Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sui Juris Churches

In February, Pope Francis raised the Eritrean Catholic Church to sui juris status, and yesterday he raised the Hungarian Greek Catholic Church to Metropolitan status, so I thought it would be interesting to put something up about sui juris churches. A sui juris church, or autonomous church, in the Catholic Church is a community in communion with Rome that has a self-governing hierarchy and custody of its own customs and usages arising from legitimate apostolic succession.  They are parts of the Church, but not separate parts, because the Catholic Church is not united as a federation; every sui juris church is understood to be, fully and in itself, the one Catholic Church itself, just in one particular legal and devotional expression -- every sui juris church is the One Church and is also a part of every other sui juris church. There are 24 such churches.

The largest sui juris churches are the Latin (Roman or Western), the Ukrainian, the Syro-Malabar, the Maronite, and the Melkite, all of which have over a million members worldwide. The Albanian, Greek, Russian, Belarusian, and possibly Bulgarian churches all have less than 10,000 members worldwide.

They can be compared in a number of ways, of which the two most common are by the family of liturgical rite of which they are a part and by how the head of the church is positioned in the episcopal order of precedence. The former gives a better sense of how the church actually operates, but the kinds of elevation done by the Pope concern the latter.

Liturgical Family

These can be thought of as 'cultural units' in the Church, sharing liturgical rites and often liturgical languages. According to the Catechism (CCC 1203):

The liturgical traditions or rites presently in use in the Church are the Latin (principally the Roman rite, but also the rites of certain local churches, such as the Ambrosian rite, or those of certain religious orders) and the Byzantine, Alexandrian or Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, Maronite, and Chaldean rites. In “faithful obedience to tradition, the sacred Council declares that Holy Mother Church holds all lawfully recognized rites to be of equal right and dignity, and that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way.”

(The primary liturgical languages are Coptic and Ge'ez.)


(The primary liturgical language is Syriac. The Maronite Catholic Church is sometimes distinguished out as somewhat different from the others in the family.)


(The primary liturgical language is Armenian.)


(There are multiple liturgical languages; Greek is the dominant one, followed by Church Slavonic, but they are quite diverse. What primarily unites Byzantine churches is that the basic structure of their liturgies is more or less the same, and derived from a Greek original.)


(The primary liturgical language is Syriac.)


(The primary liturgical language is Latin.)


Juridical Status

As all sui juris churches are equal in dignity, order of precedence does not indicate the importance of the church itself, nor of any of its members as Catholics, but only the status of the head and his authority, as recognized by the juridical authority of Rome. It thus reflects how the church is organized and governed. This difference arises from a number of reasons, such as history, size, organizational complexity, or political complications. Thus, for instance, the second largest sui juris church is the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church; it has the size, organization, and influence that usually raises its head to the status of Patriarch, and in practice Ukrainian Catholics even call the head of their church 'Patriarch' and treat him as such, but Rome has been reluctant to confirm this status officially due to complications in relations between Catholics and Russian Orthodox, so its head officially has the in-between status of Major Archbishop, which indicates roughly that the head of the church functions in practice with full patriarchal authority and eminence but that there are reasons for not actually saying this.

A crude analogy to secular political units can be used to get a sense of what these indicate. Eparchial status can be seen as indicating a kind of coherent 'autonomous region' within the Church ('eparchy' is the eastern version of 'diocese'), whereas full-blown Patriarchal or Major Archiepiscopal status always indicates that the status of the Church is more analogous to that of a sovereign nation -- the Pope is still a higher tribunal and can impose canon laws, but with respect to other patriarchal churches, the Pope is himself also obligated (although the extent is a bit indeterminate) to respect precedent, custom, and usage; and in practice the Pope tends to intervene only in matters arising between particular churches. But it's important always to remember that, unlike secular political units, each sui juris church, whether it is patriarchal, eparchial, or otherwise, is itself the Catholic Church in one of its liturgical-juridical forms, and not a mere sub-unit of it.



Major Archiepiscopal


Metropolitan (Archiepiscopal)


(These often have no single head, but they do have authoritative structure, since they have bishops in charge with of their own eparchies/dioceses, and they are united by history, culture, and the protection of the Pope. Some of these, like the Albanian and the Greek, are not strictly speaking eparchies and so could be listed as 'other', but in practice function mostly as if they were. The Albanian is an Apostolic Administration and the Greek Catholic Church is an Exarchate.)


(These often are churches with a history as sui juris churches that still technically exist but now only exist in small and scattered form, usually due to major disruption like civil wars or population collapse, or else that for one reason or other needed to be split off from another sui juris church. The head may be a deputy of a patriarch of another church or there may be no head. The Belarusian and Russian churches no longer have any bishop at all, if I understand correctly. The Macedonian Greek Catholic Church is a former part of the Bulgarian Greek Catholic Church.)


Marcus Aurelius, Meditations Books V, VI, and VII

Book V

Book V sees the introduction of some new ideas that have either not been seen yet, or only been hinted at before. Hadot notes (The Inner Citadel, pp. 265-266):

In Book V, the themes which had dominated Books II and III disappear or become blurred once and for all. In particular, although death is sometimes still mentioned as a possibility which might compromise our efforts toward perfection, it is now also present as a liberation for which we must wait with patience and confidence; for it will deliver us from a human world in which moral life--the only thing that counts, and the only value--is constantly frustrated (V, 10, 6; V, 33, 5).

However, the major theme that unfolds in Book V is the relation between one's own nature and the nature of the Whole. We should not worry about what others say and do, but follow the path laid out by one's own nature and the nature of the Whole; "the path is one and the same for both" (V, 3). One's life consists in traveling our path until we give our breath back to the air and our body back to the earth (4). When bad things happen, it is not any different from when a doctor prescribes a harsh treatment for the sake of health; the Whole prescribes disease or lameness for the sake of universal harmony, "the health of the universe, the welfare and well-being of Zeus" (8). "The intelligence of the Whole has the common good in view" (30). We should keep in mind that the end of rational creatures lies in community (16) and what does not hurt the community does not harm its members (22). If another person does us wrong, what is that to us? His actions are his own, but our actions should unfold from our own nature as the common nature of the Whole has placed it (25). If something apparently bad is not a vice in our own characters, or due to any vice in our own characters, or harmful to the common good, then we have no reason to be disturbed about it (35). We should simply focus on things that are appropriate to and complete our natures as human beings; other things are simply irrelevant to us (15). When philosophy or reason requires of us something we don't want, we should recognize that the reason is that we want something our nature does not want (9). We should honor universal reason, which is that which is best in the universe, and likewise honor that which is best in ourselves, our particular reason (21).

We are made out of cause and matter, which did not come from nothing and will not return to nothing when we die, but instead will take up another place in the universe (13). We should not be proud of our place, because "existence is like a river in perpetual flow" so that we live in the midst of an infinity of past and future (23). Indeed, this should be our general reflection:

Think of existence as a whole, in which you have a very small share; think of eternity, of which a brief and momentary portion has been allotted to you; think of destiny and how small a part of it is yours. (24)

Book VI

Books VI and VII mostly consist of short reminders. Some notable ones:

"The best method of defense is not to become like your enemy" (VI, 6).

"Do not, because something is hard for you to do, consider it impossible for man to achieve; but if anything is possible for man and his proper work, think that you too can achieve it" (19).

"Painful labor is not contrary to nature fo the foot or the hand, as long as the foot fulfills the functions of a foot and the hand the functions of a hand. In the same way, painful labor is not contrary to the nature of man as man, as long as he fulfills the function of a man. And if it is not contrary to his nature, it is not an evil for him." (33)

"Are you resentful because you weigh only so many pounds and not over two hundred? No more should you resent that you have only so many years to live and no more." (49)

"That which does not benefit the swarm does not benefit the bee" (54).

In the reminders of Book VI, however, we also get more of the obviously personal touch, as Marcus Aurelius struggles with the problem of being both Emperor and philosopher. Palace and philosophy are like stepmother and mother; if you have both, you look after your stepmother, as your duty is, but you return in love to your mother. Returning frequently to philosophy makes palace life bearable (12). When the rich delicacies and luxuries of court are set before you, see them as what they are, "destroy the myth which makes them proud": the fine dishes are carcasses, the Tyrian purple is shellfish-juice on sheep's wool, and so forth (13). One must fight off the vanity of the court:

See to it that you do not become Caesarized, or dyed with that coloring. For it does happen. Therefore treasure simplicity, goodness, purity, dignity, lack of affectation, love of justice, piety, kindliness, graciousness, and strength for your appropriate duties. Strive to remain such as philosophy wanted to make you. Revere the gods, protect men. (30)

He should, instead of becoming Caesarized, be a disciple of Antoninus Pius, his adopted father and predecessor on the throne. Nothing, the Emperor reflects, is beneficial to him as a rational creature except what benefits the communities of which he is a member: as Antoninus, Rome; as man, the world (44).

Book VII

Hadot notes a number of repetitions in Book VII (The Inner Citadel, p. 268):

Thus, he repeats several times that we have the power to criticize and to modify the value-judgments which we apply to things (VII, 2, 2; VII, 14; VII, 16; VII, 17, 2; VII, 68); that things are subject to rapid and universal metamorphosis (VII, 10; VII, 18; VII, 19; VII, 23; VII 25); that it is vain to seek for fame and glory (VII, 6; VII, 10; VII, 21; VII, 62).

Book VII also has a significant number of quotations from, and allusions to, other authors (some of which are certainly secondhand rather than direct): Democritus (30), Epicurus (33, 64), Plato (35, 44, 45, 66), Antisthenes (36), Euripides (38, 40, 41, 42, 43, 50, 51, and perhaps also 39), Plutarch (52), Epictetus (36, 63), and unknown authors (39, 51).

Some notable comments from Book VII:

"Do not feel shame at being helped. It is your purpose to perform the task before you, as a soldier does in a siege. What if you, being lame, cannot reach the battlements alone but can do so with another's assistance?" (7)

"For a creature endowed with reason, an action in accord with its nature is also in accord with reason" (11).

"Be upright or be put right" (12).

"Whenever anyone wrongs you, consider what view of good or evil prompted his action. Realizing this, you will pity him, be neither surprised nor angry at him." (26)

"As if you had already died and lived only till now, live the rest of your life as a kind of bonus, in accord with nature" (56).

"It is ridiculous not to escape from one's own vices, which it is possible to do, but to flee from the vices of others, which is impossible" (71).

to be continued

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XXVIII

Life in the world is like a manuscript of writings that is still in rough draft. When a man wishes or desires to do so, he can add something or subtract form it, and make changes in the writings. But the life in the world to come is like documents written on clean scrolls and sealed with the royal seal, where no addition or deletion is possible. Therefore, so long as we are found in the midst of change, let us pay heed to ourselves; and while we have power over the manuscript of our life, which we have written by our own hand, let us strive earnestly to add to it by leading a good manner of life, and let us erase from it the failings of our former life. We have power to erase our debts from it as long as we are here. And God will taken into account every change we make in it, so that we may be deemed worthy of eternal life before we go before the King and He sets His seal upon it.

Homily 62 (p. 442).

Friday, March 20, 2015

Callista and Newman's Theology of Conversion (Re-post)

I have been traveling a bit the past week, and thus had airport time, which I spent re-reading John Henry Newman's Callista. Given that I'm still a bit bedraggled from a long, late flight last night, I thought I would re-post something about the book from 2007.

If no one knew that John Henry Newman had written Callista, any literary scholar puzzling over the authorship of the work would be able to determine that it was written by either Newman himself or someone thoroughly permeated with his ideas. The novel, in fact, is saturated with a Newmanian theology of conversion.

Some background may be in order. Callista is intended to be a historical romance portraying Christianity in the third century, specifically for a Catholic audience. The major characters of the work are Agellius and Callista herself. Curiously, while she is mentioned in conversation earlier, Callista does not appear in person until Chapter 10. Of the other characters, the only ones of importance are Juba and Jucundus, relatives of Agellius, and the priest Caecilius, who turns out to be a rather important historical personage, better known under one of his other names. The events take place in and around the town of Sicca Veneria (modern-day Al-Kaf or El Kef in Tunisia); while not nearly as large as Carthage to the northeast, it nonetheless is fairly important as the seat of the Proconsular Africa. The novel opens during a time of relative peace; Christianity has been declining in the area, to such an extent that Sicca has neither priest nor bishop, and the general view among the pagans in the area is that it is (finally) dying out there, although there is worry about the pervasive influence of Christians across the empire. There are, in fact, only a handful of Christians in Sicca at all, and most of those are merely nominal. While Agellius sincerely believes in Christian doctrine, his brother Juba is only nominally Christian (and that only when he feels like it, being inclined to local superstitions), and his uncle Jucundus is a pagan. Even Agellius is merely a catechumen, and has been for most of his life, not moving forward; he is "stuck fast in the door of the Church," and it's the view of both his brother and his uncle think it likely that only a little nudge will back him out. The particular nudge they think most likely to nudge him out is Callista, a beautiful and intelligent pagan Greek with whom he is smitten. Callista, however, turns out to be a more complex person than they had thought, for while she is definitely pagan, she has considerable sympathy toward Christianity. Things become complicated as the Decian persecution finally reaches Proconsular Africa and is officially put into effect there. And that's the basic line of the story.

Much of the novel is concerned with the conversion of Callista, and it is here that we see Newman's theology clearly manifested. Callista's conversion is, in essence, an interaction with three Christians: Chione, her maidservant, who has already died, and is the reason for Callista's sympathy toward Christianity; Agellius; and Caecilius, a priest who is riding around the countryside giving aid to Christians while hiding from the authorities, whose true identity we only learn in Chapter 20. In the Oxford University Sermons Newman has an important but often-overlooked sermon on personal influence as the means of propagating truth. In it Newman argues that moral truth, and in particular the truth of Christianity, is not generally propagated by miracles, arguments, or a Church hierarchy, although these may play a role in scattered cases. The real means by which moral truth is propagated in the world is personal influence, in the 'inherent moral power' we observe in some of those from whom we learn. These people are simultaneously the teachers of moral truth and the models by which we understand it. People in the world are drawn to the beauty and majesty of their characters; they recognize them to be rare and therefore precious; they regard them as in some sense out of their league; they are directly influenced by it. This is precisely the way Callista is affected by Chione, Agellius, and Caecilius; she feels that they are somehow sublime, that there is something in them which is worth having, even though she does not know quite what it is. Indeed, for a very long time she knows nothing of Christianity except that there is something attractive in Chione, Agellius, and Caecilius. As the narrator expresses it (in Chapter 27):

But then again, if she had been asked, what was Christianity, she would have been puzzled to give an answer. She would have been able to mention some particular truths which it taught, but neither to give them their definite and distinct shape, nor to describe the mode in which they were realised. She would have said, "I believe what has been told me, as from heaven, by Chione, Agellius, and Cæcilius:" and it was clear she could say nothing else. What the three told her in common and in concord was at once the measure of her creed and the ground of her acceptance of it. It was that wonderful unity of sentiment and belief in persons so dissimilar from each other, so distinct in their circumstances, so independent in their testimony, which recommended to her the doctrine which they were so unanimous in teaching.

In a slave, a country boy, and a learned priest she saw something that they all shared, particularly when they spoke of divine love. She has no commitment to Christian doctrines; but the Christian image found in her three sources, however vaguely defined, does provide a conduit by which those doctrines reach her in at least a vague form and impress her. The attraction borders on worship; as the narrator says of her attitude to Caecilius, "In spite of what she had injuriously said to him, she really felt drawn to worship him, as if he were the shrine and the home of that Presence to which he bore such solemn witness."

In Chapter 28 we are introduced to another way in which Callista's process of conversion exhibits echoes of Newman's theology, because Callista recognizes a sort of divine vocation. This is briefly mentioned in the sermon on personal influence to which I've just referred, when Newman talks about those "who acknowledge the voice of God speaking within them, and urging them heaven-ward"; but it is more extensively discussed elsewhere. The most famous discussion is that in the essay on Assent. In the Oxford University Sermons, the key passage is found in the sermon on the influences of natural and revealed religion. By 'natural religion' he means not religion based on reason alone, but those admirable aspects of the attempts by non-Christian people to worship God as they should. The foundation of this natural religion is conscience. Callista explicitly affirms natural religion in this sense:

"Well," she said, "I feel that God within my heart. I feel myself in His presence. He says to me, 'Do this: don't do that.' You may tell me that this dictate is a mere law of my nature, as is to joy or to grieve. I cannot understand this. No, it is the echo of a person speaking to me. Nothing shall persuade me that it does not ultimately proceed from a person external to me. It carries with it its proof of its divine origin. My nature feels towards it as towards a person. When I obey it, I feel a satisfaction; when I disobey, a soreness—just like that which I feel in pleasing or offending some revered friend. So you see, Polemo, I believe in what is more than a mere 'something.' I believe in what is more real to me than sun, moon, stars, and the fair earth, and the voice of friends. You will say, Who is He? Has He ever told you anything about Himself? Alas! no!—the more's the pity! But I will not give up what I have, because I have not more. An echo implies a voice; a voice a speaker. That speaker I love and I fear."

However, Newman holds that there is a weak point in natural religion understood this way; namely, that while it teaches "the infinite power and majesty, the wisdom and goodness, the presence, the moral governance, and, in one sense, the unity of the Deity," it nonetheless is limited in what it can convey of the divine Personality. He later did not like this way of stating it, since obviously many theists who are neither Jewish nor Christian believe in a personal God in some way or another. But something at least analogous to this lack Callista clearly feels, because she goes on immediately to say,

"O that I could find Him!" she exclaimed, passionately. "On the right hand and on the left I grope, but touch Him not. Why dost Thou fight against me?—why dost Thou scare and perplex me, O First and Only Fair? I have Thee not, and I need Thee."

Finally, in Chapter 29, Callista begins reading the Gospel of Luke and finally recognizes in clear outline the original Image which she had found echoed in Chione, Agellius, and Caecilius:

Here was that to which her intellect tended, though that intellect could not frame it. It could approve and acknowledge, when set before it, what it could not originate. Here was He who spoke to her in her conscience; whose Voice she heard, whose Person she was seeking for. Here was He who kindled a warmth on the cheek of both Chione and Agellius. That image sank deep into her; she felt it to be a reality.

This passage is suggestive of the passage on Gibbon in the later Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, in which he argues that an adequate account of the spread of Christianity has to include the Image of Christ, which was spread by personal influence in preaching and teaching, and which made it possible for people to assent to Christian doctrine with a 'real apprehension'. This is, in fact, the form of Callista's own conversion:

She now began to understand that strange, unearthly composure, which had struck her in Chione, Agellius, and Cæcilius; she understood that they were detached from the world, not because they had not the possession, nor the natural love of its gifts, but because they possessed a higher blessing already, which they loved above everything else. Thus, by degrees, Callista came to walk by a new philosophy; and had ideas, and principles, and a sense of relations and aims, and a susceptibility of arguments, to which before she was an utter stranger. Life and death, action and suffering, fortunes and abilities, all had now a new meaning and application. As the skies speak differently to the philosopher and the peasant, as a book of poems to the imaginative and to the cold and narrow intellect, so now she saw her being, her history, her present condition, her future, in a new light, which no one else could share with her. But the ruling sovereign thought of the whole was He, who exemplified all this wonderful philosophy in Himself.

Callista, then, is a novel shot through with Newman's theology. I have only considered it insofar as it relates to Callista's conversion. There are other examples that could be drawn on; for instance, part of Caecilius's striking discourse on love and omnipotence in Chapter 19 could be fruitfully compared to Newman's sermon on the omnipotence of God as the reason for faith and hope. But it suffices to show, I think, how much Callista is really an idea-novel, which probably explains some of Newman's curious choices in its composition (e.g., the two main characters, the fact that the primary character does not appear until a third of the way into the book, etc.).

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XXVII

Repentance is the mother of life. It opens its door to us when we take flight from all things. The grace that we have lost after baptism by leading lax lives, repentance renews in us through the discernment of the understanding. By water and Spirit we have put on Christ, though we did not perceive His glory. Through repentance we enter into His delight by means of the discerning knowledge that dawns within us.

Homily 64.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XXVI

The man who is conscious of his sins is greater than he who profits the whole world by the sight of his countenance. The man who sighs over his soul for but one hour is greater than he who raises the dead by his prayer while dwelling amid many men.

Homily 64 (p. 461).

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Poem Draft

Fourth Week of Lent

In an errant world, on an errant way,
I wander lost through night and day;
with wanderlust I err the more
as I seek the light of the eastern shore.
Where the will-o-wisp by the willows dance
I stray, return by the merest chance,
and the thing I will never what I chase:
for wisps of nought I lose my place.

Yet the time will come at the journey's end
when I will be true friend to friend,
when no siren-call will lure my course,
and every road draw me to source.

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XXV

You think that you possess humility. Other men accuse themselves; but while you cannot even bear to be accused by others, you reckon yourself humble. If you are humble, by these things try yourself: whether or not you are troubled when you suffer injustice.

Homily 6.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XXIV

Truth is awareness of God which a man savors in himself by means of the perception of the spiritual senses of the mind. The blossoming of spiritual knowledge is divine love, which arises from flaming intellections that are discovered by the spirit through prayer. Love is a fruit of prayer that, by prayer's divine vision, draws the mind insatiably toward that which it longs for when the mind patiently perseveres in prayer without wearying, whether it prays in a visible way, employing the body, or with the silent reflections of the understanding, diligently and with ardor.

Homily 66 (p. 470)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Gutting on Natural Law

Gary Gutting has an odd argument about natural law theory at The Stone. Part of the oddness, perhaps, derives from the fact that he never bothers to clarify most of the things he is talking about. This, for instance, is his account of natural law theory:

This tradition sees morality as a matter of the moral laws that follow from what fundamentally makes us human: our human nature.

This is extraordinarily misleading. The natural law tradition sees at least some morality as a matter of the moral laws that are rationally evident in themselves, or that follow from such laws. Natural law theorists have historically held that there are areas of moral life only loosely related to moral law; it's just that these looser areas presuppose the moral laws as a skeletal framework. Natural law theory is also not itself a theory of human nature; it is a theory of practical human reason where it concerns the common good of human beings. Human nature enters into the picture because the kinds of goods that can be common goods for all human beings obviously have to be identified in light of human nature itself. Gutting then goes on to suggest:

The problem is that, rightly developed, natural-law thinking seems to support rather than reject the morality of homosexual behavior. Consider this line of thought from John Corvino, a philosopher at Wayne State University: “A gay relationship, like a straight relationship, can be a significant avenue of meaning, growth, and fulfillment. It can realize a variety of genuine human goods; it can bear good fruit. . . . [For both straight and gay couples,] sex is a powerful and unique way of building, celebrating, and replenishing intimacy.” The sort of relationship Corvino describes seems clearly one that would contribute to a couple’s fulfillment as human beings — whether the sex involved is hetero- or homosexual. Isn’t this just what it should mean to live in accord with human nature?

But natural law theory is not specifically about "fulfillment as human beings", a vague phrase that describes almost every moral account one could name. Corvino's argument is entirely focused on consequences, but no natural law theorist would look only at consequences. And, what is more, the goods identified by Corvino's argument are all arguably private goods: meaning, growth, fulfillment, intimacy -- while these might touch on or be relevant to goods common to all humanity, nothing about them requires that they be common goods in themselves. Contrast this with reproduction as continuance of the human race or reason itself, which are reasonable candidates for a good that is common to all human beings. Your private meaning, growth, fulfillment, and intimacy only become even plausibly significant for determining right and wrong in a genuine natural law theory to the extent that they become entangled with something like reproduction or the goods of reason itself. Now, in a matter like sex, as with politics and religion, this can happen fairly easily, since sex is a major pillar of civilized life; but it has to happen.

Gutting then attributes a supplementary argument made by some natural law theorists (the selfishness point he mentions) to all natural law theorists as if it were their primary argument, and manages to mangle it, as well, focusing on selfishness rather than objectification. In the course of this mangling, he says:

The awkward talk of “an act that could not in principle result in pregnancy” is necessary since those who put forward this argument want to maintain that heterosexual unions in which one (or both) of the partners is sterile are still moral. There’s nothing unnatural about their intercourse because it’s the sort of act that in general can lead to reproduction.

Here we see Gutting falling into a common misapprehension, that natural law theorists arguing against same-sex sexual activities do so because they are claiming that the intercourse is "unnatural" (unless by this you simply mean 'not appropriate to a rational life'). Natural law theorists rather argue that they are wrong on the same ground that they would argue that it is wrong to quarrel with people just because you feel like it: that it is in a robust sense irrational in the sense established by the account of practical reason in natural law theory. They may sometimes also hold (and often have held) that certain problematic features of the wrong are aggravated because it is unnatural in some specific sense; but this is a distinct issue, and the specific sense matters.

All of these obscurities and confusions are rookie mistakes; they are not what one would reasonably expect of a professor of philosophy at Notre Dame. Despite the reference to Corvino, for instance, Gutting's argument on the subject is massively more muddled than the arguments of Corvino himself, even when Corvino is also talking in a very limited and popular forum. Contrast Gutting's argument, for instance, with Corvino's argument in this seven-minute YouTube comment; despite the fact that they are very similar in many of their basic ideas, Corvino's argument in the last three minutes alone is massively better than Gutting's: less vague, more coherent, better reasoned.

[I found, incidentally, the 'many would see the argument as proving too much' line a bit amusing, since this is how one plays rhetorical games: if it were narrowly focused, the argument would be dismissed as biased against gays and lesbians; since it covers "birth control, masturbation and even non-reproductive sexual acts between heterosexuals" (you have to love that "even", as if sexual acts between heterosexuals were somehow especially immune to ethical scrutiny), and, indeed, only addresses homosexual sexual activities as a secondary and incidental matter, one instead casts the net as widely as possible to get as many allies as possible. In reality, of course, any Catholic account of sexual ethics is going to be fairly restrictive across the board because (1) it will maintain the central importance of marriage between man and woman; and (2) it will preserve essential elements of the ethical ideas of Classical antiquity, which also tend to be quite restrictive in sexual matters (since even when they tolerate things that later ceased to be tolerated, the philosophers of antiquity were constant critics of common indulgences of their culture). Expecting a Catholic position on sex that does not argue for what "many would see" as "proving too much" would be absurd; and it is irrelevant to the question of what a Catholic position can accommodate, which is the question at hand.]

Isaac of Nineveh for Lent XXIII

There are three ways by which every rational soul can draw nigh to God: by fervency of faith, by fear, and by the Lord's chastisement. No man can draw nigh to the love of God if one of these three does not lead the way.
Homily 6 (p. 169)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Fortnightly Book, March 15

Pedair Cainc Mabinogi (The Four Branches of the Mabinogi) is the oldest recorded British storytelling in prose, and appears to go back to about the eleventh century. It consists of four story sequences, each concerned with a particular character: Pwyll, Branwen, Manawydan, and Math. The sequences are themselves united by a common background -- they all take place in a legendary Britain united under various principalities but united by a single king -- and by the character of Pryderi, who appears in all four sequences. It has survived in two manuscripts -- the White Book of Rhydderch and the Red Book of Hergest, both of which were copied in the fourteenth century -- and some fragments. The name Maginobion comes from this set of story-sequences; the name itself was a passing medieval scribal error (it is a pluralization of an already plural word), but it stuck when William Owen Pughe used it at the end of the eighteenth century for his series of translations into English, "The Mabinogion, or Juvenile Amusements, being Ancient Welsh Romances".

The Mabinogion as we usually recognize it, however, is due primarily to Lady Charlotte Guest. Lady Charlotte herself had a genius for languages; she was fluent in seven languages before she even started Welsh, and she is the source of quite a few excellent and influential translations. Guest used a transcription of the Red Book of Hergest for her translation in 1838 and pulled together a number tales to make a full anthology; this is what we refer to as The Mabinogion. The tales in Guest's anthology:

Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed
Branwen, Daughter of Llyr
Manawydan, Son of Llyr
Math, Son of Mathonwy
The Dream of Macsen Wledig
Lludd and Llefelys
Culhwch and Olwen
The Dream of Rhonabwy
Owain, or The Countess of the Fountain
Peredur, Son of Erefawc
Geraint and Enid
The Tale of Taliesin

Of these, The Tale of Taliesin is sometimes included as part of The Mabinogion, and sometimes treated as if it were a distinct appendix; it is the only tale in the connection not found in either the White Book or the Red Book. (The Dream of Rhonabwy is only found in the Red Book, but all the others are found in both.) Likewise, the collection of these stories in particular is an entirely modern affair; they are not found grouped together in their original manuscripts, and have little in common beyond all being prose rather than verse. Thus, like a lot of national literary works, The Mabinogion is partly natural and partly artificial; it pulled together a number of genuine native elements into a form that is itself entirely modern. The Mabinogion itself is, in a real sense, just Lady Charlotte Guest's 1877 final edition of her translated anthology; any other is version is taking Guest's anthology as a template.

And it is Lady Charlotte Guest's Mabinogion that is the next fortnightly book. For the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, I may also look at Will Parker's online translation of the White Book text, for comparison, if I have time.