Friday, November 6, 2015

"By short or long"

Well, it turns out the rumours were false. His Holiness seems not to hold an MSc in Chemistry.

There's nothing wrong with that, of course.

For what little it is worth, there is nothing wrong with the hope that sinners eventually return to communion. In fact, it would be wrong to hope otherwise. The only qualification on that principle is: said sinners must repent before they can return. And in those very strange but very real cases where public communion would be a public skandal, the repentence itself naturally ought to be made (reasonably) public.

That, surely, isn't an alien principle. And, very likely, many will find it a long path indeed. Long and straight. And narrow.

When I believed the Chemistry rumour, I had hope for the Pontiff that he might still be susceptible to the power of precision. Like titration curves and Ecumenical councils. Now that I understand he isn't an accredited chemist, I may be less frustrated by imprecision in his person (if not in his office)... and we'll save ourselves some ado.

Obviously, I don't know what was in His Holiness' head when he allowed those words reported as his; he may have something very different in mind indeed. But the "headline quote", as it were, admits an orthodox interpretation, and we can (and should!) pray that His Holiness come around to believing it himself.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

If I may say...

There are two issues w.r.t. Regional Bishops Conferences that perturb me (for which, on reflection, I am grateful that they haven't been more important in the past). First is the implied by-default subordination of... Ordinaries... to Sæcular order. Which is, quite simply, up-side-down. Or maybe "sideways", in the "it all went sideways" sense. Second: what do we do when the borders move? Because: It happens. It has happened in Germany and in the Balkans, in Living Memory. It might be happening in the Ukraine. It is almost certainly happening all over the Middle East (where, all things said, there are more important worries for the Local Ordinaries). There are still people who want it to happen in plenty more places. The Church, however, really ought to look more æternal than principalities.

So. There. That's my denarius' worth on the matter.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

What are Commandments 5-10?

Thou shalt not kill
Thou shalt not commit adultery
Thou Shalt not Steal
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor
Thou shalt not covet anything that is thy neighbor's (twice)

There is difference of opinion on whether occides should be rendered "kill" or "murder"; if we insist on the superficial reading of the later judgments, it's easier to accord "murder" with "shall die the death [by stoning]", until some folk try to insist that all direct killing of men is murder (and indeed some do)... But, you know, the last six commandments are all neatly summarized by the first one: Thou shalt not kill. They are even better summarized and overleapt by the Second Greatest: love thy neighbor as thyself.

Of course, while having a shorter, simpler summary of the whole system is a powerful tool, the mathematician's art also relies on finding more (as it may seem) from less, and so it is a good exercise to work towards the later commandments from the earlier, rather than from the Great Two.

To begin the argument, note that custom subdivides the "not covet" into two commandments (in various ways): thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife; thou shalt not covet his goods (poetically elaborated). This is in exact parallel with the two commandments: thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not steal. The verb used is precise: to "covet" is not merely to behold as desireable, but to approve or wish knowledge of the person, possession of the thing. It is an act of the will already contrary to the earlier commandments.

"False witness against", again, is much more precise than "lying"; particularly as preface to the many crimes for which a death sentence may be allowed, false witness against a neighbor may be manslaughter and it may be murder, by perversion of justice.

Theft itself and adultery itself tend towards murder in many ways; King David, for instance, committed murder to enable his adultery (and this sort of thing is why adultery is, to the best of my knowledge, still a capital crime in the US Armed Forces Uniform Code and its analogues in other armies). Theft itself can directly harm another; theft in the desert (sandy, snow, or urban) can certainly end in a man's death. And so can adultery (cf. American Heart Association on "Broken Heart Syndrome").

I think that's enough sketch to show that "murder not" is sufficient to cover the human side of the Decalogue. Which ought to be a humbling thought: "murder not", on its own, sounds like a very timid admonition, doesn't it? Lacklustre, even. If we weren't such durned fallen passionate creatures, it should have gone without saying! And yet, it's actually hard to get everyone today to quite agree on it. Ah, but murder today is mostly veiled in mystery and hieratic language, the tendency of all perverted religious impulses...

Christ's Second Cardinal Law is both harder and more vivifying: LOVE thy neighbor as thyself. His own proper commandment even more: "Love one another as I have loved you".

Monday, October 5, 2015

Wells of Prophecy

There's something of a trick to recognizing a prophecy fulfilled. Uncle Gilbert described (in The Napoleon of Notting Hill, I believe) a joke played by the young, upon the old, at their ascending in turn to venerable age... the game of Cheat the Prophet, which consists of attending carefully to all predictions of their future, and then carefully doing nothing of the sort. And the comical opening of The Napoleon was that so many strange changes were predicted under Edward VII (or whom you will) that the only cheat available was to change practically nothing in the next generation.

But, of course, that's not the usual sense of "Prophecy". Genuine Prophecy and mere Prediction are different games, and So. The game of Cheat the Theological Prophet can be played by either tact: the simple one of doing nothing of the sort, OR the surprising one of doing exactly that, simply because it was written in a Prophecy.

For instance, between the Imperium of Augustus and that of Hadrian, there were at least two Men to arise in the province of Palestine, said to descend from David son of Jesse, said to be annointed, who raised or rose against the wrath of Rome. The later one had an abler army, but was eventually beseiged and executed with a band of loyal followers. The earlier one was abandoned by his friends and crucified about 786 AUC, and then conquered Rome about three hundred years later.

At most one was not, whether unwittingly or fully conscious, trying to Cheat the Prophets: to fit his life to those parts of the written prophecies that his contemporaries recognized and he could reasonably pull off. The trouble with things that can actually be done and are predicted is that, if they are written, anyone can then go ahead and do them. It were as if someone had published a password long ago that later on many publicly said they would use.

So, properly recognizing a prophecy fulfilled is going to be more like engaging in prophecy ourselves; because a genuine prophecy shouldn't be a published password, but more like a hash or checksum, one has to carefully compare against prophecy those events of moment and currents of mood that overtake him through life.

Which brings me to Wells. Herbert George, that is. Wells wrote in The Time Machine of vision in which it seems two species of human exist together in a strange relationship: one lives mostly below ground and keeps various important machinery working, while the other lives mostly in gardens and arcades maintained by the various important machinery — and are occasionally food for the first species. And he named these two creatures Moloch and Hevel. No... Sorry. Morlock and Eloi. actually, no, I'm not sure what Wells had in mind behind the name "Eloi"; I hope it wasn't "LHM", which is to say, a Hashem; but one can't be sure, on the internet... Let us say it again: Wells envisioned a future in which a life of vain ease is apparently supported by the cult of Death.

Now, it's more than possible H.G. thought he was writing a critique of contemporary affairs — much as Dickens criticised workhouses and the Chancery Courts and other Georgian attrocities; and some have certainly thought he was talking about class matters. That's all very well for Wells the writer, but Wells the prophet (indulge me) has something profounder in the words. Because, the surprising pattern-match is that Moloch and Hevel are, more than in Wells' time, today's demons.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

What was Beowulf's Sword?

... would he perhaps wield an Vlfberht?

Friday, August 7, 2015

Applied Poetics

There has been a trend, recently, in public singing of the Canadian National Anthem, to alternate between the Two Official Languages so as not to be jumping into the middle of a sentence: for a long time, the break was "From far and wide, O Canada, we stand on guard for thee./[...] Et ta valeur..."; not to mention the logical interruption and the dull flavour of the middle English/final French couplets, this older switch also had the curious effect of completely secularizing the Anthem as sung. More recently however, one has usually heard
O Canada, our home and native land
True patriot love in all thy sons command
Car ton bras portait l'épée, il sait porter la Croix
Ton histoire est un époppée des plus brilliants exploits
God, keep our land glorious and free
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee
Altogether, it's got more "Canada" than the older form, appeal to the Divine and commemoration of the Cross as the Cross borne by the faithful (which weren't together in either language separately). Altogether, I might heartily approve of the change, especially if those who sing it also mean it.

I pray it does us some good, too.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

"I will harden the heart of Pharaoh..."

I have contended elsewhere that the title text need not imply any extraordinary action on God's part, and it is sufficient for the narrative that God allow Pharaoh's heart to harden itself.

At the same time, being an individual of some stubbornness and occasional truculence, I know so closely how it's quite possible that what hardened Pharaoh's heart was the knowledge of goodness (and, again, there is Malachi). Can you imagine a voice speaking truth in Pharaoh's heart: "You have let them start out, and that will be to the good; but are you still reluctant? See how futile your beast gods have proved! and how weak and sickly their service has made your children, your firstborn! Will you not turn to me and join your worship with my people's?" et.c. For: Pharaoh has a choice to make: to forsake the gods that proved false, or to try still to serve them. The choice was foretold, but that does not mean it was made for him or without him.