And I make bold to say that it is useful for the proud to fall into an open and indisputable transgression, and so displease themselves, as already, by pleasing themselves, they had fallen. For Peter was in a healthier condition when he wept and was dissatisfied with himself, than when he boldly presumed and satisfied himself. And this is averred by the sacred Psalmist when he says,Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek Your name, O Lord;that is, that they who have pleased themselves in seeking their own glory may be pleased and satisfied with You in seeking Your glory. (Saint Augustine, The City of God, XIV,13)
They say best men moulded out of faults;
And, for the most, become much more the better
For being a little bad; so may my husband. (Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, Act V, Scene 1)
The Harm Principle
A recent article by the brilliant Matthew Walther reminded me of the following passage of Saint Augustine’s City of God (II,20):
This is our concern [they say] that every man be able to increase his wealth so as to supply his daily prodigalities, and so that the powerful may subject the weak for their own purposes. Let the poor court the rich for a living, and that under their protection they may enjoy a sluggish tranquillity; and let the rich abuse the poor as their dependants, to minister to their pride. Let the people applaud not those who protect their interests, but those who provide them with pleasure. Let no severe duty be commanded, no impurity forbidden. […] Let the laws take cognizance rather of the injury done to another man’s property, than of that done to one’s own person. If a man be a nuisance to his neighbor, or injure his property, family, or person, let him be actionable; but in his own affairs let everyone with impunity do what he will in company with his own family, and with those who willingly join him. Let there be a plentiful supply of public prostitutes for every one who wishes to use them, but specially for those who are too poor to keep one for their private use. Let there be erected houses of the largest and most ornate description: in these let there be provided the most sumptuous banquets, where every one who pleases may, by day or night, play, drink, vomit, dissipate. Let there be everywhere heard the rustling of dancers, the loud, immodest laughter of the theatre; let a succession of the most cruel and the most voluptuous pleasures maintain a perpetual excitement.
Augustine on Sin as Preference for the Private Good
Thus when the will, which is an intermediate good, holds fast to the unchangeable good as something common rather than private – like the truth, which we have discussed at length without saying anything adequate – a person grasps the happy life. and the happy life, i.e. the attachment of the mind holding fast to the unchangeable good, is the proper and fundamental good for a human being. It also includes all the virtues, which no one can use for evil. although the virtues are great and fundamental goods in human beings, we thoroughly understand that they are proper to each person, not that they are common. Truth and wisdom, however, are common to all, and people become wise and happy by holding fast to them. of course, one person does not become happy by the happiness of another. even if you emulate another in order to be happy, you seek to become happy by means of what you saw made the other person happy, namely through the unchangeable and common truth. Nor does anyone become prudent by another person’s prudence, or is made courageous by another’s courage, or moderate by another’s moderateness, or just by another’s justice. Instead, you conform your mind to those unchangeable rules and beacons of the virtues, which live uncorruptibly in the truth itself and in the wisdom that is common, to which the person furnished with virtues whom you put forward as a model for your emulation has conformed and directed his mind.
Therefore, when the will adheres to the common and unchangeable good, it achieves the great and fundamental goods of a human being, despite being an intermediate good. But the will sins when it is turned away from the unchangeable and common good, towards its private good, or towards something external, or towards something lower. The will is turned to its private good when it wants to be in its own power; it is turned to something external when it is eager to know the personal affairs of other people, or anything that is not its business; it is turned to something lower when it takes delight in bodily pleasures. And thus someone who is made proud or curious or lascivious is captured by another life that, in comparison to the higher life, is death. (De libero arbitrio 2.19.52., trans. Peter King)
Seek nothing else
I sought the Lord, and He heard me. Those who are not heard are not seeking the Lord. Mark these words, holy brethren; the Psalmist did not say: “I sought gold from the Lord, and He heard me; I sought length of days from the Lord, and He heard me; I sought this or that from the Lord, and He heard me.” It is one thing to seek something from the Lord, and another to seek the Lord Himself. I sought the Lord, he says, and He heard me. But when you pray, saying: “Put that enemy of mine to death,” you are not seeking the Lord, but, so to speak, making yourself the judge over your enemy and making your God into an executioner. How do you know that he for whose death you are asking is not a better man than yourself? Perhaps from the very fact that he is not asking for yours. So do not seek anything outside the Lord, but seek the Lord Himself, and He will hear you, and even as you are yet speaking He shall say: Here I am. What is the meaning of Here I am? Behold, I am present, what do you want? What do you ask of me? Whatever I give you is of less worth than myself: take possession of my very self, enjoy me, embrace me. You are not yet wholly equal to it; lay hold of me by faith and you shall cleave to me—so God tells you—and I will relieve you of your other burdens so that you may be completely united to me, when I have changed this mortal being of yours to immortality; so that you may be equal to my angels, and may always look upon my face and rejoice, and your joy no man shall take from you; for you have sought the Lord, and He has heard you and delivered you from all your afflictions. (St. Augustine on Psalm 33)
Inquisivi Dominum, et exaudivit me. Qui ergo non exaudiuntur, non Dominum quaerunt. Intendat Sanctitas vestra: non dixit: Inquisivi aurum a Domino, et exaudivit me; inquisivi a Domino senectutem, et exaudivit me; inquisivi a Domino hoc aut illud, et exaudivit me. Aliud est aliquid inquirere a Domino, aliud ipsum Dominum inquirere. Inquisivi, inquit, Dominum, et exaudivit me. Tu autem quando oras, et dicis: Occide illum inimicum meum; non Dominum inquiris, sed quasi facis te iudicem super inimicum tuum, et facis quaestionarium Deum tuum. Unde scis ne melior te sit cuius mortem quaeris? Eo ipso forte, quia ille non quaerit tuam. Ergo noli aliquid a Domino extra quaerere, sed ipsum Dominum quaere, et exaudiet te, et adhuc te loquente dicet: Ecce adsum. Quid est: Ecce adsum? Ecce praesens sum, quid vis, quid a me quaeris? Quidquid tibi dedero, vilius est quam ego: meipsum habe, me fruere, me amplectere: nondum potes totus; ex fide continge me, et inhaerebis mihi, (hoc tibi Deus dicit) et caetera onera tua ego a te deponam, ut totus mihi inhaereas, cum hoc mortale tuum ad immortalitatem convertero; ut sis aequalis Angelis meis, et semper videas faciem meam, et gaudeas, et gaudium tuum nemo auferet a te; quia inquisisti Dominum, et exaudivit te, et ex omnibus tribulationibus tuis eruit te. (EnPs 33)
Varieties of Neopelagianism
Of all of Joseph Ratzinger/ Pope Benedict XVI’s books the one that I have read most often is a little volume of spiritual exercises on the theological virtues (variously titled Auf Christus schauen, The Yes of Jesus Christ, and To Look on Christ). I have an audiobook of it that I often listen to in the car. The exercises are based on a close reading of Josef Pieper’s little books on faith, hope, and love, adapted for the purposes of a retreat. I have just been reading Pieper on hope, and it is interesting to see how Ratzinger modifies some of Pieper’s thoughts. A striking example is Ratzinger’s discussion of two forms of “Pelagianism.” This is perhaps the most famous passage in the whole book, since, according to Andrea Tornielli, the second of the two forms is the source of Pope Francis’s repeated (and somewhat puzzling) use of the term to describe traditionalists. I was struck by the fact that although Pieper discusses both of the phenomena that Ratzinger calls “Pelagian,” he only uses the term Pelagian for the first form— it is Ratzinger’s idea to call the second form by the same name. The context of both discussions is the analysis of presumption as a vice opposed to hope. Pieper discusses two basic forms of presumption, with a another form between them:
Presumption reveals itself in two basic forms that correspond to the mutually opposed pretexts on which it bases its inordinate satisfaction.
Theology calls the first kind of presumption “Pelagian”. It is characterized by the more or less explicit thesis that man is able by his own human nature to win eternal life and the forgiveness of sins. Associated with it is the typically liberal, bourgeois moralism that, for no apparent reason, is antagonistic not only to dogma per se but also to the sacramental reality of the Church: solely on the basis of his own moral “performance”, an “upright” and “decent” individual who “does his duty” will be able to “stand the test before God” as well.
Between this first basic kind of presumption and the second lies that pseudoreligious activism that believes it can construct, out of a thousand “exercises”, a claim to the kingdom of heaven that is rightful and absolutely valid and able, as it were, to pit itself against God.
The second form of presumption, in which, admittedly, its basic character as a kind of premature certainty is obscured, has its roots in the heresy propagated by the Reformation: the sole efficacy of God’s redemptive and engracing action. By teaching the absolute certainty of salvation solely by virtue of the merits of Christ, this heresy destroys the true pilgrim character of Christian existence by making as certain for the individual Christian as the revealed fact of redemption the belief that he had already “actually” achieved the goal of salvation. (IV)
Note that Pieper only calls the first form Pelagian, the second basic form form is in a sense the opposite of Pelagianism— one might call it Jansenist or Calvinist. But what about the form “between” the Pelagian and the Calvinist? It is this “between” to which Ratzinger extends the term Pelagian, and he makes of it the second basic form, omitting any mention of the form that Pieper associates with the Reformation. I quote Ratzinger at length: Ratzinger extends the term “Pelagian” to the middle form
[The foundation] lies in the error of thinking in the error of thinking that one does not need God for the realization and fulfillment of one’s own being. Following Josef Pieper closely, I would like merely to try to offer a few comments on two widespread forms in which [presumption] finds expression and which from a purely superficial point of view can appear harmless.
The first variation of presumption that we need to talk about is the bourgeois liberal Pelagianism that rests on considerations such as these: “If God really does exist and if he does in fact bother about people he cannot be so fearfully demanding as is described by the faith of the Church. Moreover I’m no worse than the others: I do my duty, and the minor human weaknesses cannot really be as dangerous as all that,’ In this widespread attitude to life we find the human self-belittlement that we have already described in the case of accidie and the self-sufficiency with regard to infinite love that people think they do not need in their bourgeois self-satisfaction. Perhaps in times of peace one can live for quite a long time in this frame of mind. But at the moment of crisis people will either be converted from it or fall victim to despair.
The other face of this same vice is the Pelagianism of the pious. They do not want any forgiveness from God, nor indeed any gift at all from him, They want to be okay thernselves, wanting not forgiveness but their just reward. They want security, not hope. By means of a tough and rigorous system of religious practices, by means of prayers and actions, they want to create for themselves a right to blessedness. What they lack is the humility essential to any love— the humility to be able to receive what we are given over and above what we have deserved and achieved. The denial of hope in favor of security that we are faced with here rests on the inability to bear the tension of waiting for what is to come and to abandon oneself to God’s goodness. This kind of Pelagianism is thus an apostasy from love and from hope but also at the profoundest level from faith too. Man hardens his heart against himself, against others and ultimately against God: man needs God’s divinity but no longer his love. He puts himself in the right, and a God that does not co-operate becomes his enemy. The Pharisees of the New Testament are an eternally valid representation of this deformation of religion. The core of this Pelagianism is a religion without love that in this way degenerates into a sad and miserable caricature of religion. (pp. 81-82)
It seems that the reason why Ratzinger extends the “Pelagian” to Pieper’s “between” form of presumption is that it too makes salvation a something that one can achieve oneself. In a foreword to a book by Charles De Koninck, Cardinal Villeneuve called Pelagianism a “many-headed monster,” like Lernaean Hydra it grows two heads for every one that is struck off. If “bourgeois liberal Pelagianism” is the mark of our time, then it makes sense that it engenders other forms which might be outwardly in opposition to it, but share it’s internal logic. De Koninck himself writes, in a footnote, “It has become most urgent to spread the writings of St. Augustine against the Pelagian exaltation of man and of liberty.” Perhaps this is the reason why Ratzinger does not mention Pieper’s “second form of presumption”— the pressing danger facing us to today is not a distorted Augustinianism, but rather a complete rejection of the true Augustinian doctrine of the primacy of grace.
The Politics of Nostalgia
A few days ago I was in Bratislava to give a lecture at the “Hanus Days,” organized by the Ladislav Hanus Fellowship. One of their organizers had read my undergraduate thesis on monarchy, and had decided to invite me to speak on monarchy and democracy. It was good fun preparing. My basic position hasn’t changed much in eight years, but I think that I at least have a better understanding of the strength of the democratic position now from reading defenses from very different perspectives, including Aelianus on “Arthurian Republicanism,” Matthew Peterson on the common good and the American founders, and Owen White’s defense of leftist egalitarianism (see e.g. his comments on Daniel Nichols’s blog here and here).
I was very impressed by the people from the Ladislav Hanus Fellowship–by their hospitality, their eagerness to think things through, and the excellent questions they raised in the discussion.
I’ve embedded the lecture above, and put the text on scribd and below (for those who prefer html).
In Praise of John Zmirak
I’ve called John Zmirak a troll, but now he’s showing himself to be quite a funny, amusing sort of troll. He’s been trolling “illiberal Catholics” again, but this time it’s trolling de haut niveau, and I found it quite clever. The sociological points he makes about “illiberal Catholics” were highly amusing, and not without fundamentum in re. Trolling is an autotelic activity, and Zmirak presumably enjoys it for its own sake, but he is not merely trolling; he also has a serious point to make. So I want to respond to one of the Qs he puts to the likes of me:
Hasn’t the Church historically taken whatever is true in the secular world, used it as a common ground by which to approach the unbelievers, and tried to baptize and elevate it—rather than tear it all down and start from scratch in a barren wasteland. Wasn’t Augustine a patriotic Roman citizen? Or did he endorse the barbarian invasions in some text that you have uncovered from secret archives?
To which I answer: well, yes. In fact I do try to be patriotic (to both of my countries; I have dual citizenship) in the way in which Augustine was patriotic toward Rome. Here’s Augustine on Rome, and I (and I think most “illiberal Catholics”) would say the same sort of thing (mutatis mutandis) of current political (or imperial) communities:
This, then, is the place where I should fulfill the promise gave in the second book of this work, and explain, as briefly and clearly as possible, that if we are to accept the definitions laid down by Scipio in Cicero’s De Republica, there never was a Roman republic; for he briefly defines a republic as the good of the people. And if this definition be true, there never was a Roman republic, for the people’s good was never attained among the Romans. For the people, according to his definition, is an assemblage associated by a common acknowledgment of right and by a community of interests. And what he means by a common acknowledgment of right he explains at large, showing that a republic cannot be administered without justice. Where, therefore, there is no true justice there can be no right. For that which is done by right is justly done, and what is unjustly done cannot be done by right. For the unjust inventions of men are neither to be considered nor spoken of as rights; for even they themselves say that right is that which flows from the fountain of justice, and deny the definition which is commonly given by those who misconceive the matter, that right is that which is useful to the stronger party. Thus, where there is not true justice there can be no assemblage of men associated by a common acknowledgment of right, and therefore there can be no people, as defined by Scipio or Cicero; and if no people, then no good of the people, but only of some promiscuous multitude unworthy of the name of people. Consequently, if the republic is the good of the people, and there is no people if it be not associated by a common acknowledgment of right, and if there is no right where there is no justice, then most certainly it follows that there is no republic where there is no justice. Further, justice is that virtue which gives every one his due. Where, then, is the justice of man, when he deserts the true God and yields himself to impure demons? Is this to give every one his due? Or is he who keeps back a piece of ground from the purchaser, and gives it to a man who has no right to it, unjust, while he who keeps back himself from the God who made him, and serves wicked spirits, is just? (Civ. Dei IX,21)
The Christmas liturgy uses of Psalm 2 a lot. I suppose this is because of verse 7: “The Lord said to me: you are my son, today I have begotten you.” But it is illuminating to read the rest of the Psalm in the light of the Christmas mystery (and visa versa). The introit of Midnight Mass uses verse 7 as the antiphon, but verse 1 as the verse: “Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain?” If one reads on, one sees that the nations rage because they do not want to serve God: “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and his Christ, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.'” Their opposition to God stems from an unwillingness to serve Him, to submit to Him. This is seen as irksome because it seems to be contrary to liberty. As St. Thomas argues:
Every aversion towards God has the character of an end insofar as it is desired under the notion of liberty, as according to the words of Jeremiah (2:20): For a long time you have broken the yoke, you have broken bonds, and you have said, ‘I will not serve.’ (ST IIIa Q8, A7, r.)
This is a sin against what St. Thomas calls the virtue of “religion”– rendering to God His just due. St. Augustine calls this virtue “piety,” but points out that this word has various other meanings as well:
Piety, again, or, as the Greeks say, εὐσέβεια, is commonly understood as the proper designation of the worship of God. Yet this word also is used of dutifulness to parents. The common people, too, use it of works of mercy, which, I suppose, arises from the circumstance that God enjoins the performance of such works, and declares that He is pleased with them instead of, or in preference to sacrifices. From this usage it has also come to pass that God Himself is called pious… (Civ. Dei X,1)
Now, all of these senses of piety are involved in the Christmas mystery. Mankind having rebelled against through impious pride, God looks down on them with merciful pietas and decides to send them his son. And of course His Son gives comes not in power, but in weakness, a piteous baby. God woos man, conquering man’s pride with his humility. And then of course this baby gives an example of piety toward His human parents. My favorite Christmas sermon of all time is Bl. John Henry Newman’s Omnipotence in Bonds which is all about this point:
And so, like some inanimate image of wood or stone, the All-powerful lies in the manger, or on her bosom, doubly helpless, both because His infancy is feeble, and because His bonds are strong. It is in this wise He was shown to the shepherds; thus He was worshipped by the wise men; thus He was presented in the Temple, taken up in Simeon’s arms, hurried off to Egypt by night, His tender Mother adoring the while that abject captivity to which it was her awful duty to reduce Him. So His first months passed; and though, as time went on, He grew in stature, and burst His bonds, still through a slow and tedious advance did He enter on His adolescence. And then, when for a moment He anticipated His mission and sat down among the Doctors in the Temple, He was quickly recalled by His Mother’s chiding, and went back again to her and Joseph, and, in the emphatic words of the text, was “subject unto them.” […] I glory in [this], for I see in it the most awful antagonism to the very idea and essence of sin, whether as existing in Angels or in men. For what was the sin of Lucifer, but the resolve to be his own master? What was the sin of Adam, but impatience of subjection, and a desire to be his own god? What is the sin of all his children, but the movement, not of passion merely, not of selfishness, not of unbelief, but of pride, of the heart rising against the law of God, and set on being emancipated from its trammels? What is the sin of Antichrist, but, as St. Paul says, that of being “the Lawless One,” of “opposing or being lifted up against all that is called God, or worshipped, so that he sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself as if he were God”? If, then, the very principle of sin is insubordination, is there not a stupendous meaning in the fact, that He, the Eternal, who alone is sovereign and supreme, has given us an example in His own Person of that love of subjection, which in Him alone is simply voluntary, but in all creatures is an elementary duty? O my Brethren, let us blush at our own pride and self-will.
What is the Primary Intrinsic Common Good of Political (or Imperial) Community?
Does the American political tradition at its best consider the good of the republic to be something good in itself, an honest good, or merely a useful good, an instrument to aid citizens in the attainment of their private goods? In a recent discussion of this question a friend of mine proposed looking at American patriotic poetry rather than political treatises. His idea, if I understand him aright, is that while on a theoretical level American political thought has tended to deny the primacy of the common good, the American people have a natural and implicit love for and understanding of the true political good, and this is expressed in their patriotic songs etc. This points to an interesting tension in modern liberal democracies between their theoretical self-understanding and the image of themselves that the must propose to the imagination of their citizens. Continue reading
The Poor You Have Always With You: On the Anointing in Bethany and Certain Self-Styled Traditionalists
Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, there came to him a woman with an alabaster vessel full of precious ointment and anointed his head with it as he reclined at dinner. When his disciples saw this they were displeased and said: Why this waste? It could have been sold for a great price and the money given to the poor. Jesus was aware of them and said: Why are you hard on this woman? She has done a good thing to me. For always you have the poor with you, but you do not always have me. When she anointed my body with this ointment, it was for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached through all the world, she will be spoken of, and what she did, in memory of her. (Matthew 26:6-13)
But six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, the one Jesus had raised from the dead. So they prepared a supper for him there, and Martha served them, and Lazarus was one of those who dined with him. And Mary brought a measure of ointment of nard, pure and precious, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was full of the fragrance of ointment. One of his disciples, Judas the Iscariot, who was about to betray him said: Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor? But he said this not because he cared anything about the poor but because he was a thief and, being keeper of the purse, used to make off with what had been put into it. But Jesus said: Let her be, so that this can serve for the day of my burial; for the poor you have always with you, but you do not always have me. (John 12:1-8)
The beautiful scene of the anointing in Bethany occurs several times in the liturgy of these days. Hearing it this year I could not help of thinking the way it has been misused by certain soit-disant “traditionalist” bloggers to criticize the Holy Father. The reaction among certain liturgical “traditionalists” to the election of Pope Francis was truly appalling. As Fr John Saward would say: “if anything proves that liturgical renewal is necessary but insufficient for the restoration of all things in Christ, it is these arrogant, intemperate, unjust, and profoundly un-Catholic cyber-tirades.”
Concern for the splendor of the sacred liturgy is laudable, but if certain “traditionalists” would spend more time reading the authentic witness of Apostolic tradition found in the Church Fathers, they would see how odd it is to use the anointing in Bethany as to attack the Holy Father’s concern for una Chiesa povera e per i poveri. A glance at the Catena aurea for Matthew and John shows that the Fathers read this passage as signifying (at one level) the love that we should show Christ in the poor. Continue reading