Saturday, October 29, 2011

ONE HUNDRED NINETY SEVENTH

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS:  Is there anything special about the fact that the people involved in this case are part of a religious organization?


MS. KRUGER:  We think that the -- the analysis is one that the Court has -- has elaborated in other cases involving similar claims to autonomy, noninterference --


CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS:  Is that a "no"?  You say it's similar to other cases.  Expressive associations -- a group of people who are interested in labor rights have expressive associations.  Is the issue we are talking about here in the view of the United States any different than any other group of people who get together for an expressive right?


MS. KRUGER:  We think the basic contours of the inquiry are not different.  We think how the inquiry plays out in particular cases may be --


JUSTICE SCALIA:  That's extraordinary.


MS. KRUGER:  I --


JUSTICE SCALIA:  That's extraordinary.


MS. KRUGER:  Well, I --


JUSTICE SCALIA:  We're talking here about the Free Exercise Clause and about the Establishment Clause, and you say they have no special application to --


MS. KRUGER:  The contours -- the inquiry that the Court has set out as to expressive associations we think translate quite well to analyzing the claim that Petitioner has made here.  And for this reason, we don't think that the job duties of a particular religious employee in an organization are relevant to the inquiry.


JUSTICE SCALIA:  There's nothing in the Constitution that explicitly prohibits the government from mucking around in a labor organization.  Now, yes, you -- you can by an extension of First Amendment rights derive such a -- but there, black on white in the text of the Constitution are special protections for religion.  And you say that makes no difference?




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ONE HUNDRED NINETY SIXTH

Psalm 1

Blessed indeed is the man
who follows not the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the path with sinners,
nor abides in the company of scorners,
but whose delight is the law of the LORD,
and who ponders his law day and night.

He is like a tree that is planted
beside the flowing waters,
that yields its fruit in due season,
and whose leaves shall never fade;
and all that he does shall prosper.

Not so are the wicked, not so!
For they, like winnowed chaff,
shall be driven away by the wind.

When the wicked are judged they shall not rise,
nor shall sinners in the council of the just;
for the LORD knows the way of the just,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

(from the Revised Grail Psalms)

Friday, October 28, 2011

ONE HUNDRED NINETY FIFTH

[Whether Confidence belongs to Magnanimity?]

Confidence takes its name from "fides" [faith]: and it belongs to faith to believe something and in somebody. But confidence belongs to hope, according to Job 11:18, "Thou shalt have confidence, hope being set before thee." Wherefore confidence apparently denotes chiefly that a man derives hope through believing the word of one who promises to help him. Since, however, faith signifies also a strong opinion, and since one may come to have a strong opinion about something, not only on account of another's statement, but also on account of something we observe in another, it follows that confidence may denote the hope of having something, which hope we conceive through observing something either in oneself--for instance, through observing that he is healthy, a man is confident that he will live long. or in another, for instance, through observing that another is friendly to him and powerful, a man is confident that he will receive help from him.  Now it has been stated above (1, ad 2) that magnanimity, which by its very name denotes stretching forth of the mind to great things, is chiefly about the hope of something difficult. Wherefore, since confidence denotes a certain strength of hope arising from some observation which gives one a strong opinion that one will obtain a certain good, it follows that confidence belongs to magnanimity.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

ONE HUNDRED NINETY FOURTH

Everyone seems to be talking about suffering these days:

Just Thomism

Super Flumina

ONE HUNDRED NINETY THIRD

Yeah, they're Mormons, but they still sing well.


Click me.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

ONE HUNDRED NINETY SECOND

Moralia in Job

Oh, and while we're at it let's have a quick story:


"Another tells us how on retiring to his cell after matins to resume his studies, directly he fixed his eyes on the book he used to go to sleep. After rubbing his eyes to no purpose he thought within himself: 'Well, this is something strange, for I have had more sleep than usual, and yet I feel drowsy.' Straightway a voice resounded: 'It comes of not shutting the gates.' 'How then are they to be shut?' he enquired; and again the answer came, 'Shut them from the forehead to the breast, and from shoulder to shoulder.' Catching at the meaning he made the sign of the cross, saying, 'Depart from me, ye spirits of evil, and I will search into the word of my Lord.' "

ONE HUNDRED NINETY FIRST

It's St. Crispin's Day, but this doesn't link to the famous monologue...

Click me.

ONE HUNDRED NINETIETH

There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job.  [Job 1, 1]  It is for this reason that we are told where the holy man dwelt, that the meritoriousness of his virtue might be expressed; for who knows not that Uz is a land of the Gentiles?   and the Gentile world came under the dominion of wickedness, in the same proportion that its eyes were shut to the knowledge of its Creator.   Let us be told then where he dwelt, that this circumstance may be reckoned to his praise, that he was good among bad men; for it is no very great praise to be good in company with the good, but to be good with the bad; for as it is a greater offence not to be good among good men, so it is immeasurably high testimony for any one to have shewn himself good even among the wicked.   Hence it is that the same blessed Job bears witness to himself, saying, I am a brother to dragons, and a companion to owls. [Job 30, 29]  Hence it was that Peter extolled Lot with high commendation, because he found him to be good among a reprobate people; saying, And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked; for he was righteous in seeing and hearing, dwelling with them who vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds. [2 Pet. 2, 7.8.]  Now he evidently could not have been vexed unless he had both heard and witnessed the wicked deeds of his neighbours, and yet he is called righteous both in seeing and in hearing, because their wicked lives affected the ears and eyes of the Saint not with a pleasant sensation, but with the pain of a blow.  Hence it is that Paul says to his disciples, In the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine like lights in the world. [Phil. 2, 15]  Hence it is said to the Angel of the Church of Pergamos, I know thy works,and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is; and thou holdest fast My name, and hast not denied My faith. [Rev. 2, 13]  Hence the Holy Church is commended by the voice of the Spouse, where He says to her in the Song of love, As the lily among the thorns, so is my love among the daughters. [Cant. 2, 2]  Well then is the blessed Job described, (by the mention of a gentile land,) as having dwelt among the wicked, that according to the testimony borne by the Spouse, be might be shewn to have grown up a lily among thorns, for which reason it is well subjoined immediately after, And that man was simple and upright.   

Monday, October 24, 2011

ONE HUNDRED EIGHTY NINTH

No doubt from reading certain spanish mystics one may get the impression that the correct response to suffering is to say “Yes, God! MORE PAIN NOW!!!”, and this is certainly the response that a variety of exceptionally holy people have had to trials. But it’s not the ordinary path. Suffering is evil. We shouldn’t seek it, and it’s perverse to be indifferent to it.

There are different kinds of suffering, some elective and others necessary. Purely elective suffering includes perverse things like self-mutilation and masochism, where suffering is sought as an end freely chosen. Of necessary suffering, some is relatively necessary, as the pain of carrying laundry downstairs is necessary to get clean clothes. Other suffering is totally un-elected: such as a disease or external misfortune. We’ll call the first kind of necessary suffering “instrumental” and the second kind “extrinsic”.

Now, the Christian life is always modeled on Christ’s life. When Christ suffered, he never did so in the purely elective way. To say otherwise would be blasphemy. Rather, Christ’s suffering is always instrumental, and the character of his life is such that he made even extrinsic suffering instrumental. By the violence done to him on the cross he merited our salvation.

The next point to consider is how the Christian can use suffering to achieve his goal. What is the Christian’s goal? Eternal beatitude, understood as a loving vision of God. Now, in this life suffering comes from the deprivation of a good. Unfortunately we do not have a prefect vision of God as yet, or nothing would disturb us whatsoever. We would simply know through the divine essence what was good and what was evil and choose the former without any difficulty. But here below there are distractions, and pain is among the chief distractions. Thus when I see something good which would take me away from the path to God, I experience a kind of pain (assuming I’m not virtuous, which I, at least, am not). This pain arises from an inner delusion about the relative goodness of the thing desired. If my mind is particularly weak (i.e., if my knowledge of God is so unclear and unstable), I may even be tempted to turn aside from God and choose the worldly good over Him. This is sin, and given the right conditions it is mortal sin. If I dwell excessively on the pain of deprivation, as frequently happens when the good I miss is either not intrinsically disordered or is the sort of thing I cannot simply act to attain, then I achieve the same effect as the gluttonous or unchaste person who simply overindulges. In fact, the consequences here are potentially worse than in those cases, since the resulting disorder of the intellect can easily conceal itself in an examination of conscience. An error is more dangerous to the extent that it is closer to the truth. Desire for genuine goods which are not intrinsically disordered is, in fact, legitimate. Sorrow over their absence is not.

So, what do we do? The pain we experience over foregone goods, whether licit or illicit, is a chance to grow in grace. We think of Christ and his love for us, and the fact that he is with us. We think of the saints who, like Christ, “for the joy set before [them], endured the Cross”. This joyful crowd of witnesses surrounds us day and night, interceding on our behalf. We recognize that we are helpless and weak, but that we are not alone. The cross of deprivation and sadness is a cross that Christ bears with us. It is a cross that, because we cannot carry it, is born only through his strength. So we pray to God that he, without whom we would have no strength whatsoever, would give us strength to endure.

But what form does this strength take? We normally think of strength as stamina or power or ability. By this logic the prayer would run, “Lord make me endure all this awfulness; give me the power to take this beating the world is giving me.” In some cases, this is indeed the proper prayer. But again, normally, for those of us who aren’t carmelite saints or desert fathers, the prayer is much humbler and more basic. “Lord, give me the the grace of seeing You, and knowing You. Help me to recognize your love moment by moment. Thank you for giving me everything I am and I have, and help me to render it all up to you in love. Draw me close to you, bury me in your sacred heart, so that in my knowledge of you I will not sorrow over the things of this world, but only over my own sinfulness and weakness. Help me to be with you in eternity.”

Instrumental suffering helps us to escape the bondage of the flesh (in the pauline sense) and draw closer to God. The usefulness of trials is to confirm the theological virtues in us. Every virtue, as St. Catherine says, is proved on its opposite. So Faith must be proved on confusion, and Hope on the threat of desperation, and Charity on the vain enticements of the world. Sharing in the cross is, for us, not a genuine sacrifice, but a gift we are given. It is our joy. If we were to endure the cross without knowing Christ, without seeing his love and friendship, we would be mad. Nothing could be more wretched. Instead we are joined with Him. For us, being buried with Christ is finding ourselves buried in the love of the Father. This is how suffering is made possible. In this light, it starts to become clear how the Carmelites can ask for more suffering, but for myself I’d rather stick with St. Thomas, who, when asked by our Lord what reward he wanted for his labors replied, “Non nisi te, Domine.”

ONE HUNDRED EIGHTY EIGHTH

A.  The ordinary sense of the word "talents" (i.e. an individual's particular aptitudes and skills, also spoken of as "gifts") derives directly from the parable of the talents in Matthew 25: 14-30.

B.  The reason Gandhi (5) is a good movie is that Richard Attenborough models his Gandhi on Jesus Christ.  Hence the film itself is a crypto-hagiography.  The moments at which it rings false are (1) whenever Martin Sheen opens his mouth (alas!), and (2) whenever the Mahatma starts talking about the convergence of world religions.  There may be some issues with the heavy emphasis on self-rule, but the ways self-rule is demonstrated in the film are conducive to a Christian understanding of freedom.  Gandhi demonstrates his freedom most of all through penitential acts, neighborly charity, and preaching.  In the film, he has all three evangelical counsels (obedience to the Truth).  We are spared his finer philosophical errors.

C.  "And without doubt it was possible to have done everything through the instrumentality of angels, but the condition of our race would have been much more degraded if God had not chosen to make use of men as the ministers of His word to their fellow-men.  For how could that be true which is written, The temple of God is holy, which temple you are, if God gave forth no oracles from His human temple, but communicated everything that He wished to be taught to men by voices from heaven, or through the ministration of angels? Moreover, love itself, which binds men together in the bond of unity, would have no means of pouring soul into soul, and, as it were, mingling them one with another, if men never learned anything from their fellow-men."  — Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Saturday, October 22, 2011

ONE HUNDRED EIGHTY SIXTH

Dr. Mary Contrary (a philosopher, former Catholic, and now self-described agnostic) does not think that philosophy should ever venture to ask questions about God, truth, or anything metaphysical in the classical sense of the term.  Rather, for her, philosophy is to explore questions that arise from our use of language.  Explain Fides et Ratio for her in its context, structure, and purpose. [from a recent midterm examination]


Dear Mary,

You may recall from the old days that wonderful passage from 1 John:
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands concerning the Word of Life — And the life was made manifest to us; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.  We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard so that you might have fellowship with us.  And our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son, Jesus Christ.  We write these things so that our joy may be complete."
I hope starting my letter with scripture isn't scandalous to you, but given what you've told me about your newfound passion for Wittgenstein's Tractatus, I thought I'd reply with some considerations based on my reading of the encyclical letter Fides et Ratio, by Pope John Paul II.

I would recommend you read it yourself, but it's long and if you're in a Wittgensteinian mood you'll probably fine JPII's style somewhat irritating.  Nonetheless, he has great things to say.

I'd like to use the passage from 1 John to remind you of a few points about philosophy and its role:

  1. The task of philosophy
  2. Its relation to faith
  3. Common contemporary errors

First of all, we desire happiness and with that a clear knowledge of the truth.  "We write so that our joy may be complete."  Aristotle grounds his philosophy on 3 pillars:
  • Logic
  • Wonder at the Truth
  • Desire for Happiness
All philosophy must somehow return to these points, if it is to have any significance for humanity.  The goal of philosophy is to know the Truth, and it does this with rigor and clarity.  Philosophy is frequently classed as a kind of Inquiry.  This is true, but it is just as important that philosophy be able to answer its questions, and thus become a kind of teaching (doctrine) and a mode of wisdom.

Obviously, modern skepticism is repugnant both to the idea of wisdom and to the possibility of answers about life's meaning, our first beginning and our last end.  The project of Descartes and Kant (to put philosophy on a firm foundation) has progressed through skeptical methodologies to the point where many philosophers have given up reality altogether, either in a kind of relativistic eclecticism, a historicist modernism or other more degenerate forms of thought.  The Tractatus itself is an example of bizarre amoral positivism which encourages philosophy to cede almost all its proper territory, residing only on the barren garden patch of formal manipulations.  But this is not what we want, and, though the truth is not subject to practical or democratic principles, we sense that Philosophy in the west has gone astray from its true calling.  Man's meagre, finite minde is not capable of providing clear answers about the ultimate source and destiny of things, it is true.  But we moderns are all too ready to leap from the sad recognition of our own finitude, frailty and inadequacy to the nihilistic conclusion that there are no intrinsic meanings, that there cannot be an ultimate source or destiny simply because I am not it.  This variety of nihilism (frequently only implicit in our thought) is everywhere in modern culture, especially in the academy, and it is simply and obviously repugnant to reason and to every vital instinct in man.  Philosophers must stop blinding themselves to reality.


But, you say, if philosophy cannot supply the answers, surely I am not going to just leap into a fanciful myth-world or fideistic frenzy to find artificial comfort!  Here we move to another point: the common belief that "fiath" and "reason" are opposed and incompatible.  To be frank, this is a fundamentally protestant idea, and could only be suggested on the basis of a flawed, protestant understanding of what faith is.  JPII calls faith and reason "two wings" on which the human spirit rises up to truth.  So let's begin to be clear about the matter: what is faith?

Most philosophers since Aristotle and Plato, including pagans and Christians and even muslims, have recognized that because the human intellect is finite, we cannot hope to comprehend anything whose essence surpasses our own mental capacities.  Since a little thought can easily show us that both the meaning of life and the source of existence are such things, it belongs to philosophy simply to point out what these things are not.  Were we to come to know positively what they are, our very minds would need to be expanded and informed by a power greater than us: a power as great as that which we were to learn of.  This infused ability to know things beyond the ordinary capacity of the human mind, (both the act of knowing and the substance of what is known — Heb 11:1) this is faith.

Faith is not, you will notice, any sort of self-contradictory irrationalism à la Kierkegaard, nor is it mere emotivism, nor is it a simple dependence on what someone else told you while using drugs (as with the Pythia).  Faith is genuine knowledge, supernatural in that it transcends our abilities, but because of its source and content faith is more genuinely knowledge than anything derived from the senses.

Furthermore, faith, because it concerns the things closest to human concern, enables us to fundamentally reorient our lives toward the truth.  Fait his no occult mystery — it is active.  As St. James writes: "I will show you my faith by my works, and in St. Paul we read how God predestined us for salvation in His Son for the sake of the good works we would achieve in Him.

Now, the nature of the truth is first of all to be common to all.  Hence it is fitting that those of us gifted with faith do our best to proclaim it to the whole world: to proclaim, as St. John says, "What we have seen and heard, so that you might have fellowship with us."  This is not to say that the faith itself which is given to us is caused simply by human words — no, it is from God.  but faith comes through preaching, which fittingly binds all mankind together in one truth.  As Saint Paul says in Ephesians: "One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is in all..."

Faith shows us the truth not only in a simple factual way, to be expounded upon and elaborated through reason, but also as goodness and love and mercy.  The nature of the gift of faith is "συγκαταβασις" — condescension of the infinite and almighty to make himself low, to reveal himself to mere human minds. To have faith is to know God, and in knowing him to love him, and in loving him to love his creation.  And what greater gift can one give, Mary, to the suffering wanderers of the world, than a chance to see their perfect happiness and to become friends with that almighty King who loved them—loves us all—enough to empty himself, become man, and die.  We write these things, and speak of them, ceaselessly, because he has filled us with joy, and so that together with Him our joy may be complete.  In Christ we know the fulness of the truth, and in that truth alone can we know ourselves, as the Pythia commanded.  For Christ is the eternal λογος, the reason, the path to truth, the meaning of our lives.  He is the eternal word who gave himself up to die for us, whose very substance is our nourishment, who calls us to be one with hum, buried deep in the love of the Father, with the Holy Spirit, for all eternity.

In Him,
with love and blessings,
E.

ONE HUNDRED EIGHTY FIFTH

A.  I promised a while back to write on Lewis and Tolkien.  That must have been about a month ago now, and I still haven't done it, so here we are.

B.  First, I'll be frank about what I've read of each.

C.  From Lewis's non-fiction, I've read:

  • The Abolition of Man
  • Mere Christianity
  • A Grief Observed
  • part of Surprised by Joy
  • very little of The Four Loves, and 
  • numerous essays (though not all) from the collections The Weight of Glory and God in the Dock.  


D.  Of his fiction, I've read:

  • The Pilgrim's Regress
  • The Space Trilogy (several times)
  • The Screwtape Letters (including "S. proposes a toast")
  • The Great Divorce
  • The Chronicles of Narnia (many times)
  • Till We Have Faces (several times)
E.  As for Tolkien (past The Lay of Leithian, all posthumous):
  • The Hobbit (several times)
  • The Lord of the Rings (more than half a dozen times)
  • Farmer Giles of Ham
  • [I feel like I've read "Leaf by Niggle" but can't remember.  I know the story in any case.]
  • Smith of Wootton Major
  • The Lay of Leithian
  • The Father Christmas Letters
  • The Silmarillion 
  • Unfinished Tales
  • parts of his Letters
  • Mr. Bliss
  • Roverandom
F.  Now a brief personal history.  I've been acquainted with both authors from a very young age.  Some of my earliest memories include my dad reading from The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe to me and my sister.  I was also acquainted with Tolkien through the old animated film of The Hobbit.  There was also that old BBC miniseries of the Narnia books.  In any case, I was fixated on The Hobbit and as soon as I was capable of reading the book, I did.  The first time I finished it was in second grade.  So, in short, I grew up with these two famous Inklings, and read their books incessantly through middle school.  But while Lewis always seemed more of a pleasant momentary distraction (very much akin to George MacDonald's children's stories), Tolkien offered gravity, breadth and depth.  Tolkien's work focuses on the drama of personal struggle and the virtue of hope.  He has a lot to say about suffering and wisdom and an expansive universe in which to illustrate the narrative forms he's interested in.  

G.  Around middle school I started branching out, read some Dumas, some of the Dune books, a lot of Madeleine L'Engle, some Victor Hugo, and the ususal array of young adult fiction (Catcher, Lois Lowry, Harry Potter, Orwell, etc.)  I had a very strong attachment to Tolkien, because he presented a world that was valuable to me.  This was, again, perhaps largely because where Tolkien's characters did things that meant things, and struggled against evils that were very clearly defined, the real world was full of uncertainty, meanness and a kind of bare-bones absurd drama in which very little was at stake and the development of things totally unpredictable.  I'm reminded of the following, from Either/Or:
"Most people complain that the world is so prosaic that things do not go in life as in the novel, where opportunity is always so favorable.  I complain that in life it is not as in the novel, where one has hardhearted fathers and nisses and trolls to battle, and enchanted princesses to free. What are all such adversaries together compared with the pale, bloodless, tenacious-of-life nocturnal forms with which I battle...?"
Of course, Kierkegaard is writing about his own anxiety, which was not really a problem I had on my mind at that stage.  But it's true: there is something comforting in clearly definable struggles, even if the hero has to endure a lot before he wins through.  Tolkien has this advantage over Lewis.  His characters know the cosmic significance of whatever they're doing.  They can point vaguely eastward to the Sauron or Morgoth who is causing everything bad.  Lewis's characters never have to deal with anything all that terrible.  Eustace and Jill get bullied at school.  The Pevensies get hungry while on an afternoon hike.  Even in the Space Trilogy, where the cosmic meaning of things becomes clear, Ransom doesn't really struggle much, nor do the Studdocks.  Their problem is usually being lost as much as anything else.

H.  Nothing I've said so far really gets at the reason I prefer Tolkien to Lewis.  There have been times when I said the opposite.  Through most of high school I lamented that I had wasted five years of my life reading fantasy fiction, instead of Plato or Hegel or Kant.  Of course, it's good that I didn't waste time trying to read such things in my early years.  I wasn't ready for serious non-fiction until late in middle school, when someone told me I should read Mere Christianity.  I read it, and saw how something of the drama I'd encountered in books was actually present in real life, saw a glimpse of transcendent meaning, and started understanding that Christianity had more depth than the little catchphrases I'd grown up on.  After that I read The Abolition of Man, understanding it only very roughly, and The Great Divorce.  My understanding of Christianity was slightly more informed than it had been, but I was still directionless.

I.   We can compare the two authors on what they set out to do and what they accomplished.  Tolkien set out to create languages that he found interesting, and then to describe the world in which they were spoken, and finally to tell the stories which would take place in such a world.  His project is basically of constructing a set of folk tales, myths and epics which should have already existed in reality.  To write the sort of things he himself would have wanted to read.  He does this splendidly.  His characters have tremendous moral depth and teach us something about virtue.  Perhaps one of the reasons he insisted so fiercely that his books were not an allegory for anything is that he saw that the kind of hermeneutic applied to allegories would destroy the real value of his work.  It's all there in plain sight.  You get to know the characters, you see things the way they see them, you love them, and you're sad when they go.  It's as far from an ideological campaign as you could get, and yet it's very effective in demonstrating certain high-level moral truths to people, and instilling in them a taste for moral goodness.

J.  Lewis is on an ideological campaign.  Some of the Narnia books are simply frivolous children's stories (e.g. The Horse and His Boy), but usually they're trying to make a not-so-subtle point about Christian living.  This is all fine and pedagogically effective, but because the characters and situations are contrived for this purpose, they lack a more general usefulness or humanity.  Lewis works off of stereotypes and adapts them to fit his narrative needs.  Tolkien on the other hand works from total unknowns and then lets them reveal themselves progressively through the narrative.  The one stereotype he consistently takes advantage of, in fact, is the eccentricity of the Bagginses' Took ancestry.  There is a lot of eccentricity in Tolkien, and a dearth of it in Lewis, and while we might feel more comfortable and familiar with, e.g. a Mrs. Dimble or a Peter Pevensie than we would with a Meriadoc Brandybuck or a Turin, it's difficult to deny that the latter have more personality than the former.

K.  As for the non-fiction, Tolkien prudently published only within his (extremely narrow) field.  And even there, he didn't publish much.  I remember reading once that his scant output was something of a disappointment to his colleagues at Oxford, as he was the most talented English philologist of his day.  Obsessive perfectionism always got in the way, and no doubt there were many half-finished projects sitting in his files upon his death.

L.  Lewis on the other hand became, in Tolkien's (disapproving) phrase, "everyman's theologian".  After his return to Anglicanism, Lewis published first the short novel The Pilgrim's Regress, a re-telling of Bunyan for the modern academic.  It's a very good read, and still remarkably applicable to the present situation, though there are a few crucial missing pieces (and I would like a bigger role for Mother Kirk).  He is probably best known for his war-time talks, which became Mere Christianity, and the epistolary novel The Screwtape Letters.  Screwtape is a clever little book, a useful manual for bourgeois protestants to help them think about temptation.  For Catholics who make regular use of the sacrament of Penance, it is probably less helpful, though the contents are true.  Mere Christianity, on the other hand, seems to function for the average protestant reader as a kind of general catechism.  Given how little objective content the book has, this should demonstrate to us the sheer poverty of normal protestant catechesis.  (Mind you, I read the book nine years ago and have barely looked at it since, except to quote the last page.)  Still, most of what is said is correct, as far as my skimming eye can tell.  Lewis is by no means a bad catechist.  My problem is that he doesn't go very deep into things, and he is very unsystematic.

M.  What I mean by "unsystematic" isn't that he lacks a totalizing, reductive "purely rational" account of things.  I mean that, while he generally gets things right, he presents them as a sort of anthology: a bunch of flowers he picked and gave to us.  The flowers are nice, and they're from the plant we're looking for, but he doesn't show us the ground the flowers grew from, and the ones he presents haven't gone to seed or born fruit.  Lewis probably never meant to be "everyman's theologian", he probably only meant to give people a very basic, popular glimpse at the contents of the Christian faith.  But the way he's read today, you would think that he rivals Augustine or Aquinas in theological brilliance and depth of insight.  Everyone talks about Lewis, in the same way that everyone talks about Chesterton.  (For the record, Chesterton is almost intolerably glib.  His arguments can usually be reduced to witticisms, and his bombast is incredibly obnoxious.  Lewis a hundred times before Chesterton.)  But what does Lewis have to offer?  His books make miserably little reference to scripture, which is the very soul of theology.  He tries his best to comfortably accomodate the English bourgeoisie of his day, and his style is condescending without fail.  Where in Lewis is the greatness of the Christian faith?

N.  This has gone on long enough, I think.

Friday, October 21, 2011

ONE HUNDRED EIGHTY FOURTH

A talk by Dr. Reinhard Hütter, given today at the Thomistic Circles conference at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception.  Fantastic.


The Anthropology of Chastity and the Integrity of the Person

Subsequent Q & A.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

ONE HUNDRED EIGHTY THIRD

Watched The Maltese Falcon.  It was mildly amusing, but something of a disappointment.  They never left San Francisco!  (3)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

ONE HUNDRED EIGHTY SECOND


When St Thomas was dying at Fossanova, he wanted to receive our Lord's body, and when it was brought to him, he knelt down and hailed and adored it, saying at length these wonderful words, 'I receive thee, the price of my soul's redemption, I receive thee, Viaticum, the journey money of my pilgrimage, for whose love I have studied, watched, laboured, preached and taught . . .' Thus he tells us the secret of that lifelong service, at the beginning of which he had said, 'For my own part, I envisage as the main duty of my life the working out of my debt to God in such a way that I express him. in my every word and attitude'. That secret, the motive of his life, was -- love, 'pro cuius amore, for whose love'. He did not carry out this overwhelming work of service, those thirty years of incredible labour without a moment's infidelity, for any other reason than his love of this most hidden friend, for this sacrament before which we have less resources than for any other reality, because our conviction of its truth depends upon faith alone. And when the dying saint, who had never spoken an idle word, explained the reason for all that he had done, it was that he had loved.

Finally, a witness records that one evening during the last months of St Thomas's life, he followed him in order to observe him. 'He came into the back of the chapel of St Nicholas where St Thomas was deep in prayer. He then saw that he had been raised from the ground.... Suddenly, from the direction towards which our master had turned, a voice from the crucifix was heard: "Thomas, you have written well of me, what reward would you receive from me for your labours?" He answered, "Lord, nothing but thyself." These words are the last words; the service of the truth, of God, has been consummated. Thomas had been a faithful servant; he had written well, worked well. What was his reward to be?

The good servant's reward, the servant who has been unreservedly true and served from love alone, is his master's intimate friendship, the sharing of his joy (Euge, serve bone at fidelis ... intra in gaudium Domini tui). For the only reward of love is love, and if a man will remain poor and chaste and faithful in his service, because he is the Bridegroom's friend (Jn 3:24), then his reward will be the Bridegroom's joy.

— Congar, "St. Thomas, Servant of the Truth"
[just read the essay already]

ON HUNDRED EIGHTY FIRST


To start with he had that bodily chastity which we usually identify with purity though often not realising why the Christian mind attaches such importance to it. If we are to appreciate its worth we should perhaps envisage it not only in itself but in what it makes possible, or what its opposite prevents. In reality, purity understood in the narrow and ordinary sense as chastity of body, imagination and desire, involves the whole spiritual life, because it opens — and its opposite closes — every possible relationship with God. Consider a soul that is crude and impure: it will not deny the teachings of the faith, but it becomes hardened and ends by shutting itself off front the finest elements of that faith; its spiritual sensitivity dulls; it will not reject the central dogmas, but their noblest content no longer interests it: the Virgin, the angels, the sacraments, the religious life, contemplation; it comes to assert that nothing can be known about them and that they do not exist. A pure soul, on the contrary, instinctively opens itself out to these things; it experiences them to the extent in which it is sensitively pure. It would seem that faithfulness on this point opens its eyes and provides the evidence which crudity would instantaneously conceal. It realises with certainty that its development is an immediate relationship with the sensitivity and fidelity of its life.

We can now have a somewhat clearer idea of what purity, bodily purity, meant for St Thomas in the work of service as a theologian to which he was called, and we can see to what extent it was a positive element in his soul as a servant of the truth. We need hardly stress here the famous scene of his temptation — it has been in any case a little touched up — or the testimony given after his death by his most intimate friend that he had always preserved the purity of a child.

There is, however, a deeper aspect of his purity as a servant of the truth; it is that of the inner purity of his soul, in the most positive and fullest sense of that word. As a correlative to poverty considered as a fundamental attitude of the soul, this purity of the servant of the truth consists in allowing no admixture of self to enter into this truth, no toning down, no rejection, but instead a complete self-surrender to its demands and an acceptance of the Other, the Master, as he really is in himself and not as we might have imagined him to be. It is he, the Master, who must be in control, he who must be affirmed in the truth of his own nature, and allowed to do what he wills, whereas I, his servant, affirm nothing of myself apart from him, but am totally at his service, entirely subject to him, wholly his 'minister'.

— Congar, "St. Thomas: Servant of the Truth"

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

ONE HUNDRED EIGHTIETH

Have I posted this before?  Possibly.  But we're on a St. Thomas streak, and I've listened to this homily at least a dozen times, so it can't hurt.


Monday, October 17, 2011

ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY NINTH

"The attitude of a servant is created by poverty. Anyone who is rich, a possessor, ipso facto, cannot be a servant. The possession of external things would intrinsically have little significance if it did not tend to create and develop a definite attitude, an absolute attitude as master and possessor, autonomous and self-sufficient. But the decisive factor in what we are now considering is whether we personally think of ourselves as rich or poor. A man can only be a servant if he is entirely his master's man and instrument, and this he cannot be unless he is poor in spirit, having withdrawn all personal seclusiveness and agreed not to be the master of his own life, retaining nothing as his own and inalienable, and devoting himself wholly to serve: St Paul exemplifies this when he begins his letters with the words: Paulus servus Jesu Christi: 'Paul the servant, Jesus Christ's labourer and his man'. Now, when the work in question is God's and particularly when that work consists in speaking about him, then the only possible way of taking part in it is as a servant, that is, primarily as a poor man. Only as a minister and for the work of service is one ever called to it. He who would try to manipulate the things of God as if they were his own -- whether in apostolic activity, contemplation, or the grace given for personal spiritual development -- refusing to remain poor and trying to become a possessor, immediately loses that personal poverty which is enriched by God (tantquam nihil habentes et omnia possidentes), and is stripped bare and left to that destitution which, under the deceptive glamour of outward success, is all that remains his own."

— Yves Congar, "St. Thomas, Servant of the Truth"

ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY EIGHTH

Here's a fine essay by Yves Congar about Aquinas.

CLICK ME

ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY SEVENTH

Speaking of Yale, there's a good group on campus that's doing a fine job of using language and ideas that the average morally-unformed liberal would find acceptable, to promote chastity.  Good for them.


http://betteryale.org/

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY FOURTH

Really awesome Challah.  The recipe below makes 4 massive braided loaves, so it's advisable to split it in half.  Two loaves would be bread for a week if you eat a lot of bread.  Recipe courtesy of Laura's mom's friend.  I didn't really make this as instructive as it could be, so I assume that you have common sense and/or have made bread once or twice before.




AWESOME CHALLAH (4 Huge Loaves)

4.5 T yeast
3 1/4 Water (or milk, or some mix of the two.  You want it hot enough that you can just keep your finger in it without it hurting.)
6-8 eggs
5 lbs (ca. 14 cups) flour
3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cups honey
3/4 cup oil
3 T kosher salt (2 T table salt)

mix water/milk, yeast, a drop of honey
let stand 5-10 minutes (should be foamy)

add remaining ingredients
knead 5-10 minutes

put in oiled bowl, coat with oil
cover and let rise 1 hour
punch down
let rise 1/2 hour

form loaves (I recommend a 6-braid, which you can see demonstrated on Youtube)
Put your loaves on a parchment covered cookie sheet
brush tops with egg wash (1 egg plus half a shell of water)
let rise for 1 hour (PREHEAT OVEN to 350°F! after about 40 minutes)
egg wash again
sprinkle seeds (sesame or poppy) on top if you want
stick the whole sheet in the oven
BAKE 30-45 minutes (tops should be dark golden brown)

Cool it on a rack

Saturday, October 8, 2011

ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY-THIRD

Part 3.  Infused Knowledge



So far we have taken learning as the positive activity of the intellect as it abstracts from material objects and comes to know their natures and causes, first superficially and then with increasing depth as a person's knowledge and experience are perfected.  Then we ran up against the problem of human finitude and the fact that some objects of knowledge transcend our capacity for active learning. 

The prime examples of this are the first cause of the existence of the universe, and the final goal of human desire (i.e., what would make us happy).  These two things cannot be known by ordinary human knowledge. The first cannot be known because such a first cause could not be a material being (since then it too would be part of the universe and would demand explanation), and our faculties are suited only for the investigation of material things.  The second frustrates our attempts to know it because every finite goal we can propose still leaves open the possibility of unhappiness — thereby demonstrating that the sine qua non of human fulfillment lies elsewhere.  And yet it is practically necessary to admit the existence of a final goal for human desire, since without such a goal all human activity would be rendered meaningless.  Likewise, we must suppose that there is some first cause of the existence of the universe.  Everything manifestly exists and it is clear that each thing in particular is what it is because of some cause.  There must, then, be a universal cause.  (Cf. SCG I. chs. 10-14 or STh Ia q.2)  [N.B., St. Thomas argues very effectively that the ultimate origin and end of things must both actually be the same being, whom we call "God".]

Oddly enough, people go around all the time claiming to know a great deal about both of these subjects.  Frequently — especially on urban street corners — they are all too prepared to share their knowledge with others.  How does this fit with what we have said about teaching?

Recall that the learner is instructed by having his gaze directed toward specific things so that his mind can act on them and come to know them.  Knowledge, we said at the very beginning, is a kind of light which comes from the things known — not from the person teaching.  How, then, could someone claim to teach us about things which transcend the human ability to know?  How could such a person know them in the first place?

It is quite simply not possible.  The human mind cannot reach up to the infinite and grasp it by its own power.  If somehow we are to know the ultimate beginning and end of things, it follows that the intellect must be elevated above its ordinary nature in order to understand.  Thus we speak of "supernatural knowledge".  "Supernatural" here has little to do with spooks or magic tricks.  Instead it highlights the fact that, given the limitations of the human intellect, in order to know an infinite object, the human capacity for knowing must be made adequate to its object.  Furthermore, because our way of learning is limited to material things, such knowledge must be directly implanted into the mind.  Here St. Thomas writes better than I could hope to, so I will simply quote him directly:

"Two things are requisite for faith.  First, that the things which are to be believed are proposed to man: this is necessary in order that man believe anything explicitly.  The second thing requisite for faith is the assent of the believer to the things proposed to him.  Accordingly, as regards the first of these, faith must be from God.  This is because those things which are believed by faith surpass human reason, hence they do not come to man's knowledge, unless God reveals them.  To some, indeed, they are revealed by God immediately, as those things which were revealed to the apostles and prophets, while to some they are proposed by God in sending preachers of the faith, according to Romans 10:15, "How shall they preach unless they are sent?" 

As regards the second, that is, man's assent to the things of faith, we can see a twofold cause: on one hand an external inducement, such as seeing a miracle, or being persuaded by someone to embrace the faith: neither of which is a sufficient cause, since some who see miracles or hear a sermon do not believe, while others do.  Hence we must assert the existence of another, internal cause, which moves man inwardly to assent to matters of faith.

Now, the Pelagians held that this use was nothing else than man's free-will: and consequently they said that the beginning of faith is from ourselves, inasmuch as, to wit, it is in our power to be ready to assent to things which are of faith, but that the consummation of faith is from God, Who proposes to us the things we have to believe.  But this is false, for, sine man, by assenting to matters of faith, is raised above his nature, this must accrue to him from some supernatural principle moving him inwardly; and this is God.  Therefore faith, as regards the assent which is the chief act of faith, is from God moving man inwardly by grace."  (from STh IIa IIae q.6 a.1)

Another quote, a little later in the text, is also illuminating:

"Understanding implies an intimate knowledge.  This is clear to anyone who considers the difference between intellect and the senses, because sensitive knowledge is concerned with external sensible qualities, whereas understanding penetrates into the very essence of a thing, since the object of the intellect is what a thing is, as Aristotle says.

Now, there are many kinds of things that are hidden within, and to find them human knowledge must, so to speak, penetrate within them.  Thus under the attributes of a thing is its substantial reality, under words lies hidden their meaning; under likenesses and figures the truth they denote lies hidden, and effects lie hidden in their causes, and vice versa.

Since, however, human knowledge begins with the outside of things as it were, it is evident that the stronger the light of the understanding, the further it can reach into the heart of things.  Now the natural light of the understanding is of finite power; thus it can reach only to a certain fixed point.  Consequently man needs a supernatural light, in order to penetrate further still so as to know what it cannot know by its natural light.  And this supernatural light which is given to man is called the gift of understanding."
  (from STh IIa IIae q. 8 a. 1, with a few omissions and simplifications)

Faith, then is a kind of knowledge.  It is supernatural in that the object of this knowledge transcends the human intellect, so that our minds must be both elevated and informed in order to have such knowledge.  Both of these transformations can be accomplished by God alone, since it takes a being adequate to God to expand the intellect so as to know God, and there is nothing as infinite or as perfect as God, so that he himself must do this work in us.  However, he uses instrumentally the work of teachers and preachers who are the mediating occasion for his work in us.  Additionally, because the knowledge of faith pertains to God, who is infinite, it cannot be reduced to some short list of affirmations.  At best it can be represented in summary form by a kind of creed or "symbol" which is used both to initiate people into the community of the faithful, and to draw the line between those who know the truth of faith and those who are in error about divine things.

But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed?  And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone to preach?  And how can they preach unless they are sent?  (Romans 10:14-15)

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.  For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.
  (Ephesians 2:8-10)

ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY-SECOND

Part 2.  The act of learning and difficulties over the infinite.

Given what we have already said about the nature of education, it is clear that learning is not the task of the teacher.  It is almost tautological to say that learning is the student's task, but we need to look at this more carefully if we are to get a real sense of how instruction, specifically catechetical instruction, needs to work.

Ordinary learning is achieved actively by the intellectual abilities of the learner.  I look out onto the world and make sense of things by my own power: first, grasping only the vague outward natures of things, and gradually by means of abstraction, synthesis and experience coming to know their causes and principles and inner natures.  As a child I marvel at a burning candle: its liquid wax  and glowing flame seem to be a great mystery which I know only by seeing.  Over time, though, I become acquainted with fire, its need for fuel, the rule that wax melts at a certain heat, etc.  In coming to know a person I begin only with shallow impressions of character and appearance, but through time I come to understand how this person came to be this way, the specific qualities of his character, and most importantly the ends which motivate him.  The meeting of the active mind and the world produces all this knowledge in me.

Instruction is simply a guided version of the same process.  The teacher presents various data to me together so that I can more easily arrive at abstract knowledge of things.  The historian teaches us the imprudence of autumnal invasions of Russia by pointing to Napoleon and Hitler.  The scientist has a set of highly-coordinated experiences with matter and describes them so that other scientists can have the same experiences and derive general principles from them.

The example of science will help us move to our next point.  The knowledge of the material sciences (physics, chemistry, biology, physiology, etc.) is fitted to the capacities of the human mind.  It is easy for us, by nature (disregarding the variety of actual aptitudes for certain types of study among people) to know the sort of things these sciences deal with.  All of them are based on abstraction from material things to general principles of their behavior.*  Everyone fortunate enough to know his own limitations has, however, reached a point at which some proposition seems basically incomprehensible.  More to the point, there are some things which we positively know that the human intellect cannot grasp.  No one can know the actual value of π.  We can define it and express it symbolically in infinite series or fractions, but we simply cannot know the true numerical ratio between a circle and its diameter.  Were the human intellect infinitely powerful, it could simply apprehend π directly and know it as it is.  As things stand, we can only say things like "it is greater than 3.14159" or "it is less than 22/7".  Likewise, there are various physical concepts which cannot be perfectly known (the gravitational constant, for example, which expresses the strength of gravity).  All of this attests the the finitude of the human intellect.  No amount of abstraction or approximation will bring us to knowledge of the infinite.

*[Note:  The shift from genuine principles to probabilistic conjectures in physics reflects the gradual frustration of physicists in their attempt to know the essence of mobile being — probabilities are useful, but they are a far cry from actual knowledge of causes.]

Aside from these rather unexciting examples (π and physical constants), humans run up against the infinite in much more obvious ways in everyday life.  Consider the five year old who asks "why?" to everything he is told, until his parents either confess their ignorance or force the questioning to stop by some diversion.  We rarely bother to ask ourselves where his questioning would finally terminate.  What is the final reason for everything?  This question occurs to adults in a subtle way whenever we are making a choice:  why should I do this rather than that?  Why should I do anything at all?  What is my final goal?  The ordinary, comprehensible answers to these questions (money, power, pleasure, knowledge, family, fame) — all things achievable in this life — seem inadequate to the reality of human desire.  Give a man all of these things to the greatest extent and he can still be discontented.  Some of the happiest people seem to have none of them, and it is difficult to believe that their happiness is some sort of self-delusion.  The perfection of worldly life seems not to give us the answer to this "why?".  We have vague intimations that only something infinite will do the trick, but how could one find out?  Direct knowledge of things which transcend the world of finite, material reality  is unreachable by man, who comes to know only by abstraction from experience.


I said in my heart, "come now, let me try you with pleasure and the enjoyment of good things."  See, this too was vanity.  Of laughter I said: "Mad!" and of mirth: "What good does this do?"  I undertook great works; I built myself houses and planted vineyards; I made gardens and parks, and in them set out fruit trees of all sorts.  I amassed for myself silver and gold, and the treasures of kings and provinces.  Nothing that my eyes desired did I deny them, nor did I deprive myself of any joy; rather, my heart rejoiced in the fruit of all my toil.  But when I turned to all the works that my hands had wrought, and to the fruit of the toil for which I had toiled so much, see!  all was vanity and a chase after wind.  There is no profit under the sun.  I went on to the consideration of wisdom, madness and folly.  And I saw that wisdom has as much profit over folly as light over darkness.  Yet I knew that the same lot befalls both the wise man and the fool.  So I said in my heart, if the fool's lot is to befall me also, why should I be wise?  Where is the profit?  And in my heart I decided that this too is vanity.  Therefore I detested life, since for me the work that is done under the sun is bad; for all is vanity and a chase after the wind.  (Ecclesiastes 2:1-17, with some omissions.)

ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY-FIRST

Part 1.  The possibility of instruction.

It is impossible for one mere human to directly infuse knowledge into the mind of another.  Knowledge depends on a kind of light, and the teacher can only bring his students closer to receiving that light.  He cannot directly transmit it, since he himself is not the truth. 

There was a series of ads for PBS a while back based on the theme "Be More [insert adjective]".  Each ad showed a scene in every day life which somehow demonstrated the exercise of some virtue.  My favorite of these was the ad for "Be More Inspired", which communicates more about tradition and education in 30 seconds than I could in 10 minutes of talking.* 

What I have always found most peculiar about this ad is that the virtue they think it represents is inspiration.  The popular secular notion of inspiration has to do with witnessing awesome events or achievements in art: a space launch, a complex machine, a great book.  Inspiration, for the secularist, comes from awe at facts of nature and especially at human works.  This is not what the ad portrays at all.  Instead of little children watching sprinters crossing the finish line or seeing a space shuttle launch, we have a man in an elevator talking.  The entire ad focuses on people excitedly describing something to others around them.  At first the speaker alone is suffused with the light of knowledge, but then the light ignites in each of his listeners, so that they go out into the world aflame with new insight. 

By the secular mindset, the proper description of this ad would be "Be More Instructive", since the secularist can only admit that the light conveyed pertains to material facts about things.  But for someone not crippled by the blindness of secular materialism — specifically, for someone who knows what it means to receive the Light into oneself and who has experienced the difference between living in that light and a life without it — it is difficult to see anything in this ad but a depiction of Pentecost.  In this light it is clear that "Be More Inspired" is the perfect title: it not only adequately describes what's going on, but enriches our understanding of the whole.

So, back to the original point.  Knowledge is a kind of seeing.  Knowledge of what is taught comes not from seeing the teacher or hearing his words, but by learning to see what he sees, and being directed to this vision by means of his words and deeds.  Hence learning is not learning about the teacher (except in extraordinary cases), but learning how to receive from reality the truth about things themselves.  The teacher functions as a kind of sign directing the student's gaze toward the truth.

We should note, while we're here, that this insight about learning destroys one of the common hermeneutical problems of recent centuries.  The question is how the teacher could transcend his own hermeneutical horizon (i.e. sphere of understanding) in order to transmit some specific intellectual content into the horizon of another.  It's true; we can't do this.  At the same time, the problem completely misses the nature of communication.  Two people talking are not attempting to deliver their souls into each others hands.  Rather they are engaged in a kind of outwardly directed synopsis or seeing-together.  Their understanding of things is united by sharing the same real object.  Thus this crisis about the possibility of intersubjectivity can persist only for the solipsist, who denies the existence of external reality.

"What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life—for the life was made visible; we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was made visible to us — what we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; for our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.  We are writing this so that our joy may be complete."  1 John 1:1-4



* [Note: The commercial I remembered did indeed have a striking title, but I was wrong on two points.  First, it's called "Aura" and the tag-line is "Be More Connected", which makes little sense.  Second, the thing begins with just the sort of nature video that I would have expected.  Here's the link.]

ONE HUNDRED SEVENTIETH

Some of these ads are fantastic.  Funny the things you forget about.

CLICK ME

Friday, October 7, 2011

ONE HUNDRED SIXTY NINTH

A.  Thoughts on last year's mega-hit Inception.
  1. Christopher Nolan's brother went to my high school.
  2. Nolan does epic film very well.  He's a master at tone setting.
  3. This may have something to do with his consistent use of weirdly minimalist music.
  4. Inception is obviously well-made from a purely technical standpoint.  All the stunts and special effects are completely convincing and even aesthetically pleasing.  The sets are interesting, the characters (even that girl from Juno) do a pretty good job acting, the pacing is good and I don't remember anything less than perfect about the camera work and cinematography.
  5. So the main question is whether it's got a good plot concept, whether the concept is developed and executed effectively, and ultimately whether the movie has something to say that's worth hearing.
  6. I think the plot concept is excellent.  It's simple and accessible, but with far-reaching implications and the potential for a lot of development.  E.g. one could easily make an extended series just out of the idea of a world in which this dream-intrusion technology existed.  It's like a reverse Matrix without the dystopian thing.
  7. The concept is mostly developed well.  There are some mild plot holes and questions (rules which are given for the relations between the dream worlds don't quite hold up, and the idea of the lowest level as "pure subconscious" does not at all match with what happens there).  The way time is dilated in progressively lower levels captures something about real dreams, while introducing a fantastic complication for the story.  In a way, the Freudian undertones of the whole thing work well, and are necessary for the inception-driven plot.  However, they give the movie some of the weaknesses of Freud.  Random dream people being expressions of your subconscious anxiety doesn't really seem that compelling.  It would have been more interesting to play on the idea of dream architecture and the connection between environmental forms and levels of consciousness.  The simple idea of a man and wife alone together in a universe over which they had total creative control gives you an incredible chance to explore fundamental moral questions about the ultimate objects of human desire, the last end, and how relationships work.
  8. So, a lot of credit has to be given to the writers for developing the concept so effectively, even if they could have taken it further or been more consistent.  It's an impressive thing they've created.
  9. Finally, the question of what's being said.  The core issue in the film is the wife's insanity and suicide over her doubts about the reality of the ordinary world.  The universal claims we can draw from this are all good: that dwelling in a solipsistic dream-world will drive one insane; that skepticism about the reality of ordinary life constitutes a kind of suicide which renders relationships with others meaningless; that raw human creativity, even shorn of all physical constraints, is not enough to sustain a person in eternity; that, likewise, another person, even your beloved spouse, cannot provide life with a final meaning or coherence. 
  10. There are more conclusions we could draw.  What has already been said is good enough to establish Inception (4) as a very good movie.  Much as Solaris (5) emphasizes the importance of human nature against the weird vision of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (2???), Inception can be thought of as a more psychological, less violent rendition of The Matrix (5).  In fact, Inception enriches The Matrix by pointing out new lines of interpretation, which reveal the peculiarities (and faults) of the Wachowskis' vision.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

ONE HUNDRED SIXTY EIGHTH

From a letter of Saint Catherine of Siena to Blessed Raymond.


Most beloved father in our dear Christ Jesus. I Catherine, a minister and servant of the servants of Jesus Christ write you in his precious blood. I desire that you become a true spouse of the Truth himself, that you follow him and love him.

I see no way of tasting the truth and of living with it without self-knowledge. It is this knowledge that really makes us understand that we are not, and that our being came from God in whose image and likeness we were created. Through this knowledge we come to know that God created us a second time by giving us again the life of grace through the blood of the only Son, blood that had manifested to us the truth of God the Father. This is the divine truth: we were created for the glory and praise of God's name and to participate in the eternal beauty of God and so be sanctified in God. And what is the proof that this is true? It is the blood of the spotless Lamb.

How do we come to know this blood? By self-knowledge. We were that earth where the standard of the cross was planted. We were the vessel that received the blood of the Lamb flowing from the cross. Why were we this earth? Because the earth itself did not suffice to keep the cross standing erect; it would have refused such a great injustice. The nails would not have been enough to hold him fixed and nailed if his ineffable love of our salvation had not held him.

It was the flaming love for the glory of his Father and of our salvation that kept him on the cross. We are, then, that earth which supported the cross and the vessel that received his blood.

The one who has the knowledge of this Truth and who becomes its spouse will find in the blood all the richness and life of grace. The nakedness of such a person will be covered by the bridal gown and will be clothed by the fire of charity, for the blood and the fire meld and penetrate one another and it was love that united the blood to the divinity and that poured it out.

In the blood we are nourished and fed by mercy; in the blood we can dispel the darkness and enjoy light; for in the blood we can destroy the fog of self-love and overcome a servile fear of the One who punishes. Whoever does not love truth will not find truth in self-knowledge and the blood.

For this reason it is necessary for you to be the spouse of Truth, if you are to know Truth. Where will you do this? In the house of self-knowledge where you know that everything you have comes from God through a gratuitous grace; where you experience that re-creation which Truth bestows. This is what is means to be re-created in grace by the blood of the Lamb, to wash oneself, to submerge and kill the will. By any other way you will an unfaithful spouse of the Truth, rather than a faithful spouse. I said that I wanted to see you a true spouse of the Truth, because I desire this.

ONE HUNDRED SIXTY SEVENTH

Interested in Dominican Liturgy?  This blog is pretty cool.

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ONE HUNDRED SIXTY SIXTH

So, here's a lecture on difficulties surrounding the interpretation of the beatitudes.

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Monday, October 3, 2011

ONE HUNDRED SIXTY-FIFTH

A.  Watched The African Queen over the weekend.  It was moderately amusing.  For Katherine Hepburn I preferred Desk Set (3), but this was still good.  A little strange.  (3)

B.  Why are you bothering with this blog?  Go read some Aquinas.  Here.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

ONE HUNDRED SIXTY-FOURTH

23 is a prime number.