Saturday, March 28, 2009

Thoreau on the Internet, blogging, Twitter, etc.

"Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end. . . . We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, having nothing important to communicate. . . . We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the old world some weeks nearer to the new; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough."

     Henry David Thoreau, "Economy," Walden or, Life in the woods (1854) (Library of America volume ed. Sayre, pp. 363-364).

Sly And The Family Stone

". . . Come, madam wife, sit by my side
and let the world slip: we shall ne'er be younger."

Christopher Sly, in William Shakespeare's The taming of the shrew, Induction, scene 2, ll. 145 ff.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The CCC on the obligation of the priest to do penance for his penitent

"The Church, who through the bishop and his priests forgives sins in the name of Jesus Christ and determines the manner of satisfaction, also prays for the sinner and does penance with him [(et poenitentiam peragit cum eo)]."

"The confessor is not the master of God's forgiveness, but its servant. The minister of this sacrament should unite himself to the intention and charity of Christ. . . . He must pray and do penance for his penitent [(Orare debet atque poenitentiam agere pro eo)], entrusting him to the Lord's mercy."

Catechism of the Catholic Church ##1448 and 1466, italics mine.

Levin wises up

"Since the moment when, at the sight of his beloved and dying brother, Levin for the first time looked at the questions of life and death in the light of the new convictions, as he called them, which between the ages of twenty and thirty-four had imperceptibly replaced the beliefs of his childhood and youth, he had been less horrified by death than by life without the least knowledge of whence it came, what it is for, why, and what it is. Organisms, their destruction, the indestructibility of matter, the law of the conservation of energy, development--the terms that had superceded these beliefs--were very useful for mental purposes; but they gave no guidance for life, and Levin suddenly felt like a person who has exchanged a thick fur coat for a muslin garment and who, being out in the frost for the first time, becomes clearly convinced, not by arguments, but with the whole of his being, that he is as good as naked and that he must inevitably perish miserably.
"From that moment, without thinking about it and though he continued living as he had done heretofore, Levin never ceased to feel afraid of his ignorance.
"Moreover, he was vaguely conscious that what he had called his convictions were really ignorance and, more than that, were a state of mind which rendered knowledge of what he needed impossible. . . .
"For him the problem was this: 'If I don't accept the replies offered by Christianity to the questions my life presents, what solutions do I accept?' And he not only failed to find in the whole arsenal of his convictions any kind of answer, but he could not even find anything resembling an answer.
"He was in the position of a man seeking for food in a toyshop or at a gunsmith's. . . .
"What astounded and upset him most in this connection, was that the majority of those in his set and of his age, having like himself replaced their former beliefs by new convictions like his own, did not see anything to be distressed about, and were quite contented and tranquil. So that, besides the principal question, Levin was tormented by other questions: Were these people sincere? Were they not pretending? Or did they understand, possibly in some different and clearer way than he, the answers science gives to the questions he was concerned with? . . .
"One thing he had discovered since these questions had begun to occupy him, namely, that he had been mistaken in imagining from his recollections of his youthful university circle, that religion had outlived its day and no longer existed. . . ."

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude, Part 8, chap. 8 (New York: Everyman's Library, 1992): 926-927). The story of Levin's conversion, which may veer too far into a kind of supra- (but really an ir-) rationalism (?), continues right on through to the end of the novel, and is surprisingly ecclesiocentric. Was Tolstoy more of a churchman than I had thought, or is his ecclesiology, too, just a disguised form of mysticism? And that epigraph: what is that supposed to mean? "Vengeance is mine; I will repay": can the point of the novel be really as obvious as that makes it seem? I'm going to have to read this again.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The CCC on the singularity of the Real Presence

"'Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who intercedes for us,' is present in many ways to his Church [(multipliciter est Ecclesiae Suae praesens)]: in his word, in his Church's prayer, 'where two or three are gathered together in my name,' in the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned, in the sacraments of which he is the author, in the sacrifice of the Mass, and in the person of the minister. But 'he is present . . . most especially [(maxime)] in the Eucharistic species.'
"The mode of Christ's presence under the Eucharist is unique [(singularis)]. . . . 'This presence is called "real"--by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be 'real' too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.'"

Catechism of the Catholic Church ##1373-1374. The Latin of that last sentence is more forceful still: "'Quae quidem praesentia "realis" dicitur non per exclusionem, quasi aliae "reales" non sint, sed per excellentiam, quia est substantialis, qua nimirum totus atque integer Christus, Deus et homo, fit praesens'" (boldface mine). Cf. "We recognize that the words and symbolic actions of the eucharist are experienced by very many Christians as a most powerful means of grace, a grace which shines forth clearly in their lives. Nevertheless, it is our experience that the grace of God is not restricted to any particular form of eucharistic liturgy; the reality of God's presence may be known in worship that retains none of the traditional elements that are central to the life of many churches. 35. In 1928, at a time when parliament and the religious life of our nation were rent with strife on the nature of the Real Presence, London Yearly Meeting wrestled to understand its own experience and expressed it in these words: 'In silence, without rite or symbol, we have known the Spirit of Christ so convincingly present in our quiet meetings that his grace dispels our faithlessness, our unwillingness, our fears, and sets our hearts aflame with the joy of adoration. We have thus felt the power of the Spirit renewing and recreating our love and friendship for all our fellows. This is our eucharist and our communion.' . . . 36. . . . a form of worship sincerely dependent on God, but not necessarily including the words and actions usually recognized as eucharistic, may equally serve as a channel for this power and grace" (To Lima with love: the response of the Religious Society of Friends in Great Britain to the World Council of Churches document Baptism, eucharist and ministry (London: Quaker Home Service for London Yearly Meeting, 1987): 9-10). Do Quakers speak any more forcefully than this? Do they make it sufficiently clear that the presence to which they testify is singular in precisely the sense given above? That it is the true, real, and substantial presence of the whole Christ (totus Christus), "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity" (and not, for example, "just" some "Spirit of Christ")? I don't know. It's an honest question.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Rees on the "total computing power" of NASA back then

"it was an extraordinary technical triumph--especially as NASA's total computing power then was far less than that of a single mobile phone today."

Martin Rees on "the program to land men on the moon", "Science: the coming century," New York review of books 55, no. 18 (November 20, 2008): 41. Martin Rees is President of the Royal Society and Master of Trinity College, Cambridge. This essay was based on the 2008 Ditchley Foundation Anniversary Lecture.