Saturday, June 09, 2007

Trappist Products

An article on Trappist beers. Cistercians, of course, follow the Rule of Benedict, and the Rule of Benedict requires monks to engage in manual labor; Trappists are not Cistercians of the Strict Observance for nothing. Different Trappist monasteries produce different things -- some bread, some produce, some cheese, and some wine or beer. Because they devote so much of their life to it, and because they do it religiously -- quite literally religiously -- their products tend to be excellent. I haven't tasted any Trappist beers or wines; but the beers especially are sometimes considered to be some of the best in the world. It got me curious about other Trappist products. Assumption does Trappist fruitcake, and Our Lady of Guadalupe does the same.. Chimay does beer and cheese. The Genesee do bread. St. Joseph's does preserves. Gethsemani does cheese, bourbon fudge, and bourbon fruitcake. (Thomas Merton, who was at Gethsemani, had a thing against the cheese; he felt the Abbey's expansion of its cheese-making led to too much commercialization.) New Melleray does caskets! And that's only a very small selection of what Trappist monasteries produce. And, of course, Cistercians in general tend to be very productive; they always have been.

The Poetics of Paradise

Do not let your intellect
be disturbed by mere names,
for Paradise has simply clothed itself
in terms that are familiar to you:
it is not because it is poor
that it has put on your imagery,
rather, your nature is far too weak to be able
to attain to its greatness,
and its beauties are much diminished
by being depicted in the pale colors with which you are familiar.

Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns on Paradise 11, 7. Brian Fitzgerald has a nice introductory essay on this point here (PDF).

Cyril of Alexandria on the Hypostatic Union

The holy and mighty Synod therefore said that the Only-begotten Son Himself, Begotten by Nature of God the Father, Very God of Very God, Light of Light, Him through Whom the Father hath made all things, came down and was made Flesh and made Man, suffered, rose the third day, and ascended into the Heavens. And these both words and doctrines we too must follow, considering what the Word of God made Flesh and Man means: (For we do not say that the Nature of the Word was changed and made flesh, nor yet that it was changed into whole man, of soul and body: but this rather, that the Word having Personally united to Himself flesh ensouled with reasonable soul unspeakably and incomprehensibly was made Man and was called son of man not in respect of favour only or good pleasure, nor yet by appendage of person only:) and that the natures which are gathered together unto Very Union are diverse, yet One Christ and Son of Both, not as though the diversity of natures were taken away because of the Union, but rather that the Godhead and Manhood make up One Lord and Son through their unspeakable and ineffable coming together into Unity.

This is from what is usually called the Second Letter to Nestorius; it was acclaimed by the Council of Ephesus as sound doctrine, and is a fundamental reference for the orthodox view of the Incarnation.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Notes and Links

* The recently unveiled logo for the 2012 London Olympics, which I criticized here, is so bad that a petition opened on to protest it collected more than 48000 signatures in two days. In related news, it turns out that an animated commercial promoting the 2012 London Olympics causes epileptic seizures. (ht) And the recently unveiled logo for the 2012 London Olympics is so bad that officials have had to assure people explicitly that the logo was not the part of the commercial that caused them! You just couldn't make this stuff up if you tried.

* I keep intending to do it, but keep forgetting when it actually comes to posting: Congratulations to David Corfield, who was recently hired by the Philosophy Department at the University of Kent at Canterbury. John Baez discusses it. David formerly blogged at The Philosophy of Real Mathematics, and now blogs at The n-Category Cafe and at Why Do People Get Ill? I haven't had a chance to read either of his books yet, due to the fact that they're always checked out when I look them up at the library; but his papers are always interesting, and he occasionally stops by Siris to chat about tradition-constituted and -constituting inquiry.

* Those interested in issues connected with Miaphysitism should read the spirited defense of it (PDF) by Pope Shenouda, Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria. The Coptic Orthodox, of course, rejected Chalcedon because they thought it sounded too Nestorian.

* You may have heard of the recent death in Iraq of Chaldean Catholic priest, Ragheed Ganni, and his companions. There will likely be a push to canonize him and his companions.

* Julio at "Hispania Sancta" has a passionate defense of Western Rite Orthodoxy against its Orthodox critics in three posts: Part I, Part II, Part III. The standard sort of sympathetic criticism is that of Kallistos Ware. Of course, there are less sympathetic critics, including those who by some strange twist of logic regard Western Rite Orthodox as Uniates.

* Brandon Wason at "Novum Testamentum" has generated some interesting discussion with a poll on the Synoptic Problem. So far Q-hypotheses hold a not-unexpected steady lead, followed with a respectable second by its obvious rival, the Farrer hypothesis (Markan priority without Q). Interestingly, the Augustinian hypothesis is doing very well in third place, which I wouldn't have expected. Stephen Carlson's Synoptic Problem FAQ gives a good general overview. The classic text for the Farrer hypothesis is Farrer's On Dispensing with Q; you can read more about the hypothesis at Mark Goodacre's The Case Against Q webpage. The Griesbach hypothesis, or rather the modern form that has engendered interest, is defended at A Website for the Two Gospel Hypothesis.

My own amateur view is that all of them jump the gun. What we really have are a topology of evidences consisting in the triple tradition, the double tradition, the major and minor agreements, and some evidences external to the gospels themselves. The state of this field of evidence is such that some things are suggested but nothing is shown. Given that topology, nothing is ruled out except what ignores the evidence altogether, and the next step is not evidential but pragmatic: i.e., which approach is most likely to encourage new and worthwhile discovery without encouraging needless and worthless speculation? The best solution is simply the one you can do better work with. I think a lot of the backlash against the Two-Source Hypothesis is the feeling that Q has engendered far more speculation than discovery, more epicycles than knowledge, and the hope that the Farrer theory, which saves Markan priority while eliminating Q, can serve as a more fruitful guide for research. This does allow some sort of headway for resolving the problem; but much more than this and we end up doing to the past what Hal Lindsay does with the future.

* David Reis's Flip Flop? John Chrysostom's Polytropic Paul (PDF) is interesting reading.

* The Little Professor has links relating to Victorian stained glass.


* John Farrell has also been reading Alasdair MacIntyre's Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry. Incidentally, I've recently been listening to the podcasts of his novel, Doctor Janeway's Plague.

* There are some rather good YouTube entertainers out there. This one is excellent, often hilariously so. I particularly recommend his performances of "Ted", "Mad Dogs and Englishmen", and "Mrs. Worthington". His declamations of Kipling's "If" and Bosie's "Two Loves" are also quite decent.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

MacIntyre on the Rationality of a Craft Tradition

To become adept in a has to learn how to apply two kinds of distinction, that between what as activity or product merely seems to me good and what really is good, a distinction always applied retrospectively as part of learning from one's earlier mistakes and surpassing one's earlier limitations, and that between what is good for me to do here and now given the limitations of my present state of education into the craft and what is good and best as such, unqualifiedly. But the way in which these distinctions are to be applied within some particular craft is rarely fixed onece and for all. Every craft has a history and characteristically a history not yet completed. And during that history differences in the materials to which that craft gives form, differences in the means by which form is imposed upon matter, and differences in the conceptions of the forms to be achieved not only require new ways of applying these distinctions but htemselves sometiems are the outcome of new ways in which these distinctions are applied. So learning how to make these distinctions adequately involves learning how to go on learning how to apply them. One has to acquire a certain kind of knowing how which enables one to move from the achievements of the past, which depended upon the making of these distinctions in one way, to the possibility of new achievements, which will depend upon making them in what may be some very different way. It is the possession and transmission of this kind of ability to recognize in the past what is and what is not a guide to the future which is at the core of any adequately embodied tradition. A craft in good order has to be embodied in a tradition in good order.

[Alasdair MacIntyre, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry: Encyclopaedia, Genealogy, and Tradition. Duckworth (London: 1990) pp. 127-128.]

This seems about right, and is, as MacIntyre intends it to be, entirely generalizable to other traditions, like traditions of inquiry. Learning the tradition as a participant in it involves learning how to go on learning how to make the basic distinctions between apparent good and true good and between good under the circumstances and good simply speaking. A historian, as opposed to someone who merely dabbles in history on occasion, has to learn not only how to make a distinction between apparently good historical work and truly good historical work; she has to learn how to learn how to make these distinctions when new areas open up, or new approaches are put forward. And she needs not only to learn the difference between what's good given our limitations and what's good in itself, but also to learn how to learn this anew when limitations shift and change. And so it is across the board.

There are further issues about what what is going on in the distinction between good under the circumstances and good in itself, but I won't raise them here.

A Corpus Christi Poem Draft

Corpus Christi

The bread is broken on the table;
into the cup is poured the wine;
by the word the Word our Savior
is made the substance of the sign.

Adam's flesh from fleshly Adam
is free from sinful flesh once more,
for we, by blood and by slain body,
are flesh and blood with Christ our Lord.

Speak, my tongue, of His scourged body,
blessed and broken for our race,
of pricelessness of blood now flowing
to pay our price and grant us grace.

Sing, my voice, the song of angels
as they wonder at his tomb,
which, with side-sprung water flowing,
encompassed us to be our womb.

Love, my heart, the changeless ancient
who descends from God above
to be a babe and passion's patient;
He is God, for God is Love.

Trust, my soul, in Truth most holy:
Truth is true and does not lie.
Free from lie, from lies He freed us;
behold the sign Truth truly died!

Hope, my spirit in your Savior,
who is life, in dying lives,
and is given by the Father
to be the bread that life can give.

Shout, my sisters; shout, my brothers;
from the housetops make it known;
tell the tale on every mountain;
own this well: you are His own!

Pange, Lingua

Pange, lingua, gloriosi
Corporis mysterium.
Sanguinisque pretiosi,
quem in mundi pretium.
Fructus ventris generosi
Rex effudit gentium.

Nobis datus, nobis natus,
ex intacta Virgine,
Et in mundo conuersatus,
sparso verbi semine,
Sui moras incolatus
miro clausit ordine.

In supremae nocte cenae,
recumbens cum fratribus
observata lege plene,
cibis in legalibus,
cibum turbae duodenae,
se dat suis manibus.

Verbum caro, panem verum
verbo carnem efficit:
fitque sanguis Christi merum,
et si sensus deficit,
ad firmandum cor sincerum
sola fides sufficit.

Tantum ergo Sacramentum
veneremur cernui:
et antiquum documentum
novo cedat ritui:
praestet fides supplementum
sensuum defectui.

Genitori, Genitoque
laus et jubilatio,
salus, honor, virtus quoque
sit et benedictio:
procedenti ab utroque
compar sit laudatio.

This hymn was composed by none other than Thomas Aquinas for the Feast of Corpus Christi, which is today. It is certainly his most famous hymn, although Adoro te devote comes a decent second in popularity. The last two stanzas are often separated off as their own hymn, the Tantum Ergo. If you want to hear it sung, I recommend looking up samples on, which has some lovely ones of this hymn.

This hymn is notoriously difficult to translate. In English Caswall's is probably the most popular translation; it's better than most, but is vastly inferior to the original. John Mason Neale's is, as one might expect, in many ways the best; of all the English translations, for instance, it comes closest to capturing the fourth stanza, which is as good an argument that some things in Latin can't be translated as there can be. But closest and best here are still far away from the original.

Two More Poem Drafts

Morning Meal

I drink a tea of verses
infused from hidden dreams
and sup on story:
water from a rock and manna sweet,
nectar and ambrosia;
and upon the side
a pepper grown from heartache and desire
garnishes the graceful greens
of humble hope and broken pride,
to give them subtle fire.


I saw the monoceros
and wanted it for my own;
it was as large as a horse and white,

with a poison-slaying horn
high-exalted with salvation
like the mighty.

I ached for true possession;
but hounds cannot catch nor arrows harm it;
it can be killed but never taken.

To kill it you find a virgin's lap;
laying down its head, it gives life over
and falls to mortal sleep.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Dignity of Causality

Two things belong to providence--namely, the type of the order of things foreordained towards an end; and the execution of this order, which is called government. As regards the first of these, God has immediate providence over everything, because He has in His intellect the types of everything, even the smallest; and whatsoever causes He assigns to certain effects, He gives them the power to produce those effects. Whence it must be that He has beforehand the type of those effects in His mind. As to the second, there are certain intermediaries of God's providence; for He governs things inferior by superior, not on account of any defect in His power, but by reason of the abundance of His goodness; so that the dignity of causality is imparted even to creatures.

Thomas Aquinas (ST 1.22.3)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Three Poem Drafts

Little Towns

There's nothing new beneath the sun
in the place where you were born;
victories are won
while hearts are always torn.

The merchants buy and sell,
lovers laugh and wed,
infants play and cry,
and soon they'll all be dead.

Some children will always be
led by a distant call,
some apples on the tree
will grow up where they fall.

Soldiers still march to war
where one by one they die
and when they are brought back
their mothers always cry.

There's a sorrow and a love
no stoic face can hide,
something much like loss,
something quite like pride.

The hypocrites will gather
in church and school and square
and snipe at little failings
with judgments not quite fair.

Rumor's the only goddess
immortal in her kind,
and gossip in her train
brings up the tale behind.

Yes, times will always change,
but this can still be sworn:
nothing new is beneath the sun
in the town where you were born.

Cats Always Daydream

Cats always daydream.
With distracted stares
they muse in daze and doze
and dream of what's not there.

They move their minds near madness,
and on the margins of the sane
they contemplate your doings
with visions in their brains.

Cats always daydream.
They think in dreamer's style
and plan and scheme for ages
behind their little smiles.


In the coverts of the stairs, my dove,
in secret recesses and clefts you hide;
let me see you, let me hear your voice.
Your voice is sweet and you are lovely;
like sudden sunrise be light to me
that I may browse among your lilies
until shadows lengthen in cool evening
and I leap on the myrrh-bearing mountains.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Value Cocktails

Amartya Sen (from "Democracy as a Universal Value," Journal of Democracy 10.3 [1999] 9):

Indeed, we can distinguish three different ways in which democracy enriches the lives of the citizens. First, political freedom is a part of human freedom in general, and exercising civil and political rights is a crucial part of good lives of individuals as social beings. Political and social participation has intrinsic value for human life and well-being. To be prevented from participation in the political life of the community is a major deprivation.

Second, as I have just discussed (in disputing the claim that democracy is in tension with economic development), democracy has an important instrumental value in enhancing the hearing that people get in expressing and supporting their claims to political attention (including claims of economic needs). Third--and this is a point to be explored further--the practice of democracy gives citizens an opportunity to learn from one another, and helps society to form its values and priorities. Even the idea of "needs," including the understanding of "economic needs," requires public discussion and exchange of information, views, and analyses. In this sense, democracy has constructive importance, in addition to its intrinsic value for the lives of the citizens and its instrumental importance in political decisions. The claims of democracy as a universal value have to take note of this diversity of considerations.

Remarkably, Sen gets through the paper without telling us much about what this value is that has these different aspects. The closest he comes to pinning it down is, "Democracy has complex demands, which certainly include voting and respect for election results, but it also requires the protection of liberties and freedoms, respect for legal entitlements, and the guaranteeing of free discussion and uncensored distribution of news and fair comment" (pp. 8-9). That's probably as close as anyone is going to get to pinning down democracy as a value; but precisely what it suggests is that 'democracy' as a value label is just a label for a mixture of different values. A special cocktail, one might say, that comes of blending a number of different values into a single draught. There's nothing wrong with value cocktails -- we have lots of them, and are constantly coming up with new ones. 'Candour', once popular, fell out of favor, and 'integrity' comes in, a slightly different cocktail, to fill its place at some point. People continually are proposing various alleged national characters and national spirits as new tonics for what ails us. But the notable thing about these is that they are usually contingent blends of universal values, or at least purported universal values, not universal values themselves; when the tonics get advertised as universal they start looking like nostrums peddled by quacks (sometimes very successful quacks, perhaps). So it seems to me that it is perhaps more correct to say that 'democracy' is a used equivocally, sometimes for the value of free and fair franchise, sometimes perhaps for other simple values (like certain key rights), and sometimes for various value cocktails of the sort Sen proposes. Nonetheless, given the popularity of this particular cocktail (or family of cocktails), particularly in political discourse, Sen's identification of its three value-dimensions is useful.

That Is So 80s

The logo for London's 2012 Olympic games is stupendously bad. According to the organizers, though, "the powerful, modern emblem symbolises the dynamic Olympic spirit and its inspirational ability to reach out to people all over the world." They should have just adapted their bid logo, which was at least decent. This one I would say is the worst logo since at least the 1970s. It would make more sense as a logo if the Olympics were being held in Las Vegas. It says, "We have no coherent identity, so when asked we just spent an absurd amount of money for someone to throw something tacky together that looks like it came off the cover of a cheap rock album from when we were young enough to be powerful and modern." You can compare it to previous ones here, although they don't have London's official one up yet.

Analogy and Other Minds

John Stuart Mill was the most notable of those who had argued that our knowledge of the inner states of others depends on analogical inference....We have good reasons to reject Mill's account over and above those that Stein cites. Were the situation such as Mill pictured it, all such inferences would be unwarranted. For we would be entitled to make such inferences only if we already know that others resemble us, both in having an inner life of thoughts and feelings and in expressing it in much the same manner that we do. But this, if our situation in relation to others is indeed as Mill pictures it, is something that we do not and cannot know.

[Alasdair MacIntyre, Edith Stein, Rowman & Littlefield (Lanham, Maryland: 2006) 78-79.]

It is surely right to reject the view that our knowledge of the mental states of others wholly depends on analogical inference. But MacIntyre's further problem for Mill is not, I think, a problem. It is false to say that "we would be entitled to make such inferences only if we already know that others resemble us" in having a mental life expressed as ours is; if this were true, all analogical inference would be worthless. Analogical inference, however, is often a method of extrapolation, and it is perfectly reasonable to use it as such. When we do so, it yields not knowledge but defeasible presumption; but there's nothing wrong with that.

Malebranche's Deviation from Augustine

Nicolas Malebranche holds that universal Reason, that in virtue of which we are rational creatures, is the Divine Word, the second Person of the Trinity. This is an Augustinian point. But Malebranche goes far beyond this to something that Augustine does not endorse:

But if it is true that the Reason in which all men participate is universal, that it is infinite, that it is necessary and immutable, then it is certainly not different from God's own reason, for only the infinite and universal being contains in itself an infinite and universal reason....But the reason we consult is not only infinite and universal, it is also independent and necessary, and in one sense, we conceive it as more independent than God Himself. For God can act only according to this reason; He depends on it in a sense--He has to consult and follow it. Now, God consults only Himself and depends on nothing. This reason, therefore, is not different from Himself; it is, therefore, coeternal and consubstantial with Him. (LO 614)

In other words, the most Augustinian of the Cartesians holds that the Divine Word is that whereby the Father is wise. He explicitly states this in a prayer attached to the Christian and Metaphysical Meditations, where he prays eternal Wisdom, "who renders wise creatures and even the Creator, although in a rather different way". In saying this Malebranche deviates considerably from Augustine himself, who expressly considers this topic in the De Trinitate. Augustine considers the following argument used against the Arians:

But among the arguments which those on our side used to hold against them who said that there was a time when the Son was not, some were wont to introduce such an argument as this: If the Son of God is the power and wisdom of God, and God was never without power and wisdom, then the Son is co-eternal with God the Father; but the apostle says, "Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God;" and a man must be senseless to say that God at any time had not power or wisdom; therefore there was no time when the Son was not. (6.1.1)

Note that this is the argument Malebranche makes in the above passage from the Search. It is in slightly different terms; but in both cases the argument is that since the Son is the wisdom of God, and God cannot not be wise, the Son must be consubstantial and coeternal with God. As Augustine notes, however, this argument requires us to say that the Father is not wise except by begotten wisdom. But the problem with this is explored by Augustine in Book VII. We seem faced with a trilemma: either we deny that Christ is the wisdom and power of God, and thus make the Apostle a liar; or Christ is the wisdom and power of God, but the Father is not the Father of Him; or Christ is the wisdom and power of God, and the Father is not powerful or wise in His own right. His response to this is to point out that on orthodox doctrine, this will not work (7.1.2):

Therefore both the Father Himself is wisdom, and the Son is in such way called the wisdom of the Father, as He is called the light of the Father; that is, that in the same manner as light from light, and yet both one light, so we are to understand wisdom of wisdom, and yet both one wisdom; and therefore also one essence, since, in God, to be, is the same as to be wise. For what to be wise is to wisdom, and to be able is to power, and to be eternal is to eternity, and to be just to justice, and to be great to greatness, that being itself is to essence. And since in the Divine simplicity, to be wise is nothing else than to be, therefore wisdom there is the same as essence.

That is, just as we say that the Son is Light from Light, and yet both are one Light and not two, so we would have to say that He is wisdom from wisdom, and yet both are one wisdom and not two, and thus are consubstantial. The Son does not make the Father wise.

The Apostle does say that Christ is the power and wisdom of God, though, and we have to determine how this should be understood. And Augustine points out that terms like 'wisdom' can be said substantially or relatively. The two are not the same. The Father is wise by His own wisdom, which He shares with the Son; but the Son is called begotten wisdom insofar as He represents the wisdom of the Father by sharing it (7.3.4):

And therefore Christ is the power and wisdom of God, because He Himself, being also power and wisdom, is from the Father, who is power and wisdom; as He is light of the Father, who is light, and the fountain of life with God the Father, who is Himself assuredly the fountain of life. For "with You," He says, "is the fountain of life, and in Your light shall we see light." Because, "as the Father has life in Himself, so has He given to the Son to have life in Himself:" and, "He was the true Light, which lights every man that comes into the world:" and this light, "the Word," was "with God;" but "the Word also was God;" and "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all:" but a light that is not corporeal, but spiritual; yet not in such way spiritual, that it was wrought by illumination, as it was said to the apostles, "You are the light of the world," but "the light which lights every man," that very supreme wisdom itself who is God, of whom we now treat. The Son therefore is Wisdom of wisdom, namely the Father, as He is Light of light, and God of God; so that both the Father singly is light, and the Son singly is light; and the Father singly is God, and the Son singly is God: therefore the Father also singly is wisdom, and the Son singly is wisdom. And as both together are one light and one God, so both are one wisdom. But the Son is "by God made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification;" because we turn ourselves to Him in time, that is, from some particular time, that we may remain with Him for ever. And He Himself from a certain time was "the Word made flesh, and dwelt among us."

Aquinas picks up on exactly this point (ST 1.39.7); it's a key element of the scholastic doctrine of appropriation.

So Malebranche, in thinking of the Divine Wisdom as both the Son and that by which God is wise, is deviating from Augustinian Trinitarian theology. The deviation, I would argue, is actually pretty significant; it makes it possible for him to argue things that someone more rigorously Augustinian in their Trinitarian theology would never argue. In particular, he tends to make no sharp distinction between wisdom, reason, etc., as divine attributes common to the persons and wisdom, reason, etc., as appropriated to one person distinctively. The result is a number of oddities in Malebranche's view.

Links and Notes

* The 48th Philosophers' Carnival is up at "common sense philosophy".

* Michael Tkacz lists some reasons why people of Thomistic inclinations tend not to be enthusiastic about 'intelligent design theory'. (ht: DarwinCatholic) It reminds me in some ways of Kenneth Miller's essay on Catholicism and evolution from two years ago.

* Chu-Carroll had a review of Behe's new book recently.

* If We Taught English the Way We Teach Math (ht)

* A post on the Prisoners' Dilemma at "Grey Matters" (ibid)

* Steve Vogel relates why the Pentagon is pentagonal. (ht)

* I'm currently re-reading Wayne John Hankey's review of Menn vs. the postmodernists on Descartes and Augustine. While he scores some genuine points in favor of Menn against the postmodern interpreters of the Augustine-Descartes relation, I'm inclined to think that Marion in particular is not so easily answered. That Descartes is in some sense Augustinian is very true; this was always known, and has been re-stated in greater detail than ever before by Menn and Janowski. But it is one thing to say that the roots of Descartes are in Augustine and another to say that there is a real continuity between the two, because the Cartesian Augustine is undeniably fragmentary and decontextualized. When you start putting the fragments into their places, Augustine and Descartes, despite occasionally saying similar things, start looking very different, despite occasional resemblances. In any case, see also Hankey's discussion of the postmodern Augustine.

* The recent SCOBA pastoral letter on suicide is reasonably good.

* It is a sad thing when patriarchs make fools of themselves. (ht) God have mercy on us all.


* The Golden Compass trailer is out, and has been for a while, although I just saw it today; it looks good. Anactoria points out that Angelina Jolie would probably have been a better casting decision than Nicole Kidman for the role of Mrs. Coulter; we'll have to see.

* It's an interesting day in the Anglican calendar: it's the memorial for Pope John XXIII; he gets into the Protestant calendar by being understood as a reformer of the Church.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Gregory Palamas on the Image of God

Gregory Palamas's The One Hundred and Fifty Chapters has an interesting discussion of the imago dei which is well worth reading. The discussion takes the Patristic analogy of mind, word, and spirit and develops it by careful reasoning. God as transcendent and absolutely perfect goodness is mind; but it is the source also of goodness, and this is a word. Now, there are several sorts of word:

word expressed orally
word immanent in the imagination
word in the discursive intellect
word naturally stored in our mind

The word expressed orally is physical and not directly mental at all; so it is unsuitable for comparison. This is the same with the word immanent in the imagination. The word in the discursive intellect is not, like the first two, a matter of sounds; but it begins and ends. Thus, Gregory proposes, the word most analogous to the Divine Word is a word "in the sense of the word naturally stored up within our mind, whereby we have come into being from the one who created us according to his own image, namly that knowledge which is also coexistent with the mind" (ch. 35). In the Divine Word, of course, the Word expresses perfectly the goodness of its Source, so it is everything the goodness of God is, and can thus be called the Son so that we might recognize him as both derived from the Father and his own hypostasis.

Now, a word comes with a spirit, so the Divine Word must have a Holy Spirit proceeding with Him from the Father. But again there are several different things we could mean by 'spirit', going with the several different things we could mean by 'word':

spirit accompanying the spoken (breath)
spirit accompanying the immanent word
spirit accompanying the discursive word
spirit accompanying the natural word

And for the same reasons that the Word must be understood as a word in the sense of the word naturally in us, the Spirit must be understood as spirit in the sense of a spirit accompanying the natural word. This is a sort of love, for, as Palamas says, "that Spirit of the supreme Word is like an ineffable love of the Begetter towards the ineffably begotten Word himself" (ch. 36). This Love is also the love of the Begotten toward the Begetter; but the mode in which it is, is different, in that the Son possesses this Love as "proceeding from the Father together with him and as resting connaturally in him" (ch. 36). The Holy Spirit is common (koinon) to Father and Son as a sort of pre-eternal joy of the Father and the Son (he is adapting this from Proverbs 8:30). He is thus sent to the faithful from both, although He proceeds from the Father alone.

This is reflected "in the relation of the mind to the knowledge which exists perpetually from it and in it, in that this love is from it and in it and proceeds from it together with the innermost word" (ch. 37). Gregory suggests that even those who lack the discipline for clear self-knowledge can see something of this in our insatiable desire for knowledge. Of course, the image of the Trinity in the human mind is only an imperfect echo of the Holy Trinity itself, and we call the Holy Spirit not just Love but Spirit and Paraclete in order to recognize Him as accompanying the Word but also as his own hypostasis. Thus the infinite goodness of God is not three goodnesses, but one goodness as a supreme Trinity, three true and perfect hypostases undivided.

This basic image of mind, word, spirit is found in all intellectual natures, including angels. But one of the distinctive and ingenious features of Gregory's discussion is that there is one way in which, for all our flaws and imperfections, human beings are more in the image of God than even angels. Angels do not possess the spirit or love as life-giving. 'Life-giving', of course, is a key attribute of the Holy Spirit, being found in the Nicene Creed. Gregory argues, however, that human beings do possess a spirit that is life-giving, because our basic, natural love for our bodies keeps the body alive. "Thereby," he says (in ch. 38),

it is shown to men of understanding that man's spirit, the life-giving power in his body, is intellectual love; it is from the mind and the word, and exists in the word and the mind, and possesses both the word and the mind within itself Through it the soul naturally possesses such a bond of love with its own body that it never wishes to leave it and will not do so at all unless force is brought to bear on it externally from some very serious disease or trauma.

This image of God remains in us even though we do not act or think in a manner worthy of people in God's image. Because we are even more in the image of God than the angels (even if in other ways angels surpass us in dignity), the human mind "ought to preserve its proper rank and take its place after God alone and be subject, subordinate and obedient to him alone, and look to him alone and adorn itself with perpetual remembrance and contemplation of him and with most fervent and ardent love for him" (ch. 40). Drawn to God in this way, it will possess the image and likeness of God in an even more glorious sense, because it will have been made divine, and in this will both love God and itself more truly; because he who loves wrongdoing hates his own soul by breaking apart the triadic communion which makes him in God's image.

Quotations are from Gregory Palamas, The One Hundred and Fifty Chapters, Robert E. Sinewicz, tr. PIMS (Toronto: 1988).

The Hospitality of Abraham

Andrej Rublëv 001

Without any doubt this is the most famous Trinity-themed icon in the world, Andrei Rublev's fifteenth-century Hospitality of Abraham and Sarah, also called, more loosely, the Rublev Trinity. The actual image is not of the Trinity but of the curious story of the theophany at Mamre, found in Genesis 18:

The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

He said, "If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant."

"Very well," they answered, "do as you say."

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. "Quick," he said, "get three seahs of fine flour and knead it and bake some bread."

Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

It goes on further, since the story includes the destruction of Sodom. The remarkable thing about the story is that it is expressly said in its very first sentence to be an appearance of Jehovah. The story tells us that the Lord appeared to Abraham. But what happens is that Abraham looks up and sees three men. He welcomes them hospitably and gets into a conversation with them; but as he does so he seems to be talking to God. One of the three, in fact, is identified in the story as the Lord, and the other two are called angels. The two are, in fact, the angels who destroy the Cities of the Plain; but, again, the distinction between them and the Lord in places becomes difficult to see. It became common because of this to see the Hospitality of Abraham as a type or symbol of the doctrine of the Trinity. As Augustine put it (De Trin 2.11.20):

That place of Scripture demands neither a slight nor a passing consideration. For if one man had appeared, what else would those at once cry out, who say that the Son was visible also in His own substance before He was born of the Virgin, but that it was Himself? since it is said, they say, of the Father, "To the only invisible God." And yet, I could still go on to demand, in what manner "He was found in fashion as a man," before He had taken our flesh, seeing that his feet were washed, and that He fed upon earthly food? How could that be, when He was still "in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God?" For, pray, had He already "emptied Himself, taking upon Him the form of a servant, and made in the likeness of men, and found in fashion as a man?" when we know when it was that He did this through His birth of the Virgin. How, then, before He had done this, did He appear as one man to Abraham? or, was not that form a reality? I could put these questions, if it had been one man that appeared to Abraham, and if that one were believed to be the Son of God. But since three men appeared, and no one of them is said to be greater than the rest either in form, or age, or power, why should we not here understand, as visibly intimated by the visible creature, the equality of the Trinity, and one and the same substance in three persons?

The reason the Hospitality can be seen as symbolic of the Trinity is that it is taken to be a pre-incarnational manifestation of the Divine Word. Justin Martyr gives an earlier version of the standard Christian interpretation of the story in his Dialogue with Trypho (ch. 56):

Moses, the blessed and faithful servant of God, declares that the one who appeared to Abraham under the oak in Mamre is God, sent with the two angels in his company to judge Sodom, by another, who dwells eternally in the heavenly places, invisible to all and engaging in converse with none; the one whom we believe to be the Maker and Father of all things.

We find this, for example, in Hilary of Poitiers (De Trinitate 4.27):

Afterwards three men stand by him; he worships One and acknowledges Him as Lord. After this worship and acknowledgment by Abraham, the One promises that He will return hereafter at the same season, and that then Sarah shall have her son. This One again is seen by Abraham in the guise of a man, and salutes him with the same promise. The change is one of name only; Abraham's acknowledgment in each case is the same. It was a Man whom he saw, yet Abraham worshipped Him as Lord; he beheld, no doubt, in a mystery the coming Incarnation. Faith so strong has not missed its recognition; the Lord says in the Gospel, Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day; and he saw it, and was glad.

Manifesting Christ, it indirectly manifests the Trinity, enigmatically, as in a reflection and a mystery.

Augustine's Book on the Trinity

Today is the Sunday of Holy Trinity, and thus I'd like to do a few posts relevant to the day. And where can we more fittingly start than with laying out the structure of Augustine's De Trinitate, a book which is so often misunderstood because people do not grasp the whole of the argument, but only take it piecemeal?

Augustine divides his discussion into fifteen books, which can be roughly summarized in the following ways, seeing it as a route from Faith to (hope of) Understanding. As he repeatedly says, quoting a translation of Isaiah, "Unless you believe you will not understand"; and he proposes a rule for inquiry in these matters in Book VIII: to preserve by firmness of faith what has not yet become clear to understanding.

Books I-VIII: The Doctrine of the Trinity as Received by Faith

Book I: The unity and equality of the Three Persons is shown from Scripture.

Books II-IV: The unity and equality of the Three persons continued; in particular, the missions of the Son and the Spirit do not indicate any inferiority.

Book V: Why the Father's being unbegotten and the Son's being begotten does not indicate a difference of nature: not everything predicated of God is predicated according to substance, since some things are predicated relatively, either with mutual reference (as Father and Son) or by relation to creature (as Creator or Lord).

Book VI: What is meant by saying that Christ is the wisdom and power of God

Book VII: The wisdom and power of God, continued; comparison of Latin and Greek modes of expressing the unity and distinction of the Trinity

Book VIII: A problem: we cannot know God without loving Him, but what likeness can we find to help us believe Him that we may love Him enough to come to know Him? Love itself has a trinitarian character: the lover, the beloved, and the love that unites them. And we are told by Scripture that God is love. Thus we must love others, and in our love we can see and love love itself and by reflection in it see the Trinity.

Books IX-XV: The Doctrine of the Trinity as Reflected in the Image of God
(Augustine trains the reader in things that are made in order that they may know the one by whom they were made.)

Book IX: A trinity in the created mind: mind, self-knowledge, self-love

Book X: Another, more manifest, trinity in the created mind: memory, understanding, love. There are a number of complications with this trinity, however, not least that the mind can be said to remember, understand, and love itself even when not thinking itself, and that the mind when it thinks itself does not always clearly distinguish it from the body. The trinity will be set aside for a moment in order to clarify certain aspects of human nature.

Book XI: Imperfect trinities in the 'outer man': the object seen, exterior vision, the purpose of will (intentio) that combines the two; also sense-memory, internal vision, and will. (This book often strikes people as an odd digression. But Augustine is preparing for his discussion of the trinities of the inner man, and he will explicitly use the discussion of this book in this way in Book XIV.)

Book XII: Returning to the 'inner man', since we look not merely for a trinity but for an image of the Holy Trinity, we must determine what is meant by 'image of God': the true image of the Trinity can only be found in that part of the human mind that contemplates eternal things. Properly, this is the superior reason, to which wisdom (contemplative aspect of human life) pertains; but the inferior reason, to which knowledge (active aspect of human life) pertains, has some relation to it. The inferior reason, however, considers temporal things.

Book XIII: The trinity of the inner man according to the inferior reason, which is a trinity of faith; we need faith, both a temporal faith in eternal things and a temporal faith in temporal things like the life of our Lord, to reach the beatitude we all will to have.

Book XIV: The trinity of the inner man according to the superior reason. The trinity of faith, which will pass away, cannot be the image of God; nor can the trinity that will replace it when it does. Rather, the image of God must lie in that aspect of us which may partake of God Himself. In the mind remembering itself, knowing itself, and loving itself, we find a trinity that is the image of God (albeit one that is impaired and disfigured by sin) insofar as such a mind is capable of remembering, knowing, and loving God. This trinity is renewed by grace; thus faith, by which we receive grace, remains important to it.

Book XV: The trinity of the inner man according to the superior reason, continued. From the image of the Holy Trinity we wish to arise to the Holy Trinity itself: this leads us immediately to the inadequacy of any created trinity for understanding the Uncreated Trinity. We see by way of a mirror, in an enigma. He discusses the image of God found in this state of enigma in greater detail, showing its likeness and unlikeness to the Holy Trinity. The image of God, however, will be renewed; and then in that beatitude we will be like God, seeing Him not in a mirror but face to face, as He is.

Some important points that are usually forgotten or ignored:

1. One remarkable feature of Augustine's discussion that is often overlooked is that the whole point of the second half of the work is to lay out how we can "live the trinity of the inner man" as expressed in wisdom. The whole discussion is geared to clarifying what it means to live a life in light of the Holy Trinity. It is not an abstract discussion about an abstract doctrine, but an inquiry into the Christian mode of life.

2. Strictly speaking, Augustine does not think the image of God in man is the mind remembering, knowing, and loving itself. In fact, he explicitly denies this in the ordinary sense. The image of God in man is the mind insofar as it is capable of remembering, knowing, and loving God. That is, the basic image of God in us is our capability for worshipping God, which begins to make us wise; and it is in wisdom that we find the trinity that can properly be called an image of the Holy Trinity. The connection between the two, of course, is that on the Christian view genuine love of self and love of God go hand in hand; we can only love ourselves (and thus remember and know ourselves) rightly if we love (and thus remember and know) God, and love (and remember and know) ourselves in light of Him. Life in the image of God is fundamentally a life of loving God, and, in loving God, loving our neighbor as we love ourselves in God.

3. The distinction between inferior reason and superior reason, while extremely important, complicates the discussion considerably, more than is generally recognized. The inferior reason by itself cannot have an image of God, because it is concerned only with temporal things. But the inferior reason and the superior reason together are the one human mind and the one image of God.

4. Throughout the discussion of the various created trinities, Augustine is not looking merely for triads, but for triads that exhibit the following characteristic, at least in some sense: each is in each, each in all, all in each, all in all, and all are one.

5. De Trinitate ends with a prayer essential to understanding the argument of the work; the last part of which is this:

O Lord, the One God, God the Trinity, whatever I have said in these books as coming from You, may they acknowledge who are Yours; but if anything as coming from myself, may You and they who are Yours forgive me. Amen.


I am pleased to see that Rosmini is moving up in the world:

The pope also approved a miracle attributed to Antonio Rosmini, an Italian priest and philosopher who died in 1855 and whose writings were once condemned by the Vatican. In 2001, the then-head of the Vatican's watchdog office for doctrinal errors, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, ruled the concerns over his writings were outdated.

Rosmini developed a philosophical system that incorporated political and social ideas with Roman Catholicism. The approval of a miracle opens the way for Rosmini's beatification, the last formal step before sainthood in the Catholic Church.

Antonio Rosmini Serbati (1797-1855) was a very controversial Italian philosopher, active in Catholic life. Contrary to common belief, his works were not condemned, but only 'dismissed', a slippery notion used by the Congregation of the Index to indicate that they were not so erroneous as to require censure, but not so free from error that they might not be criticized without danger of a note of temerity. The decree of dismissal very clearly states that the investigation and its result was not intended to be disparaging to Rosmini or his services to the Church. The Congregation of the Inquisition did publish a decree listing erroneous propositions from Rosmini's works, without explanation; it was posthumous, however, being promulgated in 1887; and in 2001 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a note clarifying the Vatican's current view of the dismissal and the condemnation; the impetus for the note seems to have been John Paul II's proposing him as a possible model in Fides et Ratio. Rosmini was declared Venerable when Benedict XVI signed a decree recognizing his heroic virtues on June 26, 2006.

Rosmini founded the Institute of Charity and the Rosminian Sisters of Providence, both of which still exist. The Institute of Charity founded Rosmini College (in New Zealand in 1962) on Rosminian principles.

Denis Cleary has a useful summary of Rosmini's philosophy at the SEP.

Radical Academy has a selection by Rosmini on the functions of the human mind.

The Institute of Charity has a pamphlet devoted to Rosmini's Maxims of Perfection for those interested in Rosminian spirituality.