Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Wisdom from...

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WALTER HILTON (ca. d. 24 March, 1396): True Lovers of God

Love opens the eyes of the soul to the vision of God, and confirms it in the joyous love that springs from that vision. It comforts a man so much that he has no anxieties and is quite indifferent to what people say or do against him. The greatest harm that could come to him would be to forgo the vision of God, and he would suffer any injury rather than that.

When a true lover of God suffers at the hands of his fellow men, he is strengthened through the grace of the Holy Spirit and is made so truly humble and patient and peaceable that, whatever wrong or injury he suffers, he always retains his humility. He does not despise his persecutors or speak ill of them, but prays for them with pity and compassion more tenderly than for those who never harmed him. And he does indeed love them more, and more fervently desires their salvation, because he sees that he will have such great spiritual gain from their evil deed, even though they never intended that he should. But this kind of love and humility, which are beyond human nature, are only brought about by the Holy Spirit in those whom he makes true lovers of God.
(The Scale of Perfection, Book 2, 38.)

Hilton was an Augustinian canon and outstanding mystic at Thurgarton, near Newark, in Nottinghamshire, and left a legacy of writings, especially The Scale of Perfection (Scala Perfectionis), first printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1494.

ST. AUGUSTINE: Christ Our Way

Jesus said: "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." He meant: It is by me that you come; it is to me that you come; and it is in me that you remain. How do you wish to go? I am the Way. Where do you wish to go? I am the Truth. Where do you wish to remain? I am the Life. Christ as God is the homeland where we are going. Christ as Man is the Way we must travel.
-- Christian Doctrine 1, 34

Prayer. O Lord, my God, you alone do I love; you alone do I follow; you alone do I seek. You alone am I prepared to serve.
-- Soliloquies 1, 15


[1] There are some persons to whom the inquiry seeking to demonstrate that God exists may perhaps appear superfluous. These are the persons [e.g., St. Anselm of Canterbury] who assert that the existence of God is self-evident, in such wise that its contrary cannot be entertained in the mind. It thus appears that the existence of God cannot be demonstrated, as may be seen from the following arguments.

[2] Those propositions are said to be self-evident that are known immediately upon the knowledge of their terms. Thus, as soon as you know the nature of a whole and the nature of a part, you know immediately that every whole is greater than its part. The proposition God exists is of this sort. For by the name God we understand that than which a greater cannot be thought [id quo nihil maius cogitari possit]. This notion is formed in the intellect by one who hears and understands the name God. As a result, God must exist already at least in the intellect. But He cannot exist solely in the intellect, since that which exists both in the intellect and in reality is greater than that which exists in the intellect alone. Now, as the very definition of the name points out, nothing can be greater than God. Consequently, the proposition that God exists is self-evident, as being evident from the very meaning of the name God.

[3] Again, it is possible to think that something exists whose non-existence cannot be thought. Clearly, such a being is greater than the being whose non-existence can be thought. Consequently, if God Himself could be thought not to be, then something greater than God could be thought. This, however, is contrary to the definition of the name God. Hence, the proposition that God exists is self-evident.

[4] Furthermore, those propositions ought to be the most evident in which the same thing is predicated of itself, for example, man is man, or whose predicates are included in the definition of their subjects, for example, Man is an animal. Now, in God, as will be shown in a later chapter, it is pre-eminently the case that His being is His essence, so that to the question what is He [quid est]? and to the question is He [est]? the answer is one and the same. ...

[5] What is naturally known is known through itself, for we do not come to such propositions through an effort of inquiry. But the proposition that God exists is naturally known since, as will be shown later on, the desire of man naturally tends towards God as towards the ultimate end. The proposition that God exists is, therefore, self-evident.

[6] There is also the consideration that that through which all the rest are known ought itself to be self-evident. Now, God is of this sort. For just as the light of the sun is the principle of all visible perception, so the divine light is the principle of all intelligible knowledge; since the divine light is that in which intelligible illumination is found first and in its highest degree. That God exists, therefore, must be self-evident.

[7] These, then, and others like them are the arguments by which some think that the proposition God exists is so self-evident that its contrary cannot be entertained by the mind.
(SCG, I, x)


At the beginning of each month, ask for divine inspiration and put yourself in the presence of God. Imagine yourself to be a poor servant sent by God into this world as into His own house. Indeed, it is He who put us here, and so we should approach Him with humility. He had no need of you, but He put you here to exercise His liberality and His goodness toward you, and to give you His paradise. To enable you to obtain what He has planned for you, He has given you an intellect to know Him, a memory to keep Him in mind, and will and a heart to love Him and your neighbor, an imagination to have a picture of Him and His gifts, and all your feelings to serve Him and glorify Him.
(Letters O. XXVI, pp. 170-171)


IF a modern philanthropist came to Dotheboys Hall I fear he would not employ the simple, sacred and truly Christian solution of beating Mr. Squeers with a stick. I fancy he would petition the Government to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into Mr. Squeers. I think he would every now and then write letters to the newspapers reminding people that, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, there was a Royal Commission to inquire into Mr. Squeers. I agree that he might even go the length of calling a crowded meeting in St. James's Hall on the subject of the best policy with regard to Mr. Squeers. At this meeting some very heated and daring speakers might even go the length of alluding sternly to Mr. Squeers. Occasionally even hoarse voices from the back of the hall might ask (in vain) what was going to be done with Mr. Squeers. The Royal Commission would report about three years afterwards and would say that many things had happened which were certainly most regrettable, that Mr. Squeers was the victim of a bad system that Mrs. Squeers was also the victim of a bad system; but that the man who sold Squeers' cane had really acted with great indiscretion and ought to be spoken to kindly. Something like this would be what, after four years, the Royal Commission would have said; but it would not matter in the least what the Royal Commission had said, for by that time the philanthropists would be off on a new tack and the world would have forgotten about Dotheboys Hall and everything connected with it. By that time the philanthropists would be petitioning Parliament for another Royal Commission; perhaps a Royal Commission to inquire into whether Mr. Mantalini was extravagant with his wife's money; perhaps a commission to inquire into whether Mr. Vincent Crummles kept the Infant Phenomenon short by means of gin.
(Introduction to 'Nicholas Nickleby.')


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pets and the doctrine of Creation...

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My dad recently remarked how surely animals must have been made by God for our enjoyment and companionship. I think we all, in our tenderer moments, have felt the same. Animals are virtually perfect reicipients of whatever grace we, from time to time, muster up. And this is to our liking, since there is nothing worse than an awkward, self-excusing gift giftee. Then again, when they are not gratifying our godlike urge to give ourselves in love, pets are loyal and devoted engines of care and comfort. Because they so perfectly seem to fulfill their inner law of being--to live their nature--we envy animals. As humans, we have the responsibility of living according to a nature that is designed to transcend itself.

The elusive simplicity of animals allows us to treat them even more considerately and patiently than we do fellow humans. A mean-spirited dog is purely a product of bad raising, or perhaps subject to rabies, and the like. Cujo is so disturbing precisely because it transforms--deforms--the 'purity' of animal nature, even when it is that of a purely unlikeable animal, into something consciously malevolent--something terrifyingly human. A mean-spirited human, by contrast, is a special target of scorn and scolding. This is a necessary tension in the human experience: on the one hand, we really ought to "know better" when we are acting foully, but on the other hand, our transcendent nature seems, unfairly, to grant us little if any charity on the part of our aggravated neighbors. The asymmetrical dialectics of animal-human and human-human relations is most apparent in connection with animal abuse. The kind of person who would abuse animals is not simply 'cruel but in all likelihood downright 'misanthropic', a jerk in general.

But I digress. The small point I would like to suggest is this: just as their is a transposed, derivative analogy between the grace we give animals and the devotion they give us, so I believe their is a transposed, transcendent analogy between us and God. I won't go so far as to say we are God's pets, but then again, based on the naturally affectionate, receptive life of animals, would that be so bad a formulation, I wonder? Part of what led my dad to formulate his view of pets as 'given to us for our joy', was an tacit denial of the hoary idea that we are the 'masters' over nature, as many people are led to think Genesis 1:26 teaches.

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

神 說 : 我 們 要 照 著 我 們 的 形 像 、 按 著 我 們 的 樣 式 造 人 ,使 他 們 管 理 海 裡 的 魚 、 空 中 的 鳥 、 地 上 的 牲 畜 , 和 全 地 , 並 地 上 所 爬 的 一 切 昆 蟲 。

Und Gott sprach: Laßt uns Menschen machen, ein Bild, das uns gleich sei, die da herrschen über die Fische im Meer und über die Vögel unter dem Himmel und über das Vieh und über die ganze Erde und über alles Gewürm, das auf Erden kriecht.

Entonces dijo Dios: Hagamos al hombre a nuestra imagen, conforme a nuestra semejanza; y señoree en los peces del mar, en las aves de los cielos, en las bestias, en toda la tierra, y en todo animal que se arrastra sobre la tierra. [Deus] ait : Faciamus hominem ad imaginem et similitudinem nostram : et præsit piscibus maris, et volatilibus cæli, et bestiis, universæque terræ, omnique reptili, quod movetur in terra.

The Hebrew for 'dominion' is radah (רדה), and it basically means to tread upon, like a victor, to reign. Pretty grim, I know, but this is why the connection between the old testament and the new is so vital for Christian theology. In Christian theology, the dominion of Christ is the model for all other forms of dominion. And Christ is, of course, the Defeated Victor, the Crucified Savior, the Suffering Servant, the Infant King, and so forth. In a word, the Anointed One who anoints us with His blood. Indeed, at Christmas we celebrate the adornment of the manger with animals as Christ was adored by their keepers. In this way, Christ subsumed and sanctified the keeper-pet relation under His own sovereignty, and in a way that utterly triviliazes the master's power in comparison to--or at least, without obedience to--His own kingship, which is supreme even as an infant. Hence, while the old testament, left to itself, may have afforded a tyrannical view of man's sovereignty over creation, the Christian tradition is driven by its Lord to see dominion as an inherently loving, self-giving process. Hence, I see the gift of pets as a kind of pedagogy in knowing God. We are given pets for our pleasure, yes, but also for a chance to sacrifice for something lesser than us, just as God sacrificed for us.

The spirit of the Christ Mass...

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What will you give Jesus this year for Christmas?

34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' ... 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" (Matthew 25)

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Wisdom from...

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To reign in heaven simply means exercising a single power with God and all the holy angels and saints through being so united with them in love as to want only what they want. Love God more than yourself, then, and already you will begin to have what you desire to possess fully in heaven. Be at one with God and with other men and women -- so long as they are not at variance with God -- and already you will begin to reign with God and all the saints. ... So, if you want to be a king in heaven, love God and other people as you should and then you will deserve to become what you desire.
(Ep. 112: Opera Omnia, 3, 244-246.)

Anselm was archbishop of Canterbury and made an outstanding contribution to the speculative thought of his day.

ST. AUGUSTINE: Light to My Lamp

Remember, even those who live justly do so not through human merits but through divine helps. No persons live justly unless they have been made just; and humans are made just by him who can never be unjust. As a lamp is not lighted by itself, so the human soul does not give light to itself but calls out to God: "You indeed, O Lord, give light to my lamp."
-- Commentary on Psalm 110, 2

Prayer. You will light my lamp, Lord my God. I stand in the darkness of my sins, but my shadows will be dispelled by the beam of your wisdom and your face will shine upon me.
-- Commentary on Psalm 66, 4


[1] ... [T]he intention of the wise man ought to be directed toward the twofold truth of divine things, and toward the destruction of the errors that are contrary to this truth. One kind of divine truth the investigation of the reason is competent to reach, whereas the other surpasses every effort of the reason. I am speaking of a “twofold truth of divine things,” not on the part of God Himself, Who is truth one and simple, but from the point of view of our knowledge, which is variously related to the knowledge of divine things.

[2] Now, to make the first kind of divine truth known, we must proceed through demonstrative arguments, by which our adversary may become convinced. However, since such arguments are not available for the second kind of divine truth, our intention should not be to convince our adversary by arguments: it should be to answer his arguments against the truth; for, as we have shown, the natural reason cannot be contrary to the truth of faith. The sole way to overcome an adversary of divine truth is from the authority of Scripture.... For that which is above the human reason we believe only because God has revealed it. Nevertheless, there are certain likely arguments that should be brought forth in order to make divine truth known ... for the training and consolation of the faithful, and not with any idea of refuting those who are adversaries. For the very inadequacy of the arguments would rather strengthen them in their error, since they would imagine that our acceptance of the truth of faith was based on such weak arguments.

[3] ... We shall first seek to make known that truth which faith professes and reason investigates. This we shall do by bringing forward both demonstrative and probable arguments, some of which were drawn from the books of the philosophers and of the saints, through which truth is strengthened and its adversary overcome [Books I-III]. Then, in order to follow a development from the more manifest to the less manifest, we shall proceed to make known that truth which surpasses reason, answering the objections of its adversaries and setting forth the truth of faith by probable arguments and by authorities, to the best of our ability [Book IV].

[4] We are aiming, then, to set out following the way of the reason and to inquire into what the human reason can investigate about God. ...
(SCG, I, 9)


It is better to yield to the views of others than to try to force them to follow our desires and opinions. The human mind is a mirror that reflects all the colors that are presented to it; do not imitate the chameleon, that takes on all colors except white. Oh yes, condescension not accompanied by candidness is very dangerous and cannot be shunned sufficiently.
(Camus, The Spirit of Saint Francis de Sales, I, p. 296)


CARLYLE said that men were mostly fools. Christianity, with a surer and more reverent realism, says that they are all fools. This doctrine is sometimes called the doctrine of original sin. It may also be described as the doctrine of the equality of men.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Masons and the Church

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A kvik note, mostly for my own reference, prompted by the sporadic discussion of the topic over the holidays.

According to the previous Code of Canon Law (promulgated 27 May 1917; effective 19 May 1918), it is illicit for a Catholic to be a Freemason, and vice versa. I quote from a Masonic webpage:

... Those who join a Masonic sect or other societies of the same sort, which plot against the Church or against legitimate civil authority, incur ipso facto an excommunication simply reserved to the Holy See. (c. 2335). [p. 924.]

Simply Reserved to the Holy See (4) 1. Masonic Societies (c. 2335). a. The censure is incurred if the society is one which plots against Church or State, openly or secretly, whether members are secret or not, bound by oath or not. Cappelo thinks Socialists are included. Communist party certainly is. Knights of Pythias, Odd Fellows, Sons of Temperance, are forbidden as intrinsically wrong, but not under censure (Holy Office, 20 June, 1895, 18 Jan., 1896).

b. Conditions for absolution: total withdrawal from the society, promise to have nothing to do with it and pay no more dues, to repair scandal as far as possible, to turn over insignia, etc., to withdraw name from rolls as soon as this can be done
without grave loss (Holy Office, 7 March 1883; Gasparri-Serédi, Fontes, n. 1080, Vol. IV, p. 412).

c. In the case of the Knights of Pythias, Odd Fellows, Sons of Temperance, no censure has been incurred. The conditions for absolution of the sin are the same as above except that, to avoid grave loss, a person may continue paying dues. The confessor must refer each case to the Apostolic Delegate or his Metropolitan (Holy Office, 18 Jan., 1896; Ecclesiastical Review, Vol. 14, p. 361). [p. 960.]

This stricture is not defunct. The new 1983 Code of Canon Law states:

Can. 1373 A person who publicly incites among subjects animosities or hatred against the Apostolic See or an ordinary because of some act of power or ecclesiastical ministry or provokes subjects to disobey them is to be punished by an interdict or other just penalties.

Can. 1374 A person who joins an association which plots against the Church is to be punished with a just penalty; however, a person who promotes or directs an association of this kind is to be punished with an interdict.

Both Codes imply that a person genuinely unaware of the anti-ecclesial intentions of the assocation they join, is not entirely guilty. Once, however, a person promotes such an organization, or knowingly continues in it once he or she is aware of its anti-ecclesial aims, he or she is culpable.

Although this Code does not reference the Masons by name, as the 1918 Code had, a 1983 CDF "Declaration on Masonic Associations" clarified exactly canon 1374, thus:

...the Church’s negative judgment in regard to Masonic association remains unchanged since their principles have always been considered irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church and therefore membership in them remains forbidden. The faithful who enrol in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion.

Catherine Caridi, a Catholic canonist, addresses the question many may have, namely, "What's so bad about Freemasonry, anyway?" She answers thus:

Over 100 years ago, Pope Leo XIII addressed the aims of Freemasonry in his encyclical Humanum Genus. The pope pointed out that their “fundamental doctrine… is that human nature and human reason ought in all things to be mistress and guide,” which on the surface does not necessarily appear objectionable. But a consequence of this foundational belief is that “they deny that anything has been taught by God… And since it is the special and exclusive duty of the Catholic Church fully to set forth in words truths divinely received, to teach, besides other divine helps to salvation, the authority of its office, and to defend it…, it is against the Church that the rage and attack of the enemies are principally directed” (12).

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Wisdom from...

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ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM (347-407): Never Consider Hurting Your Enemy

When your enemy falls into your hands, do not consider how you can pay him back and let him feel the sharp edge of your tongue before sending him packing; consider rather how you can heal him and restore him to a better frame of mind. Continue to make every effort both by word and deed until your gentleness has overcome his aggressiveness. Nothing has more power than gentleness. As someone has said: A soft word will break bones. And what is harder than bone? Well then, even if someone is as hard and inflexible as that, he will be conquered if you treat him gently. There is another saying: A soft answer turns away wrath. It is obvious, therefore, that whether your enemy continues to rage or whether he is reconciled depends much more on you than on him. For it rests with us, not with those who are angry, either to destroy their anger or enflame it.
(De David et Saule, Hom. III, 6-7.)

John was the patriarch of Constantinople, spent a life of preaching and earned the title of "the golden-mouthed."

ST. AUGUSTINE: Every Moment You Are Passing On

From the time that I started speaking until this moment, do you realize you have grown older? You cannot see your hair growing. Yet while you stand around, while you are here, while you do something, while you talk, your hair keeps growing -- but never so suddenly that you need a barber straightaway. In this way, your existence fades away. You are passing on.
-- Commentary on Psalm 38, 12

Prayer. My God, let me be thankful as I remember and acknowledge all your mercies.
-- Confessions 8, 1


[1] ... Sensible things, from which the human reason takes the origin of its knowledge, retain within themselves some sort of trace of a likeness to God. This is so imperfect, however, that it is absolutely inadequate to manifest the substance of God. For effects bear within themselves, in their own way, the likeness of their causes, since an agent produces its like [Habent enim effectus suarum causarum suo modo similitudinem, cum agens agat sibi simile]; yet an effect does not always reach to the full likeness of its cause [non tamen effectus ad perfectam agentis similitudinem semper pertingit.]. Now, the human reason is related to the knowledge of the truth of faith ... in such a way that it can gather certain likenesses of it, which are yet not sufficient so that the truth of faith may be comprehended as being understood demonstratively or through itself. Yet it is useful for the human reason to exercise itself in such arguments, however weak they may be, provided only that there be present no presumption to comprehend or to demonstrate. For to be able to see something of the loftiest realities, however thin and weak the sight may be, is ... a cause of the greatest joy.

[2] The testimony of Hilary agrees with this. Speaking of this same truth, he writes as follows in his De Trinitate [II, 10, ii]: “Enter these truths by believing, press forward, persevere. And though I may know that you will not arrive at an end, yet I will congratulate you in your progress. For, though he who pursues the infinite with reverence will never finally reach the end, yet he will always progress by pressing onward. But do not intrude yourself into the divine secret, do not, presuming to comprehend the sum total of intelligence, plunge yourself into the mystery of the unending nativity; rather, understand that these things are incomprehensible.
(SCG I, 8)


We must consider our neighbor in relationship to God, Who wants us to love him ... and we are to be interested in him even when this is distasteful for us. The resistance of the inferior part of our soul will be overcome by the frequent performance of good acts. To this end, however, we must center our prayers and meditations of the love of our neighbor, having first implored the love of God. We must ask for the grace to love especially those we do not like very much.
(Letters 217; O. XIII, pp. 268-270)


WAR is a dreadful thing; but it does prove two points sharply and unanswerably -- numbers and an unnatural valour. One does discover the two urgent matters; how many rebels there are alive, and how many are ready to be dead.
('What's Wrong with the World.')


Monday, November 24, 2008


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I have been busy, thankfully, the past few days and weeks writing and revising new essays and old, as well as getting some stop-gap work with a demolition/recycling company. Honest labor. Not as much will or time to read amidst all this, of course, but, spiritually, I feel very centered. Sorry I haven't posted more of the quotes lately. Internet time is catch as catch can.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

It needs to be said...

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A few things, just to get them off my chest.

1. "Quantum of Solace" is a horrible title for what will undoubtedly be a very good movie. I understand it is a nod to the title of the short story by Ian Fleming on which this Bond is based. But Xan Brooks is right: overweening deference can wreak its own havoc on a man's rep. Case in point: "Quantum of Solace".

I'm willing to admit Bond movies are silly and over the top... but at least they are coherently silly. "Quantum of Solace" just makes no sense. Better to just go see the flick and come up with your own title after watching it. Something like... "Not as Much Testicle-Smashing!" (props to C.B.)

2. It's PIN, not PIN number.

3. One of St. Augustine's last works is called Retractations, not Retractions. Mislabeling it as "retractions" gives the impression Augustine devoted the entire work to recanting earlier claims throughout his previous writings. But this is only partially true of Retractations. The Doctor of Grace did recant a number of points upon re-reading nearly his entire corpus in his later years, but for the most part he polished, clarified, and strengthened his claims.

The word retractatione literally means "going over the ground again," hence maybe a clearer title for English readers would be "Revisions" or perhaps "Reconsiderations," or maybe even the more elaborate "Theological Reminiscences". Retractione, by contrast, suggests retreat.

It's a small point, perhaps, but I think not only that scholarship demands that kind of precision, but also that a proper grasp of Augustine's final efforts better preserves the integrity, or unity, of his theological work. Just as it is imprecise to say there is an earlier and a later Wittgenstein, as if he presented two wholly different systems simpliciter, so it is incorrect to see in the "Retractions" a dishevelled or ultimately defeated St. Augustine.

That is all. Back to your cubicle.

"God's first language is silence"?

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A couple weeks ago I added a gloss to a quotation from St. Augustine about silence and God's voice. I said:

There is a silence we mistake for God's absence. That silence strikes us as barren and desolate only because our ears are normally more attuned to the hum and buzz of the world than to the soundless speech of God in His word and the immediate ring of the heavenly chorus. If however we gradually become deaf to the world, we may come to hear echoes of the divine stillness. Just as the folly of God is wiser than the erudition of man, so is the silence of God louder and more articulate than the noise of the world. The noise of creation is not bad per se, but only bad in so far as it is out of tune with its own inner harmony, the triune chorus of love by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Some time later a reader expressed appreciation for my thoughts and I added that I had not long thereafter come across a quotation (in the DVD case for Into Great Silence), allegedly from San Juan de la Cruz to the effect that "silence is God's first language." Unfortunately, I was not able to find a proper citation attributing those words to San Juan. Having now gotten my hands on the complete works of San Juan (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1991), and having cross-referenced the index for references to "silence" and "language" (of God), I found the following, for now.

p. 216 "We must not consider a prophecy from the perspective of our perception and language, for God's language is another one, according to the spirit, very different from what we understand, and difficult."

p. 436 "The language of God has this trait: Since it is very spiritual and intimate to the soul, transcending everything sensory, it immediately silences the entire ability and harmonious composite of the exterior and interior senses."

p. 481 "Remaining hidden with him [viz., in the 'secrecy' of one's soul {Mt. 6:6}], you will experience him in hiding, that is, in a way transcending all language and feeling."

p. 642 "This
[i.e., words of burning power that ignite the soul with and unto eternal life] is the language and these the words God speaks in souls that are purged, cleansed, and all enkindled; as David exclaimed: Your word is exceedingly kindled [Ps. 119:139]; and the prophet: Are not my words, perchance, like a fire? [Jer. 23:29]. ... Those who do not have a sound palate, but seek other tastes cannot taste the spirit and life of God's words; his words, rather, are distasteful to them. Hence the loftier were the words of the Son of God, the more tasteless they were to the impure...."

p. 643 "Those who do not relish this language God speaks within them must not think on this account that others do not taste it."

p. 688 "It is impossible for this highest wisdom and language of God, which is contemplation, to be received in anything less than a spirit that is silent and detached from discursive knowledge and gratification."

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Wisdom from...

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MACARIUS OF EGYPT (4th-5th century): The Pledge of the Inheritance

Even while still in this world they enter his palace, the dwelling-place of the angels and the spirits of the saints. For although they are not yet in possession of that perfect inheritance prepared for them in the age to come, they are as fully assured of it through the pledge they have received here on earth as though they were already crowned, already reigning.

Christians find nothing strange in the fact that they are destined to reign in the world to come, since they have known the mysteries of grace beforehand. When man transgressed the commandment, the devil shrouded the soul with a covering of darkness. But with the coming of grace the veil is entirely stripped away, so that with clear eyes the soul, now cleansed and restored to its true nature, which was created pure and blameless, ever clearly beholds the glory of the true light, the true Sun of Righteousness, brilliantly shining in its inmost being.
((attributed), Hom. XVII, 3-4: PG 34, 625-626.)

Macarius was abbot of a community of cenobites and a monk of great spiritual stature and authority. The best known of his works are Fifty Spiritual Homilies.

ST. AUGUSTINE: Love--the Distinguishing Sign

Love is the only sign that distinguishes the children of God from the children of the devil. To prove this, let them all sign themselves with the cross of Christ. Let them all respond: Amen. Let all sing: Alleluia. Let all build the walls of churches. There is still no way of discerning the children of God from the children of the devil except by love!
-- Sermon on 1 John 5, 7

Prayer. Come to my aid, O God, the one eternal, true reality! In you there is no strife, no disorder, no change, no need, no death, but supreme harmony, supreme clarity, supreme permanence, supreme life.
-- Soliloquies 1, 1


[1] Now, although the truth of the Christian faith which we have discussed surpasses the capacity of the reason, nevertheless that truth that the human reason is naturally endowed to know cannot be opposed to the truth of the Christian faith. For that with which the human reason is naturally endowed is clearly most true; so much so, that it is impossible for us to think of such truths as false. Nor is it permissible to believe as false that which we hold by faith, since this is confirmed in a way that is so clearly divine. Since, therefore, only the false is opposed to the true, as is clearly evident from an examination of their definitions, it is impossible that the truth of faith should be opposed to those principles that the human reason knows naturally.

[2] Furthermore, that which is introduced into the soul of the student by the teacher is contained in the knowledge of the teacher—unless his teaching is fictitious, which it is improper to say of God. Now, the knowledge of the principles that are known to us naturally has been implanted in us by God; for God is the Author of our nature. These principles, therefore, are also contained by the divine Wisdom. Hence, whatever is opposed to them is opposed to the divine Wisdom, and, therefore, cannot come from God. That which we hold by faith as divinely revealed, therefore, cannot be contrary to our natural knowledge.

[3] ... If, therefore, contrary knowledges were implanted in us by God, our intellect would be hindered from knowing truth by this very fact. Now, such an effect cannot come from God.

[4] ... Now, it is impossible that contrary opinions should exist in the same knowing subject at the same time. No opinion or belief, therefore, is implanted in man by God which is contrary to man’s natural knowledge. ...

[7] From this we evidently gather the following conclusion: whatever arguments are brought forward against the doctrines of faith are conclusions incorrectly derived from the first and self-evident principles imbedded in nature. Such conclusions do not have the force of demonstration; they are arguments that are either probable or sophistical. And so, there exists the possibility to answer them.
(SCG, 7)


In the opinion of the great Saint Thomas Aquinas, it is not expedient to consult much and deliberate long about an inclination to enter a good and well-regulated religious order. It is sufficient to have a serious discussion with a few people who are truly prudent and capable in such matters. They will be able to help us come to a simple, sure answer to our question. But as soon as we have deliberated and decided, we must be firm and unchanging; we must never let ourselves be shaken by any hint whatsoever of a greater good.
(T.L.G. Book 8, Ch. 11; O. V, p. 95)


DID Herbert Spencer ever convince you -- did he ever convince anybody -- did he ever for one mad moment convince himself -- that it must be to the interest of the individual to feel a public spirit? Do you believe that, if you rule your department badly, you stand any more chance, or one half of the chance, of being guillotined than an angler stands of being pulled into the river by a strong pike? Herbert Spencer refrained from theft for the same reason he refrained from wearing feathers in his hair, because he was an English gentleman with different tastes.
('The Napoleon of Notting Hill.')


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Past On

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Past On, or

The Past too Shall Pass

by Elliot Bougis

(591 words)

The past


But the past parts

––do they part?

Time lost

is the only time

we know,

the only time

we gain

with the tender called pain.

We speak in echoes;

we serve the dead.

The passed on

we know

are free

from the pull of the past

as the fallen vase

we hide,

and the fallen heart

we hid,

are free

from the pull of gravity,

and the hard hands of hope.

To be free of time,

outside time…

To surpass the past

by passing…

Gam zeh ya’avor.

+ + +

Memory flees

the touch of the mind

as oil from the touch of soap

on the empty face of water

four-cornered flees.

At the faintest touch

the past collapses

into itself

like a folded blanket

of darkness––

stripped, shelved, delved, but mute––


like a dark comforter.

Memory hides

from the tongue of recollection,

from the lips of introspection,

as darkness only darkens

when a beam of 'lectric light

licks the night.

The gleam of the present

blinds the eye of the mind––

tiny rods toppled and burst,


like bowling pins aflame––

as a torch in hand

blinds the probing

nighttime eye, aye, I.

Thus does dark's ancient foe,

thus does the light,

become a tool of darkness

for the fool in darkness,

much as the present––

the fruit of the past,

unripe or rotten,

only we can say

in time––

casts its full-grown hunched shadow

over the soiled seeds

of the past.

Get thee behind me.

+ + +

In time

the mind drifts back

in time:

just as the body melts into its present––

stark, dense, fleeting,

inescapable, and invisible––

so paraffin fumes fume,

and escape,

so hot

then not,

in time;

while the body,

the body built of wax

so cool,

then hot,

melds in place,

the brittle debris of flickering glory:

a cenotaph of light

in the cenotaph

of time,

in space.

Was it here that I stood

that day, or

is it only here that I stand

this day?

Which is the press

and which the palimpsest?

“Memory speaks

before knowing remembers.”

But I wonder, aye,

who is at which end

of the microscope…

And who dials,

and who picks up.

+ + +

Where I find myself––

is it the same where

where I found a place

for myself?

One when

where I won,

staked my claim

in time;

struck a furrow in space,

scattered seeds,

in case;

my nails scratching, digging,

saying this is mine,

in time,

this place,

this furrowed face,

all mine

to mine.

The puzzle of myself––

is it really made of the pieces I find

in myself?

Am I just a collage

of my past, or

am I just the shadow

cast ahead

in time,

my future,

a corridor of opaque hope,

cast for me, from me, by me, despite me,

by the dying light of past-lit candles

called memories?

What does the past impart

when it parts?

What does the present leave

when it leaves?

Is my present

the key

in that dark void of past passion,

or only just another way

of telling the riddle

in reverse?

We shroud, we shred

the echoes

under a laughter––

call it progress––

that mocks the dead

for making us.

Slip the yoke and change

the joke––

or is it just

a change of the joke

with a self-tied yoke?

+ + +

My past has cost me

so much of my past.

The time has come,

time has come

and gone,

for the past…

Time is up

for the past:

to go now,

in time.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The problem with the problem...

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The Problem with the Problem

Elliot Bougis

To say that race is a problem in the United States, is as insightful as saying the United States is a large modern republic. Yet, truisms like that are no less true for being truisms. To say that race is a problem in the USA, however, does need qualification. While it may be safely claimed that the majority of Americans is no longer "racist," in the harsh bigoted manner that was exposed during the Civil Rights era and before, it cannot be denied every single American is "racialized." The difference between racism and racialism is like the difference between misogyny and feminism. The former is a form of harmful prejudice, while the latter is a kind of self-awareness, and hopefully one that allows people to transcend their prejudice. Even more metaphorically, we can say that racists throw grenades at the objects of their prejudice, while the racialized are constantly aware of walking in a minefield of possible offense, littered with traps left by, or for, their ancestors. ...

Because this article is being considered for publication in a magazine, I can’t have it “published” online or in any other periodical, so, if you’d like to read it, email me at fidescogitactio AT gmail DOT com.

Dawgs tawking....

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Dogs talk with scents as humans talk with words.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Is truth true?

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Is Truth True?

Elliot Bougis

In a fit of literary and Latinate heroism, I once coined a personal motto, Potest veritas se defendere (“Truth can defend itself”). Not long after that, someone raised Pilate’s infamous question to Christ, “Quid est veritas? What is truth?” and asked for help in responding to arguments against truth in favor of relativism. Cardinal Ratzinger, in The Nature and Mission of Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995, p. 39) notes that “the depressing thing about Pilate’s question is that it is not really a question at all but an answer.” Pilate may have expected no answer, but can we? What is truth, and is it really true? Relativism would say no. ...

Because this article is being considered for publication in a magazine, I can’t have it “published” online or in any other periodical, so, if you’d like to read it, email me at fidescogitactio AT gmail DOT com.

Charity and prayer...

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Charity is doing what you can with God's help. Prayer is doing what God can with your help.
-- E. Fakespeare

Random but not trivial trivia...

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  • "While New York City is the most populous city in the United States, Sitka, Alaska is the largest city in area. Sitka includes a whopping 2874 square miles of incorporated area. The city is larger than the state of Delaware! ... Jacksonville, Florida is the largest city in area in the contiguous 48 states at 758 square miles."

  • "In 2007, Jacksonville ranked as the United States' twelfth most populous city, with 805,605 residents. ... In 2008, Jacksonville was ranked as the third cleanest city in the United States by Yahoo! Real Estate and fourth best outdoor city by Forbes."

People Overall Jacksonville Crime Index (2006)
  • Jacksonville per 100,000 People 6253.4
  • National per 100,000 People 4479.3

Jacksonville Violent Crimes Index
  • Jacksonville per 100,000 People 837.2
  • National per 100,000 People 553.5

Jacksonville Property Crimes Index
  • Jacksonville per 100,000 People 5416.2
  • National per 100,000 People 3906.1

  • "The end of Soviet subsidies forced Cuba to face the real costs of its health care system. Unwilling to adopt the economic changes necessary to reform its dysfunctional economy, the Castro government quickly faced a large budget deficit. In response, the Cuban Government made a deliberate decision to continue to spend money to maintain its military and internal security apparatus at the expense of other priorities--including health care.

    "According to the Pan American Health Organization, the Cuban Government currently devotes a smaller percentage of its budget for health care than such regional countries as Jamaica, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic. ...

    "...the Cuban Government has chosen to develop a two-tiered medical system--the deliberate establishment of a kind of "medical apartheid"--that funnels money into services for a privileged few, while depriving the health care system used by the vast majority of Cubans of adequate funding."

  • "I [Katherine Hirschfeld] have tried to illustrate that material shortages are endemic to all centralized, planned economies, and that in addition to devoting resources to hospital construction and expansion of the health sector, ideocratic states often use very authoritarian tactics--tactics that individual doctors and patients can subjectively experience very negatively--to create and maintain favorable health statistics. When issues of state power and social control are factored into the analysis, it becomes possible to see how Cuba’s health indicators are at least in some cases obtained by imposing significant costs on the Cuban population--costs that Cuban citizens are powerless to articulate or protest, and foreign researchers unable to empirically investigate."

  • "'Wrote the Cuban source,[,] 'Every single time the island of Cuba and Fidel Castro's revolution are covered anywhere in the media, one of the points always mentioned is Cuba's free healthcare. You can practically time it. If it's in print, you get the lead issue in the first and second paragraph, a mention of Fidel Castro or one of his cronies in the third paragraph, and then the plug for the lauded free healthcare available to Cubans in the fourth. I don’t think I've ever read an article about Castro or Cuba where the "healthcare" isn’t mentioned.

    "'Every single Castro supporter clings to this healthcare thing like it is some kind of holy grail. In a debate, the fact that Cuba has the most political prisoners in the world is ignored. The fact that Cubans on the island lack even the most basic of necessities is ignored. Tourism apartheid is ignored. Everything is ignored save for the free healthcare and 100% literacy.

    "'Of course, none of these "free healthcare!" cheerleaders have ever been to a Cuban hospital. They've never been to a Cuban clinic. Hospitals and clinics serving the average Cuban, that is.'"

  • "In 1962, President Harry S. Truman informed some people in the press that his middle initial 'S' should not have a period after it because the 'S' didn't really stand for anything. The middle name of S was chosen by his parents so they didn't have to offend either of his grandfathers, who both had names beginning with the letter S.

    "After the press reported this information it set off a controversy on how editors and writers should handle the spelling of his name. Some people still insist that his name should be spelled Harry S Truman (without the period).

    "There is much evidence to indicate that President Truman used the period after the 'S' both before and after his 1962 remark."

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Wisdom from...

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ST. AUGUSTINE (354-430): Preaching is Sharing

Many people seek to discover God's mercy and faithfulness from the sacred books, and yet, when their learning is done, they live for their own sakes and not for God's. They are intent on their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. They preach mercy and faithfulness without practicing them. Their preaching proves that they know their subject, for they would not preach without knowledge. But it is a different matter in the case of someone who loves God and Christ. When such a person preaches God's mercy and faithfulness, he seeks to make them known for God's sake, not his own. This means that he is not out to gain temporal benefits from his preaching; his desire is to help Christ's members, that is, those who believe in him, by faithfully sharing with them the knowledge he himself possesses, so that the living may no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for all.
(Expositions of the Psalms 60, 9: CCL 39, 771.)

ST. AUGUSTINE: For You I Am the Bishop

Believe me, brothers and sisters, if what I am for you frightens me, what I am with you reassures me. For you I am the bishop; with you I am a Christian. "Bishop," this is the title of an office one has accepted to discharge; "Christian," that is the name of the grace one receives. Dangerous title! Salutary name!
-- Sermon 340, 1

Prayer. Lord, whether prosperity smiles or adversity frowns, let your praise be ever in my mouth.
-- Commentary on Psalm 138, 16


[1] Those who place their faith in this truth, however, “for which the human reason offers no experimental evidence,” do not believe foolishly, as though “following artificial fables” (2 Peter 2:16). ... It reveals its own presence, as well as the truth of its teaching and inspiration, by fitting arguments; and in order to confirm those truths that exceed natural knowledge, it gives visible manifestation to works that surpass the ability of all nature. Thus, there are the wonderful cures of illnesses, there is the raising of the dead, and the wonderful immutation in the heavenly bodies; and what is more wonderful, there is the inspiration given to human minds, so that simple and untutored persons, filled with the gift of the Holy Spirit, come to possess instantaneously the highest wisdom and the readiest eloquence. When these arguments were examined, through the efficacy of the above-mentioned proof, and not the violent assault of arms or the promise of pleasure, and (what is most wonderful of all) in the midst of the tyranny of the persecutors, an innumerable throng of people, both simple and most learned, flocked to the Christian faith. In this faith there are truths preached that surpass every human intellect; the pleasures of the flesh are curbed; it is taught that the things of the world should be spurned. Now, for the minds of mortal men to assent to these things is the greatest of miracles, just as it is a manifest work of divine inspiration that, spurning visible things, men should seek only what is invisible. ...

[3] This wonderful conversion of the world to the Christian faith is the clearest witness of the signs given in the past; so that it is not necessary that they should be further repeated, since they appear most clearly in their effect. ... Yet it is also a fact that, even in our own time, God does not cease to work miracles through His saints for the confirmation of the faith.

[4] On the other hand, those who founded sects committed to erroneous doctrines proceeded in a way that is opposite to this. [For instance,] Muhammad seduced the people by promises of carnal pleasure to which the concupiscence of the flesh goads us. ... [A]s is not unexpected, he was obeyed by carnal men. ... [T]he truths that he taught he mingled with many fables and with doctrines of the greatest falsity. He did not bring forth any signs produced in a supernatural way, which alone fittingly gives witness to divine inspiration.... On the contrary, Muhammad said that he was sent in the power of his arms—which are signs not lacking even to robbers and tyrants. What is more, no wise men, men trained in things divine and human, believed in him from the beginning. Those who believed in him were brutal men and desert wanderers, utterly ignorant of all divine teaching, through whose numbers Muhammad forced others to become his followers by the violence of his arms. ...
(Summa Contra Gentiles I, 6)


The glorious Saint Augustine, in speaking of effective love, said a sentence that we should engrave on the doors of our rooms, or better still in our hearts: "My God, if we were to love You alone--You in all things and all things in You--how wonderful that would be!" Oh glorious saint, do you wish that we should love nothing but God? Should we not also love our neighbor, friend and enemy? Yes, but in God and for God ... indeed this is true Christian love! Now this is something that should be preached publicly!
(Sermons 33; O. IX, p. 337)

As St. Ignatius taught time and again: love nothing if it draws you from God, love all things as they draw you to God.


WITH any recovery from morbidity there must go a certain healthy humiliation. There comes a certain point in such conditions when only three things are possible; first, a perpetuation of Satanic pride; secondly, tears; and third, laughter.
('The Man who was Thursday.')


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wisdom from…

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ST. AUGUSTINE (354-430): Remember, Monica, my mother

May Monica, my mother, rest in peace with her husband, before whom and after whom she was given in marriage to no man. She dutifully served him, bringing forth fruit to you with much patience, that she might also win him to you. Inspire, O Lord my God, inspire your servants my brethren, your children my master, whom I serve with my voice, my heart, and my writings, that as many of them as read these words may remember at your altar your handmaid, Monica, together with Patricius, formerly her husband, by whose flesh you brought me into this life, how I know not. May they with a pious affection remember them who were my parents in this transitory light, my brethren under you, our Father in our Catholic mother, and my fellow citizens in the eternal Jerusalem, for which your pilgrim people here below continually sigh from their setting out until their return, so that my mother's last request of me may be more abundantly granted by her through the prayers of many, occasioned by my confessions, rather than through my own prayers.
(Confessions IX, 13, 36-37.)

Despite the novelty with which Nietzsche pressed the point, transvaluation was not a Nietzschean novelty. Christ Himself, as the Eucharistic Lord of History, is the prime agent in transvaluation. Hence, insofar as there is no legitimate resting point between either nihilism or the Risen One, there is no escaping transvaluation as such; there is only a choice of how, and in which direction, we transvalue, our lives. We can either reorient all things toward the Risen One, at the right hand of the Father, in which case even biological kin become our brethren and strangers become our masters in service; or toward the nothing that becomes our substance apart from Him, in which case kin become foes and strangers become threats. Transvalued towards Christ, our selves become portals to His risen life; away from Him, our selves become the abyss in which we spend an "eternal recurrence" (ewiges Wiederkehr). As Nietzsche argues in Jenseits von Gute und Böse, we are and remain strangers to ourselves. condemned to our own illusory idol of self-existence.

ST. AUGUSTINE: Caught Up in Ecstasy

Now, while my mother and I were thus talking of God's wisdom and pining for it, with all the effort of our hearts we did for one instant attain to touch it. Then we returned to the sound of our own tongue, in which words must have a beginning and an end. We said: If in the silence of all earthly things God alone spoke to us, not by them but by himself, would not this constitute to "enter into the joy of the Master"?
-- Confessions 9, 10

There is a silence we mistake for God's absence. That silence strikes us as barren and desolate only because our ears are normally more attuned to the hum and buzz of the world than to the soundless speech of God in His word and the immediate ring of the heavenly chorus. If however we gradually become deaf to the world, we may come to hear echoes of the divine stillness. Just as the folly of God is wiser than the erudition of man, so is the silence of God louder and more articulate than the noise of the world. The noise of creation is not bad per se, but only bad in so far as it is out of tune with its own inner harmony, the triune chorus of love by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

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


[1] Since, therefore, there exists a twofold truth concerning the divine being, one to which the inquiry of the reason can reach, the other which surpasses the whole ability of the human reason, it is fitting that both of these truths be proposed to man divinely for belief. … [2] Yet, if this truth were left solely as a matter of inquiry for the human reason, three awkward consequences would follow.

[3] The first is that few men would possess the knowledge of God. For there are three reasons why most men are cut off from the fruit of diligent inquiry which is the discovery of truth. Some do not have the physical disposition for such work. As a result, there are many who are naturally not fitted to pursue knowledge; and so, however much they tried, they would be unable to reach the highest level of human knowledge which consists in knowing God. Others are cut off from pursuing this truth by the necessities imposed upon them by their daily lives. … Finally, there are some who are cut off by indolence. In order to know the things that the reason can investigate concerning God, a knowledge of many things must already be possessed. For almost all of philosophy is directed towards the knowledge of God, and that is why metaphysics, which deals with divine things, is the last part of philosophy to be learned… [and] only on the basis of a great deal of labor spent in study. Now, those who wish to undergo such a labor for the mere love of knowledge are few, even though God has inserted into the minds of men a natural appetite for knowledge.

[4] The second awkward effect is that those who would come to discover the abovementioned truth would barely reach it after a great deal of time. … There is also the fact that, in youth, when the soul is swayed by the various movements of the passions, it is not in a suitable state for the knowledge of such lofty truth. On the contrary, “one becomes wise and knowing in repose,” as it is said in the Physics [VII, 3]. … If the only way open to us for the knowledge of God were solely that of the reason, the human race would remain in the blackest shadows of ignorance.

[5] The third awkward effect is this. The investigation of the human reason for the most part has falsity present within it, and this is due partly to the weakness of our intellect in judgment, and partly to the admixture of images. The result is that many, remaining ignorant of the power of demonstration, would hold in doubt those things that have been most truly demonstrated. … That is why it was necessary that the unshakeable certitude and pure truth concerning divine things should be presented to men by way of faith.

[6] Beneficially, therefore, did the divine Mercy provide that it should instruct us to hold by faith even those truths that the human reason is able to investigate. In this way, all men would easily be able to have a share in the knowledge of God, and this without uncertainty and error.

[7] … “All your children shall be taught of the Lord” (Is. 54:13).

As Étienne Gilson says on page 83 of his Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages, "[F]aith is not a principle of philosophical knowledge, but it is a safe guide to rational truth and an infallible warning against philosophical error." The point being that, while faith cannot provide rationally deductive demonstrations of this or that claim, it can provide the light and insight we need to direct our premises in rational investigation. We cannot philosophize by faith, but we can philosophize wrongly apart from faith. Since the content of faith, objectively given, is not an object of reason, it is not subject to purely rational strictures (much less to purely rational [i.e., deductive] demonstration, as Anselm and Scouts argued in their ontological arguments). Because the content of faith is not an object of rational certainty, it is not an opinion at which we arrive, but is a testimony we accept as the Word of God. Moreover, because faith is not subject to rational demonstration, it is not arrived at by the intellect, but my a movement of the will, whereby the intellect arrives at truth it cannot grasp on its own without an elevating grace upon the pliant will.

This hold that faith places on philosophy has to do not with the supposed irrationality of faith claims, but with the very meaning of faith and reason as such. As soon as faith becomes an object of purely rational demonstration, it is
eo ipso no longer an object of faith, and this in the same way your belief that I have brown hair is a 'belief' once you see (and thus know 'scientifically') that I do have brown hair. Accordingly, Gilson, citing St. Thomas in ST IIaIIae, q. 1, a. 5, notes that it is "impossible for one and the same thing to be an object of science [i.e., rational knowledge] and of belief for the same person…" (op. cit., p. 74). This disjunction is in order, since faith "implies assent of the intellect to that which the intellect cannot see [qua 'scientific' knowledge] to be true…" (ibid., p. 73). Further, Gilson argues, "if reason cannot prove them [i.e., dogmas] to be true, it cannot either prove them to be false" (ibid., p. 83). This is all of a piece with what we read in SCG I, 3:

Just as, therefore, it would he the height of folly for a simple person to assert that what a philosopher proposes is false on the ground that he himself cannot understand it, so (and even more so) it is the acme of stupidity for a man to suspect as false what is divinely revealed through the ministry of the angels simply because it cannot be investigated by reason.

This all stands in an interesting light, given the developments that ensued a few centuries after St. Thomas. For one thing, largely animated by Gehrard Groote, the Moderna devotio placed nearly all emphasis on our mystical perception of God, rather than any scholastic musings about Him. (Groote founded the fraternity of the Brethren of the Common Life in Deventer in 1381, and in 1475, a 12-year-old Desiderius Erasmus would enter the school for that fraternity.) This anti-scholastic, mystical attitude can be seen in Thomas à Kempis' Imitatio Christi, as well as in the doctrine of Meister Eckhart (condemned in 1329 by Pope John XXII) about the soul's union with God even this side of Heaven. It also finds expression in Luther's excoriation of scholastic thought: "only without Aristotle can we become theologians." (Cf. Gilson, Reason, pp. 86–94 for more details.) According to Ernst Cassirer, it also manifests in the development of Nicolas Cusanus's thought (in The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy, p. 13).

With the same assurance with which he denies the possibility of conceiving of the infinite by means of logical abstractions and generic concepts, he also denies the possibility of its conception through mere [mystical] feeling. In the mystical theology of the fifteenth century two fundamental tendencies stand sharply opposed to each other; the one bases itself on the intellect; the other considers the will to be the basic force and organ of union with God. In this dispute, Cusanus sides emphatically with the former. True love of God is amor Dei intellectualis: it includes knowledge as a necessary element and a necessary condition. No love can love what he has not, in some sense, known. Love by itself, without any admixture of knowledge, would be an impossibility. Whatever is loved is, by that very act, considered good; it is conceived of sub ratione boni. This knowledge of the good must spur on and give wings to the will, even though the What, i.e., the simple essence of the good in itself, remains inaccessible to knowledge. … The principle of docta ignorantia as 'knowing ignorance' re-affirms itself once again.


God sends afflictions, but nothing comes from the divine hand that is not useful to those souls who fear Him. Be happy if they come and receive them with a heart filled with filial love, because God sends them with a heart that is paternally concerned with your perfection. He wishes to purify and refine His holy love in you. Think often about the duration of eternity and do not get upset about the mishaps of this transitory and mortal life.
(Letters 1982; O. XXI, p. 21)


MANY of us live publicly with featureless public puppets, images of the small public abstractions. It is when we pass our own private gate, and open our own secret door, that we step into the land of the giants.
('Charles Dickens.')


A poem of Latinate proportions…

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What is this that roareth thus?
Can it be a Motor Bus?
Yes, the smell and hideous hum
Indicat Motorem Bum!
Implet in the Corn and High
Terror me Motoris Bi:
Bo Motori clamitabo
Ne Motore caedar a Bo--
Dative be or Ablative
So thou only let us live:
Whither shall thy victims flee?
Spare us, spare us, Motor Be!
Thus I sang; and still anigh
Came in hordes Motores Bi,
Et complebat omne forum
Copia Motorum Borum.
How shall wretches live like us
Cincti Bis Motoribus?
Domine, defende nos
Contra hos Motores Bos!

--A.D. Godley

(Hat tip to The Smithy. This declension cheat sheet might help you parse the humor. Or is parsing humor––explaining the joke––even worth it? I would like to think so, in some cases.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Captain's log…

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Sea-date Friday, October 12, 1492, the date Christopher Columbus reached the New World, after leaving Spain on August 3, 1492:

"At dawn we saw naked people, and I went ashore in the ship's boat …I unfurled the royal banner and the captains brought the flags which displayed a large green cross with the letters "F" [Ferdinand] and "Y" [Isabella] at the left and right side of the cross…. To this land I gave the name San Salvador, in honor of our Blessed Lord. …

The people here …are friendly and well-dispositioned… who bear no arms except for small spears and they have no iron. … I want the natives to develop a friendly attitude towards us because I know they are a people who can be made free and converted to our Holy Catholic Faith more by love than by force. I therefore gave red caps to some and glass beads to others. They hung the beads around their necks …And they took great pleasure in this and became so friendly that it was a marvel. They traded and gave everything they had with good will, but it seems to me they have very little and are poor in everything. I warned my men to take nothing from the people without giving something in exchange."

Pope Paul III, in Sublimus Deus, dated May 29, 1537:

"The sublime God so loved the human race that He created man in such wise that he … endowed him with capacity to attain to the inaccessible and invisible Supreme Good and behold it face to face; and since man… has been created to enjoy eternal life and happiness, which none may obtain save through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, it is necessary that he should possess the nature and faculties enabling him to receive that faith….

"The enemy of the human race [the Devil]… invented a means never before heard of, by which he might hinder the preaching of God's word of Salvation to the people: he inspired his satellites who, to please him, have not hesitated to publish abroad that the Indians of the West and the South, and other people of whom We have recent knowledge, should be treated as dumb brutes created for our service, pretending that they are incapable of receiving the Catholic Faith.

"We, who, though unworthy, exercise on earth the power of our Lord and seek with all our might to bring those sheep of his flock who are outside into the fold committed to our charge, consider, however, that the Indians are truly men and that they are not only capable of understanding the Catholic Faith but according to our information, they desire exceedingly to receive it.

"Desiring to provide ample remedy for these evils, We define and declare… that, notwithstanding whatever may have been or may be said to the contrary, the said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; and that they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved; should the contrary happen, it shall be null and have no effect.

"By virtue of Our apostolic authority We define and declare that the said Indians and other peoples should be converted to the faith of Jesus Christ by preaching the word of God and by the example of good and holy living."

Friday, October 17, 2008

Truth and Revelation by Nicolas Berdyaev

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Truth and Revelation (New York: Collier Books, 1962 [tr. R. M. French]) by Nicolas Berdyaev

Be advised that just because I read and post these ideas, does not mean I agree with or endorse them (a proviso that holds for all the books I cite here).

p. 8 …it must be remembered that man has been the one and only organ which revelation has used in order to reach man. … It is not upon revelation that man passes judgment so much as upon his own human reception and understanding of revelation.

9 God is that which cannot be expressed. … And of that which cannot be expressed there cannot be any doubts. There can be doubt only of what is expressed.

13 Existentialism may be defined … as a philosophy which will not accept objectifying knowledge.

14 Existence (Existenz) is not essence, it is not substance, it is a free act.

15 There can be no causal relations between God and man. There is nothing which God determines. God is not a power "outside" and "above."

18 Man is a tragic being for the simple reason that he finds himself placed on the frontier between two worlds, a higher and a lower, and he includes both worlds in himself.

20 Unlike Kant's thing-in-itself, transcendental man operates in this world, he reveals himself in every great creative man…. Transcendental man does not evolve, he creates.

23 Truth is always supernatural, its very meaning is that the spirit has risen above the natural.

26 Truth is primary, not secondary, that is to say it is not conformity with something else. … Truth is not a reality, nor that which corresponds to a reality. … Truth does not face a ready-made reality outside itself, it is the creative transforming of reality. … Truth means change, it is the transfiguration of reality.

28 Truth is communal….

29 I am in darkness and I search for light; as yet I do not know the truth and I am seeking it. But by this very fact I am already asserting the existence of Truth and light, though their existence is of another kind that that of the beings of the realities of the world. … My search is already the light…. Truth is value… truth is spiritual, it is the process of instilling spirit into the world of reality.

30 Truth is God… truth is human. The knowledge of God is a human thing.

32 Pragmatism is highly optimistic and fails to see the tragic fate of truth in the world. … In reality there is a pragmatism of falsehood, the lie is often useful to the organization of life…. The supporters of pragmatism very often accept the useful lie as truth.

33 To long after pure truth which nothing suppresses, however distressing it may be, is to reach out towards the divine. … The attainment of truth assumes fearlessness…. Truth is the voice of eternity in time….

34 Truth is not something which is of service to the world….

35 [in Marx's materialism and Leninism] Truth is known in praxis. … Truth ought to contribute to the victory of socialism. That is the only truth which is acknowledged and valued, just as that is the only freedom which is acknowledged and valued.

36 [in Marxism] …any conclusions whatever may be drawn so long as they are serviceable at a given moment…. Is Marxist truth merely a reflection and expression of the struggle of the proletariat against the capitalist system and the bourgeoisie––simply a useful weapon in the conflict?

Cf. pp. 79–80 in J. Ratzinger's The Nature and Mission of Theology

38 …Nietzsche's philosophy… was a philosophy of values whereas Marx's was a philosophy of well-being. … But in turning truth into an instrument of the will to power, he [Nietzsche] does in actual fact lapse into pragmatism and regards truth as that which is serviceable to the process of life. He does this in spite of the fact that he hated the idea of "the useful," which he justly looked upon as a very anti-aristocratic and most plebeian conception. Supramundane truth is just that––and it must not be perverted to the service of the processes of life, or the will to power.

39 The importance of Nietzsche is immense in that he understands truth dynamically….

40 Truth serves no man, and nothing; it is they who serve it.

43 The knowledge of truth is attained by the aggregate of the spiritual powers of man and not by his intellectual faculties only. … Truth is free and a matter of the will; it is not simply an intellectual act, it is the turning of the whole human being in the direction of creative value.

44 …the very recognition of the material world as capable of being known assumes an elementary act of faith…. There is a certain naïveté in supposing that the objective existence of matter can be scientifically proved. … A decisive "no" is faith to the same extent as a decisive "yes," and the very denial assumes and assertion….

45 Man is by nature a creature that believes…. I am affirming truth, even in the event of having no desire to hear anything about the truth.

46 Man should be ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of the truth, but Truth is often bitter to the taste and he frequently prefers some deceitful illusion…. At times it may even be that such deception takes a form which leads him in the pride of his heart to cast away every consolation that the Truth bestows and to regard a state of despair as the attainment of the highest Truth.

51 Christian truth cannot be made to depend upon historical facts…. As Kierkegaard was fond of saying, God is in the world incognito. … Revelation is always at the same time some measure of concealment.

52 Revelation cannot be something which is finished, static….

54 An exclusively apophatic understanding of God… [amounts to a] confusion between Gott and Gottheit….

56 The revelation of a suffering and yearning God is higher than the revelation of a God whose satisfaction and sufficiency in himself. … God does not act in power but in humanity. … The degrees of revelation correspond to the degrees of correlation….

57 The ancient biblical idea of God can hardly be in harmony with our religious thought.

58 Feuerbach was half right. … Sociomorphism has entirely distorted the idea of God.

59 In relation to the world God is freedom and not necessity, not determination.

60 …final truth lies with mysticism rather than with dogmatics.

63 There is no criterion of the Truth outside the Truth. … the very concept of pure act ought to be abandoned as belonging to an outworn philosophy.

72 Freedom is more primary than being and it cannot be determined by our being….

73 Tragedy in the Christian world is the tragedy of freedom, not the tragedy of fate.

74 Christian metaphysics ought to be in the first place a philosophy of history.

75 No revelation ought to lay claim to finality and completeness, it goes on to the end of the world.

82 It is man that makes history, history is not a phenomenon of nature….

83 To a notable degree history is a history of crime, and all the dreams of idealists about a better state of society have ended in criminal deeds. … History is a horrible crime.

84 I ought not to regard anything as entirely outside myself. I too am answerable for the act of Cain.

85 Nothing in history ought to be regarded as sacrosanct….

86 …sacred history does not exist…. History must either be entirely repudiated, as it is in Indian thought and by Schopenhauer and, with particular consistency, by Leo Tolstoy, or it must be received into oneself while one makes an effort not to be infected by the evil of it.

87 Hegel's freedom is the freedom of the universal and not of the individual. In the last resort it is the universal spirit which is free and not of the individual, who is offered as a sacrifice to the universal spirit. It was against this that Belinsky protested and at a still deeper level Dostoyevsky and Kierkegaard.

88 I call freedom empty when it is unaware of resistance…. Freedom demands sacrifice and self-surrender. Self-assertion is the last thing it is.

89–90 history is by no means a rational process in which the progressive triumph of reason comes to pass. Volcanic and irrational forces are at work in it, and they are at times concealed and suppressed. But from time to time they break out in wars and revolutions. … The great experiment made by the Russian people displays the irrationality of the rational.

95 It does not become Christians to be self-satisfied and to despise those to whom the problem of God is a torment. It certainly does not become them to despise Nietzsche….

97 But there is no sense at all in which God is a cause. He causes nothing and determines nothing.

97–98 …out-and-out consistent godlessness does not exist. Man is more inclined to be an idolater than an atheist. … He deifies the most diverse objects, he deifies the cosmos, man and humanity, he deifies society, the State, abstract good or justice or science ,he deifies race, nationality or class, he deifies a particular social order, socialism, and he makes a god of his own godlessness.

99 The arguments for atheism which are derived from the natural sciences are just as weak as the arguments intended to support belief in God which are based upon those same natural sciences. Christian apologetics which seek to ward off the attack of the natural sciences upon belief in God are very feeble and out of date. Arguments from the natural sciences may be entirely ignored.

100 A historical biography of Jesus cannot in actual fact be written and the Gospels cannot be acknowledged as historical documents. But that only proves that the reality of Jesus Christ is borne witness to by the faith of the Christian community, and that outside that community it is a reality of history which is scarcely noticeable.

101 [Marcion's heresy was ethically motivated, insofar as he was gravely disquieted by the evil in the world; could the creator of such a world be worshiped as the true God?]

102 Out of a desire to destroy suffering and to construct a world in which suffering may not exist, he may be the cause of immeasurable suffering, but that, of course, he regards as only for the time being. This is the fundamental moral inconsistency of the atheistic revolutionary.

103 The godlessness of Marx is derived from Feuerbach, that is from Feuerbach's idea of the alienation of human nature in religion.

104 [by suggesting an inner drive to the material forces that shape society and man, Marxism ascribes rationality and creative efforts to matter, which means that a rational principle is inherent in matter; in such wise, Marxism fails to be a thoroughgoing atheism, in the sense that it denies every sacred or divine principle as such]

105–106 Nietzsche's is "a tragic godlessness" … The murder of God was also the murder of man. Nietzsche's atheism was not in the least a humanist atheism. … There was no element of Marcionism in him. He repudiated the Christian God rather because he brings consolation and happiness. Christianity gives a meaning to suffering and that Nietzsche could not endure. To him it meant the denial of the tragic principle. He wanted suffering and he did not want consolation. But the Christian theme is still there in Nietzsche. He was a man whom Christ had wounded. This passionate foe of Christianity was nearer to it than Goethe who wished it well.

109 [For Heidegger] Being is fallen and guilty in its structure. This is catholic theology without God. It is a very pessimistic philosophy, more pessimistic than Schopenhauer's.

111 To Sartre the freedom of man is connected with godlessness, to him God is an enemy of human freedom. He regards himself as a more consistent atheist than are the Marxists, for they acknowledge that there is a meaning in the historical process and look to it for support. In spite of their materialism, they believe in the triumph of social reason….

113 Traditional theology has never been the theology of the Holy Spirit.

115 All intellectual proofs for the existence of God are bankrupt; they belong to the world of thought and they stay there.

121 It must be said to the credit of Russian philosophical religious thought that it has always reacted vigorously against the forensic interpretation of Christianity and of Redemption.

123 The Eucharistic Sacrifice ought to be entirely freed from traces of the forensic interpretation. … The idea of predestination is indissolubly connected with the juridical way of understanding Christianity and it loses all meaning if another way of interpretation is adopted.

128 Christianity is a religion of social and cosmic transfiguration and resurrection. This has been almost forgotten in official Christianity.

131 The Roman Catholic Church, which has been very fond of frightening people with hell in order to keep souls in submission….

133 To him [Bulgakov] an eternal hell means the failure of God. It is the defeat of God by the powers of darkness.

134 …the significance of the historical Gospels is not absolute.

148 The whole cosmos, the whole creation, is included in Spirit and it is only within the Spirit that there is any cosmos.

149 It is very important to understand the difference between symbolization and objectification. Symbolization always provides signs of another world. It does not remain closed within the circle of this world.

152 The era of the Spirit [or the third revelation] can be nothing but a revelation of a sense of community which is not merely social but also cosmic, not only a brotherhood of man, but a brotherhood of men with all cosmic life….