Friday, May 22, 2015

The Three Acts of the Mind (pt 3/3): Reasoning (Philosophy 101)

This week we've already looked at the first two "acts of the mind" identified by philosophers, understanding and judging, today we look at the final "act" - reasoning. The previous two "acts of the mind" lay the foundation for us to come to arguing, so that we may better understand things like the arguments for the existence of God (or arguments for or against anything else for that matter).



Human Reason versus Animal Thought
Man has traditionally been defined as "a rational animal," meaning both that we are an animal (no, modern science didn't come up with that idea) and that we differ from other animals precisely through being "rational," through our ability to reason. This "power" means our thought surpasses that of all other animals in three basic ways:
1) Like other animals our knowledge begins in sense experience. Unlike other animals our knowledge doesn't end with sense experience. We can "go beyond" what we can immediately sense through abstracting concepts from concrete objects, relating these concepts in propositions, and by relating these propositions in arguments. In other words, we can use the "three acts of the mind," they can't. 
2) Like other animals we can know particular truths, e.g. "this grass is wet." Unlike other animals our knowledge doesn't end with particular truths, but can understand universal truths, e.g. "2+2=4" or "if it rains on grass, the grass will always be wet." These truths aren't just psychological habits we've formed from seeing wet grass after rain, but attain real knowledge about universal truths. 
3) Like other animals we can know truths immediately and contingently. Unlike other animals we can also know truths that are necessary and therefore unchangeable. We can, for example, that a square will always have four sides, necessarily (remember we are talking about the concept "square" not just the sounds that make up the word "square" which is a matter of convention and can be changed). That means we can know that if there is a square ten billion light years away on some distant planet, it too will have four sides.
The Argument 
As the first act of the mind, understanding, produces concepts, which are logically expressed as terms and grammatically expressed in words and as the second act of the mind, judgment, produces judgements, which are logically expressed as propositions and grammatically expressed in declarative sentences, the third act of the mind, reasoning, produces arguments, which are logically expressed as arguments (typically syllogisms), and grammatically expressed in several sentences connected by "therefore." In the following "classical example" of a syllogism,
All men are mortal
Socrates is a man
Therefore, Socrates is mortal
Our concepts are: men, mortal and Socrates (we always have three concepts in a syllogism). These each need to be unambiguous for the argument to succeed. Our propositions are the two premises and the conclusion (these each need to be true). And our argument is the entire three sentence syllogism. Pretty easy, right?



Syllogisms and Infinite Regress
The syllogism is at times attacked by some misguided philosophers, usually nominalists, (who usually resort to "hidden" syllogisms to attack syllogisms). One frequent, and very ancient, objection is that any particular syllogism must rest its premises on other syllogism in an infinite regression (which is impossible, as we saw some time ago: Why an Infinite Regress Into the Past Isn't Possible). However, syllogisms ultimately rest, not on an endless amount of other syllogisms, but on a handful of "self-evidently true" logical laws. These laws are tautologies, i.e. the predicate restates something already in the subject. "All big dogs are dogs" is an example of a tautology. It can't be denied without an immediate self-contraciditon (i.e. it can't be denied without also being affirmed). These laws are:
1) Dictum de omni ("the law about all") - this simply says if something is true about all Xs then it is true about each individual X. If all physical objects cast a shadow when a light is shined on it from one direction, then it must be true that any individual object. 
2) Dictum de nullo ("the law about none") - this is the flip-side of the above. If something is false about everything in a certain group, then it is false about each member of that group. "No dogs are cats and this is a dog, therefore this isn't a cat," is an example. 
3) Law of Identity -  simply, a thing is what it is, e.g.  "a dog is a dog," "Socrates is Socrates," "x is x."
4) Law of Noncontradiction - the opposite of the above, a thing isn't what it isn't, e.g. "not-x is not-x."
5) Law of the Excluded Middle - a thing is either x or not-x, there is no third possible alternative. A woman is either pregnant or not-pregnant, a man is either alive or not-alive, it is either 80-degrees outside or it is not 80-degrees outside, are all examples. 
6) These laws, plus the fact that two things which are identical to a third thing must be identical with each other, give us the syllogism. If we know "Socrates" is identical to "a man" and that "men" are identical with "things that are mortal," we can conclude that "Socrates is mortal." 
7) The negative of this must also be true, namely, if there are two things, one of which is identical with a third thing and another which isn't, these two things must not be identical to each other. Example: If we know that "Socrates" is not identical with "immortal" and we know that "gods" are identical with "immortal," we can conclude "Socrates isn't a god."
As all these laws are undeniably true (on pain of immediate contradiction) they need not be proved by an appeal to anything further, thus halting the regress.

The Least You Need to Know

  • Human knowledge begins in empirical sense experience, but doesn't end there
  • We can know both particular and universal truths
  • We can know necessary (and therefore unchangeable) truths
  • Arguments, typified by the syllogism, lead us from things we already know to necessary conclusions
  • Syllogisms are not dependent on a never ending series of previous syllogisms

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Blogging through Hell (pt 13) - Of Hatred of God, Once-Saved-Always-Saved, Islam, and Vatican Two in the Divine Comedy

After having climbed back out of the sixth bolgia over the remains of the bridge which collapsed at Christ's entrance into Hell, Dante and Virgil, who has now regained his composure after his fury at being deceived by the Malebranche, peer into the darkness of the seventh bolgia. Able to hear the moans of the sinners beneath him, but unable to see anyone, Dante asks Virgil if they can descend into the pit to see who these sinners are. Virgil, happy to comply with his pupil's eagerness to learn, leads Dante down to meet the sinners.
and there within I saw a dreadful swarm
of serpents so extravagant in form
remembering them still drains my blood from me. (XXIV:82-84, Mandelbaum)
Among this cruel and most dismal throng
People were running naked and affrighted. (XXIV: 91-92)
The serpents are plaguing the thieves - sinners who defrauded others by stealing from them. Just as the thieves, in life, caused property to unnaturally change from one owner to another, so too, eternally, the thieves will be transformed, and cause each other to transform, unnaturally from one form to another. The first example Dante sees of this is of a who is bit by a snake,
.... which transfixed him
There where the neck is knotted to the shoulders. (XXIV:98-99)
 After being bitten, the sinner catches fire, burns to ash, and, like the phoenix, rises from the ash to be tormented yet again. Dante, shocked at this latest, self-imposed, punishment cries out,
Justice of God! O how severe it is,
That blows like these in vengeance poureth down! (XXIV:119-120)
The sinner, returned to his natural form, answers Virgil's question about who is is and what he has done. He is Vanni Fucci, a native of Pistoia so renowned for violence that Dante is surprised he isn't boiling in the Phlegethon above with the other murders. Fucci, however, explains that his robbery of the Cathedral of Pistoia, which he allowed to be falsely attributed to another man.

Showing his hate-filled nature, Fucci prophecies about the explosion of Dante's White Guelfs from Florence, ending with, "And this I've said that it may give thee pain." (XXIV:151). Having finished grieving Dante, Fucci makes an absence gesture to the sky, screaming, "take that, God, for at thee I aim them." (XXV:3) before being covered in so many snakes that he can no longer move. Surprised at Fucci's supreme audacity, Dante notes,
Through all the somber circles of this Hell,
Spirit I saw not against God so proud, (XXV:13-14)
The hatred that the souls in Hell are consumed by, of both neighbor and God in direct opposition to the greatest commandment (cf. Mk 12:30-31), is on full display in Vanni Fucci, but has been witnessed time an again throughout Dante's journey. Souls have held Hell in disdain, have cursed God, and have shouted blasphemies. What we haven't seen, indeed what we will never see, in Hell is any remorse, any sorrow, for the sins committed or any love for God (or for the other sinners being punished in Hell). Hell, then, is a place of absolute hatred, which is what we'd expect as the primary punishment of Hell is the absence of the God who is love. This is in complete accord with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which St. Pope John Paul the Great called "a sure norm for teaching the faith" (Fedei Depositum, 3).
We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves... To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice.... Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell where they suffer the punishments of hell... The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God (1033-1035)
Vanni Fucci, and all the sinners we've met or will meet in Hell, are precisely those who have refused to freely love God, who have sinned gravely against Him and against their neighbors, and who have refused to repent... eternally. These souls now embrace their self-selected destiny with a continued hatred for others and for God. Nowhere is this better displayed than in the character of Vanni Fucci.

Vanni Fucci by Claudio Bez
As Dante and Virgil leave behind Vanni Fucci, several other prominent Florentines, and the rest of the thieves in the seventh pit of the Eighth Circle of Hell, they see, in the next bolgia, a bewildering number of flickering flames, without seeing any sinners. Having learned from his experience in the Seventh Circle with the Wood of the Suicides, Dante accurately surmises that each flame contains a sinner. This is the perpetual abode of the evil counsellors, especially those who were deceitful in war (more fox than lion, as Dante has one sinner explain, reminding us of the opening canto of the Comedy).

With flames as manifold resplendent all
Was the Eighth Bolgia (XXVI:31-32)
Unable to penetrate the flames with his sight, Dante asks Virgil if he may not question some of those damned here to learn who they are and what they have done. One flame, with two tips, particularly grabs Dante's attention. Virgil, explaining that this flame contains the shades of both Odysseus and Diomedes, both Greek heroes who participated in the war with Troy, suggests that these souls might be more open to hearing from him, a fellow ancient and a poet famous for his recounting of the deeds of the Trojan Aeneas, than from Dante. It is here, in Odysseus' speech to Virgil, that we get an entirely original account of Odysseus' final fate. The Homeric hero describes how, after returning home from his adventures recounted in the Odyssey, he was overcome by a desire to see more of the world. He thus once more abandoned his father, son, and long-suffering wife, gathered the remaining elements of his crew and set sail to the west. His crew now "old and slow" (XXVI:106) sail to the "Pillars of Hercules" (the Straights of Gibraltar) which no man was supposed to travel beyond, yet press on he did, convincing his crew through deceitful speech, as he had previously convinced Achilles to join the war at Troy and the Greeks to offer the Trojan horse. Sailing as far as a mysterious mountain on the uninhabited portion of the world (the Medievals knew the world was round, however they didn't think anyone lived in the western hemisphere), Odysseus' ship is deliberately sunk by "Another's will" (XXVI:141, Musa). The foreshadowing of Mount Purgatory and of Satan, who mad a "mad flight"(XXVI:125) of his own and was also cast down by "Another's will," sets the stage perfectly for what is to come.

As Dante and Virgil watch Odysseus and Diomedes wonder off, another soul, that of Guido da Montefeltro, approaches the pair, wailing over his fate. Guido, who's tale is as interesting as Odysseus', was another brilliant, yet deceitful, military leader, this time from Dante's own day. After a long, treacherous, and successful career leading anti-papal (Ghibelline) armies, Guido,
"... saw that the time of life had come
for me, as it must come for every man,
to lower the sails and gather in the lines," (XXVII:79-81, Musa)
Thus presenting an opposite image to that of Odysseus, who, even "old and slow" refused to "lower the sails" and end his exploits with a time of reflection and penitence. Guido, seeking to avoid damnation, relates how he joined the Franciscans in an attempt to end his life in friendship with God.
"And poor me it would have helped" (XXVII:84, Mandelbaum), exclaims Guido. Would have if he had truly repented and sought God's forgiveness. Instead, at Guido's death we see this scene,
"Francis came afterward, when I was dead,
   For me; but one of the black Cherubim
   Said to him: 'Take him not; do me no wrong; 
He must come down among my servitors,
   Because he gave the fraudulent advice
   From which time forth I have been at his hair; 
For who repents not cannot be absolved,
   Nor can one both repent and will at once,
   Because of the contradiction which consents not." (XXVII:112-120)
Guido's fate testifies to a basic tenant of reason (in fact the demon tells the horrified Guido, "Peradventure/ Thou didst not think that I was a logician!" [122-123]), a man can't be forgiven if he isn't repentant. Guido, much like "once-saved-always-saved" Protestants, tried to receive forgiveness before sinning, rather than sincerely repenting afterward. This attempt to "both repent and will at once" is an attempt to defraud God and leads directly to Guido's damnation. This lesson is important for us today. Sincere repentance, even of an entire life of sin (like Guido's) can bring salvation (hence, St. Francis comes for him). However, God's great mercy can't be had by those who refuse to accept it by repenting of their past sins. Trying to "game the system," trying to get a "get out of jail free card" (whether that card be the "sinners prayer" or, in Guido's case, Pope Boniface VIII's assurances), trying to get forgiveness and then to sin, is to reject the only thing that can ever save us - God's great mercy. Thus Guido only appeared to be better than Odysseus, only appeared to have repented and sought the solace of God's embrace. This deception, this final act of fraud, leaves Guido wrapped in, "the flame, in previous pain.../ gnarling and flickering its pointed horn. (XXVII:131-132).

After leaving behind the sinners engulfed in flames, Dante and Virgil come to the ninth bolgia of Malebolgie, the Eighth Circle of Hell. It is here that Dante is overwhelmed by the spectacle before him. Here he sees a demon wielding a great sword which he uses to rip to pieces the shades condemned here. Two souls in particular leap to Dante's attention. The first is cut from his throat to his groin; the second from his brow to his chin. This pair identify themselves,
..."How mutilated, see, is Mahomet;
In front of me doth Ali weeping go (XXVIII:31-32)

He looked at me, and opened with his hands
His bosom, saying: "See now how I rend me" (XXVIII:30)
Just as the schismatics, the sinners punished here, rendered asunder the Mystical Body of Christ on Earth, so now their bodies are rendered in torment below. We might, at first, be surprised to find the founder of Islam condemned as a schismatic. Isn't Mohammad another religious founder? Isn't Islam a separate entity entirely from Christianity, more like Hinduism than Mormonism? Dante's answer is no. He neither sees "Christianity" as one of the "world religions," one of which is Islam, nor does he see Mohammad as having created Islam ex nihilo. This view of Catholicism and of Islam is wonderfully summed up by the great Hilaire Belloc in his book The Great Heresies,
There is no such thing as a religion called "Christianity" there never has been such a religion. There is an always has been the Church, and various heresies proceeding from a rejection of some of the Church's doctrines by men who still desire to retain the rest of her teaching and morals.... There has always been, from the beginning, and will always be, the Church, and sundry heresies either doomed to decay, or, like Mohammedanism, to grow into a separate religion. 
Christianity, then, is the Catholic Church. Jesus didn't come to found "another great world religion." He came to establish the Kingdom of God, which is present in and through the Holy Catholic Church. Islam, like Arianism before and Protestantism after, split off from that Church, rejecting "some of the Church's doctrines" and seeking "to retain the rest of her teaching." That is why Jesus and Mary play such a prominent role in Islam (to the point where Jesus, not Mohammad, will return at the world's end to judge mankind).

We've already seen that Dante doesn't consider being Muslim to be a reason for eternal punishment (we met Saladin, Averoes and Avicenna living in a painless Earthy paradise in Limbo with the other virtuous non-Christians in Limbo). However, creating a division in the Body of Christ, which Dante believes Mohammad to have done, is. This distinction, between formal and material schism (and heresy) is still made by the Church today and is one reason the Church has softened her tone towards Eastern Orthodox, Protestants and Muslims today. These men and women might be in an unwilled state of material schism (and, for some, material heresy), but such isn't sinful. The founders of these schisms, Photius, Luther, Mohammad, however, and their early followers who left the Church, would have been guilty of the sin of formal schism (and, in most cases, heresy). Thus, in full accord with what Dante already is saying in the Thirteenth Century, Vatican Two can rightly say,
The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter. For there are many who honor Sacred Scripture, taking it as a norm of belief and a pattern of life, and who show a sincere zeal. They lovingly believe in God the Father Almighty and in Christ, the Son of God and Saviour. They are consecrated by baptism, in which they are united with Christ…. Likewise we can say that in some real way they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power. Some indeed He has strengthened to the extent of the shedding of their blood…. Mother Church never ceases to pray, hope and work that this may come about….…(T)hose who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God…. (T)he plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind… (Lumen Gentium, 15-16)
After being overwhelmed by the mutilation he sees, including a sinner with his head removed from his shoulders, a perfect example of Dantean contrapasso - as this man, Bertran de Born, who severed the relationship between a father and son on Earth now is severed himself, Dante and Virgil trudge into the last bolgia of the Eighth Circle.

In me you see the perfect contrapasso! (XXVIII:142, Musa)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Three Acts of the Mind (pt 2/3): Judgement (Philosophy 101)

"Don't judge!" If there is one imperative that most Americans, most modern Christians, most Westerners would all agree upon it is, "don't judge!" As support they cite Jesus' own words in Matthew 7:1, "do not judge or you too will be judged." I'm not one to disagree with the Word of God enfleshed, as reported by the Word of God inspired, but modern interpretations of this command might be something very much to be disagreed with, especially if they condemn all judging, for judging is the second act of the mind and eliminating it is akin to giving oneself a partial lobotomy, something which I'm sure Christ wouldn't counsel. Let's take a closer look at what logicians and philosophers mean by "judging" then return to Christ's command, and modern interpretations of said command, to see what Christ is forbidding and what He isn't.



The Second Act of the Mind: Judgement
Perhaps the most important, and most easily remembered, distinction between terms (i.e. the fruit of the first act of the mind) and judgements (i.e. the fruit of the second act of the mind) is that judgements are either true or false, while terms are only ever clear or unclear, ambiguous or unambiguous (never true or false). As we'll see tomorrow, the third act of the mind produces arguments, which are also never true or false (they are either logically valid or logically invalid). Therefore, judgements are the sole way through which we can grasp truth. If your question is, "is this true," you are using the "second act of the mind," you are making a judgement, you are judging.

This is, obviously, a very important power of the human intellect and one which no one can deny without falling into immediate self-contradiction. If a skeptic were to claim that the "second act of the mind," were to claim that judgments were not able to tell us whether things were true or false, this itself would be a judgement, one which the skeptic would be claiming is true. This also makes the first act and the third act of the mind means to the end contained by the second act of the mind - truth. Whenever we read what someone else writes, or listen to what he says, we should always be asking, "is this true," i.e. we should always be judging.

How the First Act of the Mind and the Second Act of the Mind are Related
Once the mind has understood something, i.e. once it has answered the question, "what is this," by abstracting the form from the material object through forming a concept, we naturally seek to relate this concept to other concepts. Seeing a ball might register the concept "round" and the concept "ball," which we relate in the judgement, "the ball is round." For you who did well in grammar school, you'll immediately recognized "ball" as the subject of this judgment (judgements are always expressed as declarative sentences) and "round" as the predicate. Thus, in logic, we say "round is predicated of ball." This judgment, "the ball is round," is called a proposition. All proportions are either true or false (true in this case). The first act of the mind, then, gives us both the topic, the subject, of our proposition and what we will claim about the subject, in the predicate. 





Back to Jesus
Did Jesus mean to command us to not use the "second act of the mind," the only act that allows us to judge the truth or falsity of anything? Was Jesus commanding us to be little Pontius Pilate's forever wondering, "what is truth" (cf. Jn 13:38)? Was Jesus a relativist? The answer can be found by simply reading what else Jesus has to say about truth - namely that He is truth itself, Truth (with a capital "T") in-the-flesh (cf. Jn 14:6). Clearly, then, Jesus wasn't demanding that His followers cease thinking, cease judging in the philosophical and logical sense of the word, but was calling on mere men to stop short of judging the eternal fate of other men's souls. And for good cause. I might well judge theft as wrong and your stealing my car as an evil act, even a sin, but I can't then conclude that you will be damned to Hell for it as I can never know whether or not you repented before you died. In fact, no one can know whether or not you died repentant or unrepentant and thus no one can judge the eternal state of anyone else's soul. The sole exception to this is the infallible declaration by the Church of someone's sanctity, i.e. that this man definitely went to Heaven. We, on the other hand, should never presume to declare someone saved (yes that includes deceased relatives and friends) or damned, for we simply don't know. We can hope for the salvation of those we've lost, we can pray for them, but we can't judge whether or not they might be saved or damned (and indeed, if we believe St. Paul, we shouldn't even presume to judge ourselves - cf. 1 Cor 4:3). But, while we can't judge souls, we can (and must) judge many other things, including whether certain acts are evil. It isn't violating Christ's command to say something like "rape is evil" (i.e. to predicate "evil" of "rape") or to say, politically incorrect as it may be, "homosexual sex is immoral" (or contraception, or divorce and remarriage, or whatever traditional piece of sexual morality you want). It is violating Christ's command, however, to say "that rapist is damned" or "that homosexual couple is" (I'm looking at you Westboro Baptist "Church"). We must love sinners even while hating sin and must judge acts while never judging souls.

The Least You Need to Know

  • Humans are capable of understanding truth, objective truth, through the second act of the mind
  • The first and third acts of the mind are means to the end of truth (the second act of the mind)
  • Jesus doesn't want us to judge souls (because we can't know the truth of their fate)
  • This includes crazy Westboro Baptist style condemnations, declaring grandma to be in Heaven, and "once saved always saved" theology
  • Jesus does want us to think and thus to judge
  • We can, and should, judge acts, but never persons.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Three Acts of the Mind (pt 1/3): Understanding (Philosophy 101)

In philosophy we speak of the "three acts of the mind." Distinguishing between these three separate types of thought is essential for clear, cogent analysis of logical arguments, including arguments for the existence of God. As this very basic distinction has become alien to many people today (thanks to widespread poor teaching or no teaching of basic philosophy) and because it is so fundamental for rational understanding (including the kind required for effective apologetics), I thought a quick review here would be in order.



The First Act of the Mind: Understanding
Understanding (or "simple apprehension") is the "first act of the mind" for two reasons. First, it lays the foundation for the "second" and "third" acts of the mind and second, it is fundamental to the difference between truly human thought and the thought possible by the higher animals (e.g. dolphins, apes, whales) and the "thought" possible by "artificial intelligence," (e.g. a computer). What separates the way man thinks from even the highest of "mere animals" (i.e. non-rational animals, non-human animals)? Asking questions. Your pet dog might very well go to his toy basket and search for a particular "favorite" chew or lush ball, but he can't ask you why you haven't purchased him a second one of those or why you were so late in coming home that evening; his language is too primitive to even allow questions to enter his mind as thoughts. Likewise with computers. You might ask "Siri" what the temperature is, but it can't ask you anything back. In fact, asking "Siri" to ask you a question brings up the response, "I'm more of the answering type." It's no objection to claim that someone at Apple could program "Siri" to ask you how you are doing, because this isn't a real question, not one asked to gain information, it's just a piece of programmed code and"Siri" can't question its own programming.

People, on the other hand, can't stop asking questions, that is why we are all, naturally, philosophers (and why philosophy is, along with its specialized sister discipline, theology, the highest of the sciences, that on which all the other sciences, including the "hard sciences" depend). And the first question any person asks is "what is that?" The answer to this question, "what?" (quid in Latin), gives us the things essence or quiddity, its "whatness." The understanding of something's essence gives rise, in our minds, to concepts. A concept is an immaterial (sorry materialists, but you're wrong already), abstract, universal, necessary, and unchanging mental realities by which we understand the real world around us. When I see a triangle, for example, I only physically see a material, concrete, particular, contingent, changeable object. I don't physically see "triangularity" (i.e. the essence of "triangle-ness"). However, by asking that distinctly human question, "what is it," I can come to understand this essence. Once I've done so, I can then see other shapes and determine whether they too are material, concrete, particular, contingent, changeable examples of the immaterial, abstract, universal, necessary, and unchanging concept I have of the essence of all triangles. Thus, I can see a four-sided object and understand that it isn't a triangle, but see equilateral and isosceles, red and blue, big and small triangles and know that, as they all share the same essence, as they are all essentially the same thing (i.e. the answer to "what is that" is the same, "a triangle"), that they are each examples of a triangle.

Computers (and animals) can't abstract essences from concrete examples, as we do, thus they can't understand anything. A dog might be trained, by a human who understands, to fetch a three sided object when told to get a triangle, but can't distinguish between what makes this a triangle and that a square. Likewise, a computer, programmed by a human who understands, can "google" the word "triangle" and come up with pictures of triangles, articles about triangles, etc. but can't distinguish what makes one shape a triangle and another something else. This, then, separates all human knowledge from all non-human knowledge (even angels and God never ask "what is it," God because He already knows and angels because they behold essences directly from the mind of God rather than abstracting them from individual, concrete objects of which they must ask "what is it.")



A Few Important Further Points About Concepts
We might do well to pause for moment and distinguish what concepts are from what they are not and to take a little closer look at the fruit of the first act of the mind (i.e. concepts).

1) Concepts are not words
A word is something concrete, indeed as concrete as the object it is describing, concepts are abstract and immaterial. The word "triangle" is made up of either pen or pencil marks on paper, or sound waves reverberating through the air, or pixels on a screen, etc. The word is also changeable. We could, as a matter of societal convention, decide to call all triangles "squares" henceforth, yet the essence would remain unchanged - they'd still all have three-sides. Or, for another example, we could change the meaning of the English words "man" and "woman," so that all people with an XY-chromosome would, henceforth, be called "women," but they would still be unable to get pregnant. The object, then, and the word we use to identify the object are linked by the concept by neither is identical with it. We can have concepts enter our minds (not to be confused with our brains) precisely because they are immaterial. I.e. we can have the concept "apple" in our heads even though we can't put a physical apple in our heads. The same goes for the word "apple." I can think about an apple, I can even think of the word apple, yet the physical word is not "in my mind" in the sense that you could cut my head open and see it.

2) Concepts are not terms
I find that there is quite a bit of confusion over the difference between "terms," "words," and "concepts." We saw above how "concepts" are different from "words," let's take a second to distinguish both from "terms." A term, in philosophy and logic, expresses a concept. Concepts "live" in the private mind of individuals. I have concepts, you have concepts. We can speak together about these private concepts through the use of terms. Simply stated, then, terms make concepts public affairs. Terms differ from words by being unchangeable. Words, as we said above, are established by and can be changed through human convention. Terms cannot be changed. The existence of terms explains how we can translate from one language (i.e. one group of words) to another. Amore and love express the same term in two different, manmade, languages. The difference between a term and a concept can be harder to immediately grasp than the difference between a concept and a word, however the latter is more important for us here. Suffice it to say that terms can be ambiguous or unambiguous, while concepts are never ambiguous (although they might be confused).

3) Concepts allow for imagination
Have you ever imaged little green men living on Mars? Or what it would be like if men had wings? If so, you are using your power of understanding. We've never seen a "little green man," yet we can imagine them. How? By using the first act of the mind's power of abstraction. When an animal sees something green, all it sees is "green-grass" or "green-leaves" or "green-car." Lacking the first act of the mind and its ability to understand and abstract essences from concrete objects it lacks the concept "greeness" and thus can't apply it to non-green things, like imagining what it would be like if the sun were green instead of yellow or what a Martian might look like. Because concepts are abstract we can apply them in ways we don't find them occurring through sensation. Even the earliest, most primitive men have this ability, which is precisely why we see early man painting on cave walls and never see any art ever produced by any computer or animal (again, unless made to do so by a man with understanding).

4) Concepts provide certainty
Scientific knowledge, grounded as it is in inductive reasoning (i.e. it studies concrete, particular things, rather than essences), leads to probabilistic knowledge. Understanding, through the first act of the mind and thus knowledge of essences, leads to certain knowledge. For example, saying all swans are white (a declaration of empirical, scientific, and thus only probabilistic, knowledge) can be disproven by the discovery of a black swan (which actually happened when John Latham traveled to Australia at the end of the eighteenth century). However, all triangles have three sides (or all swans are birds) are conceptual knowledge and thus provide certainty. Any triangle we find, anywhere in the universe (including any triangle we can even imagine) will necessarily have three sides. Even God Himself, in His omnipotent might, can't create a four or two-sided triangle, although he could create (and we could imagine) swans of any color. The certainty provided by understanding concepts (i.e. knowing essences) allows us to reach definite conclusions, conclusions not dependent on seeing or experiencing everything that exists.

When I was discussing the Kalam Cosmological Argument for the existence of God with atheists, a few of them wanted to dispute the first premise of my presentation of this argument, that everything that begins to exist has a cause for coming into existence outside itself. One atheist asked for evidence for this, hoping for something empirical. While empirical evidence tells us that nothing we have experienced has ever been caused for no reason, not having experienced everything that comes into being we can't conclude that everything that comes into being has a cause. However, understanding the essence of what it means to be a "caused thing" or "a thing that begins to exist" can lead exactly to the knowledge that it necessarily includes having a cause. This knowledge is universally true, not because someone has experienced everything in the universe, but because anyone can understand the essence of "being-caused" to include, well, having a cause.

A classic example of certainty provided through knowing the essence of something is knowing that, one day, you will die, that you are mortal. You haven't experienced your own death, so we don't know of our own mortality through empirical science. However, by knowing that an essential part of human nature is to be mortal and by knowing that you are human, you know, certainly, that you will perish. We need not have experienced the death of every man to know "all men are mortal" is true and it isn't a tautology like "all black dogs are dogs" which we can know simply because the predicate is a part of the subject, rather we can know it through the first act of the mind - understanding.

The Least You Need to Know
To distill all this to its essence:
  • Humans are capable of understanding what-things-are through abstracting essences from concrete objects.
  • Computer and animal intelligences cannot do this.
  • Divine and angelic intelligences need not do this.
  • Understanding produces concepts.
  • Concepts are logically expressed in terms and linguistically expressed in words.
  • Concepts and terms, unlike words, are not changeable or manmade.
  • Concepts allow for certain knowledge, even of things we haven't immediately sensed.
  • To make a good argument terms need to be clear and unambiguous.




Monday, May 18, 2015

Blogging through Hell (pt 12) - Walking Among Devils & Hypocrites

After leaving behind the fortune tellers, and the unjust sorrow at their fate, Dante and Virgil cross the next arch into the fifth bolgia of the Eighth Circle. This bolgia, as Dante sees from the top of the archway, is filled with boiling pitch, but which appears empty. Dante, staring intently at the pitch in an attempt to discern who is being punished here, is pulled back by Virgil as a devil comes speeding towards them. The devil, one of the malebranche (evil-claws) who guard this bolgia, speeds past our pilgrims on a mission to dunk one of the sinners who dared surface from under the pitch. The sinners here punished are the grafters, government officials who took bribes, i.e. men who subverted justice, who defrauded their fellow citizens, for coin.

An image of bribery from Eighteenth Century England

The malebranche, both terrifying and humorous, in an off-color manner, soar about the tarpit with pitchforks in hand looking to skewer any sinner that dares to show his flesh. One poor soul, from Lucca, does just that and meets with both the devils' hooks and their humor as they compare the sinner's attempt to float on the pitch to the Santo Volto ("Holy Face," an important devotional crucifix, said to have been craved by Nicodemus, in Lucca) and remind him, while pulling him apart, that swimming in Hell isn't like swimming in the Serchio (the primary river near Lucca).

Santo Volto of Lucca
As the devils finish with the grafter from Lucca, Virgil steps out of the shadows to confront them. Malacoda, the leader of this group of devils, flies at Virgil, ready to thrust his pitchfork into Dante's guide, but is brought low, as so many of Hell's demons have been, by a mere mention of the Divine protection Dante's journey enjoys,
... his arrogance so humbled in him,
That he let fall his grapnel at his feet,
And to the others said: "Now strike him not." (XXI:85-88)
 The devils explain that the arch-bridge over this bolgia was destroyed, "yesterday, five hours later than this hour, / One thousand and two hundred sixty-six / Years"(XXI:112-114) ago by the Harrowing of Hell, which also destroyed the entrance gate to Hell and created the rockslide on which we met the Minotaur. As each bolgia has several bridges across it, Dante and Virgil must content themselves with following the devils to the next crossing, which Malacoda reveals is still intact (remember Virgil last passed through here before the Harrowing of Hell, before the bridge was destroyed). Dante, none too enthused with his new traveling companions, sidles up next to Virgil as Malacoda "made a trumpet of his rump" (XXI:139), as the signal to set off.

On the journey to the next bridge, the Malebranche come across a group of sinners that dare to have their faces slightly above the pitch. Most of them immediately duck back under at the approach of the devils, but one doesn't get away in time and is hoisted out by the demon guards. The other devils cry out,
"O Rubicante, see that thou do lay
Thy claws upon him, so that thou mayest flay him," (XXII:40-41)
Virgil interrupts the torment of this sinner to discover his name, he never gets to (though early commentators identify the man as Ciampolo), and to learn of anyone else that might be beneath the surface. The captured sinner, who we learn only is from the Kingdom of Navarre, uses the opportunity of speaking with Virgil to leap from the claws of the Malebranche striving to return to the relatively safety of the boiling tar. Seeing the Navarrese leap toward the pitch, Alichin, another devil, flies off to capture the sinner before he makes his escape, but misses as, "wings could not / outstrip the fear" (XXII:128-129) of the sinner.

Therefore he moved, and cried out: "Thou art o'ertaken."  (XXII:126)
It is noteworthy that Ciampolo lies to the devils, he tells them that he will call other sinners to the surface if they will but back off a bit (i.e. he says he will lie to the other sinners), to make his escape. Here we see a sinner still committing the sin for which he is damned - fraud. The devils seem to be in on the act as well, as they pretend to believe Ciampolo, lying to their fellow devil Alichin, merely to pick a fight with Alichin once Ciampolo escapes.

While the devils are betrayed by Ciampolo and while they battle one another, Dante and Virgil decide to press ahead by themselves to the next bridge. Dante is more fearful now of the devils than ever,
..."These on our account
Are laughed to scorn, with injury and scoff
So great, that much I think it must annoy them....  
I am in dread; we have them now behind us;
I so imagine them, I already feel them." (XXIII:13-15; 23-24)
No sooner is this said than that the Malebranche appear on the horizon, wings spread, pitchforks in hands. Virgil grabs Dante and slides down the rocky side of the bolgia, just as the devils reach them.

... there was
nothing to fear; for that High Providence
that willed them ministers of the fifth ditch,
denies to all of them the power to leave it. (XXIII:54-57, Mandelbaum)
Now, turning their backs on the furious Malebranche, Dante sees the next group of sinners, the hypocrites. These must walk forever covered in a heavy leaded mantel that, on the outside, glitters like the finest gold. Their mantel is a perfect image of hypocrisy, a lie to anyone who sees it. They plod along, under their heavy weight, burdened and pained, but also inflicting pain on another group of sinners punished here, the members of the Sanhedrin that betrayed their God who walked among them in the Flesh. Dante and Virgil see Caiaphas, nailed to the ground, cruciform (which was nicely foreshadowed by the image of the sinner in the last bolgia floating on his back like the Volto Santo). Caiaphas (and the rest of the Sanhedrin) are perpetually being trodded upon by the hypocrites, a fitting punishment for the betrayers of Christ (from His own people) and a just dessert for the pain and suffering they caused the Jewish People by their rejection of YHWH in the Flesh. Some commentators see Dante's harsh words for these sinners,
... "This transfixed one, whom thou seest,
Counselled the Pharisees that it was meet
To put one man to torture for the people. 
Crosswise and naked is he on the path,
As thou perceives; and he needs must feel,
Whoever passes, first how much he weighs; 
And in like mode his father-in-law is punished
Within this moat, and the others of the council,
Which for the Jews was a malignant seed." (XXII:115-123)
to be an incidence of hatred for the Jews, however I think the exact opposite is proven here. Dante bemoans the fate of Jerusalem and God's Holy People (the destruction of the Temple, the Sack of Jerusalem, and the diaspora), by showing how severely the leaders who caused these evils to be listed on the people are punished in the pit of Hell. We see nowhere in Dante the damnation of all Jewish people, in fact many of the Old Testament figures (and, of course, the Jewish New Testament saints and Christ Himself) enjoy Paradise. It is the parties responsible among the First Century Jewish leadership that are here punished, not all Jews indiscriminately.

The canto ends with Virgil livid over realizing that the malebranche had lied to him about the broken archway bridge. All the bridges over the fifth bolgia, it turns out, were shattered when Christ entered Hell, including the one Malacoda and company were leading Virgil and Dante to. On this fraudulent note, Virgil and Dante walk off to try to find some way out of the sixth bolgia.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Why ALL Christians Should Be Religious, Not Just Spiritual

Oftentimes, in our modern world, I encounter Christians, even Catholics, who claim them are "spiritual, but not religious." These Christians even claim that Jesus came to end all religion and set up (false) dichotomies between loving Jesus ("being spiritual") and religion. We might, in lieu of this, take a moment and ask, what is "religion" in the first place? I can think of no better person to consult than St. Thomas Aquinas, the Supreme Doctor of the Catholic Church, who lived in the Middle Ages,  i.e. the top teacher of the most "religious" strain of Christianity, in the most "religious" age of Western Civilization. Aquinas, then, is a perfect representative, as will almost invariably be admitted by the anti-religion crowd, of "religion."



St. Thomas defines "religion" in his greatest work, the Summa Theologiae.1

I answer that, as Isidore says (Etym. x), "according to Cicero, a man is said to be religious from 'religio,' because he often ponders over, and, as it were, reads again [relegit], the things which pertain to the worship of God," so that religion would seem to take its name from reading over those things which belong to Divine worship because we ought frequently to ponder over such things in our hearts, according to Proverbs 3:6, "In all thy ways think on Him." According to Augustine (De Civ. Dei x, 3) it may also take its name from the fact that "we ought to seek God again, whom we had lost by our neglect" [St. Augustine plays on the words 'reeligere,' i.e. to choose over again, and 'negligere,' to neglect or despise.]. Or again, religion may be derived from "religare" [to bind together], wherefore Augustine says (De Vera Relig. 55): "May religion bind us to the one Almighty God." However, whether religion take its name from frequent reading, or from a repeated choice of what has been lost through negligence, or from being a bond, it denotes properly a relation to God. For it is He to Whom we ought to be bound as to our unfailing principle; to Whom also our choice should be resolutely directed as to our last end; and Whom we lose when we neglect Him by sin, and should recover by believing in Him and confessing our faith.


Let's break this answer down.

1. Religion means "to read the Bible again (and again)."
In his first etymological definition, St. Thomas quotes St. Isidore (560-636), who quotes Cicero (107-44 BC), as defining "religion" as coming from the Latin "religio," from "relegit," meaning "to read again." St. Thomas sees "religion," in this sense, as meaning "to read again" the Sacred Scriptures and quotes Proverbs 3:6 to back up his point. More than just reading, however, St. Thomas also says that "religion" includes, importantly for a most illiterate age, frequently pondering the Holy Writings in the hearts of believers. Thus, "religion" is made up of frequent reading of the Bible and frequent calling to mind the contents read therein.

2. Religion means "to choose God again (and again)." 
In his second definition, St. Thomas looks back to St. Augustine (354-430) who, in his City of God, said "religion" comes from the Latin "reeligere" meaning "to choose again," specifically to choose God again. Here someone is "religious" when they continue to choose God in their lives over and over, rather than choosing sin, the flesh, or the world. The "man of religion" then is the man who lives not for the world or by sin, but is rather the man who lived for God.

3. Religion means "a bond with God."
In his last definition, St. Thomas again look to St. Augustine but this time to his On True Religion, wherein Augustine explores the possibility that "religion" comes from the Latin religare meaning "to bind together." In this context, "religion" is that which "binds" man to God and God to man. Religion, then, is what makes "a personal relationship with Jesus Christ" possible. It is the man of religion who is "bonded to" God.

What is There to Object to?
In any case, no matter which definition of religion we use, I find it hard to see how any Christian could possibly oppose it. What, I'll ask, about religion is so worthy of condemnation? Does the Evangelical Protestant oppose reading, and re-reading, the Bible? If so, they can hardly continue to claim to be "Bible Christians." Does the Evangelical Protestant oppose "choosing God (again and again)" over a life of sin? If so, he fails to heed the repeated teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. Does the Evangelical Protestant oppose being "bonded with God," i.e. having "a personal relationship" with God? If so, he is rejecting the most fundamental plank of his theology.

Therefore, I think it is rather safe to conclude that all Christians ought to strive to be "religious" and that Jesus came not to "end religion," but to make it more effectuous, more powerful, and more essential.

The next time you meet someone claiming to be "spiritual, not religious," take a second to explain what "religion" actually is and see if they still object. If so, at least you have something to actually debate over, instead of "cliché thinking."

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1. Secunda Secundae Partis, Q. 81, Art. 1 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Blogging through Hell (pt 11) - Dante Weeps

Of a new pain behoves me to make verses
And give material to the twentieth canto
Of the first song, which is of the submerged. (XX:1-3)
Thus Dante announces the arrival into the fourth "pocket" (bolgia) of the Eighth Circle of Hell, the Circle where the Fraudulent are punished. Here Dante is taken aback by a "new pain," one which our pilgrim guide seems to struggle with more than many others that we've witnessed with him,
and in the valley's circle I saw souls
advancing, mute and weeping, at the pace
that, in our world, holy processions take. 
As I inclined my head still more, I saw
that each, amazingly, appeared contorted
between the chin and where the chest begins; 
they had their faces twisted towards their haunches
and found it necessary to walk backward,
because they could not see ahead of them. (XX:7-15, Mandelbaum)
Indeed, Dante begins to weep. He attempts to justify his reaction, after learning so much about Hell, sin, and Divine Justice, to his readers,
So may God grant you, Reader, benefits
from reading of my poem, just ask yourself
how I could keep my eyes dry when, close by 
I saw the image of our human form
so twisted - the tears their eyes were shedding
streamed down to wet their buttocks at the cleft. (XX:19-24, Musa)
 It is the disfigurement of the human form, made in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:27), not the self-inflicted pain and suffering of the unrepentant sinners, that Dante claims makes him weep. Virgil, however, is having none of it,
..."Art thou, too, of the other fools? 
Here pity lives when it is wholly dead;
Who is a greater reprobate than he
Who feels compassion at the doom divine? (XX:27-30)
"Qui vive la pietà quand'è ben morta", "here pity lives when it is wholly dead" (XX:28), is a lesson Dante was supposed to have learned by now. It is also a lesson we're supposed to have learned by now, but how many of us are also moved by the repeated horrors we see in lower Hell? These sinners, the fraudulent and the violent above them, have maliciously chosen to act out evil, whether through killing others, themselves, violating nature and nature's God, or through deceiving others (an act reserved to persons, and thus worse than violence), yet we still, like Dante, have a tendency to feel sorrow for their self-imposed sentences. These sinners, all the sinners in Hell, have freely chosen, against the Will of God, to be precisely where they are. God, not being a spiritual rapists, desires all men to behold His Holy Face, but doesn't force anyone to. That is the radical nature of Love - a Love so great that even the Almighty allows His Will to be thwarted by some so that others may freely choose love (for love not freely chosen is no love at all).

"Chi è più scellerato che colui / che al giudico divina passion comporta?" "Who is a greater reprobate than he / who feels compassion at the doom divine?" (XX:29-30) As divine justice (perhaps a better translation than Longfellow's "doom divine") fulfills the dictate of love, not of wrath, makes he who would rail against it not "merciful" or "loving" but anti-love and even anti-mercy. "Il giudico divina" isn't the opposite of l'amore divina, God's love, but is one and the same with it, as all of God's attributes are ultimately one with His eternal, unchanging essence.

It is with this in mind that, even when seeing the human form "so twisted" (XX:22) by sin, that we should not be moved to pity but to righteous indignation that creatures beloved of God, creatures given the opportunity to fulfill a blessed destiny, have instead chosen sin over Love and in so doing have warped their souls into a greater disfigurement than even that which we behold in the twentieth canto. Here the shades of those who wanted to see the future (i.e. they wanted to see farther ahead of themselves than is possible or just) are now walking backwards, with their heads facing the same direction as their backsides, forever unable to see forwards at all. The shades here bemoan their self-imposed eternal lot with tears of suffering, not of repentance, the one thing which could have saved them.

Tiresias, damned in the Eighth Circle, tells Odysseus the future

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Communion in the Hand? What Are Catholics to Think?

I recently partook in a debate on a closed "Catholic Defenders" page on Facebook surrounding the issue of Communion in the Hand and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion and thought it might be instructive to share some of it here.

The post started by referencing a great little article by Father Richard Heilman entitled The Truth About Communion in the Hand While Standing. The article is worth reading in its entirety and can be debated by Catholics of good conscience on various points. Such a debate is not what interests me here, rather what I found interesting was the reaction to the article among my fellow "Catholic Defenders" (or, at least, among some of my fellow "Catholic Defenders").

St. Padre Pio Receives the LORD

What's the Body Got to Do With It?
The primary objection to Fr. Heilman's promotion of the traditional (and still universal) norm for receiving Communion in the Latin Rite (i.e. kneeling and on the tongue) was shrouded in a pseudo-gnostic "all that matters is your interior disposition" mentality. Those objecting to kneeling on these grounds basically were claiming that our bodies are so unimportant that any physical disposition would do for receiving the Lord as long as our inner "spiritual" disposition was correct. My response,
Certainly, interior disposition is important but so is bodily disposition. Let's not be Gnostics, "all that matters is my heart revering Jesus." The Lord comes in the Flesh, physically, in the Eucharist. We ought to, physically, show our respect. Yes, an interior disposition of reverence is necessary, but it is is not sufficient. In our Latin tradition, kneeling, not standing, is how we publicly show our love and respect for our Eucharistic Lord and it is still the norm for the Universal Church.
Which lead to the objection that everyone ought to assume whatever they "feel" (don't you love the subjective content that word carries?) is the proper to show their individual reverence. To which I replied,
Contra the "everyone do what they feel like in their heart" attitude, the GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal - the book that governs the celebration of the Mass) envisions something a bit different, "A common posture, to be observed by all participants, is a sign of the unity of the members of the Christian community gathered for the Sacred Liturgy: it both expresses and fosters the intention and spiritual attitude of the participants."(42). I'm simply suggesting the traditional posture ought to be this called for "common posture." Although I do so with the caveat that the Church currently allows for both postures, even though the division this creates is undesirable.

What About the Infirm? 
This lead one commenter to bring up the situation of an elderly infirm woman, suffering great sickness - indeed she is dying of her illness. This woman can't kneel. She must stand. Wouldn't it be a great lack of compassion to deny such a woman the healing presence of the Lord simply because she can't assume the traditional posture of reception of Our Lord? I responded,
"Hard cases" make for bad law. Such is true when someone tries to defend abortion by appealing to the minuscule amount of abortions in situations of rape or incest, such is true with your comment above. Are there certain extreme situations where a person can't receive in the normal way? Of course. And some people are so sick they can't come to Mass at all on a given Sunday (think of someone with the flu). But that in no way makes it okay for people to just choose to receive in a less reverent manner. We are to do the best we can. For someone with knee problems that might well mean sitting to receive. But that isn't the case for 99% of American Catholics.
Pope Benedict XVI only distributed Communion on the Tongue

What About Those Who Receive Kneeling, but Without a Proper Interior Disposition?  
The prospect of someone receiving the Eucharist, kneeling and on the tongue, but without a proper interior disposition was brought up and contrasted with another person, who receives standing and in the hand, but well disposed interiorly. I replied,
Can someone receive kneeling irreverently. Of course they can, but again, that means nothing. That would be like saying rapists don't use contraception and loving married couples do, therefore contraception is okay. Exterior disposition is no more sufficient in and of itself than interior disposition is as we are neither mere animals nor pure spirits. We need both.
What About St. Cyril of Jerusalem?
It was then that poor old St. Cyril of Jerusalem was brought up. If you ever have any conversation with anyone about Communion in the hand, you'll run into the following quote (taken out of context as we will see in a moment) from this Church Father, the quote, as presented, is,
ST. CYRIL OF JERUSALEM.(Cateches. Mystagog. v.(1))
When thou goest to receive communion go not with thy wrists extended, nor with thy fingers separated, but placing thy left hand as a throne for thy right, which is to receive so great a King, and in the hollow of the palm receive the body of Christ, saying, Amen. [4]
It is important to note that this is the one and only quote from the Church Fathers that mentions anything like our modern practice of receiving Communion here in the US. There are many other quotes, from various Church Fathers, that attest to the early Church receiving the Lord in the traditional manner. It is also important to note that St. Cyril is an Eastern Church Father, thus he is describing not what was then practiced in the Latin Rite, but what was then practiced in the Eastern Church. Thus, Cyril's description has no bearing on Latin tradition. Finally, we must keep in mind that some of the works attributed to St. Cyril are thought to be fallacious. This passage comes from one of these "doubted" works. However, and most damaging of all to those who bring up this passage, is the context (remember, a text without context is a pretext for a prooftext). Let's see the full quote from St. Cyril (if it is from St. Cyril) - emphasis added,
"Approaching therefore, do not come forward with the palms of the hands outstretched nor with the fingers apart, but making the left [hand] a throne for the right since this hand is about to receive the King. Making the palm hollow, receive the Body of Christ, adding 'Amen'. Then, carefully sanctifying the eyes by touching them with the holy Body, partake of it, ensuring that you do not mislay any of it. For if you mislay any, you would clearly suffer a loss, as it were, from one of your own limbs. Tell me, if anyone gave you gold-dust, would you not take hold of it with every possible care, ensuring that you do not mislay any of it or sustain any loss? So will you not be much more cautious to ensure that not a crumb falls away from that which is more precious than gold or precious stones?
"Then, after you have partaken of the Body of Christ, come forward only for the cup of the Blood. Do not stretch out your hands but bow low as if making an act of obeisance and a profound act of veneration. Say 'Amen'. and sanctify yourself by partaking of Christ's Blood also. While the moisture is still on your lips, touch them with your hands and sanctify your eyes, your forehead, and all your other sensory organs. Finally, wait for the prayer and give thanks to God, who has deemed you worthy of such mysteries."
Anyone who uses the St. Cyril to support Communion in the hand, but doesn't also argue for a return to rubbing Christ's Most Precious Blood all over our sensory organs is merely taking a soundbite from the saint to support a method of Communion entirely foreign to him. And, honestly, who thinks what St. Cyril says ought to be instituted immediately in all places where Christ is received in the hand? For what ever the merits of such a decision might be, we can at least admit that even Cyril doesn't describe the modern method of Communion which mirrors the way we eat everything else. Cyril's method maintains the uniqueness of Communion, albeit in a rather odd way.

Does Communion in the hand lend itself to abuse more easily than on the tongue?

Hasn't Rome Spoken on This? 
Having thus failed to dispute anything Fr. Heilman presented or to make a case that Communion in the hand ought to be the most common method of reception of the Most Holy Body of Christ, the supporters of Communion in the hand turned lastly to announcing that the Church has spoken (Roma locuta est) and that the case is, thereby, closed. This is partially true and partially not. First, we must admit that the Church has, in fact, authorized both ways of receiving Communion for Catholics here in the United States. Thus, each Catholic is free to choose for himself and should not be harassed or looked down upon for choosing one method over the other. This means both that Catholics ought not be shamed for receiving standing and, what is much more likely, shouldn't be castigated or even refused Communion for assuming the traditional posture. That being said, the Church has not, by issuing an indult, set up a "separate but equal" choice between the two methods of receiving. One method can be, and in this case is, objectively better than the other. That doesn't mean every Catholic who receive in the traditional posture is holier or better than every Catholic who receives in the novel modern manner. Very holy Catholics can be found among people on both sides (as can some people that are not holy at all). The question isn't whether you or I are better, but whether the mode of reception is. That being said, the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, 1 precisely in response to a question from bishops on whether Catholics must think optional changes in the Mass (e.g. Communion in the hand, extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, altar girls, etc) are objectively good. The answer was a clear "no." All Catholics must admit that the Church has the jurisdictional authority to make such options available. All Catholics must admit that such options being used do not make the Mass invalid, but there is no obligation on Catholics to think such options are good (or are bad). Catholics are free to agree or disagree with each other on this point and remain good Catholics.

This last point is probably the most important of all. Catholics, like myself (and in fact almost everyone at the ordinary form Mass I attend), who choose to honor Christ by using the ancient and venerable posture of kneeling and receiving on the tongue are not to think less of those Catholics who decide to receive standing (as I did for quite some time myself). That would be to fall into the worse excesses of Pharisaism and I can only imagine what Pope Francis would have to say on that score. Likewise, Catholics who opt for the novel modern method are not to look at those Catholics who kneel for Communion as "pre-Vatican 2" or "anti-Pope Francis" or "Medieval." It is fine to "evangelize" for the traditional method, but only when done in a way that respects the freedom the Church has chosen to give in this matter and only when done with extreme charity. The saying, often misattributed to St. Augustine, In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas (in necessary things unity, in uncertain things liberty, in all things charity) ought to rule the day.
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1. Father Z does a great job of breaking this down HERE

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Blogging through Hell (pt 10) - Those who Defraud the Church

Leaving behind the putrid smell of the second bolgia, Dante, the poet, makes the following interjection in the narrative of his Commedia, 
O Simon Magnus, O forlon disciples,
Ye who the things of God, which ought to be
The brides of holiness, rapaciously 
For silver and for gold do prostitute,
Now it behoves for you the trumpet sound,
Because in this third Bolgia ye abide. (XIX:1-6)
Simon Magnus, of course, appears in the Acts of the Apostles,
But there was a man named Simon who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the nation of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. They all gave heed to him, from the least to the greatest... But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized... Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.
Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit... Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me also this power, that any one on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”  But Peter said to him, “Your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!..” (8:9-20, RSV, emphasis added)
From this early encounter through Dante's day and beyond the temptation for men to try to purchase spiritual things, known as simony, after Simon, plagued the Church. As did the equally pernicious temptation for Church men, including popes, to sell Church offices (i.e. to "prostitute," "for silver and for gold," "the things of God, which ought to be the brides of holiness.") It is these sinners, obviously related to those in the first bolgia, who prostituted women, oftentimes their close relatives, that we encounter here.

Among these simoniacs, Dante meets Giovanni Gaetano degli Orsini, Pope Nicholas III, who, like all the sinners punished here, is plunged, upside down, into a hole, his feet protruding upwards with a flame eternally licking them. This image, a pope turned upside down with his feet aflame, is a perfect contrapasso, as it inverts the original "birthday of the Church," Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit descends upon the heads of the original pope and bishops of the Church - none of whom purchased their offices from Christ - as tongues of fire.


Pope Nicholas goes on to reveal to Dante that both Boniface VIII and Clement V, the next two popes, will be joining him in this bolgia, each successive pope stuffing the former one farther into the hole. Dante, disguised with the evil of simony, has no pity on Nicholas,
I do not know if I were here too bold,
That him I answered only in this meter:
"I pray thee tell me now how great a treasure 
Our Lord demanded of Saint Peter first,
Before he put the keys into his keeping?
Truly he nothing asked but 'Follow me.' 
Nor Peter nor the rest asked of Matthias
Silver or gold, when he by lot was chosen
Unto the place the guilt soul had lost. (XIX:88-96) 
But Dante, despite acknowledging in the most graphic manner, that even popes can be evil sinners, yet retains his respect for the office which Nicholas, Boniface, and Clement betrayed,
And were it not for the reverence I have
   for those highest of all keys that you once held
   in the happy life - if this did not restrain me, 
I would use even harsher words than these (XIX:100-103, Musa) 
I stood there like a priest who is confessing
some vile assassin who, fixed in his ditch,
had called him back again to put off dying. (XIX:49-51, Musa)
After bewailing the greed of pastors like Nicholas, including accusing them of worshipping not one, but hundreds of gods made of gold and silver, Dante and Virgil leave behind the suffering pontiff, climb back onto the bridge and head for the next bolgia.