Saturday, January 22, 2011

Gandalf the steward

"'Unless the king should come again?' said Gandalf.  'Well, my lord Steward, it is your task to keep some kingdom still against that event, which few now look to see.  In that task you shall have all the aid that you are pleased to ask for.  But I will say this:  the rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small.  But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care.  And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come.  For I also am a steward.  Did you not know?"

Gandalf to Denethor in J. R. R. Tolkien's The return of the king = The lord of the rings, pt. 3, bk. 5, chap. 1 ("Minas Tirith").  I have not re-read this recently, but was put onto it by Jennifer Woodruff Tait.

Friday, January 21, 2011

"the sons of this world are more shrewd . . . than the sons of light"

"My sister, years ago, asked me to be godfather to my new nephew and I, being very dutiful though frequently misguided, felt obliged to tell the C of E vicar in a hesitant English way that I was, er, not really religious, in fact I was, um, a bit of an atheist really…sorry.
"'No problem' said the vicar, explaining that there was nothing in the rules saying that godfathers had to be Christian, although, when I heard the baptism service, I realised this was only because it was so obviously central to the whole palaver that nobody had thought to spell it out."

Oliver Cross, "a radical atheist to the left of Richard Dawkins," in the Yorkshire evening post, 21 January 2011 (

Prayer for the Feast of St. Agnes

Almighty, eternal God,
you choose what the world considers weak
to put the worldly power to shame.
May we who celebrate the birth of Saint Agnes into eternal joy
be loyal to the faith she professed. . . .

Prayer for the Feast of St. Agnes (21 January), Liturgy of the hours.  My stab at this:

Almighty [and] eternal God,
you who choose the weak of the world
in order that you might confound all the strong,
grant, gracious [God], that we who celebrate the birthday festivities of your martyr blessed Agnes
may imitate her [steadfast] perseverence in the faith. . . .

Omnípotens sempitérne Deus,
qui infírma mundi éligis
ut fórtia quæque confúndas,
concéde propítius, ut, qui beátæ Agnétis mártyris tuæ natalícia celebrámus,
eius in fide constántiam subsequámur. . . .

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A quiddity only participating in esse

"our intellect can grasp only that which has a quiddity participating in 'to-be' [while] the quiddity of God is 'to-be itself'".

St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Book of causes, trans. Vincent Gualiardo, Charles Hess, & Richard Taylor (Washington, DC:  Catholic University of America Press, 1996), p. 51 (p. 47), p. 52 (p. 43), as quoted by David B. Burrell, C.S.C., in his "The act of creation with its theological consequences," in Creation and the God of Abraham, ed. David B. Burrell, Carlo Cogliatti, Janet M. Soskice, & William R. Stoeger (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2010), 49 (40-52).

Monday, January 17, 2011

Happiness and prosperity as inescapably theologal

"Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.  Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.  Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love.  No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint.  Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness."

Reinhold Niebuhr, The irony of American history III ("Happiness, prosperity, and virtue").4 ((New York, NY:  Charles Scribner's Sons, 1952), 63).

Hegel on the higher criticism

"The third form of reflective history is the critical.  This deserves mention as preeminently the mode of treating history now current in Germany.  It is not history itself that is here presented.  We might more properly designate it as a history of history; a criticism of historical narratives and an investigation of their truth and credibility.  Its peculiarity, in point of fact and of intention, consists in the acuteness with which the writer extorts something from the records which was not in the matters recorded.  The French have given us much that is profound and judicious in this class of composition, but they have not endeavored to pass a merely critical procedure for substantial history. . . . Among us, the so-called 'higher criticism,' which reigns supreme in the domain of philology, has also taken possession of our historical literature.  This 'higher criticism' has been the pretext for introducing all the anti-historical monstrosities that a vain imagination could suggest.  Here we have the other method of making the past a living reality; putting subjective fancies in the place of historical data; fancies whose merit is measured by their boldness, that is, the scantiness of the particulars on which they are based, and the peremptoriness with which they contravene the best established facts of history."

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, The philosophy of history, trans. J. Sibree, Introduction ii (Great Books of the Western World, 2nd ed. (1990), vol. 43, p. 162).

"her discrete self-definition as a woman in a house of three men"

"'She became part of the family immediately,' Ora continues as they descend, and she holds back a sigh, because something changed at home when Talia came, when she started having meals with them and staying over and even going on vacations abroad with them (all of a sudden I had someone to go to the bathroom with when we were on trips, she remembers).  But how can she tell him this?  How can she describe to a man like himthat apartment of his, the darkness, the solitarinessthe slight shift that occurred in the balance between men and women at home, and her feeling that womanhood itself had been given, for the first time perhaps, its rightful place in the family?  How can she recount something like that, and what could he, in his state, understand?  And what business is it of his anyway?  Truth be told, she does not yet feel ready to admit to him, to an almost stranger, how amazed she was, and how it taunted her even to see how this young woman effortlessly attained something she herself had never even tried to demand from her three men:  their full recognition of the fact that she was a woman, her discrete self-definition as a woman in a house of three men, and the fact that being a woman was not just another of her annoying whims, nor a pathetic defiance of the real thing, which was how the three of them often made her feel. . . . What Talia had brought about, God only knows how, through the very light motions of her being!  Ora snickers to herself, because even Nicotine, the family dog, of blessed memory, experienced a slightly embarrassing change when Talia was around."

     David Grossman, To the end of the land, trans. Jessica Cohen (New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 2010), 179.  Talia was Ora's son's girlfriend.  Ora's "three men" were, of course, her husband and her two sons (not to mention the male "family dog").

Sunday, January 16, 2011

"Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands"

"In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, 'Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage."

Is 19:24-25, RSV.

Those who remember the past are condemned never to repeat it

"Rulers, statesmen, nations, are wont to be emphatically commended to the teaching which experience offers in history.  But what experience and history teach is thisthat peoples and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.  Each period is involved in such peculiar circumstances, exhibits a condition of things so strictly idiosyncratic, that its conduct must be regulated by considerations connected with itself, and itself alone.  Amid the pressures of great events, a general principle gives no help.  It is useless to revert to similar circumstances in the past.  The pallid shades of memory struggle in vain with the life and freedom of the present."

     Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, The philosophy of history, trans. J. Sibree, Introduction ii (Great Books of the Western World, 2nd ed. (1990), vol. 43, p. 161).

Curing tuberculosis with consumption

"Far from constituting an alternative to modernity, Baroque Thomism is the most quintessentially modern theology imaginable.  To think that one could defeat the pathogens of human voluntarism by retreating to what is in effect a limitless divine voluntarism is rather like thinking one could cure tuberculosis with consumption."

David Bentley Hart, "Impassibility of transcendence:  on the infinite innocence of God," in Divine impassibility and the mystery of human suffering, ed. James F. Keating and Thomas Joseph White (Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans, 2009), 320 (299-323).  P. 317 to the end is simply blistering.  Great stuff.  Though not to be interpreted in such a way as to turn the authentically transcendent God of pure love into the domesticated, namby-pamby God of so much of the pablum that passes for theology today.