Saturday, November 27, 2010

Then For Evermore

A Harvest
by Christina Rossetti

O gate of death, of the blessed night,
That shall open not again
On this world of shame and sorrow,
Where slow ages wax and wane,
Where are signs and seasons, days and nights,
And mighty winds and rain.

Is the day wearing toward the west?—
Far off cool shadows pass,
A visible refreshment
Across the sultry grass:
Far off low mists are mustering,
A broken shifting mass.

Still in the deepest knowledge
Some depth is left unknown:
Still in the merriest music lurks
A plaintive undertone:
Still with the closest friend some throb
Of life is felt alone.

Time's summer breath is sweet, his sands
Ebb sparkling as they flow,
Yet some are sick that this should end
Which is from long ago:—
Are not the fields already white
To harvest in the glow ?—

There shall come another harvest
Than was in days of yore:
The reapers shall be Angels,
Our God shall purge the floor:—
No more seed-time, no more harvest,
Then for evermore.

1 August 1853.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Queen Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Great Martyr

I'm visiting family, but I did have to post something for St. Catherine's Day. St. Catherine of Alexandria, of course, is patron saint of philosophers.

Saint Catherine of Alexandria

Vox sonora nostri chori,
Nostro sonet Conditori,
Qui disponit omnia,
Per quem dimicat imbellis,
Per quem datur et puellis
De viris victoria;

Per quem plebs Alexandrina
Faeminae non feminina
Stupuit ingenia,
Quum beata Catharina
Doctos vinceret doctrina,
Ferrum patientia.

Catherine of Alexandria Pacher

Florem teneri decoris,
Lectionis et laboris
Attrivere studia :
Nam perlegit disciplinas
Saeculares et divinas
In adolescentia.

Vas electum, vas virtutum,
Reputavit sicut lutum
Bona transitoria,
Et reduxit in contemptum
Patris opes et parentum
Larga patrimonia.

Barna da Siena. Mystic Marriage of st Catherine. Boston MFA

Vasis oleum includens,
Virgo sapiens et prudens
Sponso pergit obvia,
Ut, adventus ejus hora,
Praeparata, sine mora
Intret ad convivia.

Sistitur imperatori,
Cupiens pro Christo mori;
Cujus in prsesentia
Quinquagiuta sapientes
Mutos reddit et silentes
Virginis facundia.
Lorenzo Lotto 028

Not being as philosophical an era as the Middle Ages, or even the Renaissance, we pay less attention to St. Catherine. But it is always salutary to remember St. Catherine's broken wheel: if you try to break Philosophy on the wheel -- whatever the wheel may be -- it will break the wheel.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


P. S. Ruckman, Jr., at the "Pardon Power" blog, notes that Obama is the Democratic President who has been slowest in history to make use of the Constitutional power of pardon (673 days), and there is in fact at present only one President standing in the way of taking the record for the most number of days from inauguration to use of pardon: George W. Bush (at 702 699 days). And no, the turkeys don't count.

The pardon power is a genuinely important Constitutional power; it is one of the means whereby government is restricted in favor of what is good for the people. Why do we need the pardon power? As I said once before,

[B]ecause sometimes, as James Wilson puts it, people "may be unfortunate in a higher degree, than that, in which they are criminal." And because sometimes, due to particular circumstances of the case, we can make a reasonable judgment that we would all benefit more if the person involved were given a second chance. And sometimes, perhaps just a little, because we need some clear symbol that laws are not perfect, that courts are not flawless, that mistakes are not unforgivable, and that compassion is essential to the health of justice.

The quotation from Wilson, one of our Founding Fathers, is from his lectures on law:

Citizens, even condemned citizens, may be unfortunate in a higher degree, than that, in which they are criminal. When the cry of the nation rises in their favour; when the judges themselves, descending from their seats, and laying aside the formidable sword of justice, come to supplicate in behalf of the person, whom they have been obliged to condemn; in such a situation, clemency is a virtue; it becomes a duty.

As Alexander Hamilton noted,

Humanity and good policy conspire to dictate, that the benign prerogative of pardoning should be as little as possible fettered or embarrassed. The criminal code of every country partakes so much of necessary severity, that without an easy access to exceptions in favor of unfortunate guilt, justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel.

There is, I think, a disturbing tendency to deprecate the pardon power as too soft. This is a sign of a way in which we are less than our Founders: less civilized and more barbaric.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Library on My Bedroom Floor

It's time for another edition of the The Library on My Bedroom Floor. The books have been a piling up on my bedroom floor: some I'm in the middle of reading, some I used for some particular purpose and have never gotten around to putting on a shelf again, some I intend to get around to reading or re-reading. Here are the titles; they are all and only the books piled on my bedroom floor.

Jules Verne, 20000 Leagues Under the Sea
Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics
Stephen R. Lawhead, Patrick
Everett M. Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion
Norman Douglas, South Wind
Plato, Phaedrus and Letters VII and VIII
Isaac Asimov, Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn
Ronald J. Rychlak, Hitler, the War, and the Pope
Edith Stein, The Science of the Cross
Jacques Maritain, The Degrees of Knowledge
Theodore Sturgeon, A Touch of Strange
Neal H. McCoy, Rings and Ideals
J.R.R. Tolkien, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Sir Orfeo
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Book of Lost Tales 2
The Pocket Aquinas
William Coleman, Biology in the Nineteenth Century
Joel C. Relihan, The Prisoner's Philosophy
The Philokalia, Volume Four
G. K. Chesterton, Charles Dickens
Edith Stein, Finite and Eternal Being
James W. Garson, Modal Logic for Philosophers
Juliet Barker, Wordsworth: A Life
William A. Frank & Allan B. Wolter, Duns Scotus, Metaphysician
Plato, Gorgias
James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Aristotle, Politics and Poetics
Robert P. Goodwin, tr. Aquinas: Selected Writings
Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume One
Etienne Gilson, The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas
Edward Feser, Aquinas
The Aquinas Catechism
Thomas Aquinas (Maurer, tr.), Faith, Reason, and Theology
Levi ben Gershom, Commentary on Song of Songs
The Works of William Wordsworth
Duns Scotus (Wolter, tr.), Philosophical Writings
Edith Stein, An Investigation Concerning the State
Thomas Aquinas, Aquinas's Shorter Summa
Thomas Aquinas (McDermott, tr.), Summa Theologiae: A Concise Translation
Rondo Keele, Ockham Explained
Aquinas on Nature and Grace
Richard Burnor & Yvonne Raley, Ethical Choices
Miguel de Unamuno, San Manuel Bueno, Martir
Eugenio D'Ors, El Valle de Josafat
Stephen Toulmin, The Philosophy of Science: An Introduction
Immanuel Kant, Logic
Etienne Gilson, The Unity of Philosophical Experience
Adolphe Tanquerey, The Spiritual Life
Thomas Aquinas, On Evil
William A. Wallace, The Elements of Philosophy
The Evergetinos: A Complete Text, Volume Three
Plato, Symposium
Orson Scott Card, Enchantment
The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volumes One and Two
Augustine, On the Trinity
Edith Stein, Woman
Thomas Aquinas, On the Truth of the Catholic Faith
Claude Berge, The Theory of Graphs
Euripedes (Paul Roche, tr.), Ten Plays
Sissela Bok, Lying
Thomas Aquinas, On Being and Essence
Nicolas Malebranche, Trois Lettres de l'Auteur de la Recherche de la Verite Touchant la Defense de Mr Arnauld Contre la Reponse au Livre des Vrayes et Fausses Idees

Virtue Analysis

I have a number of ongoing 'experiments' (more like 'long-term observations out of curiosity) in my classes, and one of them is for when I teach Ethics (which is about one or two classes a year at present). I have some small writing assignments related to utilitarianism, virtue ethics, etc., and the virtue ethics assignment is an 800-1000 word virtue analysis of some virtue of their choice. So I had it again this term, and as I did last time, I thought I'd tally the virtues that were chosen. I had intended to tweak the assignment a bit to reduce the chance of their falling prey to the complications of theological virtues, and to encourage a bit more exploration beyond the cardinal virtues themselves, but for various reasons I didn't have a chance to rework the assignment this time around, so it's exactly the same one as the one described in the above post. Setting aside stragglers and people who turned in their assignments in bizarre or ancient formats that I haven't had a chance to uncrack yet, the virtues chosen have been:

Temperance (3)
Fortitude (2)
Honesty (2)
Patience (2)
Love / Charity (2)

Not as adventuresome a class as last time, but the creativity of the 'silence' one pleased me quite a bit, I must say: I really try to make clear the Aristotelian points that our moral vocabularies are always very poor in comparison with the richness of moral character, and that one of the corollaries of the golden mean is that there are lots and lots of virtues and vices for which we have no convenient name, such as those associated with holding one's tongue, and that one of the strengths of the doctrine of the mean is that it can itself be used as a way to discover these unnamed virtues and vices.

Some of the analyses were very good this time around; as I mentioned last time, I find the high quality that one sometimes gets from assignments like this as proof for my longstanding contention that you should always structure assignments in ways that give them room to surprise you. Not everyone will, of course; but there are usually a handful who do.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sancta Caecilia

Today is the feast of St. Cecilia, a martyr from the second or third century (probably late second-century, under the persecutions by Marcus Aurelius). The name suggests the gens Caecilii, so we might not even actually have her name: it might just indicate some female martyr from the clan Caecilius. She is the patron saint of musicians because of a hagiographical legend that she sang to God while laying her neck bare for beheading. Because of this, she's found all throughout poetry and music.

A Song for St. Cecilia's Day, November 22, 1687
by John Dryden


From harmony, from heavenly harmony,
This universal frame began:
When nature underneath a heap
Of jarring atoms lay,
And could not heave her head,
The tuneful voice was heard from high,
"Arise, ye more than dead."
Then cold, and hot, and moist, and dry,
In order to their stations leap,
And Music's power obye.
From harmony, from heavenly harmony,
This universal frame began;
From harmony to harmony
Through all the compass of the notes it ran,
The diapason closing full in man.


What passion cannot music raise and quell?
When Jubal struck the chorded shell,
His listening brethren stood around,
And, wondering, on their faces fell
To worship that celestial sound:
Less than a God they thought there could not dwell
Within the hollow of that shell,
That spoke so sweetly, and so well.
What passion cannot Music raise and quell?


The trumpet's loud clangor
Excites us to arms
With shrill notes of anger
And mortal alarms.
The double, double, double beat
Of the thundering drum
Cries, hark! the foes come:
Charge, charge! 'tis too late to retreat.


The soft complaining flute,
In dying notes discovers
The woes of hopeless lovers;
Whose dirge is whisper'd by the warbling lute.


Sharp violins proclaim
Their jealous pangs and desperation,
Fury, frantic indignation,
Depth of pains, and height of passion,
For the fair, disdainful dame.


But oh! what art can teach,
What human voice can reach,
The sacred organ's praise?
Notes inspiring holy love,
Notes that wing their heavenly ways
To mend the choirs above.


Orpheus could lead the savage race;
And trees uprooted left their place,
Sequacious of the lyre:
But bright Cecilia raised the wonder higher;
When to her organ vocal breath was given,
An angel heard, and straight appeared,
Mistaking earth for heaven.

Grand Chorus

As from the power of sacred lays
The spheres began to move,
And sung the great Creator's praise
To all the bless'd above;
So when the last and dreadful hour
This crumbling pageant shall devour,
The trumpet shall be heard on high,
The dead shall live, the living die,
And Music shall untune the sky.

Farewell, Seneca, Dearest to Me

In all the works of the 'New Testament Apocrypha' that we have -- works purporting to be by apostles, noncanonical gospels, and so forth -- there is a great deal of obvious junk -- poorly written fiction masquerading as profound fact. But occasionally there are some works that are a bit charming. One of the more charming is a third- or fourth-century series of letters purporting to be between the apostle Paul and the philosopher Seneca. These works were widely read at the time, and, indeed, Jerome goes so far as to put Seneca in a list of Christian saints on the strength of them. This may, indeed, have been the intent of the author, to 'baptize' Seneca for the Christians; alternatively, it may have been intended to suggest that all the good things in Seneca were borrowed from the apostle. That's one difficulty of dealing with much of this literature: we honestly have no idea what they were intending when they were writing it. The collection may, in fact, come from more than one author; some have suggested that the more substantive (and slightly more Paul-sounding) fourteenth letter is a much later addition. The correspondence is not very substantive, but the idea of it -- Paul and Seneca together at last -- has a charm in its own right. The fourth letter:

Paul to Annaeus Seneca, greeting

Whenever I hear your letters read, I think of you as present, and imagine nothing else but that you are always with us. As soon, then, as you begin to come, we shall see each other at close quarters. I desire your good health.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Modality and the Third Way IV

I have previously (I, II, III) looked from different directions at the sort of modality used in the Third Way; but in none of the cases do I think we are left with a particularly intuitive modality for us, although there is a significant place for it in Aristotelian philosophy. What we really need is an answer to the question, "Why call it necessity?" And there is an answer to this in Aquinas's commentary on Book 12 of the Metaphysics. In this context he is commenting on Aristotle's brief statements about the necessity of the first motion. There are three kinds of necessity, says Aquinas:

First it means that which happens by force, i.e., what cannot fail to happen because of the power exerted by the thing applying force. Second, it means taht without which a thing does not fare well--either that without which a goal cannot be attained at all (as food is necessary for the life of an animal), or that without which something is not in a perfect state (as a horse is necessary for a journey in the sense that it is not easy to make a journey without one). Third, it means that which cannot be other than it is, but is necessary absolutely and essentially. (2532)

The local motion of the sphere of the heavens is not necessary by force, because it is the natural motion of an imperishable thing. Likewise, it is not necessary absolutely and essentially. Therefore it must be necessary by the end, and thus, says Aquinas, "it is on this principle, i.e., the first mover as an end, that the heavens depend both for the eternality of their substance and the eternality of their motion" (2534).

All three are ways in which something cannot be otherwise than it is; but they are very different senses. It's notable that of these senses of necessity we usually mean the third and occasionally the first, but the second only comes up colloquially. And yet it is precisely the second that is at stake when we are talking about the ingenerable and imperishable, which is perhaps why we don't find 'necessity' to be such an intuitive word in this context (and, indeed, as long as the Aristotelian thesis of the coextensiveness of ingenerable and the imperishable is kept in mind, it makes much more sense for us to talk about it in terms of what is imperishable). What is imperishable is such that it has no natural way to perish: its ends are such that it always tends to be, and therefore there is a sense in which it cannot be otherwise, i.e., is necessary.

Incidentally, note two things: (1) because the heavens move all else, Aquinas in the commentary on the Metaphysics is again considering the world as a whole; and (2) that when we get to the second stage of the Third Way, Aquinas appeals not to moving causes but to efficient causes, even though he often (following Aristotle) appeals to moving causes elsewhere in similar contexts. And the reason, I think, is this: the Third Way is meant to be a fairly clean and neat summary, but the relation between the first mover and the imperishable is complicated by the fact that Aristotle thinks the world had no beginning, whereas Aquinas does. Aquinas thinks God could have created an eternally moved world, of course; but he thinks that in fact he didn't. And that this can rather considerably complicate things can be seen from the Summa Contra Gentiles, where he attempts to tackle this difference head-on in the course of the discussion of the first mover argument. But the Five Ways are all formulated so as to avoid any complication of that sort, in keeping with the goal of the Summa Theologiae. And thus the Third Way is formulated so as to avoid the question of eternal motion altogether.

Lie Still, Lie Still

by Christina Rossetti

The hope I dreamed of was a dream,
Was but a dream; and now I wake
Exceeding comfortless, and worn, and old,
For a dream's sake.

I hang my harp upon a tree,
A weeping willow in a lake;
I hang my silenced harp there, wrung and snapt
For a dream's sake.

Lie still, lie still, my breaking heart;
My silent heart, lie still and break:
Life, and the world, and mine own self, are changed
For a dream's sake.