Empire III: Gustavo Dudamel at the Spanish Riding School; or Virgil and the Horses

Sometimes when sancrucensis is writing a paper he comes to a point where he has to take a break and do something else to take his mind of it, but then that something else becomes a kind of projection screen on which the paper takes new form. Continue reading


David Foster Wallace, Dante, and the Stars

At one point in his Kenyon College Commencement Speech (embedded above; transcript here) David Foster Wallace describes in brilliantly vivid detail the frustrations of standing in line in a supermarket. Our default setting, he says is to burn with impotent rage against the dreariness, misery, and stupidity of the situation. But this is not the only option: Continue reading

Empire II: Herodotus, Aristotle and Jokes

If Virgil is in some ways a follower of Plato, Plato would certainly not have agreed with him on the need for world empire. Like most of the Greeks Plato thought that a limited population was necessary for a good political community. The Greek view seems to have been formed by the experience of the war with Persia. In book VII of Herodotus’ Histories Demaratus famously tells Xerxes that the Greeks will win for, Continue reading

Empire I: the Philosophical Poet

Virgil is a very philosophical poet. In his famous essay on the Aenead[1] Jacob Klein quotes the following note from an early life of Virgil:

Although [Virgil] seems to have put the opinions of diverse philosophers into his writings with most serious intent, he himself was a devotee of the Academy; for he preferred Plato’s views to all the others.

I am going try to show something of Virgil’s political philosophy, and how it responds to Plato, but before doing that I ought to do a post on Virgil as a poet. Let me begin with the famous lines that are supposed to sum up the whole spirit of Virgil: Continue reading

Political Order

Matthew Peterson has posted some trenchant objections to a post of mine on the American Revolution. The main point of my post was a contrast between the way political order is viewed in the modern social imaginary vs. the way it was “imagined” in ancient and medieval societies. While in the modern social imaginary (and in modern political theory) political order is not seen as something good in itself, but only as an instrument to the realization of other goods, in the ancient/medieval imaginary political order was seen as something in itself good. St Thomas (as I read him) sees order as the primary intrinsic common good of political society. Continue reading

Bridal Mysticism in Leviticus

When one is doing a lectio continua of the scriptures it starts out being a literary pleasure — Genesis and and the first part of Exodus are as exciting as anything in ancient literature — but then one comes to the tabernacle descriptions in Exodus and then Leviticus. Leviticus! Surely one of the hardest bits of Scripture to plow through. Those long lists of ritual laws. One of the things that makes the laws so boring is that they seem so arbitrary. Why is suet fat never eaten, but always burned entirely? Leviticus doesn’t say. Of all the books of the Bible Leviticus is perhaps the last one that one would least think of reading as belles-lettres, but that is exactly what the anthropologist Mary Douglas does in her book Leviticus as Literature. Leviticus, Douglas argues, is not a random collection of arbitrary rules, but an intricately crafted work of analogical thinking. She shows how the body of the sacrificial animal is a kind of model or map of the tabernacle, each part of the dismembered animal corresponds to a part of the tabernacle, and the tabernacle is itself a model of Mount Sinai, which is a model of the universe. The sacrificial rites thus become an enactment of the cosmic order. So the suet over the entrails is sacred to God not because it corresponds to the curtain before the Holy of Holies. But what corresponds to the Holy of Holies itself. Well, that’s where the bridal symbolism comes in:

What is Heard About Nature and the Trajectory of Certain Thomists

Father Benedict Ashley, O.P. notes in an autobiographical sketch that his vision of the relation between his Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy and the sort of “natural science” that originated with Descartes et. al. changed over time. At first he took “modern natural science” to have basically zero philosophical significance; the task of the Aristotelian was simply to take the empirical discoveries of “modern science” and integrate them into the framework of Aristotelian cosmology: “In my first phase I saw the task mainly as one of filling in the details in a general plan already laid out. This may appear preposterous, but it really is not so difficult.” But then he slowly begins to think that “modern science” supports an insight of “modern philosophy” into the nature of reality itself — namely that reality is “historical.” This change came for him at the time of Vatican II, and it had the same effect on him that the Council had on many others: “This insight was a liberation, because it made it possible for me to see modern thought and modern culture much more sympathetically than before.” I wonder whether Ashley’s sense of liberation did not incline him to assent to what he saw as an insight more readily. Would he have been more hesitant to assent to his new ideas if they had been less in tune with his age? Continue reading

Taylor’s Secular Age

A Secular AgeA Secular Age by Charles Taylor

Cross-posted from Goodreads. Rating: 4 of 5 stars

It takes a long time, and a certain amount of patience, but it is possible to finish Charles Taylor’s long, heavy book A Secular Age. And it’s really worth it. Taylor’s is in many ways the most insightful account of the genesis of modernity that I have ever read. For it is more than an examination of the “conditions of belief” in our age; it’s an examination of the way moderns see and imagine themselves and society and the universe, and how this way of seeing and imagining came about. A lot of goodreads reviews have complained about the sheer length, the meandering, and the repetitiveness of this work, but I found the length necessary to make his case, and the repetitions helpful to avoid getting lost. The meandering hesitating style seems to me to be used for rhetorical reasons. It a trifle irritating at times, but it allows Taylor to make his conclusions really plausible without having to prove them strictly. Continue reading

Against the American Revolution

Venuleius of Ius Honorarium has posted a mixture of praise and contempt for Christopher Ferrara’s polemics against “Americanism.” I haven’t read Ferrara’s book, but I can guess what it’s like; after all, in my undergraduate days in the USA I was in the business of quoting Diuturnum Illud and Notre Charge Apostolique to bash the founding principles of that proud republic. Venuleius gives Ferrara qualified praise for slamming John Courtney Murray-style attempts at showing that the American founding principles are the cat’s meow, and ought to be adopted root and branch by Catholic social teaching. But Venuleius argues that Ferrara overstates the evils of the American project: Continue reading