Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The ODCC on the tolerati, vivandi

tolerati (Lat., ‘tolerated persons’). The technical term formerly used in canon law for those excommunicated persons with whom the faithful were permitted to have some measure of intercourse. They were thus distinguished from the vitandi (q.v.). These categories are no longer used in RC canon law.

vitandi (Lat., ‘persons to be avoided’). The technical name formerly used in canon law for those excommunicated persons with whom members of the Church were debarred from having any kind of intercourse unless there was reasonable cause. They were distinguished from the tolerati, with whom relations of a personal kind were more readily allowed. Unless he had laid violent hands upon the Pope, in which case ipso facto he was vitandus, an offender acquired this status only when he was expressly so named by the Roman see. These rulings are embodied in the Codex Iuris Canonici (1917), cans. 2258, 2259, and 2343. The category is not used in the 1983 Codex.

Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. rev. (2005), e-reference edition.

Monday, April 13, 2009

St. Isaac the Syrian on what happens "When knowledge follows the desire of the flesh"

"When knowledge follows the desire of the flesh, it brings with it these tendencies: wealth, vanity, adornment, rest for the body, and eagerness for the wisdom of that logic which is suitable for the administration of this world; it is constantly making new discoveries both in skills and in knowledge, and abounds also in everything else that is the crown of the body in this visible world. As a result of this, it comes to oppose faith . . . for it is stripped of any concern for God, and makes the mind irrational and powerless, because it is dominated by the body. Its concern is wholly confined to this world . . . It thinks that everything is in its own care, following those who say that the visible world is not subject to any direction. Yet it is unable to escape from continuing concern and fear for the body. So faintheartedness and sorrow and despair take hold of it . . . and worry about illnesses, and concerns about wants and lack of necessities, and fear of death . . . For it does not know how to cast its care onto God, in the assurance of faith in Him. It therefore engages in contrivances and trickery in all its affairs. When its contrivances are ineffectual for some reason, it does not see the secret providence, and fights the people who are obstructing and opposing it".

St. Isaac the Syrian, Mystic treatises 6, pp. 256-257, as quoted by Christos Yannaras in "The ethos of liturgical art," chap. 12 of The freedom of morality, trans. Elizabeth Briere, Contemporary Greek theologians 3 (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1984), 236n2.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Wood on the distinction between literary and religious belief

"The child of evangelicalism, if he does not believe, inherits nevertheless a suspicion of indifference. He is always evangelical. He rejects the religion he grew up with, but he rejects it religiously. He has buried evangelical belief but he has not buried the evangelical choice, which seems to him the only important dilemma. He respects the logical claustrophobia of Christian commitment, the little cell of belief. This is the only kind of belief that make sense, the revolutionary kind. Nominal belief is insufficiently serious; nominal belief seems almost a blasphemy against atheism."

James Wood in The broken estate, as quoted by John Banville in "The prime of James Wood," New York review of books 55, no. 18 (November 20, 2008): 85n2. He "respects" it, he says, but "the logical claustrophobia of Christian commitment, the little cell of belief"? My first reaction? Evangelicalism, maybe, but surely not the great tradition (also and primordially evangelical). And surely not even every branch of the evangelical Anglicanism in which Wood was raised. (True question mark there.) But on second thought, here is what he must mean by that: "Once religion has revealed itself to you, you are never free. In fiction, by contrast, one is always free to choose not to believe, and this very freedom, this shadow of doubt, is what helps to constitute fiction's reality. Furthermore, even when one is believing fiction, one is 'not quite' believing, one is believing 'as if.' (One can always close the book, go outside, kick a stone.) Fiction asks us to judge its reality; religion asserts its reality. And this is all a way of saying that fiction is a special realm of freedom" (italics mine). Interesting. And probably true, so long as one defines freedom voluntaristically as a kind of power of indifference (cf. the emphasis on choice, above). Whereas, if true freedom is instead a capacity for an appropriate response to the beautiful, the good, and the true, then wouldn't even some fiction (the best, at least) be strictly speaking indubitable? Wouldn't fiction like that, too, be "asserting its reality," if only before "judgment" (a judgment that knows when to concur)? And by the way, no Christianity worth its salt rides roughshod over judgment. The Christian faith both "asserts its reality" and "asks us to judge its reality" to the full extent that we can. So I can't see this as anything but a false choice. And this despite the fact that what Wood seems to be saying is that the reality of fiction, the very best fiction, just is its dubitability. (I'm at a disadvantage here, because I haven't read the books.)
In any case, I like this especially, though for opposite reasons: "Ultimately, this 'break'[, this blurring of 'the distinctions between literary belief and religious belief,'] was good neither for religion nor perhaps for the novel, although it was perhaps a beneficial moment in our progress from superstition. For Christianity, instead of disappearing, merely surrendered its truth-claims, and turned itself into a comforting poetry on the one hand, or an empty moralism on the other. Truth slipped away. (The heirs of Renan and [Matthew] Arnold are everywhere in contemporary Christianity.) And the novel, . . . having founded the religion of itself, relaxed too gently into aestheticism" (85).