Friday, November 07, 2008

Full Circle

I feel like this election is an ending for me. I named this blog "Crimson Catholic" because Harvard was the place where I first felt the impetus to seek some real truth. The primary motivator there was seeing the number of people with great cognitive ability who had no reason. By that, I mean that they were philosophical nihilists, sheer relativists unable to provide any reason for what they believed. And when I saw that, it horrified me. I had never articulated what gave meaning to the life, and to be fair, I had always taken God for granted. But at least I did bear that glimmer of natural philosophy that recognized that there was something greater that was the source of existence and meaning for everything that existed. I knew that such there was such a thing as God, and I knew that ignoring him inevitably meant that human life would be worthless.

Barack Obama is literally the bext example of the sort of man that I feared. Morality and theology are "above his pay grade," as he foolishly said in my former home, and worse, in a building dedicated to God. That is what I heard over and over again at Harvard, that we could not "legislate morality" or "force religion on people." For all of the intelligence that this once-Christian institution supposedly embodies, some of the stupidest people in the world can be found there. Pagan irreligion is one thing; mindless anti-religion against even the most fundamental tenets of the natural law is another thing entirely. Slaughtering innocent human beings in genocidal proportions, something that the most ignorant pagan should be able to see as evil, is a matter beyond the competence of this supposedly intelligent man.

But something has happened since then, and it is a great blessing. I have received a peace that surpasses all understanding. My worries and fears over men like Obama have been quieted, not because Obama is any better than I thought, but because I now have a hope beyond these things. There are evil men in the world, but my treasure is in a place where they will never touch it. In defeat in this world, we build a stronghold in the next. So what if evil men seize the power of law? God, the Creator, the source of everything that is good, was killed as a criminal. He proclaimed forever His victory over injustice.

"For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." (Romans 8:3-4)

Before I was afraid. Now faith gives me the same eyes as David, so I pray with him his Psalm:

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want;
he makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil;
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

You can be all flame

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba,
as far as I can, I say my [daily] office, I fast a little, I pray
and meditate. I live in peace as far as I can. I purify my
thoughts. What else can I do?”

Then the old man stood up, stretched his arms towards
heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he
said to him, “If you want, you can be all flame.”

That was the conclusion of the homily at my sister's wedding yesterday. The priest giving the homily, who had studied the Desert Fathers and Mothers extensively, prefaced the quotation with the observation that it would have been inconceivable for the author that his text would have been quoted in the 21st century at a wedding of all places. Nonetheless, he correctly noted that the recognition of the sacramental quality of marriage makes it eminently appropriate. I concur that I cannot think of a better wish for the newly-married couple than that the grace of the Sacrament will brighten day after day.

I am optimistic that this will be the case, particularly because I believe they will have someone special interceding for them. My new brother-in-law falls into a rare category, in that he is the son of a married, Latin-rite Catholic priest. Alas, Fr. John succumbed to cancer about two years ago, but I have no doubt that he will give his special solicitude for the union of Kristin and Michael. And as a ex-Marine and Black Sabbath fan, Fr. John will certainly be a formidable opponent for any demons that might beset them!

If any reader wishes to offer prayers for the newlyweds, for the repose of Fr. John, and for the comfort of his widow Carol, please know that they will be appreciated.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Toil (Thinking about Entropy)

Genesis 3:17-19 And to Adam he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you,`You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you;and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

Colossians 1:28-29 Him we proclaim, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man mature in Christ. For this I toil, striving with all the energy which he mightily inspires within me.

I've heard it said that God selects the patron Saint at Confirmation whose help you will need the most, even if you don't know it yet. I chose St. Joseph as my patron in honor of my father and my late father-in-law, but I had little cause to think that the patron of workers would be the one I would always need most and call on repeatedly in times of trouble. He has been faithful in giving assistance to me, many times when I had not been nearly so faithful in my own devotion. And I need his help often, because work is always a struggle for me.

When I say work is a struggle for me, I don't mean that I have difficulty doing it. Indeed, my problem tends rather to be the opposite in clinging to a problem with such ferocity that I will suffer burnout and exhaustion long before releasing it. Currently, my frustration level is high because I am on a forced vacation because of a company shutdown; I would rather take my vacation in a more efficient way at a time more sensible for my workload. That's my personality; I'm actually irritated when I don't get the chance to work when I want to work.

But here's my problem. It's not that I like working so much; what I like is getting things done. The exasperating part is that somewhere things are not getting done, and that is why the curse of toil really feels like a curse to me. That's because the curse of work isn't just that you work, but that your work is meaningless and unproductive. Per the theme of this series, things are falling into disorder all around you, and the vast majority of what you do is just maintaining some semblance of structure in the fall into chaos. But the real illusion here is just that you are actually getting anything done, even in those rare instances when you perceive yourself as making progress.

So Ecclesiastes says:
Eccles. 2:18-26 I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me; and who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a man who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by a man who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What has a man from all the toil and strain with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of pain, and his work is a vexation; even in the night his mind does not rest. This also is vanity.

There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the man who pleases him God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy; but to the sinner he gives the work of gathering and heaping, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.

Now, I do very much enjoy being with my family, sharing the company of friends, taking food and drink, and benefiting from the fruits of labor, and I firmly believe that these are the sorts of things for which one ought to be working, rather than simply working for the sake of doing so. I have to thank St. Joseph for numerous not-so-subtle reminders to keep me on the straight and narrow in that regard. St. Joseph has a reputation for having a rather literal way of granting requests, even unstated ones. I once read a story of nuns at a convent placing a torn picture of a handyman in front of a statue of St. Joseph in a prayer for someone to perform sorely needed repairs, only to have a handyman show up the next day with one arm missing, the very same one that had been torn from the picture.

My recent reminder for spending too many hours working was one of the worst illnesses I've ever had, a flu-like bug that left me barely able to walk from bed to bathroom for three days. What I've learned from this is that toil itself is a lesson in entropy and our fundamental inability to create except as co-partners with God. It is exactly when our powers fail, when we have nothing left to give and nothing to keep, that we gain the greatest benefits. With my personality, that's a hard lesson, but it's being beaten into me slowly and surely.

I've started weightlifting again for the first time since college, something I had been putting off in favor of "intellectual hypertrophy" (a term appropriated from Bill Vallicella) for many a year. I think I had been resisting that move for exactly the same sense of frustration and exasperation I mentioned above. It just doesn't seem right that you should have to spend TIME just maintaining your body in that way, that it doesn't just fix itself and work perfectly. But that isn't the nature of the world anymore, where one's labor is perfectly purposeful and physical exertion clearly fits into the picture. Instead, exercise works like everything else. It's not those reps where you're throwing up the weight that matter; instead, you're going for that magic point aptly termed "failure." That's the last set, the one where the weight is going up and suddenly your muscles just stop and all of your will and focus and everything else can't get that stupid piece of iron to move one more millimeter. That's the one that makes all the difference.

To reach one last facet of this notion of toil, this entry deals more with my reasons for blogging than anything I've ever written before. Having had occasion to think about this particular theme of work the last several months, what with the forced bedrest and struggling to control the arc of dumbbells that didn't seem so heavy when I first picked them up, I finally figured out what blogging had done for me. See, I started posting on the Internet and later blogging as an attempt to actually do something productive in an attempt to replace the utter lack of purpose I experienced doing legal work. Nothing against corporations or law firms generally for those people who like that sort of thing, but the disconnection from actual human beings left me completely cold and unmotivated toward a career in which I had invested three years and six figures of debt.

Being "on fire" after Confirmation in a way I never had before, I used that energy to study and spread the faith. And this served as a kind of emotional crutch to keep me going when I was sinking into despair. But what I have finally realized, years after the fact, was that this was St. Joseph teaching me another lesson. As much as I felt that blogging was for some purpose, that I was solving some problems or making some things clearer, it was really when I was most incapable of bringing people around to my way of thinking that I was learning the most. So when I was pushing against someone who was completely intractable, not moving them an inch, someone else would benefit completely beside my intention with respect to my dialogue partner. What I wanted to do was to advance the dialogue on a number of points, but I've almost invariably found the dialogue to be in the same place as when I entered it, yet it seemed somehow that I found greater peace in the fact. I think that is probably what the best apologists understand, in that they recognize that they are in some ways simply providing resistance in a kind of passive way, letting God do his work rather than being in the business of compelling belief (Dave Armstrong and Mark Shea in particular seem to be those sorts of guys), but it takes a while to absorb that sensibility.

Having reached something of a plateau that regard, I wonder what I will do. In weightlifting, you switch your exercises around to work new muscle groups in new ways to attain balance in your training. I feel like I am at the point of needing to do something different, since I appear to have been drawn to apologetics, metaphysics, and the science of theology in some sense to learn that they cannot do what I first set out naively to accomplish with them. My sense is that I need to preach even more than teach, but I'm not sure exactly how I will go about doing that. But for the first time in a long time, I feel at peace with both the uncertainty and the freedom, and having learned my lesson to some extent, I believe that I will simply enjoy it. Thus ends the series, and I believe that I will take an indefinite break from blogging while I ponder these things.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A filioque footnote

I interrupt my soon-to-be-completed series to provide this footnote to Mike Liccione's filioque VIII post. Fr. Giulio Maspero is one of the foremost experts on Gregory of Nyssa among contemporary scholars, and he first came to my attention as one of those rare priests having a scientific background equally formidable with his theological learning (he has a Ph.D. in quantum physics, and his work was in an area of personal interest: stochastic quantum mechanics).
At any rate, I think he has the best take I have encountered in the scholarship re: Gregory's use of dia tou yiou, and I reproduce a brief excerpt from one of his works here with the hope that it will entice people interested in this subject to read the entire work. I've transliterated Greek text in what I hope to be an understandable way; footnote citations are omitted, and bolding is mine.

The conclusion is that one cannot understand the significance of the dia tou yiou
if one does not pay attention to the personal characteristic of the Spirit: the one who united the Father and Son and who leads to unity. For, with a beautiful expression of B. Forte, the Spirit is the "us in person of the divine communion." Thus, one can affirm that, in the context of Nyssian thought, the Spirit as syndetikon is the exegesis of the dia tou yiou, from which it can never be separated. This should be the most original contribution of the present study: this connection is almost totally passed over in the literature, which is principally dedicated to the study of the divinity of the third Person and, in the few cases in which his procession is treated, one gets often sidetracked in polemics of verbal Byzantinism.

Thus it was seen, that the base of the whole Nyssian construction is the continuity between economy and immanence: the sending of the Holy Spirit by the Son cannot be solely limited to the economic sphere.

It is probable that this development of Gregory's Trinitarian doctrine is due to the great value that he places in creation and to the purification of the remnants of Origenistic intellectualism that still slowed down Basil's pneumatology. For the Spirit is, at the same time, the One who brings to completion the dynamic of intra-Trinitarian union and who attracts and unites man and the world to the Triune God, inserting them in his vortex of life and love.

The summit of Gregory's pneumatology is then, precisely the recognition of the personal characteristic of the Third Person: he who leads to union, in immanence as in the economy. He is the syndetikon, the bond. His mode of being God, his mode of containing the unique divine essence, is the holos einai: that is, to carry to unity, to constitute a whole. This syn- of syndetikon recalls immediately the syn- in the syneklamponta of the Son with the Father: in this way it is shown that the fundamental category is intra-Trinitarian koinonia. B. Forte cites 2 Cor. 13.13 and auspiciously notes that, precisely due to his personal characteristic, in the greeting use by the primitive Church koinonia was attributed to the Holy Spirit.

In this sense, the accent moves to the Trinity as union of love. In the communion of the Father and the Son, which point one to the other, on the real level as on the logical level, the Spirit is not a complement, a simple extension toward the economy, fruit of an almost subordinating conjoined spiration. The Spirit rather unites the Father and the Son in as much as Spirit of the Father and of the Son.

Trinity and Man: Gregory of Nyssa's Ad Ablabium (Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae series, vol. 86, Brill: Leiden and Boston, 2007), p. 184-85.

Fr. Maspero goes on to make the explicit connection to Latin theology on pp. 185-87:

So, in the Nyssian dia tou yiou the accent is placed on the tou yiou, on the communion of the Father and the Son, and not on the pure passivity of the dia. The same phenomena will be reproduced in Latin theology, where the nexus amoris eliminates the danger of dialectically and logistically opposing the Son to the Father, in generation as well as in spiration. The nexus amoris shows, in fact, that in the Filioque the accent is on the Filio and not on the que. With the same operation the dangers of "theological filioqueism" are eliminated, which, with an almost rationalistic coldness, dissects the Trinity, separating Paternity and Filiation from Spiration and Procession.

Such a deformation would lead to negate the Trinitarian reciprocity of the Spirit in relation to the Father and the Son. In fact, from a purely logical viewpoint, only the Father and the Son are in relative opposition. The temptation is then born to move from the logical level to the real one, affirming that, while the Spirit is relative to the Father and the Son, united in the unique spiration, one cannot say however that the Father and the Son are, in their turn, relative to the Spirit.

In synthesis, in Latin terms, l'unus Spirator is unus precisely by the Person of the Spirit, who is the union, the syndetikon, of the duo spirantes, united and distinct in their proper Paternity and Filiation by their mutual Spirit. Spiratio is, in fact, the unique respiration of love of the Father and Son: to be Son does not only mean to receive all from the Father -- to be his perfect Image but also to give to the Father perfect glory, to give everything back to the Father. It is in this manner that the Son manifests the Spirit in his Filiation to the Father, who is in this way fully Father, receiving his own glory from his own Son. This is the circular dynamic of glory seen in the [Adversus Macedonianos, De Spiritu Sancto]. But, at the same time, since it is proper of the Son to give to the Father all glory, it is the Son who sends the Spirit in the economy, extending into time the eternal movement that characterizes him as Person, to attract all to the Father. The Spirit is then like the eternal 'regard' of the Son to the Father, which for love of the Father himself reposes on creation and is extended as the gaze of the Crucified Christ, that fascinates and conquers. Gregory's equilibrium is, thus, perfect.

Therefore, while confronting Nyssian pneumatology with Latin doctrine, two considerations are necessary: on one side Gregory purifies the category of 'cause' of the temporal dimension and of substantial inferiority, transforming it into a notion that signifies fundamentally 'origin'. Thus the Nyssian aitia is notably closer to the Latin principium. On the other hand, it is also necessary to consider that Occidental pneumatology does not intend, with the Filioque, to introduce a second cause in the Trinity. The key point is the consideration of the Spirit as bond of union in the Blessed Trinity.
In my opinion, Fr. Maspero closes some important gaps in the pioneering work of Fr. David Balas, and Fr. Maspero does a great deal to correct the misinterpretations of Latin theology and Gregory's work as a result of the "verbal Byzantinism" described above. Upon reading his work, one will not doubt that he supports his position with close textual analysis, and I must again commend the study of this excellent work for those who wish to grasp the complicated issue of the Spirit's procession from the Son.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Qurbana (Thinking about Entropy)

Matthew 9:13 Go and learn what this means, `I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.

None of our Lord's words in the flesh drive home to me the theme I have attempted to convey in this series as much as these. As I have repeated throughout this series, we cannot help but destroy; the only question is whether what we break down is offered to a higher order. But our sinful condition, deprived of the assistance of God's grace, is such that much of what we do is stupid, pointless, or evil, an act of sacrifice to our cherished idols rather than God.

This is why sacrifice has always been inseparable from Christian worship, so much so that many rites call it qurbana or qurbono, which means "offering." In a world in which we can do nothing right, the only thing left that we can do is to abandon ourselves entirely to God. There is no other source of hope or meaning in human existence but to give our lives to Christ. This is the pure offering (Mal. 1:11) prophesied in the Scriptures. This is the offering foreshadowed by offering the lives of animals within the blood back their Creator to be consecrated in His holiness. This is what is taught in the Epistle to the Hebrews, which says (Hebr. 9:22-23) "Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these." To approach God's holiness, one must render to God the things that are God's (Matt. 22:21), to "continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name" and to "not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God" (Hebr. 13:15-16). As St. Paul says, "I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Rom. 12:1). And elsewhere he says of himself, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain," (Php. 1:21) and "Even if I am to be poured as a libation upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all" (Php. 2:17).

Nor can we forget that it is only in Christ that we are able to make this qurbana "for there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time" (1 Tim.2:5-6). Just as Christ is the eternal mesites (Mediator) of the divine Love in the Trinity with the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son as the bond of love between them, so does Christ through offering of Himself on the Cross establish the bond of love between God and man, so that we may becomes one spirit with Him. So also testifies the Epistle to the Hebrews: "Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred which redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant."(Hebr. 9:15). The Letter goes on to say:

For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the Holy Place yearly with blood not his own; for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him (Hebr. 9:24-28)

The Epistle to the Romans says:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:1-4).

And the Epistle to the Colossians testifies also:
He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities -- all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross (Col. 1:9-14).

We offer our entire lives to God through the Holy Mysteries, particularly those Sacraments of Initiation into the Church: baptism in which we are buried in Christ, confirmation in which we are sealed in the life of the Spirit, and the Eucharist, which is the qurbana of the Church as the one Body of Christ.

Rom. 6:3-14 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Rom. 7:1-4 Do you not know, brethren -- for I am speaking to those who know the law -- that the law is binding on a person only during his life? Thus a married woman is bound by law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. Likewise, my brethren, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God.

Rom. 8:10-18 But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you. So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh -- for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Col. 1:21-26 And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the divine office which was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints.

Col. 2:9-3:4 For in him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fulness of life in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him. Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath. These are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, taking his stand on visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch" (referring to things which all perish as they are used), according to human precepts and doctrines? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting rigor of devotion and self-abasement and severity to the body, but they are of no value in checking the indulgence of the flesh. If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

1 Cor. 6:14-20 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, "The two shall become one flesh." But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

Gal. 2:19-20 For I through the law died to the law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Thus is the entire pattern for Christian life defined:

Matt 19:16-22 And behold, one came up to him, saying, "Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?" And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments." He said to him, "Which?" And Jesus said, "You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself." The young man said to him, "All these I have observed; what do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.

Luke 14:26-33 "If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, `This man began to build, and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace. So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

But if the only offering that we can make is uniting ourselves to Christ in the Spirit, the worst that we can do is to spurn the opportunity to make an offering of ourselves. So Jesus says it succinctly: "Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come" (Matt. 12:31-32). His words are echoed in the Epistle to the Hebrews: "For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries. A man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace?" (Hebr. 10:26-29). Be mindful of the warning of St. Paul, who says "By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith, among them Hymenae'us and Alexander, whom I have delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme" (1 Tim. 1:19-20).

For this reason, Scripture constantly enjoins us to use our time wisely, since even in merely subsisting in existence, we are destroying something and wasting time if we do not put what we have broken down to another, better use. As the Gospel of Matthew puts it, "I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37). Numerous examples of this call to watchfulness can be found, particularly in those Scriptures read during the season of Advent. In a way, the Son of Man is always here, coming on the clouds to judge the sins of the world according to the condemnation of sin in the flesh on the Cross (Rom. 8:3; cf. 1 Pet. 4:6). Thus, the Scripture says that not even a generation passed from Jesus's time on earth before this was realized (Matt. 24:34), and while it was most graphically illustrated in the temporal judgment and destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70, the power and judgment of God is now constantly shown in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Early on in the life of the Church, this was believed to refer to the imminency of the temporal Second Coming, but with the lessons of history, we realize that this is a constant fact of Christian life. Each Christian personally lives at the end of the age and passes on to the next, and each one faces his particular judgment that will eventually be summed up and recapitulated in Christ at the end of time (1 Cor. 15:20-28).

In addition to this sense of constant watchfulness as temporal beings, we have been given one gift in particular that exemplifies sacrificial self-giving and participation in divine work even at the natural level. That gift is the gift of human sexuality. Even though our rational activity is in the image of God and all sins against nature debase our rationality and lower us to the levels of beasts (2 Pet. 2:12), no particular human act is so intrinsically suited to God's use than the one that makes us coworkers in the special work of divine, creative love (viz., the special creation of the human being, body and soul). It is precisely because the generative power is the most purely sacrificial act that the misuse of this gift is one of the gravest offenses against God. Sexual sins are acts of anti-sacrifice, taking what is by nature ordered to cooperation with God and seizing it for one's selfish use.

Those who dismiss the tradition of Christianity to condemn sexual sins as being based on crude biology completely miss the connection Jesus draws between mercy and offering to God. It isn't a question of human life actually residing in the seed, as if spermicide were homicide, but in recognizing the nature of sexuality as an offering to God and its importance in His creative work. Even if one were to dismiss the numerous explicit references to the gravity of these sins made by the Apostle Paul, it would miss the forest for the trees to think that Jesus didn't address them. To say, for example, that "Jesus never said anything about homosexuality" is to miss the necessary implications of His teaching about charity and sacrifice, His explanation of marriage, and His condemnation of adultery. It is not without cause that the Jewish tradition condemned "wasting the seed." Just as in the case of wasting time, the sense is having this power given to us for a specific purpose that can be squandered, a lesson writ in the very nature of finite being.

I have had cause to think of this perhaps most seriously since I recently completed my thirty-third year. At this point, Jesus had nearly poured out His entire mortal life. And as my wife pointed out to me, "doesn't it make you feel bad when you think about how much Jesus had done by this age?" Indeed, it does, and it should. Most of my life has been spilled out to no purpose, as I am sure many people have experienced. But I find some comfort in the teaching of St. Augustine that God can save even this, so that even what we have wasted can yet be turned to our good and redeemed in the man who perceives God's purpose and ordo for creation. And I have hope in this: that even though we are built to die, Christ has made death the door to the Holy of Holies, the path to God.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Killing the Meme Softly

I wanted to have a bit of fun in between the more serious mood of this "Thinking about Entropy" series that I should finish shortly. Hence, I'm adding my contribution to Arturo's meme. But I am not tagging anybody, because I don't feel like thinking that hard right now about who would actually want to fill this in. I'm not following the rules, so there! >:P

1) What I was doing ten years ago
Engaging in a prolonged, intensive liver workout that happened to coincide with graduate school in physics. More specifically, my friends and I were following the Red Wings Stanley Cup run and consuming prodigious quantities of beer and Mexican martinis (residents of Austin, TX, will recognize the latter).

2) Five [non-work] things on my to-do list:
a. Build our IKEA kitchen table (how has IKEA not made the "Stuff White People Like" list?).
b. Learn Latin, koine Greek, and Thai.
c. Read the New Testament in at least one of those languages.
d. See Elton John in concert on Saturday.
e. Root for the Ducks and Lakers in the playoffs.

3) Things I would do if I were a billonaire
a. Quit my job and hang out with my kids all day.
b. Pay off all of the family debt.
c. Buy a place in Dana Point with an ocean view that is close enough to walk to church.
d. Move my parents, brother, and sisters out to California.
e. Donate some ridiculous amount to my parish, to Catholic charities in Orange County, to the 12th Man Foundation, and to the physics departments at Texas A&M and texas university.

4) Three bad habits:
The Falstaff trifecta: Sloth, gluttony, and drinking.

5) Five places I have visited:
TJ; Montreal; South Bend, Ind.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Miami, FL

6) Five jobs I’ve had:
Movie theater usher (best kid job ever!); cleanup of construction sites in Louisiana in the summer (best job for convincing you to stay in school); teaching assistant; research assistant; patent attorney. What's weird is that is probably every job I have ever had.

7) Five snacks I enjoy:
At the risk of reinforcing one of my bad habits...
a. Chips and salsa, ideally with a frozen margarita w/ salt and a sangria floater to wash them down.
b. "Mmmm, donuts." My favorite kind is chocolate covered and "custard-filled" in Krispy Kreme parlance. Where I come from, they didn't have Bavarian creme, so we called them "creme filled."
c. Beignets. I had to mention them separately to distinguish them from donuts. I freely confess to being a beignet snob. I can't stand it when someone drops powdered sugar on a sopaipilla and pretends it's a beignet (not that I've got anything against sopaipillas, but come on, people!). And I don't like to eat beignets with inferior coffee.
d. Twix, the only candy with the cookie crunch and the staple of the long workday.
e. Edamame. I had to put that one in just to note that I don't eat only junk food.

8) Five places I’ve lived:
This will look like cheating, but it says "places," not "cities."
a. Louisiana. Spent my whole childhood in Lake Charles with the exceptions of brief stints in Metairie and Houston and summer outings in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
b. Texas. In descending order of likeability, College Station (aka, Aggieland), Austin, and Dallas.
c. Massachusetts. The one I'd most like to forget. I find it hard to believe that I was a Celtics fan growing up (at least before Rick Pitino turned it into the University of Kentucky at Boston). Since living in Cambridge, I get physically ill at the thought of any pro team from Boston winning anything. Suffice it to say, football and baseball have been pretty painful for me lately. I'm hoping that the Lakers beat the Celts in the finals this year, because that would be the most painful outcome for Boston fans.
d. Manhattan, staying across the street from Battery Park with the missus. It wasn't even a year, but I fell in love with the City. I don't think I will ever have another experience like waking up to sunrise over the Statue of Liberty every day. I can remember how surreal it was when I went looking for the tower of light 9/11 memorial, and it turned out that it was projected from the cinema where we went to see movies several times. But the best part was that we came home with my first child, my little baby daughter.
e. The O.C. I was reminded of how much I love it when I read a post by M.Z. Forrest. He remarked "The story went that one could make more money elsewhere, but the cost of living would be higher. This argument was that things basically equal out. I still think that there is some truth to this, but there are a lot of things that don’t equal out. Trips to Disney World cost the same whether you are from Chicago or Escanaba, MI." I would just point out that trips to Disneyland are a hell of a lot cheaper when you live in Orange County. So are trips to the beach, to Sea World, to the San Diego Zoo, and to L.A. (if you actually wanted to go there for some reason, like a Dodger game). Not to mention that my commute is half what it was in Dallas, and based on the reduction in property taxes and utilities and more favorable lending terms in California, I'm actually paying only slightly more per month for my condo in California. Granted, it's a much smaller space, but in SoCal, you can go outside in absolute comfort pretty much year round, so you needn't spend nearly as much time in the house anyway. The only drawbacks are (1) family is halfway across the country and (2) you never know if Sacramento is going to pass socialized health care, a 50% income tax, or some other nightmarish piece of legislation that will ruin our lives.

OK, that was fun and reminded me why I like life so much. Now I can go back to grim and cheerless esoterica.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Mar Thoma (Thinking about Entropy)

John 20:26-29 [RSV]
Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe."

During the Mass remembering Doubting Thomas this past Sunday, I received an exceptional gift: the gift of clarity. In part this was due to a well-spoken homily by Fr. Chris Heath, one of the excellent priests of our parish. But that homily brought me to see that many of the themes that I had been pondering this Lent (and to some extent, my whole life) were recapitulated in the person of St. Thomas. I hope to express how my own little epiphany, pale shadow that it was of St. Thomas's own, still something of the same quality.

Fr. Chris's homily contrasted the moment that caused St. Thomas to receive his dubious nickname, Doubting Thomas, with the remainder of his life as the Apostle to India, where he is called Mar Thoma. While St. Thomas was the last one to accept the Resurrection, not believing until he had seen it, the people he converted to the Christian faith were probably those least likely to have near experience of Jesus. It is even said that he converted Hindu Brahmins to his faith. Kerala, where St. Thomas was supposed to have arrived in India around A.D. 52, was something like Alexandria in Egypt, viz., a port city that included multiple cultural and religious tradition. To this day, the people from this region are called Nasrani (Nazarenes), because of the identification of the ethnic group native to Kerala with Christianity having a distinctive Syriac-Hebrew emphasis. While there were some Jewish settlers, both previously resident and recently arriving in response to persecution, the culture of the region was no doubt remote from Jerusalem, and St. Thomas's evangelical success could not have come easily. But as Fr. Chris suggested, perhaps it was because St. Thomas knew the struggles with doubt so intimately that he was so successful at convincing those who had not seen to believe.

This struck me personally because I had a realization of how much of my life had followed the path of Thomas in some way, apart from the rather obvious biographical connection of having been baptized Catholic (chosen as a disciple) and then becoming a doubter before returning to the faith. St. Thomas could practically epitomize Western empiricism in the passage from the Gospel of John quoted above, so I can hardly claim to be different in having embraced the attitude "show me, and then I will believe." But what suddenly became overwhelmingly apparent to me in a way I had never seen before was the connection between St. Thomas and India, which brings together several disparate areas of my own life.

My experience of Christianity has probably been similar to many people's experience, and it goes something like "NOW it all makes sense!" I don't mean that in an exhaustive sense, as if everything gets explained. On the contrary, it is more like the idea of having finally stumbled upon the key that unlocks the possibility of explaining everything, where you had previously been facing a locked door. But as the mysteries continue to unfold, there are always new and surprising levels of awareness, and this blog is intended in large part to share those realizations as they come to me. One could liken this picture of Mar Thoma to a kind of meta-realization in that regard, bringing together several themes that had emerged previously.

The first theme is that I have always been drawn to various aspects of Indian religion on a personal level throughout my life. I have mentioned before that my childhood religious upbringing (to the extent I had one) centered around the comparative mythological studies of Joseph Campbell, particularly reflected by George Lucas in Star Wars, and Hindu mythology was a significant part of that theme. Even in Catholic life, I have significantly benefited from the teaching of Thomas Merton, and I am particularly fascinated by the brief period before his untimely death when he had a closer contact with Buddhism than he ever had ever been before. On the more mundane level, my best friend in Orange County (whose birthday we are celebrating tonight) is Buddhist, and we have had many discussions about the common elements between Catholicism and Buddhism. In some way or another, I have always been interested in the Eastern religions that originated in India.

Turning to a theme more directly pertinent to my current state, I have never felt more "at home" in any liturgy than I have in the Syro-Malabar rite of Holy Qurbana, which I attended several times when I lived near the Syro-Malabar mission in Garland, TX. I credit that feeling as having no small significance in light of the fact that I was culturally quite uncomfortable, not because the people there weren't some of the most friendly and gracious people you could meet, but because I and whomever I managed to drag with me to "Indian Mass" were the only white people there. When I say "the only white people there," I mean that literally. They had Sunday school classes for the kids upstairs, and one time I was there, a girl who was about four or five excitedly exclaimed "Look, mommy, white people!" Those kids were learning Malayalam so that they could understand parts of the liturgy, including the Gospel reading; lacking that training myself, I had to look it up when I got home. Afterwards, I had to stammer some sort of response to "Please have some coffee and donuts, and why exactly are you here?" I couldn't really explain, because I didn't really know. I'd been to other rites before and since ... Byzantine, Tridentine, Maronite ... and the culture shock is common to all of them to some degree, but I never felt drawn to them in the same way. Now, I wonder whether it wasn't the fact that it was a land converted by Mar Thoma, a whole culture that never saw but believed, that I instinctively recognized.

Lastly, the connection with India touches on the physical/metaphysical theme that has been running through this series of posts. Put quite simply, I think pagan Vedic philosophy has a better handle on the concepts of destruction at the heart of this series (and to some extent, modern science) than pagan Greek philosophy does. Compared to Kali, the Manichee principle of matter and the Gnostic archons look pretty pathetic. Here's an interesting aside: when Latin America was attempting to express its religious independence from Spain and Portugal, various groups adopted the story of St. Thomas in India as their own, going so far as to cite him as the origin of the god Quetzalcoatl. It is surely an interesting cultural phenomenon that the legend of St. Thomas adapted so well to the inheritors of the Aztec culture, another culture that confronted destruction in a far more graphic way than Western culture. It is another example of the unlikely reception by a culture that had not seen Christ of the witness of St. Thomas. It seems that these cultures who have seen the dark side of life more immediately find something that resonates in the disciple who doubted but then gave the most remarkable witness.

I believe my perspective here has also been influenced by my professor E. C. George Sudarshan (articles available at this website), who taught me quantum mechanics in graduate school. Professor Sudarshan is from Kerala, India, the same place Mar Thoma arrived in the first century. He studied physics at the (Anglican) Church Missionary Society College in Kottayam, Kerala, which now has a center named after him. He also has the rather dubious distinction of having had the Nobel Prize in Physics twice given to other people for his work, first in 1979 and more recently in 2005. (The latter case was egregious, because the prize winner Roy Glauber had actually accused Sudarshan of committing an error and only after Sudarshan corrected him did he accept and disseminate what is now known as the "Sudarshan-Glauber representation" or more briefly "the Sudarshan diagonal representation." Personally, I think the paucity of Indian Nobel laureates in physics might well have something to do with the reluctance of Westerners to admit that Indian culture might originate scientific ideas outside the ambit of Western culture.)

I respect Prof. Sudarshan because he seems to have found the golden mean in recognizing the importance of philosophy for science without falling into the trap of making science into philosophy. As far as I know, he is not a Christian, but he is well versed in Vedic philosophy and knows something of Christianity as well (one might note his description of natural law here: "The 'word becomes flesh': sabda entails dravya."). Several of his Seven Science Quests involve fundamental questions in our knowledge of the world, and I have already recommended his book (with Tony Rothman) titled Doubt and Certainty, which explores these themes in some detail. Even in the secular understanding of physics and metaphysics, the ideas were from the same cultural milieu where Mar Thoma's Gospel was received.

I find it comforting that all of these themes of science, of philosophy, and of religion can be brought together in the Christian witness of Mar Thoma. I find it comforting because the Church in India has always given me a sense of hope. The St. Thomas Christians were treated badly by missionaries of both religious and political stripes. But somehow, Malabar and Malankara Christianity has survived intact, and that survival is testimony that Christianity has lasted and can last with an authentic character, one that can be reconciled with the Holy See and the later ecumenical councils even when culturally and historically remote from both. Like the Maronites (another Syrian Christian rite), they witness to the fact that separation is not insurmountable, that there is no historic Christian witness opposed to unity. And from the text of John's Gospel, itself a message passionately devoted to the theme of Christian unity, the words of St. Thomas echo through the legacy of his own life. They reverberate with this theme: the hope of uniting all things in Christ.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Foolish Genealogies (Thinking about Entropy)

Titus 3:9
But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels over the law, for they are unprofitable and futile.

In preparation for St. Patrick's Day, I did a bit of digging into my Irish ancestry. I knew about my great-great-grandmother Sarah Jane O'Neal, but I found at least one other ancestor of Irish descent: Daniel Malone, purportedly of County Westmeath, but more probably born to parents of Irish ancestry in Yorkshire or thereabouts. Oh, and his son might have been married to Scottish royalty in hiding (don't you love crazy family legends that can never be proved or disproved?).

I also found a couple of lines of descent from Irish Quakers, who probably shouldn't really count as Irish, since they were really English folks who moved to Ireland for about a generation to avoid persecution while they made arrangements to get over to Pennsylvania. The Irish Quaker names ended in my line when my 5x-g-grandfather James Lindley was hanged as a British loyalist in Georgia, which seems like a hard end for a guy whose dad Thomas had died as a pacifist helping to tend the wounded of both sides in the "Battle of Lindley's Mill." Being a Quaker, Thomas couldn't rightly pick a side among the guys who were firing guns on account of his mill being a good location for ambuscade, so he tried to ameliorate the misery created by the situation and got shot for his trouble. James's daughter Mary ended up marrying a Scotsman named Abercrombie (alas, not a royal in hiding this time, though his ancestor was a royal falconer). They seemed to have done well for themselves, although after the tragic end of her father and grandfather, most anything would have been a step up. Mary's daughter married another hard luck case, an orphan raised by a kindly aunt and uncle, but misery seems to have bypassed the family after that.

To explain why this hasn't just been an excuse to tell family stories, this inquiry got me thinking about what it is that fascinates us about genealogy and how it pertains to St. Paul's warning against stupid genealogies. From a metaphysical standpoint, the problem of genealogies goes straight back to Adam. Since Adam, we have had human souls from a multiplicity of people, not just one or two. These lives are therefore fragmented, the human nature being scattered in time and space into all of these individual people in their limited historical circumstances and individual biographies. The quest for genealogy is really a quest to gather up the pieces of this smashed picture and to collect them into something recognizable. It is trying to rebuild a human nature that we recognize is somehow broken in this vast separation between people, trying to recapitulate all that brokenness in ourselves.

But we can't do that. There is only one person in history who was capable of doing that, and it was Jesus Christ. His particular genealogy also matters in that regard, because His recapitulation of the human nature also recapitulates the whole biography of Israel. Attempting to find that sort of wholeness outside of Him is doomed to be a futile exercise. Only in Him does all of humanity with the biographies of every one of us make sense. This is not to say that natural genealogies are somehow a bad aspect of humanity, as if the command to be fruitful and multiply were a curse. Our families, our parents, and our culture are all blessings from God in their own limited way. It is only when we attempt to stretch, when we attempt to procure immortality through our offspring (as St. Maximus the Confessor warned) or otherwise attempt to extend these natural blessings beyond what they can bear that we fall into the trap of "stupid genealogies" that St. Paul disdains. The rabbis of his time were trying to find an answer that in their personal descendancy that could only be found in Christ, and we should beware of doing the same.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Death, Naturally (Thinking about Entropy)

There has been no small amount of thought dedicated to the philosophical proposition that death is somehow "unnatural." I suppose that there is some truth to that idea if by "nature" one means ousia, in the intensive sense of the universal principle causing a thing to be what it is, but that is a tautology at best (eternal ideas can't die). But on this Passion Sunday, I hazard to say that it cannot possibly be true as applied to the human physis, the ousia as actually embodied in human beings. We are dying from the moment of birth; our life as humans entails this.

The physis, the embodied nature of humanity, is both finite and material, and it is in this that our death becomes certain. Our causality might best be described as the causality of dust. We make nothing, and every sort of action we take, even merely persisting in existence, destroys something else. There is no option for stasis; even our inaction is destructive, and we are always on the clock. The ONLY way that this destruction becomes purposive is if it serves the purpose of making a transition into a higher order (N.B., I have heard that Scotist metaphysics organizes form in terms of orientation to higher order, and that would seem to be in the same spirit). But the destruction is inevitable; the only question is whether what we break is broken in order to make something better.

St. Augustine, the Doctor of Grace, understood this concept of ordo as well as anyone else. I believe this is what underpinned his notion of grace, in that it was not that nature was evil so much as limited. It would never suffice to merely focus on any created thing for its own sake, which would simply turn the creature to its own destruction. On the contrary, the capacity for this higher order can only be found in the use of things for God in His divine providence (see this excellent lecture by Vernon Bourke for St. Augustine's explanation of enjoyment, use, and delight in use). Ultimately, divine providence orders everything, even the acts of evildoers, which is the manner in which even evil is turned to greater good. Indeed, this simply reveals the true nature of what evil does by embracing its own destruction; what the evildoer sought to accomplish is destroyed in the very act.

The difficulty is that we lack even the possible capacity to grasp the full implications of our own destructive power. That is the inherent difficulty involved in the difference between ousia and physis that I mentioned earlier. The man as particular and material is knowable only indirectly with respect to some act, but destruction is built into our nature. Again, St. Augustine knew this, but his knowledge in this regard has ironically been used to charge him simultaneously with Platonism and Manichaeanism. He is charged with Platonism for arguing that it is only through some divine infusion of sapientia in the form of the divine ideas themselves that people can have knowledge (see this example). Then, he is charged with Manichaeanism for supposedly asserting that evil is built into the material nature of man. As against both extremes, I elect the middle: I believe he is speaking of nothing other than the real finitude of man's mode of existence. The virtues themselves might well be eternal, but our mode of realizing them certainly is not. Our causal mode is both finite and destructive, and those sorts of elements require not merely scientia but sapientia to regulate well in their application.

This also opens up the possibility of inculpable inadvertence, where our will is turned wrongly simply because we did not know the way to turn it. Unintentional sin is not a notion that receives much favorable press, because we immediately assume that inculpable acts do not bear guilt. And perhaps this is true, but perhaps they were also our (foregone) opportunity to make the world a better place. Perhaps we squandered our destructive causality in such a way that something was broken without anything being fixed.

My personal example comes from this very Palm Sunday Mass. On the way, my wife was packing snacks to keep my little ones occupied, knowing that the Passion Sunday Gospel was liable to exhaust their attention span. I saw her putting some juice into the bag, and I questioned whether we needed to bring juice, primarily because I thought it had a higher mess potential than, say, Cheerios, which are relatively easier to pick up. Truth be told, I can't say that it wasn't also in my mind that it is much easier for me to supervise children with more controllable snacks and that it might spare me some irritation when my son decides he enjoys the juice box more as fire hose than source of sustenance. But she said it would be better for the kids as compared to the risk to carpet and pew if we were diligent, so I went along. It turned out that a diabetic lady two rows in front of us fainted during Mass, and her family had brought no snacks along, so we ended up giving her my son's juice box before the paramedics arrived.

Of course one could not attribute to me knowledge of this at the time, but without my wife's wisdom, that little tendency toward inattention and lack of effort on my part could have been the difference between this woman being conscious or comatose when the paramedics arrived. Now I don't think that this was sinful lack of effort (my objections could even be considered reasonable even apart from consideration of my own personal effort). But pace Fr. William Most, it gave me a much better understanding of how John of St. Thomas might well have been right when he said that inculpable inadvertence in response to sufficient grace, not by way of fault, could justify God in depriving one of efficacious grace later. We give too much credit to knowledge in the moral sphere and not enough to wisdom, and God only knows what sorts of particular situations we might encounter. This has only been multiplied in the circumstances of original sin and the multiplicity of the human nature, in which we are all born into human nature in variegated occasions completely beyond our control, subject to a death sentence from birth.

St. Augustine's point then seems to be a quite simple one: since we don't know what or why these opportunities comes to one and not another, and since God has no obligation to give any particular set of opportunities to us, we ought to pray sincerely that we are given not only what we need, but even the guidance to do the best when we are given it. This is no different in kind between the answer that Mike Liccione gives and has given with regard to the mystery of evil and the particular historical biography, so I will not belabor the point further. I simply note the the finite and destructive nature of our causality and the inability to know enough analytically to guarantee that we are not disrupting order uselessly means that humility and prayer is never out of order, so that we will not even squander what little we have.

And so, we heed the words of the Gospels:
Matthew 25:24-30 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, `Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' But his master answered him, `You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.'

Mark 4:24-25 And he said to them, "Take heed what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For to him who has will more be given; and from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away."

Luke 19:20-27 Then another came, saying, `Lord, here is your pound, which I kept laid away in a napkin; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man; you take up what you did not lay down, and reap what you did not sow.' He said to him, `I will condemn you out of your own mouth, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money into the bank, and at my coming I should have collected it with interest?' And he said to those who stood by, `Take the pound from him, and give it to him who has the ten pounds.' (And they said to him, `Lord, he has ten pounds!') `I tell you, that to every one who has will more be given; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them before me.'"

This brings me to the (literal) subject of Passion Sunday: Jesus Christ. For it seems that He ought not be subject to this infirmity of these unprofitable servants who gain no good from their lives, and indeed, He is not. That is not to say that He is not subject to death as a human being, because He certainly is. But His hypostasis is subject to death only voluntarily and without separation from the divine will. Unlike us, He had control over the circumstances of His own birth, and this is why He assumes the entirety of the human nature that He received in particularity from Mary. On the other hand, what He destroys through His particular exercise of the human causality is never destroyed uselessly or pointlessly but always for the use of God. His personal exercise of human will is in perfect conformity to the will of the Father; thus, from today's Gospel reading of Matthew 26, He says "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt." Once again, I credit another blogger(Scott Carson this time) for having elaborated the theme so well that I can simply repeat the conclusion without the explanation. Christ does not will His destruction for its own sake (He has a genuine will to self-preservation; He truly does not want to drink the cup) but He wills with the will of His Father that there is a purpose for this destruction, which can only be known through divine grace that surpasses human understanding. That is a sublime understanding of the human condition, and one that only the Son of God could experience in its full depth.

There are at least two elements of protest against this understanding that I have heard from time to time. Some suggest that there was no necessity of Christ's death but for the action of evil men. Had Adam not sinned and fractured human nature into a needless multiplicity, perhaps this would have been true, because then Adam's own death might have been the path to resurrection for humanity (I leave as beyond by theological and metaphysical competence whether Christ's Incarnation would have nonetheless been necessary, and perhaps some supernatural intervention like bodily assumption might have accomplished the transition from morality to immortality). But given the condition of humanity, I must concur with Gregory of Nyssa that Christ had to assume not only the ousia of human nature but its physis. Human nature, collectively, was subject to death as individuals, and so Christ had to have all four stages of humanity: generation, growth, death, and resurrection. Jesus might have died peacefully of old age, rather than violence, perhaps with His Body and Blood being broken and poured our metaphorically by the destructive nature of material existence. This is why I suggest that it seems at least more fitting to hold the tradition of the Dormition in that Mary suffered death in solidarity with Jesus and all of humanity, even though there are occasions of people being spared (as in Enoch and Elijah).

The other objection is that if humanity could miraculously be made immune to sin, death (by assumption), and the like, then it immediately follows that this should be done for everyone by a loving God. I think it evident from the presentation above that this simply misunderstands the cause of sin and death and the real situation of humanity as actualized in individual persons. These matters are so bound up with the individual situation that it would be impossible to generalize from one case to the whole, and I have pointed out that one would not be so presumptuous with one's own children. One could know to a moral certainty that a baptized child killed before the age of reason would go to Heaven, but one would never slay one's own children in infancy to avoid the risk of damnation for them, God has the judgment over life and death, not us. Besides, Jesus Himself did not encourage His disciples at Gethsemane to pray that they would be like Him in perfectly knowing the will of the Father, because He knew full well that this was impossible. Just as we have finite capacities for realizing the timeless and eternal virtues, so we have finite capacities in the mimesis of Christ. Instead, Jesus says in today's Gospel reading "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." That is more than adequate as an answer to any objection to what I have said here, and thus ends the meditation.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The archbishop of Babel (Thinking about Entropy)

I had the occasion to deal with a concrete instance of the Babel-ing I described in my last post. Dr. Scott Carson had recommended taking a look at a work of Joseph P. Farrell that had recently become available. Dr. Carson rightly chastised one commenter for mentioning that since Farrell was goofy on historical matters like Nazi flying saucers and the Giza Death Star, since it doesn't follow that having a flawed methodology in one area makes you incompetent in other areas. In response to Dr. Carson's statement that "it does not follow from that, of course, that his theological views are as insane as his physics," I pointed out that much of what Farrell says is little different than similar goofiness he had previously identified (e.g., romantic visions of the Confederacy, John Hagee's wacky apocalyptic theology) and that both methodologies suffer from the same fundamental flaw (what I called Babel-ing in the earlier post). I am reproducing my comments here to provide some additional context for those earlier reflections:

While I agree with the principle, I think they are in this case. I've read the Giza books just to see if it were the case that both were insane. Based on his take on paleophysics, the various references to Christianity, and his rejection of the "Western" critical textual method, the two conclusions (theological and scientific) appear to be rooted in the same fundamental goofiness. IMNSHO, one might glean that from his historical fiction. If there were a metropolitan of Babel, it would be Farrell. His is an idea beyond the possibility of feedback from reality, speculation without evidence or experiment, and I do not plan to fund that sort of nonsense any further than I already have.

The problem I see is that Farrell's anti-Catholicism doesn't seem to be different in kind from John Hagee's anti-Catholicism or the romantic view of the Confederacy, for example. It's just a matter of degree. Zionist conspiracy theories aren't much different than Frankish conspiracy theories in the end. And Hagee's madness has a pedigree in historical Protestantism, just as Farrell's has a pedigree in anti-Western Orthodoxy. One might argue that the Protestants misunderstood Catholicism just as badly as Mark of Ephesus et al. did. But if that's the case, then one might as well not beat up Hagee for uncritically accepting crazy beliefs either. Farrell may be more polite and educated, but I don't think that excuses him for being wrong.

At this point, I just regret that so many smart people have been sucked into pseudo-scientific, quasi-mystical gobbledygook about "dialectic" and whatnot. Everything I have seen suggests an extremely selective disregard for the clearest historical counter-evidence, and I don't know how to deal seriously with people who can't deal in reality. Hagee and Farrell suffer from the same brand of delusion, and I'm not inclined to give Farrell a pass because he's more educated and articulate. Well-spoken insanity is still insane, and possibly the more diabolical for it.

I mention all of this because you strike me as a guy who is willing to call "bullshit" on anybody, be it a "very promising young scholar and theologian" for his "redolence of Bultmann," a priest for his "dreamy-eyed longing for one of the most despicable periods in American history," or your own employer for dragging people halfway across the country when they don't have a chance of being hired to fulfill a diversity quota. Unlike the previous commenter, I am not hiding behind any cloak of anonymity, and I am not attempting to poison the well. I think Farrell's uncritical acceptance of both his own sheerly speculative premises and the unfortunate prejudices of his historical subjects (e.g., Photius) is just irresponsible, and it is the same M.O. at work in his historical and scientific works. Moreover, if Asher Black's assessment at Energetic Procession is correct, the current spate of anti-Western Orthodoxy, with its concomitant urination all over the prospects of Catholic-Orthodox ecumenism, comes "not from the fire started by Fr. John Romanides ..., not from all the anti-Augustine thinkers out there, but from the planting of these things all over the English-speaking world by [Farrell]...." I would add on a personal level that there are two guys whom I happen to like a lot who are, in my view, squandering the best years of their intellectual life on anti-Western bigotry. We can write off Farrell, Hagee, and every other historical revisionist as "eccentric," but it hasn't been your habit to do so, and I'd encourage you not to give Farrell the benefit of the doubt when he has done little to deserve it.

At least consider that the noticeable stultification in thought on the issue of the filioque and the "beyond being" stuff, which you yourself have noted more than once, is directly connected to Farrell's work, based on a similar uncritical and revisionist methodology. Farrell's pseudo-profundity has been the lead lemming for more than a little of this intellectual cliff-diving.

In response to a request for more specific information concerning Farrell, I mentioned the following examples:

As to Farrell, I can pinpoint the moment the Farrellites lost me; it was when I read an article linked off of Asher Black's Filioque webpage (the same Asher Black who is currently publishing GHD). I scrolled down to this article on The Frankish Papacy's Involvement in Judeo-Masonry (my favorite gem of anti-Semitism: "The hidden hand of Talmud and Kabbalah is revealed wherever the Jewish people are made the objects of veneration and sanctity"). Asher Black's link section includes the disclaimer "At the same time, we freely list and annotate resources we may have serious qualms about - we don't accept the fallacy of guilt by association - nor does any rational creature." But I assume that to say "see especially X" is not indicative of any such serious qualms. And besides, if what's sauce for McCain's goose is sauce for Asher Black's gander in this instance. It doesn't suffice to indicate disagreement when the person in question has specific ideas that make him appear crazier than a bedbug, and you haven't gone out of your way to deal with that. And this is a close confidant, even a disciple, of Farrell's.

Perhaps you think that this brand of Franco-Roman conspiracy is a bit more extreme than the strain endorsed by Romanides and Farrell, so I picked another serious political example just to point out that it isn't just Hagee who has odd opinions about world politics.

I read this letter that John Romanides wrote to President George H. W. Bush in 1992. To be fair, he doesn't actually accuse the Pope of collaborations with Nazis; he just implies it:
"The Frankish bishops described herein by Saint Boniface in 741, as well as "Saints" Lanfranc of Canterbury (1070-1089) and Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) were, by civilised standards, common criminals. Yet the latter two, and others, who support their positions on killing by religious orders in the name of Latin Christendom, are still considered great saints by the Vatican. This raises the question of whether the Vatican simply tolerated or also supported the World War II massacres of Serbs by Croats and of Jews by Nazis. So long as the Vatican does not officially reject the practises and theories of such 'saints,' the Balkans will continue to be in turmoil, especially when coupled with the Islamic Jihad."

Romanides ties this back to his Franco-Roman conspiracy theory:
"However the Croats became Latins after the Roman Papacy was abolished and replaced by the current Franco-Latin Papacy, having at the time also come into dependency on Ostmark East Franks and the Hungarians. The Serbs, together with the Romans of the West Balkans and Southern Italy, reacted by joining the church jurisdiction of New Rome. The Saxon and Celtic bishops of England also refused to accept this Franco-Latin Papacy and were exterminated by the Normans."

I assume the fact the one takes this stuff sufficiently seriously to write a letter to the President indicates that one's belief has political implications, even though it doesn't have the traction here that it would in Greece. To me, this whole "Franco-Latin papacy" idea is about a basic anti-Teutonic animus that dates back to hostility between the Byzantine empire and the Franks. It is Romanides's quackery that causes him to see the modern situation as "Dark Age Crusades in modern garb under the cover of Western Civilisation," when he is the one living in a (mostly mythical) past of his own devising. The fundamental notion is not just that Catholicism (the "Franco-Latin papacy," as Romanides puts it) is wrong, but that it is so wrong that it inherently produces these bad results. It isn't merely the accusation that people are in heresy, but that Catholic dogma actually *produces* socialists and Nazis, as if they are entailed as a logical consequence of the dogma.

That is essentially the idea here: that Catholic dogma has built-in defects inherited from barbarians (read: Teutonic culture) that causes us all to behave like barbarians. It is based on this conspiracy theory about the Franks coopting the papacy in the 11th century. And because we Westerners lack the enlightenment of the East on Greek philosophy, we have simply latched on to the worst aspects of "Hellenism" from which the Eastern Church was purified, particularly in the acquisition of Aristotle in the West.Now one might say that that was Romanides and not Farrell, but I think it relatively clear that Romanides's political understanding and the position of Farrell on the so-called "Second Europe" found in this excerpt from GHD simply isn't that different.

This is sort of reasoning is not analysis (how does one reason from calling St. Bernard a saint to suspicions of collboration in the Holocaust?). It's just name-calling, and name-calling with a disturbingly ethnic character. I'm not going to excuse the deals the papacy made with the Franks and the abuse of the Eastern Church during the Crusades. But there is a HUGE difference between viewing that as a significant lapse in judgment (in the same way that I take you viewing much of Christianity as having lapsed into heresy) and some conspiracy theory that views it as the pernicious influence of a barbaric ethos in the very psychology of being an obedient Catholic. That is, in my view, the result of the same pseudo-scientific rendering of ancient history that Farrell practices, and indeed, it is the sort of name-calling that Farrell himself licenses.

The fact that these folks are fewer in number than Hagee is simply one of the God-given blessings of self-restricting insanity: even if lots of people are crazy, it's hard to convince them to be your particular strain of crazy. On the other hand, I can't see any way around the notion that this whole "history and dialectic" routine is, in fact, crazy. When you see things like "filioque is the sum of all heresies," "ecumenism is a cabal (literally) between liberal rabbinic Judaism, Freemasonry, and the Pope," and vague adumbrations about fictional entities like the "Frankish papacy" and the "Celtic Orthodox Church," that's crazy.

If people want to make some purely metaphysical or even historical argument about the untenability of some specific theological belief (as David Bradshaw does), I have no qualms about listening, because I can respond to that and disagree based on some real facts. I can say "no, you've got Aquinas wrong" or "no, that doesn't follow." But when this historical speculation completely severed from close textual analysis and specific historical evidence of intellectual derivation starts coming down the pipe, the place starts looking like a pig sty, and I have no desire to wallow in the muck. And that's what you get with Farrell: a bunch of mudslinging about the Second Europe that basically accuses the Western mind of being "aberrant" without evidence. Maybe they're right; maybe Orthodoxy really does hold this stuff as dogma in the Synodikon or whatever. But that is hardly to Orthodoxy's credit if true.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Babel (Thinking about Entropy)

What I consider to be the most profound consequence of modern science is that it gives definite knowledge about what we cannot possibly know. For ancient Greek philosophy, that was nearly a contradiction in terms, and the heretic Eunomius even said as much. Only Christian apophaticism, perhaps most clearly expounded by the Cappadocian Fathers, challenged this premise. Of course, some Greek philosophers were a good deal better at reconciling themselves to this idea than others; for example, Aristotle's empiricism was less vulnerable (though not immune) to the problem of overstating one's knowledge about reality than Platonic idealism. Both Aristotle and the Cappadocian Fathers deserve their own discourse, but the point for the moment is to note that modern physics has certainly had the rather novel effect of attempting to draw reliable experimental conclusions about what we do not know. For a good introduction, I recommend the work co-authored by my quantum mechanics professor E.C. George Sudarshan titled Doubt and Certainty (and unfortunately subtitled The Celebrated Academy Debates on Science, Mysticism, Reality, in General on the Knowable and Unknowable With Particular Forays into Such Esoteric Matters as the Mind Fluid, the Behavior of the Stock Market, and the Disposition of a Quantum Mechanical Sphinx, which sounds like it was taken from the title of a Fiona Apple album). That work cites several important examples of how modern physics and mathematics builds in limits to knowledge (notably Goedel's Incompleteness Theorem, statistical mechanics, incomputable chaotic systems, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle). And of course, Zubirian metaphysics is intended to capture what we have learned in this regard in a systematic way.

I find this lesson of modern physics illuminates some basic difficulties about the hubris of human knowledge. Effectively, modern physics ought to be able to teach some humility, because it puts hard limits to what one can conclude regarding any particular case. But the lesson is a good deal older, going back to Genesis 11:1-9:
Now the whole earth had one language and few words. And as men migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly." And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built. And the LORD said, "Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech." So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Ba'bel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

Some people are inclined to take this passage as saying that it is really within the power of humanity to render nothing impossible, as if there were some true form of ancient knowledge that could render human power practically limitless compared to human whim. On the contrary, it seems clear to me that this is not about actual power; it is rather about the disposition of the people in question. It is not so much that nothing will actually be beyond their power, but that nothing will seem impossible to them. And this highlights precisely the problem of not understanding the limits of Adam's natural (and good) gift of "making names," which is the essence of human positivism. It is not so much that these names will actually give them power over the things named, but that the namers will believe that it does, and so they will no longer be restrained in what they believe themselves able to do. So as a blessing to them, YHWH scattered them and divided their languages to prevent them from being unified in this error. Modern physics is simply the recapitulation of this lesson, a message built into nature by its Creator, in response to the unification of science in the language of mathematics. Like all lessons built into creation, this lesson is fundamentally Christological as well, but that again deserves an explanation that must wait.

This is the lesson built into creation: if you attempt to say more than can be said according to certain knowledge, you will begin to Babel. (I use the original word here for the verb form because I do not want this particular confusion to be mixed up with the connotations of our modern cognate "babble.") When you Babel, what you say does not correspond to real meaning. In a real way, your projects become confused and unfocused, and you plan to build what you cannot possibly build. You overreach with your positive constructs, and you end up speaking something that is meaningless. That is the fate of anyone who becomes too enamored with the explanatory grasp of their theories.

The Schoolmen reached the pinnacle of the human capacity for knowledge by combining a healthy degree of skepticism from Aristotelian metaphysics with the humility of Christian revelation. It was built into their very method; this is why disputatio followed lectio. One had to ground oneself in the certain and reliable principles before disputing, because the temptation in otherwise to begin with positive formulations without examining their grounding in reality, and this never leads to knowledge but confusion. It was the Christian humility in their method that prevented them from erring wildly or unaccountably, in a time where empirical science had not observed many of the phenomena that would suggest the principles mentioned above. This Christian humility pervaded even the discussions of principles that were certain as a matter of metaphysics, which allowed the Christian attitude to prevent even natural error.

Alas, their example has scarcely been followed since. That is practically inevitable, for reasons that Anthony Esolen describes well. Indeed, it is the failure to recognize the inevitability that produces the error. People simply don't know the limits of their knowledge well, which causes them to overconfidently stride across the bounds of their knowledge, and that produces error. I've played Sudoku on a couple of recent plane trips, and even though it appears that one never needs to guess at that game, I'm sure there are plenty of people who do. It's a microcosm of the same impulse toward overconfidence, wanting to make a move rather than trying to understand what the board is giving you.

The pernicious characteristic of Babel-ing is that it affects people who engage in intellectual work most profoundly. The reason is simple: these people like least to face their intellectual limitations, and they take the most pride in being able to "contribute" something to the alleged wealth of human knowledge. I speak from experience. Until I learned humility through failure, I never realized how limited I was, although I was well aware that I was not the most brilliant or gifted mind. I had my own personal Babel; I was scattered from the place I had thought to build up a life to a place God found more suitable, a place of which I knew nothing. For that reason, I was particularly struck by the opening line of the movie Bella echoing a long-held belief that circumstances had simply driven home more clearly: "If you want God to laugh, tell him your plans." I knew that lesson, and I had known it many times in my life in many different ways, but I let the knowledge slip away many times before it was driven home. I will probably forget it again, but I pray for God's mercy to let me be more receptive to reminders in the future, so that they can be more gentle.

As I said above, this lesson is built into creation, and this is logical because the root of the delusion that produces Babel-ing is simply a prideful attempt to cross the line between Creator and creature. We forget easily that we have no power to create anything real, including knowledge, and that whatever knowledge we have was received passively from God's creation. Our explanation simply describes what we know; it never creates it. Although St. Thomas speaks of the "agent intellect," the action is nonetheless triggered; it is not our own creation. Even in art, which is a true work of creation, the forms themselves come from what we know. There is certainly a spark of the divine in the poet or the visual artist, just as there is a spark of the divine in the grasp of the agent intellect, just as there is a spark of the divine in the prudent judgment and action of free moral agents, just as our very existence as creation in the image of God shows divinity. But there are natural limits to all of these things (and particularly to our knowledge of them), confined as they are by the finite circumstances and experience of creation.

Ironically, even in the exercise of these limited natural methods, the science of the true metaphysicist teaches the same lesson of humility as practice of the true artist and the true poet and even the true politician and true moralist, albeit in completely opposed ways. The true metaphysicist rigorously examines our limited ability to scrutinize particulars as particulars, while the true artist by his very craft produces an irreducibly particular embodiment of his experience using a creative process mysteriously enabled by the circumstances of his experience. But pure practice of any of these methods in a fallen world is highly doubtful, even impossible, and the temptation to Babel in these fields is all the greater for their enormous positive. This is why metaphysicists, scientists, artists, poets, politicians, and moralists tend to be the worst Babel-ers, and this is why the Enlightenment, Kant, idealism, and positivism are repeated errors, even though they ought not to be. Particularly among empirico-mathematical scientists, the humility that ought to result from strong empiricism is turned upside down, so as to draw definite conclusions outside of what they possibly could have known according to their method. It is a classic Babel-ing scenario, offering methodological conclusions outside of the necessary limits of the method.

One could think more on exactly what aspects of existence produce Babel-ing, and perhaps I will do that in the future. But my Lenten meditation for now is simply to focus on the problem, so I leave with the following points for consideration:

1. Babel-ing is extending Adam's gift of naming beyond its finite limits.
2. People who engage in intellectual work are most likely to Babel.
3. The more profound the sphere of the intellectual subject, the greater is the likelihood of Babel-ing.
4. Babel-ing has been a recurrent theme in the serious intellectual errors of human history.
5. The only proven cure to Babel-ing is humility in the recognition of one's creaturely limits, either through Christian virtue or through the fundamental recognition that one's accomplishments, even the creative ones, always depend passively on reality. Unlike God, we do not create from nothing.