Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Redemption... "How... how does it work?"

"I know not, my liege"

But let us not too much quote Monty Python. It is a silly bunch.

Last note tried to sketch something of what "heritable guilt" looks like and in what ways it is a reasonable idea, and furthermore how its operation is visible to anyone who has spent sufficient time with children (and some of us (like me) will remember it of ourselves in our own childhood, and later).

We also outlined how willingly suffering "transference", of debt or danger, can, with prudence and care, be a heroic way of acting amongst our neighbors. To be sure, a reckless (literally: without reckoning) neglect of the shaping our neighbours also need will leave them... more apt to shapelessness; but so will careless trampling of them when that is in our power. The betterment of our fellows and ourselves requires both correction and forgiveness, in the respectively right times and places and proportions. (Towers are held together by opposing forces of gravity (down) and [electrochemical] elasticity (up, sideways, twisty...), carefully managed)

The word "redemption" (I don't know what the Hebrew or Greek names are for the Theological Event) in Latin looks like "buying back", re[d]-emptio. It refers to a payment of a debt or ransom, and that gratuitously, by one who has means though maybe it was not his debt. The ancient discussion of what this means in Theology, by the Fathers of the Church, does include (or in places does assume) that part of this debt was owed to the Godhead; that Adam offended God, which in itself was to incur a debt which no Merely Human Act could ever repay. In deference to their wisdom, I do not wish to contradict them; I should say, rather, that certain modern readers put too much emphasis on this thread of Church Thought, to the neglect of things Jesus himself says and does in the Gospels. (Similarly, I've no wish to deny the scriptural evidence that God can be wrathful, but neither do I wish to doubt that God is always just; His wrath is not merely overwhelming, but enlightening) God may retain the Impossible Debt (like the King owed many talents from a servant, who was in turn owed a few pennies from another servant); but God can also forgive what is (in strict justice) owed Him. It's a big part of the Gospel, the Good News, that God will, in fact, gladly forgive the truly penitent. Man's right relation to God and the remaining debt we owe Him is to repent, and give thanks² for His forgiveness. Still, I also think there was Something Else that needed to be... payed-off? ... (or... held-off), which God "could not" (logically) hold-off by forgiving anything.

What Can God Not Forgive? Well, there is the Unrepented Sin; but neither can God forgive a grudge He does not hold. I don't think there is even proper grammar to suggest, for example, something like "God Forgives On Satan's behalf", and you can be sure that Satan does not forgive anything. Happily, it is not necessary for God to make Satan forgive. The devil only has to be denied what he covets; but we, apparently¹ are quite apt to get ourselves caught in his snares, that much needing to be rescued again and again... More: we are apt to sell ourselves into diabolical bondage. From those snares, from that bondage we surely need rescuing; the Devil must be opposed, forcibly if we are to be redeemed.

This actually fighting the Devil is described, for instance in Paul's letters (as something we have to do, "Induite vos armaturam Dei, ut possitis stare adversus insidias diaboli: quoniam non est nobis colluctatio adversus carnem et sanguinem, sed adversus principes, et potestates, adversus mundi rectores tenebrarum harum, contra spiritualia nequitiæ, in cælestibus"), and seen still more vividly in the Gospels, such as in John (reading with Timothy George) when Jesus raises Lazarus.

Paul also tells us that the Law cannot save. Jesus says of himself that He is the fulfillment of the Law. In recent years (I think I picked up this idea from Mark Shea, before he was a Professional blogger... it is surely much older) the Law of the Old Testament may be likened to an X-Ray machine, a series of tests that will tell you when and where you have gone wrong, and even tell you what you should do and be instead; but it is not itself medicine: the Law itself will not make you better without your cooperation.³

The Fulfillment of the Law, in the diagnostic sense, happens when we find — when it is Revealed to us — that trusting in ourselves alone and in our little laws and in our princes, trusting the mere knowledge of good and evil, we have Crucified All That Is Good. Of course, we cannot see this if we cannot see that Jesus is All That Is Good — if we have not faith that He Is The Way and The Truth and The Life. That we might find this faith is part of why He spent three years teaching in public and working marvels in our sight... and part of why He says "Generatio mala et adultera signum quærit: et signum non dabitur ei..."

Amazingly, God forgives them that Crucify Him: first, as it is happening, and what is more He does not forever hide himself, but rises again, on the Third Day. Even after we have killed him, he returns full of life to accept our repentance, to forgive us.

"... nisi signum Jonæ prophetæ".

There is ever so much more to Jesus' Crucifixion, Death, and Resurrection than this; Jesus' forceful combat against the devils, His actually rescuing us, His gift to us of the grace and strength to oppose evil ourselves and walk upright before Him...

But I hope this slender portion is something good to think on.

1) that is, it really is apparent, even if you are only happy to think of "the devil" as a merely metaphorical notion (which is, I suggest, a dangerous idea)

2) "gratias agere", occasionally says the Latin, to enact thanks; giving thanks is done in word and deed.

3) We must ourselves be moved: “‘Turn to me’ says the Lord ‘and be saved’”

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


Dear Anonymous Paul Tillotson

Yes, take up blogging, tell us your stories!

(write to qnoodles at gmail, and I will tell you who I am, too)

You mention the names of one or two Church Dogmas (Orginal Sin and Inherited Guilt), one Theory of Maybe How the Passion Effects Salvation ("Transference", mentioning also Substitution), and one ... thing... "retributive justice"... and report that whatever unexpressed ideas you connect with these names, you connect with the Church and would reject them from yourself. (And, Sheila, you apparently agree with this Paul's unexplained ideas? But how do you know?) So, I still don't know what your objections are. All I can do, therefore, is report how I myself understand what it seems to me that The Church means by these names, how entirely reasonable they seem to me, and ... well, you can decide whether to explain what you mean by them, why you think your impressions of the the Church's Meaning may be closer to the Church's meaning, and ... so forth.

Simplest first, "Retributive Justice". "Justice" refers to harmony — harmony between neighbours, harmony within ourselves, harmony between Self and Goodness; "justification" being the restoration of this harmony, in more litteral harmony-talk known as tuning; a justified soul is a well-adjusted soul. It is retributive justice at work when buyer and seller happily agree on the price of a thing, when labourer and employer happily agree on wages.

The theory of practical justice is particularly about restoring harmony when it has been disturbed, particularly by the misdeeds of some individual. Now, discerning whether some particular misdeed actually happened, and then was mistake or malice, is jurisprudence, and not justice per-se (though justice demands we attempt it carefully). Restoring the harmony, however, usually demands someting be done. The disharmony that results from theft, for example, includes how the thief (for a time) holds wealth that belongs to another, and restoring harmony should ordinarily begin with some kind of restitution (if that is possible). But any crime (indeed, 'most any act at all) has broader effects than merely its immediate object: theft engages not merely loss of property but also the attempt at recovery (which has costs) and also a proclamation that property is negligible. A thief apprehended bears some responsibility for (has knowingly caused) the property stolen as well as his own detection and trial, general fear regarding security, mischief inspired in immitation, et.c., and so his natural debt is greater than that which he stole.

Practical Justice requires communicating somehow that, to the best of our ability, what could be was recovered, peace has been restored, and our neighbours are not in more danger afterwards than they were before. It's very easy to go wrong in the search for this kind of justice, which is why it is, in developed societies, delegated by society to a few specialists known as The Authorities — and it would still be wrong to neglect it. Something needs doing to restore harmony, lest (at the very least) the thief still be inclined to theft afterwards. (that can happen anyway by his stubbornness, but let us not say it was for want of care on the part of his neighbours!). Restoring Harmony requires Some Action, requires that Some Return be made for works of malice.

In short All Practical Justice Is Retributive. Justice isn't about whether retribution is required, but which. Real justice may at times be more strictly, at times more magnanimous than, equal return on pains incurred, but it is still our duty to our neighbours.

"Transference." Transference (and particularly "of guilt") can in part be understood as a principle moderating the retributive character just described of all justice. A thief who, caught, shows true repentance may in fact be making a greater sacrifice, out of his own being, than one could pay for with money; it can be good for all, in that circumstance, for the original owner to dismiss some of the material debt owed him.

But, even more basically, we are all born rather helpless and useless; it is not we who make or pay for our first clothes or food, but our parents. It is also true that it is our parents, and not we, who are proximately responsible for our being, but we certainly benefit, without doing anything to deserve it, by our first food and clothing — and that goes on for many years.

Transference is also going on when a rich man pays for the education of a poor child; and would anyone say that was an unjust (discordant) act? Transference of this sort is illustrated, for example, in the Parable of the Labourers in the vineyard, by the owner who pays a day's wage for an hour's work.

It is also a kind of transference (and greatly laudable) when anyone takes pains or risks upon himself for to rescue someone in trouble (noting that poverty-simpliciter is still quite compatible with cheerfulness and even contentment). The reason we do these things isn't (I suggest) out of the necessity of Justice as such, but because neglecting them hurts ourselves, in our very natures. It is common enough a trope to almost being a cliché, that anyone the newspapers will call a hero says of themselves they were "only doing what anyone else would have done". But foolish or not, they really believe it, too.

I want to say more about transference and supernatural debts and all that... it being Lent, afterall... but that would make this letter much too long.

"Original Sin" and "Inherited Guilt". Since you name both of them, we can treat them separately, but they do go together.

First-firstly, I want to address what I think is a problem in the Anglophone general-public understanding of Sin and Guilt (I don't know if you make this mistake yourself, but others object to the same names as you do, moved by this mistake). It seems to me that the modern common-English-speaker has lost the distinction between guilt and compunction. This is of a piece with the overwhelming sentimentalization of all matters spiritual and social and political, though I can't put a time-frame on it... my point is that guilt is simply a fact, it's the sort of thing that can be studied (with only the ordinary difficulties) by forensics and adjudicated in forum. The only questions about "guilt" are whether a thing happened and is someone responsible for it. And in particular, Sin is guilt (responsibility for a failing) in supernatural matters. And when the Church (and I do mean the Church, not clerics) seeks to convince us that we are guilty of sin, it isn't so that we'll feel bad — chances are, we feel bad already and are trying to ignore why — but so that we can confront it and be justified anew and hopefully then feel better.

The question then seems to be: how can children be responsible for failings that, ostensibly, are caused by ancestors they never knew nor who ever knew them?

Well, it's easier than that makes it sound: e.g., someone has to take care of Pripyat near Chernobyl in Ukraine; we and our children have inherited a bad situation, there, but more than that: we know it is a bad situation, and why, and what sorts of things can be done to keep it from getting worse (and what sorts of "worse" are hard to address). Knowing even a little of good and evil is a heavy responsibility indeed.

In particular, we haven't inherited any kind of responsibility for Adam's (or Eve's) Choice. But we are responsible for what we already know, in ourselves.

And this is the really hefty thing: Children have a rather keen intuitive sense for "fairness".¹ I'm sure you know someone between three and twelve who has lamented "it's not fair!", and quite possibly been quite right about it. I'm even sure you know someone who has both so lamented and been rather unfair themselves, whether in that moment or shortly thereafter. I know I did, though I can't remember specifics that clearly...

In other words, the moral sense seems to be innate (it is evident as soon as we can speak), but its operation seems at first to be entirely self-interested (almost, I should say, self-defensive). We are born with a sense of good and evil, but not wanting to be good. I'm not saying we're born monsters, or under threat of immediate damnation, but that we are born in need of forming, in need of justification, supernaturally lacking, and that we are nonetheless born with the means to know it already.

And that's the sense in which we inherit the Guilt of Adam: we initially know and can't not know just enough of right and wrong, and we develop into reasoning agents; but to desire our own goodness needs external help. What we have inherited from Adam is the knowledge, the instinct that demands some kind of fairness, and hence the responsibility of knowledge and reason, together with this failing in our wills.

Why is the sense heritable (instinctive), and the discipline not? I don't know! It might be integral to moral freedom? But I don't think that why really matters.

Finally, "Original Sin": The peculiarly Jewish and Catholic take on the history of this frustrating inheritance is that it started with one free choice confirmed by a second; and, as it happens, that both free choices were made at the very begining of Humanity. The Catholic discussion of Original Sin also involves ideas of "sanctifying grace" and distinguishing "vision of God" from "happiness", and I think it is still developing, still grasping for precise expression.

Anyway, that's what I've learned about those ideas from going to Church and listening to smart people and reading good books. I don't know what you've picked up from the same quarters (or what other quarters you've picked up). But so long as you (Paul T.) are trying to be good and responsible, I won't bother with your take on the historical question.

Bat the Mathematician

PS 1) C. S. Lewis makes this same observation about cultures instead of Children: every society has some kind of mythology, and has some articulated moral code, and is repeatedly breaking that same moral code and feeling bad about it; and it gets into their mythology. Both the code and their own failings are so important they have to be remembered. Everywhere.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

i've had this note sitting around for a while. a-propos of genuinely nothing

I have this memory of seeing animated cartoons, in my mis-spent childhood (recalled now in my mis-spent current age), in which a particular sort of Bully is depicted as a Bull; and because cartoons for children typically gloss over more naturalistic details, we know this is a Bull rather than a Cow because of his broad shoulders and the large ring in his nose.

That ring. I'm sure you know the sort. The ring that says "I'm a tough big strong hefty substance, don't cross me!"


Bulls, of course, are not born with rings. They are an instrument added by neatherds, for a particular purpose. Specifically, rings (this is some topology we all know!) admit connection. It could be by clip to a chain, or by knot to a rope, but the principal is that rings can be linked, more conveniently than girth or neck-lace (esp. if the beast is apt to use hoof or horn). And the ring is linked to the bull through the nose because the nose is particularly sensitive. It allows a (relatively) small farmer to lead a (comparatively) large bull (perhaps from a respectful distance), literally, by its nose.

Or, to put it another way, that ring renders the bully literally docile.

Which, I'm sorry to say, was never depicted in any of those cartoons.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Sing Black, Live Red

Today this year collide Ash Wednesday and the Feast of Valentine, Priest and Martyr.

It would not seem unreasonable to lament that the romantic colour of the date, in modern secular sentiment, obscures the ... er... solemnity... I suppose... of martyrdom; but, you know, I'm not so sure, should we be so hasty? The secular emblem of the day is the Heart, construed as the seat of love — and every martyrdom is an echo of the Feast of the Sacred Heart, wounded for Love of Us; the secular colour of the day is Red, as is the Liturgical Colour — and even as for Love of Wife or Child, so too for Love of God, the Lover is called to be ready that his blood be shed. Valentine himself could not have accepted martyrdom but from love for God and sustained by God's love.

But more often (the opposite could not last long!) for Love we take on duller sufferings, and make of our selves little Cinderelli. Today, as Ash Wednesday, it is traditional to do so more theatrically; again, let it be for Love. Or why should we do penance, indeed how could we, except from knowing that we had once fled Love, and now would find Him again?

Happy Valentines Day,
and a Holy Ash Wednesday,
and a Blessed Lent to you all.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

consummatum erit?

_______, Mathematician, lay man baptized and confirmed in the Diocese of _______
In friendly and supportive response to Dr. Peters,

I am not a lawyer of any sort; but I can read books and apply argument.

On sacramentality; The strangeness of the very simple composition of valid marriage of Christians into a Sacrament has nothing peculiar to marriage in it. The necessary condition for sacramental baptism is the imposition of clean water with the proper invocation of the Trinity; no particular consent in the baptizand is required for the sacrament in that moment beyond that he not resist, which is the ancient explanation of why it makes sense to baptize infants; nor need the person handling the water and invoking the Trinity actually believe what he is doing either — which was the admonition Athanasius received when he were a boy. The necessary condition for the confection of the Eucharist is that a Priest, with one of the right matters (wheat bread or live grape wine) speak the relevant famous Words; that this Priest, whatever his subjective beliefs or feelings in that moment, intend to do "as the Church does" in signs at least; one can go through the list, but the general principle is that the Sacrament is effected by making the sign that signifies it upon the matter that constitutes it. And in many cases, the wrong circumstance can make the valid sacrament nonetheless illicit, or a sacrilege.

The developed formula summarizing the preceding principle — that the sacrament is made by making the sign — is the Latin phrase "ex opere operato".

So, "how" is this-or-that a Sacrament? Why, the right form being worked upon the right matter. Peters has recently had occasion to emphasize that form, in the case of the sacrament of Marriage is the exchange of consent in clear sign, between the free and baptized man and woman. My point is that all sacraments are that simple. How Peters' other frequent concern, "Canonical Form", impinges on validity is, actually, the much-trickier issue to sort out theologically. It may have something to do with: the Church was always at work in every marriage, pre- or post- codified-Form, but is free to say She will not act henceforth in absence of a Minster-Designate. Something similar is at work in the necessity of Jurisdiction for Confession. (Why She may be unfree or unwilling to similarly prevent sacrilegious confection of the Eucharist, or rogue Orders, I do not know... ) Or it may be that, Canonical Form being codified, complete and free consent itself is absent in the absence of Canonical Form. I do not know. To my recollection, the Council that first imposed Canonical Form did not explain the operation of the impediment.

And that is all I have to say about Sacramentality.

Now, about solubility. Our modern ears suffer a little (English ears, anyways) in that the lovely word "consummation" has, through its recent relative rarity, fallen to the status of Euphemism for the incarnated union of man and woman. But this is a complete inversion of the proper sense of things: "Consummation", fulfilment, isn't something a man and woman can do before they are married, because absent marriage there is no marriage to fulfil.² Peters quotes an expression, “exchange of rights to the body” as from 1917 CIC; but strictly speaking, that exchange of rights has already been given, specifically in the marriage ceremony because that's a great part of what is consented. Rather, the incarnated union of husband and wife is the realization, the enactment of the consent already exchanged. (Enactment both as something done and something real and present). The incarnated union of husband and wife becomes the consummation of marriage in this sense: the Consent Spoken is then Lived.

So consider by way of analogy that other physical Sacrament, the Eucharist, again: the Sacrament is present, Our Living Lord corporeally present, from the time of consecration; but the purpose, the fulfilment of the sacrament has not occurred before one receives Him in Communion — though, Importantly, not all who witness the consecration need then receive Him — but, if one does, what then? Would any change their mind and spit Him out again? Could that ever be good? Heavens forefend!

the undersigned, who admittedly am also single and know anything only from reading and observation

1) write to qnoodles at gmail for details.

2) I do not suggest that Peters suffers such a confusion; merely that he does use the "c" word, that confusion is possible, and would be particularly unfortunate in the present discussion.

Monday, January 29, 2018

ill-constituted ponderings

I read somewhere recently1 (smarter suppliants of the Spiders maybe will be able to find it quickly?) a historian contending that the Mediaeval and similar documents (primarily Magna Carta) such as we would now call constitutions were attempts to codify what "everyone" "here" was already doing; that "Bad" King John had been checked by his barons and given this constitution because he had tried to change the rules. Or some such thing. (The original Carta was promptly invalidated by John deftly submitting his Kingdom as a Direct Subject of the Pope... which gave the Pope ideas... which may, I am fuzzy on tracing the threads through the centuries, have had some bearing on the unfolding of Avignon/Urban/"Consiliarism"... which left Europe ripe with ferment for Luther to sour... oh, that Bad King John...). But a Funny Thing Happened in 1775 in the British Colonies.

The colonists, you see, had got tired of how Westminster wouldn't give them seats (never mind Two Figs that it would take a week to get there, and a week to argue things over, and a week to get back, every time... in Good Weather... once the Colonies had Heard What Was Up in the First Place)... despite Westminster taking as much money as they could manage. You know, the King's business. Anyways, the upshot was that the colonists decided to chuck King George and Westminster, and ... all that. But knowing they didn't want anarchy (most of them) they decided to set down what The Rules ought to have been all along. Which was, mostly, the same as they always had been, but with some pointed Differences, mostly to make the Revolution consistent with the new Constitution (it couldn't be consistent with the Old). This was, I believe, the first instance of a Constitution being an instrument of revolution.

Not long before, the implicit constitutions (which Written constitutions were trying to approximate) had been invented or discovered by Rousseau and given the name "Social Contract". And that's the trouble with giving something a name... the name itself quickly gains a weird life of its own, becomes separated from what it was supposed to be and before you know it, people are putting them on pictures of cats and calling that the "meme".2

In other words, by discovering Social Contract, Rousseau made it possible for Constitutions to exist appart from any natural Social Contract, and in particular to become instruments of Revolution, which is exactly what they did. Nowadays it is still more common for Constitutions to become the excuse for whatever revolution — the Soviet Union, e.g., had a beautiful liberal bill of rights in its constitution, singing poetically the dignity of man and his natural democratic freedom... The trouble was: no-one in Russia had ever lived in a democracy, they had no idea how to maintain one whether as its subjects or its enforcers, and the people who had engineered and operated the whole thing had no intention of actually running the country that way.

Constitutions are only as good as the Tradition they draw on. More: Constitutions are only as good as the Tradition that survives them.

There's another Tradition, related to constitutional disobedience, called in the British nomenclature "muddling through". The Constitutionalist implementation of Muddling is mostly accomplished by Ammendment, though Executive Directive also has its place... A cynical interpretation of Muddling would hold that what we actually do has nothing to do with our written laws at all, but we'll update the old ones now and again to make it look alright. A more moderate interpretation would point out that Circumstances Will Arise which the old written formulas simply have not foreseen and won't work for. A good Catholic will point out that Murder is still, and always, wrong. Anyways, back in Europe, treaties were the reigning instrument of what today we'd call International Law, and all the princes who signed them were entirely used to them being broken and ignored left right and centre. (And then there was that one time, Princedom having become so very tired, when scrupulous obedience to Treaty turned into World War I).

Written Treaty was exported, during the colonial period, to North America, and ... you know what, I wasn't there, neither were you nor your grandfather, it was long long before that. I don't know what either side was really expecting, but I'm quite sure that Strict Observance of Treaty was not in the European mind; I'm pretty sure that Elision of Treaty, or its closest analogue, was also a perfectly ordinary thing among the locals — that I've heard stories of this tribe cheating that other, and burying hatchets, and then fighting again...; and all of whom, by the way, were nomadic, even the farmers. How you understand a teritorial treaty with people who just don't stay put I don't... but anyways. The only novelty to them, I believe, was that the European Treaties were written documents and (in some cases) can still be examined in person.

The European of the time probably thought of the Treaty (I guess), in the old Mediaeval way, as recognizing a pre-existing thing. And because of this, ignoring the same treaty you had written would be not quite a dishonest move: just because a thing existed before didn't mean you agreed it would always be a good idea. Having it written out did mean you could tell when you had to talk things over, again, and that can be a good thing for everyone involved. On the other hand, treaty disobedience could certainly be handled in a bad way, too, and certainly Princes have done wicked things, for their worldly enrichment.

I get the impression that there is, in some among today's younger generations, an idea that those same antique treaties have, unammended, moral binding force on today's living neighbours of the people who have held on to the relevant actual written paper. Never mind that one of the Crowns signing those treaties doesn't exist anymore, and the other has suffered heavy changes to its own "Treaty" with Westminster (or the succeeding local Capital). And it's not that I think what's in them might be wrong or such; it's that I think this is a use that neither signatory of those treaties ever intended them to bear. It's either dishonest or a fundmantal misunderstanding. It's not clear to me that Strict Observance of these particular treaties is any good for either side.

Why not let's sit down and write some new ones? But, do you know? ... I don't much trust the heirs of Westminster, today, either.

1) My memory works in weird ways; and this may be a difficulty that limits my effectiveness as a Scholar... "recently" can mean any time since the last Upheaval in my life, and I just can't pin down when this particular reading happened...

2) We live in a strange world in which the same people of a certain kind simultaneously believes that Incorporeal Creatures by the name of Angels are mythical, or at best nonsense, but simultaneously believe that Elemental Communicable Ideas do have a life of their own, and that people can become "addicted" to them. If that's not some kind of Demonic Obsession, I don't know...

Thursday, January 4, 2018

False Friends

in this instance, potential Anglo-Polish bemusements.

In Polish, sok is for drinking, skarpety for wearing, and a dywan for walking on; while in English, if you tried to drink your socks or wear a carpet or stand or walk on a divan, ... people would look at you funny.