Saturday, November 24, 2018

Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman


Opening Passage:

Not everybody knows how I killed old Phillip Mathers, smashing his jaw in with my spade; but first it is better to speak of my friendship with John Divney because it was he who first knocked old Mathers down by giving him a great blow in the neck with a special bicycle-pump which he manufactured himself out of a hollow iron bar. Divney was a strong civil man but he was lazy and idle-minded. He was personally responsible for the whole idea in the first place. It was he who told me to bring my spade. He was the one who gave the orders on the occasion and also the explanations when they were called for. (p. 7)

Summary: What human craving desires is infinite, and also empty.

The narrator, whose name we never learn because he has forgotten it himself, is a man with a wooden leg who was involved in a murder scheme to steal old Mathers's savings. He is a scholar, an obsessive student of the works of a quack, crank, and kook named de Selby, who claims among many other things that journeys are hallucinations and that night is the result of the accumulation of unsanitary black air, which causes sleep as a sort of miniature stroke. The narrator has spent years writing a book which he regards as a new stage in de Selby scholarship, but he does not have the money to prepare it for publication. Divney, however, hides the box of money, and only with reluctance does he let the narrator know the location.

This is all the straight story, although given that almost the narrator's first act is to blame Divney for everything, it's unclear how much of this is true and how much of it is self-deception. When the narrator attempts to retrieve the box, however, which Divney says is hidden under the floorboards of old Mathers's house, the entire world seems to alter; his senses are confused, and afterward everything seems more vivid and clear. He cannot find the box, but he does find old Mathers, who tells him that the police barracks is nearby. The narrator, obsessed with finding the box, decides to go to the police to get their help in finding it. He also discovers that he has a soul, which he decides to call Joe. In the police barracks -- a strange building that at first looks flat -- he finds Sergeant Pluck and Policeman MacCruiskeen, whose words and actions make no sense and who are obsessed with bicycles. He learns of a mysterious third policeman, Fox, and discovers that his box contains not cash but omnium, an all-powerful substance that can give you whatever you please. He learns certain important facts about himself -- and does not learn them, because he forgets them.

After O'Brien failed to find an Irish publisher who was interested in the manuscript, he tried shopping it around in America, using a different title: Hell Goes Round and Round, and indeed, the novel is one of the best literary depictions of hell in modern times: the loss of reason, the evasion of reality, the obsessive devotion to things that don't matter, the smallness of concern, the mindless, self-excusing repetitiveness and self-imposed forgetfulness of a person destined for hell. That makes it sound very serious and dry, but while the novel captures all of it perfectly, it is a comic novel, and quite zanily fun. When I first read the novel, years and years ago, the absurdities of de Selby, hammering noisily in order to burst the atomic air-balloons to clear out unhealthy air, tickled me. Now that I'm an academic, the absurdities of de Selby's commentators were even more hilarious -- they are extreme, but they are extreme versions of the nonsensical behavior and catty reputation-games you actually get among academics. The policemen and their bicycles never get old. Yet for all the jokes the story itself is interesting and the psychological insight that underlies all the incoherence and absurdity -- that someone in desiring something may forget himself and even what he desires, so that he is left desiring only whatnot (a synonym for omnium)-- is sound.

Favorite Passage: There are many great passages, but it is hard to beat some of the conversations of the narrator with Sergeant Pluck.

'It would be no harm if you filled up these forms,' he said. 'Tell me,' he continued, 'would it be true that you are an itinerant dentist and that you came on a tricycle?'

'It would not,' I replied.

'On a patent tandem?'


'Dentists are an unpredictable coterie of people,' he said. 'Do you tell me it was a velocipede or a penny-farthing?'

'I do not,' I said evenly. He gave me a long searching look as if to see whether I was serious in what I was saying, again wrinkling up his brow.

'Then maybe you are no dentist at all,' he said, 'but only a man after a dog license or papers for a bull?'

'I did not say I was a dentist,' I said sharply, 'and I did not say anything about a bull.'

The Sergeant looked at me incredulously.

'That is a great curiosity,' he said, 'a very difficult piece of puzzledom, a snorter.' (pp. 55-56)

Recommendation: Highly Recommended. As I've said before, this is my favorite postmodern novel, by far.

Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman, Dalkey Archive Press (Chicago: 2002).

Friday, November 23, 2018

Clemens Romanus

In old papal lists, Clement of Rome (who traditionally was thought to be the Clement mentioned by Paul in Philippians 4:3) is sometimes placed second bishop of Rome after Peter, sometimes third after Linus (who traditionally was thought to be the Linus mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:21), and sometimes fourth after Linus and Anacletus. St. Irenaeus's list, which is the earliest explicit list we have is the of the last kind:

The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric.

Tertullian is often taken to imply that Clement was Peter's immediate successor, but Tertullian is sometimes a bit loose on historical matters and it's very possible that he didn't intend to imply anything quite so specific. Virtually everyone else takes Linus (who most take to have been consecrated by Peter, but the Apostolic Constitutions seems to regard as having been consecrated by Paul) to be Peter's immediate successor. The very influential (but late) Liber Pontificalis seems to me to suggest that Peter consecrated Linus, Anacletus, and Clement as bishops, but gave them different roles, perhaps with Linus and Anacletus being primarily concerned with the actual community at Rome and Clement being entrusted also with the relations between Rome and other sees. That, if true, would explain any confusion -- other sees would have known Clement, but may have been hazy about how the other two fit into the picture. But the Liber Pontificalis is somewhat obscure and muddled (it also treats Clement as Peter's immediate successor), so it's unclear how much weight it should be given in the earliest cases. There's a lot we don't know about how the early Roman church was organized, so we may just be missing a piece.

In any case, most lists put the order as Peter, Linus, Anacletus, Clement, and everyone holds Clement to have been consecrated by Peter. According to tradition, Clement was martyred under the Emperor Trajan, and today is his feast.

From his letter to the Corinthians (Chapter 42):

Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus says the Scripture in a certain place, "I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith."

Thursday, November 22, 2018

A Poem Re-Draft and a New Poem Draft

I hope everyone in the U.S. had an excellent Thanksgiving. My turkey (with apple and onion stuffing) came out perfect this year. People often disparage turkey, but they are generally disparaging its strength -- even done badly, turkey is usually still OK. But when it is done well, it is splendid among birds.

A Bit of Thanksgiving

I thank you, Lord, for fruitful fields,
for wide and healthful skies,
and for the hopes that we can have
that are not marred by lies.
And thank you, God, for mysteries
still left for us to solve
upon this awesome floating ball
that rotates and revolves.

I thank you, Lord, for cheerful sun
that rises every dawn,
and that my students learn to hide
the sound and sight of yawn,
that education is a joy
that overflows with awe,
and, on those crazy grading days,
that there are murder laws.

Thank you, Lord, for infant smiles
and children bright at play;
thank you for the silly souls
who annoy us every day.
(We appreciate those most, O Lord,
those crosses that we bear;
we thank you that we're not yet bald
from pulling out our hair.)

I thank you, Lord, for mercy
that rescues from the brink
and thank you, Lord, for righteous wrath --
we need more of it, I think.
But thank you for all gentle souls
who always tempers keep;
protect them, Lord, from the rest of us,
lest we kill them in their sleep.

I thank you that we live here free
in houses without bars,
that there are things that we can own,
that no one owns the stars,
that joy and virtue freely flow
without a market price
while we have markets fully full
of grain and fruit and spice.

I thank you, Lord, for politics,
for presidents and such,
that they work so hard to get their way,
that they never get it much;
yea, for the limits you have placed
on corruption, fraud, and spite,
that we never have to deal with them
save a dozen times each night.

Thank you, Lord, for critics harsh
who sting with whip and flail;
because of harsh reviewers,
I thank you, Lord, for hell.
And thank you, Lord, for stupid folk,
so we can clearly see
in blatant view the foolish things
from which none of us are free.

And thank you for those shocking times
when we pedants who lecture all
on every foolish folly
into those follies fall,
for it teaches us the wisdom
of gentleness and restraint
lest we in turn be painted
with the brush by which we paint.

Thank your for your graces,
the good of little things,
which even in the hardest times
can make us laugh and sing.
And thank you for all wonders
that stimulate the mind --
no matter the occasion,
new truths our minds may find.

And thank you for each wedding,
and thank you for the tie
that binds a family into one,
though scattered under sky.
I thank you, Lord, for honest folk,
for workers hard and sure,
without which all the world would fall;
may all their kind endure.

But I thank you most for follies--
they overflow the bank
so if I thank you for each one,
I'll never cease to thank!
And thank you for sweet irony;
it gives the wit to see
that all the things we moan about
may be thanksgiving's seed.

But most of all, I thank you, Lord,
that long before we die,
we can see ourselves with wry regard,
and laugh until we cry.

C. S. Peirce

Upon the empty page the pen
With reason writes, dividing thought;
As in life, line cancels line,
Breaking borders, erasing bounds;
And you, the pen, on truth's white page
The universal seize by sign,
By cunning, laws from cases catch,
And muse that meaning may be found.
By practice mind may make the world:
By love and chance the world is wrought.

The Horn of Plenty Has Been Opened Wide

by Clara Ophelia Bland

The seasons in their changes rest the heart,
November now is speaking to my soul,
Calling it from worldly ways apart
To spend some holy moments, 'ere they roll
Backward to Time's ocean, oh! so vast!
Leaves of woodland rustle o'er my head,
Outward is the golden grain amassed
Which shall yield the winter's bread.
The quiet scene of beauty brings sweet peace,
The horn of plenty has been opened wide.
A thought within my heart knows no surcease,
Casting sensuous things of earth aside.
Since Christ died, the cause for thankfulness has been,
That His redeeming blood can wash away all sin.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Accounts of Analogical Inference

I've previously noted that you can divide accounts of analogical inference according to their answers to two questions:

(1) Can good analogical inferences oppose each other?

(2) Must analogies meet some condition beyond real resemblance in order to be good?

I've suggested that we can call positions that answer Yes to the first question 'inclusivist', with 'exclusivist' for the No position, and that we can call positions that answer Yes to the second condition 'restrictivist', with 'generalist' for the No position. This gives us four combinations:

inclusivist restrictivist
inclusivist generalist
exclusivist restrictivist
exclusivist generalist

However, as I've also noted previously, there's reason to think that the exclusivist generalist category -- an account in which acceptable analogical inferences cannot come to conflicting conclusions but are based on nothing but resemblance -- is necessarily empty; that is, that it is impossible to hold such a position consistently. Inclusivist restrictivism seems possible, on the other hand, but it's difficult to think of any argument for it that would not be a better argument for another position; the restriction seems ad hoc because the most obvious reason for adding a restriction to analogical inference is to make good analogical arguments cohere. In any case, overwhelmingly, the two dominant accounts are inclusivist generalist (Hume is a good example) and exclusivist restrictivist (Mill is the obvious example).

The basic principle for inclusivist generalism is, in slogan form, that every resemblance affords a reason. But Mill does say things that are like this. For instance:

There can be no doubt that every such resemblance which can be pointed out between B and A, affords some degree of probability, beyond what would otherwise exist, in favor of the conclusion drawn from it....Every resemblance which can be shown to exist, affords ground for expecting an indefinite number of other resemblances; the particular resemblance sought will, therefore, be oftener found among things thus known to resemble, than among things between which we know of no resemblance.

On its own, this sounds very much like inclusivist generalism. However, Mill is presupposing a context; the first sentence does not say 'every resemblance' but 'every such resemblance'; Mill seems to take these claims to apply not to every resemblance but every resemblance of a relevant kind (namely, where we have causal information about how the properties we are talking about are related to each other). And Mill, of course, doesn't rule out the possibility that you can have apparently good analogical inferences that conflict; he just thinks that in such a case one of the inferences must be mischaracterizing the actual causal situation. This is clear enough from his account of the fallacy of false analogy. The quality of the analogical inference depends on the quality of prior causal inference. This contrasts sharply with Hume, for whom the quality of analogical inference is, in itself, completely independent of causal inferences. Hume, indeed, quite clearly thinks that analogical inference is more fundamental than causal inference.

So perhaps the distinction is due to different answers to the question of whether analogical inference depends on some more fundamental inference.

In Various Shades of Scarlet and of Gold

A Thanksgiving Sonnet
by Clara Ophelia Bland

The artist, Nature, hath his brushes dipped
In various shades of scarlet and of gold
And touched the leaves of Autumn, which unfold
In vistas fair 'ere yet the frost hath nipped
Their splendor. And my heart gives thanks and sings,
For this yearly glimpse of beauty; for the power
Which evokes the seasons, calleth forth the flower,
And hath the mastery of all transitory things.
And even as the blast of winter comes and sweeps
Away the forest's leaves of scarlet hue,
E'en so the rush of penitence which weeps,
Will scatter all the sins of scarlet too.
This thought the heart in thankfulness e'er keeps,
If the sins of life be many, or by grace, be few.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Abyss & Sea 2

An invitation from the High King was not a minor thing, so Disan left the day after having received it. "The sooner to be back with you," he said to the somewhat exasperated Baia.

"If you continue your pattern of always being away, I'll have to kidnap you and hide you in the turnip cellar," she said.

"Believe me when I say that I would be happy to be in your turnip cellar," Disan replied.

But off he went, and as she watched the sails grow smaller, she sighed and said to herself, "This is the punishment for loving a king rather than a carpenter." She visited the market in Soromir, but her heart was not in it, and she soon returned to the castle. There she called the chamberlain, Sosan.

"I need to get out of this castle," she said. "Make arrangements for a Queen's Circuit to Mainland Sorea."

A Queen's Circuit, or, as it is called more formally, the Court of the Queen in Visitation, was rare because it was always a massive undertaking. That was, indeed, part of the reason Baia had called for one, since it would provide endless distraction while Disan was away. The King and the Queen are the heart of the realm, which is why the Tablets dictated that at least one should always be in any kingdom, and government is accomplished where they are. When the Queen sits in Residence, everyone must come to her for aid and justice. When she rides in Visitation, she goes throughout the kingdom to hear pleas and cases. By Sorean custom, the stationary and the moving court, the ordinary and the extraordinary, worked in different ways, being partially distinct in law and ceremony and wholly distinct in judicial practice. Appointments would have to be made, guards selected, messages sent out to prepare the people, traveling arrangements planned out, supplies inventoried for the journey. It was a week before they set out, and even getting through the preparations that swiftly was only due to Sosan pressing for it every waking moment.

But the busy week mostly kept her mind off the fact that Disan was away, except at night when there were too few distractions. She would toss and turn until she fell into troubled sleep. She would occasionally have nightmares, like nightmares she sometimes had when he had previously been away, of Disan drowning in the sea as ships cracked and broke apart as if they were made of matchsticks and sank beneath the waves. Then she would wake with a start, and a sort of relief, because, as a Sorean and as the daughter of a shipbuilder, she knew that Sorean ships were impossible to sink. But in the nightmare, the impossible felt real, as if the whole world had broken.

Traveling was less busy, in part because travel with an entire Court in retinue is one of the slowest imaginable ways to travel. But the sun was bright and the skies were clear. The spring breeze was bobbing around the legs and under the bellies of the horses, gleefully flapping every banner it could find. In a day and a half they had cross the Isle of Sorea, and then took another day to ferry across the channel to the mainland part of the kingdom. Once there, Baia became tangled up in the endless tedium of royalty. They would move to a sizable village. It would take much of a day to set things up, during which Baia had to meet with the headman and the council and be feasted; the food for the feasts was usually plain but always plentiful, and she had to taste everything and pronounce it good lest some cook somewhere be slighted. They would give her gifts, and she would distribute largesse with a will, having given instructions that the value of all of their gifts to her were to be estimated so that she could give them more, leaving no village poorer for having had her as guest. As the gifts were often skillfully crafted works of the highest quality, it was sometimes difficult to outpace the generosity of the villages. A steady stream of couriers and supplies had to flow between Soromir and the Visitation camp.

After everything had been set up, each day was much the same. Part of the day was hearing pleas and cases, ranging from trivial matters to old disputes turning on arcane matters of law, and part of the day was entertainment, both the Court entertaining the villagers and the villagers entertaining the Court. Baia found both parts of the day dull, but, she thought, at least she was away from the castle.

A few things did occur, however, that were very different from the ordinary, tedious work of royalty. At one point in the Circuit, about a week into it, the Court stopped not at a village but at an estate. As receiving the hospitality of a wealthy landowner is less time-intensive than receiving the hospitality of a village, and as cases were fewer, Baia decided to spend most of a day visiting nearby farms. It got her away from most of the Court, since she only took Sosan and a light guard of four men.

About an hour out, it became clear that there was a problem with the shoe on Baia's horse. Sosan sent one of the guards back to the estate to bring a replacement horse, but everyone else headed toward a farmhouse visible in the distance.

Usually it was not difficult to find the people on these small farms; there was usually someone at home doing the chores, and often quite a few. But it was quiet as they approached. Eerily quiet. Not only did there seem to be no people around, there seemed to be no animals, either, at least around the house. The house showed signs of recent repair and improvement, however; empty, it did not seem to be vacated, either. Baia knocked on the door, but the door swung open easily, and they were hit with a terrible stench. Sosan signaled two of the guards to go around to see what they could find around the back of the house, one on each side, and he and the remaining guard drew their swords.

"If Your Highness will please stand back and wait for us to determine that there is no threat," he said, as they entered.

Baia went down the steps and looked around, and saw something in the bushes. A few steps more and it was clear: some kind of dog.

"Hello, little one," she said. "What has happened here?"

The dog in the bushes said nothing. There was a little rustle, and it became clear that there were two dogs in the bushes. A third came out from behind a shed, and Baia slowly backed toward the house, because it was clear that they were not dogs at all, but wolves.

"Do you uphold the pacts and the covenants?" she asked.

The wolves said nothing, but the two in the bushes crawled out, looking at her with a hot hostility, and the third approached from the other side.

Slowly, trying not to make any sudden movements, Baia drew her dagger from her belt. "Do you uphold the pact and the covenants?" she asked it.

"I uphold them, O Queen," the blade said in a voice of steel that sliced through the air.

"Then be flame for me," she said, pointing it at the nearest wolf.

The edge of the blade flickered, as if it were glinting in the sunlight, and then the whole dagger blazed into fire, a leaping flame, yellow-red with the steel at the heart glowing white-hot. As the wolves paused, she waved the brand at them and called out for Sosan. Sosan appeared almost immediately with the guard who had gone into the house with him, and another of the guards came running from around the side of the house.

Now outnumbered, and facing fire, the wolves backed away. But there was some kind of madness in their eyes and they did not flee. They backed away slowly, growling, and then suddenly attacked. One yelped as Baia's flame blade hit its nose, and the second died on Sosan's blade immediately, thrust with precision through its maw; the third was dispatched soon afterward, and the first, with the singed nose, turned and fled.

"Be still," said Baia to her dagger, and it the flame died, the white-hot steel becoming cherry-red, and it began slowly to cool down to its normal color. "They were feral, or rabid," she said, half wonderingly.

"I have never heard of any behavior like it," said Sosan. He shook his head. "Nor are they the only strange thing. There are three people dead in the house."

"And another in the pigsty," said the guard who had come around the side. "With the pigs all torn to pieces."

The remaining guard returned. "There is a dog that has had its throat torn out," he said.

"Let me see it all," said Baia, "starting with the house."


Although Disan as well as Baia was traveling, he had much less work to do. Soreans make no distinction between royal flagships and royal castles, so whereas Baia had to switch from Court in Residence to Court in Visitation, Disan did not; he remained in Residence, just on a ship rather than in a castle, and with a change from Court to Small Court. The Small Court consisted of the king with his selected advisors and guards, to which were added the captain and crew of the ship, with the captain having the temporary status of chamberlain. It was an elegant and efficient system, and perhaps all the better for the fact that it always led to commoners suddenly ascending on high to become temporary courtiers simply for being boatswains or quartermasters. It was not entirely unheard-of for temporary to become permanent; the Soreans, who held that the life at sea was a noble one, saw nothing inappropriate in a rough sailor, if intelligent enough, becoming advisor to a king. Other kingdoms took it as yet another sign that Soreans were unpolished and provincial, the sophistication of the Sorean Court hardly more than you would expect from a surprisingly wealthy village council.

The duties of a king on a ship are far from elaborate, but Sorean ships are very swift, so hardly more than four days had passed before the ship turned from coastal sea into the Great Canal. While the Great Canal was wide and deep, and its artificial banks, unlike those of a navigable river, perfectly straight and predictable, sailing it was necessarily slower than sailing the sea, in part because of the greater traffic. It was a quiet and uneventful journey, and they reached Talamir in three days.

The voyage gave Disan time to consider a great many things, and his mind often returned to something that had happened when he had been overseas, about which no one except Baia and himself knew.

Disan and his men had been supporting the Chipou tribes with which Sorea regularly traded against tribes further inland that had begun to loot and pillage on Chipou lands. It had been a long and grueling campaign. The marauding tribes were no match for the vastly superior armament of the Soreans, but they had very little unified structure, and it seemed as if every time one gang of bandits would be put down, a warlord would arise, and when he was put down, a minor invasion would begin elsewhere. The marauders tended to avoid straight battle, and more than a few times the Soreans had been forced to fight their way out of an ambush. It could all have gone much worse than it did, but fortunately, Soreans are very adaptable, and they learned very quickly; they soon began returning the favor.

The battle that broke out after one such Sorean ambush had been quite intense; the ambushed group had been nearly three times as large as scouts had thought, due to several different groups unexpectedly coming together. The battle had quickly spread to nearby woods, and there was considerable confusion as the enervating and camouflaging mists called up by the Sorean chanters drifted across the expanding battlefield, reducing visibility. In the air one could hear cries of fear and the groans of dying men. Disan, chasing down one of the marauders in the heat of the fight, had unwisely let himself be separated from his guard. The marauder went down easily before his sword, but only then did he realize that he had no clear notion of where his men were. Castigating himself for having lost his head, he cocked his head in an attempt to find the direction of the fight, but everything had gone strangely silent. There were no sounds of battle. There were no birds in the trees. A steady breeze blew past, but entirely silently. All that he could hear was his own breathing and the beating of his heart. He wiped his sword on the grass and attempted to retrace his steps.

A fog was drifing through the trees, but it was an ordinary fog, not a chanter's mist; it shrouded the mossy branches and slowly wet the stones. The silence grew thicker still, and suddenly Disan had come into a glade. In the midst of it was a stone building, but it was not in the style of the Chipou, nor any other marginal tribe or clan in the realm of barbarians. It was like a shrine in the full style of the Great Realm, except he could not tell to what Power it was dedicated. Its door stood open, wide and black. A light, whispering breeze blew from the door, and it whispered, softly but clearly: "Disan, King of Sorea."

He stood before the door, uncertain what to do. The breeze whispered again, "Disan, King of Sorea." He looked back across the glade, but it was untraversable, covered with rosebushes growing up to a man's chest. The roses were larger than any Disan had ever seen, larger than the finest prize blooms of the Great Realm, more red than blood, and the thorns on the vines were as long as a man's thumb.

Torches on each side of the door burst into flame. The breeze whispered a third time: "Disan, King of Sorea."

Gripping his sword, Disan had taken a deep breath and entered. As he stood on the deck now, looking at the Porphyry Mountain rising above the walls of Talamir, he brooded over what he had found there, and wondered what his best course of action would be.

Talamir was the greatest of cities. It was constructed in seven great walled rings, the outermost wall of which seemed to go on forever to both sides as you approached it. It gleamed brightly in the sun, for although the wall was stone, it was plated with splendid and beautiful orikhalh. The orikhalh plates were very thin, like gold foil, but they were as strong as steel plates several times thicker would be. It had taken many centuries even for the Great Realm to sheath its walls with that most royal of metals, and nowhere else in the world could you possibly find such a thing, because orikhalh itself can be found nowhere else.

The area within each ring, until the central one, was split into two. The area closest to the outer wall was navigable canal; the area near the inner wall was land, except for at the large canal gates, and filled with houses and palaces and marketplaces. Further and further in they went, until they came to the final wall, which had only a small strip of land and many piers. Disan, his advisers, and his guards traveled on land from there to the final gate, the only land-gate in the city, and entered the circle that formed the heart of Talamir and of all the Great Realm. There were no houses, no markets, just, near the gate, the Oracle of the Sun, and beyond that, just a road across a plain, for the most part very gently rising, leading to the Porphyry Mountain, the greatest of all human palaces that ever have been or ever shall be.

The Porphyry Mountain's name was not a lie. It was the highest summit east of the Khalad Mountains, not large as mountains go, but certainly higher than even a high hill. Walls and towers began around its base, then rose all the way up its slope, on every side, as if it were somehow one large, ever-rising fortress, up to the Pinnacle Towers clustered at the peak. But all of this was only the outer shell of the palace; most of it was inside the mountain itself, hollowed out by arts we no longer know. As it was a true neyat, larger within than without, and had been expanded in nearly every generation for a thousand years, nobody knew how large it was inside, or how many rooms it held. Perhaps there was no definite answer. The Khalkythra Palace, which consisted of the royal apartments and the main rooms of state from which the Great Realm was governed, had several thousand rooms; but it was only a small part of the whole. To know the Porphyry Mountain is to know that you are small in comparison with the glory of the Great Realm.

But it was like a second home to Disan, who as a child had often been sent there during the summers to keep company with his fourth cousin, the young Prince of Tala, who was now High King. The human mind can grow accustomed to the most sublime things: the depths of the ocean, the stars of the sky, the Porphyry Mountain. As Disan approached, he did not feel awe or amazement, but only nostalgia and the pensive melancholy of memory.

Monday, November 19, 2018

I Saw No More the Joyous Waves

The Minute-Guns
by Celia Thaxter

I stood within the little cove,
Full of the morning's life and hope,
While heavily the eager waves
Charged thundering up the rocky slope.

The splendid breakers! How they rushed,
All emerald green and flashing white,
Tumultuous in the morning sun,
With cheer and sparkle and delight!

And freshly blew the fragrant wind,
The wild sea wind, across their tops,
And caught the spray and flung it far
In sweeping showers of glittering drops.

Within the cove all flashed and foamed
With many a fleeting rainbow hue;
Without, gleamed bright against the sky,
A tender wavering line of blue,

Where tossed the distant waves, and far
Shone silver-white a quiet sail;
And overhead the soaring gulls
With graceful pinions stemmed the gale.

And all my pulses thrilled with joy,
Watching the winds' and waters' strife,
With sudden rapture, — and I cried,
"O sweet is Life! Thank God for life!"

Sailed any cloud across the sky,
Marring this glory of the sun's?
Over the sea, from distant forts,
There came the boom of minute-guns!

War-tidings! Many a brave soul fled,
And many a heart the message stuns!
I saw no more the joyous waves,
I only heard the minute-guns.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Lay Authority

As the USCCB has looked at various options for correcting the failings that have led to the ongoing scandal, I've been interested in how resistant certain sectors of the Church are to options that involve a major role for laity -- lay investigative boards, and the like. The complaint is usually that such things are 'inconsistent with the structure of the Church'. I suppose it depends on what you mean, because the current structure of the Church, with respect to the laity, is anomalous. We have been living for a while in a period in which the laity have less effective authority than they usually have.

Historically, the Church has usually found itself in one of two regimes.

Regime #1: Christians are either persecuted or marginal. In such a case, the authority of bishops depends crucially on the assistance of the laity; the bishops can do nothing without constant lay help, and while the bishops generally provide guidance, the laity in practice have a voice in everything. Practical necessity gives the laity a considerable amount of power across the board.

Regime #2: A Christian state. Christians are relatively in power and thus able to establish the hierarchy in its own right; a symbiosis develops between secular authorities who recognize the rights and privileges of the Church as the Church recognizes the rights and privileges of the secular authorities, and there is mutually recognized overlap. A Christian king has a limited but very real spiritual responsibility for his Christian subjects, and this is explicitly recognized by the Church. If common laity have a problem with bishops, they can appeal to the magistrates and ultimately to the king and emperor. They also have some scope of action on their own if the magistrates are on their side. It's a tricky and complicated system in which laity in general may or may not have significant power depending on circumstances, and can have many points at which to go wrong, but it has a clear and formally recognized lay authority, and what is more, it is ecclesially recognized lay authority with considerably magnified leverage.

We are unusual in that we have been living under neither of these regimes. Because most people in the West live in societies that were Regime #2 but have been de-Christianized, or in societies derived from societies like that, the bishops continue to act as if they have the kind of relative independence they tend to have under Regime #2, so that the laity usually lack the effective power they have under Regime #1, but there are no Christian emperors or kings or even magistrates of the sort that Regime #2 involves, so the laity lack the kind of effective power they would usually have under Regime #2. The kinds of reforms bishops have tended to favor are reforms that have strengthened this; while they say they are putting forward reforms more suitable to democratic societies and an active laity, it's active compliance that they mean, and the particular reforms 'more suitable to democratic societies' are nearly without fail reforms that reduce the actual power the laity have. (A small example: St. Paul VI sharply reduced the role of the Black Nobility in the work of the Holy See; the immediate result of this was that a significant number of laity were removed from having any direct influence over that work. Nothing was ever put in its place to compensate for this. This is a recurring pattern.) Whether reforms are necessary is not the point here; the point is that even faced with real needs for reforms, the bishops have consistently tended to prefer reforms that reduce the say of laypersons in how bishops operate.

It's sometimes said that the problems we have are problems that come from bishops trying to protect their authority. This is arguably true, but also misleading. It makes it sound as if bishops are protecting their authority over people; but this is not true. What authority of this sort do most bishops really have? What effective authority does Cardinal Cupich (e.g.) have over Catholics in his Archdiocese? He can terrorize some clergy, and maybe diocesan staff, but that's about it; most of the Catholic population 'under' his authority just proceed as they would if he didn't exist, indeed, as they would if no bishop at all existed. When bishops protect their authority, what they are protecting is not power over the laity so much as independence from the laity. (Ironically, I think the latter, outside Regime #2 makes the bishops increasingly ineffective.) That they should have some is indisputable; that they should have as much as they'd like given that we don't live in Regime #2 is doubtful; that they should have anything like the relatively free rein that they have had seems to many to be refuted by recent events.

It does seem that our situation, of a relatively educated and (in other aspects of life) active lay population with very little ability to hold their bishops accountable to faith and morals, is not sustainable. Such a laity is used to being heard, even in areas in which they are not obeyed; they are used to putting their weight behind systems in which they are actually allowed some kind of serious participation. And they will inevitably be frustrated and distressed at anything that looks like their concerns are being treated as relatively unimportant. By 'inevitably' I mean in part that it is futile to complain about it if you don't like it, and futile to think that it will go away if you just ignore it, because it falls directly out of the structure in which we find ourselves. And it's important to see that there is nothing irrational or selfish about it: the laity have usually had something like the direct leverage some are rightly complaining they don't have now.

How exactly to remedy the problem is another question. In our day and age, standing lay boards run the risk of capture by various agendas and activisms (one sees this over and over again with schools); something more like temporary ecclesial grand juries would seem ideal for many particular problems, but the organizational requirements for making this a systematic answer are arguably not in our reach; the actual roles for laity that bishops tend to prefer are purely advisory, and what is more, purely advisory confirmations of what the bishops themselves want to do. In any situation, the authority the bishops need to uphold the sacraments and the gospel would need to be maintained. The route we currently seem to be racing down, of the laity appealing to purely secular state authorities, is a disaster waiting to happen, since it will inevitably be highjacked at some point by those who have no concern whatsoever for Catholic faith and morals, and no respect for them, either. Likewise, laypersons 'voting with their feet' and withholding funds, which seems another option people are trying to take, is arguably neither very effective nor very sustainable, and also arguably creates perverse incentives (it is rarely the most rational groups that are most effective in using this strategy). But people who try to dismiss some change along these lines out of hand, rather than addressing specific proposals on specific merits, seem to me to be in every case play-pretending that we live in Regime #1 or Regime #2 as regards lay authority, rather than in an unusual and artificial minimum of direct lay authority that will inevitably have to change in some way.

Voyages Extraordinaires #13: Le Chancellor

Charleston, September 27th, 1869.—It is high tide, and three o’clock in the afternoon when we leave the Battery-quay; the ebb carries us off shore, and as Captain Huntly has hoisted both main and top sails, the northerly breeze drives the “Chancellor” briskly across the bay. Fort Sumter ere long is doubled, the sweeping batteries of the mainland on our left are soon passed, and by four o’clock the rapid current of the ebbing tide has carried us through the harbour-mouth.

But as yet we have not reached the open sea; we have still to thread our way through the narrow channels which the surge has hollowed out amongst the sand-banks. The captain takes a south-west course, rounding the lighthouse at the corner of the fort; the sails are closely trimmed; the last sandy point is safely coasted, and at length, at seven o’clock in the evening; we are out free upon the wide Atlantic.

The Chancellor, also known in English as The Survivors of the Chancellor, is not widely read in English, but it has always had a good critical reputation as one of the great novels about disaster at sea. J. R. Kazallon, whose diary we follow, is in South Carolina and heading home to Britain. He could go to New York or New Orleans to catch a steamship, but walking by the quays, he decides instead to take a sailing ship -- The Chancellor, a British ship heading home with 1700 bales of cotton in its hold. It will turn out to be an unfortunate notion. While it's a rare occurrence, cotton can spontaneously combust if conditions are right, and one of the other passengers turns out to have illegally been smuggling potentially explosive picrate of potash. What is worse, the captain seems to be suffering from a mental illness and has decided to take them off the usual route. Disaster after disaster will strike; a ship with thirty-two people on it becomes a raft with fewer and fewer people, on the verge of death, running out of food, running out of water, despairing of rescue, going mad. In such a situation, can any human being avoid being reduced to a beast?