Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Spiritual Almsdeeds

 Spiritual needs are relieved by spiritual acts in two ways, first by asking for help from God, and in this respect we have "prayer," whereby one man prays for others; secondly, by giving human assistance, and this in three ways. First, in order to relieve a deficiency on the part of the intellect, and if this deficiency be in the speculative intellect, the remedy is applied by "instructing," and if in the practical intellect, the remedy is applied by "counselling." Secondly, there may be a deficiency on the part of the appetitive power, especially by way of sorrow, which is remedied by "comforting." Thirdly, the deficiency may be due to an inordinate act; and this may be the subject of a threefold consideration. First, in respect of the sinner, inasmuch as the sin proceeds from his inordinate will, and thus the remedy takes the form of "reproof." Secondly, in respect of the person sinned against; and if the sin be committed against ourselves, we apply the remedy by "pardoning the injury," while, if it be committed against God or our neighbor, it is not in our power to pardon, as Jerome observes (Super Matth. xviii, 15). Thirdly, in respect of the result of the inordinate act, on account of which the sinner is an annoyance to those who live with him, even beside his intention; in which case the remedy is applied by "bearing with him," especially with regard to those who sin out of weakness, according to Romans 15:1: "We that are stronger, ought to bear the infirmities of the weak," and not only as regards their being infirm and consequently troublesome on account of their unruly actions, but also by bearing any other burdens of theirs with them, according to Galatians 6:2: "Bear ye one another's burdens." 

 St. Thomas Aquinas, ST 2-2.32.2

Monday, March 27, 2023

Hampered Games

 As I was driving back from campus today, I started thinking about what might be called 'deliberately hampered games', that is games which are deliberately played in ways that directly interfere with the gameplay itself because of a more fundamental purpose that playing the game serves. It's a fairly common phenomenon, although I don't think I've ever come across anyone discussing it.

A good example of this is found in pole chess. Pole chess is a variant in chess in which you have extra pieces, the poles, that, under the conditions of whatever pole chess rules you are using, you can move around the board to block moves. This makes chess in some ways less interesting, because it massively increases the likelihood that the game will end in a draw. It also usually guarantees that each player can block the other's best moves, so it puts a kind of indirect upper bound on how well each can play. So why do people play it? Well, sometimes it's just to do something different, but another reason is when the people playing are extremely unequal -- for instance, if, purely for mutual fun, a grandmaster is playing a beginner. By almost every internal standard of chess, pole chess is a worse game than tournament chess. But there can be good reasons why the worse game might sometimes be the better game to play.

Another well known example is with the Parker Brothers game, Monopoly. Monopoly played strictly according to the rules is a rather brutal and fairly fast-paced game. Very few people who have ever played Monopoly have ever played a fast-paced game of Monopoly; the game is famous for being interminable. Whence the disparity? It's because people deliberately modify the game to make it worse as a game. Monopoly has auction rules that guarantee that property gets bought up fairly quickly; the vast majority of people who play it ignore the auction rules. Most people add rules to the game -- the Free Parking lottery is the most famous -- that make it difficult for people to go bankrupt, and therefore guarantee that the game goes on and on and on and on. Why would they do it? Well, because usually when you are playing Monopoly, you are doing it with family and friends, and you have big block of time that you want to spend, and most people don't actually care about winning the game. In addition, people are often playing with children, so they deliberately use the simpler non-auction rules and add rules like the pot on Free Parking to reduce the chances of the kids getting knocked out of the game too early. The result is the game that can only be won even by the best players over a grinding period of time by the end of which almost everybody has lost interest in winning. The game was deliberately hampered so that it is almost pointless to try to win it. But, of course, the reason you do this is because the time with friends and family is more important than winning.

Frank Herbert has a number of stories that are about a government agency called the Bureau of Sabotage. The Bureau of Sabotage has the legally required mission of making government less efficient. It's allowed to use any means to do this, as long as it does not sabotage private citizens or public utilities on which they direct depend. In the most memorable story, the protagonist, Jorj X. McKie, becomes the head of the agency when he figures out a way to sabotage the Bureau of Sabotage itself. The point of it, of course, is that the state apparatus in the world of the story is terrifyingly efficient -- procedures have been perfected and processes have been automated to such an extent that the state could do immense damage long before anyone could stop it. Inefficiency of government is a barrier to totalitarianism; that's why all modern free societies are constructed on some kind of system of checks and balances. The checks and balances make it harder to do everything -- but that's the point, because you don't actually want a government that can easily do whatever it decides to do. This seems to be a real-world version of exactly the same thing  that we find in small-sandbox forms in deliberately hampered games.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Four Poem Drafts

 The Poets

The world is many-troped and tangled;
its verses twist and turn with the wind.
Time unravels, a fraying of cord;
all signs decay, all is left traceless,
and only the poet threads the maze.
Every face hides the child of a Muse;
the Graces descend on every house.
However hard or dirt-stained the hand,
a bit of poet smiles in the eyes.
The fisher muses, the farmer sings,
the cowboy besides the fire reflects;
the Word breathed a Spirit upon all.
Thus boldly take your pen, write the words
that bring to life your thought; do not hide;
with practice human tongues speak the world.

The Shadows of the Mind

here I am
thinking of you
as I wonder how
the shadows fall
golden stars
shine above me
but I am walking
in thoughtful halls
what can I say?
how can I
undo the past?
so I am walking
in evening shadows
in the hallways
of my heart
here I am
thinking of you
my mind is mirrors
in endless rows
but this reflection
is not of glory
but of shade on shade
in nightlike forms
how can memory
catch the feeling?
can the evening
recall the dawn?
once the splendor
shone from heaven
now the darkness
covers us all
so I am walking
in my shadows
as I remember
the things of day
do I have them?
can I keep them?
without the light
they may fade away

The Soul Is Filled with Mercy Unbounded

The soul is filled with mercy unbounded,
glimmering like stars through worldly clouds;
from world to world the truth in song resounded
(the buds to blooms are blown where it hits the bough)
until it came to rest upon the graceful ear
of spirit burning brightly like a flame,
with a joy that wipes away all falling tears,
with love that lifts the soul and gives it name.
The truth in mind is nesting; can there cease
the thing that dwells in light forever, giving peace?

Taking Aim

Trust, take aim, and find glory.
Your guarantee is steadfast love.
Despite the illusions of shadow
down below, you are already above.

This world is but shadow; that, is real,
and at journey's end, shining bright,
the city eternal already stands
and you, already, share its light,

but nothing divides the truly good;
take aim, and turn never aside.
Let no storm-cloud hide your sun-mind,
your clear heart, for division has died.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Holy Announcement

 Today is the Solemnity of the Annunciation. From the Protevangelium of James (10-12):

And there was a council of the priests, saying: Let us make a veil for the temple of the Lord. And the priest said: Call to me the undefiled virgins of the family of David. And the officers went away, and sought, and found seven virgins. And the priest remembered the child Mary, that she was of the family of David, and undefiled before God. And the officers went away and brought her. And they brought them into the temple of the Lord. And the priest said: Choose for me by lot who shall spin the gold, and the white, and the fine linen, and the silk, and the blue, and the scarlet, and the true purple. And the true purple and the scarlet fell to the lot of Mary, and she took them, and went away to her house. And at that time Zacharias was dumb, and Samuel was in his place until the time that Zacharias spake. And Mary took the scarlet, and span it. 

And she took the pitcher, and went out to fill it with water. And, behold, a voice saying: Hail, thou who hast received grace; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women! And she looked round, on the right hand and on the left, to see whence this voice came. And she went away, trembling, to her house, and put down the pitcher; and taking the purple, she sat down on her seat, and drew it out. And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood before her, saying: Fear not, Mary; for thou hast found grace before the Lord of all, and thou shalt conceive, according to His word. And she hearing, reasoned with herself, saying: Shall I conceive by the Lord, the living God? and shall I bring forth as every woman brings forth? And the angel of the Lord said: Not so, Mary; for the power of the Lord shall overshadow thee: wherefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of the Most High. And thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins. And Mary said: Behold, the servant of the Lord before His face: let it be unto me according to thy word. 

And she made the purple and the scarlet, and took them to the priest. And the priest blessed her, and said: Mary, the Lord God hath magnified thy name, and thou shall be blessed in all the generations of the earth.

The Protevangelium of James is a hagiography of the Virgin Mary that seems to have been in circulation around the middle of the second century. It plays an enormous role in the imagination of the Church. I suppose the closest analogy in our day would be the Christmas pageant -- the basic Christmas pageant is not canonical, and not really intended to be, but it's an attempt to translate the Gospel stories and our sense of what was prophesied of Christ into an imaginative form, and shapes how we talk about the story. Whatever the original intention of the work, this is essentially how it was used by the Church Fathers -- not canonical in itself, but as a book of legends that have a certain plausibility as narrative and provide a vividly imaginable account of the events of Mary's early life leading up to the visit by the Magi and the death of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. It is the source that gives us the traditional names of the Virgin's parents, Joachim and Anna, and one of the most important Marian feasts of the East, the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple, is based in part on the Protevangelium's account of Mary as one of the young girls who were consecrated to serve in the Temple -- for instance by spinning and sowing the cloth needed for various functions, as she does in the section above. Note incidentally, that Mary is chosen by lot to spin the scarlet thread, which represents blood, and the purple thread, which represents royalty, which foreshadows the coming of Christ.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Dashed Off IX

 causes as what fixes accessibility relations in possible worlds framework

Being just is often an act of mercy.

Clouds of analogies by overlap and convergence distill into particular claims.

Propaganda slogans are dangerous because they are available, so people fall back on them when they don't understand or are unprepared.

philosophy of history
(1) philosophy of historical work
(2) philosophy of the human tradition
(3) philosophy of forms of interaction

marriage law and the chaplaincy powers of the state

family resemblances as evidence of participation

ostension of grace, divine presence, in the sacraments

the internatural

laws of nature as beings of reason

energy as the causal capacity for locomotive change (locomovent or locomotive capability)
In a massive object, the locomotive capability is related to the mass and the maximal change of swiftness of reach.

The experience of philosophy is the experience of something whose final cause is infinite intelligibility. (Note that this is different from saying the final cause is universal intelligibility.)

The arrow of time is just the directionality of clocks in their actual use for measuring. What underlies this feature of measurement is a more fundamental question.

The intelligibility of a perfect island implies that either it or something greater exists.

There is no luck in folly.

signum levatum in nationibus (Is 11:12)

'the focal point of the longings of history and culture' (GS 45)

the exhibitive word of God

the importance of establishing safeguards against judicial murder

plants: positionality of open form
animals: positionality of closed form
humans: excentric positionality

the family as sign of Eden (and obliquely its loss)

incorporation merito vs incorporation numero

All legitimate and proper acts of the Church Militant anticipate in some way the Church Patient and the Church Triumphant.

revivescence in sacrament // revivescence in tradition

"Good angels and men belong to one Church." Aquinas (ST 3.98.4)

stages in the founding of the Church
(1) Anticipation (Israel)
(2) Vocation of disciples
(3) institution of Apostles and Women (and, more complicated, Brothers of the Lord)
(4) Holy Thursday
(5) Great Commission
(6) Ascension
(7) Pentecost
(8) Supervision (institution of episcopacy)

The mission of the Church is part of the missions of both the Son and the Holy Spirit.

lion : immaculate conception :: ox : perpetual virginity :: man : divine maternity :: eagle : assumption

the child and his mother: Mt 2:13, 2:14, 2:20, 2:21

pleasures that are life and fecundity
pleasures that are death and sterility

Judith 9:11 as capturing all that is true in liberation theology

Faith often does not understand (Lk 2:50), but still keeps in the heart (Lk 2:51).

The witch hunt is an inevitable mode of society in this fallen world; but the varieties change.

Two readings of Jn 1:12-13
majority (all Greek): But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man but of God.
Vetus Latina, Syriac: But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, he who was born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man but of God.

Mary is addressed as Woman, both at the Wedding at Cana and at the Crucifixion.

Every truth has its 'text', its context, its subtext, and its supertext.

the whirl and whorl of dreams

Desire, like water, tends a way, but it can be dammed and cut into different channels.

wave functions as mathematical depictions of dispositions

Language is received and inherited; we may, as with all things received and inherited, toss in a bit from ourselves, but we can only propose our bit, not impose it. But the temptation, to which propagandists particularly but not exclusively succumb, is always there to play God with this vast something that is older and more powerful than we are a current carried down by the whole human race itself.

Hume's sympathetic mirrors as a a description of language use as intrinsically social
the general point of view as an instrument of language use

familial relations by physical, by moral, by jural, and by sacral connections

Never confuse refusal to learn with principle.

God's actions do not need justification; they simply are, the factest of facts, but discussion of justification are not pointless, although they are really more about us than about God. Further, human beings like to know if there could be a justification, if there might be a justification, if there happens to be something that is available as a justification, even when none is strictly needed, because this is how we ourselves think.

'Semantic necessity' is in fact a form of deontic necessity.

Kitsch often functions as a kind of balm, and often as a social lubricant.

Invincible ignorance requires genuine love of truth combined with limited means.

In the courtroom law often has a primarily repulsive effect -- judges decide as they deem appropriate, but they try to avoid clear infringement of the law as commonly understood.

An ecumenical council is merely a concentration, for particular purposes, of the communion of bishops that always exists at least diffusely.

moral congregation : moral :: societas perfecta : jural :: hierarchia : sacral

Human virtue must not be merely had but in some sense must come to be deserved.

sports as venues for developing second-order virtues of capabilities

natural evils as challenges for thymos

Anything with a power to motivate can harm if misused.

the problem of commensurability of goals across forms of life

It is an error to think that personal identity is only one thing.
personal identity: substantial (ontic), moral, jural, sacral

'Heap' is a being of reason relative to a change or action of heaping things together.

closest continuer accounts of tradition
(note that by such an account the papacy is the closest continuer of the Roman Republic)

(broadly libertarian) free will as a postulate of democracy

three aspects of personhood (and its modalities): subject, communication, gift

The act of forgiveness involves change in the status of the forgiven; it only involves change in the forgiver insofar as the forgiver is not always disposed by mercy to forgive.

Good law as a product of love increasing its scope of action.

ministries as divine gifts interacting with human services, either immediately or mediately

images and traces of the Church

justice and preferential option for the virtuous

'the service of the saints' 1 Cor 16:15

moral, jural, and sacral expressions of authority

passive and acts of philosophy -- e.g., preserving philosophical arguments for posterity as a passive philosophical function

kinds of reasoning by which we go beyond our senses
(1) causal inference
(2) profile fitting (based on custom from constant conjunction)
(3) extrapolative supposition
(4) translative conflation
(5) analogical inference

quasi-sympathetic perception (in Hume's sense of sympathy)

sophia, gnosis, pistis, hiamata, dynameis, propheteia, diakriseis pneumaton, glossai, hermeneia glosson, etc. as signs depicting aspects of the heavenly liturgy

imagining vs supposing vs confirming the external world

Bureaucracies inevitably fall into the error of trying to solve problems by refiling them.

Understanding Christian meekness requires understanding that its great exemplars are Moses and Jesus.

In Matthew, the monychangers in the Temple are contrasted with Jesus healing in the Temple, and in John, the Resurrection is the sign of the authority to cast them out.

the natural association between life-giving and holiness

In marriage, husband and wife are morally, jurally, and sacrally one, although not obliterated in any of these orders.

personhood as subsistent consecration

It is inherent to any kind of democratic governance that people will flail about a lot in trying to get a grip on ideas and policies.

1 Clement as being about what is involved in being the People of God

the laity as public of the Church

baptism and confirmation and the double mission of the people of God

The laity are the primary engine of particular religious devotions.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Round Circles

 I saw this on Twitter. Trace the circles with your finger, if you don't believe it.

ADDED LATER: After a little playing around, I've found two ways that I can actually see the two circles.

(1) putting my fingers at the outer corner of my eyes, gently pulling so that the vision blurs.

(2) stepping back from the screen and looking at it with peripheral vision.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Counterfactual Theories of Causation

 Counterfactual theories of causation are accounts of causation which understand the cause-effect relation to reduce to "If the cause didn't exist, the effect would not exist." They go in and out of fashion, and of course, they can vary quite widely depending on the account of counterfactual conditionals you give. A common version in recent times has been:

"A causes B" when and only when either there are no possible worlds with A or else some possible world with A that includes B is 'closer to the actual world' than any world with A that does not include B.

It's well known that counterfactual theories struggle with certain causal situations, but what I would like to suggest is that they cannot handle the right kinds of causal situations at all. Counterfactuals arise in causal situations not due to efficient causes but due to material causes, and therefore properly speaking these 'causal counterfactuals' are only relevant at all when we are talking about (a) material causes; (b) formal causes relative to material causes; (c) efficient causes in precisely the respect in which they either dispose material causes for formal causes or provide the formal causes to material causes; or (d) when we are just using a material-cause metaphor to talk about other kinds of causal dependencies.

Counterfactual conditionals work very well for material causes. If we are talking about a wooden statue, for instance, "If the wood had not been, the wooden statue would not have been", is a good model, at least, for "Wood is the material cause of the wooden statue." We could even interpret that, if we wished, by saying that a possible world with the wood and its wooden statue is 'closer' to the actual world than any world that has the wood and not the wooden statue. It would be incorrect to say that the counterfactual captures the material causation itself, but it does correctly capture the dependency involved in material causation, in part because material causes are potential to different forms but necessary for material composites, and therefore it is natural to talk about them as being able to be otherwise and also about what would have to follow (or not) if they were.

People often run into difficulties in applying counterfactual theories to certain kinds of preemption cases. For instance, if two people, X and Y, throw rocks at a window, and X's rock arrives first, so that there is no window left when Y's rock arrives, we recognize that X's rock caused the window to shatter. Yet even if X had not thrown a rock, the window still would have shattered, because Y's rock would have shattered. But it's easy to see why; X's rock is identified as the cause because it is what actually gives the window the distortions of shape that are the change that completes in the window being shattered. If it had not been, then insofar as this affected the material of the window, the effect would not have been. If X's rock had missed, then the same could have been said of Y's rock.

If, however, there are efficient causes whose effects are not necessarily connected with material causes in changes or compositions, then there's no particular reason to think that a counterfactual conditional could adequately account for them. That is to say, if there are forms of efficient causation that are not either creation ex nihilo of material composites or moving causation of changes (the former makes material causes exist at all and the latter disposes or informs material causes), it doesn't seem there could be anything in them that would be adequately captured by a counterfactual conditional. This is not to say that you couldn't use counterfactual conditionals to talk about them, but in such cases, the counterfactual conditional would obviously be incidental rather than anything the causation actually reduces to (I think this is obviously the case with, say, creation ex nihilo of subsisting forms), or else we would be using them as a metaphorical models rather than actual accounts (I think this is obviously the case with certain descriptions of causation of human action).

Monday, March 20, 2023

The Strangest Whim Has Seized Me

 A Ballade of Suicide
by G. K. Chesterton

The gallows in my garden, people say,
Is new and neat and adequately tall;
I tie the noose on in a knowing way
As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
But just as all the neighbours--on the wall--
Are drawing a long breath to shout “Hurray!”
The strangest whim has seized me. . . . After all
I think I will not hang myself to-day. 

 To-morrow is the time I get my pay--
My uncle’s sword is hanging in the hall--
I see a little cloud all pink and grey--
Perhaps the rector’s mother will not call--
I fancy that I heard from Mr. Gall
That mushrooms could be cooked another way--
I never read the works of Juvenal--
I think I will not hang myself to-day. 

 The world will have another washing-day;
The decadents decay; the pedants pall;
And H.G. Wells has found that children play,
And Bernard Shaw discovered that they squall,
Rationalists are growing rational--
And through thick woods one finds a stream astray
So secret that the very sky seems small--
I think I will not hang myself to-day. 

 Prince, I can hear the trumpet of Germinal,
The tumbrils toiling up the terrible way;
Even to-day your royal head may fall,
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

 Posting might be a little light this week; I have two eight-week condensed courses that are starting up this week, and I'm still learning how it will affect my schedule and time.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Cyrillus Hierosolymitanus

 Today is the feast of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Doctor of the Church. From his Catechetical Lectures (5.3):

Nor is it only among us, who bear the name of Christ, that the dignity of faith is great : but likewise all things that are accomplished in the world, even by those who are aliens from the Church, are accomplished by faith. 

 By faith the laws of marriage yoke together those who have lived as strangers: and because of the faith in marriage contracts a stranger is made partner of a stranger's person and possessions. By faith husbandry also is sustained, for he who believes not that he shall receive a harvest endures not the toils. By faith sea-faring men, trusting to the thinnest plank, exchange that most solid element, the land, for the restless motion of the waves, committing themselves to uncertain hopes, and carrying with them a faith more sure than any anchor. By faith therefore most of men's affairs are held together: and not among us only has there been this belief, but also, as I have said, among those who are without. For if they receive not the Scriptures, but bring forward certain doctrines of their own, even these they accept by faith.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Divine Impassibility

 R. T. Mullins has a relatively recent article, Closeness with God: A Problem for Divine Impassibility, at the Journal of Analytic Theology, in which, as you might expect, he argues that closeness with God is a problem for divine impassibility. Nothing in the article is particularly new, or indeed all that interesting, but divine impassibility is in itself interesting, and it's worth pointing out the errors that Mullins makes in discussing the topic, in the hope that others avoid them.

We can begin to see the problems from Mullins's first characterization:

The majority of Christian theologians throughout history have said that God cannot be moved by creatures to feel anything. God does not literally have empathy, mercy, or compassion. Instead, God only feels pure undisturbed happiness. This view is called divine impassibility.

None of these are quite correct. For instance, most theologians who have accepted the doctrine of divine impassibility have held that "God has mercy", taken literally, is true. The obvious reason for it is that they would deny that mercy requires passibility. Empathy and compassion are somewhat more plausible, because the very names have elements (pathos, passio) that seem to imply passibility; however, on compassion, at least, the usual claim is that while compassion in us involves passibility, there is an activity involved in it that we can attribute to God, so "God has compassion" is also literally true, although God's compassion (perhaps unsurprisingly) is somewhat different from our own, because it lacks the particular aspect of passibility. It's a little odd to say that "God only feels pure undisturbed happiness" because happiness has historically not been seen as a feeling at all -- the view that happiness is a feeling only became dominant in the past two hundred years or so. The classical view is that we don't know what God's 'inner emotional life' is like, because we are not God; but in any case, if we are going to call how God acts toward us 'happiness', there are lots of other things we can legitimately call it, as well -- including 'mercy', 'love', and so forth.

The first sentence admits of a correct interpretation, but the natural reading of it leaves the impression that the doctrine of impassibility is about feeling. This is not really the focus of the doctrine. Passibility is not primarily about feelings, although our feelings are tied to our passibility, which is why some of them are called passions. Passibility is about being such that you must undergo things. God, however, is purely active and has no potentiality; He can't undergo anything. As I said, in our own case, some of the ways we are passible are called passions, for precisely the fact that they are things we are forced to undergo by the world around us. If I come up to you and slap you in the face, you will find certain effects forced on you, over which you will have only limited control: surprise, pain, anger, bewilderment, and so forth. But it need not be feelings. If I shine a light directly into your eyes, for instance, you will be forced to undergo it and to react it. The doctrine of divine impassibility says that nothing can be forced onto God like this. One reason why it has been so common to think of God as impassible is that there is very good reason to think that passibility is a sign of destructibility. The passibility of your visual system means I can blind you by overpowering it; the passibility involved with pain and passions is what makes torturing people and breaking them possible. The physical passibility of a body means it can be torn apart. Everywhere we look, things are destructible in the way they are passible. But God obviously is not destructible; God cannot be overpowered; God cannot be forced in any way, and therefore cannot be forced to undergo anything; in fact, God doesn't undergo things, because everything other than God presupposes His action, not vice versa.

You'll notice that I keep saying 'passions', not 'emotions'. These terms are often thrown together today, but historically they would not have been, for the obvious fact that etymologically they are opposites. 'Passion' literally means you are moved, stirred up; emotion means you move something, stir it up. 'Passion' suggests a kind of passivity; 'emotion' suggests a kind of activity. In contemporary English they have become muddled together, but it's obviously going to be relevant here, since while the doctrine of divine impassibility rules out God having 'passions' in the original sense, it doesn't rule out God having 'emotions' in the original sense. Mullins correctly recognizes the latter, but fails to consider that this could indicate a problem that the field of things being talked about is muddled and not entirely coherent, due to the historical mingling of two very different ways of talking about human interaction with the world.

When Mullins tries to characterize empathy, he does so as follows:

EMPATHY: Sally empathizes with Ben if and only if (i) Sally is consciously aware that Ben is having an emotion E, (ii) Sally is consciously aware of what it feels like to have E, and (iii) on the right basis Sally is consciously aware of what it is like for Ben to have E.

On the basis of this, Mullins argues that the doctrine of divine impassibility implies that only (i) could be true of God. (ii) can't apply, because God doesn't know "what it feels like" to experience misery because He only feels happiness and because God cannot know "what it is like" to experience emotions in a way that depends on external things. (iii) can't apply, because God can't be influenced by things other than Himself and therefore can't experience others.

Whether or not Mullins's characterization of empathy is a good one, Mullins is incorrect; (ii) and (iii) of his characterization can apply to God. God knows what it feels like to experience misery, and He knows what it is like to experience emotions forced on one by external things, not because He has experienced these things but because He invented the experiences. They only exist because He conceived of them and created beings who could have them. What is more, our knowledge of these things is vague and dim and sensory-based; God's knowledge has none of these limitations, so He knows these things better than we do. The mistake made here (common among passibilists) is assuming that you can only know feelings and emotions by experiencing them; that is at least more or less true of us (although it's questionable whether it's always true even of us), but there is no reason to think it is true of the omniscient Creator who made us, and without whose fully knowledgeable creation none of those feelings would exist at all.

The reason that impassibilists have tended to hold that 'empathy' can apply only metaphorically to God is that, unlike compassion, which involves a much more complicated range of behavior and is used in a much wider range of contexts, 'empathy' seems in its normal usage specifically to highlight undergoing the same thing as someone else. If one interprets Mullins's account of empathy as requiring this, then 'empathy' in Mullins's sense could only apply to God metaphorically. But the characterization doesn't actually say this. (ii) is put entirely in terms of 'conscious awareness', which in his arguments he treats as a kind of knowledge; but God has knowledge. He has the most and best knowledge of everything. What's more, as classically understood, God's knowing something is a precondition for anyone else knowing it; it's just that under impassibility He knows things without having to undergo them, because His knowledge is a precondition for their existence. So nothing in (ii) requires that 'empathy' in Mullins's sense be applied to God only metaphorically. The 'on the right basis' in (iii) might be taken as requiring some sort of undergoing; except that Mullins also characterizes it in terms of knowledge, which God has in superabundance, by nature and perhaps by will, not by being forced to endure things the way we sometimes are. "God does not need to learn anything from the school of hard knocks" is not the same as saying "God does not know what we only know from the school of hard knocks."

Mullins of course does the usual bait-and-switches that passibilists have historically loved ("Ooh, God sounds like a psychopath!"), which can be dismissed as childish nonsense, particularly since he's failed to formulate an account of empathy that doesn't apply literally to God, and more than that, because He never bothers to consider the obvious next question even if it didn't, which would be whether 'empathy' can be applied metaphorically to God in a way that is relevant to this question. Like a great many people, Mullins seems not to grasp that when we speak metaphorically, we nonetheless say meaningful things, and therefore if a term applies not literally but metaphorically, that doesn't dismiss the term but just changes the way we approach investigating it. He also says that there is "zero evidence" of impassibility in the Bible, but this is just because he has a bad habit of assuming that if there's a thesis about God that he doesn't like that it must have just been made up randomly by some people for no reason; he never bothers to ask what people were reflecting on that led to their acceptance of it in the first place. In the case of impassibility, it's what it means for God to be Creator, what it means for God to have foreknowledge, what it means for God to be everlasting, what it means for God to be sovereign over all, all of which can be supported by Scriptural evidence. Mullins no doubt thinks that the evidence has been misinterpreted, but to claim that it isn't there is merely a disingenuous attempt to make his argument easier. 

After all, passibility is not directly stated in Scripture, either; it requires interpreting feeling-terms applied to God as both (a) applied in a sense that requires passibility and (b) applied literally. That neither of these can just be assumed can be seen from the many physical expressions and the many obvious metaphors that Scripture uses to talk about God, and from the fact that many of these usages are clearly emphasizing not divine passiveness but divine activity. Mullins wants to argue that there is a sharp and obvious distinction between physical and 'emotional' cases, but this is simply false; a very large portion of the latter occur in contexts where the former is occurring, also. The emotional expressions are very often associated with the divine face, the divine arms, the fire of God's breath, and so forth. The impassibilists can accept all these passages; they just hold that in each case the terms are either used in ways that don't imply passibility or that they are used as metaphors to describe divine actions. Describing something by a metaphor doesn't imply that you don't think it exists; if wrath, compassion, patience, etc., are applied to God metaphorically, they are describing something, and what is more, one could perfectly well say that the metaphors are the best ways we have in our language to describe them. We just can't assume that they have all the baggage they would bring if they were used literally. This is nothing particularly new; we often have to do this even with human beings, which is why so much of our language for describing people is metaphorical. And becomes more and more so when we talk about saints, and heroes, and geniuses, who seem sometimes to be a little less passible in their knowledge, or will, or character, than the rest of us. How much more would this have to be the case for God?

And likewise there can be no problem with 'closeness to God'. God knows our feelings better than we know them ourselves, because He knows us better than we know ourselves. All our knowledge of any person in our lives is but a dim and wavering shadow compared to what God knows of us. His love is impassible and can never be overpowered, never turned aside. The difficulty in the relationship is all on our side. And why? Because our love is passible, our minds are passible, our bodies are passible, and thus we can waver, get knocked off course, get overpowered, break down, when it comes to matters of knowledge and love. And how is this problem dealt with? By becoming less passible. By virtues, which steady us and strengthen us, and by relying on God's greater (because wholly impassible) reliability.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Visions of Wind and Sun, of Field and Stream

by Archibald Lampman

Over the dripping roofs and sunk snow-barrows,
 The bells are ringing loud and strangely near,
 The shout of children dins upon mine ear
Shrilly, and like a flight of silvery arrows
Showers the sweet gossip of the British sparrows,
 Gathered in noisy knots of one or two,
 To joke and chatter just as mortals do
Over the day's long tale of joys and sorrows;
Talk before bed-time of bold deeds together,
Of theft and fights, of hard-times and the weather,
Till sleep disarm them, to each little brain
Bringing tucked wings and many a blissful dream,
Visions of wind and sun, of field and stream,
And busy barnyards with their scattered grain.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Evening Note for Wednesday, March 15

 Thought for the Evening: The Valentinian Theology of Sacraments

Most Gnostic forms of Christianity clearly established themselves in opposition to the the episcopal system that structured the Church. But the Gnostic movement that most threatened the Church was in part such a threat because it deliberately did not do this; it grew up inside the Church, incubating within it, overlaying it. These were the Valentinians, and of all the heretics of the second and third centuries, only the contemporary Marcionites left a more lasting impression on the Church.

Valentinus is said to have been born in Egypt, and probably spent quite a bit of time in Alexandria. According to the Valentinians themselves, he was a student of a man named Theudas, who was a student of St. Paul. We don't know what the truth of this is, but it indicates an important aspect of the Valentinian movement: they took themselves to have the authentic Christian message. Eventually Valentinus ended up in Rome, probably about the mid-130s and stayed there until his death in about 170 to 180. He began preaching and teaching, and he made an impact; Valentinus was an immensely talented and charismatic man. He worked entirely within the structure of the local Christian community, but the movement became a force to be reckoned with, almost managing to make him Bishop of Rome in the mid-140s. As a Gnostic, Valentinus held that the material world was the result of error and failure in the Godhead, which he called the Totality or the Fullness. The Fullness was rooted in the incomprehensible and unknowable Father, who emanated the Son; from the Son (but still within the Fullness) emanated the eternal Church, which he called the Aeon of aeons, a single spiritual super-angel that included as part of itself an assembly of other super-angels. 'Aeon of aeons' in the Bible is usually translated as 'forever and ever', or something similar, but this is the essential feature of Valentianian exegesis -- everything in the text is reified and personified into some spiritual being emanating from another spiritual being. The result (which St. Irenaeus complains about) is that unlike many other Gnostics, they used a very Christian vocabulary -- pretty much every term used by the Valentinians comes from Scripture somewhere -- but they would always translate it by an elaborate theogonical allegory into a very different esoteric meaning (one in which, for instance, the Son and the Logos were distinct beings), which they passed around in secret study groups within the Church. Tensions between these study groups and the rest of the local community of Christians led eventually to the Valentinians setting up on their own, but it was a long slow process.

One of the interesting things about the Valentinians is that they provide a distinct witness to the structure of sacramental life in the mid to late second century. After all, the Valentinian sacraments originally just were the sacraments of the larger Christian community, seen through layers of Gnostic allegory. Obviously because of the highly allegorical interpretations they gave them, and also because there was a divergence over time, this has to be handled carefully as evidence. But the orthodox often treat the sacramental life of their day as just obvious background, and will mention it but not explain much; the Valentinians, because they allegorized everything, sometimes explicitly talk about it. So the Valentinians are potentially useful witnesses to the sacramental structure even of the orthodox and non-Valentinian Church. Particularly useful in this regard is the Gospel of Philip, which identifies five sacraments:

1. Baptism
2. Chrism
3. Eucharist
4. Redemption
5. Nymphon

Baptism is explicitly associated with resurrection of the dead into new life; this was interpreted spiritually. Again, the Valentinian baptism seems to have begun as standard baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but later Valentinians adapted the formula in various ways, and at least some of them baptized in the Name of the Unknown Father, the Son, and the Truth that is Mother of all, where the Name is one of their aeonic emanations within the Fullness. Nonetheless, they make clear the importance of baptism in the second-century Church, and often talk about it in ways that, verbally at least, would still be recognizable today.

However, the Valentinians held that chrism was an even more important sacrament than baptism. In a passage that is very worth quoting, the Gospel of Philip says:

The chrism is superior to baptism, for it is from the word "Chrism" that we have been called "Christians," certainly not because of the word "baptism". And it is because of the chrism that "the Christ" has his name. For the Father anointed the Son, and the Son anointed the apostles, and the apostles anointed us. He who has been anointed possesses everything. He possesses the resurrection, the light, the cross, the Holy Spirit. The Father gave him this in the bridal chamber; he merely accepted (the gift). The Father was in the Son and the Son in the Father. This is the Kingdom of Heaven.

This is, despite some slight garbling and allegorizing, recognizably a version of the rite that is today called confirmation or chrismation, whose meaning still could be characterized as "the resurrection, the light, the cross, the Holy Spirit" and as making us like Christ. 

The eucharist in Valentinian theology was characterized as a wedding-feast in which we partake of life-giving bread from heaven and grace-filled wine of the Spirit. According to the Gospel of Philip, "The Eucharist is Jesus." In partaking of it, we take on "the living man".

The other two sacraments are trickier. But from what we can gather from our sources, these different sacraments -- which seem to be adaptations of major Church baptismal liturgies, such as one might have at Easter -- were read allegorically as depicting what happens to the souls of the saved after they die. The redemption is associated with the ascension of the soul into the heavenly realms, renouncing and being ransomed from the fallen world of matter. St. Irenaeus complains that every Valentinian group tends to do this sacrament differently, but the  prayers that he claims are sometimes associated with it have patterns very similar to a baptismal exorcism.

The nymphon is the distinctive Valentinian sacrament. It means 'bridal chamber' and it does have something to do with marriage, but it's a spiritual marriage. In the Valentian theology, the aeons emanate in pairs, a masculine and a feminine, and within the Fullness in the proper sense the masculine and feminine are in harmonious union with each other. However, our corrupt, fallen, material world arose when some aeons attempted to conceive things without regard for the essential harmony with their consorts, thus estranging themselves. All of us have a heavenly aeonic consort from whom we are alienated, and to return to God, we must restore union with them. This is done spiritually in the sacrament of the bridal chamber, and finally and consummatively after death when the spirits of the redeemed fully unite with their bridegroom-angels. As the Gospel of Philip puts it:

If the woman had not separated from the man, she should not die with the man. His separation became the beginning of death. Because of this, Christ came to repair the separation, which was from the beginning, and again unite the two, and to give life to those who died as a result of the separation, and unite them. But the woman is united to her husband in the bridal chamber. Indeed, those who have united in the bridal chamber will no longer be separated. Thus Eve separated from Adam because it was not in the bridal chamber that she united with him.

Since St. Irenaeus seems to have regarded the bridal chamber sacrament as the weirdest part of the Valentinian liturgy, one could argue that this Valentinian sacrament was a complete de novo invention of the Valentinians, used to initiate people into their groups. Some people have argued that in fact it was an elaborately allegorized and ritualized version of imposition of hands, which could also very well be the case, given the things that are said about it, because it's sometimes associated with receiving what seem to be charismatic gifts, as you became imbued with your aeonic bridegroom and the grace of it overflowed. 

The Valentinians, recall, originally began by allegorizing the same Scripture and liturgy that the rest of the Christian community used; thus while we have to take much of the content with a grain of salt, the structural elements of the Valentinian sacramental theology can with a fair degree of probability be held to be based on what was liturgically important in the second century. Just as the weird Valentinian theology of the aeons can be evidence, used cautiously, for which parts of Scripture Christians of the day kept coming back to, because the Valentinians were originally allegorizing precisely those parts of Scripture, so too the Valentinian theology of sacraments gives us a foggy mirror-image of the sacramental life of the community as a whole, because originally the Valentinian theology of sacraments was just a highly allegorized interpretation of that sacramental life. From this we see (again, without complete certainty, but with high probability) that besides baptism and the eucharist, the second-century church had an important chrism-based sacrament that is recognizable even through Valentinian interpretations as confirmation. We also see that there were important rituals of exorcism or at least of some kind of renunciation of evil. Something like imposition of hands seems to be suggested by the Valentinian sacrament of nymphon, but even if it was a point at which the Valentinians were being innovative, the way it is developed establishes very clearly that marriage was regarded as an important matter, capable of reflecting heavenly matters. Many of the ways in which the Valentinians talk about these things have recognizable similarities to later orthodox discussions that seem to owe nothing to the Valentinian movement; although, of course, they are interwoven with the aeonic theology and the esoteric interpretations that make the Valentinians Gnostics.

Various Links of Interest

* Lawrence Nolan and John Whipple, Self-Knowledge in Descartes and Malebranche (PDF)

* Giannis Stammatellos and Dionysis Mentzeniotis, The Notion of Infinity in Plotinus and Cantor (PDF)

* Craig Warmke, Electronic Coins (PDF)

* Andrew J. Miller, From His Fullness: Reflecting God's Aseity, at "Modern Reformation"

* Jonathan Haidt, Why the Mental Health of Liberal Girls Sank First and Fastest

* Edward Feser, Great Scot, reviews Thomas Ward's Ordered by Love: An Introduction to John Duns Scotus, at "First Things"

* Ben Landau-Taylor and Samo Burja, Our Knowledge of History Decays Over Time, at "Palladium"

Currently Reading

Pius II, Secret Memoirs of a Renaissance Pope
Tikhon Pino, Essence and Energies: Being and Naming God in St. Gregory Palamas
Moses Mendelssohn, Moses Mendelssohn's Hebrew Writings

In Audiobook

Hobbes, Leviathan

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Deeseis, Proseuchas, Enteuxeis, Eucharistias

 Therefore I beg, first of all, for there to be made petitions, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings, on behalf of all humanity, on behalf of rulers and all in authority, so that we may pass time in a quiet and still life in all piety and probity. This is splendid and welcome before the face of our Savior, God, who wishes all humanity to be saved and to come to discernment of truth; for 'one God, therefore one intermediary between God and humanity', the human Christos Iesous, who having given himself a ransom on behalf of all, the witness for each one's opportunity, for which I was appointed town-crier and delegate -- I speak truth, I lie not -- instructor of nations in faith and truth. 

I therefore want men in every place to pray, raising holy hands without wrath and argument. And women, likewise, in decorous attire with modesty and temperance, should not decorate themselves with plaits or gold or pearls or expensive clothing, but with what is proper to women announcing godliness through good works. Let a woman learn in stillness, in complete submission. However, I do not allow woman to teach or dominate man, but to be in stillness. For Adam first was made, then Heua, and Adam was not deceived but woman became thoroughly deceived. But she will be saved through maternity, if they abide in faith and devotion and purification with temperance.

[1 Timothy 2:1-15, my very rough translation. This was very difficult, and I still don't really know what is meant by the phrase I translated as "the witness for each one's opportunity"; my best guess is that it is saying that Christ is the evidence (martyrion) that each will have their chance (kairios) to be saved. The last part, on women, is very obscure, because he seems to keep jumping around. The entire passage occurs after Paul has been noting some serious behavioral problems and abuses, charging Timothy to war against those who have caused 'shipwreck' through some kind of blasphemy. Thus I don't think anything this passage can be regarded as a general guide; he is explicitly laying down instructions for bringing order back to a church that is apparently in chaos. Despite the seriousness of the subject, I am slightly amused that Paul's diagnosis of the problems that immediately need to be addressed is that the men are arguing angrily and the women trying to lord it over (authentein, dominate, pull rank on, take up arms against, act domineeringly toward) the men; this is not an unheard-of problem in churches that are breaking down, even today. I remember when I was young, the Southern Baptist church that my family attended underwent a break-up (this is not uncommon in Baptist churches), and the tumult is described by Paul to a T. 

It's important, I think, to see that his recommendations at the end go together and are not (as they often are treated in how this passage is divided) distinct -- the men are guilty of orge (wrath, passionateness, heatedness) and dialogismos (reasoning, argument, debate), which in context are clearly sins against the virtue of sophrosyne (temperance, self-control, self-restraint), which is explicitly mentioned twice as what the women need to cultivate. In both cases, Paul's admonition is, more or less, "Get a grip on yourselves, people!" And while it's perhaps not immediately obvious, it's not the women alone who are being told to be 'still'. The whole passage insists right at the beginning that everybody needs to pray for a quiet and still life, and the men are criticized for acting inconsistently with that, just as much as the women are.

The words for prayer at the beginning are interesting. Deeseis is related to the word for 'need', so it is sometimes translated as 'entreaties'; proseuchas is a fairly straightforward word for 'prayers'; eucharistias, of course, means 'thanksgivings' and is the word that gives us the term 'Eucharist'. Enteuxeis is a little trickier; it literally means something like 'interventions', but seems also to have the meaning of approaching an authority to get them to intervene, so it is often translated as 'intercessions' or 'supplications'. The words Paul applies to himself are also interesting; he is keryx kai apostolos, "herald and apostle", as it is usually translated, didaskolos ethnon, "teacher of nations". I think it's plausible that these are intended as a deliberate contrast to what follows, as Paul pulls out his full authority to quell the opposition: the men keep arguing, but Paul proclaims the salvation of Christ Jesus as Jesus's own ambassador; the women keep wanting to teach the men, but Paul teaches the nations.

The beginning of this passage, 1 Timothy 2:3, is often used by universalists, but Paul is not being rosy-viewed here; the passage is sandwiched between saying he has handed people over to Satan to teach them not to blaspheme by false teachings and putting strict restrictions on everyone else. The claims are also not unqualified in context; God wishes all to be saved and to discern the truth, and this clearly connects with what Paul describes as his mission, to teach the nations in faith and truth. God wishes all to be saved and to know the truth and therefore he sent Paul (who in the previous chapter noted explicitly talks about having been saved by Christ). Thus it really identifies the guiding principle of his intervention: the false teachers, the dissentious quarrelers, the presumptuous status-seekers, are all interfering with the kind of salvation and knowledge God wishes all to have.]

Monday, March 13, 2023

Ghost Worlds

 David Lewis's Counterfactuals is an interesting work, because it has many interesting insights but one can also see in it the beginning of a number of pathologies that have become common in analytic use of possible worlds. Lewis glosses 'possible worlds' as "'ways things could have been'" (p. 84) but also wants to say that our actual world is exactly one of the possible worlds:

Our actual world is only one world among others. We call it alone actual not because it differs in kind from all the rest but because it is the world we inhabit. The inhabitants of other worlds may truly call heir own worlds actual, if they mean by 'actual' what we do; for the meaning we give to 'actual' is such that it refers at any world i to that world i itself. (pp. 85-86)

This is (unlike what you often find) a correct interpretation of how the 'actuality' operator works in cases in which it is added to possible world semantics; it just established a privileged world, for whatever reason one wishes. This is, I think, a good reason for thinking that the 'actuality operator' no more captures the actuality of the actual world than the 'existential quantifier' captures the existence of an existing thing; but set this aside. However, there is a tension between thinking in this way and thinking of possible worlds as 'ways things could have been'. We see this in an inadvertent slip:

Among my common opinions that philosophy must respect (if it is to deserve credence) are not only my naive belief in tables and chairs, but also my naive belief that these tables and chairs might have been otherwise arranged. Realism about possible worlds is an attempt, the only successful attempt I know of, to systematize these preexisting modal opinions. (p. 88)

These tables and chairs might have been otherwise arranged. Which ones? The ones in the actual world, which Lewis insists is just one possible world, and therefore cannot possibly be otherwise than it is.

This is, of course, the reason why Lewis has his famous difficulties with transworld identity. Considering the case of Ripov, who does not bribe a judge but could have done so, he sets up a dilemma. Either there has to be transworld identity -- one and the same Ripov exists in multiple worlds -- or a counterpart relation -- the Ripov of this world is similar although different to the Ripov of another world. Lewis, while recognizing that there is some inconvenience to it, chooses the second:

The best thing to do, I think, is to escape the problems of transworld identity by insisting that there is nothing that inhabits more than one world....Things that do inhabit worlds -- people, flames, buildings, puddles, concrete particulars generally -- inhabit one world each, no more. Our Ripov is a man of our world, who does not reappear elsewhere. Other worlds may have Ripovs of their own, but none of these is our Ripov. Rather, they are counterparts of our Ripov....What our Ripov cannot do in person at other worlds, not being present there to do it, he may do vicariously through his counterparts. (p. 39)

Thus, this Ripov cannot in fact do otherwise than he does; the different possible worlds do not capture the ways this Ripov could have been. Why then are they relevant? They're just different worlds, ghost worlds from our perspective, but different worlds. The root problem here is thinking of possible worlds as worlds at all. They are not ghostly other worlds. How could they be? If they were ghostly other worlds, how would we know anything about them? Why would they be relevant to what happens in our world, any more than having a doppelganger across the ocean says anything about your own modalities? Yet it takes no extensive reading to see that this treatment of possible worlds, that other possible worlds are phantom worlds separate from our own, completely distinct from our own, and that there are ghost-people and ghost-things existing in these ghost-worlds, about which we have some sort of magical clairvoyant knowledge, is found all throughout analytic discussions of modality.

The peculiarity of all of this becomes more clear when we consider why Lewis rejects transworld identity. He holds that the problem is that the identity is just mysterious, "an irreducible fact, not to be explained in terms of anything else" (p. 39) or else just has to reduce to the kind of resemblance that fits better with the counterpart relation. But there is no mystery. The Ripov in another possible world is the Ripov in the actual world, because he is a way this actual Ripov could be. The whole point, the whole point, of talking about possible worlds as 'ways things could be' is to give the underlying logical structure of what we say about the actual Ripov. We did not discover the ghost worlds like galaxies through a metaphysical telescope; we experienced the actual world and recognized that things in it cannot be properly accounted for or  placed in a coherent narrative unless we recognize that the actual things themselves could be otherwise -- that this Ripov who doesn't bribe the judge could have. If you think of possible worlds as worlds at all, they have to be treated as the actual world itself, considered in a very selective way. These tables and chairs might have been different; this Ripov might have been different. Ripov has transworld identity because Ripovs in other possible worlds are just descriptions of the possibilities of Ripov.

Of course, as I've noted before, nothing about the actual formal system requires that we think of possible worlds as worlds at all; they are logical entities mapped to consistent sets of truth-valued logical propositions, which we can interpret in endless numbers of ways. Even interpreted as 'ways the actual world could have been', however, nothing requires that they be treated as worlds; as ways the actual world could have been, it makes more sense to treat the actual world as the world, and the possible worlds as descriptively capturing 'slices' of that very world. They aren't ghost worlds; rather, they are 'beings of reason', and we use them to describe the actual world in which we live.


David K. Lewis, Counterfactuals, Harvard UP (Cambridge, MA: 1973).

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Fortnightly Book, March 12

 Arms of the house of Piccolomini.svg

Ever since I did my little exploratory series on the reform and the Renaissance papacy, I've wanted to read some of Commentaries of Enea Silvio Bartolomeo Piccolomini, also known as Pope Pius II. The Commentaries themselves are a sprawling, rambling work of more than twelve volumes, but in 1959, Florence A. Gregg and Leona C. Gabel published a one-volume abridged translation as, Secret Memoirs of a Renaissance Pope: The Commentaries of Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini. I've had a copy for a while, and this is as good a time as ever to dive into it.

Gabel gives the principles for the abridgement in the Foreword:

The principle guiding the selection of passages for this abridgement was initially that the content be at first hand, the Pope writing either as observer of or as participant in the events related....A further reduction was effected by cutting or omitting certain blocks of subject matter of interest mainly to the specialist and available to him in the complete edition. The author's fondness of repetition and for lengthy speeches offered still another possibility for abbreviation, though care has been taken to preserve characteristic examples. (p. 11)

The whole Commentaries primarily covers the years 1458-1463, but in fact cover a lot going back to 1405 and even farther in history, since the author often goes back and reflects on his life and the historical course up to it, but the abridgement for practical purposes can be said to cover the period of the Renaissance from the Council of Basle up to Pius II's death, at which point he is preparing to lead personally a crusade against the Turks because he has been unable to get the major leaders of Christian Europe to recognize that the Ottomans are reaching the point of being able to invade Europe itself.

The edition I have is a nice reprinting in 1988 by The Folio Society; it's a cream-color book with a red titling leather on the spine. The covers are in what's often known as 'elephant hide', a parchment-like treated paper that is very durable, and it is stamped with the outline of the coat of arms of the House of Piccolomini. The text itself is in Centaur typeface on what's known as antique wove paper. The book also has a set of plates of paintings commemorating various things in the Pope's life.


Pius II, Secret Memoirs of a Renaissance Pope, Gregg, tr., Gabel, ed., The Folio Society (London: 1988).

Saturday, March 11, 2023

The Quest of the Holy Grail


Opening Passage:

On the eve of Pentecost when the companions of the Round Table were all assembled at Camelot, at the hour of none when the office was sung and the tables were being set up, a maiden of great beauty came riding into the hall. It was plain she had ridden hard for her horse was still lathered in sweat. She alighted and went straight to greet the king, who wished God's blessing on her.

'Sire,' she said, 'in God's name, tell me if Lancelot be here.' (p. 31)

Summary: The key word in The Quest of the Holy Grail is aventure. This gives us the English word 'adventure', but the term was much broader, to the extent that it is difficult to capture. It can mean a lucky chance, a stroke of fortune, a significant happening, an occasion for adventure, an eventful occasion, a work of divine providence. Inevitably, the quest for the Holy Grail is full of aventures; and it is noteworthy that the knights who fail in their quests have few aventures. Sir Gawain starts out with aventures, but starts finding that long stretches of his hunt involve nothing eventful; when he asks a holy man why this might be, the holy man replies that it is because he has insufficient faith, for only faith can recognize aventure. Perhaps it is because of this that in the context of the Grail quest, happenings that would in other tales seem only strange turn out to be charged with allegorical meanings.

We begin where many Arthurian tales begin, as the knights of the Round Table gather together at Pentecost. This Pentecost is especially significant, because this is the Pentecost when, for the first time, the Round Table will be complete. A sword in a stone in a river has been found, inscribed with the words that only the best knight in the world can draw it. Lancelot refuses to try; Gawain and Perceval try it and fail. But the young man Galahad comes to court and his name appears upon the Siege Perilous, the seat at which none but one can sit without dying; he pulls the sword out easily. Messengers come from the hermit Nascien to say that the long-awaited time of the hunt for the Grail has come, and shortly afterward, all the knights have a shared experience. A clap of thunder shakes the hall, which is suddenly filled with brilliant radiance as everyone is struck dumb, and the Holy Grail, veiled by a white samite cloth, appears and moves through the hall, although no one seems to be bearing it. As it passes, every knight's plate is filled with the knight's favorite food. Then it vanishes. With an entrance like that, of course, all of the knights are excited to learn more, and the quest for the Grail begins. After setting out together, they decide to split up, because they think it would be shameful to seek the Grail together in a band. And thus we find the fatal flaw of the Round Table, which only becomes clearer as the adventure continues and we follow one of its most exemplary knights, Sir Gawain: these are people who for the most part value the honorable more than the sacred.

All of the knights are on some kind of quest, but the story only follows a few. 

(1) Sir Gawain, who spends much of his time with Sir Hector of the Marsh (who is Lancelot's illegitimate half-brother). They will fail, not because they are not extraordinary knights, but because the Grail is not a reward for extraordinary knighthood. They are courteous, brave, noble after their fashion; but the Grail requires humility, and while it doesn't require forgoing honor, it does require holding even your honor to be as nothing compared to what you are seeking. Sir Hector's role seems to be to show an exemplary knight whose pride in honor guarantees he will never even get closed -- he will be turned away quite abruptly, in fact. I'm also struck by how willing he is to give up when a hermit suggests he will fail. Sir Gawain is much more promising; but he too always puts honor above devotion, and his quest is something of a disaster, since in the course of trying to do it, he manages to kill two great and honorable knights, King Baudemagus and Sir Owein the Bastard. Everyone is worse off for his quest, including Sir Gawain himself.

(2) Sir Lancelot of the Lake is the more interesting case, because he has what Sir Gawain and his half-brother do not: humility. Lancelot is a knight who is able to put things higher than his honor. Ironically, this is precisely why he is able to sin so grievously -- the reason the adultery between Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere starts is that Lancelot is willing to treat his honor as nothing in comparison to her. He is capable of humility; but his entire life has been misdirected, and therefore he has several failures before he does the one and only thing that can open anything of the Grail to him: repent. His sins mean that he will not have full success; but he will be allowed before the end to have a vision of what he seeks. And, perhaps almost as important, he will have time to spend with his illegitimate son, Sir Galahad, who is everything that Sir Lancelot should have been but failed to be -- literally, because all of Sir Lancelot's talent is an artifact of the fact that his destiny was to be the knight who attained the Grail, a destiny which he ruined.

(3) Sir Bors (my perennial favorite among the Grail knights) is Sir Lancelot's cousin. He has an illegitimate son, due to a complicated situation in which he was younger, but he has been chaste since. He is a solid knight, but his real strength seems to be his capacity to endure; he is the knight who seems most actively willing to engage in ascetic practices, and he spends a portion of his quest enduring hardship after hardship. He is perceptive -- he is the first person to recognize that the still-anonymous Sir Galahad has to be Sir Lancelot's son, and he tends to draw the correct conclusions in the situations in which he finds himself. He is the only knight who shows any interest in theology, at one point getting into a friendly argument with a priest over the correct theological account of the role of the family in the spiritual life. Family actually seems to be a key theme in his story; he's related to more than half the major characters in the story, and his greatest trial occurs when he is forced into a situation in which he has to make a choice between saving his brother Sir Lionel from almost certain death and saving a maiden from being raped. Sir Bors (correctly) chooses to save the maiden, and then seeks out Sir Lionel in the hope of saving him. Sir Lionel managed narrowly to avoid death for other reasons, but he is furious at Sir Bors for treating the bond of brotherhood as if it were nothing. Sir Bors is willing to die at the hand of his brother, but Sir Lionel also killing both a hermit and Sir Calogrenant (a cousin to Sir Owein the Bastard, perhaps suggesting that we are getting a thematic link to Sir Gawain's killing of the latter) is the last straw, and the brothers come to blow, Sir Bors being spared having to kill his brother only by the intervention of heaven. His road is long and hard, but he will attain the Grail.

(4) Sir Perceval is one of the most talented knights of the Round Table, but he has an innocence that no other knight has. He is almost childlike at times. This is what will make it possible for him to succeed in his quest, but it is also his greatest spiritual danger, because innocence is not holiness. In direct contrast to the very prudent Bors, Sir Perceval has almost no prudence. It is perhaps notable that he is the Grail knight who most has to deal with the devil, who repeatedly outsmarts him and nearly derails his quest entirely by appearing as a damsel in distress, whom Sir Perceval aids with a complete lack of caution. But his devotion to Christ will eventually pull him through to attain the Grail.

(5) And we thus come to Sir Galahad, Lancelot's illegitimate son. Unlike Sir Bors, who seems to have had a fairly ordinary upbringing, and Sir Perceval, who was deliberately raised by his mother in a sheltered life away from court, Sir Galahad was raised in a family with a tradition of devotion to higher things -- through his mother he is related in direct descent from the brother-in-law of Joseph of Arimathea. Devotion to the Grail is part of his family heritage. But his success is not really due to that. He has all of his father's talent, but unlike his father he does not devote it to worldly things, and one of his notable features, which makes him unique among all the knights in the book, is that he deliberately tries not to kill people, no matter how bad they are. If they die, they can no longer repent. In the course of his quest he will at one point, with Bors and Perceval, have to kill in self-defense a bunch of knights who are involved in some truly horrible things, and he is still actively distressed at having had to kill them. Of all the knights, he will most fully attain the Grail; and he will die in doing so, unlike his father having fulfilled his destiny.

There are a number of secondary characters who play interesting roles in the story, as well; perhaps the most interesting is Percival's sister, who has a noble but tragic end, and who plays a very significant role in making it possible for the three Grail knights to achieve their quest.

The Quest of the Holy Grail is famous for its speeches -- there are speeches practically every other page, often going into great detail about the allegorical meaning or legendary background of everything that has just happened. One might think that a story with so much speechifying would have equally verbose storytelling, but the reverse is true. The narrative is all very tightly, very vividly written, so much so that it is clear that the contrast between the swiftly moving and colorfully concrete narrative and the more abstract and leisurely speeches is deliberate. I suspect that the author saw his story as a sort of spiritual manual for laymen, but he has with extraordinary skill set the discourse into a grippingly told story to keep the reader moving through. I was very impressed by the artistry of it.

Favorite Passage:

When Bors and Perceval saw that Galahad was dead they plumbed the very depths of grief. And had they not been men of the greatest godliness of life and character, they might have fallen into despair on account of the great love they had borne him. And the people of the country, too, mourned him with heavy hearts.

There where he died they dug his grave; and as soon as he had been buried Perceval left for a hermitage outside the city walls and took the religious habit. Bors kept him company, but never quitted his secular dress, for it was still his ambition to return to King Arthur's court. Perceval abode in the hermitage for a year and three days and then departed this life; and Bors had him buried in the spiritual palace where his sister and Galahad lay. (p. 284)

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.


The Quest of the Holy Grail, Pauline Matarasso, tr., Penguin (New York: 2005).

White Spirit-Birds in Every Bough Sang Clear

by Anita Moor 

 Across the ocean's sapphire floor, with sail
 Of linen woven from the flaxen fields,
 Following the track of knights who sought the grail
 And bore the Virgin's colours on their shields,
 The monks of holy Brandon steered their way.
 Wondering they saw an island lay before them
 That no chart knew; so, on that summer day,
They landed where the breath of heaven bore them.
"The paradise of birds" was the strange name
The isle was called. No taint of human grief
Defiled the air. They strayed until they came
To a green tree, sun-lit on stem and leaf.
White spirit-birds in every bough sang clear;
Bird-spirits filled the isle both far and near.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Dashed Off VIII

 indwelling as the mode of God's union with the Church

conscientious judgments by summary court vs by deliberative trial
due process in judgments of conscience (cf. cases where we would think someone negligent in reflection)

"All the wicked who have gone before are signs of Antichrist." Aquinas

The prelude to action is sometimes the most important part of the action.

Scotus on the will as a collative power: it can will not only a good but a good as related to another (e.g., wanting X to b Y, wanting to use X for Y, hoping X from Y)

Vermigli in the Commentary on 1 Corinthians argues that "faith is the mother of charity" (he is arguing against the Thomistic view that charity is the form of faith)

"From faith, which is the gift of God, proceeds the efficient cause of repentance....The formal cause is conversion and change; the material cause is the will itself; the objects are the sins for which we sorrow, and the virtues which we strive to attain; the efficient cause is faith and God; the end is the honor of God and our own salvation." Peter Martyr Vermigli (Loci Communes 2.1)

The sacrament of matrimony both signifies the unity of Christ and the Church and brings it about by forming the domestic church.

Natural religion is inherently familial.

Almsgiving becomes satisfaction insofar as it has the nature of sacrifice.

"When through his illuminating power we fix our eyes on the beauty of the image of the unseen God, and through the image are led up to the more than beautiful vision of the archetype, his Spirit of knowledge is somehow inseparably present. He supplies to those who love to the see the truth the power to see the image in himself." Basil
"the goodness and holiness by nature and the royal dignity reach from the Father, through the Only-Begotten, to the Spirit"
"no gift at all comes to creation without the Holy Spirit"
"Moses saw well and wisely that disdain readily belongs to what is trite and easily understood, while that which is much desired is somehow naturally coupled with retirement and scarcity."
"This is the reason for non-scriptural traditions, that knowledge of dogmas not be neglected or despised by many because of familiarity."
"Standing fast in non-scriptural traditions is, I think, apostolic."

"The goods in which a man participates according to the grace of God also indebt him to share ungrudgingly with others." Maximus the Confessor

Receiving grace from God, we must give quasi-graces to others.

hospitableness as a potential part of justice

We come before the tribunal of penance as whole persons, and thus as moral, jural, and sacral, all at once.

"minister est sicut instrumentum intelligens" Aquinas ST 1.112.1

exemplar causation (Bonaventure)
idea -> word -> art -> purpose
(foreseeing -> proposing -> doing -> completing)

providing-hospitality vs accomodating-hospitality
-- these are distinct and the customs regarding them often come apart

"He who is sidetracked by the pleasure of the body is neither active for virtue, nor well-moved toward knowledge." Maximus

sacramentum tantum
-- qua rite
-- qua sign-vehicle
-- qua signifying
res et sacramentum
-- qua sacramentalized
-- qua received
-- qua carried forward
res tantum
-- qua divine favor/promise
-- qua Christ
-- qua grace in us

The paradisial mysteries (lignum vitae and marriage) are types of the Church as general sacrament, i.e., of the sacramental economy as a whole.

Pagan mysteries are signs of Christian mysteries, as expressing the human need for mysteries, and as showing certain suitabilities in human nature for certain signs (e.g., sacrifice, ablution, anointing).

Scripture as 'an external symbol with which the Lord seals for our conscience the promises of his friendliness toward us, in order to offer a support to the weakness of our faith' (Calvin's description of a sacrament)
-- Scripture as sign of the covenant

the Septenary as a sign of the completeness and excellent of the sacramental economy as a whole

baptism as an initiation into a company or companionship (2 Tim 2:11-13)

oblation : contrition :: consecration : confession :: communion : satisfaction

It is remarkable how freely 'pastoral' is used by people who have no idea what shepherds actually do; one would expect from their usages that shepherds let sheep do whatever they wish and try to be pleasant and neighborly with wolves.

Christian life under religious vow is concerned specifically with *completeness* of charity.

sacramental signs as notation describing the symphony of heaven

the moral causality of values (present motives why another should act)
-- the value as an object proposes an end (at least a general one) for action

All sacraments have a value within the intercession of the Ascended Christ in Session.

The indelibleness of sacramental character arises from the perfection of Christ's priesthood.

Love, in reaching toward good, forms new values in light of the ways it draws near to good.

sacramental signs as mood-creating, like certain kinds of poetry

Things can only be erroneous relative to the normative.

formal causation -> objective causation -> valuative causation

Hope is always expressed narratively.

Some things are naturally valued for themselves, or else nothing is valued.

Food does not have value for us because it is valued by us; we value it for its value for us.

People have inherent and intrinsic value; they are inherently valuable, i.e., such that they are in themselves reasonably valued; they are, so to speak, subsistent value.

Larissa M. Katz, "Ownership and Offices: The Building Blocks of the Legal Order"
-- "Stripped down, the idea of office is the warrant to make decisions that change the normative situations of others on behalf of others."
-- Katz claims, "There are no natural offices because there is no natural authority for any of us to determine with finality the aspects of our lives that we share with others." [This seems dubious.]
-- "Offices, as artificial creations, presuppose procedures for appointment."
-- "Officials have warrant to discharge their mandate only through the powers they have in that office and are constrained to exercise their powers just for the purposes for which they are conferred -- that is, their mandate."
-- "An office is the warrant that a person has for making decisions on behalf of another or, in other contexts, on behalf of all of us as participants in a legal order."
-- "Owners have large-scale powers to change the normative situation of others, enabling them to set the agenda for things."
-- "Ownership is hierarchical (the entire structure of property rights is based on a chain of authority and so gives rise to the principle, nemo dat quod non habet), positivist (ownership authority depends on law), and impersonal (no one claims authority over others with respect to things in virtue of anything particular to her).
-- "The Office of Sovereign holds the legal system together from beginning to end: it is not only the first office, but it is also the last office: this office is the residual holder of all power, and so all other offices are liable to collapse into it."

the visitatorial jurisdiction of the pope

parenthood as natural office

It's difficult to avoid the sense that most bishops are merely LARPing.

It's important to note that Jesus did not stop St. Martha from her work, he merely rebuked her when she put her own concerns above St. Mary's.

the modes of medicinal action
(1) curative
(2) conservative
(3) ameliorative
(4) preservative
(5) mitigative
(6) comfortative

It is pointless to talk of 'the case for' or 'against' markets; there is always a market, and the only question is what kind.

Duties are ways people unite with other people.

the body politic: Plato, Laws 829a; Aristotle, Politis 1253a; Seneca, Ep 95.51f; Epictetus, Diatr. 2.5.24

the sun-literature of the Church (hymns, theological works, writings of saints) and the moon-literature of the Church (novels, hagiographies, poems)

the Church as realized reconciliation with God

the five rites of the consecration of a church: aspersio, inscriptio, inunctio, illuminatio, benedictio

The Church is authorized, and thus has the right, to engage in any reasonable act suitable for furthering its divine mission.

"Thinking that energy pushes things is like thinking cars do division since they move in miles/hour, or thinking lightbulbs can multiply because they use electricity by the kilowatt-hours." Chastek

A free market is not an unrestricted market but a market constituted by free interactions of free people.

Every sacrament achieves its sacramental ends in us.

"In the matter of the validity and completeness of a sacrament, it is irrelevant to ask what the recipient of the sacrament belongs and with what faith he might be imbued; this question has great significance for the salvation of human beings, but is irrelevant to the question concerning the sacrament itself." Augustine (De bapt. 3.14.19)

Augustine on the status of catechumens -- De Civ. 13.7
on baptism of blood & desire -- De bapt. contr. Donat. 4.22, 29

memoria passionis Christi as the foundation for spiritual reception of the sacraments

"We are to erect no artificial opposition between our professional and social activity, on the one hand, and our religious life, on the other." Gaudium et spes 43

What are the minor sacraments (sacramentals) directly instituted by Christ? Lord's Prayer, certainly; foot-washing, Eucharistic hymn; anything else?

Identity (as in 'one's identity) is something received as gift in heritage and in destiny.

"O pater urbis, / unde nefas tantum Latiis pastoribus?" Juvenal

We get many competing views of something whenever there is something to know.

Auer's pathological desire to avoid associating the sacraments with magic -- a test that is inevitably based more on cultural association than on reasoned assessment -- distorts much of his discussion of the sacraments. (It's also self-defeating, because obviously the sacraments are going to look like some kinds of magic, because in the West some kinds of magic are imitations or mockeries of the sacraments.)

Every valid argument is more similar to some invalid arguments than some valid arguments. Every possible world is more similar to some impossible worlds than to some possible worlds. Every coherent system is more similar to some incoherent systems than to some coherent systems.

Our capacity to experiment builds on our capacity to engage in and adapt ritual.

Gennadios Scholarios takes Benjamin to be a type of St. Paul

sacrament, sacramental office, sacramental economy

We may receive sacraments in promise as well as in full attainment.

the problem of induction // the problem of learning from history

Refusal to forgive at least sometimes harms common good in definite ways.

waves // causing something without immediate contact

If we operationalized theology, we would do so by prayers.

classification proper vs classification per reductionem

The existence of cancel culture follows directly from the principles of privilege theory, since privileges are typically understood as protections from kinds of cancellation.

'partially interpreted formal systems'

All scientific experimentation posits some kind of community of inquirers.

We understand reality in light of the unrealized.

Completely to articulate even one observation requires many propositions.

Connecting the analytic a priori and the synthetic a posteriori is itself synthetic (usu. requiring both synthetic a priori and synthetic a posteriori).

Simplification is itself a basic form of explanation. As there are multiple distinct kinds of explanation, there are generally different kinds of explanation you can give of one thing.

Discovery requires an ability to identify valuable novelty.

What Mill's account of induction gets right is that induction is about sameness and difference.

Justification is only as good as discovery.

Reasonable inquirers use both induction and counterinduction, just giving normal priority to the former.

Agriculture is the incorporation of environment into our ritual life.

One reason to turn the other cheek is that sometimes it prevents things from becoming irreparable.

What you really value is often what you will forego pleasure and endure pain for.

Examination in and of itself implies something beyond the examination.

We can only determine whether a sample is random by induction. (This is important for the law of large numbers in the context of induction.)

the fecundity of induction in facilitating other kinds of reasoning

Events are only known as linked together.

statistical sampling as analogical inference

statistica inference and triplex via:
(1) The sample should not be confused with the population.
(2) The sample is derived from the population.
(3) The population is at least adequate to account for the sample.

In actual use, 'All ravens are black' and 'All nonblack things are nonravens' are usually not used in the same universes of discourse.

Narrative sense is the combination of causal sense and profile-fitting sense; often in intricate ways.

Even occult qualities explain/predict in the sense that they assign higher and lower probabilities to different possibilities. Dormitive virtue implies a greater probability of sleeping, and thus a lower probability of not sleeping.

functional explanations as supposing-the-system explanations

-- The end of an object at rest or moving rectilinearly at a velocity is to continue at rest or moving rectilinearly at that velocity unless it receives another end from elsewhere.
-- The change of end in an object moving or at rest is related, by vehemence and direction, to the reception of a new modification of its end.
-- When a body modifies the end of another body, the two bodies act mutually on each other so as to give each other complementary modifications of ends.

use of empty space // use of silence

demonstratives as requiring a demonstrative act (either in the use or presupposed)

three uses of pronouns: substitution, indication, quantification
-- We seem in practice to treat indicated things as if they were nouns. Castaneda holds that indicators have no antecedent, but in fact we seem to treat the indicated things as their antecedents.

The senses cannot distinguish necessary and non-necessary connections; this is different from saying that we do not sense necessary connections.

Modern theories of meaning often err by confusing reference-to and verified-of. We may refer to something with a description that is not verified of it.

Too sharp a distinction between context of discovery and context of justification distorts understanding of theory, which often operates simultaneously in both.

Scientific investigation being a social enterprise, issues of individual belief are largely secondary.

Few things so clearly prove our free will as our capacity to engage in scientific inquiry, which is a rational navigation of alternative possibilities.

yearning as the general tone of the Qur'an

The Meccan suras primarily focus on creation and judgment.

Modern Hollywood uses sex scenes as substitutes for scenes of sexual chemistry.