Plutarch on Freedom

Now absence of control, which some of the young men, for want of education, think to be freedom, establishes the sway of a set of masters, harsher than the teachers and attendants of childhood, in the form of the desires, which are now, as it were, unchained. [...] But you have often heard that to follow God and to obey reason are the same thing, and so I ask you to believe that in persons of good sense the passing from childhood to manhood is not a casting off of control, but a recasting of the controlling agent, since instead of some hired person or slave purchased with money they now take as the divine guide of their life reason, whose followers alone may deservedly be considered free. For they alone, having learned to wish for what they ought, live as they wish; but in untrained and irrational impulses and actions there is something ignoble, and changing one’s mind many times involves but little freedom of will. (On Listening to Lectures, 1)


Frank Diplomacy

Pope Boniface VIII to King Philip the Fair of France:

We shall indeed explain more clearly, son, why, moved by urgent necessity and prompted by conscience, we are directing these complaints to you. For, though our merits are insufficient, God has placed us above kings and kingdoms, and He has imposed upon us the yoke of apostolic service: to uproot and destroy, to disperse and to scatter, to build and to plant, in His name and according to His teaching… And so let no one persuade you, dearest son, that you have no superior and that you are not subject to the head of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. For anyone who thinks this is a fool; and, if he obstinately affirms it, he is convicted as an unbeliever and is outside the fold of the Good Shepherd.

King Philip’s reply:

Philip, by the Grace of God king of the French, to Boniface, conducting himself as Supreme Pontiff, little greeting or none. Let Your Very Great Foolishness know that we are subject to no one in temporals; that the collation of vacant churches and prebends belongs to us as of royal right and that their revenues are ours; that the collations which we have made in the past and shall make in the future are valid; and that we shall manfully defend their holders against anyone.  All who hold otherwise we deem to be fools and madmen.

Both quotations are taken from R. W. Dyson’s Introduction to Giles of Rome’s On Ecclesiastical Power, pp. xiv-xv. Dyson notes that Philip’s reply was probably meant more for the French clergy, among whom he circulated it, than for the Pope; he wanted them to think that he was protecting their income against Rome.

De Lubac and His Critics Make the Same Error

In an essay on integralism I took issue with Steven Long’s claim that the natural and supernatural desires for God have formally distinct objects. Long claims that the natural desire to know the first cause of all things is only materially, not formally, a desire to know God–just as the desire to know Einstein under the ratio of “man wearing a raincoat” is only materially, not formally, a desire to know Einstein. To this I replied:

[The] relevant distinction between objects of natural and of supernatural desire is not matter and form, but rather confused and distinct. That is, to desire God based on one’s natural knowledge of Him through His effects is really to desire God, in Whom those effects really participate. Here the Platonic notion of anamnesis that Ratzinger takes up [...] is extremely helpful. When one comes to know God by natural reason, one “recognizes” in Him the infinite ocean of perfection in which one’s own and all created being participates. But of course this knowledge is very imperfect, confused knowledge; the light of faith gives a much more distinct knowledge of Whom it is that one desires. [... The] natural desire to attain to God is really a desire to attain to God, and thus the desire given by grace really perfects, elevates, and completes that desire by revealing both more about Who God is, and by revealing an unspeakably perfect and beatifying  mode of attaining to Him; it does not add another, independent desire.

Long himself sometimes speaks as though this were the case. Thus, a little after the Einstein-raincoat example he writes:

Where revelation makes the real possibility of beatific vision known, this renders the otherwise conditional desire to know God to become unconditional. Apart from revelation the desire would be conditional— “were it possible” one would will it. Just as one might wish to live forever, or never to make a mistake—both logically, but seemingly not really, possible—so one would wish to know the essence of the First Cause, save that in this case one genuinely would not know what one is wishing for. After revelation, the desire becomes unconditional. Once God reveals Himself and his gift of divine life, the natural desire thus elevated and supernaturalized in grace inclines toward it absolutely by inclining toward the infinitely higher end of union with the Uncreated Persons of the Holy Trinity. For the object of the natural desire for God under the ratio of “cause of these effects” is incorporated within the graced desire of God as God. (Natura Pura, p. 21)

 What Long says here fits quite well with my position. He is suggesting that the desire for God elicited by natural reason’s consideration of the things that He causes makes one desire to know God as much as possible. That desire would not be in vain in a state of pure nature, since to know even a little of God makes one happy, but the desire would not be so satisfied that one would not wish to know Him more. One would see that one’s knowledge of Him was indirect, through effects that fall infinitely short of Him, and one would wish “if it were possible” to know Him directly, in His essence. And so grace opens up a way of satisfying the natural desire infinitely more fully than it could be satisfied naturally. But if, on the other hand, the natural desire is really a desire for a formally distinct object, then this is much more difficult to see.

Oddly enough, De Lubac himself also distinguishes between two desires to know God with formally distinct objects–only he sees them both as natural desires. In The Discovery of GodDe Lubac distinguishes between the “philosophical” desire to know the cause of all things, and the “mystical” desire to know the One as the One. By “mystical” in this context he does not mean something that comes from an infused gift of the Holy Spirit, but rather a natural desire for the beatific vision presumably common to Christian and non-Christian mystics.  The philosopher, he argues, wants to “comprehend the universe,” and treats God only as an aid to explaining the world. The philosopher as philosopher is satisfied by this: “he does not ask for more.” (p. 148) The mystic, as mystic, who may be the same person as the philosopher but considered under another finality, does ask for more. De Lubac quotes a great many passages fro St. Thomas about how philosophy only knows God as cause of the world. But I think he is making a great mistake here. To say that philosophy only knows God through his effects does not mean that it is only interested in him as an explanation for His effects. All it means is that the highest knowledge which is what the philosopher really wants, that werein wisdom really consists, is only accessible indirectly. Consider the following passage of Plotinus:

We must ascend, therefore, once more to the Good, which every soul desires. If anyone [...] passing in his ascent beyond all that is separative from God, by himself alone contemplates God alone, perfect, simple and pure, from Whom all things depend, to Whom all beings look, and in Whom they are, and live, and know. For He is the cause of Being, Life and Intelligence. If, then, anyone beheld Him, with what love would he be inspired! With what desire would he burn in his eagerness to be united with Him! With what bliss would he be overcome! (Ennead I,6,7)

Presumably De Lubac would call this a mystical rather than a philosophical text. And yet, it is wholly consistent with St. Thomas’s account of philosophy. Plotinus here has come to knowledge of God as the cause of being, life, and understanding; he does not see how God is in Himself, but he does see how he is not i.e. not-finite, not-complex (simple), not-mixed (pure). He is “perfect,” but his perfection is only known through imperfect things, by denying their imperfections of God. This leads Plotinus to wish for a more perfect knowledge:

How shall a man behold this ineffable Beauty which remains within, deep in Its holy sanctuaries, and proceeds not without where the profane may view It?  (I,6,8)

De Lubac argues that St. Thomas sometimes confuses the philosophical and the mystical desires for God, and that he was unable fully account for their relation to each other:

St. Thomas, therefore. seems to have failed in his attempt to establish continuity between philosophy and mysticism, between the dynamism of the intelligence and the desire of the spirit. The doctrine of “the natural desire to see God” is central to his thought, and he has not succeeded in completely unifying it. N0 one will succeed where he has failed. (The Discovery of God, p. 151)

But St. Thomas did not have to integrate these two desires, because they are simply the same thing. Consider St. Thomas’s treatment of the question in the Summ Contra Gentiles III,25 (often quoted by Long, but interpreted by him with unnecessary subtly):

The ultimate end of each thing is God, as we have shown. So, each thing intends, as its ultimate end, to be united with God as closely as is possible for it. Now, a thing is more closely united with God by the fact that it attains to His very substance in some manner, and this is accomplished when one knows something of the divine substance, rather than when one acquires some likeness of Him. Therefore, an intellectual substance tends to divine knowledge as an ultimate end. [...] Besides, a thing has the greatest desire for its ultimate end. Now, the human intellect has a greater desire, and love, and pleasure, in knowing divine matters than it has in the perfect knowledge of the lowest things, even though it can grasp but little concerning divine things. So, the ultimate end of man is to understand God, in some fashion. [...] Besides, there is naturally present in all men the desire to know the causes of whatever things are observed. Hence, because of wondering about things that were seen but whose causes were hidden, men first began to think philosophically; when they found the cause, they were satisfied. But the search did not stop until it reached the first cause, for “then do we think that we know perfectly, when we know the first cause.” Therefore, man naturally desires, as his ultimate end, to know the first cause. But the first cause of all things is God. Therefore, the ultimate end of man is to know God.

Both De Lubac and Long understand the desire to know God qua cause of all things as being the desire to know an object formally distinct from God as God. But there is absolutely no need to make this distinction. Both De Lubac and his critic make a mistake common among very clever people: thinking that things must be more complicated than they are. The most profound things are the most simple and obvious.

De Lubac notes that in fact every philosopher is more than a philosopher and “the labor of elaborating an intelligible world does not save him from ‘the nostalgia of Being’,” and he adds in a footnote: “This is true even of Descartes, so often accused since the time of Pascal of only being interested in God for the sake of possessing the world.” (p. 153 with note 19) Here we perhaps see the real origin of De Lubac’s conception of the role of God in philosophy: Descartes! Descartes’s philosophical account of God is indeed only an aid to explaining the world, and this is what distinguishes “the god of the [French Enlightenment] philosophers” from the God of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus. Descartes’s philosophical approach to God (as opposed to his religious approach) is not an approach to God at all, and his desire to know that “God” is a desire to know an object not only formally but also materially distinct from his desire to know the One True God. But that is just because the “god” of Cartesian philosophy is not God at all, but just a useful fiction.

Pessimism About Modernity

Those who are against the optimistic ideology of progress are considered by those who have bought into that ideology to be not only pessimists, but almost hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race. How can we really be against a project that has improved the human lot by so much? Would we prefer people to die on beds of bug-ridden straw of preventable diseases, rather than living to old-age in clean and air-conditioned houses? One of the writers at The Josias, a new website devoted to “unzeitgemäße Betrachtungen” on the common good, meets that objection head-on:

Society is complex enough, and integrated enough, that what we rightly love about our civilization cannot be neatly untangled from what we rightly condemn in it. But if we are right in our condemnation, and right in our advocacy of alternatives, then of course it’s our obligation not only as Christians but as human beings to willingly part from some of the things we love. I am no kind of Luddite, but if a juster world were also a Facebookless world, I hope I would find a way of reconciling myself to it. And given that I am at least in principle committed to hating father and mother, this seems like an easy case. And well-crafted propaganda can make it still easier. Even if many of the conveniences we enjoy — even the conveniences we take advantage of to formulate and advance our criticism — are neutral or good in themselves, it may nevertheless be a good idea for us to learn to dislike them for their origins. We are all products of our civilization: if there are errors integral to that civilization that need correction, then it is time for us to learn to bite the hand that feeds us.

If it hadn’t taken its name from Josias, our website (I too will be posting there soon) could have taken its name from Jeremiah. As (then Cardinal) Ratzinger once pointed out, Jeremiah was condemned and imprisoned because of his pessimism. He refused to adopt the official optimism of the powers of his time:

The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that the LORD has truly sent the prophet. (Jer 28:8-9)

St Paul as a Type of the Roman Church

Ss. Peter and Paul are often compared to Romulus and Remus, “Romae parentes, arbitrique gentium.” I written about St Peter and Rome before (or rather quoted Solovyev and Pope Benedict XVI on the subject), but St Paul in his own person foreshadows the transformation of Rome that will be founded by his and St Peter’s blood. St Paul is not only a Roman citizen, but also a son of Benjamin, “the wolf;” and his temperament has something of Rome’s wolf-like, war-like violence. Like Rome itself he is highly gifted and full of zeal for justice and law, but his zeal leads him for a while to persecute the Church. The Roman Empire saw itself as destined to bring peace by imposing law on all peoples. But to the Chosen People Rome appeared as a tyrannical power contrary to the Law of God. The Messiah is expected to defeat Rome. But following His usual method, our Lord does not defeat Rome by force, from outside, but by conversion from within. And this is foreshadowed in the conversion of St Paul. St Paul persecutes the new way, but when he is converted he becomes its greatest missionary spreading throughout the earth. The Acts of the Apostles ends with Paul arriving in Rome. Through Peter and Paul the Messiah does indeed conquer Rome, but in such a way as to transform it and preserve all that was good in it, so that through the Roman Church Rome can indeed bring peace to the whole world.



Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange on Diversion

As soon as a man ceases to be outwardly occupied, to talk with his fellow men, as soon as he is alone, even in the noisy streets of a great city, he begins to carry on a conversation with himself… If a man is fundamentally egotistical, his intimate conversation with himself is inspired by sensuality or pride. He converses with himself about the object of his cupidity, of his envy; finding therein sadness and death, he tries to flee from himself, to live outside of himself, to divert himself in order to forget the emptiness and the nothingness of his life. (The Three Ages of the Interior Life, Vol 1, p. 41)


Isidore of Seville on the Beginnings of Vice

Melius est peccatum cauere quam emendare. Facilius enim resistimus hosti a quo nondum uicti sumus, quam ei a quo iam superati ac deuicti cognoscimur. Omne peccatum, antequam admittatur, amplius pertimescitur. Quamuis autem graue sit, dum in usum uenerit, leue existimatur, et sine ullo metu committitur. Istis fomitibus, quasi quibusdam gradibus, coalescit omne peccatum: cogitatio namque praua delectationem parit; delectatio consensionem, consensio actionem, actio consuetudinem, consuetude necessitatem. Sicque his uinculis homo inplicatus, quadam catena uitiorum tenetur adstrictus, ita ut ab ea euelli nequaquam ualeat, nisi diuina gratia manum iacentis adprehendat.

It is better to avoid sin than to correct it. For it is easier to resist an enemy by whom we have never been defeated, than one who has once seen us overcome and conquered. Every sin is more feared before we have once allowed ourselves to give in to it. However great the sin, as soon as has come to be carried out in action, it is considered light, and committed without any fear. From such kindling wood, as from the rungs of a ladder, all sin is built up: perverse thoughts give rise to pleasure, pleasure to consent, consent to action, action to habit, habit to necessity. The man who is caught in such bonds is as it were chained and held fast by vice; he can never escape unless the Grace of God take his hand as he lies on the ground. (St Isidore of Seville, Sententiae II, 23 1-3; cf. Smaragdus of Saint-Mihiel, Diadema Monachorum34).



Jean-Claude Juncker recently (and at long last) nominated President of the EU Commission, is an example of what I have called Eurocrat Catholicism. In the above gem of a clip he says: “I am a Catholic [audience laughs], but I have to lie.”

Meanwhile on the other side of the Atlantic the Supreme court has been quoting Thomist philosophers. No one has been more critical of Whig Thomism than I, but one ought to give credit where credit is due: I admit that my previous comparison of Whig-Catholicism and Eurocrat Catholicism bordered on hyperbole.