27 June 2015

A Lesson in Moral Reasoning

A valid argument, frequently known as "the slippery slope", which is a form of reasoning based on the use of moral principles:

—The moral exclusion of Action X depends on Principle Y.
—The moral exclusion of Action Z depends on Principle Y.
—If we accept Action X as morally permissible, then we eliminate Y as a binding principle.
—If Y is not a binding principle, then we must logically accept Z.
—Therefore the admission of X as permissible logically entails the permission of Z.

If the form of argument given above is invalid, it must be because there are no such things as moral principles.

26 June 2015

Things Not To Expect

  • Do not expect the Gospel to be heard with an open mind.
  • Do not expect to be given fair treatment.
  • Do not expect others to give you the benefit of the doubt.
  • Do not expect the world to be charitable; it has no charity.
  • Do not expect to be respected.
  • Do not expect to be tolerated.
  • Do not expect secular principles of liberty and justice to be applied to you.
  • Do not expect religious liberty to work in your favor.
  • Do not expect cooperation in your good efforts; expect them to be subverted.
  • Do not expect congratulations when you succeed; expect hatred.
  • Do not expect peace or rest.
  • Do not expect a comfortable life.
  • Do not expect to get along with those who reject the Gospel.
  • Do not expect reason or consistency.
  • Do not expect productive dialogue with the enemies of Christ.
  • Do not expect Christianity without the cross.

24 June 2015

Zorg and Morg on the Natural Law and Body Modification

Hello, my name is Zorg!

Hello, my name is Morg!

Morg, I have a great difficulty, which I would like you to help me resolve

What is this difficulty, Zorg?

It concerns the limits of voluntary bodily modification among humans within the confines of the natural law.

An interesting quandary, Zorg.

Yes.  Will you help me resolve it?

I will do my best, Zorg.

Let’s start off with an example.

19 June 2015

A Commentary on the Beginning of
St. John's Gospel

What follows below is a commentary written over the course of three weeks in May of the present year.  I do not claim any special insight into the meaning of the scriptural text–the commentary was written as an instrument for meditation.  My guide, occasionally, was St. Thomas's commentary, but mostly it was composed merely from my own reflections.  I post it here for the sake of keeping it easily accessible for my own purposes.  Perhaps someone else will find it useful.

12 June 2015

Positive Propositional Content in Trent's Decree on Original Sin

Every now and then, I take some time to return to the decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, and savor the clarity and dignity of their canons.  This week I am reading through all the decrees of Trent, including the decrees on reform, the numerous postponements, the relocation to Bologna on account of plague, etc.  But it occurred to me that the Canons of Trent are, like most canons, stated negatively.  Even though there are propositions of faith included in them directly, because they are anathemas designed to define the limits of Catholic profession, one has to dig into them a little to get the truths they affirm.  So, in the post below, I have begun a simple project, which is to enumerate the positive propositional content of the decrees of Trent, beginning with the Decree on Original Sin, promulgated at the Fifth Session, on 17 June 1546.  The canons themselves can be found here.  I will merely list the noteworthy implications of each canon.


Canon I
  1. The first man is named, and referred to as "Adam".
  2. The first man was constituted in a state of holiness and justice.
  3. The first man violated the commandment of God.
  4. By his offense, the first man incurred the wrath of God.
  5. By his offense, the first man became subject to death.
  6. By his offense, the first man became captive, under the power of the Devil.
  7. By his offense, the first man was changed for the worse in his whole being, both body and soul.

Canon II
  1. The transgression of Adam injured his posterity, which is the whole human race (with exceptions noted in Canon VI).
  2. By his sin, the first man lost holiness and justice for us as well.
  3. By his sin, he has transfused death to the human race.
  4. By his sin, he has transfused the pains of the body to the human race.
  5. By his sin, he has transfused sin, the death of the soul, to the human race.

Canon III
  1. The sin of Adam is transfused into all men (with exceptions noted in Canon VI).
  2. Original sin is transfused by propagation, not by imitation.
  3. Original sin is present in each person as his own sin.
  4. Original sin is not taken away by the powers of human nature.
  5. Original sin is not removed by any remedy other than the merit of Jesus Christ.
  6. Jesus Christ has reconciled us to God in his own blood.
  7. The merit of Jesus Christ is applied to adults and infants through the Sacrament of Baptism.

Canon IV
  1. Newborn infants, and especially those born to baptized parents, are to be baptized.
  2. Newborn infants have original sin from Adam.
  3. Newborn infants need the water of baptism to cleanse them of original sin, in order to obtain everlasting life.
  4. Newborn infants are truly baptized for the remission of sins.

Canon V
  1. The guilt of original sin is remitted in Baptism.
  2. The remission of guilt in Baptism is by the grace of Jesus Christ.
  3. Everything which has the true and proper nature of sin is taken away in Baptism.
  4. Baptism effects a real removal of sin, not merely a removal of its imputation.
  5. At Baptism there is nothing in the baptized to impede their entrance into heaven.
  6. Concupiscence, the foment of sin, remains in the Baptized after Baptism.
  7. Concupiscence does not have the full nature of sin, but merely inclines the baptized to sin.
  8. Concupiscence cannot injure the baptized except by their consent.

Canon VI
  1. The Council does not include the Blessed Virgin Mary in the descriptions of original sin in the above.
  2. The Council renews the constitutions of Pope Sixtus IV on the topic.

09 June 2015

Feeling Uncomfortable about "Human Dignity" Talk

Obviously there's something basically correct about "human dignity" talk.  Yes, humans have a dignity by virtue of their nature and supernatural vocation which requires respect and certain behavior, etc.  Great.

But when you hear people talk about human dignity, it's usually colored not by the consideration of the Divine image in man and his supernatural vocation so much as by the liberty due to him in his natural powers.

So what's the effect of that coloring of the term?  Well, it makes the term serve a certain conception of justice and human rights, according to which the basic thing to be sought is self-determination.  Since human dignity stems from the Divine image, which is in the possession of intellect and will, and intellect and will are naturally free, the safeguarding of human dignity somehow becomes about guaranteeing the liberty of the intellect and will, and therefore about maintaining a sphere of individual independence over and against any community or law that could subordinate the individual convictions and desires of a person to some higher good.

This is why people get so freaked out by Dignitatis Humanae. Because if you read it superficially it seems to go down exactly this path.

And the problem with this path of thinking is that, while it's right in its principles, it fails to consider that the human faculties of intellect and will, while free by nature, possess dignity not on account of their liberty but on account of their proper end.

"I am a king."

[Taken from Chapter 3 of St. Alphonsus Liguori's Uniformity with God's Will.]

The devout Father John Tauler relates this personal experience: For years he had prayed God to send him someone who would teach him the real spiritual life. One day, at prayer, he heard a voice saying: “Go to such and such a church and you will have the answer to your prayers.” He went and at the door of the church he found a beggar, barefooted and in rags. He greeted the mendicant saying: “Good day, my friend.”

“Thank you, sir, for your kind wishes, but I do not recall ever having had a ‘bad’ day.”

“Then God has certainly given you a very happy life.”

“That is very true, sir. I have never been unhappy. In saying this I am not making any rash statement either. This is the reason: When I have nothing to eat, I give thanks to God; when it rains or snows, I bless God’s providence; when someone insults me, drives me away, or otherwise mistreats me, I give glory to God. I said I’ve never had an unhappy day, and it’s the truth, because I am accustomed to will unreservedly what God wills. Whatever happens to me, sweet or bitter, I gladly receive from his hands as what is best for me. Hence my unvarying happiness.”

“Where did you find God?”

“I found him where I left creatures.”

“Who are you anyway?”

“I am a king.”

“And where is your kingdom?”

“In my soul, where everything is in good order; where the passions obey reason, and reason obeys God.”

“How have you come to such a state of perfection?”

“By silence. I practice silence towards men, while I cultivate the habit of speaking with God. Conversing with God is the way I found and maintain my peace of soul.”

08 June 2015

"What is the Holy Spirit?"

1.  We begin with God.  “God" is the name we give to that being which is the creator of everything else that exists.  By nature we can know that there is such a being, but we cannot know its characteristics except indirectly by reasoning from what is seen in its effects (this is called the "way of remotion").  Mostly this involves denying that God could have certain characteristics: e.g. mutability, finitude, imperfection, etc.

2.  As Catholics, we believe that God created rational animals (humans) for the purpose of inviting them to participate in his supreme perfection: to know as he knows, to love as he loves, to delight as he delights.

3.  All humans by nature are capable of knowledge, but only to the extent that our senses allow it.  Our minds are limited by what they can receive from the world, and since we receive information through our senses, what we know by nature is necessarily limited to the material, sensible world around us

4.  God however is not a material, sensible being, in his essence, and therefore to know the essence of God is impossible for humans by nature, because we cannot see or perceive God.

5.  God, then, desiring the supreme perfection of our intellectual capacities, the natural object of which is the true and the good, stretches us beyond what we could naturally learn to something that exceeds material reality... i.e., to spiritual realities.

6.  And he does this so that we can come to know Him, and, knowing him, become friends with Him, and by sharing in the understanding and love which he has of himself and of all things, to participate in the supreme perfection which is the Divine Life.

7.  The primary way in which God has made himself known to humanity is Jesus Christ, in whom God, the eternal one, joined himself to human nature, and, as St. John says, dwelt among us.

8.  But Christ came not just to express the love of God, but also to make God known to us, and one of the things Christ reveals about the Godhead is its essential relationality, i.e. that God subsists as an eternal relation among three persons: one innascible, one begotten, one proceeding.

9.  We can explain what these relations mean by an analogy to the human acts of knowing and loving.  This is a faint and imperfect analogy, but it helps somewhat.

10.  In the human act of knowing, the essence of what is known, i.e. what the thing is that we are trying to understand, comes to be abstractly in the mind of the one knowing.  I look at a flower, I study the flower, and what it is to be the flower, the flowers characteristics and essence, are situated in my mind, so that I possess them mentally independent of the flower.

11.  The human act of knowing is limited, however, because (1) we only ever understand things finitely and imperfectly, and (2) the objects of our natural knowledge are material, and a material thing cannot really come to exist in the mind, since the idea held by the mind is immaterial.

12.  Now, consider God's act of knowing Himself.  In God there is no finitude of understanding, and since the object of that understanding is not material, the idea God has of himself, the inner word by which he refers to himself, is supremely perfect.  So perfect, that it has the fullness of the essence and reality of the Divine Nature.  In other words, within God as knower, the idea of God is fully Divine.

13.  The act of understanding terminates in a being, an idea, which is God in essence and existence, but in one who is, while sharing in the very same act of existence and fundamentally inseparable, distinct by the relation of knower to known.

14.  This is what theologians refer to as "the procession of the Word”.  (The Word being Christ, the second person of the Trinity.)
So much, then for the analogy to knowing.  Now, the analogy to loving.

15.  In the act of knowing something, we judge it to be good or deficient, and insofar as we judge something to be good, our will is naturally moved toward the object under consideration, which we desire or love.  And this impulse of the will proceeds from the subject as a whole through the idea of what is known, as an act of love which participates in the idea of what is known.

16.  In God, again, love being infinite and understanding being utterly perfect, that impulse toward the goodness God finds in his own supreme being, is so full of reality and so unlimited that it again attains to the fullness of what is loved, which is God, and subsists as what is God, and thus is a person, inseparable from the ones from which it proceeds, but nonetheless really distinct by its relation to them, which we call the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit is the impulse of love which proceeds from the Father and the Son through the eternal self-knowledge of God.

17.  Now, one more thing before we finish.  In Catholicism, we talk about the persons of the Trinity, i.e. these three subsistent persons within God, in two ways.

18.  First, we talk about them as they exist eternally as the three distinct faces of the Godhead.  Second, we talk about them as associated with certain acts of God with respect to creatures.
For example, we normally refer the act of creation principally to the Father, since the Father is the innascible person in the Trinity, the "source" so to speak.

19.  We refer the act of redemption to the Son, because the Son united himself to human nature and offered himself as a sacrifice in atonement for our sins.

20.  We refer the act of sanctification to the Spirit, since the Spirit is the fruit of the love within the Godhead, and sanctification is marked by an increase in the theological virtue of charity, and is a direct expression of God’s own charity toward us.

21.  On these topics there's a lot to say.  But some sense of that you can find by reading your Catechism.