Monday, September 29, 2008

Bush is… Obama is not…?

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While I have been a distant observer of all things Bush for the last five years, having lived in Taiwan during that time, I have noticed one theme in particular. Bush is criticized by his many critics (fittingly) for being a talking suit of his party, an elite son of big money. He is also criticized for his lack of adequate prior political experience. He is just a glorified good ol' boy who was given the election by the Powers That Be.

Now, what has struck me in the past few months of presidential campaigning is how both candidates seem to embody, for their detractors, various aspects of "the Bush problem". McCain, for instance, is criticized as being too wealthy, and thus, implicitly, removed from the realities of the average American. It is ironic, nonetheless, how the rich always suffer this criticism––being detached from the concerns of the little people––and yet how they are also simultaneously held up as paragons of philanthropy and action-group support. It is a fact that the majority of charity has come from the rich, a fact that rests only very awkwardly with the idea that the rich just don't know or care about those in need. In any case, let the criticism stand: McCain embodies the old money provincialism that we have endured for eight years under W. Bush.

As for Obama, he embodies something much more scandalous in the W., namely, his lack of serious political experience. He has been expertly crafted by his party to strike all the right chords in the liberal American ear. And while he may not come from money, there is no denying he now embodies a classic example of an inadvertently aloof academic "thinker" and "orator." Obama is that quintessential punching bag, a lawyer, and one educated at Harvard no less! So, while he may not have sprung full-formed from the brow of the elite, he is now ensconced warmly in the embrace of the ivory tower and elite concerns. Just as Bush's credentials from Yale were meant to balance his populist Texan charm, so Obama's elite credentials are meant to balance his sporadic persona as a "normal American", as a prophetic leader who did not gain his allure from years of elite training, but, mystically, from an inner compass of ebony wholesomeness.

What bothers me is that, insofar as people complain America fell for Bush's polished image––all persona and little substance––, they are being blinded by their own complaints (or blinding others with them) to such an extent that we are being primed to fall for it all again in a new guise. Are we to imagine Obama's handlers are any less real or influential than Bush's? Are we to imagine one talking suit is better than another just because one is black and the other white? Or, at the very least, are we to imagine one inexperienced brain of the elite is better for being more eloquent? If one is making one's criticism of a politician the fact that he or she is too much image and too elite, then I see no way towards a meaningful criticism, given what modern politicking means. By contrast, if one makes one's criticisms of a politician specific legislative and moral points, as I do, then I frankly have very little concern with his elite attachments and moneyed detachments. The bottom line for me is one of principle, not one of comparing one political image against another. Insofar as Obama vigorously, indeed proudly advocates and underwrites the abortion movement in the USA, he is an absolutely unacceptable candidate for me or, I would say, any committed Catholic even basically cognizant of the Church's teachings on the ethic of life and the gravity of sin involved in formally supporting a candidate that violates that ethic.

I have heard it argued there is no grounds for "voting your religion". But this is as nonsensical as arguing we ought not "vote our values" or "vote our desires", insofar as religion conveys and animates the most basic values and desires in our lives. We have no choice but to live, or violate, our own values, including our religious (or irreligious) values. To paraphrase Shakespeare, to our own selves we must be true––and it may just follow the night like the day, that we shan't be taken in by any political image. In the world of modern American politics, we may only have smoke and mirrors to look into when we look into a candidate qua image––but at least if we make choices separate from the image, we can look ourselves in the mirror without shame.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Tell me…

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Tell me what you think about tow trucks and I will tell you what you think about society.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Wisdom from…

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JOHN HENRY NEWMAN (1801–1890): Bartholomew, the apostle

When people begin to feel they have a soul, and a work to do, and a reward to be gained, greater or less, according as they improve the talents committed to them, then they are naturally tempted to be anxious from their very wish to be saved, and they say: "What must I do to please God?" And sometimes they are led to think they ought to be useful on a large scale, and go out of their line of life that they may be doing something worth doing, as they consider it.

Here we have the history of Saint Bartholomew and the other apostles to recall us to ourselves, and to assure us that we need not give up our usual manner of life, in order to serve God; that the most humble and quietest station is acceptable to him, if improved duly––nay affords means for maturing the highest Christian character, even that of an apostle. Bartholomew read the scriptures and prayed to God; and thus was trained at length to give up his life for Christ, when he demanded it.
(Plain and Parochial Sermons II, 336-337.)

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

ST. AUGUSTINE: Praying for Others

Let me be helped by your prayers, so that the Lord may see fit to help me bear his burden. When you pray in this way, it is really for yourselves that you are praying. For what is the burden of which I am speaking but you? Pray for me, then, as I myself pray that you may not be burdensome. Support me so that we may bear one another's burdens, thus fulfilling the law of Christ.
-- Sermon 340, 1

Pray for your bishop and priests and all religious!

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


It is strange to note that our nature wants nothing to do with anything that hurts. However, the repugnance that it feels concerning suffering is not, in my opinion, an indication of a lack of generosity. If we could persuade ourselves that if we were to be skinned alive like Saint Bartholomew, God would love us just a little bit more, I think that we would let ourselves be skinned, not without repugnance but despite our very repugnance. I think that sometimes, as a test, we should try to win a victory over ourselves with a bit of violence for the love of God, because if we never resist our dislikes, we might well become weaklings.
(Letters 1277; O. XVII, p. 341)

To their credit, I will say this idea of inner 'violence' is what many Muslims mean by jihad, or, holy struggle. I would say jihad, if taken in this sense, is Arabic for ascesis cum mortification. "From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force." (Mt 11:12)


THE Secularist says that Christianity produced tumult and cruelty. He seems to suppose that this proves it to be bad. But it might prove it to be very good. For men commit crimes not only for bad things, far more often for good things. For no bad things can be desired quite so passionately and persistently as good things can be desired, and only very exceptional men desire very bad and unnatural things. Most crime is committed because, owing to some peculiar complication, very beautiful and necessary things are in some danger. For instance, if we wanted to abolish thieving and swindling at one blow, the best thing to do would be to abolish babies. Babies, the most beautiful things on earth, have been the excuse and origin of almost all the business brutality and financial infamy on earth. If we could abolish monogamic or romantic love, the country would be dotted with Maiden Assizes [i.e., a trial in which no one has been condemned to execution].
('Religious Doubts of Democracy.')


For, since the end [or, goal] of each thing is its good, a thing is then best disposed when it is fittingly ordered to its end. And so we see among the arts that one functions as the governor and the ruler of another because it controls its end. Thus, the art of medicine rules and orders the art of the chemist because health, with which medicine is concerned, is the end of all the medications prepared by the art of the chemist. … That is why… artisans…, who are called master artisans, appropriate to themselves the name of wise men. But, since these artisans are concerned, in each case, with the ends of certain particular things, they do not reach to the universal end of all things. … The name of the absolutely wise man, however, is reserved for him whose consideration is directed to the end of the universe, which is also the origin of the universe. That is why, according to the Philosopher, it belongs to the wise man to consider the highest causes.
(Summa Contra Gentiles I, 1)


Monday, September 22, 2008

If religion is…

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"If religion is faith in things unprovable, then not only is mathematics a religion, but (vis-à-vis Gödel's Second Incompleteness Theorem) it is also the only religion that can prove itself to be a religion."
–– HT to Albert in the thread for this post by Mark Shea.

It's also worth reproducing the quotation from the Prophet Gilbert:

Spiritual doctrines do not actually limit the mind as do materialistic denials. Even if I believe in immortality I need not think about it. But if I disbelieve in immortality I must not think about it. In the first case the road is open and I can go as far as I like; in the second the road is shut. But the case is even stronger, and the parallel with madness is yet more strange. For it was our case against the exhaustive and logical theory of the lunatic that, right or wrong, it gradually destroyed his humanity. Now it is the charge against the main deductions of the materialist that, right or wrong, they gradually destroy his humanity; I do not mean only kindness, I mean hope, courage, poetry, initiative, all that is human. For instance, when materialism leads men to complete fatalism (as it generally does), it is quite idle to pretend that it is in any sense a liberating force. It is absurd to say that you are especially advancing freedom when you only use free thought to destroy free will. The determinists come to bind, not to loose. They may well call their law the “chain” of causation. It is the worst chain that ever fettered a human being. You may use the language of liberty, if you like, about materialistic teaching, but it is obvious that this is just as inapplicable to it as a whole as the same language when applied to a man locked up in a mad-house. You may say, if you like, that the man is free to think himself a poached egg. But it is surely a more massive and important fact that if he is a poached egg he is not free to eat, drink, sleep, walk, or smoke a cigarette. Similarly you may say, if you like, that the bold determinist speculator is free to disbelieve in the reality of the will. But it is a much more massive and important fact that he is not free to raise, to curse, to thank, to justify, to urge, to punish, to resist temptations, to incite mobs, to make New Year resolutions, to pardon sinners, to rebuke tyrants, or even to say “thank you” for the mustard.

In passing from this subject I may note that there is a queer fallacy to the effect that materialistic fatalism is in some way favourable to mercy, to the abolition of cruel punishments or punishments of any kind. This is startlingly the reverse of the truth. It is quite tenable that the doctrine of necessity makes no difference at all; that it leaves the flogger flogging and the kind friend exhorting as before. But obviously if it stops either of them it stops the kind exhortation. That the sins are inevitable does not prevent punishment; if it prevents anything it prevents persuasion. Determinism is quite as likely to lead to cruelty as it is certain to lead to cowardice. Determinism is not inconsistent with the cruel treatment of criminals. What it is (perhaps) inconsistent with is the generous treatment of criminals; with any appeal to their better feelings or encouragement in their moral struggle. The determinist does not believe in appealing to the will, but he does believe in changing the environment. He must not say to the sinner, “Go and sin no more,” because the sinner cannot help it. But he can put him in boiling oil; for boiling oil is an environment.
–– Orthodoxy, ch. 2.

Modo sola Scriptura…

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[{Only Scripture alone…}]

I posted the following, mutatis mutandis, at Philper and just thought some readers her might benefit from it.]

I would like to consider how the question, “Cur Deus homo? [Why did God become man?]” stands in light of its scriptural basis and how its status might be addressed “solely” from sola Scriptura. The scriptural basis for the exact and most fundamental reason for the Incarnation is (notoriously) moot, and because of this I think it can shed light on the issues of doctrinal authority and religious assent in the sola Scriptura debate.

Cur Verbum caro factum est? [Why did the Word become flesh?] There are two main theses about the Incarnation. On the one hand, it is claimed that the Word became flesh because of the fall of humankind in Adam. On the other hand, it is claimed that the Word would have incarnated regardless of Adam’s fall or otherwise. The first thesis we can call the ‘redemptive’ theory of Incarnation, while the second we might call the ‘absolutist’ theory.

My question is: Are Protestants allowed to argue for the truth of the absolutist theory of the Incarnation? If not, why not? If so, how? Before answering, please consider the following quotations (found in “Cur Deus Homo? The Motive of the Incarnation” by Fr. George Florovsky).

Since, according to Florovsky, the early Fathers did not explicitly ponder the question whether a fall-free world would have still seen the Incarnation, he cites, as the first self-conscious advocate of the absolutist theory amidst the debate, Rupert Deutz, who writes:

“Therefore, we say quite probably, not so much that man [was made] to make up the number of the angels [i.e., for those who had fallen], but that both angels and men were made because of one man, Jesus Christ, so that, as He Himself was begotten God from God, and was to be found a man, He would have a family prepared on both sides. … From the beginning, before God made anything, it was in His plan that the Word [Logos] of God, God the Word [Logos], would be made flesh, and dwell among men with great love and the deepest humility, which are His true delights.”
–– (Rupertus Tuitensis, De Glorificatione Trinitatis, lib. 3. 20 (M., P.L., 169, col. 72)

Next Florovsky cites Honorius of Autun, writing in his Libellus octo quaestionum de angelis et homine, that

“the first man’s sin was not the cause of Christ’s Incarnation; rather, it was the cause of death and damnation. The cause of Christ’s Incarnation was the predestination of human deification. It was indeed predestined by God from all eternity that man would be deified, for the Lord said, ‘Father, Thou hast loved them* before the creation of the world,’ [cf. John 17:24] those, that is, who are deified through Me….”
–– ibid., cap. 2 (M., P.L., 172, col. 72)

Whereupon Florovsky considers the views of Duns Scotus:

“The Incarnation of the Son of God was for him the very reason of the whole Creation. Otherwise, he thought, this supreme action of God would have been something merely accidental or “occasional”. ‘Again, if the Fall were the cause of the predestination of Christ, it would follow that God’s greatest work was only occasional, for the glory of all will not be so intense as that of Christ, and it seems unreasonable to think that God would have foregone such a work because of Adam’s good deed, if he had not sinned.‘”
–– Opus Oxoniense, 3, dist. 19, ed. Wadding, t. 7, p. 415.

Elsewhere Scotus says, “the Fall is not the cause of Christ’s predestination. Indeed, even if one angel had not fallen, or one man, Christ would still have been predestined thus—even if others had not been created, but only Christ.” He continues:

“This I demonstrate thus: anyone who wills methodically first wills an end, and then more immediately, those things which are more immediate to the end. But God wills most methodically; therefore, He wills thus: first He wills Himself, and everything intrinsic to Himself; more directly, so far as concerns things extrinsic, is the soul of Christ. Therefore, in relation to whatever merit and before whatever demerit was foreseen, He foresees that Christ must be united to Him in a substantial union…. The disposition and predestination is first complete concerning the elect, and then something is done concerning the reprobate, as a secondary act, lest anyone rejoice as if the loss of another was a reward for himself; therefore, before the foreseen Fall, and before any demerit, the whole process concerning Christ was foreseen…. He would not have come as a mediator, to suffer and to redeem, unless someone had first sinned, unless the glory of the flesh had become swelled with pride, unless something needed to be redeemed; otherwise, He would have immediately been the whole Christ glorified.“
–– Reportata Parisiensia, lib. 3, dist. 7, qu. 4, schol. 2, ed. Wadding, t. 11. 1, p. 451.

Next, Florovsky takes a brief look at St. Thomas’ views on the matter:

“Aquinas … saw the whole weight of the arguments in favor of the opinion that, even apart from the Fall, “nevertheless, God would have become incarnate,” and he quoted the phrase of St. Augustine: ‘in the Incarnation of Christ, other things must be considered besides absolution from sin.’ (De Trinitate, XIII. 17). But Aquinas could not find, either in Scripture or in the Patristic writings, any definite witness to this Incarnation independent of the Fall, and therefore was inclined to believe that the Son of God would not have been incarnate if the first man did not sin: “Although God could have become incarnate without the existence of sin, it is nevertheless more appropriate to say that, if man had not sinned, God would not have become incarnate, since in Sacred Scripture the reason for the Incarnation is everywhere given as the sin of the first man.“

Then Florovsky turns to Bonaventure’s claims, which closely align with St. Thomas’:

“Comparing the two opinions — one in favor of an Incarnation apart from the Fall and the other dependent on it, he concluded: ‘Both [opinions] excite the soul to devotion by different considerations: the first, however, more consonant with the judgment of reason; yet it appears that the second is more agreeable to the piety of faith.’ One should rely rather on the direct testimony of the Scriptures than on the arguments of human logic.“

Florovsky mentions the fact that St. Francois de Sales argued for the absolutist theory. Florovsky does not cite St. Francois, but I will. In his Treatise on the Love of God (Bk. 2, ch. 4), he writes:

“God knew from all eternity that he could make an innumerable multitude of creatures with divers perfections and qualities, to whom he might communicate himself, and considering that amongst all the different communications there was none so excellent as that of uniting himself to some created nature, in such sort that the creature might be engrafted and implanted in the divinity, and become one single person with it, his infinite goodness, which of itself and by itself tends towards communication, resolved and determined to communicate himself in this manner. So that, as eternally there is an essential communication in God by which the Father communicates all his infinite and indivisible divinity to the Son in producing him, and the Father and the Son together producing the Holy Ghost communicate to him also their own singular divinity;—so this sovereign sweetness was so perfectly communicated externally to a creature, that the created nature and the divinity, retaining each of them its own properties, were notwithstanding so united together that they were but one same person. …

“Furthermore the sacred providence determined to produce all other things as well natural as supernatural in behalf of Our Saviour, in order that angels and men might, by serving him, share in his glory; on which account, although God willed to create both angels and men with free-will, free with a true freedom to choose evil or good, still, to show that on the part of the divine goodness they were dedicated to good and to glory, he created them all in original justice, which is no other thing than a most sweet love, which disposed, turned and set them forward towards eternal felicity. …

“He … foresaw that the first man would abuse his liberty and forsaking grace would lose glory, yet would he not treat human nature so rigorously as he determined to treat the angelic. It was human nature of which he had determined to take a blessed portion to unite it to his divinity. …”

In the third section of Florovsky’s essay, he focuses on St. Maximus as a major advocate of the absolutist theory, although not one consciously debating the possibility of an alternate fall-free world (cf. the note* at the end of this post):

“The 60th Questio ad Thalassium, is a commentary on I Peter, 1:19-20: ‘[Christ was] like a blameless and spotless lamb, who was foreordained from the foundation of the world.’ … St. Maximus first briefly summarizes the true teaching about the Person of Christ, and then proceeds: ‘This is the blessed end, on account of which everything was created. This is the Divine purpose, which was thought of before the beginning of Creation, and which we call an intended fulfillment. All creation exists on account of this fulfillment and yet the fulfillment itself exists because of nothing that was created. Since God had this end in full view, he produced the natures of things. This is truly the fulfillment of Providence and of planning. Through this there is a recapitulation to God of those created by Him. … The Messenger, who is in essence Himself the Word of God, became man on account of this fulfillment. And it may be said that it was He Himself Who restored the manifest innermost depths of the goodness handed down by the Father; and He revealed the fulfillment in Himself, by which creation has won the beginning of true existence. For on account of Christ, that is to say the mystery concerning Christ, all time and that which is in time have found the beginning and the end of their existence in Christ. For before time there was secretly purposed a union of the ages, of the determined and the Indeterminate, of the measurable and the Immeasurable, of the finite and Infinity, of the creation and the Creator, of motion and rest — a union which was made manifest in Christ during these last times.”
–– (M., P.G., XC, 621, A-B.)

I have cited all these writings to throw light on an evident tension in the debate, namely, how strongly or weakly eminent theologians rely on the explicit teaching of Scripture to address a question like this. The application this debate has for the sola Scriptura debate is this: if a Protestant, for example, argues from Scripture that the redemptive theory is the truth, since, as St. Thomas says, “in Sacred Scripture the reason for the Incarnation is everywhere given as the sin of the first man.” The Protestant thereby implies that the absolutist theory is a mere conjecture, based, at best, on the Church’s doctrinal tradition and doctors. This of course indicates that the only certain and authoritative grounds for Christian DOCTRINE are the express contents of Scripture.

In that case, however, he begins to stumble. For by calling the express teaching of Scripture the only sure basis of doctrine, he compromises the idea that the established contents (canon) of Scripture are Christian DOCTRINE, since, after all, the canon is not expressly taught in Scripture. Without a rigorous Scriptural argument to support the canon of Scripture, it is, for the sola Scripturist, a theologoumenon just like, arguendo, the absolutist theory of the Incarnation. If, however, the canon is established and accepted based on traditional, extra-scriptural sources of doctrinal authority, then the canon becomes just as defensible or indefensible as the absolutist theory of the Incarnation. Round and round we go.

This analysis is not novel with me. It is an intrinsically retorsive (love that word) defect in the sola Scriptura position. Nonetheless, I thought it would be a bit novel to throw a different angle of light on the problem vis-à-vis a very profound doctrinal matter, to wit, the motive for the Incarnation.

The bottom line is this: Is there a rigorous scriptural proof the prime sufficiency of Scripture itself? If a rigorous exegesis were the grounds for “knowing God’s word”, then we clearly have no way of knowing God’s word about the canon.

Forget a “rigorous Scriptural argument” for the canon––can you even give me any Scriptural argument for the canon?

“Well,” you might say, “certain of Paul’s writings speak of themselves as divinely inspired, and Peter refers to Paul’s writings as such, etc.” I’ve seen attempts like that before. But that only begs the question: why should I heed St. Paul in the first place? Did he have infallible knowledge of just WHICH of his writings were “the goods”?

The fact of the matter is, the only reason you heed Paul and Peter is because Antioch and Rome have done so for centuries. And they have heeded them precisely by honoring their writings as the word of God. Once that lineage is established, of course, it becomes theologically coherent to cite one author as support for the other. But only until one submits to that lineage––that authoritative tradition. The bottom line is, if the Bible alone is THE word of God, then clearly God is silent about the canon of the very Scriptures alleged to be THE word of God. That is theologically incoherent; perhaps not self-contradictory, but retorsively self-destructive.

By contrast, if I stand before the entire Christian “manifold of witness” as it has ACTUALLY developed and existed for so many centuries, then I can’t simply “pick and choose” (which is literally what “heresy” means) which aspect of it I will favor. Why heed the Scriptures? Because the Magisterium and the Spirit-anointed faithful have preserved and honored them AS God’s word. But why heed the Magisterium and the Spirit-anointed faithful? Because they have received and preserved God’s word as their authority, and have done so in a way that is itself reinforced by the way their predecessors had done so.

It is not our place individually to have infallible certainty about the pronouncements of the Magisterium––people toss this red herring into the debate all the time––(”But how do you know you know you know…the Pope knows?”)––but it only makes sense theologically to premise that voice as infallible IF IN FACT that voice is that which proclaims the Bible as the word of God. Infallible teaching need not always be verbal; education is primarily about socialization, of how to live well in the society in which one is being educated, so the majority of it, up to a certain age, is indeed about learning from the parents’ and teacher’s behavior rather than words. Likewise with the Church: just because the Church did not pronounce on the canon until, arguendo, Trent, does not mean its behavior prior to that was any less heuristic with respect to the canon they had preserved. It was precisely when Luther sought INFALLIBLE personal certainty of his own Christ-righteousness before God that he rejected the Church’s infallible authority over the canon. This is not a surprise really; for we can only choose one, personal certainty or infallible authority. Notice how little Catholics worry about the canon; it is as “given” by the authority of the Church as their own baptism was given by Her sacramentally. Ultimately, like I say, the Church’s crucible is worship: insofar as the various churches were celebrating the same faith, they were one; in time, that very action of authoritative worship helped the Church as a whole discern just which of the Scriptures were binding for the whole Church, which itself was a discernment modulated by the authoritative structure of the traditional churches.

Why did the Arian controversy erupt? Because Arius was accused of reading the Bible wrong or because he was accused of undermining the worship of the common Church? Arius was able (quite ably, as we know) to argue from the Bible that Jesus was a creature, but he was never able to argue from the Mass that Jesus was anything less than God, since the Mass was entirely predicated on the idea that Jesus was being worshiped along with and, indeed, AS God. Arius was condemned as a heretic against the Church’s worshiped truth, not as a bad Bible scholar. Scriptural arguments were used to indicate this fact, NOT to establish by themselves that Arius was wrong.

By analogy, a soccer player is offsides when and if the referee says he is, based on his knowledge of the game and based on his authority; no player has ever been called offsides because some fan, or group of fans, has argued for it from the ISL rulebook. The ref can never violate the rulebook, but obviously the rulebook can never call offsides or anything else without the active, free, authoritative wisdom of the referee as the voice of the rulebook. In any case, who else but a college of referees ever decided the contents of the rulebook? They did so BASED ON the long tradition of actually played and diversely hallowed soccer. That tradition was binding for them antecedently in the same way the rulebook is binding for them ultimately. But always, in between, suspended between the antecedent authority of the tradition and the final authority of the rulebook, the living voice of the referee is absolutely vital to how and even whether the game is played. As a Protestant, you are the guy in the stands chewing our the ref for making a bad call. As you read the rulebook, you might be right; but you have no such authority to reject the ref’s word on the matter.

If we shift this analogy up to the theandric, apostolic level, I think the fallibility of the ref’s various calls is amended towards infallibility in the same way the fallibility of the rulebook is amended into inspiration. But in the logical structure of the analogates, living authority is integral to “the game” of faith, and in a way that Protestantism simply cannot furnish. Instead of playing the game, too many sola Scripturists end up playing with the rulebook instead.

Certainty about God's word is, or should be, proportionate to the level of discourse (e.g., maths requires proof in a way history cannot [cf. the snafu with R. Bellah nearly being appointed to Princeton's Institute of Advanced Snootiness Studies]). To expect more certainty from a field of inquiry than the object can reasonably give, is to commit the fallacy of metabasis eis allo genos. To paraphrase Eddie Murphy's Buckwheat, "You is wookin puh suhtainty in all da wong paces."

Often, belief can be complemented by good will and natural desire. E.g., I may not be SURE of my friend’s every intention, but I can complement my hunches into knowledge based on charity towards him. As for natural desire, an intuition may be enhanced into knowledge not only by our natural receptivity to see evidence more attentively, as well as to discount skeptical worries based on a larger fund of natural experience. E.g., I may not be SURE the meat loaf is not poisoned, or is not my old uncle’s thigh, but I can assuage that skepticism with the larger fund of knowledge about how the world generally works (and since meat loaf is a general thing in the world, it gets the same “general” pass).

By insisting sola Scriptura be able to ground itself as more than a theologoumenon on the basis of Scripture itself, I am not assuming foundationalism. At least not hardcore foundationalism. If foundationalism means building from certain first principles, then, yes, I’m arguing as a foundationalist (just as Aristotle and St Thomas do). But that doesn’t mean I’m seeking infallible, self-evident principles perspicuous for any and all observers, then no, I’m not a foundationalist.

My argument is simply to nudge a sola Scripturist toward facing the obvious: his own view retorsively undermines the very basis of his view as a debatable conclusion of his view. Concretely, basing all doctrine on Scripture alone renders Scripture itself non-doctrinal. I believe the Catholic Church has a superior “coherentist foundationalism” which argues towards the cogency of its sources of authority, but ultimately argues from those very sources in its message. The truth of God rests on the three interlocked pillars of the Church as the foundation of truth: i) Scripture, ii) Tradition, iii) Magisterium (in a sense, I would say the Church’s authority is “sola latreia”, since in Catholic worship all three columns are fused: the Bible in the traditional liturgy and iconography in union with the bishops and their priests). Cliched, perhaps, but I am a Catholic for a reason, namely, that I think the recursively reinforcing nature of Catholic criteriology works better than alternatives. It’s one thing to go “round and round”, like I said, if it’s a downward spiral (or perhaps Protestantism is just a ping pong match between the “best” in current theology and the inscrutably perspicuous primacy of Scripture over all theology). It’s quite something else to go in an even or perhaps even upward spiral, which I think Orthodoxy and Catholicism do, respectively.

Consider this final analogy:

You have been invited to move to an affluent foreign country. But in order to do so you must assemble with a group of other people going there at the end of the year. Each invitee is given three things: 1. a receiver that can receive and send messages to and from the country (though reception is often bad and often gets mixed up with competing signals nearby); 2. a massive dictionary to learn the country’s language, written by the ambassadors of the country; and 3. a book of notes that other invitees have compiled and handed around like samizdat so they can recognize the luggage they should all bring, the signals they should all know to indicate the assembly is underway before departure, the best landmarks to eventually find the departure area, etc. Every few years some invitees are called to depart, so there must be a cycle of transmission to secure that later invitees have an idea where to meet, when, how, etc. and how to speak the language so they live in the country.

1. stands for the voice of the Holy Spirit.
2. stands for the Scriptures as the official guide to the entire “true” world of discourse in that country.
3. stands for the tradition as articulated by the Magisterium.

Only if an invitee attends to all three can he have the most reasonably good chance of finding the departure assembly and being welcomed into the country as a true immigrant. When 1. conflicts with 2. and 3., it’s likely 1. needs to be aligned with the others.

Interestingly, 2. was originally much larger and messier a compendium of all sorts of cultural tips and musings about the country. In fact, originally, 2. was basically coextensive with 3. The dictionary, naturally, was comprised of every thing the earliest invitees had been told by the ambassadors. Only over time did a separation emerge between 2. and 3., for two reasons: i) certain parts of 2. spoke about themselves in a way that nothing in 3. did, and ii) certain parts of 3. could only be derived from 2. Once it was seen elements of 3. were more like glosses upon what some invitee had read in 2., 3. became a separate, and in some sense lesser source of information––and yet, 3. was still essential for the whole project not only so that obscurities in 2. could be resolved but also because 3. indicated the most common reference to the contents of 2. 2. is everything the earliest invitees were told by the ambassadors, while 3. is everything the next-earliest invitees were left by the first invitees.

Meanwhile, of course, the 2.-3. descent was being modulated by the common reports added to 3. based on 1. Every time something heard in 1. appeared in 2., it was given especial weight; and naturally, this was noted in 3., which eventually went on to tighten the focus and depth of 2.

* Florovsky adds: “Hans Urs von Balthasar, Liturgie Cosmique: Maxime le Confesseur (Paris, Aubier, 1947), pp. 204-205 … quotes Qu. ad Talass. 60 and adds that St. Maximus would have taken the Scotist side in the scholastic controversy, yet with an important qualification: ‘Maxime de reste est totalement etranger au postulat de ce debat scholastique qui imagine la possibilite d’un autre ordre du monde sans peche et totalement irreel. Pour lui la ‘volonte preexistante’ de Dieu est identique au monde des ‘idees’ et des ‘possibles’: l’ordre des essences et l’ordre des faits coincident en ce point supreme’ (in the German edition, Kosmische Liturgie, S. 267-268).

Tell me about your childhood… 

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FREUDIAN: Tell me about your childhood.

SUBJECT: I was a, more or less, happy boy.

F: No, I don't believe you were. In fact you were not.

S: Oh, well, what do you mean? I think I was pretty happy as a child.

F: Mother. Tell me what you think of when I say Mother.

S: …Home.

F: There you have it.

S: I…

F: Let's move on. Something more concrete. What is you favorite color?

S: Uh, blue.

F: No, actually it's green.

S: Wha…? But I'm telling you, my favorite color is blue.

F: Well, that's what you say, with your conscious mind, but I am trying to help you access a different, deeper level of self-awareness––your subconscious mind.

S: So what does that have to do with my favorite color?

F: It's part of a larger paradigm, a theory, which I'm afraid would only distract from the real work, the real progress, we are trying to attain in this time.

S: Are you saying there is some connection between what I said about my mother, and home, and my favorite color being blue? Is green a symbol for my feelings?

F: Interesting. Notice how the first suggestion that we might pierce the veil of your conscious mind has you asking me if I am saying things that, in fact, you are saying. Are you saying there is a connection between your mother and the fact that green is your favorite color?

S: Green…? But blue is my favorite color.

F: So, do you see the problem? You have slipped into denial on the most trivial of matters.

S: … Can we change the topic?

F: Slipped…

S: Fine, my favorite color is green but I also love blue.

F: The subconscious emerges!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Wisdom from…

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JOHN CHRYSOSTOM (347–407): What God did for us

As one of Christ's ambassadors, the apostle Paul pleads his cause in the words: For our sake God made the sinless one into sin. If God had done nothing more for us than to give up his Son for those who scorned him, we should still need to marvel at the greatness of the gesture. But in addition to this tremendous generosity, God permitted him who did no wrong to be crucified for wrongdoers. The sinless one, who was holiness incarnate, God made into sin: that is, he allowed him to be judged as a malefactor, to die as one accursed, for a man hanged upon a tree is accursed by God. Such a sentence was far worse than mere death. Saint Paul implies this elsewhere in the words: He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Let us constantly remember, therefore, the many blessings we have received from him.

John Chrysostom was the patriarch of Constantinople, and spent his life of preaching at such a high degree that he earned the title of "the golden-mouthed [chrysostomos]."

ST. AUGUSTINE: Talents Are for Others

Jesus said: "To the person who has, it shall be given." God will give more to those who use for others that which they have received. He will fill up and pile to the brim what he first gave. Our reflections will be multiplied at his prompting. Thus, in our service of him we will suffer no shortage but will rather rejoice in a miraculous abundance of ideas.
-- Christian Doctrine 1, 1

It dawns on me that a Christian blogger would be hard-pressed to find any better a spiritual standard to carry into the fray every time he or she logs on to write. For my part I "do" this blog in good measure to serve others. That is not a vain statement, I hope, only the truth as to why I might seem to delve into such obscure rabbit holes at times. Onward!

Prayer. Lord, my knowledge and my ignorance lie before you. Where you have opened to me, let me enter. Where you have closed to me, open when I knock.
-- The Trinity 15, 51


Look often with your inward eye on Christ Jesus, crucified, naked, blasphemed, slandered, forsaken, overwhelmed by every kind of weariness, sorrow and labor. Remember that your sufferings are not comparable to His, either in quality or in quantity, and that you can never suffer for His sake anything equal to what He has suffered for you.
(INT. Part III, Ch. 3, O. III, p. 138)


THIS world and all our powers in it are far more awful and beautiful than we ever know until some accident reminds us. If you wish to perceive that limitless felicity, limit yourself if only for a moment. If you wish to realize how fearfully and wonderfully God's image is made, stand upon one leg. If you want to realize the splendid vision of all visible things––wink the other eye.
('Tremendous Trifles.')

The world need not be what it is! Everything is Gift! Not illusion, not accident, not deduction, not chaos––but Gift, made real and made intelligible in the One Flesh on the One Altar.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A dialogue on Covenantal Theology… ah, at last!

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[I'm quite disinclined to post dialogues (friendly "fisking", as they're called) like this. I know I've done it before at FCA, but I know as well as anyone else that reading over the shoulder of people having a conversation you may not even care about or follow, is pretty grim stuff, even for a nerdfest like FCA. Nonetheless, I think the substance of Mr. O'Sullivan's comment, and my attempts to reply, warrant some front-page publicity.

Before I begin, however, I want to present the past posts of mine that deal with CT. This may help Mr. O'Sullivan get more of the reply he's seeking, and it should help others get somewhat oriented in this discussion. This page of search results for "Keefe" should be enough for now.

Look out world, here I come! Mr. O'Sullivan's words are in normal font, while mine are in italics.]

… I got the two volume C.T. back then. It doesn’t include the appended chapter that deals with its reception. So maybe the difficulties I mention below are dealt with there.

It will be best for me, at a later date, to review that Appendix in response to critics and then go through it with you in absentia.

…And of course, with that German goblin, “Q” reconciling everything like Einstein’s cosmological constant.

Mr. O'Sullivan, anyone that refers to "Q" as a German goblin is always welcome at my blog!

… Father Keefe’s book, especially in its introductory chapter, and vividly in the notes, sets out to show not only how but why this collapse of the Catholic quaerens happened. For Keefe, I believe, the collapse was inevitable: the result of an insufficiently converted pagan metaphysics that underlay the whole enterprise. I had some reservations about how adequately supported this conversion thesis was but I haven’t the scholarly competence to really specify them for myself.

It might be less rebarbative to look at the collapse as a result of invidious Enlightenment rationalism in modern Catholic discourse, and then see that rationalism as a fruit of the failed stalled conversion process. Calling it simply latent paganism is too otiose, and I don't think Keefe does that, though of course he has no qualms about getting right to what he sees as the heart of the matter. It is pagan for theology to make the fundamentals of a faith rationally respectable in the world's eyes, on the world's terms, rather than on terms of the radically Christocentric nature of Catholicism. That I take to be Keefe's main premise. As he says on pg. 122:

"The theology which identifies the covenantal a priori with this existential intuition of fallenness dominated Catholicism in the Latin West for the nearly thousand years between Augustine and the rise of nominalism; its rationalization set thereafter the problematic with which modern theology has been concerned.

"Out of this pseudo-Augustinian nominalist rationalism arose the critique of religion which preoccupied the Enlightenment; the recent, even current rejection of this critique has amounted to that rediscovery of the Augustinian tradition which continues to be the major preoccupation of contemporary systematic theology."

As I proceeded with further chapters I found it more and more difficult to follow the logic of his exposition. I couldn’t get my bearings in that I couldn’t identify the standpoint or even recognize the context within which he was speaking. Part of it was stylistic, I’m sure. Keefe conducts his argument on so remote a level and with such compression of levels of application that its hard to keep up, especially if you’re not sufficiently conversant with the scholarship he assumes you’ve digested.

Yes, any way you slice it, CT is a head-splitter! But we wouldn't have it any other way, would we? ;)

But it’s also deeper, I think. How does he manage to escape the metaphysical constraints---the cosmological consciousness and its fallen logic, as he calls it--- that bind our thinking? How does he arrive at the Archimedean point that allows him to talk about a free Eucharistic order, so encompassing that it can ground all reality. I’m not saying that he hasn’t succeeded in his endeavor. I’m only saying that I haven’t been able to follow his steps in way that allows me to see things from his position. As it is, his approach seems baffling if not inconsistent.

What I will say in response is only metaphorically apt, but I think it sheds some light on the problem: precisely by positing an Archimedean point, you draw up a vision of some absolute point of rest outside the world. But this is exactly what Keefe will not allow. The world, for him, IS the Eucharistic immanence of Christ; it is the prime analogate of being. Therefore, even the idea of stepping back from it to dissect, analyze, challenge, or modernize it, based on some other prius, refutes its entire hegemony for Catholic covenantal thought.

An essay by James Ross, one of my favorite philosophers, "Musical Standards as a Function of Musical Accomplishment" (PDF warning), makes the point that there simply is no valid place outside the sphere of production, apprenticeship, tradition, and innovative excellence from which music (or any other craft and/or discourse) may be judged. It can only be assessed and appropriated from within the hermeneutic, aesthetic circle. I suspect you, as an artist, know as much. In a way, then, Keefe is refuting in principle any standpoint outside the Eucharistic 'circle'. It is, after all, the living index of divine Revelation and wholly positive in itself, although it does allow for the analogiae entis et fidei––or perhaps I should just say it allows for the former to exist only as a FUNCTION OF the latter. As he says on pg. 440:

"[W]e find in the Eucharist the permanent criterion of metaphysics. … [T]he failure of the conventional Thomist analysis [is] that of implying the necessary and nonhistorical character of … intrinsic intelligibility. That implication has been shown to be explicit in the nonhistorical Thomist prime analogate, the Deus unus who is utterly unrelated to history because absolute, in the nonhistorical analysis of the Incarnation. … The theological prime analogate, the God revealed in Christ, is not absolute in the absolute sense of defying all relation, but is intrinsically and extrinsically related precisely as the Father sending the Son to give the Spirit, which relatedness terminates concretely in the New Covenant."

Take, for example, the fall of man. In C.T. he keeps insisting that the fall is an event simultaneous with the creation of man. But how can Adam be responsible for something that happened to him in the very act of being created and not after he was created? …he relies on a conceptual framework that was opaque to me. … Again the answer was impenetrable.

This just cracks me up. Not at all out of scorn, but out of sympathy. CT is a head-splitter, a crucifixion of the fleshly mind, intellectual ascesis. I feel your pain! Keefe's exposition of the Fall was and is unquestionably one of the most abstruse and rebarbative elements of CT. But if he is right, any less challenging a thesis would be inadequate, since it would, in its palatability, challenge the fleshly mind less than Keefe believes covenantal theology should and does. It's like Heisenberg (?) said about quantum mechanics: if it doesn't startle and baffle you, you clearly aren't getting it.

Now, to address the problem of the fall, I would reverse your statement of it to suggest Keefe's answer: how can Adam be responsible for something that happened to him anywhere or anywhen BUT in his act of being created? How could he be RESPONSIBLE for an order imposed on him before he was created? His substantial independence on the second Adam cannot be a merely temporal sequel, but must be constitutive of either his most fundamental 'option' towards that Adam or towards his own Adamic autonomy. Were the fall from some pristine antecedent order, it would exclude the freedom of the first Adam, precisely in that, only if he were forced to choose in one way over another, would that order remain pristine. The only substantially good order IN WHICH humans exist is one rooted in the integral freedom of the Second Adam, which is only appropriated historically and freely in the Eucharistic synaxis. Once that pristine order is posited as something which excludes the first Adam's freedom, it becomes a Platonic flight from history.

Moreover, the primacy of Christ in creation is coterminous with His primacy in redemption, as the one Mission of the Father by means of the One Flesh. As Keefe says on pg. 235:

"Offered 'headship,' and thus the ability to appropriate integrity for all humanity, the first Adam appropriated fallenness, i.e., existence as sarx rather than as pneuma; his use of freedom is decisive for the totality of mankind, which, by the fact of the offer of headship to him, are in solidarity with him. … Because the Immanuel by his obedience is irrevocably man, he is by the fall of the first Adam historically immanent in fallen humanity, in sarx. His obedience to his Mission by the Father is thereupon redemptive as well as creative; it is directed to the second giving of the Spirit by which sarx is re-created, recapitulated, to become pneuma, first in the Head, then in all those in solidarity with the Head who is Jesus, the Christ.

"We are in an unfree solidarity with the sin of the fallen Adam, whose refusal of freedom eliminates the freedom of our solidarity with his original sin, for that solidarity, as in fallenness, is not integral and not free."

This indicates how we can be 'punished' in original sin (originatum, 'from birth') and yet not actually 'guilty' of the original sin (originans, 'from the start'). Insofar as we are the very flesh of the first Adam, we are literally incorporated in the punishments and woes due to that Adam, yet without actually incurring personal guilt for his individual sin. And yet, even then we cannot plea, "But Adam did it!", as if we ourselves were not involved––precisely because the first Adam is a metaphysical, not a temporal, prius in our very constitution as the children of Adam. By virtue of his covenantally offered headship, rooted even more basically in the trinitarian goodness of the immanent Immanuel, it might be less confusing to replace (or at least parallel) the truth, "In Adam [originans] we sinned all" with the truth, "In us all [originatum] Adam sinned". Fr. Keefe elaborates:

"Inasmuch as the original sin originans could only consist in a refusal to be, its only actuality is that of a responsible refusal to be free: the primordial nonappropriation of the covenantal freedom of the Good Creation, after which there remains to us only servitude. The original sin originans in which we are solidary is then a free refusal of our own free reality as this is offered for free appropriation in the metaphysically primordial moment of our creation. Because original sin in us (originatum) is not voluntary, the original sin in its active sense cannot have been an act of humanity as such, in and by which the responsible freedom of each human being would have been engaged."

Fr. Keefe then examines the 'injustice' of our fallen condition, on pg. 236:

"To be fallen is to be unfree, so that a free solidarity in fallenness would be a contradiction in terms. … [H]ad there been no fall our solidarity in the integrity of the first Adam would have been effective in each of us as a spontaneous, personally free commitment, as finally our redemption must be. … [T]o be integral, unfallen, plena gratia, is to be constituted in the free community of the One Flesh, in Covenant….

"We tend to picture to ourselves an 'original situation' or status quo ante of humanity relative to the fall as a condition of responsible freedom or 'original justice,' whereas our original situation is our solidarity with the primordial refusal of this status, the covenantal ordo of integral free existence, and our solidarity in the diminished human substance that results in this loss of freedom….

"This rejection, or aversio a Deo, in its spontaneity is the external sign, the very utterance, of our schismatic and alienated human substance, whose diminution is in the order of being, of life, of freedom, therefore of decision. It is thus that the refusal of integral because covenantal life … is actual in us without need or possibility of personal decision."

It is precisely because the first Adam's rejection of the nuptial One Flesh of the Second Adam is integral to his headship over mankind that original sin originans is a moral and historical, as opposed to cosmological and rational, primordiality corruption of the Good Creation. Fr. Keefe elaborates on pg. 239:

"It is not enough to speak of our moral immaturity, of the burdens of the flesh, of the 'sin of the world,' or of the iherently [sic] tragic condition of man, unless this unhappy state is also affirmed to be a moral evil, irreducible to any psychological, sociological, physical or whatever other human flaw that is in principle susceptible to human remedy, or to any explanation reducible to a prior possibility necessarily inherent in humanity as such. …

"The doctrinal tradition requires a fallen moral solidarity in a moral event of sin. To refuse the tradition is to refuse the historicity of the problem of evil, and so to fall back once again upon cosmological rationalization of evil.

"However, the historicity of our solidarity in the sin of the first Adam and Eve is secondary to and radically dependent upon our solidarity in the redemption effected by the sacrificial union of the second Adam with the second Eve. We have no other history than that which is signed by the life, death and Resurrection of Christ. Therefore history is a theological category, because all historicity is grounded in Christo, and only in Christ may its meaning, its intelligibility, be appropriated. … "[T]he fall is headship refused, the negation of the integrity which headship appropriates."

…the same densely allusive language that he uses in C.T. I sympathized with the blank expression on the face of that earnest seeker. If Fr. Keefe were a gnostic there wouldn’t be a problem. He would simply be claiming to have a special insight that the rest of us, caught up in illusory ways of thinking, couldn’t share. …

You crack me up, man; I love your candor and way with words. But remember: gnosis is not bad, if it is exoteric, as CT is. Gnosis of Christ is, in fact, one of the most central themes in the NT. Keefe just insists Christian gnosis can ONLY be Eucharistic in form and in content. Consider the disciples who "knew Him in the breaking of the bread" (in Luke), and not before that.

I’ve read Keefe’s book on Tillich and most of his on line articles. I haven’t been able to find many reviews of the book. There was one in America that only superficially engaged his thinking: and a brief notice in First Things. I read Kelleher’s “Knuckleheads Guide”---great title and helpful too, if a bit breathless. The early part on Plato and Aristotle with the clever sidebars was brilliant. The later parts just raised more questions for me; e.g. what does he mean: “there was no ‘before’ before the fall.” The materialist approach of, say, a Pinker is hardly the only strong alternative to Keefe’s approach. The “Skyhook” piece he followed up with, where Dennett replaces Pinker, sets things up equally artificially, I think.

Please elaborate on the artificiality you perceive in Kelleher's essay.

Besides, what makes a term like radical historicity any less timeless an abstract analytical concept than hylemorphism?

See, the thing you have to keep in mind here, is that you are much more erudite than me. This is not just a matter of age (I was pre-born or just-born when you returned to Church!), but also of your obvious amount of learning in these matters.

Now, as for the "no before before before" problem, this is not endemic to Keefe's view. Cosmology has faced this problem for decades. It is not simply an empirical lack on our part that we can't peer back beneath the first nanoseconds of the cosmos. It is actually intrinsic to the coherence of scientific exploration that, as we approach the limits of physical structure, we lose the ability to apply the same categories that guide our inquiry. If we reached absolute zero time, the laws of physical, which are rooted in time and motion, would not apply, and thus our inquiry would shut down. Hence, there is not even conceivably a 'before' prior to the inception of time. St. Augustine dealt with this in his Confessions, as I'm sure you know.

What Keefe is doing, is simply shifting the index from a cosmological prius to a Eucharistic prius. There is no cosmos that began and then saw the historical emergence of this thing called the Eucharist. Rather, the Eucharist is the metaphysical prius not only of substance but also of time. Hence, in CT, there is not even conceivably a 'before' prior to the one prius that is the One Flesh. This means, I venture, that Keefe is not intrinsically opposed to cosmological thought ONCE it is predicated on the Eucharist, but he gives no quarter to the hint of cosmological autonomy. This means that he does not in principle reject analytic categories à la hylomorphism, only that the Eucharist is the only coherent grounds for hylomorphic analysis. St. Thomas, the prince of hylomorphism, followed Aristotle's lead by saying there are no nonsubstantial (i.e., non-existent) forms, but only substances individuated in matter. This however, according to Keefe, immediately opens the can of worms that subjects the Church's theology to Aristotle's autonomous cosmos. Only if we, by antithetical contrast, root hylomorphism (or Platonic Augustinian Forms, for that matter) in the prescribed Event-structure of the Eucharist, can we hope to generate a coherent AND orthodox metaphysics. The Eucharist CAN be analyzed hylomorphically, but the analysis must follow the historical structure of the Eucharist, rather than impose upon it a cosmological pattern. Such an analysis––which, it must be stressed, is not the only way to explore the Eucharist––will show how Christ fulfills the role of form and matter and substantial union; thus, hylomorphism is converted to Christ, rather than pasted over Him as in a lot of Thomism (according to Keefe).

Another essay by James Ross, "God, Creator of Kinds and Possibilities: Requiescant Universalia Ante Res" (PDF warning… and another head-splitter warning), presents powerful reasons why divine exemplarism is incoherent, and this would extend to imagining some divine exemplar for Adam before he actually existed in his possibly integral freedom, which ultimately terminated in his non-integral servitude as fallen caput hominis. Ross's main point is that possibility (i.e., creatable exemplars) are logically subsequent to actual creation. Only if Adam is, in the existentially replete manner of his actual existence, does possibility and contingency coherently apply to him. Only because Christ, the Word, as the Second Adam, was the absolute archetype of Adam, the image in the likeness, as the First Adam, is a divine Person, could He function as an 'exemplar' for actual creation. It just happens, however, that even His archetypal status is only actually and freely possible by the historical Event of His immanent offering, in sarx, in the Eucharist. His archetypal primacy for creation, and for Adam as the head of that Good Creation, is only immanent and actual in the Eucharist. Ross does not go into this, but his anti-exemplarism dovetails nicely with Keefe's so-called Eucharistic actualism.

In any case, let me cite Fr. Keefe at some length (pgs. 429–431), in order to clarify what I mean by his Eucharistic inversion of metaphysics, and how, while it may not 'escape' analytical thought, does at least 'delegitmate' and dethrone it, baptize and convert it:

"[T]he Eucharistic transubstantiation must be seen to be normative for metaphysics as only an a priori can be normative; transubstantiation is thereupon not an exception to metaphysical intelligibility arbitrarily inserted into reality as a requirement of faith, but the very criterion of metaphysical intelligibility. This is no more than the immediate implication of the recognition of the New Covenant as the prime analogate of substantial being. …

"St. Thomas… attempted, without success, to understand transubstantiation within th ea priori context of a cosmological notion of objectivity that he took for granted as already in place, and which controlled a priori what transubstantiation should be. … [T]he properly theological task is that of understanding reality under the Eucharistic criterion of historical objectivity: viz., under the a priori of the prime historical objectivity, the Eucharistic Event of transubstantiation and of Sacrifice. … [T]he problem before us is not that of fitting transubstantiation into a prevailing act-potency system, but of reinterpreting the act-potency analysis of being under the norm of this historical-liturgical a priori….

"To repeat: the task of a Thomist Eucharistic theology is not to develop an account of the Event of transubstantiation in terms of a metaphysical analysis of the intelligible immanent necessity of being, but to develop a historical and theological metaphysical analysis of being as intelligible immanent freedom in the covenantal terms which are manifest and effective in Eucharistic transubstantiation. …

"[O]nly in its theological and covenantal development does the act-potency analysis come into its own, for only in the New Covenant are the conditions of the free intrinsic intelligibility which its analytic and its hermeneutic presuppose actually met. …

"The intrinsic intelligibility of change within a material substance depends upon discovering within that substance its specific formal cause; apart from this… a devolution from act-potency to the universal hylemorphism of Neoplatonic dualism is inevitable, for the formal cause, when understood to be extrinsic to or transcendent to material substance, can only be divinity in some guise… in such wise that all formal differentiation is reductively quantitative, grounded in a greater or lesser materiality. Once again, the sole remedy for this act-potency dilemma is the free immanence in creation of the New Covenant, the formal cause of man and man's world. … [W]hen the analysis is thus normed, the cosmological notion of a substantial human species composed of formally identical but materially discrete members gives way to to that of the substantial New Covenant, membership which is free, covenantal, and intrinsically intelligible precisely as connoting a maritally-ordered and liturgical-constituted community of covenantally unique masculine and feminine persons.

"Finally, the intrinsic intelligibility of the immanence of form in matter, and consequently of the multiplicity of human beings within substantial human unity… depends upon the actuality of, and their participation in, the freely immanent formal perfection of humanity. In cosmological act-potency metaphysics, form is actually immanent in matter only as participated, not in its full perfection, which is actual either nowhere or in some version of a divine idea extrinsic to materiality. But with the conversion of act-potency metaphysics from cosmology to Covenant, this plenary formal cause of substantial humanity is freely immanent in historical human substance by the free historical ordo of the New Covenant."

… It [theology] is an extension of the liturgy and it has the same infallible actuality for the theologian as data has for scientific research.

I take this to be Keefe's most important axiom, though not one exclusive to him. T. Torrance has written a great deal about the analogously objective priority of physical reality in science and divine revelation in theology. In my 1996 edition of CT, I find five references to Torrance in the index. You should begin with Torrance's _Space, Time & Incarnation_. For Keefe, if you are somewhat conversant in general relativity theory, the Eucharist is the speed of light which grounds the whole rest of the project that is Christian theology.

For what it’s worth I think the reason Keefe is so difficult to follow goes back to the nature/grace controversies of the earlier 20th C. with people like Chenu and especially De Lubac trying to redefine or recontextualize the supernatural. But I’ll leave that for another post if you wish to respond.

This again shows how you are my better in this dialogue. But it's so nice to have a dialogue partner at last! You are right, though, considering there are something like ninety references to de Lubac in CT's index.

You seem much more at home in Keefe’s approach. Was it already familiar to you from other theological reading? How does one catch on?

I was completely unaware of Keefe's work until… gosh, I can't even recall how I found it. It must have been Kelleher's blurb about CT as Keefe's "highly abstruse but devastatingly important masterwork," which I must have found just by Googling one day. I'm kind of a masochist for hard books. Plus, when I sensed a connection between Keefe and S. Jaki (there are ten references to him in CT's index), I was like a bloodhound on the trail. I am a major "Jakophile", you see, and even started a Catholic quarterly, inFORM, to broaden awareness to his work (not to mention demystify it for less eggheaded persons than myself).

Fr. Jaki's relentless emphasis on realism and the singular reality of the cosmos as wholly contingent on God resonate nicely with CT. … And yet, having said that, I am also mindful of the possibility that even Keefe's most important sources/ guides (e.g., John Paul II, Jaki, de Lubac, Torrance, von Balthasar, et al.) would be stunned and repulsed by ways in which their views have been deployed in CT. To wit, I suspect S. Jaki is more cosmological than Keefe would like (although it's not entirely apt to put it in terms of "liking"); Fr. Jaki, after all, is one of the leading proponents of the cosmological argument in a revised fashion. This is only to say that, while I am a huge admirer of Fr. Keefe's work and simply floored by his erudition, I am not necessarily a dogmatic Keefian. In point of fact, I am a very content Thomist, so it was and is hard to sustain the criticisms Keefe applies to Thomism. I am fully prepared to see CT suffer major critiques and blows, once it is given the proper attention by Keefe's theological peers. The fact, however, that his work, like that of Fr. Jaki, has so far been suspiciously under-attended, stirs in my poetic depths an intuition that CT really is a hidden treasure. It is neglected perhaps in the same way the Greco-Roman establishment tried to marginalize the early Gospel: and this because CT is just about as big a ticking timebomb of a
skandalon as the Gospel it aims to glorify.

Now, as for how I was able to "take to" CT, I would say two things prepared me spiritually, dispositionally, for CT, if not intellectually and theoretically.

One, in college I had gotten fairly deeply into presuppositional apologetics and, in turn, Reformed epistemology. This made me see just how feeble worldly thought is, when challenged apologetically from a radically Christian foundation. When I had both the founder and president of the campus atheist club literally at a loss for words in a debate we held on faith and reason, I lost all fear of the wisdom of man compared to the authority of God's Word. CT is Eucharistically presuppositional, yet not positivistically, but in a way that shows the flaws in a non-Eucharistic worldview. You might say presupps and Ref. epist. gave me an analogous theoretical prep for CT.

Second, the one thing that really drew me into the Catholic Church––and indeed the only thing I think that should draw anyone––is the Eucharist. Although I am a very shabby Catholic in many ways, I have never and pray I never will lose my bedrock love for and confidence in the Eucharistic Christ as my Savior and Healer. The Eucharist, to be blunt, is just about the only thing that has unambiguous value and meaning for me. So, when I find a book that roots the entire world in the Eucharist, in a way that I find my own entire life is rooted in it, I am all ears.

But trust me: CT was one of the most challenging, humbling intellectual experiences of my life. And I'm still not even really done with it. I've been making my way through the notes for months, between my other reading efforts, and intend to re-read the entire beast again.

P.S. Are you any relation to the Confederate officer at First Bull Run?

I doubt it. My paternal great-grandparents came from Greece in the early 20th century.

The Eucharist as the Church's only ordo theologiae

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[Although I already posted this at Philper, and mentioned here the 'response' to it there, I decided to post it here, not only because I figure it's all for the good to increase the number of possible hits "Keefe" and "Covenantal" can get on the Internet, but also because I was graced with an inebriatingly substantive reply by a Mr. O'Sullivan to my review of Covenantal Theology (CT), which inclines me to give these Keefian matters a more central place of their own at FCA.]

The proper and ineluctable ordo of Roman Catholic theology is the Eucharistic covenant as it thrives in the Church. All theological principles and categories must submit to and be subsumed under this one triune matrix of actual, substantial, concrete, and free––because historical––communion in and through the μια σαρχ (One Flesh).

Hence, predestination is a perversion of the Faith if and when it is imagined as belonging to some higher, antecedent ‘cosmic’ order. Predestination is only orthodox when subsumed under the Eucharist. There is no antecedent rational necessity to account for divine predestination, since God’s providence is only truly real in the historically immanent Lordship of the Eucharistic Jesus. There is no higher ‘reason’ for creation and salvation, but this does not mean they are arbitrary and meaningless realities, since the only grounding of them is the free, coherent, historical action of God in the Eucharistic covenant.

People are not predestined according to some cosmic, pre-incarnate decree, but are predestined precisely in the free, actual, historical appropriation or rejection of the New Adam in the Eucharist. There is no supreme natural order that exists prior to creation’s covenantally grounded structure in the triune work of God. The economy of salvation, therefore, does not take place 'in' nature, but rather generates coherence and meaning for nature precisely by virtue of the historically free and objective concreteness of the Eucharist. All existence is grace, although not all existence is equally graced. History, in turn, is not an absolute, prior category of thought or reality, but is a radically and properly theological concept generated in the human consciousness by the concrete immediacy of the Eucharist as the One Sacrifice for all times and all peoples.

As Fr. Donald Keefe says in Covenatntal Theology: the Eucharistic Order of History (pp. 551, 552):

“When, as often, the Platonic resolution of fallenness by its dehistoricization is mistaken for theology, its self-salvific rationalizing thrust finds a pseudo-Christian expression in theories of predestination; these, whether single, as in Origen’s hypothesis of apokatastasis, echoed by Barth’s systematics and, as has been feared, by von Balthasar’s aesthetics, or double, as from Gottschalk to Calvin to the Synod of Dort, are all led by the same conviction that man’s dignity, his moral freedom, must evanesce before the divine omnipotence, and that the truth and reality of the historical human condition is actual only in a union with divinity outside of time, whether in the world of Forms or in an inscrutable divine judgment. … Augustinianism ineluctably relapses into its pre-conversion condition, that of Platonism, when the sacrificial realism of the Catholic Eucharistic tradition is refused or systematically ignored.”

Fr. Keefe notes earlier, on page 535, that the only thing which keeps Augustinianism from relapsing into unreconstructed Platonism, is St. Augustine's radically sacramental consciousness. From page 535:

“…[St. Augustine] sees the fallen consciousness of man to be integrated historically [not ideally or atemporally] in the Eucharist. … [N]othing further is required for the reconstruction of a realistic Augustinian theology of transubstantiation than the systematic exploitation of Augustine’s own equation of the One Sacrifice, the One Flesh of the second Adam and the second Eve, with the Eucharistic Sacrifice, for it is the freedom of this union that constitutes its historicity. Only the historical density of the liturgical experience itself is able to ground Augustine’s sacramental theology, and to found an Augustinian theology upon any less concrete and historical ground than the Eucharistic Sacrifice is to ignore once again the free historical foundation for Augustine’s on-going conversion of his Neoplatonism to the Catholic faith. This foundation is the Eucharistic liturgy which was his central responsibility over thee nearly forty years of his episcopacy. To ignore this liturgical foundation is to misconceive Augustine’s theology.

"In Augustinian as in Thomist metaphysics we therefore have to do with the concrete, historical, free and objective relation between the event of the Church’s offering of the bread and wine of the Offertory and the Event-presence of the Christ to the bridal Church as Priest, as Victim, and as semper interpellans. This is simply the historical ordo, the dynamically integrating relations of circumincession which we have seen [in the preceding hundreds of pages] to exist between the event of the Old Covenant, the Event of the New Covenant, and the Event of the Kingdom. It is identically the free and intra-substantial ordering of the Offertory, the Canon, and the Communion; it is the historical ordo of sarx, mia sarx, and pneuma, the ordo of the literal, the allegorical and the anagogical sense of Scripture, and finally, the ordo of the sacramentum tantum, the res et sacramentum and the res tantum, radically of the Eucharist and derivatively of the other sacramanets. This is the free order of objective reality, which is to say, the intrinsic meaning of historical substance, the subject matter of any historical-covenantal metaphysics.”

Fr. Keefe's allusion to Thomistic metaphysics alerts us to the fact that the Eucharistic covenant, as the only real grounds of Catholic theology, poses both a similar challenge to Augustinianism and Thomism (vis-à-vis the former's risk of relapsing into Platonism and the latter's risk of relapsing into Aristotelianism), and a similar buttress against such relapse. On page 558 he says:

“‘Form’ cannot then mean in Augustinian theology what the term Logos has generally been understood to mean whether by Thomists or by Augustinians: viz., the eternal Son in some cosmic moment prior to his becoming man. ‘Form’ in Augustinian theology must refer to the Son of God who is the Son of Mary, ‘one and the same,’ and this not as static [cosmic] fact but as covenantal Event. … However thorough the methodological conversion of theology from cosmological to historical metaphysics may be, we still are very largely under the sway of a cosmological imagination, which simply takes for granted a nonhistorical status quo ante as the prius or starting point for all theological inquiry … [which] conforms to a cosmological but not a Christian quaerens intellectum: it seeks always for the God behind the revelation, convinced that only there may be found the quintessential divinity…. The time-honored notion that it is the nonhistorical and cosmological God behind the revelation that is the object of theology forgets that theology is a quaerens directed solely at the revelation, and that the revelation is not information provided in the Old and New Testament about the eternity and the freedom of God, but rather is the Lord in whom the act of faith ‘terminates,’ Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, ‘one and the same,’ in whom the divine freedom and divine transcendence over history is concretely actual in and by his Eucharistic immanence in history.”

So, even when St. Augustine failed, in various writings or claims, to remain consistent to the sacramental ordo theologiae, which he recognized as paramount, nevertheless it is his fundamental commitment to a “liturgical phenomenology” that can and should correct for his Platonic detours in a stringently Form-based, absolutist predestinarianism.

The vision Fr. Keefe’s places at center is that there is no “world out there” outside the actual, historical Event of the One Flesh being offered triunely. Literally nothing––literally, nihil––exists outside the Event-structure of the Mass. Hence, eternal predestination is coterminous with the historical entry into, or flight from, grace in the Eucharist. The eternal truth that “Christ, the Lamb of God, died for all” is historically coterminous with Christ being received or rejected by all in the Eucharist, as it is offered, historically and actually, to all. Historical worship is thus theologically and Christocentrically antecedent to cosmological predestination. Predestination, in other words, happens now, here, in the Eucharist. Further, because Christ is “pan-historical” by virtue of His covenantal kenosis, as opposed to cosmically “immanent” presence, in fallen humanity, He is transhistorical. His pervasive grounding of history as the arena of grace is what simultaneously makes Him the transcendent Lord of “predestination.” (As for those outside the reach of formal Eucharistic worship, Fr. Keefe’s notes how the trahi a Deo in St. Thomas's thought and the Lumen mundi in St. Augustine's, provide the grounds for personal culpability, since, in any case, original sin is already present, metaphysically but not temporally, in fallen human existence.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Eucharist as the axis of history… 

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There was a small dust-up in response to a post I recently added at Philper, "The Eucharist as the Church's only ordo theologiae", and in reply I added the following quotations. They are intended not only to rebuff a certain "de-eucharized" Eastern Orthodoxy being promulgated in the comments of that post, but also to deepen the faithful reader's love for God in the Eucharist. I also hope you find the original post edifying.

"We must not objectivize God's presence, God's giving of himself to us in the eucharist, as just another of the many ways of being present to us. The eucharist is the centre of all other presences of God toward us. In the eucharist, we touch the basis of all reality, the Holy Trinity; here are concentrated the uncreated, personalized, loving energies of God as loving community. God's fullness of love moves toward us in order to transform us into his loving children."

––(George A. Maloney*, SJ, Be Filled with the Fullness of God [Hyde Park, New York: St. Paul's, 1993], p. 120).

* Fr. Maloney, God have mercy on his soul, was dual-rite Jesuit in the Russian Byzantine rite, was immersed in the teaching of the Eastern Fathers, and founded the John XXIII Institute for Eastern Christian Studies at Fordham University.

"Therefore, in order that we may become his Body, not in desire only, but also in very fact, let us become commingled with that Body. This, in truth, takes place by means of the food which he has given us as a gift, because he desired to prove the love which he has for us. It is for this reason that he has shared himself with us and has brought his Body down to our level, namely, that we might be one with him as the body is joined with the head. And to show the love he has for us he has made it possible for those who desire, not merely to look upon him, but even to touch him and to consume him and to fix their teeth in his Flesh and to be commingled with him; in short, to fulfill all their love. Let us, then, come back from that table like lions breathing out fire, thus becoming terrifying to the Devil and remaining mindful of our Head and of the love which he has shown us."

–– (quotation from St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on St. John's Gospel, as cited in Fathers of the Church [New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1957], p. 33:468–469, as cited in G. Maloney, ibid., p. 125–126)

"I receive in Communion / the Body divinized as being that of God. / I too become god / in this inexpressible union. / See what a mystery! / The soul then and the body… / are one being in two essences. / Therefore these are one and two / in communion with Christ / and drinking his blood, / they are united to two essences, / united in this way to the essences of my God, / they become god by participation. / They are called the same name as that of him / in whom they have participated on a level of essence. / They say that coal is fire / and the iron is black. / Yet when the iron is immersed in the fire / it appears are fire. / If it then appears as such, / we also call it by that name.

[Fr. Maloney adds:] " We are received into the only-begotten Son of God by an ontological union, a unique oneness with God. Marriage perhaps comes closest to describing such a union and yet even that fails to express the oneness of person, Trinity and ourselves individually and all of us together united in the eucharist."

–– (quotation from Symeon the New Theologian, Hymns, 30.169–170, as cited in ibid., p. 131)

"[T]he whole of the ascetic and mystical life is a deepening and realization of our Eucharistic union with Christ the Saviour. … This means that the earliest childhood memories of the Church that an Orthodox Christian has will probably be linked with coming to receive Christ's Body and Blood; and the last conscious action of his life, so he hopes, will also be the reception of the Divine Gifts. So his experience of Holy Communion extends over the whole range of his conscious life. It is above all through Communion that the Christian is made one with and in Christ, 'christified', 'ingodded' or 'deified'; it is above all through Communion that he receives the firstfruits of eternity. … '[So perfect is this Mystery, so far does it excel every other sacred rite that it leads to the very summit of good things.] All human striving reaches here its ultimate goal[. … Wherefore the Eucharist, alone of sacred rites, supplies perfection to the other Mysteries]', says Nicolas Cabasilas. 'For in this sacrament we attain God himself, and God himself is made one with us in the most perfect of all possible unions…. This is the final mystery: beyond this it is not possible to go, nor can anything be added to it. … [After the Eucharist then, there is nowhere further to go. There we must stand, and try to examine the means by which we may preserve the treasure to the end.]'"

–– (Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way [Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 1995], as citing Cabasilas, The Life in Christ [Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 1974], pp. 114, 116, with some additions by myself from that work).

"[F] the early Fathers it [i.e., 'Eucharist‘] was the key word giving unity and meaning to all the 'elements' of the liturgy. … Eucharist (thanksgiving) is the state of perfect man. Eucharist is the life of paradise. Eucharist is the only full and real response of man to God's creation, redemption and gift of heaven. But this perfect man who stands before God is Christ. In Him alone all that God has given man was fulfilled and brought back to heaven. He alone is the perfect Eucharistic Being. He is the Eucharist of the world. In and through the Eucharist the whole creation becomes what it always was to be and yet failed to be. … The Eucharist of Christ and Christ the Eucharist is the 'breakthrough' that brings us to the table in the Kingdom, raises us to heaven, and makes us partakers of the divine food. For eucharist––thanksgiving and praise––is the very form and content of the new life that God granted us when in Christ He reconciled us with Himself. The reconciliation, the forgiveness, the power of life––all this has its purpose and fulfillment in this new state of being, this new style of life which is Eucharist, the only real life of creation with God and in God, the only true relationship between God and the world."

–– (Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World [Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 1973], pp. 34, 37–39).

"After the transformation of the bread and wine in the Mystery of the Eucharist into the Body and Blood, they no longer return to their former nature, but remain the Body and Blood of the Lord forever, whether or not they are consumed by the faithful. … Since to the God man Christ it is fitting to offer a single inseparable Divine worship, both according to His Divinity and His humanity, as a consequence of their inseparable union, therefore also to the Holy Mysteries of the Eucharist there should be given the same honor and worship which we are obliged to give to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. … To receive communion of the Body and Blood of the Lord is the essential, necessary, saving, and consoling obligation of every Christian. … The saving fruits or effects of the Mystery of the Eucharist, if only we communicate them worthily, are the following: It unites us in the most intimate fashion with the Lord…." Etc.

–– (Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, chap. 8).

Friday, September 12, 2008

9/11: In Memoriam

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I'm directing your attention to Mike Liccione's reminder, and call to prayer, in honor of the dead. He writes:

The best I could think to do on this anniversary is offer this podcast by The Anchoress. It is drawn chiefly from the Liturgy of the Hours’ Office for the Dead.

Pray well. And remember.