Bl. Isaac of Stella vs. St Bernard on the Crusades

Benet Oxon has posted a careful analysis of St Bernard’s theology of crusade at The Josias, showing how St Bernard applied St Augustine’s theology of just war. St Bernard’s position is sometimes dismissed with an appeal to the customary way of thinking of his time—‘everyone thought that way back then,’ it is said, ‘and so we needn’t take his arguments seriously.’ But this neglects the fact that St Bernard’s position was contested by other theologians at the time—even within the Cistercian order. Blessed Isaac of Stella, for example, mocks the ideals of the Knights Templar, in terms that sound very much like the anti-crusade clichés of our own time: Continue reading

Blessed Are They That Mourn: Stratford Caldecott and Tradition

Hilaire Belloc calls the dons that taught him at Oxford «The horizon of my memories— / Like large and comfortable trees.» I can apply that expression to the friends of my parents whom I knew as a small child. Since we moved often when I was growing up, there are many who form the horizon of my childhood memories whom I have seen only rarely since. There is something wonderful about meeting those people now (or even just reading their writings), and being able to know them in quite a different way than I did as a child. Continue reading

hic et ille natus est in ea

Almost anything that can be said of the Church can be said of the Blessed Virgin Mary, because she is the pattern and exemplar of the Church (and therefore of the whole universe), as De Koninck argues in Ego SapientiaThis is why St Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort can apply to Mary the patristic saying that no one can have God for his father who does not have the Church as his mother:

Just as in natural and bodily generation there is a father and a mother, so in the supernatural and spiritual generation there is a father who is God and a mother who is Mary. All true children of God have God for their father and Mary for their mother; anyone who does not have Mary for his mother, does not have God for his father. This is why the reprobate, such as heretics and schismatics, who hate, despise or ignore the Blessed Virgin, do not have God for their father though they arrogantly claim they have, because they do not have Mary for their mother. Indeed if they had her for their mother they would love and honour her as good and true children naturally love and honour the mother who gave them life. […]  ‘This man and that man is bom in her,’ says the Holy Ghost, Homo et homo natus est in ea (Ps. Ixxxvi. 5). According to the explanation of some of the Fathers, the first man born of Mary is the God-man, Jesus Christ. If Jesus Christ, the head of mankind, is born of her, the predestinate, who are members of this head, must also as a necessary consequence be born of her. One and the same mother does not give birth to the head without the members nor to the members without the head, for these would be monsters in the order of nature. In the order of grace likewise the head and the members are born of the same mother. If a member of the mystical body of Christ, that is, one of the predestinate, were born of a mother other than Mary who gave birth to the head, he would not be one of the predestinate, nor a member of Jesus Christ, but a monster in the order of grace. (True Devotion)



Shut up and pray

Direction of conscience itself should not become an idle chat. ‘I should say,’ wrote Bossuet to Sister Cornuau, ‘that there seems to me a manifest defect in present-day piety: people talk too much about their prayer and their state. Instead of worrying about the degrees of prayer, they ought, without all this introspection, to pray simply as God gives them to pray, and not have so much to say about it.’ And St. John of the Cross says: ‘What is wanting, if there be anything wanting, is not writing or talking there is more than enough of that but silence and action. Moreover, talking distracts the soul, while silence joined to action produces recollection and gives the spirit a marvellous strength. Therefore, when one has made a soul know all that is necessary for its progress, it has no further need to listen to the words of others or to talk itself.’ — Dom Paul Delatte (Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict, p. 96)

Avicenna and Michael Bolin

Listening to Peter Adamson’s brilliant podcasts on Islamic philosophy, it struck me that al-Farabi and Avicenna had a theory about the the genesis of substantial form similar to that proposed recently by Michael Bolin. According to al-Farabi, the parents of an animal (say) merely dispose the matter, which is then informed by the lowest created intellegence (angel),  whom he famously identifies with the agent intellect, and which would later come to be called the dator formarum, the giver of forms. Avicenna develops him further and argues that spontaneous generation of a human being is possible in principle, since if the elements happened to be mixed in the right way, the dator formarum would infuse the form. I think this is basically the same as Bolin’s idea that the artificial construction of a living being is (in principle) possible. Bolin, however, thinks that the form is immediately given by the highest universal cause (God), rather than by a created universal cause. At first glance, al-Farabi’s idea that it is done by a created universal cause seems much more probable—especially in the light of De Koninck’s work on universal causality in The Cosmos— but I would like to look at al-Farabi’s and Avicenna’s arguments in detail.


orat omnis creatura

Prayer is the buttress of faith, our armor and weaponry against the enemy that watches us from every side. So never let us set out unarmed— let us remember the station by day and the vigil by night. Let us guard the standard of our emperor armed with prayer, awaiting the trumpet of the angel while we pray. Indeed, every angel prays, every creature. The herds and the wild beasts pray and bend their knees, coming forth from byres and dens looking to heaven, giving movement to the spirit after their fashion with animated mouths. And even now the birds arise, lifting themselves to heaven, spreading out their wings like a cross whilst utter- ing what appears to be a prayer. What more might be said on the duty of prayer? Even the Lord himself prayed, and to him be honor and might for ever and ever.

Oratio murus est fidei, arma et tela nostra aduersus hostem qui nos undique obseruat. Itaque nunquam inermes incedamus. Die stationis, nocte uigiliae meminerimus. Sub armis orationis signum nostri imperatoris custodiamus, tubam angeli exspectemus orantes. Orant etiam angeli omnes, orat omnis creatura, orant pecudes et ferae et genua declinant et egredientes de stabulis ac speluncis, ad caelum non otiosi ore suspiciunt uibrantes spiritum suo mouere. Sed et aues nunc exsurgentes eriguntur ad caelum et alarum crucem pro manibus expandunt et dicunt aliquid quod oratio uideatur. Quid ergo amplius de officio orationis? Etiam ipse Dominus orauit, cui sit honor et uirtus in saecula saeculorum. (Tertullianus, De Oratione, XXIX; trans.)


A Clichè Came Out of its Cage

By C.S. Lewis


You said ‘The world is going back to Paganism’.
Oh bright Vision! I saw our dynasty in the bar of the House
Spill from their tumblers a libation to the Erinyes,
And Leavis with Lord Russell wreathed in flowers, heralded with flutes,
Leading white bulls to the cathedral of the solemn Muses
To pay where due the glory of their latest theorem.
Hestia’s fire in every flat, rekindled, burned before
The Lardergods. Unmarried daughters with obedient hands
Tended it By the hearth the white-armd venerable mother
Domum servabat, lanam faciebat. at the hour
Of sacrifice their brothers came, silent, corrected, grave
Before their elders; on their downy cheeks easily the blush
Arose (it is the mark of freemen’s children) as they trooped,
Gleaming with oil, demurely home from the palaestra or the dance.
Walk carefully, do not wake the envy of the happy gods,
Shun Hubris. The middle of the road, the middle sort of men,
Are best. Aidos surpasses gold. Reverence for the aged
Is wholesome as seasonable rain, and for a man to die
Defending the city in battle is a harmonious thing.
Thus with magistral hand the Puritan Sophrosune
Cooled and schooled and tempered our uneasy motions;
Heathendom came again, the circumspection and the holy fears …
You said it. Did you mean it? Oh inordinate liar, stop.


Or did you mean another kind of heathenry?
Think, then, that under heaven-roof the little disc of the earth,
Fortified Midgard, lies encircled by the ravening Worm.
Over its icy bastions faces of giant and troll
Look in, ready to invade it. The Wolf, admittedly, is bound;
But the bond wil1 break, the Beast run free. The weary gods,
Scarred with old wounds the one-eyed Odin, Tyr who has lost a hand,
Will limp to their stations for the Last defence. Make it your hope
To be counted worthy on that day to stand beside them;
For the end of man is to partake of their defeat and die
His second, final death in good company. The stupid, strong
Unteachable monsters are certain to be victorious at last,
And every man of decent blood is on the losing side.
Take as your model the tall women with yellow hair in plaits
Who walked back into burning houses to die with men,
Or him who as the death spear entered into his vitals
Made critical comments on its workmanship and aim.
Are these the Pagans you spoke of? Know your betters and crouch, dogs;
You that have Vichy water in your veins and worship the event
Your goddess History (whom your fathers called the strumpet Fortune).

Desire and the Good

Match-Ice-Cream-Advertisement-Its-Year-PublicationOver at The Josias I have put up thirty-seven theses on the good. Since the good is the cause of causes, errors about it are in a way the most fundamental errors. There are three main errors about the good that I try to correct in my post. The first one has to do with the relation of goodness and desire: the error is to think that desire is not caused by the intrinsic goodness of things, but that rather things are only considered good because people happen to desire them. This seems like a small error, but has terrible consequences, it undergirds the typically modern view of the world as inert facticity upon which human desire projects ‘value,’ which therefore really refers to something in human desire and not something in the objects themselves. Marcus Berquist writes in a paper on the common good (p. 4) that one might see in this error the fundamental difference between modern philosophy and the tradition of Aristotle and Plato (and of Catholic moral theology). And this fits with his argument in another paper that the most fundamental disagreements among philosophers, the sources of all their other disagreements, are not about what is true and what is false, nor about what is most certain or most obvious, but about what comes first. In this case the question is: What comes first, the good or desire for the good? I think it is true to say that the typical modern view answers this question wrong— it sees desire as a kind of primary fact of human life, not as following on the genuine goodness of things. Aristotle and St Thomas of course give the opposite answer, but strangely enough they are often subjected to a strange mis-interpretation according to which they give basically the same answer as the moderns. Both certain would-be supporters of Aristotelian and Thomist eudemonism (such as Ayn Rand), and as well as certain thinkers who protest against it (such as Dietrich von Hildebrand) adopt this misunderstanding.

The second error that I try to attack is closely related to the first: the error of thinking that all desire for the good is essentially selfish. Von Hildebrand (and before him Luther), accuse a eudemonistic account making the love of God mercenary, as though on the classical account one loves God only as a means to one’s own satisfaction. I try to show that this is the complete opposite of what St Thomas actually teaches. god is to be loved with a love of benevolence not of concupiscence.

The third error is again closely related to the first. It is the view that the common good is merely an useful good for allowing people to get the private goods that they desire. I try to so that since the good is really in things, there can be a common good that is more desirable for me than any private good.