Saturday, January 30, 2016

League Earth with Heaven

The Divine Law
by Sir Aubrey de Vere

The natural Law, howe'er remote, obscure
Of origin, lies patent to the eye
Of Reason; whence astute Philosophy
From shrewd induction points to issues sure:
The laws of men but for a time endure;
And vary, as their plastic frame we spy
Through shifting glasses of expediency—
The Laws of God, immaculately pure,
Unalterably firm, whose sanctions claim
Affinity with naught of Earth, these laws
Have their deep root in Faith, in Hope their aim,
In Mystery their birth, in Love their cause;
League Earth with Heaven; and, knowing how to bind
Angels with Power, have care for human kind.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Dashed Off II

x is possible to y // x is at least some of y // x is part of y

analogical inference as a background for search; search as a background for proof

problem, end, means objectives, means executions, consolidation

rhetoric as the study of reasoning under external constraint -- time, audience predisposition, media limitations, uncertainties, need for practical action

the Mencius as a study of the existence, extension, and cultivation of common good

heart of compassion -- resisting suffering in others
heart of shame -- resisting being inferior rather than equal to others
heart of courtesy & modesty -- resisting any receiving or taking without merit or desert
heart of right & wrong -- resisting any doing of what is disapprovable

the Mencian account of the heart as a moral sense theory

"The things which are the simplest so long as they are undisputed invariably become the subtlest when once they are disputed." Chesterton

The cleverest proofs are those that open up ways for unclever people to solve problems correctly.

the problem of the novel: finding the pure case without losing the concrete expression

evidence as vectorial

the victory of rational sensibility as essential to the good life

affine geometry & logical quantifiers

Southwell's "Look Home" and mythopoeia

Edwards & Wilberforce on religious affections

Torah establishes and protects itself as a family tradition.

the public sphere as a religious structure

sacramental character as grounding an office of guardianship of Tradition

deus ex machina as plot vs. deus ex machina as spectacle

of any field of human life, to ask, "What will set this in good order?"
-> requires prior question, "What order is found here?"

undesigned coincidences as an argument against dissimulation and mistake

debugging & defective causes

quasi-final & quasi-material causes in mathematics -- these are, properly, formal, but they are formalities in some way analogous to ends or material (mappings, elements, etc.)
-> it is also the case that while math as such is formal, our mathematical work has genuine final and material causes.

possibility of memory as integral to consent

Experiments are instrumental causes.

conflicts of interest & testimonial evidence

sacramental character as form of witness

testimony : sign :: witness : image

just wage as essential to limiting government interventions and manipulations
The just wage is the wage in a just market as established by prudent contracts.

aligning incentives with virtuous activity as the major work of political governance

Rightly ordered loves require properly founded hopes.

preparing the public mind by familiarizing imaginations

priests as caretakers of signs
Reverential attitudes are expressed in signs and symbols.

apostolic succession as an ongoing work of the Holy Spirit

Human liberty always exists within a system of signs.

indicative vs. optative moods of worship

The Church Fathers sometimes teach by definite articulation and sometimes by general atmosphere.

Hume's passions as practical presumptions
pride & humility : the self
love & hatred : other people
joy & sorrow : the probable or certain
fear & hope : the uncertain
desire & aversion : good and bad
will : possibility of achievement

"The mind by an original instinct tends to unite itself with the good, and to avoid the evil, tho' they be conceived merely in idea, and be consider'd as to exist in any future period of time." Hume T

human understanding as like recollection of Beatific Vision, but actually anticipatory

Hume's account of direct passions is a structure of human action; indirect passions are a context of human action.

Societies achieve unity through salient acts of harmony.

The sacrament of matrimony is not something that takes place only in secret chambers of the soul but in public, before each other and the Church.

Esther as a type of the Church when favored by the state; Judith as type of the Church when dealing solely with foes
Ruth as a type of the Gentile Church

?: The scope of action of a material object is constrained by the tendency of its optimal transmission.

sexual perversions: through deceit, through violence, through indignity, through excess

Not to have reason is to be such as to be able to belong to another.

Aesthetics is normative in a different way from the way ethics is normative. It is common good that makes the difference. This is a principle of practical reason derived from the first: The beautiful is to be sought, done, and made; the ugly to be avoided. This is not an obligation but merely a principle guiding practical reasonableness. The reason it is not obligatory is precisely that it does not bring in the idea of common good or care for a community.

In the creation of Man God makes man and woman in His image and gives them dominion; he also makes them fit mates for each other and sets them to care for the garden, set apart for them, in which there is the tree of life. Because they sin, he exiles them from the garden and guards it with the angel that they may never return, but clothes them in mercy. In the re-creation, God creates man and woman in His image (Baptism) and gives them dominion (Confirmation). He makes them fit mates caring for the garden (Matrimony) and seals the garden, set apart for them, by angels (Orders; cp. Revelation); in this garden is found the tree of life (Eucharist). Because they sin, he provides a means to return (Reconciliation) and out of his mercy clothes them with glory (Unction).

sacrament applied to reason -> liturgical commonwealth & temporal power
sacrament in itself -> spiritual power

"Why is not the principle of generation atheistic, if that of development is?" Newman to J Walker 22 May 1868, on evolutionary theory

the convergence of analogies as a key to classification

Even nonsacramental marriages are consecrations; marriage is eminently a practice of setting-apart.

The form of a sacrament is meaning expressed in sensible sign, and the matter is sensible sign with meaning appropriate to form.

the Church itself as divine ordinance

Penalties and benefits bestowed by the masses are necessarily haphazard.

humor as structured by ethos, logos, & pathos

Absolutely to separate human learning from Christian doctrine is to show contempt for God's providential work in human society.

"What is an Axiom at one stage of our knowledge is often anything but an Axiom at an earlier stage." Charles Dodgson

In every sacrament we find God as principle, sign as expression, and grace as gift given from God through sign.

creation : apostles :: providence : bishops

Those who repent nothing grow never.

Minor ideas when held widely, with whatever diverse or varying commitment, have major effects on the course of society.

Tradition connects us both to the dead and to the unborn.

the intimate connection of play and beauty

Human beings experience nothing without experiencing it as involving tendencies.

the tendencies implicit even in Hume: galley effect, determination of mind to pass between causes & effects, propensity to unite experiences into one, etc.
-> Hume has no way to guarantee that they are purely in the mind, because of his complicated issues with perception/object distinction

the power, of promises kept, to ennoble

All argument is at least fragmentary story.

chesed : light; gevurah : division of waters; tiferet : water, land, plants; netzach : signs in heaven; hod : birds, sea-creatures; yesod : man; malkhut : sabbath

Indulgences indicate that we do not merely engage in penitential practice in isolated ways but as a community and on prior foundations.
indulgences as addressing the problem of how to maintain the faith of martyrs and confessors under conditions in which martyrdom and confessorship are unlikely
indulgences as a system of forensic justification, although not solely such
the merits of the saints as the medium by which the merits of Christ are applied
reflection on purgatory as itself penitential practice

sacramentalia and the poetics of expressing the sacramental sign

All of the old pre-Socratic conceptions of matter have counterparts in political philosophy.

Platonic recollection "as the awakening or resuscitation of the consciousness of the divine image in our souls" (Schlegel)

two primary functions of useful scholarship: collection of dispersed evidence, interesting solutions to particular problems

Christian power in the world as the power of the still, small voice

system, deduction, model, procedure
analogy, invention, symbol, story
conceptual unity, articulation, intuition, form of coherence
action, prudential assessment, plan, character

Pragmatic approaches have an inherently conservative aspect.

PSalm 78 and tradition

The Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic in part as witnessing to what is unifying, universal, sent from God, and holy.

private revelations as suggestive indications capable of being raised to probabilities by appropriate confirmations

The obedience of love finds new ways to obey.

Festivity enters prudential practice through gratitude and hope.

the Symposium as the philosophical counterpart of a satyr play

Xenophon does more than Plato to emphasize the importance of the memory of Socrates.

"nothing forced can ever be beautiful" (Xenophon)

filial piety toward the Church Fathers and the Apostles

Transforming society requires a good grasp of its teleologies.

The modern impulse is to take every fruitful good and reduce it to subjective satisfaction by rendering it sterile.

A marriage has its own sort of entelecheia.

the heart of society: comradeships of understanding and love

deus ex machina as a natural form of anagnorisis

Means and Ends

Examinations, no less than Lectures, are to be considered as means of Education. Since the proximate aim of Lecturers often is to prepare students for undergoing an examination, it is sometimes imagined that Lectures are means to Examinations as ends. But, in fact, Lectures and Examinations are alike means to a common end. The knowledge which, in such examinations as we have to speak of, the student brings out of his acquisitions, he is required to produce, in order that he may be induced to acquire it. Whatever honour or profit may be the prize of examinations, in a course of Education, the honour and the profit are not the ultimate objects of the system. They are instruments which have it for their purpose to make men give their attentions to those studies of which the educational course consists. In the student's individual purposes, it may be the object of study to obtain prizes; but in the purpose of the educational legislator, it is the object of prizes to promote study; and the prizes which he proposes, and the conditions to which he subjects them, are regulated by his views as to what the best course of study is.

William Whewell, Of a Liberal Education in General, pp. 132-133.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Subordination to Fire

Since it's Aquinas day, let's look at Aquinas on a controversial issue, one on which he is often misread: Hell. Kelly James Clark summarizing Aquinas on hell (PDF):

Aquinas rejects the notion that the damned are tormented solely by fire, arguing that a variety of tortures will be employed. The term ‘fire’ is prevalent in scripture to describe the intensity of the pain, not the specificity of the torture. Eternal suffering, likened to the horror of being burned, is inflicted by torment ‘in many ways and from many sources’ and without respite. Indeed, hell will be so arranged ‘as to be adapted to the utmost unhappiness of the damned,’ and there will be, he argues, just enough light to perceive ‘those things which are capable of tormenting the soul.’ (Summa Theologica Suppl. Q. 97, Art. 5) One will, for example, see the corporeal fires and smell their stench as they burn one’s corporeal body. This never ending fire, Aquinas believes, is sustained not by fuel but by the very breath of God.

One of the difficulties of talking about the medieval notion of hell is that all the most obvious words for talking about hell in English are filtered through Calvinism, first, and, beyond this, associated with fire-and-brimstone preaching and comic depictions of hell. We have to be careful about the assumptions we bring into the discussion. For instance, we have to be careful when Aquinas says something like, 'That fire will be of the greatest heat'; 'heat', like 'fire', is a technical term in medieval thought, and the term 'heat' indicates the property of very intense activity, not necessarily heat of the sort that feels hot. Or, another example, when medieval theologians talk about the 'suffering', passio, of hell or purgatory, they mean the state of undergoing the action of an external agent, not intense pain; souls in hell or purgatory are dominated by outside forces in ways that souls in heaven are not; that was, incidentally, what 'suffering' in English originally meant, and still occasionally means in various older expressions. I have found that people have difficulty grasping these kinds of shifts. And all the talk of fire is not arbitrary. Aquinas notes that Jesus himself talks about the fire of hell (Matthew 25:41); he argues that there are insuperable difficulties with taking this fire to be purely metaphorical, however different it may have to be, or merely imagined. So the question becomes: What is actually going on in the penalty of fire?

(There is another issue we have to be careful with. Clark is basically flipping through the Supplementum in his summary above. The Supplementum, however, is not strictly by Aquinas, although it sort of is. The Summa was never finished. It stops in the middle of a topic in Part III. The Supplement was made to complete the course of topics in the Summa; it is a digest of questions and answers drawn primarily from Aquinas's Commentary on the Sentences by someone other than St. Thomas himself. This creates a number of issues. Obviously there are the problems arisign from the fact that the condensation of one work by someone other than the author might sometimes be potentially misleading as to the author's actual view. Also, the Sentences Commentary is Aquinas's earliest work; it was chosen as the source of the Supplement not because it contains the final views of Aquinas on any subject but because it is quite comprehensive in the topics it covers. For instance, the question on the sacrament of matrimony in the Supplement is certainly not in every respect what Aquinas would have written had he ever written it, because Aquinas's views on sacramental theology changed quite a bit between the beginning of his career and the end, and we are missing what would have been the most important element of Aquinas's discussion -- how, exactly, he would have applied the instrumental-cause account of the sacraments to matrimony. The discussion of hell in the Supplement, in short, is a condensed digest of the very earliest discussion of hell we have from Aquinas, made by someone other than Aquinas, and not necessarily with any regard for Aquinas's mature views, whatever they might have been. There are in fact points in the sections on hell, like the discussion of the demerits of hell, where we have good reason from other passages in the actual Summa to think that Aquinas would have answered the question differently than what we get in the Supplement. But this is not hugely important for this particular topic, as far as I can see. I will in what follows chiefly stick to what we find in the Supplement.)

The penalty of fire in hell in Aquinas's view is not a torment of destruction -- the damned are incorruptible. They don't burn in our usual sense, because burning is destruction by fire, and they are indestructible. Aquinas is very clear about this. He actually has some difficulty handling the weeping attributed to the damned because of it -- crying as we think of it requires destruction and generation, and there is no destruction or generation in the age to come. (He holds that when we say they weep, we mean that they have some of the physical turmoil we associate with weeping, not that they cry tears.) So the damned cannot be physically harmed by the fire. What is more, the fire Aquinas has in mind is not what we think of as fire. It is not fire in the sense that immediately pops into mind. I've noted before that we tend not to grasp what medieval thinkers are talking about when they talk about the elements, and it's too long to go into with proper precision here. But a brief, crude summary: pure elemental fire is that in the world which at the most fundamental level tends to act vehemently on other things and resist change by its environment. (What we think of as fire is a mix of elements that has some preponderance of elemental fire over the other elements.) It is the most active thing in the physical universe, and the thing that is hardest to turn aside.

Aquinas says he doesn't know exactly know what the fire will be, materially speaking, only that it will be genuinely classifiable as fire, in medieval terms, whatever strange properties it might have. If it's some particular form of pure elemental fire, then it's just a variety of our kind of fire; but he also allows the possibility that it could be some strange kind of fire capable of subsisting without transformation in something other than itself. In any case, it's misleading to say, "This never ending fire, Aquinas believes, is sustained not by fuel but by the very breath of God." What Aquinas actually says is that, given that it is never-ending fire, it cannot be sustained by fuel but must be such that it does not need to be sustained, just being inexhaustible by nature; the point is that it is misleading to compare it to fire in our sense. Fire in our sense (and again, 'our sense' here is the medieval sense) has to be introduced into a body by elemental transformations, and to keep it in a body requires continual elemental transformations. But the fire of hell, being never-ending fire in an incorruptible body, can't be sustained by continual elemental transformations; it just has to be never-ending by the nature God gave it. The "breath of the Lord" is, of course, from the prophet Isaiah (30:33); Aquinas interprets this to mean that the fire in question was originally made by God, not that God's breath is a continual blast furnace, as Clark's overly condensed summary makes it sound.

What the fire of hell does is not harm or destroy but constrain. Since it is hyperactive and cannot be turned aside, the damned just have to go along with what it does whether they want to do so or not. The torment of hell is in Aquinas's first and foremost a penalty for the will. To be punished for being damned is to be placed in a universe that refuses to let you do what you want. To be punished for being damned is to be subordinated to other things, things less noble than you are, like mere fire, that nonetheless at least behave as they should. This is actually one of the reasons why medieval thinkers tended to be more impressed by the image of fire as a punishment for the damned than other images: the damned fail to act as they should, so they are punished by means of something lower than them that consistently acts as it is supposed to, even when other things try to prevent it. (Actually, that's one reason why the fires of purgatory also struck the medieval imagination: the souls of purgatory, on their way to heaven, endure a penalty of fire, as well, and with similar symbolic appropriateness: they wavered due to their environment, and pure fire is unwavering. The patient souls of purgatory have to learn to be as pure and unwavering in the goodness of their nature as fire is pure and unwavering in the goodness of its own.) There is also, in Aquinas's view, a bodily penalty, but it is not burning-and-stinking, both which are inconsistent with the fact that the body of the damned is incorruptible, but 'commotion', that is some kind of physical activity deriving from the action of fire in constraining the will.

All of this obviously depends on medieval physics in various ways; Aquinas is very careful to make the assumptions that would have been most secure, and even then only follows them to the extent that is strictly required, and explicitly marks a number of things as simply unknown, but, of course, no amount of care in the use of the medieval theory of the elements could completely survive the (at the time) unforeseeable collapse of the medieval theory of the elements, just as it is impossible that an argument or position depending on the most secure claims about gravity we have could remain completely intact if it turned out five hundred years down the road that gravity is actually something radically different from anything we were taking it to be. What Aquinas is doing is taking Jesus seriously when he says 'fire' and asking what fire is that would make it suitable for Jesus to mention it in this context. (And it is worth keeping in mind that the same issues that come with interpreting Aquinas when he talks about fire come up when interpreting Jesus when he talks about it; just because Jesus says 'fire' does not mean that he is drawing on the same assumptions about what fire is that we are. In fact, we can pretty much guarantee that he is not. This is not a mere question of whether the term should be taken literally or metaphorically; what counts as taking fire-terms literally has itself changed over the past two millenia.)

Whether Aquinas's actual view would still, in Clark's view, be suitable to Clark's purpose -- which is to argue that the medieval conception of hell is inconsistent with the goodness of God -- I don't know. But it is an error to think of it as a "medieval torture chamber view of hell", as Clark does.

Pulchritudo Spiritualis

Today is the memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church. Since Lent is rapidly approaching, here is a bit from his discussion of how the virtue of temperance is concerned with the beautiful:

As may be gathered from the words of Dionysius (Div. Nom. iv), beauty or comeliness results from the concurrence of clarity and due proportion. For he states that God is said to be beautiful, as being "the cause of the harmony and clarity of the universe." Hence the beauty of the body consists in a man having his bodily limbs well proportioned, together with a certain clarity of color. On like manner spiritual beauty consists in a man's conduct or actions being well proportioned in respect of the spiritual clarity of reason. Now this is what is meant by honesty, which we have stated (1) to be the same as virtue; and it is virtue that moderates according to reason all that is connected with man. Wherefore "honesty is the same as spiritual beauty." Hence Augustine says (Q83, qu. 30): "By honesty I mean intelligible beauty, which we properly designate as spiritual," and further on he adds that "many things are beautiful to the eye, which it would be hardly proper to call honest."

The word translated here (very unsatisfactorily) as 'honesty', honestas, actually means the opposite of the shameful, the sort of thing one approves or honors when one sees it, and so would be better translated by words related to 'honor'. Honestas is being honorable. Thus Aquinas's argument is that honorableness is a spiritual beauty recognized by the mind. The term can just be a synonym for 'virtue', but it is especially associated with the virtue of temperance, and can be used to indicate one of the fundamental components of temperance: being the kind of person to treat spiritual and intelligible beauty as more important than physical pleasures.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Poem Draft


Ah, Arachne!
Punishment was the fate
you chose in challenging the gods.
Not vengeful is Athena,
no, nor her penalty.

How endless are the pains
the gods may pour on men,
but you, O Arachne,
she gave an honor,
that inevitable punishment
should also be a prize of fame,
that through the endless ages
your work should be acclaimed.
Thus your penalty was softened,
your skill by goddess recognized.
Not vengeful is Athena,
no, nor her penalty.

[ADDED LATER: Corrected the typo 'Ariadne' for Arachne, which I should certainly have caught!]

La Grande Madre Suor

It is altogether difficult for us, in our time, to form an idea of how bold Angela's plan was....

Angela Merici was clear as to her own task: she was to work for the renewal of religious life at home, among the children, and in the first place she was to influence the girls who in due time would build up new homes and be the mothers of the next generation. And above all her Company was to try to come in contact with that section of the people who were unable or disinclined to attend to their children's schooling, especially that of their little daughters.
[Sigrid Undset, Stages on the Road, Ave Maria Press (Notre Dame, IN: 2012) pp. 88, 89.]

Today is the memorial of St. Angela of Merici, Virgin. Born in 1474 in Italy, she at some point had a vision of an association of women devoted to the religious training of young girls. This would lead to the eventual foundation of the Company of St. Ursula in 1535. The Company was quite a revolutionary idea. That St. Angela knew this is right there in the name. St. Ursula was a patron saint of education, particularly for young women, but she was also semi-legendary British princess who, according to the most popular legend, was sent by her father to be married, attended by 11000 virgins. As Ursula did not want to be married, she instead spent the time sailing around with a little fleet of eleven ships for three years, and then decided that she needed to go on pilgrimage from Rome to Cologne before actually settling down to marry. (The whole army of women was, according to the same legend, martyred by the Huns in Cologne when the chieftain tried to marry Ursula and she decided that she would pass on that marriage, too.) The basic idea of the Company of St. Ursula was remarkable for its day: instead of religious women entering a convent for contemplation, the Company would be consecrated women going out into the world, an army of women fighting the degeneration of family life by making sure that young girls were educated. It was new idea.

Too new for the day, perhaps. The looseness of medieval life could perhaps have room for such a thing, at least on a small scale, but the age was turning early modern, and thus more rigidly structured. While Angela was alive, the Company was largely protected by her administrative skill and good reputation among the authorities; but after her death, the Company became less tightly organized and the authorities began to rein in this project of independent women in active ministry in society at large. Part of this, it should be said, was also general policy; the Church was becoming more centralized, and more reforming in character, and in an attempt to do something about crazier religious movements had begun more and more to enforce enclosure. The Company of Ursula fell victim to this policy and eventual became more conventional conventuals, although they continued to run schools for girls. It wasn't until the twentieth century that the idea began to have a resurgence, under the label 'secular institute', although the Ursulines had kept the memory, at least alive. The Ursulines today now have two branches -- the Order of St. Ursula, which is the monastic order, and the Angelines or Company of St. Ursula, which is the federated system of secular institutes that began to be formed in the 1950s or so on the original model suggested by St. Angela.

In 1934, Sigrid Undset ended her essay on St. Angela Merici with a recognition that her story had not yet reached its end:

And there are still germs in the ideas of St. Angela Merici whcih have not reached development; it may yet be that la grande madre suor Angela will give life to new families within the great home of the Church, and new generations will arise and call her blessed. [p. 103]

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

General Map of Motivation

The often controversial but often interesting Mary Midgley at TPM:

A recent controversy about the origins of nose-picking in humans showed the oddity of this. Since this habit is common, scientists suggested an amazing number of arcane physical mechanisms by which it might have directly improved people’s survival-prospects. What nobody did was to ask about this habit’s relation to motives – for instance to curiosity, to our tendency to explore and investigate things. Like other primates we like to pry into mysterious places such as holes and this interest surely has affected our species-survival in many ways, both helpful and otherwise. The details of the endless acts that it produces don’t matter; what affects survival is the general interest. Thus, human behaviour is not a ragbag of disconnected behaviour patterns with separate evolutionary histories. What evolves is an emotional constitution which shapes our lives as a whole. We have to explain particular actions by finding their place in it.

Thus, when we want to understand a real person’s action we always start by looking for the motivational context. We try to spot the particular reason for the act and then to place it on our general map of motivation – a map which we must all use as we try to find our way through everyday life. We ask, was that clumsy remark just a misplaced effort to be helpful? Did it express resentment? Was it even part of a spiteful scheme to make trouble? Or perhaps a bit of all three? This interest in subjective matters is, of course, not to be dismissed as somehow culpably subjective itself. It is a factual enquiry – not a fantasy, not just “folk-psychology”, not a crude, amateur substitute for scientific investigation. It is the only way we can start to make sense of the life that goes on around us. Of course it is fallible, but on the whole it works, and its success is one of the things that science needs to investigate. Evolutionary considerations are no substitute for it.

Soul's Brother, a Shining Gull

A Winter Piece
by Bliss Carman

Over the rim of a lacquered bowl,
Where a cold blue water-color stands
I see the wintry breakers roll
And heave their froth up the freezing sands.
Here in immunity safe and dull,
Soul treads her circuit of trivial things.
There soul's brother, a shining gull,
Dares the rough weather on dauntless wings.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Nontraditional Traditions

Human beings are customary creatures. We also tend to have a certain respect for longstanding traditions. The wires can be crossed, however; a relatively recent custom can become treated as if it were age-old tradition passed down for generations. One thinks of a lot of wedding 'traditions', most of which have only popped up in the past 150 years and yet are often treated as if they were sacrosanct with all the benediction of antiquity.

Pope Francis recently made a change to the liturgical law of the Church. Under the current liturgical regime, it is an option to have a footwashing, the Mandatum, on Holy Thursday during Mass in order to represent Jesus's own footwashing of the twelve apostles after the Last Supper. Previously the rubrics explicitly stated that this Maundy Thursday footwashing should be of men, viri selecti. (It's generally assumed that twelve have to be chosen, but unless I am just missing it, the current Roman Missal does not require this.) In fact women have also been chosen for this option for years and years now, despite the fact that the statutory requirement was pretty clearly males -- viri selecti was officially interpreted by most bishops as not excluding women. Francis changed the literal requirement to allow anyone to be chosen from the People of God, Qui selecti sunt ex populo Dei. It's worth noting that choosing any women (or any men, for that matter) is an option, not a requirement, just as having the Mandatum rite at all is an option, not a requirement; and it appears only to apply to the Ordinary Form, not the Extraordinary Form.

Of course, in these days of endless liturgy wars, one gets the standard kefuffle. The worry that's most worth taking seriously is one that goes like this. The footwashing symbolizes ordination to the priesthood; Jesus doesn't wash the feet of just anyone, but of the twelve apostles, on a night in which they are initiated into an extraordinarily new way of doing things. Holy orders cannot be imposed upon women under any circumstances, so it makes no sense whatsoever for priests to wash the feet of women in the Holy Thursday footwashing. It destroys the traditional symbolism.

Now, it's important to grasp that the idea that this particular footwashing (there are other kinds not in view here) is most appropriately treated as a symbol of ordination is not a bad, not a foolish, not an unreasonable interpretation at all. (This is a fairly nice presentation of it.) A great deal of what goes on Maundy Thursday is clearly bound up in the nature of holy orders; a great deal of this part of the Passion narrative is quite clearly concerned with matters that teach us about holy orders; the use of the footwashing in this particular Mass quite reasonably suggests matters concerned with the vocation of holy orders; and it actually makes a fairly good symbol of certain aspects of holy orders, which in a sense is the sacrament of the humility of Christ. You can perfectly reasonably suggest that in the context of this Mass it would be better to treat it as a symbol of holy orders, which it could suggest and has increasingly been taken as signifying, and that it would have been better to teach this particular symbolism and enforce the prior law, than to change the law to fit the common custom.

But the interpretation is not traditional. It has grown up within certain groups within living memory. If you look at Augustine, Chrysostom, Aquinas, Bonaventure, it's difficult to find anything that even remotely suggests it. The consistent interpretation of the Church Fathers of the Holy Thursday washing of feet is Christological: it represents the humility of the Incarnation and provides a moral example to all Christians.

And the rite's place in the Mass is quite recent. There was a separate rite of footwashing in the Tridentine liturgy but it was of restricted application and occurred outside the Mass. Prior to this there seem to have been some cases of its actually being incorporated into the Mass, particularly among Benedictines; but for such cases there is nothing I know of to indicate any association at all with holy orders, which would have been rather odd in that context, in any case. The placement of the washing in the Mass itself only came about in 1955, when Pius XII put it after the homily. If done outside of the Mass, however, there is very little to suggest any symbolism of holy orders; it just becomes like all other footwashings, although one that happens to be especially appropriate for the day. And those washings are concerned specifically with reminding people of Christ's humility and their responsibility to take His example to heart; there's a reason why it was generally expected in some parts of the world that kings and queens would wash the feet of their subjects, and bishops of their priests or of the poor, on Maundy Thursday. The fact of the matter is that rites and ceremonies of footwashing, even on Maundy Thursday, have rarely been important enough to bear much more symbolic weight than that of the importance of humility. You can find cases where it could possibly bear such meaning; but its status and practice has never been stable enough for this to be a consistent implication.

What's more, there seems to be no sign that Pius XII in his introducing it into the Mass, saw it as any kind of symbolic sign of orders; it's described as providing a reminder to all Christian faithful that they should abound in charity.

None of this changes the argument for the priesthood interpretation, which has to be considered on its own merits. It's not the case, though, that it is any kind of traditional interpretation. It's a relatively new one, less than a century old, that arose out of twentieth century liturgical reforms. To claim that it has traditional roots we have to say that it is restoring a symbolism that fell out of sight and of which there appears to be no direct trace.

Music on My Mind

Sufjan Stevens, "Drawn to the Blood"

Arguments Against Contraception

J. Edward Hackett has a post up at "Philosophical Percolations" on the Catholic argument against contraception; but the particular argument he gives is a bizarre one whose provenance seems to be mongrel at best. This is a common problem, I find, with philosophers discussing natural law arguments; they discuss not the actual natural law arguments but their assumptions about them. Hackett's "typical" argument against contraception is this:

(1) All human faculties and organs are directed towards the chief purpose of God’s design.
(2) All sexual organs are directed towards the purpose of procreation
(3) Any technological or willful interruption of this directed purpose is unnatural and therefore wrong in going against God’s design.
(4) Contraception is such an interruption of this natural purpose
(5) Therefore, contraception is morally wrong.

My best guess is that this weird argument is either a conflation of several different arguments or is just Hackett's own homebrew guess of what the whole argument must be based on fragments or brief summaries. Typically, there is not a single natural law argument for or against anything; there are multiple lines of argument. This is sometimes not made clear in particular discussions, but is obvious enough if you compare multiple arguments or look at any serious survey. Typically, natural law arguments are not based on "God's design", although conceivably one might just mean by this the ordering of nature to assistance in divine creation that does come up occasionally in particularly theological versions of arguments against contraception. Typically, the purposes involved in natural law arguments do not involve the purposes of organs but the purposes of actions, and are not concerned with biology but with rational of practical action using our biology. Typically, the purposes involved need to be specifically concerned with the common good of the entire human race, not just any purposes. Actually, this last one is not merely 'typically'. While the point is not always made explicit, an argument that does not have this element does not involve natural law theory: it is precisely the point of every paradigmatic version of natural law theory that principles of practical reason are natural law insofar as they concern common good. (One can generally re-formulate arguments against contraception, for instance, in terms of the having and raising of children as part of the good shared in common by the human race.)

Since Janet Smith seems to have occasioned Hackett's reflection, let's actually look at what Smith herself says about the arguments against contraception. In her book Humanae Vitae: A Generation Later, she gives six such arguments, summarized in syllogism form (pp. 98-99):

A1. What is artificial is unnatural and wrong.
A2. Contraception is artificial.
A3. Therefore, contraception is unnatural and wrong.

B1. It is wrong to interfere with the natural purposes of organs and acts.
B2. The purpose of sexual intercourse is reproduction (of the species).
B3. Therefore, since contraception interferes with the purpose of sexual intercourse, contraception is wrong.

C1. It is wrong to impede the procreative power of actions that are ordained by their nature to the generation of new human life.
C2. Contraception impedes the procreative power of actions that are ordained by their nature to the generation of new human life.
C3. Therefore, contraception is wrong.

D1. It is wrong to impede the procreative power of actions that are ordained by their nature to assist God in performing His creative act that brings forth a new human life.
D2. Contraception impedes the procreative power of actions that are ordained by their nature to assist God in performing His creative act that brings forth a new human life.
D3. Therefore, contraception is wrong.

E1. It is always wrong to have a contralife will.
E2. The use of contraception entails a contralife will.
E3. Therefore, contraception is wrong.

F1. It is wrong to destroy the power of human sexual intercourse to represent objectively the mutual, total self-giving of spouses.
F2. Contraception destroy the power of human sexual intercourse to represent objectively the mutual, total self-giving of spouses.
F3. Therefore, contraception is wrong.

Each of these, of course, is merely a summary for the purposes of classification; the meat of the argument in each case will be in the arguments for the major and the minor. (It also might be worth pointing out that, for similar reasons and despite the handiness of the syllogistic format for classification purposes, it sometimes obscures key elements that are usually work in arguments of that family. For instance, B-style arguments are usually specifically about the cooperative character of sexual reproduction, and F-style arguments are usually about meaning-suppression, although you wouldn't necessarily recognize that just from these coarse-grained headings.) Here we are only concerned with argument classification, so we will stay at this level. Smith herself rejects classes A, B, and E. A, she says, is generally given as the argument only by critics, and appears to muddle together several different conceptions of 'natural' in ways not consistent with natural law arguments in general. B, she says, you can find among a handful of theologians, and was discussed earlier in the twentieth century (although usually to express doubts about it); probably the version most worth taking seriously is that of Richard Connell. She notes that arguments against this class of argument are often more ad hoc than is usually admitted, but does not accept it herself, nor regard it as in any way a typical argument. E she thinks insufficiently precise to be adequate.

You'll notice that Hackett's version mixes and matches. His (1) is (interpreted most charitably) a D-type premise; his (2) is clearly a B-type premise; and his (3) seems to be an A-type premise. This is confirmed by the way in which he responds to the argument he gives. Since Hackett specifically makes his argument about the purpose of reproductive organs, like B, it's unsurprising that he spends a lot of time arguing that it can be rejected by accepting a "naturalized teleology of biology". Since Hackett specifically makes his argument depend on a theological principle about divine purposes, like D, it's unsurprising that he says, "Without God’s existence, the argument does not have legs to stand on." Since he uses an A-type premise, it is unsurprising that he appeals to human tool-making as a major part of his counter-argument to the 'typical' argument against contraception.

What Hackett seems to do, in other words, is muddle together a number of arguments that a natural law theorist like Smith regards as distinct, and says that this muddled mongrel is the way the argument 'typically' goes, and then puts other arguments in a 'theology of body' box. This type of confusion shows why careful classification of arguments is of serious importance to philosophical inquiry, despite the rather cavalier treatment it gets from philosophers. The natural history of arguments in the field needs to be done properly for philosophers to contribute things that are useful to a discussion.


Janet E. Smith, Humane Vitae: A Generation Later, The Catholic University of America Press (Washington, DC: 1991).

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Fortnightly Book, January 24

Si tu me possèdes, tu posséderas tout.
Mais ta vie m'appartiendra. Dieu l'a voulu ainsi.
Désire, et te désirs seront accomplis.
Mais régle tes souhaits sur ta vie. Elle est la.
A chaque vouloir je décroitrai comme tes jours.
Me veux-tu? Prends. Dieu t'exaucera. Soit!

The fortnightly book is Honoré de Balzac's La Peau de Chagrin, or as the title is in the English translation I have, The Wild Ass's Skin. The Wikipedia article for it is unusually good, so I will quote from it:

Set in early 19th-century Paris, it tells the story of a young man who finds a magic piece of shagreen that fulfills his every desire. For each wish granted, however, the skin shrinks and consumes a portion of his physical energy. La Peau de chagrin belongs to the √Čtudes philosophiques group of Balzac's sequence of novels, La Com√©die humaine.

Before the book was completed, Balzac created excitement about it by publishing a series of articles and story fragments in several Parisian journals. Although he was five months late in delivering the manuscript, he succeeded in generating sufficient interest that the novel sold out instantly upon its publication. A second edition, which included a series of twelve other "philosophical tales", was released one month later.

Although the novel uses fantastic elements, its main focus is a realistic portrayal of the excesses of bourgeois materialism....

The use of fantasy elements, in this case a magic shagreen, to make an otherwise realistic story serve a more abstract (in Balzac's terminology 'philosophical') function in representing the human condition is always interesting, and, while Balzac is quite uneven, I've generally enjoyed his work.

The version I have is bundled with another small novel, The Quest for the Absolute, which also uses fantasy elements, in this case from alchemy, to 'philosophize' a tale. I intend to read it, as well, although it might get cut if time becomes an issue.

Living Trees

Today is the Feast of St. Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church. From An Introduction to the Devout Life, Part I, Chapter 3:

When God created the world He commanded each tree to bear fruit after its kind;and even so He bids Christians,--the living trees of His Church,--to bring forth fruits of devotion, each one according to his kind and vocation. A different exercise of devotion is required of each--the noble, the artisan, the servant, the prince, the maiden and the wife; and furthermore such practice must be modified according to the strength, the calling, and the duties of each individual.

I ask you, my child, would it be fitting that a Bishop should seek to lead the solitary life of a Carthusian? And if the father of a family were as regardless in making provision for the future as a Capucin, if the artisan spent the day in church like a Religious, if the Religious involved himself in all manner of business on his neighbour's behalf as a Bishop is called upon to do, would not such a devotion be ridiculous, ill-regulated, and intolerable? Nevertheless such a mistake is often made, and the world, which cannot or will not discriminate between real devotion and the indiscretion of those who fancy themselves devout, grumbles and finds fault with devotion, which is really nowise concerned in these errors. No indeed, my child, the devotion which is true hinders nothing, but on the contrary it perfects everything; and that which runs counter to the rightful vocation of any one is, you may be sure, a spurious devotion.

Helen MacInnes, North from Rome


Opening Passage:
At last, the city was quiet.

Quiet enough for sleep, William Lammiter thought as he finished his cigarette on the small balcony outside of his hotel bedroom. It was three o'clock in the morning--no, almost half-past three by his watch--and Rome was at peace. Practically.... (p. 3)

Summary: Bill Lammiter, a playwright suddenly made famous by his first play, has just about had his fill of Rome. He hasn't done any serious writing for a month, and, worse than that, he lost his girlfriend to a handsome Italian count. Perhaps he should go to some Umbrian hill town in Perugia and see if his luck changes. Alas, before he can ever do so, he ends up having to rescue an extremely beautiful Italian girl from men attempting to abduct her.

This is the 1950s and Italy like many places in the world is still dealing with the aftermath of World War II and the increasingly intense cat-and-mouse games between Communists and the West. Lammiter's involvement in rescuing the lovely Italian girl, Rosana, turns eyes toward him. They look into his past. And they notice that he has a record in intelligence. In fact, he handled nothing very clandestine, or dangerous, and most of his job was just checking security procedures, but nobody believes that. Lammiter has stumbled onto a narcotics ring that exists to fund and further the interests of Communists in Italy.

And, as it happens, at the center of it all is a handsome Italian count who stole someone's girlfriend.

Involved against his will, Lammiter, a complete amateur in spycraft, must navigate the grave dangers of espionage, narcotics smuggling, Communism, and American tourists to save his life and the life of the woman he loves.

As a spy thriller, the plot is swift overall, although MacInnes sees no need to keep it at crash-bang speed most of the time. Some of the characters are strongly developed -- Lammiter, and Giuseppe, and, best of all, the principessa. I was a little disappointed with the characterization of Rosana, but not in a serious way -- she just turns out to be less interesting than you would expect from meeting her in such a complicated situation. But the real strength of the book is the travel-writing aspect of it. MacInnes and her husband took regular trips to Europe, so the scenery is all based on real experience, and is quite vivid.

Favorite Passage:

The road twisted among trees up toward the walled town. Beyond the trees, on either side, the terraces of olive groves rose step by step. They seemed dead. The silver-green leaves were black and hard. Last winter's frosts must have been bitter.

Joe noticed the look on Lammiter's face. "Yes," he said, "it's tough on the people. This is the way all the hills are this year. But give the olive trees three good years, and they'll come alive again."

"Three years. It's a long time to wait." Lammiter could see the town more clearly now: a mass of roofs and towers behind an encircling wall.

"People have lived here for nearly three thousand years. That wall was first built by the Etruscans. Then the Romans came and built on top of it. What's three years to a wall like that?" (p. 174)

Recommendation: As light reading, this was quite solid. Recommended if it happens to come your way.


Helen MacInnes, North from Rome, Harcourt, Brace, & Co. (New York: 1958).

Maronite Year XVIII

The second Commemoration Sunday is the Maronite version of All Saints, or, as it is generally called, the Sunday of the Righteous and Just. It is common in Maronite liturgy to call the saints 'cedars of Lebanon', and Cedar of Lebanon is one of the Maronite names for Mary. The Cedrus libani is an evergreen tree, of course, representing fullness of life, and it is massive. The mountains of Lebanon were once covered with them. The Lebanese forests are less impressive than they once were, having supplied the timber of vast empires for millenia, but you can here and there find trees over a thousand years old in the Forest of the Cedars of God, Arz el Rab, towering over the Qadisha Valley and its ancient monasteries. It is not surprising that that forest is the Maronite symbol for the assembly of all the saints who have attained to the abundant and everlasting life of heaven.

Sunday of the Righteous and Just
Hebrews 12:18-24; John 8:12-20

Our God chose the righteous to preach his great righteousness;
the just He made to tell of His justice.
Prophets, apostles, martyrs, doctors, virgins, widows
witness to Christ, the light of the righteous,
speak with their lives the truths of Christ, the Word Incarnate.
He gives them His Spirit that they might live,
that His Church might be a holy people, His people,
an apostolic branch bearing good fruit.
In Christ's kingdom they celebrate the feast unending
with glory in the paradise of light,
for Christ is the sea of wisdom, joy of the just,
and the souls of the just are in God's hands.
Neither torment nor death has the power to harm them,
for they set their eye on the eternal.
They are gold tried in the crucible of this dark world,
and they pray, waiting for their coming dawn,
when they shall shine forth, like sparks from the glory of fire,
and under their King shall judge the nations.
The righteous shall grow like the cedars of Lebanon,
the just shall be flourishing like the palms.
Lord, may the righteous be present until the last end.