Wednesday, November 02, 2011

You're Not the Boss of Me

It's interesting to note that, regarding the note on financial reform released by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace is being met in such a way.

When encountering a document there are three distinct questions you ask:
1. What does it say?
2. What does it mean?
3. Is it true?

As a Catholic, there is the added consideration of whether or not the teaching promulgated through the text (if any) is binding, so it is legitimate to ask about its magisterial authority.

But the default is to welcome promulgations of the Holy Mother Church and prayerfully consider them rather than to instinctively or automatically regard them with suspicion.

In any case, the order of questions that I'm seeing, regarding this document, is:
1. How magisterial is it? MUST I believe what it teaches?
2. ONE WORLD GOVERNMENT!?!?!

The upshot is (and this analogy was drawn by a relative of mine):
The council is obviously poop-headed. Old men in the Vatican don't know anything about economics. They can't tell me what to do with my money. I don't have to listen to them. Nyah.

Yes, but what are they saying, what do they mean, and - most importantly - is it true?

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

E-Bike

I recently bought an electric bike. I promptly drove it into some bushes. Take that, bushes!

When I need a quick ego boost, it's fun to glide past people going uphill, in funny spandex shorts, on normal bikes. It doesn't even leave me sweating. Ha Ha Ha!

But it stopped going with its normal vigor.

I brought it back to the e-bike place and tried to explain the problem in very technical terms.

Mechanic: So, what's the problem?
Me: Well, it goes funny...and when I hit the accelerator...throttle...it's just weird.
Mechanic: It... goes funny. Oooook, can I have the keys and I'll try it out?
Me: *hands over keys*
Mechanic: *starts it up and accelerates* OH! THAT'S what you mean, right there!
Me: YES!

The initial diagnosis is that there are gears slipping somewhere in the contraption. It will be fixed ASAP. Then I will once again terrorize the streets of Berkeley on my e-bike. Bushes better be fearin'.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Story of the Cat-Giraffe


(The cat-giraffe as drawn by my sister.)

Once Upon A Time

There was a cat called Charles who got his head stuck half-way out a window. He tried to get out of the window by pushing it open - but the window was set fast. He tried to get out by pulling. He pulled and he pulled until at last his head came out with a "pop."

Then he looked down and realized - oh no - that his neck had been stretched! He chalked it up to fate and ran off to play with the other cats.

But the other cats looked at him and said "You aren't a cat! You're a giraffe!"

So he went to the zoo and tried to play with the giraffes.

But the giraffes said "You're not a giraffe! You're a cat!"

Charles was so sad.

Just then some astronauts came by and said "You would be a perfect specimen to put into our test rocket!"

So the astronauts put Charles in their test rocket and sent it off to Mars. When the rocket landed, Charles tumbled out and looked around the strange landscape.

Why! There were HUNDREDS of cat-giraffes who ran up to Charles and said "Heeeeeey. You're just like us! Do you want to play?" Charles DID want to play.

And Charles was very happy.

The End.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

This quote popped into my head, as I was attending the blognic:
This is to say that instead of being grouped and assembled, as in the Middle Ages, in a homogeneous and integrally Christian body of civilization, limited however to a privileged portion of the inhabited earth, it seems that the unity of Christian culture must now extend over the whole surface of the globe, but, in return, represent only the order and living network of Christian temporal institutions and Christian centers of intellectual and spiritual life spread throughout the world in the great supra-cultural unity of the Church. Instead of a mighty fortress raised up amidst the lands, we should rather think of the army of stars distributed in the sky. Such a unity is not any less real, but it is diffuse instead of being concentrated.
-Maritain
I had the great pleasure, yesterday, of meeting Hilary, Seraphic, one of the authors From the Pews, a nice FSSP seminarian from Belgium who knows some friends of mine in...Nebraska ("who doesn't know them!?" he exclaimed)...and other lovely people.

Of course, I was extremely jet-lagged, having just flown in from California, so I was alternately abrupt (aieee!) or dozing over my one-beer-a-week (which the doctor said I could have, provided that my liver functions continue to be unaffected by all the drugs I'm on).

From the blognic, I gathered that there is a concern tickling the online community: does the blogosphere cheapen (so to speak) what constitutes Real Relations between people? There were gentle and constant reminders to get out and Do Things in Real Life (presumably with Real People). It is certainly not unusual that blogs and other mediums like twitter, facebook, etc., encourage a more superficial approach to communication, particularly given the ease with which one may post anything without adequate reflection, phrasing, or spelling. But, as with graphic novels, each medium conveys information differently. So what do blogs convey? How? To Whom? I am still too jet-lagged to reflect on this subject, but it is matter for reflection.

Brilliant

Friday, April 29, 2011

Me too, me too!

What I would like to know is why it is limited to theologians and not open to philosophers?

Theology and philosophy go hand in hand. It is part of the intellectual renewal to ground theologians in the history of philosophy, its methodologies, and metaphysics. Otherwise you run into problems of credibility - not within the eyes of the world, but within the rigors of the field itself.

Philosophy has had a huge impact on the history of the world and our understanding of being - to be ignorant of that history is to deprive yourself of insights and leaves you open to errors that have been repeated time and again. The methodology of logic is indispensable for any being aspiring to the study of higher things. How do you politely say "oh hai!!! ur doing it wrong, Mr. Theologian - middle term must be distributed at least once in t'eh premises." Reason must be sharpened. And finally - metaphysics. How to stress its importance enough? I think I'll just point here.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

He's My Kind of Pope

"The world is a product of the Word, of the Logos, as Saint John expresses it, using a key term from the Greek language. “Logos” means “reason”, “sense”, “word”. It is not reason pure and simple, but creative Reason, that speaks and communicates itself. It is Reason that both is and creates sense. The creation account tells us, then, that the world is a product of creative Reason. Hence it tells us that, far from there being an absence of reason and freedom at the origin of all things, the source of everything is creative Reason, love, and freedom. Here we are faced with the ultimate alternative that is at stake in the dispute between faith and unbelief: are irrationality, lack of freedom and pure chance the origin of everything, or are reason, freedom and love at the origin of being? Does the primacy belong to unreason or to reason? This is what everything hinges upon in the final analysis. As believers we answer, with the creation account and with Saint John, that in the beginning is reason. In the beginning is freedom. Hence it is good to be a human person.
...
Hence the world can be saved. Hence we can and must place ourselves on the side of reason, freedom and love – on the side of God who loves us so much that he suffered for us, that from his death there might emerge a new, definitive and healed life.
...
The first day of the week was the third day after Jesus’ death. It was the day when he showed himself to his disciples as the Risen Lord. In truth, this encounter had something unsettling about it. The world had changed. This man who had died was now living with a life that was no longer threatened by any death. A new form of life had been inaugurated, a new dimension of creation. The first day, according to the Genesis account, is the day on which creation begins. Now it was the day of creation in a new way, it had become the day of the new creation. We celebrate the first day. And in so doing we celebrate God the Creator and his creation. Yes, we believe in God, the Creator of heaven and earth. And we celebrate the God who was made man, who suffered, died, was buried and rose again. We celebrate the definitive victory of the Creator and of his creation. We celebrate this day as the origin and the goal of our existence. We celebrate it because now, thanks to the risen Lord, it is definitively established that reason is stronger than unreason, truth stronger than lies, love stronger than death. We celebrate the first day because we know that the black line drawn across creation does not last for ever. We celebrate it because we know that those words from the end of the creation account have now been definitively fulfilled: “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). Amen."

-Pope Benedict XVI, Easter Vigil Homily 2011

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Clarity - it's what's for breakfast.



First off - Happy Easter to All! Buona pasqua! Christ is Risen! Glorify Him!

I have friends across the globe and it's beautiful to observe the Alleluias sound in Rome, touch the East Coast, and roll inexorably onwards towards the Bay Area. I can't wait until the Vigil this evening when we add our voices to the celebrations of the Universal Church.
----------------------------
Secondly...Clarity - it's what's for breakfast.

Subserve: sub - to be under | servire - to serve = "serving or acting in a subordinate capacity."
Obedient: oboedire - to obey = "complying with authority"
(Ref: Dictionary.com)

There is this one phrase that will, in 3 seconds, start a fire-storm: "women should be subservient unto men."

Oh no you did'uhnt.

Since Ancient Greek Times, there has been some equivocation between terms regarding people in subservient positions. I.e. slaves. Aristotle proposes, for our intellection, that there are two broad categories into which people fall. People incapable of self-direction towards contemplation - and ordering action to that end - are slaves by nature. Slaves by convention are those people who have the above capability but, through circumstances, have somehow been prevented from exercising that capacity. There is more to being free for Aristotle - like being a Greek citizen (male, 35+ years old) - but I'm setting that aside.

Instead, I want to expand on the concepts of nature and convention. Say that you are a free citizen. In fact, I hope you are a free citizen. If you're a line-cook, I'd say you are subordinate to your boss/owner and must comply with legitimate orders. However, the boss is not able to exercise authority in those areas beyond his level of expertise: i.e. the plebeian owner cannot tell the line-cook how to chop veggies. There is a proportional relation between the boss and the cook.

Being under (in both line of command and capacity) a legitimate authority is not a bad thing. Human beings are marvelously diverse and our capacities are not uniform. Some need more direction than others. Bertie Wooster needed his Jeeves. But when a person tries to usurp an authority to which they are not entitled then the entire operation goes janky because the proper relation is disturbed. There are many benign reasons for such errors: a person might overstep their authority because they mistake particular circumstances. It happens. This is quite forgivable, though unfortunate.

However, we are mostly speaking so far of conventional things. The claim that women should be subservient to men is something that goes deeper than convention and is analogous to the claim that men should give right worship to God: it's something that goes down to our very being and nature. Incidentally, my mind may be playing tricks on me...but...in the Gospels I always seem to remember Christ as being obedient rather than subservient to the Father, which makes sense since Christ is, with the Father and Holy Spirit, worshiped and glorified. I think that might help shed a little light on the matter. Christ came to make us Sons of God, to join in His heritage. I am not claiming that we may ever be equal in any capacity to God. But consider the language. God does not want us to be slaves but sons.

The problem that I have with subservience is when it is understood as being rooted in inferiority of nature. That is, women, by nature, would be akin to slaves: incapable of self-direction. This pernicious idea often masquerades as something unobjectionable. In the natural order, men are so constituted that they are particularly fitted for the task of directing a family though the woman is co-equal with the man in terms of her nature. Consider partner-dancing. You have a leader and you have a follower. The unity of movement is accomplished only when the man and woman come together voluntarily to create harmony and beauty and the woman voluntarily hands over control to the man. The follower is no less than the man - her role is simply different. She *could* direct herself, should she so chose and freestyle dance like none other.

The idea of inferiority of nature happens when this role of being-directed is understood with a slave-mentality. That is, that women, by nature, do not have a certain role which it is particularly fitting that they take within certain structures/relations - but that women, by nature, lack something that only men - by nature - can have. This causes women to be subservient/inferior and gives men a privileged status of master-like authority de facto.

Ew.

The equivocation is dangerous and simply appalling. That is why I have a problem with anyone who says that women should be subservient to men. We are plagued in our times by fuzzy and hasty reasoning, by sayings, by soundbytes. It is easier to stick with a phrase, chanting it like a mantra, enshrining it in the saying of a holy authority or text, than to actually untangle all the meanings and distinctions or to scrutinize the phrase within the context of the universal church and submit to her opinion.

I also suspect that many people don't know what they really mean when they say women should be subservient to men and that is why they resort to examples of subservience when pushed for clarification. It's actually rather Socratic. What do you mean by subservience? Well, the woman should ask her husband for permission before doing such and such a thing, a woman should not interject herself into rational arguments, the woman should know her place is to take care of the kids, the woman should not get a job or an education because that makes her uppity, etc.

Let's recast this: if you had a daughter, wouldn't you want her to plunge deeper and deeper into the knowledge and love of God? Isn't God present in all aspects of being? Including the sciences? What if your daughter has a passion for science and wants to be a nano-technologist? What earthly reason would you have to stand in her way? Don't you love her?

--------------------
Thirdly...

My sisters tell me that I usually have a huge grin on my face when sleeping and that it's rather creeeepy. I can't think why...


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Rome Blognic

Oh goodness! I will be in Rome for this event. How exciting, ne? And the Scholar's Lounge is a nice place to hold this event. The bartenders didn't even get annoyed at me when I was dancing with a young man who'd semi-inadvertently been in his cups a bit, bumping into patrons, and being a nuisance - despite the sign up on the wall that clearly stated that no dancing is permitted in the pub.

Which goes to show:

1. There is space! and,
2. The bartenders are nice!

Edit: if you're a blogger or an interested party AND in Rome on May 3rd, you should sign up on FACEBOOK for this event!

This is the list of confirmed attendee bloggers:
Michael Voris
Salt n' Light TV's Rome correspondent
Rorate Caeli
New Liturgical Movement
Orbis Catholicus
Fr. Zuhlsdorf
Seraphic Singles
Discover Happiness
Ars Orandi

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Web Comics

Every now and again, I evaluate the webcomics/manga floating about the land and see what's worthwhile. As a kiddie, I gobbled up Tintin, Asterix and Obelix, Nausicaa, the Far Side, and Garfield. Then I matured and read many morbid Bronte books because they seemed safe. Mmm! Well, except for Garfield. Not all children develop taste right away. But, now, there is Garfield minus Garfield, so partial redemption is possible.

Comics are a powerful medium. When the plot couples impeccably with the image it's so...beautiful! Enthralling! Delightful! But comics will never achieve the depth of a Dostoevsky novel. I'd contend that the medium doesn't lend itself too well to thoughtful reading or reflection. The space to write is contracted, making the writing/narrative produced somewhat simplistic and absorbable. Or maybe it's just my modus operandi that gives me that idea - I tend to inhale/snort webcomics. Om nom nom. (Tangentially, I am quite proud of the fact that I've taught the wee Italian boy I watch, in Rome, to say "OM NOM NOM" when he is eating.)

More action is required of comics than of books, faster timelines, more comedy. Which is not to say that complex moral questions and dilemmas cannot be conveyed, or meaningful dialogues. These questions, dilemmas, and dialogues can be highly compelling as there is an aesthetic "oomph" and an intellectual component that appeal to our human nature. However, most comics will opt not to delve deeply into complex issues and focus on adventure, action, comedy, etc.

Nevertheless, comics aren't prose novels and don't attempt to pretend to try to be such - they're something else, entirely: a blend of image and word. In their own right, they stand as a remarkable medium in which to convey a story.

Here are some webcomics/manga (loosely speaking) that I love. They're not particularly deep, for the above reasons, but they're awesome:

- Lackadaisy Cats
- Hyperbole and a Half
- One Piece (DON'T base your judgment of One Piece off the English anime dub)
- Star Drop
- Buttercup Festival, series 1 (I think it's funny.)
- Ellie Connelly
- Beaver and Steve (on hiatus, but if you haven't read it, it's a good'un)

And these are some rules I have:
1. No magic princess plotlines in which the princess - the only one able to save the kingdom - is spirited off to another world and learns of her heritage when called upon to save the land at a conveniently adolescent age when she also has T'EH HIGHSCHOOL PRESSURES to deal with. ZOMG!

2. No comic which has a "Hmm... Your clothes are inadequate - let's buy you new ones!" story arc. It's pointless and doesn't endear me to the character. It makes me want to punch the character.

3. Gorgeous art + no compelling plot = bad comic. It does take practice to become a good writer - but if you ain't got the spark, you ain't got the spark. On the other hand, good plot + bad art = good comic. Content drives form!

4. Depressing comics without a note of hope are on my poo-list. I really don't care if a comic is principally sad. But when it presents a world in which there is - essentially - no hope of ANY kind of redemption (personal or eternal), it's just wrong. I'm not talking about characters in a comic who don't believe in redemption. Most great books are built on the tension a character feels towards that possibility (the Power and the Glory, anyone?).

5. Excessively violent comics are out. Depending on the type of comic and the type of violence, this is more or less palatable to me. Depicting violence for the sake of violence because you think blood and guts are pretty is...disturbing. The fascination with dark things taints a lot of comics, subtly influencing our aesthetics and damaging our perception of the world.

6. Full-out frontal noodity/rampant sexuality are also right out. A number of comics resort to these shock-tactics in order to get attention. This is a mark of a poor writer and seriously disordered passions.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Virtual Choir



Eric Whitacre is a bit of a brilliant composer - and he had the very neat idea of creating a virtual choir: interested parties submit videos of themselves singing one of the alto/soprano/tenor/base lines which are then spliced together. The result? Pure awesome.

In Whitacre's words (not to be confused with WHITAKER'S words):

Does God Will Evil?

This is something I wrote back in the Fall (slightly modified), on Question 19, Article 9 of the Prima Pars. Does God will evil? Well, no. But He does will to permit evil. Therein lies the philosophical explanation as to why a completely good will - which is always fulfilled - can exist while evil exists. Even so, Aquinas' explanation in the Summa is not entirely satisfactory. There's something slightly off about how quickly he deals with the active and permissive will of God. But, then, our understanding of God is limited by our human way of thinking which can never adequately capture God's reality and being (don't go down the path of the Divine Names!).

Article 9: Does God Will Evil?
Since we have established that God’s will is always fulfilled, how can one reconcile evil with the will of God? Aquinas says that the good and the desirable are identical, whereas evil is the opposite. Evil, as such, can never be directly desired since it is the opposite of what is desirable. But evil may be desired indirectly, because “evil has a good attached to it, but this goes with being deprived of another good.”[1] God wills His own goodness above all, but He wills some particular goods more than others. Moral evil “He wills in no way.”[2] He does, however, will in some way physical evil or suffering for the sake of some good. That is, He wills the good of the criminal and will allow the criminal to undergo punishment through the loss of a good (a loss of liberty, etc.), for the sake of the “good attached.” Hence, God cannot be said to will physical evils or suffering in themselves, and moral evils “in no way.” The objections are three in number and worth addressing individually. The objections are, firstly, that God wills for every good to be realized, and that it is good that not only good things exist because from evils, good can follow. But the good that results from evil does not come about directly – the goodness that follows is incidental. Hence, it is not good that evil should exist. The second objector states that evil contrasts with good and contributes to the perfection of the universe. As God wills the perfection of the universe, He wills evil. Again, Aquinas points out that any good that follows from evil is not direct. Hence, it is not good that evil should exist in the universe. The last objector says that since God cannot will contradictories (x and not-x), and His will is always fulfilled, it follows that God does will evil. Aquinas responds here that “’to will evils to come into being’ and ‘to will evils not to come into being’ are not…opposed” as contradictory statements. That is, they both affirm something (to will to do x, and to will to do y) and are not contradictory. Aquinas says that God “neither wills evils to be nor wills evils not to be; he wills to allow them to happen”[3] (that is, God wills to do z). Here, the active and the permissive will of God are distinguished. God actively wills the good and permits evil to happen.

[1] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, ed. T. Gilby, trans. Blackfriars vol. 5 (Great Britain: Eyre and Spottiswoode Limited, 1967), 41.

[2] Ibid., 41.

[3] Ibid., 43.

Monday, March 21, 2011

On Suffering

"Deirdre, you have been so quiet, recently. Is everything ok?" "Oh, yes, I'm just a bit tired."

That's how it all started, that general feeling of malaise. It came to a head with a DRAMATIC trip to the emergency room and lots of drugs. And then more drugs. And then! More drugs. In short, I have an medical condition which has been filling my life with some rather acute suffering these past weeks. Thankfully, the drugs help! As does the knowledge that this condition (an autoimmune disorder called MCTD - nothing embarrassing), while annoying, is hardly fatal and can certainly be controlled.

If anecdotes are to be believed, the first thought which many people have when they realize they've been picked for some special suffering is "why me?" Mine was more: "Aw. Damn."

If you contemplate suffering, it really is a mysterious thing and, in my opinion, one of the strongest arguments against the existence of God: why does the good man suffer? From Job to the Church Fathers to modern saints we see the repeated cry and attempts to answer that cry: why is there suffering? In Christ we can see that not only does the good man suffer but God, in the person of Christ, suffers for the redemption of man. It is comforting to know that suffering can have purpose and meaning, even if it's difficult to divine what those are in the particulars, and that no more is being asked of us that wasn't asked of One who truly deserved no suffering whatsoever. Why? Original sin! Why me? Who knows! I was a rather naughty child. Maybe breaking into that water main and then blaming it on my little brother, standing, adoringly beside me - happy that I was 'playing' with him - might not have been the *most* virtuous act? Maybe this is cutting some time off of purgatory.

Many saints suffered severely from various maladies. Now, I can understand, at least a bit, why suffering connects so strongly with sanctity. The plain fact is that it's very difficult to actively sin when you're really suffering. It takes energy that's not present. Why be angry when you can barely even dress yourself in the morning? (Put that way, it doesn't sound very convincing - but YOU try juggling chronic fatigue, pain, limited mobility, and ACTIVE ANGER. You'll soon find that you're exhausting yourself to no end.) Oh, you can certainly sin - despair, be angry with God, become bitter, etc. Many people do sin in this way.

Suffering is a scary thing. Particularly since medicine is, in part, a sort of inexact science and tantamount to magic to the uninitiated (me!). Tests! Which show up negative...or positive...but don't really say anything about anything! So more tests! What does it all mean? Who knows! Frustrating? A bit. Scary? Sure. Particularly when you're in an Italian emergency room with a vocabulary more philosophical than medical and a complete inability to communicate effectively with the doctor.

It is easier to merely sit back and be thankful for all the blessings that God has given me: a healthy, loving, and supportive family, the ability to return to the States and get adequate treatment (yes, I'm back in the Bay Area - the Italian medical system was too much for me to handle on my own), food, shelter, warmth. How many people are suffering alone, in pain and fear? God has blessed me and I'd be kind of a fool if I didn't see that.

Yes, it's difficult. I won't say that I didn't sit on the couch for two days eating chocolate and sniffling to myself as I apologized to my housemates for being so...emotional, as I faced t'eh future. "Deirdre. Your emotional is just about every woman's Stoic," said my housemate. That was clever and made me feel better, too.

The things I find most difficult are: 1. No b33r. Alcohol and medications don't mix. It will be a perpetual Lent for me until - if ever - I get off of the medications. 2. The anguish that other people feel over my condition. That really is the most difficult thing to bear. What can you do? In the Gospels, there were many ill who placed themselves before the Lord. And, He was moved by their faith. But, in anguish, many parents and siblings and loved ones would drag the one who suffered - or was dead - before the Lord and demand His compassion, demand His attention, demand that He do something. And Christ was moved to tears. Thus we see the power of intercession.

So! Pray for my healing - particularly via the intercession of Pope John Paul the Great. He loved lay-students, lived in Rome, and his beatification is coming up. He might be feeling generous right now!

And, on a parting note, I think no one should forget this classic:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Everyone wants a bit of philosophy

"Pft, philosophy." said a seminarian.
"Hey!" I screamed "the Pope said in Fides et Ratio that people who don't like philosophy should be taken out and shot!"
"That's...really what the Pope said..."
"It's the gist of it."

Actually, what he (our former Pope) said in §61 was "I cannot fail to note with surprise and displeasure that this lack of interest in the study of philosophy is shared by not a few theologians."

And it's true. Many seminarians - planning on being theologians - are made to go through a couple of years of philosophy before they enter into the contemplation of the highest things...well, the highest Being. Philosophy, to many seminarians, is like a period of purgatory verging on hell. They have a lamentable intellectual acedia when it comes to philosophy. Ontology? Epistemology? Metaphysics? Give me the Trinity! The Blessed Virgin Mary! The Eucharist!

Oh, I can't blame them terribly much. Philosophy has such a reputation. Couple its history of Descartes, Kant, Hume, etc., with its difficult vocabulary, obscurity, and those contemporary philosophers who still try to defend consequentialism, and you can quickly see that philosophy appears rather un-chic. Dr. Kevorkian - now he definitely had a philosophy. Why study something that's so...troublesome?

Recall Boethius' vision of lady philosophy:
While I was silently thinking over these things in myself
and noting mournful complaints by a pen's service
there stood over head visions for me,
a woman of very majestic appearance,
with eyes shining and sharp beyond common human health,
from vivid color and of inexhaustible vigor,
yet so mature in age as almost to be believed of our time,
the height of doubtful determination.

For at one time she held herself to common human measure,
while at another time in height she actually
seemed to strike the heaven of the highest summit;
which when her head was raised higher even penetrated heaven
and was frustrating the observation of the humans looking.

Her clothes with the finest threads were by delicate skill
from the imperishable material of perfection,
which, as I have since learned from her coming out,
she wove herself with her own hands;
just as it usually does smoky pictures,
a kind of fog of neglected antiquity covered their form.

On the lowest border of these a Greek Pi was embroidered,
while on the highest a Theta could be read,
and between both letters could be seen
in the manner of stairs a kind of marked grade,
by which the ascent should be
from the lower to the higher element.

However the hands of some violent ones had torn this dress
and had taken away whatever particulars each could.
At any rate in her right hand were books,
while in the left she was carrying a scepter.

...

"Now then do you think it is the first time
wisdom is among bad morals challenged by dangers?
Did we not among the old too
before the great age of our Plato
often contend in disputes with the thoughtlessness of folly
and by the same superstition his teacher Socrates
earned the victory of an unjust death by my assistance?

"The inheritance of which since successively
the crowd of Epicureans and Stoics and others
each having plundered to the best of their ability
they tried to go on
and me crying out and resisting
they carried off for part of the plunder,
a dress they cut up which I had woven with my own hands
and with rags dragged from it went away
believing I had completely yielded to them.
Since among them were seen some traces of our dress,
the imprudent having supposed them to be familiar with me
some of them were undone by the common multitude's error.
Source.
You can take bits and pieces of philosophy or look at philosophy from one privileged aspect or another, and get a very odd idea about what it is as a whole. But when you understand that what philosophers actually seek - truth and wisdom- is another way of saying they're seeking God according to unaided human reason. Human reason is a powerful, powerful thing. We've developed tools, ways of thinking, that are of immense help when it comes to theology. We've used our human reason to articulate mysteries of the faith and to defend that faith against human errors. Without philosophy, our understanding of truths of the faith would be...less.

Likewise, theology opens up whole new vistas to human reason. Faith is the horizon to which reason leads. Reason can't step over that threshold, so to speak - but God can invite us in/come to us as we are and as we need Him with our human understanding and capacities.

Faith is reasonable. You don't need to be super-reason-man to believe - there are any number of enviously pious saints who had only a rudimentary education. But to dismiss philosophy as a whole because you can't see that it has value and provides the rational underpinnings of many theological things like...the trinity and personhood...is just Not Right. Not everyone is satisfied with a simple statement. We want that statement to cohere with what we've observed of the human world and nature - with experience.
Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth - in a word, to know himself - so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves. (Fides et ratio, intro)
So, you see, seminarians and theologians, you really do need to stop dissing philosophy.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

How the Dominicans were Founded

Just a couple of helps for understanding the sequence: Dominic traveled a bit with his bishop, Diego, and it was during his travels that he sort of got the idea that sacra doctrina was totally needing more exposure. And so he founded the order of preachers. Coincidence?


NB: it's a little incomplete. I got bored. It'll be redone sometime in...the future. Dun dun duuun.

A Quote to Nom on

Were theologians to refuse the help of philosophy, they would run the risk of doing philosophy unwittingly and locking themselves within thought-structures poorly adapted to the understanding of faith. Were philosophers, for their part, to shun theology completely, they would be forced to master on their own the contents of Christian faith, as has been the case with some modern philosophers. Either way, the grounding principles of autonomy which every science rightly wants guaranteed would be seriously threatened. Fides et Ratio, §77

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Must be Dreaming

Planet of the Apes...George of the Jungle...Dr. McNinja...They all feature monkey-types who are super-intelligent, well-read, kindly, and sometimes be-spectacled.

I suppose that is why it made perfect sense: I was sitting in a hot-tub, with another person and a gorilla, sipping champagne, and explaining to the gorilla the division of the speculative sciences. The gorilla was asking some very interesting questions about the division. I was also wearing a bikini. That tipped me off to the fact that it was a dream.

The division of the "sciences" (understood as an organized body of knowledge) are so:
1. Productive - for the making of beautiful/useful things.
2. Practical - for the guiding of conduct, etc. (economics, politics, don't'cha know)
3. Speculative - knowledge for its own sake (math, natural philosophy, metaphysics)

This division ain't Platonic nor Aristotelian in origin. Neoplatonics took some of Plato and some of Aristotle, on their division of the sciences/being, and put them together. Then the tri-part division was passed along as if it were Aristotelian. Neat, hmm? And now you know.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Awkward Turtle


I had a most awkward moment in the supermarket.

I was picking out tomatoes and an elderly man hobbled up to me with a pack and asked if they were beautiful or no. Beauty, to me, signals aesthetics, as in, art. So I told him "they seem beautiful to me..." "NO!" he yelled "They are UGLY!" and put the tomatoes down in a huff. Shrugging, I went back to picking out my tomatoes, with the old man standing by. Carefully, I examined the tomatoes from all sides before - with satisfaction - I put them into my bag and walked off.

...It wasn't until afterwards that I realized the old man had poor eyesight and had been asking for help in picking out tomatoes. Oh dear. I must have seemed so sadistic to that poor man.

*NB - this conversation was entirely in Italian. Seeing as how I live in...Italy. And went like so:
Him: Questi pomodori sono belli?
Me: Mi sembra di si.
Him: No! Sono BRUTTI!