Saturday, July 14, 2018

it might have been that I forgot to say it to people, for a while... say it to those who know you, when you can!

\mathrm{XLI} & \mbox{Foreign adventures}\\
\mathrm{XLII} & \mbox{Safe returnings}\\
\mathrm{XLIII} & \mbox{Surprises}\\
\mathrm{XLIV} & \mbox{Reunions anticipated}\\
\mathrm{XLV} & \mbox{Room left for Providence}

Thursday, April 5, 2018

"Thou Shalt Break Them..."

"... dash them in pieces, like a potter's vessel"

I was having a conversation a couple days ago, starting with the Road to Emmaus, and particularly On The Lord's Disappearing. You see, that was the Gospel Reading that day (Roman Extraordinary Calendar)

and someone else had recently primed me, putting forth words of Doubt re. the Lord's rising. Others, one Peterson in particular, have pointed out how Strange are the ways the Lord is present, post-resurrection... and it's sometimes spun by others into a case that the Resurrection was "simply" a collective or communal hallucination.

But before returning to the Conversaion, I want to point out that the Question of What the Risen Lord Looks Like, and whether it's Too Different from us still waiting to die the first time, actually aren't all that pertinent to the question of whether the Resurrection is a Fact. The Pertinent Facts as Reported are: Jesus not only died (unexpectedly! suddenly! "Pilate marvelled") three hours into a torment designed to last days, but he was bled dry and his heart pierced, in the sight of witnesses; and after being buried and sealed in by the labour of a Roman detail, staying thus sealed through two nights and into the Third Day, the tomb was found open, opened either by no-one or a single Angel, and Jesus' wrappings neatly folded, and Jesus himself Not There. If He was not raised, then his body was Still Somewhere, and quite unshrouded, just waiting for a clever Roman to find it.

Anyways. The Road to Emmaus. At the end of it, Jesus disappears from their sight. It's an unusual move, for an ordinary critter like me, but this is not the first time that Jesus has removed himself from view, in an unlikely way. I had thought of the end of the exchange in the Temple Courtyard, when the Pharisees took up stones to throw at Him, but He hid himself. But, then, how did He do that? And what did it look like? Then She My Friend pointed out also another time, when the crowd would have Taken Jesus and Made Him King. How do you hide, when you're out in the open? What does it look like?

And we talked about at what moment Jesus disappears: is it when he's recognized? (that's what seems to be happening at Emmaus) But in the Temple, it seems to be when the Pharisees refuse to see Him. Then again, as my Friend said, when the crowd would have Crowned Him, indeed He is their King, but they're seeing only the Man in the Son of Man, and not the Son of God.

My Friend also pointed out how, at Emmaus, Jesus seems not to be meaning to stop, but ready to be on His way --- He likes to be Invited, we agreed --- but it's as though He has a Place to Get To, and Things to Do... in fact, from Emmaus, He says elsewhere, he was going to Galilee, and at Galilee he had some other conversations, especially with Peter, lasting well after he was Recognized... But, still, Things to Do...

"Thou shalt break them" says the Psalmist; but also God tests the heart as fire tests gold, says the Proverbs... It turns out there are More Things that Fire does to gold than just clean it up and confirm its goldness: firing gold anneals it. Why do you anneal gold? Because if you hammer it when it's hard, it won't move as much; but more, hard means brittle. When brittle, you can break it, even like a potter's vessel... and then it won't take the shape you want. Clearly, that's No Good.

When the crowd would have seized Him, when the Pharisees would have stoned him, they had become brittle. There was no more work to be done by hammering; they must be put back into the fire, to soften them and purify, if it might be. At Emmaus, When they recognize Him, His work there is done; and at Galilee, Peter needed some work, too, and was ready for it.

... There was more in our chatting, but ... this here feels like a finished note.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

How beautiful the feet...

If you have watched Chariots of Fire ("bring me my bow of burning gold...") you ought to remember that scene in which Eric Liddel is knocked over the picket of a Quarter-mile race, gets up, and then overtakes the whole field from twenty yards behind the last.

It's a fantastic victory. If you've any heart at all you are holding your breath with all the onlookers, watching this glorious impossible thing being done.

And Liddel, of course, collapses again at the end of it because it really was impossible, according to human wisdom. And here's the thing: we're nearly all physically capable of things impossible according to human wisdom, if we don't have to think about them. We can pull muscles on reflex (as I found last Monday) to arrest a fall (and golly did it smart for hours after); some folk get nasty electric shocks and really do throw themselves across great distances, because all their muscles twitch at once before they've any time to smart from it and they really had no choice in the matter.

But Liddel, according to that film, wills himself to run beyond any ability he could count on a second time. It hurts, and you can tell that it's hurting him before he's even caught up the next runner, you can see in his face the dread of anticipation before he's even got up. And it's a stupid thing to do, really, even according to athletic wisdom. And still it evokes an admiring thrill, "such wonders the Lord has made!"

Something like that is the only sense I can make of the first obvious parsing of that half-verse in Today's second reading from Isaiah
And the Lord was pleased to bruise Him in infirmity...
We of course, have no right to bruise eachother, any more than a runner has any right to trip knock a fellow off the track. But the starter, the umpires, the on-lookers can't help but exult in such sportsmanship, such determination to put things right, once they have gone wrong.

There is a second parsing, of course, because the same text also means The Lord Himself was pleased to be bruised. But the Trinity takes a deal of getting-used-to; and even if Isaiah knew that, still Iscariot and his buyers hid it from themselves.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Redemption... "How... how does it work?"

"I know not, my liege"

But let us not too much quote Monty Python. It is a silly bunch.

Last note tried to sketch something of what "heritable guilt" looks like and in what ways it is a reasonable idea, and furthermore how its operation is visible to anyone who has spent sufficient time with children (and some of us (like me) will remember it of ourselves in our own childhood, and later).

We also outlined how willingly suffering "transference", of debt or danger, can, with prudence and care, be a heroic way of acting amongst our neighbors. To be sure, a reckless (literally: without reckoning) neglect of the shaping our neighbours also need will leave them... more apt to shapelessness; but so will careless trampling of them when that is in our power. The betterment of our fellows and ourselves requires both correction and forgiveness, in the respectively right times and places and proportions. (Towers are held together by opposing forces of gravity (down) and [electrochemical] elasticity (up, sideways, twisty...), carefully managed)

The word "redemption" (I don't know what the Hebrew or Greek names are for the Theological Event) in Latin looks like "buying back", re[d]-emptio. It refers to a payment of a debt or ransom, and that gratuitously, by one who has means though maybe it was not his debt. The ancient discussion of what this means in Theology, by the Fathers of the Church, does include (or in places does assume) that part of this debt was owed to the Godhead; that Adam offended God, which in itself was to incur a debt which no Merely Human Act could ever repay. In deference to their wisdom, I do not wish to contradict them; I should say, rather, that certain modern readers put too much emphasis on this thread of Church Thought, to the neglect of things Jesus himself says and does in the Gospels. (Similarly, I've no wish to deny the scriptural evidence that God can be wrathful, but neither do I wish to doubt that God is always just; His wrath is not merely overwhelming, but enlightening) God may retain the Impossible Debt (like the King owed many talents from a servant, who was in turn owed a few pennies from another servant); but God can also forgive what is (in strict justice) owed Him. It's a big part of the Gospel, the Good News, that God will, in fact, gladly forgive the truly penitent. Man's right relation to God and the remaining debt we owe Him is to repent, and give thanks² for His forgiveness. Still, I also think there was Something Else that needed to be... payed-off? ... (or... held-off), which God "could not" (logically) hold-off by forgiving anything.

What Can God Not Forgive? Well, there is the Unrepented Sin; but neither can God forgive a grudge He does not hold. I don't think there is even proper grammar to suggest, for example, something like "God Forgives On Satan's behalf", and you can be sure that Satan does not forgive anything. Happily, it is not necessary for God to make Satan forgive. The devil only has to be denied what he covets; but we, apparently¹ are quite apt to get ourselves caught in his snares, that much needing to be rescued again and again... More: we are apt to sell ourselves into diabolical bondage. From those snares, from that bondage we surely need rescuing; the Devil must be opposed, forcibly if we are to be redeemed.

This actually fighting the Devil is described, for instance in Paul's letters (as something we have to do, "Induite vos armaturam Dei, ut possitis stare adversus insidias diaboli: quoniam non est nobis colluctatio adversus carnem et sanguinem, sed adversus principes, et potestates, adversus mundi rectores tenebrarum harum, contra spiritualia nequitiæ, in cælestibus"), and seen still more vividly in the Gospels, such as in John (reading with Timothy George) when Jesus raises Lazarus.

Paul also tells us that the Law cannot save. Jesus says of himself that He is the fulfillment of the Law. In recent years (I think I picked up this idea from Mark Shea, before he was a Professional blogger... it is surely much older) the Law of the Old Testament may be likened to an X-Ray machine, a series of tests that will tell you when and where you have gone wrong, and even tell you what you should do and be instead; but it is not itself medicine: the Law itself will not make you better without your cooperation.³

The Fulfillment of the Law, in the diagnostic sense, happens when we find — when it is Revealed to us — that trusting in ourselves alone and in our little laws and in our princes, trusting the mere knowledge of good and evil, we have Crucified All That Is Good. Of course, we cannot see this if we cannot see that Jesus is All That Is Good — if we have not faith that He Is The Way and The Truth and The Life. That we might find this faith is part of why He spent three years teaching in public and working marvels in our sight... and part of why He says "Generatio mala et adultera signum quærit: et signum non dabitur ei..."

Amazingly, God forgives them that Crucify Him: first, as it is happening, and what is more He does not forever hide himself, but rises again, on the Third Day. Even after we have killed him, he returns full of life to accept our repentance, to forgive us.

"... nisi signum Jonæ prophetæ".

There is ever so much more to Jesus' Crucifixion, Death, and Resurrection than this; Jesus' forceful combat against the devils, His actually rescuing us, His gift to us of the grace and strength to oppose evil ourselves and walk upright before Him...

But I hope this slender portion is something good to think on.

1) that is, it really is apparent, even if you are only happy to think of "the devil" as a merely metaphorical notion (which is, I suggest, a dangerous idea)

2) "gratias agere", occasionally says the Latin, to enact thanks; giving thanks is done in word and deed.

3) We must ourselves be moved: “‘Turn to me’ says the Lord ‘and be saved’”

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


Dear Anonymous Paul Tillotson

Yes, take up blogging, tell us your stories!

(write to qnoodles at gmail, and I will tell you who I am, too)

You mention the names of one or two Church Dogmas (Orginal Sin and Inherited Guilt), one Theory of Maybe How the Passion Effects Salvation ("Transference", mentioning also Substitution), and one ... thing... "retributive justice"... and report that whatever unexpressed ideas you connect with these names, you connect with the Church and would reject them from yourself. (And, Sheila, you apparently agree with this Paul's unexplained ideas? But how do you know?) So, I still don't know what your objections are. All I can do, therefore, is report how I myself understand what it seems to me that The Church means by these names, how entirely reasonable they seem to me, and ... well, you can decide whether to explain what you mean by them, why you think your impressions of the the Church's Meaning may be closer to the Church's meaning, and ... so forth.

Simplest first, "Retributive Justice". "Justice" refers to harmony — harmony between neighbours, harmony within ourselves, harmony between Self and Goodness; "justification" being the restoration of this harmony, in more litteral harmony-talk known as tuning; a justified soul is a well-adjusted soul. It is retributive justice at work when buyer and seller happily agree on the price of a thing, when labourer and employer happily agree on wages.

The theory of practical justice is particularly about restoring harmony when it has been disturbed, particularly by the misdeeds of some individual. Now, discerning whether some particular misdeed actually happened, and then was mistake or malice, is jurisprudence, and not justice per-se (though justice demands we attempt it carefully). Restoring the harmony, however, usually demands someting be done. The disharmony that results from theft, for example, includes how the thief (for a time) holds wealth that belongs to another, and restoring harmony should ordinarily begin with some kind of restitution (if that is possible). But any crime (indeed, 'most any act at all) has broader effects than merely its immediate object: theft engages not merely loss of property but also the attempt at recovery (which has costs) and also a proclamation that property is negligible. A thief apprehended bears some responsibility for (has knowingly caused) the property stolen as well as his own detection and trial, general fear regarding security, mischief inspired in immitation, et.c., and so his natural debt is greater than that which he stole.

Practical Justice requires communicating somehow that, to the best of our ability, what could be was recovered, peace has been restored, and our neighbours are not in more danger afterwards than they were before. It's very easy to go wrong in the search for this kind of justice, which is why it is, in developed societies, delegated by society to a few specialists known as The Authorities — and it would still be wrong to neglect it. Something needs doing to restore harmony, lest (at the very least) the thief still be inclined to theft afterwards. (that can happen anyway by his stubbornness, but let us not say it was for want of care on the part of his neighbours!). Restoring Harmony requires Some Action, requires that Some Return be made for works of malice.

In short All Practical Justice Is Retributive. Justice isn't about whether retribution is required, but which. Real justice may at times be more strictly, at times more magnanimous than, equal return on pains incurred, but it is still our duty to our neighbours.

"Transference." Transference (and particularly "of guilt") can in part be understood as a principle moderating the retributive character just described of all justice. A thief who, caught, shows true repentance may in fact be making a greater sacrifice, out of his own being, than one could pay for with money; it can be good for all, in that circumstance, for the original owner to dismiss some of the material debt owed him.

But, even more basically, we are all born rather helpless and useless; it is not we who make or pay for our first clothes or food, but our parents. It is also true that it is our parents, and not we, who are proximately responsible for our being, but we certainly benefit, without doing anything to deserve it, by our first food and clothing — and that goes on for many years.

Transference is also going on when a rich man pays for the education of a poor child; and would anyone say that was an unjust (discordant) act? Transference of this sort is illustrated, for example, in the Parable of the Labourers in the vineyard, by the owner who pays a day's wage for an hour's work.

It is also a kind of transference (and greatly laudable) when anyone takes pains or risks upon himself for to rescue someone in trouble (noting that poverty-simpliciter is still quite compatible with cheerfulness and even contentment). The reason we do these things isn't (I suggest) out of the necessity of Justice as such, but because neglecting them hurts ourselves, in our very natures. It is common enough a trope to almost being a cliché, that anyone the newspapers will call a hero says of themselves they were "only doing what anyone else would have done". But foolish or not, they really believe it, too.

I want to say more about transference and supernatural debts and all that... it being Lent, afterall... but that would make this letter much too long.

"Original Sin" and "Inherited Guilt". Since you name both of them, we can treat them separately, but they do go together.

First-firstly, I want to address what I think is a problem in the Anglophone general-public understanding of Sin and Guilt (I don't know if you make this mistake yourself, but others object to the same names as you do, moved by this mistake). It seems to me that the modern common-English-speaker has lost the distinction between guilt and compunction. This is of a piece with the overwhelming sentimentalization of all matters spiritual and social and political, though I can't put a time-frame on it... my point is that guilt is simply a fact, it's the sort of thing that can be studied (with only the ordinary difficulties) by forensics and adjudicated in forum. The only questions about "guilt" are whether a thing happened and is someone responsible for it. And in particular, Sin is guilt (responsibility for a failing) in supernatural matters. And when the Church (and I do mean the Church, not clerics) seeks to convince us that we are guilty of sin, it isn't so that we'll feel bad — chances are, we feel bad already and are trying to ignore why — but so that we can confront it and be justified anew and hopefully then feel better.

The question then seems to be: how can children be responsible for failings that, ostensibly, are caused by ancestors they never knew nor who ever knew them?

Well, it's easier than that makes it sound: e.g., someone has to take care of Pripyat near Chernobyl in Ukraine; we and our children have inherited a bad situation, there, but more than that: we know it is a bad situation, and why, and what sorts of things can be done to keep it from getting worse (and what sorts of "worse" are hard to address). Knowing even a little of good and evil is a heavy responsibility indeed.

In particular, we haven't inherited any kind of responsibility for Adam's (or Eve's) Choice. But we are responsible for what we already know, in ourselves.

And this is the really hefty thing: Children have a rather keen intuitive sense for "fairness".¹ I'm sure you know someone between three and twelve who has lamented "it's not fair!", and quite possibly been quite right about it. I'm even sure you know someone who has both so lamented and been rather unfair themselves, whether in that moment or shortly thereafter. I know I did, though I can't remember specifics that clearly...

In other words, the moral sense seems to be innate (it is evident as soon as we can speak), but its operation seems at first to be entirely self-interested (almost, I should say, self-defensive). We are born with a sense of good and evil, but not wanting to be good. I'm not saying we're born monsters, or under threat of immediate damnation, but that we are born in need of forming, in need of justification, supernaturally lacking, and that we are nonetheless born with the means to know it already.

And that's the sense in which we inherit the Guilt of Adam: we initially know and can't not know just enough of right and wrong, and we develop into reasoning agents; but to desire our own goodness needs external help. What we have inherited from Adam is the knowledge, the instinct that demands some kind of fairness, and hence the responsibility of knowledge and reason, together with this failing in our wills.

Why is the sense heritable (instinctive), and the discipline not? I don't know! It might be integral to moral freedom? But I don't think that why really matters.

Finally, "Original Sin": The peculiarly Jewish and Catholic take on the history of this frustrating inheritance is that it started with one free choice confirmed by a second; and, as it happens, that both free choices were made at the very begining of Humanity. The Catholic discussion of Original Sin also involves ideas of "sanctifying grace" and distinguishing "vision of God" from "happiness", and I think it is still developing, still grasping for precise expression.

Anyway, that's what I've learned about those ideas from going to Church and listening to smart people and reading good books. I don't know what you've picked up from the same quarters (or what other quarters you've picked up). But so long as you (Paul T.) are trying to be good and responsible, I won't bother with your take on the historical question.

Bat the Mathematician

PS 1) C. S. Lewis makes this same observation about cultures instead of Children: every society has some kind of mythology, and has some articulated moral code, and is repeatedly breaking that same moral code and feeling bad about it; and it gets into their mythology. Both the code and their own failings are so important they have to be remembered. Everywhere.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

i've had this note sitting around for a while. a-propos of genuinely nothing

I have this memory of seeing animated cartoons, in my mis-spent childhood (recalled now in my mis-spent current age), in which a particular sort of Bully is depicted as a Bull; and because cartoons for children typically gloss over more naturalistic details, we know this is a Bull rather than a Cow because of his broad shoulders and the large ring in his nose.

That ring. I'm sure you know the sort. The ring that says "I'm a tough big strong hefty substance, don't cross me!"


Bulls, of course, are not born with rings. They are an instrument added by neatherds, for a particular purpose. Specifically, rings (this is some topology we all know!) admit connection. It could be by clip to a chain, or by knot to a rope, but the principal is that rings can be linked, more conveniently than girth or neck-lace (esp. if the beast is apt to use hoof or horn). And the ring is linked to the bull through the nose because the nose is particularly sensitive. It allows a (relatively) small farmer to lead a (comparatively) large bull (perhaps from a respectful distance), literally, by its nose.

Or, to put it another way, that ring renders the bully literally docile.

Which, I'm sorry to say, was never depicted in any of those cartoons.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Sing Black, Live Red

Today this year collide Ash Wednesday and the Feast of Valentine, Priest and Martyr.

It would not seem unreasonable to lament that the romantic colour of the date, in modern secular sentiment, obscures the ... er... solemnity... I suppose... of martyrdom; but, you know, I'm not so sure, should we be so hasty? The secular emblem of the day is the Heart, construed as the seat of love — and every martyrdom is an echo of the Feast of the Sacred Heart, wounded for Love of Us; the secular colour of the day is Red, as is the Liturgical Colour — and even as for Love of Wife or Child, so too for Love of God, the Lover is called to be ready that his blood be shed. Valentine himself could not have accepted martyrdom but from love for God and sustained by God's love.

But more often (the opposite could not last long!) for Love we take on duller sufferings, and make of our selves little Cinderelli. Today, as Ash Wednesday, it is traditional to do so more theatrically; again, let it be for Love. Or why should we do penance, indeed how could we, except from knowing that we had once fled Love, and now would find Him again?

Happy Valentines Day,
and a Holy Ash Wednesday,
and a Blessed Lent to you all.