Saturday, January 09, 2016

Aquinas on the Beatitudes (II): Virtues and Gifts

As with other scholastic theologians, Aquinas's thinking about the beatitudes is heavily linked with his thinking about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, an idea that they derive from Augustine, and with other major elements of Christian life: virtues, moral precepts, fruits of the Holy Spirit, petitions of the Our Father, and so forth. Aquinas's own account in the Summa Theologiae is primarily structured by the primary infused virtues -- love, hope, faith, prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance. This makes uncovering his account of how the beatitudes fit into the scheme fairly complicated, since there is no one place one can look. There are also a number of features in Aquinas's account that make the correspondences less than straightforward. The very basic scheme, which, as we will see, requires some nuance, could be summarized like this:

Virtue GiftBeatitude
Faith UnderstandingPurity of Heart
HopeFear of the LordPoverty of Spirit
FortitudeFortitudeHungering and Thirsting

Of the three obvious peculiarities of the scheme, we've already seen the reason for one of them: the beatitude of persecution is the summary beatitude, indicating completeness in all of the others, so it stands outside the main list of seven. The assignment of both understanding and knowledge, and thus of their appropriate beatitudes to faith has to do with the content of each gift. Aquinas makes no explicit assignment of any gift (and thus of any beatitude) to temperance; but he mentions in passing that the fruits of the Holy Spirit associated with the gift of fear are those that have to do with temperance, which suggests -- although it does not establish -- a connection between temperance to fear of the Lord and thus to poverty of spirit. (Which we find elsewhere; Bonaventure, for instance, takes temperance to correspond to fear and poverty of spirit.)

But the real reason for the peculiarities is that Aquinas does not think there is a single exact correspondence among these lists: you can relate them in different ways depending on what you are trying to do. For instance, in a sense we can associate every virtue with every gift: the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love are the principles of all the gifts, and the gifts contribute to the completion of all the virtues. When we associate the gifts and virtues we are not doing so exclusively but according to something they have in common. These commonalities are real (which is why several of the gifts share names with virtues), but there may be different kinds, and they may not always be equally important. The gifts and beatitudes have a more rigorous linkage, due to the authority and arguments of Augustine, but we also see here that Aquinas thinks there is more than one legitimate way to arrange their correspondences.

This comes up in several cases. One case in which it comes up explicitly is in the discussion of the gift of piety and its relation to the beatitude of meekness (2-2.121.2). There he notes that there are two major kinds of fit you could see between the gifts and the beatitudes. The first is that of order, and Augustine gives that kind of fit -- the ordering of one list corresponds in some way to the ordering of the other. In this conguity, the gift of piety corresponds to the beatitude of meekness. The second is that of the special nature of each, based on the kinds of objects they have in view and the kinds of acts involved with them. In this way of fitting them together, there is still some congruity between the gift of piety and the beatitude of meekness, but there is a much stronger fit between the gift of piety and the beatitudes of hungering and thirsting and of mercy. It gets even more complicated when Aquinas answers an objection by noting that by the second kind of congruity, piety and knowledge will share a beatitude (the beatitude associated with knowledge is mourning).

Thus, Aquinas explicitly accepts Augustine's linear ordering as a legitimate way of viewing the relations between gifts and beatitudes. But he thinks there is also another way in which the gifts and beatitudes are related, by content; and this is not linear, but a matter of greater or lesser similarity

The significance of this is quite considerable. When people talk about Augustine's correspondences, they often say that they fit very well sometimes but sometimes seem a bit strained. But Aquinas can avoid this problem entirely. As he sees it, what Augustine is doing is recognizing that the order of gifts corresponds to the order of beatitudes in important practical ways. This order does not depend on the precise nature of either the gifts or the beatitudes, because it is based on their relations to other gifts and beatitudes. As it happens, in a number of cases the correspondences you get by focusing on order are the same ones you get if you ask which beatitudes have the most in common with which gifts. But they do not need to be. (It is worth noting, though, that even the point at which Aquinas himself recognizes the most divergence, the gift of piety, he still holds that there is some commonality of content between the gift and the beatitude that corresponds to it according to order.)

I suspect a major reason for this, and also a reason for why the Augustinian order, while recognized, does not play a major role in Aquinas's account, is that his interest is less directly practical than Augustine's. Aquinas's discussion is not in any sense a how-to or a map for spiritual progress, and the beatitudes are a secondary matter, however important they may be as secondary matters. The structure of the Secunda Secundae is that of a manual for confessors, although it is more concerned with underlying principles than practical advice in the confessional; this is why it focuses almost entirely on virtues and vices, and fits everything else, including the beatitudes, around them: they need to be there because they concern the ends and effects, but they are not the point of focus. In his approach to the beatitudes, however, Augustine is explicitly interested in how to live according to the complete standard of Christian life. These are very different emphases.

There are other aspects of Aquinas's account of the beatitudes beyond all of this. He shows in general more interest in the relation between the virtues and the gifts, and the beatitudes to some extent come along with the latter. He also accepts various bits of lore about the beatitudes that I haven't looked at. For instance, in various places, he recognizes correspondences, also derived from Augustine, between the beatitudes and the petitions of the Our Father (2-2.83.9 ad 3). But a weakness in the Thomistic corpus is that we have no thorough discussion of the beatitudes: Aquinas discussion of them is either quick and general or scattered throughout his discussion of other things. One has to re-form Aquinas's account in order to see how it all fits together.

Murmurs and Glimpses of Eternity

by Archibald Lampman

Not to be conquered by these headlong days,
But to stand free: to keep the mind at brood
On life's deep meaning, nature's altitude
Of loveliness, and time's mysterious ways;
At every thought and deed to clear the haze
Out of our eyes, considering only this,
What man, what life, what love, what beauty is,
This is to live, and win the final praise.

Though strife, ill fortune and harsh human need
Beat down the soul, at moments blind and dumb
With agony; yet, patience—there shall come
Many great voices from life's outer sea,
Hours of strange triumph, and, when few men heed,
Murmurs and glimpses of eternity.

Friday, January 08, 2016


Amid all the holiday travel, I managed to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and have been considering what to say about it. I find I don't really have much.

(1) The story's not very original, of course, but the characters are excellent. This is seen in any number of ways. The most obvious is that they don't whine -- even Kylo Ren doesn't really whine, despite the fact that he often looks like he wants to do so. We've had whining characters in Star Wars from the beginning; Luke spent a lot of time whining, and Anakin took whining to the level of a performance art.

They also don't respond in wooden ways, which is a massive improvement as well. Just the acting and character direction on their own make the movie better than any of the prequels. One of the things that makes the movie is that Finn and Rey, without either of them being in any way goofy characters, do ebullience very well. My favorite moment in the movie is when Rey manages to bypass the technobabble-thingamajig and she is practically sparkling with triumph, which sets up Han's dry, understated reaction to it perfectly.

(2) The theme of the movie is the danger of fear; it pops again and again as something that holds us back from good. And their doing so is generally handled well, and in ways suitable to the characters. And it's notable that what both Rey and Finn need to overcome their very different fears is friendship -- both of them escape their fears when they are put in situations in which they realize they can no longer use being alone in the world as an excuse.

(3) There are some weaknesses. The battle and duel choreography have nothing of the excellence of the best fights of the earlier movies, for instance. Even minor fights in the prequels, for instance, were better choreographed than anything here. (It does help a lot that the movie makes it easier to care about the characters involved in these sequences. That was the problem with the prequels -- carefully choreographed fights between characters with whom we had little connection in circumstances that usually seemed not to matter much. And one of the worst choreographed fights in all of the movies, that between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi in Episode IV, is one of the best fights of all, precisely because it is between characters who really matter under circumstances that really matter and is played out in a way that continues to matter for the story. There's nothing on that level here, but it does at least avoid the sterility of the prequels.)

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Aquinas on the Beatitudes (I): Merit and Reward

Rob has been discussing Augustine's account of the beatitudes (Part I, Part II), so I thought I would say something about Aquinas's account of the beatitudes and, in a later post, how he uses and modifies Augustine's account.

Aquinas, as one might expect, finds a lot of structure in the beatitudes. The beatitudes are concerned with objective happiness, but what is more St. Thomas takes them to be systematically so. There are three major accounts of what happiness is. Some say it is a life of pleasure; some say it is an active life; and some say it is contemplative life. Aquinas argues, independently, that happiness is properly attributed to the contemplative life (more precisely, to completeness of contemplative life), and that the active life is something that disposes us to this happiness, while the life of pleasure, since it tempts people to go no further, is an obstacle to happiness. This provides the basic structure of the beatitudes.

A life of pleasure involves two things: abundance of external goods (of some kind) and satisfaction of one's passions. The first beatitude, "Blessed are the poor in spirit", links happiness to humility and in particular nonattachment to external goods. The second beatitude, "Blessed are the meek", links happiness to restraint in matters of the irascible passions (like anger), and the third beatitude, "Blessed are those who mourn", links happiness to restraint in matters of concupiscible passions (like desire).

Active life is a life concerned with one's neighbor, in matters either of obligation or of graciousness. The fourth beatitude, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice", concerns the former, and the fifth beatitude, "Blessed are the merciful", concerns the latter. This active life disposes to contemplation by certain effects, one concerned with ourselves and the other concerned with other people. First, it purifies our passions, which is identified by the sixth beatitude, "Blessed are the pure of heart", and second, it brings us to good relations with other people, which is identified by the seventh beatitude, "Blessed are the peacemakers".

But what of the eighth beatitude, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for justice"? This is the summary beatitude, indicating the point at which all the others have achieved their full and complete form: when you hold to them even in persecution.

And what of the contemplative life? Each beatitude consists of a merit and a reward. The merits all have to do with removing obstacles or the active life that disposes us to contemplation; but the goal, contemplative life, being itself the happy life, is the reward of these eight merits.

The merits of the first three beatitudes consisted of withdrawing from false happiness. People pursue false happiness, however, because they confuse it with something suggestive of true happiness. The rewards of the first three beatitudes, then, are the features of true happiness that false happiness only mimics. We pursue external goods like wealth and honor as if they were happiness because we confuse them with excellence and abundance of good. Thus the reward for poverty in spirit is the Kingdom of Heaven, which is precisely this abundant excellence in God. People seek retaliation as if that could give happiness because they want security for themselves; thus the meek get the security of inheriting the earth. People treat self-indulgence as happiness because they are aiming for consolation or comfort; thus the reward for mourning, which opposes self-indulgence, is comfort.

The next two merits required working toward the good of others, either through justice or mercy. People shirk the former in order to increase their own good; so the reward for not shirking is to have one's fill of good things. People shirk the latter in order to avoid increasing the bad things they have; so the reward for being merciful is having one's own misery relieved through mercy.

The next two merits were concerned with disposing us directly to contemplation both internally and with respect to others. Purity of heart is rewarded with the clear vision of God, and peacemaking is rewarded with union with God as children of God (through, of course, the Son of God who is perfectly united to God). And the eighth, of course, being a summary merit, gets a summary reward; thus we get the same reward as the beginning to indicate that we go around again.

None of this requires on its own that the beatitudes be seen as an ascent; eternal happiness, which the beatitudes describe, is one thing. We just need to break it up to understand it, according to how it is merited and the way in which it aptly rewards those merits. But Aquinas does accept the Augustinian notion that the beatitudes do indicate some kind of ascent. The rewards of the beatitude are also in ascending order of excellence:

For it is more to possess the land of the heavenly kingdom than simply to have it: since we have many things without possessing them firmly and peacefully. Again, it is more to be comforted in the kingdom than to have and possess it, for there are many things the possession of which is accompanied by sorrow. Again, it is more to have one's fill than simply to be comforted, because fulness implies abundance of comfort. And mercy surpasses satiety, for thereby man receives more than he merited or was able to desire. And yet more is it to see God, even as he is a greater man who not only dines at court, but also sees the king's countenance. Lastly, the highest place in the royal palace belongs to the king's son.

This ascent will be relevant (as in Augustine) to the association of each beatitude with a gift of the Holy Spirit, which I'll talk about in the next post in this series.

The eight beatitudes are, in Aquinas's view, completely exhaustive. Whenever we find another makarism or beatitude in Scripture (and possibly elsewhere), we can reduce it to these eight. Thus Aquinas gives three examples from the Old Testament: "Blessed is the man whom the Lord corrects" (Job 5:17) is reducible to the beatitude of mourning; "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly" (Psalm 1:1) is reducible to the beatitude of purity of heart; "Blessed is the man who finds wisdom" (Proverbs 3:13) is reducible to the beatitude of peacemaking.

Besides the beatitudes in Matthew (the Sermon on the Mount), however, the most prominent makarisms in the Bible are a clearly related list of beatitudes in Luke (the Sermon on the Plain). Aquinas takes the standard Matthaean list to be adapted specifically to the disciples of Christ, i.e., those who had already spent a fair amount of time learning for Jesus, while he takes the Lucan list to be an adaptation of the beatitudes for the common multitude, who have spent less time improving their understanding of happiness. What does the multitude tend to treat as the good or happy or successful life? A life that has an abundance of external goods, a sufficiency of what the body requires, a joyfulness of heart, and the favor of others. Since treating the life of pleasure is the primary obstacle to genuine happiness, we have the four paradoxes corresponding to these four common assumptions about happiness: happy are the poor, happy are the hungry, happy are those who weep, happy are you when men hate you. Why? Because now you can seek true happiness instead of becoming mired in false happiness.

to be continued

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Foxes and Sunshowers

I was thinking about sunshowers today, and the ways they are described. A sunshower, of course, is when it is raining while the sun is shining. Growing up, we always had a saying for a sunshower: "The devil is beating his wife". As it happens, that is a quite common tag for sunshowers in the American South, and is apparently the saying for the same phenomenon in some places that speak French, Dutch, or Hungarian, as well. But folk sayings associated with sunshowers are extraordinarily common, and some of the most common are animal-linked. One of the animals that keeps coming up is the fox. Just looking at Wikipedia, here are some of the fox-and-sunshower sayings from around the world:

In Bangladesh: "shial mamar bia hoce" -"Uncle Fox is getting married"
In Brazil, "Casamento da Raposa" (Fox's Wedding)
In Finland, it is called "ketut kylpevät" or "foxes are taking bath"
In Galician, the traditional belief is that the vixen or the fox are getting married: casa a raposa / casa o raposo; sometimes the wolf and the vixen: estanse casando o lobo coa raposa.
In Japan, it is known as "kitsune no yomeiri", or "the kitsune's wedding", and means a fox's wedding ceremony is being held.
In Korea, a male tiger gets married to a fox.
In Nepal (Nepali), it is called "the fox's wedding" or "gham-paani, gham-paani shyal ko bihe" which literally translates to "Sunshine-rain, sunshine-rain, the fox is getting married".
In Sinhala, it is called "the fox's wedding"
In Bengali, it is called "the blind fox's wedding".
In Kannada, it is called "Kaage Nari maduve" which means Crow and fox getting married"
In Malayalam, it is called the Fox's wedding
In Oriya, it is called "the foxes wedding"
In Tamil, it is called the fox and the crow/raven are getting married
In Telugu, it is called "Yenda Vanala, kukkala nakkala pelli" which means "Dogs and Foxes getting married in the sunshowers"

This is extraordinarily widespread, too widespread to be coincidence, but nobody knows why foxes and sunshowers are linked together in the imaginations of so many cultures. Given how common it seems to be in Indian languages, I wonder if it started in India and spread from there, but it's anyone's guess. On the other hand, the culture that seems to have the most elaborate folktales associating foxes and sunshowers is Japan; but whether this is because they got the saying from the folktales or they developed the folktales because they had the saying, nobody knows.

Maronite Year XV

In the Maronite calendar, Epiphany or Theophany (Denho in the Syriac) is specifically concerned with the Baptism of Christ. Indeed, this is practically guaranteed by the structure of the Sundays: Advent led up to the Birth of Christ, which was followed by the Finding in the Temple, when Jesus was about 12, and now we in a sense complete the narrative as we find it in Luke. And this is reaffirmed by the fact that the day following the Epiphany is always the Memorial of the Praises of John the Baptist.

Feast of the Glorious Epiphany
Titus 2:11-3:7; Luke 3:15-22

Are You not, O Lord, the Way,
through whose bright lustral waters
we become children of God,
those in whom He is well pleased?
And are You not He, O Lord,
by whose light the nations came
to find their great salvation
and rejoice to know their King?

By You, forgiving Ember,
the waters were filled with light,
for in Your light we see light,
and are illuminated.
In the river called Jordan
one God was manifested:
the Father declared His Son
with the Spirit upon Him.

Christ was born and was baptized
that we might be saved by Him;
that simple creature, water,
was exalted to serve God.
None can enter the kingdom
save by water and Spirit,
save by being adopted,
being washed in the Jordan.

Today the waters are blessed,
set aflame with holiness;
our leprosies are thus healed
by the salvation of God.
The grace of God dawns on us
for holy lives of justice,
that we may be set apart
and seek to do noble deeds.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Music on My Mind

Muse, "Uprising". You can blame Enbrethiliel. But it's catchy enough on its own. You'll notice the evil teddy bears in the video, which are a staple of Muse videos in general; the point of them, of course, is that sometimes injustice disguises itself as a cute and cuddly harmless little thing, with lying promises of hugs.

They will not force us
They will stop degrading us
They will not control us
We will be victorious

Santayana on the Modernist Heresy

In 1907, Pope Pius X issued the encyclical Pascendi dominici gregis, an attack on the heresy of Modernism. (The term 'Modernism' here is a term of art; it does not include everything modern, and indeed the term does not on its own signify anything of what the heresy includes -- it was in fact the name used by some, although not all, of the people who held it.) Obviously there was a great deal of Catholic reflection and comment on the letter. But one of those who saw the encyclical as an occasion for reflection and comment was the philosopher, George Santayana. In some ways his comments, published in 1913 as "Modernism and Christianity", are the most interesting. Santayana himself was from a Catholic family and had a strong aesthetic affection for the Catholic Church. As he says in a letter somewhere, he would count as Catholic for the purposes of the census-taker. He was, however, a nonbeliever, and had been all his life; he regarded the basic doctrines of the Catholic Church as obviously false if taken literally rather than as a kind of pleasant poetry that can sometimes make excellent points even with falsehoods. And however much he might have an affection for Catholicism, he in some ways had a greater affection for paganism, taken as a treasury of myth -- what he liked in Catholicism was what it shared with paganism, or what it had that developed out of its interaction with paganism. He even described himself, in Persons and Places: Fragments of Autobiography, as a "spontaneous modernist". Thus he is the sort of person one would expect to be highly sympathetic to Modernism. In fact, however, he is very critical of it; his sympathies lie with the Pope, whom he thinks is entirely right to this extent: the Modernists err in thinking you can be a Modernist and a believer. Thus if one looks at the three primary interlocked ideas of Modernism -- reason is confined to phenomena, religion is fundamentally a matter of feeling, and religious doctrines admit of indefinite evolution in light of human experience -- he is critical of all of them in the way that Catholic Modernists try to hold them.

What is more, since Santayana is critical of liberalism in general, he is critical of how this situation of Catholics trying to be Modernists arises, since he attributes it to the entrance of liberalism into Christian thought. Liberal Christians generally see themselves as returning to primitive Christianity, and some of what underlies this Santayana is willing to concede. But primitive Christianity, like Judaism, is based on a powerful sense of the interconnection between sin and suffering, and of sin as being so terrible that it was good even to suffer to avoid it, or to repent from it. But liberal Christianity is horrified by this, not because it cannot grasp the notion that sins are terrible but because it is horrified by the idea of suffering. The idea that you might suffer and die -- in martyrdom, perhaps, or in holy war -- for a religious idea is something abominable to it. Its tastes are "for a sweet cohabitation with everybody, and a mild tolerance of almost everything" -- and if the use of coercion by the state is what is required for that, the liberal Christian is willing to use it.

But this sets up an inevitable contradiction with what Christianity is at its heart. Santayana doesn't want to quibble about the precise details of what is essential to Christian faith or not, but, no matter what one emphasizes as the most important element, and no matter how, precisely, one conceives the origin of Christianity, there is one thing with which primitive Christianity can be guaranteed to be completely inconsistent: the notion that the Christian community does not have the authority to proclaim some things as simply factual, even in the face of a world denying them:

To divorce, then, as the modernists do, the history of the world from the story of salvation, and God's government and the sanctions of religion from the operation of matter, is a fundamental apostasy from Christianity. Christianity, being a practical and living faith in a possible eventual redemption from sin, from the punishment for sin, from the thousand circumstances that make the most brilliant worldly life a sham and a failure, essentially involves a faith in a supernatural physics, in such an economy of forces, behind, within, and around the discoverable forces of nature, that the destiny which nature seems to prepare for us may be reversed, that failures may be turned into successes, ignominy into glory, and humble faith into triumphant vision: and this not merely by a change in our point of view or estimation of things, but by an actual historical, physical transformation in the things themselves. To believe this in our day may require courage, even a certain childish simplicity; but were not courage and a certain childish simplicity always requisite for Christian faith? It never was a religion for the rationalist and the worldling; it was based on alienation from the world, from the intellectual world no less than from the economic and political.

Because of this, Santayana regards it as an error of reason, and not just of Christian faith, to think that Christianity and the world can be accommodated to each other. Christianity by its nature defies the world, and it is not possible to have any society in this world that is through and through Christian, even if it superficially seems to be so: "When all men are Christians only a small element can be Christian in the average man." All the things that seem to make a Christian society, Santayana regards as the slow self-destruction of Christianity: the world cannot actually be converted to Christianity. But the reverse would be true as well: it is never going to be possible to convert Christianity to the world.

The problem with the heresy of Modernism is that it attempts to do just this: Modernists are people who wish to be Catholics while getting their principles and standards of evidence and probability from the world:

Now the modernists' criterion of probability in history or of worthiness in philosophy is not the Christian criterion. It is that of their contemporaries outside the church, who are rationalists in history and egotists or voluntarists in philosophy. The biblical criticism and mystical speculations of the modernists call for no special remark; they are such as any studious or spiritual person, with no inherited religion, might compose in our day. But what is remarkable and well-nigh incredible is that even for a moment they should have supposed this non-Christian criterion in history and this non-Christian direction in metaphysics compatible with adherence to the Catholic church. That seems to presuppose, in men who in fact are particularly thoughtful and learned, an inexplicable ignorance of history, of theology, and of the world.

Santayana takes this to be a natural tendency of traditional Catholic seminary teaching, aiming at giving a rigorous and adequate account of everything in which Catholic doctrine will be seen as luminously true. The course he thinks this follows, however, is not what one would expect. It arises not because the teaching fails but because the teaching sometimes inspires more than it is intended to inspire. The Modernists are not the people who cannot follow this kind of teaching, but the reverse: they think about the matters more deeply than their education expects of the typical student. And, far from being disillusioned in thinking about it (which would lead them in a different direction entirely), find it confirmed by their experience, and grow deeper in it because of their experience. But here is where the slip occurs. They see the teaching as reflecting the real experience they have, and confirmed by it, but "a report that can be confirmed by experience can also be enlarged by it", and it becomes easy to see the history of theology as a history of expressions and formulations of this underlying experience. And if one has that underlying experience, too, why not consider it to be your task, as well, to add to, refine, even revise, the expressions and formulations on the basis of that experience?

The one who goes this direction becomes, in Catholic terms, a Protestant in principle, basing doctrine on private judgment and on his own experience of God. But the twist is that the Modernist is a Protestant Catholic. How is this possible?

Because, as one of the most distinguished modernists has said, the age of partial heresy is past. It is suicidal to make one part of an organic system the instrument for attacking another part; and it is also comic. What you appeal to and stand firmly rooted in is no more credible, no more authoritative, than what you challenge in its name....But if the age of partial heresy is past, has not the age of total heresy succeeded? What is this whole phenomenon of religion but human experience interpreted by human imagination? And what is the modernist, who would embrace it all, but a freethinker, with a sympathetic interest in religious illusions? Of course, that is just what he is; but it takes him a strangely long time to discover it. He fondly supposes (such is the prejudice imbibed by him in the cradle and in the seminary) that all human inspirations are necessarily similar and concurrent, that by trusting an inward light he cannot be led away from his particular religion, but on the contrary can only find confirmation for it, together with fresh spiritual energies....He feels himself full of love—except for the pope—of mysticism, and of a sort of archaeological piety. He is learned and eloquent and wistful. Why should he not remain in the church? Why should he not bring all its cold and recalcitrant members up to his own level of insight?

What distinguishes the Modernist from the Santayana is that the Modernist thinks, like a good Catholic, that the Catholic faith includes all good things; he is a reformer, a reviver of the faith, and he feels that this must be so, because he feels, as Santayana says, love, and mystical interaction with God, and archaeological piety. The Modernist does not see himself as rejecting the traditions of the Church; to be an actual Modernist, you must see yourself as renovating them, restoring them to the form appropriate to them, wiping away the obscuring accretions. Where will you find the Modernists? Among people who insist that they are restoring the Church to the way it should be. That is the inevitable breeding ground of Modernism; the Modernist is just the person who judges the way the Church should be on the basis of his feeling and experience. Will you find them among the merely lukewarm and nominal? No. Modernists are more pious than is typical, more devoted, in the sense that everything they are is based on their own feelings of piety and devotion, on their feelings of love for God and for the Church and its traditions. [This is perhaps worth emphasizing, since it is a point on which Santayana is at least roughly right, and it is a point that is often forgotten. Remember, the name Modernism is not given to the heresy because it necessarily has any particular love of the modern! The Modernist may well see himself as casting aside the new in order to restore the old to its proper conditions -- that's the archaeological piety. There is nothing, for instance, strictly preventing someone being a Modernist while identifying himself, sincerely, as a supporter and rescuer of Tradition -- but the notion that you can be something merely by sincere self-identification on the basis of your own experience is itself a fundamentally Modernist error.] But the feelings and the experiences involving them are the standard for the Modernist understanding of God and the Church and the traditions of the Church.

Santayana himself, of course, is in agreement with the notion that Church doctrines are kinds of fables that, while false as they stand, can be seen as valuable insofar as they express purely moral truths. But the Modernist errs, he thinks, in not recognizing that, however much Christianity may be a lovely moral fable in fact, it is certainly not so in intention. And in ignoring this fact, the Modernist inevitably tries to accommodate Christianity to the world in one way or another. But the Church is by nature against the world; its power lies in the fact that, while it cannot convert the world, it can be in the world, leavening it. If it cannot convert the whole world, it can nonetheless modify it while remaining itself essentially the same:

The modernists talk a great deal of development, and they do not see that what they detest in the church is a perfect development of its original essence; that monachism, scholasticism, Jesuitism, ultramontanism, and Vaticanism are all thoroughly apostolic; beneath the overtones imposed by a series of ages they give out the full and exact note of the New Testament. Much has been added, but nothing has been lost. Development (though those who talk most of it seem to forget it) is not the same as flux and dissolution. It is not a continuity through changes of any sort, but the evolution of something latent and preformed, or else the creation of new instruments of defence for the same original life....The mise-en-scène has changed immensely. The gospel has been encased in theology, in ritual, in ecclesiastical authority, in conventional forms of charity, like some small bone of a saint in a gilded reliquary; but the relic for once is genuine, and the gospel has been preserved by those thick incrustations. Many an isolated fanatic or evangelical missionary in the slums shows a greater resemblance to the apostles in his outer situation than the pope does; but what mind-healer or revivalist nowadays preaches the doom of the natural world and its vanity, or the reversal of animal values, or the blessedness of poverty and chastity, or the inferiority of natural human bonds, or a contempt for lay philosophy? Yet in his palace full of pagan marbles the pope actually preaches all this. It is here, and certainly not among the modernists, that the gospel is still believed.

The Modernists wish to be Christian for un-Christian reasons. And what they regard as a weakness of the Church, its failure to conform to this or that element that they, in their age and time, have discovered, is a weakness in light of the standards of their age and time. But times and ages change. What is a weakness now may be a strength in a few generations. And the proposals to correct those weaknesses are themselves inimical to what gives the Church a power to transform hearts in the first place:

In a frank supernaturalism, in a tight clericalism, not in a pleasant secularisation, lies the sole hope of the church. Its sole dignity also lies there. It will not convert the world; it never did and it never could. It will remain a voice crying in the wilderness; but it will believe what it cries, and there will be some to listen to it in the future, as there have been many in the past. As to modernism, it is suicide. It is the last of those concessions to the spirit of the world which half-believers and double-minded prophets have always been found making; but it is a mortal concession. It concedes everything; for it concedes that everything in Christianity, as Christians hold it, is an illusion.

Santayana himself, again, has views that are very similar in many ways to the views of Modernists; it's not the content of the Modernist view of the Catholic Church that he criticizes. What he dislikes is the attempt to have their cake and eat it too. The rational course would be for them to stop trying to pass themselves off to themselves and others as Catholic believers. They would be more consistent, he thinks, as freethinkers with benevolent views of religion than as people trying to be believers while always explaining away the beliefs.

In any case, it's an interesting non-Catholic view of a set of issues one almost only ever finds discussed by Catholics, and relatively few Catholics at that.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Links of Note, Noted and Linked

* Michael Flynn has an excellent discussion of the slippery slope fallacy, focusing specifically on how it works in practical contexts.

* David Braine, The Inner Jewishness of John's Gospel as the Clue to the Inner Jewishness of Jesus

* J. Budziszewski on the causes of loss of faith.

* Theresa Kenney on the celebration of Christmas in Jane Austen's Emma

* Paul Raymont on Timothy Dewar Weldon.

* Robert Audi defends moral perception.

* Medieval use of automata in devotional practices.

* Tasneem Zehra Husain discusses James Maxwell's philosophy of science. Maxwell's philosophy of science was very Whewellian, as he himself occasionally remarks. Menachem Fisch has a good discussion of this particular aspect of Maxwell's philosophy of science.

* The scribes of the Codex Sinaiticus

* Some discussion of a recently rediscovered recording of C. S. Lewis; the British had invaded Iceland (then part of the Kingdom of Denmark) in response to the Nazi invasion of Denmark. In the wake of this, Lewis was asked to deliver a talk on Icelandic literature for Icelandic radio, and he spoke on "The Norse Spirit in English Literature".

* How Elmo ruined Sesame Street.

* Kristján Kristjánsson on Awe: Part I, Part II

* Brian Skinner, Field Theory of Swords

* The report of a recent investigation into a purported miracle in Utah. It concluded negatively, as most such investigations do; it's interesting as an example of how these things are investigated today.

* Blacksmith Trenton Tye of Purgatory Ironworks responds to arguments that jet fuel fires could not have melted the steel in the Twin Towers:

As he notes, steel softens from fire long before it actually melts.

* An article on the Vatican Mosaic Studio. If you ever look at the economic profile of Vatican City State, mosaics are its primary productive industry after collectibles (like stamps), and this is because it has the oldest and most sophisticated mosaic workshop in the world.

* The Christmas Price Index for 2015 was up 0.6%. The Christmas Price Index is the price of the Twelve Days of Christmas, as given in the song; for 2015 the cumulative price of all the gifts was $155,407.18.

* G. K. Chesterton and Distributism in Sierra Leone

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Maximes on Reason

On the maxime as a philosophical genre, and on what I am doing in this post, see here.

When people affirm the importance of Reason, the danger is always that they are affirming that their reason, as it is, is more important than another's reason.

The purpose of argument in general is not to persuade but to reason.

We sing not merely with voice but with human reason.

In teaching, reason itself becomes gift.

Reason is inherently social in part because it allows the discovery of a common good.

'Sense of humor' is a name for reason under one of its aspects.

In discovery we aid the ascent of reason by the wings of imagination, small though they be.

Grace lends charm to reason.

If philosophy is the love a reasonable being has for the ends of human reason, the Beatific Vision is of supreme philosophical significance.

If your conception of reason does not make music an activity of reason, it is flawed.

Reason is the foundational sense of proportion.

Reason needs literature to help her cultivate a sense of adventure.

Laughter is the diamond in the crown of reason.

With certainty, people reason; with uncertainty, people try not to be left out of what everyone else is getting.

The structure of reasoning is analogous to the structure of hope.

Faithful reason adorns the wedding dress of the Bride of the Lamb with infinite pearls of nacreous beauty; these pearls it forms through itself and within itself.

The realm of reason is as vast and rich as the realm of life, and requires a study as full and intricate.

Who cannot recognize the sublime is unable to recognize the true reach of reason.

Reason, to be healthy, must breathe; and the breath of reason is love for the good.

Demanding that persuasion be the standard of good argument is demanding that reason always be held hostage to the most stubbornly stupid person.

We receive reason as a gift from God, and reason gives itself to others in communication.

Maronite Year XIV

The Sunday of the Finding of Our Lord in the Temple, and part of the following week, closes out the Maronite Christmas season; next Sunday we are in the Epiphany season. The entire Christmas season for the Maronites is a season of announcements, with Christmas, of course, bringing the greatest of the announcements; but today we get one last announcement, the very first from Christ Himself.

Sunday of the Finding of Our Lord in the Temple
Hebrews 7:11-19; Luke 2:41-52

Joseph and Mary lost sight of their son Jesus;
for three days they searched and then he appeared to them,
sitting in the great temple amidst the teachers,
listening, asking them questions with great insight,
swift of understanding and wonderful in word.
Where should the Son be but in His Father's Temple?

A holy priest is fit for a holy Temple,
but the holiness of Christ is so surpassing,
not even the earthly Temple is fit for Him.
On the cross He vanished but in three days appeared,
in a living Temple not built with human hands,
listening, questioning, teaching the truth of God.

You, O Church, are Temple made of human lives;
be taught of the great Teacher who sits in your midst,
be enlightened in your thought with love and glory.
The hidden one became visible by His birth;
in the holy gathering the Word is teaching.
Where should the Son be but in His Father's Temple?

May we be worthy to glorify the Father,
who sent the Son to heal through faith what will could not;
may we be worthy to be co-heirs with the Son,
who teaches the Father's ways and the truth of the Law;
may we be worthy of the Spirit's anointing,
who has spoken through prophets and the apostles.