Saturday, January 21, 2023

Sigrid Undset, The Winding Road


Opening Passage: From The Wild Orchid, which is the first part of this two-volume novel:

Paul was one of the last wave of passengers--those who came at a trot through the gloomy station without stopping at the newsstand. They slackened speed on seeing the train standing peacefully in the sunshine at the outer platform, puffing clouds of steam into the bright spring sky. (p. 3)

Summary: Paul Selmer is raised in a Protestant family in Norway prior to the First World War. What 'Protestant' means in practice varies quite a bit; he has members of his family who are active in the State Church, but the Lutheranism of the Church of Norway is liberalizing and to some extent secularizing quite rapidly. His mother, Julie Selmer, however, was a freethinking atheist, who spent her life making her own choices on the basis of her own judgment and largely doing so successfully; she is reasonably well-to-do, owns her own business, and has the freedom and means largely to do as she pleases. Paul is raised without his father -- one of the ways in which Norway is secularizing is the increasing availability of divorce, and he only really gets to know his father later. Paul is pushed by his mother along a freethinking path, not because she's very rigid or indoctrinating, but because, as part of her freethinking is that she is rather free-spoken, there's never any doubt at any moment what her preferences are, and that is a steady and effective pressure in a boy's life, knowing that if you go off in a given direction you will gravely direction, your mother won't stop you but will gravely disapprove and never stop disapproving. Nonetheless, Julie Selmer is destined to be disappointed. None of her children will rise to what she hopes for them, they will all by her standards marry badly and foolishly, and the lives they lead will end up being the kind of lives she has looked down on her whole life. Her daughter will become interested in Lutheranism -- one suspects primarily as a social thing, originally -- and marry a Lutheran pastor, of a fairly liberal sort but of whose mediocre intelligence and bureacratic-functionariness Julie Selmer will not approve. One of her sons, Hans, will become a doctor but struggle with addiction all his life. But it is Paul, the child who was originally most like her, very intelligent (Julie Selmer's freethinking view of the world puts a lot of value on intelligence) and willing to think for himself, who will disappoint her most.

Paul, although freethinking himself, is very uneasy with the morals of the society around him, both the liberal Lutheran respectability and the freethinking tolerance of relationships and acts of which previous generations would have disapproved. He is not impressed by the results of either. This has for some time already the beginning of a crack between his mother's freethinking and his own, one that would on its own inevitably have become very wide, even if Paul's life did not eventually take the turn it does. He will have a talent for both geology and writing and has a promising future as an academic, but eventually goes into business instead. He begins a relationship with Lucy, a woman not particularly remarkable for intelligence, and she becomes his mistress; Julie doesn't exactly dislike Lucy herself, but she pretty clearly thinks that Paul could do better.

But the big thing that will lead Paul to disappoint his mother is that he thinks for himself, and having a different background from her does not think the same way she does. He has never himself had a religion, he is an atheist who has never believed in God, and the result is that, unlike almost of all of Lutheran Norway, he doesn't have any particular problem with Catholics. They are somewhat less familiar to him than Lutherans, but this just increases his interest when he has an opportunity to board for a while with a Catholic family, because it's relatively new. There's a distinctive culture to it. Catholics are tolerated but looked down on as weird and uneducated and cliquish, and by the standards of Lutheran Norway, they often are. Being a Norwegian Catholic in the early twentieth century is not easy. You are relatively isolated. If you want to study your faith beyond basic catechesis, you have to read about it in French or English or Latin, because very few Catholic works had been translated into Norwegian. This in itself makes Catholicism seem even more foreign and un-Norwegian. But, while not initially attracted to Catholicism itself, he finds he really likes a few of the Catholics that he meets. The Catholic theology and philosophy that he reads (and, since Paul is able to read Latin, English, and French, his reading of such even casually extends much further than that of almost all Catholics who are not priests or nuns) seems less complacent than the Lutheranism he had known more about. He finds he's already partly in agreement with at least some Catholic moral views, and even when not, he finds it still has something to be said for it, not least because Paul's big problem with the society around him is that it treats lightly things he has never really felt should be treated lightly, whereas the Catholics don't treat such things lightly. All these things slowly add up, with the result that Paul eventually converts and becomes Catholic, the single most baffling thing you can become in Lutheran Norway in the early twentieth century.

Most conversion novels strongly emphasize that conversion is by personal connection. There are personal connections that do play a role in Paul's conversion, but in fact he lives in a situation in which personal connection on its own cannot possibly do much in the way of converting someone. Paul finds that the Catholics he knows and likes tend to be people who, while unapologetic about their Catholicism, are not particularly inclined to push for his conversion -- he's actually at one point rather disappointed by the fact that the priest he talks to goes out of his way not to press Paul to convert. Undset is famous for her novels of character, and her skill at depicting characters is put to excellent use here, but this is a novel of ideas, and Paul's conversion is one that takes place not primarily by personal connection, which serves mostly as an occasion rather than a cause, but by ideas. We tend to live in an age that disparages idea-conversions as too cerebral and in some ways not even real, but this is absurd. The primary danger of idea-conversions in particular is that you try to join not the Church but your Idea of the Church, and this idealized Catholicism always creates severe disappointment when you have to deal with flesh-and-blood Catholics. But this is not a problem for Paul; growing up freethinking in a Lutheran Norway in which there is something low class and gauche about just being Catholic, it's practically impossible for him to idealize the Catholic Church. Converting, even if entirely through ideas, is not a superficial conversion for a genuine man of ideas, and Paul is moreover sacrificing a lot by joining, and therefore converts with perhaps fewer illusions than most.

The Wandering Road, in its two volumes, The Wild Orchid and The Burning Bush, was published in the aftermath of Undset winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. And I actually wonder if part of the point of the book is that winning the Nobel gave her an opportunity to publish a book she probably would have had difficulty publishing otherwise. Undset's own parents were atheists, although her mother attended church as European atheists sometimes do, for the social community. She was if, anything, even more uneasy and concerned about the morals of the society around her, which even as an atheist she found cold and dehumanizing. It was an age in which people flirted with eugenics, of which Undset was always suspicious, and the humanism that reigned was based on the idea that the value of a human being consisted in intelligence and force of will -- an approach that, if one follows through with it consistently, gets you to the view that a lot of people don't really matter much, because a lot of people are weak and a lot of people are not very intelligent. Her conversion also had to be quite idea-based, because there wasn't much else to base it on. I don't think Paul Selmer is secretly Sigrid Undset (Undset seems to have been, for lack of a better word, wilder than Paul Selmer ever is, and Undset's thinking-through of the faith is entangled both in her broadly humanist interest in Rome and her literary interest in Norwegian sagas, which is a rather different path from Paul's); but I do think that Undset is attempting to capture in the novel, in a way that her contemporaries might possibly understand, both why one might be attracted to the Catholic Church and (particularly in The Burning Bush) what it is to be a Catholic in secularizing Lutheran Norway, in which everything Catholic was fragmentary and, while there wasn't much active persecution of Catholics anymore, a Catholic faced at every turn longstanding cultural prejudices against Catholicism. (One of the humorous patterns in the book is that once Paul converts to Catholicism, people start assuming that he must be having money problems even when he isn't, because of course all Catholics are, the Catholic community being filled with grifters and mooches; and that, despite the fact that a World War is disrupting the economy everywhere, that any particular money difficulty he does have must be due to his being Catholic.)

The wild orchid of the title of the first volume symbolizes the emptiness of earthly loves -- the wild orchid being a plant that has an impressive name but, while a pretty flower in a way, is not really impressive. The burning bush of the title of the second volume symbolizes divine love. There is the love, genuine enough, between Paul and Lucy; but that ends abruptly not long after they become engaged, for reasons that Paul doesn't learn until much later. Paul afterward kind of falls into a marriage with another woman, Björg, which is affectionate enough and leads to several children, but becomes uneasy when Paul converts and begins breaking down after they lose a child. Björg, like Lucy, is not a particularly intelligent woman, and in fact is almost childlike, and Paul comes to conclude that he was unjust toward her in marrying her; he was not entirely free of the culture around him and he had taken her lightly in doing so. But his connection with his children is quite close, particularly as they start picking up his Catholicism. One of Paul's great temptations will be a third woman, Ruth, a woman of both beauty and intelligence, with whom he could almost certainly have an enjoyable life, whom he interacts with at a time when Björg is off finding herself, as we would say. But Paul is Catholic, and both adultery and divorce are out of the question. And Lucy, the old flame, will come back again, in need of his help, and that brings temptations of a different sort.

One of Paul's childhood friends, Randi, became a nun; she is one of the few and limited personal connections. At the very end she has a comment that I think captures what the book is trying to show in general:

"...The great matter is, that we still have with us all there was of good in our old life, only that we possess it in a new way -- all the past that is worth continuing to possess." She laughed softly. "Even one's habits, good and bad -- I don't mean simply that they continue to stick to one like a plague, a daily reminder of one's own imperfection. As for instance when I notice how difficult it is for me to be fond of those of my sisters whom I don't particularly like. But what I mean is that those things about us which are a part of ourselves and used to be our faults -- we find that they are still a part of our being, but they're transformed into something else, which" -- she made a gesture with her hands -- "forms the outline of us. In such a way that we understand we shall continue to be ourselves for all eternity...." (BB, p. 385)

I found the book fascinating in many ways. But then, I too, like Paul Selmer, am a man of ideas; by which I don't mean merely that I am an academic or fulfill some kind of role as an intellectual, since I don't think that most academics or most people who might be called intellectuals are people of ideas in quite this way. It's difficult actually to convey what I mean, beyond pointing to a character like Paul Selmer or, more symbolically, the Secretary in Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday; but perhaps one might suggest it by saying that mundane interactions are but the tip of an iceberg that is mostly thought, or that most of life is thought. I once joked that while other people have ideas, I have hurricanes of ideas; but the joke was true. When I was a boy I was fascinated by the story of Solomon, and prayed to have wisdom like Solomon's; I once joked at another time that it was probably the most foolish thing I've done in my life, proof that you should be careful what you pray for, because ever since I have been so overwhelmed with ideas, I don't know what to do with them. It was a joke, but it's a joke because it's somewhat true. As the Secretary says, my brain is a bomb; it must expand. As with the Secretary, my whole life is the First Day of Creation, dividing the light from the darkness. And my own conversion, while not devoid of personal connections, was a conversion of ideas, like stepping into a universe that was finally big enough to think about. Writing all this, I throw up my hands, because I have no idea if what I am trying to convey is actually being conveyed, or if it just all sounds weird or pompous. Regardless, this is not a common personality type, even among very intelligent people. My variety of it is different from Paul's, but I understood his perspective completely, all the way through. How well would other people do so? Undset is no doubt more skilled at making it relatable than I am, but I know from experience that that's a large chasm to cross. I don't know how well readers of other personality types would be able to relate to Paul. But I can vouch for his realism.

Favorite Passage: From The Burning Bush:

Then there was the sheriff. Just as he was going to ring up he remembered what Lucy had said -- she couldn't get an answer from there. No, of course, he was at Fosser at his parents'-in-law -- it was today, the golden wedding --

From far away he heard dance music and the buzz of voices, as he waited with the receiver to his ear -- someone had gone to find the sheriff.

"-- you, sheriff? This is Paul Selmer. I'm speaking from Aamot's house. I find I've killed a man." (pp. 356-357)

Recommendation: Highly Recommended


Sigrid Undset, The Wild Orchid, Chater, tr., Cluny Classics, Preservation Books (Providence, RI: 2019).

Sigrid Undset, The Burning Bush, Chater, tr., Cluny Classics, Preservation Books (Providence, RI: 2019).

Friday, January 20, 2023

Dashed Off II

shame -> existence of a supernatural, spiritual aspect to human nature
pity -> existence of a unity of nature or solidarity of all beings
reverence -> existence of a higher principle
-- in each case, he takes the moral disposition to establish existence without giving us a theoretical conception or account

shame, pity, and reverence as instruments of conscience

One of the things that is most clear about the religious life of the Holy Family is that they went on many pilgrimages to Jerusalem.

We should accept the pious speculations of saints insofar as we may say of them, "potuit, decuit, prohibentes removenter".

Superfluity arguments are always relative to the ends of an inquiry.

Conception is the proportioning of the object to the power.

the virtues of a free society: amiability, generosity, truthfulness, vindication, and gratitude
-- by the same token, ingratitude, vindictiveness, dishonesty, stinginess, and hostility can eat away at a free society very quickly

To understand any field of thought better, look for that in it which is sublime.

Since God is our beatitude, all the Beatitudes concern ways of participating God.

Kant's ethics can give formal universality but not final universality.

'facts' as beings of reason

"A knowledge of proverbs contributes to a number of things, but to four especially: philosophy, persuasiveness, grace and charm in speaking, and the understanding of the best authors." Erasmus

"Mencius said, There is no attribute of the superior man greater than his helping men to practice virtue." Mencius 2A.8

"Zeng said, 'There are three degrees of filial piety. The highest is honoring our parents; the second is not disgracing them; and the lowest is being able to support them." Book of Rites, Ji Yi 25

All inquiry is inquiry with others, the expression of a common pursuit.

primary being of a thing: substance, quantity, quality
secondary being of a thing: relation
tertiary being of a thing: sex principia

predication of genus or difference : analytic :: predication of property or accident : synthetic (Welton)

A permanent possibility is an actuality with potential.

imperfect definitions
(1) inadequate
(2) imprecise
(3) obscure (incl. symbolic, figurative)
(4) tautologous
(5) negative

plurative propositions as particular-tending-to-universal

"Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia." Ortega y Gassett

The pleasant is the symbol of the blessed.

In every generation, human beings necessarily try to understand the natural on the model of the artifactual, and it is an error to think you can avoid it entirely.

existence, identity, predication as the three moments of being.

The later Heidegger attributes to the poet what could only be true of the prophet.

"Joy untouched by thankfulness is always suspect." Theodor Haecker
"In fact it is the 'how' which decides the value of a man or a policy. The revolution brought about by Christianity is in the 'how'."
"God's revelation is a revelation concerning the means which man is to use in order to achieve salvation."
"Immortality is in love. It is love which first makes it intelligible and, what is more, desirable. Without love immortality would be frightful and horrible."
"One begins to philosophise with wonder. But then, too, philosophy ends in wonder. Is this wonder perhaps a sign that the spirit of man is created? For why, otherwise, should being be in wonder at itself, at being?"
"The truly philosophical spirit is a contemplative spirit. It is not captivated by the things that one can change, but by those, precisely, which cannot be changed."
"Love is the *fulfillment* of the Law, not its destroyer. It is hierarchical, not anarchical."
"Wonder is the qualitative distance which God placed between man and truth. It enables man to find the truth."
"Men no longer test words to see what truth there is in them. The majority are only interested in knowing what their effect will be."
"Lies have their day. If after a certain time they are not drawn out by the truth, then it is by another, and perhaps greater, lie; but they are always driven out."

The being we find in the world is a many requiring a unity.

To recognize the universe as created is in part to recognize that one's community extends to include all of it. All our lives are a neighborhood in a commonwealth that includes quarks and stars and angels.

To be American is to be a generous but not profound muddle. But muddling through works well practically, and generosity is sometimes better than any profundity.

When people speak of the sacramentality of nature, they are usually describing its being a gift.

Oratory plays a mediating role in historical films, between event and audience.

The rights of families are expressions of the sovereignty of the people.

Conscience tends toward beatitude.

Hope springs eternal because it is an orientation to something immutable.

"The chief end of fasting is mortification of the flesh, that the spirit may be more strengthened." Bellarmine

Experience is 'given' in the sense that it is always received as belonging to something other than ourselves.

We all want to have done the good thing; it is harder to want to do it.

title -> right -> claim

the Tenth Amendment as preserving rights under common law and custom and reason
(a common failure of constitutional theorists is the refusal to recognize that no powers are reserved unless there are actual powers that can be reserved)

The fact that atrocities are committed in the name of law is in and of itself reason to regard law as having reference to morality, for elsewhere it is only things moral, either strictly or loosely, that anyone ever uses to excuse their atrocities.

Even the merely contingent overlap of law and morality has more robust ramifications than Hart ever pursues; for law must be such that overlap is possible as a general matter.

When legal positivists do more than merely gesture at 'substantive morality', what they describe as 'substantive morality' is always mythical.

legal systems as participations of law, often defective and always limited
legal systems have systemic moral features that justify them and by virtue of which hey have what authority they do
-- legal systems in this sense may include both laws and usurpations
-- legal systems presuppose constituting laws that make them able to be systems

legal positivism as inconsistent with popular sovereignty

(1) Judges should decide cases in reasonable and not unreasonable ways.
(2) Deciding cases in a reasonable way cannot be done without regard for moral principles.

the virtual juridical order of conscience

the tribunal of conscience as the exemplate of the divine tribunal and the type of the Last Judgment

unction as indicating that *this* body will be resurrected

baptism, matrimony, and unction as sacraments of the resurrection

The grace given in sacramental unction is a foretaste in the soul of that which, in the resurrection of the body, will be had so superabundantly that it will overflow into the body as incorruption, glory, power, and spirituality.

Natural law is even more properly law than positive law.

law : rule of art :: particular just work (the right) : thing to be made

The right is something commensurated to another with respect to some equality either (1) by nature or (2) by agreement or consent, whether (2a) by private agreement or (2b) by public agreement, the latter either (2b1) of the whole community or (2b2 of the principal member.

We have rights to have what is our right, which is the right with respect to us.

fortitude and the trial/test/challenge

"The right is that thing which, given its attribution to a subject, who is its titleholder, is owed him in virtue of a debt, in the strict sense of the term." Hervada

Common good always exceeds the sum of rights in the community.

Common good is always common goods formed as common by a unifying and ordering good, which latter constitutes the unity and order of the community.

populus Dei
(1) in anticipating form: Israel
(2) in completed form: liturgical commonwealth / sacramental society
--- (a) generally considered (societas perfecta): union around common good as gift, received by sacrament, considered either
--- --- (1) individually
--- --- (2) domestically
--- (b) as ordered by reception of gift: hierarchy
--- (c) as operative
--- --- (1) munera
--- --- (2) as historical entity
--- (d) as consummated
--- --- (1) in heaven
--- --- (2) in age to come

Scratch a person, find a surprise.

the apportionable entitled-to-be-one's-own
(1) non-particularly
(2) by debt in a loose sense
(3) by moral debt
(4) by legal debt
--(4) is something that is one's right in strict sense

law : justice :: courtesy/etiquette : temperance
-- rules of etiquette as like a reflection of natural law on temperance-virtues insofar as they affect others. 'the courtesy' then becomes perhaps the analogue of 'the right', but the due in etiquette is always loose and conditional, because it is not justice but temperance-based facilitation of justice that is relevant. But perhaps etiquette is not just temperance-based facilitation of justice but also justice-based facilitation of temperance, because it's really a matter of the two insofar as they have unity, a mutual facilitation.
-- a question is what we get in fortitude-based facilitation of justice; perhaps 'sacrifice' in the colloquial moral sense is an approximate analogue.

Rights come from laws by laws forming things as titles, by virtue of which other things are conceived as under the relation of being due.

Human nature is an intrinsic title; this is the foundation of human rights. It is an intrinsic title because, as rational, it has a law natural to it by which it is recognized that some things are due to the person who has it; it has naturally the law that forms it juridically as a title.

title : sign :: what is ones right : object :: duty : interpretant

Pastors have an authority to act in the interest and on behalf of their flock, and this includes an 'envelope power' into which their congregation may by gift or custom place specific authorities and powers beyond and distinct from general pastoral authority.

"The force of law depends on the extent of its justice." Aquinas

the neighborhood school as an outgrowth of associations of households

Difficulties becomes challenges in light of the virtue of fortitude.

An internal disposition to something truly transcendent must be expressed externally.

"As Mary bore the earthly Christ, so the Church bears the Eucharistic Christ." Henri de Lubac

Given people's actual choices, it seems plausible to think that people take fairness to involve a merit principle rather than Rawls's difference principle; people want primary goods to reward effort and contribution, and take anything else to be, at best, second-best. This structures people's actual policies, and trying to get people to pity others so as to aid them always has to work around it; and no society that ignores that people act this way can be suitable for them.

Thursday, January 19, 2023


 If any exhortation in Christos, if any consolation of devotedness, if any spiritual communion, if any sympathies and compassions, fulfill my joy that you might prudently think the same, having the same devotedness, likeminded, prudently thinking on one thing, nothing according to faction or to vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each considering others as excelling themselves, not each heeding their own things, but also the things of others. 

Take prudent thought in yourselves as in Christos Iesous: Who being in possession of the form of God thought being equal to God not to be hoarded, but emptied himself, having laid hold of the form of a slave, having come to be in the likeness of humanity. And having been found in human appearance, he laid himself low, having become obedient as far as death, as death and cross. Therefore God also supremely elevated him and favored him with the name above every name, that at the name of Iesous every knee in heavens and on earth and in nether realms should bend, and every tongue should confess Iesous Christos Lord, to the glory of Father God.

[Philippians 2:1-11, my very, very rough translation. Some tricky grammar and vocabulary here, in part from the fact that everything is highly compressed; also, the second paragraph is usually thought to include at least fragments of one of the earliest recorded Christian hymns, because it is very poetic in expression. My favorite word in the passage is sympsychoi, here translated as 'likeminded'; you could also translate it as 'co-spirited' or 'united in soul'. Harpagmon is usually translated as 'to be grasped' or something similar; the root idea is forcefully seizing, but it can also, depending on the context, mean strongly desiring, seizing as spoil, plunder, loot, or booty, or holding onto as a prize. The logical structure, though, is quite clear: having the form of God, and thus equality with God, he did not vehemently cling to it as his right, but made himself nothing and lowly, so that he received the Name above all names, and thus equality with God, not by mere right but also as reward; this serves as the model for our own humility.]

Wednesday, January 18, 2023


 An interesting new search engine experiment in which you put in a question, it searches a very large quantity of books (in the thousands, I believe), and ChatGPT writes a summary of it. 

The limitations of its current incarnation can be seen with the answer it gave me to "What is a Fesapo syllogism?", with Speed rather than Quality selected:

A Fesapo syllogism is a syllogism with a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion all using propositions of the form A, where the major premise is Cesare, the minor premise is Camestres, and the conclusion is Festino.

This is total gibberish, of course. The vowels of names of syllogisms give you the forms of the major, minor, and conclusion, so the propositions of Fesapo are E, A, and O respectively. (The only syllogism in which major, minor, and conclusion are all A is Barbara. When I asked it what a Barbara syllogism was, it said that it was a syllogism with a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion [true but uninformative] and gave a correct example.) Cesare, Camestres, and Festino are names of other syllogisms, not names that apply to propositions.

When I searched with Quality rather than Speed, it gave me an answer with less gibberish that was nonetheless still gibberish:

A Fesapo syllogism is a valid syllogism made up of major premise A, a minor premise, and a conclusion all using propositions of the form A.

One of the nice things about the search is that it gives you the texts that primarily influenced its summary; in this case, it is largely influenced by works like Clifford A. Pickover's The Loom of God, which nonetheless is talking about Barbara. Barbara is of course far and away the most commonly used syllogism name, and Fesapo is a name very rarely used and rarely if ever used as an example, so almost inevitably any text that mentions the name 'Fesapo' will also have nearby an explanation of Barbara.

On the other side, it could not come up with anything for Festino (despite the fact that it's pretty much guaranteed to be mentioned in any context in which Fesapo is).

This is its answer for "Who is Jesus?" (Quality selected):

Jesus is all-powerful (Isaiah 9:6), has authority over demons (Mark 1:27), is the Son of God (Luke 1:35), is God (John 1:1-5), is the Messiah (John 4:25-26), is the Judge (John 5:22), gives life (John 10:10), is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11), is the only way to God (John 14:6), is the author of life (Acts 3:15), is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:21-24), is the head of the church (Ephesians 5:23), is the savior of humanity (Matthew 1:21), and is the anointed one who fulfills the promise of a coming Messiah from the line of David who will deliver the Children of Israel and usher in a new age of peace and God’s rule (Don't Know Much About® the Bible: Everything You Need to Know About the Good Book but Never Learned)

Despite the bit at the end, almost all of this seems to be lifted from The One Year Chronological Bible.

Its explanation of Aristotle's account of virtue was OK, although incomplete, and seems to have been drawn heavily from books by Bernard Williams. When specifically asked to give Aristotle's definition of virtue, however, it gave a correct answer. It also correctly identifies the point in dispute between rationalists and empiricists, gives an OK although not completely accurate summary of Anselm's ontological argument (which it takes from Daniel Dennett), and gives a correct summary of the distinction between a valid argument and a sound argument.

It gave a basically correct summary of four of the Five Ways of Thomas Aquinas, but this is its account of the Third Way:

The Third Way of Thomas Aquinas is the intuition of things previously known only by revelation.

This is what it gave me when I asked for a recipe for fudge:

2¼ cups sugar 2⁄3 cup pure maple syrup 2⁄3 cup heavy cream 2 tablespoons butter 1 teaspoon vanilla extract In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, maple syrup, cream, and butter. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 234°F on a candy thermometer. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour the mixture into a buttered 8-inch square pan. Let cool until just warm, about 10 minutes. Using a wooden spoon or a heatproof rubber spatula, beat the fudge until it thickens and loses its gloss, about 5 minutes. Pour into the prepared pan and let cool completely. Cut into 1½-inch squares.

This is of course a recipe for maple fudge, not ordinary fudge; the basic structure is correct but, if you will pardon the pun, the numbers are fudged: the numbers for sugar and syrup seem to be an odd proportion, 234 degrees seems reasonably close to what you'd want, but in a real recipe you'd always find it rounded up or down. I'd be surprised if beating the fudge for only five minutes would have much effect. Nonetheless, without actually trying it out, this is probably quite edible, although it might end up being closer to caramel than fudge. I couldn't tell from the results it gave what its major source was.

It correctly identifies the main character of The Hobbit as Bilbo Baggins. Its answer to the question "Who is Sauron?" is also correct:

Sauron is a manifestation of the power of darkness upon earth, and is also known as Zigūr the Great. He is an obsessed being, driven by his fever to dominate everything and everybody. He is the servant of Morgoth, and is self-corrupted.

There's a bit of unusual trivia for you; Zigur is the Numenorean name given to Sauron in Tolkien's The Notion Club Papers, 'zigur' being the Adunaic word for 'wizard'. Its answer to "Why did Galadriel reject the One Ring?" is also correct:

Galadriel rejected the One Ring because she knew that if she accepted it, she would be tempted by its power and potentially become corrupted by it. She humbly chose to reject it in order to remain true to her mission of helping the free peoples in their battle against evil.

 It however gets the Elvish word for 'friend' wrong (famously mellon, although of course Tolkien has others). Its answer, though, was "Elendili"; which means 'Elf-friends'.

It's an interesting way of looking at how these kinds of large language model algorithms work.

Your Secret, Perched in Ecstasy

 Cocoon Above! Cocoon Below!
by Emily Dickinson

Cocoon above! Cocoon below!
Stealthy Cocoon, why hide you so
What all the world suspect?
An hour, and gay on every tree
Your secret, perched in ecstasy
Defies imprisonment! 

 An hour in Chrysalis to pass,
Then gay above receding grass
A Butterfly to go!
A moment to interrogate,
Then wiser than a "Surrogate,"
The Universe to know!

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Coined in Eden, Existing Yet

 Ballade Of Unfortunate Mammals
by Dorothy Parker

Love is sharper than stones or sticks;
 Lone as the sea, and deeper blue;
Loud in the night as a clock that ticks;
 Longer-lived than the Wandering Jew.
Show me a love was done and through,
 Tell me a kiss escaped its debt!
Son, to your death you'll pay your due--
Women and elephants never forget. 

 Ever a man, alas, would mix,
 Ever a man, heigh-ho, must woo;
So he's left in the world-old fix,
 Thus is furthered the sale of rue.
Son, your chances are thin and few--
Won't you ponder, before you're set?
Shoot if you must, but hold in view
 Women and elephants never forget. 

 Down from Caesar past Joynson-Hicks
 Echoes the warning, ever new:
Though they're trained to amusing tricks,
 Gentler, they, than the pigeon's coo,
Careful, son, of the curs'ed two--
Either one is a dangerous pet;
Natural history proves it true--
Women and elephants never forget. 

 Prince, a precept I'd leave for you,
 Coined in Eden, existing yet:
Skirt the parlor, and shun the zoo--
Women and elephants never forget.

Monday, January 16, 2023

But If Not

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "But If Not" sermon, on Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego and the nature of civil disobedience: 

Sunday, January 15, 2023

En arche en ho Logos

 Reason was in the beginning, and Reason was unto God, and Reason was God. He was in the beginning unto God. Everything came to be through him and not even one thing that has come into being, came into being apart from him. Life was in him, and that life was the light of humanity. And that light lightens the darkness, and the darkness did not capture it.

A man came to be, having been sent from God. His name was Ioannes. He came as a witness to witness to the light, for all to believe through him; not as being the light, but in order to witness to the light. 

The light was truthful that brightens every human being coming into the universe. He was in the universe, and the universe came to be through him, and the universe did not recognize him. He came to his own and his own did not receive him. But as many as received him, he gave authority to become God's children, to those believing in his name, who were born not from blood, not from fleshly will, not from man's will, but from God.

And Reason became flesh and encamped among us, and we contemplated his glory, glory as of Father's only-born, full of graciousness and truth. John witnesses to him; and he cried out, saying, This was he of whom I spoke, who coming after me is ahead of me, because he was before me. For we have all received from his fullness, even graciousness for graciousness. For the law was given through Moyses; graciousness and truth came to be through Iesous Anointed. No one has yet clearly seen God; only-born God, who is at the Father's chest, has interpreted.

[John 1:1-18, my rough translation, at Cat's suggestion. Logos, of course, is reason, either the capacity to reason, or reason as an abstract quality, or an exercise of reason; we usually translate it 'Word' here, but this is because of the influence of Latin translations. There are a few famous points where exact translation depends on the manuscript tradition you use; for instance, we know that different Church Fathers punctuated 4 and 5 differently, so that some read verse 5 as "That which was made was life in Him". The original manuscripts have no definite punctuation, and both readings are possible, and neither has been rejected by the Church, although the usual translation is somewhat more likely. Equally famous, verse 18 has manuscript traditions that say "The only-begotten Son" and others that say "The only-begotten God". Rather remarkably, modern scholarly opinion has tended to favor the latter as the original reading, following the Alexandrian manuscript traditions; the former is found in the Textus Receptus and some of the Church Fathers, and while it is in fewer manuscripts, it is found in more than one manuscript tradition. Which is the better reading is still a matter of dispute; both seem to go a long way back in the traditions, and the Church again has not rejected either. 

The vocabulary here was not very difficult (although at a few points there is a judgment call to be made as to whether it should be translated literally or figuratively), but one point really gave me trouble, the phrase usually translated as "in the bosom of the Father". Kolpos means the chest, literally speaking, but what is very often meant by it is a large pocket. The way shirts were worn, there was a fold at the chest where you could hide money and other things like that, as the safest place on your body. St. Augustine, to take just one example, clearly interprets the phrase to mean this intimate pocket, which he then glosses as the secret presence of the Father. "In the bosom of the Father" is exactly right as a translation, but I think people usually don't know what it means, because we don't do this anymore. The closest we have are people using their breast pockets -- but our breast pockets are small and mostly decorative unless you are using them to hold pens -- or women putting money in their bra for safekeeping, which is functionally right, although its associations would be misleading as a translation here, or a front baby carrier, which is not too far off, but also would be misleading in its associations. Something in your kolpos is something very intimately and carefully safeguarded as your own and as very valuable.

"In the beginning" could also be translated as "at the source" or something like that. Pros is usually translated 'with', and that is surely right, but it usually has more of a directionality than the English word 'with' does, so I've translated it as 'unto'. Again, in these kinds of practice translations, I am not aiming at the best translation, which is probably beyond my capability, but at a translation that brings something genuine out of the text.]