Saturday, August 12, 2006

Newman on Illative Sense

Yesterday was the 255th 216th anniversary of John Henry Newman's death. Naturally, the best source on the Web for all things Newman is The Newman Reader. From his philsophical masterpiece, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent:

Certitude is a mental state: certainty is a quality of propositions. Those propositions I call certain, which are such that I am certain of them. Certitude is not a passive impression made upon the mind from without, by argumentative compulsion, but in all concrete questions (nay, even in abstract, for though the reasoning is abstract, the mind which judges of it is concrete) it is an active recognition of propositions as true, such as it is the duty of each individual himself to exercise at the bidding of reason, and, when reason forbids, to withhold. And reason never bids us be certain except on an absolute proof; and such a proof can never be furnished to us by the logic of words, for as certitude is of the mind, so is the act of inference which leads to it. Every one who reasons, is his own centre; and no expedient for attaining a common measure of minds can reverse this truth;—but then the question follows, is there any criterion of the accuracy of an inference, such as may be our warrant that certitude is rightly elicited in favour of the proposition inferred, since our warrant cannot, as I have said, be scientific? I have already said that the sole and final judgment on the validity of an inference in concrete matter is committed to the personal action of the ratiocinative faculty, the perfection or virture of which I have called the Illative Sense, a use of the word "sense" parallel to our use of it in "good sense," "common sense," a "sense of beauty," &c.;—and I own I do not see any way to go farther than this in answer to the question. However, I can at least explain my meaning more fully; and therefore I will now speak, first of the sanction of the Illative Sense, next of its nature, and then of its range.

Friday, August 11, 2006

One Thing of Two Kinds

It's commonly assumed in natural kind discussions that nothing can belong to two natural kinds unless one of the natural kinds is a species of the other. It's difficult to see how this would work, though; as Brian Ellis notes in Scientific Essentialism (p. 56n2), in the case of chemical kinds it seems to be quite clearly false. Copper sulfate, for instance, is both a cupric compound and a sulfate; there are excellent reasons for considering both cupric compounds and sulfates to be genuine natural kinds if anything is a natural kind; and there seems to be no reason for thinking that one is a natural kind and the other is not. But neither is a species of the other; they simply happen to overlap at copper sulfate. So a thing can instantiate two different non-nested natural kinds (as indicated by different types of diagnostic features.).

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A Dream of Tabor

On Tabor we are the resplendent garment: Christ is one, Christ is many, Christ is the union of one and many; and this does not exhaust Him.

On Tabor we are divinized in the glory of the God-Man: Christ is infinite, Christ is finite, Christ is the union of infinite and finite; and this does not exhaust Him.

On Tabor our light is Christ's light manifest in us: we are in Him and He is in us; we receive from Him and He from us; through His assimilation to us we are assimilated to Him; and this does not exhaust Him.

On Tabor He is the effulgence of the Father: Christ is the divine possibility of what is impossible for us; He is the divine existence of what is lacking in us; He is the Word through whom all contingent things are, through Whose contingency the chains of necessity are overcome; and this does not exhaust Him.

On Tabor the light is Holy with the energies of God, the divine work inexhaustible in beauty, eternal light made manifest.

As Palamas says (Triads 3.1.15), "The transformation of our human nature, its deification and transfiguration -- were these not accomplished in Christ from the start, from the moment in which He assumed our nature? Thus He was divine before, but He bestowed at the time of His Transfiguration a divine power upon the eyes of the apostles and enable them to look up and see for themselves." The miracle of the Mount was not that Christ became splendid, but that Christ's splendor was seen.

Who do people say He is? Some that He is a prophet, but Peter that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

What is the task of the Christ? To suffer and to die; but Peter is offended by this. And He says: Get behind me, Satan; your mind is not of God.

How shall He be followed? Take up your cross, as well. Who would save His life will lose it; who would lose His life will save it; who is ashamed of Christ in this sinful generation, Christ shall be ashamed of Him in glory among the angels.

Some who are standing here shall not taste death until they see the Kingdom of God come in power. It is seen on Mount Tabor, the Mystery of the eighth day of creation. Beyond the Sabbath rest is the splendor of endless glory. And the Mystery is this: Peter's confession is true. He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Light of Light.


I never really said anything about the Mel Gibson scandal that recently was going around, but I thought this morning that I perhaps should, despite a certain reluctance. I'm taken aback by the malicious glee with which some people seized upon it; surely, whatever else one's response to such events, enjoyment is not a appropriate. Even if your very worst enemy turns out to be a clear anti-semite or a racist, this is not a cause for satisfaction; it is a tragedy to be mourned. Anyone's hatred for blacks, or Jews, or any other group lessens us all.

But I think there's a more serious danger, namely, seeing Gibson's anti-Jewish insult as some primitive disease to which we more enlightened types are immune. So I think it's useful to remind people that the fight against anti-semitism is not something that's ever over and done with, but an ongoing thing requiring the continual cooperation of Jew and Gentile alike.

There was a time when I didn't take anti-semitism very seriously. I grew up, in my teenage years, at least, in a context that, when Jews came up, was all Christian Zionism and Judeo-Christian Values; as the saying went, to meet Jesus's cousin, just shake hands with a Jew. Anti-semitism was part of the spirit of antichrist; it was a failure to take seriously the truth that Christ came in Jewish flesh. Indeed, the problem Jews have with this sort of subculture is not that it is anti-semitic but exactly the opposite: people from this background have difficulty wrapping their minds around the idea that Jews aren't, like the Amish, just very old-fashioned Christians. They find nothing problematic about the phrase 'Judeo-Christian' because they assume it's almost redundant; they are aware that Jews don't have quite the same views about Christ, and that this might be a problem; but they regard it as the same sort of problem caused by Catholic views about Mary.

So I never took the issue of anti-semitism very seriously; it was almost a joking matter. I was, although I didn't realize it, in a bubble. That changed when I went to Canada and heard people who prided themselves on their educated and progressive and liberal views saying nastily anti-semitic things, and heard news reports of Jewish graves desecrated and synagogues vandalized. I don't want to give the impression that it was all anti-semitism all the time in Toronto, since it was not; but it was common enough to make me uncomfortable, and bring me to the realization that anti-semitism was not simply a fringe occurrence, that it was not a mere relic of stupider days, that it was not found merely among neo-Nazi idiots. The war against it has not been won, with only small pockets of holdouts fighting on in marginal places; it has merely become less visible.

And the reason, I think, is that it is not a fight between people who are anti-semitic and people who are not. It is a fight against something that can insinuate itself anywhere if we are not vigilant. Anti-semitism and the like spring up like noxious weeds in the vast open-air garden of civilization; there is no way to conquer weeds once and for all, only ways to impede them and uproot them. And, like weeding, this is a task you have to keep up for as long as you garden. If you don't, the weeds will overrun the flowers and the fruits, because they'll start appearing even in unlikely places. If you do, there's no guarantee that the flowers and fruits will make it on their own, but at least you've given them a fighting chance.

The Gods of the Copybook Headings

My favorite Rudyard Kipling poem:

As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market-Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn.
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market-Place;
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch.
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch.
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings.
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew,
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four-
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man--
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began:--
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wobbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Justice and Dropping the Bomb

At "Open Book" there is a vigorous discussion of Elizabeth Anscombe's "Mr. Truman's Degree" going on. In particular, the dispute is about whether Truman's decision to drop the bomb was justifiable or not.

As one might expect, the basic argument that it was justifiable appears to be that if the bomb had not been dropped more people would have died than did. The trouble with this argument is that it doesn't actually seem to be very relevant: to justify an action in this way you already have to have determined that the action is not itself immoral, which Anscombe denies. Anscombe's point is that deciding to kill innocents is in itself an immoral decision, whatever may follow from it. The fact, if it is a fact, that the bombs saved lives in the long run doesn't affect this question one way or another. It does show, assuming that this was, in fact, the reason for Truman's decision, that the decision was not wholly depraved, but was good as to intended consequence. Intended consequence is indeed part of the evaluation of an action, although it is not the only, or even the most important factor. It is certainly enough to mitigate the wrongness of an action. This is not a high aim to shoot for, however; mitigated wrong is still wrong. Beyond this the saving of lives tells us nothing but that immoral actions can have good effects, which everyone already knows.

And it needs to be noted that there is nothing about this conclusion that makes it "cheap armchair generalship," to use the words of one commenter. Good generalship is about leading men to win wars, in which what counts as winning is determined by legitimate strategic goals. But the legitimacy of the strategic goals is not itself a matter of generalship, but, in a democratic nation, a matter of the spirit of the people and of ethics. It may well be that, once this alternative was refused, every other alternative was harder; but in a war all alternatives are always difficult, and not all alternatives are acceptable even if they make victory easier. Everyone has a line they would draw, so it's not adequate simply to point to lives saved and say that this is an adequate reason; one must show why the action itself is not on the wrong side of the line, when that line is rationally drawn.

And, as Anscombe notes, it is clearly on the wrong side of the line. This is not a condemnation of Truman. It's not my place, and unless you happen to be the Judge at the end of ages, I don't think it's anyone else's place, to weigh out precisely what guilt Truman bears in his decision. That requires information about Truman's reasoning and intentions and burdens to which we do not have full access. But this does not change the fact that what was done was wrong. It was a wrong committed against large numbers of people at Hiroshima; it was a wrong committed against large numbers of people at Nagasaki. In addition, it was a betrayal of the ideals of the United States which, last I heard, was founded on the principle that all human beings are endowed by their Creator with at least a basic right to life, regardless of their citizenship.

Some Jottings on the Collins Interview

There has recently been some discussion in the blogosphere of an interview of Francis Collins. I'm not very sympathetic to Collins's approach, but in their eagerness to criticize his comments, a number of the people in the discussion have said things that don't involve a particularly reasonable exegesis of his comments, and some correction is in order.

In the course of the interview Collins is asked about scientists who insist that religion is irrational. To this he replies:

Certainly this has been one of the more troubling developments in the last several decades. I think that commits an enormous act of hubris, to say -- because we're now so wise about evolution and how life forms are related to each other -- that we have no more need of God. Science investigates the natural world. If God has any meaning at all, God is outside of the natural world. It is a complete misuse of the tools of science to apply them to this discussion.

Myers sums this up by saying, "Note that he's saying two things clearly here: God is outside the natural world, and that you can't apply science to the issue." Actually, though, it isn't clear he is saying this latter part. If we are not to go about arbitrarily prooftexting, we have to read what is said in context. And when we do we find that, although there's a seriously unfortunate ambiguity in Collins's "this discussion" (one not corrected in Myers's "the issue"), what Collins is saying seems a bit more sophisticated than Myers assumes. In essence the structure of the answer is the following:

(1) Claim: It's troubling that scientists are saying that religion itself is irrational.
Reason: Saying that knowledge of evolution of itself eliminates the need for God is an act of hubris.

(2) Claim: It is a misuse of the tools of science to apply them to 'this discussion'.
Reason: Science investigates the natural world. God does not fall within the scope of this investigation.

There are two ambiguities that have to be decided upon in the interpretation of this passage. The first is how (2) relates to (1). The most plausible interpretation is that (2) is supposed to be a reason for (1-Reason); i.e., it's an explanation of why the claim is really an act of hubris. This would explain (among other things) why Collins builds up to (2-Claim) rather than starting with it, and also why he sees (2) as relevant to (1). The more difficult question is what is meant by 'this discussion'. Myers takes it more precisely as "the question of the existence of gods." While this is possible, it would be odd in context. I think a more reasonable reading would take 'this discussion' as the topic of the question itself, i.e., whether religion is irrational. If taken in that way, Collins's argument is that, since God does not fall within the scope of scientific investigation, it is a misuse of the tools of science to try to use them to argue that religion is irrational. The response would then be a direct answer to the question.

Collins does go on to say, in response to the next question, "And God is certainly outside of nature. So for a scientist to say, 'I know for sure there is no God,' seems to commit a very serious logical fallacy." But this is not surprising, because it follows directly from (2-Reason). This is not enough to accuse Collins of inconsistency, as Myers does, because in nondeductive reasoning inability to prove only converges on being itself a proof/disproof to the extent that all relevant evidence is taken into account. Suppose, for example, that I take a random sampling consisting of a thousand birth certificates. This body of evidence is not of the right kind for proving that Myers does not exist, because there is relevant evidence that it does not take into account. It might, however, include evidence that Myers exists (e.g., Myers's birth certificate might be one of the certificates in the sample). To say 'It is not possible on the type of evidence in evidence-set E to prove that X does not exist' is not in general inconsistent with 'Some of the evidence in evidence-set E supports the claim that X exists'. The latter claim is weakened by the failure to account for all relevant information; but it is not inconsistent with the former. What Myers needs in order to make his charge of inconsistency stick is the stronger claim: that science is not relevant to the existence of God. But Collins appears to be committed only to the claim that science by its nature is necessarily not able to cover all the relevant evidence required to prove that God does not exist. I have no doubt that Myers would disagree with this claim; but there's nothing inconsistent about its use in Collins's argument. If scientific inquiry is necessarily limited in scope, and something falls outside that scope, it is impossible to argue that it doesn't exist merely because it falls outside that scope. This does not rule out, however, that the results of scientific inquiry may be used in an inquiry of larger scope that does include that thing. When this is recognized, one sees clearly that the real dispute here is not a matter of logical consistency, but a disagreement about the scope of scientific inquiry.

Myers, to his great credit, does appear to recognize that this is the core dispute, but doesn't adequately distinguish this from the inconsistency charge. Myers's inconsistency charge is not well-founded in terms of the textual evidence; but this does not affect one way or another his criticism that intervention places God within the scope of scientific inquiry, contrary to what Collins seems to assume. That dispute can only be resolved by determining whether there is a type of inquiry with broader scope than scientific inquiry that is capable of examining the question of whether a natural event is caused by something 'outside of the natural world'. If Collins's argument in 2-Reason is accepted, then Myers's criticism on this point can't stand, at least in the form he gives it -- if A falls outside of the scope of a given type of inquiry, then the mere fact that A has effects that fall inside the scope of that inquiry doesn't bring A within the scope of the inquiry; it just means that there are things within the scope of our inquiry that are effects of things outside it, and cannot be recognized as such without a form of inquiry that has a large scope. For an analogy: a researcher into finch physiology might study the physiological forms of finches, but not the effect of climate on the physiology of finches. To recognize those things falling within the scope of his inquiry as the effects of climate, the researcher has to appeal to an inquiry with broader scope -- one that can say something about climate. Collins can be seen as suggesting that there is an inquiry of broader scope than scientific inquiry, one that can recognize certain things within the scope of scientific inquiry as effects of things outside it. If there is no such inquiry then an argument can be made that all relevant evidence has been considered, and the inability to prove that X exists becomes a strong (albeit defeasible) argument that X does not exist. This is not quite the argument Myers makes; but it is, I suggest, closer to the argument he should be making, because it yields (I take it) the same point, while avoiding the error made in the argument he actually gives (namely, the confusion between having effects of A that fall within in the scope of inquiry and having effects of A that fall within the scope of inquiry precisely as effects of A).

Amanda Marcotte also has some comments. I can't really say much about them, because I'm having more difficulty following the threads of her argument. For instance, her comment on the (1-Claim) is "as if it’s not the height of arrogance to believe the entire universe was constructed for our moral well-being". It isn't clear how this is relevant, however. Collins's claim is that it's arrogant to claim to be able to prove something that, by the very nature of the inquiry, you can't; but taken straightforwardly, Marcotte's criticism appears to attribute arrogance to the content of the belief, and tis is not a coherent notion. (For example, no matter what p is, if I have good reason to believe p, my believing p can't be considered 'arrogant'.) Since Marcotte's phrasing suggests that she sees are response as turning the tables on Collins, perhaps the best way to interpret it is this: Collins attributes arrogance to Dawkins because, he says, he claims to be able to prove something that can't be proved given the type of inquiry he appeals to; likewise with Collins, who claims to be able to prove something that can't be proven given the type of inquiry he appeals to. The claim attributed to Collins, that "the entire universe was constructed for our moral well-being" doesn't appear (unless I missed it) to be Collins's claim. Rather, he makes the much weaker claim that "God did have an interest in the appearance, somewhere in the universe, of creatures with intelligence, with free will, with the Moral Law, with the desire to seek Him." However, with development, one might still be able to argue that this involves a claim to prove something that can't be proven given the type of inquiry appealed to. I'm not sure how that argument would work though, since Marcotte doesn't expand much on this point. I have a similar problem with most of her other claims, since she passes over them quickly, and so I find them difficult to interpret in a way that would make sense. For example, she seems in one place to imply that the fact that religious belief tends to be geographically located and passed down in families suggests that it is not true; apparently forgetting that acceptance of scientific claims also tends to be geographically located. It's an interesting question whether it is passed down in families, but it does seem at first glance likely, given that parents teach their children. Other beliefs appear to be similar, e.g., feminist ones. While the covariation with location and family is probably not the same for all beliefs, it seems unlikely, at least without further evidence, that there is any general type of belief that is not affected, because teaching is local and affected by family membership. So she must mean something else, but I don't know what it would be. She also says, "I always thought that it was interesting that the very people who argue that god is omniscient and omnipotent refuse to believe that such a being could have just planned it all out, farted it out one day and never had to monkey with it because he planned it all out and his plans are perfect like he is." But at first glance this seems to confuse 'could' and 'did' -- people who believe that God is omniscient and omnipotent by that very fact are committed to the claim that God could have done this. (Assuming it does not involve a logical contradiction; the particular way Marcotte formulates does appear to conflict with other attributes commonly believed to belong to God, like eternity, but such formulations are usually due only to the manner of speaking, and are not inconsistencies in the proper sense. I think it's fairly clear what Marcotte means.) Most of them explicitly believe it, although they would formulate it somewhat differently. But it doesn't follow from this that this is what in fact happened. So, again, Marcotte must mean something else; but I don't know what it would be.

In any case, what people need to remember, and what bloggers too often forget, is that rational criticism doesn't consist in taking the most convenient interpretation of one's opponents and criticizing that, but in taking the most charitable interpretation the evidence admits, and subjecting that to criticism. This is tricky, and no one does it perfectly, since it takes a solid analysis of the evidence, a fertile imagination in good working order, and a steady will to hold the latter accountable to the former. But some serious effort will usually take us much of the way. It doesn't seem to me that Myers and Marcotte are putting much effort in, and their criticisms seem to suffer for it. I think Alejandro's criticism of Collins, at least when he talks about Collins's comments about the Big Bang, is closer to the sort of model one should take in a case like this, and I think he identifies some clear weaknesses in Collins's argument.

Edith Stein

Today is the feast of Edith Stein. While the exact circumstances of her death are unclear, our evidence is that Stein was gassed at Auschwitz on this day in 1942.

"What Does the Prayer Really Say?" has a dialogue between Ambrose and Augustine written by Stein.

ICS has the whole of Edith Stein's book, The Hidden Life, online.

Marianne Sawicki's translation of Stein's An Investigation into the State is also online.

Excerpts from her masterpiece of phenomenology, Finite and Eternal Being. I looked briefly at some of the early arguments in that work my first year blogging, and also quoted a passage on thinking with the heart and another on the Interior Castle later on.

Stein's Sprituality of the Christian Woman at EWTN.

John Sullivan's essay, Edith Stein's Humor and Compassion, gives many quotations from her.

Edith Stein's letter to Pope Pius XI about the anti-semitism of the Nazis.

Marianne Sawicki also has a good discussion of the four treatises Stein wrote while she was Husserl's assistant. It's also worth noting that she was one of the most important editorial hands contributing to Husserl's Ideen II (and is the one responsible for the current structure of the work and for some passages, although she was not the last one to work on it with Husserl). I've posted a short passage from "Sentient Causality" in which she criticizes Hume.

The Western Confucian on Nagasaki

The Western Confucian has a number of posts relevant to today's remembrance of Nagasaki:

The Saint of Urakami

Karl Keating on Nagasaki and Hiroshima

"My God, What Have We Done?" (the reflections of the chaplain who blessed the crews who dropped the bombs)

Two A-Bomb Museums

Ora pro nobis peccatoribus

Not Always on the Mount May We

Not always on the mount may we
rapt in the heavenly vision be:
The shores of thought and feeling know
the Spirit's tidal ebb and flow.

'O it is good abiding here,'
We cry, the heavenly presence near:
The vision vanishes, our eyes
are lifted into vacant skies.

Yet has one such exalted hour
upon the soul redeeming power,
and in its strength, through after days,
we travel our appointed ways,

Till all the lowly vale grows bright,
transfigured in remembered light,
and in untiring souls we bear
the freshness of the upper air.

The mount for vision: but below
the paths of daily duty go,
and nobler life therein shall own
the pattern on the mountain shown.

Frederick Lucian Hosmer (1885)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Proper Names

In a discussion of Chalcedonian Christology at Dale Tuggy's "Trinities", the question of how to interpret proper names came up. In the comments I argue (in retrospect somewhat unclearly and inadequately in parts) that, contrary to a common practice, proper names should not be treated as individual constants. As I said, my argument is uneven in quality, since a comment box is not the most useful venue for making a point like this. But a good portion of the argument has already been given in an accessible form by Tyler Burge, in his important paper, Reference and Proper Names. I don't quite agree with the Burge's own view -- I'm not convinced that the best non-individual-constant position is to say that proper names are abbreviated descriptions, although clearly they are related to descriptions in some way. But his attack on the constants view of proper names is, I think, exactly right. Proper names can be pluralized, quantified, predicated, and all sorts of other things one wouldn't expect if they were really captured by translating them as individual constants. Which suggests the following dialogue:

-How many Brandons are here?

There is only one Brandon here.

-Which of you is that Brandon?

I'm that Brandon.

-I've heard that every Brandon has the right account of proper names. Is that true?

Well, perhaps not; I am Brandon, and I do believe that proper names don't normally function like individual constants, and there are good arguments for it. But some Brandons might not agree.

-But those other Brandons would be different Brandons.

Very true. But that someone is a different Brandon than I am doesn't mean that he is not really Brandon. It just means that he's not me. Our sharing a name doesn't mean much.

-But surely talking about 'Brandons' requires us to say that there is some way in which all these Brandons are identical.

No; it just means that they've all been called, independently, 'Brandon'. This implies no more than the fact that both jadeite and nephrite are called 'jade'.

-But if 'Brandon' is a proper name, it should pick out only one person.

And so it does, if you use it to talk about one person in particular. But proper names have what Sommers calls 'wild quantity', and sometimes we don't use them to talk about one person in particular. And sometimes we get confused. Roxane, for instance, thought that 'Christian' picked out only one person, but through no fault of her own she was picking out both Christian and Cyrano; she couldn't distinguish between the two, even though they weren't the same person, and even though only Christian was Christian.

-In any case, if I were Brandon, I'd be happy to be a Brandon.

Yes, I find that being Brandon is nice. And think how bad the world would be if no Brandon existed.


The explosion of the atomic bomb came altogether unexpectedly. I saw the flash of light in the radium laboratory. Not only my present but also my past and future were blown away in the blast. My beloved students burned together in a ball of fire right before my eyes. Then I collected my wife, whom I had asked to take care of the children after my death but who now had become a bucket-full of soft ashes, from the burnt-out ruins of our house. She had died in the kitchen. For me, the injury to the right side of my body and acute atomic disease caused by the atomic bomb were added to my chronic radiation illness, disabling me far sooner than expected.

--Takashi Nagai, in Leaving These Children Behind.

On August 9, 1945, the Americans dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Due to drifting winds, the bomb dropped in the Urakami area of Nagasaki, obliterating the Urakami Catholic Cathedral and killing the greater part of Nagasaki's Catholic community, as well as many others. Nagai was in his office at Nagasaki Medical Center at the time, less than a thousand meters from the epicenter. He survived, but as he notes in the above passage, struggled with radiation-induced cancer the rest of his life. He devoted himself to helping others, and while bed-ridden for leukemia, wrote a number of books on dealing with the atomic-bomb experience that have been very popular among Japanese Catholics. His works are very difficult to find in English, although The Bells of Nagasaki was translated by William Johnston. In his works, the desolation of Nagasaki is seen as a sacrifice of atonement, by innocents, for the horrors of war, and a perpetual memorial saying to mankind, "Seek peace."

The Peacock

The priest let his eyes wander toward the birds. They had reached the middle of the lawn. The cock stopped suddenly and curving his neck backwards, he raised his tail and spread it with a shimmering timbrous noise. Tiers of small pregnant suns floated in a green-gold haze over his head. The priest stood transfixed, his jaw slack. Mrs. McIntyre wondered where she had ever seen such an idiotic old man. "Christ will come like that!" he said in a loud gay voice and wiped his hand over his mouth and stood there, gaping.

Mrs. McIntyre's face assumed a set puritanical expression and she reddened. Christ in the conversation embarrassed her the way sex had her mother. "It is not my responsibility that Mr. Guizac has nowhere to go," she said. "I don't find myself responsible for all the extra people in the world."

The old man didn't seem to hear her. His attention was fixed on the cock who was taking minute steps backward, his head against the spread tail. "The Transfiguration," he murmured.

[Flannery O'Connor, "The Displaced Person," The Complete Short Stories, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York: 1977) 226.]

The peacock in this story is quite a remarkable symbol, handled well by a brilliant writer. Through much of the story the peacock -- the hope of Transfiguration -- is notably present; he opens and closes the story, in fact. The first sentence is:

The peacock was following Mrs. Shortley up the road to the hill where she meant to stand.

The last sentence is:

He came regularly once a week with a bag of breadcrumbs and, after he had fed these to the peacock, he would come in and sit by the side of her bed and explain the doctrines of the Church.

(The 'He' is the priest in the passage above.) However, with the exception of the explicit notice in the above passage, the peacock is largely ignored. Mrs. Shortley and Mrs. McIntyre are so caught up with the problem of the Displaced Persons -- World War II refugees -- that they have no real patience for it. The Transfiguration theme is linked with another theme, namely, Christ as a Displaced Person; while the peacock may seem to Mrs. McIntyre merely another mouth to feed, it carries with it an implicit transfiguration, a secret splendor. For Mrs. McIntyre, the D.P.'s, like Mr. Guizac, are a problem, but in truth they are an opportunity, bringing with them a sort of liberation.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Feast and Afterfeast

I sometimes think that Christians should choose a solemnity, in much the way many people take a patron saint, one that especially sums up to them their perspective on Christian life. Of course, there's a sense in which Easter and Christmas are universal feasts in this sense; but not everyone, I think, is equally called to speak the truth of Easter or the truth of Christmas to the Church and to the world. Some might be called to be Christians of the Annunciation, or of the Baptism, or of the Triumphal Entry, or of Pentecost; not, of course, in the sense that they are different kinds of Christian but in the sense that they are Christians called to affirm more clearly different aspects of life in Christ. There is no question what my special solemnity would be; it occurred yesterday. It is the Feast of the Transfiguration.

Like many great feasts, Transfiguration has an octave and an apodosis; it had a forefeast on Saturday and its afterfeast today. So as a sort of celebration there will be Transfiguration-related posts here and there throughout the week.

Some reading on the Transfiguration.

Not To Be Missed

Transfigure this out (Way of the Fathers): a sermon by Augustine on the day

Angelus Message on the Feast of the Transfiguration (St. Peter's Helpers)

Three from St Ephrem (Summa Minutiae)

The Manifestation of Divine Glory (Deacon Dan Wright)

Feast of the Transfiguration (Spero Forum Weblog)

A Chinese Hymn on the Transfiguration (Word from the Desert)

The Transfiguration Shows Us Who Jesus Is (Bonfire of the Vanities)

St Ephrem's Teaching on the Transfiguration (From the Anchor Hold)


Transfiguration (Italian (American) Catholic)

Transfiguration (

Feast of the Transfiguration: of Christ, Mankind, and Creation (Historical Christian)

The Transfiguration (Southwark Vocations)

Practicing Prayer (meditatio)

Feast of the Transfiguration (ByzFaith)

Unclerical Sermons to Myself (The Curt Jester)

Hiroshima and Tabor
Transfiguration (Sacramentum Vitae)

Sunday Thought: The Kingdom Coming Business (Apologia)

Coming Down the Mountain (Rickety Contrivances of Doing Good)

Christ and the Bomb (Liberamedeus)

The Joy of the Transfiguration (Flos Carmeli)

Transfigurations (From the Anchor Hold)