Saturday, April 13, 2019

John Milton, Paradise Lost & Paradise Regained


Opening Passages: From Paradise Lost:

Of Man's First disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing Heav'nly Muse, that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen Seed,
In the Beginning how the Heav'ns and Earth
Rose out of Chaos: Or if Sion Hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa's Brook that flow'd
Fast by the Oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my advent'rous Song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th'Aonian Mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhyme. (p. 5)

From Paradise Regained:

I who erewhile the happy Garden sung,
By one man's disobedience lost, now sing
Recover'd Paradise to all mankind,
By one man's firm obedience fully tri'd
Through all temptation, and the Tempter foil'd
In all his wiles, defeated and repuls't,
And Eden rais'd in the waste Wilderness.
    Thou Spirit who ledd'st this glorious Eremite
Into the Desert, his Victorious Field
Against the Spiritual Foe, and brought'st him thence
By proof the undoubted Son of God, inspire,
As thou art wont, my prompted Son else mute,
And bear through heighth or depth of nature's bounds
With prosperous wing full-summ'd to tell of deeds
Above Heroic, though in secret done,
And unrecorded left through many an Age,
Worthy t'have not remain'd so long unsung. (p. 303)

Summary: Reading both Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, it is completely astonishing that the poems were written entirely by dictation, but this is perhaps the root of some of the excellence on the poem. The poetic effects of the poem are not, as poetic effects often are today, written for the page; they are written for the voice, the story-telling itself, and this makes the work excel as a narrative poem. In A Preface to Paradise Lost, Lewis notes that Milton manages to achieve the continuity of thought, the constant movement from one thing to another, that an epic needs by avoiding simple sentences. Practically every sentence Milton writes is a monstrously complex sentence. And yet, Lewis points out, the sentences are all crafted in such a way that you don't need to worry that much about syntax -- just follow it through, and you get the right ideas in the right order without having to worry about sentence structure. Except for, possibly, Michael's prophetic recounting of the after-history in Books XI and XII, the story never really lags, but at the same time you get a sense of an immense sweep of things that nonetheless is rich with detail.

Satan falls through pride, of course, but I think the Son in Paradise Regained is right in a comment that he makes that part of Satan's problem is that he lacks gratitude, which seems to be the immediate effect flowing from his pride. Everything Satan has is something that has been given to him by the Father, but every time he opens his mouth, he is in a sense convincing himself that he has no need to be grateful for any of it -- if anything, he is an injured party because he is being denied more. There seems, in other words, a flow from pride to ingratitude to deceit. Satan's biggest whopper of a lie is when he tries to claim, despite the fact that the circumstances show it to be impossible, that he and the other angels may, for all anyone knows, be self-caused, or else just necessary parts of the cosmos, and this is quite clearly an attempt to avoid conceding that he might owe anything to God.

Perhaps the best parts of Paradise Lost are the meeting of the demons in Pandemonium and Eve's decline after eating the fruit. Both show an extraordinary subtlety in psychological rendering. When Satan gives his first speech, his obvious concern is to maintain his preeminence among the demons; his argument, in fact, is that it is important for the rest to give him absolute power so that all the demons can be free and equal. But Satan is at the same time pulling the strings to make it look like the demons really do need him to be ruler. He lets the demons discuss what they think should happen, and then, when the timing is right, through his toady Beelzebub gives his own plan in glowing terms that leads the devils to vote for it. Now that they've voted for it, however, he steps in himself and describes it in terrifying terms, and asks for a volunteer; and, of course, when no volunteer steps forward, does so himself, characterizing it as the benevolent act of a conscientious leader, thus consolidating his leadership over them all. It is masterfully done -- the father of lies has manipulated the demons themselves, giving them all of the symbolism of equals with equal vote while arranging it all in such a way that they vote for exactly what he wants, and in such a way that they all have to recognize him as ruler.

When Eve eats the fruit, she enjoys it more than any other fruit she's had, but the narrator notes that it's hard to say whether it really was or was just in her head. That is to say, her pleasure in the sin consists in part of convincing herself that it is pleasant. Having eaten it, one of her first thoughts is how much superior it can make her to others, which, of course, for her primarily means Adam. She actually wonders whether she should even let Adam know what she has done, since Adam might eat the fruit too, and if she's eaten it but he hasn't, she will be wiser than he is, which she needs in order to be free because "inferior who is free?" (p. 217). But then a horrible thought occurs to her -- what if she does in fact die as God has said? Then Adam will go on and marry another Eve, and she'll be forgotten. So, she decides, if she is going to die, she has to make sure that Adam will die, too, and really, of course, she is doing it because she loves him.

It's interesting that Milton chooses the Temptation of Christ to be the central event of Paradise Regained. One reason may be that he sees himself as writing about things that are "Above Heroic"; the tragedy of Adam and Eve is that they ultimately fail to be more than heroic in the sense needed for an epic. Christ, on the other hand, does rise to the super-heroic by refusing all of Satan's temptations; the heroic is not good enough for Christ. Thus we have contrasting temptations, Eve's and Christ's, and the latter, by not succombing in the wilderness lives as Adam and Eve were supposed to live in the Garden. That Milton thinks the contrasting parallel is quite strong seems suggested by the endings of the poems. Paradise Lost's ending is one of the best endings in literature:

They looking back, all th'Eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late their happy seat,
Wav'd over by that flaming Brand the Gate
With dreadful Faces throng'd and fiery Arms;
Some natural tears they dropp'd, but wip'd them soon;
The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide;
They hand in hand with wand'ring steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way. (pp. 298-299)

Looking back in sorrow at the joys of Paradise, now guarded by fierce angels, they take their solitary and uncertain path into the World. The ending of Paradise Regained seems to recall at least the image of that, turning it around:

Thus they the Son of God our Saviour meek
Sung Victor, and from Heavenly Feast refresht
Brought on his way with joy; hee unobserv'd
Home to his Mother's house private return'd. (p. 357)

The Son of God returns in a kind of solitude as well; but he comes from angels giving a paradisial feast and hymning his victory with joy -- his way is not an uncertain way, but has been established by his repudiation of Satan as a certain one.

Favorite Passages: From Paradise Lost:

The Sixth, and of Creation last arose
With Ev'ning Harps and Matin, when God said,
'Let th'Earth bring forth Soul living in her kind,
Castle and Creeping things, and Beast of th'Earth,
Each in their kind.' The Earth obey'd, and straight
Op'ning her fertile Womb teem'd at a Birth
Innumerous living Creatures, perfect forms,
Limb'd and full grown: out of the ground uprose
As from his LAir the wild Beast where he wons
In Forest wild, in Thicket, Brake, or Den;
Among the Trees in Pairs they rose, they walk'd:
The Cattle in the Fields and Meadows green:
Those rare and solitary, these in flocks
Pasturing at once, and in broad Hers upsprung.
The grassy Clods now Calv'd, now half appear'd
The Tawny Lion, pawing to get free
His hinder parts, then springs as broke from Bonds,
And Rampant shakes his Brinded main; the Ounce,
the Libbard, and the Tiger, as the Mole
Rising, the crumbl'd Earth above them threw
In Hillocks; the swift Stag from under ground
Bore up his branching head: scarce from his mould
Behemoth biggest born of Earth upheav'd
His vastness: Fleec't the Flocks and bleating rose,
As Plants: ambiguous between Sea and Land
The River Horse and scaly Crocodile. (pp. 171-172)

From Paradise Regained (Book III):

But if there be in glory aught of good,
It may by means far different be attain'd
Without ambition, war, or violence;
By deeds of peace, by wisdom eminent,
By patience, temperance; I mention still
Him whom thy wrongs with Saintly patience borne,
Made famous in a Land and times obscure;
Who names not now with honour patient Job?
Poor Socrates (who next more memorable?)
By what he taught and suffer'd for so doing,
For truth's sake suffering death unjust, lives now
Equal in fame to proudest Conquerors. (p. 331)

Recommendation: Both Highly Recommended.


John Milton, Paradise Lost & Paradise Regained, Ricks, ed. Signet (New York: 2001).


Our restoring Principle, the Incarnate Word, being both God and human, instituted the medicine of the sacraments for the salvation of humankind in an orderly, distinct, and powerful way, in accord with the demands of his goodness, wisdom, and might. And so, when he entrusted this sacramental remedy to human beings, he willed that it be dispensed, not in a haphazard fashion, but in a way that would reflect that order, distinction, and power. Therefore it was appropriate that certain persons be distinguished and set apart to carry out this office, and that the requisite power be committed to them as a matter of ordinary law. Now a distinction of this kind could not be accomplished properly except by means of sacred signs such as the sacraments. Therefore, it was fitting that there be sacrament to be such a sign that would impart order, distinction, and power for the purpose of dispensing the other sacraments in a distinctive, effective, and orderly manner. That is why Orders is defined as "a certain sign whereby spiritual power is conferred upon the person ordained," for this definition contains the three elements that we have just mentioned.

[St. Bonaventure, Breviloquium, Monti, ed. and tr., Franciscan Institute Publications (Saint Bonaventure, NY: 2005), pp. 254-255. The definition is from Peter Lombard.]

The use of the plural term 'Orders' is a concession by the translators to common practice in English; Bonaventure, like all scholastic theologians, uses the singular, ordo, Order. The point is relevant because the term is used literally: it is the sacrament by which the Church is given an ordering, set in order, made orderly.

Friday, April 12, 2019


Michael Bird had an article recently on the Seal of the Confessional. From what I've seen online, he has (rightly) taken some beating for it; I've no doubt that Bird is well-meaning, but the approach in the essay is a particular kind of approach one sees more and more among a certain kind of Anglican, which pretends to be ecumenical on the grounds that it is passive-aggressively rather than aggressively anti-Catholic.

Most of his arguments are irrelevant to the point at hand; merely establishing that something is ethically important doesn't give you much information about the appropriate practical action with respect to it. If he actually knew anything about serious Catholic ethics, he would know as well that "for the greater good" is not itself usually accepted in Catholic ethics as a ground of practical action or policy; Catholic moral theology is intrinsically non-consequentialist, so "for the greater good" is generally only accepted when the relevant action or policy can be established as morally good on independent grounds, which is precisely at issue here. It's also a standard view in Catholic moral theology that you can't have conflicting moral obligations except where one's conscience is either badly formed or misinformed, and even if you had a more generous view, to decide such conflicts on the basis of "the greater good" would be ethically suspect at best.

The primary problem even with his ethical arguments, though, is that Bird (like most non-Catholics) confuses the Seal with ministerial privilege. Ministerial privilege is for the protection of the penitent; it is exactly like the sort of privilege between doctors and patients or between lawyers and clients, and like those it is something that should not be easily broken, but is not unbreakable, and reporting requirements in matters of crimes are usually consistent with the privilege. If a priest, outside the confessional, discovers that a crime has been committed, he has a professional responsibility to do something about it. But the confessional is a distinct form of confidence, one in which the priest's primary obligation is to God, and in Catholic sacramental theology, the Seal of the Confessional is recognized a responsibility arising from the priest's acting on behalf of God; it is an obligation with divine backing, intrinsic to the sacrament's character as the divine "tribunal of mercy". Confession in a context where there is no guarantee of the Seal is not sacramental confession; it can be a good thing, but the constitution of the confessional as a divine tribunal makes it an entirely different matter than just spiritual direction or the priest's role as an advisor. Thus the ethical arguments that Bird actually considers only really bear on the ministerial privilege; but this is an otiose argument, since crime reporting requirements are already part of any usual conception of a priest's ministerial privilege. For the Seal, you would need a completely different kind of argument to begin with, one that took into account the divine character of the confessional.

It's worth noting, incidentally, that although Bird only focuses on priests, the Seal of Confession applies generally -- because it's intrinsic to the sacrament, no Catholic can legitimately break it. If you are a layperson, and you happen to overhear part of someone's sacramental confession and tell someone else what you heard, you have committed a grave sin and profaned a holy thing. No one is exempted.

But, of course, what makes his argument an absolute non-starter for Catholics is that it is based on an Anglican, and not a Catholic, theology of the sacraments. Bird doesn't actually engage with any Catholic sacramental theology anywhere in his discussion, and says:

Third, Catholic faith requires both organic development of its doctrine and resourcement of its ancient tradition to effectively address the problem of abusive priests. The origins of penance and the seal of the confession are developments from the medieval and counter-reformation periods. Just as the seal of the confessional was a necessary development to ensure the confidentiality of the confessional and to prevent the exploitation of the contrite, so too is it now necessary to develop a theology and practice to protect the victims of the penitent in the case of sexual violence. What this requires is not a renouncement of the seal of the confessional, but its refinement to suit the pastoral needs of a congregation.

This is part of what I mean by the passive-aggressively anti-Catholic character of the essay. Putting out theological cover by the jargonistic misuse of the terms "organic development of...doctrine" and "ressourcement of...ancient tradition" (none of which are given any definite content here), he immediately appeals to anti-Catholic stereotypes by making it about abusive priests rather than every sort of abuser, and goes on in the next sentence to make a claim that is equivalent to saying that Catholic sacramental theology of penance is false and needs to be replaced. He then incoherently says that making the Seal not be a seal is not a renouncement of the Seal, but a refinement (a term that is also not given any content here, because he does not start with Catholic theology and ask how it could be refined). His proposal would not be an "organic development" by any standard theological use of the term, but a rupture, a complete repudiation of the Tridentine notion of sacramental reconciliation as a divine tribunal of mercy, based not on any genuine Catholic ressourcement but on his assumption that Catholics are just making up the idea that there has to be a Seal of Confession, based on what looks rather like kind of general practical stupidity, it having apparently never occurred to any Catholic in the entire history of the doctrine that the Seal might sometimes make the responsibility of protecting people complicated. (In fact, of course, there is a long history of discussion about the best ways to handle these matters, all of which Bird ignores.)

We get more of the passive-agressive anti-Catholicism as we go further; talking about two cases in which he was mistreated because under the circumstances people were probably mistaking him for a Catholic priest, he says:

I do not think the two assailants hate Catholics because of decisions made at the Fourth Lateran Council, nor because of the doctrine of transubstantiation, nor because of strong feelings about Notre Dame University or Celtic F.C. in Glasgow. It is a hatred based on child sexual abuse, its cover-up, its perpetuation, and failing to do what must be done to deal with it. It is a hatred that is, I believe, entirely understandable.

Hating random people for things other people did is not "understandable"; it is irrational and immoral, and reasonable people actively avoid doing it. We aren't, remember, talking about someone hating someone they know has abused a child or covered up for an abuser, nor even about someone hating another on the basis of an allegation. We're talking about someone picking out a stranger on the street and abusing him because he looked like he might be Catholic. It is as completely unacceptable as people assaulting Sikhs because a handful of Muslims flew planes into buildings; it would be as wrong were they assaulting Muslims, but the nature of the actual wrong shows in blazing light the sheer moral stupidity and bigotry of the action in the first place. And what is Bird's solution to this problem of Australian anti-Catholic bigotry that leads to people harassing strangers for being Catholic? The Catholics need to change so they are no longer giving other people excuses for being bigots.

To be honest, I would have much greater respect for Bird's argument if he actually said what he is in fact insisting, that the state has the right to outlaw what Catholics think of as the sacrament of confession, and Catholics should just put up with it and fall back on an entirely different, and wholly non-sacramental form of confession, one more like moral therapy than like absolution before the judgment seat of God. And, of course, it's not as if Catholics have not been in similar situations before, although usually people have gone after Mass rather than confession. It's not as if it's not obvious what is really going on, because people do things like this only as part of a large packet of things motivated by anti-Catholic sentiments. It doesn't really make difference one way or another; it just would be easier if non-friends like Bird would stop pretending to be friends on the topic, and also admit openly what they are actually demanding of Catholics rather than trying to pretty it up with theological jargon that in context has no real meaning. The Catholic sacraments are what they are; if you can't tolerate them, or if you think other people shouldn't have to tolerate them, just say so. Everyone will be better off for it.


In this life there are many things which prevent one from a perfect purification from one’s sins. But since no one can enter into eternal life until he is well cleansed, there is need of another Sacrament which will purify man of his sins, and both free him from sickness and prepare him for entry into the heavenly kingdom. This is the Sacrament of Extreme Unction.

[St. Thomas Aquinas, Expositio in Symbolum Apostolorum, Article 10.]

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Newman on Development of Doctrine

As a second miracle was approved earlier this year, it's likely that Bl. John Henry Newman will be canonized later this year, so it seems appropriate to say something about Newman on development of doctrine because (1) people are likely to be talking about development of doctrine using Newman as their authority and (2) Newman's account of development in An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine is very often misunderstood. If the past is any indication, it's particularly likely that people will try to appeal to Newman for significant changes in doctrine, incorrectly calling it 'development', so it's probably worthwhile to start insisting that it is incorrect now rather than later.

There are two things that need to be grasped to understand An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine; failure to recognize them leads inevitably to misinterpretation.

First, the essay does not give a Catholic theory of doctrinal development but an Anglo-Catholic one. Newman was an Anglican when he wrote it. This is not to say that there's anything in it that is, properly understood, inconsistent with Catholic doctrine, but Catholic doctrine, in the sense of that doctrine connected to communion with Rome, is its conclusion, not its foundation. The argument itself is developed in Anglican terms, with Butler as the primary authoritative guide, and the account of doctrine given in it is also in Anglican terms, although primarily from the Catholic-friendly side of the Anglican heritage. And the problem the essay addresses is an Anglo-Catholic problem that only arises in an Anglican context, namely, that the Catholic Church has much to recommend it as a preserver of doctrine but seems to go beyond what one can find explicitly in the Apostles and the Fathers, and is, so to speak, under accusation of having distorted the true faith. What Newman primarily concludes in the essay is that there is no argument on Anglican principles that would make Rome guilty of this accusation that would not also establish that the Church of England is guilty of the same thing. As Newman was already convinced, on Anglo-Catholic principles, that Protestantism was wrong, and the argument and convinced him that the Church of England was unable to function as the Via Media, the middle way between Protestantism and Rome, that he had thought, it dissolved the last major intellectual issues that prevented Newman from becoming Catholic.

Second, and relatedly, despite the prominence of the notion of development, it is not the primary concern of the argument. Apparent change of doctrine can be either a development or a corruption, and, structurally speaking, the primary concern of the essay is not development but distinguishing developments from corruption. If you ever come across anybody appealing to Newman about development of doctrine and not showing a significant concern for the importance of avoiding corruption, that is a serious red flag; it is a warning sign that you are probably getting a distortion of Newman.

The essay falls into major parts. The first gives a broadly Butlerian argument (i.e., based on the analogy of nature) that developments of doctrine are natural and to be expected, and confirmed to occur historically; the primary purpose of it is to explain what he means by development and to give a basic characterization of Catholic developments of doctrine, 'Catholic' being here understood in the Anglo-Catholic sense of what we find in the commonly accepted Church Fathers. As he puts it, "Christian doctrine admits of formal, legitimate, and true developments, that is, of developments contemplated by its Divine Author." This is quite important: the only things that Newman considers "formal, legitimate, and true developments" are those that are already in some way implicit in the original teaching; to recognize something as a genuine development of Christian doctrine, rather than a corruption, is to identify what there is in it that gives you reason to think that it is a living expression of the teaching received from the Apostles.

This sets up the second major part of the essay, which attempts to characterize what a living expression of apostolic teaching would be. Newman uses the analogy of a living versus a decaying body; the living body has certain characteristics to show that its growth is a growth of the body itself, whereas the decaying body is a dissolution of the body itself. On this basis he identifies seven Notes of Development, that is marks that we are dealing with the living development of the Church and not its disintegration. These seven Notes are not all equally important, but they are all intended to be quite general -- that is, it's not a theory that is concerned solely with Church doctrine but with the healthy development or the decay and corruption of any idea at all. (It is important to Newman that his account have nothing of the ad hoc to it, so it's also important for the basic ideas to apply quite generally.) Because these Notes are attempts to differentiate the living of an idea from its dying, it's actually best to think of them as seven ways in which we can say that a doctrine, despite apparent change, is nonetheless the same. (It is also a major warning sign if people talk about 'development of doctrine' and make no effort to establish the way in which the supposed development is the same doctrine rather than their own replacement of it.) Newman himself often puts it in these terms: "There is no corruption if it retains one and the same type, the same principles, the same organization; if its beginnings anticipate its subsequent phases, and its later phenomena protect and subserve its earlier; if it has a power of assimilation and revival, and a vigorous action from first to last." Another name he gives to these marks is "Notes of fidelity in intellectual developments".

(1) Preservation of Type: If Y develops from X, Y must be the same type as X. All ideas have implications or expressions that are not at first explicit, but which can be recognized as having the same character as the original. Newman argues on historical grounds that the type that we see exhibited in the original teaching of the Apostles, and later in the Church Fathers, has very general but nonetheless identifiable characteristics (recognizable at first sight), all of which are most particularly shared by the Christian churches in communion with Rome. Thus the doctrines of the latter are occurring within a context that is consistent with the original characteristics, at least at a general level, of the Apostolic and Patristic teaching.

(2) Continuity of Principles: If Y develops from X, Y must derive its root content from X. Examples Newman mentions of principles that are relevant to the Christian faith are: dogma ("supernatural truths irrevocably committed to human language, imperfect because it is human, but definitive and necessary because given from above"), faith (acceptance of such truths with internal assent not involving sight or knowledge), theology, sacrament, Scripture including its mystical or allegorical sense, grace, asceticism, the malignity of sin, the possibility of sanctification.

(3) Assimilative Power: If Y develops from X, then in its growth from X, it must incorporate from its environment what is consistent with and appropriate to X, transmuting or rejecting the rest. That is, a living idea will necessarily absorb things from its environment, but anything that is absorbed is assimilated to it; it is not modified in order to fit arbitrary things it meets in its environment. The things it gets from its environment are unified in it, rather than its being disrupted by the environment.

(4) Logical Sequence: If Y develops from X, there must be some path, capable of being reasoned, from X to Y. This need not be strict logical deduction, although that, of course, is one kind of relevant pathway; that Y is appropriate given X is another kind of relevant pathway. Newman gives as an example Peter's extension of baptism to the Gentiles on the grounds that as Cornelius and his friends had already received the Holy Spirit (i.e., for baptism) it would be absurd to deny them water for baptism.

(5) Anticipation of Future: If Y develops from X, then there must be things that can be found in X that already pointed to or suggested what we find in Y. Thus, for instance, the Christian view of the body and of the resurrection and the honor given to martyrs that we find in our earliest depictions of Christianity already suggest some of the things that we find in Catholic veneration of relics. While Newman doesn't use it as an example, I think the Second Council of Nicaea on icons is a good example: an important aspect of the argument of the Council is that the Incarnation, in and of itself, gives a reason to reject iconclasm -- if Christ was truly Man, then he can truly be depicted as Man, and our regard for His picture, like our regard for the picture of a man, carries our attention to the Man depicted. Thus the essential principles laid down in the doctrine of the Incarnation are as it were recapitulated in a new context by the doctrine of icons; you can find in the doctrine of the Incarnation the things that suggest what one finds in the doctrine of icons.

(6) Conservative Action: If Y develops from X, then Y should come about in an attempt to preserve X. Thus for instance, all of the doctrine of the Incarnation we find in the early Ecumenical Councils are attempts to preserve what had been received.

(7) Chronic Vigor: If y develops from X as a living expression, then Y should have the same active life as X, either continuously or recurrently over long periods of time. Vigorous corruptions flare up and then die out; lasting corruptions grow weak and decay. Only the living thing is renewed in its active influence again and again. Thus, Newman argues, the resilience of the Catholic Church is a sign that its doctrine and worship are not in any essential way corrupt -- it is the behavior of something that is living rather than rotting.

The ways in which these seven interact is diverse and complicated, and Newman gives many, many examples in the essay. But, as he notes, "It would be the work of a life to apply the Theory of Developments so carefully to the writings of the Fathers, and to the history of controversies and councils, as thereby to vindicate the reasonableness of every decision of Rome"; the whole essay is just a gesture at this, a first argument that such a vindication could very well be possible.

A Poem Re-Draft

The Tree of Knowing Good and Evil

Ages rise in splendor, born with tumult to be free,
Given good and evil by the serpent on the tree:

Apple for your tasting, dear, a wisdom God may fear,
Taste the peach of higher sight that makes the cosmos clear.
Swiftly all the schoolmen are a jape one might despise,
Mocked by haunted engines that are daring to be wise.

Peasants, unenlightened, must be freed to serve the rod,
Money for their chaining seized from altars raised to God.
None can for them speak because the king has lost his head,
priests are turned to bureaucrats, and saints are lying dead.

Homebound wars of faith must all the peaceful nations flee!
Fight instead for cotton and for gold across the sea,
Fight instead for oil, which makes the highways rise;
Call it 'cost of freedom' whenever a soldier dies.

Freedom shall be given; no longer under heel,
All may follow reason, or be slaves to what they feel;
Freedom to be counted, to rise and speak your say:
Be as free as e'er you please, as long as you obey.

Babel rose in glory as the railroads ran on steam,
Bearing stones of science quarried from the land of dream,
Bearing hopes and horrors such as gods alone can make,
Weapons for the grasping hands that from the rajahs take.

Close the plains and commons; there's profit there to find;
Push the peasants off the land when they speak their mind;
Bring them, though they kick, to the progress of the age,
Teaching all that liberty is working for a wage.

'Prince of powers of the air' you thought was but a name;
Rumor broadcast on the air is power just the same:
Do your part and buy with thanks the fruits we advertise:
Factories, plastic, cars, and silver planes to fill the skies.

Life is like tradition; it is something handed down,
Being as you were before, heritage as crown;
Thirsting to be like the gods, we break the ties of past.
Ages born of breaking, though, unbroken cannot last.

Solving every problem will a newer problem form;
Never will the lightning-fire save you from the storm.
Yet you shall be mighty, as wise as gods on thrones,
Ruling land and sea and air till darkness takes your bones.

Good is not denied you; you may know all goods you please,
Nothing for the getting but to reach your hand and sieze,
Even if they harm you by their measure, mode or kind,
Even if the taking leaves a better good behind.

Greater shall you be, day by day, and year by year,
Greater in accomplishment for which you pay so dear;
Greater than the gods of old will ever men arise;
Greater till they are no more and every wonder dies.

Might on might will pile, like a tower that you build;
Moving all by reason, lightning you will wield;
Up and up to heaven, your limit only sky,
Till your meaning garbles though you know not how or why:

Every age in splendor has a doom, that it must pass;
Every age of might reveals the serpent in the grass.


S. What are the effects of this Sacrament [extreme unction]?

T. There are three things, of which the first is to remit sins that still remain after the reception of the other Sacraments, such as those which a man cannot remember, or did not know, and since he doesn't know and remember them, he cannot be sorry for them or confess them. The second is to refresh the sick and give them comfort at a time when sickness oppresses them and the demons vex them with temptations. The third is to restore the health of the body if it would be expedient to their eternal salvation. These three effects are implied in the oil used in this Sacrament, because oil comforts, refreshes, and heals.

[St. Robert Bellarmine, Doctrina Christiana: The Timeless Catechism of St. Robert Bellarmine, Grant, tr., Mediatrix Press (2016), p. 182. I have corrected a couple of minor typos.]

Wednesday, April 10, 2019


...although the principal effect of a sacrament can be had without actually receiving that sacrament, either without the sacrament or derivatively through another sacrament, nonetheless it cannot ever be had without the intention for that sacrament. And so, because penance is principally instituted against actual fault, whatever other sacrament may remove fault derivatively, it does not remove the need for penance.

[St. Thomas Aquinas, Super Sent 4 d23 q1 a2 qc1 ad 1, my translation. See also Summa Theologiae Supp.30.1ad1, which just takes this passage over directly. Aquinas is explaining why it is that, even though extreme unction remits sins, one should nevertheless also have confession with it whenever possible.]

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

What's in a Name?

In Ethics as it is usually taught today, we tend to focus on three major normative approaches, depending on what kind of reasoning they take to be fundamental: Consequentialism (of which Utilitarianism is the most common form), Deontology, and Virtue Ethics. The names we use are rather interesting, because they are a grab-bag. 'Deontology' is a leftover from an older naming system in which the major approaches to ethics were divided into Teleology and Deontology; Teleology almost completely vanished. If we were naming Virtue Ethics on the same principles, we would perhaps call it either Ethology or Aretology, but neither have been in general use. 'Consequentialism' started out as an insult-name for Teleology; it became popular because Anscombe used it, and consequentialists in responding to her kept it. It still has its insult use as a secondary meaning, but consequentialists themselves often use it, because it fits very well. If we name Deontology along the same lines, we would call it something like Obligationism or Obligationalism. I'm not sure what we would call Virtue Ethics; Characterism, perhaps. 'Virtue Ethics' is just the name people used when they started recognizing that the Teleology/Deontology distinction was significantly distorting a lot of positions for which it could not properly account. If we used the same structure for naming the other two, we would perhaps use Obligation Ethics or Rule Ethics for Deontology and Benefit Ethics for Consequentialism.

Virtue Ethics under any other name is just as Virtue-Ethical, but one wonders if the fact that the names are all on different principles has an influence on how we think about the different positions. Does the use of 'Deontology' make Deontology sound more forbidding? Since the English word 'consequence' covers so many different kinds of things, does 'Consequentialism' lead us to assign more to Consequentialism than we would if we called it 'Teleology'? Does 'Virtue Ethics' lead people to assign things to it that would make better sense assigned to the other two? It's hard to say, and I don't know of any way to be sure. But names do affect how we reason about the named things.

For instance, a hypothesis in cognitive studies of religion often goes by the name 'Hyperactive Agency Detection Device' or HADD; the rough idea is that we default to the presumption of purposeful agents, including in environmental cases. 'Hyperactive' naturally suggests to the mind that it is too active, too sensitive, always turning up false positives. But if you look at what this cognitive module is supposed to do, one easily sees that in practice it's not identifying agents but agent-candidates; for instance, we are not stuck with recognizing these things as purposeful agents -- we can later conclde that they are not, in fact, agents. And the field of initial agency-candidates is obviously going to be much larger than the field of agents, if you want to make it easier to find agents. So we could just as easily call it 'Active Agency-Candidate Detection Device'. This wouldn't matter, but if you look at how HADD figures in arguments in philosophy of religion, and to a lesser extent in cognitive science, the 'hyperactive' is obviously doing a lot of work. The name rather than the thing is guiding the reasoning.

Or consider uses of 'prediction' in both psychology and philosophy of mind. There are a lot of theories these days that go under titles like 'the Predictive Theory of Mind', and the like. The theories themselves are find; but one finds, regularly, that what they call 'prediction' is a much, much larger field than what we would usually call prediction, including things like retroduction, extrapolation of the present, acting on experience-based models, analogizing, and the like. But when we explain them, it's very difficult for them to avoid falling back on the colloquial meaning of 'prediction' as concerned with anticipating the future. The name distorts how people talk about it. To be sure, this is largely only in non-technical cases -- but even experts sometimes have to discuss the theory in non-technical contexts.

Or, God help us all, the 'National Popular Vote Compact', which is a policy that involves neither a national vote (since it doesn't change the fact that in the U.S. we only have state elections) nor a popular vote (since it doesn't change the fact that we only vote by states according to state laws in ways provided by the states through the Electoral College) nor a compact (or they should hope it's not, because interstate compacts are unconstitutional without the consent of Congress). Yet almost everything people say about the subject is based on the name, not the thing.

Or, to take a very different case. There was some stirring a while ago about corporate persons. Now, the notions of legal personhood and corporate personhood are perfectly intelligible notions, and very useful ones, and almost all of the alternate proposals were obviously stupid. But the stirring itself wasn't necessarily stupid. One could reasonably ask, "Are we being led by the name 'person' to attributes more rights to corporations and legal entities than is good or reasonable?" And this was the essential worry -- that courts were being too liberal in handling the rights of corporations to speech and the like simply on the basis of the fact that they are called 'persons' in law. It's a reasonable worry.

In none of these -- except the National Popular Vote Compact -- is there an actual problem with the name itself; in every case, the name used makes sense. But names are not arbitrary labels; they bring baggage and they create baggage, and we sometiems reason more on the name and its associations than we do with regard to the real thing. I'm sure there are lots of cases. So it's sometimes helpful at least to ask the question of whether we are being more guided in our reasoning by the name than the thing.

Lent XXX

...our healing ought to manifest the true justice of Christ the Judge. But he is not going to judge us in person before the last and final judgment. For this reason he had to commission judges who would pass particular judgments before the end of time. Now these judges are like intermediaries between offended God and offending humanity, being close to Christ and appointed over the people.

[St. Bonaventure, Breviloquium, Monti, tr., Franciscan Institute Publications (St. Bonaventure, NY: 2005), p. 248.]

Monday, April 08, 2019

Hugh of St. Victor on the Liberal Arts

...the knowledge of words is considered under two heads, namely: pronunciation and meaning. To pronunciation alone grammar applies, to meaning alone dialectic applies; to pronunciation and meaning together rhetoric applies. The knowledge of things is concerned with two points, form and nature. Form is in the exterior disposition; nature, in the interior quality. The form of things is considered either under number, to which arithmetic applies, or under proportion, to which music applies, or under dimension, to which geometry applies, or under motion to which astronomy applies. But the consideration of the interior nature of things belongs to physics.

[Hugh of St. Victor, On the Sacraments of the Christian Faith (De Sacramentis), Deferrari, tr., Ex Fontibus (2016) p. 5.]

Without having the Latin in front of me, I'd still hazard the guess that 'articulation' would probably be a less misleading translation than 'pronunciation'. By 'physics', of course, the only non-art in the list, Hugh means the old sense, in which it would be slightly broader than what we sometimes mean by 'philosophy of nature'.

Music on My Mind

Chillies, "Nếu Ngày Mai Không Đến". Nếu ngày mai không đến means, "If tomorrow never comes". It's a typical love song about a relationship that has recently broken up -- or is in the process of breaking up -- or will break up -- it's always difficult to tell since you only use tense markers in Vietnamese if you have to -- I'm sure there are clues somewhere about which is the better interpretation, but I can't catch them.


How many parts and actions are there for the Sacrament of Penance?

There are three. Firstly, Contrition, or the sorrow of the soul, the detesting of one's sins, and the aspiring toward a better life. Secondly, Confession, or the explication made of one's sins in the presence of the priest, and thereupon Satisfaction, or taking up the restitution and punishment for one's crimes in order to furnish worthy fruits of Penance.

[St. Peter Canisius, A Small Catechism for Catholics, Grant, tr., Mediatrix Press (2014), p. 64.]

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Access, Approach

“I am the Way”
by Alice Meynell

Thou art the Way.
Hadst Thou been nothing but the goal,
I cannot say
If Thou hadst ever met my soul.

I cannot see—
I, child of process—if there lies
An end for me,
Full of repose, full of replies.

I’ll not reproach
The road that winds, my feet that err.
Access, Approach
Art Thou, Time, Way, and Wayfarer.