Monday, November 14, 2016

Words of Wisdom from Chateaubriand

At the heart of current secular theory, there is always plagiarism, a parody of Scripture, always the apostolic principle re-emerges: that principle is so embedded within us, that we treat it as if it belonged to us; we consider it natural, though it is not; it comes to us from our ancient faith, to give that latter two or three degrees of ascendancy over us. The free thinker who occupies himself with perfecting his fellow man would never have though of it if the rights of man had not been formulated by the Son of Man. Every philanthropic act in which we indulge, every system we dream up to the benefit of humanity, is only a return of the Christian ideal, changed in name and too often disfigured: it is always the word made flesh!
Do you choose to say that the Christian ideal is merely the progress of the human ideal? I agree to that; but open up the various cosmogonies and you will realise that Christian revelation advanced traditional Christianity on this earth. If the Messiah had not come and had not spoken, as he himself said, the ideal would not have been clear, the truth would have remained confused, such as one sees in the writings of the ancients. So whichever way you interpret it, it is from revelation, from Christ that you possess all; it is with the Saviour, Salvator, the Consoler, Paracletus, that you must always start; it is from Him that you received the germs of civilisation and philosophy.
You will see then that I find no solution for the future other than in Christianity, and Catholic Christianity; the religion of the Word is the manifestation of truth, as the creation is God made visible. I do not claim that a general renewal has taken place, since I admit that entire nations are sworn to destruction; I also admit that faith has withered in certain countries: but if there remains a single seed of grain, if it falls on a little earth, be that in the debris from a shattered vessel, that grain will grow, and a second incarnation of the Catholic spirit will re-animate society.
Christianity is the most philosophical and rational appreciation of God and the creation; it encapsulates the three great universal laws, the divine law, the moral law, the political law: the divine law, God united in three persons; the moral law, charity; the political law, that is to say liberty, equality and fraternity.
The first two principles have been discussed; the third, political law has not been furthered, because it cannot flower while intelligent belief in infinite being and universal morality are not solidly established. Now, Christianity has first to clear away the absurdities and abominations with which idolatry and slavery have encumbered the human race.
Enlightened people cannot comprehend why a Catholic such as I persists in sitting in the shadow of what they call ruins; according to such people it is an impossible stance, a simple prejudice. But tell me, out of pity where shall I find a family or a god in the individualistic and philosophic society you propose? Tell me and I will follow you; if not then do not find fault if I lie down in Christ’s tomb, the only shelter you leave me in my desolation.
François-René de Chateaubriand, Memoirs. Book 42, chapter 16.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Catholics and Voting

     I hesitate to address the morality of voting- not because I have not frequently and loudly made my views known elsewhere, but because I wondered if it fit with the tenor my blog should take.

     What has forced me to do so is not people voting for this or that candidate. Rather, it is the rather bad arguments they make—or worse, morally cancerous arguments. Most of the people I have in mind are decent people, but they have let themselves hold moral errors. Frequently, even experts, who decide to not even consult the moral tradition, err by relying too much on their first inclination for an answer. How much more is this compounded by Catholics who are not trained in moral theology! NB. I will post sources at the end of the post, but will not thoroughly footnote the entire text, but only some parts.

     The main purpose of our civic actions must be the promotion of the common good. Voting becomes a duty when the common good, or the good of religion demands it:
"It is the duty of all citizens who have the right to vote, to exercise that right when the common good of the state or the good of religion and morals require their votes, and when their voting is useful." (Davis, SJ, Moral and Pastoral Theology, v. 2 pg. 90)
It is important to note the second qualifier "when useful". It is fully possible that a vote might be useless—say if all candidates were equally wicked and no write-ins were allowed. 

     But whom must we vote for? Well, we must choose good candidates. What makes a candidate good? Those are good "who with strength of mind, in a christian spirit, and skill in bearing affairs, exhibits knowledge of political matters and sufficient eloquence" (Prümmer, Manuale theologiae moralis, v. 2, § 608). They must be upright, capable, and have a strong backbone. Obviously, the eloquence necessary for a county clerk may be different than for a Senator, but it must be sufficient for the position they are running for.

     There are several possibilities that may arise in elections. One possibility is that all the candidates, or least those with the greater support, are worthy candidates. In this case, one is free to choose whomsoever is to their liking, based perhaps on agreement over matters of prudence. Another possibility is that only one candidate is worthy, at least among those who are “viable”. In this case you have a grave moral obligation to support the worthy candidate, even if you disagree with him on minor matters.

     But what if there be no worthy candidates, or if the only worthy candidate is "unviable"? Then the moral analysis is tougher. If there is a worthy candidate, then although he "will not be elected on account of a plurality of contrary votes, nevertheless it profits much at least by a choice that shows what is the will of good citizens" (Prümmer, op. cit). The grave obligation to support worthy candidates remains and mere lack of viability does not excuse. If there are no worthy candidates, then one may abstain.

    Now one can in good conscience leave it there. One is never required to support an unworthy candidate. However, one MAY support such a candidate for grave reasons. But we must distinguish between two sorts of unworthy candidates. 
The first sort is, perhaps, morally upright, but lacks the experience or eloquence or some other faculty by which to govern, legislate, etc. effectively. We may say that such is “negatively unworthy” in that he lacks what is befitting the office, but does not present active harm. Against a candidate that is an enemy of religion, or who threatens the common good through the promotion of immoralities or war or any other wicked policy, there may easily be grave enough reason to support the candidate that is lacking only in aptitude. But this is easy because one is not cooperating with, advancing, promoting or complicit in any moral evil by this act… one is simply choosing an imperfect good… a Gomer rather than the Andy they should like.

     The question is much harder when it is a question of supporting a candidate that is "positively unworthy," whether due to moral character, being an enemy of religion and morals, etc. Here, a vote for them is a cooperation in evil. Now, if one shares the evil intent, clearly one sins and is formally complicit in the evil. But what if one does not share the intent? There are two types of cooperation here- immediate and mediate material cooperation. In immediate cooperation, one does not share the intent of the evil act, but one does contribute to circumstances that are essential for the evil act to happen. For example, were I to lease a building knowingly to Planned Parenthood. This is never justified, save maybe under extreme duress (e.g. opening a door to let a robber in because he has a gun to your head).

     But when one contributes only to the morally licit circumstances that are not essential to the  evil action,  the cooperation is mediate material and may be morally licit.
 The liceity of the action depends on multiple factors. The long and short of it is this: the graver the evil, the more causally removed one must be, and the greater the good one must be intending. In a Presidential election, e.g., an Elector is more causally proximate than a voter in California who elected him.

Is the avoidance of evil, i.e. stopping an even worse candidate, by itself a grave enough reason? No, because in mediate cooperation you are contributing to circumstances that are themselves good for a good reason, despite the non-essential aid it gives an evil act. That another candidate is even worse, may be reason, after one has examined the issue of moral cooperation, to go ahead and vote that way, but it is not reason itself. The principle of “choosing the lesser evil” is not a valid way of determining what is morally right. It is only supported by Catholic moralists in the case of a perplexed conscience, i.e. when the conscience sees, albeit wrongly, only immoral options. In that case, lacking time and ability to solve the perplexity—i.e. by figuring out another option, or else by realizing that one is not actually immoral—then yes, one should choose what appears to be the lesser evil. But we have already established that one need not vote for an unworthy candidate, and that there is already a moral option here, so no conscience is perplexed. It can only vote if there is some good to be accomplished and not merely an evil to be avoided. The conscience is not forced, then, to choose the “lesser evil.” To choose under that rationale, is to choose evil and to sin.

    I offer here an analogy to illustrate: 

     Say you have some land, but you cannot make the payments on it anymore. The bank makes a deal with you- sell it by November 9th and give them the money you owe them, or on November 9th they sell it, and after fees and they take what is owed, you get what is left. 
Now say that the bank is going to sell the place to the most debauched line of strip clubs. You, of course, oppose that. So you look for a better buyer.

     But say that the only buyer that you can find will open an adult video store instead. 
So you have an option... "minimize the evil" and enable the existence of the adult video store, or do nothing and the bank enables the existence of something worse.

     Clearly, in Catholic morality, your option must be not to accept the buyer. You may pray and hope for a last minute alternative, but you cannot enable the adult video store in order to minimize harm. The reason is that it would be immediate material cooperation. You are not enabling the strip club, but rather, however sadly, failing to prevent it since no moral means were available to you.

     Now think about the election. This analogy is apt in one way, though defective in another. Certainly if there be an argument for Trump, it is not immediate material cooperation, but mediate material cooperation. But it is apt in this way... if your entire reasoning is "I vote for Trump because he is not Hillary" or some belief that "I have to choose the lesser evil", a doctrine that is not determinate of the moral good, you are like the seller that becomes complicit in promoting evil, in order to minimize evil.

Remember, there is only an obligation to use all reasonable moral means to stop an evil and sometimes there are no such means. Yet people feel pressured to have to do something, anything. That is a trick of Satan.

     If you think that there is a contribution to the common good that Trump will make, that is proportionately grave enough to justify material cooperation in whatever ill you think he will likely cause, then you have a case that he is a moral means, and the "worseness" of Hillary would be an added reason as to why one might choose it. But if that is not the case, then you are faced with it being an immoral choice no matter how much worse Hillary would be- it is excluded even before considering her. In which case, while you may re-examine Trump in light of the common good, you must reject temptations that come from scaremongering and villainization of Hillary. You must reject the idea that you should set aside your conscience because you "have to do something."

     When man relies on himself alone, all comes to naught. Maybe the lesson here is to stop trusting in our political contrivances and stratagems. Cursed is he who places his hope in man, saith the Lord. Maybe it is good that you are bereft of some voting option  to choose in order to battle Hillary; then maybe you will learn to see in it the vanity of human affairs and turn to the Lord.

     We are supposed to minimize our cooperation in evil. One might see proportionate reasons in Trump himself (and not merely in comparison to Hillary) to hold their nose and vote Trump; I disagree, but I am not talking to those people, who may well be in good conscience, but to those that keep repeating calls to violate conscience (sin), or to choose the lesser evil (sin). Those avenues are traps of the devil. Instead, inform your conscience rather than violating it, and always remember that the first precept of the natural law is to "do good, shun evil," not "do alright, minimize evil."

Charles Dekoninck asked:

Why does one not require, as a matter of principle and as an essential condition, that the leaders of society be men who are good purely and simply? How can one admit that a bad man might make a good politician? To be sure, it is not new to see subjects governed by bad men, men to whom one does nonetheless owe obedience in those things which pertain to their authority. What is new however is the manner of accepting and defending them. (On the Primacy of the Common Good, p. 69).


Dominicus Prümmer, Manuale theologiae moralis, v. 2

Henry Davis, SJ, Moral and Pastoral Theology v. 2

Benedictus Merkelbach, Theologia moralis generalis v. 1

Heribert Jone, OFM Cap and Urban Adelman, OFM Cap, Moral Theology

St. Thomas Aquinas- De veritate q. 17 a. 4 ad 8; S. Th. II-II q. 62  a. 2 ad 2, III q. 82  a. 10 ad 2

Tanquerey, Synopsis Theologiae Moralis and Pastoralis, v. 3

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Veni, Sancte Spiritus

As an opening salvo, I wanted to share my reflection on a very important prayer, especially for those that seek after wisdom.

Veni, Sancte Spiritus, reple tuorum corda fidelium, et tui amoris in eis ignem accende.

V. Emitte Spiritum tuum et creabuntur;
R. Et renovabis faciem terrae.

Deus, qui corda fidelium Sancti Spiritus illustratione docuisti: da nobis in eodem Spiritu recta sapere, et de eius semper consolatione gaudere. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful and enkindle in them the fire of thy love.

V. Send forth thy Spirit and they shall be created
R. And thou shall renew the face of the earth

Let us pray:
God, who didst instruct the hearts of the faith by the light of the Holy Spirit, grant us in the same Spirit to know what is right and always to rejoice in His consolation. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

     This common prayer is known by many. It is used as the beginning of the Rosary according to the method of St. Louis de Montfort, and is a common prayer before studying or teaching. It was used in several medieval forms of Mass. It is also a prayer that is very deep in its meaning and says a lot in a few words.

     Catholics who frequent the extraordinary form of Mass will recognize that the prayer is taken from the feast of Pentecost. The collect at the end is the collect of that Mass, and the beginning part forms the verse for the alleluia. Hence the prayer is decidedly liturgical and is more than merely a person prayer; it is sanctioned by the tradition of the Latin Church in her prayer. It can be a great benefit, therefore, to reflect upon what it teaches in its words.

     Attentive readers will notice that I translated the prayer a little different than normal. Instead of “to be truly wise” I have put “to know what is right.” I would like to draw attention to the words in the Latin, recta sapere, what is normally rendered “truly wise.” The word sapere first means "to taste" (sapor means taste or flavor). Derived from this it means to understand, to have sense, or to be wise especially when qualified by the adverb recte. We can see this in English cognates as well. The word insipid is a combination of in and sapere. The in functions as a negation and sapere is changed to sipid. The word means both without flavor and without wisdom.

      The word then has a dual meaning. One is sensual and means “to taste/savor” and the other is “to be wise.” Why is this important? In ancient literature, we see a connection made between wisdom and consolation, which is the second thing we ask for in the prayer. One can see an expression of this in the fifth century work, The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius. Wisdom is presented as a cure for the soul. The soul, as a microcosm, is put in order by correct understanding of higher things. This can sound very intellectual and one might ask why is the heart mentioned then? This leads us to the second sense of sapere.

      The imagery used in the prayer is very concrete. It is the heart, and not the mind, that is filled by the Holy Spirit. Wisdom is more than merely knowing the “right things”, the
recta of the prayer. There is a connaturality involved. Connaturality means that there is a certain intimacy and belongingness of what is known and our nature. To be wise is to become intimate with what is true, for it to become “second nature.” The sense of sapere that means “to savor” helps enforce this.

     St. Thomas, in explaining the gift of wisdom, places it under charity rather than faith. He explains that the wisdom that is a gift of the Holy Ghost judges correctly about divine thing as a matter of connaturality. He explains the difference between merely forming a correct judgment by reason and judging by connaturality by an example of chastity. A man may read and learn about chastity and form the right judgment on the matter, but still not be a chaste man. He knows what is right, but while he is not chaste he knows it abstractly and as something other. But a chaste man, someone who has truly trained his appetites to follow right reason, knows it concretely. Chastity has become his second nature and he himself is inclined to it. Likewise, the man who has the gift of wisdom does not merely know the right things about God, he is intimate with them. One might say he is at home with them and he is taken up with them. As such, the gift of wisdom has as its cause the charity of God because it is by that love that we are united to divine things. To be wise is not merely to know the truth, but it is to become intimate with it, to join with it, for it to become our "second nature". Savoring has that sense of really being connected with the truth, which here is the Wisdom God gives us. Which, as St. Thomas explains, is a gift connected to charity more than Faith as it involves that intimacy, and not merely knowledge. Hence the connection with the heart and wisdom in the prayer.

     This gives a unity to the part included earlier in the prayer. The "Come Holy Spirit..." is taken from another part of the same Mass, the gradual. The reason it works so well is that it is in granting us His charity that we are brought to the gift of wisdom, and it is in being wise (in the sense explained above) that we obtain our consolation and joy.

     Lastly, we see another ancient thought pattern in the prayer, exitus reditus, coming forth and return. If you were to pick up the Summa and read just the part where St. Thomas lays out the general plan for the work you see a similar structure. We start with God, then creation and the creature and then Christ who is the path back to God. We go forth from the Alpha and return to the same, the Omega, God. Hence we have the act of the Holy Spirit in creation and renewal (here meaning the forming of hearts, that is charity) and the return back, "in the same Spirit" we obtain that wisdom and consolation which is intimacy with the Holy Spirit.

     Or again, we have creation (exitus, coming forth), renewing the face of the earth (the conversion, turning point) and in the same Spirit (the reditus, the return back to the source).

Third Time is a Charm

There is a danger in trying too many projects at once; you never follow through with any of them.

Last I posted I was publishing a series on the response of the CDF to Msgr. Lefebvre, and I also had never completed my translations of the different drafts of the circular groups at the Synod of the Family.

Well- I am not going to say that I will return to those. No intention right now to do so.  What I am going to do is offer a mix of posts- some commenting on the liturgical day, some on a theological argument, some translations of interesting texts. But not on any ordered plan. But I do have an ultimate goal in mind, and that is to present, to the best of my ability, a voice witnessing, not merely, as many others do, to a Catholic judgment of the present age, but to the depth of the perennial tradition of the Church- whether it be a deep theological issue, or a piece of obscure trivia. I am a Catholic first and foremost, but a convinced Thomist (or at least I aspire to be). We need as many voices, drawing from that well, to be heard. I hope that my voice adds something to those already present.

NB: Because of my unwillingness to constantly police the blog, comments have been disabled. I really wish I could do otherwise though!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

CDF and Lefebvre Pars III (Religious Liberty and the Unity of the True Religion)

Pars I
Pars II

Religious Liberty and the Unity of the True Religion.

The elements expounded in section 1 clarify in large measure the problem presented in section 2. For this reason our project here will be more brief and content with completing certain aspects what have already been mentioned.

The doctrine on religious liberty, contained in DH, absolutely does not include a relativist conception about truth, nor a negation of the fact that the Catholic religion is the unique true religion. The dubia on this subject were formulated so as to propose certain affirmations about DH, in particular, on sections 3, 4 and 6:

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Side note concerning the Dubia of Marciel Lefebvre

For those who want not only to read the response, but also to review the original dubia, Angeleus Press published them in 2001 under the title Religious Liberty Questioned.

A copy may be ordered from Amazon or any number of other sites.

If there is a public domain source for them in English, or even in French or Latin I would gladly post them if it should be made available to me.

CDF and Lefebvre pars II (Religious Liberty and Human Dignity)

Pars I


1. Religious liberty and human dignity according to the Declaration Dignitatis humanæ (hereafter, DH):

           The right to religious liberty has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. (DH, 2/a).

Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. (DH, 2/b).

Would, therefore, the conciliar doctrine, according to which the foundation of the right to religious liberty is located in the objective dignity of the person, based, in turn, on human nature, be incompatible with the traditional Catholic doctrine, such as what is expressed for example in the affirmation given by Leo XIII?