Saturday, March 23, 2019

Lent XVI

Now He is baptized not as Himself requiring purification but as making my purification His own, that He may break the heads of the dragons on the water, that He may wash away sin and bury all the old Adam in water, that He may sanctify the Baptist, that He may fulfil the Law, that He may reveal the mystery of the Trinity, that He may become the type and ensample to us of baptism. But we, too, are baptized in the perfect baptism of our Lord, the baptism by water and the Spirit.

[St. John Damascene, An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book IV, Chapter 9.]

Friday, March 22, 2019

Lent XV

Great is the Baptism that lies before you: a ransom to captives; a remission of offenses; a death of sin; a new-birth of the soul; a garment of light; a holy indissoluble seal; a chariot to heaven; the delight of Paradise; a welcome into the kingdom; the gift of adoption! But there is a serpent by the wayside watching those who pass by: beware lest he bite you with unbelief. He sees so many receiving salvation, and is seeking whom he may devour. You are coming in unto the Father of Spirits, but you are going past that serpent. How then may you pass him? Have your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; that even if he bite, he may not hurt you. Have faith in-dwelling, stedfast hope, a strong sandal, that you may pass the enemy, and enter the presence of your Lord. Prepare your own heart for reception of doctrine, for fellowship in holy mysteries. Pray more frequently, that God may make you worthy of the heavenly and immortal mysteries.

[St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, Prologue. He is addressing catechumens, of course, who are preparing for baptism.]

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Ink Traces of Newspapers

The unlettered of ancient times read from the book of nature. Or rather, he was from the book itself, he was the book itself of creation. The lettered of ancient times was a person of the book(s) and was himself one or more books. The modern person is a newspaper, and not only one newspaper, but our miserable modern memory is like so many miserable, worn-out newspapers on which, without changing the paper, have been printed every day the newspaper of the day. And we are no more than this frightful staleness of letters.

Our ancestors were blank paper and the linen itself from which the paper is made. The lettered were books. We moderns, we are no more than the ink traces of newspapers.

[Charles Péguy, Notes on Bergson and Descartes, Ward, tr., Cascade Books (Eugene, OR: 2019) p. 79.]

I doubt he would be impressed by the Internet Age.

Lent XIV

What is Baptism?

It is the first and most necessary Sacrament of the new Law, by which we are enrolled among the heirs of eternal life, because once it is conferred in water, by which we are spiritually reborn, and gain a full remission of sins, we are adopted into the sons of God.

[St. Peter Canisius, A Small Catechism for Catholics, Grant, tr. Mediatrix Press (2014) p. 58.]

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Honest Men, Like Others

We can only think of Plato and Aristotle in grand academic robes. They were honest men, like others, laughing with their friends, and, when they diverted themselves with writing their Laws and the Politics, they did it as an amusement. That part of their life was the least philosophic and the least serious; the most philosophic was to live simply and quietly.

[Blaise Pascal, Pensées, Arcturus Publishing (London: 2018), p. 114 (#331).]


In hierarchical actions we must consider the agents, the recipients and the actions. The agents are the ministers of the Church; and to these the sacrament of order belongs. The recipients are those who approach the sacraments: and these are brought into being by Matrimony. The actions are "cleansing," "enlightening," and "perfecting." Mere cleansing, however, cannot be a sacrament of the New Law, which confers grace: yet it belongs to certain sacramentals, i.e. catechism and exorcism. But cleansing coupled with enlightening, according to Dionysius, belongs to Baptism; and, for him who falls back into sin, they belong secondarily to Penance and Extreme Unction. And perfecting, as regards power, which is, as it were, a formal perfection, belongs to Confirmation: while, as regards the attainment of the end, it belongs to the Eucharist.

[St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae III.65.1 ad 3. The references are to the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy. Illumination (Enlightening) is, of course, the Eastern name for Baptism. The Dionysian doesn't consider the list of seven, but this is a clever way to fit all seven into what he does say about the sacraments.]

Tuesday, March 19, 2019


These great philosophers are explorers. Those who are great are those who have discovered continents. Those who are not great are those who have only thought of being solemnly accepted at the Sorbonne.

There is a certain world, a universe of thought. On the face of this world geographies can be drawn. In the depth of this world geologies can make deeper engravings. The public, so to speak, always believes, and the philosophers almost always believe, that they are quarreling over the the same terrain. Neither sees that they are plunging into different continents.

Charles Péguy, Notes on Bergson and Descartes, Ward, tr., Cascade Books (Eugene, OR: 2019) p. 58.

Lent XII

...a cure is not perfect unless it maintains health once restored. In the strife of the battle [of this life], spiritual health may be maintained nowhere but in the ranks of the Church, 'terrible as an army set in array', and this is because of the armament of its sevenfold grace. This is why there have to be seven sacraments. Since this army consists of elements that are subject to weakening, in order that the ranks be perfectly and permanently strengthened, it needs sacraments to fortify, relieve, and replenish its members: to fortify the combatants, relieve the wounded, and replenish the dying....

And so Baptism is designed for those just entering the fight, Confirmation for those engaged in combat, the Eucharist for those refreshing their strength, Penance for those rising from their sickbeds, Extreme Unction for those who are departing, Orders for those who break in the new recruits, and Matrimony for those who provide these recruits.

[St. Bonaventure, Breviloquium, Monti, ed. and tr., Franciscan Institute Publications (St. Bonaventure, NY: 2005) pp. 220-221. The quotation is from Song of Songs, of course.]

According to the editors, Bonaventure is deriving this scheme from Peter of Poitiers, about whom I know nothing except that he has a reputation for complicated and subtle argumentation and that he has to be distinguished from several other people of the same name. But the notion of sacraments as armaments may well have been strengthened by a number of comments by Hugh of Saint Victor in his De Sacramentis, one of the most influential treatises of sacramental theology in the medieval period [Hugh of St. Victor, On the Sacraments of the Christian Faith, Deferrari, tr., Ex Fontibus (2016)]:

So there are three things simultaneously, faith, sacrament, and work. In faith, fortitude is attributed to the Christian, in the sacraments, arms; in good works, weapons for him who is to fight against the devil. (I.IX.VIII, p. 165)

Now, that in this battle he may be able to stand unconquered and guard his good unharmed, there are given him, as it is said, arms in the sacraments with which he may fortify himself, missiles in good works with which he may lay the enemy low, so that with love of faith and with hope combined he may meanwhile both be strengthened and live. (I.X.IX, p. 182)

Monday, March 18, 2019

Fortnightly Book, March 17

Obviously I'm a bit late with this, but one of the books I was going to do was ordered from elsewhere and ended up being a number of days later than I expected, so I had to wait until I received it.

I happened to stumble across, in different venues, two English translations of works that I did not find for my year of reading Jules Verne's Voyages Extraordinaires, so it seems fitting to make a bit of progress with that by doing another Verne Fortnightly Book. The two works are The End of Nana Sahib and Keraban the Inflexible.

La maison à vapeur (#20), published in 1880, is a tale of the British Raj; a number of British colonists go touring about the land in a wheeled house drawn by a steam engine in the shape of an elephant. This, of course, lets Verne do his usual geographical exploration. A bit of spice is added by the fact that the book takes place in the immediate aftermath of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. The 1857 Rebellion is dominated by a significant mystery. It was led by a man generally known as Nana Sahib; due to a payment dispute with the British East India Company, he gathered a revolt and laid siege to a British garrison, which he captured and held for several days by the means of executing all the survivors. The British, of course, returned with a vengeance, recapturing the garrison and forcing Nana Sahib to flee. And then he disappeared. Rumors swirled for years about his being sighted in various places in the world -- everywhere from Turkey to Nepal -- but nothing was ever able to be proven. Since Verne tries his hand at speculation of what might have happened, The Steam House is also often known by its occasional subtitle, The End of Nana Sahib, as it is in the edition I have. Of course, Verne, like everyone else, had nothing but rumors and incomplete and inconsistent information about Nana Sahib; the novel should be taken perhaps as more history-inspired than historical, even setting aside the steampunk mobile home. The edition I have is put out by a company that publishes inexpensive India-related classics. Since Verne is generally quite sympathetic to freedom fighters, and the novel's context is a major Indian event, it's not surprising that they would be interested, but 'inexpensive' is certainly right. The page order of my edition is: 12, 13, publication information page, Table of Contents, 16, 17, 2, 3, 20, 21, 6, 7, 24, 25, 10, 27. After that they start settling down, but I seem to be missing most of two chapters, and may have to supplement with another edition, or even go to the French. [ADDED LATER: I ended up just having to use an online version, in the same translation; the hardcopy was also missing the second part of the book.]

Kéraban-le-têtu (#24), published in 1883, is subtitled, Adventures in the Euxine, 'Euxine' being an old name for the Black Sea. Jan van Mitten and his valet, Bruno, find themselves in a trip that is more than they bargained for when they meet the local tobacco dealer, Keraban, and agree to take his boat across the short Bosphorus Strait to his house to have dinner. Unfortunately, the Ottoman Empire imposes a tax for strait travel while they are in transit, and although it's a paltry sum, Keraban turns out to be the most stubborn and inflexible man imaginable: he promised to take them to his house for dinner, and he does not break his promises, but he absolutely refuses to pay the tax, so he will go all the way around the Black Sea to do it. Poor van Mitten and Bruno find their dinner ride lasting a few more weeks than they were expecting. Keraban's on a time schedule, too; he has to be back in six weeks, or his nephew will be in a bit of trouble -- his nephew is marrying a young woman who will inherit a small fortune if she is married before her birthday, but will receive nothing if she marries even one day later. Keraban's presence is absolutely necessary. There are people, however, with nefarious plans for the young woman. They may have underestimated how stubborn Keraban is, though. My edition is the Frith translation; the usual translation you find in English is Curtin's, so I don't know if this is good or bad as a translation, although looking at Frith's other work, I expect it at least not to be horrible.

I'm also reading, slowly, L'Archipel en feu in the original French, although it's not part of the Fortnightly Book, and I don't know when I'll finish it. When I am done with all three, I'll have read a total of 45 out of the 54 Voyages Extraordinaires, and all of the the first thirty. The nine that are left will probably have to be read in French at some point.

Cyrillus Hierosolymitanus

Today is the feast of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Confessor and Doctor of the Church. From his Catechetical Lecture 10:

But some one will say, If the Divine substance is incomprehensible, why then do you discourse of these things? So then, because I cannot drink up all the river, am I not even to take in moderation what is expedient for me? Because with eyes so constituted as mine I cannot take in all the sun, am I not even to look upon him enough to satisfy my wants? Or again, because I have entered into a great garden, and cannot eat all the supply of fruits, would you have me go away altogether hungry? I praise and glorify Him that made us; for it is a divine command which says, Let every breath praise the Lord. I am attempting now to glorify the Lord, but not to describe Him, knowing nevertheless that I shall fall short of glorifying Him worthily, yet deeming it a work of piety even to attempt it at all. For the Lord Jesus encourages my weakness, by saying, No man has seen God at any time.

Lent XI

...there cannot be a perfect cure without a complete restoration of health. Now the sound health of the soul consists in the exercise of the seven virtues, namely, the three theological and the four cardinal. Hence, in order to restore their healthy exercise, it was fitting that seven sacraments be instituted. For the healing work of Baptism leads to faith, Confirmation to hope, the Eucharist to charity, Penance to justice, Extreme Unction to perserverance -- the complement and summit of fortitude, Orders to prudence, and Matrimony to the preservation of temperance, which is threatened mainly by the weakness of the flesh but is saved through honest marriage.

[St. Bonaventure, Breviloquium, Monti, ed. and tr., Franciscan Institute Publications (St. Bonaventure, NY: 2005) p. 219.]

This can be compared to St. Thomas's version (ST 3.65.1), which links it with the first remedial scheme, which we've already seen in St. Bonaventure:

Some, again, gather the number of sacraments from a certain adaptation to the virtues and to the defects and penal effects resulting from sin. They say that Baptism corresponds to Faith, and is ordained as a remedy against original sin; Extreme Unction, to Hope, being ordained against venial sin; the Eucharist, to Charity, being ordained against the penal effect which is malice; Order, to Prudence, being ordained against ignorance; Penance to Justice, being ordained against mortal sin; Matrimony, to Temperance, being ordained against concupiscence; Confirmation, to Fortitude, being ordained against infirmity.

Note that Aquinas and Bonaventure are in agreement about the virtue scheme except for Confirmation and Extreme Unction, which are switched. All of the sacraments, of course, affect all of the virtues; in assigning virtues to sacraments neither is saying that the virtue is linked only with that sacrament, but that there is some appropriate analogy or link between the virtue and the sacrament. It's easy to establish that Baptism has a special link to faith and Eucharist a special link to charity, so it would make sense that the others would be associated with virtues as well.

Aquinas's assigning of fortitude to Confirmation (the strengthening sacrament) and of hope to Extreme Unction (looking forward to the resurrection of the body) seems to me to be the more plausible version. If I'm not mistaken, though, Aquinas's version of the virtue scheme is just directly taken from Alexander of Hales; if so, Bonaventure is taking Alexander's scheme and deliberately changing it, so he must have reasons for doing so. My suspicion is that one or both of two things are going on -- first, that he sees a natural progression from Baptism to Confirmation to Eucharist, that makes hope a plausible middle term, and, second, that hope, as one of the theological virtues, is a very important virtue, and so he may be trying to associate it with a sacrament in more general use than Extreme Unction. Other possibilities are that the link between Penance and Unction is an influence, or that he sees the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, given by Confirmation, to have a direct relation to how hope works in the Christian life.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Patron Saint of Cats

Today is the memorial for St. Gertrude of Nivelles, who is popularly known today as the patron saint of cats. I was wondering what the reason for that was. In some cases, it's a matter of association of the animal with the saint in some specific legend (e.g., St. Melangell for rabbits or St. Roch for dogs or St. David for doves); in other cases, it's a matter of iconography (e.g., St. Mark for lions); there are many other possible ways it can happen(like a later association with a shrine or a church named after the saint), since these informal patronages do not indicate anything formal or substantive beyond the fact that we need to draw on our poetic imaginations in intercessory prayer as elsewhere, and therefore do. So how does St. Gertrude come to be the patron saint of cats? The answer seems to be that nobody knows for sure, but the association is relatively recent, since the first definite attribution of patronage of cats to St. Gertrude is usually thought to be a 1981 catalogue by the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. She has a long association with mice; according to legend, water from her abbey's well will chase away rodents. So the best that can be guessed is that this leads to the association with cats, who also chase away rodents, and thus can be regarded, poetically, as St. Gertrude's Knights.

In any case, here's a fairly good Mental Floss essay from two years ago on the question.

Life and Death Make a Goodly Lent

by Christina Rossetti

It is good to be last not first,
Pending the present distress;
It is good to hunger and thirst,
So it be for righteousness.
It is good to spend and be spent,
It is good to watch and to pray:
Life and Death make a goodly Lent
So it leads us to Easter Day.