Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Officers? or Gentlemen?

[Spoilers!] (image source)
Col. Marchpole's department was so secret that it communicated only with the War Cabinet and the chiefs of staff. Col. Marchpole kept his information until it was asked for. To date that had not occured, and he rejoiced under neglect. Premature examination of his files might ruin his private, undefined Plan. Somewhere in the ultimate curlicues of his mind, there was a Plan. Given time, given enough confidential material, he would succeed in knittng the entire quarrelsome world into a single net of conspiracy, in which there were no antagonists, merely millions of men working, unknown to one another, for the same end; and there would be no more war.1
This is what I think of when Soros Inan remarks that "national borders are the obstacle" as if that were a bad thing, and not actually the very purpose of national borders. Whether he is disingenuous or has quite lost all his faculties, I am not competent to judge; thank Heaven.

1) Officers and Gentlemen, by Evelyn Waugh.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

What IS ... mercy?

“The Girl who was Saturday” relayed
An additional thought from my father-in-law (a theologian who's given some time to this issue): Perhaps we are to understand the unbaptized infants who reach heaven (if they do--and I certainly hope they do) as signals of God's MERCY as opposed to of his JUSTICE or his covenant.
To the extent that mercy and justice are different (even "opposed") things, I suppose this must be right. (Indeed, I have at times voiced a thought that it were more befitting humility to implore God's mercy than His justice).

We are as it happens, in the middle of a Year of Mercy, and so I think it perhaps good to consider what mercy really is (and justice).

We have a tendency to think of law and judgment when "justice" is mentioned, but I'd like to share an aspect of justice (and justification) that I learned from French: justice is about harmony. That is, when a violin student misses his notes (violins have no frets, remember!) or when his strings are out of tune, if the lessons are conducted in French, the teacher may well admonish the student to "justifier ses cordes" (strings), or to "justifier ses accords" (chords, harmonies). Justification, like typographic justification, is about modifying tension (in strings, or between lettertype) to acheive harmony.

Now, some strings do become untuneable: when a string is overstretched more in one place than others, it no longer vibrates in a true tone — it looses harmony even with itself. Some strings outright break without much warning. These strings a violinist must throw away. But there are other ways for strings to loose their tuning: there is slackness, there is accretion of weight of dust and oil and rosin... and justice can in those cases be restored by purging the string of its burdens. Strings can also go funny when their instrument (like our fallen world) shifts under abuse or accident, and justice is then restored by caring for the instrument, more than the strings.

Now, in many ways, people are not like strings (and in many ways people are not like programs); whether we finally break or irreversibly distort our natures, or allow ourselves to be cleaned and tuned to perfection in the venturus saeculi, is somehow within our own choosing.

But we cannot call this stew finished without some salt, without returning to the moral questions, to law and judgment. To attempt an answer to the title question, mercy is at the very least justice due to an injured person. And so a criminal (a sinner like me) may rightly be due some mercy when he becomes in spirit a victim of his own crime; but to do that, to own his misery as it were (help me at it O Lord!) he must repent, he must repudiate his former crime as wrong in itself. Contrariwise, to ultimately hold onto that which put discord between one and God is also to be out of harmony with oneself, to be unjustifiable.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016


Yesterday I sat down to listen to Sibelius' 5th Symphony; and what I heard reminded me so of Britten's Sea Interludes.

Today I'm listening to some Aaron Copland (you should certainly try his 3rd Symphony; it's called "Fanfare for the Common Man", but it could just as well be called "The Promise of Living"), currently, the "Billy the Kid" Suite... and what my brain thinks I'm hearing is Ottorino Respighi ("Pines of Rome" particularly).

Some have said that when you mix up people's names, it's because they're like family in your head. I don't want to mix up Respighi and Copland, but...

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Adventures II

This shop is famous for its glazes; the α-ω above is in the architectural sample display room, and they proudly display pictures of other devotional works they have done. At the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in The District, is a crypt chapel roofed by Gustavino vaults1 constructed of this shop's tile.

Second visit (I wrote a little about the first a couple years back); this time with my whole family, to celebrate a cousin's wedding.

But, in short, Detroit is a nifty city, containing plenty of stuff well worth your praying for its preservation, not to mention the people living there.

1: Gustavino vaulting is assembled (unusual for masonry arches) unsuspended and without scaffolding. Instead it is constructed of units interlocking (a similar idea to Bruneleschi's dome) and self-supporting from the base up — something like the way igloos are built.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Type and Fulfilment

Today recall we when all first heard the Gospel in their own tongues.

It is an important point that this was in fact a miracle. In particular, there were different tongues and they were none of them universally intelligible. And that means it's well worth while to review the event from which several mutually unintelligible tongues have been spoken.
5 Descendit autem Dominus ut videret civitatem et turrem quam aedificabant filii Adam 6 et dixit “Ecce, unus est populus, et unum labium. Omnibus coeperuntque hoc facere, nec desistent a cogitationibus suis donec eas opere conpleant. 7 “Venite igitur, descendamus et confundamus ibi linguam eorum, ut non audiat unusquisque vocem proximi sui.” 8 Atque ita divisit eos Dominus ex illo loco in universas terras, et cessaverunt aedificare civitatem.
I have remarked before that the sin of Babel was not trying to reach Heaven, but to ecclipse God within it and over Creation. No good could come to men who sought to do this, and so the Lord God most mercifully prevented them, and set up a sign for a time to come.

What has happened, from Holy Week through Easter unto the Ascension, and finally made manifest, cum complerentur dies Pentecostes, is not the effacement of the curse of Babel, but its transformation into something still more wonderful. They who spoke different languages because Man sought to ecclipse the Divine, they have been enlightened by a Man Divine, and heard the Good News each in their own language; those who did not know the way to Heaven and thought to reach it with baked slime bricks (as was Adam formed of the slime of the Earth), they have been shown the Way to Heaven, and the keys to it are kept by Simon the Rock; and as God descended over Babel to prevent their perdition in vain follies, again God descended upon the Disciples who were gathered together with Mary, appearing as tongues of fire — the fire of Charity, fire to kindle the Light of the World, fire to bake firm the bricks of which the Church is built!

Happy and Holy Pentecost, everybody!

Saturday, May 14, 2016


In 1963, Barbara Wright and her fellow schoolmaster Ian... stepped into a rough imitation of a Police Telephone Box.

Before that, in 1956 or there-abouts, three of the Pevensies with their cousin Eustace and his one-time school mate Jill (and a host of others) ran up into Aslan's Country to find there ... Narnia again, only...

Before that (so I am informed from beyond the grave by Fr R. J. Neuhaus)
The Catholic Church, as Chesterton observed, is ever so much larger from the inside than from the outside.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A Real Controversy that Needs Addressing

So, the commission given to Consilium II Vaticani, the "Pastoral Council", was to express in new words but eodem sensu eademque sententia What the Church has Always Taught. That might make it sound like a huge exercise in homiletics (which... wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing...); but I think it was actually a sincere attempt to address sideways a real controversy, which we still have not yet shaken.

Now, just as to what that controversy was, and why Pope St. John might have thought sideways was the best ways to address the trouble... It is probably a child of modernism, but I don't know if it has itself a name yet. Whatever we shall call it, with a mix of just enough science-speak to get oneself into trouble, enough metaphysical scepticism to muddle one's thinking, enough historical scepticism to miss huge blocks of genuine history, ... the upshot of whatever unnamed heresy we mean is: to doubt tradition itself as a reliable guide to God's Will as expressed in the founding of His Church. That is, it is a protestantizing heresy, though it is not itself protestantism. It is a scepticalizing heresy, though it is not itself scepticism. It might be an "I know better than thou" heresy...

Anyways, that's the trouble: to doubt Tradition as Revelation; and I think I shall call this heresy Textualism. What modern philosophy, following the model of al Ghazali and then everyone who said he was too lenient on the Philosophers, there has arisen in various places a technique of reading words, chains of words with well-established historical meanings which any... honest high-school student... can grasp; the moderns have found ways of reading them and construing whatever meaning they please. (The "Living Constitution" faction of the Supreme Court do not even defer to texts, so let us never-mind them. Textualism is distinct from "Sola scriptura" in that it gives no special preference to sacred scripture either of reverence or disdain.)

There are, for instance, surprisingly many... phrases... not to say “sentences”... that, in their English forms, anyway, both orthodox Catholics and modern Muslims might casually assert; but we and they would not agree about them, for they would not mean the same thing (this is why I hesitate to say “sentences”). For instance, submission to the Divine Will is indeed a good and holy thing. Submission, on the other hand, to we cannot tell what, but they still call it God, well, it seems to have terrifying, inhuman corollaries — not often, perhaps, but often enough.

So, Textualism, the adherence to texts as primary over (or completely without) the traditions that have preserved the texts with their sound interpretations, lending itself to the scientists' instinct via “I can see the text, I cannot see its author entrusting it to his children”...; and again, lending itself to Sir Humphrey's dictum “Theology is a device for allowing agnostics to stay within the [Anglican] Church”. This is, I think, the heresy-as-such, that St. John apprehended, and decided to fight. After all, it's one thing for those outside the Church to oppose whatever they think the Church teaches, whether they understand her teaching or not — the Church has enemies, has always had, and always shall have; but to subvert the words the Church uses to unmean her teaching, and thus prevent Catholics as-such from understanding their Faith, that is diabolical.

And I think, (following the Hermeneutic of Surprise) that St. John's aim was two-fold: On the one hand to not capitulate: Church teaching means what it always has meant; on the other hand: to bolster the ancient meaning with an independent reference text. Whether that is what the Council acheived, ... I haven't read enough of it to say. I do know that even in this, there were many who fought against it. It may also be that St. John hoped that the new text might appeal to the opponents of the ancient content of Tradition; I am doubtful of whether it would, for one determined to not believe will find any excuse for not believing. But St. John did not ask his Council to define any new heresies and exclude them from Tradition. St. John did not ask his Council to uphold Tradition-itself as a principle of revelation, except insfoar as it is described as such already, and re-expressed now in new words.

It might have been a reasonable attempt! It might well have been a brave trial! To express one thing in two ways... that is a great part of the work of Mathematicians (we call them “equations”), and when we manage it, this really advances the understanding of both ways of speaking. But, again speaking as a Mathematician: it is a difficult task, even when there is no metaphysics, no ontology with which one must accord. And again: one who is determined against understanding will not be helped in this way.

As for the more direct approach, the never-pronounced “anathema sit”, as to why it was not sought, ... I cannot guess. I do not know why sideways was thought better. Neither am I sure that it was better (it's hard to tell, from History, what would have happened if it didn't). I do think that, eventually, someone shall have to try the direct approach. Happily, tradition is not dead!