Friday, December 23, 2005

Signing off

After a lot of long, hard thinking, I've decided that I just don't have enough left to keep up Internet theology. I think I've done some good (I hope that I have anyway), but with the upcoming holidays and a new little boy on the way soon after, I just don't have anything left to give. I hope I've left enough of an impression for people to carry on where I'm leaving off, and I appreciate all of the thoughtful comments and questions that I have received from various readers.

Grace and peace,

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Divine Infinity: St. Clement of Alexandria

Continuing with my theme of extracting mathematics from theological study, I now turn my attention to a subject of particularly mathematical interest: divine infinity. Happily, there have been a few intrepid souls who have examined the ideas of various Saints on the subject, and I will be reporting on some of their ideas. It will turn out, as I hope to show, that the concept of divine infinity is inextricably bound in the Western tradition with divine incomprehensibility and divine simplicity, so if God wills, this examination may actually prove helpful for putting into context just what the West means by these concepts.

To begin, we turn to Arkadi Choufrine's analysis of Clement in Gnosis, Theophany, Theosis, Chapter III. Choufrine notes that the attribution of infinity in the sense of apeiron (lit. without limit) to the highest metaphysical principle is often thought to begin with Plotinus, as Plato considered the term pejorative, reflecting the thought that things were good to the extent they were limited by form. Having no limit, no form, was therefore not a characteristic that would have been considered desirable in Greek metaphysics.

In endorsing a kind of infinity, later authors drew on pre-Socratic insight for their ideas, and in particular, on the problem of infinity as examined in Plato's Parminides. In distinction from Plotinus, however, Clement introduces an original idea by bringing in a separate concept from Aristotle, that of the unending end, in place of Plato's infinity of multiplicity ("And so the one, if it is, must be infinite in multiplicity? Clearly."). Plato's concept really captures the basic Greek prejudice that formless things are inferior. The basic line of the Clementine response is this. An infinity of the sort when steps are reached and surpassed is impossible for Aristotle (and rightly so, I should imagine), but an infinity in which the end is never achieved (the unending end, an asymptotic progression) is not. This corresponds to what Aristotle calls an infinite magnitude, and Aristotle uses this term interchangeably with Plato's term for infinity of parts. In this case, the infinite is still technically without parts, as the end is not included within the asymptotic series, but it is not without limit (apeiron) in the sense of having no limit whatsoever (as opposed to having no self-limiting principle). This allows Clement to conceive of the "magnitude of Christ" as a bridge to the infinite, that which is spanned in divinization.

With respect to the Father's own infinity, Clement adheres relatively closely also to Plato's presentation of apeiron, but with one major difference: he rejects the idea that a multiplicity of parts is necessary for wholeness (which is logical, since Aristotle has shown the ability to use the same term without requiring the parts/limits to actually be included in the thing itself, overriding the default Greek prejudice), and on this account, concludes that infinity can then be inferred directly from indivisibility into parts (adiastaton). This equation of infinity and simplicity at least foreshadows (if not anticipates) the usage of infinity in several later Christian authors, as I hope to show soon. With the addition of infinite magnitude of the monad allowing a bridge between the infinity of the One (the Father) and the monad (Christ), Clement has managed to circumvent the rather notorious problem of how the One can be truly infinite, in the sense of apeiron, without being entirely inaccessible to multiplicity or motion, in that Aristotle's concepts of the unending end and infinite magnitude show how both can be truly infinite (apeiron) while still being distinct and in intimate relation with one another. Plotinus, apparently lacking the insight from Aristotle, ends up having to resort to one or another subordinationist solution (as indeed, Middle Platonists were wont to do even among Christians, leading to struggles with subordination as evident in Justin Martyr, Origen, et al.).

I suspect that the Stoic influence on Clement had some bearing on his receptivity to this solution. Clement was a fan of the concept of logos spermatikos, particularly in the context of the wisdom of God delivered to man, and it may be that this concept of Christ as the end of a process implanted in creation helped his receptivity to the Aristotelian concept of infinity.

It is difficult to say how much direct influence Clement had on his successors in this regard. With Augustine, it was probably little, but the common threads of influence (particularly Aristotelian and Stoic) appear to emerge in Augustine's own original synthesis. Origen seems to be more rigorously Platonic, although there are certainly shades of these ideas in Origen's notion of apokatastasis, particularly its relationship with paidagagos (thinking of the divine process as received teaching, much like Clement's idea of wisdom as logos spermatikos dropped down onto humanity). Gregory of Nyssa is a more likely candidate for direct adoption of Clement's ideas, something a parallel discussion of his doctrine of infinity should illustrate. In any event, Clement's own views illustrate a parallel concept of divine infinity and simplicity distinct from that of Plotinus and Origen within the Christian tradition. Confusion of the two can lead to misguided charges of "Origenism," but I believe that a rigorous survey of historical development supports the thesis that the Clementine and Plotinian ideas are independent of one another. I will argue, therefore, that the essential concept of Clement (i.e., that of an unending progress toward an end of infinite magnitude) will appear over and over again in Christian history and, furthermore, that this represents an orthodox solution to the problem of the One and the Many, parallel to the Neoplatonic solution adopted by Pseudo-Dionysius and more thoroughly Christianized by St. Maximus Confessor.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Zummary: Augustine's Trinitology and the Theory of Groups by Thomas Ryba

At heart, I'm a math guy, and you don't get much of that in theology, so I've been focusing lately on the scraps of mathematics that I can get where I find them. One of the reasons I love Zubiri so much is that he was trained in physics, so what he says makes sense to a quantum mechanics junkie. As a result, I've decided to write my first Zummary (rather than Zoobie review, because I'm mostly reporting rather than reviewing) to this article in Augustine: Presbyter Factus Sum, pp. 151-168.

In this article, Thomas Ryba takes on A.C. Lloyd's classic critique, "On Augustine's Concept of Person," in which Lloyd argues that Augustine's account of persons as relations gores him on the horns of a dilemma between modalism and tritheism:

Not only can God be said of the Son, but the Son is identical with God; for according to Augustine himself, diversity of substance implies plurality of gods; from this it follows that singleness of gods is also, according to Augustine, a necessary fact, so that God is at least (i.e., if he is not a species) a member of a necessary one-member class; and whatever has the same substance as such an object must be identical with that object. Since therefore God is identical with the Son, a fortiori, Son can be said of God. The attempt to have three persons entails a non-symmetric identity [A is identical to X, but X is not identical to A].

Where Ryba takes issue with Lloyd is in his identification of relations with the substance, something that Augustine never did, at least according to Ryba. Ryba makes some textual arguments to the effect that Augustine used the non-accidental Aristotelian category of relations in a way that renders them neither accidental nor identical to the substance (a point which I happen to think is a valid one, and one that I wish more critics would note). But the real meat of Ryba's argument is his formal mathematical demonstration that it is possible to have reflexive relations with the divine substance that are nonetheless non-symmetrical and non-transitive. More or less, Lloyd argues that the denial of symmetry (if A is identical to X, then X is identical to A) and transitivity (if A is identical to X and B is identical to X and C is identical to X, then A is identical to B is identical to C) makes Augustine inconsistent, so Ryba's demonstration would render Lloyd's argument ineffective.

Ryba conceives Augustine's relations as mappings between a set x and itself, where x is taken as domain and range (origin and terminus) of the respective reflexive mappings (relations). The mapping G (for generation) maps the set F (the domain of G) to the set S (the range of G), and it is a bijective mapping (there exists an inverse mapping of S to F). However, spiration S, which maps both F and S to H, is not so invertible, although it may be represented as the product of two mappings of the same set [S(F, G(F)]. At this point, though, we are simply at the level of mathematical curiosity, having formalized the relations as such.

The real question is whether one can coherently define interesting identity relations, and here Ryba exploits the fact that only the generation relation is bijective to show that the identity mapping can reproduce any element or relation but cannot apply across relations (one of which is bijective and one of which is not). In other words, even though the mapping G between F and S is reflexive on x and the mapping S between (F,S) and H is also reflexive on x, there is no identity between the mappings or between the elements qua domains and ranges of the relations (viz., the identity relation between the mappings and the element x is neither transitive nor symmetric). Moreover, Ryba also demonstrates that one can have an additive associative relation that reproduces a unit element which is its own inverse, so that the reflexive mappings do not entail either an increase or a change in the substance.

Ryba summarizes the conclusion as follows:

Augustine is maintaining that the trinitarian relations themselves define the personal properties. These relations are reflexive with respect to the substance but directional. Put in modern logical terms this means that the substance standing as the one element of the domain of the relation of generation defines the property of Fatherhood but standing as it also does in the range of that same relation it defines the property of Sonship. But this identification of Fatherhood with the range [sic] of the relation of generation is absolute as is Sonship with the domain [sic] of the same relation. Sonship cannot be associated with the domain (or point of origin) any more than Fatherhood could be associated with the range of the same relation. The order which the direction of the relation of generation imposes on the substance defines a simple serial order. Because this order is formally absolute, the property of being in the domain of the relation of generation is not identical to the property of being in the range of the relation of generation -- in the language of the Trinity, the Father is not the Son....

Ryba closes with a physical analogy:

Imagine you have a bipolar bar magnet and you place it on a white flat surface. Then, you spill iron filings around it. The iron filings will line up in concentric arcs whose end points are the poles of the magnet. Now imagine you could pare down the magnet almost to a point source. The shapes of the arcs would change to form two circles with a commonly shared point (the fragment of the magnet). The area atop the point soutce would be one pole of the magnet and the area below the point source would be its opposite. If you let the magnet stand for the trinitarian substance, the arcs of magnetic force for the relations of generation and spiration and the poles for the trinitarian persons, then you have a rough idea of the structures Augustine was describing. Of course, in Augustine's Trinity there are three poles, two relations, and one substance, all of which are metaphysical and beyond physical categories of space, time, and force as we understand them. Neveretheless, they do have formal similarities to things we do understand, like sets, relations, and groups.

Ryba is not, of course, arguing that Augustine had anything like set theory in mind, but that isn't the point. The point is that so long as there is a formal mathematical structure that is isomorphic with the logic of someone's argument, it doesn't matter whether that person actually thought of it or not, so long as it exists. In many instances, the conclusions that someone drew can be supported even if the resources available were not adequate to justify those conclusions, and in those cases, we should not neglect them, particularly when there is good Scriptural or traditional reason to think that those conclusions are true. Or as Ryba put it, paraphrasing Maritain, we should not confuse what is unimaginable for us with what is logically impossible for everyone, particularly when dealing with divinity that defies every finite analogy our feeble minds can apply.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Making myself sick again

Took the opportunity to reread David Bradshaw's Aristotle East and West, and in light of the reading I have done recently, some of the incredibly stupid things he says about Augustine, entirely bereft of footnotes, were almost enough to make me ill all over again. For starters, he might ought to think about the connection between infinite being (it's not just act; it's infinite act) and simplicity in the energeiai. Then, rather than trying to dig things that either aren't or are barely there out of Palamas, he'd give some attention to the fact that the ideas he advocates regarding the identification of Trinitarian love with the participation of the soul in God are developed quite explicitly in the Western theology of the beatific vision, and far more to the point than the fumblings of Patriarch Gregory at Blachernae. More pointedly, maybe he would discern that identifying infinity and simplicity as energies, so that God is "even beyond them," represents a fundamental mistake in Triadology.

More proof that the most triumphalist anti-Westerners are those who are least willing to attempt to understand the Western Fathers on their own terms. The sham of "fairness," as if Bradshaw actually showed any such thing, makes it even worse. If Bradshaw would even have answered his own (sarcastic) rhetorical questions, he might have shown some insight, but this is one of the most poorly-veiled attempts at polemics in the guise of scholarly objectivity that I have seen since Romanides. The sad thing was that I actually thought this book was reasonable until I started reading up on Augustine. For Bradshaw to calumniate Augustine as he does on such thin evidence from the scholarship is inexcusable. Had he stuck to defending the Eastern view, this might have been worthwhile, but the half-truths Bradshaw ends up peddling are worse than no truth at all.

Stupid bronchitis

I've been laid up all weekend with a fever that was bad enough to render me barely ambulatory and mostly incapable of focusing my eyes on black squiggles on a printed page without some pain. Antibiotics are slowly helping, but it will be a couple of days before I'm back to normal. Should be recovered in a couple of days; talk to you then.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Yet another reading break

I have been reading tons lately, and I plan on reporting soon. The highlight has been Augustine: Presbyter Factus Sum, which actually had a math article on theology that I just loved (and hope to report on shortly, and I may just go article by article, because the collection has so many good ones), but the others have also been solid, including: The Trinity: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Trinity, Augustine and His Critics, Byzantine Christ, Origen of Alexandria and St. Maximus the Confessor: An Analysis and Critical Evaluation of Their Eschatological Doctrines, Clement of Alexandria: A Study in Christian Platonism and Gnosticism. Nice to have so many good options; sad to be limited in time!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Beat the hell outta t.u.

Hey, a guy can dream, can't he? Miracles do happen from time to time (see, e.g., "the Bonfire game," our last win in this series).

UPDATE -- Great effort by the Good Guys. It's hard to be any good at all when you lose your entire starting backfield, but we hung tough against a much deeper t-sip squad. I'm liking what I see from the fish replacements Stephen McGee and Jorvorskie Lane!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Last Corps Trip

Six years later, and I still break down when I read this. This is the poem entitled "The Last Corps Trip," which was read at Bonfire. Back in the SWC days, it would have been read today, the day before Thanksgiving.

It was Judgment Day in Aggieland
And tenseness filled the air;
All knew there was a trip at hand,
But not a soul knew where.

Assembled on the drill field
Was the world-renowned Twelfth Man,
The entire fighting Aggie team
And the famous Aggie Band.

And out in front with Royal Guard
The reviewing party stood;
St. Peter and his angel staff
Were choosing bad from good.

First he surveyed the Aggie team
And in terms of an angel swore,
"By Jove, I do believe I've seen
This gallant group before.

I've seen them play since way back when,
And they've always had the grit;
I've seen 'em lose and I've seen 'em win
But I've never seen 'em quit.

No need for us to tarry here
Deciding upon their fates;
Tis plain as the halo on my head
That they've opened Heaven's gates."

And when the Twelfth Man heard this,
They let out a mighty yell
That echoed clear to Heaven
And shook the gates of Hell. "

And what group is this upon the side,"
St. Peter asked his aide,
"That swelled as if to burst with pride
When we our judgment made?"

"Why, sir, that's the Cadet Corps
That's known both far and wide
For backing up their fighting team
Whether they won lost or tied."

"Well, then," said St. Peter,
"It's very plain to me
That within the realms of Heaven
They should spend eternity.

And have the Texas Aggie Band
At once commence to play
For their fates too we must decide
Upon this crucial day."

And the drum major so hearing
Slowly raised his hand
And said, "Boys, let's play The Spirit
For the last time in Aggieland."

And the band poured forth the anthem,
In notes both bright and clear
And ten thousand Aggie voices
Sang the song they hold so dear.

And when the band had finished,
St. Peter wiped his eyes
And said, "It's not so hard to see
They're meant for Paradise."

And the colonel of the Cadet Corps said
As he stiffly took his stand,
"It's just another Corps Trip, boys,
We'll march in behind the band."

The following was written to commemorate the twelve Aggies killed in the Bonfire collapse, November 18, 1999:

Then heaven's pearly portals opened,
Hosts of Angels showed the way,
For that Fighting Texas Aggie group
On that final Judgment Day.

When more Aggies came in view.
Twelve dressed in Bonfire gear
Walking arm and arm, and singing
Of the School they hold so dear.

Twelve Aggie voices said "Howdy"
To the keepers of the Gate.
"Working hard we just lost track of time,
We hope we're not too late."

"It's the Fighting Aggie Bonfire Crew,"
St. Peter said, ‘Behold."
They're ready to light up Heaven,
With their courage and faith so bold".

"I would often watch them building,
That Stack so large and high,
And surely knew the time would come
They would build it in the sky."

And so the twelve came through the Gates,
St. Peter said, "Don't fear,
You are just in time for Roll Call"
One by one, they answered. . . ‘Here.'*

Christopher D. Breen "Here"

Jerry Don Self "Here"

Michael Steven Ebanks "Here"

Jeremy Richard Frampton "Here"

Lucas John Kimmel "Here"

Christopher Lee Heard "Here"

Brian Allen McClain "Here"

Jamie Lynn Hand "Here"

Nathan Scott West "Here"

Chad Anthony Powell "Here"

Miranda Denise Adams "Here"

Timothy Doran Kerlee, Jr. "Here"

* The Tradition of the Aggie Muster, when Aggies gather yearly to recall their time at A&M, calls for an Aggie present at the Muster to answer "Here" on behalf of comrades who have gone on to the next life, reminding us that "Once an Aggie, always an Aggie!"

Monday, November 21, 2005

Edward Moore and the Eastern theology of freedom

The Eastern Orthodox theologian Edward Moore is an author about whom my opinion has vacillated. He is quite critical of St. Maximus Confessor, sometimes to a degree that I find unfair and/or inaccurate, but in re-examining his work of late, I have found that his criticism seems to be based in many of the same difficulties I have reached with Maximian anthropology. I don't think it is concidence that Moore's defense of Origen and re-evaluation of Origen's condemnation also invokes Christianized Stoicism in the theology of history and eschatology. Indeed, this Christianized Stoicism in the account of history appears to be the common thread that links a vast number of Church Fathers into a cohesive whole, and one wonders about the extent to which this orthodox belief has been (wrongly) condemned in a misguided quest to stamp out "Origenism" and the so-called "Origenist dialectic." At the root of Christian Stoicism is a radical concept of freedom, suggested by the Stoic principle of autarchy but given content by the Gospel, that conceives of a freedom existing beyond the simple metaphysical plurality of the objects of choice, something echoed in Moore's ideological homage to the Russian existentialist Nikolai Berdyaev.

I have maintained that this eschatological picture of history and human freedom is relatively common in the Western Fathers. Moore does not appear to deal with them much at all, more's the pity, except to join in Berdyaev's criticism of St. Augustine. Moore says, "[Origen] should be read far more often than Augustine, for example, who (as Berdyaev points out) was the most rigorous exponent of the doctrine of eternal damnation and suffering in hell - a concept that would later lead to so much scorn and mailce against Christians," but I would note that many Western historians (such as James Wetzel) have come to the same conclusion about Augustine's doctrine of reprobation without jetissoning what is worthwhile in his theology. Indeed, I would argue that Augustine's theology of grace is nothing other than the theology of time and memory that Moore seems to advocate, and I would further argue (and, IIRC, Pope Benedict XVI HAS argued) that Augustine's theology of original sin ought to be understood within this idea of radical situatedness within history, with the concepts of massa damnata and damnabilis and reprobation being speculative extensions that are entirely unnecessary to the basic idea.

ISTM that the Western idea is not (as Moore argues elsewhere with regard to the soul's ability to choose eternal oblivion) a fundamental pessimism about free choice, but is instead the most radical synergism of the self that is possible, i.e., involvement in one's own creation. This seems to be exactly what Origen unsuccessfully attempted to capture in his speculative notion of pre-existent souls "falling into" creation, an uneasy marriage of Stoicism and Neoplatonic cosmology that seems to partake directly of the absolutizing of subjects that Zubiri criticizes. I suspect that if Origen had had access to Zubiri's metaphysics of human beings as "relatively absolute," he might have done better (or even, as Moore argues in his dissertation, if he had access to Leontius of Byzantium's idea of enhypostasis, properly understood as the divine having individual human experience). Still, one can't criticize Origen for failing to anticipate centuries of development; the point is that Origen was trying to articulate a system in which souls freely participated in the act of their own creation, which is the same intuition that was gradually articulated in the Western theology of sin and grace.

Still, Moore does not miss the importance of the overall point, as exemplified by his contrast between Iamblichus and his Christian counterparts:

The understanding of history is paramount, for it is also the understanding of our universal personhood. In the philosophical theology of Origen of Alexandria, the historical becoming of the soul is said to continue even after salvation, as the intellect gradually becomes more accustomed to the perception of divine things. In Origen we find a dynamism in the eskhaton. Deification occurs, but it is not perfect assimilation of the soul to the Godhead; rather, it is a continual motion toward divinity. We find a similar idea in Gregory of Nyssa’s concept of diastêma, in which the soul is said to strive eternally for God, who remains forever aloof.

However, when considered in this way, how can history ever be, as Berdyaev declares, my history? My striving for God, for deification, becomes merely a function of a cosmos that must always exceed me – or, in the case of Maximus, of a deity of which my existence is a mere function. What distinguishes Iamblichus’ view from that of these three Church Fathers is the presence of an atemporal ontology, which tempers his brand of historical determinism (determination in history as opposed to determination by history).

It is that idea (i.e., that history is a forum for self-determination rather than a forum that determines the self) which underlies Augustine's Confessions and introduces itself into many other works under the influence of Tertullian's Stoicism. There is no hint of Pelagianism here; that would deny the experience of man's immersion in sinful reality every bit as much as failing to account for experience altogether. Instead, salvation is understood as a redemption of the entirety of human experience, the person as a whole, so that even the suffering experienced on account of sin or the detestation of one's own past sins ends up serving the goal of redemption, not based on some deterministic plan or purpose, but simply on account of the bare fact that we cannot exist apart from historical context. The eschaton is nothing other than the affirmation of who we have chosen to be, whether we have elected to render our own lives unintelligible and meaningless (lived the Trinitarian life aversively, as Zubiri puts it) or whether we have achieved the peace of self-knowledge that makes love of others possible.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Game: Harvard 30, Yale 24, 3OT

Only in the Ivies could it take 3 overtimes for one team to hit 30, but an ugly win is still 5 over the Elis. This almost makes up for the fact that I had to witness our last loss in this series in person. Granted, I was so cold at that game, I was pretty much numb to what was going on in the field (which was a good thing, as the vast number of turnovers would have been excruciating otherwise). But since then, it's been pretty good for the Crimson faithful. Nice to see at least one of my teams winning!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Meyendorff on Divine Energies

From Trinitarian Theology East and West with Michael Fahey, S.J., pp. 34-35 [emphasis original]:

As the young Greek theologian Christos Yannaras has recently shown in a quite remarkable book ("The Person and Eros"), the true ontological existence of personhood is revealed through a self-emptying extasis toward the other. The divine energies represent God's existence, His outpouring love *outside* of His essence, i.e., in creation. They are, therefore, and very prominently, the manifestation of God as three Persons . . . But if the being of God, as three Persons, is revealed ad extra through the energies, as existence *towards the others*, it is also expressed in the internal life of God by the relations of the three divine Persons *towards each other*. Therefore,the doctrine of the uncreated energies is not only a manifestation of the personal being of God ad extra. It would be impossible and meaningless if God were not Love *in Himself*, if He were not *Trinity*

Angels cap tip to Jason for the reference. Yannaras was brought to my attention by the Cogitator for Yannaras's work On the Absence and Unknowability of God, which articulated similarities and differences between Heidegger and the Pseudo-Dionysian view of divine transcendence (notably, Yannaras comes to the same conclusion as Zubiri: Heidegger goes astray in identifying God with Being). It looks to me that Meyendorff (through Yannaras) is probing the same question that motivated Bonaventure's innovative notion of love: namely, how does the ad intra Trinitarian love relate to our participation in the divine nature? I also note Meyendorff's introduction of the term "relations" (schesis in the patristic usage; see Gregory Theologian, 3rd Theol. Or. (Or. 29)), something that may ultimately be helpful in understanding how the ideas of St. Augustine and St. Gregory Theologian might be harmonized (even though they used the term in quite different ways). At any rate, this looks to me like we are groping at the same subject from two directions (East and West), and that is a promising sign.

Zoobie Review: The Theology of History in St. Bonaventure by Joseph Ratzinger

The Theology of History in St. Bonaventure by Joseph Ratzinger [Pope Benedict XVI], [Franciscan Press, 1971, ISBN 0819904155, paperback]

There are moments watching someone exercise his God-given gifts in which you have to simply sit back and be awed. Michael Jordan's fadeaway jumper. Mariano Rivera's cut fastball. Something inside you instinctively says that you have seen a little piece of the divine (apart from the obligatory "Man, that was sick..."). That's what I feel like when I read the works of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. This is a man who was born to theology; I've never encountered anything like his breadth or depth of knowledge, and his insight in being able to synthesize it all naturally, without artifice, is a wonder to behold. So it was a delight to have encountered this little book from back when he was Dr. Ratzinger, one that fit so well into my current area of interest.

The basic picture is as follows. The eschatological picture of the early Church calls for seven ages, with Christ's death and resurrection marking the sixth age and the end-times marking the seventh age (the eternal Sabbath). This fits in with the strongly eschatological character of early Christianity, the sense of Christ's impending arrival, and the sense of urgency in a time of persecution with its innate need to look for a balancing divine justice in the time to come. And as I have mentioned before, there was also an eschatological cast in the fourth-century Western response to the Homoians, a sense of what is now opaque becoming clear, which engendered a greater emphasis on matters eschatological in the Occident. This sensitivity in turn tended toward making history intelligible in terms of eschatology, and the most prominent entry into this area was found in the vision of the medieval mystic and Cistercian abbot Joachim de Fiore. Abbot Joachim recast the picture into three ages: the first of the Father, the second of Christ, and the third of the Holy Spirit, each age divided sevenfold. The Order of St. Francis recognized in the miraculous experiences of their founder (a contemporary of Abbot Joachim) the inauguration of this new spiritual age, which was to be ushered in by a new Holy Order of spiritual men, standing against the carnality of the age (primarily seen in the extravagant wealth of the medieval popes) by spurning material possessions in favor of a higher spiritual calling. At the same time, there were other Franciscans who complained that the rigid Rule of St. Francis was impractical and that it should not continue to be observed. The thirty-six-year-old Bonaventure, whose name was attributed to the good fortune of having been saved from illness as a child by St. Francis's intercession, enters the picture as the new general of the Order, commissioned to save the Franciscans from both the optimistic, eschatological zeal of the Spirituales and the laxity of the Relaxati.

Bonaventure is quite sympathetic to the eschatological significance ascribed to St. Francis, and he himself models his Itinerarium on the vision of the seraphim in which St. Francis received the gift of the stigmata. At the same time, he believes that the poverty urged by the Spirituals, while commendable, must be relegated to those with a special gift for it (as St. Francis was), not imposed as a requirement. He sees the difficulty in Joachim's conception of the Third Age as a worldly age, so while he is sympathetic to Joachim's ascription of eschatological significance to the present, he thinks Joachim has gone too far.

Bonaventure's response is, by Ratzinger's lights, a true Bonaventurian original, even though the view he espouses is entirely taken for granted now. Instead of maintaining three ages, Bonaventure argues that Joachim is right to say that there is a double sevenfold order of history, but that is not because there are three ages corresponding to the Three Persons of the Trinity. Rather, it is because the historical Christ is at the center of history; Christ is the axis around which all of history turns. The intuition is clearly Pseudo-Dionysian, following the Neoplatonic concept of egress and return, but the application in the context of salvation history appears to be entirely novel. Ratzinger also notes Bonaventure's use of the Neoplatonic image of the circle with radii extending from the center (God) to creation, along with Bonaventure's observation that the center is identified by intersecting diameters, which Bonaventure sees as a figure of the Cross.

In countering Abbot Joachim's argument, Bonaventure argues that there is no need for an age of the Holy Spirit, for the Spirit Himself is already manifested in the sevenfold division of the ages corresponding to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, Christ is present in the theophanies of the Old Testament, while the Father is made manifest in Christ in the second age, so that the entire Trinity is represented is both ages.

If Ratzinger is correct, and I see no reason to think that he is not, then it is incredible that the origin of this critical concept in the Christian theology of history has gone unacknowledged for so long. It would make many of the later concepts of Heilsgeschicte more or less stolen intellectual capital from Bonaventure, stolen in such a way that fails to acknowledge the underlying logic and premises that led Bonaventure to the conclusion. In particular, there is no acknowledgment of the role of St. Francis in history, no cognizance of the Neoplatonic concepts making this understanding intelligible, no recognition of the importance of monastic orders (and particularly, the Franciscans and Dominicans) in ushering in the end of the second age, and no understanding of the account of individual salvation (the six-fold ascent) on which the idea is built. The latter point is particularly significant, because the six-fold ascent comes straight down the Western Tradition from Augustine through William of St.-Thierry and Richard of St. Victor. Also, the conflict between Bonaventure and Joachim frames the battles between the Spiritual Franciscans and the Avignon papacy in a far broader theological context, and the connections may reach even farther than that, possibly to fundamental instabilities in Western civilization itself. I think this provides a clue to what Pope Benedict, with his effortless command of Western history, has in mind with his program for the Church, although it really only leaves me all the more amazed at how much higher an intellectual plane the Holy Father inhabits.

One more thing of interest related to the six-fold ascent. Ratzinger also credits the primacy of love reaching back to God in ecstasy as a Bonaventurian original. He notes that Augustine clearly does not teach this in his doctrine of illumination, nor does Ps.-Dionysius put primacy on the ecstatic response of the person to God's own ecstasis in creation. By bridging between the experience of reaching out ecstatically with participation in God, St. Bonaventure has usefully contributed toward linking the Western beatific vision of the ad intra Trinitarian love to the Eastern ideas of Ps.-Dionysius, at least IMHO.

No surprise here that I'm giving this one 5 Zoobs. I have rarely seen a theologian give such delicate care to handling his sources' ideas, nor to pay such careful attention to the process involved in transmission of ideas.

Final Score: +5 Zub

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Augustine on the Trinity

I've recently come across a good illustration of how the function of the doctrine of the Trinity differs in East and West, allowing each perspective to contribute a unique theological insight while retaining remarkable harmony in the underlying theological sensibilities. On the Western side, my recent work has centered around the influence of Stoicism, and in the larger sense, I think that Zubiri's metaphysical system (or something very like it) will be vindicated as the Western metaphysical system par excellence. The reason that I find these ideas (Stoicism and Zubirianism) particularly useful is their emphasis on the metaphysical concepts of personhood, experience, and communion (in the sense of relationships between person). But what provides historical leverage for these concepts in the West is the 800-pound gorilla of Western tradition, St. Augustine of Hippo, whose intuition about the concept of personhood is second to none (as the Confessiones makes clear). Here's a good article on how, in addition to his brilliant doctrinal synthesis between the Cappadocians and the Western Fathers (putting the emphasis on the as-yet-undeveloped concept of metaphysical relationship), Augustine integrated these doctrinal insights into redemptive theology centered on personhood. Of note is the nod the author gives to St. Bonaventure's dependence on this theology, which impels me to repeat the reminder that all Occident-o-philes need to read the Itinerarium, study it, and internalize it.

One other thing to note is that Augustine was well-versed in the Trinitarian controversies of the time, a characteristic quite in contrast with the members of the current fad to make anything that can be described in threes a "Trinitarian doctrine" (e.g., the "Trinitarian theory" of language of Frame and Poythress). Also, one ought to pay careful attention to the bibliography of this article, in which the author notes the growing weight of scholarship against the idea that Latin theology centers around the metaphysical unity of the essence while Eastern theology starts with the metaphysical concept of person. The growing factual picture of history, contra the neo-myrmidons (i.e., people like John Romanides who are convinced that nothing good ever came outside of Greek culture), is that the theological intuitions about perichoresis were virtually identical, and the alleged "disharmony" between East and West has been retrojected into the fourth century from later controversies.

I will note that the latter criticism applies equally to those Western scholars, be they Catholic triumphalists or Protestant skeptics, who have attempted to downplay the significance of Cappadocian theology for the West out of a misguided desire establish the West's theological independence, including Robert Jenson (who now regrets the error), T. F. Torrance, and various neo-Thomists. The article notes, in FN 1, that this effort often involved presenting the theology of Richard of St. Victor as an exemplar of the "Latin" view as against the East without acknowledging the debt of Abbot Richard to St. Augustine or St. Augustine to the Cappadocians. For regular readers of this blog, both the dependence of Richard on Augustine and the fact that it had not been acknowledged until recently ought to come as no surprise. As I have repeatedly pointed out, the basic insights of Western theology (captured singularly in Zubirian metaphysics) are entirely harmonious with both the Cappadocian Fathers and St. Cyril of Alexandria, and, more specifically, with those elements of their respective theological views that are entirely dismissed in the triumphalistic Photian view of church history. The perverse and self-destructive effort of some Western theologians to identify themselves with the caricature of Western theology presented by the East and to futilely defend this straw man of Greek making is, if the signs in this article are true, finally meeting its well-deserved end.

EDIT -- It just hit me that there is an excellent summary of the paradigm pitting East vs. West that was written by my friend Dr. Paul Owen. The theological "breathing room" that Dr. Owen describes is, to my way of thinking, exactly that space of dialogue among the Fathers of the fourth century, in which the common doctrines were "built up" rather than set against one another. The lengthy quotation from Torrance perhaps best exemplies the now-obstolete technique of driving a wedge between the Cappadocians and the catholic (Nicaean) faith, while the "dispute" between the social and psychological models described by Dr. Owen is exemplary of the scholarly weakness that I have noted above (viz., failing to appreciate the harmonious resolution between the ontological and the moral/ethical achieved by St. Augustine in the West and by St. Cyril in the East). Dr. Owen's survey is probably the best summary of the scholarly quarrels over the Trinity that I have encountered, and accordingly, it highlights exactly the sorts of problems that result from attempting to read the Fathers of the fourth century in a polemical context, instead of perceiving the fundamental harmony between them.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Schadenfreude SWC style

In honor of this choke, the lyrics to the Red Retard fight song:

We're only here
Here for the beer
We don't even care what the score is
Boo at their band
Spit on their fans
Throw up!
all over the girl beside you

We're only here
Here for the beer
We don't even care about the scoooooore!
Throw it up!
Puke it up!
Vom-it, tek!
On the girl right next to yoooouuu

Friday, November 11, 2005

Want a good laugh?

Read this.

Read what I said about the guy, and note to whom I said it.

Savor the deliciously sweet irony.

Follow up with with a refreshing "And by the way, you're an idiot" chaser.

Then curl up with a good patristic tome and a copy of Holy Scripture, and learn what they don't know.

Recent Bibliography

Because people have been asking, here's a list of some fun books from the last several months for Occident-o-philes in random order:
James Wetzel, Augustine and the Limits of Virtue
Joseph Schnaubelt, Frederick van Fleteren, Joseph Reino, eds., Augustine: Mystic and Mystagogue
Joseph Ratzinger, The Theology of History in St. Bonaventure
Frances M. Young, Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture and Virtuoso Theology
Bernard McGinn, Willimien Otten, eds., Eriugena East and West [N.B., this includes a nice little summary of Eric Perl's dissertation Methexis in the comparison between St. Maximus and Eriugena]
David Bradshaw, Aristotle East and West
Richard of St. Victor (ed. Grover Zinn), The Book of the Patriarchs, The Mystical Ark, and Book 3 of the Trinity (Classics of Western Spirituality)
William of St. Thierry, On Contemplating God
Marcia L. Colish, Stoic Tradition from Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages: Stoicism in Christian Latin Thought Through the Sixth Century
Neil B. McLynn, Ambrose of Milan: Church and Court in a Christian Capital
Avery Cardinal Dulles, The Craft of Theology
Aidan Nichols, The Shape of Catholic Theology
Joseph Lienhard, The Bible, The Church, and Authority
Michael Fahey, Orthodox and Catholic Sister Churches

Some works that seem mighty interesting in light of that reading:
Geoffrey Wainwright, Doxology
Elizabeth Clark, Reading Renunciation
Louis Bouyer, The Christian Mystery
Karl Barth, The Word of God and the Word of Man
John Henry Newman, The Arians of the Fourth Century
John A. Watt, The Church in Medieval Ireland
Alasdair MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality?
J. David Dawson, Christian Figural Reading and the Fashioning of Identity and Allegorical Readers and Cultural Revision in Ancient Alexandria

And select oldies but goodies that have returned to my attention as being even more important:
Bruce Marshall, Trinity and Truth
Philip Sherrard, The Greek East and the Latin West (particularly the sections on Cicero and the tantalizing-but-unfulfilled mention of the "outstanding" Latin theologians Cassian, Eriugena, William of St.-Thierry, et al.)
Brian Tierney, The Idea of Natural Rights

I'm going to try to be better about reviewing things when I read them. :-) Just in the middle of integrating some political thought into my synthesis (which I guess is only natural for a lawyer reading about Stoicism), so I've been thinking out loud a bit lately rather than sticking to book reviews as much as I'd like. I'm going to keep that line of inquiry open in the Res Publica list on the side of the blog.

Grace, peace, and thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

God love 'em!

After saying nice things about Telford Work for actually taking Catholics seriously, I wanted to commend the recent pro-ressourcement trend that is emerging among lots of Protestants. Kevin Johnson's reading list is admirable, and Communio Sanctorum has even added a Catholic at Kevin's suggestion. Joel Garver has always been one of the sharpest minds on the subject of 20th century theologians; his papers on von Balthasar, Rahner, and de Lubac are not to be missed. And for the medieval perspective, we all know where to go. :-)

I like to see this not only because it is good for the sides to know about each other, but because it's beneficial for Catholics to get quality interaction with other traditions. Papal infallibility, however it might be defined, doesn't mean Catholicism can't improve, and the only way that happens is for us to hear good challenging responses.

Zoobie Review: Living and Active by Telford Work

Living and Active: Scripture in the Economy of Salvation (Sacra Doctrina: Christian Theology for a Postmodern Age) by Telford Work [Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (November, 2001), hardback, ISBN 0802847242]

Every once and a while, you come across a book that makes you say "See! I'm not the only one who gets this!" That was the rather delightful experience of reading Telford Work's Living and Active. Work is extremely well-read, but unlike many other extremely well-read authors, he actually understands what other authors are saying on some extremely difficult cross-traditional issues. This is by far the best Protestant handling I have seen of Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Avery Dulles, and Aidan Nichols, and that hasn't been for lack of trying on the Protestant side. To see someone who is actually able to not only confront the issues they raise but actually answer them is a thing of beauty.

Work's clever, tradition-spanning notion is to reverse the ordinary Protestant order of theology: to determine a theory of how Scripture acts based on systematic theology. In that respect, his approach appears Barthian, but where Work surpasses Barth is in incorporating the theological aesthetics of von Balthasar and the linguistic observations of Nicholas Wolterstorff to overcome Barth's reductionism. This allows not only Christ Himself in the flesh but also Scripture, conceived ontologically as having a divine quality, to serve as a true revelatory agent. By preserving the divine quality of Scripture, not merely in terms of authorship, but in terms of the action of Scripture itself, Work manages to avoid the Scylla and Charybdis of Barthian reductionism on the one hand and linguistic reductionism on the other. Work's handling of Wolterstorff's divine-discourse theory in particular is masterful, and the only bit of disappointment I felt was that he reserved his sharp (and accurate) criticism of Wolterstorff to a footnote! Frankly, given the flood of bad literature that Wolterstorff's theory has spawned (see, e.g., Kevin Vanhoozer's execrable The Drama of Doctrine), I thought Work should have hit harder on the need for an ontological basis for justifying the ethical criteria that one applies to exegesis (e.g., the assumption of a loving God). At any rate, Work's analysis of St. Augustine is better than Wolterstorff's (although Wolterstorff candidly admits that he is departing from Augustine's regula fidei), and this enables Work to apply the exegetical principles of Augustine and de Lubac sensibly without foregoing his own Protestant position.

As a Catholic, it is just gratifying to encounter a work that takes both patristic scholarship and Catholic theology so seriously on its own terms. Work isn't citing sources randomly to support his point while dismissing the main thrust of their arguments. He actually takes responsibility for hearing what people say and making that position clear before answering it, often having the grace to admit that they are correct in the main in their demands on others. The only failing of this book is that he is not hard enough on his co-religionists, a courtesy they certainly do not extend in return. I think his brief assertion that most Evangelicals have a sufficiently sophisticated view of Scripture to qualify as a valid theory of revelation ("bibliology," as Work calls it) is simply wrong. It is implausible to think that the Warfield approach to Scripture, which Work criticizes as being doubly wrong for both emphasizing the inerrancy of the propositional truth of Scripture and for dispensing the necessity of Scripture as a means of revelation, hasn't had a pervasive influence on modern Scriptural theories. Work gives Moises Silva a pass for his retort that the accusations of "Docetism" by liberal scholars against conservatives simply increase the "slur factor" in the debate unhelpfully but fails to call Silva to task for being dismissive of the same Christological concerns that Work emphasizes, except to playfully note that Silva's own counter-charge of "Arianism" against those who deny the inspiration of Scripture, something Silva intended as an absurd example, was actually quite apt. I think that if Work is serious about his science of "bibliology" gaining traction, then he ought to cast a far more critical eye as to whether others on his side of the fence actually do employ a Christologically self-conscious method of exegesis.

Because he doesn't follow through on all of his punches, I can't give him a perfect score for metaphysical rigor. But this is an excellent book, one that I recommend quite highly for ecumenical Protestants. On a 5-point scale, I give it 4 Zoobs.

Final Score: +4 Zub

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Idiots abound: the sequel

Just to grab a couple of choice quotes from my favorite talk radio station regarding the situation in California:
"Is every day Opposite Day around here?"
"This state is simply ungovernable."
And that's pretty much all there is to say about the Stockholm Syndrome here. They've fallen in love with their captors.

This is what happens when your population has so little pride that they think boot-licking is a good thing. When you fill your need for love and protection with government (or these soul-sucking parasites they call "union reps," who more or less ARE the government) rather than family, you've just sold out to the Dark Side. This is exactly why the late Pope John Paul the Great was so adamant in his opposition to liberation theology. Think it's a coincidence that so many illegals confuse the role of government with the role of Church and family? I don't. Angelenos have their Mommy State, and that's all that matters, I suppose. Problem is that reality has a terrible habit of forcing you to realize that human beings aren't meant to live this way.

Oh, well. I will be content to suffer patiently rather than flee my beloved Orange (or should I say Red?) County UNLESS the nutbar legislature actually goes through with socializing health care (and if they do, neither hell nor high water will keep me in this state).

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Debriefing from NYC

As I expected, I had a wonderful time in New York, but the whole wedding thing left me a little conflicted. Not the fact that the celebrant was a woman or that it was a bit watered-down and ecumenical, because I was mostly happy to see two wonderful people who are extremely likely to stay together for the long haul dedicate their lives to one another. When a New York Jew marries a Southern Presbyterian, you've got to figure that the ceremony's going to be unique. No, what got to me was the presence of Dean Anne-Marie Slaughter as what you might call the secular officiant of the deal (and not just because she called me "Ms. Prejean" in her homily; I can't blame her for not remembering me, as I haven't spoken a word to her since 1998).

To give you a little bit of background, the friends of mine who were tying the knot had met in our Civil Procedure class in the fall of 1998, and they thought it would be sweet to have the professor of that class, who is now Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton, to say a few words. And I love that Dean Slaughter agreed to do it; I think it was a remarkably sweet gesture on her part. But I've gotta say that she is pretty much the epitome of what I hate about the American legal system: the deification of democracy. I mean, how ironic is it that I see her in this pseudo-religious role giving a pseudo-religious account of, as she described it, "life, love, and the law." This from the Dean of the Woodrow Wilson school, no less, as if there were a worse example of "evangelical democracy!"

What makes it worse was that I really liked this woman during the class. As you might expect, she practically comes off as a preacher of Americanism with an equally charming ecumenical bent, and heck, she's actually proud of her Virginia heritage (although I could name a hell of a lot of Southerners who would prefer that she weren't). It's beautiful rhetoric, but I realized at the end of the class (right about the final exam actually) that there was no there, there. I should've probably grasped that along the way, what with her having indicated some liking for the jurisprudence of Hugo "Klansman" Black and Harry "Judas" Blackmun (as I recall, Black was the Justice she most admired), two of the worst cultural positivists ever to ascend to the Court. But I didn't get it. And after having committed the classic error of actually attempting to make an argument from principle on an exam, I got my B and my hard lesson on how there are two kinds of people in this world: the virtuous and the positivists. One could say that the disillusionment with the law at that point began my long road to Catholicism, which is probably why I retain such venomous contempt for voluntarists, nominalists, positivists, and others who deny the foundations of natural law and virtue.

So that's my introspective lesson for the weekend, and I think that confronting my old "nemesis," as it were, simply reinforced my God-given paranoia about people who romanticize American culture (and its roots in Enligsh history). These people are dangerous, and they have a bad habit of getting people killed, people who are too often American soldiers on foreign soil. That's not to make any judgment about our current situation in Iraq, although there are things to be said, but only to point out that this ridiculous notion that democracy and freedom are some kind of gospel that America is bringing to the world is pure, dangeous madness. Confusing politics with religion is the world's oldest mistake, and contrary to the polemics you hear, Catholicism isn't responsible for originating that mistake. Indeed, Catholicism has been one of the only groups that has mounted any kind of defense against it, which is a large part of why I am Catholic.

Idiots abound

Kansas gets intelligent design into the classroom. Yay.

I hope this population isn't large enough to upset the two largest no-brainers in California history: taking paychecks away from the public workers' unions (Prop 75) and redistricting away from the flaming incompetents in the state legislature (Prop 77). I am not optimistic about parental notification for minors to have an abortion passing, because that would require something like moral intuition, but I figure that good old-fashioned greed should at least overcome the campaign of lies that the opponents of the other two propositions have waged. It's a sad, sad day when people become too stupid to even be greedy.

Monday, November 07, 2005

More Apologia for Star Wars

I've mentioned several times that my religion growing up was Star Wars, and it's taking a hit or two at the moment for having a defective worldview. I think that it doesn't hurt at all to learn Christianity from mythic sources like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, but what happens when that source is more or less consciously something other than Christian, as Harry Potter, The Dark Tower, and Star Wars most evidently are? Along the lines that I've been pointing out recently, I would argue that this is the sort of pagan excellence, the worship of the "unknown god," that is taught in Scripture in Acts 17:16-34. These are pagan frameworks that ask the right questions, and while they are never given their full explanation except in the Incarnate Word of God, the seeking is a kind that finds its ultimate fulfillment in Christianity.

To begin, that Star Wars represents something like a culmination of pagan wisdom should be relatively obvious from the strong influence of the comparative mythology of Joseph Campbell on Lucas. The somewhat more inscrutable influence of the American West, mediated by its idiomatic Japanese expression in Kurosawa, surely also looms large, and I doubt that I could quickly survey what appears to be a connection between the concept of honor among gunslingers and the Southern gentility that probably carried over from older Roman origins. Similar ideas were definitely mulling in Tolkien and other sources from which Lucas drew, including the science-fiction tradition. For these reasons, one could hardly call it a reach to suppose that, if there is a wisdom in pagan mythology, Star Wars would capture it.

Likewise, as I mentioned in the blog entry linked above, it is entirely unsurprising that Protestantism would necessarily lash out at Star Wars, as the entire edifice of Protestantism was built on the negation of just this idea of pagan virtue. Indeed, I pointed out that the desperate compromise with tools of negation out of misguided attachment to temporal goods, the quite-literal opposite of pagan virtue, was Anakin's failing as well as Luther's, in effect making Protestantism's fall parallel to Anakin's. A good pagan and a good Stoic is seeking apatheia, freedom from the domination of passions and dependence on temporal goods, but only a Christian actually realizes them. Both Anakin and Luther are examples of the failure of apatheia and the misery that ensues from that failure; they cut off their own ability to perceive the good in creation. And this misunderstanding of human apatheia carries over inevitably into violations of the divine impassibility as well, so that they make God into a Really Big Human (a la Leibniz) with righteous passions, ironically undermining the very divine quality that makes God the stable ontological foundation that the pagans sought in a changing world.

So does Star Wars display a "lack of consistent moral vision?" On the contrary, the moral vision of Star Wars is the ONLY moral vision, the very same moral vision that has been at the center of human inquiry for years, the one that is answered by Christ. This is made evident by the very critiques that are leveled against it:

For Lucas, presumably, the heroes are the republicans and the Jedi knights. But what’s so great about the old republic, anyway? Lucas’ idea of representative government is modeled, not on the American experiment, but Athenian democracy, the Roman senate, and the House of Lords. These are aristocrats and royalty. Padmé dresses like an empress and lives in a palace that makes Versailles look like the slave quarters.

As I've noted in several previous installments, the real good of the American system was that it was balanced by a federalist vision, including the states as harbors of civic virtue and defenders of rightly-ordered self-governance. Athenian democracy and the Roman Senate aren't inherently bad, provided they are ordered to the Good with a healthy sense of noblesse oblige. It's this skepticism about all created authority that exemplifies the reductionist anti-Christian view passing itself off in the name of Christianity.

And despite Yoda’s Dalai Lama rhetoric, the Jedi are strikingly like the Samurai. It makes you wonder what, exactly, is Lucas’ political ideal. The Shogunate?

More like the American West, although perhaps rendered less artfully than Kurosawa's vision. At the same time, I think that Lucas's Western vision probably reflects the Christian influence more strongly, and thus presents the truth of the matter more accurately, than Kurosawa's. Japanese culture of justice, law, and honor had more in common with pagan Stoicism than Christian Stoicism (particularly on the question of suicide, a Stoic position St. Augustine condemned ferociously). Lucas's vision is about perception of the good in the imperfect, the inherent goodness in things when rightly ordered to their ends and the redemption of creation, which trust is ultimately vindicated by Luke's own father.

This makes for a great costume drama, complete with the tabloid lives of the rich and famous. But it certainly blurs the line between the bright side and the dark side of the force.

Note the reductionism and the voluntarist concept of good and evil, which pretty much speaks for itself.

Then you have the Buddhist solution to the problem of evil. Anakin seeks the advice of Yoda about premonitions of his wife dying in childbirth. And what is Yoda’s counsel? “Death is a natural part of life. Mourn then, do not. Miss them, do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed, that is. Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.”

Can you really blame Anakin for changing sides? Lucas, with his post-Christian vision, leaves the character with a choice between one inhuman philosophy and another inhuman philosophy.

Only someone who had never read St. Macrina could mistake this for Buddhist rhetoric! In point of fact, St. Augustine says exactly the same thing: the proper Christian feeling of grief is over the failure of the opportunity for virtue, the failure of goods being rightly ordered to their ends, not the loss of temporal goods. If anything, Anakin's option was all too "human" in that regard, putting the human concern (passion) at the center of the universe and negating the impassible God, in whom all hope must ultimately rest. Is it any wonder that it is impossible to form a proper theology in such a framework?

The massacre of the “younglings” is Anakin’s formal rite of initiation into the dark side. Yet it’s Obi-Wan who admonishes him that “only a Sith deals in absolutes.”

Well, if that’s the case, then what’s so bad about the slaughter of the “younglings” or the betrayal of his Jedi brethren and mentors?

This is actually not a particularly difficult question to answer, when you give slight consideration to what kind of absolutes Obi-Wan means. And the answer to that questions should be relatively obvious: absolutes of will. The pagan virtue always counsels the real existence of moderation, means between extremes, so that the conflict of opposites does not devolve into sheer incoherence. That is nothing other than a conviction in the Good behind all creation, i.e., the notion that there is intelligibility in existence. Anakin has fallen into classic nihilistic voluntarism: there is no mean between desires; all is conflict between wills. He can't have what he wants except by negating another will (cf. the Protestant concept of authority as an imposition on the will); there is no principle bringing things together. "The center cannot hold," as one Catholic poet put it, when "mere anarchy is loosed upon the world" and "the best lack all convictions, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." Being weak-willed (akratic) and lacking all convictions is surely a sin, but so is being full of passionate intensity, which is what marks the Sith (and Luther as well, in my view). The question is why the Sith deal in (voluntarist) absolutes, and the perverse answer is because they don't believe in THE Absolute; they have no faith in the Good. They have nothing to make their desires and the clash of opposites intelligible, so they must absolutize their desires by subjugation of other wills (and often, killing). What clearer example could there be of absolutizing the temporal than Palpatine's own mentor, Darth Plagueis, who was so powerful that the only thing he feared was losing his power!

Actually, slaughtering the offspring of one’s political rivals is customary in warrior cultures. Such atrocities were part of the honor-code. The problem with Lucas is that he retains the remnants of a Christian conscience. This is in direct tension with his chic, ersatz Buddhism.

On the contrary, Lucas (rightly) views the Christian solution as the only thing that can answer the questions that pagan philosophy asks, the only thing that can ratio-nalize (lit., give reason to) pagan concepts of the will and the self. The failure of the Stoic worldview was ultimately in ontological self-sufficiency, which did not allow for anything other than the will to be absolute, and thus (perversely) opened the door for the Nietzschean amoralism that they most wanted to stop. The slaughter of children was exactly the symptom of the failures of the philosophy, which are only corrected by the Christian concept of Incarnation and redemption. Lucas is probably more Christian than even he gives himself credit for being; his Incarnational and universal account of redemption is more von Balthasar than Buddha.

You can also see shades of the voluntarist critique in the account of "Shamgar."

Yoda's answer ["Miss them not. Mourn them not."] is supposed to be indicitive of the problem with the Jedi.

On the contrary, this is exactly where Yoda was right; it was in failing to heed his own principle that he and the rest of the Jedi failed themselves. The Jedi taught the people nothing; they did exactly what they oughtn't have in attempting to protect people from the vagaries of chance rather than enabling people to live with them. It is not selflessness to protect people from reality in this way; it is a betrayal.

Why did Palpatine win? The same reason that he won over Anakin: he exploited the fear of loss of temporal goods (see also FDR's statist notion of "freedom from fear," as if the government can assauge it). The Jedi, in this respect, are an excellent figure of medieval Catholicism. The protection of political stability became a passion, an end in itself in the Middle Ages, not ordered to any particular good. The fear-based reaction of the Reformation, the "sky is falling" mentality, resoundingly proclaims a tale of people who fear the loss of the thing they value so much that they desperately need to put their faith somewhere. The loss of perspective, sublimated in to eschatological hopes of a Third Age of the Holy Spirit and the concordant idea of temporal action of God, is reflective of a sickness that comes of putting too much hope in the world. It is, not coincidentally, a very Arian way of looking at the world, and I think there is some truth to the notion that the Carolingian Franks contributed to the social framework for this spiritual sickness, although their Arian tendencies never went entirely unchecked in the West.

You have to remember that this is the prequel. These are not the Jedi as we know them. Think about the differences between the Jedi now, and the Jedi in the movies we know. Many people seem to think it's just Lucas forgetting what the Jedi are like.

I don't believe that. Rather, I think that a big part of what we're supposed to be seeing here in these three movies is the fall of the Jedi order. Their disconectedness, and a lack of understanding of the force. I think this is made particularly clear at the end, when Yoda reveals to obi wan that he has been communing with Qui Gon, who arguably was the last of the true Jedi, and he had much to teach them. He was sending ObiWan off to learn from him.

Fast Forward to Episode IV and we see a vastly different ObiWan.

And note that it corresponds exactly to putting mutable goods in their proper perspective (witness Obi-Wan's "Strike me down, and I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."). I agree that the book version of Episode VI covers Yoda's understanding of his own failure more clearly than the movie does, but Qui-Gon's understanding of what was at stake with Anakin failing to deal with his fear (as a microcosm of the problems in the Republic) was straight out of Yoda's earlier statement.

"Shamgar" gets much closer here:

This is Lucas' admittedly clumsy attempt to show the fall of the Jedi. They are hypocritical and arrogant. This was a big part of GuiGon's strife with the council. This is also demonstrated through the Jedi's blindness to the presence of the Sith, particularly Palpatine. They were so full of pride and arrogance they couldn't see it even when it was right in front of their face.

Great analysis, but he misses the reasoning badly:

Roll back to episode 2 and consider the sad display of Yoda's fight with Tyrranus. Tyrranus was a nobody, but he defeated Yoda. This was nearly impossible to understand. He, as we know him, is the greatest of the Jedi. How could he lose to a Sith apprentice! Because he was full of pride and arrogance, and had lost his way.

No, he loses to Tyrannus because he saves two lives, two members of his family. That's when we see Yoda at his best. If arrogance or pride were his chief concern, he would have won the fight, possibly even heading off the threat to the temporal safety of the Republic, but he would have lost his soul in the process. The most telling aspect is that he knows in his own rhetorical question "Victory?" (echoed later in Episode V: "Great warrior?") what has happened, although the dawning realization comes far too late to atone for his error, which Yoda does not even fully grasp until he realizes the sheer futility of his fight with Palpatine in Episode VI.

Same went for Obi wan and Annikan. Now, consider what happened in 3...Annikan defeated him easily. How? By balancing the force. He used his anger, lost his detatchment to some extent. A direct parallel to Luke in Ep VI, except Annikan made that crucial last step of destroying Tyrranus.

Fast forward to the confrontation between Windu and Sidious. Windu arguing for being judge, jury and executioner. The same thing Annikan did, yet he recognized it to be wrong even then. The lines continued to be blurred, what was the difference between the two, when the Jedi had fallen so far.

Here, "Shamgar" puts the problem perfectly, but makes evil into good, exactly counter to Christ's own wisdom in Matt. 26:52 ("Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword"). Anakin wins because he yields to his passion, and he loses because he yields to his passion. Luke, at the last moment, realizes that what he has done is wrong, that he has yielded to the same desperation that led to his mistake in going to Cloud City (where he lost his own hand). With Windu, it is the same. The point, again, is made more clearly in the novelization, which describes Windu's own Force style as "channeling" the darkness in a way, but Windu runs into the same problem that the others have. You cannot defeat fear by negating what frightens you, because that concedes the same conflict of opposites that ends in nihilism, putting one's trust in the things of the world rather than the One Who makes all intelligible in Himself. St. Peter evidently learned this from the Lord's rebuke, as he says "Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling; but on the contrary bless, for to this you have been called, that you may obtain a blessing" (1 Pet. 3:9). Or heed St. Paul "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:21). The Jedi who failed, failed because they put their eyes too much on the world.

Thus, "Shamgar" here makes a suggestion that is insidious in its appeal:
In some of this, and in the books, we see a different side to the force than most of us assumed. We assumed there was a 'good' force, and an 'evil' force. Rather it seems the two sides of the force were seperated by the approach to its use.

The dark side wanted to use the force to make things better. The Jedi believed in 'letting things be' , eschewing the trappings of power. And in the dark side, we see that the use of their power in this fashion has corrupted them, as power generally does. This was the Jedi fear, but they went too far, overreacted in trying to avoid that trap.

On the contrary, the Jedi fear in this instance was quite well-founded. The akrasis (weak will) of the Jedi came exactly from putting too high a value on temporal things and forgetting their own lessons; they eschewed the trappings of power, but not the essence, which is the value of temporal goods (the "security" of the Republic) over eternal goods. In essence, the Jedi and the Sith were flip sides of the same problem: forgetting the ultimate good in favor of mutable goods.

Thus I must both agree and disagree here:
There's more to all this theory, but it is my opinion that Vader did bring balance to the force. Not thorugh any metaphysical mumbo jumbo...but by wiping out the Jedi. They had become completely onesided in their use of the force, causing it to become unbalanced. His actions led to the Jedi regaining their roots, and their sense of balance, specifically in Luke.

Vader did bring balance to the Force in the sense of negating his opposites (the akratic Jedi), but ultimately, that's not where the balance was restored. The balance was restored by putting the emphasis on love and compassion, spurning the temporal goods for what lasts. In other words, the balance was restored in redemption of the created order, in Anakin finally ordering himself to the good beyond himself and transcending the futile war of wills.

So to summarize, I think Star Wars actually turned out to be an incredibly accurate pedagogical tool both for teaching the valuable lessons of pagan virtue and in illuminating the failures that result from its deviation. As noted above, it misses explicitly motivating such virtues, which could lead one to think that it is pagan in its sensibilities, but I believe I have sufficiently noted that the compassionate element in Lucas's thinking partakes of the Christian answer to the harsher pagan philosophies (like Stoicism or Japanese bushido) while still preserving exactly what is good in those ideals. Thus, on the whole, I would commend the entire series for its insight into the key questions of existence, and even for an underlying concept of redemption that is peculiarly Christian, viewing man as microcosm with the parallel struggles of Anakin and the Republic against fear.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Off to the town so nice, they named it twice

Going to a wedding this weekend in the Big Apple, my favorite place in the world to visit (but I wouldn't want to live there unless a multi-national corporation is picking up the tab like last time). I can't convey how many good things I associate with New York City: first and foremost, my daughter (Made in NY, Born in Texas); my first Yankees game (Clemens sweeps the Braves in the World Series for his first-ever title); waking up every morning to see the day dawning over the Statue of Liberty ... those are highlights, but I could go on for days. Anyway, I'm off to wake up in the city that never sleeps, but to commemorate just how dear to my heart the City is, here's the theme song I adopted for my wife and me about our stay. From They Might Be Giants, it's "NEW YORK CITY!!!"

You called me last night on the telephone
And I was glad to hear from you 'cause I was all alone
You said, "It's snowing, it's snowing! God, I hate this weather."
Now I walk through blizzards just to get us back together

We met in the springtime at a rock-and-roll show
It was on the Bowery when it was time to go
We kissed on the subway in the middle of the night
I held your hand, you held mine, it was the best night of my life.

'Cause everyone's your friend in New York City
And everything looks beautiful when you're young and pretty
The streets are paved with diamonds and there's just so much to see
But the best thing about New York City is you and me

Statue of Liberty, Staten Island Ferry, Co-op City, Katz's and Tiffany's
Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge,
The Empire State where Dylan lived
Coney Island and Times Square,
Rockefeller Center
Wish I was there

You wrote me a letter just the other day
Said, "Springtime is coming soon so why don't you come to stay."
I packed my stuff, got on the bus, I can't believe it's true
I'm three days from New York City and I'm three days from you

'Cause everyone's my friend in New York City
And everything looks beautiful when you're young and pretty
The streets are paved with diamonds and there's just so much to see
But the best thing about New York City is you and me

'Cause everyone's my friend in New York City
And everything looks beautiful when you're young and pretty
The streets are paved with diamonds and there's just so much to see
But the best thing about New York City is...
you and me.

I'm a neo-con...federate

I've had a few questions regarding my obvious antipathy for a certain school of Protestant apologetics (and particularly, the Rushdoonyite mentality), so I thought I'd say a few words on that subject. I'd say that my own disturbance with this concept began with reading Francis Schaeffer's How Should We Then Live? Lots of people, particularly Christian conservatives, like this book a lot, because it provides a convenient excuse to blame the liberals and the Enlightenment for every bad thing in society. Not me. Despite the numerous suggestions that I had to simply "look past" the triumphalism, I couldn't, because the triumphalism over humanism and the triumphalism over Catholicism were of a piece in his argument that "Biblical Christianity" was opposed to humanist philosophy. If I thought that his critique of Catholicism was misfounded, then I had to reject the entire argument, not just the piece that I didn't like. And at the root, what I found was that Schaeffer's argument against man-centered worldviews was just as damning of his own Protestantism, rooted as it was in Erasmus's critical linguistic studies, as it was of secular humanism. Indeed, the question I had was "if Erasmus laid the egg, then why would you want anything that hatched from it?"

Another thread, seemingly unrelated at the time, was my firm political commitment to states' rights, which only became stronger throughout law school. Indeed, the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist came as a tremendous blow to me for exactly that reason; no Supreme Court Justice has ever fought so tenaciously for states' rights (as one might expect from any federal court). I did not, at the time, have a word for my idiosyncratic position of trusting the state and local government with such strength; even my liberal classmates considered it odd that I considered it acceptable for states to tax and spend all they wanted so long as it was the state and not the national government that was taking the action. People did not understand how it was that I could be so passionately anti-racism and yet so violently opposed to the Fourteenth Amendment as a solution to slavery (a position that I've held since high school, owing to my teacher Roger Miller's admonition to always take note of the key to history: money). It has only been recently, with the profligacy of criticism about "neoconservatives" in the Bush administration, that I've come across a word that reconciles these paradoxes (neo-Confederate), and it is all the more recently that I have understood the Christian origins of this position in Western Stoicism. But suffice it to say that my opposition to both the Rutherfordian idea of society and the populist notion of governance have been around in my philosophy for just about as long as I've been thinking about them.

Now Greg Bahnsen is a guy that I respect a great deal (unlike Rushdoony, who appears to handle Van Til like a battle-ax rather than a scalpel). The problem is that their concept of human will and virtue is far too Jacobite for any Christian account of freedom, and it undermines the basis on which they purport to be building their understanding. In other words, they are (ironically) starting from an alien presupposition, namely that freedom is a good in and of itself, which is what roots their entire account in the will and knowledge of human beings rather than looking past it. This is precisely what I mean by "Christian empiricism," in that it puts the primacy of reality in human experience rather than in God. A very good summary of my skepticism about the dangers of that sort of thing can be found in the work of Catholic historian Thomas Woods here:

This particular brand of foolishness runs rampant among people who emphasize the "communicative" aspects of Scripture according to the Nicholas Wolterstorff model of "divine discourse," e.g., John Frame, Vern Poythress, Kevin Vanhoozer, and it is not by coincidence that all of these people are in the presuppositional school. Leaving aside the question of whether they are even reading Wolterstorff correctly or whether Wolterstorff's argument itself answers the Barthian objection (I would argue "no" for both), the foundation on which their views are built is unstable at best. In fact, I would argue that it is not a foundation at all.

An insightful and sympathetic article by Art Sippo (who tends toward far more "colorful" statements against Protestants) about the presuppositional difficulties of Protestantism can be found here:

Sippo doesn't directly question Bahnsen's views; in fact, he commends the general approach. But at the same time, the argument he presents is a good one for why Bahnsen MUST be basing his worldview on something other than he claims to be, and my argument would be that what Bahnsen is using as a framework is precisely this undisciplined, anarchic concept of freedom as an inherent good. And BTW, from what I know from people who knew Bahnsen and studied under him, Bahnsen himself was struggling with this difficulty late in his life, and I have heard from dozens of people who have converted to Catholicism by applying Bahnsen's own challenges to his view (an exceptionally gentle and thoughtful example is "Patrissimo" over at the Envoy Magazine forums; I think he considers my own style a bit harsh :-) ). At its heart, Bahnsen critique of Catholicism and Orthodoxy is based on the idea that it is good not to have to believe something, which is the same brand of skepticism that led the Scottish Enlightenment afoul of Chrisitian morality (see, e.g., Hume, Smith, et al.). That's what leads to the following sorts of statements that sound more like atheism by Bahnsen's own standards than Christianity:

Again, it's no coincidence that anti-Catholic Evangelicals are absolutely enamored with arguments like the one presented above. I once had an Evangelical argue that Bahnsen would "eat [my argument] for lunch," presumably based on exactly this sort of argumentation. On the contrary, I think the Catholic neo-Confederate critique eats *Bahnsen's* argument for lunch. I can't see where his view of the human person begins in a substantially different place from the atheist worldview that characterizes liberalism. Bahnsen can't rationalize his own first stance by his own criteria, so his theonomic vision amounts to passing off atheism in the Trojan horse of Christian rhetoric, which correspond exactly to the destructive, anti-Christian populism I am criticizing. Because I've only recently come across Christian Stoicism, it's only recently that it occurred to me that the root of the problem might be a perversion of this ideal rooted in the Scottish nationalistic resistance to Roman Christianity. Not that it makes the antipathy toward Roman Catholicism any more reasonable (in fact, it pretty much proves that the basis for that antipathy is irrational), but at least it is an explanation for its existence, and the disturbing correlation of these attitudes with xenophobic nativism, anti-Catholicism, anti-Semitism, and racism.

So that is, in a nutshell, why I consider the Rushdoony school of theonomy to be an abomination, beyond even liberalism in its destructive force. Liberals don't even attempt to claim that they are Christian, so the "wolf in sheep's clothing" factor is nil. Unfortunately, that is not the case with presuppositionalists in the Rushdoony school.