Thursday, January 31, 2008

I been watchin…

0 comment(s)
I keep a running log of what movies I see, here. It is tucked inside my mental-diet-log. I have watched 9 movies in 7 days. I just watched Eisenstein's 1925 Stachka (Strike). It was a cinematic experience unlike anything I have ever enjoyed. I discovered that the music for it, originally a silent film, was both catchy and, yet, annoying, since I feel adding music to a SILENT film is as crass as muting a musical. The film, from the little I have read about Eisenstein, employs "dialectical montage" to create emotional tension, release, anticipation, etc. in the viewer. Prima facie, the acting is vaudevillian and spastic… and yet, it is so gripping. I can't articulate the experience, but it has certainly altered my view of cinema. I am inclined to say that nearly everything, after seeing Eisenstein, seems decadent. Perhaps it is just how primitive Eisenstein's technology was; as films became more "technically advanced", I think they also forfeited much raw visual material produced only by real humans doing real things in front of the camera. Paradoxically less artificial by being so authentically cinematic.

I recently found a video shop in Taichung, which I had heard about for at least a year, and I have been like a kid in a candy store. One director whose work I have desperately wanted to explore is Sergei Tarkovsky. The shop, called 8 1/2 (in honor of Fellini's film of the same name), has all of Tarkovsky's films, including a biography documentary of the director. I must watch Ivan's Childhood again but I was much impressed with Tarkovsky's use of unbroken shots.

8 1/2 works by paying either $30 for 12 movies over any time (to be returned in 1 to 2 weeks) or about $100 for 50 discs. I have checked out over 20 to take to the Philippines for my Chinese New Year vacation. w00t! One by Bunuel, Fellini and Kubrick, two by Li An, three by Woody Allen, a handful by Tarkovsky, and various titles I've wanted to see for a long time now. Bottoms up!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Wisdom from… [30 Jan]

0 comment(s)
ANGELA da FOLIGNO** (1248–1309): Devotion to prayer

The purpose of prayer is nothing other than to manifest God and self. And this manifestation of God and self leads to a state of perfect and true humility. For this humility is attained when the soul sees God and self. It is in this profound state of humility, and from it, that divine grace deepens and grows in the soul. The more divine grace deepens humility in the soul, the more divine grace can grow in this depth of humility. The more divine grace grows, the deeper the soul is grounded, and the more it is settled in a state of true humility. Through perseverance in true prayer, divine light and grace increase, and these always make the soul grow deep in humility as it reads, as has been said, the life of Jesus Christ, God and man. I cannot conceive anything greater than the manifestation of God and self. But this discovery, that is, this manifestation of God and self, is the lot only of those legitimate sons and daughters of God who have devoted themselves to true prayer.
(Instructions, from Complete Works, Paul Lachance, O.F.M., Classics of Western Spirituality, Paulist Press, 1993, 236.)

** Bl. Angela was a married woman who dedicated her life, after the death of her husband and children, to following Christ and making known the God-man, Jesus Christ.

ST AUGUSTINE: Putting Up with All That is Annoying

Now, what does "Let him take up his cross mean"? Put up with all that is annoying: that is how they must follow me. To tell the truth, when they follow me, imitating my conduct and keeping my commandments, they will have many who will try to oppose them, forbid them, dissuade them, and this will be done by those same people who appear to be followers of Christ.
-- Sermon 96, 4

Prayer. O Lord, my God, what is the kernel of your deep mystery? How far from it have I been led by the consequences of my sins!
-- Confessions 11, 31


Keep this maxim well in mind: God is our Father, because if He were not, Jesus would not have commanded us to say, "Our Father...." What have you to fear if you are children of such a Father without whose Providence not even one hair of our head would fall? Is it not extraordinary that, being children of such a Father, we have or could have any other preoccupation than that of loving Him and serving Him?
(Letters 1420; O. XVIII, p. 210)



THE face of the King's servants grew greater than the King.
He tricked them and they trapped him and drew round him in a ring;
The new grave lords closed round him that had eaten the abbey's fruits,
And the men of the new religion with their Bibles in their boots,
We saw their shoulders moving to menace and discuss.
And some were pure and some were vile, but none took heed of us
We saw the King when they killed him, and his face was proud and pale,
And a few men talked of freedom while England talked of ale.
('The Silent People')

Superhero material…

0 comment(s)
Hobo for Love. Don Quixote for Love.

His only weakness is listening to other people's opinions. Or his own.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Wisdom from… [29 Jan.]

0 comment(s)
ST AUGUSTINE** (354–430): May your "amen" accord with the truth

Faith seeks understanding; so you may now say to me: "We know from whom our Lord Jesus Christ took his flesh—–it was from the Virgin Mary. As a baby, he was suckled, he was fed, he developed, he came to young man's estate. He was slain on the cross, he was taken down from it, he was buried, he rose again on the third day. On the day of his own choosing, he ascended to heaven, taking his body with him; and it is from heaven that he will come to judge the living and the dead. But now that he is there, seated at the right hand of the Father, how can bread be his body? And the cup, or rather what is in the cup, how can that be his blood?"

These things, my friends, are called sacraments, because our eyes see in them one thing, our understanding another. Our eyes see the material form; our understanding, its spiritual effect. If, then, you want to know what the body of Christ is, you must listen to what the apostle tells the faithful: Now you are the body of Christ, and individually you are members of it.

If that is so, it is the sacrament of yourselves that is placed on the Lord's altar, and it is the sacrament of yourselves that you receive. You reply "amen" to what you are, and thereby agree that such you are. You hear the words "the body of Christ," and you reply "amen." Be, then, a member of Christ's body, so that your "amen" may accord with the truth.
(Sermon 272)

** As bishop of Hippo (Carthage), Augustine, the Doctor of Grace, became the most influential person of the Western Church and left many writings to posterity.

ST AUGUSTINE: Love God's Creation

Suppose a man should make a ring for his betrothed, and she should love the ring more wholeheartedly than the betrothed who made it for her. Certainly, let her love his gift: but if she should say, "The ring is enough. I do not want to see his face again," what would we say of her?

The pledge is given her by the betrothed just that, in his pledge, he himself may be loved. God, then has given you all these things. Love him who made them.
-- Sermon on 1 John 2, 11

Prayer. Lord, let those who understand, praise you, and let those who understand you not, praise you too,
-- Confessions 11, 31


To ensure that the saints pray and intercede for us, we must invoke them and ask their help. The best way to celebrate their feasts is to realize the power they have with God for obtaining the graces of which we stand in need. Our Lord is so pleased when we profit from the intercession of the saints that, wishing to bestow on us some favor, He often inspires us to seek their mediation and invites us to ask them to pray for us. With full confidence we should seek their help and turn to them, especially on their feast days, without doubting for a moment that they will listen to us and will obtain for us what we are asking.
(Sermons 51, O. X, pp. 136-137)


'TIS the very difference between the artistic mind and the mathematical that the former sees things as they are in a picture, some nearer and larger, some smaller and farther away while to the mathematical mind everything, every inch in a million, every fact in a cosmos, must be of equal value. That is why mathematicians go mad, and poets scarcely ever do. A man may have as wide a view of life as he likes, the wider the better: a distant view, a bird's-eye view, but still a view and not a map. The one thing he cannot attempt in his version of the universe is to draw things to scale.
('G. F. Watts')

Monday, January 28, 2008

Wisdom from… [28 Jan.]

0 comment(s)
THOMAS AQUINAS** (1225–1274): The cross exemplifies every virtue

Why did the Son of God have to suffer for us? There was a great need, and it can be considered in a twofold way: in the first place, as a remedy for sin, and secondly, as an example of how to act.

It is a remedy, for, in the face of all the evils which we incur on the account of our sins, we have found relief through the passion of Christ. Yet, it is no less an example, for the passion of Christ completely suffices to fashion our lives. Whoever wishes to live perfectly should do nothing but disdain what Christ disdained on the cross and desire what he desired, for the cross exemplifies every virtue.

If you seek the example of love: Greater love than this no man has, than to lay down his life for his friends. Such a man was Christ on the cross. And if he gave his life for us, then it should not be difficult to bear whatever hardships arise for his sake.
(Conferences on the Creed)

** A Dominican friar, St. Thomas wrote the monumental work Summa Theologiae. Although his philosophy took its shape from Aristotle, at a deeper level Saint Thomas continued to uphold many fundamental Platonist doctrines which he received from Saint Augustine and Dionysius of Areopagite.

[A large part of why I entered the Catholic Church is because I knew a man very well, and thus I was able to witness how this man's growth in faith was winningly cruciform. Neither volcanically straight like a revival-frenzy of faith, that blows itself out and all too often only scalds bystanders, nor coyly balanced in the palm like a trick coin for amusing others, as the faith of hypocrites is. Rather, it has been cruciform by being both transcendent––Godward and prophetic––and immanent––humane and human. It has become two-dimensional and real by being both this and that, up and down, here and there, over, under, left, and right. It has taken on the jagged corners of a cross, corners that, while at times making for unseemly steps back and forth, hither and thither, have on the whole made for a depth that is only fitting true stories. A cross is a target, a crosshairs in the earth, and, often, hitting the target requires some bobbing here and there of the scope. Such errors of marksmanship are lethal for the shooter in only two cases, first, if the target fires back faster, and, second, if the shooter simply never shoots. But, seeing as grace is a perpetual gift, the first risk is less common than might be supposed; meanwhile, the second, not-shooting, is not something this man will do. That persistence to err, to misfire, given the confidence of a grace-built bunker around you, is simply what faith is. And that is the faith that one me over to the Church's faith as a model; it is also the kind of faith that wins me back and back again in the confessional, before the altar, on my knees, and over the years.]

ST AUGUSTINE: Prayer from the Heart

The pure prayer that ascends from a faithful heart will be like incense rising from a hallowed altar. No fragrance can be more pleasing to God than that of his own Son. May all the faithful breathe out the same perfume.
-- Commentary on Psalm 140, 6

Prayer. Lord, I am poor and needy, and you are generous to all who appeal to you.
-- Confessions 11, 2


This poor life is only a journey to the happy life to come. We must not be angry with one another on the way, but rather we must march on as a band of brothers and sisters united in meekness, peace and love. I state absolutely and make no exception: do not be angry at all if that is possible. Do no accept any pretext whatever for opening your heart's door to anger. Saint James tells us positively and without reservation,"…a man's anger does not fulfill God's justice." [Jas 1:20]
(INT. Part III, Ch. 8; O. III, p. 162)


ON bright blue days I do not want anything to happen; the world is complete and beautiful––a thing for contemplation. I no more ask for adventures under that turquoise dome than I ask for adventures in church. But when the background of man's life is a grey background, then, in the name of man's sacred supremacy, I desire to paint on it in fire and gore. When the heavens fail man refuses to fail; when the sky seems to have written on it, in letters of lead and pale silver, the decree that nothing shall happen, then the immortal soul, the prince of all creatures, rises up and decrees that something shall happen, if it be only the slaughter of a policeman.
('Tremendous Trifles')

[This reminds me of something I said in my recent post, "Up, up, and away!": When the heavens conceal an unknown and unknowable face, in traditional religion, the face of man is concealed in turn; when the heavens, however, no longer suggest any faces in the gaseous clouds, the face of man is a gassy mirage on a larger sea of mindless matter. Man is not tolerated when the immaterial gods trivialize his frame in eternity, nor, just as easily, when the material cosmos incinerates it in down-winding time.]

Wisdom from… [27 Jan.]

0 comment(s)
PETER CHRYSOLOGUS** (400–450): Your reward is certain

The Good Shepherd lost none of his sheep when he laid down his life for them; he did not desert them, but kept them safe; he did not abandon them but called them to follow him, leading them by the way of death through the lowlands of this passing world to the pastures of life.

Listen to the shepherd's words: My sheep hear my voice and follow me. Those who have followed him to death will inevitably also follow him to life; his companions in shame will be his companions in honor, just as those who have shared his suffering will share his glory. Where I am, he says, there shall my servant be also. And where is that? Surely in heaven, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Do not be troubled, then, because you must live by faith, nor grow weary because hope is deferred. Your reward is certain; it is preserved for you in him who created all things. You are dead, scripture says, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, you too will appear with him in glory. What was concealed from the farmer at seedtime he will see as he gathers in the sheaves, and the man who plows in sorrow will harvest his crop in gladness.
(Sermo 40: PL 52, 314.)

** As bishop of Ravenna, Peter was above all a pastor and preached many sermons to his people.

ST AUGUSTINE: The Sensitive Person

Give me persons in love: they know what I mean. Give me those who yearn; give me those who are hungry; give me those far away in this desert, who are thirsty and sigh for the spring of the eternal country. Give me those kinds of people: they know what I mean.

But if I speak to cold persons, they just do not know what I am talking about.
-- Sermon on John 26, 4

Prayer. Instruct me, Lord, and command what you will. But first heal me and open my ears that I may hear your words.
-- Soliloquies 1, 5


Self-love dies only when our body dies, so we must, while we live in this land of exile, continue to counterattack its assaults on our senses and its underhanded tactics. It is enough if we firmly withstand, giving no willful or deliberate consent…. When we feel within ourselves the first movements of self-love or of other passions, let us prostrate ourselves immediately before the heart of God and tell Him, in a spirit of confidence and humility, "Lord, have mercy on me because I am a very weak creature." Then let us tranquilly rest in peace and put ourselves at God's disposal.
(Letters 1675; O. XIX, pp. 272-273)


I GRAVELY doubt whether women ever were married by capture. I think they pretended to be; as they do still.
('What's Wrong with the World.')

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Wisdom from... [26 Jan.]

0 comment(s)
Catherine of Siena** (1347-1380): Fall in love with true virtue

It is up to us to use the freedom we have been given to choose life or death. So I beg you as lovingly and tenderly as I can to be the sort of flower that breathes out a fragrance before God and for those in your care. Be a true shepherd, ready to give your life for your sheep. Correct vice and strengthen the virtuous in doing good. The failure to correct causes decay just as surely as does a gangrenous organ in the human body. Keep a watchful eye on yourself and on those in your care. Don't think it harsh to root out the thorns; the fruit will be far sweeter than the effort is bitter.

Consider God's ineffable love for your salvation; open your eyes and you see his boundless blessings and gifts. Is there a greater love than to give one's life for one's friends? How much more deserving of praise is the one who gave his life for his enemies! So let our hearts be on the defensive no longer, but let hardness be driven out and let these hearts not be stone forever. Let that binding chain be broken with which the devil so often keeps us bound. The power of holy desire, scorn for vice, and love for virtue will break all these bonds. Fall in love with virtue; its effect is the opposite of that of vice, because sin brings bitterness while virtue brings sweetness and even in this life a foretaste of the next.
(Letter 10, from The Letters of Saint Catherine of Siena, Suzanne Noffke, O.P., volume 1, Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1988, 57-58.)

St. Catherine served the people of Siena with her good works and the Church at large with her peacemaking.

ST AUGUSTINE: Renewed by Love

People are renewed by love. As sinful desire ages them, so love rejuvenates them. Enmeshed in the toils of his desires the psalmist laments: "I have grown old surrounded by my enemies."

Love, on the other hand, is the sign of our renewal as we know from the Lord's own words: "I give you a new commandment--love one another."
-- Sermon 350A, 21

Prayer. Lord, those who are bowed down with burdens you lift up, and they do not fall because you are their support.
-- Confessions 11, 31


We must have a good opinion of those we see practicing virtues, even though imperfectly, since we know that the saints themselves have often practiced them in this manner. As for ourselves, we must be careful to practice virtues not only faithfully but prudently. To this purpose we must strictly follow the advice of men, not to rely on our own prudence but on the judgment of those whom God has given us for direction.
(INT. Part III, Ch. 2; O. III, p. 131)


'I AM staring,' said MacIan at last, 'at that which shall judge us both.'

'Oh yes,' said Turnbull in a tired way; 'I suppose you mean God.'

'No, I don't,' said MacIan, shaking his head, 'I mean him.' And he pointed to the half-tipsy yokel who was ploughing, down the road. 'I mean him. He goes out in the early dawn; he digs or he ploughs a field. Then he comes back and drinks ale, and then he sings a song. All your philosophies and political systems are young compared to him. All your hoary cathedrals -- yes, even the Eternal Church on earth is new compared to him. The most mouldering gods in the British Museum are new facts beside him. It is he who in the end shall judge us all. I am going to ask him which of us is right.'

'Ask that intoxicated turnip-eater?'

'Yes -- which of us is right. Oh, you have long words and I have long words; and I talk of every man being the image of God; and you talk of every man being a citizen and enlightened enough to govern. But, if every man typifies God, there is God. If every man is an enlightened citizen, there is your enlightened citizen. The first man one meets is always man. Let us catch him up.'
('The Ball and the Cross')

Friday, January 25, 2008

Wisdom from… [25 Jan.]

0 comment(s)
John Henry Newman** (1801–1890): Paul's conversion

Herein is Saint Paul's conversion memorable: that it was a triumph over the enemy. When Almighty God would convert the world, opening the door of faith to the Gentiles, who was the chosen preacher of this mystery? Not one of Christ's first followers. To show his power, he put forth his hand into the very midst of the persecutors of his Son, and seized upon the most strenuous among them. The prayer of a dying man, Stephen, is the token and occasion of that triumph which he had reserved for himself. His strength is made perfect in weakness.

It was a triumph over the enemies of Christ; but it was also an expressive emblem of the nature of God's general dealings with the race of man. What are we all but rebels against God and enemies of the truth? Who then could so appropriately fulfill the purpose of him who came to call sinners to repentance, as one who esteemed himself the least of the apostles, that was not meet to be called an apostle, because he had persecuted the Church of God? When Almighty God in his infinite mercy purposed to form a people to himself out of the heathen, as vessels for this glory, first he chose the instrument of this his purpose as a brand from the burning, to be a type of the rest.
(Plain and Parochial Sermons II, 97-98.)

** Newman was a famous preacher in the Church of England and after his reception into the Catholic Church he continued preaching and writing and later was made a cardinal.

ST AUGUSTINE: The Faith of Abraham

Let us every day do our best to advance in God, and to be unsparing with the transitory possessions we are going to leave behind us in this world. Let us pay attention to Abraham's faith, because he was also our father. Let us imitate his devotion and faith.

We are Christians, and strangers on earth. Let none of us be frightened; our native land is not in this world.
-- Sermon 16A, 13

Prayer. God examines both rich and poor, not according to their lands and houses, but according to the riches of their hearts.
-- Commentary on Psalm 48 (1), 3


I desire very little, and what I do desire I desire very little; I have hardly any desires, but if I were to begin my life all over again I would want to have none at all…. Ask for nothing, refuse nothing; we must simply abandon ourselves into the hands of Providence, without nourishing any other desire but to do whatever God wills. St. Paul practiced this act of absolute abandonment at the very moment of his conversion. When he was deprived of his sight, he immediately said, "Lord, what do you want me to do?" [cf. Act 22:10] From that moment on he put himself completely at God's disposal. All our perfection consists precisely in the practical application of this principle.
(Spiritual Treatises XXI, O. VI, pp. 383-384)


SILENCE is the unbearable repartee.
('Charles Dickens.')

What's in a name?

1 comment(s)
I just bought Ocean Spray's Strawberry/Cranberry juice. I think the ad slogan is:

"Stranberry? Crawberry? Mistake? Drink up and you decide!"

I will and then I'll tell the world.

Go back to sleep.

Le mystère de la vie humaine…

2 comment(s)
La peur ne se commande pas. De la même façon, l'amour ne se commande pas.

Fear can't be controlled. In the same fashion, love can't be controlled.

The bad news is that we are stuck in the middle.

The good news is that the middle can always shift.

Sweet, hide, bitter

0 comment(s)
Apple seeds are bitter, bitter, but the fruit is sweet
Leaning in the breeze over two leaping lads in autumn
Leaping for the lolling fruits of an apple-bowed ent
Ignorant, blissfully, of bitter seeds evading both sight and grasp
Sweet fruit masking, blissfully, the bitter seedy truth
Orange open rays of sun, some so bright they blind the hungry eyes
Light not alight long enough to burn the sweet hidden inner eye
Intently driving hands to harvest what trees no more hide within
Letting it all leaf out, the bobbing fruit of blowing years left out
Over and over to sway over the heads of two unblossomed trees of flesh
Vacant turf all about, excepting scattered prints of boys aloft, then aground
Even though they never, and never will, grab even one unfallen apple
Years unfurled, yet unpunished, in their ripe nows they know not the score
One boy moves away in winter, then the other loses interest, and time
Unmindful of these memories, decrepit, until his grandson asks what is an ent

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Wisdom from… [24 Jan.]

1 comment(s)
ST FRANCIS DE SALES** (1567–1622): Our neighbors are like our Maker

To have a Christian love for our neighbors is to love God in them, or them in God; it is to cherish God alone for his own sake, and his creatures for love of him. When we look upon our neighbors, created in the image and likeness of God, should we not say to each other: "Look at these people he has made—–are they not like their Maker?" Should we not be drawn irresistibly toward them, embrace them, and be moved to tears for love of them? Should we not call down upon them a hundred thousand blessings? And why? For love of them? No indeed, since we cannot be sure whether, of themselves, they are worthy of love or hate. Then why? For love of God, who created them in his own image and likeness, and so capable of sharing in his goodness, grace, and glory; for love of God, I say, unto whom they exist, from whom they exist, through whom they exist, in whom they exist, for whom they exist, and whom they resemble in a very special manner.

This is why divine love not only repeatedly commands us to love our neighbors, but also itself produces this love and pours it out into our hearts, since they bear its own image and likeness; for just as we are the image of God, so our holy love for one another is the true image of our heavenly love for God.
(Francis de Sales, Treatise on the Love of God II, Book 10, 11.)

After obtaining a law degree, Francis became bishop of Geneva in 1593, worked zealously to bring the people of Chablais from Calvinism to Catholicism. Together with his friend Saint Jane Frances de Chantal he founded the Order of the Visitation.

ST AUGUSTINE: My Weight Is My Love

Gravity keeps everything in its own place. Fire climbs up, while a stone goes down. Elements that are not in their own place are restless until they find it. This applies also to us. My weight is my love; wherever I go, I am driven by it. By the love of God we catch fire ourselves and, by moving up, find our place and our rest.
-- Confessions 13, 9

Prayer. Come, Lord, into my soul, which you have prepared for your own reception by inspiring in me a longing for your goodness.
-- Confessions 13, 1

ST FRANCIS DE SALES: [and because it is his feast day, a threefer]

α) During the course of the day, recall as often as possible that you are in God's presence. Consider what God does and what you are doing. You will see His eyes turned toward you and constantly fixed on you with incomparable love. Then you will say to Him, "O God, why do I not look always at You, just as You always look at me? Why do You think so often of me, O Lord, and why do I think so seldom of You?" Where are we, O my soul? God is our true place, and where are we?
(INT. Part II, Ch. 12; O. III, p. 92)

β) Remember this well: we are sometimes so busy being good angels that we neglect to be good men and women.

γ) God looks at the intention of the heart rather than the gifts He is offered.
(The Spirit of St. François de Sales, XV, 9)


TO the quietest human being, seated in the quietest house, there will sometimes come a sudden and unmeaning hunger for the possibilities or impossibilities of things; he will abruptly wonder whether the teapot may not suddenly begin to pour out honey or sea-water, the clock to point to all hours of the day at once, the candle to burn green or crimson, the door to open upon a lake or a potato-field instead of a London street. Upon anyone who feels this nameless anarchism there rests for the time being the spirit of pantomime. Of the clown who cuts the policeman in two it may be said (with no darker meaning) that he realizes one of our visions.
('The Defendant')

Here's to St. Francis de Sales!

0 comment(s)
He is my patron saint and today is his feast day. He is the patron of Catholic writers and journalists, so I especially value his support in this venue and elsewhere (especially with inFORM).

Here are two sites (ja, auf Deutsch) I found about St. FDS.


* Franz von Sales: Lexikon

The following three essays are fine expositions of Salesian spirituality.


[Francis and Jane] shared a distinctive vision, a spirituality we would call it today, which shaped their personal relationship to God and others and which profoundly influenced the way in which they exercised their leadership. The spiritual tradition which is their legacy to us is known as "Salesian." Its particular hallmarks are these: Jane and Francis believed the world to be the creation of a God whose most telling name is Love. This loving God and creation itself was best imaged for our two saints as a world of hearts. God's heart, overflowing in creative abundance gives birth to a world whose deepest impulse is to return to God in love. Thus human hearts, made in the divine image and likeness, are designed to know and love God. In fact, in the dense imagery of Salesian metaphor, God's heart "breathes," in and out, and our hearts' desires breathe in concert, in inspiration and aspiration, with the heartbeat of God.

* The Dynamics of Love by Susanne A. Kjekshus Koch

* St. Francis de Sales and the Universal Call to Holiness by Margaret S. Margeton

There is a certain beauty in holiness, and a certain holiness in beauty.

Up, up, and away!

2 comment(s)
To the Nirvana beyond the Buddha under the tree in the year of the Buddha under the tree.

To the Brahman beyond the many-headed Hindu pantheon on the many-ended streets of India.

To the Allah beyond the Muhammad of the Allah beyond all Muhammad's irrefragable ways.

To the Yahweh beyond the smoke and fire of Moses' roving camp in a sea without water.

To the cosmos of atoms and fields beyond the chimeras called humans persons and substantial objects.

All these and the like go beyond the concrete, beyond the historical, beyond the frames of the normal human frame, to a wisdom, a paradigm, a nameless Name, a faceless Head, a matterless Form, to a shapeless soulless physical All, to a wordless Truth, from which perspective we see the lesser, historical rungs of that mystical ladder actually count for nothing––are nothing. Nothing is anything since everything is nothing but the All.

Only Christianity insists on the opposite. Not to the Deus Unus above but to the One Flesh in hand. Not on the All in which the Many are dissolved. Truth is not an idea––not a Hegelian Pure Idea––but is a person (cf. John 14:6). All the populist emergence of "personal", humanist devotion in Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and materialism are but manifestations of the deeply human––and divinely instilled––need for truth to be made manifest, corporately, with a human face. Islam is about Allah, but invariably, the majority of Muslims don their pants and eat their food after the pattern of Muhammad. For every iconoclastic impulse and phase in Islam, there is a counterblast––if not simply a constant under-current––of graphic eroticism centered on the human form. Even the ethereal transcendence of Sufism is driven by a vilified desire to pierce the veil of Allah's will that Muslims may know Allah as a person, as a friend, as a lover. Hinduism may be about Brahman, and thus about every-thing as no-thing, but Hindus invariably crowd to stroke and kiss the many arms and breasts and tusks of their little statue people-gods. Buddhism may be about the ego-erasing oneness of Nirvana, but on a vast scale this philosophical austerity has been––and always will be––trumped by the zealous attachment Buddhists have to the anthropomorphic bodhisattvas, especially in Pure Land Buddhism. Likewise, while classical Judaism proscribes depicting God in any way, the intuitive face of God for the Jew is known only in its reflection off Moses' face, or, more so, in the periodic emergences of messianic rebbim through the centuries. And while materialism's creed reduces man to matter and humanity to a passing, doomed, inexplicable cosmic hydraulic of self-consciousness, it contradicts this stoic religiosity with a celebration of man for man's sake. When the heavens conceal an unknown and unknowable face, in traditional religion, the face of man is concealed in turn; when the heavens, however, no longer suggest any faces in the gaseous clouds, the face of man is a gassy mirage on a larger sea of mindless matter. Man is not tolerated when the immaterial gods trivialize his frame in eternity, nor, just as easily, when the material cosmos incinerates it in down-winding time.

Truth is known only in "triunogenic" communion with others, not in the pure, individual mind. And only because Christ is united with all people, historically and substantially, can we know truth, even if not formally viewing it in relation to Him. Christ is the only lens through which God sees us; outside Christ, God is blind to us, and thus no light of truth can shine upon us. The same holds for humans. Christ is the lens in which we see God; outside Him, or at least, without the magnifying, filtering effects of His person in the very structure of our created nature, we do not see truth. Except for the pesky fact of Christ immanent in history, the world really is closed to God, and God, in the same wise, is closed to the world.

"If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him." Or so say the Zen masters. Likewise, if you place Muhammad between your religious imagination and Allah, flee from such blasphemous shirk; kill Muhammad to save Allah. If you meet Vishnu in Brahman, kill her, flee from her myriad of particular arms and legs. Run away from the face you see, decapitate the head that speaks with supple tongue and fleshly lips, for truth is divine and divinity is always impersonal. Flee from the history that embraces you, for truth is eternal and eternity is always anti-historical.

Utterly different is the Christian Gospel with its rabid insistence on one person as the One Flesh of the One Sacrifice in the One Covenant made radically, humbly, and perpetually present on the One Altar. In the words of St. Francis de Sales:

Receive Holy Communion with courage, peace and humility, in response to the Divine Spouse, Who, in order to unite Himself to us, humbled Himself and so wonderfully abased Himself as to become our very food--we who will soon become a meal for worm….
(Letters 1529; O. XVIII, p. 400)

And in the words of Gilbert of Hoyland:

In times past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son, with the strong, powerful accents of a lover.
(On the Song of Songs, Sermo 42, 1-4: PL 184, 221-222.)

This is, of course, the old matter of the Christian "Skandal der geschichtlichen Einzigartigkeit" (scandal of historical particularity). How can the eternal be the historical, the universal be the particular, and vice versa? There is no rational basis for it apart from its historicity (i.e., its freely historical immanence). While every other religion says its prophets, shamans, leaders, icons, and heroes are, alas, "really just" misleading approximations which we must "aufheben" (Hegelianese for transcend/cancel), Christianity insists on the opposite maneuver. Not a flight up, up, and away from the earth-bound icons, but down, back, and into the concrete person of Jesus Christ. To fixate on the Buddha is really to fail to see Nirvana. To fixate on Muhammad is really to cloak the invisible oneness of Allah with a shawl of mortal clay. To fixate on Moses or Rabbi Nachman is to derogate from the unseen glory of Yahweh beyond imaging. To fixate on the idiosyncrasies and mutable features of human existence is to ignore the brute, eternal simplicity of matter-in-motion. For Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, and materialists, the particular content and vessel of truth is ultimately an obstacle to the absolute, dehistoricized truth.

It is often remarked that because truth is historical, it is therefore relative. Quite to the contrary. Precisely because truth is deeply embedded in the communion of persons across time throughout cultures, truth is a burning, relevant force among humans. Were it completely dehistoricized, truth would be an abstraction, an irrelevance, a human unreality. It is because truth is a person that truth is an inter-communal reality. Truth is patterned after the immanent historicity of Jesus Christ in His Sacrifice and Risen Glory. The Incarnation is not an ad hoc solution to the mess man got into, but is in fact the prime analogate for human nature itself. Hence, restoring human nature entails re-historicizing it in the concrete unifying act of worship before and in the One Flesh. We only know truth in any way because we are, all of us, substantially and primordially unified with Christ in the immanent structures of the historical world which He has suffused with divine love.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Wisdom from… [23 Jan.]

0 comment(s)
Cyril of Alexandria** (~444): The gift of the Holy Spirit

When the Creator of the universe conceived the magnificent plan of gathering up all things in Christ and restoring human nature to its original condition, he promised that along with all his other gifts he would once more give us the Holy Spirit. This was the only way for us to regain secure possession of God's blessings. By God's decree the time for this descent of the Spirit upon us was to concur with the coming of Christ. God gave his word that in those days—by which he meant the days of our Savior—he would pour out his Spirit upon the whole human race.

So it was that when the time for this great act of generosity arrived and brought God's only Son into our midst in human flesh, a man born of a woman as holy scripture says, God the Father began at once again to give the Spirit. The first to receive the Spirit was Christ, since he was the firstfruits of our renewed nature. John bore witness to this when he said: I saw the Spirit coming down from heaven, and it rested on him.
(On John's Gospel 5, 2: PG 73, 751-754.)

** Patriarch of Alexandria, Cyril was a brilliant theologian who combatted the Arian and Nestorian heresies. Cyril presided at the Council of Ephesus in 431 where Mary's title as Mother of God was solemnly recognized.

ST AUGUSTINE: Avoid Pride and Grasp Wisdom

After hearing that they should be humble some persons do not wish to learn anything. They think they will be proud if they have anything. It has been made clear to us where God wishes us to be in the depths and where he wishes us to be in the heights. He wishes us to be humble to avoid pride, and he wishes us to be on high to grasp wisdom.
-- Commentary on Psalm 130, 12

Prayer. While I move and bear this body I pray that I may be pure, generous, just, and prudent. May I be a perfect lover and knower of your Wisdom.
-- Soliloquies 1, 6


Receive Holy Communion with courage, peace and humility, in response to the Divine Spouse, Who, in order to unite Himself to us, humbled Himself and so wonderfully abased Himself as to become our very food--we who will soon become a meal for worm…. He who receives Communion according to the spirit of the Divine Spouse humbles himself and says to the Lord, "Masticate me, digest me, annihilate me, but convert me totally into You!"
(Letters 1529; O. XVIII, p. 400)

[The concept of transubstantiation is too often cluttered with metaphysical disputes, when in fact the import of that dogma is to describe not primarily what happens to bread and wine in the epiclesis (as if the Church were just an arena for philosophical conundra), but rather, what happens to us as we receive Christ! Transubstantiation is the dogmatic placeholder for the covenant of theosis into which we enter by the Eucharist. We remain who we are "accidentally" but "substantially" become who and what Christ is; we become sons in the Son. We see our own accidental faces in the mirror of the world, but in the mirror of the Eucharist, we see––and display––the substantial face (the living person) of Christ.]


SOME priggish little clerk will say, 'I have reason to congratulate myself that I am a civilized person, and not so bloodthirsty as the Mad Mullah.' Somebody ought to say to him, 'A really good man would be less bloodthirsty than the Mullah. But you are less bloodthirsty, not because you are more of a good man, but because you are a great deal less of a man. You are not bloodthirsty, not because you would spare your enemy, but because you would run away from him.'
('All Things Considered')

At times like these, one must remember…

0 comment(s)
"If you pray for courage, God will test what he tempered."

–– DJ Skull-fog

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Wisdom from… [22 Jan.]

0 comment(s)
Henry of Friemar [Henricus de Vrimaria], O.S.A.** (~1340, d. 1355): Divinization

The same honor, the same latreutic worship that is paid to the divinity is paid to the humanity as well, inasmuch as it subsists in the divinity. And therefore God cannot confer a greater dignity upon a human being than to give it a share in the veneration due to himself. As Saint John Damascene explains how latreutic worship can be paid to a creature: "As a lighted piece of charcoal is not simply wood but wood united to fire, so the flesh of Christ is not mere flesh but flesh united to the Godhead." In that passage he speaks therefore of the flesh of Christ as divinized; because of this divinization there is a sharing in the honor and veneration due to God. The eternal Word willed to stoop to such great poverty, in order that he might enrich us abundantly with heavenly gifts. Should one reflect on the manner in which he enriched us, one would find it wonderful indeed, since he enriched us by his poverty and endowed us out of his indigence.
(Tractatus de Incarnatione Verbi, Pars 1, Prin. 3.)

** An Augustinian friar, Henry was influenced by Giles of Rome. At an early age he entered the Order of Hermits of Saint Augustine, and was sent to the University of Paris, where he was made master in sacred theology, and taught there until 1318. In that year he was made regent of studies in the monastery of St. Thomas, Prague, and examiner for Germany. Later he was chosen provincial for Thuringia and Saxony. He passed on to the Augustinian Order valuable historical data as well as his many homilies, but he likewise wrote treatises on the spiritual life, especially on discernment.

ST AUGUSTINE: Getting Dressed

Every morning you put on your clothes to cover your nakedness and to protect your body from the inclement weather. Why don't you also clothe your soul with the garment of faith?

Remember every morning the truths of your creed, and look at yourself in the mirror of your faith. Otherwise, your soul will soon be naked with the nakedness of oblivion.
-- Sermon 58, 13

Prayer. Lord, only this do I ask of your great kindness: that you convert me totally to you and allow no obstacle to hinder me as I wend my way to you.
-- Soliloquies 1, 6


Love has its source in the heart, and we cannot love our neighbor too much or go to excess, provided love continues to reside in the heart. However, our external demonstrations of love may err or get out of control, passing the limits and rules of reason. The glorious Saint Bernard says that the limit of loving God is loving God without limits; His love must spread its roots as widely as possible. And what is said about love of God must also apply to love of our neighbor, so long as the love of God is greater and holds first place in our hearts.
(Spiritual Treatises IV; O. VI, pp. 56-57)


DARWINISM can be used to back up two mad moralities, but it cannot be used to back up a single sane one. The kinship and competition of all living creatures can be used as a reason for being insanely cruel or insanely sentimental; but not for a healthy love of animals. On the evolutionary basis you may be inhumane, or you may be absurdly humane; but you cannot be human. That you and a tiger are one may be a reason for being tender to a tiger. Or it may be a reason for being as cruel as the tiger. It is one way to train the tiger to imitate you; it is a shorter way to imitate the tiger. But in neither case does evolution tell you how to treat a tiger reasonably––that is, to admire his stripes while avoiding his claws. If you want to treat a tiger reasonably, you must go back to the garden of Eden.

Life is full of surprises…

0 comment(s)
From among the heap of surprises I summon the latent powers of my ancient Greek ancestors, by whose blood I am not saved, but with whose blood I will fight. For a fight to the death is only another way of saying a fight to live. You have to be dead before you can know how to be born again. The trick, of course, is admitting when you are dead.

It is our duty to set ourselves an end beyond our individual concerns, beyond our convenient, agreeable habits, higher than our own selves, and disdaining laughter, hunger, even death, to toil night and day to attain that end. No, not to attain it. The self-respecting soul, as soon as he reaches his goal, places it still farther away. Not to attain it, but never to halt in the ascent. Only thus does life acquire nobility and oneness.
(Nikos Kazantzakis, Report to Greco, p. 80)

I thank God that this refreshing childhood vision still lives inside me in all its fullness of color and sound. This is what keeps my mind untouched by wastage, keeps it from withering and running dry. It is the sacred drop of immortal water which prevents me from dying. When I wish to speak of the sea, woman, or God in my writing, I gaze down in my breast and listen carefully to what the child within me says. He dictates to me; and if it sometimes happens that I come close to these great forces of the sea, woman, and God, approach them by means of words and depict them, I owe it to the child who still lives within me. I become a child again to enable myself to view the world always for the first time, with virgin eyes.
(Kazantzakis, Report to Greco, "The Son", chapter 4, p. 49)

We, who are dying, are doing better, than they, who will live. For Crete doesn't need householders, she needs madmen like us. These madmen make Crete immortal.
(Kazantzakis, Freedom and Death, p. 467)

A person needs a little madness, or else they never dare cut the rope and be free.
(Kazantzakis, unknown)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Wisdom from… [21 Jan.]

0 comment(s)
Maximus the Confessor** (580–662): The Word of God present to us today

Out of love for us the Word of God, born once for all in the flesh, wills continually to be born in a spiritual way in those who desire him. Becoming a little child, he fashions himself in them by their virtues and gives them as much knowledge of himself as he knows them to be capable of receiving. The revelation he gives them of his majesty is only partial, not because of any ill will on his part, but because he has regard for the capacity of those who long to see him. This is why the Word of God is always being manifested in the lives of those who share in him, yet remains for ever invisible to all in the transcendence of the mystery. Therefore, after profound reflection upon the meaning of the mystery, the holy apostle declares: Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and for ever. For the apostle knows that the mystery is always fresh and new, and that its freshness is never diminished by our understanding of it.
(Centuria 1, 1-13: PG 90, 1182-1186.)

[Hence, theology, and the Church, must always be open to the new beams of light cast upon the one depositum fidei, just as science, and all keen observers, must always be open to the whole and wholly real before them. Such realism is the methodological limit, and impetus, for both forms of inquiry; the former as an inquiry into Word of God as disclosed in Worship, the latter, into the world as disclosed in the intellect via the senses.]

** A Greek theologian and ascetic, was a monk of the monastery of Chrysopolis and also a prolific writer who possessed an outstanding synthesizing faculty.

ST AUGUSTINE: Knowledge by Writings

It is also necessary––may God grant it!––that in providing others with books to read I myself should make progress, and that in trying to answer their questions I myself should find what I am seeking. Therefore, at the command of God our Lord and with his help, I have undertaken not so much to discourse with authority on matters known to me as to know them better by discoursing devoutly of them.
-- The Trinity 1, 8

Prayer. Lord, let me offer you the sacrifice of every thought and word––only first give me what I may offer you.
-- Confessions 11, 2

[This week I am very mindful of Proverbs 21:23: "He who keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble." In high school I sometimes fasted from speech; it is a pleasure I miss so many times, now that I am a teacher, someone whose JOB is to speak. Proverbs 10:19 stands just as strongly in mind: "When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is prudent."]


Take note: the great Agent of mercy converts our miseries into graces, turning the poison of our sins into a healing antidote for our souls. Tell me, then, what grace will do to heal our afflictions, soften our crosses and persecutions that we have to suffer. Therefore, when some misfortune strikes, of whatever nature it may be, be assured that, if we love the Lord with all our hearts, all will be converted into good; and later, though you cannot understand where this good comes from, be sure that it will most certainly happen.
(Letters 1420; O. XVIII, pp. 209-210)


IN one sense, at any rate, it is more valuable to read bad literature than good literature. Good literature may tell us the mind of one man; but bad literature may tell us the mind of many men. A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author. It does much more than that, it tells us the truth about its readers; and, oddly enough, it tells us this all the more the more cynical and immoral be the motive of its manufacture. The more dishonest a book is as a book the more honest it is as a public document. A sincere novel exhibits the simplicity of one particular man; an insincere novel exhibits the simplicity of mankind. The pedantic decisions and definable readjustments of man may be found in scrolls and statute books and scriptures; but men's basic assumptions and everlasting energies are to be found in penny dreadfuls and halfpenny novelettes. Thus a man, like many men of real culture in our day, might learn from good literature nothing except the power to appreciate good literature. But from bad literature he might learn to govern empires and look over the map of mankind.

There is one rather interesting example of this state of things in which the weaker literature is really the stronger and the stronger the weaker. It is the case of what may be called, for the sake of an approximate description, the literature of aristocracy; or, if you prefer the description, the literature of snobbishness. Now if any one wishes to find a really effective and comprehensible and permanent case for aristocracy well and sincerely stated, let him read, not the modern philosophical conservatives, not even Nietzsche, let him read the Bow Bells Novelettes. Of the case of Nietzsche I am confessedly more doubtful. Nietzsche and the Bow Bells Novelettes have both obviously the same fundamental character; they both worship the tall man with curling moustaches and herculean bodily power, and they both worship him in a manner which is somewhat feminine and hysterical. Even here, however, the Novelette easily maintains its philosophical superiority, because it does attribute to the strong man those virtues which do commonly belong to him, such virtues as laziness and kindliness and a rather reckless benevolence, and a great dislike of hurting the weak. Nietzsche, on the other hand, attributes to the strong man that scorn against weakness which only exists among invalids. … But above this sane reliable old literature of snobbishness there has arisen in our time another kind of literature of snobbishness which, with its much higher pretensions, seems to me worthy of very much less respect. Incidentally (if that matters), it is much better literature. But it is immeasurably worse philosophy, immeasurably worse ethics and politics, immeasurably worse vital rendering of aristocracy and humanity as they really are. From such books…we can discover what a clever man can do with the idea of aristocracy. But from the 'Family Herald Supplement'** literature we can learn what the idea of aristocracy can do with a man who is not clever. And when we know that we know English history.

** The Family Herald (c.1844-1940), A Domestic Magazine of Useful Information & Amusement, was the first English story paper and featured several story supplements such as The Monthly Magazine of Fiction, The Family Story-Teller, The Boys' Story-Teller and the Complete Story-Teller. Initially a weekly magazine, by 1855 its circulation was apparently 240,000 a week. Each weekly issue included a portion of at least two serialised novels, a short story or two, poetry, a science column, a statistics column, generally a domestic/recipe column and a number of anecdotes, odd facts and jokes listed under Varieties and Random Readings. Aimed at more of the lower end of the market than a magazine such as Temple Bar it is a fascinating read packed with enjoyable fiction.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Two more sources for Salesian goodness…

0 comment(s)
Through the Year with St. Francis de Sales, c/o the Fransalians

Daily Quote from St. Francis de Sales, c/o the Oblates of St. Francis (Wilmington-Philadelphia Province)

Wisdom from… [19 & 20 Jan.]

0 comment(s)
Proclus of Constantinople** (~446): What a mystery!

As God's Son Christ was unchangeably the perfect image of the Father; as the architect of creation he had no lack of power; as the lover of mercy he revealed an unsurpassable depth of compassion; as high priest he enjoyed such prestige and dignity that he could stand in the presence of God. Who then could ever find another in any way equal or comparable to him? Ponder his love for us. Condemned to death of his own free will, he released those who crucified him from sentence of death and turned the sin of his murderers into sinners' salvation.

He came to save, yet he had to suffer. Emmanuel, being God, became man. What he was eternally saved us; what he became suffered. He who is in the bosom of the Father is also in the womb of the Virgin. He who lies in the arms of his mother also walks on the wings of the winds. On high he is adored by angels; here below he eats with tax collectors.

Oh what a mystery! I see his wonderful deeds and so proclaim his divinity; I contemplate his sufferings, and so cannot deny his humanity.
(De laudibus Sanctae Mariae, Sermo 1, 4-6: PG 65, 683-687.)

Patriarch of Constantinople, Proclus was renowned as a preacher and wrote much on Mary, the Mother of God.

Gilbert of Hoyland** (~1172): Jesus teaches

How blessed and virtuous is the spiritual intoxication that gives us time and opportunity to contemplate our beloved! Yet what we see has a dreamlike quality, because this kind of vision is not the result of human will or effort, nor of any searching on our part; it is something that dawns upon us like a visitation from heaven.

Whose voice can be compared with the voice of Jesus? His teaching and precepts comprise the sum total of perfection, and his voice has the power to stir its hearers to the heart. It penetrates like a two-edged sword, enabling his message to flow into the heart with a gentle persuasion such as no other teaching has ever been able to command. He makes no high-sounding speeches, yet his words reveal the deep mystery of the Godhead.

In times past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son, with the strong, powerful accents of a lover.
(On the Song of Songs, Sermo 42, 1-4: PL 184, 221-222.)

A Cistercian, Gilbert wrote in the style of Saint Bernard, whose commentary on the Song of Songs he completed.

ST AUGUSTINE: The Treasures of Scripture

The depth of the Christian Scriptures is boundless. Even if I were attempting to study them and nothing else, from boyhood to decrepit old age, with the utmost leisure, the most unwearied zeal, and with talents greater than I possess, I would still be making progress in discovering their treasures.
-- Letter 137, 3

Prayer. O Lord my God, let my soul praise you that it may love you. Let it recount to you your mercies that it may praise you for them all.
-- Confessions 5, 1

The Grace of God

Previously I had tried hard to uphold the freedom of choice of the human will; but the grace of God had the upper hand.

The Apostle Paul stated the most obvious truth, when he said: "What have you got that you did not first receive? If you have received all this, why glory in it as if you had not been given it?" [I Cor. 4:7]
-- Revisions 2, 27

Prayer. I thank you, Lord, my joy and my glory, my hope and my God. I thank you for your gifts to me. Keep them unharmed for me: they will be the making of me, and I shall be with you for my being is your gift.
-- Confessions 1, 20

[What a wonderful statement: My gifts will be the making of me, and I shall be with you for my being is your most basic gift me!]


Our Lord Jesus Christ died for love of us, so we should, if required, be prepared to die for Him. Even if we cannot die for love of Him, we can at least live for Him alone. If we do not live for Him alone, we are really the most treacherous and ungrateful of creatures. Then is it true that the Divine Redeemer died for us?...Yes, He died nailed to the cross to give us life. Those die who do not imitate him, since there is neither death nor resurrection apart from the One on the cross.
(Sermons 65; O. X, p. 364)

State openly that you desire to be devout. I do not say that you should assert that you are devout but that you desire to be devout. Do not be ashamed to practice the ordinary, necessary actions that bring us to the love of God. Acknowledge frankly that you are trying to meditate, that you would rather die than commit a mortal sin, that you are resolved to frequent the sacraments and to follow your director's advice. This candid confession of our desire to serve God and to consecrate ourselves entirely to His love is most acceptable to His Divine Majesty.
(INT. V, Ch. 18; O. III, p. 365)


HAPPINESS is a mystery like religion, and should never be rationalized. Suppose a man experiences a really splendid moment of pleasure. I do not mean something connected with a piece of enamel, I mean something with a violent happiness in it -- an almost painful happiness. A man may have, for instance, a moment of ecstasy in first love, or a moment of victory in battle. The lover enjoys the moment, but precisely not for the moment's sake. He enjoys it for the woman's sake, or his own sake. The warrior enjoys the moment, but not for the sake of the moment; he enjoys it for the sake of the flag. The cause which the flag stands for may be foolish and fleeting; the love may be calf-love, and last for a week. But the patriot thinks of the flag as eternal; the lover thinks of his love as something that cannot end. These moments are filled with eternity; these moments are joyful because they do not seem momentary. Once look at them as moments after Pater's manner, and they become as cold as Pater and his style. Man cannot love mortal things. He can only love immortal things for an instant.

IT is remarkable that in so many great wars it is the defeated who have won. The people who were left worst at the end of the war were generally the people who were left best at the end of the whole business. For instance, the Crusades ended in the defeat of the Christians. But they did not end in the decline of the Christians; they ended in the decline of the Saracens. That huge prophetic wave of Moslem power which had hung in the very heavens above the towns of Christendom: that wave was broken, and never came on again. The Crusades had saved Paris in the act of losing Jerusalem. The same applies to that epic of Republican war in the eighteenth century to which we Liberals owe our political creed. The French Revolution ended in defeat; the kings came back across a carpet of dead at Waterloo. The Revolution had lost its last battle, but it had gained its first object. It had cut a chasm. The world has never been the same since.
('Tremendous Trifles')

Friday, January 18, 2008

Wisdom from… [18 Jan.]

0 comment(s)
ST AUGUSTINE (354–430): Support the companion of your pilgrimage

You are told to love God. If you say to me: Show me whom I am to love, what shall I say if not what Saint John says: No one has ever seen God! But in case you should think that you are completely cut off from the sight of God, he says: God is love, and he who remains in love remains in God. Love your neighbor, then, and see within yourself the power by which you love your neighbor; there you will see God, as far as you are able.

Begin, then, to love your neighbor. Share your bread with the hungry and bring into your home the homeless poor; clothe anyone you see to be naked, and do not despise your own flesh and blood.

What will you gain by doing this? Your light will burst forth like the dawn. Your light is your God: he is your dawn, for he will come to you when the night of time is over. He does not rise or set but remains for ever.

By loving other people and caring for them you make progress on your journey. Where are you traveling if not to the Lord God, to him whom we should love with our whole heart, our whole soul, or our whole mind? We have not yet reached his presence, but we have our neighbor at our side. Support, then, this companion of your pilgrimage if you want to come into the presence of the one with whom you desire to remain for ever.
(Homilies on the Gospel of John 17, 7-9: CCL 36, 174-175.)

ST AUGUSTINE: Keep on Moving

On earth, we are wayfarers, always on the go. This means that we have to keep on moving forward. Therefore be always unhappy about what you are if you want to reach what you are not.

If you are pleased with what you are, you have stopped already. If you say; "It is enough," you are lost. Keep on walking, moving forward, trying for the goal. Don't try to stop on the way, or to go back, or to deviate from it.

-- Sermon 169, 18

Prayer. Lord, guard us from all danger and carry us to yourself. And you will be our strong support from childhood to old age; for when our strength is yours, we are strong.
-- Confessions 4, 16


To persevere in the devout life it is a matter of deciding upon some excellent and generous maxims, with the right intention. The first I would suggest to you is that of Saint Paul, "All turns out well for those who love God." [cf. Rom 8:28] If we agree that God can and does draw good out of evil, will He not do that especially for those who give themselves to Him without reserve? Even our very sins (from which may God preserve us!) are destined by Providence for the good of those who serve God. If David had not sinned, he would not have learned his deep sense of humility! ...
(Letters 1420; O. XVIII, p. 209)


Other vague modern people take refuge in material metaphors; in fact, this is the chief mark of vague modern people. Not daring to define their doctrine of what is good, they use physical figures of speech without stint or shame, and, what is worst of all, seem to think these cheap analogies are exquisitely spiritual and superior to the old morality. Thus they think it intellectual to talk about things being “high.” It is at least the reverse of intellectual; it is a mere phrase from a steeple or a weathercock. "Tommy was a good boy" is a purely philosophical statement, worthy of Plato or Aquinas. "Tommy lived the higher life" is a gross metaphor from a ten-foot rule.

Neologism time!

0 comment(s)
Last night (shortly before I literally fell over with fatigue while typing the "Form of the times" post below) I was chatting in Gmail with an old high school buddy (whose name shall remain unknown, unless he discloses it, for reasons shortly to become clear).

He and I have an easygoing way of talking; things just come up and we roll with them. For example, a week or so ago, I all of a sudden said, "Somebody's got to do something about the word 'queue'. 'Line' is more than adequate. In fact, queue is sufficient grounds for the colonies to have seceded from Britain." He agreed. And on we went.

(Surely you agree as well. So on we go.)

Well, last night he suddenly informed me––spurred by what experiences I cannot and would not know––that "There needs to be a word for what happens when you walk into a public restroom that smells just foul, and then as you walk out, other people coming in think you made the stench."

How could I not have agreed? Such a tragic happening should at least have a name by which we may perhaps, in moments of fear, exorcise it.

My neologizing powers actuated and I typed out an example usage: "Oh man, I just got shat-up at the rest stop!"

He liked it. Was he trying to name a "shit-up"?

I thinkered more (props to M. Ondaatje): "I was a 'stool' pigeon."

And then he done bring the pain: "I got stool pigeoned."

Sheer collaborative gold.

Now it's just a matter of working up a formal definition and submitting it to the Urban Dicitonary. I posted it here for "e-chival" purposes and to gratify my own neologistic urges.

Don't get stool pigeoned: carry a lighter.

Wisdom from… [17 Jan.]

0 comment(s)
SEVERIAN OF GABALA** (d. p. 408): Who is Christ?

If then you wish to learn or be taught something about Christ, do not resort to arguments or cross-examine some person of great learning, but inquire of a prophet, ask an apostle, consult an angel, and if these should be at a loss, have recourse to the Father. If you inquire of the prophets, "Who is this Christ?" the prophetic choir will answer you, This is our God; no other can be compared to him. He has found out the whole way of knowledge and imparted it to Jacob his servant, to Israel his beloved. At last he appeared on earth and lived among us. Perhaps you will pursue your investigation, asking, "But who is this Christ, and how was he born?" You may indulge your busy curiosity about the divine child, and if so the prophets will curb your boldness, asking you in their turn, "What our reasoning could not compass, do you think to compass? If you wish to learn, learn that he is God. You presume to pry into the manner of his birth, but you must learn from our words: Who shall recount his origin?"
(De Incarnatione Domini 1: PG 59, 687-689.)

** Severian, orator and bishop of Gabala in Syria, "et vir in divinis Scripturis eruditus et in homiilis declamator admirabilis fuit" (Gennadius, "De script. eccles.", xxi, in P.L., LVIII, 1073), was a strong opponent of Saint John Chrysostom and an exegete of the strict Antiochene school.

ST. AUGUSTINE: Possess What You Need

My brothers and sisters, seek what is enough for God's work, not what is sufficient for your greediness. Your greediness is no work of God. Your self, your body, your soul, this is all God's work. Inquire what is enough for them, and you shall see how little it is.
-- Commentary on Psalm 147, 12

This is why I say, "The word 'need' is the most overused word in the world." Every time you say "need", try replacing it with "want" and see if it makes any difference. It will.

Prayer. Lord, those are your best servants who wish to shape their life on your answers rather than shape your answers to their wishes.
-- Confessions 10, 26


Considered in themselves, tribulations certainly cannot be loved, but considered in their origin, namely in the Providence of the Divine Will which has brought them about, they are to be loved with an infinite love. Just consider Moses' staff: laid on the ground, it was a ferocious serpent; in the hands of Moses it was a wonder-working wand. In like manner, tribulations in themselves are terrible, but considered as a manifestation of the will of God they are indications of love and delight. Likewise, love either removes the harshness of the trial or renders it lovable.
(T.L.G. Book 3, Ch. 2; O. V, pp. 112-113)


THERE are vast prospects and splendid songs in the point of view of the typically unsuccessful man; if all the used-up actors and spoilt journalists and broken clerks could give a chorus it would be a wonderful chorus in praise of the world.
(Introduction to 'Nicholas Nickleby')

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The form of the times…

0 comment(s)
This week I have been reading through the notes (231 pages of a 784-page book) of Fr. Keefe's profound, and in fact beautiful, Covenantal Theology: The Eucharistic Order of History, and so the theology and philosophy of history have been on my mind with renewed depth.

Yesterday morning, while monitoring a test, I was reading Fr. Copleston's On the History of Philosophy. Copleston was addressing the matter of historical divisions in the telling of philosophy (e.g., classical, medieval, Renaissance, Enlightenment, modern, etc.). Then I focused on the concept of centuries, as in, 12th-century scholasticism, 17th-century rationalism, 19th-century naturalism, etc. And then, recalling my recent post about the immaterial, transcendent existence of the past and future as an analogy for grasping the existence of God, I was exploded with a question (or a cognate questions):

Do time periods exist? In what sense can we say centuries exist?

I tried to handle the question with my standard metaphysical apparatus: Platonism and Aristotelianism. I'm a hoary onto-realist so I am less inclined to approach things in a purely linguistic way, an approach that might just say "centuries" exist only insofar as we utter the word and refer it to a congeries of concrete past events. It struck me that the existence of time periods is much like the problem of "Plato's beard".

Plato's beard is a term that, I believe, W.V.O. Quine coined in 1948. It centers on the following question:

"Non-being must in some sense be, otherwise what is that there is not? If we say of something that it does not exist, then something exists, otherwise what is the "it" that does not exist? Quine says, "This tangled doctrine might be nicknamed Plato's beard; historically it has proved tough, frequently dulling the edge of Occam's razor."
(See Quine's 1948 essay "On What There Is," in From a Logical Point of View, Harvard University Press.)

Plato never had a beard, but precisely in saying, "There is no such thing as Plato's beard," we are asserting something about something that allegedly does not exist. By our assertion, however, we implicitly "summon" a non-existent into existence.

In any event, this is how the nature of time-period existence struck me: Is it a verbal illusion? Does "Plato's era" exist only as fictively as "Plato's beard"?

I ended up pondering how a Platonist might answer that question. In Platonism, all existence entities participate in a proper (immaterial) Form. Red cars participate in the Form "Redness", as do all red things. The Form is that which constitutes one entity as it exists.

But can this thinking be reasonably applied to "things" like centuries? Is there a Form called "the 19th century"? I can scarcely conceive of such a thing. Presumably this "19th century" Form would be commonly participable in all events and entities that took place in what we call "the 19th century". Is there really an immaterial, perfect Form of the 19th century, such that all actual "members" of that century-set are but imperfect instantiations of pure "19th-centuryness"?

This strikes me as absurd, primarily because the very nature of history intuitively demands the ontological primacy of real existents over temporal classification. It is not "19th-centuryness" that constituted Heinrich Heine and Sören Kierkegaard as 19th-century thinkers, but the opposite: the "texture" of the 19th century is woven of the "threads" of real people which give the 19th century its manifold, Heinean, Kierkegaardian, etc., character.

I also tried to view centuries as perdurantist trans-persons, perdurantism (PER) being the view that objects have not only length, width, and height, but also time (i.e., objects are discretely 4-dimensional). This means there is really an infinite "stack" or "deck" of time-slices that make up a person. At any time, t, an object or person can be identified based on its spatial characteristics at that time. There was never a single, substantially whole Elvis; there was only the set of time-slices with his actual spatiotemporal characteristics. ("Ah'm all sliced up, uh-huh!")

While PER does have a pre-Einsteinian pedigree (e.g., in the theology of Jonathan Edwards), I think PER's vagrant appeal these days comes from its prima facie "scientific" character, with its impressive emphasis on 4-D spacetime, but in fact it puts the cart before the horse. While it is true that each material entity has 4-D traits, this is no grounds for saying objects only have 4-D traits. The missing element in PER is a substantial reference point for all the time-slices. What makes them hang together as a supposedly stacked-as-one person or object? Hence, I am willing to affirm PER in a material but not a formal sense. Formal PER assumes the easy existence of objects it subjects to slicing into quasi-objects, while material PER only recognizes the spatiotemporal dimensions of substantially whole entities. Sounds like a distinction without a difference, perhaps, but the point is that while both formal and material PER start with formally whole entities, formal PER ends up with sliced cheese, while material PER ends up with melted cheese. Sliced cheese can be measured but not re-conjoined; melted cheese can be quantifiably analyzed while still going back together again as a formal unity.

Being an endurantist, I also think PER is neurologically incoherent, insofar as there is a threshold beneath which the brain cannot sustain a coherent thought. Since spacetime is infinitely divisible, any of the sub-threshold spacetime-slices would be unconscious, and therefore no one can even be said to espouse PER, since even the neurological capacity for thought is dissolved by PER. The same salad-shooter problem goes for speech acts; they can never be said to accomplish a complete articulation of PER, since every time-slice of that hypothetically larger whole speech act is the merest audible blip. This means that PER is bound to limit its ontological slicing, in some cases, to pragmatic thresholds. But surely if PER is true, it should be true at any time, however long or short. Presumably, PER would also imagine the entire world as contiguous time-slices, each time-slice being described by the whole complex of spatial traits (including you, me, Elvis, and every other "thing"). Saving the phenomena has never been so cataclysmic. The one (world) is the victim of the (infinitely) many.

So, on this view, a century would be a stack of events cum persons. Assuming a perdurantist analysis of events and persons is coherent (which I deny, except for commonsense material PER), centuries would be a stack of time slices whose traits are the people and things that inhabited those slices up and down the line between calendar points. Persons and events are to centuries what length, height, and width are to lesser entities.

In any case, to leave PER behind, the same kind of trouble seems to lie in wait for Platonism. Assuming we view centuries as substantial, formal wholes, what dictates each century begins and ends when it does? What happens to a century's formal basis if the calendar is altered or remade, and the current century never reaches a hundred years? It is not, by definition, a CENTury, yet prior to calendar changes was a century. I think the idea of degraded participation will not work for temporal entities, meaning, while Platonist can say a chair only imperfectly instantiates the Form "Chair", and while its deterioration of over time, or its being damaged and altered, only mark its progressive fall from Formal perfection in this fallen world, I don't see how this helps talk about seconds, minutes, days, months, years, centuries, and so on. A second cannot exist except as exactly and perfectly what it is: one second. As soon as it is marked as "fallen from Secondness," it is not an imperfect second, since a sub-second is not a second. It might as well be said a second is only partial, imperfect Minute. But then, why is a chair not a partial, imperfect KTV lounge? The imperfection of temporal entities is incoherent in Platonism because, first, temporal entities are purely quantitative and therefore exist formally wholly or not at all, and, second, the entire premise behind Platonic talk of a superlunary World of Forms is that that realm is timeless. Hence, the very perfection of Platonic Heaven has no place for time, since time is the condition that allows us sublunary mortals to note and assess objects' distance from the Forms.

All the same, I welcome informed Platonists to offer me light on this subject. I am utterly ignorant of how Plato deals with time, so maybe there is a hallowed Platonic treatment of all this I just don't know about.

What I will say in (current) conclusion, is that the train of thought I have slowly internalized––nay, struggled to internalize––in Fr. Keefe's Covenantal Theology, leads me to offer the following analysis of the existence of centuries, months, etc.

Insofar as all history, indeed, the whole cosmos, is coherently integrated (including its fallen tensions both away from and back to "the city of God") only by the Eucharistic Event in worship (and the human responses to that historically transcendent-because-so-immanent Event), our historical categories (divisions) are just freely (but not meaninglessly) apportioned dimensions of the one coherent response to that Event.

I realize that, without having Keefe's book, what I just said is probably all just pops and buzzes. So, let me pare it down: Historical reality is a coherent unity not on account of some higher logic (à la the Forms or Plotinian emanations), nor by meaningless constructions about it, but only as it is ordered as an anamnesis and prolepsis to truth that is concretely and freely (because historically) signed in the present as offering. Hence, while is there no cosmic rationality behind creation that necessarily demands or explains the goodness of creation and redemption, this is not to say there is no meaningful explanation for them as gratuitously established by God. The Incarnation did not HAVE TO happen; but because it has happened, all of time and space find a unifying principle––a focal center––in the Event of the Sacrifice (which is substantially present as one at Calvary and in the Mass). There are no immanent principles in or behind nature that order it as a meaningful whole; its wholeness exists only because there is a Lord freely immanent in history. The nature of history is essentially free, and vice versa. History NEED not have taken place the way it has. So, even though there are no "higher" laws of history (à la Vico, Marx, Toynbee, et al.), nor any rationally necessary logical "structure" behind history, there is an immanent order in history just by virtue of the presence of Christ as the Lord of history in the His One Sacrifice for all times. This Event is the form that integrates and articulates the bare matter of history. Some thinkers would see a connection here between Kähler's, Bultmann's Perrin's, et al., distinction between Geschichte and Historie (i.e., the narratively coherent past and sheer past facts), but Keefe does not use those terms.

So, while there is no inherent logic or metaphysical necessity that grounds centuries as calendric realities, there are pertinent facts of history which order our very sense and handling of time, and thus, far from making history a construct imposed from outside on extra-historical grounds, allows history to be one based on fully historical realities. Centuries thus exist only in subsistent (but not necessary, because free) connection with the entire spacetime configuration of the world when/as the Eucharistic Lord is accepted or rejected. They are, like anything else, neither necessary nor, for that reason, meaningless. Because the Eucharist is the "prime analogate" of history (and being), and because it only takes place in history, an ordered conformation to its freely disclosed and freely appropriated structure integrates history in the same way each Mass is a whole. Synaxis, anamnesis, epiclesis, anaphora, doxology, prolepsis––these liturgical "periods" are the analogates that ground our entire sense of historical periods themselves. History is an icon of the triune Event of the One Sacrifice, or it is nothing at all, being either a deformation of a "higher order" from which we must escape or an incoherent bedlam of intrinsically unrelated starts and stops. The Augustinian (and thus once largely Western) tripartite understanding of man as the imago Dei/Trinitas in memoria, intellectus, and amor only holds good when these three substantially faculties "circumincessionally" unite in the act of worship under their prime analogates, sacramentum tantum ("sacrament itself", the Cross), res et sacramentum ("thing and sacrament", the Eucharistic species as the present Lord), and res tantum ("thing itself", the glory of the Kingdom).

Recently Mike Liccione wrote a post called "Chaos or kairos?" which ties in with some of my point. Aside from saying I think Mike's statements can stand to become even deeper with a more Eucharistic focus, I will give him the last word:

I think there is meaning to be found in the calendar year, and therefore to its end. The meaning comes through the relation of the calendar year to the meaning of other, overlapping years. … As a kid, I did not understand why there were so many different "years" that did not begin at the same time as each other. The school year began in September; the liturgical year began in early December; the fiscal year for the organizations my father worked for usually began in July. And then there was the calendar year, which people pretended was the "real" year but which bore little relation to the actual rhythms of their lives. … to appreciate the essentially religious notion of kairos, that of a specially significant or appointed time, as distinct from chronos, that of clock and calendar time. I was enabled to understand that God's time, sacred time, was not the same as either natural time or human time, but overlapped and interpenetrated both. The temporal rhythms of nature, those of the seasons and agriculture, signify the deaths and rebirths we must undergo so as to grow spiritually; and each highlight of the liturgical year bears an obvious relationship to the seasons. But the plasticity of time in human hands, though limited, also signified to me that we are not limited to nature in how we appropriate spirit. We are of nature, but destined beyond nature.