Saturday, March 04, 2023

True 'Accompaniment'

 Then looking about him, the good man saw a cross on which Our Lord was painted in effigy, and pointed it out to Lancelot, saying:

'Sir, do you see that cross?'

'Yes,' he answered.

'Then be assured,' said the other, 'that the arms of that figure are thus stretched wide to welcome all who come. In just the same way has Our Lord extended His arms to embrace every sinner that turns to Him, both you and others, calling evermore: "Come unto Me!" And since in His loving kindness He is always ready to receive each man and woman that comes back to Him, never doubt He will admit you if you offer yourself to Him in the manner I have described, which is that of oral confession, of true repentance and amendment. So bare your soul to Him now while I listen, and I will help and succour you to the utmost of my power, and will counsel you as best I can.'

Lancelot hesitated, for he had never avowed the matter concerning himself and the queen, nor would he while he lived, unless the moral pressure proved too great. His torment wrung a deep sigh from his breast, but not one word could he force from his lips. Yet he would gladly have spoken, but dared not, for fear was stronger in him than courage. And still the hermit urged him to confess his sin and renounce it utterly, for if he refused, confusion would overtake him; he promised him eternal life if he made a clean breast, and hell as the price of concealment. In short he plied him with so many wise words and meet examples that Lancelot's tongue was loosed at the last and he said:

'Sir, it is this way. I have sinned unto death with my lady, she whom I have loved all my life, Queen Guinevere, the wife of King Arthur....'

[The Quest of the Holy Grail, Pauline Malatrasso, tr., Penguin Books (New York: 2005) pp. 88-89.]

As I've noted before, 'accompaniment' is jargon -- 'accompaniment' in English is only elsewhere used in cookery and music in ways that don't provide a good metaphor; the proper English word is 'companionship' -- but if we are going to use it, this is what it really looks like.

On Cardinal McElroy on Mortal Sin

 I've noted before that these are not days in which the best and brightest Catholics become bishops, and recently in the Jesuit journal America Cardinal McElroy has been trying to prove me correct. In it, he is defending some previously poorly defended remarks of his, and the linchpin of his argument this time around is the following:

For most of the history of the church, various gradations of objective wrong in the evaluation of sexual sins were present in the life of the church. But in the 17th century, with the inclusion in Catholic teaching of the declaration that for all sexual sins there is no parvity of matter (i.e., no circumstances can mitigate the grave evil of a sexual sin), we relegated the sins of sexuality to an ambit in which no other broad type of sin is so absolutely categorized. 

 In principle, all sexual sins are objective mortal sins within the Catholic moral tradition. This means that all sins that violate the sixth and the ninth commandments are categorically objective mortal sins. There is no such comprehensive classification of mortal sin for any of the other commandments.

This is truly astounding. How does one become a bishop without ever having learned that literally all direct and deliberate commission of acts that violate any of the Decalogue commandments are mortal sins? In Catholic theology, the Ten Commandments are treated as a summation of natural law (with, in the case of the Sabbath precept, a specification from salvation history) published for the particular purpose of tracing, to borrow from Herbert McCabe's explanation of Aquinas's view, an outline of friendship with God. A mortal sin in Catholic moral theology is what is in direct violation of friendship with God (it is distinguished from a venial sin in that venial sins impede without directly violating friendship with God). Thus every act you deliberately commit that directly violates one of the commandments is a mortal sin as to its object (i.e., as to what you are trying to do in the act itself). 

The claim McElroy is making doesn't even make sense on its own terms. Read those last two sentences again. The sixth and ninth commandment in the numbering being assumed here are "Thou shalt not commit adultery" and "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife". What he is saying is that deliberate commission of an act that violates the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, seventh, eighth, or tenth commandment is not necessarily a mortal sin as to its object. The first commandment forbids idolatry, remember. McElroy is claiming that Catholic moral theology holds that it is not necessarily a mortal sin to bow down to idols and serve them or to do something similar enough to violate the spirit of the commandment. McElroy is claiming that Catholic moral theology does not hold that directly violating the commandment against murder in letter or in spirit is to be categorized as a mortal sin.

What is actually happening here is that McElroy is more or less plagiarizing (and slightly garbling) Charles Curran -- even if the claim about parvity of matter did not establish it, the mention of the 17th century does. As anyone who has ever studied the history of Catholic moral theology knows, in the 17th, 18th, and into the 19th centuries, it is extremely diverse and complicated. It's the age of casuistry, where a lot of moral theology is done by examining particular kinds of examples (cases of conscience). In this period, it is so widely recognized that on every single one you can find a wide spectrum of different positions in the authorities that perhaps the biggest dispute in moral theology at the time is over how one should and should not handle this disagreement. So why does McElroy think the opposite happened in the 17th century when it came to sins against the ninth commandment? Because in The Origins of Moral Theology in the United States, in the course of reviewing a manual by Sabetti, and making a similar claim about the manualists, Charles Curran happened to remark that in 1612, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus "forbade Jesuits to teach the possibility of parvity of matter in sexual sins." It is worth noting some features that are in Curran that mysteriously vanish in McElroy, that make Curran's claim slightly less egregious than McElroy's. Curran is looking specifically at American influences; Sabetti was a Neapolitan who taught for an extended period in Maryland. Curran does take him to be fairly representative of the manualists at large (he doesn't have a high opinion of the manualist tradition at all), but Curran is not actually making the claim that all of Catholic moral theology reduced to the manualist approach. Further, the 17th century thing in Curran is specifically about the Jesuits, not about the whole Church; the Jesuits in the early modern period were often accused of laxism (I suppose they often still are), and therefore one finds sporadic attempts to set specific boundaries to deal with this increasingly bad state of affairs. We do not really know the full reasons for Aquaviva's decision on this point; Curran doesn't quite say but could be read to imply that it was some sort of general programmatic decision about the graver character of sexual sins (rather than, for instance, Aquaviva just getting a lot of complaints on that particular topic and so making his life easier by cracking down on that particular topic without intending to imply anything about any other topic), and McElroy apparently reads it that way.

Curran is in fact wrong; it seems to me, in fact, that he is deliberately and uncharitably hatcheting Sabetti. Sabetti does say that sins of lust are grave in their whole kind (contrary to what you would guess from Curran, he says this of other things, too), but he explicitly says that this is on the understanding that we are talking about cases in which we are directly and deliberately willing the 'venereal delectation'. If we are considering cases where it is only indirectly willed, we can have parvity of matter. In other words, in the context in which he is saying this, he is assuming a much narrower field of action than Curran is. This could be just misreading, except every time Curran refers to what Sabetti says on this point, he drops Sabetti's restriction to direct cases (si est directe voluntaria and the like) and ignores entirely the fact that Sabetti says that everyone recognizes that there can be parvity of matter in indirect cases.

Back to McElroy. On the basis of his plagiarism and misunderstanding of Curran, who is misrepresenting Sabetti, who is only one manualist (albeit one whose textbook was widely used in the United States), McElroy makes the broad and surprising pronouncement that all Catholic moral theology since the seventeenth century holds that in the cases of the sixth and ninth commandments alone are all violations mortal sins. It's perhaps less surprising that he protests such an irrational state of affairs; I would protest it, too, if it were true. And then he goes on to argue that such an absurd thing just doesn't fit with "the Catholic moral universe" in an argument that is utterly breathtaking:

It is automatically an objective mortal sin for a husband and wife to engage in a single act of sexual intercourse utilizing artificial contraception. This means the level of evil present in such an act is objectively sufficient to sever one’s relationship with God. 

It is not automatically an objective mortal sin to physically or psychologically abuse your spouse. 

It is not automatically an objective mortal sin to exploit your employees. 

It is not automatically an objective mortal sin to discriminate against a person because of her gender or ethnicity or religion. 

 It is not automatically an objective mortal sin to abandon your children.

The mind boggles. I mean, I look at this argument, and my jaw drops open, and my mind is boggled. The entire argument is just bogglement. McElroy is arguing that:

(1) Catholic moral theology implies that a contraceptive sexual act is always the kind of act that by its nature is a mortal sin.

(2) Catholic moral theology holds that domestic abuse, exploitation, racism, and abandoning your children are not always the kinds of acts that by their nature are mortal sins.

(3) Therefore, the thing to do is to stop thinking of contraceptive sexual acts as always the kind of acts that by their nature are mortal sins.

As more than a few people have noted, Catholic moral theology is in fact very clear that domestic abuse, exploitation of laborers, and racism are mortal sins as to object. But it is astonishing for a bishop to argue that deliberate contraception should not be regarded as always a gravely wrong kind of act on the ground that even beating your wife is not (and apparently should not be) regarded as always a gravely wrong kind of act. What could conceivably have been going through his mind that led him to think that this was a reasonable and intelligent argument?

It's a minor issue compared to McElroy having somehow managed to take his previously dubious position and defend it by making it sound literally insane, but it's worth pointing out that the repetition of 'automatically' has no significance here. To say that X is 'objectively a mortal sin', in the sense that McElroy has to mean, is to say that the kind of act you are trying to do (the object) is a direct violation of friendship with God; it's a basic claim that you can do acts that are objectively mortal sins without yourself committing a mortal sin -- for instance, if you are doing it under circumstances that mean that you are genuinely confused or heavily pressured, or some such, it's possible (although it very much depends on the exact circumstances) that you yourself are doing it venially. Extenuating circumstances can have the result that what would have otherwise been a mortal sin, in your particular case was a venial one. But it's the object, not your disposition to it, that makes the act the kind of act it is. If you deliberately murder someone, extenuating circumstances might mean that you yourself are partially excused from the seriousness of what you are doing, that you are not fully culpable for it; but circumstances do not change the fact that you murdered someone, and murder is, considered in and of itself (in terms of its object), an act that is inconsistent with love of God and neighbor and therefore what McElroy calls 'an objective mortal sin'. If an object ever makes an act an 'objective mortal sin', it always does, because the object, making the act have the intrinsic nature it does, is what defines the objective moral status that goes with acts of that nature. Likewise, if you can have an act with an object such that that kind of act may or may not be mortal, then that kind of act can't be objectively mortally sinful at all, because the latter can only mean (if anything) 'mortally sinful insofar as we consider the object on its own'. Introducing 'not automatically' just muddles further an already muddled argument.

Fundamentally, McElroy commits an error that seems commonly made by people who like to propose sweeping revisions of Catholic moral theology: Having apparently only developed his own understanding of Catholic moral theology to the level of a child's crayon drawing, he draws the conclusion that all Catholic moral theologians other than himself (and apparently Charles Curran) have been children, so that they never actually had any reasons for any of the things they said. In reality, if you are going to make any criticism of Catholic moral theologians for most of the past four hundred years (and there are criticisms you certainly could make of many of them), 'not having carefully thought about what they were saying' is absolutely not one of them. If your diagnosis of them boils down to 'They were idiots', you should really rethink your assessments.

ADDED LATER: Darwin has a nice discussion of the problems with the broader framework of McElroy's argument.

(Also fixed a few typos that were residues from a revision.)

Friday, March 03, 2023

Dashed Off VII

 The First Law of Thermodynamics ties energy change to heat transfer and work, and thus heat transfer and work to each other; the Second Law establishes that heat transfer and work must be distinguished, not conflated.

To begin is to tend to an end.

"The proper nature of each thing is some mode of participating the divine." Aquinas ST 1.14.6

moral, jural, and sacral tendency toward God

believing on testimony // borrowing by credit

one: divine maternity
holy: immaculate conception
catholic: assumption
apostolic: perpetual virginity

hierarchical acts of parenthoood

State use of force against its own citizens should have costs and risks to the state, even when legitimate.

Political power is produced by oppositions an dtheir reconciliation.

prophetic mission as what links priestly power and royal power

classical logic as based on a logical conservation law
(1) all informational steps can always be recalled
(2) movement from premise to conclusion cannot create new information (what is in the conclusion must be in all of the premises)
(in linear logic, informational steps are preserved or lost; in nonmonotonic logics, information can be created; classical logic handles the relevant cases for the former by abstraction and subargument, and cases like the latter by assuming that information is derived from the context)

A curious feature of the electronic age is that the vast majority of our interaction with the natural world is mediated by testimony.

photo and video as testimonial seeing, audio media as testimonial hearing

We get the causal category of exemplar cause when we define or describe things relative to effects.

-- craters are generally about ten times the size of the bodies that made them

militia and the reserve powers of the people

"To acknowledge neither king nor father is to be in the state of a beast." Mencius

stunts as works of art

Blasphemy is sometimes a way of attacking people indirectly.

To be human is already to be a deontic creature.

the temple tax and atonement in Ex 30:12-16

the cleansing of the Temple as a prediction of the destruction of the Temple (Jeremiah 7)

Childhood is a constant state of change.

Pollock's Principle (for tort law): "All members of a civilised commonwealth are under a general duty towards their neighbors to do them no hurt without lawful cause or excuse. The precise extent of the duty, as well as the nature and extent of the recognised exceptions, varies according to the nature of the case."

the abstract frontier and the American conception of freedom

the eternal Vedas as a mythological symbol of the divine Logos

In creation, divinity posits capax divinitatis.

Rejoicing in the beauty of creation is not worship, but it is part of a turn that when completed comes to God.

Half of genius is the world itself.

The Christian apologist should heed the story of Zhuge Liang and the Hundred Thousand Arrows.

opinion - size - age -shape -color - origin - material - purpose (lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife)

subjunctive and indicative: 'If the butler had been in the hall, he would have seen the suspect; he was in the hall; therefore he did see the suspect.'

"Painting is the intermediate somewhat between a thought and a thing." Coleridge (Table Talk)
"It is a small thing that the patient knows of his own state; yet some things he does know better than his physician."
"Intense study of the Bible will keep any writer from being vulgar, in point of style."
"That legislation is iniquious which sets law in conflict with the common and unsophisticated feelings of our nature."
"In politics, what begins in fear usually ends in folly."

Song 2:4 Vulg: Introduxit me in cellam vinariam, ordinavit in me caritatem.

"And the whole world is the chalice of the Holy Grail." Sergius Bulgakov

Becker's Criterion (Joseph D. Becker, "The Phrasal Lexicon" 1974): "Any theory (or partial theory) of the English language that is expounded in the English Language must account for (or at least apply to) the text of its own exposition."

Becker's Lexical Phrasing Classes
I. Polywords (invariable multiword phrases treated as single, e.g., man's best friend, the oldest profession, for good)
II. Phrasal Constraints (small number of words, some of which constrain variability of others)
III. Deictic Locutions (low variability, short to medium length, course-directing, e.g., for that matter, that's all)
IV. Sentence Builders (phrases with slots for parameters, e.g., as ____ as ____)
V. Situational Utterances (standardized sentences for occasions, e.g., How can I ever repay you?)
VI. Verbatim Texts (texts of any length, memorized approximately verbatim, e.g., Better late than never)

All regulation proposals should be able to answer: What problem is addressed? What does the regulation contribute to the solution? How does one explain this to the citizens who will have to deal with the regulation?

reading history as useful for upamani

Most of fasting is managing the time devoted to something.

experience -> ritual -> language

God as the authority with power to act on behalf of anyone

Part of professional ethics is facilitation and cultivation of the circumstances for a certain kind of love associated with the profession -- love of helping, love of study, love of prayer, love of arms, love of discovery, etc.

checks and balances as making it possible to handle a larger amount of non-unanimity

shall issue vs may issue licensing

States inevitably try to make other states like themselves.

"When sacrifices either of the altar or of alms are offered on behalf of all the baptized dead, they are thank offerings for the very good, they are propitiatory offerings for the not very bad, and in the case of the very bad, even though they do not assist the dead, they are a species of consolation to the living." Augustine (Enchiridion 110)

2 Tim 2:1 -- "be strong in the grace that is *in* Christ Jesus"

"A type is an indication of what is expected through imitation, ostensively foretelling the future." Basil
"The imitation of Christ is necessary fo rthe perfection of life, not only in his living example of humility, patience, and freedom from anger, but also in that of his very death."
"The water fulfills the image of death, while the Spirit furnishes the pledge of life."
"Now in their struggles on behalf of piety some have already suffered death for the sake of Christ, not by imitation, but in truth. These men need no water as a symbol for salvation because they have been baptized in their own blood."
"The source of being is one, which makes through the Son, and which perfects in the Spirit."
"Just as in the arts there is likeness according to form, so with the divine and incomposite nature, the unity is in the communion of the Godhead."

indulgences and the priesthood of believers (offering sacrifice)

capable of a virtue -> disposed to a virtue -> possessing a virtue

Modern societies use protests as civil catharsis.

 interaction with pets as showing basic forms of social communication: expression-to, being-with, gift.

Parents babbling to babies are communicating in the most basic sense of making something common between them and the babies.

Reducing things to method has obvious advantages, but it also increases the chances of collapse into cargo-culting.

People make a distinction between those who are wealthy in ways connected to hard and difficult work (e.g., successful farmer, surgeon, hands-on business owner) and those who are wealthy in other ways; but this distinction tends to be ignored in economic theories.

Church Militant, Church Patient, and Church Triumphant are not wholly separate, but are one in the Mass and before the heavenly altar of God.

storytelling as virtual reality programs running on the brain

imitation by nature, imitation by custom, imitation by stipulation (cf. paintings of people whose actual appearance is not known)

the sense of humor as a protection and instrument for prudence

One should not confuse undisciplined Christians with nominal Christians; the former are far more integrated, if only unsystematically, into the life of the Church.

Merely notional victories will kill you in the long run.

--- define problem (desiderata, givens)
--- develop general design options
--- select option
--- develop design details
--- articulate design
--- fabricate parts
--- assemble into whole
--- strain and stress
--- evaluate

Well designed cedar may outlast badly designed iron

Popular uprisings and revolutions are structurally different.

There is a world of truth in every truth.

Thursday, March 02, 2023

The Philosophy of Fire


220. Force or power, strickly speaking, is in the agent alone who imparts an equivocal force to the invisible elementary fire, or animal spirit of the world, and this to the ignited body or visible flame which produceth the sense of light and heat. In this chain the first and last links are allowed to be incorporeal: the two intermediate are corporeal, being capable of motion, rarefaction, gravity, and other qualities of bodies. It is fit to distinguish these things in order to avoid ambiguity concerning the nature of fire. [Berkeley, Siris 220]

Not enough has been done to study George Berkeley's 'philosophy of fire' ('fire' in this sense is elemental fire, and Berkeley also calls it 'light' and 'aether'); doing so would, I think, correct a number of mistakes people make in thinking through his immaterialism. In any case, the world as presented here is:

Governing Mind (= God)
World Soul (= invisible elementary fire)
Sensible Body (= visible and tangible fire)
Sensing Mind (= us)

Perhaps the simplest approximation for thinking of these things is to take them as identifying levels of discourse. When we talk about 'light', there are four distinct levels of meaning at which we can be pitching the term: as a way of talking about God, as a way of talking about the world as a whole (as when we talk about laws of nature and the like), as a way of talking about things in the world, as a way of talking about things in our mind's experience. On Berkeley's view this will ultimately be true of every term used to discuss the physical world at all, 'light' or 'fire' just being among the most primitive and basic such terms. This is actually quite necessary; given Berkeley's immaterialism, the intermediate corporeal levels have no existence outside minds, and thus can only be a sort of communicative medium or language-system between the immaterial mind of God and other immaterial minds. In this sense, the golden chain (sereis, which Berkeley anglicizes as siris) of [God - World Soul - Body - Human Soul] is perhaps analogous to something like the chain of communication, [Storyteller - Story - Expression in Sentences and Words - Listener]. From the Storyteller end (and absolutely speaking), the Story has a priority over the expression of it, determining which words and sentences are used; from the Listener end, we learn the Story through its expression.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

The Gift Without the Giver Is Bare

 One of the more charming modern Grail takes is James Russell Lowell's "The Vision of Sir Launfal". It's too long to quote in full here (although it's a very manageable reading size), but here's the best part of a very good poem (VIII & IX):

His words were shed softer than leaves from the pine,
And they fell on Sir Launfal as snows on the brine,
Which mingle their softness and quiet in one
With the shaggy unrest they float down upon;
And the voice that was calmer than silence said,
“Lo it is I, be not afraid!
In many climes, without avail,
Thou hast spent thy life for the Holy Grail;
Behold it is here, -- this cup which thou
Didst fill at the streamlet for me but now;
This crust is my body broken for thee,
This water His blood that died on the tree;
The Holy Supper is kept, indeed,
 In whatso we share with another's need;
 Not what we give, but what we share,--
 For the gift without the giver is bare;
 Who gives himself with his alms feeds three,--
 Himself, his hungering neighbor, and me.” 

 Sir Launfal awoke as from a swound:--
 “ The Grail in my castle here is found !
 Hang my idle armor up on the wall,
 Let it be the spider's banquet hall;
 He must be fenced with stronger mail
 Who would seek and find the Holy Grail.”

Sir Launfal is not a particularly important knight, and in the tradition we know nothing of his participation in the Grail quest at all (he's not even a side character in another's hunt), but I suspect Lowell picked him because in the best known storyline about him, he both undergoes poverty himself and shows himself to be generous. The Grail in most Grail tales admits easily of allegorical (Eucharist) and anagogical (Heaven) readings; I like the idea of a tropological reading.

Monday, February 27, 2023

The Origins of the Maronite Catholic Church

 This week is interesting in the Maronite calendar of saints, because it includes a number of specifically Maronite saints: 

February 27: St. Thalaleus, Disciple of St. Maron

February 28: Ss. Koura and Marana, Discipes of St. Maron

March 1: St. Domnina, Disciple of St. Maron & St. Eudokia of Baalbek

March 2: St. John Maron

So I thought I would say something about the origins of the Antiochene Syriac Maronite Church, a sui juris Eastern Catholic church in communion with Rome. 'Origins' because in a sense it has more than one.

Christianity, of course, has extensive roots in Syria and Lebanon; Antioch was where the Christians were first called 'Christian' and the bishops of Antioch in all of the apostolic churches have traditionally traced their see to St. Peter himself. The area is filled with the memory of ancient saints and martyrs. For instance, the Eudokia of Baalbek who is commemorated by the Maronites on March 1, and who is also known as Eudokia of Heliopolis, was a wealthy young woman who converted, gave away all of her wealth to the poor, and joined a convent; according to tradition, she was beheaded around 107. Many more could be added to the list. But one who particularly interests us is St. Maron, whose feast day is February 9.

St. Maron, or Maroun, or Maro, was born in Syria in the 4th century. According to some stories he had been a fellow student with St. John Chrysostom at one point, but what we definitely know is that he became an open-air hermit in Cyrrhus, near Antioch. Open-air eremitism is a particularly rigorous form of ascetic life; it means exactly what it sounds like it means: he lived in the open air, with only a small tent, which he used only for the worst weather conditions, on a hill where a pagan temple had once stood. Syria is a region that has fairly significant temperature extremes over the year  -- it gets fairly cold in the winter and very hot in the summer. It also occasionally has severe sandstorms in spring and autumn. It's not really camping country. People would occasional visit hermits in those days to ask for prayers and the like, and over time, St. Maron developed a reputation as an effective healer, and people began to come in droves. According to Theodoret of Cyr, who wrote a book about ascetics living in the area around Antioch at this time, his reputation was not merely for physical healing, but for spiritual healing -- he could heal physical illness, but also things like anger and greed. A result was that people also began imitating him, and trying the open-air ascetic life themselves. The most important of these was a man we call St. James the Solitary, whose feast day is November 26, who also gained a widespread reputation. A spontaneous ascetic movement grew up around St. Maron and St. James, and this is the first origin of the Maronites, as a religious movement. St. Maron eventually came down with an illness and died, but the movement he unintentionally started continued to flourish.

Many saints arose in the context of this movement. St. Abraham the Hermit, whose feast is February 14, took the Maronite life to Lebanon, where he preached in the area around Mount Lebanon and was later made bishop of Harran. St. Limnaeus was a student of another hermit (possibly also inspired by St. Maron), St. Thalassius, and afterward became a student of St. Maron himself; St. Thalassius and St. Limnaeus share a feast day on February 22. St. Thelalaeus the Weeper, whose feast is February 27, lived in a cage made out of a barrel. He had the gift of tears, so he wept for his sins very often. He happened to set up his barrel not far from a pagan temple, and so ended up preaching to pagans who came by, curious about the man living in a barrel, and converted many of them. St. Marana and St. Koura (or Cyra), whose feast is February 28, lived at Beroea in a crevice in the rocks with no roof, and St. Koura also kept a vow of silence. They did not leave the crevice at all; they built a house nearby where lived volunteers who passed them food through a narrow opening. St. Domnina the Younger, whose feast day is March 1, was a woman from a very wealthy family in Antioch; she started living in a hut in her mother's garden, veiling her face, and eating nothing but lentils. Like St. Thelalaeus, she also had the gift of tears. An entire religious community of women grew up around her, maintaining themselves by doing basic manual labor and carding wool. Many more could be added, and the kinds of asceticism they practiced were of all kinds. Monasteries and convents as well as hermitages began sprouting up.

So things went for a while, and the Maronite movement did not slow down, and it played a major role in the spiritual life of the patriarchate of Antioch. But crisis would hit in the early seventh century, when a civil war broke out, including a revolt in Antioch. The exact details are murky; the entire social situation seems to have deteriorated; but it is likely that Patriarch St. Anastasius II of Antioch (whose feast day is December 21) was assassinated by Monophysites in the course of a riot. The situation continued to be bad, so the Emperor and Patriarch of Constantinople got together and decided to appoint a titular patriarch of Antioch, who would reside in Constantinople. Exactly how this plan came into effect, we don't know; the entire period is a period of tumult, and so it may have been intended as a temporary measure until things quieted down, but in any case it ended up not being temporary, and lasted about a century. Needless to say, this was not popular among the monasteries around Antioch. What's more, things grew worse, as Muslim armies invaded Syria in a major campaign in the 630s. The monks seem to have seen that they were cut off and would likely not have a resident patriarch in any near future at this rate, so led by the major monastery in the area, the Monastery of St. Maroun on the Orontes, a major stronghold of Chalcedonian Christianity in the area, the bishops of Syria elected their own patriarch in 685 without any regard for either the Emperor or the Patriarch of Constantinople. We know remarkably little about this patriarch, St. John Maron, before his ascension, but he is said to have studied for a time in Constantinople and to have been the Monastery of St. Maroun's best teacher. Obviously they needed some recognition for the move, and Constantinople would obviously not have given it; so they went to Rome, where St. Sergius I was Pope. And while St. Sergius seems himself to have been born in Sicily, his family was Syrian from the area around Antioch. According to Maronite tradition, St. Sergius recognized St. John Maron as Patriarch of Antioch and All the East. Constantinople's line of titular patriarchs continued, and in the eighth century came back to Antioch; the Greek Orthodox and the Melkite Catholic patriarchal lineages for Antioch both descend from that return.

With St. John Maron, the Maronite movement, while continuing to be a movement, also became a Church, and this fusion of ascetic movement and hierarchy gives the Maronites many of their distinctive features even to this day. And at some point, St. John Maron made a further choice that would contribute to the identity of the Maronites: he moved the patriarchate from Syria to Lebanon, establishing himself in a place that became known as the Holy Valley, Ouadi Qadisha. He seems to have chosen the area because the Maronite religious movement had been well established there. It's unclear exactly why the move happened, but it would prove to be important, because it made the Maronites a major feature of the mountains of Lebanon, and that turned out strategically to be a very effective place to be as first the Byzantines and then the Muslims tried to uproot the Maronites but found themselves repeatedly foiled by the difficulty of the terrain. It was a hard life, and the Maronites often had to hunker down, hide, shift their location. But it meant that they survived. They came to know the hills and forests much better than their enemies, and the natural protections of the area were formidable. 

This was not obvious at the time. The Maronites almost completely vanish from history, as if they had been destroyed. But then the First Crusade happened, and Raymond of Toulouse, on his way to besiege Tripoli, discovered little communities of Christians in the Lebanese hills who greeted him enthusiastically when it became clear that he, too, was Christian. The Maronites actively assisted the Crusaders and, through them, re-established active communication with Rome, whose recognition of St. John Maron as patriarch they still remembered with gratitude. And ever since, they have been in close communion with Rome.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Fortnightly Book, February 26

 The Queste del Saint Graal, also known as the Aventure del Seint Graal, is the next fortnightly book. The Queste is a part of what is usually known as the Lancelot-Grail or the Vulgate Cycle, a collection of partly self-standing and tonally very different works that nonetheless have clear interconnections with each other and together form a complete Arthurian story -- in this case, a story that begins with the background of the Holy Grail, then proceeds through the early years of King Arthur's reign, then continues with the Quest of the Holy Grail, and ends with the destruction of the Arthurian realm and the death of King Arthur. The Queste, of course, is concerned with the hunting of the Holy Grail itself. It is a famously peculiar work; it is easily the most explicitly religious and spiritual work in any of the French cycles of Arthurian legends, and is notoriously filled with extensive sermonizing on matters of theological doctrine and practice. It has sometimes been suggested that it was written by a Cistercian monk; this is very unlikely, but the work has a lot in common with Cistercian theology (although some of this may just be general commonality with ascetic and mystical literature in general), and some things suggest that the author was familiar enough with Cistercian practices that he probably spent some time in a Cistercian monastery. It is thus remarkable (and a sign of a way in which it is very unmonkish) that it is closely connected in the cycle with the tales of the adultery of Lancelot and Guinevere. One of the things I find interesting about the whole cycle of Arthurian legend is that it takes very seriously what we would today call 'lay spirituality', and the Queste is the crowning example of this. Despite its many connections with monastic theology, it is a very un-monkish work. The hermits and recluses and occasional monks are all supporting cast weaving in and out of a story that is not about them; all of the main characters -- Gawain, Lancelot, Bors, Perceval, Galahad -- are knights, and we see them each face very lay and secular problems concerned with being a Christian knight, seeking union with Christ while struggling to uphold one's honor in a profession with a very worldly aspect. 

The Queste is also in some ways the most influential telling of the hunt for the Grail. It gives us the Grail story in what we generally think of as its canonical form, with its canonical characters and results -- Gawain a disappointing failure, Lancelot a hopeful not-quite-success, Bors and Perceval successes in their distinctive ways, and Galahad reaching the final consummation. This pulls together a number of very different approaches to the Grail legend, and does in a fairly satisfying way. The Queste, or at least a version of it, is also the direct influence on the version of the Grail story that we read in English in Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. People have noted the curiosity of Malory, who has a tendency to increase the realism of the tales he is telling, choosing the most allegorical, dream-ridden, and miracle-infused version of the Grail legend as his template. He does cut out a lot of the sermonizing, of course, and abridges a great deal of the rest, but it's often thought a rather remarkable way for him to proceed at all. My suspicion is that he does this because the Queste provides one of the very best Lancelot stories in all of the vast territory of Arthurian legend. Lancelot is clearly one of Malory's favorite characters, and elsewhere he will often expand Lancelot's role at the expense of other major knights like Gawain, and the Queste, among other things, gives us in Lancelot a tale of a great knight with a very great (and ultimately very destructive) sin who is nonetheless not denied blessing by God. Regardless, the Queste has left an indelible mark on the Arthurian corpus.

I will be reading it in the Penguin Classics edition, The Quest of the Holy Grail, translated by Pauline Matarasso.