Friday, October 29, 2010

Plus Ça Change

An interesting passage in Owen Chadwick's The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century (longish, but worth reading in full):

Near the end of the century a Catholic professor of theology in Münster (Bautz) made himself absurd by implying that volcanoes are one proof of the existence of purgatory. All the newspapers had it, men laughed, Professor Bautz disappeared for ever into night, bearing the nickname professor of hell. Almost simultaneously Haeckel, borrowing information from an exceptionally discreditable English pamphlet and declaring it to be the work of a learned and acute historian, wrote in The Riddle of the Universe that at the Council of Nicaea in 327 (sic) the four gospels were selected out of a heap of apocryphal and forged documents. The error was equally absurd academically. But it was a less interesting error, was made by a man who really understood science, and had not the touch of comedy possessed by volcanoes. No ignoramus would believe the doctrine of volcanoes. Some ignorant men would believe a fourth-century forging of gospels. This points to the way in which a general scientific knowledge was more widespread than historical knowledge. A little knowledge of the physical earth gained in schools would demolish Professor Bautz. To know the historical follies of Professor Haeckel one must be expert. It is also interesting how a scientist of academic stature lost standards when he became an evangelist. As a scientist Haeckel had care, diligence, accuracy and reverence. As an evangelist for anti-Christian scientific religion, he was careless, inaccurate, and irreverent as any hack writer hired to be unfair for the sake of a cause and willing, if necessary, to be scurrilous. The philosopher Friedrich Paulsen said that he read The Riddle of the Universe with a burning sense of shame that it could have been published by a scholar in the land of scholarship.

[Owen Chadwick, Secularization, Cambridge (London: 1975) p. 179]

I can think of a number of my fellow academics of whom much the same could be said.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Santissima Pazienza

There is a common kind of impatience, felt by ordinary men in the world, which befalls them on account of the inordinate love they have for themselves and for temporal things, which they love apart from God; so that to have them they do not mind losing their soul, and putting it into the hands of the devils. This is beyond help, unless a man recognizes himself, how he has wronged God, and cuts down that tree of Pride with the sword of true humility, which produces charity in the soul. For there is a tree of Love, whose pith is patience and goodwill toward one's neighbour. For, just as impatience shows more clearly than any other sin that the soul is deprived of God--because it is at once evident that since the pith is there, the tree of Pride must be there--so patience shows better and more perfectly than any other virtue, that God is in the soul by grace. Patience, I say, deep within the tree of Love, that for love of its Creator disdains the world, and loves insults whencesoever they come.

St. Catherine of Siena, Letter to Monna Agnese Malavolti, in St. Catherine of Siena as Seen in Her Letters. The whole letter is well worth reading. Earlier in the letter Catherine says that anger and impatience more than any other sins give one a foretaste of hell; which is quite sobering, particularly since, although rarely angry, I am often very impatient. But I can entirely see what she means. And later in the letter she discusses a more specific kind of patience, in which people "imperiously demand from God that He should give them consolations and tribulations in their own way, and not in His."

And yes, she really does mean that one is only genuinely patient if one's response to insults is love.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Humanity and Internalized Oppression

One of the crucial contributions of Thomas's model [i.e., of habitus] is the distinction that can be made within second nature. His model allows the oppressed to distinguish between those aspects of second nature developed in accord with nature from those aspects of second nature bent out of shape by mistreatment. In the normative sense of "human," virtue reflects what is most human about us. In contrast, internalized oppression is nonhuman and alien to us. Thus it becomes possible to contrast the human with her internalized oppression. The "human" here refers to those humanly developed aspects of her second nature. Humans are flexible, internalized oppression is rigid; humans are dynamic, internalized oppression is static; humans create new solutions to old problems, internalized oppression perpetuates ineffective approaches; humans remember, internalized oppression causes us to forget; humans hope, internalized oppression breeds despair; humans discern, internalized oppression is reactive; humans think, internalized oppression confuses.
[Judith W. Kay, "Getting Egypt out of the People: Aquinas's Contributions to Liberation," in Aquinas and Empowerment: Classical Ethics for Ordinary Lives, G. Simon Harak, ed. Georgetown UP (Washington, DC: 1996).]

Links and Notes

* Miriam's vision of a grammarian's Hollywood had me cracking up. It really is the subjunctive mood that ends up being the handsome stranger in the story, isn't it?

* US National Debt Clock. You shouldn't, of course, take the precise numbers too seriously; they are estimations. But even taking them by the ballpark one gets a picture.

* A humorous parody of a recent press release put out by the Discovery Institute.

* Ruth Franklin asks why Emma Bovary is so maligned and misunderstood. I can answer that: because she is entirely malignable and not so much misunderstood as understood and set, falsely, at a distance.

* Jason Pitzl-Waters discusses the question, "why are the faith lives of candidates up for debate?" There are several others answering the same question; most of them are not especially interesting, although Rabbi Hirschfield suggests it shows a sense in which Marx's old line about the opiate of the people was perhaps right, and Valerie Elverton Dixie tries to imagine the negative ads that would run if Jesus were trying for office.

* The same receptors that in your tongue detect bitter tastes are found in your lungs. They're not set up to send information about taste to the brain, but they still have their reactions to bitter compounds, and there's evidence that this can be used to open air passages for sufferers of asthma.

* Pictures of Muslims Wearing Things (ht)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Tattered Outlaw of the Earth

Arsen suggested that the comparison in the poem in the last post was perhaps not entirely fair to the humble donkey, so here's an alternative poem, by Chesterton, as a token of reparation to Equus africanus asinus.

The Donkey
by G.K. Chesterton

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born;

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

Another Poem Draft

New Atheist

The ass looked up to heaven; stars were there.
They sparkled, bright along the cloudy pass
And never diamond, ruby, sapphire was more fair
Than half the light one single star on high could share.
He brayed dismissal, turning back to lowly grass:
An ass who sees the heavens sees them as an ass.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Lute of Eros

by Francis Kazinczi
translated by Sir John Bowring

Add te Pyschéd' nekem, 'Eros, oh add ! 's vedd lautomat érte.

" Give me thy Psyche, young Eros! O give, and my lute will I give thee—
Doubled thy influence, Mighty One! doubled thy transports shall be."
I, for thy lute, give my Psyche, Apollo? My lute is mine arrow:
Said—and straight heaven-ward the magical arrow up flew;
Full on hexameters rush'd the arrow's loud whizzing ascension,
And as it whispering fell a pentameter woke.

This is from Sir John Bowring's Poetry of the Magyars. Hexameters ascending and pentameters descending is actually a good symbolic correspondence. I haven't found much on Francis Kazinczi of Kazinez (Kazinezi Kazinczy Ferencz) except that he apparently spent six years in prison for revolutionary ideas and that he was part of a movement of Hungarian writers in the 18th century, the neologists or neologians, who worked to enrich and nativize the Hungarian language by coining new terms from Hungarian to replace foreign loan-words that had become increasingly common; a movement which (perhaps predictably) only had very limited success. Bowring developed a considerable reputation in the nineteenth century for translations into English from European languages: I've found translations by him from Russian, Hungarian, Polish, German, and Spanish. I've been trying to find Bowring's "Catherine," which is based on a poem by Zhukovsky, but to no avail.