Thursday, January 25, 2018

Redundantia (Re-Post)

This is a lightly revised version of a post from 2014.

Redundantia originally conveyed the image of waves -- after one wave, another wave comes, and this re-undulation is what redundantia originally meant. You can see how this would connect to our word 'redundancy'. Historically, however, the word meant a superabundance in a broader sense, and not necessarily a mere redundancy; it suggests being overwhelmed (you manage to get through one wave and another hits you) or having more than you know what to do with. Usually you will find it and its cognates translated as 'overflow'. I would suggest that redundantia in a slightly more technical -- but still connected -- sense is an important idea in the thought of Aquinas that has almost universally been overlooked.

Aquinas uses the term, or cognates, in a wide number of circumstances, but all of them have important links to each other. I'll just briefly note a few cases.

I. Providence

Divine order is such that excellence overflows from higher to lower, like the clarity of sun into the air: ST 2-2.83.11. Compare ST 2-2.175.2 ad 1, which uses the related word abundantia in a quotation from Dionysius on the overflow of divine goodness, thus linking it to the idea of participation.

II. Human Cognition

Desire in the superior part of the soul can be so vehement that it overflows lower desire, so that the latter, in its own way, tends toward the spiritual good of the higher desire; in this way, the body serves the spiritual: ST 2-1.30.1 ad 1.

In the human soul there is an overflow from higher to lower, so that the delight of contemplation can overflow so as to mitigate sensible pain or sorrow: ST 2-1.38.4 ad 3.

Human cogitative and memorative powers owe their excellence (compared to the corresponding capabilities in other animals) simply to their association with reason, which in a way overflows into them: ST 1.78.4 ad 5.

Vocal prayer is an overflow from the soul to the body through a vehemence of affection: ST 2-2.83.12

III. Virtue

The qualities of prudence overflow into all other virtues, and likewise with the other cardinal virtues: 2-1.61.4 ad 1.

Because lower powers follow the motion of higher powers, the states of intellectual desire following from virtues overflow into sensible desire to cause passions; so, for instance, if joy in the will is increased through justice, it will cause the passion of joy in the sensible appetite: ST 2-1.59.5.

IV. Christ in the Transfiguration

That Christ's manifest glory did not overflow His body from conception was due to a special dispensation, but he retained the power of pouring out the glory of His soul into His body; in Christ's transfiguration, the glory of His Godhead and His soul overflowed His body not as an innate quality but as a transient passion, like the clarity of the sun in the air, and thus miraculously: ST 3.45.2.

Since Christ was still on earth, in His Passion there was no overflow of glory from the higher part of his soul to the lower part, nor from his soul to his body, but the higher part of his soul still enjoyed contemplation of God: ST 3.46.8.

V. Christ as Head of the Church

Grace was bestowed on Christ not merely as an individual but as Head of the Church, so that it might overflow into His members: ST 3.48.1. Christ as man is mediator between God and men, so it is appropriate for him to have a grace that overflows to others: ST 3.7.1. Christ was predestined to be the Son of God in power of sanctification, so it was appropriate for Him to have a fullness of grace overflowing to all, while the Virgin Mary is full of grace as being close to Him and dispensing grace to us by receiving Him: ST 3.27.5 ad 1. The Virgin Mary was full of grace in that the grace she was given overflowed from her soul to her body, from which was conceived the Son of God; and even further, so as to extend to all: Exp. Sal. Ang. art. 1.

To know the secrets of the heart belongs properly to God alone, but Christ Ascended may also know and judge human hearts as man through an overflow from His Godhead: ST 3.59.2 ad 3.

VI. Glory to Come

The soul desires to enjoy God in such a way that its enjoyment may overflow into the body, as far as this is possible: ST 2-1.4.5 ad 4.

Some people attribute Christ's Ascension to the glorified soul itself, whose overflow glorifies the body, as Augustine suggests (Ep. ad Dioscor. cxviii); but as the body is made glorious by participating the soul, so the soul is made glorious by participating God, and thus divine power is the first cause of the Ascension: ST 3.57.3.

Paul's vision of God in the third heaven did not beatify him so as to overflow his body, but only incidentally: ST 2-2.175.3 ad 2.

By divine ordinance, glory overflows from the soul to the body according to merit, so that as we merit by acts of the soul in the body, we are rewarded by the glory of the soul overflowing the body: ST 3.19.3 ad 3. Our bodies are unable to enjoy God by directly knowing and loving Him, but it is through bodily acts that we attain to knowledge of God; so that the enjoyment of the soul overflows into the body with a 'flush of health and incorruption', as Augustine says: ST 2-2.25.5 ad 2. Charity extends to that from which happiness flows, namely, God, and to that which directly perceives happiness, namely, men and angels, and to that to which happiness comes by a kind of overflow, namely, the body: ST 2-2.25.12. Friendship based on full participation in happiness, as with love of neighbor, is a greater reason for love than that based on happiness by overflow, as with love of our own body: ST 2-2.26.5.

The clarity of the soul overflows the glorified body by way of a permanent quality: ST 3.45.2.


There are many other passages that could be added. Interestingly, Aquinas does not seem to apply the concept in the one situation in which modern Catholics are likely to come across it ever being applied: the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. Unction is a sacramental preparation of the soul. Historically it has been associated with all sorts of healings and recoveries, but these have not generally been considered miracles in the proper sense; rather, they are understood as being the result of overflow: as we take courage and consolation from the sacrament, this allows our body to rally, at least temporarily, by taking part in the mental surge and comfort. It is, as we would say, 'psychosomatic'. That it should be understood in this way is unsurprising, I think. First, because all the sacraments and sacramentals involving oil indicate, by the very use of oil, that some kind of overflow is expected or asked for. And second, and most importantly, all the major sacraments are associated with some major aspect of Church doctrine (Baptism with the Trinity, Eucharist with the Incarnation, Matrimony with the Church, and so forth); the aspect of Church doctrine with which Unction is associated is the Resurrection of the Dead and the Life of the World to Come. So the oil is a sign of the overflow of grace into the soul through Christ our Head, which may and sometimes does overflow the body, because strength and consolation of mind are already capable of overflowing the body; and this all is itself a sign of the overflow of glory from God to the soul to the resurrected body in the life to come.

Aquinas, as I said, doesn't see this connection (although we have to keep in mind that we never get his final account, since it would have been in the part of the Summa that was never finished). What he says is entirely consistent with it, but his actual account focuses on an analogy with the sacrament of Baptism (Baptism is to the internal as Unction is to the external), and not on the overflow which later Catholics came to recognize in it, and which has occasionally been noted in various versions of the rite. (It would be interesting to look at the history of this development.)

Through Mist and Darkness, Light Will Break

Extreme Unction
by Ernest Dowson

Upon the eyes, the lips, the feet,
On all the passages of sense,
The atoning oil is spread with sweet
Renewal of lost innocence.

The feet, that lately ran so fast
To meet desire, are soothly sealed;
The eyes, that were so often cast
On vanity, are touched and healed.

From troublous sights and sounds set free;
In such a twilight hour of breath,
Shall one retrace his life, or see,
Through shadows, the true face of death?

Vials of mercy! Sacring oils!
I know not where nor when I come,
Nor through what wanderings and toils,
To crave of you Viaticum.

Yet, when the walls of flesh grow weak,
In such an hour, it well may be,
Through mist and darkness, light will break,
And each anointed sense will see.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Gentleman Saint

Today was the feast of St. Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church. From his most popular work, Introduction to the Devout Life:

... all true and living devotion presupposes the love of God;—and indeed it is neither more nor less than a very real love of God, though not always of the same kind; for that Love while shining on the soul we call grace, which makes us acceptable to His Divine Majesty;—when it strengthens us to do well, it is called Charity;—but when it attains its fullest perfection, in which it not only leads us to do well, but to act carefully, diligently, and promptly, then it is called Devotion. The ostrich never flies,—the hen rises with difficulty, and achieves but a brief and rare flight, but the eagle, the dove, and the swallow, are continually on the wing, and soar high;—even so sinners do not rise towards God, for all their movements are earthly and earthbound. Well-meaning people, who have not as yet attained a true devotion, attempt a manner of flight by means of their good actions, but rarely, slowly and heavily; while really devout men rise up to God frequently, and with a swift and soaring wing. In short, devotion is simply a spiritual activity and liveliness by means of which Divine Love works in us, and causes us to work briskly and lovingly; and just as charity leads us to a general practice of all God’s Commandments, so devotion leads us to practise them readily and diligently.

St. Francis did a great many great things, but he had a somewhat rocky start. He was a good-looking young man with great hair, long and thick and blond, and, despite thinking he had a vocation, and having renounced his title of Lord of Villaroget for it, he had so much difficulty with the fact that he would have to take a tonsure, he almost didn't go through with it. Fortunately, he did, and began to light up like a fire -- a necessary thing, because his first assignment was Geneva and the surrounding area, a very dangerous post as Geneva was Calvinist, and he set out, in his words, to tear down the walls of Geneva with charity. Geneva itself, of course, was completely closed to him. The Catholics were scattered and difficult to reach, and non-Catholics wouldn't even talk to him, so he launched a campaign of tracts, which is why he's patron saint of journalists. He had to survive a few assassination attempts, but people began to warm up to him. And perhaps more importantly for the broader church, it taught him an extraordinary patience and courtesy even with his avowed enemies and a sense of how to communicate with ordinary people struggling to make their way.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018)

Ursula K. Le Guin died on January 22. From her novel, The Other Wind:

Irian spoke: "Men fear death as dragons do not. Men want to own life, possess it, as if it were a jewel in a box. Those ancient mages craved everlasting life. They learned to use true names to keep men from dying. But those who cannot die can never be reborn."

[Ursula K. Le Guin, The Other Wind, Harcourt, Inc. (New York: 2001) pp. 225-226.]

Trahison des évêques

If true, this is utterly short-sighted and treacherous behavior:

The Holy See has reportedly asked two Chinese bishops to stand aside to make way for illicitly ordained, Chinese government-backed counterparts.

A Vatican delegation asked Bishop Peter Zhuang of Shantou and Bishop Jospeh Guo Xijin of Mindong to retire or accept demotion in order to smooth relations with the Chinese government.

Asia News, the outlet of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, reports that 88-year-old Bishop Zhuang received a letter dated 26 October asking him to resign to make way for the government-backed Bishop Huang Bingzhang.

There is nothing the Holy See could possibly gain from this that would be worth the harm that would come from this, and no feasible goal that the Holy See could have that would make the harm worthwhile. The Curia these days talks a lot about the margins; the people this would betray are nothing other than Catholics at the margins, faithful Catholics making sacrifices under a persecuting regime. It is a practically enraging malfeasance. I hope that there is some confusion somewhere in the reporting. Unfortunately, the Curia has a centuries-old reputation for doing short-sighted well, so I fear that this is all too in-character. God save us all from stupid and cowardly bishops. The Catholic Church in China has endured unimaginable interference and attack; it can survive it all, but the idea of treachery from within makes one tremble for it.

In any case, it will bear watching and praying; and it is not as if this is the first time we have been here.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Destroying Basic Goods

A while back there was some discussion at "Public Discourse" of whether the New Natural Law argument against capital punishment is viable. Christopher Tollefsen summarizes it:

Here is the basic argument: (A) human life is a basic, and not merely an instrumental, good for human persons; (B) no instance of a basic good should ever be destroyed as an end or a means; (C) capital punishment does destroy an instance of the basic human good of human life as a means; therefore (D) no one should ever perform capital punishment upon another human being.

Michael Pakaluk argues that this argument overshoots and Tollefsen replies:

Pakaluk worries that the pluralism of the basic goods approach commits it to too many moral absolutes. After all, if play and aesthetic experience are basic goods, then there should be no intentional damage or destruction of those goods. I think this is correct: to intend damage or destruction of a basic good is to seek its privation as an end or a means. It would be wrong to seek the privation of either of these goods as an end: depriving the world of play or beauty for its own sake is perverse. And I think it wrong to intend such privations as a means as well.

But a moment’s reflection shows that this view does not have the implications discovered by Pakaluk, who infers that a “police officer can no more stop the loud trumpeter from playing outside my window at night, it seems, than society can execute a murderer.” Well, what does the police officer seek to stop? Trumpets and trumpet playing? I doubt it. He seeks to stop untimely and unwelcome noise, and he accepts as a side effect that some musical enjoyment may be thwarted.

This argument, however, seems clearly to fail as a response. It can be granted, for it is surely right, that the basic goods identified by New Natural Law theorists are such that practical reason obligates us not to destroy them, as such. So, for instance, play is a basic good; trying to destroy the possibility for play, as such, or acting in such a way that is inconsistent with play, simpliciter, is morally wrong. But this is not relevant. When people argue in favor of the death penalty, they are not arguing in favor of the elimination of human life, as such; capital punishment is not an attempt to cause the extinction of the human race. Nor are proponents of capital punishment generally arguing that we should act in a way that is inimical to human life as such; a significant number of arguments for its legitimacy are arguments precisely that it is not necessarily such an act. Depriving the world of human life for its own sake would indeed be perverse, but this is not relevant, because (B) is not about the basic goods themselves but about particular instances. And it is not Pakaluk's argument that the excess of moral absolutes occurs at the general level.

When we are talking about the death penalty, we are not talking about human life as such, but an instance of human life; we are not dealing with the basic good per se but in one of its instances. And this is the point of Pakaluk's argument. Play is basic good. But stopping an instance of play is not in and of itself immoral. Principle (B) fails if it is understood as implying that it is always wrong to stop people playing. If children are playing a rowdy game, an instance of play, at a funeral, it is perfectly morally acceptable to make them stop playing. Indeed, arguably, it might not be morally acceptable to let them keep playing. Play is a basic good; it is not an unlimited good such that instances of it must be allowed no matter what the circumstances. What the police officer in the example seeks to stop in Pakaluk's example is quite clearly an instance of a basic good (either play or aesthetic experience, depending on how things go down). This is straightforwardly inconsistent with (B). Nor does it in this case make any sense whatsoever to say that the policeman merely "accepts as a side effect that some musical enjoyment may be thwarted"; he is directly thwarting it himself, as a means to stopping the noise. It's a violation of (B), destroying an instance of a basic good as a means; but it is obviously not immoral. (B) thus fails. It is not sufficiently precise to render the kind of conclusion that it is supposed to render.

The problem here reminds me of the old distinction between perfect and imperfect duties. (B) requires that any destruction of any instance of any basic good is a violation of a perfect duty. But a basic good like play obviously is not taken by practical reason to require the protection of perfect duties with respect to its instances; nobody takes it as doing so. Reason attributes imperfect duties to it -- play must be upheld as good, and given circumstances this will require things of us in particular instances, but no one is prohibited no matter what from shutting down instances of play. The same is obviously true of aesthetic experience; it is obviously true of sociability. To argue that it is not true of human life as a basic good requires arguing that reason handles the good of human life differently from the way it handles the good of aesthetic experience or play or sociability. If something like (B) applies in the case of human life, it is not due to the bare fact that human life is a basic good.

ADDED LATER: Here is a point that I think is relevant to the above, although it is distinct. No good generates an obligation unless it belongs to common good for some kind of complete society (a state, the Church, the human race). A primary problem with (B) seems to me to be a failure to recognize the link between obligation and common good. Not every instance of a basic good is shared in common so as to unite a community; such instances can involve no obligation of the kind (B) suggests, although they may involve default presumptions as to what is reasonable or not, worthwhile or not, and so forth. Since it lacks any recognition of common good as essential to any adequate account of obligation, (B) is inevitably going to be defective.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Lamb of the Lamb

A Poem of St. Agnes

The little lambs on heaven's field
remind me of a girl who fought
against the darkness, for the fair,
whose heart was free from trembling fear,
who would not falter, did not fail,
but held her ground against the foe.
"I faithful stay to Spouse and Friend,
my Jesus; I am truly free
with him," she said, her voice not faint.
And then she bent her head, with faith
exposed her neck. The death-stroke fell.

Agnes and Emerentiana

The world in rage will not endure
a girl who hears a higher call;
to blood it turns a prayer pure
and destines her to velvet pall.
And should a girl on girl depend
to keep her image to the end,
the world will hate as well her friend,
for friendship is the purest art.
It hates the pure -- such will not bend,
through grace transcending scripted part.
Then sword will fall, or stones descend --
they die unconquered, pure of heart.