Author: pgepps

Seas Threaten Vainly to Capsize

We should not be ignorant of the harm done to many who do end up lost at sea or marooned when teachers are derelict, but good teachers show us clearly what good habits of thought look like. (Emphasis added.)

How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking. The small boat of the thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves – flung from one extreme to another: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and so forth. Every day new sects spring up, and what St Paul says about human deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error (cf. Eph 4: 14) comes true.

Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine”, seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.

We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An “adult” faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceipt from truth.

We must develop this adult faith; we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith. And it is this faith–only faith–that creates unity and is fulfilled in love.

(source: Mass «Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice»: Homily of Card. Joseph Ratzinger)

More Rubbish from Spadaro and Figueroa

OK, I’ve had to explain and defend my decision to enter into full communion with the Church that Jesus Christ founded to plenty of dear Christian brothers and sisters–including my literal family as well as “friends like brothers” and earnest co-religionists–whose tradition is properly called Fundamentalist or evangelical.

Now, for reasons Fr. Longenecker is well-situated to observe, the malicious and ignorant writing of certain low persons permitted to hang about high places in the Vatican has made explaining and defending Fundamentalism and evangelicalism an expression of Catholic faith:

An ignorant person can be educated. An arrogant person can be lowered, but a person who is ignorant and arrogant is unassailable. The recent article by Fr Spadaro and Figueroa is a perfect example. They pontificate in lofty intellectual, generalized terms about America and Americans and don’t have the faintest idea of what they’re talking about and what makes is it worse is that they don’t have the faintest idea that they don’t have the faintest idea.

(source: On European Ignorance and Arrogance)

The article really is full of so much rubbish that one has almost to finish destroying one sentence before one can even begin to read the next–it is a tissue of lies and folly.  It is far too wholly dishonest and stupid to thoroughly refute.

I’ll limit myself to just a few specifics which, if you find the relevant paragraphs, will either set you sputtering or reveal your ignorance of Anglo-American religious history.  I’ll quote just one relevant passage (and you’ll just have to search the Internet yourself if you want to vex your soul by reading this garbage more thoroughly):

The term “evangelical fundamentalist” can today be assimilated to the “evangelical right” or “theoconservatism” and has its origins in the years 1910-1915. In that period a South Californian millionaire, Lyman Stewart, published the 12-volume work The Fundamentals. The author wanted to respond to the threat of modernist ideas of the time. He summarized the thought of authors whose doctrinal support he appreciated. He exemplified the moral, social, collective and individual aspects of the evangelical faith. His admirers include many politicians and even two recent presidents: Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Fundamentalism does claim to be historically evangelical, but ever since the “New Evangelicals” began the attempt to articulate a conservative evangelicalism that was not tangled up in Fundamentalist separatism (for good and for ill), “evangelicalism” as a movement has not willingly or ostensibly contained “fundamentalism.” And no one uses the term “evangelical fundamentalism,” nor is it clear what the modified phrase would refer to among Anglo-American low church Protestant groups.

Lyman Stewart is indeed the publisher of The Fundamentals, but the individual volumes are not his summaries of, but actual works by, the authors included.

Here, try reading Wikipedia if this is too hard: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fundamentals

It is unlikely that most Fundamentalists today, let alone many evangelicals, let alone someone like Reagan or Bush, would even know who James Orr (whose works are well-represented in The Fundamentals, which I years ago studied quite thoroughly in its 12-volume edition) is–much less who Lyman Stewart was, or what that publisher had to say (considering he didn’t write The Fundamentals).

Then there’s the utterly silly notion that Reagan would have been interested in Stewart or The Fundamentals, as Reagan was by no means particularly conservative in religion, though a practicing PCUSA Presbyterian (i.e., mainline, not low church “evangelical,” nor anywhere near Fundamentalist).

The younger Bush actually moves a bit closer to evangelical by moving from Episcopalian to Methodist, but remains well within the mainline nonetheless. I find it ridiculous to think he knows James Orr from B. B. Warfield, or either of them from Lyman Stewart.

It goes on and on and on like this. Irresponsible, diabolical, divisive rubbish.

Emphasis Added

Go read the whole thing, of course!

No one better exemplifies the spiritual trajectory of our time than Arthur Conan Doyle, an advocate of scientific rigor who started life as a devout Catholic and ended it as the world’s most prominent spiritualist.

While studying with the Jesuits at Stonyhurst, Doyle made his first communion. He wrote to his mother: “Oh mama, I cannot express the joy that I felt on the happy day to receive my creator into my breast. I shall never though I live a hundred years, I shall never forget that day.” He was enrolled in the sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary as Arthurus Doyle, servus perpetuus BVM.

His promises were soon forgotten. In adulthood, Doyle championed broad-minded inquiry and rejected the Catholic faith. “I regard hard-and-fast dogma of every kind as an unjustifiable and essentially irreligious thing,” he wrote. He admired Oliver Wendell Holmes, whose skeptical, scientific outlook would be immortally embodied in Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street.

Rigorous skepticism may work for storybook characters, but it cannot satisfy man. When spiritualist mediums brought automatic writing and table-rapping into Victorian parlors, Doyle was taken in. He became the most outspoken defender of spiritualism, accusing Harry Houdini of being a pawn of Rome when the magician exposed Doyle’s heroes as frauds. Like the people I joined in Brooklyn, Doyle wanted a nonjudgmental faith that welcomed all spirits. But in rejecting dogma, he opened himself to impostors, not excluding the greatest impostor of all.

We may be tempted simply to have an urbane laugh at the follies of the superstitious, but that would be a mistake. They see something the great and good cannot: We live in a world full of spirits. Agnostic indifference to this fact may be possible for a time, but very few men are capable of sustained and thoroughgoing unbelief. This is why no superstition is more ridiculous than the pretense of secularism, and anyone who thinks Christianity will give way to atheism is a far greater fool than the most credulous ghost hunter.

(source: “My Shamanic Healing” by Matthew Schmitz)

Making Distinctions, Marking Consequences

Ed Peters helps us to make the distinctions necessary to understand Bishop Paprocki’s clear restatement of canonical norms in light of novel variants of permanent human problems:

Paprocki knows, for example, that the CLSA New Commentary (2001) discussing Canon 1184 at p. 1412, understands one in “manifest sin” as one “publicly known to be living in a state of grave sin”. That’s a far cry from Shine’s rhetorical jab, delivered as if it were the coup de grace to Paprocki’s position, “Who among us, including Bishop Paprocki, does not publicly sin at different moments?” Hardly anyone, I would venture, and so would Paprocki. But the law is not directed at those who, from time to time, commit sin, even a public sin; it is concerned about those who make an objectively sinful state their way of life. Fumble that distinction, as Shine does, and one’s chances of correctly reading Canon 1184 drop to, well, zero.

[…]

I want to end these remarks by highlighting a much more important point: Paprocki’s decree is not aimed at a category of persons (homosexuals, lesbians, LGBT, etc., words that do not even appear in his document) but rather, it is concerned with an act, a public act, an act that creates a civilly-recognized status, namely, the act of entering into a ‘same-sex marriage’. That public act most certainly has public consequences, some civil and some canonical.

(source: Bp Paprocki’s norms on ‘same-sex marriage’ | In the Light of the Law)

I think that last paragraph, especially, bears considering.

We are all sinners. That has consequences. We all also take public acts that really do, or really purport to, mark us with permanent characters or create permanent relationships. Those public acts have well-known implications, and the consequences need to be equally well-known and well-considered.

We too often think of “consequences” as threats designed to modify behavior by anticipation. But consequences are basically facts, and ordering the canonical response to those facts so as to make those real consequences clear and the responses prudent is an act of great mercy–the kind that does justice and then goes beyond.

Summa Comparison Texts

So my brain needed a good, relaxing bath in sound reasoning after walking down memory lane with the Modern Western Philosophy crew.  A dip in the Summa, of course, was just what the Doctor ordered.  Of course, what that meant was trying to find a few texts that would be likely to come into direct conversation with the texts I’d picked as an intro to that tradition.

Here’s what I found, with no particular explanation.  I’m hoping our Summer Seminar conversation will make the connections.

In our knowledge there are two things to be considered. First, that intellectual knowledge in some degree arises from sensible knowledge: and, because sense has singular and individual things for its object, and intellect has the universal for its object, it follows that our knowledge of the former comes before our knowledge of the latter. Secondly, we must consider that our intellect proceeds from a state of potentiality to a state of actuality; and every power thus proceeding from potentiality to actuality comes first to an incomplete act, which is the medium between potentiality and actuality, before accomplishing the perfect act. The perfect act of the intellect is complete knowledge, when the object is distinctly and determinately known; whereas the incomplete act is imperfect knowledge, when the object is known indistinctly, and as it were confusedly. A thing thus imperfectly known, is known partly in act and partly in potentiality, and hence the Philosopher says (Phys. i, 1), that “what is manifest and certain is known to us at first confusedly; afterwards we know it by distinguishing its principles and elements.” Now it is evident that to know an object that comprises many things, without proper knowledge of each thing contained in it, is to know that thing confusedly.

(source: Summa Theologica)

the Essence of God, the pure and perfect act, is simply and perfectly in itself intelligible; and hence God by His own Essence knows Himself, and all other things also. The angelic essence belongs, indeed, to the genus of intelligible things as “act,” but not as a “pure act,” nor as a “complete act,” and hence the angel’s act of intelligence is not completed by his essence. For although an angel understands himself by his own essence, still he cannot understand all other things by his own essence; for he knows things other than himself by their likenesses. Now the human intellect is only a potentiality in the genus of intelligible beings, just as primary matter is a potentiality as regards sensible beings; and hence it is called “possible.” Therefore in its essence the human mind is potentially understanding. Hence it has in itself the power to understand, but not to be understood, except as it is made actual. For even the Platonists asserted than an order of intelligible beings existed above the order of intellects, forasmuch as the intellect understands only by participation of the intelligible; for they said that the participator is below what it participates. If, therefore, the human intellect, as the Platonists held, became actual by participating separate intelligible forms, it would understand itself by such participation of incorporeal beings. But as in this life our intellect has material and sensible things for its proper natural object, as stated above (Question [84], Article [7]), it understands itself according as it is made actual by the species abstracted from sensible things, through the light of the active intellect, which not only actuates the intelligible things themselves, but also, by their instrumentality, actuates the passive intellect. Therefore the intellect knows itself not by its essence, but by its act.

(source: Summa Theologica)

Since the human intellect in the present state of life cannot understand even immaterial created substances (Article [1]), much less can it understand the essence of the uncreated substance. Hence it must be said simply that God is not the first object of our knowledge. Rather do we know God through creatures, according to the Apostle (Rm. 1:20), “the invisible things of God are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made”: while the first object of our knowledge in this life is the “quiddity of a material thing,” which is the proper object of our intellect, as appears above in many passages (Question [84], Article [7]; Question [85], Article [8]; Question [87], Article [2], ad 2)

(source: Summa Theologica)

This doctrine is wisdom above all human wisdom; not merely in any one order, but absolutely. For since it is the part of a wise man to arrange and to judge, and since lesser matters should be judged in the light of some higher principle, he is said to be wise in any one order who considers the highest principle in that order: thus in the order of building, he who plans the form of the house is called wise and architect, in opposition to the inferior laborers who trim the wood and make ready the stones: “As a wise architect, I have laid the foundation” (1 Cor. 3:10). Again, in the order of all human life, the prudent man is called wise, inasmuch as he directs his acts to a fitting end: “Wisdom is prudence to a man” (Prov. 10: 23). Therefore he who considers absolutely the highest cause of the whole universe, namely God, is most of all called wise. Hence wisdom is said to be the knowledge of divine things, as Augustine says (De Trin. xii, 14). But sacred doctrine essentially treats of God viewed as the highest cause—not only so far as He can be known through creatures just as philosophers knew Him—”That which is known of God is manifest in them” (Rm. 1:19)—but also as far as He is known to Himself alone and revealed to others. Hence sacred doctrine is especially called wisdom.

(source: Summa Theologica)

A thing can be self-evident in either of two ways: on the one hand, self-evident in itself, though not to us; on the other, self-evident in itself, and to us. A proposition is self-evident because the predicate is included in the essence of the subject, as “Man is an animal,” for animal is contained in the essence of man. If, therefore the essence of the predicate and subject be known to all, the proposition will be self-evident to all; as is clear with regard to the first principles of demonstration, the terms of which are common things that no one is ignorant of, such as being and non-being, whole and part, and such like. If, however, there are some to whom the essence of the predicate and subject is unknown, the proposition will be self-evident in itself, but not to those who do not know the meaning of the predicate and subject of the proposition. Therefore, it happens, as Boethius says (Hebdom., the title of which is: “Whether all that is, is good”), “that there are some mental concepts self-evident only to the learned, as that incorporeal substances are not in space.” Therefore I say that this proposition, “God exists,” of itself is self-evident, for the predicate is the same as the subject, because God is His own existence as will be hereafter shown (Question [3], Article [4]). Now because we do not know the essence of God, the proposition is not self-evident to us; but needs to be demonstrated by things that are more known to us, though less known in their nature—namely, by effects.

(source: Summa Theologica)

It is impossible for any created intellect to see the essence of God by its own natural power. For knowledge is regulated according as the thing known is in the knower. But the thing known is in the knower according to the mode of the knower. Hence the knowledge of every knower is ruled according to its own nature. If therefore the mode of anything’s being exceeds the mode of the knower, it must result that the knowledge of the object is above the nature of the knower. Now the mode of being of things is manifold. For some things have being only in this one individual matter; as all bodies. But others are subsisting natures, not residing in matter at all, which, however, are not their own existence, but receive it; and these are the incorporeal beings, called angels. But to God alone does it belong to be His own subsistent being. Therefore what exists only in individual matter we know naturally, forasmuch as our soul, whereby we know, is the form of certain matter. Now our soul possesses two cognitive powers; one is the act of a corporeal organ, which naturally knows things existing in individual matter; hence sense knows only the singular. But there is another kind of cognitive power in the soul, called the intellect; and this is not the act of any corporeal organ. Wherefore the intellect naturally knows natures which exist only in individual matter; not as they are in such individual matter, but according as they are abstracted therefrom by the considering act of the intellect; hence it follows that through the intellect we can understand these objects as universal; and this is beyond the power of the sense. Now the angelic intellect naturally knows natures that are not in matter; but this is beyond the power of the intellect of our soul in the state of its present life, united as it is to the body. It follows therefore that to know self-subsistent being is natural to the divine intellect alone; and this is beyond the natural power of any created intellect; for no creature is its own existence, forasmuch as its existence is participated. Therefore the created intellect cannot see the essence of God, unless God by His grace unites Himself to the created intellect, as an object made intelligible to it.

(source: Summa Theologica)

 

In names predicated of many in an analogical sense, all are predicated because they have reference to some one thing; and this one thing must be placed in the definition of them all. And since that expressed by the name is the definition, as the Philosopher says (Metaph. iv), such a name must be applied primarily to that which is put in the definition of such other things, and secondarily to these others according as they approach more or less to that first. Thus, for instance, “healthy” applied to animals comes into the definition of “healthy” applied to medicine, which is called healthy as being the cause of health in the animal; and also into the definition of “healthy” which is applied to urine, which is called healthy in so far as it is the sign of the animal’s health. Thus all names applied metaphorically to God, are applied to creatures primarily rather than to God, because when said of God they mean only similitudes to such creatures. For as “smiling” applied to a field means only that the field in the beauty of its flowering is like the beauty of the human smile by proportionate likeness, so the name of “lion” applied to God means only that God manifests strength in His works, as a lion in his. Thus it is clear that applied to God the signification of names can be defined only from what is said of creatures. But to other names not applied to God in a metaphorical sense, the same rule would apply if they were spoken of God as the cause only, as some have supposed. For when it is said, “God is good,” it would then only mean “God is the cause of the creature’s goodness”; thus the term good applied to God would included in its meaning the creature’s goodness. Hence “good” would apply primarily to creatures rather than to God. But as was shown above (Article [2]), these names are applied to God not as the cause only, but also essentially. For the words, “God is good,” or “wise,” signify not only that He is the cause of wisdom or goodness, but that these exist in Him in a more excellent way. Hence as regards what the name signifies, these names are applied primarily to God rather than to creatures, because these perfections flow from God to creatures; but as regards the imposition of the names, they are primarily applied by us to creatures which we know first. Hence they have a mode of signification which belongs to creatures, as said above (Article [3]).

(source: Summa Theologica)

God understands Himself through Himself. In proof whereof it must be known that although in operations which pass to an external effect, the object of the operation, which is taken as the term, exists outside the operator; nevertheless in operations that remain in the operator, the object signified as the term of operation, resides in the operator; and accordingly as it is in the operator, the operation is actual. Hence the Philosopher says (De Anima iii) that “the sensible in act is sense in act, and the intelligible in act is intellect in act.” For the reason why we actually feel or know a thing is because our intellect or sense is actually informed by the sensible or intelligible species. And because of this only, it follows that sense or intellect is distinct from the sensible or intelligible object, since both are in potentiality.

Since therefore God has nothing in Him of potentiality, but is pure act, His intellect and its object are altogether the same; so that He neither is without the intelligible species, as is the case with our intellect when it understands potentially; nor does the intelligible species differ from the substance of the divine intellect, as it differs in our intellect when it understands actually; but the intelligible species itself is the divine intellect itself, and thus God understands Himself through Himself.

(source: Summa Theologica)

It is necessary to suppose ideas in the divine mind. For the Greek word {Idea} is in Latin “forma.” Hence by ideas are understood the forms of things, existing apart from the things themselves. Now the form of anything existing apart from the thing itself can be for one of two ends: either to be the type of that of which it is called the form, or to be the principle of the knowledge of that thing, inasmuch as the forms of things knowable are said to be in him who knows them. In either case we must suppose ideas, as is clear for the following reason:

In all things not generated by chance, the form must be the end of any generation whatsoever. But an agent does not act on account of the form, except in so far as the likeness of the form is in the agent, as may happen in two ways. For in some agents the form of the thing to be made pre-exists according to its natural being, as in those that act by their nature; as a man generates a man, or fire generates fire. Whereas in other agents (the form of the thing to be made pre-exists) according to intelligible being, as in those that act by the intellect; and thus the likeness of a house pre-exists in the mind of the builder. And this may be called the idea of the house, since the builder intends to build his house like to the form conceived in his mind. As then the world was not made by chance, but by God acting by His intellect, as will appear later (Question [46], Article [1]), there must exist in the divine mind a form to the likeness of which the world was made. And in this the notion of an idea consists.

(source: Summa Theologica)

For it is clear that whatever is received into something is received according to the condition of the recipient. Now a thing is known in as far as its form is in the knower. But the intellectual soul knows a thing in its nature absolutely: for instance, it knows a stone absolutely as a stone; and therefore the form of a stone absolutely, as to its proper formal idea, is in the intellectual soul. Therefore the intellectual soul itself is an absolute form, and not something composed of matter and form. For if the intellectual soul were composed of matter and form, the forms of things would be received into it as individuals, and so it would only know the individual: just as it happens with the sensitive powers which receive forms in a corporeal organ; since matter is the principle by which forms are individualized. It follows, therefore, that the intellectual soul, and every intellectual substance which has knowledge of forms absolutely, is exempt from composition of matter and form.

(source: Summa Theologica)

We must assert that the intellect which is the principle of intellectual operation is the form of the human body. For that whereby primarily anything acts is a form of the thing to which the act is to be attributed: for instance, that whereby a body is primarily healed is health, and that whereby the soul knows primarily is knowledge; hence health is a form of the body, and knowledge is a form of the soul. The reason is because nothing acts except so far as it is in act; wherefore a thing acts by that whereby it is in act. Now it is clear that the first thing by which the body lives is the soul. And as life appears through various operations in different degrees of living things, that whereby we primarily perform each of all these vital actions is the soul. For the soul is the primary principle of our nourishment, sensation, and local movement; and likewise of our understanding. Therefore this principle by which we primarily understand, whether it be called the intellect or the intellectual soul, is the form of the body. This is the demonstration used by Aristotle (De Anima ii, 2).

But if anyone says that the intellectual soul is not the form of the body he must first explain how it is that this action of understanding is the action of this particular man; for each one is conscious that it is himself who understands. Now an action may be attributed to anyone in three ways, as is clear from the Philosopher (Phys. v, 1); for a thing is said to move or act, either by virtue of its whole self, for instance, as a physician heals; or by virtue of a part, as a man sees by his eye; or through an accidental quality, as when we say that something that is white builds, because it is accidental to the builder to be white. So when we say that Socrates or Plato understands, it is clear that this is not attributed to him accidentally; since it is ascribed to him as man, which is predicated of him essentially. We must therefore say either that Socrates understands by virtue of his whole self, as Plato maintained, holding that man is an intellectual soul; or that intelligence is a part of Socrates. The first cannot stand, as was shown above (Question [75], Article [4]), for this reason, that it is one and the same man who is conscious both that he understands, and that he senses. But one cannot sense without a body: therefore the body must be some part of man. It follows therefore that the intellect by which Socrates understands is a part of Socrates, so that in some way it is united to the body of Socrates.

The Commentator held that this union is through the intelligible species, as having a double subject, in the possible intellect, and in the phantasms which are in the corporeal organs. Thus through the intelligible species the possible intellect is linked to the body of this or that particular man. But this link or union does not sufficiently explain the fact, that the act of the intellect is the act of Socrates. This can be clearly seen from comparison with the sensitive faculty, from which Aristotle proceeds to consider things relating to the intellect. For the relation of phantasms to the intellect is like the relation of colors to the sense of sight, as he says De Anima iii, 5,7. Therefore, as the species of colors are in the sight, so are the species of phantasms in the possible intellect. Now it is clear that because the colors, the images of which are in the sight, are on a wall, the action of seeing is not attributed to the wall: for we do not say that the wall sees, but rather that it is seen. Therefore, from the fact that the species of phantasms are in the possible intellect, it does not follow that Socrates, in whom are the phantasms, understands, but that he or his phantasms are understood.

Some, however, tried to maintain that the intellect is united to the body as its motor; and hence that the intellect and body form one thing so that the act of the intellect could be attributed to the whole. This is, however, absurd for many reasons. First, because the intellect does not move the body except through the appetite, the movement of which presupposes the operation of the intellect. The reason therefore why Socrates understands is not because he is moved by his intellect, but rather, contrariwise, he is moved by his intellect because he understands. Secondly, because since Socrates is an individual in a nature of one essence composed of matter and form, if the intellect be not the form, it follows that it must be outside the essence, and then the intellect is the whole Socrates as a motor to the thing moved. Whereas the act of intellect remains in the agent, and does not pass into something else, as does the action of heating. Therefore the action of understanding cannot be attributed to Socrates for the reason that he is moved by his intellect. Thirdly, because the action of a motor is never attributed to the thing moved, except as to an instrument; as the action of a carpenter to a saw. Therefore if understanding is attributed to Socrates, as the action of what moves him, it follows that it is attributed to him as to an instrument. This is contrary to the teaching of the Philosopher, who holds that understanding is not possible through a corporeal instrument (De Anima iii, 4). Fourthly, because, although the action of a part be attributed to the whole, as the action of the eye is attributed to a man; yet it is never attributed to another part, except perhaps indirectly; for we do not say that the hand sees because the eye sees. Therefore if the intellect and Socrates are united in the above manner, the action of the intellect cannot be attributed to Socrates. If, however, Socrates be a whole composed of a union of the intellect with whatever else belongs to Socrates, and still the intellect be united to those other things only as a motor, it follows that Socrates is not one absolutely, and consequently neither a being absolutely, for a thing is a being according as it is one.

There remains, therefore, no other explanation than that given by Aristotle—namely, that this particular man understands, because the intellectual principle is his form. Thus from the very operation of the intellect it is made clear that the intellectual principle is united to the body as its form.

The same can be clearly shown from the nature of the human species. For the nature of each thing is shown by its operation. Now the proper operation of man as man is to understand; because he thereby surpasses all other animals. Whence Aristotle concludes (Ethic. x, 7) that the ultimate happiness of man must consist in this operation as properly belonging to him. Man must therefore derive his species from that which is the principle of this operation. But the species of anything is derived from its form. It follows therefore that the intellectual principle is the proper form of man.

But we must observe that the nobler a form is, the more it rises above corporeal matter, the less it is merged in matter, and the more it excels matter by its power and its operation; hence we find that the form of a mixed body has another operation not caused by its elemental qualities. And the higher we advance in the nobility of forms, the more we find that the power of the form excels the elementary matter; as the vegetative soul excels the form of the metal, and the sensitive soul excels the vegetative soul. Now the human soul is the highest and noblest of forms. Wherefore it excels corporeal matter in its power by the fact that it has an operation and a power in which corporeal matter has no share whatever. This power is called the intellect.

It is well to remark that if anyone holds that the soul is composed of matter and form, it would follow that in no way could the soul be the form of the body. For since the form is an act, and matter is only in potentiality, that which is composed of matter and form cannot be the form of another by virtue of itself as a whole. But if it is a form by virtue of some part of itself, then that part which is the form we call the soul, and that of which it is the form we call the “primary animate,” as was said above (Question [75], Article [5]).

(source: Summa Theologica)

Readings for Summer Seminar, Session Two

One of the points of interest in our Summer Seminar has been to get a basic understanding of the philosophical drift of Modern Western Philosophy.  Some of us are engaged with contemporary literary theory, and need to see how Foucault ended up where he did.  Others keep hearing “Enlightenment” and “nominalism” thrown around, and want to pin it down.

In any case, for a starter we’re going to just look at what Descartes did that launched the whole project.  I’ve prepared a list of philosophical primary texts and handy discussions & notes, themed on treatments of and responses to the basic Cartesian cogito that should help anyone (with some patience with jargon, and some resistance to intellectual intoxication) to build the “spine” for further exploration.

If you have to be selective, I’d say read the Descartes, then SEP articles, then Hegel on Descartes, and then as much Husserl as you can manage.  The rest of what you’re likely to want to know can be fitted around these.

Teachers, Universities, Colleges, Neighborhoods

The University should teach the teachers.

The teachers should live among the families in the neighborhoods, and serve them freely.

The families in the neighborhoods should feed the teachers, and send their most apt pupils to the University.

The University should be organized on a scale and in a manner that permits it to thrive on what the neighborhoods send to support the apt pupils and the faculty who instruct them.

This means the University needs colleges (room-and-board facilities for faculty and students) and libraries that are in cities that are mutually supporting–where tradesmen and merchants can have their living enhanced by offering services to the colleges, and where the faculty and students provide benefits worthy of subsidy to the city.

A city should be composed of neighborhoods, and on a scale that permits detached neighborhoods away from the city (the villages) to flourish.

Such a situation would permit both local and aggregated use of resources.

It is both unimaginably difficult to conceive in terms of current structures, and unimaginably simple to conceive if enough of us were to decide, together, to do it differently.

What is lacking is imagination and consensus, linked to the practical know-how that is often kept too busy and too distracted to apply itself to these matters.

We can make these things happen. Wake each other up and start organizing on better principles, friends.

Read Them for Yourself

Herewith, a list of links I have generated as background for a summer project.  If you don’t know any of these, familiarize yourself!  If you do, glance again!

Caesar’s Image Is God’s First

Caesar’s image is stamped on the coin, marking the coin as his.

Caesar, the Pharisee, the Herodian, the disciples, you, me, all human creatures are stamped with the image of God.

The world is not divided between Caesar’s realm and God’s; Caesar and his realm belong to God, and only insofar as God relegates matters to Caesar can they belong to him.

The image Caesar stamps on his coins is the shadow of the image of God, who permits Caesar to stamp his coins.

Some Pharisees and Herodians were sent
to Jesus to ensnare him in his speech.
They came and said to him,
“Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man
and that you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion.
You do not regard a person’s status
but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.
Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?
Should we pay or should we not pay?”
Knowing their hypocrisy he said to them,
“Why are you testing me?
Bring me a denarius to look at.”
They brought one to him and he said to them,
“Whose image and inscription is this?”
They replied to him, “Caesar’s.”
So Jesus said to them,
“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar
and to God what belongs to God.”
They were utterly amazed at him.

USCCB Daily Readings

Via Purgativa [sonnet]

This one’s been on my mind, both on account of the way the world seems to be, right now, and on account of some fiction I worked on today for the first time in years.

From The Clay Pot:

The car ran out of gas; I had to walk.
The grass turned brown and then gave way to clay.
The dirt was red, and on a rainy day
Had sucked up shoe-marks now turned into rock.
I followed this relief, until a block
Of solid concrete showed me where there lay
The slab from some old store that seemed to say,
With eloquence that taught me stones could talk:
You seek a pathway forward, yet you drive
Encumbered by your need to fill your tank,
Insuring your survival, nine to five,
By heart-attacking suit for shares and rank.
Where did these shoe-marks lead? Can you forego
The weary world a few miles, still, and know?

PGE 11-30-2014

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No, Really, Think About It

I’ll probably be harassed a while longer with “likes” from accounts I have to block (but, hey, that’s what a block button is for) for actually bothering to reflect a moment on this pat expression of currently dominant ideology masquerading as cleverness, but let me ask you to seriously absorb the point:

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Really, now.  What sensible debate can be carried on in which people, in all their complex situations and relationships, are pressured to behave and advocate in a manner suitable to precisely one characteristic that others have chosen to put in the foreground?

How could anyone ever achieve liberty who willingly participates in such a society?

At every turn, you must either be “winning” based on your successful reduction of your whole scope of personal activity to doing the will of a powerful group that shares one characteristic with you; or “mostly winning” based on your successful negotiation of a compromise with various groups that each share one characteristic with you; or “oppressed” by others who are doing the same.

Bah.  It’s ridiculous.  In such a system you could only be “winning” by oppressing others, having first truncated yourself and mandated the same mutilation of all those who “identify with” you.

You can try to make the case that we have too often done exactly that, whether “we” is my English ancestors or your German ones or his Cherokee ones or her Russian ones, but you cannot make the case that we ought to do more of it.

That’s just silly–obviously, trivially, too-clear-to-need-proof silly–and it is a disaster when people actually make it a priority.

Heck, even a Marxist would get this one right.

“liberal” work, “servile” work, and plumbers–Professional Panel notes

In my last response to the 2017 Conference on Leisure and Labor at St. Gregory’s University, I discussed some questions that arose from the keynote speech, particularly as regards the terms “useful” and “useless” as used of an art or the goods it seeks.

Something mentioned in that talk, the late Roman and medieval distinction between “liberal” and “servile” arts, recurred in the Invited Scholars Panel on the second day and lingered in the air of the Professional Panel that afternoon.

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The “liberal” arts are, of course, those proper to the maintenance of a “free man” (and, where culturally conceivable, a “free woman”).  A “free man” stands without intermediary before the laws of the nation, owns property in his own right, participates in civic affairs in his own name, and is not a dependent of another in such a way as to render him obliged to give anyone payment or service without an equitable contract.  Those born or reduced to service–to slavery, or in better times to serfdom–were “servile,” that is, they had become dependents (voluntarily or involuntarily) to such an extent as to perpetually be obliged to offer service for subsistence, without any standing to insist on equitable terms by litigation, legislation, or direct action.

Now, as there was limited likelihood that most people in, say, 10th Century society could move between these states, there was little incentive to propose that the “servile” add “liberal arts” to their repertoire.  And as is so often the case, the urge to turn things into tidy exclusive sets seem to have made “liberal arts” and “servile arts” seem like two exclusive groups to most moderns.  The “liberal arts,” then, are often thought of as belonging to different departments–not just practically, but by necessity and by right–from what have variously been called “mechanical arts” or “practical arts” or “useful arts.”

Indeed, though it is far from obvious that this ought to be “just the way it is,” it is quite obvious that at least some moments in history–the 10th-12th centuries, though less the 13th-14th; the late 18th and 19th centuries, though less the late 20th–made it seem very expedient that those of “servile” status not be urged to waste their time on “liberal arts,” and those who could expect “liberal” lives eschew the “servile arts” altogether.

Even in times when economic incentive or egalitarian ideology, or some combination of these and other factors (such as the sudden need of many thousands of African Americans for education to live as free in the late 19C, or the need to re-integrate many thousands of soldiers after World War Two), have put a premium on “liberal education for all,” the troubling split between the two has often remained.  This divide–even where we are trying to erase or deny it–seems to emerge in, for example, radically flattened definitions of “liberal arts” or “servile arts” that turn one or both into a pragmatic adjunct of the other.

In my post about the discussion following the keynote written by Fr. Schall, I noticed with what difficulty we find language to articulate the difference between what is “truly useless” (miseducation, wasteful and destructive activity) and what is “useless” only under the influence of a pervasive utilitarian, pragmatist, instrumentalist understanding.  We often end up conflating such apparently “useless” activity with the “contemplative life,” and using that conflation to radicalize the division between the “useless” liberal arts and the “useful” merely utilitarian arts.  In so doing, we wrong the “active life” by treating it as merely instrumental, forgetting that study and teaching themselves properly belong to the “active life”; we forget that contemplation is both flower and fruit, and therefore also seed, of that which is nurtured and fed by activity, and neither merely a product of a process nor a purchase delivered.

The liberal arts, I therefore suggested, should be viewed as incorporating education that pursues both goods that could be taken for merely utilitarian goods (convertible only for other goods in the active life) and goods that could not be taken for merely utilitarian goods (strictly liberal goods).  I concluded that, from the perspective of the liberal arts so understood,

We are either growing and shaping our active lives so as to make it more possible for ourselves and others to enjoy the goods of friendship with God, and thus converting the mixture of true and false goods that are judged useful in the utilitarian sense into liberal goods that fructify in enjoyment of friendship with God (and being converted from a utilitarian to a liberal conception of what is useful); or we are stunting and misshaping our active lives so as to convert its goods only into others of its kind, while specifically treating as useless those activities that would make the true enjoyment of those goods possible, thus making those goods truly useless to ourselves and others.

In other words, a true liberal arts education will eschew some things that are truly “servile” in the worst sense, but will not make that distinction at the line of “knowledge worker” versus “laborer” or “white collar” versus “blue collar” or “theoretical” versus “practical” or “intellectual” versus “mechanical.”  A true liberal arts education will jettison whatever is contrary to human dignity, anti-realist, merely utilitarian, merely pragmatic, designed to bind us more completely to the powers of this world and make us more efficient subjects to secular tyranny; it will not train slaves, slave traders, or slave-drivers.

A true liberal arts education will include many things, then, that are often seen as on the “wrong” or “lower” side of these divides:  useful trades, especially those that can be taught from generation to generation, from craftsman to apprentice, farmer to farmhand.  These well-chosen trades will have two defining characteristics:  they will tend to make those who learn them capable of securing and enjoying the purely liberal goods, the leisure for contemplation; and they will tend to make those who learn them more capable of securing these goods for others, and teaching them to enjoy them.  It is necessary, then, that those who will be thought masters (fit to teach) or doctors (fit to devise programs of study, to teach teachers) be able to articulate the relationship of these chosen trades, and other fields of study, to the liberal goods and the contemplative life.

A liberal education, that is, aims at true conversion, not to be confused with a bare grasp of a concept or a temporary redirection of one’s aspirations.  This is a conversion of the goods of life, that is, a materially real and thus thoroughly personal commitment of one’s ability to gain a subsistence, to work and to learn, to a way of life that pursues the truly good and promotes the common good; that eschews the truly servile, wasteful, and destructive; that refuses to permit goods to remain merely earthly, consumed and being consumed, but cooperates with grace to heal and perfect nature.

To do that, it is probably practically necessary that there be three tiers of training, and these correspond readily to the traditional bachelor, master, doctor system:

  • the bachelor gains a trade and also studies the liberal goods in a way that orients his trade toward securing, enjoying, and sharing those goods;
  • the master continues in study of the liberal goods sufficiently that he can teach these through the bachelor’s level;
  • the doctor commits his life to the ongoing study of the liberal goods sufficiently that he can devise and refine courses of instruction, taking responsibility for the cultivation of these goods at all levels of society as his profession.

Now, I would contend that much of the bachelor’s training in a trade (and also much of liberal education) should be completed well before and probably through other means (here again I mention apprenticeship) than what we consider “college education” these days; honestly, the resources currently spent giving so many such a poor education through high school, and then through most four-year programs, are not only wasted but turned to positively destructive ends.  But whether achieved before, around, or through any particular educational organization, it is the aim of the liberal arts educator that every person who is willing and able should leave the family home to start a new life, likely a new family, equipped with the ability and understanding to secure, enjoy, and share the liberal goods–though we have to recognize that we, too, will have limitations in ability (and in will, though we ought to overcome these).

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All these reflections, swirling in my head over the years and intensified in the last few years, were coming into fresh clarity as I heard the formulations of others at St. Gregory’s last week.  It was with some disappointment, then, but not much surprise, that I kept hearing the Professional panel talking about “critical thinking” and “problem-solving skills,” all too often exemplifying “character” only through literally servile traits like regarding inefficient use of on-the-clock time as “stealing” from one’s employer.  Even “empathy” in management, though certainly not negligible (no more so than punctuality, at least), was justified in terms of its capacity to make the workplace more efficient, for the most part.

Over the course of the question-and-answer period, however, some well-considered and even pointed questions and comments from the audience started to tease out of these presenters their better reflections about the relationship of the spiritual life to work, including not only the useful-to-employers traits they began with but the common understandings of what is good for humans that workers at all levels of organization must share if they are to produce real, truly durable, even eternal goods.

The problem, though, was that even in the context of such a conference, it was evident that the participants in the “Professional” division were initially primed to regard merely utilitarian goods as self-justifying and necessary, “tangibles” that were enhanced and optimized by the addition of “intangibles” superadded by the “liberal arts.”  When engaged in discussion, however, in most cases elements of their formation were drawn out that indicated their ability to understand–indeed, at some level, the basically human need to understand–that the liberal goods are not “intangibles” at all, not luxuries or even highly desirable option packages, not optimizations or class upgrades, but tangible human goods made ready for conversion, cultivated to the point of fructification.

This difficulty was, as evidenced above, the occasion of a number of reflections on the nature of the liberal arts.  Let me suggest one final thing it suggests, though:  it suggests that those who are already basically capable of gaining their subsistence, of acquiring utilitarian goods by work, can and should be prompted to consider again the need to sort these goods and convert them to “liberal goods”–to those goods that are, either mediately or immediately, convertible into the goods of contemplation, the fruit of leisure and a well-furnished mind.  It suggests that we can and should teach our friends and neighbors, “in the middle of life,” to commit themselves to securing and enjoying these goods in a way that also helps others to secure and enjoy them, that shares these goods and teaches others how they are to be enjoyed.

And that, friends, is worth a lot more than another cooking video, or another course in critical thinking.

It is the difference, not between a job and a career, but between a career and a life.

It’s what I was put here for.

Short Reminders on Indissolubility

A friend’s request for some background after reading a clumsily written attempt to muster a revisionist Latin Christian tradition on marriage reminded me of this book:

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And led me to suggest the following:

Remember a few basic things when you talk to people who may not know what marriage really means but nonetheless enter disputes about the Catholic tradition concerning marriage.

Indissolubility is a property of a sacramental marriage, that is, of an actual marriage of two baptized persons. Indissolubility does not apply to natural marriages that do not have this character, though such marriages are permanent by their very nature. A “temporary marriage” is nonsense; but many things that are intrinsically permanent in character may possibly be dissolved by extrinsic forces.

For a marriage to be sacramental, both persons must be baptized; doubt about the baptism of either would also leave doubt about the indissolubility of the bond, though not of the permanent nature of marriage.

For a marriage to be sacramental, it must also actually be a marriage; doubt about the fact of the marriage would also leave doubt about the indissolubility of the bond (what doesn’t exist can’t be indissoluble), though not about the indissolubility of sacramental marriage as such.

Refusal of consent to the marriage, including rejection of any of the goods of marriage (so that I may be consenting to some sort of bond, but not to marriage), or lack of freedom to consent to marriage are, among others, grounds for concluding the nullity of the marriage–that is, they deny that there was any marriage, not that marriage is indissoluble.

The goods of marriage include fecundity and permanent sexual fidelity and exclusivity. Determining whether any of these has been rejected, or consent withheld or coerced, or consent at first withheld or coerced and later given freely, requires careful inquiry into complicated personal circumstances. Doing this may well be incredibly messy, and people may well express the terms of such an inquiry very badly indeed; this can lead to very badly worded rules and guidelines that need later correction or that require thorough familiarity with their immediate context.

Marriage, being a public act with civil consequences, has always had legal and juridical implications as well as ecclesial ones. Divorce, especially, is a civil act that is generally not an ecclesial act at all, especially in the West. (One reason for differences in the East is that the Caesaropapist tendency leads to a need to adapt ecclesial law to civil law, rather than use Church teaching as a foundation for the reform of unjust civil laws.) Ecclesial law, and even teaching, is often spoken toward and assumes the language of civil law as it is given; often we must read it against the customary, common, or statutory law of the place where the matter was discussed.

Leisure and Labor–notes from the conference at St. Gregory’s University

As St. Gregory’s University in nearby Shawnee, Oklahoma, welcomes its new president, Michael Scaperlanda, we nearby academically-inclined folks get to enjoy a conference designed to offer shape and scope to the direction St. Gregory’s is heading–and it’s encouraging!

Alas, keynote speaker Fr. James V. Schall was sick, and not able to read his own paper, but it was read by the learned and witty Dr. Wilfred McClay in his stead, with comments offered by Dr. Marcel Brown, Dr. Kyle Harper, and a stimulating discussion from the audience.

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And the conversation really did continue at the reception afterward.

There were too many good turns and reflections in the original paper and the total conversation to remember, and I won’t wear you out trying to recount them all in my wandering fashion–nor would I do justice to the “you had to be there” quality of such a good discussion, if I tried.  You’ll just have to come join the conversation when you can.

But there was one really good thread that I wish we’d had even more time to pull.  Fr. Schall’s talk included a discussion of the “uselesness” of much that is still true and good to learn, distinguishing it from the merely instrumentally “useful” nature of other things.  In commenting later, someone linked “leisure” (as conceived by Pieper, especially–note the forward written by Schall) to the “uselessness” of learning, and linked these in turn to the need for a “contemplative” as well as an “active” component to life.

But in that process, I really found myself wanting to jump up and press for some distinctions.  (I have now decided that, given a chance to teach an appropriate audience, especially in a Socratic classroom, I will certainly ritualize the cry, “Distinguo!”)

Specifically, teaching and study are considered to be part of the active life, not part of the contemplative life.  The relationship between these things, as external actions that prepare us for well-ordered, peaceful adoration of God in a state of readiness to obey Him, is less like the relationship between toaster and toast (instrument and object) than like the relationship between preparing a cup of tea for my wife when she’s reading and enjoying the repose I’ve cooperated in making more completely fit, or perhaps better yet by responding gratefully to God who arranged the giant gaseous ball that sends the rays that warm her and that help the tea grow (and all other things on this Earth).  It is less like working to put gas in the car to drive it down the road on vacation; more like repeatedly fueling the car and driving through the night and seeing my family’s back porch as I roll in the driveway.

In other words, the active life–to include teaching and study, that is, including leisure activities as well as “work” in our modern sense, whether professional or “labor”–is not of a kind with the contemplative, just arranged as the product of a process of manufacture, as commodity to factor.

Instead, the active life reaches many goods, and commensurates those goods in order to achieve the economies that let us recombine those goods in order to achieve goals; but this system of nominally commensurable exchanges does not reach all goods–we say vulgarly, “Money can’t buy me love”–because some goods have directly to do with the good of friendship with God, a good which is too basic to our nature (on the one hand) and too far beyond our powers of estimation and comprehension (on the other) to ever build the right theoretical or practical structure to grasp or “buy into” on the basis of activity alone.

But that means that our definition of “useful” needs some modification, so that we can understand how the active life can aid the contemplative life.  We can approach this in steps:

  • Some activities, including some teaching and study, yield only nominal goods that are not essentially good (false goods); they are truly useless.
  • Some activities, including some teaching and study, yield goods convertible only for other goods that are part of the active life; they are useful only in the utilitarian sense, but that sense is not negligible, as such activities can help us and help others toward truly liberal goods.
  • Some activities, including some teaching and study, yield goods that actually prepare us for and provide expanded opportunity for the contemplative life (or “leisure”); they are useful in the liberal sense, the sense intended by the liberal arts (and these therefore include more mechanical arts than many think).  These activities, or “liberal arts” properly so called, are not themselves contemplations or the goods of contemplation, but like driving through the night they are definitely related to the enjoyment of the goods of seeing one’s family home (and higher goods yet).
  • Contemplation, however, is our increasing capacity for enjoyment of friendship with God, sincere and constant prayer, docility to His leading in public and private, and readiness to cooperate in His movements (as when He directs us to some good activity); it is useless in the utilitarian sense, as its goods are not convertible for other goods that are part of the active life.  It is useless in the liberal sense, as it is the enjoyment of that for which we have gained and used both utilitarian and liberal goods.

This paradoxical double sense of “useless,” however, should alert us that a conversion from merely utilitarian to properly liberal activity is an essential property of our becoming capable of friendship with God, of gaining the opportunity and readiness to truly enjoy this transcendent good.

Where we find ourselves describing the contemplative life as useless in the utilitarian sense, our words are trivially true but dangerously wrongheaded:  all utilitarian goods ultimately (at the horizon of death) “cash out” either in liberal goods that make possible the enjoyment of friendship with God, or they prove to be false goods.

Put differently, we are either growing and shaping our active lives so as to make it more possible for ourselves and others to enjoy the goods of friendship with God, and thus converting the mixture of true and false goods that are judged useful in the utilitarian sense into liberal goods that fructify in enjoyment of friendship with God (and being converted from a utilitarian to a liberal conception of what is useful); or we are stunting and misshaping our active lives so as to convert its goods only into others of its kind, while specifically treating as useless those activities that would make the true enjoyment of those goods possible, thus making those goods truly useless to ourselves and others.

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Here, enjoy some Hugh of St. Victor on the divisions of the liberal arts:

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On Doubt and Investigation

I recently had the chance to sit down with a friend (a college student, though not one of mine) and discuss the way encountering the questions of others, and the active unbelief of others, affects us.  Some people find it easy to disengage from these encounters; others seek them out; others, having learned that aggressively seeking those encounters, or forcing them, is unwise, are nonetheless regularly called into the place where such encounters are inevitable.  Unless we simply say “Am I my brother’s keeper?” about these matters, we find ourselves obligated to at least do what we can to remove misunderstandings, to be sure we leave the situation better than we found it.

Of course, with malicious malingerers, that is not always possible.

Anyway, enough of these encounters and the honest reasoner begins to discover some skipped points, some blind spots, some stolen bases, in his own approach to expressing the truth.  That’s fine; it is a good opportunity for taking a deep breath, reflecting a bit, and looking around for a more thorough, more graceful, more complete and economical method of exposition and argument.

But of course we are spiritually complicated people, and our still-unformed character also seizes hard on our need to be right, our impatience with the stiff-necked and perverse generation, and other ways that the faithful have, since the beginning, struggled to emulate the Christ who expressed anger without sin, who questioned His Father without unbelief, who was both more authoritative and more meek than we have any right to be–who was the Rock, who gushed forth water at a word, who did not forget himself and strike the Rock like Moses, or like Peter the Rock striking the servant in the Garden.  He was not only forceful and effective, he was restrained.

So we often enter into periods of doubt ourselves after significant efforts to represent the truth to an audience with doubts–still more if we regularly meet with the sorts of bad faith that are common in our public discourse, today, or the organized opposition to the possibility of meaningful discourse that we often encounter.  There is a flatly demonic spirit abroad in this nation, in these times; we are confused by our own din.

But doubt, by itself, is just exactly an invitation to investigate.  It is a question, to searching eyes; it is a petition, to praying lips.  It is fine–simply fine, no questions need be asked–to find oneself in a season of doubt.

What I suggested was very important, though, was that my friend enter into that season–and, secondarily, into dialogues with others–aware of the difference between experiencing doubt and practicing unbelief.

Unbelief is not at all like doubt, though we often cloak one in the language of the other, whether in extenuation or in accusation.  Unbelief decides against, fails to assent to, treats as practically false what we know to be true–what God has clearly revealed, what has been proposed to us on good authority.  Unbelief is serious sin, and the grace of God cannot flourish in our lives while we continue to practice unbelief.

So, practically, I suggested that my friend watch the following distinction in himself, closely, as he lived through a season of doubt:  Am I posing questions, expecting answers? or am I defending questions against answers?

We have all experienced this distinction, I think, in ourselves–or if by some chance not, surely in another.

Yes, it is true that sometimes a question must be reconsidered and posed again where an answer is reasonably seen to be incomplete, inadequate, inapposite, or impracticable.  One should not, after all, assume that one answer given ends the relevance of every question!  Nonetheless, there is both inside me–and you–and in our conversations with others a “But…!” that refuses to accept an answer, not because it is inadequate to the question, but because it is not the one I hoped for.

There is a tight nexus between that risk of practicing unbelief–of defending my questions against their answers–and the problem of despair, in fact.  I said that it would be wrong to refuse to accept an answer “because it is not the one I hoped for.”  But why would I hope for the answer that is, in fact, wrong?  Why would I hope for something not properly articulated to reality, not capable of leading me on to things I hope for more durably and deeply?

Well, again, in honest doubt the reason might be that I am aware that the answer is actually inadequate.  I may need to continue in prayer, to continue living in hope, for a question that draws a better answer; in fact, that total growth in my hope and faith may well be a reason for entering into a season of doubt.

In fact, in the case of the friend I was talking to, I suspect that is just what is happenning.

However, you or I may also be hoping for too little.  We may not have learned, really wholly absorbed, the goodness of our God, and the way He forgives, and calls, and shapes us.  Cardinal Newman was right to note the relationship of this kind of trust in God’s goodness–which has the character of hope, and is a constituent of friendship–to our capacity to grow in faith:

Yet there is a way, in which the child can give an indirect assent even to a proposition, in which he understood neither subject nor predicate. He cannot indeed in that case assent to the proposition itself, but he can assent to its truth. He cannot do more than assert that “Lucern is medicago sativa,” but he can assent to the proposition, “That lucern is medicago sativa is true.” For here is a predicate which he sufficiently apprehends, what is inapprehensible in the proposition being confined to the subject. Thus the child’s mother might teach him to repeat a passage of Shakespeare, and when he asked the meaning of a particular line, such as “The quality of mercy is not strained,” or “Virtue itself {16} turns vice, being misapplied,” she might answer him, that he was too young to understand it yet, but that it had a beautiful meaning, as he would one day know: and he, in faith on her word, might give his assent to such a proposition,—not, that is, to the line itself which he had got by heart, and which would be beyond him, but to its being true, beautiful, and good.

Of course I am speaking of assent itself, and its intrinsic conditions, not of the ground or motive of it. Whether there is an obligation upon the child to trust his mother, or whether there are cases where such trust is impossible, are irrelevant questions, and I notice them in order to put them aside. I am examining the act of assent itself, not its preliminaries, and I have specified three directions, which among others the assent may take, viz. assent immediately to a proposition itself, assent to its truth, and assent both to its truth and to the ground of its being true,—”Lucern is food for cattle,”—”That lucern is medicago sativa is true,”—and “My mother’s word, that lucern is medicago sativa, and is food for cattle, is the truth.” Now in each of these there is one and the same absolute adhesion of the mind to the proposition, on the part of the child; he assents to the apprehensible proposition, and to the truth of the inapprehensible, and to the veracity of his mother in her assertion of the inapprehensible. I say the same absolute adhesion, because unless he did assent without any reserve to the proposition that lucern was food for cattle, or to the accuracy of the botanical name and description of it, he would not be giving an unreserved assent to his mother’s word: yet, though {17} these assents are all unreserved, still they certainly differ in strength, and this is the next point to which I wish to draw attention. It is indeed plain, that, though the child assents to his mother’s veracity, without perhaps being conscious of his own act, nevertheless that particular assent of his has a force and life in it which the other assents have not, insomuch as he apprehends the proposition, which is the subject of it, with greater keenness and energy than belongs to his apprehension of the others. Her veracity and authority is to him no abstract truth or item of general knowledge, but is bound up with that image and love of her person which is part of himself, and makes a direct claim on him for his summary assent to her general teachings.

Accordingly, by reason of this circumstance of his apprehension he would not hesitate to say, did his years admit of it, that he would lay down his life in defence of his mother’s veracity. On the other hand, he would not make such a profession in the case of the propositions, “Lucern is food for cattle,” or “That lucern is medicago sativa is true;” and yet it is clear too, that, if he did in truth assent to these propositions, he would have to die for them also, rather than deny them, when it came to the point, unless he made up his mind to tell a falsehood.

Sometimes, I am convinced, a season of doubt is not even about the questions and the answers.  It is about the way that faith and hope interact, drawing us into that friendship with God that is perfect charity.

So pose your questions.  Investigate your doubts.  Do not defend your questions from answers.  Pray as you reason, and reason as you pray; do not set the two against each other.  And know, when you’re right but also experiencing doubt, that God may want you to really trust His goodness in the matter–to really expect good things to follow from truth.

My friend was Protestant, but I still didn’t scruple to recommend the best way I know to let my questions simply be–real and answerable, surrendered to God’s will against unbelief and despair, but not suppressed and not clamoring:

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Because we know–even if we must keep learning to dwell more fully in its truth, even if doubt is the necessary experience of learning–that the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the reality that cuts more deeply to the heart of God than any other.  The very fulcrum of Creation and Redemption cannot fail to be more than the answer to more than the questions we know how to think of, so we can break into doxology without failing in our pursuit of truth:

What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

“For thy sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(source:  Romans 8:31-39 RSV-CE)