Saturday, August 04, 2018

Curé d'Ars

The French Revolution involved a massive attack on the Catholic Church. Churches were seized, Masses were made illegal, the very calendar was changed, in an attempt to stamp out Catholic influence entirely. It was remarkably effective. When the Church was restored by Napoleon in 1801, it was in tatters. It was into this mess that the life of Jean Vianney fell. Vianney himself was fortunate; his family had attended illegal Masses in secret and he had been properly catechized, again in secret. When he became a priest in town of Ars, he found an entire countryside of people who considered themselves Catholic but did not know anything about it. People who had not been to church in several decades. An entire generation who had learned literally nothing about it, having never been to church and rarely even told about it. Vianney, a quiet and retiring man by nature, had to stir himself to activity: fiery sermons, traveling around the parish hearing confessions for sometimes sixteen hours a day, hunting down every single parishioner in the parish in order to discuss the faith with them. He became highly respected by the parish, particularly for his good advice in the confessional, and then by parishioners in the surrounding parish. People came for miles and miles to hear the curé from Ars, and especially to go to confession. Then they went back and told their friends and family, and their friends and family came.

The irony of it all is that St. Jean Vianney hated being parish priest. He wanted to live a life of quiet and calm, and there was no quiet and calm in being the priest of a parish that had to be resewn from shreds. He wanted to be a holy man, and was convinced it was almost impossible for a parish priest to become a saint. He literally tried to run away to a monastery several times; his parishioners in each case found him and brought him back. And people from all over Europe sought him out, until he could almost never get out of the confessional. He always wanted to leave, and never had a chance to do so, until he died, still a parish priest in Ars, on August 4, 1859. He was beatified by Pope Pius X, and canonized by Pope Pius XI.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

CCC 2267

The Catechism recently was revised to make a stronger claim about the death penalty. The original stated:

2267 Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent."

The revision states:

2267. Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”,[1] and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.

The revision is quite frankly awfully written for catechetical purposes; for instance, what "new understanding" has emerged about the "significance of penal sanctions"? It's certainly not given here. The purpose of a catechism is to facilitate teaching, and this sort of useless vagueness is worthless for that. There is a letter, however, that gives some further explanation:

7. The new revision of number 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, approved by Pope Francis, situates itself in continuity with the preceding Magisterium while bringing forth a coherent development of Catholic doctrine.[12] The new text, following the footsteps of the teaching of John Paul II in Evangelium vitæ, affirms that ending the life of a criminal as punishment for a crime is inadmissible because it attacks the dignity of the person, a dignity that is not lost even after having committed the most serious crimes. This conclusion is reached taking into account the new understanding of penal sanctions applied by the modern State, which should be oriented above all to the rehabilitation and social reintegration of the criminal. Finally, given that modern society possesses more efficient detention systems, the death penalty becomes unnecessary as protection for the life of innocent people. Certainly, it remains the duty of public authorities to defend the life of citizens, as has always been taught by the Magisterium and is confirmed by the Catechism of the Catholic Church in numbers 2265 and 2266.

8. All of this shows that the new formulation of number 2267 of the Catechism expresses an authentic development of doctrine that is not in contradiction with the prior teachings of the Magisterium. These teachings, in fact, can be explained in the light of the primary responsibility of the public authority to protect the common good in a social context in which the penal sanctions were understood differently, and had developed in an environment in which it was more difficult to guarantee that the criminal could not repeat his crime.

(Why didn't they just put the "rehabilitation and social integration" part into the revision itself?)

This shows, I think, a problem with a great deal of recent episcopal teaching on morals, that it fails to make clear distinctions between claims based on strict requirement, claims based on moral safety, claims based on general expectation, and claims based on evangelical ideals. When, for instance, it is said that something is inadmissible, does that mean that it is wrong simply speaking, that it is morally unsafe (strictly speaking permissible, but involving too much risk of violation of moral principle), that it is only rarely permissible and under circumstances that very few people will have to deal with, or that while permissible it is something we as Christians should strive to rise above and (possibly) strive to help others rise above, as well? It matters, and bishops are horribly bad at clarifying these things -- one unfortunately suspects because they want the ambiguity so that they can advance or retreat as is convenient for them. We see this in very problematic form here:

(1) The claim, "it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person", would normally be read by most people as directly implying that it is simply morally wrong, by universal moral obligation.

(2) The claim that the Church teaches the inadmissibility of the death penalty "in the light of the Gospel" would normally be read by most people as implying that it is something depending on specifically Christian teaching.

(3) John Paul II's argument in Evangelium vitae is most straightforwardly read as saying that the death penalty is permissible, but only under conditions that are rare and have become so rare in the modern world that the death penalty is certainly morally unsafe. Not only does the letter reaffirm Evangelium vitae, it gives this argument explicitly.

If the letter is taken at face value, the revision is a Red Queen's Race: the CDF is running very hard to stay in the same place. It does make the section in the CCC, itself a clunky and not entirely clear summary of Evangelium vitae, more explicitly against the death penalty, but it is justified on the same basis that the original section was, and doesn't actually provide a better summary of that argument. If anything, it's more likely to cause confusion as people puzzle over the completely unhelpful explanation in the section itself.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

St. Alphonsus Liguori

Today is the feast of St. Alphonsus Maria Liguori, CSsR, Doctor of the Church. From his work, Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ:

Whoever desires to love Jesus Christ with his whole heart must banish from his heart all that is not God, but is merely self-love....And this is what God requires of us all, when he says, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart. Two things are needful to love God with our whole heart: 1. To clear it of earth. 2. To fill it with holy love. It follows, that a heart in which any earthly affections linger can never belong wholly to God....In the next place, how must the earth be purged away form the heart? Truly by mortification and detachment from creatures. Some souls complain that they seek God, and do not find him; let them listen to what St. Teresa says: "Wean your heart from creatures, and seek God, and you will find him."

The mistake is, that some indeed wish to become saints, but after their own fashion; they would love Jesus Christ, but in their own way, without forsaking those diversions, that vanity of dress, those delicacies in food: they love God, but if they do not succeed in obtaining such-and-such office, they live discontented; if, too, they happen to be touched in a point of esteem, they are all on fire; if they do not recover from an illness, they lose all patience. They love God; but they refuse to let go that attachment for the riches, the honors of the world, for the vainglory of being reckoned of good family, of great learning, and better than others. Such as these practise prayer, and frequent Holy Communion; but inasmuch as they take with them hearts full of earth, they derive little profit. Our Lord does not even speak to them, for he knows that it is but a waste of words....

A Quick Trip to Scotland, Miscellanea IV


Glamis Castle

Scone Palace

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

And Thou Hast Looked on It at Last

Modern Elfland
By G. K. Chesterton

I cut a staff in a churchyard copse,
I clad myself in ragged things,
I set a feather in my cap
That fell out of an angel’s wings.

I filled my wallet with white stones,
I took three foxgloves in my hand,
I slung my shoes across my back,
And so I went to fairyland.

But lo, within that ancient place
Science had reared her iron crown,
And the great cloud of steam went up
That telleth where she takes a town.

But cowled with smoke and starred with lamps,
That strange land’s light was still its own;
The word that witched the woods and hills
Spoke in the iron and the stone.

Not Nature’s hand had ever curved
That mute unearthly porter’s spine.
Like sleeping dragon’s sudden eyes
The signals leered along the line.

The chimneys thronging crooked or straight
Were fingers signalling the sky;
The dog that strayed across the street
Seemed four-legged by monstrosity.

‘In vain,’ I cried, ‘though you too touch
The new time’s desecrating hand,
Through all the noises of a town
I hear the heart of fairyland.’

I read the name above a door,
Then through my spirit pealed and passed:
‘This is the town of thine own home,
And thou hast looked on it at last.’

Monday, July 30, 2018

Voyages Extraordinaires #17: Un capitaine de quinze ans

On the 2nd of February, 1873, the "Pilgrim," a tight little craft of 400 tons burden, lay in lat. 43° 57', S. and long. 165° 19', W. She was a schooner, the property of James W. Weldon, a wealthy Californian ship-owner who had fitted her out at San Francisco, expressly for the whale fisheries in the southern seas.

James Weldon was accustomed every season to send his whalers both to the Arctic regions beyond Bchring Straits, and to the Antarctic Ocean below Tasmania and Cape Horn; and the "Pilgrim," although one of the smallest, was one of the best-going vessels of its class; her sailing powers were splendid, and her rigging was so adroitly adapted that with a very small crew she might venture without risk within sight of the impenetrable ice-fields of the southern hemisphere: under skilful guidance she could dauntlessly thread her way amongst the drifting ice-bergs that, lessened though they were by perpetual shocks and undermined by warm currents, made their way northwards as far as the parallel of New Zealand or the Cape of Good Hope, to a latitude corresponding to which in the northern hemisphere they are never seen, having already melted away in the depths of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Dick Sands (sometimes Dick Sand), fifteen years old, serves on the Pilgrim, a whaling ship. They haven't had much success recently, so they are heading home. Mrs. Weldon, the wife of the owner, requests passage home, and of course receives it. With her comes her little boy Jack, his nanny Nan, and Cousin Benedict, who is an amateur entomologist. Coming across a shipwreck, they pick up four black survivors (Tom, Acteon, Austin, Bat, and Hercules) and a lively dog named Dingo, who has a puzzling habit of taking Jack's blocks and repeatedly spelling out SV. Dingo also shows a violent dislike for the Portuguese cook, Negoro, which is strange, because the dog is extremely friendly with everyone else. A freak whaling accident wipes out all of the crew except Dick and Negoro, and Dick must try to get Mrs. Weldon and the others home, despite his inexperience. The journey takes them to Africa to face the evils of the slave trade, and only Dick's quick thinking -- with some ingenious help at times from both Hercules and Dingo -- will get them through. It is a trip to try the mettle of Dick Sands, the Boy Captain. The book starts out slowly but has some excellent parts in the second half.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Sacramentalia and Deeming

H. E. Baber has a fairly well-known paper, Eucharist: Metaphysical Miracle or Institutional Fact?, in which she proposes an account of real presence in the Eucharist. The background for it can be found in Michael Dummett's speculations on transubstantiation, which are flawed in a number of ways (to take just one example, he fails to grasp that Aquinas does not hold that the Body of Christ is indistinguishable from bread, because the former has a much wider range of effects than bread could possibly have; they are indistinguishable in sensible appearance, but the senses on their own never tell us what things are, but only what they apparently are); but Baber goes an interesting direction, arguing that the real presence is an 'institutional fact'. As she notes, this is a version of 'transignification'. If we have a bit of metal, what makes it money? We collectively take it to be so, and what this means is that we have a set of 'deontic powers' that we collectively recognize as belonging to it. And, of course, it is true, not fiction, that it is money; anyone who denied that a penny was money on the ground that it was visibly just a bit of metal would be wrong. Similarly, if I point to some mountains and say, "There's Canada," it would be a sign of stupidity to respond that it was obviously just some mountains. This is usually said, following Searle, to be caused by 'declaration', although I think it's often a misleading word, since to cover all of the things that it would have to, it would have to cover some radically different kinds of actions. But Baber's view, using the term, is that the Church declares individuals to have the authority to declare bread and wine the Body and the Blood, and such a declaration is consecration.

This makes plenty of sense as an Episcopalian account; it is, of course, radically inadequate for a Catholic account, since it does not give a very convincing account of the Fourth Lateran, "we receive from God what he received from us" (it only connects to the Incarnation by representation), nor the Tridentine "our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and man, is truly, really, and substantially contained under the species of those sensible things" (it only gives the 'truly' -- Baber doesn't make a distinction between true presence and real presence, but what she describes would only be the former from the Catholic perspective), and makes no sense of the Catholic notion that Christ is both Priest and Sacrifice -- that is, it has to be Christ, not the Church, that is the principal agent. And, of course, it's a deliberate attempt to give a purely non-transubstantial account, which would make it a general nonstarter for Catholics from the get-go.

But this is, again, because it's broadly Episcopalian and such accounts of sacraments inevitably involve a weak notion of sacrament. But the account actually works fairly well for certain sacramentals.

Sacramentalia, or sacramentals, are very diverse. They can be called 'minor sacraments' (and indeed I often think that this is less misleading when one is considering the history of sacramental theology), for the same reason that they are called 'sacramentals' -- because, as the CCC says, they "bear a resemblance to the sacraments" (CCC 1667). They only bear a resemblance, however; they are sacred signs, but instead of operating by direct action of Christ the High Priest, they work as part of the intercessory prayer of the Church. Blessings, consecrations, and exorcisms are the most basic kinds, but by extension we include the objects that prayed with -- as the catechetical saying goes, Protestants pray with words, Catholics pray with words and things. Holy water is holy water because it is part of the prayer of the Church; the whole Church is praying with it. A 'deontic powers' approach, sometimes also called a 'deeming approach', works quite well here.

In talking about the effects of sacraments and sacramentals, Aquinas at one point makes a distinction between three ways in which things can be involved in the remission of venial sin:

(1) by infusion of grace
(2) by disposing the soul to repentance
(3) by being a movement of reverence to God

The major sacraments are examples of (1). The examples Aquinas gives for (2) are general confesson (i.e., not the sacrament), beating one's breast in the Confiteor, and saying the Lord's prayer. Examples he gives for (3) are "a bishop's blessing, the sprinkling of holy water, any sacramental anointing, a prayer said in a dedicated church". I would suggest that we can see cases of (1) as being cases in which God acts as principal agent; they are cases of divine deeming, but 'deeming' on its own is not an adequate account of what God does in them, because they are active instruments of divine grace. Cases of (3) involve deeming by the Church in its general prayer to God. Water then becomes part of the prayer of the Church in much the same way sound does, by being deemed a sign as part of a prayer, and has its effects by way of being part of that prayer, just as sound does. And cases of (2) are cases in which the agent of deeming is the individual. Indeed, thinking in this way shows exactly how the sacramentals work: the holy water is part of the prayer of the Church and by crossing oneself with it you are deeming the holy water part of your prayer in particular, as well. This fits, first, with the way the Church talks about these things; secpnd, it fits standard theological accounts, like that of Aquinas; and third, it makes sense of the actual practice of sacramentals, and in particular, the way in which their use is not merely individual but both individual and communal, in a way that makes sense of what the Church says about their importance for devotion.

One complication is that while it makes perfect sense to talk about consecrations and blessings as deemings, it's not the bare deeming that is actually emphasized, but the particular kind of agency by which it is done. The Catholic view of sacramentals is not a view (like that which Baber seems to be assuming) that we, as a community, all have, for whatever reason, the convention that rosaries under certain conditions are blessed. The collective agency relevant to the Catholic minor sacraments is for the Catholic intimately and necessarily tied to the major sacraments, and blessings and the like depend not merely on convention but on sacramental character, by which we are assimilated to Christ through baptism, confirmation, or ordination. They are priestly deemings or designations by one who is sacramentally united to the person of Christ and to the whole Church already, and deems or designates by virtue of that fact. "Sacramentals derive from the baptismal priesthood" and "the more a blessing concerns ecclesial and sacramental life, the more is its administration reserved to the ordained ministry" (CCC 1669).

Rex Perpetuus Norvegiae

Today is the memorial for King St. Olaf II Haraldsson. He was born in Ringerike in Norway in the eleventh century and became king, of course, but it's difficult to pin down much of his life because his accomplishments were often confused with those of other kings.

St. Olaf was in one sense a failure as a king, but part of this was that he devoted his reign to a very ambitious cause, namely, the unification of the Norse kingdoms. In his early sojourns, he ended up staying for a while with Norman allies and was baptized as a Christian. Afterward, he declared his intentions and pulled together an alliance of various petty kingdoms that then set out to seize the main power bases of Norse politics, with some success. After preliminary fighting established that neither could be certain of gaining the upper hand, he made peace with King Olof Skötkonung of Sweden, and married his daughter; he continued the alliance with Olof's son, Alund Jacob. So far, so good. But it was downhill from there, because neither Norway nor Sweden was the most powerful military force in the region. Denmark was, and they happened to have the good fortune of a leader who was a military juggernaut, King Cnut (or Canute) the Great. Up to this point, the Danes hadn't been much involved because they had been successfully invading England, but now Cnut had the time to give his attention to this potential threat. Allied Sweden-Norwegian forces were given a serious defeat at the Battle of Helgeå; they had an excellent tactical plan that was carried off successfully, but Cnut showed up with a navy more massive than any that had ever before existed in Scandinavia, and their best effort could only barely make dent in it. Cnut invaded and, Olaf, who had not done as much consolidation as he needed, was betrayed by a number of his noblemen, and was forced to flee to Kievan Rus, which was also part of the Scandinavian-ruled realms at the time. He wandered around for a few years and then attempted to make comeback in 1030. It was a well chosen moment, but he died in the attempt, although we're not certain how. The tradition is that he died at the Battle of Stiklestad due to yet another overwhelming Danish force; early sources say instead that he was either ambushed or murdered by one of his nobles. He was buried in Nidaros, although we no longer know the exact location because the Lutherans destroyed all traces of it. A year later he was given local canonization by Bishop Grimkell, and in 1164 he was raised to the universal calendar by Pope Alexander III.