instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Saturday, July 31, 2004

Proportionate reasoning

Jcecil3 proposes a proportionate reason for voting for John Kerry:
With an unjust war, it seems to me that the state would be killing innocent people. Therefore, an unjust war is on par with the state mandating abortion, which is worse than the state allowing abortion.
I think this is a pretty good argument. Not unanswerable, maybe; state-mandated abortion and unjust war are significantly different evils. But the idea that directly killing an innocent person is objectively worse than immediate material cooperation in that killing seems plausible to me, and I can see the reason to extend that to directly killing one innocent person being objectively worse than immediate material cooperation in another killing.

Jcecil3 goes on:
Therefore, I could be wrong, but it seems to me that the most moral choice is to vote for John Kerry....
Which is quite a different argument.

It seems to me you can extend the "unjust war is worse than permissive abortion laws" claim to a "George Bush is worse than John Kerry" claim in one of three ways.

You can say Bush has prosecuted an unjust war, and therefore is necessarily worse than Kerry, who hasn't; or you can say Bush will prosecute an unjust war, and Kerry won't. I don't think either of these is necessarily sound. As someone who prefers virtuous candidates, I can see why someone who starts an unjust war might be seen as unfit for office, but that by itself doesn't mean everyone who hasn't started an unjust war is necessarily more fit. As for what will happen, it seems to me Kerry's aggressive push of legal abortion through birth, worldwide and in perpetuity is far more certain than either another war under Bush or the absence of a war under Kerry.

A third way of arguing that Bush is worse than Kerry because unjust war is worse than permissive abortion laws, what might be called an operational argument, is that the very fact of having, and even reelecting, a president who has caused an unjust war is worse for the common good than having, or electing, a president who loves loves loves to immediately materially cooperate with abortions through birth, worldwide and in perpetuity. I don't know that this can be strictly proven, but I think it is a defensible personal judgment. (Defensible meaning consonant with reason and faith, not correct, persuasive, or even highly probable.)

Still, in my personal judgment (which I of course consider defensible, but what do I know), Kerry's own position on government-funded abortions and fetal stem cell research constitutes the state killing innocent people, so even accepting Jcecil3's first principle (and his judgment of the war) without reservations leaves no clear choice between the two candidates.

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Friday, July 30, 2004

Choosing sides

Two things that irk me deeply are mendacity -- deliberate falsehoods only an ignoramus or a fool could actually believe as he speaks them -- and stubbornly offered invalid arguments -- arguments that don't prove their conclusions even if their premises are true, but that continue to be offered long after their invalidity has been demonstrated.

So, as you can imagine, I haven't been enjoying the coverage of the Democratic National Convention. Nor do I expect to enjoy the coverage of the V shaped depression in the offing known as the Republican National Convention.

Jcecil3, on the other hand, has now drunk the Kool-Aid, as the saying goes. He writes:
I still feel a great deal of discomfort about the abortion issue... this was the stumbling block between me and Kerry. He answered it for me in the bolded sentence.
The bolded sentences in which Kerry answered Jcecil3's great deal of discomfort about the abortion issue are these, from last night's acceptance speech:
I don't want to claim that God is on our side. As Abraham Lincoln told us, I want to pray humbly that we are on God's side.
It's a curious line of reasoning, followed in the bright light of the day: John Kerry has publicly vowed to undo every small effort George Bush has done to resist worldwide abortion-on-demand-through-birth, which fact discomforts Jcecil3, who is pro-life. On the other hand, Kerry says that he doesn't want to claim that God is on his side, but that he does want to pray humbly that he is on God's side. And this not only overcomes Jcecil3's discomfort, it makes him positively enthusiastic about the fellow.

Now, it happens that, pray all he might, John Kerry is categorically not on God's side. On the matter of abortion, John Kerry, whether he realizes it or not, spits in God's eye. His position is literally damnable.

So I, personally, don't see much in the way of persuasiveness to his saying, "I want to pray humbly that we are on God's side." In fact, I see much that is ridiculous, and once again I must conclude that Kerry is either a liar or a fool to say this.

Still, I think Jcecil3's enthusiasm for this sort of guff hints at something worth noting. What he is responding to emotionally, if I read him correctly, is Kerry's profession of anti-dogmatism, of claiming the allowance, "I could be wrong." (And what matters is the profession of anti-dogmatism, since Kerry's speech was otherwise (and properly) full of dogmas.)

This week's hypothesis is that many self-described progressive Roman Catholics think it is better to be wrong and say "I could be wrong" than to be right and say "I am not wrong." And if the choice is between "a very intelligent man who tries to do what he thinks is right and who consistently makes fine hair-splitting distinctions and careful nuance" and who is flat wrong and a man of middling intelligence and laconic speech who accurately insists he is right, there's simply no question the progressive will embrace the former.

And if I had to guess at the answer to the question of why someone would prefer intelligent and nuanced error to unsophisticated and uncompromising truth, my guess would be, "Sloth."

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The more you see

This is how St. Catherine of Siena, one of the holiest people who have ever lived, finished a meditative prayer on Christ's passion:
Oh my wretched soul, you who have embraced not the light but the darkness! Get up! Get up out of the darkness! Rouse yourself! Open the eye of your understanding and look into the depth within the deep well of divine charity!

For unless you see, you cannot love.

The more you see, the more you will love.

Once you love, you will follow, and you will clothe yourself in His will.

I have sinned, Lord!
Have mercy on me!
Amen.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2004

A question for political observers

Okay, I understand everyone says stupid things at times. When we do, we should notice that what we've said was stupid and correct ourselves without compounding the stupidity.

So, when are the politicians who have said they can't force their morality on their constituents going to correct themselves without compounding their stupidity?

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Monday, July 26, 2004

Metablogging: In answer to your questions,

No, I don't want to be put on your mailing list. If you put me on your mailing list without asking me, I will cuss at you until you remove me.

No, I'm not interested in becoming an affiliate. I don't know how to spend all the money I make blogging as it is.

No, I won't exchange links with you. I'll link to you if I want to. You can link to me if you want to. Ain't blogging grand?

No, I don't find your critique of Roman Catholicism devastating. I do, though, find the fact that you troll the World Wide Web for email addresses of Catholics to broadcast it to pathetic, and a little creepy.

Yes, by all means send me a copy of the book.

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From where she grandstands

I've read practically nothing by Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, under the untested assumption that there are better things for me to do. Having chanced upon a couple of her recent National Catholic Reporter columns, all I can say is, sometimes untested assumptions are true.

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More in sorrow

Steven Riddle writes about the sliding scale of sloth:
I think early in the Christian journey all legitimate and licit pleasures are good and should be gratefully accepted. However, as we grow in the faith, it seem to me that the things we take pleasure in should also advance. That is, that while we might enjoy light reading at the start of our Christian career, as our lives move into conformity with God, we might move on from this legitimate interest to more profound things....

So it leads me to wonder if our indulgence in these pass-times isn't sometimes also a way of avoiding deeper commitment.
Sloth, as you know, is sorrow for spiritual good. In an article in the April 2004 The Thomist, Rebecca Konyndyk-DeYoung suggests a cause of this odd yet common vice is the recognition that joyful acceptance of spiritual good demands conversion.

We cannot experience the goodness of God and remain unchanged. If we don't want to change, then, we have to somehow avoid experiencing God's goodness, which means we have to avoid doing things that bring us in contact with God. Things like praying; things like reading better books than we used to read.

I mention a "sliding scale of sloth" because what will bring us into contact with God depends on where we are. Reading P. G. Wodehouse may be an escape, but for most of us it isn't an escape from God. It's only when we are close to God that to read Wodehouse is to turn from God. (I speak, of course, of all right-thinking persons. For those objectively disordered souls who do not appreciate Wodehouse, we pray in silence.)

But as with all such freedoms, we can't let it become a license. When a good keeps us from God, we cannot choose it, and we must watch out for those goods that at one time did not keep us from God -- perhaps they even drew us toward Him -- but are now holding us back.

I think I once used the analogy of a hot air balloon, tethered to the ground by ropes of varying lengths. At any given time, only certain ropes prevent the balloon from rising, and it is only when these are untied that other, longer ropes begin to hold the balloon down.

None of us is good enough. Each of us is being held back from God by something, and we need to search our lives to find out what it is. The search does not end in this life, and what was once a licit and even beneficial pleasure may well be what we are clinging to, out of sloth, out of implicit sorrow at the thought that becoming what we are meant to be means letting go of some temporary pleasure.

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The last part

I hope.

One final point on forgiveness I didn't manage to sneak into an earlier post:

For fallen man, Christian forgiveness is hard.

It's hard because it takes humility and meekness to renounce a just debt. It takes an uncomfortable degree of self-knowledge to recognize our own need to be forgiven. It takes a robust faith to leave all judging to God. It takes, God help us, practice to love our friends as we love ourselves, to say nothing of loving our enemies. And all this needs to be done under the one organizing principle of human acts: to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, all our strength.

But it's also hard because, unlike clemency, forgiveness is an interior act. That means there's nothing external and irrevocable you can do to forgive. If you're lenient toward someone, there's firm evidence of your clemency, and you can't later on not have been lenient. If you give alms, there's physical proof of your almsgiving, and you can't (practically speaking) get your money back later.

But to forgive someone, in particular someone who doesn't ask you for forgiveness... well, how do you actually do that? You can say, "I forgive him," but unless you're God your words do not create the reality they signify. You have to somehow or other... just forgive him.

Of course, Christian forgiveness happens by grace, and becomes a virtue by practice, so saying, "I forgive him, the miserable rat," is a good way to start, as long as it isn't where you stop. A prayer like, "Dear Lord, please grant me the grace to desire to pray for the grace to desire to forgive," may be in order.

And once you've forgiven someone, what's to stop you from unforgiving him later? Nothing, as far as I can see, except grace.

Christian forgiveness, then, demands all sorts of prior virtues and is given in an intangible and so-to-speak insecure manner. No wonder Christians are so bad at it.

And how do we get better? Well, have you tried prayer and fasting?

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Sunday, July 25, 2004

The Christian part

I've written more than enough about forgiveness over the past two weeks, but I do want to emphasize a point or two about the intent of forgiving (I wrote about the object of forgiving here).

Why does a Christian forgive the wrongs done against him? Earlier, I argued the fundamental answer was, "Because Jesus told us to." As with most of my answers, though, that was incomplete. Since Jesus told us to forgive unconditionally, we know it's the right thing to do, but what makes Christian forgiveness the right thing to do is love. We know that to forgive others is to love them.

(And yes, that knowledge can be misunderstood, causing people to forgive what they have no authority to forgive, but I've been over that, too.)

So: Why does a Christian forgive the wrongs done against him? Because he loves the wrongdoers as he loves himself. Because he loves the wrongdoers as Christ loves them.

The thing to note here is that a Christian loves the wrongdoers. That love is what makes the Christian's forgiveness Christian -- or better, Christ-like. Or even Christ's.

So yes, forgiving another person is the only way you'll get over the wrong, and yes, nursing a grudge is spiritual poison, but Christ didn't forgive because it was psychologically and spiritually healthy for Him to forgive. It's not an act of love for another to act out of love for yourself.

We must begin where we are. As St. Augustine wrote in his Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love:
It is a smaller thing to wish well or even to do well to one who has done you no evil. It is far greater - a sort of magnificent goodness - to love your enemy, and always to wish him well and, as you can, do well to him who wishes you ill and who does you harm when he can....

Such counsels are for the perfect sons of God. And although all the faithful should strive toward them and through prayer to God and earnest endeavor bring their souls up to this level, still so high a degree of goodness is not possible for so great a multitude as we believe are heard when, in prayer, they say, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." Accordingly, it cannot be doubted that the terms of this pledge are fulfilled if a man, not yet so perfect that he already loves his enemies, still forgives from the heart one who has sinned against him and who now asks his forgiveness.
Those who think we need only forgive those who ask our forgiveness, then, think we are called to be imperfect sons of God.

I've read a lot of comments recently that don't seem to appreciate what it means for Christian forgiveness to be based -- as all things Christian are -- on love. In particular, the "God doesn't forgive unconditionally, so neither should we" sort of argument that I've already looked at betrays a misunderstanding of mercy.

If you love someone, you forgive him the reparation that is due you out of love. Love doesn't wait to be asked before it acts, thank God. As David pointed out in a comment below, love does not seek its own interests, it does not brood over injury. The father of the prodigal son did not forgive his son when he knelt before him; the father had forgiven the son long before, or else he would not have been watching for his return. In fact, there's no suggestion there was ever a point in time when the father hadn't forgiven his son. That's perfect love.

And that, it seems to me, is God's love for us. "God doesn't forgive unconditionally" is, in fact, a false statement. He does forgive, He has forgiven us all we have done wrong and all we will do wrong. He does not seek His own interests, He does not brood over injury.

Indeed, we cannot harm God's interests, we cannot injure Him. What our sins do is harm and injure ourselves and each other. These injuries God does not repair instantly, because that would be contrary to His will for us as free beings.

As all good Catholics know, there are temporal punishments due our sins even after we are given sacramental absolution. But the punishment due us, as I've tried to show below, is a different matter than the reparation due God. This reparation is something God forgives, not because of anything we do, but because God is love.

The perfect sons of God forgive even as they are offended, just as their Father does. Few of us are perfect; all of us can pray for the graces we need to be better today than we were yesterday.

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Friday, July 23, 2004

Second verse

The post below looks at punishment due a wrongdoer for the harm done to another or to the common good. But what about punishment due a wrongdoer for the moral harm done to himself?

Here is where justice and mercy meet. If a punishment is just, it may be imposed; that's what justice is all about. Mercy, on the other hand, is all about loving compassion. Mercy isn't opposed to justice, but it has a different end in mind -- the good of the other rather than giving to each what is due -- and so it employs different means.

Suppose you have the moral authority to forgive a punishment due me for some wrong I've done. That means, among other things, it isn't strictly necessary that I be punished for the sake of the common good, or for the good of our relationship. Should you forgive?

In terms of justice, the answer is, "It doesn't matter." The punishment would be just, but it's your prerogative to waive it.

In terms of mercy, the answer is, "Yes if it's better for me, and no if it's not."

How can being punished be better for me than not being punished? If it better repairs the harm I've done myself by doing wrong. If punishment causes me to repent, where being forgiven would confirm me in my bad ways, then mercy requires you not forgive my punishment. This is the old "Since I love you, I must kill you" line of reasoning favored by some when arguing against unconditional forgiveness.

What the Gospel should do here, though, is make us consider very carefully whether forgiving a just punishment is better than imposing it (and again, they are both perfectly just). It does this by superimposing charity upon justice (as the Gospel superimposes charity upon all things).

Under justice, neither forgiveness nor imposition of a just punishment is "better" than the other. But mercy, which is an interior act of charity, uses a different scale: the perfection of the other according to the will of God, which can never be opposed to justice. When forgiveness better serves the perfection of the other -- if he will be a better person if forgiven -- then Christian charity commands us to forgive.

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My song is of mercy and justice

Many people who reject the command to forgive unconditionally claim it makes a travesty of justice. They are mistaken, and though it's true people sometimes act contrary to justice in the name of forgiveness, that's not a knock against forgiveness, but against mistaken ideas of forgiveness.

Why doesn't forgiveness make a travesty of justice? Forgiveness is the renunciation of a just claim to some good due from another. Forgiveness presupposes justice. If I don't know what is just, I can't know whether my act is one of forgiveness.

If you order a drink in my bar and I say, "This one's on the house," I am forgiving the price of the drink due me. Where is the injustice?

The critical point here is that, for me to forgive, I must renounce a just claim to something due me. As everyone who says "I can't forgive a murderer who murdered someone I don't know" argues, something due someone else cannot be forgiven by me (unless I have authority over the other person, as a father, say, or an elected official).

Think about what happens when one person wrongs another. Harm is done to the person wronged, of course, but harm is also done to the wrongdoer, interior moral harm if nothing else. Harm may also be done to the larger group (the family, the society) within which the two people are related. Assuming the wrong done is sufficiently grave, the wronged person has some reparation due, as does the larger group, and the wrongdoer has some punishment due him.

The wronged person can choose to forgive the reparation due him. The larger group can choose to forgive the reparation due it. Can the wrongdoer choose to forgive the punishment due him? Actually, the way I've set things up, he can, but since no one can force another to accept forgiveness, he's likely to hear, "No, no, we insist!"

I think the interesting question is, can the wronged person or the larger group forgive the punishment due the wrongdoer? Again, you can only forgive what you have the authority to forgive. Just to fix ideas, let's think of the case where the wrong is a crime and the larger group is a society. Then, if the crime harms the common good and the only way to repair that harm is by punishing the wrongdoer, the society really doesn't have the authority to forgive punishment. That is, it might have the legal authority, but it is unjust for a society to forgive just punishment at the cost of harm to the common good.

But it's not unjust for a society to forgive just punishment if doing so doesn't harm the common good. Equally, it's not unjust for an individual to forgive the punishment of another (or to advocate forgiveness, if he doesn't have direct authority) if doing so doesn't harm the relationship between the two.

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True devotion to Mary

Nathan Nelson went all out blogging on his patron saint, St. Mary Magdalen. He refutes the Mrs. Christ theory; he posts proper prayers from the Tridentine Mass, the Pauline Mass, Eastern hymns, the Liturgy of the Hours; he quotes a homily by Pope John Paul II; he posts a litany; he even writes an apology for reclaiming the Magdalen from those who would dismiss her or deify her.

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Thursday, July 22, 2004

The entire community of humankind

There's an interesting CNS report on a speech given by fr. Paul Philibert, O.P., earlier this month at the Eastern Regional Convention of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians.
Father Philibert, who teaches at the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, said that, according to Vatican II, in the liturgy "Christ joins the entire community of humankind to himself, associating it with himself in singing his divine song of praise....

"This is your vocation as a minister of sacred music. You are artist, leader, teacher, coach and spiritual director for your teams of musicians and for your parishes as well," he said. ...

"From a liturgical analysis, something is missing from a celebration of Eucharist in which large numbers of those who have gathered to celebrate abstain from the common song of the assembly," he said. "That sacred common song is not only a symbol of the idea of solidarity in the body of Christ, it is the very instrument and vehicle of achieving the sacrament of that solidarity.

"So, for the love of Pete, please stop making them sing crap."

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Mary's Songs

If there's something you want to say to God, chances are there's a psalm that says it.

That's true not only of you, but of the saints. I've found that, when praying the Liturgy of the Hours on any given saint's day, there is almost always at least one or two verses that pop out as specifically relevant to the saint.

Today, for example, is the feast of St. Mary Magdalen. Setting aside the questions of whether she is Mary of Bethany or the "sinful woman" of Luke 7, she is known to be the Apostle to the Apostles, herald of Christ's Resurrection and prophet of His Ascension. Oh, and Patroness of the Order of Preachers.

It's also Thursday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time, which means the psalms and canticle for Morning Prayer may be taken from Thursday Week IV in the psalter.

It's not difficult to imagine St. Mary praying Psalm 143 as she weeps in the garden that Sunday morning:
I remember the days that are past:
I ponder all your works.
I muse on what your hand has wrought
and to you I stretch out my hands.
Like a parched land my soul thirsts for you.

Lord, make haste and answer;
for my spirit fails within me.
Do not hide your face
lest I become like those in the grave.

In the morning let me know your love
for I put my trust in you.
And Psalm 147, as she hurries to tell the disciples she has seen the Lord:
The Lord builds up Jerusalem
and brings back Israel's exiles,
He heals the broken-hearted,
He binds up all their wounds.
He fixes the number of the stars;
He calls each one by its name.
"He calls each one by its name."

"Jesus said to her, 'Mary!'"

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The forgiveness part

To understand what Christian forgiveness is, you need to understand the "forgiveness" part as well as the "Christian" part.

Objectively, forgiveness involves matters of justice, the giving to someone what is due him.

If we enter into a pig buyer/pig seller relationship, then what is due me is the pig and what is due you is money in the agreed upon amount. (Of course, the agreed upon amount is not necessarily just, but that's another question.) If we enter into a pig stealer/pig owner relationship, then what is due me is punishment for the harm my theft has caused and what is due you is the pig I stole (plus, perhaps, some further reparation).

In these terms, forgiveness means a person who in justice is due some good cancels the debt. The Latin verb used in the Lord's Prayer ("forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us") is dimittere, which can mean to renounce or give up and is the root for the English word dismiss. If I steal your pig and you forgive me, you are renouncing your claim to reparation (and, if you're a Desert Father, even your claim to the pig).

Suppose someone is in a bad mood and snaps at you when you try to talk to them. Later, they come to you and apologize for their harshness, and you say, "That's all right, I forgive you."* What exactly are you forgiving? In other words, to what are you renouncing your claim?

I think what's renounced in such cases is very often the right to act on feelings of hurt, offense, or resentment. Since this is a right people do claim for themselves, renouncing it does seem like an act of forgiveness, and many Christians do believe they are following Christ's commandment to forgive when they renounce it.

But if you accept what I've written so far, an act can only be forgiveness if it renounces something that is due in justice. Do we have a just claim to the right to act on hurt or offended feelings? Are we truly due that right?

I don't think we are. I think we are due an apology; the harsh words have unjustly caused an injury, and the person who causes an injury owes some comfort or care to the person injured.

But if this is the case, then properly speaking unconditional forgiveness is the only forgiveness we can offer. If we wait to forgive until the person has apologized, then we've already received what is due us. In fact, what we call our forgiveness is itself due the other person, as acknowledgement that their debt has been paid. "I forgive you," in this case, isn't a statement of forgiveness, it's a receipt for an apology. To refuse to accept the apology would be unjust.

All this suggests that the common social understanding of forgiveness needs correction, purely from the consideration of the object of the act. When you bring in the intention of the act -- the "Christian" part of "Christian forgiveness" -- then you're really talking about something scandalous.



* This assumes you're in a relationship in which the words, "I forgive you," can be spoken. There's probably something to be gained by thinking about who could and could not say those words to you in a sincere and unironic way without offending you.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Just do it

The unconditional forgiveness demanded of a Christian derives from the love of enemies demanded of a Christian.

When Christ said, "Love your enemies," what He actually meant was, "Love your enemies." That sounds obvious, but I suspect a lot of people take Him to mean, "Love everyone, including your enemies."

But although this is what Christ commands of us, it's not really what, "Love your enemies" means. An enemy isn't someone who happens to be included among the people you are to love. An enemy is one who hates you, who wills evil for you, who acts so that bad things happen to you and good things don't happen to you.

I know I tend to water down the idea of "enemy" when I see the word used in Scripture. As far as I know, I don't spend a lot of time with people who hate me, and though there are plenty of people who might be pleased if something bad happens to me, I doubt there are many who are actively working to cause me evil. (Me personally, I mean, as opposed to me as an American or Christian or whatever.)

So I do a lot of the "love the people who cut you off on the road" kind of substitutions. "Pray for those who drone on in meetings you attend." These are fine sentiments, but clearly they fall far short of Jesus' call to Christian perfection.

Love the person who wants you dead. Love the person who wants your children dead and your house burned down, who wants you sitting on an ash heap amidst desolation, weeping like Job. This is the love of enemies which gives birth to Christian forgiveness.

Such a forgiveness is not a philosophical position. We don't arrive at it by reason. The only sound argument for it is, "Jesus told us to."

That's not to say unconditional forgiveness isn't reasonable, or that we can't identify its good effects. But we don't forgive unconditionally because it's good for us both spiritually and psychologically, we do it because Jesus commands us to.

It's a tricky point, since by the fact Jesus commands us to do it we know it is good for us, and the fact that it's good for us is [at least one of the reasons] why Jesus commands us to do it. But if we reason our way to unconditional forgiveness, if the premise upon which we accept it is not, fundamentally, "Jesus commands it," then there is the very real possibility that circumstances might arise in which we find that the natural reasons for which we forgive unconditionally are no longer valid. If I forgive others because of the psychological benefits letting go of a grudge gives me, then if there comes a time when I decide the psychological cost of forgiveness outweighs the psychological benefit, it would be irrational for me to forgive.

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He knows something that you do not know

Real Live Preacher posts an essay, "There’s Something About the Way You Use the Bible," highly critical of people who "see the bible as a thing to be used at all."
That old man that you brushed aside? The one you called a liberal and a wishy-washy Christian? He spent the last fifty years with his hands and his heart in the pages of that sacred book. He has wept over it and searched for truth in its stories. His unanswered questions have increased every year until finally he knows nothing at all but the love of God and neighbor.

He knows something that you do not know.
This can be translated into Catholic experience by replacing "the Bible" with "Scripture and Tradition."

There are reactions to guard against when you read essays like this: "He's certainly not talking about me." "My, someone's awfully full of himself." "That's very sweet, but in the real world, we have to be realistic." "Preach it, brother! Lay it on them!" (This last is a particularly subtle way of not listening.)

Reactions to foster? "Is it true?" "Is it true of me?"

(Link via Noli Irritare Leones.)

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Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Martha, Martha

The Gospel reading on Martha and Mary is almost too direct. Sitting at the feet of the Lord is the better part. Check.

It's hard to say much that is profound about a story whose moral is so close to the surface, so there are countless homilies that vary the theme of, "Being active isn't bad, it's just not as good as sitting at Jesus' feet."

On Sunday, the deacon added a slight shading to my thoughts of Martha's activity. Martha is described as "burdened with much serving," and Jesus says she is "anxious and worried about many things."

Burdened, anxious, worried. These words do not describe the active life as distinguished from the contemplative life by the Church. They describe a mind that does not see beyond the end of the activity, a mind in which the activity has blotted out consideration of all other ends.

The better part will not be taken from Mary. We might imagine that even were she to rise and help her sister serve Jesus and His disciples, Mary would remain beside the Lord at His feet listening to Him speak.

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Forgive your neighbor's injustice

Christians are commanded to forgive wrongs done to them, regardless of whether the wrongdoer seeks forgiveness.

I'm not going to offer a full defense of this claim in this post. Frankly, I think it's so obviously true that it is only denied because the commandment is so difficult to keep. But I did want to look at one argument against it, an argument I think has a curious feature. (The argument was offered in the middle of this very long exchange on the place of anger in the Christian life.)

The counter-argument can be expressed this way: God Himself doesn't forgive wrongdoers who don't seek forgiveness, and God doesn't hold us to a higher standard than that to which He holds Himself. Therefore, we don't need to forgive wrongdoers who don't seek forgiveness.

What I find interesting here is the idea that forgiving people regardless of whether they seek forgiveness -- call it "unconditional forgiveness" -- is regarded as a "higher standard" than forgiving people only if they seek forgiveness. To me, a "higher standard" is a better standard, one closer to the ideal. So -- looking at the first sentence in this post -- I would certainly agree that unconditional forgiveness is a higher standard than conditional forgiveness.

What I don't agree with is that there is a higher standard than God's own standard. I mean, how could there be? Nothing can be done more perfectly than what God does. God is the ideal, He defines the standard (and not just by declaration, but by His very existence).

So how can unconditional forgiveness be a higher standard than conditional forgiveness if the latter is God's own standard?

The short answer is that we are not God, and His ways are not our ways, so His standards are not our standards. What makes unconditional forgiveness higher, instead of simply stricter or more demanding, is that God commands it.

The medium answer is that, though unconditional forgiveness is a higher standard expressed positively, in terms of what we must do, it is a lower standard expressed negatively, in terms of what we must not do. "Forgive all who wrong you" is equivalent to "Do not judge who is to be forgiven and who is not." What is better from the human perspective is worse from the divine perspective, and since we are not God we must not claim the right to judge that belongs to God alone.

The long answer begins with the observation that we are called to be perfect as our Father is perfect, which means we are called to the Divine standard, so unconditional forgiveness and Divine justice are somehow compatible.

I think it's suggestive that, in the Sermon on the Mount, the words
I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for He makes His sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
come so soon before
Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
The ongoing mercy and forgiveness God offers (and therefore we are to offer) to the just and the unjust is, perhaps, the projection of eternal Divine justice onto time. We must, then, forgive without concern for who "deserves" forgiveness, because not only are we not fit to make that judgment, now is not the time for that judgment to be made.

And that is the end of the beginning of the long answer.

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Friday, July 16, 2004

Homo capax pulchritudinis est

Let me revisit the idea of beauty as holy sadness.

As I wrote below, beauty itself can't make us sad, because we can only be sad at an evil, and beauty is per se good. The "holy sadness" that people do, in fact, feel upon apprehending beauty is not caused by the beauty itself, but by the awareness this apprehension causes in them that there is beauty they cannot now apprehend.

In what sense, though, is the existence of beauty we can't apprehend an evil? In a comment, I repeated a formula from St. Thomas that evil is a privation of a good that is due, the lack of a good where a good ought to be. Does this mean that apprehension of beauty is "a right, or privilege, something that we are 'due'"?

Well... yes, I suppose it does. But it's something due us, not in the sense that things are due a person in justice, but in the sense that human nature is imperfect when that beauty is not present.

I'm hashing through this idea, and so making a hash of it, but to put it briefly: There are experiences of beauty that make us aware that we, as human beings, are capable of beauty, and that we ourselves are unfulfilled as long as that capacity for apprehending beauty is unfulfilled.

It's only through faith that we come to realize the full Beauty of which we are capable is nothing less than God. I don't think, though, that we need Christian faith to realize that other things in creation -- primarily other humans -- also fall short of their own capacity of being beautiful. Such a realization, which is also a cause of sorrow since it's a recognition of the absence of a good where a good ought to be, is a powerful natural spur toward a faith of beauty.

The various ways in which this natural capax pulchritudinis can be perverted are demonstrated in no subtle fashion in our culture. Still, my guess is that the natural capacity for beauty is less debased than the natural capability for truth -- in no small part because the capacity for beauty is barely recognized. If that's the case, then evangelization through beauty will, for many people, prove more fruitful than evangelization through truth.

In the end, it must all draw together, of course, because Beauty and Truth are One, but we time-bound creatures can only take each step in sequence.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2004

A beautiful post

Barbara Nicolosi's notes on a talk she gave about art to people who work with seminarians has so many good points, I can almost forgive her for using "artisthood" as a word.

She suggests:
Beauty makes us homesick for heaven. It is a "holy sadness."
What's odd about this is that, though the claim is true, the actual words used mean the exact opposite. Beauty is pleasure, not sadness; it puts us in contact with heaven (at least analogically), it doesn't distance us from it. What makes us sad is that, having experienced beauty, we can recognize where it ought to be and isn't. It's the lack of beauty that makes us homesick. We can only sorrow at evil, and beauty is necessarily good.

Conversations on beauty often wander in entertaining directions about personal taste, but for starters I think a conscious desire for beauty -- as beauty, as something to rest and delight in, not as a utilitarian means to some further end -- puts a person ahead of large numbers of his fellow citizens today.

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An uncooperative conclusion

This is the last of a series of posts, in which you might expect to find some sort of conclusion to my thoughts on voting as cooperation with evil, and in particular on how proximate the cooperation is -- or, equivalently, what proportions are we talking about when we speak of "proportionate reasons" for voting?

Sorry. I don't have any conclusions. The most I can say is, I suspect it's not as remote as most folks say, but not as proximate as some folks say.

Oh, and I do think Steven makes an excellent point in saying this debate "is a sign of the struggle against the culture of Death." If representative democracy is a newfangled thing for the Church to consider, so much more so is representative democracy in which objective evil is so brazenly advocated.

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Cooperating with your candidate

We'll assume you're a good person with a well-formed conscience, and so are opposed to all immoral policies a candidate advocates. That means your vote for him would constitute only material cooperation in his advocacy.

Would it be immediate cooperation, and therefore immoral per se, or mediate cooperation, and therefore potentially licit?

If it be immediate cooperation, the object of your vote cannot be distinguished from the object of the candidate's advocacy (assuming he wins). I'm inclined to think the object of voting can be distinguished from the object of enacting a particular policy of an elected official, particularly if the enactment of the policy is not morally certain to follow his election. Though voting isn't perfectly fungible -- a vote has an objective meaning independent of what the voter says it means -- I think the distinction between "having this person hold this office" and "having this person as office-holder enact these policies" is sufficient that voting for a candidate is mediate cooperation in whatever policies the candidate (if he wins) enacts.

(This is more of an assertion than an argument, as Zippy will probably have noticed, but that's what I got today.)

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No sale

Steven Riddle doesn't buy
the Ratzinger argument or any other that state that we may in good conscience vote for those who hold morally repugnant views about what policy should be. There is no proportionate reason for direct support (through voting) of evil.
In a follow-up comment, Zippy suggests voting is unlikely to be an act of only mediate material cooperation in the evil the candidate promises to do if elected.

My perspective: Either I missed an encyclical, or the Church is still in a period of discernment regarding this whole representative democracy wheeze. So when, for example, Cardinal Ratzinger writes that voting for a candidate despite his immoral policies is remote material cooperation, I take it to be a well-reasoned but somewhat ad hoc application of the cooperation-with-evil theory to representational elections.

Now, the CWE theory describes the relationship between two specific, discrete acts. One of these acts is, of course, the act of voting for a candidate who advocates immoral policies. But... what is the other act?

I think a lot of people assume the other act is an instance of the root evil that makes the policy immoral -- a procured abortion, say, or a killing during an unjust war. Being the root evil, such an act is as remote from voting as possible. "All I did was vote for the guy with the best health care plan," the reasoning might go, "I didn't make anyone get an abortion."

Between these two acts, though, lies the act of the legislator voting for (or the executive enforcing) an immoral law or action. It isn't always appreciated that -- despite the special pleading of many politicians who claim their actions are justified -- voting for or enforcing an immoral law is an immoral act, and not just by cooperation!

Remember, cooperation relates two discrete acts. Voting for an immoral law is immoral because it is a corruption of the very nature of human law. Even if there is no root evil act with which a legislator is cooperating, voting for an immoral law is immoral. (This can be seen clearly, I think, in the case of a vote on an immoral law that fails. If a proposed law never gets approved, there won't be any "root evil acts" performed because of it, but it's still immoral to vote for it.)

So I think the question is, is Cardinal Ratzinger right to say the relationship between a citizen's vote for a legislator and a legislator's vote for an immoral law is one of remote material cooperation?

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Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Accomplicements

For my own future reference as much as anything else.

Based on the discussion found here, this is a diagram of the different sorts of cooperation with evil Catholic moral theology recognizes:



The terms in red represent immoral forms of cooperation. The terms in blue represent forms of cooperation that may be moral.

Types of Cooperation
  • Formal: "a willing participation on the part of the cooperative agent in the sinful act of the principal agent"
  • Explicit Formal: the cooperative agent expresses his willingness
  • Implicit Formal: "even though the cooperator denies intending the wrongdoer's object, no other explanation can distinguish the cooperator's object from the wrongdoer's object"
  • Material: participation in a sinful act without sharing in the intent of the principal agent
  • Immediate Material: "the object of the moral act of the cooperator is indistinguishable from that of the principal agent;" considered morally equivalent to implicit formal cooperation
  • Mediate Material: "the moral object of the cooperator's act is not that of the wrongdoer's"
  • Proximate [Mediate] Material: the action of the cooperator is closely related to the action of the wrongdoer
  • Remote [Mediate] Material: the action of the cooperator is not closely related to the action of the wrongdoer
Mediate material cooperation is morally licit when there is a proportionate reason for cooperating. As I wrote below, the more proximate the cooperation, the stronger the reason must be to be proportionate.

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Mercy and forgiveness

Notice the exchange that follows Jesus' telling of the Parable of the Good Samaritan:
"Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers' victim?"
He answered, "The one who treated him with mercy."
Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
The Samaritan treated the robbers' victim with mercy.

Too often, I think, mercy is confused with forgiveness. It's a natural enough confusion, since as sinners we experience God's mercy in large part through His forgiveness.

But mercy itself is a kind of compassion or pity, "a fellow-feeling for another's misery, which prompts us to help him if we can," as St. Augustine puts it. So while God helps us by forgiving our sins, He also helps us in countless other ways that no less than forgiving our sins manifests His mercy toward us.

How can we show mercy to each other? For starters, we can forgive each other such debts as are owed to us, as God forgives us.

Forgiving each other doesn't exhaust the ways we can be merciful -- but if we don't distinguish between mercy and forgiveness, we might think it does. We might, for example, feel we're being perfectly good Christians by forgiving someone who has wronged us, yet leaving him in a wretched state we could ease if we chose to.

We might also show no mercy at all toward someone who has not wronged us personally. After all, if "Be merciful as your Heavenly Father is merciful" means only "Be forgiving," then we have no duty toward those who have done nothing we can forgive. Perhaps that's what the priest and the Levite told each other in the Jericho inn that night.

How can we be merciful? According to St. Thomas, "a defect is always the reason for taking pity, either because one looks upon another's defect as one's own, through being united to him by love, or on account of the possibility of suffering in the same way." If we are to be merciful as the impassible Father is merciful, it must be by being united to others by love.

I'm no expert at being merciful, but I think it's safe to say you aren't perfectly united to another in love if you catch yourself asking, "Haven't I helped him enough yet?"

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Monday, July 12, 2004

Proportionate to what?

Jamie Blosser considers the meaning of Cardinal Ratzinger's statement:
"When a Catholic does not share a candidate's stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons."
The question is, what would such proportionate reasons look like?
And since the purpose of Ratzinger's memo is to explicitly highlight the relative gravity of abortion/euthanasia vis-a-vis other concerns, the burden seems to be squarely on the shoulders of those who would propose that any other concerns -- those, I mean, which are 'on the table' in the upcoming American elections -- are genuinely equal to the moral gravity of these fundamental matters, literally, of life and death.
My understanding is that the reasons whose presence permit remote material cooperation must be proportionate, not to the evil act itself, but to the degree of cooperation involved. If that's the case, there need not be "on the table" concerns equal to the moral gravity of abortion to vote for a pro-abortion candidate.

So, taking an example Jamie mentions, to licitly use a product made by a company that donates money to Planned Parenthood, you don't need a reason proportionate to the abortions Planned Parenthood performs, but one merely proportionate to the level of cooperation in donating money to Planned Parenthood that using the product constitutes.

This raises the question, what level of cooperation in legal abortions does voting for a pro-abortion candidate constitute? The answer is, "It depends."

Some people think the answer is, "The level of cooperation is miniscule, at least for any candidate I want to vote for." The problem with this, it seems to me, is that voting for a candidate constitutes equal cooperation with every policy a candidate holds. Yes, if you vote for someone because of a policy, you are formally cooperating with that policy, while if you vote despite a policy, you are only materially cooperating with it. But the effect of your vote is the same either way. If the remoteness of cooperation with unfavored policies is the same as the remoteness of cooperation with favored policies, in evaluating them for proportionality you must consider the policies in themselves.

The Church has been absolutely clear that human life issues are the most important political issues of our time. (And, for that matter, that there is a difference between "human life issues" and "quality of life issues," despite the efforts of many politically liberal Catholics to fuse them.)

Yet I think the Church has also been clear that human life issues exist on a continuum, that though they are far more important than all other issues, they are comparable. If so, then it is possible for the difference on human life issues between candidates to be less than the difference on other issues, in which case proportionate reasons for voting for a pro-abortion candidate would exist.

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Don't read good posts, read great posts

Karen Marie Knapp posts an article on forgiveness in a communist prison that is more worth reading than anything I'm going to write.

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Get your act together

Yesterday, the Dominican homilist pointed out all the verbs in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan
approached the victim,
poured oil and wine over his wounds and
bandaged them. Then he
lifted him up on his own animal,
took him to an inn, and
cared for him. The next day he
took out two silver coins and
gave them to the innkeeper....
But before all this action, he
was moved with compassion....
The first movement was interior; the Samaritan traveler was the receiver of the movement.

The priest and the Levite did a lot of moving, too. In fact, they never stopped. Whatever was moving them wasn't compassion, mercy, and love. What was it, then? It could have been all sorts of laudable virtues: piety or chastity or counsel or prayer or honesty.

Jesus doesn't say. It doesn't matter. If I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not charity....

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Friday, July 09, 2004

The effect of exegesis

Jamie Blosser of Ad Limina Apostolorum is doing us all the favor of offering summaries of St. Augustine's commentaries on the Sunday Gospel readings. Coming up: the parable of the Good Samaritan, for which St. Augustine offers a mystical exegesis:
The 'man' for St. Augustine is none other than Adam, representative of all of humanity; 'Jerusalem' is the heavenly city, representing his original state of justice and free-will; his falling into the hands of robbers represents his falling into sin, under the persuasion of the devil, and his resulting forfeiture of immortality and condemnation to death. The priest and Levite represent the priesthood and ministry of the old covenant, which proved unable to remedy his fallen condition. The Good Samaritan, of course, is Christ Himself, who alone is able to save: His binding of the wounds, the forgiveness of sin; the oil and wine, the comfort of hope and the encouragement to work. The beast upon which man is hoisted is the Incarnation, the enfleshment of the Word, by which man is raised up to share in the divine nature. The inn - you guessed it - is the Church where man recovers from the sickness of sin under the influence of the medicine of grace, and the innkeeper is - you didn't guess this - the Apostle Paul. The two silver coins are the dual commandments of love of God and neighbor (which Christ affirmed immediately before giving this parable) (cf., Quaest. Evan. 2.19; Hom. 31; Hom. 81).
I love this sort of stuff. It hints at the bottomless depths of meaning in Scripture.

The human response to Revelation is not memorization but creative engagement. If you meet someone who tells you, "I grew up on a farm," you don't reply, "You grew up on a farm," you ask, "What was that like?" And you know that what it meant for him to have grown up on a farm will not be exhausted in a two or three minute answer.

But did Jesus "really" intend the donkey of the parable to signify the Incarnation? That's probably not a well-formed question. Jamie explains St. Augustine's approach to exegesis:
The ultimate standard for such interpretation, for St. Augustine, is once again the law of charity. An interpretation is useful (n.b. he does not say 'correct,' but 'useful') inasmuch as it inclines the reader to the love of God and neighbor.
"Useful" is the strongest claim I should make about any commenting I do on Scripture, which isn't exegesis so much as conversation sparked by reading a passage from the Bible.

In any case, if Scripture is God's revelation to man, it necessarily contains an infinite meaning, and in reading it we should feel free to let our conversation with God wander where it will, knowing that when we wander from charity we are no longer speaking with God.

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Thursday, July 08, 2004

Pictorial Predestination

An email conversation has prompted me to do something I've been meaning to do for some time.

The dogma of predestination is very delicate and difficult to get just right. A step too far in one direction, and you slide into Semi-Pelagianism. A step too far in the other direction, and you're into Calvinism. And even within the legitimate bounds of the Church's teaching, there are various swamps, thickets, and blind canyons.

I've come up with what I believe is an original contribution to the question: a simple, easily remembered pictorial representation of the various schools of thought on predestination, in the form of a Venn diagram.

Visualizing the Dogma of Predestination

I don't have time to post the key right now -- which, if you've done any reading at all on the subject, should be relatively self-evident -- but I wanted to put up the drawing itself while I was thinking of it.

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Love 'em all, and let God sort 'em out

In the Scriptural verses I've been writing about -- "If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you"; "love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father"; "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head" -- I detect some hints about Christian communion.

In the first quotation, Jesus tells His disciples they needn't worry about their peace resting on those who aren't fit for it. In the second, He tells them to be like God in showering love upon everyone, regardless of their fitness. The proverb can (I think) be read as teaching that loving your enemy is a means of inviting him into the New Covenant.

In each case, there is at least an implicit concern that a Christian might be too free with the gifts Christ has given him to distribute. In each case, there is reassurance that he needn't worry, that he is to give freely and leave the bookkeeping to God.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus prefaces His call to love our enemies with the words, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'" Under the Mosaic Law, the distinction between who was under the Law and who wasn't was clear. A Jew, at least at the time of Jesus, was required to treat Gentiles in a markedly different way than other Jews. Whether someone was a neighbor, whether someone was Jewish, was critical knowledge. For a Jew to cast pearls before swine was not only to waste the pearls, but to become unclean himself.

In the fulfillment of the Law, though, such concerns are all but eliminated. No act of love can be misdirected, and if the distinction between believer and non-believer is still important, it is not the cause of anxious separation it was under Moses. It seems to me the concern is more to avoid the company of sinners than of non-believers -- and, for that matter, an evangelizing faith can hardly counsel avoiding non-believers generally.

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The rain falls on the just and the unjust

When Jesus was preaching the fulfillment of the Law in the Sermon on the Mount, He explained that we are to love our enemies that we may be children of our heavenly Father, Who "makes His sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust." If we do so, we will be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect.

Okay, but what does making His sun rise on the bad and the good have to do with the Father being perfect?

For one thing, I suppose, it is a mark of His justice. In Psalm 51, David sings to God: "You are just in Your sentence, blameless when You condemn." The criticisms against God for being somehow unfair to His creatures is unfounded.

Moreover, without the sun and the rain man cannot live. By blessing the unjust with these gifts, God gives them time to repent -- time that will count against them in judgment should they fail to repent.

So perhaps loving your enemies that you may be a child of your heavenly Father is not so different from loving them that burning coals may be heaped upon their heads.

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Burning coals

Camassia points out a difference between how Jesus and St. Paul taught charity toward enemies. She refers to these two passages:
But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.


Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." Rather, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head."
Camassia comments:
They seem to be arguing for pacifism from opposite directions. Paul is saying, don't crush your enemies because God will crush them for you. Jesus seems to be saying, God doesn't crush your enemies, therefore you shouldn't either. Paul's reasoning is more in line with the Old Testament theme that Yoder points out, though Jesus' point is not without foundation. Particularly apposite is the book of Jonah, where the hero explains why he wouldn't preach to the evil Ninevites: "I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity." (The fact that Jesus refers to his three-day entombment as "the sign of Jonah" may be for more reason than the fish episode.)
St. Paul's "burning coals" bit was lifted from Proverbs:
If your enemy be hungry, give him food to eat, if he be thirsty, give him to drink; For live coals you will heap on his head, and the LORD will vindicate you.
The NAB has this note on "live coals": "either remorse and embarrassment for the harm done, or increased punishment for refusing reconciliation."

I'd always thought of the coals as a psychological punishment for your enemy and a psychological reward for yourself. But as the NAB note suggests, burning coals can also signify divine punishment (in, for example, Ezekiel 10).

So the proverb (and St. Paul's use of it) can be understood as meaning that if you love your enemies, you place them under divine judgment. If they accept and reciprocate your love (as the Ninevites accepted and acted upon Jonah's prophecy), then they are saved. If not, not.

On this reading (well, maybe "accommodation"), loving your enemies is a way of extending the New Covenant to them. If they love you back, then they are keeping Christ's commandment to love their enemies, and He and His Father will come and dwell with them. If they don't love you back, the LORD will still vindicate you (and perhaps we could say your love will return to you).

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Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Not just one friar,

but a whole batch of them have been accepted to take vows in a certain Dominican Province. Congratulations to Brother Andrew et al.!

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V. Pax vobiscum.
R. Right back at you.


Hernan puzzles over a couple of verses from Sunday's Gospel that has always rolled right past me:
"Into whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this household.' If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you."
Hernan muses:
What is the sense of the warning, "but if the house is not worthy, your peace will return to you", like calming the disciples so that they do not fear to waste it, as if peace were a thing one could lose when giving it? ...

A possible answer came to me now. Indeed, because when "giving peace" we are not giving a material thing, because peace is one of those goods that can only be increased when shared: it was not necessary to give to warnings or consolations for the successful case (to give peace and that the other receives it). It is clear that in this case we do not lose peace, but that we gained it. Yes perhaps for the failures: because it is then when we felt that the peace got "lost" .... But it sounds a little too spiritual to me, a little rationalist even; and that does not line up absolutely with the literal text (Jesus speech of peace that "goes" and that "returns").
I certainly can't speak for how the disciples understood Jesus' words. For me, they call to mind the words of Isaiah:
For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to him who sows and bread to him who eats, so shall My Word be that goes forth from My Mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but shall do My will, achieving the end for which I sent it.
In a sense, the disciples' blessing is a sacrament, a verbal sign that effects what it signifies: the conferral of peace upon a household. But what if the household is not worthy, or those who live there are not peaceful? Then they refuse the grace and peace is not conferred upon them.

Jesus is explicit, though, that this is the nature of this "sacrament" of peace. It is a gift that can be refused, but the refusal in no way debases the gift. Nor does it return to the disciples void; it serves as a condemnation of those who refuse, and "it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment" than for them.

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Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Thank God!

The thought occurs that thankfulness would make an excellent self-measure of sanctity.

Being thankful at all is a great way to start. I don't think a person can be both thankful and covetous at the same time; you can't really hold what you have and what you want together in your mind. Thankfulness implies a kind of restfulness, a pause (however temporary) in concern for tomorrow, and as we know tomorrow is God's concern, not ours.

Being thankful for what's good in bad situations is even better. Nobody likes a Pollyanna showing up to spoil their misery, but the truth is, if things could be worse (and for most of us most of the time, they could be (and often enough will be)), then there is some good for which we ought to be thankful. Genuinely thankful, too; there's no such thing as being thankful grudgingly.

There is such a thing as giving thanks grudgingly, though. This is fortunate, since giving thanks grudgingly is how a lot of us learn to give thanks, as a few minutes in the presence of a child being taught manners will show. Thankfulness is a virtue, a habitual disposition of soul that can be developed through acts of thankfulness, just like the disposition to kindness can be developed through acts of kindness.

The highest form of thankfulness, found among the great saints and not much looked for by the rest of us, is being thankful for the bad things that happen. Not because the saint is wicked and deserves punishment, but because he knows "that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." Suffering has been sanctified by Christ on the Cross; Christians know, and Christian saints believe, that our suffering is an evil permitted by Providence to draw us closer to Jesus and therefore deeper into participation in the Divine Life.

Though you may not do moral evil that good may result, you certainly may endure natural evil in the Christian hope of the good that will result. In fact, that's by far the most sensible reaction to the natural evils we necessarily face, but few of us are holy enough to be that sensible.

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Thursday, July 01, 2004

His love must be perceived

Being on the receiving end of a correction can be painful. The best way to avoid it is to be free of moral and intellectual faults.

But if one who would admonish his brother in fraternal charity must be sure his authority will be recognized and his love perceived, one who would be admonished -- which is to say, one who is not certain he has no faults -- must recognize authority and perceive love.

Recognizing authority is a snap, since every Christian has made himself a servant of all, so all have authority over him.

Perceiving love can be more difficult; admonishers often betray no sign of the love with which they act. However, the Christian who has made himself docile to the will of God will know, even if he cannot articulate, the Divine love illuminating everything that happens to him, and so will be open to the correction given him.

Just because admonishment is a form of correction doesn't mean all admonishment is correct. Still, I think we can say as a general guideline that all admonishment should be accepted with gratitude -- toward God, at least -- and honestly evaluated. We are, after all, called to perfection, not adequacy, and it may be that even a completely wrong-headed attempt at correction leads you to see some fault you've missed before (like, for starters, dismissing out-of-hand completely wrong-headed attempts at correction).

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Corrections

Comments on yesterday's "This love must be perceived" post point out that there are several different forms of correction, which, since they differ in the end sought, may also differ in the means used.

Admonishment, which I usually have in mind when speaking of "fraternal correction," seeks the elimination (or at least reduction) of a moral fault. The Church has a lot in Her treasuries that deals with admonishment of sinners, from Jesus' observation about the speck and the plank to St. Ignatius' comments and beyond. It's a spiritual work of mercy, but a particularly dicey one to do properly.

Instruction, another spiritual work of mercy, has as its end the correction of an intellectual fault. Where you admonish the sinner for doing something wrong, you instruct the ignorant for thinking something wrong -- or, perhaps more commonly, for not thinking something right. In a comment below, Christine brought up the example of correcting an untruth being spread by another, where you're not so much concerned with instructing the person teaching the untruth as with instructing those who might come to believe it.

Kathy pointed out another form of correction, "intended to change a wrong course of action." Here the end sought is purely external, and I'm sure there's a better term than resistance.

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The major problem

Here is a valid syllogism; if the two premises are true, then the conclusion is true:
  1. Most Democratic candidates are pro-abortion.
  2. You should not vote for a pro-abortion candidate.
  3. Therefore, you should not vote for most Democratic candidates.
Catholic bishops are getting increasingly explicit in their teachings that one or another form of the minor premise -- "you should not vote for a pro-abortion candidate" -- is true, and many lay Catholics are responding in anger to the implication that the conclusion -- "you should not vote for most Democratic candidates" -- is true.

They are right to be angry. It should not be true that you shouldn't vote for most Democrats.

What doesn't make sense to me is why they're angry at the bishops, for teaching that the minor premise is true, and not (as far as I can tell) particularly angry at a major political party for teaching that abortion is a public good. I can't think of a flattering explanation for the selective indignation.

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