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!