Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Thoughts on the Violence in Gaza

Christopher Blosser, a contributor at The American Catholic, has a thoughtful post up regarding the renewed violence in Gaza. As usual, his analysis is not only lucid and compelling but amply documented. Highly recommended reading.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Simultaneity and Relativity

This morning I came across a blog post in which it was claimed that "time is a construct":
everything is happening simultaneously. Right now, I am writing at my computer. Right now, I am voting at my local school. Right now, Christ is dying on a cross. Right now, He is making a covenant and receiving a kiss. Right now, Napoleon is heading to Waterloo. Right now, George Washington is facing defeat for the umpteenth time. Right now, I am being needlessly cruel to someone. Right now I am being born. Right now I am 78 years old and grousing that my kids never visit me. Right now, Obama has won the election. Right now John McCain has won the election.
There is an interesting confusion here between the epistemological and the ontological (along with what looks like a conflation of relativity with certain string-theoretical interpretations of quantum mechanics). Relativity theory, famously, describes a universe in which the concept of simultaneity is in need of serious theoretical revision since, according to the theory, there is no such thing as a privileged vantage point from which to describe discrete events as having any meaningful temporal relations. It does not follow from this point about the relativity of frameworks, however, that time is in every sense a construct. Obviously certain elements of our subjective experience of time are constructed, but just as obviously there are certain temporal relations that are ontologically independent of any particular framework.

So, for example, if a man in Beijing sits down in a chair at 2:15 his time, and I sit down in a chair at 14:15 my time, there is no privileged vantage point from which it can be known with certainty that we sat down simultaneously. For the same reason there is no privileged vantage point from which one could say with certainty that he sat down before I did, or that I sat down before he did. On the other hand, there is no vantage point from which it would make any rational sense to say that we do not know with certainty that Julius Caesar died before I was born. You can carry this relativistic crap only just so far.

It is also worth remembering that relativity theory, though robustly consistent with observation, is like any other scientific theory: it is one interpretation of reality among many. Indeed, if it is to be counted as a scientific theory at all, it must be deemed falsifiable, which presupposes the possibility that it may prove to be, after all, an incorrect interpretation of reality. This, in turn, presupposes that there are such things as incorrect interpretations of reality, of course, but if we don't presuppose that then there seems little point in doing science at all other than for mere mental masturbation. Those who, in the 1970s and 1980s, sought to turn the sciences into more geeky versions of the humanities (which were still in the throes of critical theory at the time) might find it congenial to argue that there is no such thing as correct or incorrect when it comes to interpretations of the world, but such people need not be taken seriously in the lab. Or really anywhere else either.

That relativity theory may fail to interpret the world correctly is a possibility that is sometimes forgotten by undergraduates in some of my philosophy of science classes, who seem to take a kind of perverse delight in saying things like "There's no such thing as simultaneity" or "It doesn't make any sense to talk about events being simultaneous" (or temporally ordered, for that matter). Why they don't take the time to preface their remarks with some such caveat as "According to one physical theory..." is probably a reflection of the exuberance of youth, but its cuteness wears off after a while and it comes to seem like a sign of dogmatic adolescence more than anything else. Being impetuous may get you into the marriage of your dreams, I suppose, but it might also get you into the marriage of your nightmares.

The theological claim that "all times are eternally present to God" has a rather nice pedigree going back at least as far as St Augustine, but theological claims are a lot like scientific claims: they are open to falsification. This is an artifact of their being only analogies: some of them become enshrined as dogmata and we are required to give them intellectual assent, but that does not alter the fact that, come the eschaton, we may find that things are not precisely as we supposed them to be. To say that God is Three Persons with a single nature may very well be the best thing that can possibly be said by humans about God, but at best it only borders on what the truth actually is, because it is merely a proposition, not a reality. One trusts that it is the best representation of reality that humans are capable of given the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but it is a representation nonetheless: actually experiencing God in the eschaton will necessarily be different from merely thinking about him as a Trinity of Persons with a single nature.

There is an interesting review article by Stephen Barr in the most recent issue of First Things in which he assesses a collection of essays by Wolfhart Pannenberg called The Historicity of Nature: Essays on Science and Theology ("Theology After Newton", First Things 187 (November 2008), pp. 29-33) in which a very different theological interpretation of reality is proposed, one in which temporal relations are an essential feature of creation and God's presence in it. While Pannenberg is no Augustine his views are extremely interesting, and one is reminded that while there may be some sense in which it is meaningful to say that "all times are eternally present to God", it may not be all that salutary to take such speculation either too literally or too seriously.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Robert George on Obama's Extremism

Professor Robert P. George of Princeton University has written a brilliant essay in Public Discourse, an organ of The Witherspoon Institute, in which he assess the reasons why many Catholics who count themselves as pro-life nevertheless favor Barack Obama in the presidential election.

I picked up the reference to the essay from Dr. Michael Liccione, my co-conspirator over at Philosophia Perennis. I agree with him that the essay is both very good and very important, but, sadly, I must also agree with him when he writes to me: "too bad it probably won't matter". It certainly won't matter in the broader sense of having any effect on the outcome of the election, but it is certainly very sad that it also probably will have no effect on the thinking of those pseudo-Catholics who think that they can support such a man for the presidency in good conscience.

A friend of mine once remarked that he would probably support Obama in the election, not so much because of his policies, but because of the two candidates he seemed less likely to actually have any impact on anything important. In short, according to my friend, there are some ways in which Obama is the lesser of two evils. Given the impotency of the presidency in the face of an unruly Congress there may be some truth to this, but if one pairs up an Obama with a Congress controlled by the Democrats, one shudders to think of what may happen to the SCOTUS and, ultimately, the most innocent of human persons. The irony here, of course, is that supporters of Obama portray his position as one that defends liberty: the liberty of women to choose. The argument is sometimes made rather doctrinally, as though choice in and of itself were the only liberty at stake, but more reasonably the argument is sometimes made that an Obama administration would promote values, programs, and institutions that, in the end, will make the "need" for abortion diminish to the vanishing point.

As Robert George says in his essay, this point of view is delusional.

Monday, October 06, 2008

But Then We Already Knew That Tradition Means Nothing To Them

I have blogged several times about my fond memories of the Right Reverend Robert W. Duncan, the Episcopal bishop of Pittsburgh and the man responsible for bringing me into the Christian Church. Search on his name at this blog and you can read more about the time I spent with him when he was the campus minister at the Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Recently he has been involved in the movement to restore some semblance of orthodoxy to the Episcopal Church but, sadly, he and his orthodox ilk appear to be very much in the minority in that train wreck of a denomination. Last month he was removed from his position as bishop of Pittsburgh by the House of Bishops because he had been advocating a kind of secession from the Episcopal Church. It's interesting that Shelby Spong, who, as far as I am concerned, does not count even as a Christian let alone as a bishop of the Church, was never even reprimanded for his heresies, and yet Bob Duncan is removed from office for advocating a return to orthodoxy. He is the one who gets blamed for schism rather than those who are really responsible for tearing the Episcopal church away from the Sacred Tradition of Christianity. I continue to think that I dodged a bullet when I left that church 25 years ago.

Speaking of traditions, a story in the New York Times mentions that the Diocese of Pittsburgh has voted to secede in spite of the removal of their bishop, and this has given rise to the predictable squabbles over who owns the millions of dollars worth of property belonging to the diocese. Strangely, the PECUSA is claiming that it should belong not to the diocese, but to the national church. I say that this is strange, but really it isn't. It's strange in one sense, because when Henry VIII split from Rome, effectively bringing the Church of England into autonomous existence, he took all the church's property with him, even going so far as to confiscate properties that had been held by religious orders for centuries. So when a diocese within the PECUSA decides to do exactly the same thing--leave the larger church and take the property too--it is strange that the larger church should object, since without that kind of maneuver the larger church itself wouldn't even exist. On the other hand, there is a sense in which it isn't strange at all, since to allow the diocese to seize the property would be to bow to a kind of old-fashioned Anglican tradition, and if anything is clear in that muddle-headed denomination it's that old-fashioned traditions, like the Sacrament of Matrimony, are always up for grabs and redefinitions. So maybe this is a new-fashioned tradition in the PECUSA: do whatever you want, just so long as you act unilaterally in upending some old-fashioned tradition. The diocese of Pittsburgh acted unilaterally, but it was in defense of an old-fashioned tradition, and that is worse than heresy as far as the PECUSA is concerned.

This is the sort of thing that's bound to happen when your ecclesiology has no sound intellectual tradition to begin with. It's always been a mystery to me why Bob Duncan never converted to Rome--in spite of the thoroughgoing influence he had on me there are many ways in which his thinking has always been somewhat opaque to me. Generally speaking the explanation lies no further than my own density. He is a deeply spiritual and profoundly intelligent person, so I have always assumed that whatever his reasons are for doing the things he does, they are in all probability far better reasons than I have ever had for doing anything. One can, at most, pray that God's will be done in all things, and hope that one is able to discern it when it happens.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Dear Leader

Even though Leni Riefenstahl is no longer with us, it's comforting to know that, should the United States ever be taken over by the Chinese or the North Koreans, we've already got a head start in the propaganda department:

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Jerks (Knee Variety)

Once, when I was living in North Carolina, I called the office of then-senator Jesse Helms to make a suggestion. I began my conversation with the woman who answered the phone by explaining that I had supported Mr. Helms in the previous two elections, and that in general I liked his politics. She was very friendly with me throughout much of this conversation, and we got along famously for a while. My purpose in calling, I explained, was to make a suggestion regarding the way Mr. Helms approached the question of homosexuality. He was never one to pull punches, and he always said pretty much exactly what he thought, which is a remarkable thing for a politician--to say what one thinks is true regardless of how the statement will be received. I knew some gay folks who were also conservative, and it occurred to me that they might well support Mr. Helms if he just didn't talk about homosexuality so much. It seemed to me he had a choice: he could say the things he always said about gays, and get none of their votes, or he could change his rhetoric a little--not in such a way as to hide his beliefs, mind you, just enough to make his beliefs a little more palatable in some way to a broader audience--and perhaps gain the votes of a few of them.

There was a deafening silence on the other end of the line. "I'll pass your message along to Mr. Helms", the woman said, and she hung up on me. So much for my attempt at Machiavellian manipulation. I'm just an amateur, after all, and I didn't really expect to be taken all that seriously--I just thought I'd give it a try. Because I did, in fact, know quite a few gay conservatives who didn't like Jesse Helms and wouldn't vote for him, even though they wouldn't vote for his opponents either.

I was reminded of all this today because I got an email from Townhall.com letting me know about a new political ad they are pushing. The ad reveals how Barack Obama has sunk to a new low, mocking the Bible and Christian belief. Now this I had to see, so I clicked on the link, and was taken to a YouTube video showing Obama giving a talk in what looks like a Church (though it could be just some large lecture hall with marble columns--hard to tell the difference in some cases). I watched the video all the way through and it became evident to me almost immediately that Obama was mocking neither the Bible nor Christian belief, and that you would have to be pretty much a complete idiot or else on the prowl to catch him out even to imagine that he was doing such things, let alone make an entire political ad to that effect.

Now, I don't have to prove my conservative or Christian credentials to anybody. I am not a fan of Barack Obama or enamored of his oratorical skills, such as they are. His political ideas only stir my heart in the sense that they leave me torn between laughing at how ludicrous they are and crying about how many suckers are being taken in by them. In short, he's not fooling me for a second, and I'm not out to defend him. But it strikes me as insulting to the intelligence to be told that this talk of his, which is essentially about how the Bible is open to interpretation and it is unfair for one side or another to try to lay claim to it in a political context, amounts to ridicule of the Bible or Christian belief. Sure, it's ridicule of some kind, all right, but it's ridicule of the sort of people who read the Bible and their own Christian faith in a narrow, bigoted, and irrational way. It may be the one thing that he is right about--these people deserve ridicule.

Who are the people who think he's ridiculing the Bible itself or Christian faith? The people who made the ad? Surely these folks are too intelligent to think he's really doing what they are saying he's doing. Or are they? I once had a conversation with Lynne Cheney, of all people, back when she was the chairman of the NEH, in which I asked her some questions about the direction of humanities education in America, and I got some incredibly bone-headed political answers in response. Now, she's an educated person, but it was as if she had been programmed only to answer in political jargonics--no thinking on one's feet permitted in certain kinds of contexts, it seems, even if what one happens to be is a professional thinker. So maybe the folks who made the ad really think it's true. If so, they are morons. If not, they are liars. Neither alternative inspires confidence.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Philosophia Perennis

Dr. Michael Liccione of Sacramentum Vitae has launched a new group blog, called Philosophia Perennis, to host the writings of a number of Catholic philosophers who have been around the blogosphere for a while. I find myself among those invited to contribute to this new effort, and I will do so happily--if everyone invited actually takes part, the enterprise promises to be an exciting addition to the Catholic blogosphere.

The Flynn Effect

I've just finished teaching for the summer. That gives me roughly ten days off to get ready for the fall term. Not much of a summer break, I'll grant you, but I needed the money. The good news is that the class I just finished teaching, Introduction to the Philosophy of Science, is one of the classes I will be teaching this fall, so I'm well prepared, at least for that class. I will also be teaching a graduate seminar on the philosophy of biology, and that one will take considerably more work. For one thing, that class is more likely to have some real scientists in it, and my experience has been that real scientists don't always take philosophy all that seriously, especially when it tries to say something about the particular domain of science in which they work. There is often a fair amount of persuasion that goes into greasing the wheels of the naturalist program these days.

The problem is rather different when I teach courses in the history of philosophy. These classes have no prerequisites, so they tend to have a fair number of freshmen and sophomores in them. I am more than happy to have such students in my classes, of course, but I've noticed something about them that is rather striking. Some of them have a tendency to challenge every argument from every philosopher they encounter. In itself it is not a bad idea to be skeptical about philosophical arguments, so it's not the fact that they are willing to raise such challenges that I find striking. Indeed, it would be more worrisome if they said nothing at all but rather just passively absorbed whatever they happened to come across. What is striking is that the challenges tend to be vociferous, dogmatic, and unrelenting. Some students appear to think that challenging a philosophical argument really amounts to nothing more than having a different point of view of one's own and then stating it. With conviction. When this attitude is combined with what appears to be a certain disdain for the arguments of the philosopher being challenged, one cannot help but get the feeling that intellectual laziness is on the rise.

Now, I'll grant you that such philosophers as Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hume, Wittgenstein, and Quine have all mounted arguments in favor of propositions with which it is tempting to disagree. Is it really the case, however, that Aristotle's views about, say, final causation, or Kant's categorical schema, or Quine's denial of the distinction between the analytic and the synthetic, are nothing more than the mere guesswork of complete morons? Because that's how some of my students treat such ideas when presenting their own. It's as if the 2300 years that have elapsed between Aristotle's time and our own was merely preparatory for the present generation: nobody noticed, until now, what a dork Aristotle was, and we finally have the definitive refutation of all of his views. The only problem left worth solving is the question why we even bother to teach the ideas of these benighted bozos at all any more. I taught a class a few years ago in which we read Plato's Gorgias as an introduction to certain elements of moral theory. One day we were discussing the argument, made by Socrates in the first half of the text, to the effect that every wrongdoer actually harms himself when he does wrong. I asked whether the argument was valid, and there was a moment's silence. I waited them out. Finally one guy in the back of the class said, "I think it's stupid." Well, it's a start, I thought to myself, but I tried to draw him out. "What part of the argument do you have in mind? Where do you think it goes wrong?" He just stared blankly at me. "Can you pinpoint any specific statement by Socrates that you think is the key here to the argument's failure?" He picked up the whole book and said "I don't know, I just think this whole thing is stupid." I still didn't get it. I asked "You mean you think the argument is no good?" He said, "No, the whole thing is stupid." It appears that he meant the entire text of the Gorgias. One of the greatest works of philosophical literature in the Western Canon, but this guy, an undergraduate at Ohio University, had decided that it failed to amount to anything at all worth reading. I should have asked him for a list of works that he thought would be better candidates for taking up his time in study, but I was a little worried that he might not be that much of a reader to begin with. We moved on.

I was reminded of this little exchange today as I read, with considerable morbid fascination, the exchange at a blog called Parchment and Pen between an author of one of the essays there and Dr. Michael Liccione of Sacramentum Vitae and Fr. Alvin Kimel, formerly of Pontifications. Mike and Fr. Al got drawn into the conversation because the topic of the essay was whether "Catholics deny Chalcedon in their view of the Mass." The author of the essay, C. Michael Patton, admits early on that "it may be that I am misunderstanding things (this would not be a first)." He goes on to document what he takes to be the impossibility of reconciling the notion of transubstantiation with the teachings of Chalcedon. It is a very interesting essay, and I certainly recommend reading it. What fascinates me about the exchange, however, is not so much the argument of the essay (which, in the end, fails for precisely the reason its own author had, with such admirable modesty, anticipated), but rather the exchanges in the combox between the author and Mike and Fr. Al. Mike, in particular, completed the Herculean task of making some sense out of the issues involved, and Fr. Al did an admirable job of clarifying what the Church actually has to say about these issues and noted, not unfairly, I think, that the Council of Chalcedon itself accepted the basic metaphysics of transubstantiation. Needless to say, none of this had any effect on those readers of the essay who, for various reasons, appeared to be predisposed to accept the Calvinist, rather than the Catholic, interpretation of things.

Now, just possibly it is the case that a 35 year old blogger from Norman, Oklahoma, has stumbled upon something that generations of philosophers and theologians have missed. Things like that may be very rare, but of course they are not literally impossible. But I couldn't help agreeing with Mike, when he closed his first comment with these words:
As a regular Catholic blogger, I often find myself confronted with arguments that the body of Catholic dogma is inconsistent with itself in this-or-that respect. Since I don’t want to invite more such arguments, I shall not now cite any examples other than yours. I mention my experience only so as to cite the lesson I’ve learned from it: invariably, I find that the critic has simply misunderstood at least one of the doctrines in question. In isolated cases, that would not be at all strange. What I do find strange is the apparent frequency of the belief that the Catholic Church, despite her nearly two thousand years of teaching, dogmatizing, and theological reflection, somehow keeps missing the rather elementary points of logic that would expose her doctrinal inconsistency. I would gently urge you to be very careful before you adopt a stance which entails something so unlikely.
You would think that this kind of advice, coming as it does from a professional theologian with advanced degrees and considerable academic experience, would have some effect. The effect it had, however, was not unlike the effect that Plato's Gorgias had on my student of yesteryear. C. Michael Patton was much more polite, and exhibited admirable Christian charity, but what he said was ultimately the same in substance as my former student's assessment of Plato's argument.

There's not much that can be done about that kind of thing, in my opinion. Mike is a Catholic, and C. Michael Patton is a Protestant, who claims that John Calvin is the greatest theologian in the last 2000 years: the guys are like antiparticles of each other, and it's probably best if we just keep them apart so they don't annihilate one another.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Sin of Believing in Sin

From the looks of things, Nancy Pelosi thinks that matters of religious doctrine are simply a matter of choosing sides. In particular, it looks as though she thinks that it is a matter of choosing the side that happens to agree with what you already think. When it was pointed out to her that the Catholic Church has always held abortion, from the moment of conception, to be gravely wrong, she was forced to admit as much but went on to say "many Catholics do not ascribe to that view" (I think she meant "subscribe", but whatever). She went on to say that she is happy to stick with Augustine, who held that the embryo is not ensouled at conception. She apparently takes this to mean that abortion prior to ensoulment is OK, even though Augustine himself would disagree with her: he thought it gravely wrong from the moment of conception, soul or no soul. But if you're a Catholic of the Nancy Pelosi stripe, it doesn't matter if the source of your beliefs doesn't go with you all the way: you just pick and choose those elements that are to your liking. In short, she, and those who think like her, is not using Augustine, or the Church, as a source of authoritative teachings, but rather as backup for her own antecedently endorsed political opinions. Augustine agrees with me here--so he and I are both right on that; but Augustine disagrees with me there, so I'm right and he's wrong on that one. It's all very convenient.

The claim that "many Catholics do not [subscribe] to that view" comes as no surprise from this sort of Catholic. There's safety in numbers, after all. On this sort of a view, there is really no such thing as sin, other than going ahead and doing something that you, yourself, already think is sinful. On the Pelosi view, if she happens to think that something is OK, then it is OK, whether or not the Church happens to agree with her. It is much better, of course, if she can point to "many Catholics" who agree with her against the Church, but there is no reason in principle that she would even need to have any others on her side. After all, the "many Catholics" that she has in mind are really just a minority of Catholics in Western Europe and North America; the majority of Catholics in those areas, and the majority of Catholics worldwide, happen to agree with the Church. So it's not even a matter of democratic judgment on her part, she's just playing oratorical games: I have lots of people on my side, so who cares what the Church, or even Senator Augustine, have to say on the matter.

Indeed, when other Catholics attempt to engage in a little fraternal correction with the Pelosi types, they are told in no uncertain terms that they are the ones who are being bad Catholics, because they are "judging" the people that they disagree with and are not showing Our Lord's "compassion" and "acceptance" of "the Other". It's a rather startling inversion, really: those who remain faithful to the Church's teaching are now the ones who are least Catholic, while those who question all the "outmoded" dogmas are the ones who are on the cutting edge, helping to build the Church of the future. On this sort of a view, of course, there is no teaching of the Church that is not at risk. These people may decide that God is not really a Trinity, or that Christ did not really rise from the dead, or that the Holy Spirit is really just a sort of nice feeling in one's gut. Indeed, many people appear already to have formed such banal views.

It might be time for folks like Pelosi to cut their losses: just admit that they're lousy Catholics. Why do they want to insist on this anyway? Is it supposed to attract Catholic voters to have people think that they're Catholic? That's not going to work very well when the Church itself is standing robustly against you, unless they're counting on that good old American notion of Questioning Authority. Well, if the Church says I should accept some view, then by golly I'm not going to accept it! I'm sick and tired of being hassled by the Man! Off the establishment! The "thinking man's" Catholic politician, maybe. Hey, I'm hip, I think for myself--hell, I even think for Senator Augustine, because he was way off when he said that unensouled fetuses deserve protection in the womb.

To be fair--if that is the right word--to folks like Pelosi, I think that there is at least one non-cynical way to interpret what she is doing. It is true, after all, that theologians like Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Bonaventure, or whoever, discuss matters like ensoulment all the time, and among the theologoumena one encounters in their writings are, of course, the many ramifications of adopting one point of view rather than another. To the unskilled reader, this obvious empirical fact about theological writings can give the impression that the Church herself has not settled upon any definitive answers to certain kinds of questions. The impression is mistaken most of the time, however, as here in the case of abortion. Does thinking that the Church has no definitive teaching when, in fact, she does, alter one's culpability in rejecting Church teaching? This is an interesting question, one that Dr. Michael Liccione has commented on at some length at Sacramentum Vitae. The principle of charity, perhaps, suggests that we ought to go easy on folks like Pelosi, but as Mike has argued with considerable persuasiveness, many of the folks who adopt positions like Pelosi's are people who ought to know better.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Intra Ecclesiam Gradibus

With his usual clarity and persuasiveness, Dr. Michael Liccione has posted an excellent essay at Sacramentum Vitae on the difference between saying that "there is no salvation outside the Church" and saying that "Communion with the Church comes in degrees". The heart of the lesson can be found here:
it is one thing to say that there's no salvation outside the Church; it's another to say what being inside the Church can consist in. The former claim remains the teaching of the Church, now expressed by [Lumen Gentium]'s formulation that she is "necessary for salvation." But the latter claim is that being in the Church, or at least being related to her in a salvific way, is often a matter of degree. That is a real development of insight into the fixed content of the deposit of faith.
Mike's analysis is not a mere Scholastic exercise, however, for he posted it within the broader context of the problem of Catholics "in the public sphere" who, in one way or another, manage to fall far short of the Catholic ideal in terms of integrating their faith into their daily lives, or at least into the public portion of their daily lives.

As I mentioned in a post yesterday, we live in a day and age--and, more importantly, a civil society--in which "every opinion is sacred", and this is taken by many to include religious opinions. Americans are, by and large, Protestant in their leanings, even many Catholic Americans, who make up the plurality of Christians in this country. I suspect that this is due to the Enlightenment principles underlying many of our so-called "civic virtues". In particular, individual autonomy was taken to be the foundation of human liberty by many of the Protestant-leaning Enlightenment thinkers who wrote the founding documents of our polis. As a result, there is a temptation among many Americans to think that, even in the sphere of religious belief, it is sufficient that I am sincere in my religious beliefs in order for me to think that I, and I alone, speak with any authority about what is "true for me" in the domain of religion. Not many years ago there was a rather well-known Catholic politician in California who was told that he might be barred by his Bishop from receiving Communion if he persisted in his erroneous views about abortion. His response was that the Bishop needed to understand that it's not up to him to determine what is true for other people in their religion. The response was absolutely classic: total ignorance of what the Catholic religion is combined with a resolutely American approach to the epistemic status of religious beliefs. I still laugh when I think about it.

Laughter, however, is not how everyone greets such pompous banality. Some want to punish such politicians at the Communion rail (if only there were still such things in most churches). As Mike rightly points out, however, that is not always warranted:
Catholic politicians who support laws giving wide scope to the practice of abortion are doing grave wrong. But it does not necessarily follow that they are guilty of that sin, so that they profane the Eucharist if and when they receive it. That follows only when (a) they are aware of how the teaching of the Church applies in this case, or (b) if they are unaware, they are culpable for being unaware. And the same holds for Catholics in general about any sort of serious sin, especially that of heresy. This is where the problem of pro-abort Catholic pols really arises from.
The problem is rather widespread, as Mike also notes. After all, it's not just the politicians who flout Church teaching. We've reached a point in time when it is not unwarranted to have grave doubts about whether the person standing next to you in the pew on a Sunday morning even believes in what the Mass is. On the one hand, some folks are not well-enough educated to understand what it is; on the other hand, other folks are too well-educated to believe in what it is. The failure on both counts, I think, lies with catechists, but that is a topic for another day. The practical side of the question is more vexing:
In most cases, bishops and priests presume that people are not culpable for their infidelity to Church teaching. They presume either that people are approaching the Eucharist in good conscience or that it is not the role of pastors to judge the consciences of communicants when they march up to receive. And in the case of many ordinary Catholics, that presumption is correct. The depth of ignorance and deception among ordinary Catholics, which reached new lows in the decade or so after Vatican II, remains so great in many instances that such Catholics cannot be presumed culpable when, out of habit and sentiment, they receive the Eucharist. And so, even when such a Catholic is objectively culpable for not being in full communion with the Church, the appearance of full communion on their part is generally kept up.
I live in a university community, so when I find myself wondering what the person standing next to me believes, I often feel as though the odds are in favor of the bet that the person ought to know better than to believe something heterodox. Granted, it's not always a sure thing, but I think it is certainly a safe bet. Not too long ago I was discussing these issues with some colleagues from the university who also happen to attend my church. One of them is a full professor of psychology and a life-long Catholic. As we talked, it started to dawn on me that he did not, in fact, believe many of the things the Church teaches, and I don't just mean those iffy "I-want-to-have-safe-sex-whenever-and-with-whomever-I-please" kinds of teachings, but the teachings about God, the Christ, and Everything. So I finally popped the sixty-four thousand dollar ontological question: What about the Creed? Don't you recite the Creed at Mass and, if so, how do you feel about saying that you believe these things when you don't? His answer struck me as so inane that I remember it virtually verbatim: "Oh, I think you do certain things socially like that and it doesn't really mean that you take them literally." In short, the recitation of the Creed at Mass is, like everything else one says at Mass, apparently, just a kind of stage play. This was not some hick from out in the county--those people often take their religion a lot more seriously. This was a well-educated person who ought to have known better. What are we to do with such people?
One cannot just pick out, and pick on, the ordinary Catholics who are implicated in this mess. Most of them are not morally responsible for it, nor is it their role to clean it up. But one can and ought to pick out and pick on erring Catholics who have the education to know and understand what the Church teaches as well as the power to affect a great many lives by their actions. I mean, of course, the Nancy Pelosis and the Joe Bidens. Archbishop Chaput has had some especially trenchant things to say about such people. If they have excuses, they shouldn't be left with them. Too much is at stake.
Mike is surely right in all this. I'm not at all sure what the best way is to begin to restore some semblance of order to Catholic catechesis, but it does seem to me that consistency is better than cafeterianism. At the very least it will help to impose a measure of humility on certain persons who privilege themselves and their own religious sentiments above the Ancient Faith.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Like Maybe We Should Change the Subject

I've been more than a little intrigued by Nancy Pelosi's recent gaffe on NBC's Meet the Press, where she averred as to how the Church's teaching on abortion has only been around "like maybe 50 years" (see the story at Amy Welborn's site, or at the Catholic League website). The difficulty, of course, lies partly in her inability to distinguish theologoumena from dogmata, that is, theological speculation from authoritative teaching. As Pelosi rightly noted, theologians have pondered various questions about human life for a very long time. St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, held the view that there is a moment in time, called "quickening" in non-technical contexts, at which a human body is "ensouled", and in some of his writings he speculates that this moment may be at some point in time after conception. His statements in this regard were not intended to be interpreted as arguments against the Church's definitive teaching against all forms of procured abortion, but try telling this to the desperate Democratic Catholic who wants to feel better about receiving Holy Communion on Sunday.

In Pelosi's remarks we see what we always see with politicians: an attempt to spin a story in such a way as to make their own views seem more reasonable, more pertinent, and more acceptable to a broader range of the public than the views of their opponents. Rhetorically it is a very good move, but from the point of view of, well, what's right (if such folks believe that there is such a thing), it leaves much to be desired. More interestingly, her remarks show the mark of the American Zeitgeist, which may perhaps be stated rather simply as "Every opinion is sacred." This is a democracy, after all, and in particular it is a democracy in which we treasure the freedom to express our opinions publicly. (If you think that this freedom is overrated here, try living in Canada for a few days.) Some folks--Pelosi, apparently, among them--appear to think that because everyone is entitled to their opinion every opinion is deserving of some entitlement. Or, to put it another way, Pelosi, like so many other moral slobs these days, confuses the rather obvious empirical fact that people disagree about things with the utterly false ontological claim that the things about which people disagree have no definitive answers. In her view, the question of "when human life begins" is unsettled. Why does she regard it as unsettled? The only reason that she herself can give for thinking the matter is unsettled is the fact that theologians have disputed it over time. Does that mean that it is really unsettled? If I ask a room full of students in a math class what the square root of 17 is, may I regard that question as unsettled if they each give me a slightly different answer? I suppose it is settled that the students don't know what the answer is, but if one of them were to produce a calculator and key in the relevant input, it seems as though the question would come a lot closer to being settled.

In the Catholic Church we have something that is analogous to a calculator in a math class, namely, the Magisterium. Theologians can discuss and dispute all they like, but definitive teachings cannot be changed. Pelosi, like many others, seems to be either unaware of this or, if she has heard of it, simply does not believe it. I have actually known Roman Catholic priests who have denied it, so it comes as no surprise to me that a Sunday-go-to-meetin' Catholic like Pelosi would deny it, or even be totally ignorant of it. I don't really even want to blame her for not knowing better: I think the lousy state of Catholic catachesis in this country is probably to blame. The good news in this regard is that Bill Donohue has sent Pelosi a copy of Catholicism for Dummies; the bad news is she probably won't read it--people like her think that they already know everything that a dummy needs to know.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

And With Thy Spirit

As I reflect a little more on my previous post (the one with the video of the Cirque de Sottise) I find myself wondering whether the time has come for folks such as myself, folks who find most contemporary liturgical settings banal and vapid, to recognize the need for what might be called a "Sacred Tongue" or, at the very least, a "Liturgical Dialect". This is not unheard of in religions: the Jews still make use of classical Hebrew in certain settings, as the Muslims do of classical Arabic. Until very recently Western Christians still had their Latin, and the Orthodox--some of them, anyway--still make use of something not very unlike koinê Greek. The Western Church, famously, tossed off its Sacred Tongue into the dustbin of history in favor of viewer participation or contemporary relevance or something along those lines, and while this makeover of the Mass into the language of the people may have been merely the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, in matters of banalification, it at least has the very salutary feature of being rather easily remedied, at least when compared with such things as getting congregations to use their beautiful, large, fixed altars again (if they haven't torn them out entirely) with the priest standing ad orientem, or making other, comparable, improvements to Things Liturgical.

The Episcopal church--and some other denominations as well--have gone through similar growth pangs even though the liturgical language was always vernacular. When the 1979 Book of Common Prayer was approved for use in churches it replaced the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, which was written in a kind of faux-Elizabethan English that was very popular in some circles. In fact, it was so popular that as late as 1983 there were still parishes that would set aside a service here or there in which the 1928 Book would be used to mollify those persons who continued to be whatever it is you call the Episcopalian version of a Lefebvrist. Now that the Episcopal church is coming apart at the seams, it is a rather easy matter for whole congregations to put the 1979 Book aside and take up such wonderful liturgical resources as the Anglican Missal and the Anglican Breviary, both publications of the Frank Gavin Liturgical Foundation (the Breviary can also be used by Catholics, since it is just an English translation of the secular Latin breviary in use in 1955--see the website, here).

Is there a problem with using liturgical texts written in this strange dialect that, like Homeric Greek or Renaissance Latin, was arguably never really a vernacular language? There are bits and pieces that are taken straight from Cranmer and other original sources, but even those texts are as often as not written in a style considerably more formal than what would have been spoken by most people of the time. The attraction of these texts lies not in their historical accuracy but in their poetic beauty. Whether they are faux or original, they read beautifully, and they make prayer into an aesthetic expression of our deepest longings. Prayer, by its very nature, is always a linguistic expression of one sort or another; to make it into an aesthetic expression is not to deny that or try to escape from the inevitable propositionality of prayer. It is, rather, to add another dimension to the expression, to make possible forms of representation that go beyond the merely verbal and propositional. In this sense, resources such as those provided by the Frank Gavin Liturgical Foundation provide a real service to the Christian believer.

There are some who find this sort of thing objectionable even while lamenting the use of the more popular forms of the vernacular. In the middle of the last century, for example, a new translation of the Psalms into Latin was undertaken by the Pontifical Biblical Commission under Cardinal Bea (sometimes called the Versio Piana since it was approved by Pope Pius XII of happy memory). This new translation was intended to be in a more high-falutin' style than the so-called "vulgate" version, following the stylistic principles of the Renaissance humanists instead of the more proletarian principles of Jerome and his followers. The new version was printed in many breviaries and is, indeed, very beautiful, but it was never as popular as the old Latin versions and it never really caught on, even among the sorts of people we would today call "traditionalists". It is ironic, I suppose, in a way, since what these people deplore about the English translations that have been foisted upon us by the ICEL is manifest also in the old Latin Psalter, but the operative word for some of these folks appears to be "old" rather than "Latin". In this particular case, the "newer" Latin of the Bea Psalter reads more like the Elizabethan English of the Anglican Breviary, while the "older" Latin sounds, if anything, like the sort of prose one finds in the National Enquirer (there is an interesting, if negative, review of the Bea Psalter reprinted here).

I have often blogged on matters of translation, including the very popular Shibboleth of "literalness" (this post is just one among many). Translations do not need to be literal in order to be translations, even good ones, but I find it to be a very safe generalization to say that, the closer a particular English translation is to the Latin of our liturgical texts (in terms of literalness) the more likely it is that the translation is going to sound more like a prayer and less like a whine. But one difficulty with any translation is that it will fail, by its very nature, to capture those elements of the original that are unique to the modes of expression employed in the original tongue. Just by way of example, let's have a look at the petitions from Vespers II of last Friday's HDO. The petitions begin with general invocation:
Deum patrem omnipotentem magnis laudibus extollamus, qui Mariam matrem Filii sui ab omnibus generationibus celebrari voluit, et ab eo supplices petamus: Plenam gratia intuere, et exaudi nos.
This is translated by the ICEL in the following way:
Let us praise God our almighty Father, who wished that Mary, his Son's mother, be celebrated by each generation. Now in need we ask: Mary, full of grace, intercede for us.
As translations go, that one isn't so very bad; as ICEL translations go, it is remarkably lucid and to the point. It's not completely literal (note, for example, that the final phrase has the name "Mary" where the original does not; the original has "intuere" while the translation does not, etc.), but it does far better than many of the scraps we have served up to us on a Sunday at Mass. More to the point, however, is the fact that the Latin prayer is remarkably well-crafted, while the English translation is almost literally limping along to keep up without screwing up. Just for starters, there's no way you can capture, in English, the deep resonances of the Latin phrase "Deum Patrem omnipotentem" while at the same time managing anything like literalness. The English phrase "God our almighty Father" is as literal--and as banal--as it gets (except for the "our" part). The trouble here is not one of failing to be literal, but of a more general failure of English to sound as good as Latin. To assert such a thing, however, is manifestly to assert an aesthetic preference. Lots of people do not share the view that Latin, at least in this instance, sounds better than English. De gustibus non disputandum est, I suppose, but those people are just wrong.

There are a couple of features of the Latin original that are not captured by the English translation, literal though it is to some degree, and these features add to the dignitas and maiestas of the prayer. I have in mind here the fact that the Latin original uses two hortatory subjunctives where the English uses only one, and the Latin original makes use of some rather nice features of the Latin language that have no real parallels in English. For example, notice how Mariam matrem Filii sui, "Mary, the Mother of his Son", precedes the expression ab omnibus generationibus, "by all generations". Because word order is not as strictly governed in Latin as it is in English by rules of syntax, it is possible to put these words into just about any order one might wish; in the present case, the solemnity of the prayer is enhanced by the fact that God's Son, indicated by the word Filii, stands between his Mother Mary (Mariam matrem) and all of the rest of us (omnibus generationibus). Imagine, if you will, a triangle, with Christ at the pinnacle, Mary at one corner, and the rest of us at the other corner. Mary stands as an exemplar for the rest of us, the Mother not only of God but of the Church, the meaning of both roles mediated for us by our experience of the Christ.She is not above us, but rather at the same level; nor does she stand between us and our Savior; but still she is distinct from us--like us insofar as she is at the same level, but unlike us in her sinlessness and special graces. The Latin here is not unusual, or high-blown, or forced--this is pretty much just how one would say, in Latin, what the prayer wants to say. But in saying what it wants to say in a perfectly ordinary way, it manages to say much more than the English could ever say if the English were expressed in a purely colloquial form. Before moving on to the next petition, I will also point out how the Latin original here concludes by invoking Mary's assistance in prayer through one of her most memorable--and pertinent, in the present context--titles, Full of Grace, rather than by her name. This would be possible, but rather unnatural, in English. In Latin it seems as natural as daylight.

The next petition builds the oratorical gravitas:
Deus, mirabilium patrator, qui immaculatam Virginem Mariam corpore et anima caelestis gloriae Christi fecisti consortem, filiorum tuorum corda ad eandem gloriam dirige.
The ICEL gives us:
O God, worker of miracles, you made the immaculate Virgin Mary share, body and soul, in your Son's glory in heaven, direct the hearts of your children to that same glory.
Here, "worker of miracles" seems a little tepid next to mirabilium patrator, though it is certainly better than some alternatives one could imagine, such as "miracle worker". The word patrator has deep religious resonance in Latin, though most of its associations in that language are to pagan rites, so perhaps one ought not to make too much of that whole thing. More to the point is the possible contrast between "worker" and "accomplisher", the latter being far closer to the meaning of the Latin. Someone who "works" miracles may not differ much from someone who "accomplishes" them or "effects" them or "brings them about", but the verb patrare may have some connection to the notion of paternal power to effect creation and, as such, seems far more redolent of God's power than the suggestion that he is just some sort of magician. And why on earth would someone translate caelestis gloriae Christi as "your Son's glory in heaven" rather than as "Christ's celestial glory"? I mean, the mind boggles. It's as if they went out of their way to sound trivial rather than grand.

I'll just do one more and call it a dies.
Qui Mariam dedisti nobis matrem, ipsa intercedente, concede medelam languidis, solamen maerentibus, veniam peccatoribus, et omnibus salutem et pacem.
Which the ICEL turns into
You made Mary our mother. Through her intercession grant strength to the weak, comfort to the sorrowing, pardon to sinners, salvation and peace to all.
Here, I'm afraid, the ICEL has really dropped the ball. "You made Mary our mother"? Are you kidding? One doesn't know whether to laugh or to cry, but it's a safe bet that neither is the emotion that was being aimed at. It's bad enough that they take what in the original is the introduction to the petition and turn it into an independent sentence with little, if any, obvious connection to what follows, but to turn dedisti into "made" is a slap in the face. God gave us a great gift in Mary, a woman who surpasses all mankind in grace and honor. The English would have us hear "Hey, did you know that God made Mary? Well, he did, and she's like a mother to us now. Let's ask her to pray for us." The Latin, by contrast, praises God's loving kindness to us while asking him to listen to our prayers through Mary, his greatest manifestation of that loving kindness short of his own Son. As she has served for us as a strengthener to the weak, a solace to those who mourn, etc., we ask that God grant these same things at our hands to those who stand in need of them. Mary is our mother, after all, and we learn at her knee; the graces that we receive from God through her intercession we are to take into the great family of the Church and thence to all. Here again word order elevates the style of the prayer. Note how the Latin ends omnibus salutem et pacem, so that the prayer as a whole is framed by Qui...dedisti at the beginning and salutem et pacem at the end: may the one who gave us Mary for a mother also give us salvation and peace, through her intercession. It is, of course, perfectly possible to translate et omnibus salutem et pacem not as "salvation and peace to all" but as "and to all, salvation and peace"--it just depends on how important you think what you're saying is.

That's probably enough kvetching for one day; I will resist the temptation to compare the ugly ICEL prayers with the beautiful ones in my Anglican Breviary. That will make for a nice future bit of kvetching.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Curb Your Enthusiasm

This evening I just happened to check in at one of my favorite blogs, Fr. Jeffrey Steel's De Cura Animarum, only to find myself wondering whether it might be possible to both laugh and puke at the same time. Check out this video of the "Liturgy of the Word" segment of something calling itself a "Catholic Mass" in California:



One finds oneself at a loss for words, which is OK in this case since the only words that fit the occasion can't be printed in a family blog. On the other hand, since the thing evidently makes no sense at all, it actually stands as a pretty good argument for bringing back Latin to the liturgy: as long as we no longer care whether anyone can follow what's going on, why not bring back Gregorian Chant?

Saturday, August 02, 2008

The First Covenant

On Saturdays I like to go to Confession. Not because I have a plethora of grievous sins to own up to each week, mind you, though I certainly have my share. Even if I had none, I would still go so as to make some reparation, however insignificant in comparison with Christ's, for the little ways in which I have failed to live up to my calling to be an image of God in the order of creation. It is a fine preparation for Communion and, if you live in a parish like mine, there's never any waiting because academics are far and away too pompous to admit that they've done anything wrong, being far more interested in pointing out the faults of others. Sometimes, when I'm finished, the priest will try to chat me up, knowing full well that once I leave he'll be sitting in lonely isolation until time for the vigil Mass.

Saturday has become one of my favorite days of the week. I like it that I can humble myself before the Lord in the Sacrament of Confession, making right my wayard path. I like it that I can pray an Office in honor of Our Lady during Ordinary Time when there is no competing memorial. I like it that I can be with my family in a special way, a way that continues through Sunday and that reminds me that simply to live, to move, and to have any being at all is a blessing beyond reckoning.

Today was a particularly beautiful Saturday, too, and that can help. I was up before dawn, at about 5:45, to pray the Office and read the Martyrology. By 7:00 I was done and ready for my bike-ride. We have a very nice bike-path here in Athens County, running nearly 20 miles from the east side of Athens to the south side of Nelsonville. It travels along an old canal tow-path, which, in turn, tends to follow the Hocking River, of Harvard on the Hocking fame. I like to ride about 20 miles, so I usually head up towards Nelsonville for about 10 miles and then come back. Today the temperature was perfect for going fast, though my top speed, even on the relatively flat bike path, is really only about 25 miles per hour, a snail's pace compared to the resting speed of really serious bikers. The path goes through cool wooded areas as well as open meadows, and with the sun low in the sky and the air still moist from the cool night the ride is just about as pleasant as one could wish. You have to watch for rabbits, deer, box turtles, and other critters, but if you keep your eyes peeled you'll be OK. Other creatures are more dangerous. About a month ago I was headed up my usual route when I say a large figure in the middle of the path. The bike path is only wide enough for three bikes to go abreast, and as I approached I saw that this particular figure was effectively blocking the whole path. It was a man, laid out right across the path and snoring loudly. Beside him in the grass was his own bike, along with his backpack. I had to go off the path to get around him. As I biked back in the other direction, nearly 40 minutes later, he was still there, soundly sleeping.

The day was getting ever more beautiful, so I decided to say my Rosary out in the hammock. It just don't get no better 'n that, folks. On days like this one must simply breathe in life and be grateful.

On Saturdays I like to remember the First Covenant. The Old Sabbath day is a good day for that, I think, and the Office often reflects it, with readings that refer to God's promise to His people and in the frequent commemoration of Our Lady, the last type of the Old People and the first type of the New, a bridge between the Covenants. The Jews were Chosen to be an image of God in the world--to represent what it is to live according to God's precepts. Though they did not always succeed, they are still to be honored for this role that was so graciously given them. We, too, are called to live as Imagines Dei, living a life that is full of praise and thanksgiving to our God and Redeemer. It's difficult to think of a more fitting way to bring a day such as this to an end than by kneeling down before God's minister and offering up those ways in which we have squandered, through our fault, our own fault, our own most grievous fault, the beautiful promise that has been handed on to us.

But the natural beauty of a day like this is not, I don't think, a coal that we ought to heap upon our own head. Rather, let it serve as a promise of what awaits us in the Confessional--let it be a physical sign of the ineffable beauty of Absolution, and of a return to life as it was meant to be lived. Confession can be difficult--especially if, like me, you are sometimes embarrassed to find yourself confessing sins you've confessed many times before. But it should also be beautiful, invigorating, and cleansing, like a fine Saturday filled with the joy and love that comes of being alive in God's presence.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Pray for Perry

I'm taking a hiatus from my hiatus from blogging to ask everyone to include Perry Robinson of Energetic Procession in their daily prayers. I do not know Perry apart from the blogosphere, but my impression of him is that he is bright and faithful, and both of those in the best possible senses of those terms. I've just learned from Mike Liccione that Perry is now "facing a couple of pressing personal challenges". I do not know what these challenges are, exactly, other than that Perry has said that he has suffered from "great evil" and faces the loss of his home.

My own favorite prayer in times such as these has always been Psalm 119 (120):
In my distress I cried unto the Lord, and he heard me. Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue.
When we cry out to him, he hears us: no matter what else happens to us, we more than conquer through him who loved us.

Oremus.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Have a Hart

There's a rather fascinating discussion going on over at The Continuum, where Robert Hart and others are taking Mike Liccione and Al Kimel to task for their sanctimonious triumphalism. The combox, last time I checked, was getting longer by the minute, and I got into the act myself a couple of times (once using my wife's name as a pseudonym--a fairly clever ruse, even if it did happen by accident [I was using her computer, and somehow logged in using her Google account]).

What's at issue, I suppose--if anything is--is the question of how one decides to submit oneself to this or that teaching authority. The bloggers at The Continuum are all Anglicans (of the proper sort, not those faux Anglicans of PECUSA), in case you didn't know, and the blog is well worth reading. Like the Orthodox, of course, Anglicans don't buy any of this Roman primacy stuff, and I suppose there is some other theological baggage they would like to toss as well; they also behave Eastern Orthodoxically insofar as they think of themselves as fully within what they call "the Tradition", by which what they appear to mean is that the Anglican church is every bit as co-extensive with "The Church" as is the See of Rome. In some ways they are a little more charitable towards Rome than are some Orthodox, some of whom don't really think that Rome is at all co-extensive with the church, so let's count our blessings while we can.

One thing that I've noticed about the debate so far is a certain amount of equivocation on certain key terms, such as "authority", "private judgment", "the Church", etc. I don't think that either side disagrees that it is not up to the individual person to pass judgment on the truth of authoritative Church teaching; where they disagree is over what constitutes an authoritative Church teaching and why. For example, Anglicans as well as Catholics will assert that a Christian must believe in the Trinity, and both will agree that the reason why a Christian must believe in such a thing, in spite of the fact that no such thing is ever mentioned in the Scriptures, is because the doctrine has been taught by the Church. Well, what does that mean? If you had asked me a few years ago, I would have said that it means that it was taught by an Ecumenical Council. Some Catholics perhaps still think that is what it means; but to some Anglicans what it means is that the doctrine of the Trinity meets a certain standard, namely, the Vincentian Canon (a subject of much comment both here and at Mike Liccione's Sacramentum Vitae). That which has been believed by all Christians at all times and places, these Anglican say, is what must still be believed by anyone professing to be a Christian.

As it happens, not everyone agrees that the doctrine of the Trinity actually meets this criterion. It is an empirical question, and as far as I can see most, if not all, of the evidence points towards the doctrine being one that evolved over time. This does not preclude the possibility, of course, that it was at least secretly believed right from Day One, but unfortunately there is no evidence to that effect, and the very fact that it was necessary for an Ecumenical Council to define the doctrine, and to anathematize anyone who rejected it, suggests that there were plenty of folks who did not accept it. These folks, according to the Vincentian Canonist View (VCV), were never really Christians to begin with--by definition. The purpose of the Council, according to VCV, was not to define some new doctrine that nobody had ever believed before, but merely to put into words--to make explicit, as it were--the genuine content of the Faith that had been handed on by the Apostles but that, in the course of time, had come to be misunderstood by certain persons.

Needless to say, the Catholic Church believes exactly the same thing. So what's the problem? Well, consider, for starters, the fact that some Anglicans say that there were only ever seven Ecumenical Councils. Fewer say that there were only ever nine of them. Certainly no Anglicans would ever say that there were ever twenty-one of them, which is what Catholics are prone to say. Even Anglicans who may perhaps have some fondness for Vatican II will nevertheless toss their cookies at any mention of Trent or Vatican I (I think we can all imagine why, too, so no need to get into any internecine strife at this point). So what were those, um, "gatherings" doing, if they weren't Ecumenical Councils but just collections of various bishops from here and there? Well, whatever they were doing, they weren't making explicit things that were already contained in the Deposit of Faith. To hear Robert Hart tell it, they were "magically" summoning up "innovations" in doctrine--especially all that stuff about Papal "infallibility" (by which he appears to mean some view about Popes being inerrant, though he was remarkably unclear on the whole thing). Who's this Robert Hart when he's at home, you may ask? Wellll...he's an Anglican--but keep calm, he's one of the proper sort that we like, not one of those nasty ones tossing our religion into the dustbin of history.

OK, so "real" Ecumenical Councils, however many of them there are, appear to be bound by this VCV. Vatican I fabricated an "innovation" (Papal infallibility), hence it was not really an Ecumenical Council (among other reasons). Mike Liccione and I argued for some time a year or two ago about what it means to say that this or that teaching "developed" over time, but I think we agreed that, whatever else it means, it does not mean that any legitimate teaching can be new in the sense of an "innovation". But Robert Hart asserts that Mike's analysis of the situation is just a bunch of hooey, and that Mike fails to understand his (Robert's) proof that Anglicanism does not fall victim to the heresy that is the set of innovations to be found in such "councils" as Trent and Vatican I. I'm not altogether sure how he knows this, since I don't believe any of the first five, seven, or nine Councils declared when the next one was to be, or how many of them would be enough. What he does say is that the VCV is a necessary (and, I suppose, sufficient) condition on authoritativeness; he then appears to use his own judgment to determine whether a particular doctrine as taught by other institutions (whether local or allegedly "ecumenical" councils, etc.) really meets the VCV.

I'm jiggy with that, as far as it goes, but there are a few worries. If it's really true that a council, if it is genuinely "ecumenical" in nature, only ever makes latent doctrine patent, what are we to do with the doctrine of the Trinity? Or the doctrine that the Holy Spirit is to be accorded the same latreia as the Father and the Son? Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the doctrine of Papal infallibility had been taught by the same Council that taught the Doctrine of the Trinity. According to Robert, that would be sufficient to show that the council was not really a council; but why not assume instead that it was a council, and that Papal infallibility is not actually an innovation? In short, there are two ways to look at the historical fact of such a meeting; one is as a genuine council, the other is as a heretical innovator. Are there specific facts that would enable one to distinguish the right way of viewing the historical meeting from the wrong way? At this great distance in time, probably not. What people point to in the case of Vatican I is the view, held by many not only outside but also inside the Catholic church, that nobody ever believed in Papal infallibility before. Not only was it not semper ubique, it was more like nunc et tunc, hic et illic. But how on earth can one know such a thing with a sufficient degree of certainty to determine whether the doctrine is a deal-breaker for Councilhood? If we were to apply the very same standard that is applied to the Doctrine of the Trinity--that the folks who didn't believe it just weren't really Christians--we would be permitted to say that, well, folks, those who did not believe, at least implicitly, in Papal Infallibility simply weren't really Christians. But, of course, no Anglicans would want to say such a thing, and I doubt that any Catholics would want to say it either; but if we must say it about the Trinity, we must say it about Papal Infallibility as well--if Vatican I was a genuine council. If you don't think that Vatican I was a genuine council, you must say why you think so, but you cannot point to the doctrines that it promulgated or else you will be begging the question.

To reject the authority of a putative council on the grounds of what it taught will always necessarily beg the question, just so long as one endorses VCV. If one rejects VCV, then of course one may reject any Council one wishes, for no other reason than that one does not like what it taught. I suspect few Anglicans would want to go that route--why else distance oneself from the PECUSA madness?--(though these days I am not so sure about how many Catholics would want to avoid that route). But VCV seems like a condign principle, and it has a certain cachet in orthodox-with-a-small-o circles. Mike Liccione has written at some length on how the VCV must be read if it is to make any sense: in particular, there is a difficulty involving the fact that the VCV itself ascribes authority to "the Catholic Church", not the consensus fidelium, as would appear to be the import of semper ubique taken rather literally. Some Anglicans think that Romans want to equate "the Catholic Church" with the See of Rome, but no real Roman Catholics want to do that. The teaching of the See of Rome herself is that "the Catholic Church" subsists in what is called "the Roman Catholic Church", which obviously includes the See of Rome but which also includes every See in Communion with the See of Rome.

What does it mean to be "in Communion with the See of Rome"? One thing it means is being willing to count as "Ecumenical" those councils at which a Pope, or one of his legates, was present and to whose teachings he consented. This is a historical, rather than doctrinal, criterion for counting a council as Ecumenical. On this standard, there are indeed twenty-one Ecumenical Councils. Anglicans and Orthodox Christians reject this standard. What standard do they put in its place? VCV; but this is a doctrinal standard and, as such, necessarily begs the question.

My comments here are not intended as compelling proof of one point of view or another; they are offered principally in explanation for a certain point of view. When I converted to Catholicism twenty-five years ago, it was largely due to my thinking through various issues of this sort, but I recognize, of course, that what I found compelling will not necessarily be found compelling by everyone. That is an unfortunate artifact of our sad divisions, and it is a sign, perhaps, of how far we have fallen from that "one accord" in which the Christian community found itself in the description of the author of Acts. Personally, in the case of Anglicans (of the proper sort) and Orthodox Christians, I'm always ready to look to what we share rather than to our divisions, because the things we share, in this debauched and secular world, are so much more important than the things we disagree about.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Gandalf and Saruman Recite the Creed!

In Quenyan, no less! You can listen to it here.

Sorry about that, folks, I couldn't resist. Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee were not really impersonating BXVI and Bartholomew, it just sounds like they are. Actually, it's the real thing: the real Pope and the real Patriarch, reciting the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed in Greek, not Quenyan, and it is a marvelous thing to hear. Using the original text avoids that whole Filioque thingy.

Thanks to Fr. Kimel for the link.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

"Real" Catholics

There is an interesting passage in Eamon Duffy's magisterial if popular Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2nd edition, 2001) in which we read of a fascinating appeal, by the Franciscans, to the notion of the irreformability of the ordinary magisterium:
A crucial influence in the development of the idea that the Pope himself might be free from error came from the Franciscan debates about poverty. Successive popes had ruled in favour of the Franciscan rejection of property. When Pope John XXII repudiated that teaching, and denied that Christ was a pauper, Franciscan theologians appealed against his judgment to the infallibility of other, earlier popes. They argued that the Church, in the person of those popes, had repeatedly accepted the Franciscan view of poverty as an evangelical form of life. John XXII, therefore, was in error in rejecting this infallible teaching--and since true popes do not err, this proved that he was no longer a true pope. Papal infallibility was here being invoked not to exalt the Pope's authority, but to limit it, by ensuring that a pope did not arbitrarily reverse earlier Christian teaching.
What is interesting here is not the idea that a particular Pope had erred (or so the Franciscans were claiming), but the idea that Popes, as such, cannot err and, hence, the erring person in the papal garb is not really a Pope at all, but is only homonymously a Pope--a Pope in name only. This is not an appeal to an early version of the doctrine of Papal Infallibility as promulgated at Vatican I, though it is clearly connected to that idea, but is rather an appeal to the idea that, whenever Popes teach in conformity with the magisterium, they, insofar as they act as spokesmen for the maagisterium, are preserved from error. Not because they, as particular human beings, have some special grace that nobody else has, but because the office they hold has been granted that grace. If they should happen to err, that means that they no longer truly fill that office.

I was reminded of this passage by the recent kerfuffle surrounding Jay Dyer's decision to become a Roman Catholic. I call it a "kerfuffle", but it seems to have provoked controversy primarily among his Orthodox friends: the Romans in the playground have yet to get deeply involved. I was particularly struck by an essay at a..sinner by Sophocles Frangakis. I find Sophocles to be a voice for Christian charity in the blogosphere, and have always respected his opinions and comments, whether I read them here or at other blogs where he contributes, and his essay on Jay's conversion is, in my opinion, a good example of how to write an essay about something you disagree strongly with but are willing to respect as a matter of Christian love. As the essay progresses, we find Sophocles answering a few of Jay's arguments, and this, too, he does with sensitivity and care, and it is only to be expected, I think, that someone committed to a particular reading of history would want to defend his reading against a rival, especially when that rival had, for some time, been perceived as a friend. I do not doubt for a moment that I would do the same thing, were I in his shoes.

In fact, I write this very essay for that reason, because Sophocles makes an interesting sort of argument in his reply to Jay. He notes that
The citations Jay provides were written at a time when Rome herself was indeed Orthodox, and from the high remarks lavished on her in lieu not only of her position as the First See but also because of her exemplary Orthodoxy and the keeping of that one salvific Faith preserved and undiminished when other Sees were beset with heresy.

Rome was Orthodox and this is why the East "tolerated" her position because they were brethren, confessing one and the same Faith together and gladly accorded primacy, as it, primacy, existed then in its proper context.
Later (because of the Filioque controversy, among other things), Rome ceased to be "orthodox" in the sense that Sophocles has in mind and, hence, ceased to fill that office of Primacy that the other Sees willingly recognized in her for so long. In short, Sophocles makes here the very same argument that the Franciscans made about Pope John XXII. Just as he ceased to be truly a Pope when he attempted to teach something contrary to the Tradition, so too, Sophocles (and other similarly-minded Orthodox) claims, the Roman See itself, insofar as it has "erred", has ceased to be Primatial.

And now there looms on the horizon a possible concordat between Rome and Constantinople, and this would permit another application of the same argument:
Hold still, everyone, because we may in our lifetime witness another schism in the Church if the Ecumencial Patriarch Bartholomew continues as he is in opposition to Moscow, who is holding the line formulating Orthodox answers to modern problems and challenges but of course is considered as narrow and old fashioned for doing so.

If Constantinople should, for argument's sake, unify with the Roman Catholic Church, the Patriarch of Constantinople would cease to be "Orthodox" despite the fact that he takes up residence in the place Constantinople as Patriarch of the New Rome. He would in effect not hold in common that Faith held by the other Patriarchs.
In other words, once you determine who is in the wrong, you also get to determine who is in the right, and the "real" church will move around from place to place depending on who happens to toe your particular line. Constantinople has displaced Rome, but is now in danger of being displaced by Moscow. Eventually, I suppose, if Moscow were to reunite with Rome along with Constantinople, it, too, would be displaced (perhaps by Moscow, Idaho, just to keep things from getting too complicated).

I am reminded here of an argument that was put against me over at The Continuum. After suggesting that a central interpretive authority is required to avoid theological relativism, I was treated, in answer, to a quotation from, of all places, the 39 Articles:
As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch have erred: so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.
I confess that it was difficult to refrain from laughing out loud at this, but I never got the chance to ask whether the "Church" of England had "erred" in saying that the Church of Rome had "erred", since I was unceremoniously dismissed by the worthies there as a crank. You know you're in trouble when folks who routinely use Christian names with one another decide to refer to you only as "Carson". That's OK--I've been called worse, but I am certainly not insensitive to the necessity for the Church of England to maintain that everybody else is wrong. Indeed, it is the great Protestant Burden, it seems to me, to maintain two incompatible ideas at the same time. On the one hand, it must be maintained that something called "the Tradition" is not to be located in any one time or place, but in all times and places, that is, it is what has been believed by everyone everywhere. That's what "catholic" means, after all: "universal". On the other hand, it must be maintained that, when it comes to deciding what, exactly, fits this description--well, then it's confined to one time and one place: it's me. If you start to do or to teach something that is not all that consonant with what I and my cronies have been doing and teaching, clearly the only explanation is that you have departed from "the Tradition". I can prove this, too, by showing you the documents and other artifacts that constitute the evidence of "the Tradition" and interpreting them for you in the proper way, not in the heterodox way that you interpret them. If you insist, for some perverse reason, that I am interpreting them wrongly, then I will just point out to you that their meaning is plain and that you are the one jumping through hermeneutic hoops to get it to come out your way, while I am simply looking at all the data in the plain light of day, with no interpretive lens other than sheer rationality.

This kind of game can be played by both sides, of course, but I have to admit that the Orthodox have something of a leg up on us Romans, because we tend to think that the Orthodox are, apart from that whole Papal Primacy thing, well, orthodox, whereas the Orthodox tend to think that Romans, in addition to that whole Papal Primacy thing, have heaped many other heterodoxies onto their ash heap of theology. In other words, if reunification is what we're after, the Orthodox think that the Romans have a lot farther to go than the Romans think the Orthodox have to go. Having said that, however, I must say that my own opinion is that, however far you happen to think the other side has to go to meet you half way (and don't we all think we're closer to the center than the other guy is, else we would be standing with that other guy already), there are better and worse ways to go about approaching that center. The wrong way is to start quoting from the 39 Articles, or to say that Rome as a See has done the equivalent of what John XXII did. A far better approach is that taken by such excellent Orthodox writers as Peter Gilbert of De unione ecclesiarum or the folks at Eirenikon. The strategy employed at sites such as those (and there are others) is to look for common ground rather than difference, and where there are differences, to look for a common hermeneutic that will allow both sides to approach the center together, rather than forcing one or the other to come the whole distance alone.

I freely confess to my own particular bias here, and I hope and pray that my Orthodox brethren do not take what I have written in the wrong way. I suppose they are used to hearing such things from certain sorts of Catholics and perhaps it is safe to say that everyone, on all sides of any debate about who is "right" and who is "wrong", should be mindful that pride is the deadliest of sins, so I will be the first to apologize if what I say in genuine charity and hope for reunification comes off as proud, condescending, or just generally arrogant. It may be, as some Orthodox writers have lamented, that reunification is basically de facto impossible now, but one may pray otherwise since, of course, with God all things are possible.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Jay Dyer Comes Home

Jay Dyer of Nicene Truth posted a lengthy Apologia Pro Vita Sua on Wednesday in which he explains his reasons for turning away from Eastern Orthodoxy and towards Rome. There are only a few comments posted there today, mostly supportive (though some taking issue with his analysis of this or that), but it is perhaps worth mentioning in the context of the East-West "scorecard" that ecclesial decisions such as Jay's are always very difficult for the person making the decision and, I believe, when such decisions are made with such evident intellectual effort and faithful reflection, we may trust that that they are made in bona fides, whether or not the decision is the same one that we have, or would have, made under the circumstances.

I remember reading that greatest of questing blogs, Pontifications, over the course of a year or two as Fr. Alvin Kimel publicly pondered what to do about his increasing sense of alienation from his own communion and began the lengthy process of soul-searching that led, in the end, to his conversion to Roman Catholicism. That process involved a great deal of public discourse (the comboxes there were very often a full-day's worth of reading for me), and anyone who followed it will have come away far more knowledgeable about all sides of the question than when they first began. In some ways it seems almost reasonable to say that God, in his providence, is able to bring about great good even from the personal suffering of those individuals who find themselves deeply troubled by these reflections, for if they are willing to share their journey with the rest of us, we can learn from them and from those who are willing to discuss publicly the reasons for this or that doctrine.

My own process of conversion was neither very thoughtful nor very faithful, as I am now ashamed to admit but happy to confess (if that makes any sense). I became a Roman Catholic exactly 25 years ago this past Tuesday, on the Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist, and I believe that it is true to say that my real conversion has been ongoing since that time, and I am not fully confident that it is complete even yet. I am as troubled as anyone by certain features of the calling, and I suppose that posts such as this one are, finally, a reflection of my attempts to come to grips with some of these troubles. As a consequence of this I am always particularly moved by anyone who can make available in a public forum their inner dialog of the soul leading to conversion, whether it be Westward or Eastward. It is very sad that such decisions need to be made at all, but given that they do, the participation of charitable and merciful interlocutors in the blogosphere is a welcome bit of light in the otherwise pervasive darkness that is our barren secular culture.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Long View

I've been following with some interest the discussion at Sacramentum Vitae regarding the Filioque controversy. Much of it is familiar ground, but the dialectic is still fascinating. (I've posted on this controversy myself a few times; just use the blog search to find it all.)

It's tempting, sometimes, to look upon debates of this kind as threatening, somehow, to our Christian identity. The reason for this, I suppose, is that we all tend to prefer concord to discord, harmony to cacophony. The temptation to worry about such things should be resisted, however. When the philosophical writings of Aristotle were rediscovered in the West during the thirteenth century, they became extremely popular subjects for discussion among certain teachers at the universities of Paris and Oxford. In some ways, Aristotelian philosophical perspectives could be viewed as threatening to Christian doctrine, provided that one antecedently adopts certain philosophical starting points that are incompatible with Aristotelianism. In 1210 the provincial synod of Sens attempted to put a stop to whatever pernicious influence Aristotelianism might have upon the nascent clerics at Paris by forbidding the Masters of that institution from reading any texts by Aristotle, either in public or in private, thus forbidding also the teaching of said texts. The ban was repeated in 1215, and in 1231 Pope Gregory IX promulgated a bull that extended the ban, in a modified form, to other universities. (For some reason the university at Toulouse was immune from the ban, until Pope Innocent IV extended it to include all of Christendom in 1245.)

Papal pronouncements in the thirteenth century appear to have been viewed with the same care and respect that they are accorded these days in institutions of higher learning: by the 1250s the ban was being ignored everywhere, especially in Paris and Oxford. Bonaventure, in his capacity as minister general to the Franciscan order, called upon Etienne Tempier, bishop of Paris, to issue a condemnation of certain Aristotelian theses. In 1270 and again in 1277 he issued the famous condemnations that had the effect, in the end, of putting Saint Thomas Aquinas, a thoroughgoing Aristotelian (and a, ahem, Dominican), on the index of forbidden teachers. This situation was not changed until Thomas's canonization in 1325.

For roughly a century, then, some of the most fundamentally important philosophical perspectives in history were banned from institutions of Christian education, in spite of the fact that many of these perspectives were not merely consistent with Christian teaching, but were actually quite effectively deployed, by Aquinas and others, in the defense of Christian belief. Looking back on this situation from a distance of over 700 years, one can simply scratch one's head in wonderment over the thoughtlessness of certain kinds of partisanship, but at the time, to those who found Aristotle's texts brimming with stimulating and fertile ideas, the ban must have seemed not merely frustrating but positively maddening. In the midst of the controversy itself the disparate sides must have experienced varying degrees of fear and loathing for one another, and yet, in the end, the whole thing was settled amicably and has remained relatively irenic for seven centuries, a sevenfold increase over the amount of time spent squabbling about things.

Some may wish to suggest that the controversy over the Filioque is of an entirely different order than disagreements over curricula that are largely internal to institutions of higher learning and, hence, is not about to go away any time soon. On the one hand, there is some truth to this: after a millennium of argument, there are still some folks who regard the controversy as a point of schism between East and West. On the other hand, the relative importance of the issue with respect to division-making power can be seen in the fact that the version of the Creed used in Uniate liturgies omits the Filioque with the Vatican's blessing. One thing that is about as clear as anything from the posts and comments at Sacramentum Vitae is the fact that the issue turns on various philosophical notions, including cause, unity, identity, and other inheritances from the Neoplatonic and Peripatetic philosophical traditions. As the condemnations of 1270 and 1277 illustrated so nicely, philosophical conventions come and go, sometimes with alarming frequency, sometimes only very slowly. The long view seeks to go beyond theological analysis, which is always metaphorical and analogical at best, and hit upon the deposit of faith which is the same for everyone at all times and places. This task, of course, can be extremely difficult, and it goes without saying that it cannot be accomplished in a conceptual vacuum: philosophical machinery will necessarily be deployed, whether intentionally or not. What ought to be of interest is not the machinery deployed, however, but the faith displayed. If the dialog between opposing parties is a cooperative search for the truth, then charity demands that we wait until both sides have had their say. In this there is, perhaps, some small difference between the words being exchanged at Sacramentum Vitae and the condemnations of 1270 and 1277.

C. S. Lewis, famously, tried to do an end-run around problems such as the Filioque controversy by searching what he thought of as "the tradition" for those elements of belief that, in his judgment, stood the test of the so-called "Vincentian Canon". The result was his Mere Christianity, drawn from a series of radio addresses and constituting a kind of curious attempt at a non-denominational Credo. While such palliatives are sometimes attractive to certain sorts of minds, they are rarely as satisfying as the quest for deeper understanding that animates the differences of theological opinion that they mask. (In this respect it is rather surprising that Lewis, one of the most brilliant minds of his generation, adopted such an approach.) Indeed, in the absence of difference and variation it is not clear whether our understanding could advance at all beyond the truths that we are spoon-fed from the Gospels themselves. Everyone, Greek as well as Latin, knows that the Gospel of St John tells us that the Son "sends" the Holy Spirit; the dispute is not over that fact, but over the meaning and interpretation of that fact and how it is to be interpolated among the other facts handed us by the Gospels. To say with the "mere Christian" that all we need know is that the Son "sends" the Spirit and no more, is to sow the seeds of heterodoxy, since it leaves to individual judgment what, precisely, the upshot of "sending the Holy Spirit" is to be taken to be. It will not do to say, "Just don't think about what the 'upshot' of our faith is to be taken to be, just endorse the facts as we have them." That is like telling a teenage boy "Our cable package came with the Playboy channel, but don't you dare turn it on, even when I'm not at home!" The Filioque controversy arose in the first place as a consequence of localized attempts to put a stop to Spanish monarchianism (a heretical version that denied the subsistence of the Son, not the orthodox version that says that the Father is the only arkhê, "principle" or "source"). In localized liturgies where there was a danger of the heterodoxy, the Filioque was inserted into the Creed to make the Son's subsistence clear (lex orandi, after all, is lex credendi). This local change was later endorsed by Rome, even though the threat of heterodoxy was not a universal one, but that Rome permitted the change in the liturgy at all was part of what angered the Greeks. Or at least some of them: Theophylact of Ochrid noted that the Latins did not have the rich theological vocabulary available to the Greeks, and in particular they had only one word for "procession" whereas in Greek there were four different verbs to indicate four different ways in which it was possible for one thing to "be from" another (ekporeuesthai, khorêgeisthai, metadidosthai, and pempesthai).

Theophylact was extremely patient about the inability of the Latin language to do justice to the finial theological nuances of the doctrine of the Trinity, far more so than most Greek theologians of his day, who took advantage of theological excuses to promote their own anti-Latin Church polity. In his view it was important to allow for the particularities of local practices in the various Churches, especially in the East (he appealed to the case of the Bulgarian Church to illustrate how even in the East it is essential to insure the understanding of theological terms by the lay members of the community) but also, of course, in the Latin West, and many of the differences between East and West he ascribed to cultural differences that were due ultimately to differences in language and custom. Such things were quite permissible, in his view. He drew the line, however, when it came to matters that had been settled by the decision of an Ecumenical Council, and the text of the Creed fell under this rubric. With the insertion of the Filioque clause the Latin West had gone too far, in his view.

And there, for the most part, is where things stand to this day. By now, of course, Western theologians have had plenty of time to absorb the nuances of meaning present in the verbs ekporeuesthai, khorêgeisthai, metadidosthai, and pempesthai, yet they continue to maintain the validity of the insertion of the Filioque clause into the Creed, and the Greeks continue to object. The dispute over the Filioque has been called trivial by Kallistos Ware, but others are quick to point out that it is but the tip of the iceberg separating East from West. Even if this is true, however, it must be admitted that even a thousand years is not very long in comparison with eternity, and I suspect that the long view will see even this dispute in much the same way that we now see the condemnations of the thirteenth century.