Make sure to check out Anthony Lisska's review of McInerny at the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.
It’s not so often that you burst out laughing over philosophical reflection: "Reading the Metaphysics can give the impression of reading dispatches from the Lost Patrol" - because Aristotle keeps backing up to reiterate the question of what we are seeking. At issue in Ralph McInerny's Praeambula Fidei: Thomism and the God of the Philosophers is to what extent we can follow Aquinas in his preambles of faith, viz., how far we can go in theology using natural reason alone before reverting to revelation. This in turn rests on (a) the extent to which the Metaphysics forms a coherent whole and (b) whether Aquinas preserves Aristotle’s metaphysics while building on it, or whether he takes it in a new direction entirely. Unified Metaphysics and Aquinas as Aristotelian: Leo XIII, Catejan, Garrigou-Lagrange and McInerny himself. All opposed: Etienne Gilson, Henri Lubac, Marie-Dominique Chenu. Yes, part of getting up to snuff on an academic problem is learning the subject matter, but the other part is following the gossip - who said what when and who said what back and who isn’t speaking to whom at all. Master this last part and they’ll think you’re an expert, too.
Make sure to check out Anthony Lisska's review of McInerny at the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.
After I finished listening to the biography of Jack London on my commute, I turned to Witness to Hope, George Weigel’s well-known biography of JPII. What a towering figure — and what utterly vapid writing! I laid the book aside several years ago and now I remember why.
One interesting note: during Karol Wojtyla's years as bishop in Poland the government set about building up the Nowa Huta district of Krakow according to their utopian vision. The result was an array of "human filing cabinets", as Weigel describes them, apartments physically arranged so as to minimize direct contact between their inhabitants. The idea was to discourage the development of any community that would come between the state and the individual. For this reason, too, no church was built and Wojtyla had to campaign hard to get one. Plus, Weigel contends, as early as the 1950's the government promoted the sexual revolution and made abortion easy, and for similar reasons: the strong religious identity of the Poles was taken as a rival to state control. The question of who has the ultimate power - the state, the market, science & technology - and what if anything stands between this power and the individual has to be one of the most foundational issues in politics. Perhaps I shall elaborate on this at some point.
For now, however, if anyone knows of a better JPII biography, do let me know! This one was downright painful to listen to at times.
So to make up for it I moved on to a dramatized production of Goethe's Faust with a cast including Derek Jacobi. Anything with Derek Jacobi is going to be pretty stellar — an opinion I have held ever since I saw Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V, jaw-agape, on a high school field trip. And this Faust is not exception. Absolutely top-notch! Maybe the most enjoyable audiobook I've ever heard...and I've heard quite a few in my time.
I ran across a trailer recently in the Frankfurter Allgemeine for a new release touching on Lenten themes: 14 scenes corresponding to the 14 Stations of the Cross. Hence the film’s title, Kreuzweg, which is German for the Stations of the Cross. I’ve come to expect a lot from German films over the years, but if this one is to cut the mustard it will have to take some unexpected turns.
The trailer: Scene 1) Amicable priest gives old-school rendering of the snares of the devil, who appearing in many different guises leads us to perdition, that is, unless we have recourse to God’s help. Scene 2) 14 year old Maria, taking this to heart, won’t participate in gym class with rock music, whose “satanic rhythms” she objects to - whereupon she gets interrogated by her teacher and mocked by her peers. Scene 3) Maria gets excoriated by her mother when she timidly announces she wants to sing gospel music - to the peril, as her mother puts it, of her immortal soul. The voice-over intimates a tragic outcome. Trailer ends.
Sigh. Another assault on traditional Catholicism? But how exactly does today’s crop of Germans claim to know what traditional Catholicism even looks like, let alone name its potential pitfalls? German Catholicism has been under the spell of secular ideology for generations, thanks in part to the generous church tax which has effectually incentivized lax teaching. Of those who still identify as Catholic, few even attend mass, and of those, very few genuinely struggle with the full content of Catholic teachings.
The voice-over tells us that Maria belongs specifically to the “Paulsbrüder”, which we should understand as the real-world “Piusbrüder”, that is, the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), a traditionalist faction that broke from Rome in the 1970’s. It’s hard to get a sense of how large the SSPX exactly is, but in Germany they do have one seminary and some amount of the 600,000 lay adherents worldwide. In all, a small presence. Reading further between the lines, it’s not a stretch to see the Paulsbrüder as a stand-in for anyone with a traditional orientation towards Catholicism.
And this is compounded by the pervasive German phobia of Sekten (sects), which for them includes anything lying outside of widely acknowledged institutions. Many bristle at Tom Cruise movies due to his involvement in Scientology, for example.
Er kaempft unter vielen Flaggen, the priest says of the devil, he campaigns, or battles, under many flags. Or, we might say, his only loyalty is to destruction. Yes, we should add, even within the life of religion itself, warping the universal vocation to holiness into a channel for humiliating power struggles. If anything, the mother’s heartless rebuke vindicates priest’s teaching on evil. (Grant that I not so much seek to be understood but to understand, right?). But here we are prompted to see it as a consequence of that teaching.
Typecasting traditional religion as intolerant and psychically warping? Blurring the broad lines between lived religion and maternal abuse? Playing the old religion-as-repression card? Insinuating that it is reference to positive evil, and not evil itself, that degrades human nature? Why would the Germans need a movie like this at all? It’s not like this is a contended issue in secular Germany anymore: religion there is passé. Why re-vanquish an already vanquished enemy - except in order to go ahead and do what you were going to do anyway, but now mit gutem Gewissen? Or rather, with an even clearer conscience - because, now it would appear, the old enemy wasn't just outdated but downright evil. If there were such a thing. Again, I certainly hope the movie turns out to be more probing than the trailer promises. Knowing German cinema, which routinely blows me away (I still can’t get over Der Untergang), there is certainly a good chance it will.
"...my flesh, too, will dwell in hope, because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer your holy one to see corruption." You can also find "decay", and sometimes "ruin", as it is translated in the New American Bible. Or rather, I should qualify that: when this passage appears the first time in the NAB (Psalm 16:10), it translates to "ruin", but the second time it appears (Acts 2:27), we find "corruption". The septuagint gives us διαφθοράν, which term Jerome consistently translates corruptionem, both in this Psalm and in its six appearances in the Acts of the Apostles. Luther, we might note, gives us verwese, which pretty directly corresponds to "corruption". I'm going with "corruption".
Regardless, corruption calls to mind these strange cases of saints whose bodies never underwent, or only partially underwent, the natural process of decay. A satisfying naturalistic account for this has yet to be given. Above we see St. Bernadette of Lourdes, who appears today not much different than she did at her death in 1879 - no bloating, no stench, no rigor mortis. Breathlessly asleep.
Suppose that such cases are genuine, and refer back Psalmist's words, or in general to the promise of bodily resurrection, and that the Divine Hand does not restrict its action to the soul alone. Why just these saints and not others? And how do we square this with the words many of us will hear or have already heard today: "Remember, man, you are dust and to dust you shall return". It appears there are exceptions. O magnum mysterium! Here's one I just don't get...
Addendum: Incorruptibility and Falsifiability
A natural reaction to such phenomena as incorrupt bodies is to assert that, though we haven’t found a scientific explanation for it yet, we ultimately will, or even if we don’t, we could in principle. Miracles, on this view, are the foundation of the “God of the Gaps”, whom we shall eventually smoke out and expose as a chimera. I believe it was Trent Horn who noted that this attitude, so common among scientist, is non-falsifiable: there is no miracle that could finally and conclusively resist this sort of attack: with every failure to naturalize the miracle, the scientist can always still say, “oh, we just need a little more time, and some nicer gadgets”.
Again: if we find a naturalistic explanation for your miracle, we vindicate the scientistic worldview; if not, just wait and see. Heads we win, tails you don't win: for any given miracle, the God of the Gaps argument can't possibly lose.
The irony here is that the same scientists, with Popper, regard falsifiability as the mark of a genuinely scientific statement. But here they lapse back to the discredited verificationism of yesteryear. And so, on their own convictions, the inevitable demise of the God of the Gaps is an unscientific attitude, an ideological commitment - perhaps, a religion?
That said, miracles by themselves could never suffice to warrant any particular religious belief. They are underdetermined. All you know is that “some supernatural things occurred”, and you could go on weaving any number of supernaturalistic theories to fit the data points. Nor do miracles have the power to compel the will, which would amount to a deprivation of our freedom. And, indeed, this is even written into scripture. Judas after all was front and center for so many of Jesus’ miracles, wasn't he?
Which remarks prompt me - flip, flip,flip - to revisit Aquinas on the matter, and then Augustine. Or maybe not just now. There's also a nice entry on miracles at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. And C.S. Lewis wrote a book on the subject, too.
I just finished listening to Wolf: The Lives of Jack London by James L. Haley on my commute. I had known nothing about London except that he was pretty outdoorsy. Turns out he was an ardent and outspoken socialist, too. He had grown up amidst the unspeakable hardships of the lower class in San Francisco, taking on ever greater risks to eke out a living among sailors and, in Alaska, prospectors. Driven by a sense of justice, he went so far as to live and work for a spell in London’s East End, workhouses and all, in order to get the first person view of the lower classes there. He lived hard and drank hard, declining already in his thirties and ultimately succumbing to a self-administered morphine overdose. The description of working class San Francisco in the 19th century alone would have made the book worthwhile.
Here's a project I'd like to undertake sometime, given unlimited resources of leisure: go through the New Atheist corpus, organize their arguments taxonomically, and attempt a response to each. (The taxonomic structure, as I envision it, would allow me to deal with multiple "child nodes" by addressing their common parent.) It would be a large task, but one that would force me to better articulate and pronounce on matters theological and metaphysical. Now if Edward Feser's The Last Superstition is any indication, the emphasis would be metaphysical as the primary target of the New Atheists is the religion of voluntarists and fideists.
Many of us who were assigned Foucault somewhere in our college days were taught to dread the Panopticon, Jeremy Bentham's maximally surveillant prison design. In some of us it may evoke the image of the police state and the sound of jackboots in the alley. In others, who perhaps read the text a little more carefully, it stands for more insidious forms of coercion and uniformity that, gulling the population under control, masquerade as higher forms of social progress and even freedom.
Dismal, from dies malus: evil day. I have this from Wheelock’s Latin, which I am laboring through once and for all. It is rainy, and the thermometer has plummeted again.
You know when you’re reading real metaphysics when your pace grinds to three pages an hour and you give up any hopes of finishing the book soon. And when the only chance of getting something out of this laborious effort is to get your pencil out and try to summarize whatever argument you’re in the midst of. This usually opens the door to a world of questions. If only you work up the gumption, and are willing to forgo breezier titles the while. Such is my predicament with Oderberg’s Real Essentialism.
Another reason to think on dismal, and another reason to get the cover for that gadget as soon as you buy it: Papa reads late. Papa drifts off. Tablet slips to mattress. Child crawls under covers in the middle of the night. Then another. Both potty trained, but prone to relapse…
Dismal again: configuration blues. My application can’t find the very .so file I am looking at with my own eyes. Path variable looks good. Tried rebooting and reinstalling. Several times. Hate to pop the hood on these things.
Google gives dies mali as the origin of dismal - evil days - by way of something called Anglo-Norman French. And shows that it has dropped in popularity (i.e. in written texts, extant and determined scanworthy by Google) since 1800. Does this make me a holdout?
I scarcely imagine it possible that 1500 years of readership failed to draw this connection, but here’s what I’ve got:
Athens was the cultural center of the world in Plato’s time; Rome in Augustine’s. The Piraeus is the port town of Athens (9 km, says Google); Ostia of Rome (26 km). In the Piraeus Socrates gives his Allegory of the Cave (Republic, VII) narrating the soul’s metaphysical ascent from appearance to reality; in Ostia Augustine and Monica join in a mystical ascent (Confessions, IX).
I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine how conscious Augustine himself might have been of the Piraeus-Ostia connection and whether he then wittingly or unwittingly uses it to compare/contrast pagan and Christian metaphysics. And indeed what many things the compare/contrast yields - as a poetic evocation, I imagine there is no limit. To get things started, I throw in my own observation of what I see as a primary, if not the primary, distinction: For Augustine and Monica the ascent was one of truth and communion, whereas with Plato’s cave (forget for a moment dialogical direction of the Phaedrus and the Seventh Letter), a truth achieved is achieved alone.
I mention this by way of introduction Huysman’s En Route, which as a conversion narrative naturally enough invites comparison with Augustine. The overall difference: the one talks with God; the other with himself, and I submit that this has everything to do with why we have a St. Augustine and not a St. Joris-Karl.
For the first time since July I have music in my car. For $25 I ordered a car stereo to replace my defunct unit. I spent some time just figuring how to get into the dashboard to remove the old one. Then came hooking up wires to the new unit - there were some 12 in all, each with a different color, and I had to have my 7 year old help me splice as he is color-sighted in ways I am not. And, behold, there were four wires left over with no color match. So I hooked up what I could, turned on the radio, and tapped the loose ends together to see what belonged where. Putting it all back together turned out to be the hard part, but with some judicious omission of screws and some pounding here and there everything went into place, looking and functioning as it ought.
The result is that I my Kindle frenzy is becoming an Audible frenzy, too (I joined). Right now I am listening to William Manchester's The Glory and the Dream, a book that makes me wish my commute were longer.