Take Moses' rod, the rod of prayer, and call
Out of the rocky wall
The fount of holy blood; and lift on high
Thy grovelling soul that feels so desolate and dry.

Prisoner of Hope thou art--look up and sing
In hope of promised spring.
As in the pit his father's darling lay
Beside the desert way,
And knew not how, but knew his GOD would save
E'en from that living grave,
So, buried with our LORD, we'll chose our eyes
To the decaying world, till Angels bid us rise.

Holy Saturday

As Christ's death wrought our salvation, so likewise did His burial. Hence Jerome says (Super Marc. xiv): "By Christ's burial we rise again"; and on Isaiah 53:9: "He shall give the ungodly for His burial," a gloss says: "He shall give to God and the Father the Gentiles who were without godliness, because He purchased them by His death and burial."
Thomas Aquinas, ST III.51.1ad2

RNC Expenses

Lindsay Beyerstein is in good form discussing the expenses of Republic National Committee staffers:

It's one thing to soft-pedal your booze runs as office supplies. Provided you're using that booze for party functions, then you're just slapping a sanitized label on a legitimate expense. Even the infamous trip to the strip club was legitimate from a campaign finance point of view, despite being a PR nightmare. The staffers were apparently courting donors: These hard-driving captains of industry are not putting down cash on some vague promise of overturning Roe. Apparently, rich Republicans won't cough up the big bucks until they actually see women in bondage.

But repeated instances of writing off hundreds of dollars worth of "meals" from places that don't even sell food makes me wonder if some of these incidents are attempts to conceal something more sinister, like appropriating party money for personal use.


He Can Break a Seal

Easter Eve
by Christina Rossetti

There is nothing more that they can do
For all their rage and boast :
Caiaphas with his blaspheming crew,
Herod with his host;

Pontius Pilate in his judgment hall
Judging their Judge and his,
Or he who led them all and past them all,
Arch-Judas with his kiss.

The sepulchre made sure with ponderous stone,
Seal that same stone, O priest :
It may be thou shalt block the Holy One
From rising in the east.

Set a watch about the sepulchre
To watch on pain of death :
They must hold fast the stone if One should stir
And shake it from beneath.

God Almighty, He can break a seal,
And roll away a stone :
Can grind the proud in dust who would not kneel,
And crush the mighty one.

There is nothing more that they can do
For all their passionate care,
Those who sit in dust, the blessed few,
And weep and rend their hair.

Peter, Thomas, Mary Magdalen,
The Virgin unreproved,
Joseph and Nicodemus foremost men,
And John the well-beloved.

Bring your finest linen and your spice,
Swathe the sacred Dead,
Bind with careful hands and piteous eyes
The napkin round His head :

Lay Him in the garden-rock to rest :
Rest you the Sabbath length :
The Sun that went down crimson in the west
Shall rise renewed in strength.

God Almighty shall give joy for pain,
Shall comfort him who grieves :
Lo He with joy shall doubtless come again
And with Him bring His sheaves.

A Jotting on Moral Particularism

Chance asked my opinion on moral particularism. I haven't thought at great length about it, but judging from what little I've ready by Dancy about it, I would say that it's right in its positive proposal and wrong in its criticisms of generalists. Much of morality is particularist; there is such a thing as moral taste, and more broadly yet there is such a thing as prudence. A morality that doesn't take this into account is incomplete and inadequate. But particularism as such is the view that there are no defensible exceptionless moral principles, which is absurd; obviously there are, e.g., 'Try to do what is good and avoid what is bad'. And particularist criticisms of moral principles almost universally make the error of assuming that the only options are to have only moral principles or no moral principles; these, however, are contraries rather than contradictories.

We live in a curious period of philosophy; namely, we live in the Era of a Hundred Myriad Schools. This sharply affects our moral discourse, because moral philosophy, like much else in philosophy, is massively fragmented. (I think the same is true of moral theology.) This almost guarantees that typical positions in moral philosophy, like particularist and standard 'generalist' positions, will be incomplete. The only real way forward is through a major synthesis; such things have happened before, but not, as far as I am aware, under such fragmented conditions. In the meantime we need to be skeptical of any position that does not recognize the diversity and richness of moral life and moral reasoning.

Friday, April 02, 2010

The Bitter Herbs of Earth are Set

Good Friday
by John Keble

He is despised and rejected of men. Isaiah liii. 3.

Is it not strange, the darkest hour
That ever dawned on sinful earth
Should touch the heart with softer power
For comfort than an angel's mirth?
That to the Cross the mourner's eye should turn
Sooner than where the stars of Christmas burn?

Sooner than where the Easter sun
Shines glorious on yon open grave,
And to and fro the tidings run,
"Who died to heal, is risen to save?"
Sooner than where upon the Saviour's friends
The very Comforter in light and love descends?

Yet so it is: for duly there
The bitter herbs of earth are set,
Till tempered by the Saviour's prayer,
And with the Saviour's life-blood wet,
They turn to sweetness, and drop holy balm,
Soft as imprisoned martyr's deathbed calm.

All turn to sweet--but most of all
That bitterest to the lip of pride,
When hopes presumptuous fade and fall,
Or Friendship scorns us, duly tried,
Or Love, the flower that closes up for fear
When rude and selfish spirits breathe too near.

Then like a long-forgotten strain
Comes sweeping o'er the heart forlorn
What sunshine hours had taught in vain
Of JESUS suffering shame and scorn,
As in all lowly hearts he suffers still,
While we triumphant ride and have the world at will.

His pierced hands in vain would hide
His face from rude reproachful gaze,
His ears are open to abide
The wildest storm the tongue can raise,
He who with one rough word, some early day,
Their idol world and them shall sweep for aye away.

But we by Fancy may assuage
The festering sore by Fancy made,
Down in some lonely hermitage
Like wounded pilgrims safely laid,
Where gentlest breezes whisper souls distressed,
That Love yet lives, and Patience shall find rest.

O! shame beyond the bitterest thought
That evil spirit ever framed,
That sinners know what Jesus wrought,
Yet feel their haughty hearts untamed -
That souls in refuge, holding by the Cross,
Should wince and fret at this world's little loss.

Lord of my heart, by Thy last cry,
Let not Thy blood on earth be spent -
Lo, at Thy feet I fainting lie,
Mine eyes upon Thy wounds are bent,
Upon Thy streaming wounds my weary eyes
Wait like the parched earth on April skies.

Wash me, and dry these bitter tears,
O let my heart no further roam,
'Tis Thine by vows, and hopes, and fears.
Long since--O call Thy wanderer home;
To that dear home, safe in Thy wounded side,
Where only broken hearts their sin and shame may hide.

Jonathan Dancy on Craig Ferguson


Jeremy has a good post addressing misconceptions about the 3/5 clause in the original Constitution:

The wording actually assumes they are full persons. It distinguishes between the contribution to the census from free persons and the contribution from other persons. It's 3/5 of the number of other persons that gets added to the number of free persons. It's not that slaves are 3/5 of a person.

And for the record, it was those who opposed slavery who didn't want them counted and those who favored it who did, because counting them as full persons would mean more representation in Congress for their states (and yet the voting for those states wouldn't involve the slaves voting, of course, so it's even more influence for the slave-holders if they counted fully).

I, Only I

Good Friday
by Christina Rossetti

Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood's slow loss,
And yet not weep?

Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;

Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon--
I, only I.

Yet give not o'er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Thursday Before Easter
by John Keble

As the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to shew thee; for thou art greatly beloved: therefore understand the matter, and consider the vision. Daniel ix. 23.

"O Holy mountain of my God,
How do thy towers in ruin lie,
How art thou riven and strewn abroad,
Under the rude and wasteful sky!"
'Twas thus upon his fasting-day
The "Man of Loves" was fain to pray,
His lattice open toward his darling west,
Mourning the ruined home he still must love the best.

Oh! for a love like Daniel's now,
To wing to Heaven but one strong prayer
For GOD'S new Israel, sunk as low,
Yet flourishing to sight as fair,
As Sion in her height of pride,
With queens for handmaids at her side,
With kings her nursing-fathers, throned high,
And compassed with the world's too tempting blazonry.

'Tis true, nor winter stays thy growth,
Nor torrid summer's sickly smile;
The flashing billows of the south
Break not upon so lone an isle,
But thou, rich vine, art grafted there,
The fruit of death or life to bear,
Yielding a surer witness every day,
To thine Almighty Author and His steadfast sway.

Oh! grief to think, that grapes of gall
Should cluster round thine healthiest shoot!
God's herald prove a heartless thrall,
Who, if he dared, would fain be mute!
E'en such is this bad world we see,
Which self-condemned in owning Thee,
Yet dares not open farewell of Thee take,
For very pride, and her high-boasted Reason's sake.

What do we then? if far and wide
Men kneel to CHRIST, the pure and meek,
Yet rage with passion, swell with pride,
Have we not still our faith to seek?
Nay—but in steadfast humbleness
Kneel on to Him, who loves to bless
The prayer that waits for him; and trembling strive
To keep the lingering flame in thine own breast alive.

Dark frowned the future e'en on him,
The loving and beloved Seer,
What time he saw, through shadows dim,
The boundary of th' eternal year;
He only of the sons of men
Named to be heir of glory then.
Else had it bruised too sore his tender heart
To see GOD'S ransomed world in wrath and flame depart

Then look no more: or closer watch
Thy course in Earth's bewildering ways,
For every glimpse thine eye can catch
Of what shall be in those dread days:
So when th' Archangel's word is spoken,
And Death's deep trance for ever broken,
In mercy thou mayst feel the heavenly hand,
And in thy lot unharmed before thy Savour stand.

I a King, and Thou a King

Maundy Thursday
by Christina Rossetti

"And the Vine said...Should I leave my wine, which cheereth both God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?"

The great Vine left its glory to reign as Forest King.
"Nay," quoth the lofty forest trees, "we will not have this thing;
We will not have this supple one enring us with its ring.
Lo, from immemorial time our might towers shadowing:
Not we were born to curve and droop, not we to climb and cling:
We buffet back the buffeting wind, tough to its buffeting:
We screen great beasts, the wild fowl build in our heads and sing,
Every bird of every feather from off our tops takes wing:
I a king, and thou a king, and what king shall be our king?"

Nevertheless the great Vine stooped to be the Forest King,
While the forest swayed and murmured like seas that are tempesting:
Stooped and drooped with thousand tendrils in thirsty languishing;
Bowed to earth and lay on earth for earth's replenishing;
Put off sweetness, tasted bitterness, endured time's fashioning;
Put off life and put on death: and lo! it was all to bring
All its fellows down to a death which hath lost its sting,
All its fellows up to a life in endless triumphing,--
I a king, and thou a king, and this King to be our King.

Balmer's Overture

I confess I was caught somewhat offguard by the malice in Randall Balmer's 'overture':

My reference here, of course, is to the declaration last fall by the very same Benedict seeking to lure conservative Anglicans and Episcopalians to the Roman Catholic Church. The Vatican sensed an opening, especially with those Episcopalians (and former Episcopalians) who were still fuming over the consecration of V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, as bishop of New Hampshire, the refusal of the Episcopal Church to foreswear same-sex marriages, and the ordination of gays and lesbians and even (still!) the ordination of women.

On October 20, 2009, the Vatican announced a special “Apostolic Constitution” that would welcome these restive Episcopalians and Anglicans into the Catholic Church, allowing them to bring with them some of the glorious liturgies and music of the Anglican tradition.

While I’ve seen no evidence of Anglicans and Episcopalians “swimming the Tiber” en masse (pardon the pun) to Rome, the Vatican’s overture struck me at the time as opportunistic, even cynical. Ignoring decades of ecumenical conversations—not to mention catching the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, off guard—Benedict thought he could harvest disaffected Anglicans into the Roman Catholic Church by offering concessions on liturgy and music together with ironclad proscriptions against such “evils” as homosexuality and women priests.

Schadenfreude is not exactly becoming in a priest; but it seems to be interfering with Balmer's skills as a historian of religion, as well. All of the things that Balmer mentions had been old news by the time the Apostolic Constitution came out; Robinson, for instance, was elected bishop in 2003, Barbara Harris was elected the first woman bishop in 1989, the July 2009 compromise was simply the latest in a long series of controversies on same-sex marriage, and so forth. Now, to be sure, things move slowly in the Vatican -- as the joke goes, the reason the mills of God grind slowly is that that's the only way the Vatican can keep up. But there is simply no evidence that the Pope "thought he could harvest disaffected Anglicans into the Roman Catholic Church"; Rome has been working for years on trying to find a better way to integrate Anglicans who had already converted. Under John Paul II they had been taken care of by ad hoc measures; this led to a patchwork system that needed overhaul. And with all due respect to Balmer, if Rome were to wait until the Anglicans got over their troubles on homosexuality and the like, it would have to wait forever -- Anglicans are always having some such controversy, and this is structurally inevitable. The powerhouses on the side opposite to Balmer is the Church of Nigeria, which is the largest member of the Anglican communion. (On paper the Church of England is larger, but it is widely known that on paper is the only way the CofE can muster such numbers.) The Church of Nigeria is not going to change its position on homosexuality. But the CofN is also die-hard Anglican, more Anglican than the Church of England, as the saying goes; there is nothing that will push them out of the Communion, and because they have the numbers they have the means to fight, and they know it. When they talk about how liberal stances on homosexuality are going to split the Anglican communion, they are not threatening to pack up their bags; they are threatening to push you out. It is not a wholly idle threat. The Anglican controversies will not end in any foreseeable future; it would take either the Church of Nigeria collapsing or the Episcopalians leaving the Communion to budge things. 'Opportunistic' suggests deliberate and carefully planned timing to take advantage of some suddenly open opportunity; not only does Rome lack the ability to time things so carefully, you don't time plans to take advantage of things that are perpetually ongoing. As Balmer says, to be opportunistic you have to 'sense an opening'; but nobody means by this an opening that has been open for decades and will be open for decades more. In the meantime, the Catholic Church still had the problem of what to do with Catholics already using the Book of Divine Worship and those Anglicans who had already put out feelers of interest. There appears to be no evidence that there were any motives other than that; and when neither documentary evidence, nor the timeline, nor the structure of the situation seem to support a historical hypothesis about motives, it is not a very good hypothesis.

Nonetheless, Episcopalians do have a reasonably good preventative system with regard to priestly pedophilia, and have since the 1990s; so far it seems to be doing well. I actually wish our public schools had something similar; and in hindsight just about every church should have put something in place like it to deal with sexual offenses generally three-quarters of a century ago at least.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Beacon Light in Open Fight

Wednesday Before Easter
by John Keble

Saying, Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Thine, be done. St. Luke xxii. 42.

O Lord my God, do thou Thy holy will -
I will lie still -
I will not stir, lest I forsake Thine arm,
And break the charm
Which lulls me, clinging to my Father's breast,
In perfect rest.

Wild fancy, peace! thou must not me beguile
With thy false smile:
I know thy flatteries and thy cheating ways;
Be silent, Praise,
Blind guide with siren voice, and blinding all
That hear thy call.

Come, Self-devotion, high and pure,
Thoughts that in thankfulness endure,
Though dearest hopes are faithless found,
And dearest hearts are bursting round.
Come, Resignation, spirit meek,
And let me kiss thy placid cheek,
And read in thy pale eye serene
Their blessing, who by faith can wean
Their hearts from sense, and learn to love
God only, and the joys above.

They say, who know the life divine,
And upward gaze with eagle eyne,
That by each golden crown on high,
Rich with celestial jewelry,
Which for our Lord's redeemed is set,
There hangs a radiant coronet,
All gemmed with pure and living light,
Too dazzling for a sinner's sight,
Prepared for virgin souls, and them
Who seek the martyr's diadem.

Nor deem, who to that bliss aspire,
Must win their way through blood and fire.
The writhings of a wounded heart
Are fiercer than a foeman's dart.
Oft in Life's stillest shade reclining,
In Desolation unrepining,
Without a hope on earth to find
A mirror in an answering mind,
Meek souls there are, who little dream
Their daily strife an Angel's theme,
Or that the rod they take so calm
Shall prove in Heaven a martyr's palm.

And there are souls that seem to dwell
Above this earth--so rich a spell
Floats round their steps, where'er they move,
From hopes fulfilled and mutual love.
Such, if on high their thoughts are set,
Nor in the stream the source forget,
If prompt to quit the bliss they know,
Following the Lamb where'er He go,
By purest pleasures unbeguiled
To idolise or wife or child;
Such wedded souls our God shall own
For faultless virgins round His throne.

Thus everywhere we find our suffering God,
And where He trod
May set our steps: the Cross on Calvary
Uplifted high
Beams on the martyr host, a beacon light
In open fight.

To the still wrestlings of the lonely heart
He doth impart
The virtue of his midnight agony,
When none was nigh,
Save God and one good angel, to assuage
The tempest's rage.

Mortal! if life smile on thee, and thou find
All to thy mind,
Think, who did once from Heaven to Hell descend,
Thee to befriend:
So shalt thou dare forego, at His dear call,
Thy best, thine all.

"O Father! not My will, but Thine be done" -
So spake the Son.
Be this our charm, mellowing Earth's ruder noise
Of griefs and joys:
That we may cling for ever to Thy breast
In perfect rest!

Man's Life is Death

Wednesday in Holy Week
by Christina Rossetti

Man's life is death. Yet Christ endured to live,
Preaching and teaching, toiling to and fro,
Few men accepting what he yearned to give,
Few men with eyes to know
His Face, that Face of Love he stooped to show.

Man's death is life. For Christ endured to die
In slow unuttered weariness of pain,
A curse and an astonishment, passed by,
Pointed at, mocked again
By men for whom He shed His Blood -- in vain?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Poem Re-Draft and a Poem Draft

Both dragon-themed.

Dragon Psalm

Earth shakes, mountains tremble;
they reel at the flaring of wrath,
boiling like water in fire.
Smoke rises from his nostrils,
fire pours from his mouth;
kindled stones like coals pour forth.

Before him speeds devouring fire;
it whirls about him, a mighty tempest.
He touches mountains and they smoke.
Hills and stones melt like wax;
all his foes are consumed.
Drowning fire precedes; it storms around him.
The bed of the sea is uncovered,
the world's foundations are laid bare,
at the Lord's roar, the storm of his breath.

The heavens are shaken, rent,
darkness is under his feet.
He is borne on wings of wind.
The eternal mountains are shattered;
fragments of hills pave his way.
Before him goes lightning and splendor;
the earth sees and quakes.
He rains down flame and coals of fire,
sends the wicked a scorching wind. Selah.

Mountains that see him quiver;
raging waters cower in fear;
the deep gives forth a groaning voice;
stars stand still in the heavens.
He crushes the head of the wicked;
his arrows of light shoot forth,
his lightning like a glittering spear.

I was drowning in deep waters.
He drew me out and saved me;
he destroyed the demons of the sea.
His wings are wings of morning;
his breath sets the heavens glowing, aflame.
The mountains bow down before him
that they may declare his justice:
the Lord of hosts is his name. Hallelujah!

The Dragons Rise Above the Mount of Olives

The dragons rise above the Mount of Olives,
sunrise-splendid and sunset-winged,
writhing and looping like lemniscate ribbons,
soaring and searing with fire and flight.
Thought-creating flame flickers outward,
forges new steel like dragon-scales,
which no sword can cut save one,
two-edged and all-divinding, all-discerning truth;
thought-creating fire, like some solar ray, leaps out.
Nations tremble at the call of the dragons,
a sound like to trumpets; they speak holy things
and mutter the mysteries in voices like ocean,
voices like volcanic fires.
Clouds are around them, thick like hope,
wrapping their wings in garments of night.
in darkness the gardens on the hillsides burn,
silentingly burning, luminous candles
lighting a path to the heart of the sun.

The Papacy in the Twenty-Second Century

John Perry noticed this typo that recently appeared in the Washington Post:

Under Benedict, the church has brought back the Latin Mass in limited form, courted Anglicans disenchanted by the ordination of gay and female bishops and moved toward bestowing sainthood on Pope Pious XXII -- who has been criticized for not doing more to denounce the Nazis.

The last Pius was Pius XII; so we're talking ten Piuses in the future. Since the average service of a Pope is seven to eight years, we're talking somewhere post-2080; very likely several decades afterward. It also wasn't Pious but Pius; but at that far in the future, who knows what Anglicizing conventions exist in the press? It would make an interesting science fiction story. One could call it "The Things that Never Change". But I'm not sure how much story there would be because, you know, names and finer details aside, things of this sort really don't.

Unbeguiled by False Kind Solaces

Tuesday Before Easter
by John Keble

They gave Him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but He received it not. St. Mark xv. 23.

"Fill high the bowl, and spice it well, and pour
The dews oblivious: for the Cross is sharp,
The Cross is sharp, and He
Is tenderer than a lamb.

"He wept by Lazarus' grave--how will He bear
This bed of anguish? and His pale weak form
Is worn with many a watch
Of sorrow and unrest.

"His sweat last night was as great drops of blood,
And the sad burthen pressed Him so to earth,
The very torturers paused
To help Him on His way.

"Fill high the bowl, benumb His aching sense
With medicined sleep."--O awful in Thy woe!
The parching thirst of death
Is on Thee, and Thou triest

The slumb'rous potion bland, and wilt not drink:
Not sullen, nor in scorn, like haughty man
With suicidal hand
Putting his solace by:

But as at first Thine all-pervading look
Saw from Thy Father's bosom to the abyss
Measuring in calm presage
The infinite descent;

So to the end, though now of mortal pangs
Made heir, and emptied of Thy glory, awhile,
With unaverted eye
Thou meetest all the storm.

Thou wilt feel all, that Thou mayst pity all;
And rather wouldst Thou wreathe with strong pain,
Than overcloud Thy soul,
So clear in agony,

Or lose one glimpse of Heaven before the time
O most entire and perfect sacrifice,
Renewed in every pulse
That on the tedious Cross

Told the long hours of death, as, one by one,
The life-strings of that tender heart gave way;
E'en sinners, taught by Thee,
Look Sorrow in the face,

And bid her freely welcome, unbeguiled
By false kind solaces, and spells of earth:-
And yet not all unsoothed;
For when was Joy so dear,

As the deep calm that breathed, "Father, forgive,"
Or, "Be with Me in Paradise to-day?"
And, though the strife be sore,
Yet in His parting breath

Love masters Agony; the soul that seemed
Forsaken, feels her present God again,
And in her Father's arms
Contented dies away.

Thomism and ID

There is a fairly clumsy attempt to answer Thomistic criticism of 'intelligent design theory' at "Uncommon Descent". As someone of broadly Thomistic leanings I can't help but make some points, despite knowing that they will do no real good.

(1) I have no clue what is meant by saying, "in Thomas Aquinas it is well clear that the formation of human being is a rigorous top-down process of manifestation that starts from a designing principle (spirit), pass through an intermediate modality (soul) and finally arrives to organize a corporeal entity (body)." This is not how St. Thomas conceives the formation of a human being, if by 'formation' we mean 'forming'. If we mean 'informing', St. Thomas's conception is not ternary as the author suggests but hylemorphic, i.e., binary components (form and matter) in a unary composite. St. Thomas is indeed creationist about the human soul; he thinks that human intellect cannot be generated by incidental causes. This is not ID, however; the human intellect is not 'designed' except in the sense that it is an intelligible effect, and God's existence is established on entirely different grounds.

(2) Yes, St. Thomas thinks that God is intelligent; this is neither here nor there on this question, because ID is not merely the claim that there are intelligent causes, or even one intelligent cause, but that we can have direct inference from particular natural objects to an intelligent artisan that has imposed characteristics on those objects that make them what they are and are indicative of intelligence. (It simply doesn't matter whether the artisan is treated as 'internal' or 'external' to the object; in Thomistic terms this is still an extrinsic imposition.) From a Thomistic point of view, this is to say natural objects have their natures as accidental forms and is incoherent. The Thomistic argument is not that ID goes wrong in thinking that there is an intelligent cause, but that its conception of natural objects is inconsistent with very basic Aristotelian principles, scientifically misleading, and theologically inadequate from the point of view both the doctrine of creation and the doctrine of providence.

(3) The author makes a common ID error, namely, he goes back and forth between 'laws' and 'necessity' as if they were the same thing.

(4) The worst thing the author of the post suggests, from a Thomistic perspective, is when he says, "What is this CSI but the tool to get the final cause and allow the particular purpose or end of exchanging oxygen? The terminology is different but the concept is quite the same." The concept is not at all the same. The final cause in Thomistic terms is the principle that makes a cause have this effect rather than some other effect. There is no need to have a "tool to get the final cause," nor can 'final cause' be conflated with purpose or functionality; from a Thomistic point of view and in the Thomistic sense of the term, without final causes there would be no dispositions, powers, capacities, tendencies, inclinations, capabilities, abilities, physical laws, or efficient causes. It doesn't need to be shoehorned in, and especially not by something as controvertible as CSI; if we concede the existence of CSI for the moment, CSI would presuppose final causes, not vice versa, and the final causes in question wouldn't need to be considered in terms of 'design by a designer'. You don't need to presuppose CSI, or any sort of design theory, to have final causes in the Thomistic sense; if the point of ID or CSI is to give you final causes in this sense, they are both completely otiose. It is this very suggestion that shows just how alien ID and Thomism are to each other. Yes, in some sense of the term Thomism is teleological, and in some sense of the term, so is ID; but the senses are not only different, they are mutually exclusive.

(5) ID is a mechanistic theory; it is precisely this that from a Thomistic point of view puts it on the same level as reductionistic materialism.

(6) No Thomist is going to be particularly impressed by the argument that ID is superior to Thomism because it has greater "anti-Darwinian power," as if that were some end-all and be-all of philosophical reasoning. Thomism as such has no particular interest in being "anti-Darwinian"; indeed, if the choice is between 'Darwinism' and ID, most Thomists today will generally take 'Darwinism' as the less pernicious and misleading approach to the natural world, and those who don't will still not regard "anti-Darwinian power" as some sort of touchstone of adequacy. It is also pretty thoroughly impossible to imagine Thomas Aquinas, if he were living today, using ID "to better refute Darwin" -- there is no good reason to think that Aquinas would want to refute Darwin in the first place. It is far more likely that he would regard ID theorists as merely confused. And that, indeed, is how most (although admittedly not all) Thomists regard them.

(7) The author's argument is not even coherent; he claims that Thomism and ID are compatible because they have the same basic view on this point and then says that the two are compatible because they are wholly different things. The post does display very nicely just how slippery ID use of the term 'design' is. For instance, we begin early on with "Ideas are designs in the divine intellect." Well, one can consider ideas to be designs or plans of a sort; but they are remote exemplar causes established on the basis of epistemological considerations about intelligent productive causation, not something to which one can directly conclude or something from which one can draw inferences about what is possible or impossible for natural things to do. Then there is design in the sense of complex specificity in the object itself. This is obviously not the same sense of 'design'. Then this concept of design is conflated with 'teleology', 'final causes', 'functionality', and 'purposes or ends', as if these were all the same thing. Then design in this sense is said to be purely a matter of logic and mathematics, despite the fact that there are no final causes in logic and mathematics as such. We see similar slipperiness in characterization of the opposing position. At one time it is Darwinism; at another time evolutionism; at another time materialism; at another time anti-creationism; at another time rejection of teleology; as if all these things were the same. Thomism, like any scholastic viewpoint, is big on drawing careful distinctions. ID theorists who actually want to argue that there is any common ground between Thomists and ID theorists should take the trouble to start there. (An amusingly common refrain in the comments thread is that, whatever value Thomism has, ID is easier for most people to handle. Of course it is; positions that conflate everything with everything else will always be easier for most people to handle: fewer things to keep track of, and less hard thinking to do so.)

All Mankind and All I Love and Me

Tuesday in Holy Week
by Christina Rossetti

By thy long-drawn anguish to atone,
Jesus Christ, show mercy to Thine own:
Jesus Christ, show mercy and atone
Not for other sake except Thine own.

Thou Who thirsting on the Cross didst see
All mankind and all I love and me,
Still from Heaven look down in love and see
All mankind and all I love and me.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sunbeams Pour Alike Their Glorious Tide

Monday Before Easter
by John Keble

Doubtless Thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us,
and Israel acknowledge us not. Isaiah lxiii. 16.

"Father to me thou art and mother dear,
And brother too, kind husband of my heart -
So speaks Andromache in boding fear,
Ere from her last embrace her hero part -
So evermore, by Faith's undying glow,
We own the Crucified in weal or woe.

Strange to our ears the church-bells of our home,
This fragrance of our old paternal fields
May be forgotten; and the time may come
When the babe's kiss no sense of pleasure yields
E'en to the doting mother: but Thine own
Thou never canst forget, nor leave alone.

There are who sigh that no fond heart is theirs,
None loves them best--O vain and selfish sigh!
Out of the bosom of His love He spares -
The Father spares the Son, for thee to die:
For thee He died--for thee He lives again:
O'er thee He watches in His boundless reign.

Thou art as much His care, as if beside
Nor man nor angel lived in Heaven or earth:
Thus sunbeams pour alike their glorious tide
To light up worlds, or wake an insect's mirth:
They shine and shine with unexhausted store -
Thou art thy Saviour's darling--seek no more.

On thee and thine, thy warfare and thine end,
E'en in His hour of agony He thought,
When, ere the final pang His soul should rend,
The ransomed spirits one by one were brought
To His mind's eye--two silent nights and days
In calmness for His far-seen hour He stays.

Ye vaulted cells, where martyred seers of old
Far in the rocky walls of Sion sleep,
Green terraces and arched fountains cold,
Where lies the cypress shade so still and deep,
Dear sacred haunts of glory and of woe,
Help us, one hour, to trace His musings high and low:

One heart-ennobling hour! It may not be:
The unearthly thoughts have passed from earth away,
And fast as evening sunbeams from the sea
Thy footsteps all in Sion's deep decay
Were blotted from the holy ground: yet dear
Is every stone of hers; for Thou want surely here.

There is a spot within this sacred dale
That felt Thee kneeling--touched Thy prostrate brow:
One Angel knows it. O might prayer avail
To win that knowledge! sure each holy vow
Less quickly from the unstable soul would fade,
Offered where Christ in agony was laid.

Might tear of ours once mingle with the blood
That from His aching brow by moonlight fell,
Over the mournful joy our thoughts would brood,
Till they had framed within a guardian spell
To chase repining fancies, as they rise,
Like birds of evil wing, to mar our sacrifice.

So dreams the heart self-flattering, fondly dreams; -
Else wherefore, when the bitter waves o'erflow,
Miss we the light, Gethsemane, that streams
From thy dear name, where in His page of woe
It shines, a pale kind star in winter's sky?
Who vainly reads it there, in vain had seen Him die.

Locke's Wager

In the Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Book II, Chapter XXI, Section 72), Locke gives a variation of Pascal's Wager in arguing that morality is in our self-interest (emphasis added):

But whatever false notions, or shameful neglect of what is in their power, may put men out of their way to happiness, and distract them, as we see, into so different courses of life, this yet is certain, that morality, established upon its true foundations, cannot but determine the choice in any one that will but consider: and he that will not be so far a rational creature as to reflect seriously upon infinite happiness and misery, must needs condemn himself as not making that use of his understanding he should. The rewards and punishments of another life, which the Almighty has established, as the enforcements of his law, are of weight enough to determine the choice, against whatever pleasure or pain this life can show, when the eternal state is considered but in its bare possibility, which nobody can make any doubt of. He that will allow exquisite and endless happiness to be but the possible consequence of a good life here, and the contrary state the possible reward of a bad one, must own himself to judge very much amiss if he does not conclude,- That a virtuous life, with the certain expectation of everlasting bliss, which may come, is to be preferred to a vicious one, with the fear of that dreadful state of misery, which it is very possible may overtake the guilty; or, at best, the terrible uncertain hope of annihilation. This is evidently so, though the virtuous life here had nothing but pain, and the vicious continual pleasure: which yet is, for the most part, quite otherwise, and wicked men have not much the odds to brag of, even in their present possession; nay, all things rightly considered, have, I think, even the worse part here. But when infinite happiness is put into one scale, against infinite misery in the other; if the worst that comes to the pious man, if he mistakes, be the best that the wicked can attain to, if he be in the right, who can without madness run the venture? Who in his wits would choose to come within a possibility of infinite misery; which if he miss, there is yet nothing to be got by that hazard? Whereas, on the other side, the sober man ventures nothing against infinite happiness to be got, if his expectation comes not to pass. If the good man be in the right, he is eternally happy; if he mistakes, he's not miserable, he feels nothing. On the other side, if the wicked man be in the right, he is not happy; if he mistakes, he is infinitely miserable. Must it not be a most manifest wrong judgment that does not presently see to which side, in this case, the preference is to be given?

Locke's version of the Wager is almost certainly derived from Pascal but not directly. One clue to its origin lies in the fact that it has a 'mutation'. Pascal's own argument does not address the question of infinite misery; contrary to common assumptions, Pascal's Wager does not add hell into the balance, but only loss and gain of heaven. Wagers that include hell derive not directly from Pascal but from Pascal's fellow Jansenists Arnauld and Nicole, in the Port-Royal Logic, which had been translated into English a few years before the first appearance of a Wager argument by Locke. The Port-Royal version appears in Part IV, Chapter xvi, which concerns the logic of decision-making (judgment about future events) and is thus filled to the brim with wager-reasoning:

It belongs to infinite things alone, as eternity and salvation, that they cannot be equalled by any temporal advantage ; and thus we ought never to place them in the balance with any of the things of the world. This is why the smallest degree of facility for the attainment of salvation is of higher value than all the blessings of the world put together ; and why the slightest peril of being lost is more serious than all temporal evils, considered simply as evils.

This is enough to lead all reasonable persons to come to this conclusion, with which we will finish this Logic : That the greatest of all follies is to employ our time and our life in anything else but that which will enable us to acquire one which will never end, since all the blessings and evils of this life are nothing in comparison with those of another; and since the danger of falling into these evils, as well as the difficulty of acquiring these blessings, is very great.

The Port-Royal Logic, despite showing the influence of Pascal, was published well before Pascal's Pensées; it was read earlier and more widely read, so most understandings of the Wager derive from it, rather than from Pascal himself.

Crown of Thorns and Shameful Tree

Monday in Holy Week
by Christina Rossetti

“The Voice of my Beloved.”

Once I ached for thy dear sake:
Wilt thou cause Me now to ache?
Once I bled for thee in pain:
Wilt thou rend My Heart again?
Crown of thorns and shameful tree,
Bitter death I bore for thee,
Bore My Cross to carry thee,
And wilt thou have nought of Me?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Grace to Listen Well

Palm Sunday
by John Keble

And He answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these
should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out. St.
Luke xix. 40.

Ye whose hearts are beating high
With the pulse of Poesy,
Heirs of more than royal race,
Framed by Heaven's peculiar grace,
God's own work to do on earth,
(If the word be not too bold,)
Giving virtue a new birth,
And a life that ne'er grows old -

Sovereign masters of all hearts!
Know ye, who hath set your parts?
He who gave you breath to sing,
By whose strength ye sweep the string,
He hath chosen you, to lead
His Hosannas here below; -
Mount, and claim your glorious meed;
Linger not with sin and woe.

But if ye should hold your peace,
Deem not that the song would cease -
Angels round His glory-throne,
Stars, His guiding hand that own,
Flowers, that grow beneath our feet,
Stones in earth's dark womb that rest,
High and low in choir shall meet,
Ere His Name shall be unblest.

Lord, by every minstrel tongue
Be Thy praise so duly sung,
That Thine angels' harps may ne'er
Fail to find fit echoing here:
We the while, of meaner birth,
Who in that divinest spell
Dare not hope to join on earth,
Give us grace to listen well.

But should thankless silence seal
Lips that might half Heaven reveal,
Should bards in idol-hymns profane
The sacred soul-enthralling strain,
(As in this bad world below
Noblest things find vilest using,)
Then, Thy power and mercy show,
In vile things noble breath infusing;

Then waken into sound divine
The very pavement of Thy shrine,
Till we, like Heaven's star-sprinkled floor,
Faintly give back what we adore:
Childlike though the voices be,
And untunable the parts,
Thou wilt own the minstrelsy
If it flow from childlike hearts.

"The time was come, and the man was needed"

When teaching the Gorgias, I've often wanted to find a way to work in Thucydides' Melian Dialogue, but I've never actuall gotten around to doing so. I did notice recently, in looking over William Whewell's Platonic Dialogues for English Readers that he says some interesting things about the matter in his "Remarks on the Gorgias". Whewell's work was intended to be a sort of popular study guide to the Platonic dialogues: he translates copious sections of the dialogues, but abridges and summarizes many parts, adds clarificatory comments, and occasional evaluates the arguments being given. As he puts it in his introduction in Volume I,

The object of the following Translations and Remarks is to make the Dialogues of Plato intelligible to the English reader. But I would not have it understood from this that I have altered the substance or the drama of these Dialogues with a view to making them more popular. I have given both the matter and the manner with all fidelity, except in so far as I have abridged several parts, in order to avoid prolix and obscure passages.

He does a reasonably good job at doing this, I think. It ends up being quite a readable little work.

In any case, remarking on the Melian Dialogue and the theme of 'might makes right', Whewell says (p. 256):

It was plain that the cruel doctrine which was declared byt the Athenian envoys in the Melian conference had a strong and practical hold upon the Grecian mind; and that so far, an immoral philosophy was already predominant in Greece. And so far as the prevalence of such an immoral philosophy could give occasion to the formation of a moral philosophy which should, if possible, correct and condemn injustice, violence, and cruelty, it is evident that the occasion was there; and that if there could arise a moral philosopher who could prove such exercise of power and such disregard of equity to be a monstrous violation of the order of the world, the time was come, and the man was needed.

Judge Not Before that Day

Palm Sunday
by Christina Rossetti

"He treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God."

I lift mine eyes, and see
Thee, tender Lord, in pain upon the tree,
Athirst for my sake and athirst for me.
"Yea, look upon Me there,
Compassed with thorns and bleeding everywhere,
For thy sake bearing all, and glad to bear."
I lift my heart to pray:
Thou Who didst love me all that darkened day,
Wilt Thou not love me to the end alway?
"Yea, thee My wandering sheep,
Yea, thee My scarlet sinner slow to weep,
Come to Me, I will love thee and will keep."
Yet am I racked with fear:
Behold the unending outer darkness drear,
Behold the gulf unbridgeable and near!
"Nay, fix thy heart, thine eyes,
Thy hope upon My boundless sacrifice:
Will I lose lightly one so dear-bought prize?"
Ah, Lord; it is not Thou,
Thou that wilt fail; yet woe is me, for how
Shall I endure who half am failing now?
"Nay, weld thy resolute will
To Mine: glance not aside for good or ill:
I love thee; trust Me still and love Me still."
Yet Thou Thyself hast said,
When Thou shalt sift the living from the dead
Some must depart shamed and uncomforted.
"Judge not before that day:
Trust Me with all thy heart, even tho' I slay:
Trust Me in love, trust on, love on, and pray."