Sunday, October 26, 2014

Aquinas on the eminently active or operational character of the contemplative life

Andrea di Cione (Orcagna),
Strozzi Altarpiece (1357, detail),
S. Maria Novella, Florence.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons.
"the good that is the activity [(operatio)] itself, in which the will rests, takes precedence over the will's resting [(quietatio voluntatis)]  in it."

"principalius bonum est ipsa operatio in qua quietatur voluntas, quam quietatio voluntatis in ipso."

     Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae I-II.4.2.Resp., trans. McInerny.  Recall that
  • the blessed God is a pure act of self-contemplation, and that therefore
  • "Each [created] thing is perfect insofar as it is actual" ("Unumquodque autem intantum perfectum est, inquantum est actu") (I-II.3.2.Resp.), and that therefore
  • "happiness must consist in man's ultimate act" ("Oportet ergo beatitudinem in ultimo actu hominis consistere"), and that
  • "activity is the ultimate [(or second)] act of the agent" ("operatio est ultimus actus operantis"), so that
  • "'happiness is an activity in accord with perfect virtue'" ("'felicitas est operatio secundum perfectam virtutem'") (I-II.3.6.arg. 1, quoting Aristotle).
Recall, further, that Aquinas links this up with a discussion of the active and contemplative lives in particular (to speak only of these few articles of the Summa ( 4), rather than the treatise on the active and contemplative life proper (II-II.179-182)):
"perfect happiness [(beatitudo perfecta)] is promised us by God, when we will be like the angels in heaven. . . . With respect to that perfect happiness, the object ceases, because by one and continuous and sempiternal activity [(una et continua et sempiterna operatione)] in that state of happiness [the mind of] man [(mens hominis)] is joined to God.  But in the present life, to the degree that we fall short of the unity and continuity of such an activity [(unitate et continuitate talis operationis)], to that degree we fall short of happiness.  But there is some participation of happiness, and so much the greater, insofar as the activity [(operatio)] can be more continuous and one [(magis continua et una)].  Therefore, in the active life [(activa vita)] which is concerned with many things, there is less of the notion of happiness than in the contemplative life [(vita contemplativa)], which turns on one thing, that is, the contemplation of truth [(veritatis contemplationem)].  And if at times man does not actually engage in this activity [(Et si aliquando homo actu non operetur huiusmodi operationem, And if at some time or other a man does not in fact engage in an operation of this kind)], he is always ready to do so, and because taking time out for sleep or some natural activity [(occupationis)] is ordered to it, it seems to be a continuous activity [(operatio continua)]."

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Pfau on the modernistic charge of nostalgia

"The longing for a past plenitude, as indeed the supposition that it had once existed, rests on two closely related assumptions:  first, that historical time is linear rather than cyclical, monochrome in its forward motion rather than recursive and imbued with various kinds of 'higher time' or spikes of semantic intensity.  For it is this premise that sanctions the axiom of 'loss' without which there could not be any nostalgic affect. Second, nostalgia implies that our relationship to the past is one of disaffection, even terminal estrangement, a premise borne out by the self-certifying affect of 'longing' at the heart of nostalgia.  Yet precisely these premises also show nostalgia to be a distinctively modern phenomenon inasmuch as it acquiesces in the modern (historicist) view of time as a monochrome vector pointing toward the future, which renders the past as strictly passé, that is, as sheer inventory to be, perhaps, objectively known but most definitely incapable of signifying for (let alone transforming) us."

     Thomas Pfau, Minding the modern:  human agency, intellectual traditions, and responsible knowledge (Notre Dame, IN:  University of Notre Dame Press, 2013), as quoted by Matthew J. Milliner, "A secular age 2.0:  Thomas Pfau on the irreducible mystery of personhood," Books and culture 20, no. 5 (September/October 2014):  11 (11-13).

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

"a long obedience in the same direction"

"Das Wesentliche, „im Himmel und auf Erden“, wie es scheint, ist, nochmals gesagt, dass lange und in Einer Richtung gehorcht werde".

     Friedrich Nietzsche, Jenseits von Gut und Böse, no. 188.  "The Digitale Kritische Gesamtausgabe Werke und Briefe (eKGWB) is the digital version of the German reference edition of Nietzsche’s works, posthumous fragments, and correspondence edited by Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari (Friedrich Nietzsche, Werke. Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Berlin/New York, de Gruyter, 1967– and Nietzsche Briefwechsel. Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Berlin/New York, de Gruyter, 1975–)."

So even the Institute nods?

With Democratic Enlightenment and now Revolutionary ideas, Jonathan "Israel has taken himself out of contention as a trustworthy historian of origins and character of the French Revolution, perhaps of the Enlightenment as well.  Worse, the cavalier and partial handling of evidence in this and the previous volume inevitably raise retrospective questions about the reliability of the first [(Radical Enlightenment)], from which most historians including this one thought they had profited. . . . Israel is entitled to his materialistic, monistic, and atheist Spinozan worldview, including his schismatic conviction that none of us who arrive at political positions similar to his ever legitimately do so without his Spinozan starting points.  But ontology is not history, and no historians have so far succeeded in getting this elemental verity across to Israel, among them historians as 'secular' as he is."

     Dale van Kley, "The French Revolution and the Radical Enlightenment:  a cautionary tale for Christian historians," Books and culture (September/October 2014):  17 (14-17).

Sunday, October 12, 2014

"collective emotions" are "irremediably the domain of the devil"

"the social is irremediably the domain of the devil.  The flesh impels us to say me and the devil impels us to say us; or else to say like the dictators I with a collective signification.  And, in conformity with his particular mission, the devil manufactures a false imitation of what is divine, an ersatz divinity.
     "By social I do not mean everything connected with citizenship, but only collective emotions.
     "I am well aware that the Church must inevitably be a social structure; otherwise it would not exist.  But in so far as it is a social structure, it belongs to the Prince of this World.  It is because it is an organ for the preservation and transmission of truth that there is an extreme danger for those who, like me, are excessively open to social influences.  For in this way what is purest and what is most defiling look very much the same, and, confused under the same words, make an almost undecomposable mixture.
     "There is a Catholic circle ready to give an eager welcome to whoever enters it.  Well, I do not want to be adopted into a circle, to live among people who say 'we' and to be part of an 'us,' to find I am 'at home' in any human milieu whatever it may be.  In saying I do not want this, I am expressing myself badly, for I should like it very much; I should find it all delightful.  But I feel that it is not permissible for me.  I feel that it is necessary and ordained that I should be alone, a stranger and an exile in relation to every human circle without exception."

     Simone Weil, Letter no. 2 on "Hesitations concerning baptism" (Spring of 1942), in Waiting on God, trans. Emma Craufurd (London:  Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd, 1951), 9-10 (8-12).
     Weil is quite right about the "extreme danger".  But (1) "irremediably the domain of the devil" and "in so far as it is a social structure, it belongs to the Prince of this World" are incompatible with (2) "a false imitation of what is divine", "extreme danger", "for those who like me", "what is purest", "for me", and so forth.
     Once again, Weil goes beyond the evidence to make an unacceptably sweeping statement in contradiction of the maxim that what is not assumed is not healed.  Or so it seems to me.

Friday, October 10, 2014

"one can never wrestle enough with God if one does so out of pure regard for the truth. Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go towards the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms."

"on ne peut jamais trop résister à Dieu si on le fait par pur souci de la vérité.  Le Christ aime qu'on lui préfère la vérité, car avant d'être le Christ il est la vérité.  Si on se détourne de lui pour aller vers la vérité, on ne fera pas un long chemin sans tomber dans ses bras."

     Simone Weil, Letters of farewell no. 4 (the Spiritual autobiography), in Waiting on God, trans. Emma Craufurd (London:  Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd, 1951), 22 (15-33); Œuvres, ed. Florence de Lussy ([Paris]:  le Grand livre du mois (following the Gallimard Œuvres complètes), 1999), 772.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

"you declare your mighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity"; grant, therefore, in your mercy, that we might run to obtain your promises!

2010 ICEL: (26th Sunday in Ordinary Time):
O God, who manifest your almighty power
above all by pardoning and showing mercy,
bestow, we pray, your grace abundantly upon us
and make those hastening to attain your promises
heirs to the treasures of heaven.
Through [etc.].

Corpus orationum no. 1952 A-B (7th-beginning of the 8th century (Casin:  Monte Cassino 271; Gothicum:  Vatic. Reg. Lat. 317; etc.), with a few variants); Bruylants no. 418 (first half of the 8th century, with several variants) (10th Sunday after Pentecost):
Deus, qui omnipotentiam tuam
parcendo maxime et miserando manifestas,
multiplica super nos gratiam tuam,
ut, ad tua promissa currentes,
cælestium bonorum facias esse consortes.
Per [etc.].

Sources:  Ps 36 (35):8a:  "multiplicasti misericordiam tuam, Deus".

1973 ICEL (26th Sunday in Ordinary Time), via Fr. Z:
Father, you show your almighty power, in your mercy and forgiveness. Continue to fill us with your gifts of love. Help us to hurry toward the eternal life you promise and come to share in the joys of your kingdom.

1549 BCP:
God, which declarest thy almighty power, most chiefly in shewyng mercy and pitie; Geue unto us abundauntly thy grace, that we, running to thy promises, may be made partakers of thy heauenly treasure; through [etc.].

1662 BCP (11th Sunday after Trinity):
O God, who declarest thy Almighty power, most chiefly in shewing mercy and pity; Mercifully grant unto us such a measure of thy grace, that we running in the way of thy commandments, may obtain thy gracious promises, and be made partakers of thy heavenly treasure, through [etc.].

1979 BCP Traditional (Proper 21):
O God, who declarest thy almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity:  Mercifully grant unto us such a measure of thy grace, that we, running to obtain thy promises, may be made partakers of thy heavenly treasure; through [etc.].

1979 BCP Contemporary (Proper 21):
O God, you declare your mighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity:  Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through [etc.].