Saturday, March 10, 2018

Love what is admirable, but hate the sin

     "How can Dante, for example, so obviously admire his own teacher, Brunetto Latini . . . and nonetheless place him in Hell?  If Brunetto Latini was so admirable in so many ways, as indeed he was, how can he suffer that unqualified condemnation for the sin of sodomy which places him in the Inferno?  The answer is clearly given by Aquinas:  the doing of many good deeds is perfectly compatible with the perverse choosing of something in oneself which is defect and error and affirming it as what one intends unalterably to be.  And it is this choice which is one's own choice of exclusion from the community of the perfected."

     Alasdair MacIntyre, Three rival versions of moral inquiry:  encyclopaedia, genealogy, and tradition, being the Gifford Lectures delivered in the University of Edinburgh in 1988 (Notre Dame, IN:  University of Notre Dame Press, 1990), 144.  "What would it be for the sequences of the Summa . . . to be mirrored in the enacted dramatic narratives of particular human lives lived out in particular communities?  Aquinas himself does not supply an answer to this question [(except insofar as he lived his own life 'with a rare singleness of purpose, with that purity of heart, which as Kierkegaard said, is to will one thing')], but Dante does" (142-143).  On pp. 145-148, MacIntyre then gives the genealogical (or Nietzschean) deconstruction of this account, and the outlines of a tradition-al (or Thomistic) reversal and reestablishment.
     What are the sources of this in Aquinas himself?
  • ST I-II.73.10 ("Whether the excellence of the person sinning aggravates the sin?"), quoting Isidore, "'A sin is deemed so much the more grievous as the sinner is held to be a more excellent person [(tanto maius cognoscitur peccatum esse, quanto maior qui peccat habetur)].'"  But the examples given here (the magistrate who offends against justice, the priest who offends against chastity) seem to indicate that the greater excellence must be in the same respect.  So I'm not sure that this is the passage to which MacIntyre refers.

Ideas have consequences

"ideas do have a drift and a tenor of their own, and basic theological choices do have inherent costs which are not always perceptible initially, and may have to be paid by subsequent generations."

     David S. Yeago, "Gnosticism, antinomianism, and Reformation theology:  reflections on the costs of a construal," Pro ecclesia 2, no. 1 (Winter 1993):  40 (37-49).

Confidence in God

James McAuley "took from [the retired bishop of the Papuans Alain de] Boismenu one lesson above all: that pessimism, in the bishop’s words, 'is the source of nothing whatever, it paralyzes all impulse, deadens every generous feeling.' Better was optimism, which despite its risks could at least produce something. But the right state was something different from either: 'confidence in God.' McAuley would often repeat these words, to others and to himself, in the years after his reception into the Church, which came finally in 1952. Becoming Catholic did not make McAuley into a saint, but it was in every way the turning point of his life—for, as he put it, the convert walks through a door with submission written over the frame."

     Dan Hitchens, "James McAuley beyond despair," First things no. 280 (February 2018):  33 (31-36).  Quoting McAuley:  "'Very characteristic was the reply [Boismenu] once gave to the question:  'By what sign can sanctity be recognized?'  His answer was:  'By naturalness.'"

"When people are invited to participate in what Newman took to be the doctrines of liberalism, set to an accompaniment of polyphonic music, they stay home and watch soccer instead."

     Thomas Joseph White, "The metaphysics of democracy," First things no. 280 (February 2018):  29 (25-30).

Friday, March 9, 2018

"'not . . . a dog's chance'"

     "During the Second World War, [John Middleton] Murry poured his energies into sustaining ['Dick'] Sheppard's pacifist legacy.  Striving to translate into social fact what he had always regarded as a religious faith, he ran a pacifist community farm in Norfolk and commuted to an unglamorous office in Finsbury Park to edit Peace News, the weekly paper that Sheppard had hailed as a 'romance in journalism' and that became the official mouthpiece of the Peace Pledge Union.  But this tortured, tergiversating intellectual could not begin to compensate for Sheppard's absence—and nor could anyone else.  George Orwell, whose hard-headed scorn for pacifism knew no bounds, observed in 1941 that following Sheppard's death British pacifism seemed to have suffered a moral collapse.  It was a collapse that Murry's ill-judged posture as editor of Peace News did nothing to reverse.  Querying whether a Europe dominated by Hitler would necessarily be such a terrible thing, he was also loath to credit the multiplying stories of the horrors being visited on Jewish people by the Nazis and their collaborators.  Even more damaging was Murry's volte face in the last months of the war, his abject concession—when the truth of the death camps was laid bare—that he had been a 'mistaken visionary who had failed to grasp that in the face of totalitarian police states such as Hitler's Germany and Josef Stalin's Soviet Union, 'non-violent resistance did not stand a dog's chance'.  So much had long been self-evident to critics of pacifism such as Orwell and T. S. Eliot—though in Eliot's Calvinistic eyes what had rendered Dick Sheppard's peace pledge risible was not totalitarianism so much as the primordial corruption of human nature."

     Neil Berry, "Pacifism's F├╝hrer:  Dick Sheppard's struggle to avert world war," The times literary supplement (December 1, 2017):  20 (19-20).