Thursday, May 25, 2006

Feast of the Ascension

Today is the Feast of the Ascension on the Roman calendar. The Ascension always bothered me, it seems to me the spookiest part of the life of Christ. Virgin birth: no problem. Resurrection: what's the big deal. This is small change for God. But the Ascension just seems *weird*. "And He was taken up and covered by a cloud"? Give me a break.

I was thinking about this on the Feast of the Ascension about four years ago and I had this thought: What are the alternatives? It seems that the following map gives the relevant options. He could 1. Be seen to depart or 2. Not be seen to depart. If he is seen to depart then He must depart 1a. statically, "fade away" so to speak, or 1b. dynamically, be "transported" away (i.e. move from sight in some direction). If he is moved in a direction then it must be either 1b' a major point of the compass, or 1b'' an oblique angle.

Not being seen to depart would be the least spooky, but also the least educative. If He were just never seen nor heard from again, if He'd just disappeared, I think I would be even more disturbed actually. At any rate it would have left open-ended where the heck He went. Is he still out there, like Sasquatch, lurking in the forests eating berries? No, that's no good.

I also don't think the fade away would be any less spooky. The point of being transported "up" is to convey that He's going "up" to be with the Father. I don't know (or particularly care) whether the Apostles thought God was physical and lived in a castle in the air. I suspect they did not. However, I also suspect they had the same natural associations as we have and "the heavens" are, after all, a metaphor for Heaven. So why not up?

None of the other points of the compass convey much. Up is the only real "loaded" direction (I suppose "down" is loaded, but unsuitable for obvious reasons!). So I think it's a contest between the Fade and the Ascension. Can you imagine celebrating the Feast of the Fade?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Updated Documents

I've updated a bit two documents which I send to seekers quite a bit.

One is on Apostolic Succession.

The other is on the Real Presence.

The are very short documents consisting quotations from the Fathers with very brief comments and highlighting.

Their purpose is not to look pretty, but to get busy people to take in crucial information quickly.

There are lots of places where such things can be found but I find they are either too long or too short. One way they are too long is by bogging the reader down in detail that will lose their attention. Another way is by including quotations which need too much theological context--context lacking in such a reader ex hypothesi--to be of evidential value. The way they are often too short is by omitting really juicy passages which, with just a little commentary, can be of significant evidential value.

Not in Kansas Any More

...and thank God!

There are *some* nice things about Kansas but this Missouri native did not enjoy living there *at all*.

So there's bad news and good news from the Land of Oz.

• Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius Vetoes Abortion Statistics Reporting Bill

The bill would merely have required abortionists to keep track of how many late-term abortions were for health reasons. Nothing like heading off pro-life evidence at the pass, eh?

But there is some good news too.

• Kansas Spends $150K for Adult Stem Cell Research With Umbilical Cords

I wish the press would let the folk know that Catholics are all for stem cell research.

It's just that there are better sources of stem cells than corpses owned by Big Abortion, the multi-billian dollar a year, trans-national industry.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Unborn Goalie

I meant to comment on this story much earlier. I know it will be of interest to at least Frank and I.

Here's the teaser:

"VANCOUVER -- It will go down as the greatest kick-save that Justin Pogge ever made, one he pulled off even before he was born.
His mother, Annet Pogge, figures she had been pregnant with Team Canada's star goalie at the world junior hockey tournament here for a little more than four months the night she walked to the centre of a bridge in Fort McMurray, Alta., thinking about ending it all."

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Tolkien in the News

Posted at Counsel of Trent here.

Reflections Upon the Divine Virtues

On Sundays for the foreseeable future I'll be blogging my way through Saint Augustine's _Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love_.

The triad of Faith, Hope, and Love are called the "divine" or "theological" virtues in contrast to the four "cardinal" virtues of Courage, Moderation, Justice, and Wisdom. It's hard to say just what distinguishes the two types of virtue, but Chesterton somewhere says, in _Orthodoxy I think, but I'm not certain, that the difference is that whereas the cardinal virtues represent what Aristotle--the greatest proponent of virtue theory--calls a "golden mean". That is, the all represent some kind of balance.

(Cardinal Virtues, larger image)

For example, the cardinal virtue of Courage represents a balance between the vice of Cowardice and the vice of being Rash. It is the displaying of a way of being which can be exercised too little or too much. The activity at work in the courageous individual can grow too strong and push the individual past courage into the vice of rashness.

(theological virtues, 1507,
Oil on wood, Pinacoteca, Vatican
larger image)

By contrast, says Chesterton, the divine virtues are all extremist they exemplify a way of being which cannot be lived to much. The activity at work in the loving individual--we're talking about agape/caritas here--has no upper limit, it never becomes a vice no matter how much or to what degree it is practiced.


Augustine thinks that hope and faith are both species of belief. He notes a tendency to use them as if they are nearly the same in some contexts but wishes to distinguish them properly. I want to bracket now the nature of the "belief" of which faith and hope are said to be a species. Of course Augustine recognizes a sense of "faith" in which it is not *mere* belief but something rather more existential. That's not at stake here. Rather, the rough-and-ready idea is that faith is assent to things one can neither observe not *strictly* logically prove on the basis of a genuine authority, in this case the Church and, ultimately God, primarily through the Son. There is very little here of relevance to the issue of the relation of Faith to Reason either affirmatively or negatively.

What formally distinguishes them according to Saint Augustine is that whereas Faith can have for its field both good and evil, past and present, and pertaining to any person, Hope pertains only to the good, the future, and the individual.

*good, future (self) - Belief that one will see the beatific vision
*bad, future (self) - Belief that one will incur pain as a result of one's wickedness
*good, past (other) - Belief that Christ rose from the dead
*bad, past (other) - Belief that Judas betrayed Christ

*Belief that God will bring me through hard time.
*Belief that I will see loved ones in heaven.

So far the working definition of hope seems to be belief in one's future good. He quotes Romans 8:24-25 in favor of this.
24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
His definition is inferred directly from this verse. It doesn't exactly suggest his definition to me. The verse suggests a notion of hope as patient waiting (one would think some kind of *expectation* would come into the picture somewhere, this might be where he gets "belief").

Here's the OED on hope: "To entertain expectation of something desired; to look (mentally) with expectation." All the other defs also mention expectation or looking toward (ex-pect, after all, just means "to look out for"). The core meaning of expectation is merely "to wait" though today we often speak of expectation as involving some positive judgement of probability. It's plain as day from the earliest uses of the word that it mean no more than to wait. Consider this example: "1609 BIBLE (Douay) Ecclus. xi. Comm., Expect the end of an other mans speach, before you beginne to answer."

By the 18th century the meaning begins to shift to the modern affirmative use (there are some before), then takes hold in the 19th century. 1882 J. H. BLUNT Ref. Ch. Eng. II. 18 If he did similar things, he should expect similar punishment. 1891 Speaker 2 May 533/1 The book is very much what might have been expected from the author.

This raises some questions into which I have very little insight.
*Is Hope just a species of Faith?
*Does Saint Augustine neglect the crucial aspect of *waiting*?
*Just what is the nature of the "belief" involved?
*Is "expectation" the bridge between "belief" and "waiting"? (which brings us back to the first question)


Saint Augustine makes it clear that he thinks that Hope can only occur in the presence of Love and that Love can only occur in the presence of Hope. He also says that neither can occur without Faith. He doesn't say whether Faith can occur without the others, but one gets the impression that the virtues come as a package. If this is right, then I think it might have profound implications.

This is almost tacked on to the introduction without argument. I haven't had a chance to think about it very deeply yet.

This is a lot to deal with just from one short chapter.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Holy Day of Obligation

Don't forget Thursday is a Holy Day of Obligation.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Home Town Pride

Now here's something to be proud of. Here is a summary of the reforms of the new Bishop--Most Reverend Robert W. Finn--of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

*Dismissed the lay chancellor and replaced him with a priest.*Dismissed the female religious who served as vice chancellor and replaced her with a layman with a track record in Catholic apologetics.
*Cancelled the diocese’s programs for training lay people for pastoral ministry.
*Increased the staffing of the vocations office from a half-time priest to a full-time priest with a half-time priest assistant.
*Ordered a new study of adult catechesis under the leadership of the new vice chancellor.
*Cut the budget of the Office of Peace and Justice in half and established a separate Respect Life Office.
*Removed the diocesan sponsored master’s program from Aquinas Institute of Theology (run by Dominicans affiliated with the Jesuit St. Louis University) and placed it with the Institute for Pastoral Theology at Ave Maria University.
*Ordered the editor of the diocesan newspaper to drop Fr. Richard McBrien’s column.
*Established a pattern of reviewing the contents of the newspaper prior to publication, sometimes cutting stories which appear to undermine Catholic teaching.

I was born and raised in St. Joseph and sometimes cringe when it makes the national news, so this is a welcomed change indeed.
(full story from Catholic Culture)

Screwtape on The Da Vinci Code

Good stuff. This guy mimics Lewis' style very well.

Screwtape on The Da Vinci Code

Monday, May 15, 2006

Studying Aquinas at Princeton

I'm happy to announce that I've just been selected to participate in this Summer Seminar on Thomism at Princeton University in August!

This is such a fantastic opportunity I'm really thrilled.

Second Nun Story

I promised in my Story of a Persecuted Nun to return to a second story, because, it so happens, I also sat next to a Nun on my way *back* from Chicago after the conference at Notre Dame.

It was almost surreal to find my seat and again go through the heuristic by which nuns may be identified. Since the odds of being randomly seated next to two *orthodox* nuns was even less than being seated by two nuns *simpliciter* I thought that this time I was really in for it.

However, much to my surprise here too was a nun with sense. My Diocese--the the Diocese of Rochester, New York--has the second lowest degree of priestly vocations in the country--the lowest is somewhere in Alabama I think. It might have *something* to do with the fact that the Diocesan Vocations Director is a lay woman. Anyway, she said that it was common knowledge that low recruitment was a *conscious policy*. It was thought that the "priesthood crisis" of not enough priests would finally "break the back" of Rome and cause the Pope to allow Priestesses in the Church. Recruiting more male priests would only be a setback in that endeavor.

Seems almost diabolical, doesn't it.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Beggars for Heaven

A review of Jacques and Raïssa Maritain: Beggars for Heaven came out today in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. (link)

Last summer, before I converted my newsletter to a blog, I gave out several great links on this famous pair of intellectual Catholic converts. One of the reasons I converted it to a blog was so I could easily cross-reference such things. I'm sure, however, that this info on Raïssa Maritain--"Philosopher, Poet, Mystic"--was included.

There's a good Wikipedia article on Jacques. For more detailed analysis of his philosophy, there's a Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article. It's written by William Sweet, Chair in the Department of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Philosophy, Theology and Cultural Traditions, at St. Francis Xavier University, in Nova Scotia, Canada.

The both led fascinating lives full of intellectual curiosity and fecundity.