The Serpent Was the Most Hegelian of Beasts

Besides this one, there are indeed many other beautiful and noteworthy narratives in the Bible which would be worthy their attention, as, for example, just at the beginning, there is the story of the forbidden tree in Paradise and of the serpent, that little adjunct professor who lectured on Hegelian philosophy six thousand years before Hegel’s birth. This blue-stocking without feet demonstrated very ingeniously how the absolute consists in the identity of being and knowing, how man becomes God through cognition, or, what is the same thing, how the God in man thereby attains self- consciousness. This formula is not so clear as the original words: When ye eat of the tree of knowledge ye shall be as God! Mother Eve understood only one thing in the whole demonstration, that the fruit was forbidden, and because it was forbidden, the good woman ate of it. But she had scarcely eaten the enticing apple when she lost her innocence, her naive ingenuousness, and discovered that she was much too naked for a person of her position, the ancestress of so many future emperors and kings, and she desired a dress. (Heinrich Heine)

Garrigou-Lagrange on Kingship

Andrew Strain has posted his translation of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange’s preface to St Thomas’s On Kingship. I first heard about Garrigou’s piece from Alan Fimister’s brilliant study of Catholic Social Teaching and European unification. Fimister is a republican, but a republican of a very unusual kind; an Hillaire Belloc style republican. He would be willing to defend both the Spanish Inquisition and the French Revolution. At any rate, Fimister objects to Garrigou-Lagrange’s royalism, and disagrees with his reading of On Kingship. Fimister seems to have three main objections to Garrigou’s piece:

  1. that Garrigou does not distinguish enough between the principles that he takes from St. Thomas, and his own conclusions that he draws from those principles, but which Fimister thinks St Thomas himself would not draw.
  2. that Garrigou exploits a terminological confusion between ancient and modern senses of ‘democracy’: «Garrigou uses the various criticisms Thomas makes of Democracy (the corrupt form of rule by the many) and of rule by the many as such as if they were criticisms of a mixed polity founded on universal franchise, which is what most moderns (but not Thomas) mean by Democracy and the system which Thomas proposes as the best. »
  3. that Garrigou reads Summa Theologica IaIIæ, 105,1 as calling for the aristocratic element to be elected by and from the people, but not as saying that the monarch should be so elected. Fimister thinks that this is the plain meaning of the text: «Garrigou omits to mention [...] that Thomas also said that the monarch should be elected from the whole people by the whole people. This of course does not fit with the Royalism the twentieth-century Dominican seeks to foist upon his thirteenth-century confrere.»

Having read Garrigou’s text I would reply as follows to Fimister’s objections:

  • ad 1. this is quite true.
  • ad 2. this I don’t see. Garrigou uses St Thomas’s general arguments against polyarchy, and these seem to me to apply to mixed constitutions in which the polyarchical element is dominant (such as the Third French Republic) as well as to democracies in the ancient sense; it does not however apply to a mixed constitution in which the monarchical element is dominant, which St Thomas thinks is the ideal, and which Fimister falsely claims is the same system as modern ‘democracies’ such as the Third Republic.
  • ad 3. this turns on the interpretation of IaIIæ, 105,1, which is by no means as simple as Fimister would have us think. St Thomas says there that “the rulers” plural (principes) are chosen by and from the people. Garrigou interprets this to mean that the aristocratic element is chosen by the people, Fimister that both the aristocratic and the monarchical elements are. Both interpretations are possible. Garrigou’s is however more plausible in context, since St Thomas is arguing that the government of Israel during the exodus was fitting, and when he applies his model it is the aristocratic element that he sees as being chosen from the people (citing Deuteronomy 1:13). He sees the monarchical element as being realized in Moses, who was of course not chosen by the people.

Roger Scruton

A while ago I posted a response to an First Things essay by Roger Scruton on the good of government. I later sent an abridgment of my post to First Things as a letter to the editor. It appeared in the October issue, with the following reply by Scruton:

As for Fr. Waldstein’s theological vision of the good of government, I can only respond as Burke responded to the Reason advocated by the French Revolutionaries. He wrote: “We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason; because we suspect that this stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and of ages.”
Advocates of natural law in the Catholic tradition have often told us that the good is discoverable to reason, and that we have only to consult it. But they tend to be as reluctant as Waldstein to define who is doing the consulting, and how. Burke’s view, that there is a kind of reason that emerges through civil association, and which is both conserved in our traditions and irretrievably dispersed by the attempt to make it explicit, offers, to my mind, a better model of the place of reason in government. On Burke’s view, rational solutions emerge from below, by an invisible hand, and are not imposed from above by those who claim to have privileged knowledge of the natural law. (The same point is made in other terms by Hayek, in his defense of the common law.) One can agree with Kant’s warning against paternal government without thinking that “any submission to an authority other than the self is tyrannical.” As I understand it, the art of living in ­society is precisely the art of submitting to authority—but doing so willingly, and in the little platoons that we ourselves create.

I have the greatest respect for Scruton, and certainly his position is not as bad Kant’s, but I’m still not convinced. He returns my Kant comparison with interest by comparing me to the Jacobins. But I was a little surprised by his saying that am “reluctant” to define who is to determine what the natural law is. True, I gave no account of that in my letter, but in the past I do not think I have been notably reluctant. By coincidence the most recent issue of The European Conservative features an excerpt from one of Scruton’s books and a notably unhesitant essay by me right next to each other in the Table of Contents:

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On seeing this Coëmgenus noted the juxtaposition of Scruton’s title “What is Right” and my subtitle “what is best”—an illustration of two different approaches.

The Witness of Blood

My brother Benedict sent me his translation of an article by a Muslim, Wael Farouq, strongly moved by the witness of the Christian martyrs of recent months:

Some, climbing to heaven, have left their bodies hanging from crosses; others left their hearts at their homes and have went away, they have chosen hunger, thirst, tears as their companions and have fled. All of them could have escaped these agonies, a few words would have sufficed to renounce their faith and there life would have been spared. But they were given a choice and they chose: they renounced life to choose eternity, they renounced lies to choose truth.  They have offered to all believers a witness steeped in agony testifying that a life without faith is not worth living. In an age of doubt, of uncertainty, of nihilism they have chosen to become incarnate signs of certainty. What is happening in Iraq, in Syria, in the Holly Land is not a crime with inhuman assassins as its protagonists. It is a heroic epic with tens of thousands of common people, people like you and I; tens of thousands who have chosen to abandon all their goods for the sake of spiritual freedom; tens of thousands of people like you and I who have demonstrated that the person is more powerful than power. Faced with this testimony I would like to say to the Holy Father Francis that I along with millions of Muslims pray together with him, trusting that the Good and Merciful God who loves His children will hear his prayer and will answer it. I would like to tell him that we will not be moved by those who are moved by vengeance and who prepare the ground for a great war in the name of religion.

We will not defend those who have lost their lives for their own faith by renouncing our own faith. We will not renounce our faith in peace, we will not renounce our faith in love.

I wish to tell the Holy Father that I and the millions of Muslims who have changed their profile picture on the social media sites, replacing them, in solidarity with the Christians, with the letter N, which stands for Nazarene; that I and the Muslims that went to the streets to defend with our own bodies the Coptic churches from the extremists; that I and all the learned Muslims who have condemned the acts of that gang of terrorists, renouncing them (going so far that the Saudi Mufti known for his orthodoxy called them the number one enemy of Islam) furthermore without finding any western media that would publish this our renunciation; that I and the intellectuals who have written thousands of articles in order to condemn these crimes, that I and the thousands of Sunni, Shia, Yazidi, and secular victims, that we, thank him for having given us a place in his prayers for all of the victims. (Original: Esteri)

10 questions

I have long enjoyed reading and arguing with the “Ochlophobist.” Though we often disagree, I find him one of the most consistently thought provoking bloggers. So, am pleased to be included in his 10 questions series. In Q 8 I refer to “Antigone’s penultimate speech.” But I really meant the parts of her last speeches that John Francis Nieto translated and used as the first part of his “Fugue” in GlossaeI looked it up, and it is actually mostly from her antepenultimate speech. Here is Nieto’s translation:

Unwept. Unloved. Unwed,
And led, weary within,
Down the ready road.
Never to see the sun’s
Sacred eye—my doom.
This fate unwept.
No lover mourns.

Tomb, Bridal. Cavernous
Home, everwatching, I am coming
And to my own, whose number,
Great among the dead, added,
As they went down, to Persephone.
Last, I go down worst,
Before my lot of living is run out.
I yet feed strong hope:
To come dear to my father,
Held dear by you, mother,
Dear to you, born from one womb.

This hand washed each
As you died, pouring
Over tombs fit libations.
Now, big scrapper, such
Rewards covering your corpse.

Yet to those thinking right
I but honored you. No way,
Was I a mother of children,
Not if my dead husband lay
Wasting, would I bear such
Burden, against the city’s might.
Shall I say what law lets me?
Another husband for the dead one,
And a son got of someone else,
But, mother and father hidden in hell,
No brother will ever blossom.
By such law I honor you above all,
To Creon seeming to sin, to dare
Horrors, dear brother of one womb.

And now he leads me by the hand,
Taking me like this. Unbedded, unwed,
No share of marriage, no suckling
Of children, but so, abandoned
By friends, unfortunate, living
I come to the grave of the dead,
Overstepping what divine law?
Need I look longer to the gods?
Which shall I call, a comrade?

Impious I am by piety.

Solemn Vows in Heiligenkreuz on the Feast of St Bernard

Yesterday was the Feast of our Holy Father St. Bernard. Two of my confrères took final vows.

I described the rite of solemn profession of vows on an earlier occasion as follows:

The ceremony for solemn vows follows more or less the outline described by St Benedict in the Rule, and is marked by St Benedict’s Roman sobriety. After the gospel the candidates prostrate themselves before the Abbot, who asks: Quid pétitis? They respond Misericórdiam Dei et Ordinis. The abbot then tells them to arise and preaches a sermon, sitting on the faldstool with the candidates standing in front of him. Then comes the feudal “homagium,” in which the candidates lay their hands in the abbot’s and promise him and his successors obedience according to the Rule of St Benedict “usque ad mortem.” Then every one kneels down and the Veni Creator Spiritus is sung. Then come the actual vows. The candidates read out the vows of stability, conversion of morals and obedience, which they have written by hand on parchment. They then sign the vow charts on the altar. The charts remain on the altar and are offered to God together with the gifts of the Mass. After signing the vows they sing Súscipe me, Dómine, secúndum elóquium tuum et vívam; † et non confúndas me ab exspectatióne mea three times. They then kneel down in front of each and every monk in the community, saying Ora pro me Pater, to which the monks reply Dóminus custódiat intróitum tuum et éxitum tuum. While this is going on cantors sing the Miserere. Then the newly professed monks are then blessed with an extraordinary three part prayer, addressed to each of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity in turn. They are then clothed in the cowl and the Mass proceeds.

Photos: Stift Heiligenkreuz


“The man who loves God above all else and with his whole being”


Da mihi hominem, qui ante omnia quidem ex toto se diligat Deum; se vero et proximum, in quantum diligunt ipsum; inimicum autem, tanquam aliquando forsitan dilecturum; porro parentes carnis suae germanius, propter naturam; spirituales vero eruditores suos profusius, propter gratiam; atque in hunc modum ad caetera quaeque Dei ordinato intendat amore, despiciens terram, suspiciens coelum, utens hoc mundo tanquam non utens, et inter utenda et fruenda intimo quodam mentis sapore discernens, ut transitoria transitorie, et ad id duntaxat quod opus, et prout opus est curet, aeterna desiderio amplectatur aeterno: talem, inquam, da mihi hominem, et ego audacter illum sapientem pronuntio, cui nimirum quaeque res revera sapiunt prout sunt, et cui in veritate atque securitate competit gloriari, et dicere, quia ordinavit in me charitatem. Sed ubi ille, aut quando ista? Quod flens dico, quousque odoramus, et non gustamus, prospicientes patriam, et non apprehendentes, suspirantes, et de longe salutantes? O veritas exsulum patria, exsilii finis? video te, sed intrare non sinor carne retentus, sed nec dignus admitti, peccatis sordens. O Sapientia, quae attingis a fine usque ad finem fortiter in instituendis et continendis rebus; et disponis omnia suaviter in beandis et ordinandis affectibus! dirige actus nostros, prout nostra temporalis necessitas poscit; et dispone affectus nostros, prout tua veritas aeterna requirit, ut possit unusquisque nostrum secure in te gloriari et dicere, quia ordinavit in me charitatem. Tu es enim Dei virtus et A Dei sapientia, Christus sponsus Ecclesiae, Dominus noster, super omnia Deus benedictus in saecula. Amen.

(Give me the man who loves God above all else and with his whole being; who loves himself and his neighbour in the measure in which they both love God; his enemy as one who will perhaps one day love God; his natural parents tenderly as nature prompts, his spiritual parents – namely his teachers – unreservedly as gratitude requires. And in this way he reaches out to the rest of God’s creation with an ordered love, looking down on the earth and up to heaven, dealing with this world as though uninvolved, and distinguishing with an inward refinement of the soul between what is to be merely employed and what enjoyed, paying passing attention to the transient, and that only as need requires, while embracing all things eternal with a desire that never flags. Give me, I say, a man like that and I dare to proclaim him wise. Such a man takes all things as they really are, and is able with truth and confidence to boast: ‘He has set love in order in me.’ But where is such a man and when shall these things be? Weeping, I ask: how long shall we have the fragrance without the savour. we who glimpse our heavenly home from an unapproachable distance and are left sighing for it and hailing it from afar? O Truth, homeland of wanderers and the end of exile! I see you, and yet, detained still in the body, I may not enter in, nor am I worthy of admittance, grimed as I am with sin. O Wisdom, you who span the universe with power, beginning and preservation of all that is,  you who order our affections without coercion, distilling your blessing, so govern our acts that our present obligations are discharged, and dispose our affections to reflect the etemal values of your truth, so that each one of us may safely glory in you and say: ‘He has set love in order in me.’ For you, O Christ, are the power and wisdom of God, the Bridegroom of the Church, our Lord and God blessed for ever more. Amen. (St Bernard of Clairvaux, In Cantica Canticorum, Sermo 50; trans. Pauline Matarasso))

The Our Father and Spiritual Exercises

I recently preached a retreat on the Our Father, and it struck me again how the order of the Our Father is virtually the opposite of that of St Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises. St Ignatius has one begin by considering one’s sins, and ends with a contemplation of God’s love, whereas the Our Father begins with the Father in heaven and ends with ‘deliver us from evil.’

In his division of the Our Father, St Thomas poses the following objection: “Further, one must withdraw from evil before attaining good. Therefore it seems unfitting for the petitions relating to the attainment of good to be set forth before those relating to the removal of evil.” This could be taken as a positive argument for the order of the Exercises. St Thomas replies as follows:

Since prayer is the interpreter of desire, the order of the petitions corresponds with the order, not of execution, but of desire or intention, where the end precedes the things that are directed to the end, and attainment of good precedes removal of evil.

Thus in the body of the article St Thomas argues that the Our Father looks first to God as final end,

first, by our willing the glory of God [hallowed be Thy name], secondly, by willing to enjoy His glory [Thy kingdom come]. The first belongs to the love whereby we love God in Himself, while the second belongs to the love whereby we love ourselves in God.

Then we pray for that which is immediately ordered to the end, namely that we do God’s will. Then for the things instrumentally ordered to attaining the end (daily bread). And then finally for the removal of sin, temptation, and all evils which hinder us from the perfect possession of the end.

St Ignatius was a man of action, and it makes sense that he takes the opposite order. Nevertheless, before beginning the first exercise he puts “The Principle and Foundation,” which is about the final end.