Tuesday, December 31, 2002

"One can indeed, as I have tried to do, learn the idiom of each [worldview] from within as a new first language, much in the way that an anthropologist constitutes him or herself as a linguistic and cultural beginner in some alien culture. In doing so one can come to recognize that the only capacity which the adherents of each standpoint possess for translating the utterances of the other would always result in what some adherent of that other standpoint who had learned the rival language would have to characterize as mistranslation, as misrepresentation."
-Alisdair MacIntyre, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry

Saturday, December 28, 2002

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Have mercy on us, Lord have mercy

We are filled with contempt

Indeed all too full is our soul

With the scorn of the rich

With the proud man's disdain

-Psalm 123

Friday, December 13, 2002

Boy, do I love this Brownson. He's almost as much a curmudgeon as the Old Oligarch. Here he is on the popular press.

If you ever distrust a Catholic journal at all, if published with the approbation of the ordinary, distrust it when you find it falling in with the popular doctrines of the day, and confirming the public in their prejudices or their fallacies.

And on Constitutionalism:

They held the people could be safely entrusted with the guardianship of the constitution, which was very much like locking up a man in prison, and giving him the key. But experience has proved that written constitutions, unless they are written in the sentiments, convictions, consciences, manners, customs, habits, and organization of the people, are no better than so much waste paper, and can no more restrain them than the green withes with which the Philistines bound his limbs, could restrain the mighty Samson.

There is far less equality, as well as less honesty and integrity, in American society, than there was fifty or sixty years ago. The honor paid to wealth, or what is called success in the world, is greater; people are less contented with moderate means, a moderate style of living, as well as with moderate gains, and have a much greater horror of honest labor. I remember when it was, in the country at least, regarded as an act of prudence for a young couple with little or nothing but health, industrious habits, and a willingness to earn their living by hard work, to marry and set up housekeeping for themselves. Now, except to a very limited extent, it would be regarded as the greatest imprudence.

On Catholicism in the United States:

but for the conversion of this country nothing appears to be doing. The subject is hardly thought of. There is even a feeling, not seldom expressed in words, among our Catholic population, that Americans, Yankees especially, cannot be converted, as if Christ died not for them as well as for others; and we are quite sure that the less the Catholic publicist, who wishes to stand well with his religious brethren, says about it, the better. As a body, we have no hope of converting American non-Catholics, and make not the slightest effort in that direction. We think it quite enough for us to be permitted to retain and practice our religion for ourselves, in peace and quietness. If there is any one thing among us that will bring a blight on the church, in our country, it is our lack of apostolic zeal, and our indifference to the salvation of our non-Catholic neighbors and fellow citizens. The Holy Father has written to us and admonished us again and again, but all to little purpose. Our Catholic youth seem more likely to turn their backs on their mother church, than the non-Catholic American youth are to turn their faces toward her. We throw away our advantages, and trust to immigration from abroad to keep up our numbers. Nothing, we fear, will arouse us to a sense of our duty, unite us, and quicken either our zeal or our charity, but another and a more threatening Know-nothing movement. We are too prosperous, and are contracting the vices of prosperity. A little adversity, a little real persecution, would reinvigorate us, renew our zeal, expand our charity, and hasten the conversion of the country.

On Authority and Reason:

Catholics, in fact, are the only people in the world who do, can, or dare reason in matters of religion. Indeed, they are the only people who have a reasonable faith, and who believe only what they have adequate reasons for believing. They are also the only people who recognize no human authority, not even one’s own, in matters of Christian faith and conscience. Sectarians and rationalists claim to be free, and to reason freely, because, as they pretend, they are bound by no human authority, and recognize no authority in faith but their own reason. Yet why should your reason be for you or any one else better authority for believing than ours? Your authority is as human as ours, and if ours is not a sufficient reason for our faith, how can yours suffice, which is no better, perhaps not so good? As a fact, no man is less free than he who has for his faith no authority but his own reason; for he is, if he thinks at all, necessarily always in doubt as to what he ought or ought not to believe; and no man who is in doubt, who is unable to determine what he is or is not required to believe in order to believe the truth, is or can be mentally free; for he only has the authority of God, who can neither deceive nor be deceived, for his faith.

But the Christian Quarterly is not alone in imagining a contradiction between reason and authority. The whole modern mind assumes it, and imagines a contradiction wherever it finds two extremes, or two opposites. It has lost the middle term that brings them together and unites them in a logical synthesis. To it, natural and supernatural, nature and grace, reason and faith, science and revelation, liberty and authority, church and state, heaven and earth, God and man- are irreconcilable extremes; and not two extremes only, but downright contradictions, which necessarily exclude each other. It does not, even if it accepts both terms, accept them as reconciled, or united as two parts of one whole; but each as exclusive, and warring against the other, and each doing its best to destroy the other.

Hence the modern mind is, so to speak, bisected by a painful dualism, which weakens its power, lowers its character, and destroys the unity and efficiency of intellectual life.

On American Letters, Love, and Marriage:

Nevertheless, our literary artists must not despair; they must struggle manfully against the false tastes and false tendencies of the age and the nation, not by preaching against them and scolding them, as we do in our capacity of critic, or as Cooper did in his later novels; but by laboring to produce fitting and attractive examples of what literature should be, by careful self-culture, by acquiring habits of independence, and by avoiding all servile imitation- not study- of foreign models, whether ancient or modern. No man writes well unless he writes freely from his own life. Above all, let them bear in mind that a literature destined to live, and to exert an ennobling influence on the national character, must entertain the ideal, be replete with thought, inspired by an earnest purpose, and addressed to the understanding as well as to the affections, passions, and emotions. Truth has a bottom of its own, and can stand by itself; but beauty cannot, for it exists only in the relation of the true to our sensibility or imagination, as a combination of intellect and sense.

"Mr. Thornwell is apparently disposed to maintain that this fifth method[private revelation from God] is the one actually adopted, but this he is not at liberty to do. The method is private, not public, and cannot be appealed to in a public debate. In a public debate, the appeal must always be to a public authority, that is, to an authority common to both parties. If the authority to which the appeal is to be made is private, there can be no public debate; if private, interior, immediate, as must be the teachings of the spirit, there can be no argument. Argument in such a case would be superfluous and even criminal. When, therefore, a man resorts, on a given question, to argument, and to public argument, he necessarily assumes that the authority which is to determine the question is public, and denies it to be private. Mr. Thornwell in his essay made his appeal to argument, and wrote his essay to prove that the question he raised is to be settled, not by the private spirit, but by public facts, arguments, and authority. He therefore cannot fall back on the private spirit. Having elected public authority, he must abide by it. If he cannot now fall back on the private spirit, he cannot allege it as a supposable method; and if he cannot so allege it, he cannot accuse Dr. Lynch’s argument of sinning by an imperfect enumeration of particulars, because it omits it."

-Oresetes Brownson

In The Exorcist, a little girl becomes possessed by a demon after, among other things, playing with an ouija board. So what has Warner Brothers created at the Exorcist website? the Captain Howdy Ouija Board. Don't they even watch their own movies??

Thursday, December 12, 2002

"Our own government, in its origin and constitutional form, is not a democracy, but, if we may use the expression, a limited elective aristocracy. In its theory, the representative, within the limits prescribed by the constitution, when once elected, and during the time for which he is elected, is, in his official action, independent of his constituents, and not responsible to them for his acts. For this reason, we call the government an elective aristocracy. But, practically, the government framed by our fathers no longer exists, save in name. Its original character has disappeared, or is rapidly disappearing. The Constitution is a dead letter, except so far as it serves to prescribe the modes of election, the rule of the majority, the distribution and tenure of offices, and the union and separation of the functions of government. Since 1828, it has been becoming in practice, and is now, substantially, a pure democracy, with no effective constitution but the will of the majority for the time being. Whether the change has been for the better or the worse, we need not stop to inquire. The change was inevitable, because men are more willing to advance themselves by flattering the people and perverting the constitution, than they are by self-denial to serve their country. The change has been effected, and there is no return to the original theory of the government. Any man who should plant himself on the Constitution, and attempt to arrest the democratic tendency, - no matter what his character, ability, virtues, services, - would be crushed and ground to powder. Your Calhouns must give way for your Polks and Van Burens, your Websters for your Harrisons and Tylers. No man, who is not prepared to play the demagogue, to stoop to flatter the people, and, in one direction or another, to exaggerate the democratic tendency, can receive the nomination for an important office, or have influence in public affairs. The reign of great men, of distinguished statesmen and firm patriots, is over, and that of the demagogues has begun. Your most important offices are hereafter to be filled by third and fourth-rate men, - men too insignificant to excite strong opposition, and too flexible in their principles not to be willing to take any direction the caprices of the mob - or the interests of the wire-pullers of the mob - may demand. Evil or no evil, such is the fact, and we must conform to it."
-Orestes Brownson, OCTOBER, 1845 see also orestesbrownson.com

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

An old Free Republic thread on a Patton speech. I'm especially partial to the comments of Romulus.

Thursday, November 28, 2002

A story on a local couple who run an orphanage in Kenya. Somehow, the author of the article avoids mentioning that one of these fine folks is a deacon at my home parish. At least they quote one of the kids: "I hope God will bless them for what they have done for the Africans."

Oddly, the same author wrote an article for the Denver Catholic Register, emphasizing his status in the church.

Friday, November 15, 2002

Whatever marvel happens in this world, it is certainly less marvelous than this whole world itself,--I mean the sky and earth, and all that is in them,--and these God certainly made. But, as the Creator Himself is hidden and incomprehensible to man, so also is the manner of creation. Although, therefore, the standing miracle of this visible world is little thought of, because always before us, yet, when we arouse ourselves to contemplate it, it is a greater miracle than the rarest and most unheard-of marvels. For man himself is a greater miracle than any miracle done through his instrumentality.

-Augustine, City of God, Book X Chapter 12

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Political Theory Workshop
What does meaning mean?

How does one understand understanding?

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

"How can good defeat evil if not by strength of arms? By embracing weakness, by embracing His heel; by self-sacrifice and humility and suffering and death. Evil is limited to power, it cannot use weakness. It is limited to pride, it cannot use humility. It is limited to inflicting suffering and death, it cannot use suffering and death. It is limited to selfishness, it cannot use selflessness."

-Peter Kreeft, on Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings in StAR.

Saturday, November 02, 2002


See what love the Father has bestowed on us

that we may be called the children of God.

Yet so we are.

The reason the world does not know us

is that it did not know him.

Beloved, we are God's children now;

what we shall be has not yet been revealed.

We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him,

for we shall see him as he is.

-1 John 3:1-3

Friday, October 25, 2002

"Now, what do we gain by hearing it said of a man that he has now thrown off the yoke, that he does not believe there is a God who watches our actions, that he considers himself the sole master of his conduct, and that he thinks he is accountable for it only to himself.? Does he think that he has thus brought us to have henceforth complete confidence in him and to look to him for consolation, advice, and help in every need of life? Do they profess to have delighted us by telling us that they hold our soul to be only a little wind and smoke, especially by telling us this in a haughty and self-satisfied tone of voice? Is this a thing to say gaily? Is it not, on the contrary, a thing to say sadly, as the saddest thing in the world?"

-Pascal, Pensees 194

Thursday, October 10, 2002

"The free inner union between the absolute, divine principle and the human person is possible only because the latter also has an absolute significance." -Lecture 2

"Western civilization has liberated human consciousness from all external limitations, acknowledging the negative absoluteness of the human person and proclaiming absolute human rights. But at the same time, by rejecting every principle that is absolute in the positive sense, that in reality and by its very nature possesses the entire fullness of being, and by circumscribing human life and consciousness with a circle of the conditional and transitory, this civilization has also asserted infinite striving and the impossibility of its satisfaction." -ibid

"Thus, on the one hand, a human being is a being with absolute significance, with absolute rights and demands. On the other hand, this same human being is only a limited and transitory phenomenon, a fact among the multitude of other facts, limited by them and dependent upon them on all sides. This is true not only of the individual, but also of humanity in its entirety."

"Human beings do not, however, wish to be mere facts, to be only phenomena. This unwillingness is already a hint that, actually, they are not mere facts, not mere phenomena, but something greater. For what is the meaning of a fact that does not wish to be a fact or of a phenomenon that does not wish to be a pheonomenon?"

"..belief in oneself, belief in the human person, is at the same time belief in God, for Divinity belongs to human beings and to God, but with one difference: God possesses Divinity in eternal actuality, whereas human beings can only attain it, can only have it granted to them, and in the present state, there is only possibility, only striving."

"Just as one demands from actors not only that they act, but that they act well, so one likewise demands from human beings and humanity not only that they live, but that they live well." -Lecture 3

"Divinity in heaven and the least blade of grass on earth are equally unfathomable, and equally fathomable, for reason. In their common being, as concepts, both constitute an object of pure thought, are wholly subject to logical definitions, and in this sense are fully intelligible and fathomable for reason. Yet in their own being, as existent but not as conceivable, both are something greater than a concept and lie beyond the limits of the rational as such. In this sense, they are impenetrable, or unfathomable, for reason." -Lecture 6

"Christianity has its own content, independent of all these elements that have become part of it. This content is uniquely and exclusively Christ. In Christianity as such we find Christ and only Chirst."

"In the human being, nature outgrows itself and passes(in consciousness) into the domain of absolute being. Receiving and bearing in consciousness the eternal, divine idea and inseparably connected with the nature of the external world by his factual origin and existence, the human being is the natural mediator between God and material being, the conductor of the all-uniting divine principle into elemental multiplicity, the orderer and organizer of the universe." -Lecture 10

"Before, as the spiritual center of the cosmos, human beings embraced in their souls all nature, lived one life with it, loved and understood it, and therefore governed it. But now, having asserted themselves in their selfhood, having shut their souls off from everything, human beings find themselves in an alien and hostile world, which no longer speaks in any intelligible language and does not understand or obey their words."

"As long as personal will and life that are immersed in untruth are opposed only by truth as an idea, life remains essentially unchanged. An abstract idea cannot overcome this will, because personal living will, though evil, is nevertheless an actual force, wehreas an idea that is not embodied in living personal forces is merely a luminous shadow."

"In a saint, actual good presupposes potential evil; a saint is so great in holiness because he or she might be great in evil as well. A saint has conquered the force of evil, has made it subordinate to the supreme principle, and this force has become the basis and carrier of the good. That is why the Jewish nation, exhibiting the worst aspects of human nature, "a stiff-necked people" and with a stony heart, is the nation of the saints and the prophets of God, the nation in which the new spiritual human being was to be born."

"The incarnation is indeed impossible if we consider God as only a separate entity, existing somewhere outside the world and humanity. For such a view(deism), the incarnation of Divinity in humanity would be a direct violation of the logical law of identiy, that is, something totally unthinkable. But the incarnation is just as impossible from the point of view(pantheism) that sees God as only the universal substance of cosmic phenomena, the universal "all," and humanity as only one of these phenomena. According to this view, God's incarnation would contradict the axiom that the whole(the all) cannot be equal to one of its parts: God could no more become a human being than the waters of an entire ocean could be at the same time but one of its drops." -Lectures 11 and 12

"The world as an aggregate of limitations, being ouside God, as material, is at the same time essentially connected with God by its inner life, or soul. This inner life is characterized by the fact that every entity, while asserting itself in its own limit as this, outside God, is not satisfied with this limit and strives to become the all, that is, it strives towards inner union with God. In conformity with this, God, while transcendental in Himself(abiding beyond the limits of the world) also is in relation to the world, the active creative force whose will is to communicate to the world soul what it seeks and strives for(that is, the fullness of being in the form of all-unity), whose will is to unite with the soul and to generate from it the living image of Divinity. This determines both the cosmic process in material nature, which ends with the birth of the natural human being, and the following historical process which prepares the birth of the spiritual human being...

From this point of view, the appearance of the spiritual human being, the birth of the second Adam, is no more incomprehensible than the appearance on earth of the natural human being, the birth of the first Adam. Both appearances were new, unprecedented facts in cosmic life, and both for that reason seem miraculous. But these new and unprecedented appearances were prepared for in advance by all that had happened before; they constituted what the former life desired, what it strove and moved toward. All nature strove and gravitated toward humanity, while the whole history of humankind was moving toward Divine humanity."

"Christ, as God, freely renounces the glory of God and thereby, as a human being, acquires the possibility of attaining that glory. On the way to this attainment, human nature and the will of the Savior inevitably encounter the temptation of evil. The Divine-human person has a dual consciousness: the consciousness of the limits of natural existence and the consciousness of His own divine essence and power. And so, experiencing the limitations of natural being, the God-man may be subjected to the temptation of making His divine power a means for the goals that follow from these limitations.

In the first temptation, a being subject to to the conditions of material existence is tempted to make material welfare the goal and His divine power the means for attaining it: "If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made into bread. The divine nature and the manifestation of that nature are tempted to serve as a means for satisfying a material need. In answer to this temptation, Christ asserts that the Word of God is not an instrument of material life but is itself the source of the true life: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." Having overcome this temptation of the flesh, the Son of Man receives power over all flesh.

In the second temptation, the God-man, free from material motives, is tempted to make divine power an instrument for the self-assertion of human personality, to fall into the sin of the mind, the sin of pride: "If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone." This act would be a proud call of a human being to God, a temptation of God by a human being, and Christ answers: It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the lord thy God. Having conquered the sin of the mind, the Son of Man receives power over minds.

The third and last temptation is the strongest one. Enslavement by the flesh and the pride of the mind have been removed. Human will finds itself now on a high moral level, and is conscious of itself as being higher than the rest of creation. In the name of this moral height, humanity can wish for mastery over the world in order to lead the world to perfection, but "the world lieth in wickedness" and will not voluntarily submit to moral superiority. Therefore, it must be forced to submit; one must use one's divine power to force the world into subjection. But to use coercion, which is evil, in this way for the purposes of good is to admit that, in itself, good is impotent, that evil is stronger than good. It is to worship that principle of evil that has dominion over the world. "And he sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me." The human will is directly challenged with the fateful question of what it believes in and what it wishes to serve--the invisible power of God or the power of evil that openly reigns in the world? Having overcome the temptation of a plausible desire for power, Christ's human will freely subordinates itself to the true good, rejecting any agreement with the evil that reigns in the world: "Then said Jesus unto him: Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and Him only shalt thou serve." Having overcome the sin of the spirit, the Son of Man receives supreme power in the realm of the spirit, refusing to submit to the earthly power for the sake of dominion over the earth, he acquires for Himself the service of the powers of heaven: "And behold, angels came and ministered unto Him."

Thus, in the second Adam is restored the normal relationship of all three principles that the first Adam violated."

"The essence of pure rationalism consists in the conviction that human reason is a law unto itself and gives laws to all that exists in the practical and social realm. This principle is expressed in the demand that all life, all social and political relations, be organized and directed exclusively on the basis worked out by personal reason, apart from all tradition and all immediate faith. This demand permeated the entire so-called Enlightenment of the eighteenth century and served as the guiding idea of the first French Revolution. Theoretically, the principle of rationalism is expressed in the claim that the whole content of knowledge can be deducted from pure reason(a priori), or that all sciences can be constructed in a speculative manner.

...This self-confidence and self-assertion of human reason in life and knowledge is an abnormal phenomenon; it is the pride of the mind. In Protestantism and in the rationalism that issued from it, Western humankind succumed to the second temptation. But the falsity of this path was soon manifested in the sharp contradiction between the excessive claims of reason and its actual impotence. In the practical domain, reason turned out to be impotent against passions and interests, and the kingdom of reason proclaimed by the French Revolution ended in a wild chaos of insanity and violence. In the theoretical domain, reason turned out to be impotent against empirical fact, and the pretension to build a universal science on the principles of pure reason ended in the construction of a system of empty, abstract concepts.

...Reason is a certain relation of things that gives them a certain form. But a relation presupposes terms that are related; form presupposes content. By positing human reason as such as the supreme principle, rationalism abstracts it from all content and has in it only an empty form. But at the same time, in consequence of such an abstraction of reason from all content, from all that is given in life and knowledge, all this content remains irrational for it. Therefore, when reason comes out against the reality of life and knowledge with a consciousness of its own supreme rights, it finds that everything in life is alien, dark, and impenetrable, and it cannot do anything with it. Abstracted from all content, transformed into an empty concept, reason naturally can have no power over reality. Thus, the self-elevation of human reason, the pride of the mind, inevitably leads to its ultimate downfall and abasement.

-Vladmir Soloviev, Lectures on Divine Humanity

While pondering my constant state of indecision, it occurred to me that I have no text, that is to say, no inner source which I have mastered from which I can draw inspiration and guidance. Then I realized that it is not that I must master something, but that something must master me. And what better master source than the Incarnate Word of God?

Such thoughts are confirmed by one Father Alexander who, among other things, outlines the consequences of mankind's attempt to master the Word of God.

Monday, October 07, 2002

The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.
-St. Gregory of Nyssa; CCC 1803, copied from here

Sunday, October 06, 2002

"Since perfection is possible, it is obligatory." So wrote that damnable heresiarch Pelagius. But perhaps this phrase is not heterodox in itself, since Christian perfection is in fact a commandment of Jesus("Be ye perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect.") Perhaps Pelagius's words are only harsh because they echo his insistence(or perhaps just the insistence of his followers) that mankind perfects himself?
Pascal once noted that nobody regrets lacking a third eye. I wonder if he could say the same today. Contemporary transhumanists openly advocate reengineering humanity, and I'm sure some are open to creating triclopses and the like. They make old-time humanism look downright quaint. I suppose it's no surprise that we've come to this; having abandoned the Incarnation, the human form is bound to appear as just one more transitional element in the universal Heraclitean flux. Psalm 8 affirms human unicity, yet an affirmation is hardly an argument. Perhaps Hopkins speaks to this quandary. Yet another thing to ponder.

Monday, September 16, 2002

"The spoils of the Egyptians are of no use and could, in fact, become a deadly burden if they are not received into a converted heart. For it is not the greatest knowledge or the deepest wisdom that is right but the greatest obedience, the deepest humility; not the sublimity of thought, but the effective simplicity of love."
-Hans Urs von Balthasar

Sunday, September 08, 2002

A little Learning is a dang'rous Thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring:
There shallow Draughts intoxicate the Brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
-Pope, Essay on Criticism

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Freedom of indifference

Definition: The power to choose between contraries. (The choice between good and evil is essential to freedom.) Freedom resides in the will alone.

1. Excludes natural inclinations from the free act; they are subject to choice. In regard to these inclinations, freedom is indifferent.

2. It is entire from the first moment. No stages of formation and progress are required. There is no middle ground between being free and not being free.

3. It is entire in each free choice, in theory: each act is independent, isolated from other acts, and is performed at the instant of decision

4. It has no need of virtue, which becomes a freely used habitude, or of finality, which becomes one circumstance of actions.

5. Law appears as an external restraint and a limitation of freedom; it creates an irreducible tension with it.

6. Freedom is locked within self-assertion, causing the will to be separated from the other faculties and the individual to be separated from other freedoms.

7. It creates a moral theory focused on obligation and law; its relationship to Scripture is limited to texts imposing strict obligations.

Freedom for Excellence

Definition: The power to act freely with excellence and perfection. (The choice of evil is a lack of freedom.) Freedom resides in reason and will together.

1. It is rooted in the natural inclinations to the good and true, to what has quality and perfection. It springs from an attraction to what appears true and good, and from an interest in it.

2. It is bestowed in embryo at the beginning of moral life; it must be developed through education and exercised, with discipline, through successive stages. Growth is essential to freedom.

3. It integrates actions in view of an end, which unites them interiorly and insures continuity.

4. Virtue is a dynamic quality essential freedom, a habitus necessary for its development. Finality is a principal element of free action.

5. Law is a necessary external aid to the development of freedom, together with the attraction to the true and good, which is a note of inner freedom. Law is especially necessary in the first stage of education. It is progressively interiorized through the virtues of justice and charity.

6. Freedom is open to allowing all human powers to make their contribution to its action, and to collaboration with others for the common good and the growth of society.

7. Its foundation is the attraction to the true and the good, and the desire for happiness, focusing on the virtues and oriented to quality and perfection, lending itself to a relationship with all of Scripture.

-Servais Pinckaers, The Sources of Christian Ethics
Phillip Jenkins' _The Next Christendom_ documents the rise of Christianity in the Third World, using demographic projections assuring, or reassuring, that the world is not following the West on the path to secularization. Yet I wonder if it is not vulnerable to this criticism, made by Fr. Edward Oakes in a related context:

Still, when it comes to the tendentious use of statistics, liberals are hardly alone. Christians on the more conservative end of the spectrum can also be seen dragging around the security blanket of Trends and Surveys. One of the most telling examples of this is Dean Kelley's Why conservative Churches Are Growing (1972), a tour de force of sociological argumentation, a book that roughly did for evangelicalism by means of sociology what C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity did for it through apologetics. Are you curious to know why Liberal Christianity is a disaster and why only Gospel-based churches are thriving? Well, Kelly has the answer: the conservative churches know what they believe, they make no bones about it, and they are morally demanding and unaccommodating to the Zeitgeist.

What could be simpler? What more soothing to the anxious soul assaulted by the relentlessly secular vulgarites of popular culture? Thus, soon after Kelly, other Evangelicals picked up the gauntlet, and a veritable cottage industry was born. Scholars like George Marsden and Nathan O. Hatch provided the details, reassuring the conservative faithful that their rejection of Liberal Protestantism was the right way to go.

The latest product of this industry comes from Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, the very title of whose recent book The Churching of America, 1776-1990: Winners and Losers in our Religious Economy (reviewed in First Things, June/July 1993) pretty much tips its hand. Here statistics are marshalled around such essentially economic metaphors as "market share," "subscribers," "outreach programs," etc. The authors' relentlessly free-market analysis might strike some Christians, even conservative ones, as a bit too much, rather as if David Stockman had signed on as unpaid advisor to St. Paul. But the cause, after all, is a good one: to reassure the faithful. "Not secularization but Christianization," avers the First Things reviewer in summarizing the book, "is the primary religious fact of American life."

The subject of Oakes' article, David Wells, also makes a remarkable comment about the alleged Evangelical Revival:

The vast growth in evangelically minded people in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s should by now have revolutionized American culture. With a third of American adults now claiming to have experienced spiritual rebirth, a powerful countercurrent of morality growing out of a powerful and alternative worldview should have been unleashed in factories, offices, and board rooms, in the media, universities, and professions, from one end of the country to the other. . . . But as it turns out, all of this swelling of the evangelical ranks has passed unnoticed in the culture. It has simply been absorbed and tamed. Aside from Jerry Falwell's aborted attempt from the political right in the 1980s to roll back the earlier victories scored by the left, especially during the 1960s, the presence of evangelicals in American culture has barely caused a ripple.

What an indictment of contemporary Christian evangelization: it maintains the debilitating dichotomy between public action and private religious belief, leaving the wider culture in ignorance of Christ. "He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him."

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

An interesting article on the history of young-earth creationism, claiming it is purely a phenomenon of early twentieth century fundamentalism. However, there is no mention of Bishop Ussher's famous estimation of the age of the earth, so I wonder how accurate it is.
The theory of freedom of indifference, which was at the heart of nominalism, together with nominalism itself, influenced all Western thought. It was found almost everywhere, even among those who scarcely knew its name. It did not remain at the level of ideas and doctrines; it penetrated life and its deepest experiences.
One of the surest signs of the active presence of freedom of indifference was the tension it engendered, tension that posed problems of a disjunctive sort, expressed by the "either...or" formula. A few samplings of this characteristic disconnectedness follow.

-Either freedom or law. This opposition dominated casuistry and found expression in the comparison of freedom and law to two landowners disputing the field of human actions. Ethicists would say, this action pertains to law, that to freedom.

-Either freedom or reason. Reason opposed law just as the determinism it engendered opposed voluntary choice, or again, as the law it proclaimed opposed freedom of action and limited it.

-Either freedom or nature. Freedom was defined as opposed to nature. It was non-nature. It sought to dominate and exploit nature, understood as subrational or irrational, blind, and enslaved to its impulses.

-Either freedom or grace. In theology, freedom and grace were opposed in the manner of the two landowners disputing over human actions. What was ascribed to grace seemed by that very fact taken away from freedom; what was attributed to freedom as merit seemed to diminish grace.

-Either man was free, or God. This opposition led to and culminated in the relationship between God and humanity. From now on, a choice had to be made: one could not exalt man wihtout slighting God, nor exalt God without diminishing man. As E. Borne writes, "Contemporary atheism seeks a total affirmation of man by negating God... Whence the presupposition that belief in God dehumanizes man."

-Either subject or object. These basic terms came to signify on the one hand the person, changeable in will and feelings to the point of caprice, and on the other hand the external world, an apersonal reality with its firm, hard, opaque quality. The worst failure in regard to the person was to treat him as a thing; the greatest danger in science was subjectivity. Subjectivism ended in solipsism; objectivism became materialism.

-Either freedom or sensibility. Freedom became indifferent in order to fulfill itself, and it stiffened against sensibility; or else it identified with the passions and claimed total freedom for them.

-Either my freedom or the freedom of others. The freedom of others appeared as a limitation and a threat, since my idea of freedom was self-affirmation in the face of all others. From this issued a struggle with everyone; this was at the root of the dialectic between master and slave.

-Either the individual or society. Freedom of indifference created individualism. It severed the bonds between individuals in the same way in which it had isolated human acts from each other. Society was no longer anything more than an artificial creation and a constraint. Henceforth the individual and society would be opposed and would engage in a struggle for power, in a dialectic of domination. The two poles were individual freedom to the point of anarchy and state control to the point of despotism.

It is clear that the influence of freedom of indifference was very far-reaching. It affected all areas of human action and all the problematics to be encountered in moral theory. It even reshaped the questions; they became disjunctive, where in the case of freedom for excellence they would be synthesized, as we shall see. Wherever it appeared, freedom of indifference seemed to be a force for division and separation, for an opposition engendering an interminable dialectical struggle.

-Servais Pinckaers, The Sources of Christian Ethics, p. 350-351

Monday, August 19, 2002

The Russell-Copleston Debate on the existence of God.

Thursday, August 08, 2002

For example, in his book Character, (Oxford University Press, 1191), Joel Kupperman states that “a great deal of ethical philosophy of the last two hundred years looks both oversimple and overintellectualized… philosophers have treated morality as if each of us is a computer which needs a program for deciding moral questions…. Ethics…in this view is at work only at those discrete moments when an input is registered and the moral decision-procedure is applied (pp. 71-72).” Kupperman focuses on three problems with the decision-procedure model of ethics.

First, the “decision-procedure is parasitic upon and presupposes a classification scheme of features of the world that we are supposed to treat as salient.” Input is never neutral or completely obvious; to know what is salient, relevant, significant in our experience requires capacities of perception and articulation that the decision procedure cannot itself provide. Kupperman appeals to the ineliminable role of the agent’s sensitivity to the concrete situation. The ability to apply a decision procedure presupposes moral education and experience. Kupperman here provides his own version of Aristotle’s warning at the outset of the Ethics that moral philosophy will profit only those who have already been well brought up, who in some way already possess the starting points of ethics.

Second, even given such a classification scheme, the decision-procedure is notoriously indeterminate in the results it yields. Consider, for example, the interminable debates over whether Kantian universalization does or does not rule out suicide, lying, or theft. In the case of utilitarianism, critics are fond of arguing that the maximization of happiness can be used to justify patently heinous acts like the murder or torture of the innocent. Of course, utilitarians offer clever rebuttals, arguing that the calculus need not result in the justification of such acts. The real problem is that the calculus seems to necessitate no specific course of action whatsoever.

Third, the decision-procedure is “oriented toward single decisions, viewed as disconnected from other decisions, in a way which ignores or slights the moral importance of continuity of commitment.” (p. 74). The objection touches upon the atomism of the decision procedure model; sometimes this atomism is exhibited in a fascination with so-called moral dilemmas, as if morality were peripheral to ordinary life, only coming into play in unusual moments of conflict and confusion. Atomism also presupposes that acts and agents are intelligible in abstraction from contexts. Kupperman and others reject the modern partitioning of the moral as a specific realm of human life and recall the ancient conception of the ethical as coextensive with the human.


A related problem with kantian and utilitarian ethical theories is that even where they find an important role for virtue, say in the utilitarian benevolence or Kantian self-control, they seem to reduce the multiplicity of virtues operative in human life to one overriding virtue. This calls to mind Anscombe’s charge against impoverished vocabulary of “modern moral philosophy.” Her modest proposal is that instead of identifying a bad act as “against the moral law or morally wrong,” we should at least “name a genus,” such as untruthful or unchaste.


For now, I want to suggest that virtue ethics has failed to be sufficiently ambitious, systematic, and comprehensive in its reflections on ethics. It still lacks what Elizabeth Anscombe called for in her famous essay, namely, an “adequate moral psychology.” To revive anything like Aristotle’s ethical program would require resuscitating an account of nature and teleology. In spite of some impressive gestures in this direction by MacIntyre (Dependent Rational Animals) and Hursthouse (On Virtue Ethics), there remains a dearth of material on these topics. For a variety of reasons, most virtue ethicists see these sorts of questions as distractions from what they take to be their more concrete and detailed inquiries into the virtues. But even here the results often leave much to be desired. In spite of its persistent appeals to experience, community, history and narrative, the treatments of specific virtues too often lack rich, empirical detail. With the notable exception of MacIntyre, there is still a tendency among virtue ethicists to adduce a generic list of virtues, with quick descriptions of each. And thinking about certain virtues, most notably justice, is almost nonexistent (Hursthouse cites justice as the most obvious gap in the current literature; see On Virtue Ethics, p. 5).

From a lecture by Thomas Hibbs at the Faith and Reason Institute

Sunday, August 04, 2002

I'm attempting to piece together an understanding of Theosis.

For Biblical references, see John Chapter 10:

Jesus answered them: ""Is it not written in your law, 'I said, "You are gods"?'

The Lord is referring to Psalm 82,

I declare: "Gods though you be, offspring of the Most High all of you,

Yet like any mortal you shall die; like any prince you shall fall."

There is the delightful passage of Psalm 8:

"What is man that you are mindful of him,

the son of man that you should care for him?

Yet you have made him little less than a god,

you have crowned him with glory and splendour,

made him lord over the work of your hands,

set all things under his feet..."

Finally, there is the work of St. Irenaeus, who declares somewhere in Against Heresies:

"For it was for this end that the Word of God was made man, and He who was the Son of God became the Son of man, that man, having been taken into the Word, and receiving the adoption, might become the son of God." It seems, then, that our divine adoption is the source of our divinification:

The Fathers dwell on this privilege which they are pleased to style deification. St. Irenaeus (Adv. Haereses, iii, 17-19); St. Athanasius (Cont. Arianos, ii, 59); St. Cyril of Alexandria (Comment. on St. John, i, 13, 14); St. John Chrysostom (Homilies on St. Matthew, ii, 2); St. Augustine (Tracts 11 and 12 on St. John); St. Peter Chrysologus (Sermon 72 on the Lord's Prayer)

I prefer to shorten the saying of Irenaeus to "God became man so that man might become godly."[*] But I must clarify: what do I mean by 'godly'? God-like? Or simply god-like? The first implies all the eternity and omnipotence of the Holy Trinity, while the second implies the immortality of eternal life, not to mention the god-like beings of the Elohim.

There is the work of Soloviev, whose Lectures on Divine Humanity/Godmanhood inspired Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. Copleston has also written a work on Russian philosophy which is quite apropos. Both books are now on my Amazon.com wish list.

Wish I could organize this better, but I ought to go to bed now.

[*] 'For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.'[St. Athanasius, De inc. 54. 3] from Eastern Catholic Spirituality

Addendum 10/27/05:

The Old Oligarch kindly provided more information on this topic, though I didn't make the time to cross-reference it until today.

Sunday, July 21, 2002

"For the 'ordinary' person of limited intelligence nothing is easier than to imagine himself an exceptional and original person and to take delight in this delusion with no misgivings. It has been enough for some of our young ladies to cut their hair short, put on blue eyeglasses, and call themselves Nihilists for them to persuade themselves that, in putting on their spectacles, they immediately acquired 'convictions' of their own."
-Dostoevsky, The Idiot, p. 481

Wednesday, July 03, 2002

"The essence of virtue consists in the good rather than in the difficult."
-St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica II, ii, 123, 12 ad 2
The middle Ages drew a distinction between the understanding as ratio and the understanding as intellectus. Ratio is the power of discursive, logical thought, of searching and of examination, of abstraction, of definition and drawing conclusions. Intellectus, on the other hand, is the name for the understanding insofar as it is the capacity of simplex intuitus, of that simple vision to which truth offers itself like a landscape to the eye. The faculty of mind, man's knowledge, is both these things in one, according to antiquity and the Middle Ages, simultaneously ratio and intellectus; and the process of knowing is the action of the two together. The mode of discursive thought is accompanied and impregnated by an effortless awareness, the contemplative vision of the intellectus, which is not active but passive, or rather receptive, the activity of the soul in which it conceives that which it sees.

-Josef Pieper, Leisure: The Basis of Culture

if "to know is to work," then knowledge is the fruit of our own unaided effort and activity; then knowledge includes nothing which is not due to the effort of man, and there is nothing gratuitous about it, nothing "in-spired," nothing "given" about it.

The Christian conception of sacrifice is not concerned with the suffering involved qua suffering, it is not primarily concerned with the toil and the worry and with the difficulty, but with salvation, with the fullness of being, and thus ultimately with the fullness of happiness: "the end and the norm of discipline is happiness."

There can be no such thing in the world of "total labour" as space which is not used on principle; no such thing as a plot of ground, or a period of time withdrawn from use. There is in fact no room in the world of "total labour" either for divine worship or for a feast: because the "worker's" world, the world of "labour" rests solely upon the principle of rational utilization. A "feast day" in that world is either a pause in the midst of work(and for the sake of work, of course), or in the case of "Labour Day" or whatever feast days of the world of work may be called, it is the very principle of work that is being celebrated--once again, work stops for the sake of work, and the feast is subordinated to "work." There can of course be games, circenses, circuses--but who would think of describing that kind of mass entertainment as festal?

"A man who needs the unusual to make him "wonder" shows that he has lost the capacity to find the true answer to the wonder of being. The itch for sensation, even though disguised in the mask of Boheme, is a sure indication of a bourgeois mind and a deadened sense of wonder."

Thursday, June 20, 2002

From an engaging essay on Isaiah Berlin
'"Two Concepts" is a classic source for what has become a standard manoeuvre against all kinds of threat to the conceptual status quo. The trick is to accuse the challenger of pig-headedness-of overweening dogmatism and addiction to a single pattern of explanation. Berlin unveiled the tactic in his first paragraph, deriding "those who put their faith in some immense, world-transforming phenomenon, like the final triumph of reason or the proletarian revolution." The trouble with rationalists and Marxists and other enemies of liberal freedom, he seemed to suggest, was not so much that they were mistaken as that they were crashing bores, always worrying at the same old worn-out bone. Berlin invited us to smile with him at all the one-track thinkers with their sickly fixations on "some super-personal entity-a state, a class, a nation, or the march of history itself," or "some single formula... whereby all the diverse ends of men can be harmoniously realised."

Berlin's confidence deserted him, however, when he tried to explain exactly what was wrong with conceptual monism. He declared that it was "not reconcilable with the principles accepted by those who respect the facts," or again, that it was "not compatible with empiricism." This was a feeble ploy, however, and a question-begging one: facts and experience cannot speak for themselves, and Berlin's boring monomaniacs would always be able to claim them for their side rather than his. Appeals to "the world that we encounter in ordinary experience," and warnings against anything that "it would be eccentric to say" cannot have much authority when deep or even tragic differences are in play. Berlin's mountainous labours have produced a plaintive little mouse, imploring us to respect traditions, especially when they are, as he put it, "so long and widely accepted that their observance has entered into the very conception of what it is to be a normal human being." "Two Concepts" was a magisterial performance, but not without pathos: by the end of it the master is left intellectually becalmed, up a conceptual creek without a paddle.'

Tuesday, June 11, 2002

"A man's inner and spiritual life in its present earthly stream is subordinated to this very same general law, according to which every force is manifest or every work perfected thanks only to already existing forces or work. It has been thus constructed by God himself, and dualists speak in vain against this. One law! I know with complete and absolute reliability that if I begin to get angry, to be dissatisfied, and to curse regarding the train stopping, then my spiritual energy would be wasted aimlessly in the external environment, and I would in no way be able to enjoy myself now with the spring morning in the woods and to reflect calmly on physical and moral truths. But I also know that if the capacity of anger and a passionate temper were not in me, if I was bereft of this dark fire, then I would also have nothing to pay for the clarity of soul and for the quaff of immortality that pours into me this bright, Divine day. If there were no evil passion in me at all as a latent force, as potential energy, then I would be as dispassionate as a corpse, which rots as easily as a log; it does not take anything to destroy it like a pile of sand that the first breeze will disperse.

-V.S. Soloviev, Politics, Law, Morality

Friday, June 07, 2002

"Emotional Flatness" is one debilitating symptom of schizophrenia. Uhoh.
Eric Voegelin on Race

Tuesday, June 04, 2002

For the record, here are condemned Jansenian positions:

  • Some of God's commandments are impossible to just
    men who wish and strive (to keep them) considermg the
    powers they actually have, the grace by which these
    precepts may become possible is also wanting;
  • In the
    state of fallen nature no one ever resists interior grace;
  • To merit, or demerit, in the state of fallen nature we
    must be free from all external constraint, but not from
    interior necessity,
  • The Semipelagians admitted the
    necessity of interior preventing grace for all acts, even
    for the beginning of faith; but they fell into heresy in
    pretending that this grace is such that man may either
    follow or resist it;
  • To say that Christ died or shed His
    blood for all men, is Semipelagianism.
"At any rate, in Aquinas's thought, "nature" refers to human nature as it concretely exists, that is, as already integrated within the context of grace but as formally considered independently of what revelation teaches of that context. Viewed from that perspective, nature possesses a transcendent openness to grace and, some Thomists would claim, a desiderium naturale toward fulfillment in grace. Sixteenth-century theologians, however, tended to take the natura pura to be a full reality in its own right. On the basis of Aristotle's principle concerning the proportion of ends to means, they declared this nature incapable of any supernatural desire of God. Their theological dualism was complete but remained hidden behind a traditional terminology--"natural" and "supernatural--whose meaning it subverted. In Aquinas, the term supernatural does not refer to a new order of being added to nature but to the means for attaining the one final end for which the power of nature alone does not suffice. He calls God agens supernaturalis to distinguish the order of the Creator from that of creation(in which nature and grace appear together). Nature thereby becomes the effect of a supernatural agent." -Louis Dupre, Passage to Modernity

A nature that is a full reality in its own right is fertile ground for atheism, but Reformation-era thinkers struggled to reunite nature with God via theories of grace and justification. Some, like the Jansenists, tried to resolve the tension by holding that grace abolished nature. Others reinterpreted the old saying "grace perfects nature" in a radically dualistic fashion. Still, in post-medieval theories of nature, one major theme of modernity had been established.

Monday, June 03, 2002

"It would be wrong, however, to regard these analogies as justifying a syncretistic relativism that entitles each person to compose his or her own religious collage. This attitude, all too common today, shows a lack of respect not only for one's own faith but also for those faiths one so casually dismantles for spare parts. It is yet another manifestation of that radical anthropocentrism, the main enemy of sincere religion, that tempts believers to bring the language of transcendence down to the level of purely human wants and choice. Without detracting from the providential nature of other faiths, Christians cannot ignore the fact that this same Providence has led them to a faith that is not a "choice" but, for those chosen to it, an absolute summons. To relativize faith is, I think, to subvert its fundamentally divine character."
-Louis Dupre, Passage to Modernity

Thursday, May 23, 2002

Where Secular Journalists Get Their Sources, courtesy of Tim Drake
Jay Nordlinger brings up Cuban dissident Armando Valladares, of whom I've never heard.

Monday, May 20, 2002

My Introduction to Legal Processes class is progressing at a rather slovenly pace. First, my professor is more aghast that the class has not heard of Monty Python, than that she herself has never heard of Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel. Second, we watched a documentary about porn today, featuring graphic samples, and I didn't have the courage to walk out. Sigh. More insubstantial velleity.
Here's some of my commentary on Free Republic that will soon be lost down the memory hole.

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Just finished up Peter Brown's excellent biography of St. Augustine of Hippo, two weeks late for my seminar final project. Regardless, it was a welcome read, and in the passing of the years since its 1967 publish date Professor Brown seems to have toned down his portrait of Augustine the Incorrigible Authoritarian. Alas, I do not have the most recent edition.
A velleity is the smallest movement of the will; I've started this blog in the hopes that my velleities will eventually compile into something more substantive, like a wish.

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