Sunday, March 25, 2012

Catholic Protestants

Imagine a kid who thinks his parents let his younger brother get away with too much bad behavior. His parents think that some of his younger brother's bad habits are just "phases" that he will grow out of. They are wrong; the younger brother's habits are at least semi-permanent and will negatively influence his life for a very long time.

But the older kid still tries to fill up what he sees as a lack of discipline through his own action, although he is just an older sibling. Of course, this doesn't work very well. He knows something needs to be done, but has no idea of what it should be. So he manages things in horribly incompetent ways; he lacks the knowledge of what offenses must be stopped and what offenses should be ignored; and even if he possessed the knowledge, he still would not be able to enforce it. So he mucks it up.

Take this as an analogy for the current situation in the Church.

Catholic bishops and, perhaps, the Pope, are the parents. Crazed Catholic traditionalists are the older brother. The parents' refusal to act as an authority is the hierarchy's refusal to actually teach the Church, in a substantive manner, over the last forty-odd years. The unfortunate attempts to teach the younger brother are like upstart traditionalist groups attempting to bring right doctrine to the world.

The attempts are awkward, first, because often the traditionalists are somewhat theologically inept, at least sometimes. They don't always know what is absolute and what is not, just like the brother does not; the groups often come from laymen reacting against egregious abuses, and who are well-intentioned but know little theology. So they make mistakes, and the mistakes sap their already non-existent authority.

The attempts are awkward, second, because if authority abdicates then the people who try to fulfill its functions (by teaching correctly) will be matched by those who who also try to fulfill its functions (by teaching incorrectly). So if you have someone out there saying that Catholics can't say sodomy is great, you'll also have someone out there saying that Catholics must say that sodomy is great, because if we do not then we will not be tolerant like Jesus.

So we need authority, and if we don't have it we're in trouble.

Authority cannot be willed into existence from nothing. It cannot be remedied by having someone who isn't the authority try to do all the things authority doesn't. There actually has to be the power to bind and to loose, in some sense. And if you speak without having that power, you soon tend to be a bit shrill: no one is listening, and so you perhaps feel the need to assert yourself even more.

In some ways, I fear some--not all--traditionalist Catholics can become somewhat Protestant in their attitude because of the aforementioned. Some Protestants--not all, necessarily--set up little enclaves, which then often split because no one has real authority in them. (I grew up in West Virginia, where these enclaves could be small indeed.) And traditionalists also seem to set up little enclaves, which also perhaps have a tendency to split over little things that might not even matter.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Balthasar on Saints

“Instead of possessing a ‘proof’ [of Christianity], they ‘are’ a reflection of it in their lives. As they respond to the glory of God and reflect it, it shines forth not only for them but for others. For, according to the Spirit of revelation, the really holy person—in the sense of Leviticus 11:44f.: ‘For I am the Lord you God; consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am holy’—is the best ‘proof’ of the truth of revelation.”
--quoted here.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

On Tradition and Philosophy

"Today, authors lay themselves bare, expressing and liberating themselves. They strive for originality, for what has never been said before. Philosophers set forth their system, expounding it in their own personal way, freely choosing their starting point, the rhythm of their expositions, and the structure of their work. They try to stamp their own personal mark on everything they do. But like all productions of the last stages of antiquity, the Enneads are subject to servitudes of a wholly different nature. Here, originality is a defect, innovation is suspect, and fidelity to tradition, a duty. . . . Philosophy has become exegesis or preaching."--Pierre Hadot, on Plotinus, in Plotinus: or, The Simplicity of Vision, trans. Michael Chase (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 17.

It would be easy to say that the old way of philosophizing is right, and the new way of philosophizing is wrong. But I don't think that this is the case. Originality for its own sake is surely wrong. But surely philosophy should not be exegesis; certain things, I hope, are in some ways more manifest to me now then they were manifest to Aristotle in his time.

I think well-written philosophy would be towards prior philosophy as the ending of a drama would be towards the first acts of the drama. One should not be able to predict the later from the former, because then there would be nothing new in the later and one might as well not have it at all. Yet when the former is viewed from the later perspective, the former leads to the later, anticipates it, and is perfected by it.

So somehow what is new is not contained in the old, but when one looks back at the old from the perspective of the new, the old seemed to desire the new all along. Like the Old and New Testament are, surely.

This is not an original thought, of course. And I admit it leaves something to be desired in terms of concrete suggestions.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Dicta, no. 10

Attempts to form statements that cannot be misunderstood result in statements that contain nothing to understand.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Reposted Comment from Orthosphere--Thoughts on Concreteness

Warning: Absurdly long comment to follow.

I have only a little experience with the meme that liberals are abstract while conservatives are concrete, because my time following other blogs is limited (I did glance at your post, Proph).

I do think it is important to point out a sense in which that is true.

I do not think conservatives are defined by loyalty to abstractions. We are defined by loyalty to God; by loyalty to family; by loyalty to specific things or places.

One can, immediately, point out that we are loyal to them beneath a particular abstract code of behavior--lets call it natural law, for simplicity's sake, but you can call it divine positive law if you prefer. We are committed to following this, and thus seem committed to a particular set of abstractions.

Well, yes. Liberals, also, are committed to a particular set of abstractions--personal self-determination, whatever. Whenever you do anything, you're more or less committed to a particular set of abstractions, because abstractions are the result of looking at a particular and drawing from it a universal code of behavior.

The thing is that the conservative abstractions return one inevitably to the individual, historical, situated things we encounter. This God. This country. Your wife. Your children. Your parents. One has a history as a conservative, and this history matters; you cannot shuck it off from moment to moment to moment. History matters, and can make you obliged to do things. And history is the representation of the concrete; that is why, for the universal-interested Aristotle, it was not a science.

For a liberal, though, abstractions do not return one to anything concrete. My self-determination remains, despite whatever came before me; indeed, my self-determination is exercised against wife, children, parents, country, and ultimately God. To be liberal is to think that I should not be defined by the history in which I find myself. The liberal can say, as someone or other said, that history is bunk.

I am defined by the story and narrative in which I find myself, if I am a conservative. You cannot give an abstract reason for why I am in this story; but it still matters. I'm stuck in it. So I am a character in a story.

For a liberal, I am defined not by the story in which I find myself, because I am the author of my story. My abstract reasons only reinforce my freedom from and height above the narrative. I am the author of a story.


Perhaps no one disagrees with me when I make this point. Everyone might know what I am saying. That's great, if that is so.

But I think that there is something incredibly important about concreteness, that we should keep in mind.

There is a theological narrative wherein, before Christianity, we find adherence to a particular universal code of behavior to be the way man finds "salvation," if you will. This narrative is only partly true, but it is partly true; the important thing for Aristotle is to act in accord with a somewhat abstract, universal code, even if this code is modified by particular circumstances.

But although a Christian _will_ act in accord with a universal code (the Decalogue, natural law), you are no longer saved by so adhering to it. You are saved by adhering to Christ. What matters ultimately is the particular. This is undoubtedly true theologically. According to the theological narrative, however, Christianity revealed through Christ the value of the particular. And this--literal--revelation is still coming to be understood. (Cf. Josef Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity . . . . somewhere in the book).


Finally, and in a separate point: at least according to some Thomists, metaphysics is in fact the most concrete of all the sciences--Aquinas says it proceeds by "separatio" than "abstractio," or something like that. I'm not ready to say exactly what this means, because a lot of scholars have written on it. But I would point out that metaphysics finds, as the chief intrinsic principle of being, something absolutely unique and uncommunicable (esse) and it finds, as the extrinsic principle of being, something absolutely unique, concrete, and uncommunicable (God).

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Canada's Secular Confessional State Continues

From LifeSiteNews: Homeschooling families can’t teach homosexual acts sinful in class says Alberta Government.

From the article:

"Under Alberta’s new Education Act, homeschoolers and faith-based schools will not be permitted to teach that homosexual acts are sinful as part of their academic program, says the spokesperson for Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk.

“Whatever the nature of schooling – homeschool, private school, Catholic school – we do not tolerate disrespect for differences,” Donna McColl, Lukaszuk’s assistant director of communications, told LifeSiteNews on Wednesday evening.

"You can affirm the family’s ideology in your family life, you just can’t do it as part of your educational study and instruction,” she added."

Not much more to say, really. Essentially, they say "Yes, you can teach that irrational religious stuff when you are not actually educating children, like you tell them about Santa Claus. But it cannot be taught, as if it were, you know, actually true."