Saturday, March 21, 2020

Higher Engagements

Providence has fitted mankind for the higher engagements which they are sometimes obliged to fulfil; and it is in the midst of such engagements that they are most likely to acquire or to preserve their virtues. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties, not in enjoying the repose of a pacific station; penetration and wisdom are the fruits of experience, not the lessons of retirement and leisure; ardour and generosity are the qualities of a mind roused and animated in the conduct of scenes that engage the heart, not the gifts of reflection or knowledge. The mere intermission of national and political efforts is, notwithstanding, sometimes mistaken for public good; and there is no mistake more likely to foster the vices, or to flatter the weakness, of feeble and interested men.

Adam Ferguson, An Essay on the History of Civil Society, Part VI, Section IV.

Music on My Mind

Kenny Rogers, "The Gambler". Kenny Rogers died in hospice care yesterday at the age of eighty-one. He had 39 studio albums and twenty-one singles that reached number one on the country music charts.

Lent XII

He is the Lord who alone does wondrous deeds; who changes material substances, multiplies the loaves, walks on the waters and calms the waves; who restrains the demons and drives them to flight; who cures the sick, cleanses the lepers, and raises the dead; who makes the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and the lame to walk; who restores sensation and motion to the palsied and the withered.

Our sinful conscience cries out to Him, now with the faithful leper: "Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean"; now with the centurion: "Lord, my servant is lying sick in the house, paralyzed, and is grievously afflicted"; again, with the woman of Canaan: "Have pity on me, O Lord, Son of David"; with the woman suffering from hemorrhage: "If I touch but His cloak, I shall be saved"; and with Mary and Martha: "Lord, behold, he whom Thou lovest is sick."

Bonaventure, The Tree of Life 1.11.

[Bonaventure, The Works of Bonaventure I: Mystical Opuscula, José de Vinck, tr., Martino Publishing (Mansfield Centre, CT: 2016), pp. 110-111.]

Friday, March 20, 2020

Dashed Off V

This ends the notebook that was finished in December 2018. A fair amount about Boole's logic and Mill's philosophy of religion here.

the felt experience of something qua something, and of another qua another
-- the experience of being one with something that is another

The modernist error, Self-identification is identity, is a variant of a more general error, Freedom is self-creation.

It is an error to conflate what someone deserves of society and what someone deserves simply; the former depends on the responsibilities of society.

multitudo as transcendental
explicitly: De spir. creat. 8.15; In III Phys 8.352; In III Phys 12.394; ST 1.30.3; ST 1.50.3
compare also: I Sent 24.1.3; CT 1.72; Super De Trin. 4.1ad3

whole & part : one :: act & potency : being

res : aliquid :: ens : unum
res : aliquid :: self: other

'Fibonacci' as a name was invented by the French historian Guillaume Libri in 1838; his real name was Leonardo, often Leonardo Pisano.

Dimitri Gutas, "Greek Thought, Arabic Culture"
-- Note that the usual House of Wisdom stories are myths, but they also underplay the massiveness of the Abbasid translation movement, which was not confined to any particular institution; the bayt al-hikma seem to have had a narrow function as a minor part of this, and the term likely is a generic term for any sort of state library, and always associated with Persian history and poetry.

Fuller's inner morality of law requires recognizing the distinction between aspiration and minimal duty. (Cp. Nicholson)
-- Note also that Fuller is not talking about *particular* laws.
What Fuller opposes is the notion that law is a "one-way projection of power downward" rather than a cooperative activity that requires giving people something they can abide by.

Sometimes we argue not for a further end but just because we can't not argue the point.

translations of ∃x(Fx)
There is at least one x that is F.
There at least is an x that is F.
Something that is x is an F.
Posit an x that is F.

Civilization is built out of layers and layers.

In impetratory prayers there is a difference between praying for what you'd like and praying for what you want.

the relation between nationalization of religious life and iconoclasm (as states intrude in the prerogative of churches they tend toward different versions of iconoclasm)

In analysis of argument, order of cogency is more important than cogency itself; that is, it's "this could be persuasive given that" that matters most.

The spread of vaccination through Japan in 1849 suggests that a key element in the later swift modernization of Japan was the existence of already developed efficient networks of intellectuals.

association of text with picture
(1) by immersion
(2) by caption
(3) by illustration

Mill is in a sense right that the assent of others is "second-hand evidence" but fails to do justice to the fact that it is nonetheless evidence. Every kind of second-hand evidence is first-hand evidence of a more nuanced thesis.

Boole takes all the uses of language in reasoning to be reducible to (1) identifications (2) compositions and resolutions (3) equations.

Boole's uninterpretables are uninterpretable in the sense that any interpretation (if possible) would necessarily have to go beyond the vocabulary of classes. In the step x-2xy+y=0, x and y are class designators; xy would normally be a class designator, but 2xy cannot be a class designator in the same sense. Boole's logic handles class relations by shifting in and out of the system of classes itself, as recognized by the logic.

2xy should be seen as a bookkeeping comment, or a pile of miscellaneous information about classes that we need to track for the action we are in the midst of performing.

x^2=x is not for Boole a general rule for reasoning but a general rule for classes/terms.

liberality : magnificence :: chastity : virginity

eutrapelia as a guardianship of meaningfulness

"Whatever opinion a person may adopt on any subject that admits of controversy, his assurance if he be a cautious thinker cannot be complete unless he is able to account for the existence of the opposite opinion." Mill
"As the human intellect though weak is not essentially perverted, there is a certain presumption of the truth of any opinion held by many human minds, requiring to be rebutted by assigning some other real or possible cause for its prevalence."

-- Look more closely at Mill's use of 'experience' in "Theism" -- it seems to expand or contract as he wishes. For instance, we have no more direct experience of force or matter qua permanent than of permanent mind, but the former get classed as 'experience' and the latter not.

Mill makes at least four mistakes in his criticism of consensus gentium (despite rightly recognizing its structure):
(1) He falsely assumes that the Intuitionist, as such, requires that the mind be made by God. The reason for this seems to be overassimilating all intuitionists to Descartes.
(2) He falsely slanders the religion of "barbarous tribes", completely failing to regard the beauties, excellences, and even rationalities that can be found there.
(3) He falsely assumes the Intuitionist would agree that evidence for something contrasts with an internal tendency for mind, such that having the one can immediately exclude the other.
(4) He overshoots in his conclusion, claiming the argument cannot establish an inherent tendency of mind *even as a hypothesis*, solely on the gorund of an unproven lack of such tendency in some. (It's as if one denied a natural ability to count large numbers on the ground that some people only count to three or so.)

Note that Mill's rejection of marks of moral design is based on his assumption that it would have to consist entirely of moral ends in the sense of good for sentient creatures; the stabilities of things are excluded explicitly; and there is no sense of suitabilities for moral life beyond the very limited one he allows (of our being able to feel pleasure). It's a very utilitarian line put forward to block the idea that we can be sure God is a utilitarian, but even on such terms the scope of his argument is too narrow for his conclusions.

There is a perfectly straightforward sense in which health is natural to an organism even if it is always unhealthy.

Mill is right that anything of natural theology that succeeds, even if only in probabilities and analogies, is capable of strengthening the case for revelation: one has phenomena of apparent revelation, and then any indications and suggestions, however slight, can give support or clarification to the idea that it may be more than merely apparent. And this is why, incidentally, it is a mistake to ignore everything less than proof (although Aquinas is right that one should not treat such things as if they were proofs).

Mill's argument against internal evidences for revelation seems to fit quite poorly with the fact that he is already committed by his utilitarianism to progress in morality, and thus to change in moral standards. The latter makes it possible to consider (e.g.) possible cases of extraordinary anticipation or leaps-ahead, beyond a certain cultural level.

NB that Mill does not know there are nonreductive nomological accounts of what a miracle would be, in terms of a higher law, as we see in (e.g.) Malebranche. (But how could he have missed it in Butler? Perhaps he is simply leaving out the moral providence points that he rejects; but as the miracle could itself be treated as evidence of such a thing, this is problematic.) He's aware of similar accounts, but seems to regard them as ad hoc, rather than (as could be argued) one of the positions contributing historically to the spread of the idea that all is under law; and he immediately treats it as reductive. There is no sense that you could have laws concerned with antecedents that are themselves sporadic and rare. It is, regardless of whether the nomological accounts work, very certainly true that few if any alleged miracles are wholly sui generis in their features or circumstances. We get recurrences here as in other cases where things recur conditionally on a large number of things coming together. And Mill's account of laws can't rule out laws of this sort, by its very nature.
-- Note also the rejection of a reductive nomological account like Babbage's.
-- Mill's argument seems to be based on the assumption that 'miracle involving and depending on means' is an oxymoron, despite the great variety of views that take it to be perfectly intelligible.

Mill's character-of-Christ argument is effectively an internal-evidence-of-revelation argument, and his hopeful outlook a religious-tendency-of-mind argument, despite the fact that he seems not to recognize this.

"The idea of Providence, as affirmation of the divine governance of the world, is the opposite of the idea of Revolution, aimed at achieving its complete human governance." Del Noce

Where the festive is not embraced, the sordid reigns.

The root notion for 'axiom' is a kind of worthiness (cp. 'dignitas').

three elements of the modernist conflation of identity and self-identification
(1) confusion of declarative and performative
(2) confusion of membership and assignment to a class
(3) confusion of that which is classified with artifacts of classification

Academic theology's weird obsession with 'eschatological fulfillment', which pervades so much of the academic work of the twentieth century, seems to be a desperate attempt to mimic talk about the proletarian revolution.

Ayn Rand's atheism is exactly the same as that espoused by Karl Marx in the 1844 manuscripts.

'is' as rotated 'ought'

When Boole derives the principle of noncontradiction from his fundamental law of thought, he doesn't explain why the latter should be regarded as more fundamental -- why, for instance, the success of x^2=x should not be explained by its derivability from (representation of) noncontradiction.

Boole gets his indefinite class by representation nondistrubtion: All men are mortal = All men are some mortals, thus (y=vx). But E propositions are still converted to A.

The linguistic turn should have led to a greater recognition of the importance of authority for keeping argument intelligible -- even the most abstract metaphysicians or rigorous scientists in communicating their results depend on the standards established by the many and the wise for vocabulary and the like -- but it seems to have been a series of missed opportunities.

four kinds of mire
bog: peaty ombrotrophic
fen: peaty minerotrophic
marsh: herbaceous
swamp: woody (forest-canopy)

Were doxastic voluntarism false, it would be surprising that people are so bossy about belief.

the natural family as "the noble symbol and, through Christ, the compendium, as it were, of theocratic society" (Rosmini)

dichotomy x+(1-x)=1

Can one modalize Boole by taking ≤0 to be 'impossible' and ≥1 to be necessary?
- the uninterpretability of terms in process complicates things
- M is a problem, although D works, i.e., (x≥1) → (x>0).

"...the mind assumes the existence of a universe not a priori as a fact independent of experience, but either a posteriori as a deduction from experience, or hypothetically as a foundation of the possibility of assertive reasoning." Boole

"as we are baptized, so also do we believe; as we believe, so also do we glory." Basil Ep. 159
"that which is different according to its nature would not share the same honors."

pantokrator → omnitenens

As we cannot adore the Father and the Son unless our adoration is given by God, the Holy Spirit's being co-adored with the Father and the Son is a divine act the Holy Spirit shares with the Father and the Son.

"Every city, even the best governed, teems with tumult and indescribable disturbances that no one could abide after having been once guided by wisdom." Philo

the modal logic of strong and weak plausibility (M fails but D works)

The doctrine of the resurrection of the body requires that the body be taken seriously in its own right, and not be treated as a mere means; its being intrinsically a means cannot be taken as a license for treating it as existing only to be malleable to the will.

As certainty of its execution increases, imperative approaches assertion.

Faith and hope tend toward the Trinity as object; charity tends from the Trinity as the Trinity's expression in us.

"That which comes through reason in the form of utterance is uncertain, since it is dual, but the contemplation of the Existent without speech in the soul alone is firmly secured, because it arises in accordance with the Indivisible Monad." Philo

"The divine legislation is then in a manner a unified creature, which one must examine carefully through and through with utter precision and clarity, neither destroying its harmony nor breaking its unity." Philo

Story is more fundamental than language.

language as a means of story-building

Boole takes propositions to apply to moments of time or time-slices.

Lent XI

During the course of the wedding the wine ran out. The wine is interior devotion, about which Psalm 103:15 says: "Wine cheers the human heart." And Matthew 9:17 reads: "No one places new wine in old wineskins." This wine runs out when men and women become arid and lacking in devotion, as the holy soul says in Psalm 142:6: "My soul is like earth without water in your regard."-- But at the petition of the Virgin who commiserates with those in misery, God filled the water jars with the water of compunction, which is changed into the sweetness of devotion. Thus it is said in Exodus 15:25 that the waters of Meribah "were changed into sweet water."

Bonaventure, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Karris, ed. and tr. Franciscan Institute Publications (Saint Bonaventure, NY: 2007) p. 147.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Lent X

When a wedding feast is held (and this is clearly done with all reverence), the mother of the Savior is there, and he himself is invited and comes with his disciples, though he comes to work miracles rather than to feast with them, and even more to sanctify the very beginning of human birth -- I mean so far as it pertains to the flesh. It was fitting for the one who was recapitulating human nature itself and refashioning the whole of it in a better condition not only to impart his blessing to those already called into existence but also to prepare his grace for those not yet born and to make holy their entrance into existence.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Volume 1, IVP Academic (Downers Grove, IL: 2013), p. 90

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Evening Note for Wednesday, March 18

Thought for the Evening: Scruton on Corporate Persons

In doing the tedious work of going through tweets to find any interesting links and papers, I happened to come across a tweet radically misrepresenting Roger Scruton's position on corporate personality. Since his paper "Corporate Persons" (with John Finnis, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes, Vol. 63 (1989), pp. 239-274) is one of his more important non-aesthetic works, I thought I would say a few things about this important argument.

Scruton notes that we have good reason to distinguish between orderly group behavior arising wholly from individual interactions (like the outcome of a market) and orderly group behavior involving some sort of unified deliberation (like the work of a committee). This he takes to be related to the historical concept of the corporate person. "Committees, as a rule, are corporate persons; markets are not, and cannot be" (p. 240). Scruton thinks that corporate personhood is in fact a fundamental concept, one that is necessary for an adequate account of responsibility and action, and even goes so far as to argue that human persons get their own personality in part from corporate persons.

Most of the work done on corporate personality at the time of Scruton's paper (and, indeed, this is still to some extent true) is concerned with the theory of the firm, i.e., the business corporation. Most of this has tended to be concerned with arguing that the corporate personality of the firm is entirely a legal construct corresponding to no moral reality. Scruton doesn't think this is accurate, but he doesn't want to focus on the firm, because firms have two qualities (they exist for a specific purpose and they are constituted by contractual relationships) that could indeed be taken to suggest that they are purely fictions of convenience. This is not, however, true of corporate persons in general, and even most of those who argue against the corporate personality of the firm tend to assume mistakenly that if there are any corporate persons, they could only have these qualities found in the firm. When we look at other examples of corporate persons, we find that firms are not paradigmatic, and it actually makes a great deal of sense in this context to distinguish between those kinds of association that are built contractually and those that are not. A good example of the latter is a church, which cannot be wholly constituted by contractual relationships.

To cut a long story short, we should distinguish among associations between the voluntary, the involuntary and the non-voluntary; between the contractual and the non-contractual, and, within the contractual, between those constituted by a contract among their members, and those which contract with their members; between those with an independent purpose, those with an internal purpose (e.g. the Church), and those with no purpose at all; and, within all those, between the personal and the impersonal. (p. 245)

Corporate persons in general can deliberate, make decisions, act responsibly, have rights and duties, and more. Some are tempted to argue that a corporate person, whether a firm, a church, or a club, cannot be anything other than the members it has at a time; but this does not fit the actual phenomena as we find them, in which it is entirely intelligible for these corporations to remain the same even when gaining and losing members. In some cases, like the church, for instance, remaining the same while gaining new members is entirely the point, while it's in fact possible for a corporate person to continue to exist even though it has no members, as in the case of a vacant crown or see. One argument often put forward for the artificiality of the corporate person is that we have other ways of safeguarding continuity of action and the rights of associations, like the English law of trusts, but Scruton argues that even things like trusts only arise because recognizing personality and features associated with it is natural and reasonable to law -- even if the law does not call something like a trust a 'person', it can only fully develop the concept of a trust in light of personal characteristics. Thus Scruton argues, for instance, that it is absurd that English law was not explicitly recognizing the corporate personality of trade unions, which was contrary to the natural tendency of common law and could only result in injustices for those interacting with trade unions (whether as members or as opponents). It's this, actually, that seems to motivate the tendency to argue for some usable concept of 'legal personality' while simultaneously insisting that this is purely a fictive construct created for legal convenience.

Scruton considers a number of arguments that these legally recognized corporate persons cannot also have have moral responsibility like persons, but rejects them. The fundamental problem with them all is that they fail to recognize that corporate responsibility and individual responsibility are not an exact match; corporate entities can engage in action far beyond the capacity of any individual, and need to be recognized as doing so if justice is to be maintained. We are tempted to attribute the evil deeds done by (say) Nazi or Communist Parties to individuals, like Hitler or Stalin, but while these individuals no doubt bear blame for their participation, it needs to be recognized that the evil done in such cases is a corporate evil far beyond the capacity of any individual. Not even Hitler could do all of the evil that was done by the National Socialist Party; not even Stalin could all the of the evil that was done by the Communist Party. This is why we can say that such corporations themselves ought not to exist; their evil is not wholly attributable to the individuals that make them up.

When people really try to press the difference between natural and corporate persons, three properties in particular come up.

(1) The natural person endures as a unified animal.

(2) The natural person is a rational agent.

(3) The natural person is self-aware.

Scruton accepts that all three of these are points on which one could potentially distinguish natural and corporate persons; but the lack of these does not create any particular problems for the concept of corporate personhood. If any thing, they show that natural personhood and corporate personhood won't conflict -- there is, for instance, no corporate self-awareness that can interfere with individual self-awareness -- and that corporate personhood is the easier concept to grasp. None of the three features is easily given a plausible account; if you want to understand persons, you should be starting with corporate persons rather than natural ones, because they don't have the features that make natural persons so difficult to understand.

One could also argue that the ontological priority of individuals to institutions somehow counts against the real moral personality of corporate persons:

The thesis of the 'ontological priority' of the individual seems to involve two claims: First, if corporations have moral personality, it is only by virtue of the moral personality of their members; secondly, there could be individual persons without corporations, but no corporations without the individuals which act for them. (p. 254)

To this Scruton proposes (a bit more tentatively) his strongest claim: "we are natural persons only in that we are disposed by nature to become persons,and we become persons only by creating personal institutions and the ties of membership which join us to them" (p. 255). Human beings are natural embryonic persons; we must develop ourselves as persons; and we do this development as persons by fellowship with others, without which we could never be anything more than persons-in-embryo, a person-beginning-to-be. But part of how this self-development as a person works is learning to understand how corporate persons work; and this is especially true of corporate persons that are not contractually based, like the household or the church. We as natural persons grow up as persons within the tutelage and framework of the corporate persons of which we are a part, and learn our own duties and rights as persons from the duties and rights of these corporate persons. This is why, in fact, the firm is not the most basic kind of corporate person; it gives the illusion that corporate persons are things that are merely made, but there are corporate persons that contribute to making us.

A corporate person can have a rather robust moral personality even without any legal recognition -- Scruton gives as examples the Catholic Church in the Ukraine, the Polish union Solidarity, and the Jazz Section of the Musicians' Union in Czechoslovakia as three examples in which Communist states had unjustly denied legal personality to something that clearly had corporate personality. Churches are the most obvious examples of corporate entities with robust personalities; other corporate persons may have personality in greater or lesser degree.

And this ties into the reason why Scruton is particularly concerned about the matter at all -- totalitarianism is in great measure a war against corporate personality. This is something that Scruton derives particularly from his experience with the struggle against Communism in Eastern Europe. The greatest threat to dictatorship in Poland was the trade union, Solidarity, precisely because it had robust personal powers far beyond what could be accomplished by any individual. Every totalitarian regime systematically attempts to devour corporate persons, either destroying them entirely or leaving only a puppet-institution that is an expression of the regime itself. The farm must be centrally controlled; the firm must be nationalized so that it expresses only state policy; churches must be subordinate to state actions. Only one corporate person is left standing, the Party or the Regime.

But it is a monstrous person, no longer capable of moral conduct; a person which cannot take responsibility for its actions, and which can confess to its faults only as 'errors' imposed on it by misguided members, and never as its own actions, for which repentance and atonement are due. The moral personality of this all-encompassing Leviathan is impaired: unable to view others as ends in themselves, it lacks such a view of itself. It has set itself outside the moral realm, in a place of pure calculation, blameless only because it denies the possibility of blame. (pp. 263-264)

In contrast to this Frankenstein-monster of a corporate person, at which totalitarian regimes aim, a free society is one in which corporate persons are respected:

The true corporate person is as much bound to respect the autonomy of individuals as they are bound to respect the autonomy of groups. A world of corporate persons is a world of free association: it is the antithesis of collectivism, which imposes a world of conscription, where all association is centrally controlled, and all institutions are things. Collectivism involves a sustained war, not on the individual as such, but on the person, whether individual or corporate. (p. 264)

(Parts of this argument are not exclusive to Scruton. To take an example of someone with a very different politics than Scruton, the socialist Harold Laski also argued, in "The Personality of Associations", that reductionist accounts of corporate personality failed to fit the facts, and that recognition of corporate personality serves as a block against the tendency of the state to absorb everything else.)

The key thing that Scruton proposes as distinguishing institutions that are corporate persons from those that are not is the stable long-term view; that is to say, corporate persons are capable of binding together the living and the dead and the unborn, the past and the future. It is precisely this that makes the corporate person something that can contribute so much to "the ecology of rational agency" (p. 266).

Various Links of Interest

* Scott Edgar, Hermann Cohen, at the SEP

* Edward Feser, Keep It Simple, discusses William Lane Craig on divine simplicity.

* A tutorial on Greek Paleography and another on Latin Paleography, from the Vatican Library.

* Murray Rothbard's satire on Ayn Rand and the Objectivists, Mozart Was a Red.

* George Orwell's intended introduction to Animal Farm.

* Ewoks are the most tactically advanced fighting force in Star Wars.

* Kevin Durst, The Rational Question, criticizes attempts to argue on the basis of cognitive science that human beings are naturally irrational.

Currently Reading

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Hard to Be a God
Vladimir Solovyov, The Philosophical Principles of Integral Knowledge
Simon Winchester, The Map that Changed the World

Lent IX

The miracle indeed of our Lord Jesus Christ, whereby He made the water into wine, is not marvellous to those who know that it was God's doing. For He who made wine on that day at the marriage feast, in those six water-pots, which He commanded to be filled with water, the self-same does this every year in vines. For even as that which the servants put into the water-pots was turned into wine by the doing of the Lord, so in like manner also is what the clouds pour forth changed into wine by the doing of the same Lord. But we do not wonder at the latter, because it happens every year: it has lost its marvellousness by its constant recurrence. And yet it suggests a greater consideration than that which was done in the water-pots. For who is there that considers the works of God, whereby this whole world is governed and regulated, who is not amazed and overwhelmed with miracles? If he considers the vigorous power of a single grain of any seed whatever, it is a mighty thing, it inspires him with awe. But since men, intent on a different matter, have lost the consideration of the works of God, by which they should daily praise Him as the Creator, God has, as it were, reserved to Himself the doing of certain extraordinary actions, that, by striking them with wonder, He might rouse men as from sleep to worship Him.

Augustine, Tractate 8 on the Gospel of John

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

At the Grocery Store

I had intended to make chili this week, but discovered that I had stupidly forgotten to get the beans for it when last I was in the store, so I headed off the grocery store this morning to see if beans were in stock. Going to the grocery store generally doesn't feel like an adventure, but it did today. It actually wasn't bad; there was a long line in front of the store, but that was because they were pacing entry. It went fairly quickly. Inside, shelves were scanty but not unstocked; it was pretty clear that they were prioritizing milk, bread, meat, rice, and beans in the stocking, so it wasn't actually difficult to find what I needed. And I was able to get more than few minor luxury items, since a lot of my self-indulgences are things that Americans tend not to like -- wedge of bleu cheese, check; can of sardines, check -- or things that Americans tend not to know about -- Lion bars from the international aisle, check. They were totally sold out of bacon, which I expected, and totally sold out of Braunschweiger, which I did not (I suppose there's a strong German strain in central Texas, but who would guess it was more popular than cotto salami?). The frozen dinner aisle was hardly touched, which was a little odd, but I suppose it's more cost-effective to make your own. Everyone was polite and patient -- more polite and patient than usual, actually -- and it didn't take any longer than it usually takes, although it's also the case that I didn't dawdle.


At that time, then, Jesus made of water wine, and both then and now He ceases not to change our weak and unstable wills. For there are, yes, there are men who in nothing differ from water, so cold, and weak, and unsettled. But let us bring those of such disposition to the Lord, that He may change their will to the quality of wine, so that they be no longer washy, but have body, and be the cause of gladness in themselves and others.

John Chrysostom, Homily 22 on the Gospel of John

Monday, March 16, 2020

A Look, a Word, a Deed, a Friend

“Let us tell Quiet Stories of Kind Eyes”
by Geoffrey Bache Smith

Let us tell quiet stories of kind eyes
And placid brows where peace and learning sate:
Of misty gardens under evening skies
Where four would walk of old, with steps sedate.

Let’s have no word of all the sweat and blood,
Of all the noise and strife and dust and smoke
(We who have seen Death surging like a flood,
Wave upon wave, that leaped and raced and broke).

Or let’s sit silently, we three together,
Around a wide hearth-fire that’s glowing red,
Giving no thought to all the stormy weather
That flies above the roof-tree overhead.

And he, the fourth, that lies all silently
In some far-distant and untended grave,
Under the shadow of a shattered tree,
Shall leave the company of the hapless brave,

And draw nigh unto us for memory’s sake,
Because a look, a word, a deed, a friend,
Are bound with cords that never a man may break,
Unto his heart for ever, until the end.


The is the fast of the First Born, the first of his victories.
Let us rejoice in his coming; for in fasting he has overcome.
Though he could have overcome by any means,
He revealed for us the strength hidden in fasting, Overcomer of All.
For by means of it a man can overcome that one who with fruit overcame Adam;
He became greedy and gobbled it. Blessed is the First-Born who encompassed
Our weakness with the wall of his great fasting.

Ephrem the Syrian, Hymn 1 on Fasting.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Fortnightly Book, March 15

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky were brothers who lived much of their lives in the Soviet Union; they became science fiction writers (although some of their work is only loosely science fiction), always skirting the line between what the censor would allow and what would get them seriously into trouble. I recently got hold of translations of three of the works, and these will be the next fortnightly books.

(1) Hard to Be a God (1964) is set in the far future. An operative from Earth is trying to blend into the society of a medieval-ish planet. He is supposed to be merely an observer, but when the kingdom he is observing begins to turn into a police state, having a higher-level perspective on what the society is going through makes it more and more difficult not to use his superior knowledge to intervene. As the title says, it's hard to be a god.

(2) Monday Begins on Saturday (1965) satirizes Soviet research institutions. Far in the Russian north is a hidden-away institution established for research into magic, and a young programmer becomes involved in its workings. He discovers that the institute is more than a little dysfunctional. Everyone has to work almost constantly (hence the title), and researches who do their work dishonestly grow hairy ears.

(3) The Doomed City was written in the seventies, but the Strugatsky brothers deliberately did not try to get it published then, because they did not think that they could get it past the Soviet censor; it was only published in 1989. A great city has been built by an unknown group of people, surrounded on all sides by impassability; they have brought to it volunteers from different societies and times for an experiment, but none of the volunteers know what the purpose of the experiment is. The book is generally considered a very dark and bitter novel, encapsulating all of the contrast between the promises of Soviet Communism and the reality of Soviet life, between the young idealist and the perpetual sell-out he seemingly always becomes.

Julian of Norwich, The Showings


Opening Passage:

This is a revelacion of love that Jhesu Christ, our endles blisse, made in xvi shewynges, of which the first is of his precious crownyng of thornes. And ther in was conteined and specified the blessed Trinitie with the incarnacion and the unithing betweene God and man's sowle with manie fayer schewynges and techynges of endelesse wisdom and love, iin which all the shewynges that foloweth be groundide and joyned. (p. 3)

Summary: On May 8, 1373, Julian, having prayed for union with Christ by recollection of the Passion, bodily sickness to endure with Christ, and three 'wounds' (contrition, compassion, and longing for God), became ill and began receiving a series of sixteen spiritual experiences in a variety of modes:

1. A vision of Christ's crown of thorns, by which she understood better the ways in which Christ's Passion was a divine act.
2. A vision of the the discoloration of Christ's face, through which she saw that we ultimately need nothing but God.
3. An awareness of God 'in a point', i.e., by pure intellectual understanding, showing that God's providence includes all things.
4. A vision of the scourging of Christ's body, indicating the efficacious plentifulness of Christ's blood.
5. A revelation that the devil is overcome by Christ's Passion.
6. A revelation in which the Lord thanks all of His servants, including Julian, for their service; the Lord's combination of 'homeliness', i.e., intimate approachability, and courtesy, i.e., lordly nobility, being a considerable part of the honor bestowed on those who, as part of His house and court, serve Him.
7. A series of alternating feelings of security and weariness, to indicate that it is necessary for us to experience both.
8. A vision of Christ's painful dying, which can only be understood properly by a combination of pained compassion and calm joy.
9. A brief conversation with Christ, in which Christ emphasizes that He is glad to suffer for us.
10. A vision of Christ's heart broken evenly in two, showing His love for us.
11. A spiritual awareness of the soul of the Holy Virgin as a model of humility and charity.
12. A vision of Christ glorified, saying, "I it am"(p. 39), indicating that He is "all sovereyn being" (p. 4).
13. A revelation in which she is made aware of her sins. It is in this context that we have the extensive discussion of how, despite the wrongness of sin, "alle shalle be wele, and alle shalle be wele, and all maner of thynge shalle be wele" (p. 39).
14. A revelation of God as the foundation of prayer, which will lead to the extended discussion of image of the Lord and the Servant.
15. An assurance that pain and sorrow will be taken away. In this context we have her most developed discussion of Christ as Mother, an idea found also in the Ancrene Wisse; a mother's work is most natural, most loving, and most true, thus making it "nerest, rediest, and suerest" (p. 94), a solid foundation for comfort.
16. A revelation on the following night of how the Trinity indwells the soul, so that the faithful will not be overcome.

While The Short Text primarily focuses on the content of the revelations and what Julian immediately or shortly thereafter learned from it, The Long Text, which I read, is the fruit of long years of reflection on the underlying themes, and makes especially clear that these revelations are not separate, and not understandable individually, but are a unity. Julian regularly uses one showing to help explain another. Even if you were to bracket the highly interesting and often excellent theological discussion, Julian's Showings is an extraordinary look at the nature of interpretation, showing how much depth of meaning you can find when you don't just take images and ideas to exhibit themselves individually, but read them together as mutually interpreting.

But, of course, the theology is precisely the greatest attraction of the work, and the source of much of its beauty, as its obviously intelligent author in simple but vigorous language, and with a poetic knack for parallelism and metaphor, draws on a long history of anchoritic spirituality to argue that Christ through His Passion provides a sure basis for life.

Favorite Passage:

And fro the tyme that it was shewde, I desyerde oftyn tymes to wytt in what was oure Lord's menyng. And xv yere after and mor I was answeryd in gostly understondyng, seyen thus, "Waht, woldest thou wytt thy Lordes menyng in this thyng? Wytt it wele, love was his menyng. Who shewyth it the? Love. Wherfore shewyth he it the? For love. Holde the therin, thou shalt wytt more in the same. But thou schalt nevyr witt therin other withoutyn ende." (p. 124)

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.

Julian of Norwich, The Showings of Julian of Norwich, Baker, ed. Norton (New York: 2005).