Category Archives: on Theology

Credo in unum Deum Patrem omnipotentem, factorem cœli et terra, visibilium omnium et invisibilium; et in unum Dominum Iesum Christum, Filium Dei….

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:


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)

Social Construction of Gender: a detente breached

So, this was another Facebook conversation. A friend of a friend posed the following question (slightly prettified for the blog).

I’m exploring the reasons people have to marry gender, which is really socially construct[ed] mental stuff, to sex, which is biological as you know. The fact that these two are nothing (or not obviously) like [each] other makes [it seem suspicious that] the left are hurrying to marry the two together. Is this politics? Are you aware of any good reasons to think we should bring these two realities together?

Another friend pointed out that the question, as stated, was somewhat oblique to the contemporary conversation about these matters.


I thought it might help to rehearse some of the history of these terms, so I offered the following:

OK, so I think [our mutual acquaintance] is right that you’re getting the signals crossed, but it’s really interesting to see how all this is coming across to you–data is good.

From the days of my childhood until recently, “left” and “right” academics had a sort of detente on sex issues. With the exception of some dedicated Catholics and a few others, most of us were happy to keep “biological sex” in one box, and “socially constructed gender” in another.

Social construction, of course, has to do with the way real things (which, past empiricism, we moderns think we may not really know) are transformed into “things as we know them” by the historical processes that shape our ideologies. In a modest sense, we all know this happens (that’s why we speak of culture); in a more radical sense, we might doubt whether we know any real things at all, and we might try to “deconstruct” things as we know them in order to examine the judgments we and others have made that “construe” things.

Keeping “biology” in one box and “social construction” (or “culture”) in another did keep the peace, so to speak. We could debate the extent to which real things could be known, how evident they were, how we could get through the social construction to them–how much gendered behavior was sexual, how much was social, whether we should value it or neutralize it, etc.

(I emphasize that from a Catholic point of view we were *wrong* to accept that bargain, but until I headed that way I didn’t see a sufficient basis for rejecting it.)

That bargain peaked when many erroneously believed the “gay gene” had been found (no such thing, though there are epigenetic effects that very likely predispose some men to same-sex attraction). Biology of sex was suddenly useful to those trying to normalize homosexual behavior and relationships and to those trying to emphasize the biological fitness of traditional sexual mores.

That mistaken but relatively peaceful consensus has now been pretty radically fractured. The physical evidence for the “born this way” interpretation of homosexuality has proven far weaker than expected, and radical theory has labored to find a way to achieve the same rhetorical effect without the “gay gene” evidence. Other incoherences within radical feminism have produced other fresh theoretical efforts. The need for perpetual “revolution” that must always be construed as “liberation” or “getting rights” has led to still more theoretical efforts.

The most obvious and fascinating clash in this concerns whether sexually male people can be “women” for purposes of radical feminist theory, as you can see in this amazingly incendiary piece of work.

So right now most radical theorists speak in terms of “intersectionality,” that is, where two descriptions of identity lead to anomalies that need explaining. Theory is then deployed ad hoc into those “intersections” in an effort to create a result that–at this point in our politics, a result that serves the purpose of perpetual revolution.

The common form of this is to speak of biological sex as “assigned” at birth–because assignment can be construed as a rhetorical act, a use of power (the doctor’s authority) that affects a discourse (how we talk about sex/gender, “myself as I know myself”). The relation between biology as such and this “assigned” sex is generally disposed of by pointing to rare biological differences as though they invalidated any organs/sex/gender continuity, and also by multiplying subjective descriptions and possible surgical variations in an effort to show that “assigned” sex ignores factors equally or more important than biology.

If biological sex can be construed as “assigned,” then the relatively weak evidence of epigenetic variants that can dispose some men toward same-sex attraction can be construed as evidence that “sexual orientation” is (now will the heads spin) both so fundamental to human identity that it is equivalent to “born this way” *AND* so constantly “fluid” that any strong feeling that persists must be accepted as definitive, even if it changes repeatedly.

And we’re not done, because one’s “assigned” sex and “fluid” orientation still have to function relative to culture–to the social construction of gender that we started out with. This is called “expression” of sexual identity, and is viewed as radically subjective, provided one can express it in a way the currently dominant ideology finds acceptable (i.e., Catholic men, you’re just plain wrong no matter what).

Now, I hope that in presenting this I have already suggested how many kinds of wrong-headed the whole thing was, and how much worse it has become.

As Catholics, we believe that while cultural roles and expressions may vary, the sex/gender distinction is basically mistaken. Gender develops from and continues to be significantly related to biological sex, and attempts to divide them have proved medically, psychologically, and socially harmful (we should have known better). While a very weak form of the sex/gender distinction may be useful in distinguishing some cultural mores from real norms, it is usually better just to speak of “sexual difference” and remember that it can have a wide variety of expressions–none of which can make it wise or right to innovate against the basic realities of human bodies, male and female, or the natural and divine law that governs their relations.

A Last Fragment on Endo’s Silence, For Now

Well, this is one portion of a work caught “in the middle” between several projects I was attempting on Endo’s Silence between 2012 and 2014.  This is actually not the last-edited stage; I pulled up an edition that I labeled “overdeveloped three virtues” because a dimly possible thread I wanted to pull, at least in drafting, was threatening to take over the paper.  I’m putting it up here because–well, it’s a blog, so why not air my early-drafting laundry?

Here, then, the somewhat dramatically titled, unfinished work on Garrpe, in Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence:

Christ’s Unknown Soldier: The Role of Garrpe in Endo’s Silence


Nobody would deny that Rodrigues is the protagonist of Shusaku Endo’s Silence. Most criticism seems to consider only the choices Rodrigues makes as essential to the story’s final significance. Readers and students are then left to moot the question of whether Rodrigues is a tragically weak man destroyed by hubris or an unforgiving spirit, or whether he heroically proclaims a triumph of spirit over letter or pity over fidelity. Both genre conventions and Endo’s storytelling, however, tend to undermine the reader’s confidence in Rodrigues’s judgments. Characters such as Garrpe and Kichijiro also challenge any excessive reliance on the subjective experience of Rodrigues. Kichijiro’s role has been explored in the literature, but Garrpe remains sadly neglected. Garrpe demonstrates even more definitely than Kichijiro that Rodrigues has ignored or foreclosed crucial possibilities of thought and action on his way to the famous fumie scene. Given the subsequent development of Endo’s fiction and his public statements about his views, it is especially interesting that Garrpe appears in this text to witness against the dilemma that the Japanese authorities, Rodrigues, and even Endo have in various ways constructed for the reader. Clearly emphasizing Garrpe’s conversion from initial wavering to final martyrdom makes better sense of the book’s enduring allure for Christian readers than a narrow focus on the protagonist Rodrigues.

Critical Commitments

Examining secondary characters and subplots can re-enliven readerly and critical interest in a work whose reading has become stereotyped. Literature teachers are familiar with the tendency of students to discard the text in their rush to discover “what’s it about?” and learn “will it be on the test?” Scholars at all levels, however, must avoid the trap of simple “debunking,” of displays of cleverness that entertain and impoverish, rather than enrich, readers and their habits. Critics reading “against the grain” by using lesser features of a work to solicit questions about that work’s well-known major features have some obligation, then, to declare what larger pattern of facts supports this seeming inversion.

Two such considerations warrant the present effort. First, some of the best criticism of Endo’s work already points out genre considerations that might mislead many readers, especially readers doubly distanced from Silence’s situation as a Japanese book published in 1963. Such examinations of Endo’s genre gain strength from Endo’s own responses to criticism of his book, even taking into account the possibility that some of these comments are post hoc rationalizations. Second, and at least equally important, there is a theological warrant for attending to Garrpe’s powerful death scene and the response to the novel’s essential dilemma that it suggests. I take it as a basic commitment for Religion and Literature scholarship that T. S. Eliot was correct when he argued that “literary criticism should be completed by criticism from a definite ethical and theological point of view” (343). “Completed,” not merely occasionally supplemented, because if there is any sense at all in calling a work of art “religious,” in that same sense we must acknowledge that religion not only has its own intrinsic order (theology and morality) but encompasses and defines subsidiary fields, each in turn possessed of its own intrinsic order. Garrpe’s role in Silence, which may typical criticism seems to take as simply another moment in the story of Rodrigues, turns out to be crucial in reconciling our aesthetic and theological appreciation of this truly problematic work.

Guided by these commitments, I begin below by summarizing Garrpe’s role in the plot of Silence, then sketch in a few typical readings of Silence and the genre and narrative structure questions that challenge those readings. After sketching in the ways that Garrpe’s actions help to supply what is lacking in typical readings, I proceed to the theological considerations that recommend greater emphasis on Garrpe’s role in the novel. I conclude that such an analysis helps to re-integrate elements of the story which tend to be ignored on account of their dissonance with a straightforward thematic reading of the overall plot and its climax.

Summary of Garrpe’s Role

Simple page-counting suggests Garrpe’s structural place in the novel (201 pages in this edition). Garrpe and Rodrigues come on stage together in the Prologue. Garrpe and Rodrigues are separated almost exactly one-third of the way through the book (on page 62), and Garrpe is brought back on stage by the Japanese authorities at almost exactly the two-thirds mark (pages 128-35). During the middle third of the novel, Garrpe is almost forgotten. Shortly before Rodrigues is captured, he “quite suddenly” remembers Garrpe (65); later, Rodrigues recalls their early conversations about torture shortly before being taken to see Garrpe’s death (125). In the meantime, Rodrigues is first literally and then figuratively transported through a strange land, unable to read the signs and lacking Garrpe or any similar aid to his conscience. After Garrpe’s death, Rodrigues is at last introduced to the apostate Ferreira. The first third of the novel in which Garrpe and Rodrigues are together is thus mirrored by the final third, in which Garrpe is replaced by Ferreira. Setting aside for the moment the more complex weave that introduces the interpreter and Inoue as manipulating events to bring Rodrigues to this end, and the way Kichijiro destabilizes this tidy sequence, Garrpe’s role is worth examining in its own right.

Garrpe is continually associated with Rodrigues throughout the Prologue and the first four chapters (each of these chapters is notionally a letter from Rodrigues). The novel’s focus on Rodrigues, together with the point-of-view shift after chapter four, makes it easy to assimilate Garrpe’s role to that of Rodrigues. Such an assimilation is probably not a misreading; as we shall see, the novel’s conventions encourage readers to treat Garrpe, Kichijiro, the interpreter, and other fictional characters introduced into the historic setting as entirely relative to the unfolding story of Rodrigues. Garrpe and Kichijiro especially seem to play out Rodrigues’ psychomachia, serving as doppelgangers or alternative author surrogates to give highly subjective fiction a richer social and historical situation (Gessel “Voice” 199-201).

In the first pages of his narrative, Rodrigues is more likely to report Garrpe’s direct interaction with other characters than his own. Rodrigues may offer his point of view to the reader, but it appears to be Garrpe whose words drive the plot and reveal the characters. When Rodrigues, Marta, and Garrpe are delayed in Macao, Valignano “was finally moved by our pleading—especially by that of Garrpe” to send them on their way (15). In the team’s early interaction with Kichijiro, it is Garrpe who repeatedly calls Kichijiro to testify plainly about his identity. “Are you a Christian?” he asks the evasive Kichijiro during their first meeting, and follows up later in that conversation with “Well, anyhow, you are a Christian, aren’t you? … You are. Aren’t you?” (17) Kichijiro’s evasiveness in the face of this questioning is partly explained by Japanese risk-aversion, somewhat more by an alcoholic’s avoidance of responsibility, and perhaps even more by a perfectly understandable fear of the intense persecution of Japanese Christians that he describes to Garrpe and Rodrigues.

Garrpe’s repeated questions about Kichijiro’s Christianity reveals his interest in essential characteristics (like the ineffaceable sacramental character imparted at baptism) that mere choices or momentary denials cannot wholly efface. In the face of Kichijiro’s panicky denial of his Christianity, Garrpe reasons with Kichijiro on the basis of Japanese identity: “Anyhow, you want to get back to Japan” (17). When Kichijiro’s behavior does not match the ideas Garrpe and Rodrigues have formed of Christian and Japanese behavior, Garrpe again presses him with, “Are you really a Japanese? Honestly, are you?” (20) A while later, when Kichijiro’s fear of a storm at sea drives him to ejaculate “Santa Maria” repeatedly, Garrpe once again tries to ascertain his character: “‘I am asking a question,’ said Garrpe raising his voice. ‘Give me a clear answer. Are you, or are you not, a Christian?’” (25) In these interactions, both Garrpe and Rodrigues are shown to lack understanding of Japanese culture and of the deforming effects of persecution and privation on virtue, and to have somewhat facile understandings of the effects of grace. Nonetheless, a clear distinction between Garrpe and Rodrigues emerges. Rodrigues tends to be driven by his aesthetic response to situations and characters; he is the source of the reader’s vision of sunsets, storms, horizons, birds, and seasons, as well as the “pitiful coward” Kichijiro (24). Garrpe, on the other hand, comes into his own when Rodrigues reports on his pleas and questions, questions which attempt to plumb down to the essential character of things.

Garrpe’s role in driving the plot and pressing the characters to define themselves seems to have a theological dimension, as well. Garrpe’s confidence in a stereotyped description of Japanese people hints at this: Rodrigues says that Garrpe had “too credulously taken at face value the talk of so many missionaries” (20). In the passage immediately following, Rodrigues is at pains to reconcile himself to the idea of trusting Kichijiro, using the word “entrusted” repeatedly; the problem, which Garrpe has confronted head-on despite some potential for error in his “face value” judgments, is one of good faith versus bad faith. Rodrigues, with his aesthetic orientation toward future glory, seems to find fidelity slippery; Garrpe readily extends good faith and just as readily demands it from others.

This theological dimension of Garrpe’s role is part of a larger theme that unfolds throughout the work, beginning with the introduction of Garrpe and Marta with Rodrigues as a three-person team. “Francisco Garrpe” and “Juan de Santa Marta,” as they are first introduced (9), both seem distinct in character from Rodrigues. Rodrigues is forenamed “Sebastian,” after the saint who survived his martyrdom by arrows only to be clubbed to death when he criticized the persecuting Emperor Diocletian to his face; the name appears to foreshadow both his future ordeal and his hope of outliving that ordeal (which he does, albeit hardly as a martyr). Garrpe’s forename “Francisco” at the time of this story could only have referred to St. Francis of Assisi, whose seemingly naïve pursuit of Christ led him to challenge sultans and popes, and who readily abandoned secular pursuits but ended up founding three great religious orders. Garrpe’s forename (shared with the great Jesuit missionary to the East, St. Francis Xavier, whose canonization would have taken place while Garrpe, Marta, and Rodrigues were children) also hints at the difference between Rodrigues and Garrpe, as the Franciscans had been generally excluded from the Jesuit mission areas in Japan. Rodrigues, named for a martyr from the Praetorian Guard, suggests the Jesuit “Soldiers of Christ” in much the way that Garrpe suggests their sometime rivals, the Franciscans.

The name “Juan de Santa Marta” in turn, suggests both St. John, the Beloved Disciple, and St. Martha, the hard-working sister of Mary of Bethany and Lazarus. The Apostle John is the author of the Gospel in which he is repeatedly characterized as the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23 et passim); not only does he receive the Revelations recorded in the book of that name, but he writes three letters notable for their emphasis on Christian and divine love. In his First Epistle, St. John offers perhaps the most sweeping and dense exhortation to charity in the Scriptures: “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). St. Martha, in turn, is one of the only individuals in the Gospels picked out for similar mention: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister Mary and Lazarus” (John 11:5). Martha’s confession of faith in Christ and hope of the Resurrection is one of the most ringing in all of Biblical history: she was the first to go out to seek Jesus when her brother Lazarus died, and the words of promise Jesus entrusted her with are still cited in every Christian burial rite (John 11:20-27).

The shape of Marta’s name may also suggest the name of St. John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz). John, a contemporary of Xavier’s, had been marginalized and even imprisoned in the confusion of rival religious orders and secular powers in 16th Century Spain. John’s profound attachment to the love of Christ granted him the detachment from all other things described in such works as The Dark Night of the Soul, saying of the soul that has suffered patiently that “its love alone, which burns at this time, and makes its heart to long for the Beloved, is that which now moves and guides it, and makes it to soar upward to its God along the road of solitude, without its knowing how or in what manner” ( CITE ). The probable allusion to St. John of the Cross in Marta’s name, as well as his being named for St. John and St. Martha, associates Marta with the theological virtue of charity.

This association of Marta with charity completes the triad suggested by the characterizations of Garrpe and Rodrigues. Garrpe’s easy good faith and his confidence that characters and essences are real, not merely nominal, similarly associates him with faith; Rodrigues is linked to hope by his aesthetic orientation and relentless attempts to appropriate the future. As any standard account of the theological virtues will suggest, charity is inseparable from faith and hope, while faith and hope cannot subsist without charity; in St. Paul’s words, “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:12-13). As St. Thomas Aquinas says, “Charity is the root of faith and hope, in so far as it gives them the perfection of virtue. But faith and hope as such are the precursors of charity … and so charity is impossible without them” (Summa I-II.65.5 ad. 2). It is precisely this language of “precursors” and possibility that echoes in the scenes where Garrpe, Rodrigues, and Marta plead with Valignano for permission to complete their mission, and where Garrpe and Rodrigues take their leave of Marta.

Marta’s speech to Valignano on behalf of their mission invokes all three theological virtues, alluding directly to the compassion of Christ and suggesting that their obligation in charity is to promote faith and prevent despair. He says,

And yet our secret mission could with God’s help turn out successful … In that stricken land the Christians have lost their priests and are like a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Some one must go to give them courage and to ensure that the tiny flame of faith does not die out. (14-15).

Marta here alludes to Matthew 9:36-38, in which Jesus “saw the crowds” and “had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”; His immediate response is to instruct His followers to ask God for more workers, because “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” Marta’s echo of this charitable impulse leads him to express faith in “God’s help” and hope that “our secret mission … could turn out successful”; at the same time, he indicates that their obligation in charity is to stave off despair and unbelief in their “harassed and helpless” flock, serving to “give them courage” and see to it that “faith does not die out.”

Garrpe’s speech to Marta when Garrpe and Rodrigues finally gain Valignano’s permission to continue on their way to Japan firms up this thematic framework. Garrpe specifically describes himself and Rodrigues as precursors to Marta, saying “We go first…. We’ll prepare the way so that you can come afterwards when you get better” (19). Garrpe and Rodrigues are ventured forward into a situation where charity has been wounded, where charity is infirm and seemingly cannot survive the Pacific crossing. Historically and in the novel, this is a situation of persecution and apostasy, to be sure; but the novel also suggests that this is a situation in which the politics of East and West have become almost impossible to distinguish from the proclamation of the Gospel. This suggestion gains considerable strength from Endo’s role as a leading postwar Japanese writer (Gessel “Endo” 71, Pinnington 102, Netland “Who” 77-78).

Garrpe’s promise that he and Rodrigues will serve as precursors is an effort to keep faith with their original intention; but Rodrigues, as soon as he reports it, begins to question the future. “But can anyone predict what will happen?” he asks, then imagines a “safe and happy life” for Marta, and a bad end for himself and Garrpe (19). Noting that “Marta remained silent,” Rodrigues attempts to fill the silence with speculation. He indicates his own orientation toward future glory, toward acknowledged results, when he responds to Marta’s illness by thinking, “There is no one more wretchedly alone than the priest who does not measure up to his task.” Rodrigues has already begun to construe a future in which Marta’s illness is a final obstacle to his participation in their mission; by comparison, Garrpe keeps faith by speaking of possible futures only insofar as they characterize current intentions.

This tendency to separate hope from faith—this infirmity of charity—has significant consequences throughout the story. When Garrpe and Rodrigues set sail, Rodrigues has to admit that “I feel no inclination to write about Santa Marta,” who has not recovered from his illness (22). Rodrigues writes as though Marta were already dead, making his repetition of Garrpe’s assertion at the end of the letter rings hollow: “No doubt,” he says, “God is secretly preparing” Marta’s task. The pages since their parting from Marta, however, have been filled with little but expressions of doubt and alienation. The only reassurance that comes from within Rodrigues is his aesthetic appropriation of the image of Christ.

Imagining the future, Rodrigues consistently finds doubts and temptations to despair; his reassurances are counterfactual and hypothetical, afterthoughts marked by the “perhaps” of magical thinking rather than the promise of faith (19). When he fixates on his own imagination of the face of Jesus, Rodrigues sees “a face filled with vigor and strength. I feel great love for that face” (22). Rodrigues is not wrong when he says that the Scriptures are reticent about the Incarnate Son’s exact physical description, of course (“This point the Bible passes over in silence”). Few people living before the age of mechanically reproduced art considered eidetic reproduction of individual features a major concern of art; it is probably anachronistic even for Rodrigues to be considering the question of likeness versus iconic value in sacred art. Rodrigues has already conceded, though, that this “face” is of his own choosing. He chooses an image from his memory (Piero della Francesca’s Resurrection) and invests it with reality, not only in preference to the Bible’s “silence” on Jesus’ literal lineaments but also setting aside the substantial Biblical basis for iconic representations of Christ.

In taking this reticence as license to conjure his own image of Christ and fixate on that, however, Rodrigues runs sharply counter to the plain drift of multiple Scriptures that treat the Biblical and Eucharistic witness to Christ as the true memorial of the Incarnate Son and true precursor of a final, face-to-face encounter in perfect charity at the Resurrection (1 John 3:1-3; 2 Cor. 4:5-7; Rev. 22:1-5; 1 Cor. 13:12-13). It is perhaps especially important that one of the most prominent of these is the key text relating faith and hope to their summation in charity, cited above. His own, personal Jesus does not have the face of a Suffering Servant, like Isaiah’s prophecy of a face marred beyond recognition by torture (Isaiah 52:13-15); nor does Rodrigues see far enough to connect that sufferer to St. John’s face-to-face encounter with Christ exalted beyond description in Resurrection (Rev. 1:12-16). The iconic adjuncts to the true memorial of Christ in Word and Sacrament have their place, but Rodrigues silences the true memorial and erects his fantasy in its place. Rodrigues, thinking of the future, does not seem able to imagine it faithfully without relying on Garrpe’s words.

Garrpe’s drive to ascertain essences and characters does not, by itself, mend the infirmity he and Rodrigues suffer. As he and Rodrigues, lacking Marta, proceed into Japan (with the second interrogation of Kichijiro’s Christianity happening en route), Garrpe is if anything the more timid of the pair. Garrpe is the “last of all” to go ashore through the “icy cold water” (26). While he and Rodrigues wait on shore for Kichijiro, who has gone to fetch some Christian villagers, Garrpe is the one who suddenly exclaims that “He won’t come back!” and exclaims “tearfully” about the “weak-minded coward” who seems to have abandoned him. Even in this, however, the basic contrast between the two priests can be seen, for Rodrigues immediately follows this with his own speculations about “a more terrible fate,” casting Kichijiro as the traitor “Judas” in his fantasy. Garrpe does not have any basis for resisting this fantasy, but responds immediately by “quoting the Scriptures” that describe the “band of soldiers” Judas brought to Gethsemane. When the Christian villagers find them, it is Garrpe who immediately asks about the particulars of Christian practice: “But what happened during these six years? What about baptism and the sacraments?” (28) When the villagers explain the ingenious and dangerous system by which they had maintained what observances they could, it is Rodrigues who immediately imagines such practices continuing everywhere (29).

Garrpe’s fallibility and his realist orientation are both reinforced when Rodrigues suggests that they slip out of their shelter—a remote hut with a priest-hole in the floor—and sunbathe (36). As when Rodrigues suggested that Kichijiro had not merely run away, but had sought out soldiers to betray them, Garrpe has no specific reason to disagree. Their conditions are unquestionably bad, and they have not actually seen any clear and present danger, though they have strong reason to believe that real danger surrounds them at some unknown distance. In this extreme isolation from all others (Rodrigues “gazed greedily at the world of men” outside), and this utterly inescapable togetherness, the boundaries between Garrpe and Rodrigues break down. Their dangerously limited and mistaken understanding of their situation, their confidence in the goods of nature and the goodness of God, and their expectation of good outcomes overlap more completely than at any other time in the novel. The language of faith and hope merge, here, as well; it is Garrpe who speaks of “the future,” albeit with many qualifiers: “In the future we must sometimes at least allow ourselves the pleasure of a sunbath.” True to his tendency to trust appearances, Garrpe also exclaims that there is “Nothing to be afraid of!” Garrpe even indulges in a certain amount of fantasy with Rodrigues, although it is a fantasy concerning their shared past which comments wryly on their situation, rather than wishful thinking about the future.

Despite the dangerous errors in judgment both priests make, largely due to their extreme isolation and other distortions caused by persecution, it is during this initial period of ministry together that Garrpe and Rodrigues are most faithful to their calling and most reasonably hopeful of good results. Even so, it is consistently Garrpe who is most responsive to reality. Garrpe baptizes the infant brought to them from the village; Rodrigues, assisting, records his imaginations about the baby’s future, and his own subjective generalizations (38). When they are approached covertly by some Christians from another village, who had observed them while they were unwisely breaking cover for their walks and sunbathing, it is Garrpe who notices that “somebody is watching us” and who is most aware of their situation (37). When the strange villagers persist, it is Garrpe who is most realistic and most fearful, insisting that they stay under cover, even ordering Rodrigues to “Stop!” (39)

Rodrigues, by comparison, talks himself into opening the door to strangers by deciding which course of action best reflects his own self-image: “Grasping the wooden door with my hands I made as if to go out. Yes, I would go. Even if this were a trap, even if these men were the guards, it didn’t matter…. What a disgrace it would be to betray my vocation from cowardly fear.” Again, and especially at this phase of their ministry, there is relatively little question of which judgments are best; the priests are too isolated, and the data too thin, to reliably decide such matters. Garrpe’s fearfulness may well reflect a lack of confidence that their mission has any promise of success; but it certainly reflects reality rather than fantasy. The contrast between the two priests is underscored by the irony that Rodrigues has just been “awakened by the snoring of the optimistic Garrpe,” who he later describes as “good-natured in the face of the most terrible difficulties” (51).

Both realistic fear and fantasy-inspired courage suggest the infirmity of charity that characterizes the whole situation. Together, Garrpe and Rodrigues may balance each other’s infirmities; Rodrigues with his aesthetic orientation toward future glory may move Garrpe past his realistic fears, while Garrpe’s ready good faith and insistence on reality allow them to keep hold on the essential grounding that Rodrigues so readily abandons in his anxious fantasies. Thus it is important that Garrpe is the one who quickly grasps the essential dilemma the Japanese authorities have created for the priests and their people, realizing that the villagers will “all end up as hostages” as the systematic interrogation and persecution continue (51); and that Garrpe’s proposal involves keeping the priests together while safeguarding the people: “Rather than such a calamity it is better for the two of us to get away from this mountain altogether” (52). He suggests that they both go with Kichijiro to Goto Island.

What follows the next visit from the authorities, however, opens a breach between Garrpe and Rodrigues even before they are separated; in so doing, it foreshadows the path Rodrigues will travel when he no longer has Garrpe to lean on. The Christian villagers who have sheltered priests are trying to decide what to do, as they know that the systematic investigation will continue until they have all either trampled the fumie or been exposed as Christians (53-4). Sending Garrpe and Rodrigues away might protect them, but it would definitely remove the counsel and comfort the priests ought to be able to give, and the sacramental graces they have the authority to bestow. The faithful villagers are confronted with the seeming futility of their own faithfulness: “If we don’t trample, everyone in the village will be cross-examined.” Those less firm in their faith will be exposed to a trial they may not be able to bear; those who do not share their faith will be confirmed in their separation from Christ; all will suffer intensified fear, mutual suspicion, and mistreatment as the persecution continues.

The faithful villagers, confronted with such a powerful dilemma, specifically ask the priests, “What are we to do?” (54) They strive to be faithful, and have shown great resolve, but the best option on their horizon appears to lead to exactly what they seek to avoid; they need hope. They need reason to expect a good outcome, and an imaginative depiction of that outcome that will reassure them when appearances and speculation conjure fantasies of futility and despair. Rodrigues, with his orientation toward future glory and aesthetic judgments, is now being called on to do just what he should be most ready for. Garrpe has usually spoken up to now; and despite their fear and the infirmity of charity, both priests and villagers have been faithful. Here, however, where relying on Garrpe’s words will no longer do, Rodrigues falls critically short. Moved by “pity,” rather than more well-formed compassion or charity, Rodrigues abandons the ground of faith and speaks “without thinking.” His “pity” treats the faithful villagers as “unfortunate men” who cannot be expected to measure up to his fantasies about legendary martyrs; because their reality falls short of his fantasy, he feels he cannot even expect fidelity from them, let alone give them hope.

Rodrigues responds by saying, “Trample! Trample!” He tells his correspondent “I know you would never give” such advice, that it “should never have been on my lips.” Just as important, at that moment, “Garrpe looked at me reproachfully.” Garrpe’s silence seems to indicate that he, like Rodrigues, has reached the limit of his ability to articulate his faith in the horrible circumstances in which they find themselves; but Rodrigues does not stop at silence, but tries to bridge the gap to the future with speculation, rather than faith—and ends up offering counsel of despair. Garrpe’s silence and the bad counsel of Rodrigues open up the gap between the remaining priests which prefigures the unfolding of the rest of the plot. Marta’s infirmity leaves Garrpe and Rodrigues to serve as precursors, seeking to bring faith and hope where charity is so badly wounded. When Rodrigues abandons good faith to nourish his own fantasies, then what should be an aesthetic appropriation of the future promised by faith, true hope, becomes instead radically inauthentic and moribund.

This foreshadowing unfolds in the three major events which follow. First, Kichijiro asks a question familiar to all who have suffered injustice: “Why has Deus Sama given us this trial? We have done no wrong” (54). The question haunts Rodrigues (55), whose hope is too abstracted from observed reality and the specifics of Word and Sacrament to offset the weight of apparent wrong; he neither adverts to the blessings and promises given to those who suffer injustice (Matt. 5:11-12; 1 Peter 4:12-19) and martyrdom (Matt. 10:39-42; Rev. 2:10-11), nor considers that his own priestly acts are the very proclamation and memorial of Christ, as long as he faithfully carries out his vocation. It is in the wake of his own failure to remain silent when he could not speak in good faith, and in the middle of this noisy consideration of a question abstracted from all good-faith efforts to provide an answer, that Rodrigues first repeatedly notes what he calls “the silence of God,” complaining that “God has remained silent” as the villagers suffered (55).

Second, the leaders among the faithful villagers are in fact taken, interrogated, and eventually martyred (54-61). Kichijiro, whose questions express the doubts Rodrigues tries to suppress with his fantasies, readily apostatizes: “Following my advice, Kichijiro was the first to place his foot on the image” (55). The others also step on the fumie because the priest said to do so, but they are unable to blaspheme and spit on the Virgin’s image to prove that they have no mental reservation (55-6). Kichijiro completes his public apostasy, “overcome by the threats,” while the other leaders are similarly broken, but remain faithful and “at last confessed openly that they were Christians” (56-7). They are executed on crosses in the ocean, taking several days to die of exposure and dehydration, singing hymns all the while (57-60). Rodrigues, again, notes that their martyrdom does not measure up to his fantasies, the “splendid martyrdom I had often seen in my dreams” (60); he complains that their martyrdom “was no such glorious thing.” His preference for visions of glory over the promises of faith turns the heroic fidelity of the martyrs, and the song that expresses their faith that “We’re on our way to the temple of Paradise,” into “a melody filled with dark sadness” (61). His darkening of the song’s authentic expression of hope presages another passage in which Rodrigues obsessively considers “the depressing silence of the sea, the silence of God.”

Third, after the martyrdom of the villagers, Garrpe and Rodrigues are parted, and Rodrigues at their parting wonders “why on earth do we remain in this country at all?” and “What had happened to our glorious dream?” The bad faith expressed in the answer Rodrigues gives, to apostatize in order to shield others from temporal suffering at the hands of secular authorities precedes his lack of an answer to Kichijiro’s question, his dark interpretation of the martyrdom of the faithful Japanese, and his own despairing speculations upon his separation from Rodrigues. These three events, in turn, are echoed in the scenes surrounding the martyrdom of Garrpe (128-35), the turning point from Rodrigues’s journey through the middle third of the novel toward his apostasy at its climax.

[…here kindly recall that this is an unfinished draft….]


I Almost Cried With Relief

Read the whole thing.

In 2010, I finally received in full the strangely long-delayed thought, “Oh, I need to take the claims of the Catholic Church seriously:  they might require action if I understood them more fully, and not be of merely historical interest.”  When I did, I had very little idea where to turn–my limited exposure to Catholics in their own words had been more kaleidoscopic than coherent.  So I hunted down the only Catholic priest I knew by name, one I had been surprised almost ten year before to find myself back-to-back with in vibrant academic discussions about Church history.  “Father Tim,” as I recalled his name, had been a welcome presence among our Baylor grad circles, where Ralph Wood had invited him as an authentic voice of Catholicism in his Catholic novel seminars.  What he said to me in that 2010 conversation, I have since repeated to many a friend contemplating what conservative Protestants necessarily feel is a very large “blank check” we must write to the Magisterium in becoming Catholic.  I won’t repeat it here, though; ask me on my porch, sometime.

What brings this up is the immense feeling of joy, encouragement, and relief it gives me to see this heartening, straightforward witness to “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” from Father Timothy Vavarek of the Diocese of Austin.  I have been reading and becoming familiar with many sound Catholic voices over the past few years, and as an RCIA coordinator and a professor I have tried to become, in a small way, such a voice.

But these are days when feeling betrayed by our leaders is more common than finding ourselves taught and encouraged and nourished by them.

Every counterexample, friends, is another day the truth lives on in the hearts of somebody who doesn’t want to give up, but is running out of fuel and getting no effective support.

Here, then, words of hope and encouragement; true spiritual works of mercy:

God is unfailingly faithful in his generous, wise, and loving work of drawing humanity to himself. Neither Israel nor the Church has any claim on him rooted in their own actions, certainly not in the face of sin. He is the faithful spouse; we are the adulterers.

Yet his fidelity expresses an infinite mercy that calls us to conversion and to sharing his life through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit by which he comes to dwell in us and we in him. For that purpose, the Word took flesh and returned to the Father by way of the Cross. He is the faithful spouse who purifies his bride and brings her home. This unwavering fidelity led Paul to assert: “If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Tim 2:13)

Only on the basis of Christ’s fidelity, poured into our heart by the indwelling of the Trinity, can we hope to remain faithful. Humanly speaking this is impossible, but “with God all things are possible.” (Mt 19:26)

In the present crisis regarding marriage, those who say it is sometimes impossible for Christians to remain faithful to the vow made to a spouse and to God (such as when the marriage is irreparably broken or has been replaced by a second union) have forgotten the meaning of Christ, the human person, marriage, and the cosmos, which all declare the glory of God and his fidelity. This is no development of doctrine or relaxing of Church discipline. It is the complete overthrow of the Christian vision of God and human existence.

Were there a single case in which fidelity to a spouse or to God was impossible for a Christian, this would mean that God’s fidelity had failed. Perversely, infidelity in that instance would be rooted in God’s infidelity of withdrawing his grace and/or misleading us through Jesus and the Church’s false teaching regarding the obligations of the Gospel.

Far from being realistic and merciful, the suggestions being made are heartless and cruel abstractions that imply that Jesus’ fidelity is not always available to us. This makes a mockery of those who have lived chastely, after a broken marriage, in fidelity to their earthly and heavenly spouses. The proponents of these theories must name a case in which God and Christ are unfaithful before they presume to permit a Christian to be unfaithful in the slightest matter. That is the concrete, real, personal truth of the Gospel.

Mercy will not be found in exchanging the beauty of marriage for a lifeless illusion. It will be found, as it ever has been, by allowing Jesus to draw us to himself on the Cross and learning that with him we can be faithful even unto death.

Lord Jesus, have mercy on us.  Mary, Mother of God, and Joseph her spouse, pray for us.


And thank you, Father Tim.

Just Published: “Interpret Carefully” in Christ and Pop Culture

I suggest three fundamental approaches to finding the best possibilities in Silence. When I go to watch Scorsese’s movie, I’ll be hoping he chooses to emphasize elements such as these; I shall be elated if that happens and critical if it doesn’t. First, it is possible to read the very cryptic section that follows the end of the main plot as offering a definitive reinterpretation of the plot. When the story moves on past the self-justifications Rodrigues offers for his apostasy, and instead traces the bureaucratic records concerning the household where the new apostate has been set up, it is possible that we are meant to see that both Kichijiro and Rodrigues return to the faith. That is, though both of them break under pressure, they are subtly called back to the faith; their baptismal faith repeatedly subverts their apostasy, and triumphs over it when they are punished. To weigh this very heavily in our evaluation, though, we need some basis for disregarding pretty much every conclusion that Rodrigues draws from his experiences. Most importantly, we need a reason to believe that Rodrigues has returned, or returns periodically, to a faith that specifically repudiates his claim that Jesus personally called him to commit an act of apostasy.

(source: Interpret Carefully: Balancing Caution and Hope in Responding to Shusaku Endo’s Novel Silence – Christ and Pop Culture)

From the cutting-room floor: Why bother retrieving the nourishing from the toxic?

This is the second post that features portions deleted from “Interpret Carefully: Balancing Caution and Hope in Responding to Shusaku Endo’s Novel Silence,” just published in Christ and Pop Culture.

(Incidentally, here’s the first “cutting-room floor” post.)

This was an extra conclusion, not needed for the article’s internal logic, but connecting to an anecdote I included at the beginning (which, alas, didn’t make the cut, either).  You can see how these paragraphs, exciting though they were to compose, were good candidates for the “kill your darlings” treatment.


Here, then, the paragraphs attempting to vindicate the effort of sorting good from ill in Endo’s signature novel:

Why bother with such a reading?  Why bother to seek vindication for truth when it seems so futile, when the interpreter’s arguments begin to sound so plausible to us?  Here is where we consider Rogue One and the kakure kirishitan.  In Episode IV of Star Wars, the “new hope” spoken of in the title is the resumption of the Jedi line–of a discipline that guides its practitioners to right use of a talent invisibly implanted within them–after the destruction of all the Jedi by Darth Vader.  The genius of Rogue One, I argue, is in convincingly depicting the era when those who had heard of the Force, who were sensitive to it or were aligned with the benevolent goals of the Jedi, were scattered “like sheep without a shepherd.”  Rebel factions protested each other, fought and undermined each other; lone Force sensitives marched into dangerous situations full of devotion to what they remembered but untutored and without well-founded hope.  Goodness, hope, reverence do recur in such situations, and Rogue One bears compelling witness to the beauty and tragedy of those who achieve great things in such terrible times.

But finally, Rogue One describes a generation that lived and died without any well-founded hope that their desire to do good was anything but a futile refusal to acquiesce in evil.  Under those circumstances, we see people who want good things justify terrible acts; we see leaders of men fatalistically embrace death, families torn apart, whole lives lived in alienation from what is best in humanity.  It is beautiful, I suggest, when a voice tears through all that, determined to do at least one thing that is definitely good, and to reject futility; it is fitting that such a voice should become identified with the word “hope.”  But consider those Christian villagers, well portrayed in Silence, who were forced to find whatever ways they could to maintain a partially-taught Christian faith over not just a generation, but over centuries of official persecution and separation from the teaching office of the Church.  How could we not, like Jesus, be “moved to compassion” when we see them?  How can we not long for their descendants to know the fulness of the faith they lived and died desiring?  How can we not choose Garrpe’s way, and dive into the ocean, swimming as long as we can, to bolster their faith?


From the cutting-room floor: taking Endo’s theology seriously

I’ve been working on a popular article about Silence and, true to form, I wrote about twice as much as we could use.  I find I pretty much have to “write long, edit short” to get anything done (which is also why so few projects reach completion–that first step takes time, and half the material isn’t useful).  Anyway, if the final product ends up being useful (I have well-founded hopes that it will), I’ll be sure to announce it.

[Update:  Here it is!  “Interpret Carefully” at Christ and Pop Culture.]

Here, then, a couple “deleted scenes” paragraphs that I’m not sorry I wrote, and not sorry we cut, either:

I hope I don’t have to work very hard to convince readers…that it is patently ridiculous to take works like Silence or The Shack or The End of the Affair or Brideshead Revisited or Crime and Punishment or The Da Vinci Code as “mere fiction” that should not be evaluated on its theological content.  To take an obvious example, Dan Brown included a clear statement that The Da Vinci Code was based on fact in the front of his novel (it takes only reading both books to know those “facts” were ripped clumsily from the pages of Holy Blood, Holy Grail–so blatantly, in fact, that its authors, themselves no strangers to breathless hyping of easily-exposed hoaxes, unsuccessfully sued Brown for copyright infringement).  Graham Greene thought the struggles of malformed conscience and institutional fecklessness that he dramatized in stories like The End of the Affair were serious enough, in real life, to keep him out of communion with the Church he entered dramatically as an adult.  In Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh specifically modelled elements of Sebastian Flyte’s life on the conversion story of Oscar Wilde.  It would be easy to multiply examples, but I trust the principle is clear.

More specifically, scholars and readers of Endo’s best-known novel have certainly not found that it is “mere fiction” without theological significance.  Scholars like Mark Williams, John Netland, Van Gessel, Darren Middleton, Mark Dennis, and many others have analyzed and evaluated Endo’s work not only for its compelling fictionalization of history but for the significance they see in Endo’s interaction with Christianity, traditional Japanese culture, Buddhist-Christian dialogue, and a whole host of other issues.  Of course, some readers think that the theological significance of Silence lies in a repudiation of organized religion in favor of a wholly individualized practice of charity; others think it lies in a subtle depiction of fidelity under almost impossible conditions; still others see a substitution of a “motherly” Jesus for the traditional portrayal of the “Son of the Father.”  Some focus on the climactic scene of apparent apostasy, others on the epilogue, others on the “silence” invoked by Endo’s second choice of title.  Many regard it favorably as an important moment on Endo’s trek into radical pluralism, not least because it anticipates the views Endo would more ardently promote after he encountered the works of the man we might call his guru, John Hick; others deplore exactly this character of Endo’s work.  If we don’t choose to simply ignore the features of Silence that provoke all these comments, or to consider one characteristic (for example “pluralism” or a subjectivization of moral or religious judgment) as proper to “mere fiction” but unrelated to theology, then we will simply have to agree that our varying evaluations of the theological significance of the novel are essential to our grasp of its significance.

Humility or “epistemic humility”

There is great virtue in being able to say, “I did not know that.  Thanks for telling me.”

Also, “I do not understand.  Will you teach me?”

Likewise, a teacher simply must be comfortable saying “I don’t know, but I’ll ask” and “I don’t know how to explain it, but we do know at least this much about it.”

And no one should grow to adulthood without a strong “Look it up!” habit.

Being willing to admit ignorance is part of being teachable.  There is, then, a place for “epistemic humility” properly understood:  learning that a proper estimate of my understanding involves recognizing the boundary between what I know and what I do not.

But that recognition has two components, not one.

It is not humility, but arrogance and folly, to think that if I am uncertain about it presently, there must be no one who could teach me to understand the matter more precisely and confidently.  It makes my present knowledge, or really my feelings about my present knowledge, the criterion of all possible knowledge.

It is bigotry to object when I am told that others have learned, and that if I intend to honor my obligation to truth I ought to listen to what they have learned.

Humility means knowing that some things can be learned, and some of those things can be taught, and therefore that I can learn some of them when I am teachable (and prudent about my choice of teachers).

That means that it is humble to stand on what you have learned, friend.  It is admitting that neither you nor I are, in our momentary wishes and feelings of assurance, the absolute limit and criterion of all possible understanding.

It is acknowledging that the young, the old, the living, the dead, the very holy, the rather profane, the erudite, the crude, the refined, the simple–all may well have something to teach, just as all assuredly have something to learn.

So when you have learned something, do not let the latest wave of uncertainty hatched by someone’s attempt to shame you deceive you.  Do not let bigots drive you away from what others have, in better spirit, taught you.

Have the humility of your convictions.

Rodrigues, Kichijiro, Judas–a 2012 conference paper (Part Two)

Here’s the final part of that SWCCL paper from 2012:


What we may miss when reading Silence, and what may lead students astray when we teach it, is how sharply dependent certain elements of its portrayal of Christian truth are on Rodrigues’ own imaginings.  Of course, we must debate the “Trample!” instruction which, whether as command or permission, echoes Rodrigues’ own verbal or mental cries for those who are about to be martyred to apostasize instead (for the village martyrs, see 83; for Garrpe, see 204).  However, in more subtle ways the role of Kichijiro is colored by the fact that from the first Rodrigues has treated him with contempt and suspicion, and glosses over alternative possibilities for responding to him.  For example, Kichijiro offers Rodrigues some salted fish, and chews grass instead himself, when they are fleeing (113).  Rodrigues himself says that he “snatched greedily” and “ate ravenously,” yet when he begins to be thirsty, he accuses Kichijiro of giving him the salted fish to weaken him (116-7).  Kichijiro only comments that Rodrigues ate too much; Kichijiro also manages to secure Rodrigues some water, which Rodrigues also consumes “greedily and shamelessly” (118).  We have only Rodrigues’ literally fevered imaginings to help us decide whether Kichijiro used this as a stratagem, or whether Kichijiro offered Rodrigues all the food he had, and secured him water, while avoiding confrontation with Rodrigues over the latter’s poor manners.  Many similar examples are available, but for now let us move on to the Biblical portrait of Judas.

We can roughly find seven relevant elements in the portayals of Judas Iscariot in the Gospels and Acts; one of them will be especially worthy of exploration in this context.


1) all four Evangelists carefully identify Judas Iscariot well before the Passion narrative.

In lists of the Twelve, Matthew has “Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him”; Mark has “Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him”; and Luke has “Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.”

In John 6:71, John explains one of Jesus’ predictions of His Passion as follows:  “He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him.”  And in John 12, we read that “Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples” was “about to betray him.”


2) Judas manifests behaviors and attitudes indicative of unbelief well before the betrayal.

(see discussion of John 6 & 12; short version is just John 12)


3) Judas receives money in advance and begins plotting.

“Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I betray him to you?’ They paid him thirty pieces of silver.  And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.”  (Matthew 26:14-16)

see also Mark 14:10-11; Luke 22:3-7; John 13:2


4) Judas is described as possessed by the devil (Luke 22 & John 13).


5) Judas definitely takes the initiative in arranging signals and revealing Jesus’ whereabouts.

(in addition to some of the texts above about Judas’ unbelief,) see Mark 14:43-52, which gives the most extensive account of Judas’s use of the kiss as a sign, his acting as a scout for the guards, etc.

also John 18:2-5; Luke 22:47-48


6) Judas is confronted with his treachery in advance, but continues.

When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”

And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?”

He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me.  The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”

Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.” (Matthew 26:20-25)

also John 13:21-30.  Note that these texts make it quite impossible to take the “Jesus gave Judas permission to betray Him” theme seriously.


7) Judas is remorseful but impenitent.

When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death.  They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor.

When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders.  He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”

But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.”  Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself.

But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.”  After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter’s field as a place to bury foreigners.  For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.  Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”  (Matthew 27:1-10)


8) Judas is considered a deposed apostate by the Church and his office given to another.

The first act of the assembled Church after Christ’s Ascension is led by Peter, who speaks of “Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus” as they seek a replacement twelfth Apostle, someone “chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”  (Acts 1:12-26)


John’s remarks in chapters 6 and 12 of his Gospel are of special interest, as these two passages also typify the manner in which the reception or rejection of the Incarnate Word is portrayed throughout John’s writings.  Judas is characterized by what he does and does not receive of Jesus, and the nature of God’s self-revelation in Christ is characterized by the infamous treason that crowns the career of one whose acceptance of some of Jesus’ words masked a deeper rejection of the Person of the Son of God.

In John 6, there are actually two mentions of the betrayer embedded in a twofold interplay of belief and disbelief.  Speaking to the Jewish audience in a series of synagogue discussions following the miracle of the feeding of the multitude, Jesus has just caused significant consternation by insisting that all and only those who are “taught by God” follow Jesus, and in fact insisting that following Jesus and having “heard and learned from the Father” are strictly identical for those faced with the presence of the Incarnate Word, the Christ “who is from God,” who is the only one who “has seen the Father” in the relevant sense.  When Jesus says “whoever believes has eternal life,” then, the saying is not received as a universal call to earnestness or sincerity or openness or wonder, but appears repugnant to the hearers.  Jesus warns them, “Do not complain among yourselves,” and John tells us that “The Jews then disputed among themselves.”  This first controversy takes place among the mostly Jewish audience comprising both followers of Jesus and His most passionate opponents, as well as many still unsure where they stand.

What Jesus’ Jewish interlocutors find so offensive, here, is the concrete historical form of truth that Jesus sets out for those who are “taught of God” and follow Him.  Jesus said, “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  Eating the multiplied loaves and fishes, or debating the significance of Jesus’ teachings, or following a portion of divine revelation, is of limited value; those who “ate the manna in the wilderness” undoubtedly followed the Father’s teachings up to a point, but “they died.”  Only when the unique “bread of life” has been provided can the one “drawn by the Father” and “taught by God” come to “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,” so that Jesus can promise repeatedly, “I will raise that person up on the last day.”  The question “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” expresses the perplexity of those who have not yet come to terms with the fullness of the Incarnate Word, as well as the challenge of those who set themselves in opposition.

This perplexity, though, divides even those accepted among Jesus’ followers.  Even those identified as “disciples” up to this point are heard “complaining” that “This teaching is difficult” and asking “who can accept it?”  As He does frequently throughout His career, Jesus does not alleviate their perplexity, but exacerbates it, in order to expose unbelief and clarify belief.  Jesus’ words “What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” work in at least three ways at once:  they argue a fortiori from the greater material difficulty of the Incarnation to the lesser difficulty of the Real Presence; they underscore the moral hazard of abstractly affirming the Incarnation while denying its concrete historical form; and they directly foreshadow Jesus’ later Ascension.  (In the unfolding of John’s Gospel, of course, this passage also closely echoes Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in chapter 3.)  Building on that multiplicity of sense, Jesus’ declaration that “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless” indicates that followers of Jesus must understand and order material realities according to their spiritual relations.  They must finally evaluate Jesus’ claims in the full light of revelation, rather than by the limited light of unaided natural reason.  This meaning is anchored when Jesus tells His followers that “among you there are some who do not believe” and John informs us that “Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him.”

This portrait is rather different from the one in Silence; Jesus is quite clear on who will betray Him, and considers that person an unbeliever.  It is at precisely this point, when the betrayer has just been mentioned in association with the unbelievers still numbered among the disciples, that we hear that “many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him,” which leads Jesus to turn and directly ask the Twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”  This question, of course, would be as close to the “permission” to apostasize as Judas would be likely to get.  What follows is one of Peter’s two famous confessions:  “Lord, to whom can we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”  However imperfectly, Peter and the faithful together recognized that the Incarnate Word had offered not just teaching but body and blood, and that this was their sole source of salvation.  Jesus’ reply, however, demands of them a further understanding than this temporal followership, though not less than that:  “Did I not choose you, the twelve?  Yet one of you is a devil.”  John specifically indicates that Jesus was speaking of Judas, “for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him.”  Judas’s betrayal, then, was an indication of a deeper fault; an unbelief which persisted even under the guise of religious vocation, which must eventually betray itself by betraying Christ.  John’s arrangement of the account underscores the particularity of Judas’s unbelief:  Judas refused to accept the unity and unicity of Christ’s salvific message with His saving Person so concretely stated in Jesus’ teaching about His Body and Blood.

With this background in mind, the scene at Lazarus’ home in Bethany becomes much clearer.  In John 12, the account of Mary, sister of Martha, using expensive ointment to treat Jesus’ feet—an apparent waste to which Judas objected—is not left to stand alone.  In fact, the very next occurrence after this is Judas going to the Jewish leaders to conspire against Jesus.  This story is framed with pointed references to Lazarus as “Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead” and ends with the Jewish leaders expanding their plot to include Lazarus, because his resurrection led to a situation in which “many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.”  In this environment, and against the backdrop of John 6, it is clear that whether Judas was actively interested in stealing money or wasn’t, his unbelief was the issue.  Judas treats Mary’s response to Jesus’ death and resurrection as indifferent, measuring it solely by secular measures.  He fails to consider that the ongoing responsibility of caring for the poor, as taught by Jesus, cannot eclipse the response to the Person of Jesus called for by the Incarnation itself, which is inseparable from the words by which the Incarnate Word teaches those who hear Him.

Mary’s act of devotion, by which she chooses to “cash out” her secular worth in terms explicitly responsive to the Person of Jesus, cannot be evaluated in merely secular terms without becoming the occasion of fresh unbelief.  John underscores this by introducing Judas, immediately before he speaks, as “the one who was about to betray [Jesus].”  And, indeed, it is as those who evaluate the resurrection of Lazarus in terms of its effects on their following begin to plot against Lazarus that Judas joins their plot against Jesus.

It is in precisely these respects that Rodrigues resembles Judas a great deal more than Kichijiro.  Kichijiro is a stumbling follower of Jesus, but like Peter or John Mark, he repents—and even, if we are to believe the appendix, becomes in his faltering way evangelically useful—after his many failures.  He seeks absolution and shows signs of real contrition, though his manifest weakness does make a struggle against sin, rather than freedom from sin, the reasonable pastoral goal.  Rodrigues, by comparison, comes not to understand Judas—and barely to understand Kichijiro—but to become Judas.  Rodrigues becomes a betrayer who, however remorseful, does not repent; indeed, he justifies himself over against the Church whose laws, like those of Peter in the days immediately following the Ascension, inform him clearly of his state.  Whatever of clarity or confusion we may find when we read Silence, we are at least well served if we see Rodrigues’ imaginations of Judas for the dangerous delusions they become to him.




Endo, Shusaku.  Silence.  Trans. William Johnston.  New York:  Taplinger, 1980.

Quotations from NRSV Bible.


Wait, so…pets in Heaven? (Part One)

OK, actually, no.  Not in Heaven, where I have a pretty hard time making sense of them.  But most people forget that the destination of all those rescued by Jesus and fitted by Him for an eternally satisfying friendship with God is not Heaven, but the New Earth–that is, a bodily life that continues beyond the Beatific Vision (and we do mean “vision“).  We believe, that is, in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.

So my most excellent friend and Thomistic sharpshooter Matt and I had a conversation about this, and I began in the position of objecting to the premise that animals would be in heaven at all; then Matt got me to entertain the possibility that “pets” were not really considered in typical analysis, here, and my own experience of animal behavior after years of living with Sarah’s lizards kicked in, and we spent the rest of the night working out the theory…so almost nothing here is original to me, as an idea, but this is my way of working the thought out weeks later.  If I get something wrong, blame me–unless Matt is nearer, in which case blame Matt.

We can say a little more that is interesting about this, in fact.  Let’s turn to the Ox:

Man’s perfect Happiness consists in the vision of the Divine Essence. Now it is impossible for anyone seeing the Divine Essence, to wish not to see It. Because every good that one possesses and yet wishes to be without, is either insufficient, something more sufficing being desired in its stead; or else has some inconvenience attached to it, by reason of which it becomes wearisome. But the vision of the Divine Essence fills the soul with all good things, since it unites it to the source of all goodness; hence it is written (Psalm 16:15): “I shall be satisfied when Thy glory shall appear”; and (Wisdom 7:11): “All good things came to me together with her,” i.e. with the contemplation of wisdom. In like manner neither has it any inconvenience attached to it; because it is written of the contemplation of wisdom (Wisdom 8:16): “Her conversation hath no bitterness, nor her company any tediousness.” It is thus evident that the happy man cannot forsake Happiness of his own accord. Moreover, neither can he lose Happiness, through God taking it away from him. Because, since the withdrawal of Happiness is a punishment, it cannot be enforced by God, the just Judge, except for some fault; and he that sees God cannot fall into a fault, since rectitude of the will, of necessity, results from that vision as was shown above (I-II:4:4). Nor again can it be withdrawn by any other agent. Because the mind that is united to God is raised above all other things: and consequently no other agent can sever the mind from that union. Therefore it seems unreasonable that as time goes on, man should pass from happiness to misery, and vice versa; because such like vicissitudes of time can only be for such things as are subject to time and movement.

(S.Th. II.I.5.4)

The final state, as Aquinas sees it, is most wholly summed up in the Beatific Vision, the ability to look upon God “face to face” and to be satisfied in friendship with Him as only a fully perfected human creature can–and, in fact, as only this particular human creature can; for the essence of a rational soul is to become itself precisely by its own free and morally significant responses to the Creator’s actualization of its being.  God makes me capable of choosing to become what God has created me to become only in the specific ways that His work of Creation and Redemption and my willing participation in His Being, my cooperation with grace, my “obedience of faith,” make real.  I can only be truly happy as, and insofar as, I become habituated too my creaturely relation to my Creator–something which requires the special work of a Redeemer, if it is to be perfected.


So this is the essence of happiness, for any human creature.  And St. Thomas does not want us to suffer on our way to this happiness by entertaining delusions that we might become attached to and grieve, even relatively harmless ones like expecting Heaven to be a bucolic scene like the “outing in the park” from Mary Poppins:

It is written (1 Corinthians 15:53): “This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality“; and consequently the world will be renewed in such a way as to throw off all corruption and remain for ever at rest. Therefore it will be impossible for anything to be the subject of that renewal, unless it be a subject of incorruption. Now such are the heavenly bodies, the elements, and man. For the heavenly bodies are by their very nature incorruptible both as to their whole and as to their part: the elements are corruptible as to their parts but incorruptible as a whole: while men are corruptible both in whole and in part, but this is on the part of their matter not on the part of their form, the rational soul to wit, which will remain incorrupt after the corruption of man. on the other hand, dumb animals, plants, and minerals, and all mixed bodies, are corruptible both in their whole and in their parts, both on the part of their matter which loses its form, and on the part of their form which does not remain actually; and thus they are in no way subjects of incorruption. Hence they will not remain in this renewal, but those things alone which we have mentioned above.

Or more succinctly, and avoiding for the moment the obviously flawed science by which Thomas was informed that “heavenly bodies are…incorruptible” (a confusion about the scale at which physics and metaphysics interact–and it should be pointed out that what we have learned since is just that we don’t yet know that scale, thanks to lots of data from astronomy, relativity, quantum mechanics, and string/M theory), Thomas held that, when all the matter in the universe was “recycled” by ages of flux and the renewal that leads to the New Earth, there was nothing except the matter of plants and “dumb animals” that could account for “this animal’s” presence on the New Earth.

That would lead to the question whether God might create “a cow” rather than restore “this cow,” of course (and this gets into the problem of supposing the New Heavens and New Earth is a new act of Creation, which at least is beyond anything Scripture and Tradition give us any reason to suspect).  But the foundational answer to the “will any of these animals be on the New Earth” question is “well, how would you know which ‘dumb animal’ it was?”  Whatever might happen, it would not be the subsistence of “this animal” across time; the human soul does have a basis for being “this human” in the Resurrection, even if all the body’s matter is completely “recycled” (though, personally, I have a sneaking suspicion there is at least some particle of bodily matter from each human who has ever existed that will still be present in “this human’s body” in the Resurrection).  The “beasts of the field” do not.

And Thomas also thought that it didn’t make sense to imagine conditions in the Resurrection that were too much like conditions now, because his understanding of perfected humans obviated all eating, sleeping, excretion, etc.  Now, it seems to me that I can believe we won’t “need” food in the sense that would make us hungry or prone to starve, but we might be capable of “enjoying” food, and even doing so without waste.  Nonetheless, Thomas reasons that because such things are needed to carry forward the purposes of this age, but are not needed for a perfected humanity, such things will not be present in the New Earth:

those natural operations which are directed to cause or preserve the primary perfection of human nature will not be in the resurrection: such are the actions of the animal life in man, the action of the elements on one another, and the movement of the heavens; wherefore all these will cease at the resurrection. And since to eat, drink, sleep, beget, pertain to the animal life, being directed to the primary perfection of nature, it follows that they will not be in the resurrection.

[…] When Christ partook of that meal, His eating was an act, not of necessity as though human nature needed food after the resurrection, but of power, so as to prove that He had resumed the true human nature which He had in that state wherein He ate and drank with His disciples. There will be no need of such proof at the general resurrection, since it will be evident to all.

(ST III.81.4)

This would be a good time to note that most of this discussion takes place in the “Third Part” or “Supplement,” much of which is authored by students of Thomas after his death.  It attempts to complete the project by drawing conclusions from earlier works by Thomas; it is less richly informed by the developing understanding of Thomas, though, and in fact seems in places to make characteristic mistakes of later interpreters of Thomas.  Nonetheless, we’ll need to assume for the  moment that Thomas meant “this or something like this,” and perhaps we can discuss the matter with The Ox in the Resurrection, should the opportunity arise.

Thomas also offers a number of specific conclusions about the distinction between animals and humans:

  • The “image of God” is not found in animals (or other creatures without rational souls);
  • The “trace of the Trinity” does appear in Creation, including animals;
  • Animals do have something properly called “hope” (surprised me!);
  • Animals cannot properly “command” others;
  • Animals cannot properly “consent” to anything;
  • Animals cannot properly “use” other things;
  • Animals can be said to “enjoy” things imperfectly, but not in the perfect sense;
  • Animals do not properly “intend” anything, or “choose” anything, nor are their actions properly “voluntary.”
  • Animals are not properly called “persons“;
  • Animals do not have subsistent souls, as mentioned above.

And I take it as given, then, that it makes little to no sense to imagine that any “beasts of the field” now living will be present in the New Earth, as there would be no basis for asserting the identity of their being in this age and their being in the next.

OK, I’m going to have to break this, now….but with that background, can you imagine where one might find a plausible case on good Thomistic grounds for pets in the Resurrection?

God, Freedom, and what we moderns don’t know about Will

Pretty decent question from a student on Reddit:

I am doing an undergraduate exposition of the Free Will of God, as examined by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa, Question 19.3. I have been reading this over and over again, as well as looking into other questions of the Summa. Does anyone have a simple explanation, and/or some links to articles, books, or lectures written on this subjects?


To which I reply as follows:

Make sure you carefully understand the response to I.19.1 before you try to deal with 19.3, among other things. It sounds like you’re wrestling with this the right way. The challenge is that almost every relevant term is defined differently in the “default” philosophy of our day than in St. Thomas’s work.

Look at

Notice that will follows intellect, and is analogous to the “natural appetite,” that is, the tendency for everything to be what it is. Rocks are rock-like by “natural appetite,” that is, they tend to be rock-like as long as something else does not supervene on their nature and convert their rock-like-ness into something else.

Intellectual natures are more complicated; they have a “natural appetite” to consider their circumstances and habits and choose things that may alter them, so they may in many cases be capable of “converting” themselves, though not so as to cease to be that kind of intellectual being.

When an intellectual nature, with all this “natural appetite” for considering and choosing and potentially converting, acts according to that nature, it does so according to that nature; moral freedom is not a rupture of nature, but the act proper to an intellectual nature.

With God, the situation is even more interesting–at once more complicated and far, far more simple.

For God, the contemplation and the choosing are all perfect in their beginning, so that when God contemplates He is not really considering before acting, and only acting when the consequences are predictable; rather, God contemplates and actualizes all things (including all the contingencies and the natures according to which those contingencies are resolved, in almost endless complexity) in the same act as God exists. God, just in being God, also considers all possibilities and also actualizes all actualities, and is never in any of His considerations balked or given reason to convert any of His perfect habits in any way.

And therefore God is absolutely free, as He considers and actualizes all things according to His own act of being God, and in that same act of being a God who is good considers and actualizes what is best, including all the layers of possibility and contingency (and folded within those all the back-and-forth of Creation, Fall, Redemption, calling, conversion, Heaven, Hell) that resolve themselves according to the participation of some natures in that freedom of God.

Our own freedom is far less than God’s, because it is essentially the portion of God’s total freedom that He has, because it is perfectly in accord with His considering and actualizing all good things, allotted to us; He has decided that, whatever we make of it, our degree of participation in His freedom is an essential good of creating us. This does not constrain His freedom; it is His freedom, in making us, participated by us as our more limited and contingent freedom.

And we cannot have this freedom except as participation in His freedom, which means that when we choose to abuse His gift of opportunity to cooperate with Him, to enter freely into His friendship, we choose the loss of continued capacity to choose and a gradual descent into a more merely, almost subhumanly, appetitive and irascible state of being.

Hope that helps. Also, I’m going to blog this, so be honest with your prof when you work on your paper.

Plurivocity, not Equivocation

Just to help folks keep their bearings, here’s what Thomas has to say about the four senses of Scripture.  Note how they relate to “equivocation” and also to the “literal sense”:

On the contrary, Gregory says (Moral. xx, 1): “Holy Writ by the manner of its speech transcends every science, because in one and the same sentence, while it describes a fact, it reveals a mystery.”

I answer that, The author of Holy Writ is God, in whose power it is to signify His meaning, not by words only (as man also can do), but also by things themselves. So, whereas in every other science things are signified by words, this science has the property, that the things signified by the words have themselves also a signification. Therefore that first signification whereby words signify things belongs to the first sense, the historical or literal. That signification whereby things signified by words have themselves also a signification is called the spiritual sense, which is based on the literal, and presupposes it. Now this spiritual sense has a threefold division. For as the Apostle says (Hebrews 10:1) the Old Law is a figure of the New Law, and Dionysius says (Coel. Hier. i) “the New Law itself is a figure of future glory.” Again, in the New Law, whatever our Head has done is a type of what we ought to do. Therefore, so far as the things of the Old Law signify the things of the New Law, there is the allegorical sense; so far as the things done in Christ, or so far as the things which signify Christ, are types of what we ought to do, there is the moral sense. But so far as they signify what relates to eternal glory, there is the anagogical sense. Since the literal sense is that which the author intends, and since the author of Holy Writ is God, Who by one act comprehends all things by His intellect, it is not unfitting, as Augustine says (Confess. xii), if, even according to the literal sense, one word in Holy Writ should have several senses.

Reply to Objection 1. The multiplicity of these senses does not produce equivocation or any other kind of multiplicity, seeing that these senses are not multiplied because one word signifies several things, but because the things signified by the words can be themselves types of other things. Thus in Holy Writ no confusion results, for all the senses are founded on one — the literal — from which alone can any argument be drawn, and not from those intended in allegory, as Augustine says (Epis. 48). Nevertheless, nothing of Holy Scripture perishes on account of this, since nothing necessary to faith is contained under the spiritual sense which is not elsewhere put forward by the Scripture in its literal sense.

(source: Summa Theologica I.1.10)

The Importance of Analogy (or, how to avoid dualism and make learning possible)–Part 4

So, we’ll need to review a bit, and then let’s talk about God.

Univocal predication is impossible between God and creatures….Thus also this term “wise” applied to man in some degree circumscribes and comprehends the thing signified; whereas this is not the case when it is applied to God; but it leaves the thing signified as incomprehended, and as exceeding the signification of the name. Hence it is evident that this term “wise” is not applied in the same way to God and to man. The same rule applies to other terms. Hence no name is predicated univocally of God and of creatures.

Neither, on the other hand, are names applied to God and creatures in a purely equivocal sense, as some have said. Because if that were so, it follows that from creatures nothing could be known or demonstrated about God at all; for the reasoning would always be exposed to the fallacy of equivocation. Such a view is against the philosophers, who proved many things about God, and also against what the Apostle says: “The invisible things of God are clearly seen being understood by the things that are made” (Romans 1:20). Therefore it must be said that these names are said of God and creatures in an analogous sense, i.e. according to proportion.

(source: Summa Theologica I.13.5 respondeo)

Now, if this were a slightly different sort of philosophical journey, I might say, “And Zhaozhou achieved satori.”

But back in the real world….


This sounds difficult, I grant.  But remember what we’ve already seen:

  • When the child learns the word “Bug!” for a beetle, and applies it to insects, raisins, and the dog (but not the VW Beetle), the child is using language “analogously,” and will learn by specification which analogies are fit and which are not;
  • When the child learns to use “bug” for a range of insects, and to exclude butterflies and spiders, the child begins to use “bug” univocally;
  • When big sister teases the child by saying “Look out! there’s a bug in front of you!” when they stand in front of a VW Beetle, the child is confused because big sister has used “bug” equivocally.

In other words, we speak in analogies when we are learning; we discover the proper scope of terms, the fitness of certain common understandings across various applications in various contexts.  In the sense that our learning never ceases to be informed by how we learn it, that every body of knowledge (or clump of understanding, or field, or discipline, or science, or art) has its own coherence and purpose, its own “formal principle” derived from some more comprehensive and fundamental understanding, our learning and conversation are therefore always fundamentally analogous and only univocal or equivocal by specialization, derivation, or corruption (especially in the case of deluding equivocations).

We can speak univocally when and to the extent that we share a scope, context, and purpose with another, provided of course that the object of our discussion actually fits that scope, context, and purpose.  Any conversation about that fitness, however, would have to be conducted by analogy.

And here is the terribly important point:  disregarding the fundamental role of analogy and insisting on univocal discourse generally leads us to equivocate, and we either end up pushing opposing “not…but…” statements whose opposition is founded in an equivocation; or we end up agreeing on apparently univocal utterances that are founded on an invisible equivocation that we all assume without examination.  [Here read the brief excursus on modern and postmodern, if you like.]

So every understanding–every set of observations and claims, everything we are able to make some definite and univocal statements about–is bounded by certain judgments of fitness.  We can speak univocally about how one tree relates to another; we have learned what in each tree is analogous to every other tree, and are competent to make judgments of fitness about “how different is too different”–judgments we make by analogy, and which become definitions.  These definitions form the boundaries of sets of univocal claims, or particular “sciences.”  Because we are always, to some extent, learning, these judgments are always potentially reformable; yet each set of understandings contains some elements which must be true, or nothing else about them makes sense–and each contains some definite judgments without which that set of understandings fails to cohere.  The latter are called “formal principles,” and the former can have several names, depending on the kinds and sources of knowledge fitting to that science.  These include “intuitions,” “axioms,” “dogmas,” and the like.

Which brings us, at last, to the knowledge of God.

Like any other kind of learning, the learning that is involved in growing to understand God, getting to know Him well enough to become His friend, necessarily happens by analogy.  But with the knowledge of God, three related things happen to make it necessary to say that we can only speak of God by analogy.

First, and simplest, we are never going to have exhausted the knowledge of God.  True, if St. Thomas is right, there will come a time when we fully understand God’s relationships to all things–this is one way of describing the Beatific Vision, the ability to behold God as He really is, that is, to look upon God’s essence.  Yet St. Thomas also points out that even in this gazing upon God as He really is, we will not exhaustively comprehend God; there will always be more to His self-understanding than even our wholly perfected understanding can possibly keep in mind.  Therefore, even when we have the fullest possible capacity to make univocal statements about our knowledge of God, that knowledge itself will remain analogical in nature; those claims will be perfectly true claims about what can be known of God, but will always imply “and more” in a way that requires us to reason differently about those than we might about the cultivation of fruit trees.

Second, and only slightly more complex, the knowledge of God necessarily articulates with all our other understandings by analogy.  Remember that we discussed how each science, each set of understandings that we are able to state as univocal claims within a certain scope, context, and purpose, is necessarily bounded by judgments of the “fitness” that relate the scope, context, and purpose to the objects considered–that each body of knowledge is itself founded and bounded by analogy to other sciences, specifically to sciences that cover a broader scope at a higher level of explanation.

If there is any God, though, then God must be the Creator; the Creator’s intention and action must be the broadest scope, the inescapable context, the final purpose of every other object of our knowledge; and therefore the science of knowing God, that is, the set of univocal claims that we can make about what we can know of God’s intention, and action, must always stand in the relation of an analogy to every other kind of knowledge we have.

The only thing that could possibly found and bound such a set of claims would be knowledge of God; and having already used up all the other ways of knowing, we must acknowledge that here we enter upon a species of knowing which is both direct revelation and defined knowledge.  The sources of that definite knowledge, data of Creation and Redemption history, include the very words given to the prophets and apostles, the specific words of Christ, and what we have successfully learned from these in ways God has given humans the ability and authority to define.  The direct revelation stands behind these, and draws them forth, and also works in each of us who by God’s grace receive the infused theological virtue of faith, and continue in the obedience of faith, being drawn into friendship with God; this direct revelation is utterly inseparable from the definite knowledge, for only when they are conjoined do they provide us with a proper analogy–the analogy of Being upon which the analogy of Faith is built, and to which it refers.

Our claims about God can only be stated by analogy because it is knowledge of God that provides the analogies by which all learning, and therefore all systems of univocal claims, are possible.  Explicitly or tacitly, to understand God’s intentions and actions, to be drawn into friendship with Him, provides the scope, context, and purpose for all possible knowledge.  As the apex of all knowing, it is therefore pure analogy, insusceptible of reduction to univocal claims; all univocal claims about what we know of God cohere only under this analogy, as do all possible claims of any form about any other knowledge.


Third, and most complex, though hinted by the other two, our very condition as creatures who think in created brains and whose understanding is ordered to friendship with God requires that analogy, not univocal speech, be the apex of our knowledge of God, hence of all things.  As creatures, our understanding is built up according to rules encoded in Creation (like physical laws, changeability over time), in our metaphysically human being (our ability to conceive what our body cannot directly perceive or do, our capacity to intentionally reform our habits based on intentions conceived in the mind), or in our physical human being (like the relationship between brain structure and the nature of imagination, the variability of human senses, the pleasure/pain principle in our appetites and arousals, or our capacity for learning and repeating vocables).

Whatever capacity to understand God’s intentions and actions we have must, therefore, be a feature of our existence as human creatures who are physically and metaphysically continuous with the whole of Creation; the capacity of the Creation to participate in the life of the Creator is itself a manifestation of those intentions and actions which we are made to understand.  We cannot repudiate our creaturely being, in order to choose another; we cannot have a way of knowing that is unrelated to our manner of learning.  It is therefore impossible to think that our knowledge could be greater than our kind of being is capable of, though it is indeed possible that our capability in a graciously improved and in a perfected state is much greater than we naturally seem capable of.

The kind of knowledge we can have of God is, necessarily, the kind possible within the mind–let us focus on the brain itself, when we say that, though the principle holds for whatever is metaphysically “beyond the brain” about our knowing, too.  But this kind of knowledge must, itself, be an unfolding of the Creator’s intention that we come to know Him in an act of creating us such that we can know Him and actually continuing our existence as creatures who come to know Him (and intervening, too, but that is a separate matter for us, at a different level of explanation).  In other words, my being a human creature knowing God’s intentions and actions is, itself, a manifestation of those intentions and actions; my knowledge of those intentions and actions must necessarily stand in a relation of analogy, rather than a relation of univocal reduction, if that knowledge is to be thought possible.

Indeed, my understanding God can never be only my successful reduction of divine revelation to definitions, nor can it be an attempt to experience divine revelation as undefined:  Scylla gains me a univocal system but steal from me the necessary warrants for my belief, without which it will harden into despair and provoke unbelief in others; Charybdis gains me a moment’s freedom from the reductive habit, but steals from me the capacity to believe what I have learned, without which it will harden into unbelief and provoke despair in others.

My understanding God is always a divine revelation that what knowledge of God I have definitely gained is, itself, a manifestation of God’s intention and action in creating me; that I may “love God with my mind” as indeed with every other part of my creaturely being.

Anything less, in the end, is one kind or another of dualism, some kind of despairing of or striving after gnosis.

I hope, in a future post, to discuss the application of analogy to specific kinds of understanding God, and to language theory and allegory and poesis, the topics which engage my attention most fully.  But for now, we’ll mark this one concluded, and I hope somebody will ask good questions and provide sound criticisms to help me improve my understanding.

Because that would be a work of mercy, and an act of friendship, and a sign of the love of God being poured out in your heart.  Many thanks.

Further Interlude, still on Analogy, from the Ox

Just in case you did not, in fact, read it all:

Univocal predication is impossible between God and creatures. The reason of this is that every effect which is not an adequate result of the power of the efficient cause, receives the similitude of the agent not in its full degree, but in a measure that falls short, so that what is divided and multiplied in the effects resides in the agent simply, and in the same manner; as for example the sun by exercise of its one power produces manifold and various forms in all inferior things. In the same way, as said in the preceding article, all perfections existing in creatures divided and multiplied, pre-exist in God unitedly. Thus when any term expressing perfection is applied to a creature, it signifies that perfection distinct in idea from other perfections; as, for instance, by the term “wise” applied to man, we signify some perfection distinct from a man’s essence, and distinct from his power and existence, and from all similar things; whereas when we apply to it God, we do not mean to signify anything distinct from His essence, or power, or existence. Thus also this term “wise” applied to man in some degree circumscribes and comprehends the thing signified; whereas this is not the case when it is applied to God; but it leaves the thing signified as incomprehended, and as exceeding the signification of the name. Hence it is evident that this term “wise” is not applied in the same way to God and to man. The same rule applies to other terms. Hence no name is predicated univocally of God and of creatures.

Neither, on the other hand, are names applied to God and creatures in a purely equivocal sense, as some have said. Because if that were so, it follows that from creatures nothing could be known or demonstrated about God at all; for the reasoning would always be exposed to the fallacy of equivocation. Such a view is against the philosophers, who proved many things about God, and also against what the Apostle says: “The invisible things of God are clearly seen being understood by the things that are made” (Romans 1:20). Therefore it must be said that these names are said of God and creatures in an analogous sense, i.e. according to proportion.

Now names are thus used in two ways: either according as many things are proportionate to one, thus for example “healthy” predicated of medicine and urine in relation and in proportion to health of a body, of which the former is the sign and the latter the cause: or according as one thing is proportionate to another, thus “healthy” is said of medicine and animal, since medicine is the cause of health in the animal body. And in this way some things are said of God and creatures analogically, and not in a purely equivocal nor in a purely univocal sense. For we can name God only from creatures (Article 1). Thus whatever is said of God and creatures, is said according to the relation of a creature to God as its principle and cause, wherein all perfections of things pre-exist excellently. Now this mode of community of idea is a mean between pure equivocation and simple univocation. For in analogies the idea is not, as it is in univocals, one and the same, yet it is not totally diverse as in equivocals; but a term which is thus used in a multiple sense signifies various proportions to some one thing; thus “healthy” applied to urine signifies the sign of animal health, and applied to medicine signifies the cause of the same health.

(source: Summa Theologica I.13.5 respondeo)

Interlude, still on Analogy, from the Ox

Carefully read all of the Angelic Doctor’s words on the subject of the names of God before going on:

as regards absolute and affirmative names of God, as “good,” “wise,” and the like, various and many opinions have been given. For some have said that all such names, although they are applied to God affirmatively, nevertheless have been brought into use more to express some remotion from God, rather than to express anything that exists positively in Him. Hence they assert that when we say that God lives, we mean that God is not like an inanimate thing; and the same in like manner applies to other names; and this was taught by Rabbi Moses. Others say that these names applied to God signify His relationship towards creatures: thus in the words, “God is good,” we mean, God is the cause of goodness in things; and the same rule applies to other names.

Both of these opinions, however, seem to be untrue for three reasons.

First because in neither of them can a reason be assigned why some names more than others are applied to God. For He is assuredly the cause of bodies in the same way as He is the cause of good things; therefore if the words “God is good,” signified no more than, “God is the cause of good things,” it might in like manner be said that God is a body, inasmuch as He is the cause of bodies. So also to say that He is a body implies that He is not a mere potentiality, as is primary matter.

Secondly, because it would follow that all names applied to God would be said of Him by way of being taken in a secondary sense, as healthy is secondarily said of medicine, forasmuch as it signifies only the cause of the health in the animal which primarily is called healthy.

Thirdly, because this is against the intention of those who speak of God. For in saying that God lives, they assuredly mean more than to say the He is the cause of our life, or that He differs from inanimate bodies.

Therefore we must hold a different doctrine–viz. that these names signify the divine substance, and are predicated substantially of God, although they fall short of a full representation of Him. Which is proved thus. For these names express God, so far as our intellects know Him. Now since our intellect knows God from creatures, it knows Him as far as creatures represent Him. Now it is shown above (I:4:2) that God prepossesses in Himself all the perfections of creatures, being Himself simply and universally perfect. Hence every creature represents Him, and is like Him so far as it possesses some perfection; yet it represents Him not as something of the same species or genus, but as the excelling principle of whose form the effects fall short, although they derive some kind of likeness thereto, even as the forms of inferior bodies represent the power of the sun. This was explained above (I:4:3), in treating of the divine perfection. Therefore the aforesaid names signify the divine substance, but in an imperfect manner, even as creatures represent it imperfectly. So when we say, “God is good,” the meaning is not, “God is the cause of goodness,” or “God is not evil”; but the meaning is, “Whatever good we attribute to creatures, pre-exists in God,” and in a more excellent and higher way. Hence it does not follow that God is good, because He causes goodness; but rather, on the contrary, He causes goodness in things because He is good; according to what Augustine says (De Doctr. Christ. i, 32), “Because He is good, we are.”

(source: SUMMA THEOLOGIAE: The names of God (Prima Pars, Q. 13), emphasis added)