Learn With What Sorrow She Was Inflamed

The sinful woman in Luke 7:37-50 is traditionally identified with Mary Magdalene, whose Feast we celebrate today (a Feast recently raised from a Memorial in the ordinary form of the Roman Rite). A picture of the scene in the refectory of my monastery bears the following inscription: Discite quo dolore ardet, quae flere et inter epulas non erubescit. (“Learn with what sorrow she was inflamed who wept amidst the feasting, and did not blush.”) The inscription is taken from a sermon of St. Gregory the Great’s, and it has always struck me as a very moving thought. The strength of her contrition gives her a fortitude that can withstand embarrassment. It is not the most heroic kind of fortitude, but it is a kind that is often needed. Here is the passage in context:

Cogitanti mihi de Mariae poenitentia, flere magis libet quam aliquid dicere. Cuius enim vel saxeum pectus illae huius peccatricis lacrymae ad exemplum poenitendi non emolliant? Consideravit namque quid fecit, et noluit moderari quid faceret. Super convivantes ingressa est, non iussa venit, inter epulas lacrymas obtulit. Discite quo dolore ardet, quae flere et inter epulas non erubescit.

(When I reflect on Mary’s penitence it seems better to weep than to speak. For whose heart is so stony that the tears of this sinner would not soften it to follow her example of penitence? She considered what she had done, and so she did not wish to moderate what she did. She came in upon those feasting, she came without invitation, and offered her tears in the feast. Learn with what sorrow she was inflamed who wept amidst the feasting and did not blush.)

Header image: Veronese

Die griechische Logistik und die Entstehung der Algebra

Jacob Klein’s work on the difference between the transformation of the ancient concept of number in modernity, showing how the that transformation stands at the roots of modern science and philosophy, is I think the most illuminating work on modern origins that I have ever read.  Klein’s friend Strauss once wrote the following of Klein’s work:

Klein was the first to under stand the possibility which Heidegger had opened without intending it: the possibility of a genuine return to classical philosophy, to the philosophy of Aristotle and of Plato, a return with open eyes and in full clarity about the infinite difficulties which it entails. He turned to the study of classical philosophy with a devotion and a love of toil, a penetration and an intelligence, an intellectual probity and a sobriety in which no contemporary equals him. Out of that study grew his work which bears the title Greek Logistics and the Genesis of Algebra. No title could be less expressive of a man’s individuality and even of a man’s intention; and yet if one knows Klein, the title expresses perfectly his individuality, his idiosyncracy mentioned before. The work is much more than a historical study. But even if we take it as a purely historical work, there is not, in my opinion, a contemporary work in the history of philosophy or science or in “the history of ideas” generally speaking which in intrinsic worth comes within hailing distance of it. Not indeed a proof but a sign of this is the fact that less than half a dozen people seem to have read it, if the inference from the number of references to it is valid. Any other man would justly be blamed for misanthropy, if he did not take care that such a contribution does not remain inaccessible to everyone who does not happen to come across volume III of section B of Quellen und Studien zur Geschichte der Mathematik, Astronomie und Physik and in addition does not read German with some fluency. One cannot blame Klein because he is excused by his idiosyncracy.

An English translation of Klein’s masterpiece was soon made by Eva Brann, and remains readily available. And a detailed exposition of it has recently been published by Burt Hopkins. But until today the German original remained inaccessible to “everyone who does not happen to come across volume III of section B of Quellen und Studien zur Geschichte der Mathematik, Astronomie und Physik.” But today, having found a copy in the library of the University of Vienna, I made a scan, and have uploaded it here, so that now anyone with an internet connection can read Klein in the original.

Secularized Fraternity or Solidarity and the Failure of the European Union

The Preamble to the Treaty of Lisbon, recognizes the influence of “religion” on its “values,” but it sees these values— including solidarity between peoples— as universal and secular. Thus it states:

DRAWING INSPIRATION from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe, from which have developed the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law […] DESIRING to deepen the solidarity between their peoples while respecting their history, their culture and their traditions […]

Now that Brexit has become Brexibat, and the supposed ‘direction’ of European history has been called into doubt, Pope St. Pius X (if he were still alive today) might be forgiven for saying “I told you so.” In his Apostolic Letter Notre Charge ApostoliqueSt. Pius X rejected the idea that “universal solidarity” or “fraternity”  could be established on any firm basis apart from the Catholic Faith. Fraternity founded on “the love of common interest or, beyond all philosophies and religions, on the mere notion of humanity” is soon swept away by “the passions and wild desires of the heart.” No, he writes, “there is no genuine fraternity outside Christian charity.” Indeed, even if it could succeed a fraternity merely based on enlightened self-interest and a common recognition of humanity would not even be desirable:

By separating fraternity from Christian charity thus understood, Democracy, far from being a progress, would mean a disastrous step backwards for civilization. If, as We desire with all Our heart, the highest possible peak of well being for society and its members is to be attained through fraternity or, as it is also called, universal solidarity, all minds must be united in the knowledge of Truth, all wills united in morality, and all hearts in the love of God and His Son Jesus Christ. But this union is attainable only by Catholic charity, and that is why Catholic charity alone can lead the people in the march of progress towards the ideal civilization.

This thesis of Pope St. Pius X’s is actually a common place of Catholic Social Teaching. Russell Hittinger has even argued  (with only slight exaggeration) that of the three ideals of the French Revolution— liberty, equality, and fraternity — the Roman Pontiffs have been especially troubled by fraternity. Quite recently, in Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI echoed his predecessors on this point:

Will it ever be possible to obtain this brotherhood by human effort alone? As society becomes ever more globalized, it makes us neighbours but does not make us brothers. Reason, by itself, is capable of grasping the equality between men and of giving stability to their civic coexistence, but it cannot establish fraternity. This originates in a transcendent vocation from God the Father, who loved us first, teaching us through the Son what fraternal charity is. (¶ 19)

Catholic Social Teaching has long noted that three ideals of the French Revolution are secularized Christian ideals. Pope St. John Paul II was re-iterating and old thesis in his controversial (and often misunderstood) homily at Le Bourget in 1980. Unfortunately, however, parts of the le Bourget homily, and other recent magisterial teachings, seem to be endorsing a secularized universal fraternity. As the Lake Garda Statement puts it:

Today, however, the Church’s leaders present her role as merely that of proposing a “contribution” to a vast and quite hopeless neo-Pelagian project in which the United Nations or some other “world political authority” would serve as the juridical framework for a solidaristic world order in which “believers,” regardless of religion, and unbelievers would be co-equal participants.

And this despite the fact that St. Pius X’s words do seem to have been born in the 19th and 20th centuries. The universal brotherhood declared by the French revolutionaries had little weight against “the passions and wild desires of the heart.” The intellectual grasp of common humanity was drowned in the powerful pseudo-religions of nationalism, and ever more internecine wars tore Europe apart, culminating in the previously unimaginable carnage of World Wars I and II.

But after World War II it seemed that a new beginning was possible. The Schuman Declaration recognized that a merely abstract rational solidarity was not enough, and proposed taking concrete steps to fuse the interests of European nations together, hoping that out of the ‘de-facto solidarity’ of national self-interest well understood, a deeper solidarity would develop. Schuman himself, like many of the founding fathers of the EU, was devout Catholic. As Alan Fimister shows in his brilliant study of Schuman and Catholic Social Teaching, Schuman was hoping that the EU would become a new Christendom, inspired by a Faith, which at the time seemed to be reviving. But that is not what happened. As Fimister puts it in a recent article: “Schuman well understood […] that the European project of Christian Democracy, if it became anti-Christian, ‘would be a caricature which would sink into either tyranny or anarchy.’”

As Adrian Pabst has eloquently put it, the actual development of the EU has seen a fusion of “Anglo-Saxon free-market economics with continental bureaucratic statism.” That is, the “common interest” of EU has pursued by means of a violent and anti-traditional economic mechanism, and it’s rational “notion of humanity” has been given form (to quote Pabst again) in “Kantian morality of context-less duties, Weberian statecraft void of virtue, and Bismarckian quasi-military management of citizens through centralised welfare,” yielding a uninion that is “abstract, administrative and alien vis-a-vis its citizens.”

And yet, Pabst was arguing against Brexit, and many of his colleagues in Radical Orthodoxy have done the same. In his reaction to Brexibat, John Milbank writes:

Christians are duty bound for theological and historical reasons to support the ever closer union of Europe (which does not imply a superstate) and to deny the value of absolute sovereignty or the lone nation-state. Tragically, the Reformation, Roundhead, nonconformist, puritan, whig, capitalist, liberal version of Britishness last night triumphed over our deep ancient character which is Catholic or Anglican, Cavalier, Jacobite, High Tory or Socialist. The spirit of both Burke and Cobbett has been denied by the small-minded, bitter, puritanical, greedy and Unitarian element in our modern legacy.

Is this true? Can much of the spirit of either Burke or Cobbet be found anywhere in practical politics today? There certainly seems to be very little of either spirit on either side of the Brexit debate. Would that Leave and Remain could have both lost! One prominent Burkean, however, has made an argument virtually opposite to Milbank’s: Sir Roger Scruton. Scruton argues that the EU is really anti-European, and that by leaving the European Union the United Kingdom will have a chance at saving the best parts of the European heritage. But as for me, I think that Edmund Burke himself was right when, over two hundred years ago, he declared the glory of Europe was gone forever:

But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists; and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom.

Pan-Orthodox Council

The growing number of Orthodox churches deciding not to participate in the “Holy and Great Council” reminded me of a remark of Vladimir Solovyev’s:

Otherwise, if apart from Peter the universal Church can expressly declare the truth, how are we to explain the remarkable silence of the Eastern episcopate (notwithstanding that they have kept the apostolic succession) since their separation from the Chair of St. Peter? Can it be merely an accident? An accident lasting for a thousand years! To those anti-Catholics who will not see that their particularism cuts them off from the life of the universal Church, we have only one suggestion to make: Let them summon, without the concurrence of the successor of St. Peter, a council which they themselves can recognize as œcumenical! Then only will there be an opportunity of discovering whether they are right.

He Says Both

Jacques Derrida’s famous dictum “il n’y a pas de hors-texte” has often been misinterpreted and mistranslated— or so at least say many know-it-all Derrida interpreters. “He did not mean there is nothing outside the text,” they tell us. These protestations sometimes take on a somewhat comic hue. Thus John Llewelyn writes, “Derrida does not say… Il n’y a rien hors du texte.” This is a somewhat comical way of putting things, since Derrida does say exactly that six pages after the passage on which Llewelyn is commenting. In context: « Si nous considérons, selon le propos axial de cet essai, qu’il n’y a rien hors du texte, notre ultime justification serait donc la suivante : le concept de supplément et la théorie de l’écriture désignent, comme on dit si souvent aujourd’hui, en abyme, la textualité elle-même dans le texte de Rousseau. » (De la grammatologiep. 233)


Individualism and Totalitarianism in Charles de Koninck and David Foster Wallace

I read a paper on individualism and totalitarianism in the writings of David Foster Wallace and Charles de Koninck (see below) at a conference on “Political Demononolgy” at Worcester College, Oxford on Friday. The talks were about all sorts of things from all sorts of perspectives. And many of them were quite good. Conor Cunningham’s keynote on evil as the refutation of eliminative materialism was hilariously funny (“Some of you might be interested in the political implication of all this. But I don’t do politics; I’m from Belfast.” “I hope you don’t read Bataille— he’s crap.”). Adrian Papst gave a wonderfully clear and convincing paper on the pessimism of liberalism— looking at Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, and making a plea for a politics of the pursuit of common ends. And Henry Mead gave a fascinating paper on the idea of original sin in T.E. Hulme, and his guild-socialist friend A. R. Orage. Sadly I had to leave before the final keynote by Elizabeth Frazer, but I have heard that a recording will be made available soon. I met some people that I only know through the internet— including Andrew Cusack, whose excellent blog I have followed for years.

I have pasted my talk below, and have also made it available in audio and pdf formats.

The Dialectics of Individualism and Totalitarianism in Charles de Koninck and David Foster Wallace

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Amoris Lætitia

Preliminary Remarks on Religious Submission to Magisterial Teaching

Before turning to Amoris Laetitia I want to first give some general remarks on submission to Church teaching. I recently read Daniel Schwindt’s excellent overview of Catholic Social Teaching, and application of it to the American situation,  The Papist’s Guide to America. Schwindt’s book is notable for its rich account of the common good, making use of Fr. Sebastian Walshe’s profound dissertation on the subject. It is also notable for the exemplary spirit of docility to papal teaching that it displays. Schwindt offers a devasting critique of the rule of private judgement typical of a liberal age, which has infected even many in the Church. And gives a resounding plea for submission to the teachings of the Roman pontiffs, a plea worthy of a Cardinal Manning.

There has been a lamentable tendency in Catholic theology since about July of 1968 to minimalize the requirements of submission to the teachings of the popes. Submission, so goes the argument, is only absolutely necessary to infallible teachings, and according to Vatican I the pope is only infallible under four conditions: “when, (1) in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, (2) in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, (3) he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals (4) to be held by the whole Church.” Many Catholic theologians, especially in Germany, have argued that these conditions are only met in solemn definitions, in which the supreme pontiff exercises his extraordinary magisterium. This was the strategy adopted by those who wished to dissent from the teaching on artificial contraception of the encyclical Humanae Vitae. This extremely minimalistic approach to the teachings of the supreme pontiffs has always been particularly abhorrent to me. The pope is infallible not only in his extraordinary magisterium, but also his ordinary and universal magisterium, when he intends to bind the Church definitively. Moreover, the Church requires religious submission of will and intellect even non-definitive teachings. My tendency has thus always been to the opposite extreme. And yet, this too can be taken too far.

There are different levels of authoritative teaching, and the require different kinds of assent. In the Professio Fideiwhich I made before my ordination, three kinds teaching are laid out, which each require a different kind of assent: Continue reading