Saturday, March 07, 2020

Lent X

When the Saviour reached the age of thirty, designing now to bring about the actual work of salvation, He first acted, then taught. Starting with the first sacrament, the foundation of all virtues, He wished to be baptized by John so as to give an example of perfect justification, and as if to impart to water, through the touch of His most pure flesh, the power of regeneration.

It is for you also to remain faithfully by His side. Once regenerated in Him, delve into His secrets, so that "on the banks of the River Jordan you may know the Father in the Voice, the Son in the Flesh, and the Holy Spirit in the Dove, and the heaven of the Trinity being open to you," you may be carried up to God.

[Bonaventure, The Works of Bonaventure I: Mystical Opuscula, José de Vinck, tr., Martino Publishing (Mansfield Centre, CT: 2016), pp. 109-110.]

The quotation is from Anselm's Meditations; the Meditations are certainly based on work by Anselm, but people seem also to have added to the work in the course of using them devotionally, so we don't know for sure what in the Meditations is definitely from Anselm and what is not.

Friday, March 06, 2020

Dashed Off IV

film as based on motion-grounded vagueness between frames

Intellect, that sacred faculty, is desecrated when it finally terminates in anything other than God.

Inquiry must be consistent with reason, but while evidence is important, reason does more than work with evidence.

"in physical things the form is the end" (Albert the Great)

Co-opting presupposes a prior teleology to be integrated into.

The post-medieval world has shown itself to be have the knack of transforming technical problems into moral problems.

the relation between in-play conditions and execution conditions for imperatives
- Often they will go together. Do they ever come apart?
- Is there anything to 'in play' beyond or different from executability?
- It seems you could say a command is not in-play because it is not executable, and it seems something could be executable for a reason other than being in-play.
- note that many things other than imperatives have execution conditions (proposed actions, recommendations, etc.)
- Recommendations can be 'in play' together despite not being co-executable; this is not true for imperatives (in play option vs in play requirement).

Every truthmaker is truthmaker for infinite truths.

"The vocabulary of flattery and insult is continually enlarged at the expense of the vocabulary of definition." (C. S. Lewis)

place value as a notation for cycles

Liberty of conscience and worship is not purely an individual right; it is communal. Nor is it a liberty without a teleology.

"it pertains to the dignity of judicial power to have certain signs that induce people to reverence and subjection" (Aquinas)

the laity as the Holy Virgin's Heel

All compositional unity presupposes relational unity.

Gratitude presupposes humility.

support for induction
(1) inductive self-consistency
(2) transcendental argument from deduction
(3) practical requirement
(4) self-evidence of general guiding principles

As probabilities are measures, they presuppose inductively discovered truths about the measurements in questions; thus Bayesianism alone cannot justify induction.

the indelible character as a being-for

the death penalty in Torah as a symbol of excommunication

To make consent the standard of morality in a domain of interpersonal relations is to make persuasion the standard; persuasion is how one obtains consent between persons. Thus the question of importance is the Socratic one.

We have no fundamental physics, only things that are somewhat like a fundamental physics, which do not quite agree.

evidence adequate for suspicion, adequate for structuring inquiry, adequate for conclusion

calculus as a mathematical description of potentiality

We usually think of words as being physically embodied in the form of sounds or marks, but we also find them in somatic manipulations -- sign language the obvious case, but also silent mouthings, letters written in air, body shapes.

role model -> abstract role model (profile, cp the Analects) -> guidelines for moral behavior

the pseudo-literati conception of literature: opinion journalism in flashy rhetorical dress, as gaudy as an Elvis impersonator in a fake-classical building in Las Vegas

metascientific vs contextualizing philosophy of science

three domains of any inquiry: the existent, the intelligible, the causal

Liberty and authority mutually support each other; separate them and they are undermined.

modern politics as the active manufacturing of discontent

different kinds of equivalence in different kinds of modal value schemes
- note that equivalence <T F> is weaker than equivalence <T F Box Diamond>

Kant's snide comment about history of philosophy in Prolegomena makes two errors: assuming that one does history of philosophy without drawing from the wellspring of reason and assuming that involves saying only what has already been said, both of which are directly contradicted by the actual evidence, and were so even in Kant's day. It should be seen as what it is: a rhetorical attempt to persuade readers that certain kinds of objections to Kant's claims are irrelevant and dismissable out of hand.

perversion of: | considered in itself | considered as communicative
rational | sophistry | lying
reproductive | contraceptive sex | unnatural parenting
nutritive | perverse eating | ?

the BEAUI conception of fallacy (Woods): bad, error, attractive, universal, incorrigible
- as Woods notes re begging the question, this is more restrictive than usually recognized
- part of the issue is that it tries to straddle too many things if you are also considering traditional lists of fallacies
- the universal (or widespread) component seems irrelevant

rhetorical tactics of defense
(from reasoning playing a less extensive role to playing a more extensive role)
(1) repetition
(2) assumption as if true
(3) favorable redescription
(4) immersion in a narrative where true
(5) argument
- note that all of these are sometimes reasonable, and none, not even (5), is always reasonable in every particular context
- (3) and (4) are plausibility-based
- A situation in which (1) is the right move is when people are overlooking or getting distracted from the essential point or just ignoring it. So arguably (1) and (2) are governed by standards of salience or clarification.

diffuse vs condensed states of argument
- much argument analysis consists of condensing a diffuse argument and much commentary consists of diffusing a condensed argument

the 'preestablished harmony' of rational arguments

Hume's comment on Descartes's 'unexpected circuit' fails to grasp the rational necessity of each step in it.

To practice is to play a character in a partly fictional scenario.

To say that moral deference is problematic is to say that there are no moral authorities.

That we recognize the existence of moral heroes, saints, and sages, establishes that some kind of moral deference is reasonable.

Everyone engages in a kind of moral deference in their use of moral vocabulary.

The unknown can have a recognizable structure. By contrasting it with the known we can know something of the way in which the unknown is unknown.

sophistry as consequentialism of argument evaluation
sophistry as conflation of dialectic and rhetoric

Implicit arguments can be seen in the practice of rejecting them by explicit arguments.

the fourth wall in philosophical argument
- Berkeley in PHK masterfully (and selectively) makes use of fourth-wall-breaking (PHK 8, 22, 23, 24 indirectly, 38, 45 indirectly, 50, 70, 76, 77, 79, 80, 81, 150, 156 indirectly)

first-wall-breaking in philosophical argument

two kinds of explanation: causal and blank-filling
-historical explanation requires both to be interwoven

We know moral virtues better than intellectual virtues (incl. knowledge), and the former prepare us for the latter.

In magnanimity, desire for honor becomes architectonic, just as in magnificence, openness to giving becomes architectonic.

respects of relevance
- a is relevant to b in such-and-such respect

operation, collection, and definition as the fundamental concepts of mathematics

the nearly universal link and analogy between office/role and clothing

the relation of alienans expressions to metaphors and similes and also to irony (could one perhaps say that alienans : irony :: simile : metaphor?)

As we are distracted from real good by pleasure, and from real understanding by the feeling of being clever, so we are distracted from real power by the feeling of empowerment.

One of the things Milton certainly gets right about sin is that Eve trades real truth and power for the feeling of being wise and powerful.

PSR as a principle of classification: if x is A, there must be something assigning it to A; if x is ~A, there must be something assigning it outside of A.

One wants a way of saying, "For all temporal Box...." or "For all deontic Diamond...."

Excessive attachment to a particular logical system is a major cause of misuse of logical systems.

the privation theory of weakness

Survival is a kind of proto-procreative good (cp Plato Symposium 207d-e); study or rational care is a kind of a super-procreative good, being for the mind both its survival through time and its procreative character.

Dionysus of Halicarnassus, On Lit Comp 25, says that Plato revised his dialogues throughout his life.

the Piraeus in the Republic as Hades

The Greeks did not think of a symposium as pellmell but as governed by a symposiarch, whose responsibility was to proportion water and wine, and who was subject to no law, but could impose even crazy laws.

Phalerum : Symposium :: Piraeus : Republic

The layers of narrative are so thick in the Symposium that they must be essential to the point: note the beginning, and the constant 'he said that he said' (cp. Brann).

Proculs (Comm. Parm.): the proemia of Platonic dialogues allegorically figure their metaphysical substance.

The value of persuasion lies wholly in its social character.

The modern free world has claimed to be peaceful on grounds that rather show it to be passive aggressive.

Standardization of measurement arises out of scientific correspondence.

category theory as a theory of deductive systems (Bell)

success in ritual // success in proof

Discrete elements arise by using continuities to measure continuities.

The primary purpose of most philosophical argument is exploration, not persuasion.

NB De Morgan's argument for external world on the basis of other minds

other-minds arguments for external world
(1) intersubjective medium
(2) coordinating cause
(3) revelation

nonzero as a number

Aristotle on existential import: Categories ch. 10

What is possible relative to a power is determined by a limiting maximum.

Hanukkah // Sukkot (2 Maccabees)

The Trinity is known in charity. (cp. Augustine DT 8.8.12)

Augustine on the style of Scripture: Letter 137.18 to Volusian

the importance of a 'cognitive state' as related to its aptness for being a symbol or type of the Beatific Vision as antitype

Meinong: As measurement is part-comparison, only divisible magnitudes are directly measurable; indivisible magnitudes are only indirectly measured, by their relation to divisible magnitudes.

'R explains p & q' is very different from 'R explains p and R explains q', even though they are relevant to each other.

Our minds grow up as objects of perspectives not our own -- not merely as it happens but as part of our experience itself.

Flashy reform is often overcompensating reform.

Developmental hypotheses in literary interpretations almost always tend toward elaborate systems of epicycles.

Assertion is often not assertion to anyone other than the asserter.

Empathy is the root of a great deal of cruelty.

It is an indictment of modern liberalism that what it calls freedom always involves someone being bossed around.

the laity as foremost in the royal mission of the Church, the clergy as foremost in the priestly mission of the Church

Historical reconstructions tend by nature to epicycles.

Open borders arguments sometimes make the mistake of assuming that there is no need for a process of becoming accustomed to a society.

humility as the purifier of virtues

Often in argument people are arguing as much against themselves as against anyone else.

politics as the art of bridging the gap between the convenient and the conscientious

decency, virtue, heroic virtue, virtue in friendship, virtue formed by charity

Of all human beings, the virtuous are most justified in building political factions and least inclined to do so.

communion: reciprocal knowledge with mutual love

assessment of arguments
moral:(practical:(structural + evidential))

Exodus 3:14 as spoken by the Son:
Justin Apol 1.63
Basil Adv. Eun 2.18

"philosophy is its own time apprehended in thought" Hegel

Periodization is a form of symbolic interpretation of history.

Lent IX

Jesus sanctified Baptism by being Himself baptized. If the Son of God was baptized, what godly man is he that despises Baptism? But He was baptized not that He might receive remission of sins, for He was sinless; but being sinless, He was baptized, that He might give to them that are baptized a divine and excellent grace. For since the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise partook of the same, that having been made partakers of His presence in the flesh we might be made partakers also of His Divine grace: thus Jesus was baptized, that thereby we again by our participation might receive both salvation and honour. According to Job, there was in the waters the dragon that draws up Jordan into his mouth. Since, therefore, it was necessary to break the heads of the dragon in pieces , He went down and bound the strong one in the waters, that we might receive power to tread upon serpents and scorpions. The beast was great and terrible. No fishing-vessel was able to carry one scale of his tail : destruction ran before him , ravaging all that met him. The Life encountered him, that the mouth of Death might henceforth be stopped, and all we that are saved might say, O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory? The sting of death is drawn by Baptism.

Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 3.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Jottings on Slurs and Pejoratives

Pejorative terms are a big, fashionable topic in philosophy of language. There's a lot of work done on them. (The IEP article on pejorative language summarizes some of the main ideas in a small part of the field.) Most of the work is not particularly good (a common problem with fashionable topics in philosophy), and I think is sometimes seriously misleading. Obvious points are missed, obvious problems overlooked, a lot of dead-end clutter based on controvertible assumptions. But my own thought on the topic has mostly been recognizing obvious problems with other people's arguments; I've never really thought through the topic in any systematic way. I'm certainly not going to be able to do that in a post, but blogging is a fairly handy way of beginning to gather your thoughts together on a topic. So some rough and not-fully-formed thoughts about issues with regard to pejorative terms.

(1) The big, fashionable subtopic in this topic is the slur. I suspect a lot of people do work on the subject because they hope that looking at the linguistic issues of slurs will help in thinking through political, social, and ethical problems. It is a subtopic, and I think not everyone publishing on the subject really grasps this. Not all pejorative terms are slurs. If I call you a doofus, 'doofus' is a pejorative term; the use, however, is probably affectionate, and affectionate pejoratives are not slurs. Likewise, pejorative terms can be insulting without being slurs. You cannot tell that something is a slur simply by looking at the word, or even always by looking at its use in its immediate context. 'Stupid' is pejorative; it can be insulting, and often is; it is not generally a slur, since in English it functions as a generic and general purpose insult. In addition, while there are terms that are only ever pejoratives, any term that can apply to someone can be used pejoratively.

A pejorative term becomes a slur in a context in which it is known that it could harm a person's reputation by specifically classifying them. 'Yankee' (or 'Yank') is a pejorative term. In Britain it might be a pejorative term for Americans; it may sometimes be a genuine insult, but it will not generally be a slur when actually applied to Americans. (Perhaps it would be a slur to apply it to an Englishman; I don't know.) In parts of New England it is a pejorative term some New Englanders use for themselves -- an affectionate pejorative. In Texas, 'Yankee' is a slur for New Englanders, and a fairly significant one; do not walk into a Texas bar and call someone a Yankee, because you might get a fist to your face. This is because of different background cultures. A New Englander calling himself or his forefathers Yankees is not assaulting his or their reputations, but probably only using the pejorative form to emphasize something that the pejorative term does, in fact, make it easier to emphasize -- trader shrewdness or boldness, for instance. It's a bit like calling a good friend a con man; you probably aren't actually trying to ruin his reputation, but instead emphasizing his cleverness, which the pejorative phrase 'con man' helps you emphasize. (Use of pejoratives as means of emphasis is quite common, in fact.) In Texas, however, there is a long, not-entirely-friendly history with New Englanders that has led the term to being rude at best and, in the right context, viciously insulting; it is an attack on a person's character and integrity, not the worst possible way to do it, but not a very mild way to do it, either.

This is true of pejoratives and slurs generally; all slurs are pejorative terms, but it's neither their extension nor their immediate use that makes them slurs, but a context in which the pejorative term becomes an attempt to harm people by way of their reputation. The most common (although still controversial) way of explaining slurs is the double-meaning or mixed expressive account: 'Norgie', for instance, is a pejorative that refers to Norwegians (its extensional or truth-conditional meaning); it expresses contempt or disapproval (its expressive or use-conditional meaning). This kind of account inevitably is much more complicated than it looks, due to the fact that pejorative terms are not always applied to their extension (like someone in Texas calling a Texan a Yankee, given that in Texas it only refers to New Englanders, especially New Yorkers), which is sometimes the whole point, and to the fact that any pejorative term (and this is true even of terms that are usually slurs) can in some contexts be used in ways that don't actually express any contempt or disapproval at all. But more fundamentally, it's clear that any such account can at best identify pejorative terms, not pejorative terms that are specifically being used as slurs.

(2) A pejorative term is a term; a slur is something classifiable for social reasons as an attack.

(3) If this is the case, then a common view of slurs -- that they have 'expressive autonomy' -- is simply wrong. Expressive autonomy, applied to slurs, is used to suggest that the slur has its full derogatory force regardless of the attitude of the person who actually uses them. A slur is a slur always. This is not plausible. First, because it does in fact matter who the speaker is; only a child thinks there's never a difference in derogatory force between when a racist uses a pejorative term about a race and when someone from that race uses the same term. Second, because slurs are actions expressive of attack, and therefore a term that is a slur in one context might not be in another.

(4) While it's common to use the word 'expressive', we have to be careful. Just as musical expressiveness cannot be reduced to actual expression, so the 'expressiveness' of a pejorative is not necessarily what someone is actually intending to express. The history matters. This is the hardest part of an account of slurs; they have to be defined not in terms of immediate context (which just gives us insults that may or may not be slurs) nor in terms of universal language contexts (which just gives us pejoratives) but in a middle context, a stable social context with a history.

(5) It is history that explains why some slurs are worse than others. On the other hand, some people have argued that a slur indicates an allegiance to a particular unified perspective; this is obviously going too far in the other direction, since it makes the history over-specify how the slur is to be understood.

(6) If you step away from slurs and look at all the accounts of pejorative terms in general, it's pretty obvious that people are just picking out some feature of general language use (tone, implicature, presupposition, or what have you) and trying to stuff pejoratives into an explanation based on that. But we should, I think, take seriously that pejoration is (1) an integral part of language in general and (2) a distinct part of language use in its own right. One reason for thinking this is that some terms seem to be able to be used pejoratively or not regardless of their tone, implicature, presupposition, etc.

There's another aspect of language that seems similar: polite compliment. Together with pejoration, compliments make up part of the etiquette of language, in a broad sense of the word 'etiquette'. Etiquette is a part of language. This is very obvious in languages like Vietnamese or Urdu or Japanese, where you can't speak correctly at all without recognizing the appropriate etiquette-situation, but it is true even in very etiquette-informal languages like English. Speaking derogatorily about people is just one of the things language is for; it's one of the things contributing directly to the meaning of words. (Fortunately for us, not doing so is also one of the things language is for.)


For several reasons Christ ought to have been circumcised. First, in order to prove the reality of His human nature, in contradiction to the Manicheans, who said that He had an imaginary body: and in contradiction to Apollinarius, who said that Christ's body was consubstantial with His Godhead; and in contradiction to Valentine, who said that Christ brought His body from heaven. Secondly, in order to show His approval of circumcision, which God had instituted of old. Thirdly, in order to prove that He was descended from Abraham, who had received the commandment of circumcision as a sign of his faith in Him. Fourthly, in order to take away from the Jews an excuse for not receiving Him, if He were uncircumcised. Fifthly, "in order by His example to exhort us to be obedient" [Bede, Hom. x in Evang.]. Wherefore He was circumcised on the eighth day according to the prescription of the Law (Leviticus 12:3). Sixthly, "that He who had come in the likeness of sinful flesh might not reject the remedy whereby sinful flesh was wont to be healed." Seventhly, that by taking on Himself the burden of the Law, He might set others free therefrom, according to Galatians 4:4-5: "God sent His Son . . . made under the Law, that He might redeem them who were under the Law."

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 3.37.1.

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Two Poem Drafts

Oulipo was a sort of reaction against surrealist poetry; the surrealists broke all rules and made the most of chance, so Oulipo built its poems out of rules and determinism. The name 'Oulipo' stands for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle; 'potential literature' was the exploration of pure technical capacity to use structures and patterns, thus making it a form of avant-garde in my scheme of quasi-arts. In any case, one Oulipo technique was S+7, in which you pick a text and replace every noun (substantif, hence the 'S') with the seventh noun after it in the dictionary. The second poem below -- I suppose for consistency I should call it a quasi-poem -- is a modified version, S+7/A+7, in which I took a sentence (from Kant, as it happens) and changed every noun to the seventh noun after it in a dictionary and every adjective to the seventh adjective after it in the same dictionary, and I did this three different times with three different dictionaries. One of the difficulties with this technique in English is that English has a small core of very common Anglo-Saxon vocabulary with an immense secondary vocabulary of latinate words, with the result that everything increases in pomposity, because every simple noun or adjective is likely to be replaced by a latinate one. Hence lectures; but the determinism of Oulipian writing against the chance of a dictionary ironically gives it a surreal feel, hence dreams.

Stormy Day

Darkening clouds growl and crash,
tongues of storm, lightning splash,
cavalry across the sky;
bolting stallions madly dash,
unafraid to blaze and die.

The world is hurled by roaring wind,
the wild bacchanals descend;
these showers flood; no roof, no shield
can from the dripping drops defend,
each drop a wish on pavement-field.

Those wishes wash my words away,
no language left, just heart to pray.

Lectures in Dreams

An everyday compatibility
under dominant motherly lethargy
is a circumference, which inasmuch as it is not
the obsession of a precarious explosive
is called the circumference irrational
(the meticulous idiocy
of the urchin of ambivalent hygienic bellies
under disconcerted yet motherly dominant wrong graft
as serves for the argot of applicable sumptuous graft
to be founded by hygienic bellies).

An ethnocentric compages
under documentary morganatic legroom
is a churl, which inasmuch as it is not
the obligee of a postgraduate explant
is called the churl inwrought
(the mesne identification
of the Unitarian of allusive humic Belgians
under disadvantageous yet morganatic documentary worshipful grab
as serves for the architrave of apian sudoriferous grab
to be founded by humic Belgians).

A eurythermal communique
under doddered Moresque lehua
is a churn, which inasmuch as it is not
the obligation of a postern expiration
is called the churn involuntary
(the Merovingian ideogram
of the unity of allied upstate humeral beliefs
under dirt yet Moresque doddered wormy gownsman,
as serves for the archine of aphotic sufficient gownsman
to be founded by humeral beliefs).

Triads and Julian of Norwich (Re-Post)

Since I'm reading Julian, I thought I would put this up; it's very weird reading something you originally wrote twenty-two years ago, and even on the blog it was posted thirteen years ago. The syntactic devices used in the building of Julian's theological interpretations of her visions are still, I think, important for understanding what she is doing, and the awkwardness of expression doesn't make my nineteen-year-old self any less right about it. I have corrected a few typos and unbearably awkward expressions, though.


I came across the following some time ago when going through some papers; it is a short essay written in the summer of '98 (the date on the paper is 15.7.98), my sophomore year of college, for a course on women and literature in the later Medieval and Renaissance periods. Needless to say, there are a number of things I would do differently now, and it's all very clumsily expressed, but in the main it is right, and I thought it would be interesting to put it up.

Use of Triadic Form in Julian's Revelations of Divine Love

With careful examination one can find many literary, as opposed to theological or philosophical, qualities in Julian's Revelation of Divine Love. One such literary characteristic is Julian's use of syntactic features, such as parallelism or repetition, to further the themes of her work. This is perhaps most easily seen in her continual use of the triad to emphasize the Trinitarian aspects of the message of the Revelation.

By far the most common triad in Julian's work is that of might, wisdom, and goodness. The first instance of this occurs in the first chapter, in her summary of what will follow in Revelation XIII. The sense of the usage is that, just as God has made everything with might, wisdom, and goodness, everything will be made right again by means of the same might, wisdom, and goodness (1:38-40). This is shown to be a good preparatory summary in the fact that this same triad is mentioned in Revelation XIII in a context that elaborates on this very thought (35:26-35). In these passages, however, Julian is not speaking of might, wisdom, and goodness as general characteristics of the Godhead, but of the three together, functioning as a unity, being the very Godhead. Each of the three characteristics, might, wisdom, and goodness, is proper to one of the three Persons of the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. THus, when Julian says in Revelation XIV that it is neither in the might of God, nor in the wisdom of God, nor in the goodness of God to be wrathful (46:33-35), she is saying that the very substance of God, threefold yet one, is not in any way wrathful. That this is the case is given in a passage later during the same Revelation. In this passage she gives the identification very clearly: "And thus in oure makyng god almyghty is oure kyndly fader, and god all wisdom is oure kindly mother, with the loue and the goodnes of the holy gost, whych is all one god, one lord" (58:12-14). Here are found the elements of might, wisdom,a nd goodness, each identified with one Person of the Trinity. Thus, might is the characteristic of God the Father; wisdom is the characteristic of God the Son, who is also referred to in Julian's works, as here, as the Mother; and goodness is a characteristic of God the Holy Spirit. For Julian, therefore, human interaction with the Godhead is highly Trinitarian. When a human being experiences God, it is an experience of "souereyne myghte, souereyne wysdom and souereyn goodnesse" (68:12-14).

Another triad is found on multiple occasions in the Revelations, which is sufficiently similar to the previous to be considered a variation, to wit, might, wisdom, and love. In matter of fact, the two triads are identical in their referents and interchangeable; what this new triad, the second most common in the work, does is to give an idea of what Julian means the reader to understand the work of the Holy Spirit to be. This is shown by Julian's assignation of the characteristic or property of love, along with the characteristic of goodness, to the Holy Spirit in the quotation from Revelation XIV above. The relationship between love and goodness as seen by Julian is even more clearly brought out in a passage that occurs earlier in the same Revelation. In this passage, Julian, speaking of how God created humanity, speaks of "loue made of the kyndly substanncyall goodnesse of the holy gost" along with the might of the Father and the wisdom of the Son (53:36-39). Love and goodness are, as was said, interchangeable in the triad, since they have the same referent, but in Julian give a somewhat more active implication than does goodness. Thus, one finds that when Christ in Revelation III speaks of himself as the one who leads all things to the end he has ordained, he uses this triad (11:53-56). In the same place the soul is said to be "examynyd" in the vision "myghtly, wysely, and louyngly" (11:56-57). This is an elaboration of the theme summarized for this Revelation in the first chapter, where Julian uses this triad for the first time (1:10-13). Might, wisdom, and love are also brough together in Revelation XIV, in a passage in which Julian speaks of the way in which God keeps the souls of the believers (62:5-10). Perhaps the most important use of the triad occurs earlier in this same Revelation during the discussion of how God has no wrath. In one sense, what is used here is not a triad but a tetrad, since it has four members: might, wisdom, charity, and unity (46:31-32). It can be easily seen, however, that unity does not function at the same level as the other three, because it is that which joins the other three together. The conclusion is obvious: here Julian is emphasizing the Trinity, not merely as the Godhead of Three Persons, but also, simultaneously, as one God. At times the property of goodness also serves as this function; one example of which can be seen at the end of Revelation I.

There are several lesser variants of these two primary triads that fulfill the same function of further Julian's Trinitarian theme. Some of these triads are similar in that they refer to God the Father with the property kind. These are often less obviously Trinitarian than the triads given above, but the Trinitarian trace can still be found in them. In a pssage found in the long Reverlation XIV, Julian uses the triad kind, mercy, and grace, in a way that, upon investigation, can be seen to refer to the Trinity: "For in kynde we haue oure lyfe and oure beyng, and in mercy and grace we haue oure encre and oure fulfyllyng" (56:43-44). Kind, or nature, is reserved to God the Father, whos it he beginning point of the Trinitarian procession of Persons, and so is, in a sense, the very substance of the Godhead. In mercy one can immediately see the saving action of God the Son, who died on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, while grace is a characteristic of God the Spirit, who is the gift given by God the Father and God the Son to the Church, as, for example, at Pentecost. A similar triad is found later on, when Julian is discussing the nature of Motherhood in the Godhead, which is, she says, nearest, readiest, and surest: "nerest for it is most of kynd, redyest for it is most of loue, and sekerest for it is most of trewth" (60:14-16). Kind, as has been seen, is a characteristic of the Father, and love, of course, of the Spirit. The relationship between wisdom and truth, should be obvious, particularly in how, if one applies to the Second Person of the Trinity, the other can also reasonably be said to apply.

Other variant triads refer less to the substance of the Persons of the Trinity and focus more on their operations. An example of this is found in Revelation I, where Julian says that God made human beings to himself, restored them by his Passion, and keeps them in his love (5:44-46). God the maker, God the restorer, and God the keeper are, in fact, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as any sharp eye might perceive. In the same Revelation Julian speaks of how no one can know the homeliness of the Father in this life unless they receive it by a special showing from Christ or by an inwardly given grace of the Holy Spirit (7:55-58). These are just a few instances that show how dominated by the Trinity Julian's theological thought is.

Perhaps one of the most interesting uses to which Julian puts the triad to further her Trinitarian emphasis is in speaking of the human being. In Revelation XIV Julian says that "oure soule is a made trynyte lyke to the unmade trynyte" (55:40-41), an integral part of Julian's anthropology that could have been discovered from a study of her use of the triadic function. In several places Julian uses triads in describing the human being in such a way as to leave no doubt about how important the Trinity is in her view for understanding humanity. In one place, speaking of human nature when apart from God, she says that it is "vnmyghty and vnwyse of hym selfe, and also his wyll is ovyr leyde in thys tyme he is in tempest and in sorow and woe" (47:17-19). In this can be seen the transformation of the human soul, made in the image of the Trinity, into the reverse of the triad of might, wisdom, and love or goodness. Similarly, she says that the Christian's willing assent to the presence of God involves loving Him with all one's heart, soul, and might (52:23-26), in which one can also see the human type of the Trinitarian antitype. Further on she says, "Oure feyth comyth of the kynde loue of oure soule, and of the clere lyghte or oure reson, and of the stedfaste mynde whych we haue of god in oure furst makyng" (55:14-16). Here is shown the exact manner in which Julian conceives the human being to be made in God's image, once again Trinitarian in form: humanity has "stedfaste mynde" like the Father, reason like the Son, and love like the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps more important than these, however, is her assertion in Revelation XVI of the three ways in which God is worshipped and human beings are "sped, kepte and savyd," namely, one's own reason, the teaching authority of the Church, and the experience of the interior working of the Spirit (80:1-8). Each of these three are given to use by God and are, as a result to be respected and used. The human reason, in a sense, proceeds from God the Father, who created it. The teaching authority of the Church proceeds form God the Son because He is both the Head of the Church and the subject matter taught by the Church's gospel. These two, when added to the graces bestowed through the Holy Spirit, constitute what might be called Julian's theological epistemology. By means of these three gifts, which the Christian must continually use, one comes to know oneself and God; because from these three sources come the virtues of faith, hope, and charity, in which the entire Christian life is grounded (7:58-65).

So rich is Julian's work with triads, it is soon seen to be far beyond the capability of a short essay to investigate the entire depth of meaning Julian is able to place in her words by means of this simple syntactic device. It is certain, however, that she uses the mechanism with ease and mastery, giving every triad a use that is more than merely rhetorical. Nor can one say that only the Trinitarian aspects of Julian's revelations are shown by her use of the triad; as was seen above, some of her most obviously Trinitarian triads further anthropological, ethical, and epistemological themes as well. Given this, and the wealth of other well-used syntactic devices found in the Revelations of Divine Love, one can truly say that Julian of Norwich is a masterful writer.

Lent VII

Now, on the eighth day, the Child was circumcised, and was called Jesus. By thus offering His blood so soon for you as a price, He showed Himself to be your true and only Saviour; that the Saviour promised to our forefathers through word and sign, and like unto them in all things save ignorance and sin. For this reason, also, He received the mark of circumcision; that, coming in the likeness of sinful flesh, He might condemn sin in the flesh, and become our Salvation, and our eternal Justification, by beginning His life with an act of humility, the root and guardian of all virtues.

Bonaventure, The Tree of Life I.5.

[Bonaventure, The Works of Bonaventure I: Mystical Opuscula, José de Vinck, tr., Martino Pulbishing (Mansfield Centre, CT: 2016), p. 107.]

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Lent VI

Upon the arrival, therefore, of the eighth day, on which it was customary for the circumcision in the flesh to be performed according to the enactment of the law, He receives His Name, even Jesus, which by interpretation signifies, the Salvation of the people. For so had God the Father willed that His Son should be named, when born in the flesh of a woman. For then especially was He made the salvation of the people, and not of one only, but of many, or rather of every nation, and of the whole world. He received His name, therefore, on the same occasion on which He was circumcised.

But come, and let us again search and see, what is the riddle, and to what mysteries the occurrence directs us. The blessed Paul has said, "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing." To this it is probable that some may object, Did the God of all then command by the all-wise Moses a thing of no account to be observed, with a punishment decreed against those that transgressed it? Yes, I say: for as far as regards the nature of the thing, of that, I mean, which is done in the flesh, it is absolutely nothing, but it is pregnant with the graceful type of a mystery, or rather contains the hidden manifestation of the truth. For on the eighth day Christ arose from the dead, and gave us the spiritual circumcision.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke, Sermon III.

Monday, March 02, 2020

Ethics and Reasoning V (Kant)

On Kant's approach to ethical reasoning, as previously noted, all our reasoning has to be be grounded on the assumption that moral law is unconditional. One of the implications of this is that it does not depend on human nature. It is thus perhaps not surprising that people sometimes come away with a sense that Kantian ethics is very inhuman. But while Kant does not think moral law depends on human nature or human life, Kant does think that human nature responds to moral law so that we can say that, in at least some ways, human nature is well suited to a moral life. Kant's discussions of these aspects of human nature and life are scattered, but we can roughly divide them into three groups, insofar as they relate primarily to self-cultivation, to aesthetics, or to religion.

I. Self-cultivation

In The Metaphysics of Morals, Kant suggests that we have four natural predispositions fitting us to follow the moral law that, indeed, are effects of the fact that we can recognize moral law at all. These four predispositions are our moral endowments. They are not the source of our obligations, and if we lacked them, we could not be obligated to get them. But these four are, as it were, the grip of moral law on us. They are moral sentiment, conscience, love of neighbor, and reverence for self.

(1) Moral sentiment. It has commonly been thought that we have a sort of feeling of approval or disapproval that is specifically moral; some people had even thought that this could be the foundation of morality. Kant, of course, doesn't think so, but he does think we really do have such a feeling, a sense that something is consonant or dissonant with moral law. When we feel the necessity of duty, this is moral sentiment. Without it we would still be under moral law but our capacity to act according to it would be deadened; we would be no different in our action from a beast.

(2) Conscience. Conscience is our practical reason not insofar as it considers moral law as such but insofar as it judges our own action under it. This is why it is inevitable that we will tend to think of it as a sort of inner tribunal before which we are judged. Because this judgment is subjective, i.e., about us in particular rather than about the universal and unconditional, moral law does not depend on it. But we could not recognize ourselves as responsible, and especially not morally responsible, for our own actions without it. Our conscience, properly speaking, cannot err because it is practical reason itself; but we do need to cultivate it in the sense that we need to pay close attention to it as the monitor of our particular actions and learn how not to be misled by nonrational factors.

(3) Love of our neighbor, which Kant also calls philanthropy. Love in this sense (unlike, say, benevolent action) is not the sort of thing that Kant thinks we can do by choice, so Kant thinks we have no obligation to love our neighbor. However, we can do good things to our neighbor until a love of them spontaneously arises, and this love consolidates our ability to recognize them as ends in themselves.

(4) Reverence for ourselves. Respect for the law draws out of us a reverence for ourselves as ends in ourselves; this reverence is again not something to which we are obligated, but it is a kind of emotional fortification of our ability to recognize ourselves as having dignity. It is by this reverence, for instance, that we recognize ourselves as the equal of other rational beings.

These four, again, are not the source of moral obligation; but being in a sense the natural response of human nature to moral law, they color our moral duties -- perhaps in a sense we can even say that they humanize them. For instance, we have a duty to benefit the poor, but recognizing that the poor have their own self-reverence, we find ourselves needing to benefit them in a way that would not humiliate them. From love of neighbor we recognize that our duty to do good to others has to involve taking their ends and interests as our own, as long as these are not immoral. And so forth.

Virtue, which is a kind of firmness in the doing of our duty, which we need if we are to follow moral law consistently, according to its very notion has to be cultivated. It is in this sense that ethics needs to be taught. It is taught, first, by ethical catechetics, leading those who are wholly untutored to understand their duties and what is required for them. This cannot, of course, be based on any conveniences or benefits provided by doing one's duty -- that would be to treat morality as if it were not morality -- but rather the point is to make the student see more clearly what he has the natural predisposition to see, namely, that vice is shameful and virtue is honorable.

The actual cultivation of virtue requires ethical ascetics, a self-discipline guided by rules. These rules will need to have a two results if followed: firmness and cheerfulness in the performance of our duties. Kant takes his inspiration on the firmness side from the Stoics and on the cheerfulness side from the Epicureans. The firmness rule derived from the Stoics is summed up in the slogan, bear and forbear; we are to endure misfortune without complaint and abstain from unnecessary enjoyments. He uses the metaphor of a healthy diet: by doing these things we are keeping our minds healthy in a way that makes the vigorous pursuit of our duty possible. The cheerfulness rule derived from the Epicureans is to cultivate a serene frame of mind focused on joy and not (for instance) constant self-criticism and self-punishment. The Epicurean rule Kant regards as differentiating his ethical ascetics from the asceticism of the monasteries, which he regards as immoral and hypocritical.

II. Aesthetics

Another way in which our natures can be seen to be responsive to moral law is in the field of aesthetics, because our aesthetic judgments, while they must be sharply distinguished from our moral judgments, nonetheless have a sort of relation to them. Kant takes aesthetics in the broad sense to be the way we combine the particular and the universal, and the most obvious aesthetic judgments are perhaps judgments of taste, by which we judge things as beautiful or ugly. These judgments have four common features:

(1) They arise from a satisfaction that is immediate in our reflective experience.

(2) This satisfaction is disinterested, not dependent on what is useful or beneficial to us.

(3) They relate the freedom of our imagination to a sort of law.

(4) They are put forward as valid for everyone on the basis of experience; to judge something beautiful is to go beyond judging that you yourself like it, and implies that you think other human beings could judge similarly.

Moral judgments, Kant thinks, also have four common features, which have similarities to the features of aesthetic judgment, despite in each case there being some difference:

(1) They arise from a satisfaction that is immediate in understanding its concept.

(2) This satisfaction is disinterested, in that moral judgment has a sort of priority over any interest.

(3) They relate the freedom of will to the universal laws of reason.

(4) They are put forward as absolutely universal for all rational beings.

Thus even though the beautiful and the morally good are very different, the cast of mind, the shape of our thought, the process of thinking, when we judge something to be beautiful is analogous to the same cast of mind when we judge something to be morally good. On the basis of this Kant argues that the beautiful is the symbol of the morally good.

The significance of this is at least twofold. First, it explains why our aesthetic and moral vocabularies blur into each other. Second, it means that at least a judicious cultivation of our sense of beauty can serve an indirect moral purpose by breaking us out of a selfish regard for what is only in our own interest. As he puts it in The Critique of Judgment:

A reference to this analogy is usual even with the common Understanding [of men], and we often describe beautiful objects of nature or art by names that seem to put a moral appreciation at their basis. We call buildings or trees majestic and magnificent, landscapes laughing and gay; even colours are called innocent, modest, tender, because they excite sensations which have something analogous to the consciousness of the state of mind brought about by moral judgements. Taste makes possible the transition, without any violent leap, from the charm of Sense to habitual moral interest; for it represents the Imagination in its freedom as capable of purposive determination for the Understanding, and so teaches us to find even in objects of sense a free satisfaction apart from any charm of sense.

There is, however, another kind of aesthetic judgment that in some ways has an even closer relationship with moral judgment, and this is the judgment that something is sublime.

Caspar David Friedrich - Wanderer above the sea of fog
Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer Above the Sea of Mist

The sublime is what inspires awe, and its nature was a big puzzle that early modern philosophers devoted a fair amount of time trying to clarify. It seems very paradoxical; the awe we have in experiencing the sublime seems related to fear, dread, and humiliation, giving us a sense of our own insignificance, but it is not a negative emotion, being instead often energizing and exhilarating. The sublime pleases us even while it overwhelms us. It is associated with beauty, but paradigmatic cases of beauty are all of things that have clear boundaries and structure, whereas the sublime seems boundless. And the contrast with beauty makes the paradoxical character of sublimity even greater: beauty has the pleasantness that goes with a nice 'fit' between our minds and the world, but the sublime is pleasant despite the fact that it almost seems to do violence to our imaginations, as being too much for them. Kant would take several previous lines of thought and weave them into one of the most influential theories of the sublime that has ever been proposed. The key idea in his account is that the paradoxes of sublimity arise because the experience contrasts two aspects of our own mind: our limited, sensible, animal self and our rational self. In the experience we are recognizing the insignificance of our limited animal lives but this recognition itself shows the significance of our reason, which can surpass our animal limits even to the point of thinking about infinity and universality. The sublime is that which is such that merely being able to think it shows we have a mental capability that exceeds the limitations of sense.

This is important in that sublimity is a way in which the moral law enters into our sensible experience. The moral law itself is purely intellectual and thus has no necessarily associated aesthetic experience. However, in certain moral experiences we have feelings that suggest the unconditional character of moral law to our minds, and this creates precisely the contrast required for experience of the moral law as sublime. The experience Kant particularly has in mind is that of moral sacrifice, in which out of our freedom we experience a deep feeling of deprivation of some sensible good; this simultaneously expresses our sensible insignificance and intelligible dignity, and thus the natural human response to a clear recognition of moral law is awe, or respect, or reverence, toward the moral law as sublime. The moral law, again, is the moral law regardless of whether we ever experience its sublimity; but experience of its sublimity helps us to maintain its priority over every sensible interest and benefit.

III. Religion

Even granted that there is something in human nature that is responsive to moral law, one may still worry about our ability to live a moral life. The moral law itself is something pure and constant and unconditional; human beings are quite limited and wavering. Whether our maxims are moral may not depend on whatever other ends we have in view, but it is nonetheless true that as human beings we have to have other ends in view. We are not simply acting on moral law, like pure rational beings; we have to coordinate being animals in the world with the absolute primacy of moral law, and that continually raises the possibility of our failing to act morally. Can we really do what moral law requires? We can press the matter by considering three obvious obstacles that we as human beings, both animal and rational, have in our attempt to live according to moral law.

(1) It's clear that our own experience of our choices recognizes a significant influence from the world around us -- we don't act in a void, but are influenced by other things. And it is very easy for us to conclude that the world around us is a world of strict cause and effect, in which everything happens according to laws of nature. But if this is true of ourselves as well, then we will in fact often not be able to act morally, because external causes will come together in such a way as to make us fail. Kant doesn't think we can know with certainty that this is not the case.

(2) Moral law is absolutely perfect. But human beings cannot jump to a state of absolute perfection; moral action is something we have to cultivate and in which we have to grow. We live morally by working constantly to become more moral. As we do so, the moral law holds out for our goal the completely moral life. But this is a goal we cannot achieve in a lifetime. If death is the end, it is an end that will inevitably come before we have achieved what moral law requires of us, and so is an end that guarantees our moral failure. Again, Kant thinks that as far as we certainly know, this may well be the case.

(3) Moral law requires us to work toward the most complete good for the whole community of rational beings, which he calls the highest good. The complete good is, of course, a society in conformity with moral law, but moral law requires us to work for the happiness of those who are worthy of happiness. But, says Kant, there is no necessary connection, as far as we can see, between morality and happiness. Moral law does not in any way depend on happiness and happiness is not distributed according to desert (that is, moral law) but according to natural causes. We do not have control over the entire frame of nature. If this is the case, we may be doomed from the beginning to fail to do what moral law requires. And again, Kant thinks we can't know certainly that this is not true.

This seems a pretty miserable state in which to be, one in which we are constantly required to do things at which we will inevitably fail. However, Kant sees a way out. He doesn't (unlike some people) think we can know that our three problematic scenarios are false, but practical action doesn't depend on knowledge alone. In practical action it can also be reasonable to act on hope, if the hope is an adequate ground. We don't have certain principles in these cases, but we can have postulates for practical purposes. A postulate is something we assume not necessarily because it is true but because it simplifies a problem so that it can be solved. Moral law tells us we always have to choose what is moral, no matter what. Now, moral law is reason itself legislating for itself, so by definition what moral law requires of us is rational, and an assumption that we have to make in order to do what is rational is also rational. So even though we don't know, we can postulate that we have free will that enables us always to choose what is right. Maybe this is true, maybe it is not, but moral law itself gives us reason to hope that it is true, and even if we didn't think we had free will, acting morally would still involve acting as if we had something like free will. This deals with our first problematic scenario. Likewise, we can postulate that we have immortality -- that death is not the end of our moral progress. We can also postulate that there is a cause capable of weaving our actions into a world in which morality and nature, virtue and happiness, eventually work as one, namely, God. The moral law, again, doesn't depend on any of these three postulates. But Kant does insist that the moral law licenses hoping that something like them is true, and, further, that life according to moral law will be a life that works very much as if they are true.

The existence of God raises the question of the relationship between morality and religion, and Kant thinks that in fact religion has a role to play in the moral life. The moral law, being unconditional, does not depend on divine commands in the way a divine command theorist would claim. However, Kant holds that if you accept the moral law on its own terms you can recognize the duties required by moral law as also commanded by God; they can be seen as commands of the God we have postulated to exist, the one who is unifying virtue and happiness in the long run. This is what Kant always means when he talks about religion: morality taken as commanded by God making possible the highest good. Moral law inevitably leads to religion in this sense because moral law requires of us what is only actually attainable if something like a divine agent is organizing the world, in the long run, as a moral system. The moral law likewise requires us to work for a moral society, the ethical commonwealth, a community based wholly on moral laws; but such a commonwealth could only be constituted as a people, rather than a mere fiction, if it has a governing power establishing a public regime based wholly on moral law. Since moral law does not confine itself to external behavior, but governs internal thought, this governing power would have to have jurisdiction over the heart as well as the body, and that quite clearly starts sounding like God. The ethical commonwealth towards which moral law requires us to work can only be fully conceived if it is a people living under divine commands, namely, a Kingdom of God, in which the laws are moral laws, and only moral laws.

Such an ethical commonwealth does not fully exist, although moral law requires us to work toward it. However, we can form actual societies that are our best approximations to it. Only God could guarantee that the ethical commonwealth will eventually come about. The sublime idea of the ethical commonwealth dwindles, Kant says, when fallible human beings try to fulfill their obligation to work toward it; the best we can do at any given moment is not an ethical commonwealth but what Kant calls a church. The true church is the community that most harmonizes with the idea of the ethical commonwealth, and will have four characteristics:

(1) It will be based on the universal laws of morality and therefore one.

(2) It will be pure, recognizing no legitimate motivations except those that are moral, and thus will reject all superstition and fanaticism.

(3) It will be free, involving neither a hierarchy nor a community governed by special inspirations.

(4) It will have an immutable constitution; its purely administrative guidelines may change, but its fundamental laws, being the laws of morality, cannot.

It's quite blatantly obvious that this is Kant's proposal for replacing the traditionally understood Notes of the Church in Christianity (One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic). And Kant is quite straightforward about it, rejecting all church structures as those of the true and universal church except those that see the church as a sort of family under an invisible divine Head, with no popes or patriarchs, no bishops, and no prophets. However, in practice all churches, i.e., actual representations of the ethical commonwealth, are colored by some historical origin or other; what we normally call churches are non-universal communities that water down the principles of the true church, and in particular, they try to add laws and rites that are not purely moral. All human beings are capable of being part of the universal church to the extent that they purely devote themselves to moral laws as divine commands, a life of pure religious faith; this is true regardless of whatever religious tradition they may be a part. Despite the watered-down character of religious traditions, Kant thinks it can be fine to be a part of a religious tradition as long as you take the pure religious faith that makes you a member of the universal church as the standard for interpreting the customs of your religious tradition, and not vice versa. Over time, a religious tradition interpreted this way brings the community belonging to it closer and closer to the ethical commonwealth.

Thus Kant's conception of religion and of a church actually plays a considerable role in his ethics; insofar as we are participating in the church, as long as we are doing it in a proper way, we are engaging and improving in our moral lives, not merely as individuals but as an entire community growing closer and closer to the true moral community of the ethical commonwealth -- by way of the church, the merely possible kingdom of ends comes closer and closer to actuality (although only if we postulate something like God can we hope that it will actually be achieved). This is an aspect of Kantian ethics that is often missed. It is very easy to interpret Kantianism as an ethics wholly concerned with isolated individuals, because the choices we make are expressed in maxims that are governed directly by a moral law we each can know by our individual reason. But while the moral law applies directly and immediately to each rational being without the intermediation of any other rational beings, Kant thinks of the moral law itself as something that can only be conceived adequately if it is understood as something uniting an at-least-possible community (a kingdom of ends), which the moral law itself requires us to work to make more than merely possible. Religion, in his very specific sense, is how Kant thinks this works in practice. The possible kingdom of ends, conceived as something we can hope to achieve, is conceived as Kingdom of God, which we approximate by way of the church, interpreted as subject to moral law rather than a source of it. Many Kantians today simply drop all of Kant's discussion of religion, but in so doing they are dropping the part of Kant's ethics that makes the moral life an actual communal and cooperative effort.

In any case, Kant's full moral interpretation of religion is somewhat difficult (and shifts about a bit throughout his career); this is just enough to give a sense of how it serves as yet another way in which Kant recognizes that the human pursuit of moral law must in practice go beyond mere rational recognition of one's duty.

We have to this point considered consequentialism and deontology. There is a third approach that needs to be considered, which is usually called virtue ethics, and that is what the next post will begin to discuss.

Lent V

Christ willed to be born in Bethlehem for two reasons. First, because "He was made . . . of the seed of David according to the flesh," as it is written (Romans 1:3); to whom also was a special promise made concerning Christ; according to 2 Samuel 23:1: "The man to whom it was appointed concerning the Christ of the God of Jacob . . . said." Therefore He willed to be born at Bethlehem, where David was born, in order that by the very birthplace the promise made to David might be shown to be fulfilled. The Evangelist points this out by saying: "Because He was of the house and of the family of David." Secondly, because, as Gregory says (Hom. viii in Evang.): "Bethlehem is interpreted 'the house of bread.' It is Christ Himself who said, 'I am the living Bread which came down from heaven.'"

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 3.35.7.

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Fortnightly Book, March 1

In 1373 in Norwich, a woman about thirty years of age came down so sick that she had good reason to think that she was going to die. After the priest performed the last rites, she began to have a series of visions -- fifteen distinguishable ones over the course of a few hours, and then another the next day. Within a few days, she was completely recovered. And the result was (in two different versions) one of the most remarkable English texts of the day.

We do not know if it was her original name, but she is known to the world as Julian of Norwich. She was an anchorite -- we don't know if she was already an anchorite when she had her visions, or if she become one in response to them. An anchorite lives a particular kind of religious life which can be thought of as half-way between a cenobitic life and an eremitic life; that is, an anchorite is something like a monk or nun and something like a hermit. Standardly, an anchorite would live permanently in a small cell adjoined to a church or chapel, able to participate in the sacraments of the church and talk with those who came by to do so, but otherwise completely cut off from the world; in fact, standardly, the beginning of the anchoritic life was a funeral service in which the anchorite was 'buried' in their anchorhold, and from then on they could never leave it. In Julian's day it was a very popular form of religous life in England, both to join and to support; anchorites were often the spiritual center of their local community, available at all times to give advice or to pray for you. Julian's anchorhold is usually thought to be that of St. Julian's Church, which was named either after St. Julian the Hospitaller or St. Julian of Le Mans; she may have chosen the church because she shared its name, or she may have taken the name by which we know her from the church. We don't know. While Norwich by the end of the Middle Ages had a lot of anchoritic cells, Julian seems to be the first anchorite in Norwich of which we have any knowledge. Not counting her own works, she is mentioned in several wills and was visited by Margery Kempe.

Sometime shortly after her discovery she wrote down her visions in a book known as the Shewings (or later, as the Revelations of Divine Love), which is often called today the Short Text. Later, having had extensive time to reflect on the visions and come to understand things she might not have originally considered significant, she rewrote the work into the from known as the Long Text. The Short Text largely languished in libraries until it was published in 1911; the Long Text was copied and preserved, largely by Benedictine nuns, and was translated into French in the seventeenth century, where it stayed popular enough eventually to lead to republication of the English version in the nineteenth century. Wikipedia has a really nice graphic of the manuscript history of both versions. The book is often considered one of the great works of fourteenth-century English literature.

So Julian's Revelations is the next fortnightly book. I'll be reading it in the Norton Critical Edition, The Showings of Julian of Norwich, edited by Denise Baker; it is a Long Text version, derived from the Paris Manuscript, the scribe of which modernized some of the vocabulary and grammar into sixteenth century English, without making any massive changes to the main text.