Friday, August 20, 2010

Ite ad Thomam: Louis Bouyer: Enemy of Traditional Theology.
There is much that is debatable within the quoted passage, and a discussion of the questions of method that are raised seems proper to theology. A more sustained critique of Fr. Bouyer would require his own account of what theology is and its proper method?

That this is true of “John of St Thomist” theology, {note the audacious ad hominem, a mockery of traditional Thomistic theology} right from its very beginning, is revealed by that theologian’s understanding of what, following St Thomas, he calls a “theological conclusion.”  According to him it is possible, even while adhering to a strict application of syllogistic reasoning, to have two kinds of theological conclusions—one flowing from two revealed premises, the other from one revealed and one philosophical premise.  And this latter kind by its very nature will widen the field, if not precisely of revelation as such, at least of the knowledge we can draw from it.  This may appear at first sight to be a quite innocuous and legitimate development of St Thomas’ idea of a theological conclusion.  In fact, it transforms it to the point of being unrecognizable.  The whole meaning of theological endeavor is at a stroke radically altered, and at the same time even our very conception of revelation.

For St Thomas there are not and cannot be theological conclusions which are not already comprised within revelation.  A theological conclusion is and can only be a revealed doctrinal affirmation of which one has established the logical relationship it has with other doctrinal affirmations of the same species.  The whole of theology moves within faith and so within revelation.  To suppose that it can evade it in order to increase its scope (!) is no longer to understand anything about revelation itself, {thus, pretty much all of post-Tridentine theology, which is founded on this doctrine, is unable to understand revelation} as if theology could ever flatter itself of having gone so far beyond revelation as to be able to complete it.

Can one apply human reasoning to truths about the faith? And if not, would not the truths of revelation be cut off from the truths we come to know about reality?

De un

De unione ecclesiarum: John Kyparissiotes: Preface to the Decades

Publishers of books for Catholics

Sheed & Ward has been part of Rowman & Littlefield for a while. While some "classic" texts like Jacques Maritain's introduction to philosophy are in print, its more recent titles are a mixed bag. Looking through its catalog, I found several titles by James Keenan, S.J., along with books opposing the legal prohibition of abortion and supporting stem cell research. At the "opposite" end of the spectrum are a defense of Pope Pius XII and books by Alasdair MacIntyre on the Catholic University and Edith Stein. Of course there is also a book that condemns the Vatican for its failure to prevent the Holocaust. I suppose that is what happens when the publisher and its editors do not act as judges of orthodoxy, but are interested in "promoting discussion" among those who call themselves Catholics.

Academics and other authors may not be motivated by money to write, but spreading falsehoods, dissent, and attacks on the Church  is a serious sin as they intend to communicate this to others and to influence them. And they do benefit from this by being able to pad the publications portion of their CVs. And what about associating with those responsible for allowing this to happen by directly facilitating the books' publication? Should Catholics have no interest in what sort of publishers they pick? It's just business isn't an excuse. "They may publish some bad books, but they are willing to publish good ones (like mine) as well," may sound self-serving.

If the authority of the imprimatur were restored (instead of being a rubber stamp in the many cases when it is actually sought instead of just being ignored) we could also do something to limit consumerism and the waste of resources. How's that for a social sin, by publishing bad books one contributes to the wastefulness endemic to Western political economies?

Still, there may be one or two others titles that might be of interest: Byzantine Rome and the Greek Popes.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Zenit: Adoption Isn't a "Right" for Gays or Others
Interview With Mexican Jurist, Historian

ZENIT: The result now is that law becomes an instrument of tyranny, when law theory states altogether the contrary?
Traslosheros: The term "tyranny of rights" should be an oxymoron as, in theory, rights exist to protect the citizen against the authoritarian tendencies of those who hold power.

However, it has been proper to the culture of Mexican politicians to create special support groups, which they later adorn with privileges in detriment to the whole of society. It is a very old Mexican experience of which, for example, the corrupt union boss is a typical example, and the reason why the health and education systems languish in mediocrity.
Now, by decision of the Legislative Assembly of the Federal District, dominated by the Democratic Revolution Party [...], by the government of [Mexico] City and the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation, a further step has been taken in deepening this pernicious tendency that has nothing to do with democracy and which has found in the so-called gender and gay ideology a significant stimulus.
ZENIT: They say that equity, equality and justice are being protected; that pure law is being applied. Do you believe this?
Traslosheros: In theory, law should create an ensemble of rights for the whole population, in order to guarantee conditions of equality, justice and liberty for any person based on two principles: that we are all equal in dignity and that the strong have the obligation to help the weak. By the same token, when someone finds himself in a vulnerable situation, special juridical conditions of equity must be created for the time necessary, even if they become permanent. Classic examples are the pregnant woman and the woman in labor, refugees, the handicapped, the sick and, especially, children.
The raison d'etre of this juridical culture is the person. Juridical culture centered on the person, as is easy to see, is the very opposite of one that creates privileged groups and which is proper to authoritarian regimes without distinction, no matter their color.
ZENIT: Isn't the centrality of the person being protected when the rights of homosexuals are protected? This is an argument often used today.
Traslosheros: When the centrality of the person is abandoned, then law is used to create statutes of privilege that, in turn, favor specific groups above the whole of society generating situations of injustice and, consequently, of violence. Obviously what is abandoned with this is the obligation to protect the weak, while confirmed is the law of the strongest. Such is what is now happening with the so-called right of adoption created allegedly to protect the principle of non-discrimination of homosexuals. The right of adoption, by this combination with non-discrimination, becomes an obligation to give children in adoption to homosexual couples who so request.

ZENIT: Let's return to the underlying topic, that a right is "being created" in Mexico.
Traslosheros: It is very important to keep in mind that the so-called right to adoption never existed in Mexico because it was well understood that children don't exist to satisfy the desires or needs of adults, no matter how legitimate or justified they might seem.
Because of the higher interests of the child, the adoption processes were governed by the logic that adults must be subjected to rigorous aptitude tests, where the factors of emotional, social, economic, marital or personal stability have played a very important role, among many other things.

Hence, adults have never in any way had the right to adoption. On the contrary, they have had to demonstrate in deeds that, beyond ideologies and any doubt, they are fit to take on a child with full responsibility.
Parenthood, as we well know, is a gift and a responsibility, it isn't a right in itself. In any case, it would be a consequence and always subject to the exercise of responsibility. As we can easily see, as the higher interest of the child demands, the right of adoption must not exist for anyone regardless of their quality, condition, religion, race, ethnic group or sexual preference. Children are not things to satisfy the needs of adults.

E Pluribus Unum

Origin and meaning of the motto. (Wiki.) Note that it dates back to 1776, before the ratification of the Constitution. Do we understand the one to be a "national" union or a "federal" union? How do we interpret this? What is the proper hemeneutics? No doubt there are many Americans today who understand it to mean the former and the latter. But we need to look at the motto's historical background to find the right definitions, and this means we need to look to those who first commissioned the motto, the Continental Congress and the American founding fathers, and understand it as they understood it.

This serves to underscore the necessity to inquire and understand how terms are used by the speaker instead of making a guess based on our assumptions. This is a very important lesson of logic, particularly when we are engaged in an  discussion with someone else, but it is also needed for the correct reading of texts. It also underscores the need for a "living tradition" with some sort of authority to explain how texts should be understood when the texts themselves do not supply definitions for the terms that it uses.

The E Pluribus Unum Project at Assumption College (which seems intent on promoting a national identity, despite a seeming openness to different answers to the questions posed on the homepage).
Bradley Project final report -- an endorsement of the proposition nation.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


James Chastek, On fact and Ahappiness. From the latter:

The front end of contemporary culture – the part of culture that establishes our ethos or ethics – is a great celebration of personal autonomy and the freedom to choose. This is the glossy, well-known, advertised face of our ethos, which is usually just taken for granted in political and ethical discussions. Like any ethos it reveals some truths and hides others, and so it deserves more than an unqualified up-or-down judgment of its value. But the back end of our ethos, or the fine print on the total autonomy contract, is something for which the contemporary world has no name but which can be called ahappiness. Contemporary persons are not happy or unhappy, they are simply ahappy. Happiness is not taken in earnest or afforded a place in any serious discussion.
One of his comments is interesting:

Full disclosure, I’ve never read a single word of MccIntyre – not even a random article, book jacket, or block quote in someone else’s writing. I just never got around to it. I don’t’ study much ethics anyway because I’m bad at it and I have a terrible tone-deafness to ethical thought. So to your question: while it is superfluous to point out that no one fugure or date will be an absolute turning point, my basic conviction is that the modern world is just shorthand for speaking about the Protestant world, and that in the judgment of history this age will be called the Protestant age (“Modern” is incoherent, since anyone who has ever lived has been modern). What we now call post – modern is is really just post protestantism, and the death of the modern world is largely a recognition that (mainline) protestantism is now just a lesbian in a miter giving a sermon to empty pews. NTTAWWT! (All) Protestantism is now capable of equally celebrating both sodomy and the papacy, which is to say that it’s deader than Nixon and it ain’t coming back. I miss a great deal about it – it was really tolerant, quite good at being a national religion, it founded my country, it promoted the classics (see the original curricula of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc.) it did a great deal to promote liberty and freedom, and it produced some statesmen who are safely immortal. There are some other parts about it that I am giddy to see die – its absolute division of nature and grace, its denigration of nature, its tendency to reduce everything to one order of either God or free will, either reason or revelation, etc. There is also, of course, its congenital antipathy to Scholasticism (yes yes, I know there were Protestant scholastics, and that even now ther are many better at it than I will ever be; and it goes without saying that this is not a judgment on any particular protestant). Nonetheless, the reality of ahappiness – at least in the West and especially in the English speaking world – is, IMO, going to be in large part a commentary or footnote to protestant doctrine.
The Protestant Age? Hmmm... I'll have to think about that.

How do we explain why so many are on anti-depressants? And what of those happiness surveys whose results are cited from time to time to remind us that not all is well in the United States? I think we do have a sense that happiness is tied to our actions. The problem is that happiness is too often reduced to an emotion linked to a quasi-Boethian understanding of happiness as the possession of all the goods that we want. We may have some understanding that how we get these goods is governed by a set of rules, but it is a set that has been whittled down in accordance with liberalism, social fragmentation, bad education, and other trends and in reaction to Christianity.

Was authority (and tradition) discredited by the Enlightenment? How many truly deceive themselves into thinking they are self-made men, with respect to their use of reason?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

On meditation and contemplation

Inner Explorations has a chapter dealing with the "spiritual" theology of Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.: Reginald Garrigou-LaGrange and the Renewal of the Contemplative Life.

At first glance, these assertions may appear as subtle points of interest only to historians of Western Christian spirituality, or theologians of mystical theology. They are not. They give a very definite answer to the question of just what contemplation is. The universal call to contemplation, and this identification of contemplation with infused contemplation are the twin pillars that support Garrigou-LaGrange’s mystical theology, and instead of being forgotten, they ought to remain in the forefront of our minds when we look at the contemporary attempts to renew the contemplative life.

When a new interest in the contemplative life arose after the Second Vatican Council, these battles, when they were remembered at all, were remembered with distaste, and while Garrigou-LaGrange’s idea of the universal call to contemplation had gone mainstream, and thus survived, his insistence on contemplation as infused contemplation was forgotten.

Today movements to renew the Christian contemplative life, like centering prayer and the Christian meditation movement based on the teaching of John Main, OSB, have had the great merit of introducing people to the serious practice of the life of prayer.

How should we evaluate them in the light of the two foundational principles of Garrigou-LaGrange’s mystical theology? They both have clearly accepted the first one, that is, the call of all people to contemplation. In fact, it may even be wondered if they have overdone their acceptance of it and forgotten the nuances it had in the days when it was first formulated. They seem to invite everyone, even those at the beginning of their life of prayer, to practice contemplative prayer without inquiring how well they are grounded in the more discursive forms of prayer like meditation and affective prayer.

But how else can people be rather indiscriminately invited to practice contemplative prayer unless contemplation is understood as something within our power to do? But if it is something that we can do, then it is a matter of the exercise of the human faculties, however subtly we are urged to exercise them, and it is not the infused contemplation which Garrigou-LaGrange accepts at being at the heart of the Christian mystical tradition. In centering prayer, for example, which claims John of the Cross as part of its inspiration, the clear distinction in St. John between meditation and infused contemplation, that is, between the kinds of prayer we can do whenever we want, and the gracious gift on God’s part of contemplation, is blurred. Contemplation becomes something more akin to the kinds of acquired or active contemplation that flourished for a time in the 17th century.

Both centering prayer and the Christian meditation movement operate in a kind of historical and theological vacuum that prevents them from examining not only what happened in the first half of the 20th century, but what transpired in the centuries before that time. This is regrettable. The unresolved crisis in mystical theology that led to the dark night of the mystics in the 17th century came to light in the first years of the 20th century where Garrigou-LaGrange played a major role in unsuccessfully trying to resolve it. Will the now popular interest in contemplative spirituality lead to a similar crisis when it collides with this still unresolved question of the nature of contemplation?

The failure of centering prayer and the Christian meditation movement to come to grips with Garrigou-LaGrange’s ideas on the nature of contemplation, and through him with the debates of those times is a fitting symbol of a wider failure of contemporary Christian spirituality which is curiously blind to its own history when it comes to the question of the nature of contemplation. Contemplation is promoted as a way of praying accessible to all, while contemplation in the sense of the gift of infused contemplation and the goal and summit of the spiritual life is forgotten.
What is the heart of Christian spirituality? Does G-L claim that infused contemplation is the heart of Christian spirituality? Or is he looking instead at the goal in which the Christian spiritual life culminates? Or is it both? It depends on the stage of the Christian. What we do in the spiritual life is always in tandem with grace. All are called to holiness, and infused spirituality is a gift that God intends to make available to all who follow Him.

The author of this piece agrees with G-L that authentic meditation is not the same as infused contemplation. G-L discusses how mental prayer is important for beginners; he also teaches that meditation or acquired contemplation can develop into mental prayer and lead to the act of caritas, while contemplation follows it. I do not know if there is a more thorough critique of centering prayer and modern "meditation" practices at Inner Explorations, but for those interested in the history of Catholic spirituality, this might be interesting: From St. John of the Cross to Us: The Story of a 400 Year Long Misunderstanding and what it means for the Future of Christian Mysticism. However, the author seems to be too accepting of the claims of depth psychology? (The author has also written this book: St. John of the Cross and Dr. C.G. Jung.)