Wednesday, December 24, 2003

A Christmas Thought

Last Sunday in the Byzantine Church we heard the "begat" readings from Matthew, the lengthy genealogy of Jesus. This may seem to be a boring and unnecessary reading, and indeed it was quite funny listening to our Deacon attempt to pronounce Zerubbabel. Why do we read this?

What we must remember is that Jesus is not just God, but Man. The genealogy emphasizes Christ's human nature. He is indeed a son of Abraham and a son of David. This means that he shares a nature with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and with us. Look at what St. Leo has to say: For if the New Man had not been made in the likeness of sinful flesh, and taken on Him our old nature, and being consubstantial with the Father, had deigned to be consubstantial with His mother also, and being alone free from sin, had united our nature to Him the whole human race would be held in bondage beneath the Devil's yoke, and we should not be able to make use of the Conqueror's victory, if it had been won outside our nature.

Note the turn of phrase. In the creed we profess that the Son is consubstantial with the Father (in the ICEL translation it is rendered "one in being", which is a lousy translation of consubstantialis or homoousios): Leo points out that the Son is consubstantial with Mary as well. Jesus shares a nature with God and with us.

Think of it this way when you hear the genealogy readings (". . . Jechoniah became the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, Zerubbabel the father of Abiud. Abiud became the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor. . . ."): if Jesus is related to all of these people, he's related to you. Jesus is not only your savior, he's your cousin!

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

St. Linus Review

There's a new journal of Catholic poetry and short prose being started up. Go check it out. All for the small price of 12$ a year.

Let me see if I can write some orthodox Catholic poetry:

There once was a man named Wojtyla
Who was bishop of Krakow for real-ya
When John Paul I croaked
We saw the white smoke,
And Wojtyla said "Be not afraid!" of la Diabla

Yes, I know it's awful. I also know that Diablo is masculine, not feminine. But you try rhyming something with Wojtyla. And I apologize to John Paul I, but I couldn't resist the "croaked"--"white smoke" rhyme.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Rules for when numbskull priests can "dialogue" about the celibacy "rule"

These priests, lately in Minnesota, are concerned that there might not be any priests in the future, and therefore conclude that we should have married priests. I think they are missing a few steps. So, here are Athanasius' Rules for When It Is Appropriate for Clergy to Revisit Clerical Celibacy:

1) If the priest in question hears confessions more than once a week for half an hour.
2) If the priest follows all the liturgical rules.
3) If the priest never, ever allows his choir to sing a new church into being, or any song by Rory Cooney.
4) If the priest wears his collar outside of the church.
5) If the church has pictures and statues of the saints.
6) If the tabernacle in Father's parish isn't in a broom closet.
7) If the priest prays the Divine Office. Daily. Heck, hourly.
8) If the priest encourages the parish to pray the Divine Office, perhaps by having Vespers and Matins on a regular basis.
9) If the priest makes it a point to suggest to young boys that they might consider the priesthood.
10) If the priest preaches Catholic doctrine in his homilies, rather than telling vapid stories lifted from Chicken Soup for the Soul.
11) If the priest is, in a nutshell, holy.

Then, we can "dialogue" about it. (I use the scare quotes for "dialogue" because the word isn't a verb, darn it.)

P.S. Oh, there is a rule that trumps the other rules. If the priest in question is an Eastern Catholic priest whose ancient historical practice of married clergy was snuffed out in America due to bigotry, then he can talk about it.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

A nice six-foot bloody Spanish crucifix, covered with Christmas lights

That's the sort of decoration I want for my house. I'm really starting to hate Santa. There are houses around here that are brighter than the noonday sun, with elves, reindeer, fat jolly Santas, lights, lights, and more lights, and not a Jesus among them.

Bah humbug!

As somebody in Blogdom pointed out, the real reason for the season is sin. In other words, the only reason to celebrate Christmas is because of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Monday, December 15, 2003

What if the Church is right?

Yesterday the Epistle for the Divine Liturgy included Collosians 3:5: Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Think for a minute. Step back and pretend you haven't been hearing these readings your whole life, and look at how strong this is. Put to death! Kill! Destroy these (mostly) sexual sins! They incite God's wrath.

That's what we are called to do. We are bodily beings, and we must therefore not only serve God with our mind or with our pocketbook, but with our bodies. We are part of the body of Christ. Note that Paul doesn't say "the mind of Christ" or "the spirit of Christ." We are bodily, and Christ is bodily, and we are part of that body. We must therefore worship God with our bodies, in all matters.

Now, here is the question: Do you care what the Church says on sexual morality? Do you care what Paul says about it? What Christ says about it? What God says? Most of the discussion of contraception or homosexuality or non-marital sex revolves around the issue of whether or not God really cares about these things. What if He does? Would you change your life?

I think most people argue in bad faith on this issue. They reject God's dominion over their bodies, and then pretend that God doesn't care about their bodies to cover the rejection.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Narwen will be happy

I've been reading a little John Henry Newman (for some reason I had never gotten around to it before, although I do remember starting Apologia pro Vita Sua), and I've come to a conclusion. Newman was really smart. I just finished Church of the Fathers, which is available from Notre Dame Press, and is a good introduction to patristics, and now I'm reading Idea of a University.

The Return of In Formation!

Steve Mattson is back on the air. His blog was always a place of perceptive and calm analysis. Go check him out here.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

We have a new rule in our house

No television except on weekends. There's an exception for when one is working out on the treadmill or Nordic Track, but I have been reluctant to exercise it. Even so, we only have rabbit ears in the new house, so there isn't much to watch. The quiet is very nice. Prayerful, even.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Notes on infallibility

In a comment below, Chris remarks that he has a problem with the bull "Unam Sanctam" and papal infallibility. US says "we firmly believe and simply confess this Church outside which there is no salvation nor remission of sin" and "Furthermore, we declare, say, define, and proclaim to every human creature that they by necessity for salvation are entirely subject to the Roman Pontiff." (Denz) This causes Chris some worries: In that 14th-century document, Pope Boniface VIII wrote, "we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff." Now that seems hard to square with the modern Church's teaching that salvation can be found outside the confines of formal membership in the visible Church. I'm certainly open to solutions to this problem that preserve the doctrine of infallibility, but here's the thing: Say that I grant (as I'm willing to) that the line in "Unam Sanctam" could conceivably be interpreted in harmony with the modern teaching -- presumably on the theory that those outside the visible church are "subject" to the Roman Pontiff in a mysterious way, even if they don't know it. All right, having granted that, one thing is now clear: the charism of infallibility doesn't guarantee that CURRENT dogmatic pronoucements won't be similarly reinterpreted, and reunderstood, 500 years from now.

First, I don't think even Boniface himself would have ruled out the possibility that someone who had not been baptized could be saved. After all, as a priest and bishop, Boniface would have celebrated the feasts of martyrs who are venerated as saints who were never baptized. The grace of God can work outside of the sacraments. Thomas Aquinas says that if one has not had the gospel preached to oneself, we can be sure that God will provide some way for that person to be saved, as long as we follow the leadership of natural reason. God will not fail to give us what is necessary: De veritate, q. 14 a. 11 ad 2 Ad secundum dicendum, quod quamvis non sit in potestate nostra cognoscere ea quae sunt fidei, ex nobis ipsis; tamen, si nos fecerimus quod in nobis est, ut scilicet ductum rationis naturalis sequamur, Deus non deficiet nobis ab eo quod est nobis necessarium.

Second, the bull Unam Sanctam isn't primarily about who will be saved, but about the proper relationship of the Church and the state. The answer is then, as it is now: the state should be subject to the Church. In other words, if a law is in conflict with the law of God, it is no law.

Third, the teaching has been reaffirmed, as recently as Lumen Gentium : "They could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it."

Now, you can see, I hope, that Unam Sanctam has not been modified so as to change its meaning. In fact, what it says has been reaffirmed. As far as whether something similar will happen with Humanae Vitae, yes, I assure you, it will continue to be taught 500 years into the future.

Really, usury is a much more worrisome problem than "Outside the Church no salvation. . . ."

UPDATE: As I reread this, the coda sounds a bit snippy to me. I didn't mean it that way. My commentor Chris has a genuine problem with reconciling Unam Sanctam and papal infallibility. I think the problem can be solved, once we cut through and find out exactly what the Church teaches on the issue. And I really do have more trouble with usury than with "Nulla salus."

Friday, December 05, 2003

I'm in between houses

And it might be a while before I'm back to the internet on a regular basis. I have some responses to the questions raised in the vanity post and the mannnyyyum opus (Jane, I pronounce languages like the natives do, and for Latin, the natives are the Church), so look back in a couple of days.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

If I were a vain man,

I would be upset that no one seems to have read or commented on Monday's magnum opus. (By the way, it's not "magg-num," it's "mann-yum"--you wouldn't say "Agg-nus Dei, qui tollis . . . ." would you?) But I'm not a vain man. Nope, not me. I'm not blogging so that everyone will congratulate me about how smart I am.

So what did you think of the previous post, if you don't mind me asking?

Monday, December 01, 2003

Faith: More than a Feeling!

I've been reading up on the Fathers of the Church recently (especially in this book by Newman) and, although there are many ways in which the ancient Church is unlike the modern Church, there is one in particular that stands out: the lengths to which they would go to clarify seemingly trivial points of doctrine. Is Jesus homoousious or homoiousious with the Father? Does Christ have both a human will and a divine will? A human intellect and a divine intellect? Was Christ merely God taking on an appearance of humanity? Who cares? Yet all of these issues were so important that popular uprisings would occur, should a bishop pronounce himself on the wrong side of this issue. Ambrose, for example, was ready to die rather than to sacrifice church property to an Arian congregation. The integrity of the Faith was so important that there could be no compromise.

(Can you imagine such behavior in a bishop now? Imagine a bishop shutting down hospitals or charities rather than complying with state orders to provide contraceptives! Christians in the early ages of the Church would die rather than sacrifice to idols. We would cheerfully make the sacrifice just to keep a tax exemption.)

Why were early Christians so, well, obnoxious about doctrinal purity? Were they all crazy? Have we become more sensible over the years? Or is it that we don't really understand what faith is? I think it is the latter. See, since the Protestant Reformation, there has been an emphasis on sola fide, or salvation by faith alone. But what do they mean by faith? It seems that what is meant is a strong feeling, an inner conviction that places trust in Christ. If only one clings to Christ, then one will be saved, no matter what else one does. Luther is reported to have said that one could commit a million murders a day as long as one had faith.

Now, to be fair, there is an element of inner conviction in the meaning of faith. We mean by the word both the content of what is believed and the virtue that allows us to believe it. But I think that in the last five hundred years Protestantism has denuded faith of any contentual meaning. It doesn't so much matter what you believe, as long as you believe it really strongly. One gets this answer quite often to moral hypotheticals in a philosophy class: "Well, as long as Hitler (or Bin Laden, or Stalin) really believed he was right. . . ." The fissiparous nature of Protestantism itself shows that faith has come to mean mere belief, only a feeling. As long as you accept Jesus as your personal savior, what difference does it make if he is consubstantial with the Father or not?

But this is very far from what the Church Fathers believed. Why? What made them so wrong? Was it an evil plot by evil Constantine to repress free believers? I don't think so. Take a look at just a few passages from Scripture on the nature of faith. Start with Hebrews 11:1

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

This seems to give support to the notion that faith is just a feeling, since it talks about assurance and conviction. But note that it is an assurance and conviction in certain things. Does it matter what things? Read on:

[4]By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he received approval as righteous, God bearing witness by accepting his gifts; he died, but through his faith he is still speaking.
[5] By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was attested as having pleased God.
[6] And without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

See, it isn't that Enoch and Abel had merely an inner conviction, they had a correct inner conviction, namely that God exists and rewards those who seek him. Their faith saved them, but it couldn't have saved them if they had faith in the impersonal First Mover of Aristotle.


[7] By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, took heed and constructed an ark for the saving of his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness which comes by faith.

Noah was saved because he had faith in a specific truth, that there would be a flood. Note that Noah would not have been saved if he had a strong inner conviction but believed that God's words about the flood were mere metaphors.


[17]By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son,
[18] of whom it was said, "Through Isaac shall your descendants be named."
[19] He considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

Abraham's faith manifests itself in an action (sacrifice of his son), because he believed in a specific fact: God can raise people from the dead. If Abraham had strong inner conviction in a god who couldn't raise from the dead, he would have flunked the test, and wouldn't be our Father in faith.

I could multiply examples here. All of these people certainly had a strong conviction that what they believed was true. But as important as the conviction is what they believed.

One more example: Ephesians 4:5 speaks of "One Lord, one Faith, one baptism." How could there be one faith if faith mean only a feeling? Wouldn't there be a multitude of faiths? Rather what is needed is unity. The early Fathers took this call to unity in the content of faith very seriously, and we play with fire if we ignore their example.

New Link

Nathan over at The Tower has been commenting in a lot of my posts. He claims to be a 19-year-old Catholic. I don't believe him: His grammar is much too good! Go look at his blog.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

All about Eastern Christianity and Jewish Mysticism

Apparently, the practice of the Jesus Prayer is extremely ancient, even more ancient than Jesus himself! Or rather, the mantra-like repetition of the name of God has its roots in Judaism. You can read all about it on a page put up by Father Alexander Golitzin, a professor of theology at Marquette University, and also the former teacher of Mrs. Athanasius.

I'm downloading a work on Apraphat, the Persian Sage by said Fr. Golitzin this very minute. It should be some good Thanksgiving reading.

P.S. My wife tells a story about class with Golitzin: she was very quiet in the class, and Fr. Golitzin didn't know who she was. Then they took the first test, and Mrs. Athanasius, as usual, aced it. Fr. Golitzin asked a question in the next class: "Who can answer this? How about, oh, Miss Smith (not her real maiden name)?" Thus he found out who the smart quiet girl was.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving

But you better enjoy it while you can, since someday the ACLU is going to figure out that "to thank" is a transitive verb.

Monday, November 24, 2003

The promise of future blogs

I'm a bit busy right now. No, scratch that. I'm extremely busy right now. Blogging will be scarce. But I promise, more goodies to come. I've been thinking about why it is that the ancient Church Fathers spent so much time fighting over orthodoxy, and why we shrug about it today. Hint: I blame Martin Luther. But stay tuned to find out why.

Friday, November 21, 2003

A sign of the times

My wife went on the walk-through of our new house on Friday, and the builder was schocked to discover that Mrs. Athanasius and I don't have a cable television outlet in the bedroom.

What freaks we must be.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Now that I've talked about fasting,

It's time for the Christmas List!

Note that these gifts are a bit pricy, and are completely unnecessary. But they would be fun. Socks, sweaters, and ties (and mortgage payments) are always appreciated.

Item #1
The Ukrainian Catholics have translated the Divine Office from Slavonic to English. I would like a copy so that I could make some attempt to pray a portion of it every day. This book is available here for the not-very-low price of 100$. Imagine: 1373 pages of Byzantine goodness!

Added benefit: if idle hands are the devil's workshop, then this book will help me not to have idle time. The Byzantine Office, if prayed fully, takes all day. I won't have any idle time.

Item #2

I play lots of musical instruments. Unfortunately, I only play one at a time. (That's not quite true: I did play trumpet and piano at the same time once for a talent show.) The Tascam US-122, available from The Woodwind and Brasswind, is a usb audio interface for the computer. This would make it much easier for me to record my own music on the computer, and thus imitate my hero, Victor Lams. This gift would allow me to explore a whole new world of funkitude.

Other than that, give me world peace, faithful bishops, good liturgies, and holy and healthy family members.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

More on Christmas fasting

Go look at Nathan's suggestion.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Admit it

When you first started blogging, you dreamed of being like Peter and Valentine Wiggin from Ender's Game.


Short Primer on the Jesus Prayer

My sister-in-law Susan, otherwise known as the Rosary Fascist, AKA Mrs. of Nyssa (wife of my brother Gregory of Nyssa (not his real name)) asked in a comment below what the form of the Jesus Prayer is.

Here it is:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

You can abbreviate if you like, even making it as short as "Jesus." Repeat as needed, or in other words constantly. There is a way to combine it with one's breathing, but Sean Roberts pointed out correctly that one should probably not do that without the advice of a spiritual director. Mrs. Athanasius says it is better than counting sheep.

There is a wonderful book about it called The Way of the Pilgrim. I would give my copy to Mrs. of Nyssa at Thanksgiving, but I've already given it away to someone else.

Monday, November 17, 2003

'Tis the season to be fasting

Falalalala, lalala.

Seriously. Advent, contrary to popular practice, is a time of preparation for the arrival of our Lord. What would you do if someone important was coming to visit your house? Wouldn't you clean things up? Why would you not do the same to your spiritual house when Christ is coming? So, rather than searching for Christmas presents or putting up the tree (which, strictly speaking, shouldn't go up until Christmas Eve), why not pray and fast?

Prayer and fasting are linked together. If you only pray, then you will not make any spiritual progress. To progress in the love of Christ, one must discipline one's body. The way to do this is by foregoing good things (food) for the greater good (God). Have you ever read the stories of the early Christian martyrs? How were they able to bear such terrible burdens for the faith? They were able to stand firm where we crumble because they had died to self through fasting, and were thus able to choose God when every fiber of their earthly being said to submit to the world.

Listen to what St. Jerome says about fasting, in a letter to a young girl who was seeking to lead a virginal life: After you have paid the most careful attention to your thoughts, you must then put on the armour of fasting and sing with David: "I chastened my soul with fasting," and "I have eaten ashes like bread," and "as for me when they troubled me my clothing was sackcloth." Eve was expelled from paradise because she had eaten of the forbidden fruit. Elijah on the other hand after forty days of fasting was carried in a fiery chariot into heaven. For forty days and forty nights Moses lived by the intimate converse which he had with God, thus proving in his own case the complete truth of the saying, "man doth not live by bread only but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord." The Saviour of the world, who in His virtues and His mode of life has left us an example to follow, was, immediately after His baptism, taken up by the spirit that He might contend with the devil, and after crushing him and overthrowing him might deliver him to his disciples to trample under foot. For what says the apostle? "God shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly." And yet after the Saviour had fasted forty days, it was through food that the old enemy laid a snare for him, saying, "If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread." Under the law, in the seventh month after the blowing of trumpets and on the tenth day of the month, a fast was proclaimed for the whole Jewish people, and that soul was cut off from among his people which on that day preferred self-indulgence to self-denial. In Job it is written of behemoth that "his strength is in his loins, and his force is in the navel of his belly." Our foe uses the heat of youthful passion to tempt young men and maidens and "sets on fire the wheel of our birth." He thus fulfils the words of Hosea, "they are all adulterers, their heart is like an oven;" an oven which only God's mercy and severe fasting can extinguish. These are "the fiery darts" with which the devil wounds men and sets them on fire, and it was these which the king of Babylon used against the three children. But when he made his fire forty-nine cubits high he did but turn to his own ruin the seven weeks which the Lord had appointed for a time of salvation. And as then a fourth bearing a form like the son of God slackened the terrible heat and cooled the flames of the blazing fiery furnace, until, menacing as they looked, they became quite harmless, so is it now with the virgin soul. The dew of heaven and severe fasting quench in a girl the flame of passion and enable her soul even in its earthly tenement to live the angelic life. Therefore the chosen vessel declares that concerning virgins he has no commandment of the Lord. For you must act against nature or rather above nature if you are to forswear your natural function, to cut off your own root, to cull no fruit but that of virginity, to abjure the marriage-bed, to shun intercourse with men, and while in the body to live as though out of it.

Note: Adam and Eve lost paradise because they broke the fast! If we are to live the life of angels while still in this present life, we must discipline ourselves, and fasting is the preferred way. In fact, Christ himself fasted for forty days: do you think he needed to do it, or rather that he did it as an example to us?

Let me invite you to join us Byzantine Catholics in the traditional St. Phillip's Fast, which starts forty days before Christmas. It is a mild fast, not like Lent, but still should be productive in preparing the soul for Christmas. Here's how to do it: abstain from meat and dairy products on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It's that simple! No meat, no cheese, no milk, no cream. Can you do that for God?

Think about it this way: if you are unable to fast, how can you expect to break habits of sin?

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Somebody came to this page searching for

"Mortal Sin, confession saturday soon."

I hope you find a place to go to confession. Most parishes have it on Saturday. You can check out Masstimes--just input your zip code and it will tell you what parishes are near and what their confession times are. You might try your local cathedral parish--they tend to have confessions more often than just Saturdays.

But, here's a bit of advice: don't wait until Saturday. Just start calling the local parishes and asking if the priest is available to hear your confession. Or, go to daily Mass in the morning and talk to the priest afterwards. Very few priests will ever say no if you ask them in person. If you are in a state of mortal sin, getting to Confession is the most important thing on your schedule of things to do. Don't delay.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Clarification on the previous post

I don't mean, of course, that one can't do ethics without understanding that the final goal of human beings is union with God. One just can't do ethics correctly. All such attempts will ultimately break apart on the Gibraltarian rock of human dignity. In other words, what answer can they give to the question of "Why not kill the inconvenient, sick, very young, very old, disabled, or stupid?" Arguments can be made that it helps the general utility, that these people have no chance of eudaimonia anyway, that they are just members of the great mass of useless ordinary non-ubermenschen, and so can be disposed. These arguments have been made. Just read history. The only way to do ethics that properly respects human beings is to have a proper understanding of what a human being is: a creature of God, created for union with God. This fact changes everything.

The difficulty is in figuring out how to talk to people who don't share one's own starting points. We could congratulate them when they come up with the right answer (accidentally), but such praise has the danger of reaffirming their mistaken starting points. That is why I proposed relying on Augustine or Nietzsche to show just how empty their systems are. The way to talk to others about ethics will have to be destructive, a process of tearing down what they've done in order to expose their starting points and correct them.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Thomistic Reflections

(Don't you love when a lecture or article is titled "reflections?" What that means is that there will be no discernible structure to the lecture. You have been warned.)

I've been reading lots of Aquinas recently, especially the Prima Secundae of the Summa. Aquinas makes the point repeatedly that the end or telos in practical reason plays the role of first principles in speculative reason: "For in morals the end is what principles are in speculative science." (link) Just as in mathematics we start with certain axioms about number in order to draw conclusions, in morals we start with the end to be gained, and then draw conclusions about particular actions that lead to the end.

Now, as Aquinas says in De Ente et Essentia, "parvus error in principio magnus est in fine" (A small error in the beginning is a great error in the end), any error in the determination of the principle of morals, the human end or telos, will lead to great errors in determining what the content of morality is.

Now, if the end of human beings is union with God, any system of ethics that fails to recognize this end must necessarily be false, mustn't it? If what Aquinas says is true (which it seems he believed it to be, since he starts writing on morals with figuring out the human end), then any attempt to figure out what is right and wrong without explicit reference to God is doomed to failure.

Now, this has consequences for people such as Finnis and Grisez, who think that a natural law ethic can be developed without talking about God, on the basis of certain self-evident goods. But the way to instantiate these goods will have ultimate reference to the end, wouldn't it? Such an attempt would fail before it started, because the whole goal of human action (union with God), wouldn't be recognized.

Question: if all this is true, what is a philosopher to do? How can a Christian confront a secular world, a world that rejects common starting points? This is the root of our disagreements: we argue over conclusions such as how to treat Terry Schiavo, where Christians argue on the basis of the intrinsic dignity she has as a child of God destined for union, and the world argues on the basis of maximizing utility or pleasure and minimizing pain. We may occasionally reach the same conclusions as the seculars, but our ways of reaching conclusions are radically incompatible. This incompatibility is based on the fact that we start from different principles. What to do?

I suspect an Augustinian approach may be necessary: one must do what he does in the Confessions (go read it): show the utter poverty of a world without God. Nietzsche may be helpful as well, to show the ultimate consequences of the positions the world advocates.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

I want to be an advice columnist

The Tribune has a new advice columnist, and, though she is better than Ann--keep-indulging-whatever-destructive-vice-you-have--Landers, I think I could do better. I would just give advice such as the Church Fathers would give. Here's how it would work:

Dear Athanasius, I have a problem with my boyfriend. He doesn't seem to want to get married. I told him this morning as I made him breakfast that if he doesn't shape up, I might have to do something drastic, like quit having sex with him.

Athanasius: Have you tried prayer and fasting?

Dear Athanasius, I don't know what to do about my job. I can't seem to make ends meet. What should I do?

Athanasius: Have you tried prayer and fasting?

Dear Athanasius, do you have any hints for how I could quit smoking?

Athanasius: Have you tried prayer and fasting?

Dear Athanasius, I've been depressed recently. I have a good job, good prospects, a beautiful girlfriend, but somehow everything seems empty. What am I here for? Why should I bother working hard and making money, when it all ends in death?

Athanasius Have you tried prayer and fasting? And maybe reading my Life of Antony?

See how easy it would be? (Note: this was inspired by Disputations.)

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Rational Thought in the Chicago Tribune!

Go read John Kass on abortion rights and euthanasia.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Speaking of the Church confronting the State

Here is a quote from Basil the Great (not my brother) when confronted by a minion of an Arian emperor:

Then indeed the prefect became excited, and rose from his seat, boiling
with rage, and making use of harsher language. "What?" said he, "have you no
fear of my authority?

"Fear of what?" said Basil, "How could it affect me?

"Of what? Of any one of the resources of my power."

"What are these? "said Basil, "pray, inform me."

"Confiscation, banishment, torture, death."

"Have you no other threat?" said he, "for none of these can reach me."

"How indeed is that?" said the prefect.

"Because," he replied, "a man who has nothing, is beyond the reach of confiscation; unless you demand my tattered rags, and the few books, which are my only possessions. Banishment is impossible for me, who am confined by no limit of place, counting my own neither the land where I now dwell, nor all of that into which I may be hurled; or, rather, counting it all God's, whose guest and dependent I am. As for tortures, what hold can they have upon one whose body has ceased to be? Unless you mean the first stroke, for this alone is in your power. Death is my benefactor, for it will send me the sooner to God, for Whom I live, and exist, and have all but died, and to Whom I have long been hastening."

50. Amazed at this language, the prefect said, "No one has ever yet spoken thus, and with such boldness, to Modestus." "Why, perhaps," said Basil, "you have not met with a Bishop, or in his defence of such interests he would have used precisely the same language. For we are modest in general, and submissive to every one, according to the precept of our law. We may not treat with haughtiness even any ordinary person, to say nothing of so great a potentate. But where the interests of God are at stake, we care for nothing else, and make these our sole object. Fire and sword and wild beasts, and rakes which tear the flesh, we revel in, and fear them not. You may further insult and threaten us, and do whatever you will, to the full extent of your power. The Emperor himself may hear this--that neither by violence nor persuasion will you bring us to make common cause with impiety, not even though your threats become still more terrible."

From Gregory Nanzianzen, Oration 43.

I love the line "Well, perhaps you have not met a Bishop!" It sounds like a super hero line. I can imagine Apocalypse saying that he'd never heard such language to the Green Lantern, and the Green Lantern replying, in the same tone of voice, "Well, perhaps you have not met a member of the Justice League!"

Alls I'm saying is

a more adversial relationship between Church and state may be productive. Caesar hasn't been doing too well recently, and could use a smackdown.

And, Robert, you are right: it should have been "The Interfaith Value of Excommunication."

Think St. Ambrose versus Theodosius.

The Ecumenical Value of Excommunication

I heard a lecture this past Sunday from a Catholic woman who works as an advocate before the Bangladesh Supreme Court. It was interesting to hear a perspective on the challenges and opportunities of the Church in Asia. One thing she mentioned has stuck with me: the fact that so many Muslims consider Christianity to be a Western religion, and furthermore, they consider it to be the religious arm of American hegemony. Christians in Asia "breathed a sigh of relief" when the pope opposed the war in Iraq, because it meant likely that their churches wouldn't be burned down in retribution.

Now, obviously those Muslims are incorrect. They would know this if they lived in America and saw exactly how secular our nation is. To think that the US government or even US culture is at all concerned with Christian love is laughable. Furthermore, they should recognize that Christianity is an Asian religion, since Jerusalem is, after all, in Asia. But maybe things aren't so clear from 6000 miles away.

This is where a few well-placed excommunications of politicians could be helpful, as well as some full-throated opposition to the destructive policies of the governments they belong to. Making public statements that certain politicians could no longer consider themselves Catholic would help to make it clear that Church and state are separate in the West. Making clear that the West is not Christian would perhaps have beneficial effects: first, it might awaken the West to the fact that they are no longer Christian, thus clearing the stage for a new evangelization. Second, it may make it clear to Islam that Christianity does not equal abortion, sexual license, Hollywood, war, and economic growth at any cost. This too would help, since it would enable Muslims to see Christianity as a real faith in God, worthy of respect, instead of just an imperialist tool of degenerate westerners.

Monday, November 03, 2003


I was poking around through Newman's The Church of the Fathers, and noticed this interesting fact: St. Gregory Nanzianzus, the witty, poetic, and brilliant archbishop of Constantinople, decided at the age of 53 that he couldn't manage his tongue well enough, and gave up talking for Lent.

If you are thinking of doing graduate work in philosophy

you might want to consider the Institute for Thomistic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in Houston.

And I'm not just saying that because they gave us all free bottles of wine at the ACPA meeting last weekend.

Friday, October 31, 2003

Parallel Comment Strands

Something weird is happening. When I look at this site through Internet Explorer, I get different comments than when I use Mozilla Firebird. Are there really two parallel universes? The Micro$oft universe and the Open Source universe? Hmmmmm.

Be a rebel

Attend Mass on the feast of All Saints, even though the US bishops have made it not a day of obligation.

I recognize their right to take such action, but I think it is exactly the wrong thing to do. Why should I amend my life and lead a Christian life if God isn't even important enough to make me occasionally go to Mass twice in the same weekend?

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Speaking of St. Thomas and the Summa

The Christian Classics Ethereal Library has the Summa as a pdf file. I downloaded it. The text is 4081 pages. The table of contents is 150 pages!

Kant's Critique of Pure Reason is about 700 pages. The Summa is as big as six Critiques! It isn't even the totality of Thomas' work.

Think about this as well: Master Thomas only lived to age 49. When did he sleep?

Dignity, Schmignity

Over at Disputations, there is a lot of discussion of what the proper meaning and source of human dignity is. It just so happens that I've been researching Aquinas' view of that. Here is an excerpt from a recent paper where I talk about dignity in Aquinas. I hope to write more on this subject in the future, as I think there are fruitful thoughts to be gained. Tolle, lege:

. . . St. Thomas Aquinas grounds the dignity of a human being in the end or telos of a human being. In the Summa Contra Gentiles, book 4, chapter 54, Aquinas address the question of whether it was suitable for God to become man. Humans are little more than beasts, and God is God; how can these two opposites be reconciled? In section 2, Aquinas says that the incarnation was needed and was suitable since it showed humans the possibility of reaching eternal beatitude. This was necessary because humans were ignorant about their end: ``But man was able to be misled into this clinging as to an end to things less than God in existence by his ignorance of the worthiness of his nature.''29 If you think that your nature is mere dirt, you may think that it doesn't matter what you do with yourself. The value of anything comes from its end, from the goal for which it is destined. One lets the children play with the garden spade because its purpose is merely to dig up roots. One doesn't let the children play with the fine china, since the china is for the sake of special occasions. If this is true, then ``nothing stands higher in order of end than man except God alone, in whom alone man's perfect beatitude is to be found.''30 Even angels do not have greater dignity than humans, since both have the same end, union with God.

Such dignity according to the end of man is the reason why we should treat others well, as we can see in Aquinas' discussion of the duty one has of showing charity to sinners. Aquinas says that even though a man may have sinned, ``it is our duty to hate, in the sinner, his being a sinner, and to love in him, his being a man capable of bliss; and this is to love him truly, out of charity, for God's sake.''31 It is the possibility that a sinner may achieve eternal beatitude that requires us to respect him.32 Indeed, love of God, who is our final end, requires us to love our neighbor: ``the aspect under which our neighbor is to be loved, is God, since what we ought to love in our neighbor is that he may be in God.''33 Our end is union with God, and that union is corporate, including all others who will be in union with us. The love of God requires love of neighbor, since the neighbor is loved by God, and we must love what God loves. Further, our final goal will be better if our neighbors achieve it with us.

29St. Thomas Aquinas, Salvation, vol. IV of Summa Contra Gentiles, trans. Charles J. O'Neil (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975), IV.54.3.
31St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (Encyclop?dia Britannica, Inc., 1952), II-II 25:6c.
32It is worth noting that Aquinas appears to contradict himself in his defense of capital punishment in II-II 64:2, ra2, saying that the murderer loses his dignity and becomes like the beasts. For more on this issue, see John Finnis, Aquinas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 279-84.
33Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II 25:1c.

Monday, October 27, 2003

What makes a rite a rite?

I was privileged to attend a lecture by Professor J. Michael Thompson last Wednesday. He is working to translate the ancient hymns of the Ruthenian Church into English, which is a Cyclopean task. He came to our parish to give us a preview of the work and to explain some of the rationale behind our hymnody.

However, the most intriguing thing that he said was his description of what a rite is. You may or may not know that the Catholic Church is not Roman, but that the Roman Catholic Church is Catholic. In other words, there are other rites or ways of doing liturgy than the way deriving from Rome. Most Catholics in the United States are Roman Rite Catholics, and few of these know that there are at least six other distinct rites as practiced in twenty-one or so autocephalous churches. I have recently become a member of the Ruthenian Church which celebrates the Byzantine Rite. But what is a rite?

A rite, according to Thompson, is composed of three parts--he called the legs of a tripod:
1) A text
2) that is performed with certain actions
3) and that is sung.

The three aspects grow together in a tradition. In other words, the text is designed to go with certain actions and music, and the actions go with certain text and music, and the music goes with certain text and actions. These three things are not created as much as they grow out of a vine that has its roots in the apostles and ultimately in Christ.

Now, we Ruthenians are expending much energy to make sure that #3 is correct. We translated our hymns into English about thirty years ago, and the translations are uneven and the music is not always faithful to the original music. Furthermore, the time that these translations were done was an aesthetic wasteland, as the entire Church knows. If there could have been a worse time for liturgical renewal than the late 60's and early 70's, I can't imagine it. So much that was good was trimmed. The problem is that our music doesn't match our Liturgy, at least not as well as it should.

There are real treasures in our music, treasures that complement the text and actions. For example, it appears to be a common practice to mix melodies and texts. On a feast like the Exaltation of the Cross, which has a more penitential text, the melody will be borrowed from the songs of Easter. Thus, while we sing words of sorrow, we sing in melodies of joy. The effect is somewhat like a Wagnerian leitmotif, making us think of the fulfillment of the mystery about which we sing. If we did not make the effort to recover our music, we would lose these treasures.

Now, the thing you most likely do not know is that there are specific melodies and antiphons to be sung for every day of the Roman Rite, and there are treasures there as well. The reason you will not know this is because Roman Catholics have ignored their heritage. They chopped out their wonderful traditions with a dull knife and tossed them aside, to be replaced by Marty Haugen and the St. Louis Jesuits. It seems to me that the efforts of Michael Thompson could be a model for authentic renewal of the Roman Rite: take the chants and songs and translate them faithfully. Adapt the melodies to serve the genius of the English language. Make the Roman Rite Roman again.

Right now, it is a two-legged stool.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Blogging was temporarily stopped

due to an avalanche of student papers.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Resurrection of the what?

I was teaching Aristotle's On the Soul today, and as a prelude I asked the students what notions came to mind when they heard the word "soul." (I work from the the principle that if one uses a word, one surely must know what it means.) We got lots of thoughts, some good and some bad. I then asked what the relationship of body to soul was. Most thought that the soul was independent from the body. "Why do you need a body, then?"


To make the point clearer, I asked them whether or not, given their beliefs about the soul, they would have bodies in the afterlife. All said no.

I was puzzled. I teach at a Catholic university, where many of the students are Catholic. I asked if the Catholics in the room had ever heard that their faith teaches we have a body in the afterlife. "Nope." Have you ever recited the Creed on Sunday? "Sure." Do you remember the part where we say "We believe in the resurrection of the body. . . ."

I tried this experiment in two different classrooms. None of the Catholics knew that their faith teaches the resurrection of the body, despite hearing this truth and proclaiming that they believe it every time they attend Mass on Sunday!

A thought and a bit of advice to my friends in holy orders. First, never assume that your flock knows anything. Even if they say they believe something out loud every week, they might never even have noticed what they said. My advice? Teach the creed. Step by step. Teach the whole faith, from the most basic level. If you ever have a Sunday or weekday where you don't have anything particular to say during the homily, pick up a Catechism and explain the faith.

People will appreciate it much more than yet another bowl of bland Chicken Soup for the Soul. Not that anyone knows what a soul is either.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

I was hanging around in a Byzantine forum,

and do you know what were some of the things the Orthodox threw up as barriers to reunification? The rampant dissent in the Catholic Church (James Carroll was mentioned) and the reluctance of Catholics to do any fasting.

Those are, obviously, not the only barriers, but I thought they were interesting.

My brother Basil the Great is in Russia

getting ready to bring his four new kids home. If you want to read all about the trials and tribulations of foreign adoption, you can go to his travelogue.

I still only know two Russian words: preevyet and tserkov.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Help me settle a mystery:

Is the prayer before meals "Bless us O Lord, for these thy gifts. . . " or "Bless us O Lord, and these thy gifts. . . ?"

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Happier Blogging

My pastor met Sean of "Swimming the Tiber" at this monastery in the California desert, where Sean is discerning a monastic vocation. Fr. Tom was raving about how wonderful the place is. I must get out there to visit.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

On judgment day,

Our nation will be begging the Nazis for forgiveness. What a terrible, evil country we live in. In addition to the 43 million babies we've murdered, there is a woman in Florida being starved to death--a conscious woman with a family who loves her and wants to care for her, no matter what the cost!

You know what? Islam may be a false religion, and its followers may have a tendency to blow themselves up for the advancement of the religion, but Muslims have one thing right: America really is the Great Satan. We are the evil empire.

You want to know the worst part? American Catholics. We are the absolute worst of the whole bunch, a lukewarm, mealy-mouthed, please-baptize-my-baby or marry-me-in-church but don't expect me ever to love God or my neighbor bunch of whited sepulchres, full of dead men's (and dead babys') bones. And we go to Mass, where 99% of us go to communion without a qualm, seeking union with Jesus Christ, all the while voting for a continuance of the same death-dealing monstrous culture. God forbid we rock the boat or evangelize our culture: that would be rude!

Do you remember what Jesus said in Revelations 3:15? I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Proportionalism actually forbids contraception!

I was poking around the Thomist website and came across a wonderful article by Christopher Kaczor called "Proportionalism and the Pill: How Developments in Theory Lead to Contradictions to Practice." (The Thomist 63 (1999): 269-281)

Proportionalism is a moral theory developed in the last forty years solely to justify the use of contraception. What it says, in a nutshell, is that in certain situations one may choose an intrinsically evil act in order to achieve a greater good. Proportionalists take their starting point from Aquinas' theory of self-defense, which is justified on the grounds of double effect. So they argue that contraception can be done in order to avoid any evils that would come with the pregnancy, much as a person may kill an attacker if necessary in order to defend one's own life.

Now, the first and obvious objection to proportionalism is that lots of things seem to be morally justifiable; one can always come up with a good (proportionate) reason to do something intrinsically evil. For example, I could assassinate a political leader to avoid a future dictatorship, I could sterilize those of low intelligence to avoid dumb people, or I could even kill Jews for the sake of social unity in Germany. How is that anything is ever wrong for proportionalists?

In order to combat these puzzles, proportionalists have come up with various principles to rule out the possibilities I give above. The problem which Kaczor brilliantly points out is that these principles, if followed consistently, rule out almost all cases of contraception. Further, they specify that the only permissible contraceptive would be NFP.

One condition is that there must be a necessary causal relationship between the evil chosen and the good desired. We can, perhaps, choose abortion to save the life of the mother (in ectopic pregnancies) because the termination of the pregnancy leads directly to the good. We can't frame a criminal to avoid a riot (like Pilate did with Jesus) because the act of framing doesn't necessarily lead to quelling the riot. But let's take a closer look: contraception is often justified by appealing to financial problems or family difficulties. But having a baby doesn't necessarily lead to financial problems of family difficulties. Thus by proportionalism's own principle, most cases of contraception are ruled out.

Kaczor goes into much more detail, and I don't just want to reproduce his article--go subscribe to the Thomist and read it yourself. But one last example will be good. Proportionalists are committed to the principle that one only cause as much evil as necessary to achieve the desired end, and no more. But all methods of contraception cause more evil than necessary to achieve the end. Read the label on the Pill: there are lots and lots of damaging side effects. IUD's can perforate the uterus. Sterilization can cause ectopic pregnancies. In other words, the conventional methods of contraception are like using a shotgun to part your hair. They do more evil than necessary.

But there is a method of avoiding pregnancy that does no evil: Natural Family Planning. The failure rate is very low, there are no side effects, no costs (other than a thermometer), and indeed there are good effects on the marriage itself, as husband and wife must learn to value each other in ways separate from sex. Kaczor says If one is required to choose the greater good or the lesser evil in avoiding pregnancy, NFP is obligatory and contraception impermissible. (p. 277)

What a wonderfully devastating article!

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Question: What is a Liturgist?

Did you ever see the name of a profession and wonder what the purpose of that profession is? I recently saw that a professional athlete had gone back to school to finish his college degree in geography; what does a geographer do? We Americans are currently awash in a sea of liturgists, and I want to know what liturgists do.

Are they supposed to write liturgies? No, clearly not, since the rules for liturgies are already published in approved books. Are they supposed to "plan" liturgies? No, since once again the rules tell us what gospel or psalm to use for each day. Are they supposed to design and decorate the church? Maybe, but isn't that what an architect and iconographer is for? Perhaps liturgists plan the music. But, it seems that musicians do that job.

How curious! It seems that liturgists have no job.

A question of etiquette

When the tabernacle is in the back of the church, what is one to do upon entering the church? I was taught to genuflect to Jesus in the tabernacle upon entering. Should I spin around and genuflect backwards? Should I turn around and jauntily wave at Jesus over my shoulder?

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

A Summa Contra Mundum welcome

to the web-surfer who came here by looking for "naked Hooters girls." I hope you found what you needed, and not what you were looking for.

P.S. If she were naked, how would you know she was a Hooters girl?

The Inquisition killed millions of women?

So says Dave Rotert of the infamous St. Joan's parish in Minneapolis. Perhaps some of you historical scholars could drop him a note and tell him that he's libeled the Church. His email can be found on the webpage.

Monday, October 06, 2003

Sin doesn't disprove Christianity

There has been lots of ink spilled recently about a famous radio host who may or may not have had a drug dependency. Now, Rush is not a noted Christian voice, although I believe he is a believer. But he does speak about morality and the necessity of it for the common good. Now that he may have fallen, the vultures have come out to pick at the carcass: "Rush is a hypocrite!" they say. "This shows what a big phony he is!"

Now, Rush may be a phony and a hypocrite, but this does not mean that he is wrong. As a matter of fact, his failures show again just how important moral action is. Sin is destructive and insidious, and the fact that those who preach against it also sin is to be expected.

We've had a similar reaction against the Church because of the recent sex scandals in the priesthood. The theory is that if priests can't live a sinless life, nobody can, and further, we should stop trying. But one must pay attention to the Christian message: it is not that Christians do not sin. Rather, the message is that all have sinned and continue to sin, but that Christians hope.

Christians know sin, we expect sin, but we have a remedy. Christianity would be disproved if people didn't sin. Secular humanism says that sin doesn't exist, it can't exist, and if we could only be rational and free from the superstition of religion, we wouldn't sin. It is secular humanism that is disproved by the fact of sin, which it cannot explain.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

Christina Aguilera is an Uncle Tom

I enjoy girl singers. I like the quality of the voice. Unfortunately, just when I find a singer with talent, she goes through the Hollywood sluttificator. Such has happend with Miss Aguilera. However, in her case it is particularly disturbing, because she thinks that she is standing up for the dignity of women.

So Christina, in order to stand up for the dignity of women, gets breast implants, wears street-walker clothing, makes videos that are pornographic, and in general makes herself into a fourteen-year-old boy's masturbatory fantasy. But, says she, it is ok, since she is just being a strong woman. She said, "What is wrong with a young woman showing her sexuality? I'm not making myself into an object."

Wait a minute. Women over the years have suffered precisely because they have been objectified, made into mere instruments to serve the pleasure of men. Now, in order to fight this, Christina strips down to near nakedness and performs lewd acts on stage and in her videos. Does she really think that her actions are likely to solve the problem?

Now, to call a black man an Uncle Tom is to accuse him of being complicit in his own enslavement. Such a person works to perpetuate the system that exploits him. Christina Aguilera is a sexual Uncle Tom, doing everything in her power to ensure that men see women merely as a sex toy.

Let me explain what she's doing a bit better: imagine men sitting in a strip club. A woman comes up and, for 10$, begins dancing for the men. All the while she says things like "I'm being a strong woman. I'm standing up for women everywhere. There's nothing wrong with a woman showing her sexuality. I'm not making myself into an object."

The man replies "Whatever, baby. Just shut up and give me a lap dance."


Friday, October 03, 2003

Perhaps my tone was intemperate in the last post

In fairness, I should note that I am currently reading Scotus for Dunces: An Introduction to the Subtle Doctor by Mary Beth Ingham, one of the authors of the previous book, and it is very good so far.

As a professional philosopher, I am continually surprised

by the stupidity that can be found in published philosophical writing. I am currently reading The Ethical Method of John Duns Scotus by Thomas Shannon and Mary Beth Ingham, C.S.J., and the preface is filled with such blatant special pleading that I actually laughed as I read it.

In the preface, Marietta Culhane sets the tone, the reason she and the authors think that we should study Scotus: "Is there a "timidity" among contemporary Christian philosophers and theologians which is causing them to search only in safe, frozen theories of the past for solutions to today's questions?" Scotism will supposedly save us from a rigid and cowardly reliance on natural law theory. I take issue with the characterization of the theories of the past as "safe." It is in fact very difficult to respect life in all aspects of one's behavior. Loving each other as God has loved us is no more safe than walking a tightrope with two bags of groceries. It would be safer to go along with conventional wisdom and adjust our moral compass to fit the spirit of the age.

But there's more: Culhane proposes the puzzle of nasogastric feeding. She proposes the case of a 74 year-old man who, she says, "has no cognitive or volitional functioning." Should we pull out the feeding tube? She notes not two sentences later that "He has resisted the tube and in the past tried to pull it out." How could he resist the tube if he has no cognitive or volitional functioning? Resistance is a function of volition! Such a blunder is something I expect from an undergraduate paper.

The book continues (with Shannon as author) giving a sketch of natural law theory, arguing that "to maintain the objectivity of moral norms, nature must be static and fixed." This is true in a sense: moral precepts are what they are because we are the sorts of creatures that we are. But an absolute static nature is not needed. After all, Aquinas can speak of the condition of man before the fall, after the fall, and after the resurrection, with each state having a particular mode of the nature of human being: undamaged, damaged, sanctified by the grace of God. But let's grant Shannon's point and see what happens.

It is modernity, says Shannon, which has necessitated the turn from natural law. He quotes Dilthey saying "the develoment of historical consciousness destroys faith in the universal validity of any philosophy which attempts to express world order cogently through a system of concepts." Because of the historical nature of human activities (that they are all situated in and get their meaning from the time and place where they happen), truth doesn't really exist, or at least a system of concepts can't get to it. So, concepts are bad. But in the next paragraph, Shannon says "the new historical consciousness requires a new conceptual framework and vocabulary." But why should we bother? Why make a new conceptual framework if conceptual frameworks can't express world order cogently?

Shannon proposes some form of proportionalism to solve the problem. If only we consider the totality of the person in his or her situation, we could make proper moral judgments. (Never mind that proportionalism can make no moral judgments--see John Finnis, Moral Absolutes.) But why should we do it? "The reality of the situation is that the fierce debates about moral thory and the destroyed or damaged careers of our best moral theologians [Charles Curran, perhaps? -Ath.] are poignant testimony to the fact that the traditional framework of natural law coupled with classical consciousness is unable to respond adequately to the challenges of contemporary insights into the nature of reality." Let me interpret that: Conventional morality is wrong because it doesn't reach the conclusions (on abortion, contraception, sexuality, and end-of-life issues) that we want it to reach.

See if you can read the following line without laughing: "We must accept the fact that the traditional understanding of natural law and classical consciousness simply does not hold in the face of evolutionary theory, quantum mechanics, and historical consciousness." So because of evolution and quantum mechanics, we now see that moral norms are not absolute, since human beings are not beings at all, but a Heraclitean flux of change. Heck, I'm probably not even the same species as my daughter.

I resent all of this because I think it attempts to suborn Blessed John Duns Scotus. But I think their characterization of him is incorrect. I am no Scotist, but see if this makes sense to you: Scotus is looked to because he acknowledges that moral norms are contingent, in that God could have willed them to be otherwise. This seems true, as far as it goes. From this fact of Scotus's ethical theory, Shannon leaps to the non-sequitur that "In the absence of any teleological goal [end] which typically constitued objective moral goodness, Scotus locates moral goodness with the intention of the agent and not a real aspect of the act as such." The fact that moral norms are contingent for God is taken as a reason to reject teleology.

But, just a few pages later, Shannon describes how Scotus analyzes moral situations. One first considers the type of action something is (the object). But once we know the object, Shannon says "nonetheless one must situate the act with respect to the end, manner, time, and place for it to be a truly moral act." [emphasis mine] Wait a minute! He just said that there was no teleology in Scotist moral theory, but now there is! Which is it?

In fact, the book gives a moral argument for the possible liceity of bigamy from John Duns Scotus, where the whole argument turns on the primary end of marriage, which is the procreation of offspring.

When one has a conclusion one wants to reach, the mind will skip over inconvenient gaps in the argument. I would give this book a C.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

A good quote from Cardinal George

"The poor are not objects to be helped but guides to be followed. The rich must walk the path of salvation in the footsteps of the poor, who will be first in the Kingdom of Heaven."

I can guarantee you that no rich man will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, since dying strips us of all our money. Everybody ends up standing poor in front of God. Narrow gate, indeed!

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Fear not the death of popes

Should our papa die, or become incapacitated in some way, the Church will go on. Fears about decaying faculties in a pope betray a lack of understanding of what the Church is. Don't think of the Church as parallel to some secular state. The Vatican has no nukes, no weapons of mass destruction for a crazed or senile pontiff to launch. The deposit of faith is not going to be endangered if the pope dies or becomes incompetent, since it was not he who deposited it, but Christ. Don't even worry about the next conclave. The media will attempt, should this happen, to analyze the situation in the typical "left vs. right" political template, pushing some candidates and rejecting others, all the while never understanding the reality of what the Church is, the mystical body of Christ. There is no left or right: One is either with Christ, or against him.

Remember, the faith doesn't depend on the pope, since he isn't the head of the Church. Jesus is the head of the Church, the pope is just his vicar, a shepherd whose job it is to serve the servants of God. We've been fortunate to have John Paul, but even if we had a lousy, small man as pope, God would still guard his Church.

Popes and bishops aren't political leaders, revolutionaries, or even presidents, but rather are shepherds, preserving what is entrusted to them. The day to day economy of the Church has little to do with them. The sacramental life will go on.

Nevertheless, prayers would be a good thing.

Monday, September 29, 2003

Thank God for cold weather!

I teach philosophy in a college. My students are mostly women, and average around 19-20 years old. Like most women their age, they don't seem to like to wear clothing. If consideration for their poor male teachers won't induce them to put clothes on, perhaps cold weather will.

I'm with King Lear:

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!
Crack nature’s moulds, all germens spill at once
That make ingrateful man!

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Prayer Request

Could you please say a prayer for a special intention? Muchas gracias!

Friday, September 26, 2003

My wife had the same reaction

Greg Popcak writes about telling one of his clients the teaching of the Church on sex and marriage. The man got mad: "Everything you're saying makes perfect sense. Why didn't our pastor tell us any of this when we were in marriage prep? Why did we have to make a mess of everything for fifteen years before we could finally start learning what marriage and sex is supposed to be about? I'm really upset. How come nobody ever told us this before?"

My wife says the same thing. She was raised Catholic in central Wisconsin, went to Mass every Sunday, and attended the CCD classes for years. She went to a Catholic college as well. But it wasn't until she met me that she got the Church's teaching on marriage. Thank God my wife is a wonderful, sensible woman who knows the truth when she hears it, but she should have heard it 10 years before she did.

Is it any wonder so many Catholic couples contracept? They've never heard anything different. When they do hear about the real Catholic teaching, they can reject it, since if it was that important, surely Father would have mentioned it somewhere along the line.

Woe to us if we are ashamed of the Gospel.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

If we keep saying it's a good thing, it will be a good thing.

See this, from the Chicago Tribune.

If married priests are the solution,

you must admit there is a problem. It is the conventional wisdom that all problems, from the sex scandals to the vocation shortage, can be solved if we would simply have married priests. Marriage is the panacea to cure all that is wrong. But there is a conclusion implicit in this affirmation that most who make it wouldn't like: Consider this quote from St. Augustine: Why do you acknowledge that there is a necessary remedy for lust yet contradict me when I say that lust is a disease? If you recognize the remedy, then recognize the disease as well.

Why is marriage a solution, according to the anti-celibates? Because it provides a sexual "release." (I don't like speaking of sex in plumbing metaphors, but that is where we are in a post-Freudian world.) If men aren't married, then, the argument goes, soon they will be chasing the altar boys, since unreleased sexual pressure is apt to burst out in inappropriate ways. So the marriage argument assumes that sex is a Bad Thing that needs to be controlled, an appetite that is not governable by reason.

But, as Augustine notes to Julian of Eclanum, it makes no sense to propose marriage as a solution if you aren't willing to admit that sex is a disordered appetite. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, if sex were just another appetite, then there would be clubs where people went in order to stare food; a strip club, but for food. After all, hunger and sex are just appetites, aren't they? Once you admit it that the sexual appetite is a disordered appetite, you are on the road to the Christian understanding of original sin, a conclusion that might, perhaps, lead you to affirm the necessity of salvation and to hope for the efficacy of the sacraments as a remedy to sin. It might even lead you to think that the bad old Church was right all along in its restrictive sexual morality: after all, if sexual desire is screwed up, it needs tight controls in order to be used correctly, just like an alcoholic needs strong controls to control a disordered desire for drink. Thus we have the teachings on marriage, homosexuality, masturbation, etc. in order to insure that human reason remains the master and the appetites remain the servants.

Onse suspects that the supporters of a married priesthood are not willing to admit that there is anything wrong with fulfilling sexual desires. If that is the case, their position is, as Augustine noted 1600 years ago, incoherent.

Return to Blogging

Well, since HMS Blog (not related to the HMS Pinafore) has been giving me publicity, I thought I'd blog. Actually, my internet access has been down for a few days.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Miracle caught on camera!

A child recovers her baptismal innocence through the sacrament of confession. What a wonderful thing!

P.S. The past two pictures are from the Byzantine Catholic pilgrimage to Mt. Macrina in PA. I hope to go one of these years.

In my next life

I want to be a Ruthenian bishop. Check out these threads:

Of course, as all Catholics know, there is no "next life" except new life in Christ. But still, the clothes are neat. . . .

Strange things heard in homilies

This morning I stopped to go to Mass on my way to work. (I am blessed to have a parish near my school that has three morning Masses with daily confession.) The elderly priest said this about the battle between God and the forces of darkness (there was light-dark imagery in the gospel): "We need to fight the darkness, which most of us do fairly well."

Well, Father, I don't know about you, but I'm not doing so well. Despite knowing that Christ has risen from the dead, and that death therefore has no power over me, despite knowing my faith pretty well, and despite the great grace of weekly communion and near-weekly confession, I still "sin without number."

Priests, may I recommend you follow St. Edmund Campion's advice and "crye alarme spiritual?" Things aren't so good. But if no-one ever points out that the world is immersed in sin, why would anyone seek Christ? The patient needs to know he is sick before he seeks the Physician.

P.S. Humbling thought: at least 45 million (that's 45,000,000) babies have been killed in this country since 1973. On judgment day, Americans will be looking up to Adolf Hitler as an example of virtue. At least the Nazis killed out of genuine hatred, not for something as trivial as being able to ejaculate without consequences. God help our nation, for we murder the innocent in the womb without qualm.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Philosophy Saturday

Here are some excerpts from The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy by Etienne Gilson.

"At first sight there seems to be no reason at all why intelligent beings like men, with all the resources of the world at their disposal, should not succeed in satisfying their desires. So little it seems is needed for the purpose. Epicurus remarked, and not without reason, that with a little bread and water the wise man is the equal of Jupiter himself."

"The fact is, perhaps, that with a little bread and water a man ought to be happy but precisely is not; and if he is not, it is not necessarily because he lacks wisdom, but simply because he is a man, and because all that is deepest in him perpetually gainsays the wisdom offered. It seems as though he could pursue no other end than his own proper happiness, but is quite incapable of attaining it beccause, although everything pleases, nothing contents. . . . The experience is too common to be worth the trouble of many words. . . that all human pleasure is desirable but none ever suffices."

"We must understand in the first place that the very insatiability of human desire has a positive significance; it means this: that we are attracted by an infinite good. Disgust with each particular good is but the reverse side of our thirst for the total good; weariness is but a presentiment of the infinite gulf that lies between the thing loved and the thing within love's capacity."

"Human love, in spite of all its ignorance, blindness, and even downright error, is never anything but a finite participation in God's own love for Himself. Man's misery lies in the fact that he can so easily deceive himself as to the true object, and suffer accordingly, without even suspecting that he does so; but even in the midst of the lowest pleasures, the most abandoned voluptuary is still seeking God. . . ."

Friday, September 19, 2003

A simple refutation of the previous post

Student 1 says "Where you go when you die depends on your beliefs."

Student 2 says "I believe that those who believe what you believe go to hell."

Whose belief is normative? If belief can make something real, what if my beliefs are about you?

Relativism is so illogical that the only reason for its prevalence is its convenience. I'll put it in plain English: if truth is relative, I can screw anything I want. Since I want to screw anything I want, truth must be relative. (The argument is clearly fallacious, but that's the other benefit of relativism: you don't need to learn logic.)

Thursday, September 18, 2003

It depends on your beliefs!

I asked a question in my philosophy class: what happens after you die? Answer: "That depends on your beliefs."

Oh really? If I believe in Wotan and Valhalla, then I will be selected by the Valkyries to join the army of the gods so that we can fight the evil giants in a losing battle at the end of time?

Belief doesn't make things true.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Chant to the rescue!

I want to Mass at a nearby Newman Center today, and as we stumbled through "Gather Us In," "Celtic Alleluia," and some other such silliness. Of the congregation of eleven, I and the cantrix were the only ones singing. I thought how much more wonderful and easy it would have been to chant the daily antiphons for the Mass. Surely everyone can follow a simple chant tone? Perhaps we could also have done it with the parts of the Mass? How hard is the Gregorian Sanctus? Certainly such simple music would be much better and more singable than "Gather us in, the rich and the haughty (haughty?)"

In addition, learning a few basic chant tones would allow us to avoid the problem of substituting Marty Haugen for King David in the responsorial psalm: just chant the response on a single tone, and then let the cantor sing the psalm likewise. How hard is that?

Finally, the great thing about chant is that one doesn't need instrumentalists to do it.

If you think this is too hard for a congregation to do, come visit my church. We do that and much more for every liturgy. It just takes perseverance and good music.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Notre Dame Football and the Exaltation of the Cross

On Saturday, I went to a party to watch Notre Dame play Michigan in football. This is a traditional rivalry, and is usually a wonderful game. Unfortunately, my beloved Irish lost in humiliating fashion, 38 to nothing. They had one (1!) passing yard in the first half. Needless to say, I was quite sad after the game, and the world looked black.

But then my wife and I drove off to go to church. We attended the vespers for the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. While I was singing the many aposticha and troparia for the feast, I started to feel better. You see, there has been only one important event in all of history, and that is the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. We exalt the cross because it is the instrument of the death of Christ, and it is by the death of Christ that our own death is conquered. We have been redeemed, we have been bought and paid for, Satan has been defeated, and we have nothing to fear if we cling to our Lord. The war was won two thousand years ago, even though battles are still being fought.

From this perspective, a 38-0 loss to Michigan is nothing.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

A good question

Etienne Gilson asks "how it was that so many cultivated men, versed in the systems of antiquity, could suddenly make up their minds to become Christians." (The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy)

It is a historical fact that it happened. If you read the Fathers of the Church you will find them without exception to be the flower of the ancient world, sophisticated, intelligent, and, wonder of wonders, completely soaked in the Christian faith.

Why doesn't it happen now? I think that there has been a fundamental shift: in ancient times, philosophy was still the love of wisdom. One might not, like Socrates, claim to have wisdom, but one's life was devoted to finding it. There was a constant orientation to truth, an orientation that only naturally led to the philosopher joyfully discovering The Truth who is Christ.

Modern philosophy, on the other hand, is not really philosophy. It is certainly not the love of wisdom, since philosophy since Nietzsche teaches that there is no wisdom apart from that created by man himself. Whatever most modern philosophers are doing, it isn't searching for truth.

One who is searching for truth will recognize Truth. One who is deconstructing the genderization of post-millenial sexual politics in the Symposium isn't likely to recognize the Truth.

Monday, September 08, 2003

An Announcement

As John Paul, whom no news story can mention without also mentioning how old, ill, and tired he is--I was in a Pauline bookstore and overheard a call to one of the sisters from the Chicago Tribune, asking questions in preparation for writing the pope's obituary--ages, more and more stories will list names of Cardinals "considered a possible successor to John Paul II."

Well, in this same vein, I would like to announce formally that I am a possible successor to John Paul II. Yes, I am papabile. Sure, there are some difficulties, notably my status as a married man and my Ruthenian-ness. But these could be overcome--after all, Peter was married, and since he was from Palestine, probably was a Melkite Catholic.

So, when you speak of me, I prefer that you call me "Karl--er, Athanasius--who is a possible successor to Pope John Paul II."

Wouldn't it be a bummer

to go to hell because you downloaded copyrighted music without paying for it?

Let's analyse this: look at the people in this story. I think we have all the ingredients for mortal sin: full knowledge that it is wrong ("Thou shalt not steal.") Grave matter: the theft of thousands of dollars of music for many of the downloaders. Full and even obstinate consent in the evil action: You can take away my MP3's when you pry my mouse out of my cold dead hands.

If I were going to be damned, I would want it to be for something a whole lot better than free music.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

All things are yours!

I've written in the past about fear. Today I want to emphasize that as Catholics we should never fear. All fear is born through the anticipation or dread of the loss of some good that we possess or hope to possess. In other words, we fear loss. Will I lose my job? Will I lose my wife's love? If I live my faith, will I have to give up my favorite sin? Will the Church survive the scandals? But a true Christian cannot fear. Such fear shows a lack of faith.

In the Eastern Church, we understand salvation with a slightly different emphasis, an emphasis that helps us to understand why it is that we shouldn't fear. God saves us from our sins, indeed, but since the penalty of sin is death, God primarily saves us from death. In fact, after Easter we repeat the following song over and over: "Christ has risen from the dead, and by his death he has conquered death, and to those in the grave he has granted life." Death no longer has power over us. In baptism we die with Christ and also are born into everlasting life. But what does this get us? St. Paul puts it concisely in 1 Corinthians 3:21ff: For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future, all are yours; and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's.

"All are yours!" Think about that. All fear is fear of loss. The goods of this world pass away. No matter what goods or loves or pleasures that you seek in this world, you will ultimately lose them. All life ends in poverty and tragedy, since all of the goods of this life are transitory and cannot be held. If you want to guarantee that you despair, just put all your eggs in the world's basket. But all things exist only because God maintains them in existence. They are entirely, utterly dependent on God. In a way, all things are in God, since He is their creator and maintainer. If you can obtain God, you get all things, because you get Him through whom they are. Everything you fear losing is given back to you in God, with interest. All things are yours, indeed.

So don't worry about losing job, money, health, friends, family, or even your life. Through your baptism, all of things are yours forever, since you gain the Source and Summit of all goodness. Fear not!

A thought from Liturgy today

Do you think the Church is in trouble? Are we in a crisis? Then why not add a day of fasting? We're all supposed to abstain from meat on Fridays to commerate the Passion, or do some equivalent penance. (Quick, name the alternative penance you performed last Friday. I thought so.) Why not add a day? Perhaps you could abstain from meat or limit your food on Wednesday for the renewal of the Church. After all, Jesus says some demons can only be cast out by prayer and fasting.


I'm glad to see that my Bears are continuing their fine tradition of excellence in football.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Extra, Extra! Petition in Support of Priestly Celibacy!

Please forward this website to all the priests you know.

A note to all the people who want married priests

Why don't you just become Byzantine Catholic? Then your sons could grow up in a church with a long tradition of married priests, and they could be so if they desired.

There is a longstanding practice in the Roman Church of picking and choosing things that they like from Byzantines: for example, "We ought to stand for the Eucharistic prayer. After all, the Eastern Christians do!" "We ought to have married priests. After all, the Eastern Christians do!" This interest in Byzantine practices is wonderful. After you take these two customs, you can also adopt the increased number of holy days, the strict fasting rules, you can put icons back in your horribly bare churches, and you can lengthen your liturgies to two hours. The fact that we do something doesn't mean that Roman rite Catholics should do something. Otherwise, there wouldn't be any need for different rites at all. But, if you like something that we do, then, by all means, explore our tradition. Attend our Liturgies. Perhaps you will find a spiritual home with us. But you need to take the whole thing, not just a piece here and a piece there.

But let's back up a bit. If it is the celibacy requiremend that keeps so many men from considering the priesthood, why is it that vocation problems exist in Eastern churches? Do you think that maybe, just maybe, the vocation crisis has to do with a lack of faith? If a man really loves Christ, he will not balk at what Christ asks him to do: "leave everything, and come follow me!"

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

If you enjoyed Catholic Nerd,

Check out the new blog Alle Psalite.

Monday, September 01, 2003

You think you're going crazy

Today is the feast of St. Simeon Stylites, the first great pillar saint. I read a contemporary biography of him some years ago; young Simeon was driven to ascetical practices, and was thrown out of a monastery because they were so severe. He had tied a rope around his waist under his robe as tightly as he could, and it cut into his flesh. Eventually the stench of gangrene was so pungent that his brothers threw him out.

Not to be deterred, Simeon continued in his attempts to die to this life so he could live in Christ. Eventually he built a pillar and lived on the top, on a space about six feet wide, for thirty six years. His first pillar was only nine feet high, but as the demands of the people on him grew, he built higher and higher, ultimately reaching fifty feet. He still engaged in spiritual direction, but now the directee would have to climb fifty feet up a ladder. He ate no food and remained standing during all of Lent, except for prostrations asking "Lord have mercy!"

You may be saying to yourself, "What a nutball!" There are many saints whose stories provoke similar reactions: why did Augustine think stealing a few pears was so bad? Why did Teresa of Avila think she was such a great sinner? What possessed Francis to strip naked in the Bishop's house, to throw himself into thorn bushes to conquer lust, or to walk on foot into the Sultan's camp? Nuts, all of them. Simeon is just a bit nuttier.

I suggest you think again. Look at this passage from the version of the Sermon on the Mount that Luke presents us: And raising his eyes toward his disciples he said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.

Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.

Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven. For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.

But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.

Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.

We think these saints are crazy because, after all, things aren't that bad. Sure, we should go to church and be good people and all, but live on a pillar? Look at what Jesus says to us: "Woe to you!" Woe to us who are content with the world as it is. It is the mark of the saint that he mourns, both for the state of the world and for his own sins. Simeon, Augustine, Teresa of Avila, and Francis all had the right idea.

In a world gone mad and corrupted by sin, it's more sane to be crazy.

P.S. I'm indebted to ideas from Walker Percy, whom you should read right now, especially in The Thanatos Syndrome.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

If you are one of those who think that Bishops shouldn't criticize politicians,

you must not like John the Baptist. Friday is the memorial of his martyrdom for telling a politician what he didn't want to hear.

St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Small prayer request

Could you please spare a moment to pray for a Big Decision that's coming due today or tomorrow? It's not my decision, but it's important enough to ask for God's guidance for those making it. Thanks.

Monday, August 25, 2003

Funny stuff from St. Thomas Aquinas

I-II Q4.5ad 3: "Happiness belongs to man in respect of his intellect: and, therefore, since the intellect remains, it can have Happiness [after separation from the body]. Thus the teeth of an Ethiopian, in respect of which he is said to be white, can retain their whiteness, even after extraction."

Excuse me, Master Thomas? Where did this example come from? The teeth of an Ethiopian? Some strange analogies were current in 13th century Paris, apparently.

Less sunshine and lollipops, more Augustine!

That's Gerard's reaction to John Allen's August 15th piece about the overestimation of human nature in recent years by many Catholics, including the pope.

I must say that I'm inclined to agree. I'm even going to subscribe to Communio. Now is not the time for the Church to be singing happy-happy joy-joy songs that never mention sin or repentance. We should be on our knees in the ashes, begging God for forgiveness for the terrible mess we've made of our Church.

Homework assignment: read the Book of Lamentations, slowly, with attention, and with sorrow for what we've all done.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

St. Thomas Aquinas and Computer Chess

I play chess sometimes, and have a few computer chess programs (Chess Tiger and Crafty, among others). Unfortunately, I am unable to beat the computer no matter how stupid I make it. I can beat my Palm Pilot occasionally, but not consistently. The reason why is that I am not patient enough to examine every possible move and its consequences. The computer examines them all and always makes the best move. So, no matter how well I play, my doom approaches with the inevitability of has the inevitability of a Russian winter.

Reading Aquinas is similar. The temptation when reading the Summa Theologica is to read it like eating at a salad bar. We scan the table of contents, and read only the specific question and article that concerns us. But to do this is to miss the beauty and power of the work, since the entire work has an order designed for the purpose of teaching sacred doctrine. In the introduction, Master Thomas informs us of his purpose in writing the book: we purpose in this book to treat of whatever belongs to the Christian religion, in such a way as may tend to the instruction of beginners. We have considered that students in this doctrine have not seldom been hampered by what they have found written by other authors, partly on account of the multiplication of useless questions, articles, and arguments, partly also because those things that are needful for them to know are not taught according to the order of the subject matter, but according as the plan of the book might require, or the occasion of the argument offer, partly, too, because frequent repetition brought weariness and confusion to the minds of readers. Aquinas has planned out the whole work in order to make learning easier. To pick and choose articles to read is to miss out on this planning.

If you do read it sequentially, as I am currently doing with the Prima Secundae, is like playing chess against a computer. You will find that Thomas examines every possibility and closes off every avenue of escape, and that his conclusions approach with the inevitability of sunrise.

I highly recommend reading the Summa in order. It takes effort, but it's surely much more worthwhile than wasting time watching television, and it's the only way truly to appreciate St. Thomas Aquinas' genius.