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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Der Morgen

by Philipp Otto Runge ...

Indulgences and the Mass of Saint Gregory

- Mass of St. Gregory, Hours of Henry VIII, Illuminated by Jean Poyer, France, Tours, ca. 1500

It's not only Halloween, it's also Reformation Day .... On 31 October 1517, Martin Luther wrote to Albrecht, Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg, protesting the sale of indulgences.

I find indulgences just wrongheaded and I'm not alone - here's a little about indulgences and the second vatican council from What Happened at Vatican II by John O'Malley SJ.....

With the Protestant observers present, the subject was touchy. Indulgences had driven Luther to post his "Ninety-Five Theses," the beginning of the Reformation. The Council of Trent in a hasty and somewhat perfunctory decree just before the council ended reaffirmed the legitimacy of indulgences and provided measures to obviate abuses of them. In subsequent centuries the popes, and especially Pius XII, had granted even more indulgences, with the possibility of gaining large numbers of so-called plenary indulgences in a single day. Some theologians and bishops felt that the matter was again spinning out of control, while others questioned the whole concept, which was, put most simply, that by performing certain good actions individuals could lessen the time in Purgatory for themselves or others ........

The first prelate to speak, in the name of the Melkite episcopate, was the intrepid Maximos IV Saigh, and he fired off the most radical criticism. By categorically denying that there was any connection between the intercession of the church and the partial or full remission of any temporal punishment resulting from sin, the concept on which the practice rested, he torpedoed the basis for it. Moreover, he challenged the assumption of a continuity between the practice of the early church and the medieval doctrine and practice of indulgences. "There is no indication that in the primitive and universal tradition of the church indulgences were known and practiced as they were in the Western Middle Ages. More specifically, during at least the eleven centuries when the Eastern and Western churches were united there is no evidence of indulgences in the modern sense of the term ... The theological arguments that try to justify the late introduction into the West constitute, in our opinion, a collection of deductions in which every conclusion goes beyond the evidence." .........

The interventions the next day from Alfrink speaking for the Dutch episcopate, König for the Austrian, and Döpfner for the German did not help matters. The last two, especially, made a strong impression. Döpfner did not go so far as to call for the abolition of indulgences, but he severely criticized the theology that underlay the document, the misleading way it handled the history of indulgences, and the changes in practice, all too minimal, that it advocated. He was the last to speak that day ..... In the written reports the episcopal conferences of Belgium, England and Wales, Scandinavia, Haiti, Brazil, Chile, Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Dahomey, Japan, and Laos expressed dissatisfaction with the document prepared by the Penitentiary, and the last three called for the abolition of indulgences. Two years later, on January 1, 1967, Paul VI would issue an Apostolic Constitution on the matter, Indulgentiarum Doctrina, which consisted of a modest revision of the original text ..........

A kind of interesting aside is the Mass of Saint Gregory ....

The Mass of Saint Gregory is a subject in Roman Catholic art which first appears in the late Middle Ages and was still found in the Counter-Reformation. Pope Gregory I (c. 540-604) is shown saying mass just as a vision of Christ as the Man of Sorrows has appeared on the altar in front of him, in response to the Pope's prayers for a sign to convince a doubter of the doctrine of transubstantiation ........

The story was hardly seen in art until the Jubilee Year of 1350, when pilgrims to Rome saw a Byzantine mosaic icon, the Imago Pietatis, in the basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, which was claimed to have been made at the time of the vision as a true representation. In this the figure of Christ was typical of the Byzantine forerunners of the Man of Sorrows, at half-length, with crossed hands and a head slumped sideways to the viewer's left. It has now been lost, but is known from many copies. This image seems to have had, perhaps initially only for the Jubilee, a Papal indulgence of 14,000 years granted for prayers said in its presence .....

There were several prints that were often copied by artists, notably ten different engravings of the subject by Israhel van Meckenem and a woodcut by Albrecht Dürer of 1511. Many of these included printed indulgences, usually unauthorised. The oldest dated Aztec feather painting is a Mass of 1539 (see gallery) following one of the van Meckenem indulgence prints (not the one illustrated). This particular print began with a "bootlegged" indulgence of 20,000 years, but in a later state the plate has been altered to increase it to 45,000 years

- The Mass of St. Gregory, feathers on a wood panel 68 x 56 cm, Mexico 1539. Musée de Jacobins, Auch. By Diego Huanutzin, Aztec puppet ruler under the Spanish between 1539-1541. This technique was an speciality of the aztec craftmen called "amanteca" and this is the oldest example of christian art in america. - Wikipedia

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Radical Orthodoxy: A Critical Introduction

I've finished Radical Orthodoxy: A Critical Introduction by Steven Shakespeare. Here's a bit from the almost end .....


(pp. 164-5) ... Milbank in particular has insisted on a traditional understanding of God as 'pure act', with no unfulfilled potential. There can be no lack in God, only fullness, if God is not to be made into the sickly mirror image of our own striving. Milbank therefore strongly opposes any idea that God can suffer ....Milbank holds that God 'experiences nothing of evil ... does not in any way suffer, acts without fear in the world' (WMS, p. 229). Only so can God overcome our slavery to death.

However, it is far from clear that all ideas of God's compassion need result in this kind of caricature of the sympathetic counselor in the sky. For God to allow himself to be affected by creation can be seen as an expression of divine freedom, as strengthening the dignity and worth of creation. God takes the risk of creating life other than his own, life which is fragile, mortal and tempted to evil .....

(pp. 177-8) ... The Christian God is made up of relationships, and the giving and receiving of love. Compassion is not alien to the Trinity. And the fact of the world, of there being something which is not God, invites us to imagine how God enjoys and suffers creation.

Radical Orthodoxy is right to warn us against the constant temptation to project all-too-human ideas of existence and relationship on to God. If God becomes nothing more than the reflection of our own insecurities and desires, then God is little more than an idol. However, this does not mean that classical ideas of God's self-sufficiency and immunity from change and suffering can simply be allowed to pass without challenge. It is ironic that a theology which sets so much store by theology's ability to take over all of philosophy's functions should still be so under the spell of Plato and the Greeks.

It is important to ask what difference creation, sin, history, incarnation and resurrection make to God, even if we are aware that our words are broken and fumbling. The God of the Bible and Christian tradition longs for his beloved, is grieved by sin. Through Christ, God takes on himself the vulnerability of the servant and is exposed to the reality of death. The Spirit is sent to be an ongoing guide for the Church in its geographical, historical and cultural journeying. In other words, God doesn't remain confined within the borders of our definitions of what is appropriate to the divine, any more than the father of the prodigal son bowed to the dictates of convention when running to meet his lost offspring on the road (Luke 15.20), or Jesus kept himself separate from the dirt, pain and celebration of human life. The scriptural stories do not offer a metaphysical blueprint of God, but they must inform a Christian understanding of God's nature. Perhaps one of the great weaknesses of Radical Orthodoxy is its inattention to this biblical challenge.

The Christian community that is formed in response to this revelation is called to embody a living compassion for and solidarity with creation. If it works toward mutuality and reconciliation between its members, it cannot turn its back on the world. As Ward suggests, it must always risk itself beyond its borders. That risk entails the possibility that it will have to learn its own wounds, how it has caused violence to and received grace from others. Radical Orthodoxy is too ready to gloss over the ambiguities and failings of the premodern Church, and so has not done enough to convince its feminist and liberationist critics that it really has learnt the lessons of imperialism and patriarchy. A discipline of compassion might prevent us from rushing in to categorize people and tell their story for them, and free us to learn new lessons about how deep and wide the freedom of the gospel runs. Radical Orthodoxy itself has proved capable of moving beyond the established traditions of the Church to open up a more inclusive stance towards same-sex unions. Perhaps it needs to reflect upon what has motivated this move - one likely to make it deeply unpopular in conservative Christian quarters.

Compassion is therefore not a weak masochism, but a mature, confident humanity. It does not wish away the realities of human mortality and fear with speculative doctrines, but lives with and learns from them. An ethic of compassion does not mean applying sticking plaster to the world's pains, but entering into them creatively, discerning the power of resurrection to transform lives and situations. However, to proclaim resurrection cannot mean to bypass the passion and cross, and the silence of the tomb.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Mid-East Synod, Maximos IV, and Nostra Aetate

I saw mention in the news today of the ending message of the Mid-East Synod .... Bishops at Meeting Urge Israel to End Its Occupation of Palestinian Territories ...

In a final communiqué at the end of a two-week-long meeting at the Vatican on the plight of Christians in the Middle East, the bishops also urged Israel not to use the Bible “to wrongly justify injustices,” apparently referring to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. But in a news conference Saturday, the archbishop in charge of the committee that drafted the communiqué, Cyrille Salim Bustros, appeared to go further, saying the Bible did not justify a Jewish presence in Israel. “The concept of the promised land cannot be used as a base for the justification of the return of Jews to Israel and the displacement of Palestinians,” he said. “Sacred scripture should not be used to justify the occupation by Israel of Palestine.” Archbishop Bustros, of Newton, Mass., belongs to the Greek-Melkite church, an Eastern Rite church whose bishops participated in the Vatican’s annual Middle East synod ....

I guess this is the church speaking out against mistreatment of the Palestinians, but I have to wonder if there's not also an agenda of furthering Christian aims at the expense of those Jewish. Maybe I'm wrong, but let's take a trip back to the creation pf Nostra Aetate at Vatican II. At that time, the then Patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Maximos IV Sayegh, also spoke against Israel and his stance had an effect on the final document. Here's an excerpt, first, from Jesuit John O'Malley's book, What Happened at Vatican II, and after that, a quote from the into to Maximos's documents for Vatican II .....


What Happened at Vatican II

* pp. 218-224 ......

[T]he council turned its attention to the extremely brief but also highly controversial declaration On the Jews and Non-Christians -- De Judaeis et de non Christanis. Cardinal Bea had introduced it ..... It originated with a specific mandate of John XXIII to Bea .... John's wartime experiences had made him sensitive to the atrocities of the Holocaust and to the complicity of many Catholics in them. But a specific and immediate stimulus for John's mandate to Bea in September was an audience that he had granted to the Jewish scholar Jules Isaac ....

Other factors, however, were also at work. Earlier in 1960, the rector of the Biblicum, Ernst Vogt, had sent a petition to the Central Preparatory Commission, signed by himself and eighteen members of the faculty, asking that the council address the problem of anti-Semitism .....

By August 1961, well before the council opened, the Secretariat had prepared a brief scheme titled "On the Jews" .... Although much of the opposition stemmed from what were perceived to be the political ramifications the declaration might have and the difficulties it might raise for Christians in the Middle East, other reasons were also at play .... Rolf Hochhuth's play Der Stellvertreter [about Pius XII and the Holocaust] .... created a sensation ... The affair deeply disturbed the Vatican and troubled perhaps nobody more than Paul VI, who had been one of Pius' closest assistants during the war years. The pope worried that the council's declaration might be taken as a validation of Hochhuth's position. Beyond that specific problem lay the deeper and all too widespread anti-Semitism that based itself on the New Testament .....

It became clear by the fall of 1963 that the council could not treat the Jews without treating other non-Christian religions, especially Islam ..... Thus the document originally intended as a theological statement on the Jews and in some form a condemnation of anti-Semitism, was eventually expanded into the final version ..... the text was revised again and again .... It soon became clear that the pope and Bea did not see eye-to-eye on the text, particularly on what was to be said about the critical issue of deicide .... Bea was intent on absolving of the crime not only contemporary Jews but also the Jewish people of Christ's time, as distinct from certain of their leaders. On that issue the pope prevailed ....

Bea opened his presentation on September 25, 1964 .... He then moved immediately to the question of deicide, which was an implicit plea to change the text the council had before it .... Toward the end, Bea insisted that the declaration "has nothing to do with any political questions," specifically nothing to do with Zionism or with the state of Israel .... "What is at stake here is our responsibility to truth and justice ..." ....

Ruffini, as usual among the first speakers, had the courage to say what others were thinking. He began by stating that the declaration piles up praise of the Jews so high that it sounds like a panegyric .... we have a right to expect the Jews to acknowledge that they unjustly condemned Christ to death. We need to pray that God will "remove the veil" from their eyes that prevents them from seeing Christ as the Messiah .... We do not need exhortations to love the Jews, Ruffini continued. They need exhortations to love us. Everybody is aware that the Jews support and promote the "pernicious sect" called the Masons, which is out to destroy the church ... the original text [would] be scrapped .....


* p. 250- ...

No schema roused greater anxiety in the pope, the Secretariat of State, the Secretariat for Christian Unity, however, than On the Jews and Non-Christian Religions .... a much-revised draft had passed with a large majority but with a disturbing number of votes "with reservations." That draft opened with "In our times" (Nostra Aetate), words by which the final text would be known .... Instead of beginning with the Jews, it began with the common origin and destiny of humanity. Then it moved to a brief but positive appraisal of Hinduism and Buddhism, followed by a relatively long section on Muslims. Only then came the section on the Jews, followed by the conclusion.


* pp. 275-6 ....

Among the documents voted on during these days was the revised text of Nostra Aetate .... By agreeing to some changes insisted upon by Maximos, it had won his support, which was crucial. Willebrands, De Smedt, and Pierre Duprey travelled to the Middle East and visited each of the patriarchs, and with that most of the Eastern Catholic bishops came into line. Maximos proposed four changes in the document, which were accepted without a problem. The Secretariat prepared an Arabic translation of the text, which included the relatively long and appreciative section on the Muslims, and this section appeared in the text before the section on Judaism. "Jews" was dropped from the title, so that it was now clear that the declaration was about the relationship of the church to all non-Christian religions.

Then Willebrands and Pierre Dupray personally delivered the translation to the Arab states’ embassies in Rome, and the Secretariat made other moves that successfully assured the Arab world that the declaration had no political implications .... Meanwhile, Bea and others who had hoped for an explicit denial of the guilt of deicide had by now resigned themselves to a weaker but still groundbreaking statement, which read: "Although the Jewish authorities with their followers pressed for the death of Jesus, still the things perpetrated during the passion cannot be ascribed indiscriminately to all Jews living at the time nor to the Jews of today ... Moreover, the Church, which condemns all persecutions against any people ... deplores feelings of hatred, persecutions, and demonstrations of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews at whatever time and by whomsoever."


You can read all of what what Maximos had to say at the council on this subject - The Church and Other Religions, The Jewish Problem at the Council and Arab Reactions - but here's just the intro to his documents - Note of the Bulletin de Presse of the Patriarchate, dated December 31, 1964 ....

The reaction of Arab countries to the conciliar declaration on the Jews surpassed in violence the most pessimistic expectations. Like any popular reaction, it at times went too far, above all because of the public’s ignorance of the exact tenor of the conciliar text, which, as we know, was still only a draft. But, even independent of all passionate exaggeration, the reaction of the Arabic peoples, Christian and Muslim, Orthodox, Protestant or Catholic, should be an eye-opener. It was not without cause that the Eastern patriarchs warned the Fathers of the council that such a declaration was inopportune. This was not because of pusillanimity or anti-Semitism. It was not enough for the Secretariat for Christian Unity, which prepared this text, to declare that it was in good faith, that it was not playing politics, to justify washing its hands. The secretariat and the world-wide episcopacy cannot ignore the fact that there is a state that calls itself Israel, that that state claims to embody Judaism, that what is said of Judaism as a religion is inevitably interpreted by Israel as being said of itself as a state and a world-wide Zionist movement, that any declaration in favor of Judaism as a religion is exploited by Israel as a support given indirectly to the imperialist and expansionist politics of worldwide Zionism against the Arab countries. Nobody doubts that the council does not wish this interpretation, but Israel wishes it, and the Fathers of the council, as responsible and realistic leaders, must not lend themselves to this maneuver, above all in the circumstances where the tension between the Arab states and Israel is at its maximum, without mentioning that the draft of the text leaves itself open even to criticisms of the theological order. What is said about Judaism is not false, but it does not represent all the revealed truth. Being incomplete, it can easily be also considered partisan, saying only, on the subject of Judaism, what is pleasing to Jews. In the face of what this painful position has done to the Church in Arab countries, where Orthodox and Protestants have broken the ties with Catholicism, causing a substantial lag in the ecumenical movement, which had begun under better auspices, we believe that it is useful, as much to fulfill our responsibilities as to clarify world opinion, to publish the notes, documents, and commentaries that His Beatitude the Patriarch, with the concurrence of the hierarchy of our Church, has made public until now on this subject.

Friday, October 22, 2010

If I could just see a burning bush

Saw a clip (see below) from Love and Death today at In Living Color which includes this theological discussion between Boris (Woody Allen) and Sonja (Diane Keaton) :) .......

Boris: Sonja, what if there is no God?

Sonja: Boris Dimitrovitch, are you joking?

Boris: What if we're just a bunch of absurd people who are running around with no rhyme or reason?

Sonja: But if there is no God, then life has no meaning. Why go on living? Why not just commit suicide?

Boris: Well, let's not get hysterical. I could be wrong. I'd hate to blow my brains out, then see they found something.

Sonja: Boris. Let me show you how absurd your position is. Let's say there is no God, and each man is free to do exactly as he chooses. What prevents you from murdering somebody?

Boris: Murder's immoral.

Sonja: Immorality is subjective.

Boris: Yes, but subjectivity is objective.

Sonja: Not in a rational scheme of perception.

Boris: Perception is irrational. It implies imminence.

Sonja: But judgment of any system of phenomena exists in any rational, metaphysical or epistemological contradiction to an abstracted empirical concept such as being, or to be, or to occur in the thing itself, or of the thing itself.

Boris: Yeah, I've said that many times.

Sonja: Boris, we must believe in God.

Boris: If I could just see a miracle, just one miracle. If I could see a burning bush, or the seas part, or... Or my Uncle Sasha pick up a check ....

John Milbank on the Church

It may seem I find nothing good in Radical Orthodoxy, but that's not so - for instance, I like RO's defense of pacifism, and I agree socialism is better than capitalism. Here's an excerpt from Radical Orthodoxy: A Critical Introduction by Steven Shakespeare that mentions what I see as mostly positives in John Milbank's idea of the Church (pp. 106-8) ....


[T]he nature of authority in the Church. Milbank rejects the slide towards 'invasive clerical control' that overtook the Church in the Middle Ages. The Catholic clergy became guardians of the controlled miracle of the Eucharist. Protestant pastors became the ones who told the faithful what the Bible said and what should be believed. On both sides, authority and truth were cut off from the body of the faithful.

Milbank sees a role for a hierarchy in the Church, but only one that is rooted in and serves the essential democracy of creation, the harmony and equality of the Trinity. Bishops have a role in preserving a tradition which can resist the anarchy and inequality of the market. But they are not mini-emperors.

Theology is accountable to the Church, but it is not to be dominated by clergy who want to preserve their vested interests: 'theology is a participation in the mind of God before it is obedience to any authority, whether scriptural of hierarchical' (BR, p. 133) ....

The Church, then, cannot turn in on itself ('solipsism'), nor can it act like an army or the crowds at the Nuremberg rallies. Its boundaries are blurred and messy. It is something we make. We have already seen how Milbank admits that the key doctrines of the incarnation and atonement cannot just be read off the page of the Bible. They are innovations, speculations - they are invented (7). The only justification for them is their attractiveness, the compelling way in which they tell the story of Jesus as God's word, and support the Christian practice of mutual love and forgiveness.

Despite some of the grand statements made by Radical Orthodoxy's writers, this implies that the Church is something improvised and partial. God is never simply captured by its stories, beliefs and liturgies. Theology always therefore has to be tentative about where the Church actually is, who is in it, and how it is defined. 'Christianity should not draw boundaries,' says Milbank. (8)

This inclusive tone is often missed by Radical Orthodoxy's readers, understandably, given the apparently exclusive and belligerent tone of some of its claims. It is interesting to note Milbank's comments in the new preface to the second edition of Theology and Social Theory, issued in 2006: 'while "positively" I recommend Catholic Christianity as the one final and universal truth, I quite clearly envisage Catholicism in "liberal" terms, if by "liberal" one connotes generous, open-ended and all-inclusive' (TST(2), p. xxiii) .....

It is worth quoting this complex passage at length:

In the Incarnation, God as God was perfectly able to fulfil the worship of God which is nevertheless, as worship, only possible for the creature. This descent is repeated and perpetuated in the Eucharist which gives rise to the ecclesia, that always 'other-governed' rather than autonomous human community, which is yet the beginning of universal community as such, since it is nothing other than the lived project of universal reconciliation. Not reducible to its institutional failures and yet not to be seen as a utopia either, since the reality of the reconciliation, of restored unity-in-diversity, must presuppose itself if it is to be realizable (always in some very small degree) in time and so must be always already begun. (TST (2), p. xxxi)

Milbank here summarizes many of the Radical Orthodox themes relevant to a discussion of the Church.

* It continues what began in the incarnation, particularly through the Eucharist.
* However, it is 'other-governed' - it must never mistake itself for God.
* It is a lived project of reconciliation, which is the beginning of universal reconciliation - it is directed towards the world.
* That reconciliation is already perfected in Christ, but not in history. So the Church is not just another flawed institution. But nor is it a utopia. It only exists through what Milbank goes on to call the 'mess' of institutional debate and conflict.

This helps to clarify why, just after the passage we quoted earlier, when Milbank seems to insist that the Church has to be perfect if it is to communicate Jesus' perfection, he admits that recognizing this truth will depend on 'a sifting from the many human "imperfections" in the ecclesial transmission process' (WMS, p. 162).

It is questionable whether Radical Orthodoxy has always maintained this balance ....

(7) See WMS, p. 162; TST, pp. 383-4; Milbank, 'Postmodern Critical Augustinianism', p.232.
(8) Milbank, 'Postmodern Critical Augustinianism', p. 229.


Thursday, October 21, 2010


I haven't posted about movies lately because my recent rentals have been of the tv series Medium instead. I'd just watched a few episodes of it before I lost tv service but I liked the actors and the theme so I've been catching up on it with DVDs.

The show stars Patricia Arquette, who plays Allison DuBois, a medium who uses her psychic dreams in her job as a consultant for the Phoenix, Arizona district attorney's office, and Jake Weber, who plays her husband Joe, a mathematician/engineer.

- Jake Weber when he was in another interesting series from the past, American Gothic

Strangely, what I like best about the show is not so much the supernatural element, but the relationship among Allison, Joe, and their three daughters ... they're such a mentally/emotionally healthy family that I, raised in a pretty weird family, watch totally absorbed.

- Patricia Arquette when she was in the film Stigmata

Here's a video about the show ...

MEDIUM: SEASON 6: Movie Trailer. Watch more top selected videos about: Patricia Arquette, Maria Lark

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ronon Dex

... of Stargate Atlantis

Kind of depressing what's going on with the Anglicans and the Ordinariate thing. I've been keeping up on it at Thinking Anglicans - I just couldn't like the triumphant note in the Catholic press. Does ecumenism = turning everyone into a Catholic?

And speaking of depressing, there's an article today in The Guardian - How real is America's faith? - by Stanley Hauerwas (an American Radical Orthodoxy guy) which drips contempt for people like me - those who are, among other things, dopey enough to wonder why God lets bad things happen. Here's a bit from the article .....

America is the exemplification of what I call the project of modernity. That project is the attempt to produce a people that believes it should have no story except the story it chose when it had no story. That is what Americans mean by freedom. The problem with that story is its central paradox: you did not choose the story that you should have no story except the story you chose when you had no story. Americans, however, are unable to acknowledge that they have been fated to be "free", which makes them all the more adamant that they have a right to choose the god that underwrites their "freedom." A people so constituted will ask questions such as "Why does a good god let bad things happen to good people?" It is as if the Psalms never existed. The story that you should have no story except the story you chose when you had no story produces a people who say: "I believe that Jesus is Lord – but that is just my personal opinion." ....

I feel like giving up on religion and devoting my disposable time to Stargate Atlantis instead.

God is always and everywhere active in this world

The first time I ever heard the term "spiritual direction" was in my RCIA class. The married couple that lead my group mentioned that they went to a (female) spiritual director - they never said what that entailed and I didn't ask but I had scary visions of a spiritual drill sergeant :)

What made me think of this was an article I saw today by William Barry SJ - "Spiritual Direction in Daily Life" (you can download it here). The article gives a lot of information about how spiritual direction works but the little bit from the beginning of the article, which I've posted below, touches also on what I mentioned in my last post - beliefs about where God can be encountered. ....


[...] Our definition of spiritual direction assumes that God is encountered in human experience, i.e., that experience can have a religious dimension.4 Ignatius presumed that anyone who made the Exercises would encounter God.5 But the points of the "Contemplation for Attaining Love" presume also that God is encountered in everyday life, not just during the Exercises. Our definition of spiritual direction makes the same assumption: God is always and everywhere active in this world, intent on attaining God’s purpose in creation. Moreover, with Ignatius we posit that God desires a personal relationship with everyone. Thus, at every moment we human beings are in contact with God who is active in the world. Everyone encounters God; there is no escaping this encounter. Every human experience is, among other things, an experience of God. That is, every human experience has a religious dimension.

However, we can be unaware of this dimension of our experience. There is nothing unusual about this state of affairs. We are unaware of many dimensions of our experience all the time. I can be so engrossed in listening to a piano concerto in a concert hall that I do not notice the coughing of my neighbor and am surprised later when my companion complains about the noise the neighbor made. Modern psychology has made us aware of how we can defend ourselves unconsciously against the awareness of anxiety-producing thoughts, feelings and sensations. Since awareness of God’s presence is, quite often, awe-inspiring if not downright terrifying, there is even more reason to expect that we will have difficulty noticing and taking account of experiences of God. Spiritual direction is encouraged, among other reasons, because of t he difficulty of noticing the religious dimension of experience.

Spiritual direction, as defined, is a form of spiritual conversation whose focus is the religious dimension of the experience of the one seeking direction.6 Spiritual directors make a covenant with their directees to help the latter develop their relationship with God. In this covenantal relationship directees agree to talk about what happens when they try to be in conscious relationship with God and directors agree to put all their resources at the disposal of directees to help them to deepen their relationship with God .......

4. Cf. William A. Barry, Spiritual Direction and the Encounter with God: A Theological Inquiry, 2nd Rev is e d Edition (New York/Mahwah: Paulist, 2004) for a detailed discussion of the religious dimension of experience.
5. The 15th Annotation clearly assumes such an encounter, for example.
6. For want of better words I will use "directee" and "director" for the rest of this article.


Monday, October 18, 2010

That 'the Creator and Lord Himself should communicate Himself to His devout soul'

I've been doing two things .... reading Radical Orthodoxy: A Critical Introduction by Steven Shakespeare, and taking part in the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises online retreat offered by Creighton University (I'm on week 3). I see such a difference between what the Radical Orthodoxy guys seem to be saying, that God can only be found in the community and practices of the church and nowhere else (do they address personal religious experience? I'm only halfway through the book, so I'll post more on this later), and the idea that Ignatius seems to express - that God will reveal himself to and work directly with individuals.

Here's something by Philip Endean SJ that kind of touches on this subject, The Spiritual Exercises, in The Cambridge Companion to the Jesuits, edited by Thomas Worcester (Cambridge: Cambridge UP 2008), 52-67 (you can get the pdf at his website).


[...] Ignatius’ purpose is to provide support in order that ‘‘the Creator and Lord Himself should communicate Himself to His devout soul’’ (Exx. 15). A modern Jesuit theologian, Karl Rahner (1904–84), wrote a piece in which he imagined Ignatius speaking to a contemporary Jesuit, and justly commented on this claim: ‘‘Such a conviction perhaps sounds innocuous in your pious trade, working as it does with the most elevated words available. But fundamentally it is outrageous . . .’’ (8) The pattern of the Incarnation, of God united substantially with the creature, persists in human experience at large; hence the creature’s task is to discover and cooperate with this divine initiative. But it remains a mystery, a matter of wonder and improvised discovery. How can it be that the infinite unites itself to the finite? Still more, how can the divine goodness be united with the creation’s manifest imperfection? Christianity, properly understood, does not answer these questions. Its proper mode of expression is question and exclamation rather than statement; it bespeaks a mystery beckoning our committed participation, rather than a state of affairs that we can neutrally describe ......

The Exercises were written at the time of a Reformation schism, generated by an experienced conviction of justification by faith, independent of church practice. In Spain particularly, many who claimed insight into divine matters on the basis of experience were regarded as suspect, and indeed condemned as alumbrados. Ignatius himself in Spain, and subsequently the first Jesuits as a group, came frequently under suspicion. (13)

The underlying issue here is that the conviction of God’s working directly with the creature (Exx. 15) raises at least the logical possibility that what the individual discovers in this way may go beyond what is ecclesiastically sanctioned. It is clear that the early Jesuits, through the Exercises, sought to promote life within the Church, but they had no solution to this theological problem, and addressed the issues diplomatically rather than theoretically. Ignatius merely made the fundamental intention explicit by developing a set of rules ‘‘in the interests of the true sense that we should have in the Church militant’’ (Exx. 352–70). The Jesuit tradition lives with the tension between a missionary commitment to life at the Church’s boundaries and an allegiance to the visible, hierarchical institution .......

(8) Karl Rahner: Spiritual Writings, ed. and trans. P. Endean (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2005), 37.
(13) See Ignatius to John III of Portugal, 15 March 1545 (Letters of St Ignatius of Loyola, selected and translated by W. Young [Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1959], 79–91), in which, as a means of preventing rumor, Ignatius catalogues the various processes in which he had been involved.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Tyrian purple :)

Some little flowers in the yard ...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

How to be disingenuous

I've been reading posts at America magazine's blog about the Middle East Synod, the latest of which is Synod: how to persuade Islam of the value of religious pluralism? by Austen Ivereigh. Here's a quote from the post ...

[...] I asked both to respond to the Synod's call for the Church to advocate a "positive secularism" (or laicite) in the Middle East, implying a degree of separation between the state and religion which would guarantee equal rights to freedom of conscience and to manifest religion. Both Al-Sammat and the Ayatollah said they wanted better to understand what was meant by the concept. Ayatollah Mohaghegh Damad said in Iran it was the people who elected their leader, not God -- this, surely, was secularism.

What I found interesting was this concept of "positive secularism" being proposed by the Catholic Church .... is this not the opposite stance taken just a month ago when the pope (he said secularism caused Nazism) and Cardinal Kasper (he disrespected the UK's pluralism) criticized the UK for being so secular and pluralistic? As Austin goes on to write ...

And now, of course, it's hard to argue for a "positive secularism" without raising the spectre in Muslim minds of what Pope Benedict in the UK called "aggressive secularism" -- the idea that the state should be "neutral", or that there is no ethical horizon beyond the wishes of the democratic majority or the enlightened elite.

I think this is an instance of the pope creating new terms, "positive secularism" and "aggressive secularism", in order to facilitate having his cake and eating it too. How am I ever supposed to respect these guys? :(

Robert Wright vs Sam Harris

Saw this interesting video debate tonight ......

Speaking of Robert Wright, here's another video of him in which he interviews Keith Ward ....

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Some photos ...

- these fuzzy flowers are about an inch long, see the little spider?

- the Thomson seedless grape leaves are starting to turn brown

- another hollyhock

Monday, October 11, 2010

Never Let Me Go and The Island

Never Let Me Go is a movie just out which is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Japanese-born British author Kazuo Ishiguro (who also wrote The Remains of the Day). Never Let Me Go has a plot similar to a 2005 movie, The Island.

***** spoilers below *****

Both movies tell of clones grown and raised for one purpose - to be organ donors. The similarity ends there, though ...

In The Island, the clones are forever kept in the dark about their purpose, and when it's time for someone's organs to be harvested, their absence is explained through the winning of a trip to a tropical island. When a pair of clones accidentally finds out what's really going on, they escape, mount a rescue of their fellows, and expose the horror of their situation to the unknowing public; the clones existentially :) validate their intrinsic worth and the public can be trusted to back them up.

- Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson in The Island

In Never Let Me Go, however, things are very different. The public is aware of the clones and their purpose, signing off on it, and the clones themselves, once they learn of their destiny, accept it; they receive their life's purpose from others and the public rationalizes away the moral unfairness of the situation.

While Never Let Me Go may be the better move (I haven't seen it yet) with its character-driven emphasis, I like the view of human nature portrayed in The Island (which I have seen) better.

Roger Ebert gave Never Let Me Go four stars. Instead of pasting his review here, though, I've pasted a little from a post at a blog I visit, In Living Color, that I thought was insightful .....

Never Let Me Go

[...] The eerie thing is that there's no overt coercion involved. There are no thugs dragging these people to hospitals. Kathy, the main character, gets special privileges as a 'carer' - she helps others through their medical ordeals - but then she eventually becomes a donor herself. She puts up some resistance at points, but mostly she's compliant.

Kathy isn't zombie-like, but she does have a tendency to be a little too obsessed with surfaces and details. Why doesn't she get her mind off minutiae and focus on the big picture? Why doesn't she hide or run away? There's no simple answer, but the key thing seems to be the clones' perception that they have a role to play. That role is not to their liking, but they're resigned to it ....

We are told the cloning project began in the 1950s. Kathy seeks out a former teacher who explains it to her: 'How can you ask a world that has come to regard cancer as curable, how can you ask such a world to put away that cure, to go back to the dark days?' Once the project had begun to save lives, it couldn’t be stopped. '... [Y]ou were kept in the shadows, and people did their best not to think about you. And if they did, they tried to convince themselves you weren't really like us. That you were less than human, so it didn't matter.'

Unrealistic? The story brings to my mind many types of exploitation we're unable to go back on - like relying on extremely cheap labour in third-world countries so we can afford a luxurious life-style.

The novel makes me think about animal experimentation as well, though I don't think that was Ishiguro's intention. What intrigues him is compliance - letting yourself be treated as a means ..... in Ishiguro's novel, [there is] a group of progressives who want the clones to be raised in better schools and orphanages. Sadly, eerily, these more enlightened people can imagine reform but can't imagine wholesale change. Too much has been gained by thinking of the clones as a subordinate class with merely instrumental value.

On animal experimentation and many other issues, I wonder how different we really are from the benighted society of Ishiguro's novel. There's such a thing as a point of moral no-return, a point where nobody can even see the problem, and even witting victims can't contemplate resistance.

Here's the trailer for the film ....

School Prayer

- Diane Ackerman

In the name of the daybreak
and the eyelids of morning
and the wayfaring moon
and the night when it departs,

I swear I will not dishonor
my soul with hatred,
but offer myself humbly
as a guardian of nature,
as a healer of misery,
as a messenger of wonder,
as an architect of peace.

In the name of the sun and its mirrors
and the day that embraces it
and the cloud veils drawn over it
and the uttermost night
and the male and the female
and the plants bursting with seed
and the crowning seasons
of the firefly and the apple,

I will honor all life
—wherever and in whatever form
it may dwell—on Earth my home,
and in the mansions of the stars.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Poetry and Science

I saw this poem below mentioned in an article .... Poetry and Science: A View from the Divide by Alison Hawthorne Deming.

An Anatomy Of The World... - John Donne

When that rich soul which to her heaven is gone,
Whom all do celebrate, who know they have one
(For who is sure he hath a soul, unless
It see, and judge, and follow worthiness,
And by deeds praise it? He who doth not this,
May lodge an inmate soul, but 'tis not his)
When that queen ended here her progress time,
And, as t'her standing house, to heaven did climb,
Where loath to make the saints attend her long,
She's now a part both of the choir, and song;
This world, in that great earthquake languished;
For in a common bath of tears it bled,
Which drew the strongest vital spirits out;
But succour'd then with a perplexed doubt,
Whether the world did lose, or gain in this,
(Because since now no other way there is,
But goodness, to see her, whom all would see,
All must endeavour to be good as she)
This great consumption to a fever turn'd,
And so the world had fits; it joy'd, it mourn'd;
And, as men think, that agues physic are,
And th' ague being spent, give over care,
So thou, sick world, mistak'st thy self to be
Well, when alas, thou'rt in a lethargy.
Her death did wound and tame thee then, and then
Thou might'st have better spar'd the sun, or man.
That wound was deep, but 'tis more misery
That thou hast lost thy sense and memory.
'Twas heavy then to hear thy voice of moan,
But this is worse, that thou art speechless grown.
Thou hast forgot thy name thou hadst; thou wast
Nothing but she, and her thou hast o'erpast.
For, as a child kept from the font until
A prince, expected long, come to fulfill
The ceremonies, thou unnam'd had'st laid,
Had not her coming, thee her palace made;
Her name defin'd thee, gave thee form, and frame,
And thou forget'st to celebrate thy name.
Some months she hath been dead (but being dead,
Measures of times are all determined)
But long she'ath been away, long, long, yet none
Offers to tell us who it is that's gone.
But as in states doubtful of future heirs,
When sickness without remedy impairs
The present prince, they're loath it should be said,
'The prince doth languish,' or 'The prince is dead;'
So mankind feeling now a general thaw,
A strong example gone, equal to law,
The cement which did faithfully compact
And glue all virtues, now resolv'd, and slack'd,
Thought it some blasphemy to say sh'was dead,
Or that our weakness was discovered
In that confession; therefore spoke no more
Than tongues, the soul being gone, the loss deplore.
But though it be too late to succour thee,
Sick world, yea dead, yea putrified, since she
Thy' intrinsic balm, and thy preservative,
Can never be renew'd, thou never live,
I (since no man can make thee live) will try,
What we may gain by thy anatomy.
Her death hath taught us dearly that thou art
Corrupt and mortal in thy purest part.
Let no man say, the world itself being dead,
'Tis labour lost to have discovered
The world's infirmities, since there is none
Alive to study this dissection;
For there's a kind of world remaining still,
Though she which did inanimate and fill
The world, be gone, yet in this last long night,
Her ghost doth walk; that is a glimmering light,
A faint weak love of virtue, and of good,
Reflects from her on them which understood
Her worth; and though she have shut in all day,
The twilight of her memory doth stay,
Which, from the carcass of the old world free,
Creates a new world, and new creatures be
Produc'd. The matter and the stuff of this,
Her virtue, and the form our practice is.
And though to be thus elemented, arm
These creatures from home-born intrinsic harm,
(For all assum'd unto this dignity
So many weedless paradises be,
Which of themselves produce no venomous sin,
Except some foreign serpent bring it in)
Yet, because outward storms the strongest break,
And strength itself by confidence grows weak,
This new world may be safer, being told
The dangers and diseases of the old;
For with due temper men do then forgo,
Or covet things, when they their true worth know.
There is no health; physicians say that we
At best enjoy but a neutrality.
And can there be worse sickness than to know
That we are never well, nor can be so?
We are born ruinous: poor mothers cry
That children come not right, nor orderly;
Except they headlong come and fall upon
An ominous precipitation.
How witty's ruin! how importunate
Upon mankind! It labour'd to frustrate
Even God's purpose; and made woman, sent
For man's relief, cause of his languishment.
They were to good ends, and they are so still,
But accessory, and principal in ill,
For that first marriage was our funeral;
One woman at one blow, then kill'd us all,
And singly, one by one, they kill us now.
We do delightfully our selves allow
To that consumption; and profusely blind,
We kill our selves to propagate our kind.
And yet we do not that; we are not men;
There is not now that mankind, which was then,
When as the sun and man did seem to strive,
(Joint tenants of the world) who should survive;
When stag, and raven, and the long-liv'd tree,
Compar'd with man, died in minority;
When, if a slow-pac'd star had stol'n away
From the observer's marking, he might stay
Two or three hundred years to see't again,
And then make up his observation plain;
When, as the age was long, the size was great
(Man's growth confess'd, and recompens'd the meat),
So spacious and large, that every soul
Did a fair kingdom, and large realm control;
And when the very stature, thus erect,
Did that soul a good way towards heaven direct.
Where is this mankind now? Who lives to age,
Fit to be made Methusalem his page?
Alas, we scarce live long enough to try
Whether a true-made clock run right, or lie.
Old grandsires talk of yesterday with sorrow,
And for our children we reserve tomorrow.
So short is life, that every peasant strives,
In a torn house, or field, to have three lives.
And as in lasting, so in length is man
Contracted to an inch, who was a span;
For had a man at first in forests stray'd,
Or shipwrack'd in the sea, one would have laid
A wager, that an elephant, or whale,
That met him, would not hastily assail
A thing so equall to him; now alas,
The fairies, and the pigmies well may pass
As credible; mankind decays so soon,
We'are scarce our fathers' shadows cast at noon,
Only death adds t'our length: nor are we grown
In stature to be men, till we are none.
But this were light, did our less volume hold
All the old text; or had we chang'd to gold
Their silver; or dispos'd into less glass
Spirits of virtue, which then scatter'd was.
But 'tis not so; w'are not retir'd, but damp'd;
And as our bodies, so our minds are cramp'd;
'Tis shrinking, not close weaving, that hath thus
In mind and body both bedwarfed us.
We seem ambitious, God's whole work t'undo;
Of nothing he made us, and we strive too,
To bring our selves to nothing back; and we
Do what we can, to do't so soon as he.
With new diseases on our selves we war,
And with new physic, a worse engine far.
Thus man, this world's vice-emperor, in whom
All faculties, all graces are at home
(And if in other creatures they appear,
They're but man's ministers and legates there
To work on their rebellions, and reduce
Them to civility, and to man's use);
This man, whom God did woo, and loath t'attend
Till man came up, did down to man descend,
This man, so great, that all that is, is his,
O what a trifle, and poor thing he is!
If man were anything, he's nothing now;
Help, or at least some time to waste, allow
T'his other wants, yet when he did depart
With her whom we lament, he lost his heart.
She, of whom th'ancients seem'd to prophesy,
When they call'd virtues by the name of she;
She in whom virtue was so much refin'd,
That for alloy unto so pure a mind
She took the weaker sex; she that could drive
The poisonous tincture, and the stain of Eve,
Out of her thoughts, and deeds, and purify
All, by a true religious alchemy,
She, she is dead; she's dead: when thou knowest this,
Thou knowest how poor a trifling thing man is,
And learn'st thus much by our anatomy,
The heart being perish'd, no part can be free,
And that except thou feed (not banquet) on
The supernatural food, religion,
Thy better growth grows withered, and scant;
Be more than man, or thou'rt less than an ant.
Then, as mankind, so is the world's whole frame
Quite out of joint, almost created lame,
For, before God had made up all the rest,
Corruption ent'red, and deprav'd the best;
It seiz'd the angels, and then first of all
The world did in her cradle take a fall,
And turn'd her brains, and took a general maim,
Wronging each joint of th'universal frame.
The noblest part, man, felt it first; and then
Both beasts and plants, curs'd in the curse of man.
So did the world from the first hour decay,
That evening was beginning of the day,
And now the springs and summers which we see,
Like sons of women after fifty be.
And new philosophy calls all in doubt,
The element of fire is quite put out,
The sun is lost, and th'earth, and no man's wit
Can well direct him where to look for it.
And freely men confess that this world's spent,
When in the planets and the firmament
They seek so many new; they see that this
Is crumbled out again to his atomies.
'Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone,
All just supply, and all relation;
Prince, subject, father, son, are things forgot,
For every man alone thinks he hath got
To be a phoenix, and that then can be
None of that kind, of which he is, but he.
This is the world's condition now, and now
She that should all parts to reunion bow,
She that had all magnetic force alone,
To draw, and fasten sund'red parts in one;
She whom wise nature had invented then
When she observ'd that every sort of men
Did in their voyage in this world's sea stray,
And needed a new compass for their way;
She that was best and first original
Of all fair copies, and the general
Steward to fate; she whose rich eyes and breast
Gilt the West Indies, and perfum'd the East;
Whose having breath'd in this world, did bestow
Spice on those Isles, and bade them still smell so,
And that rich India which doth gold inter,
Is but as single money, coin'd from her;
She to whom this world must it self refer,
As suburbs or the microcosm of her,
She, she is dead; she's dead: when thou know'st this,
Thou know'st how lame a cripple this world is

Saturday, October 09, 2010

More happy birthday wishes ...

... to John Lennon at 70 -

Friday, October 08, 2010

Duns Scotus and Radical Orthodoxy

The latest non-fiction book I've been reading is Radical Orthodoxy: A Critical Introduction by Steven Shakespeare. Here's a little from the beginning, about Duns Scotus (pp. 10-11) .......


[...] Perhaps more significant still for Radical Orthodoxy is the belief that the seeds of secular decadence are sown by developments within Christian theology itself. The key villain of the piece is Duns Scotus, a medieval Franciscan theologian who died in the early fourteenth century. Scotus is accused of playing a major part in the breakdown of the 'analogical' world-view associated particularly with Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-74). According to Aquinas, analogy was a way of talking about God which offered a middle way between two extremes. One extreme was univocal language, which assumed that words were used in exactly the same way when applied to God as they were when applied to anything else. This meant that God could only ever be different in degree (bigger and better) rather than different in kind from us and from the world. The other extreme was equivocal language, which held that words used of God meant something entirely different to their ordinary meaning. On this view, God was a blank, so utterly other to us that anything we said about God was empty and meaningless - hardly a promising prospect for for religious practice!

Analogy tried to avoid these dead ends by saying that some language (like 'God is love' or 'God is truth') could be properly used of God, as God was the source and perfect end of such qualities. However, there was still a high degree of unknowing in this account, as we could not tell exactly how such words and expressions applied to God.

Ideas of analogy can be involved and sophisticated. But the important thing to hold onto is that they try to keep open a possibility for true speech about God which doesn't either reduce God to being just one more thing (however exalted) among many in the universe, or make God into a black hole eternally irrelevant to us.

Duns Scotus is blamed with distorting this authentically Christian understanding of God and truth, because he said that 'being' is a univocal concept. In other words, there is no difference between the way in which God 'is' and the way in which a person or anything else 'is'. To be is the same thing in each case. God is different from us because of the infinite nature of his power. But this has just the consequences which analogy tried to guard against. It makes God the same kind of being as us, just (infinitely) bigger and better. The irony is that Duns Scotus' univocal view doesn't make God any closer to us, because to preserve God's uniqueness, he has to emphasize God's exalted difference from all creatures. God becomes almost identified with pure power.

A further consequence is that, as God is no longer related to us by a living chain of analogy, God becomes ever more hidden and dark to us. God retreats into the heavens, exercising his will from afar. And God's will becomes the arbitrary exercise of power. It has no inner relationship to human worth and fulfillment. God becomes the Law, imposed upon an essentially Godless world.

This account of Duns Scotus is highly controversial ....


For those interested in this topic, I also came across a discussion between John Milbank and Robert Sweetman - "Univocity, Analogy and the Mystery of Being According to John Duns Scotus"

Happy birthday, John :)

Thursday, October 07, 2010

What does it mean to "flourish"?

There's a post at The New York Times philosophy blog - The Spoils of Happiness by David Sosa - which seems to be about selling Aristotle's idea of virtuous flourishing = happiness (as opposed to pleasure = happiness). Here's some of the article ......

Suppose there were an experience machine that would give you any experience you desired. Super-duper neuropsychologists could stimulate your brain so that you would think and feel you were writing a great novel, or making a friend, or reading an interesting book. All the time you would be floating in a tank, with electrodes attached to your brain. Should you plug into this machine for life, preprogramming your life experiences? [...] Of course, while in the tank you won’t know that you’re there; you’ll think that it’s all actually happening [...] Would you plug in?. (Anarchy, State, and Utopia, p. 3) ........

I think that for very many of us the answer is no .... Life on the machine wouldn’t constitute achieving what we we’re after when we’re pursuing a happy life. There’s an important difference between having a friend and having the experience of having a friend ... [it] would all be, in a way, false — an intellectual mirage ....

One especially apt way of thinking about happiness — a way that’s found already in the thought of Aristotle — is in terms of “flourishing.” Take someone really flourishing in their new career, or really flourishing now that they’re off in college. The sense of the expression is not just that they feel good, but that they’re, for example, accomplishing some things and taking appropriate pleasure in those accomplishments. If they were simply sitting at home playing video games all day, even if this seemed to give them a great deal of pleasure, and even if they were not frustrated, we wouldn’t say they were flourishing. Such a life could not in the long term constitute a happy life. To live a happy life is to flourish .....

[W]hat’s wrong with the drug addict’s life is not just the despair he feels when he’s coming down. It’s that even when he’s feeling pleasure, that’s not a very significant fact about him. It’s just a feeling, the kind of pleasure we can imagine an animal’s having. Happiness is harder to get. It’s enjoyed after you’ve worked for something, or in the presence of people you love, or upon experiencing a magnificent work of art or performance — the kind of state that requires us to engage in real activities of certain sorts, to confront real objects and respond to them. And then, too, we shouldn’t ignore the modest happiness that can accompany pride in a clear-eyed engagement with even very painful circumstances.

I guess the article is pitching a point of view, that of Aristotle and almost everybody else, but I think it states as facts what are really just assumptions: that imagined experience is less worthy than actual experience, that enjoyment of the moment is a less true form of happiness than achieving some goal, (and that drug addicts and animals experience only pleasure rather than flourishing - what?).

And the article expresses the common (but I think wrongheaded) belief that we can't experience real happiness unless we've crawled over broken glass to achieve it. I used to call this the Captain Kirk philosophy of life :) and you can see it expressed in this out-take from This Side of Paradise, an episode in which Kirk "rescues" Spock from a world where an indigenous plant produces in everyone, even Spock, a sense of peace. I believe Spock was right in thinking he was truly happy ....

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Elaine Scarry on beauty, justice, and empathy

First, here's a video talk by Harvard professor Elaine Scarry, 'Beauty and Social Justice', given at Cambridge University this past May .......

And here's an article by her on similar subjects .....


Elaine Scarry: Using art to encourage empathy

The problem that’s gripped Harvard English Professor Elaine Scarry, 61, is why many people lack the empathetic storyteller’s sense of “generous imaginings.” She says, “Pushkin provided a stunning portrait of how we come out of the opera weeping with compassion for those on the stage, not seeing the cab-driver and horses who are freezing from their long wait to carry us home.”

There are serious difficulties in imagining other people. “We know that by our ability to injure them. 600,000 Iraqis have been injured. Even in the case of people we really love, it’s hard to imagine how sometimes a word we say might injure them. Multiply that inability by the effort of trying to imagine people in a distant country and culture.” The late Susan Sontag called Scarry’s book on this subject, “The Body in Pain,” “extraordinary, large-spirited, and heroically truthful.”

Applying the expertise of close reading of stories, she has come to understand why we fail at this task — and the cost of failure. “People can’t imagine a bad event in the future.” And so, politicians have learned to infantilize the population, “to read them out of the most important deliberations we have,” the limitations on our freedom and what this will mean over time and continued erosion. “Law after law is being broken. Things happen in a way that outpace people’s ability to respond to them.

“The human capacity to injure other people has always been greater than its ability to imagine other people,” says Scarry. To expand our imaginations, Scarry suggests an exercise called “rotation of the nouns.” An event occurring between the United States and Somalia would be reversed. Or, if you read about a Turkish person’s house firebombed in France, you would imagine how you would feel if it were a Parisian diplomat’s house firebombed by a Turk.

Beauty is another way to increase generous imaginings. “If people become cut off from the love of beauty, that sabotages their love of the world and increases their willingness to compromise it,” she says.

As a testimony to the impact of her hybrid approach — literary and legal study of constitutions and consent to governance, Scarry has an unusually high number of graduate students at Harvard, perhaps more than anyone in the world-famous English department.

”Justice and fairness involve a symmetry in all our relations with others,” she says. “Every account of justice requires a symmetry of relationships: between crime and punishment, expectations and fulfillment. Many forms of beauty involve symmetry, like octahedrons.

“But in this country people are impatient with the word symmetry; it’s now that we are in an asymmetrical relationship with the world, that’s why we turn off from it. A major percent of the wealth is owned by a miniscule percent of the population. Or the staggering inequality of weapons. If we lose a sense of beauty, we lose a sense of symmetry in all our relationships. Looking at beauty reminds you what fairness is.”

Scarry’s students call her brilliant and unafraid of controversy. Her critic’s eye reframes the words people often use to pat themselves on the back. Several glamorous vocabularies, she says, help to ensure separation; authenticity instills in young people a dread of being “inauthentic” or “unreal.” It prescribes for them, she says, the conservative obligation to reenact and perpetuate the racial, religious, or linguistic preferences of their parents or grandparents. It urges sameness, Scarry says — and discourages shaping one’s fate through allegiances with others. “Should we hope that a president, faced with authorizing the firing of nuclear weapons, will have the imaginative powers to picture other people in their full density of concerns?”

One can hope. When the imagination fails, says Scarry, “the law says you don’t have to be able to imagine me. You just can’t kill me. It doesn’t matter whether you like others or not.”

The Federalist Papers, Scarry says, written as essays in advocacy on behalf of the Constitution at the time of its ratification, continually asks the questions: What kind of arrangement will produce a noble and generous people? and why does a noble and generous people inflict harm? “That is why laws are needed,” says Scarry, “to complete the work begun by stories.”


Monday, October 04, 2010

A prayer

Fr. James Martin SJ wrote a prayer (see What is a Catholic response to gay suicide?) for people who can be made to feel so very alone .....

A Prayer When I Feel Hated

Loving God, you made me who I am. I praise you and I love you, for I am wonderfully made, in your own image.

But when people make fun of me, I feel hurt and embarrassed and even ashamed. So please God, help me remember my own goodness, which lies in you. Help me remember my dignity, which you gave me when I was conceived. Help me remember that I can live a life of love. Because you created my heart.

Be with me when people make fun of me, and help me to respond how you would want me to, in a love that respects other, but also respects me. Help me find friends who love me for who I am. Help me, most of all, to be a loving person.

And God, help me remember that Jesus loves me. For he was seen as an outcast, too. He was misunderstood, too. He was beaten and spat upon. Jesus understands me, and loves me with a special love, because of the way you made me. And when I am feeling lonely, help me to remember that Jesus welcomed everyone as a friend. Jesus reminded everyone that God loved them. And Jesus encouraged everyone to embrace their dignity, even when others were blind to that dignity. Jesus loved everyone with the love that you gave him. And he loves me, too.

One more thing, God: Help me remember that nothing is impossible with you, that you have a way of making things better, that you can find a way of love for me, even if I can’t see it right now. Help me remember all these things in the heart you created, loving God.


- James Martin, SJ

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Some photos ...

I took today -

Here's the bluejay I think of as my friend - he talks to me :) ...

And here's the bluejay who still worries I want to eat him ....

One of the squirrels eating a peanut ...

The navel oranges are still green ...

Saturday, October 02, 2010

A note about comments to the blog

I just noticed today that Blogger has installed a spam filter to blog comments. It seems to have a mind of its own and there's no way to turn it off. I'll try to check the spam home regularly and resurrect any non-spam comments.

The Necromancer

- Miyamoto Musashi battles a nue by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

My latest book from the library is The Necromancer (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel) by Irish writer Michael Scott, the fourth book in the fantasy series I've posted about before, which features luminaries like Joan of Arc, Machiavelli, and John Dee :)

I'm only a bit into the book, but one of of the characters who's mentioned is the legendary Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, author of The Book of Five Rings.

Here's a video of Scott talking about the series ....

Two posts ....

One from the Episcopal Cafe .....

Clementi's death a "call to action"

Integrity USA, the voice of advocacy for LGBT Christians in the Episcopal Church, has issued a "call to action" to the Episcopal Church following the suicide of Tyler Clementi at Rutgers this week. Clementi is the fourth young person in the month of September to have committed suicide because of bullying and teasing due to their sexuality.

"We challenge our clergy in the Episcopal Church to take to their pulpits this Sunday to speak out against all forms of bullying and the systemic homophobia behind it. We need to be reminded, over and over again, of the promise of our baptismal covenant: to respect the dignity of every human being.

We challenge the people in our church pews and in our communities to speak out whenever our young gay brothers and sisters are attacked. Statistics show that 9 out of 10 gay youth have been bullied and sadly, too often it goes unreported. It is time that we reclaim the rights of our young people to be safe in the context of who they are.

We challenge our politicians and government leaders to pass legislation to end any existing discriminatory laws or policies against the LGBT community.

We challenge each other to always be the face and hands of God in the world to spread love and acceptance."

And this from US Catholic .....


We need victim-centered reform
By Guest blogger Michael J. Sanem

During his visit to the United Kingdom last month, Pope Benedict publicly acknowledged the "deep shame and humiliation" felt by the entire church as a result of the sex abuse scandal currently sweeping across Europe. As he did in the United States two years ago, Pope Benedict has given us a powerful model to follow if we honestly seek reconciliation and healing from this widespread tragedy. Rather than a band-aid change in church structures, any authentic reform will first carefully listen to the voice of the victims, and seek the movement of the Spirit therein.

The voice of the victim is the "voice crying out in the wilderness" that we are uncomfortable hearing. But when we listen carefully, we awaken to the tragic consequences of a flawed concept of church, one in which the ordained are superhuman and the laity are somehow secondhand receptors of God's grace.

Though the reforms of the Second Vatican Council sought to amend these errors, at the level of practicality they have only been reinforced by church policy, resulting in an endemic clericalism and an assumption of divine privilege by the clergy and bishops responsible.

St. Augustine, Doctor of Church and wise bishop himself, recognized the grave danger of his office when he wrote, "To you I am the bishop, with you I am a Christian. The first is an office, the second a grace; the first a danger, the second salvation." Augustine knew the grace of salvation lay in solidarity with the laity, not in his holy office.

At last Easter's mass in Rome, the bishops and Roman Curia rallied around Pope Benedict, praising his courage in the face of adversity, but following Augustine's wisdom it would be more appropriate to acknowledge the courage of those victims, all of them baptized, who have suffered in shame and despair for decades.

As Catholics, we tend to emphasize Peter's chosen status as the apostle who could recognize Jesus as the Christ, but we often grapple with our own ability to deny Christ as he is present in the marginalized. When we choose clericalism over justice and triumphalism over humble repentance, Christ present in vulnerable child is once again denied, betrayed, and in the case of those victims who have committed suicide (warning: graphic content), crucified.

At the end of the Gospel of John we meet a Peter who, after denying Jesus, cannot recognize the risen Christ calling to him from the seashore (21: 1-19). Only through brash repentance does Peter finally see that Christ has called him to a very special task, to protect and nourish the most vulnerable members of the flock: "Feed my lambs." In troubled times such as these, when a scandal threatens to devour our church and aggressive secularists denounce our faith as delusional, we, like Peter our rock, are called to humbly acknowledge our own culpability before Christ present in victim of abuse.

When we as a whole church commit ourselves to listening to the victim, we will finally be able to reassert our love for Christ and our continued commitment to care for the most vulnerable among us. But before we do this, we must recognize that Christ and the grace of his healing is more present to us in the crucified victims of sexual abuse than in our wounded pride and stubborn triumphalism.

Guest blogger Michael J. Sanem is a young adult pursuing his master's degree at Catholic Theological Union. He mentors youth through CTU's Peacebuilders Initiative, and he also blogs at Where there is despair.


Friday, October 01, 2010

Hildegard's movie

- Hildegard and Volmar, her teacher and Saint Disibod monk

I saw there's a German movie coming out about Hildegard of Bingen titled Vision by Margarethe von Trotta. Here's a little about Hildegard from Wikipedia ....

Blessed Hildegard of Bingen (German: Hildegard von Bingen; Latin: Hildegardis Bingensis) (1098 – 17 September 1179) .... was a Christian mystic, German Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath. Elected a magistra by her fellow nuns in 1136, she founded the monasteries of Rupertsberg in 1150 and Eibingen in 1165. One of her works as a composer, the Ordo Virtutum, is an early example of liturgical drama. She wrote theological, botanical and medicinal texts, as well as letters, liturgical songs, poems, and the first surviving morality play, while supervising brilliant miniature Illuminations.

Here's a plot synopsis from the movie's website ...

A child of a wealthy German family, Hildegard is handed over to a Benedictine Monastery at the age of 8. Taught in the arts of herbal medicine, reading and writing by her mentor Jutta von Sponheim, she quickly excels in all. When Jutta dies, Hildegard is horrified by evidence of self-flagellation on her body and vows to change the ways of the order. Hildegard becomes the abbess of the convent and by subtly using her intelligence and diplomacy begins to change the laws from the highest level. Since childhood she has had powerful visions that she records. Certain that these mystic perceptions are messages from God, she mentions them to her superior, without fear of the obvious scepticism and suspicion of heresy from the Christian order. The Pope grants her his support and allows her to publish the written accounts of her revelations. With this, Hildegard’s life takes a new turn. Allowed to build her own convent—the monastery of Saint Rupertsberg at Bingen—she invents a revolutionary and humanist approach to devotion.

And here's the trailer ...

The thing I find most interesting about Hildegard is the fact that she had visions - those seem like examples of God 'working directly with the creature', as Ignatius would say ....

Hildegard says that she first saw “The Shade of the Living Light” at the age of three and by the age five she began to understand that she was experiencing visions. In Hildegard’s youth, she referred to her visionary gift as her viso. She explained that she saw all things in the light of God through the five senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. Hildegard was hesitant to share her visions, confiding only to Jutta, who in turn told Volmar, Hildegard's tutor and, later, secretary. Throughout her life, she continued to have many visions, and in 1141, at the age of 42, Hildegard received a vision she believed to be an instruction from God, to "write down that which you see and hear." ...

I'm looking forward to the movie - if nothing else, it will give me a chance to work on my college German :)