Alchemy, Ambition, and Revolution

I had been meaning to read Samantha Cohoe’s A Golden Fury for a long time. When I finally took it up I read it straight through in breathless haste. It is marvelously exciting and beguiling. Afterwards I read some of the reviews on Goodreads, and was amused to see that some readers found the pacing “on the slower side.” It all depends on one’s frame of reference. I suppose I haven’t been keeping up with developments in young adult historical fiction. But if one compares A Golden Fury to the leisurely pace of the classics of historical fiction— Walter Scott’s Waverly novels, for instance— the pace is positively frenetic. I found it thrilling.

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Laudato Si’ and Charles De Koninck

In a programmatic post on the new encyclical, John Brungardt argues that Charles De Koninck’s philosophy of nature and his anti-personalist account of the common good, both rooted in his rich understanding of the order of the whole universe as the final cause of creation, make De Koninck a particularly suitable instrument for pursuing the concerns of Laudato Si’. Continue reading

Das Ende der Neuzeit

In the new encyclical, Laudato Si’Pope Francis quotes Romano Guardini’s superb critique of the Baconian program of progress through the technological domination of nature in Das Ende der NeuzeitSadly the Neuzeit (modernity) is far from having reached its Ende.

There is a tendency to believe that every increase in power means “an increase of ‘progress’ itself”, an advance in “security, usefulness, welfare and vigour; …an assimilation of new values into the stream of culture”, as if reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from technological and economic power as such. The fact is that “contemporary man has not been trained to use power well”, [ROMANO GUARDINI, Das Ende der Neuzeit, 9th ed., Würzburg, 1965, 87 (English: The End of the Modern World, Wilmington, 1998, 82)]. because our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience. Each age tends to have only a meagre awareness of its own limitations. It is possible that we do not grasp the gravity of the challenges now before us. “The risk is growing day by day that man will not use his power as he should”; in effect, “power is never considered in terms of the responsibility of choice which is inherent in freedom” since its “only norms are taken from alleged necessity, from either utility or security”. But human beings are not completely autonomous. Our freedom fades when it is handed over to the blind forces of the unconscious, of immediate needs, of self-interest, and of violence. In this sense, we stand naked and exposed in the face of our ever-increasing power, lacking the wherewithal to control it. We have certain superficial mechanisms, but we cannot claim to have a sound ethics, a culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint. (§ 105)

Non abbiate paura

One way in which Christ brings peace is by conquering fear:

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)

Fear is contrary to peace because one cannot be tranquil as long as one expects to suffer the privation of the good. But the Pascal Mystery removes any cause for fear of any created thing; tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and death itself (cf. Romans 8:35) are no longer fearful because Christ has transformed them by His passion, death, and resurrection into the means by which we are united to His sacrifice and brought to ultimate triumph. Continue reading

Pontificate of Hope

The author's first encounter with Bl. Pope John Paul II

My confrere Pater Johannes Paul and I went to Rome with a group of pilgrims for the beatification of Pope John Paul II. It was tremendously moving and all that sort of thing, but the trip was also kind of exhausting and so I actually fell asleep during the sermon at the Beatification Mass. Reading the sermon when I got back, I was struck by the following passage, in which Pope Benedict gives a remarkably pithy summary of the center of his predecessor’s teaching: Continue reading

The Opalescent Parrot on Francis Bacon

Among the pilgrims here for the Exaltation of the Cross on Sunday I was surprised to see Aelianus of Laodicea. I have been discussing the most abstract kind of armchair politics with Aelianus recently, but I thought that he was in far away Britain. We spoke after Mass, and he asked whether my classifying Laodicea under the Opalescent Parrot is some sort of elaborate insult. On the contrary, it is a complement. Alfred Noyes’s brilliant literary-criticism giving parrot is, one might say, the Platonic form of Catholic blogger; at least, if there were a Platonic form of Catholic blogger the Opalescent Parrot would participate in it to the highest degree (except that he didn’t have a blog…). The Parrot is the master of the sort dismissive, aphoristic take down of the children of this world that Catholic bloggers specialize in. Consider the son of the Orinoco on Francis Bacon:

‘The Worst thing of all,’ said Francis Bacon, ‘is the apotheosis of error’ It is on of those ‘apothegms’ which have been acclaimed as among the most glorious jewels in the crown of Philosophy; and whether the acclaim be deserved or not, the ‘apothegm’ has a special applicability to the tercentenary of Francis Bacon himself. […] For Francis Bacon is the supreme instance in English history of a figure crowned with error. Errors of every kind (from the hard, bright, shallow judgments of Macaulay to the pathetic futilities of those who believe that Bacon wrote the Faërie Queene and Hamlet), follies of every kind, fly to him like iron filings to a magnet.

Incidentally, I have used the “pathetic futilities of those who believe that Bacon wrote the Faërie Queene and Hamlet” to illustrate a point that Newman makes in the Grammar of Assent. A man who has read Spenser, Shakespeare, and Bacon closely for many years, and has attained a real apprehension of their literary style and color of mind, is absolutely certain that the author of the Faërie Queene did not write Hamlet, and that the author of the New Atlantis wrote neither. But, if he is asked to produce arguments he can only bring a number of probabilities, none of which justifies his absolute certitude. Why? The problem is that when he produces arguments he must abstract and enter the realm of what Newman calls the “notional,” but the concrete fact does not admit of universal demonstration. His certitude is based on the myriad complexity of a concrete fact really apprehended, and he cannot translate it into notions that do full justice to the reality. Thus the “accumulated probabilities” that Newman speaks of as giving him the certitude arrived at in his religious inquiry, are not a collection of probable, notional arguments added up till all together they prove what none of them separately can, but rather the quasi-infinity of probabilities following from the real apprehension of the concrete.