Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Poem Draft

I'll have the post on the fortnightly book up tomorrow at some point; something unexpected came up that ate away my time today. I did come up with this at lunch, though. Chalkydri are from 2 Enoch, a pseudepigraphic apocalypse from the first century.

Chalkydri and Phoenix

With feather on fire, with glittering eye,
chalkydri and phoenix enlighten the sky;
with scale like to sunbeam, with wings bright with rays,
they praise with their ardor the Truth and His ways,
they sing of the glory of Life that abounds,
with the Spirit of splendor their voices resound.
They sweep and they swoop with each lemniscate turn
as trails through the sky they unceasingly burn,
as their life blazes purer than roses aflame,
for they burn from within with Ineffable Name
in letters of wonder, black fire on white light,
that were writ with the Finger of God in His might.
Chalkydri and phoenix are joining in song,
emblazoned in glory by light of the dawn,
with feather on fire and glittering eye
are rising to choir in fields of the sky,
with scale like to sunbeam and wings formed of light
are blazing with vision too brilliant for sight.
And hark how their hymns in the tremulous air
are pouring forth, glowing, like the embers laid bare
of a fire first sparked when the world was yet young!
Chalkydri and phoenix then too had sung,
and morning stars formed at each note of each phrase
as they sang for the joy of the Ancient of Days.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Music on My Mind

Yui, "Again". The song proper begins at the 3 minute mark. "Again" is most famous for being the opening theme of the early episodes of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, which I am currently re-watching -- hence its being on my mind.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

All Dragon Beasts to Slay

St. George’s Day, 1904
by Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley

April 23

The annual meeting of the Guild of St. George, which was founded by John Ruskin, was held at Sheffield on Saturday.

To-day our land remembers him who fought
The Dragon, hails the Cappadocian brave
Who from the loathly thing went forth to save
Pure Innocence, and her salvation wrought.
This is the day a nation’s thanks are brought
By Avon’s shore to God, who Shakspere gave;
To-day we lay Lent lilies on a grave
In Grasmere Vale and think what Wordsworth taught.

And, gathered here in Vulcan’s town to-day,
Where the smoke dragons from their high-built towers
Plague the live air and cheat the poor of sun,
Do not our hearts in loyal memory run
To him who loved pure light and innocent flowers,
And sent us forth all dragon beasts to slay?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Sui Juris Churches VI: The Coptic Catholic Church

(on sui juris churches in general)

Liturgical Family: Alexandrian

Primary Liturgical Languages: Coptic and Arabic

Juridical Status: Patriarchal

Approximate Population: 160,000, although good numbers are very difficult to find.

Brief History: After the Council of Chalcedon in 451, an immense controversy broke out, giving rise to one of the major schisms of Christian history. The Definition of Chalcedon was in certain parts of the world deemed entirely inconsistent with the Council of Ephesus and with the views of the great doctor of the Church associated with the Council of Ephesus, St. Cyril of Alexandria. The See of Alexandria itself was especially inclined to think there was a contradiction, and to regard the Council of Chalcedon as being in reality a bit of political maneuvering by the See of Constantinople. Alexandria and Constantinople were longstanding rivals for the second see in Christendom; Alexandria had held that honorary place for a very long time, but the connection of Constantinople with the Emperor and the slow weakening of the alliance between Rome and Alexandria, once the bulwark of orthodoxy, had contributed to the waxing of the influence of Constantinople. Chalcedon had sealed this with Canon 28, which gave Constantinople, as New Rome, second place only to Old Rome itself; neither Rome nor Alexandria accepted this notion, seeing Constantinople as a dangerous interloper trying to leverage its ties to political power. This perception was only confirmed to the Alexandrians by Chalcedon's deposition of Patriarch Dioscurus and the repeated interventions of the Emperor to place Chalcedonian bishops on the throne. Thus was the Coptic Orthodox Church split from the Catholic Orthodoxy of the bulk of the Empire; Oriental Orthodoxy was born.

Beginning in the fifteenth century with the Council of Florence, the West began actively trying to further union with the Coptic Orthodox Church. Most of this did not get anywhere, despite a Coptic Orthodox delegation signing an act of union with Rome in 1442 and a near success again in 1713, but it did lead to a greater interaction between Copt and Western missionaries, and a slow increase of Catholics in Egypt. In 1781, Benedict XIV appointed a Vicar Apostolic for this small community of Catholics. After the Ottoman Turks reduced the restrictions on Coptic Catholics in 1829, the community thrived, to such an extent that Leo XII raised the church to patriarchal status in 1824. This didn't really go anywhere, and in 1895, Leo XIII had to restore its patriarchal status. The Patriarch appointed was Cyril Makarios, who turned out to be both a very effective and controversial figure. The controversies over his reforms turned out to be so great that he eventually resigned in 1908. For forty years the See remained technically vacant, with no Patriarch (although there was an administrator appointed by Rome). In 1947, however, a new Patriarch was chosen, and there has been a patriarch ever since.

As with the their Coptic Orthodox counterparts, Coptic Catholics have repeatedly been subject to outbursts of persecutions, which has led to a slow drainage of Coptic Catholicism out of Egypt into other parts of the world. This has been slower than one might think, however; the Copts in general have weathered very severe circumstances through their history, and tend to esteem their Egyptian culture quite highly. Only time will tell how the Coptic Catholic Church will endure the violence it has increasingly faced in the past decades.

Notable Monuments: Cathedral of Our Lady of Egypt in Cairo.

Notable Saints: Athanasius of Alexandria (May 2); Cyril of Alexandria (June 27); Maurice and the Theban Legion (September 22); Menas (November 11). I know of no Coptic Catholic saints since the nineteenth century, however; and I can find no information on the Coptic Catholic calendar of saints itself.

Extent of Official Jurisdiction: Seven eparchies in Egypt.

Online Sources and Resources:

Genius and Common Nature

When we turn to the greatest models of human genius, we find in their thoughts an all-adapting power, which makes them the interpreters of our common nature. They seem to be built upon the deepest basis of man's general being, because there is no feeling or condition of life, which does not find its reflection in their writings. Thus does human genius render its possessors a sort of type of their race, by concentrating in them those characteristics, which are dispersed through the ordinary specimens of mortality.

Robert Isaac Wilberforce, The Doctrine of the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ, p. 112. I like the idea that genius is a concentration of ordinary human life, not something fundamentally different from it; it captures the fact that genius exhibits universality as much as it does uniqueness.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Seneca, De Vita Beata, Books I-X

Seneca the Younger was a controversial figure in his own day. As Nero's counselor, at least in his early years, he was not exactly in the best company, and he was often criticized as a hypocrite: denouncer of tyranny, he served a tyrant; attacking those who courted power, he seemed to court power; criticizing political flatterers, he was himself often regarded as a political flatterer; censuring the wealthy, he was nonetheless quite wealthy himself. But it's also the case that much of this criticism arose from those who were politically opposed to him, and also that Seneca eventually retired to the country to live a quiet life. In AD 65, he was ordered by a paranoid Nero to commit suicide, and slit his veins to bleed to death. Posterity would be somewhat kinder to him than his contemporaries; his works were highly appreciated in the Middle Ages, and medieval legends said that he had been converted to Christianity by St. Paul.

The De Vita Beata (Of the Happy Life) was written about seven or so years before his death. It was dedicated to his older brother Gallio. (Gallio, incidentally, is the actual historical link between Seneca and Paul; he is the Gallio of Acts 18:12-17).

You can read De Vita Beata online in English in Aubrey Stewart's translation at Wikisource.

Book I

Seneca opens by noting that everyone wants to live happily but has difficulty seeing what it is in which a happy life consists. Thus we must be very careful to define what happiness is, and then lay out clearly the path to it, rather than wandering around aimlessly. The major thing to avoid is just going along with what others are doing or have done. This is perhaps easier said than done; the drive to conform is very strong within us.

Book II

The question of happy life cannot be determined as if it were a matter of vote. We should ask not what is often done but what is best to do. Instead of following the herd, we should "let the mind find out what is good for the mind." Doing this will get us remarkable results.

Book III

We need to find something that does not merely look good in appearance, but which is solidly and adequately beautiful. It is actually quite close to us; but we are like people groping after it in the dark. Seneca notes that he is a Stoic, although as a Stoic he must think for himself and not merely follow a prior Stoic philosopher; and the key Stoic idea is that "true wisdom consists in not departing from nature and in moulding our conduct according to her laws and model." The happy life, then, consists in the mind acting according to its own proper nature.

Book IV

The same idea may be expressed in many different ways. Seneca gives several alternative formulations in this chapter:

(1) "The highest good is a mind which despises the accidents of fortune, and takes pleasure in virtue."
(2) "It is an unconquerable strength of mind, knowing the world well, gentle in its dealings, showing great courtesy and consideration for those with whom it is brought into contact."
(3) It is knowledge of good and bad only in the form it has for mind, so that the happy person loves honor and virtue but despises fortune and pleasure.
(4) It is free, upright, undeterred, and stable mind, taking honestas (nobility or integrity) as its one good and turpitudo (baseness or vileness) as its one evil.
(5) It is "the repose of a mind that is at rest in a safe haven."

All of these are essentially the same, in the same way that an army is the same army, no matter what formation it uses for the march.

Book V

We can call someone happy who neither hopes nor fears; but obviously we need to add to to this that for someone to be happy requires that they know what happiness is. The happy life must be "founded upon a true and trustworthy discernment". This is the only way to rise above mere slavery to the pleasures of the body.

Book VI

But what of the pleasures of the mind? The same may be said: the mind must be governed primarily by good judgment.

Book VII

Even those who want to claim that pleasure is happiness or the highest good can only do so by treating virtue and pleasure as linked. Seneca rejects this notion. Nothing prevents virtue from existing apart from pleasure. And how can we make sense of the fact that some things seem pleasurable but bad, while others seem good but difficult? Further, even the basest of human beings can have pleasures. The two are not linked at all. Virtue is high, exalted and regal, unconquered, indefatigable; pleasure is lowly and servile, stupid, blind, a thing of brothel and tavern. The highest good must be something enduring; but pleasure by its nature is always transient.


Moreover, bad and base men take pleasure in their wrongdoing. Pleasure should not be the guide but the companion of a good will. If we treat pleasure as primary, it passes; it only has value if it is ancillary to greater things. We should be uncorrupted by external things, ready for any fortune, good or bad. Like the God, we may go forth into external things, but must always return to ourselves, and seek harmony in ourselves. We may indeed say that the happy life is concord of the soul with itself.

Book IX

But the obvious objection that will be raised is that we only pursue virtue because we get pleasure from it. While virtue may please, however, this is not the same as to say it is sought for the pleasure, just as a tilled field may allow for lovely wildflowers without being tilled for that reason. Virtue is not sought for anything beyond itself, because it is by its very nature complete in itself; it is wholeness of soul. It makes no sense to ask why we would pursue virtue; as our highest natural end, there is no further end to which it would be rational to subordinate it. What we seek from virtue is virtue, because virtue is her own reward (ipsa pretium sui). How could it be otherwise? If someone identifies a life as enduring, strong, prudent, sublime, healthy, free, harmonious, and lovely, what rational person would then follow this identification with the question, "What would make someone want that?"

Book X

The point of the position is perhaps more to insist that the pleasurable life in itself involves the honorable life, but this does not do any better. It's clear enough that vicious people have plenty of pleasures. And precisely one of the things virtue does is discriminate among different pleasures. Pleasure is for use, not decision. The reasonable thing is not to do anything for pleasure.

(to be continued)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Wise and Unwise Goodness

There are certain things which at first sight appear to be acts of goodness, but in point of fact are cruelty; contrariwise, there are certain actions which, when first seen, cause a shock to one's feelings by their apparent cruelty and barbarity; but on being examined more closely, are found to contain the very flower of kindness and of most exquisite love. It is wisdom alone that can lead goodness to its ultimate effect, to its true completion. An unwise goodness which sees but few things and those only close at hand, cannot provide for what does not fall within its mental vision or lies far away in the distance; but a wise goodness whose views are far-reaching and embrace a vast range of things, seems sometimes harsh and neglectful of partial goods, whereas it purposely leaves them aside for the moment in the certainty of gathering them up afterwards increased a thousand-fold in the great whole which it ever contemplates.

Antonio Rosmini, Theodicy, vol. 1, pp. 217-218.