Saturday, January 07, 2017

Two New Poem Drafts, Two Poem Re-Drafts

My Love, I Dreamed I Knew You Yesterday

My love, I dreamed I knew you yesterday:
the sun was raising crops from seed to grain,
the wind was walking lightly down the way
as clouds drew nigh that rumbled, big with rain,
and, soft, our eyes were looking far away
to futures never born; and then the pain
broke softly on my heart, like clouds of gray,
and thus the dream began to fade and wane.


The Word gave word to man;
the Adam woke with joy
and named the world anew
to humanize it through,
across creation's span,
as if it were a toy;
each word reflected true.


One early morn I walked a road
past ancient oak trees bent and bowed;
the grass was dewed, the sky was dark,
the breezes played with shadows stark.
Afar arose a mountain high
with vastness sheer that touched the sky;
behind, the sun shed glory bright:
a shadow-king with crown of light.

My mind afar went walking, too.
I thought of me, I thought of you,
the wishing hopes that never found
a way to grow in thorny ground.
Astute aurora slowly spawned;
melancholy burst the dawn
like tales I've heard since I was born
of peasant king with crown of thorn.

In life we walk a darkling night,
and peace is rare without a fight.
But faces through the years grown worn
still memories with hopes adorn,
like sunrise red. Our shadowed mind
will someday leave our fears behind,
when elders throw their bodies down
before the Throne, and cast their crowns.


The heart still beats in Peter's hall.
The world still turns upon the cross.
In silent gardens shadows fall
on leaves that do not heed their loss.
In holy skies the stars still burst
and milky still the stream is seen;
for sweetest light the mind still thirsts
as moonlight lends the lake its sheen.
How fair, how pure, the evenings are
that bring a respite from the day!
And, sure and safe and lit by star,
the road of Christ lies where it lay.

Exemplary Ritual Activity

Confucius's belief that sociopolitical harmony could be achieved without force, without action, is one of the cornerstones of his philosophical vision. Law and coercive punishment, while perhaps necessary evils, simply do not promote human morality effectively, nor do they create a social order based on mutual respect. Rather, an exemplary person and exemplary ritual activity are much more helpful guides. According to Confucius, without coercion of any sort they have the power to inspire in others model social behavior, born not of fear but of voluntary respect for others. In short, a man of virtue--the North Star--using ritual expression helps promote among the people a sense of shared values, creating thereby a strong communal identity, or what one scholar called "a fiduciary community based on mutual trust."

Daniel K. Gardner, Zhu Xi's Reading of the Analects, Cambridge UP (New York: 2003), p. 123. The quotation is from Tu Wei-ming's Centrality and Commonality: An Essay on Chung-yung.

Friday, January 06, 2017


...[W]hen we see men devoted to worldly wisdom and far from belief in Jesus Christ brought out of the depth of their error and called to an acknowledgment of the true Light, it is undoubtedly the brightness of the Divine grace that is at work: and whatever of new light illumines the darkness of their hearts, comes from the rays of the same star: so that it should both move with wonder, and going before lead to the adoration of God the minds which it visited with its splendour. But if with careful thought we wish to see how their threefold kind of gift is also offered by all who come to Christ with the foot of faith, is not the same offering repeated in the hearts of true believers? For he that acknowledges Christ the King of the universe brings gold from the treasure of his heart: he that believes the Only-begotten of God to have united man's true nature to Himself, offers myrrh; and he that confesses Him in no wise inferior to the Father's majesty, worships Him in a manner with incense.

St. Leo the Great, Sermon 36 on the Epiphany

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Whom Stars and Seraphs Sing

by Christina Rossetti

'Lord Babe, if Thou art He
We sought for patiently,
Where is Thy court?
Hither may prophecy and star resort;
Men heed not their report.' –
'Bow down and worship, righteous man:
This Infant of a span
Is He man sought for since the world began!' –
'Then, Lord, accept my gold, too base a thing
For Thee, of all kings King.' –

'Lord Babe, despite Thy youth
I hold Thee of a truth
Both Good and Great:
But wherefore dost Thou keep so mean a state,
Low-lying desolate?' –
'Bow down and worship, righteous seer:
The Lord our God is here
Approachable, Who bids us all draw near.' –
'Wherefore to Thee I offer frankincense,
Thou Sole Omnipotence.' –

'But I have only brought
Myrrh; no wise afterthought
Instructed me
To gather pearls or gems, or choice to see
Coral or ivory.' –
'Not least thine offering proves thee wise:
For myrrh means sacrifice,
And He that lives, this Same is He that dies.' –
'Then here is myrrh: alas, yea woe is me
That myrrh befitteth Thee.' –

Myrrh, frankincense, and gold:
And lo from wintry fold
Good-will doth bring
A Lamb, the innocent likeness of this King
Whom stars and seraphs sing:
And lo the bird of love, a Dove,
Flutters and coos above:
And Dove and Lamb and Babe agree in love: –
Come all mankind, come all creation hither,
Come, worship Christ together.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Three Gifts They Bear Away

The Epiphany
by St. Robert Southwell

To blaze the rising of this glorious sun,
A glittering star appeareth in the East,
Whose sight to pilgrim-toils three sages won
To seek the light they long had in request;
And by this star to nobler star they pass,
Whose arms did their desired sun embrace.

Stall was the sky wherein these planets shined,
And want the cloud that did eclipse their rays;
Yet through this cloud their light did passage find,
And pierced these sages' hearts by secret ways,
Which made them know the Ruler of the skies,
By infant tongue and looks of babish eyes.

Heaven at her light, Earth blusheth at her pride,
And of their pomp these peers ashamed be;
Their crowns, their robes, their train they set aside,
When God's poor cottage, clothes, and crew, they
All glorious things their glory now despise,
Sith God contempt, doth more then glory prize.

Three gifts they bring, three gifts they bear away;
For incense, myrrh and gold, faith, hope and love;
And with their gifts the givers' hearts do stay,
Their mind from Christ no parting can remove;
His humble state, his stall, his poor retinue,
They fancy more than all their rich revenue.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Brownson's Traditionary Argument for God's Existence

I've been intending for a while -- actually at least a year and a half -- to discuss Orestes Brownson's infinite intelligible arguments for the existence of God. Infinite intelligible arguments are an often overlooked and thus under-studied kind of argument for God's existence, based on the idea that the intellect is capable of handling infinites of various kinds, and concluding that the some infinite intelligible must actually exist; very few people have done all that much work on the varieties and structures of such arguments, which is a particular problem given that there are a number of rather different flavors in getting from first step to conclusion. They are found in scattered forms prior to the early modern period -- Aquinas gives one, for instance -- but they became much more important due to the Cartesians, especially Malebranche, and enjoyed a sort of popularity in some circles in the nineteenth century, before fading out of memory almost completely. Part of the hold-up in doing some posts on the subject is that Brownson's early arguments, in his Unitarian phase, are based on Transcendentalist principles, whereas the later arguments, in his Catholic phase, are not, and indeed are generally linked to important criticisms of Transcendentalist thought. I hope I can get to something on them at some point this year.

But Brownson has other arguments, and his favored alternative is another kind of argument that is often overlooked and under-studied, despite having had a brief period of extraordinary popularity in the nineteenth century: traditionary arguments. As with infinite intelligible arguments, there are a number of very different kinds of traditionary arguments for the existence of God, and for a similar reason -- churches were very suspicious of them, which led those who were favorable to such arguments to rework them in different ways in the attempt to avoid the theological objections. Brownson's is a fairly straightforward causal argument, and is nicely developed in his April 1852 review of a book by Francis William Newman. The following is a first rough attempt to lay out the essential argument.

1. The intelligible, simply in itself, is not known by the senses.
2. Nonetheless, we human beings do not have pure immediate intuition of the intelligible to form a belief, but require some sensible representation by signs in a language.
3. The existence of God, if true, is a purely intelligible truth.
4. There are people who believe that God exists.
5. To believe that God exists requires that this be sensibly represented to us by signs in a language. (from 1, 2, and 3)
6. This sensible representation cannot be from oneself, but must be from someone else (a teacher).
7. If someone else represents it to us, they must either have had immediate nonsensible intuition of it (and thus by (2) not be human) or have had it sensibly represented to them by a teacher.
8. Therefore there is either a first teacher from whom human beings receive the means for believing the existence of God, or there must be an infinite series of teachers.
9. It is absurd to conclude that language for articulating the idea of God's existence has come to us through an infinite series of teachers.
10. Therefore there is a first teacher of God's existence to human beings, who had an immediate and purely intelligible intuition of God's existence.
11. This we call God.

The argument in its basic form is thus an argument that because people believe that God exists, God exists. But this is not because of a general property of belief, but a question of how human beings could possibly form any notion of divine existence to believe or not in the first place. Any answer to such a question has to involve language, but language is something human beings receive from teachers. There are a number of different ways one could go to get from here to God, but Brownson sets his up very deliberately as a cosmological argument. (He is beginning with Lamennais, the usual nineteenth-century source for traditionary arguments for God's existence, and the reason the argument focuses on language, but he is explicitly modifying Lamennais's argument in order to make the argument much more robust. While it's not quite so obvious in the original as I've represented it above, it seems pretty clear that he is modifying his traditionary argument on Aquinas, probably the First Way in particular.) The obvious opposing position would be to hold that the language required simply grew up gradually among human beings -- but, of course, this is more radical than it appears, since it requires a rejection of (2) -- if we developed the relevant language, which is just (in this context) sensible signs expressing concepts, it must be possible for us to get the concept from a source other than someone teaching us the language that already expresses that concept. An account would be needed of how this happens, and thus why (2) should be regarded as wrong.

In any case, the argument obviously has the same structure with causal arguments involving infinite regress, like the First Way. It also has an interesting complementary relationship with infinite intelligible arguments, which no doubt explains why Brownson puts them together. If one thinks of actual belief as intellectual reflection involving sensible signs, the infinite intelligible argument focuses on the former (intellectual reflection), while the traditionary argument focuses on the latter (sensible signs), and in both cases the claim is that this particular belief, that God exists, could not arise in us if God did not, in fact, exist. Brownson's own brief discussion of the relation between the two is somewhat unclear, in part because he is trying to avoid assimilation to Lamennais's condemned argument, and thus needs further study. The simplest way to read him seems to be that he takes proofs to be of different kinds -- the traditionary argument proves its conclusion, but does not do so in the highest way, which the infinite intelligible argument does. But, again, this needs further study.

It's a much more complicated question, to which I do not currently have any answer, as to how the traditionary argument relates to other theistic arguments that depend on language, but in which language is understood somewhat differently -- such as Berkeley's visual language argument or Augustine's interior Teacher argument. A full discussion would certainly require looking at this.

Holy Name

...[N]ames given to men by God always signify some gratuitous gift bestowed on them by Him; thus it was said to Abraham (Genesis 17:5): "Thou shalt be called Abraham; because I have made thee a father of many nations": and it was said to Peter (Matthew 16:18): "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church." Since, therefore, this prerogative of grace was bestowed on the Man Christ that through Him all men might be saved, therefore He was becomingly named Jesus, i.e. Saviour: the angel having foretold this name not only to His Mother, but also to Joseph, who was to be his foster-father.

St. Thomas Aquinas, ST 3.37.2

Monday, January 02, 2017

The Little Place in What'sitsname

The Aristocrat
by G. K. Chesterton

The Devil is a gentleman, and asks you down to stay
At the little place at What'sitsname (it isn't far away).
They say the sport is splendid; there is always something new,
And fairy scenes, and fearful feats that none but he can do;
He can shoot the feathered cherubs if they fly on the estate,
Or fish for Father Neptune with the mermaids for a bait;
He scaled amid the staggering stars that precipice, the sky,
And blew his trumpet above heaven, and got by mastery
The starry crown of God Himself, and shoved it on the shelf;
But the Devil is a gentleman, and doesn't brag himself.

O blind your eyes and break your heart and hack your hand away,
And lose your love and shave your head; but do not go to stay
At the little place in What'sitsname where folks are rich and clever;
The golden and the goodly house, where things grow worse for ever;
There are things you need not know of, though you live and die in vain,
There are souls more sick of pleasure than you are sick of pain;
There is a game of April Fool that's played behind its door,
Where the fool remains for ever and the April comes no more
Where the splendour of the daylight grows drearier than the dark,
And life droops like a vulture that once was such a lark:
And that is the Blue Devil that once was the Blue Bird;
For the Devil is a gentleman, and doesn't keep his word.

Basil and Gregory (Re-Post)

This is reposted from 2012, with minor revision.

Today is the Feast of Saint Basil of Caesarea and Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, two of the three major Cappodocian Fathers (the other being St. Gregory of Nyssa, Basil's brother), and also two of the Three Holy Hierarchs (the other being St. John Chrysostom).

Basil is a saint I have always found interesting. He was raised in a family of saints. His grandmother on his father's side was Saint Macrina the Elder; she and her husband -- whose name seems to be unknown -- were confessors who survived the Galerian persecution. His father was Saint Basil the Elder and his mother was Saint Emilia, who was herself the daughter of a martyr -- whose name also seems not to have survived history. Basil and Emilia had either nine or ten children, five of whom were canonized as saints: Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Peter of Sebaste, Saint Naucratius, and Saint Macrina the Younger. You can learn a little about them in Gregory of Nyssa's Life of Macrina, which is one of the great classics of Christian theology.

Basil himself was something of what we could call a Forceful Personality. He was the sort of man who gets things done, and in the course of getting things done, gets his way. In his long disputes with the Arians, he got a reputation for being the sort of person who could not be budged; Emperor Valens, who was an Arian, repeatedly tried to banish him -- and repeatedly failed. When he became bishop of Caesarea, he was essentially in charge of a region largely allied against him, and so, being Basil, he set about shoring up his position, and doing so quite competently. He appointed his brother Gregory to be bishop of Nyssa, and he maneuvered his best friend, also called Gregory (from Nazianzus), into being bishop of Sasima. It was strategically clever as an overall plan, but it was no favor to either Gregory; Nyssa and Sasima were not exactly prime locations. We have letters from Gregory Nazianzen complaining vociferously about how Basil had stuck him in an awful backwater; he really and truly hated the place. When his father was dying, Gregory Nazianzen went back to Nazianzus and there he began to help run the Nazianzen diocese. Basil insisted that he must return to Sasima; Gregory flatly refused. They never stopped being friends, but they were never quite reconciled, either. It was all very much a Basilian thing; it is not for nothing that he is known as Basil the Great. He did not merely administer, he ruled; he did not merely maneuver, he conquered; he did not merely argue, he won. He was just that sort of person. But precisely because of his strategic and tactical mind, an immense amount of good was done for the people of his diocese: the list of things that Basil managed to accomplish for the poor in only nine years as Bishop of Caesarea is extraordinarily long, on top of his theological work, his episcopal duties, and outmaneuvering more enemies than you can count on the fingers and toes of a crowd. He was prodigiously competent at everything he did, almost more a force of nature than an ordinary man.

Gregory was no less interesting. He was also from a family of saints, albeit a slightly less prodigious one. His mother, Saint Nonna, married a Hypsistarian named Gregory -- Hypsistarians were pagans who, impressed by the Jews, had become monotheists and practiced some Jewish customs without actually converting. She converted her husband to Christianity. He was eventually made bishop of Nazianzus, and has become known as Saint Gregory the Elder of Nazianzus. They had had three children, Saint Gorgonia, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, and Saint Caesarius of Nazianzus. Gregory Nazianzen continued on his career after Basil's death, and became renowned as a great theologian. He was persuaded by fellow bishops to become Patriarch of Constantinople in order to try to counter the spread of Arianism there. He became popular enough that an Arian mob tried to kill him. He survived, but he was soon betrayed by one of his friends, Maximus the Cynic (called so because of his interest in philosophy), who managed to get himself appointed Patriarch in Gregory's place. Basil would never, ever have been outmaneuvered in this way, but Gregory was no Basil. Precisely one of his complaints at Sasima was that he really just wanted to lead a life of prayer; he was not well-suited for ecclesiastical and imperial politics. In any case, Gregory was only barely convinced by friends not to give up and resign, and for a while there were two people claiming to be the legitimate Patriarch of Constantinople. Gregory's claim was eventually upheld by the First Council of Constantinople, but, having achieved this victory, he almost immediately resigned and went back home. Also a very un-Basilian thing to do; but it was a very Gregorian one.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Music on My Mind

Paolo Buonvino and Skin, "Renaissance". The opening title theme from Medici Masters of Florence, which was actually fairly good -- a decent balance between historical accuracy and what was required to make a story in the medium.

The Latin is from Wisdom 1:2, and means, "In simplicity of heart seek Him; for He is found by those who do not test Him." The saying, addressed to the rulers of the earth, is most often heard in combination with verse 1, which gives the title of a number of chants and polyphonic compositions, Diligite justitiam, "Love justice".


As Christ voluntarily took upon Himself our death, which is the effect of sin, whereas He had no sin Himself, in order to deliver us from death, and to make us to die spiritually unto sin, so also He took upon Himself circumcision, which was a remedy against original sin, whereas He contracted no original sin, in order to deliver us from the yoke of the Law, and to accomplish a spiritual circumcision in us--in order, that is to say, that, by taking upon Himself the shadow, He might accomplish the reality.

St. Thomas Aquinas, ST 3.37.1ad3