The Luciferian non serviam

Take Lucifer’s non serviam not just as his own account of his choice but as the paradigm for all sins: Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.. for he is a liar, and the father of lies. The non serviam has to be taken as Satan’s interpretation of the act, involving some sort of lie.*

Start with an account of a slave: Person A is a slave to B when B lays claim to all of A’s labors. If B does so justly, then the servitude is just, if he does so simply by force or violence then the servitude is one of the supreme forms of violent degradation.

The luciferian non serviam first suggests the slavery as a violent degradation. Perhaps the thought goes like this:

1.) Who wills your happiness necessarily more wills it than who wills it contingently.

2.) Always follow the rule of the one who more wills your happiness.

3.) Creature X necessarily wills the happiness of X.

4.) God wills the happiness of creature X contingently on the mysterious counsels of His will.

Submit to God’s mysterious will? NO! we need more assurances! I’ll follow God so far as it is good for me. What, this is a mortal sin? Well then, mortal sin is the only reasonable path to take. Everything else is to degrade yourself by handing your life over to one demonstratively less interested in your flourishing than you are.

But where is the lie in all this?

Obviously, the first lie would be the belief that your labors – or even your own person – weren’t justly God’s right. This explains things, but it seems to miss the point of the argument just given, which questions how acting in accord with this justice could ever be reasonable when we necessarily will our own happiness but God need not.

But that last claim is wrong. We will our own happiness by nature and nature is ian aspect of the divine mind given to things. We will our own happiness only because God willed the same thing first and continues to do so. It’s a mistake to see God’s will as if it is wholly alien to our own desire when our desire itself is simply one way in which things participate in the divine will itself.

More importantly, the luciferian non serviam is properly a denial of grace for the sake of one’s proper nature, but in a supreme irony, to reject grace to to reject the only thing that can elevate one out of the servitude to God. I no longer call you servants but friends. We are right to see something less than perfect in servitude to God, even though this servitude is entirely just and good in itself, but this is precisely what God is seeking to remedy by the gift of grace. The luciferian non serviam is exactly what made him a slave twice over, not just by the natural state of owing all to God but to be enslaved as a punishment against his will.

*If we stick on the purely angelic level we will have to explain the angelic fall apart from speculative error, which will make it too difficult for what I’m trying to do here. So I’ll understand the Luciferian non serviam to some extent from within the human order, namely, to the extent that the argument requires imputing speculative error ro the act.





The age of faith grown cold

Thomas concludes his arguments for why Christ didn’t become incarnate at the beginning of the human race with this striking claim:

[Christ did not become incarnate at the beginning of the world] so that the fervor of the faith might not grow lukewarm with the long passage of time. Because at the end of the world the love of many will grow cold as is said in Luke 17 when the son of man will come, do you think he will find faith on earth? 

[N]e fervor fidei temporis prolixitate tepesceret. Quia circa finem mundi refrigescet caritas multorum, et Luc. XVIII dicitur, cum filius hominis veniet, putasne inveniet fidem super terram?

This might be one of the many claims that others get right away and I’m too obtuse to see, but it seems like what Thomas is arguing is that the time of faith on earth has inherent limits – an age or several ages – within a historical context that is inherently much larger, and that it was unfitting for Christ to come at the beginning of human existence since the age of faith would be buried by millennia of tepidity.

Assume the age of tepidity is the modern world, say, starting at the end of the of the eighteenth century and more or less complete by the beginning of the twentieth. But now assume all that happened at the end of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom (@1650 BC). Either the whole of human history would have to end soon after 1650 BC or it would continue from 1650 till now in the age of tepidity and charity grown cold, and either option seems worse than what actually happened.



The two paths

The Didache begins There are two ways, one of life and one of death. This both distills and develops  the great scriptural theme of the two paths, that Deuteronomy 30 sets forth as the summation of the whole law (and ‘recanonized’ after the return from exile in Nehemiah 1) or which Psalm 1 describes as a summation of all the Psalms.

Augustine divides the two paths by the activities of enjoyment and use, which divide things sought or loved into (a) what is ultimately an end (b) what is ultimately a means. Here again, we get a Punnett square with only two outcomes:

WHAT IS SOUGHT IS EITHER… Ultimately an End Ultimately a Means
The Creator Good Act meriting salvation Mortal Sin
A Creature Mortal Sin Good Act meriting salvation

Augustine could therefore divide life (following the Psalms) into a “City of God” and a City of the flesh or of man, divided by two sorts of love.

One puzzle in all this is how Scholastics would argue both (a) God is naturally the ultimate end of human life and (b) human beings can fail to make God their ultimate end. David Bentley Hart gives some very good arguments that (a) and (b) are contradictory, and in doing so he is keeping with the broadly Socratic tradition of arguing that all sin as such is ignorance and ignorance as such is not culpable. Aristotle denies this by arguing for various forms of culpable ignorance generated by we sinners ourselves. In meditating on what Aristotle taught I’m impressed by how human beings find it very difficult not to think about a white bear if you tell them they can’t, but we easily stop thinking about moral truths if we want something forbidden, and if we can’t pull it off with our own mental resources, there’s always peer groups, booze, profanity,  and learned arguments from persons cleverer than ourselves who often have mysterious powers of popularity.

Fimister’s sword

The first thesis in the Summa is that created persons need a revealed teaching in addition to natural knowledge since they are called to an end above what they can know by natural knowledge. Alan Fimister and Thomas Crean argue that created persons need revelation even if they are not called to an end above what can be known by reason. The argument appeals to the underdetermination of a natural being to a particular end. Here’s how I’d give it:

1.) If A creates B, then we can know some things about B’s purpose just by knowing what it is, but not what its purpose is in particular.

2.) In order to act as it was intended to act, everything must know its purpose in particular.

3.) Therefore, if A makes B, B cannot act as it was intended to act just by knowing what it is.

As Fimister puts it, if a smith makes a sword we can know some things about it just by considering its nature: what temperature it would melt at, that it was made to be held and to cut, that rust is bad for it and polish is good, etc. But we can’t know what the smith made it for in particular: whose army was it made for? was it made to be used in war or to be carried in a solemn procession as a symbol? Was it designed for a particular use or for a general use? The nature alone can’t tell us, as it is underdetermined to any one of these. So even if created persons were created to live purely according to their nature, they would still need a divine revelation from their creator to know that this was the particular purpose they were created to serve.


Thomas and the interaction (non) problem.

For Thomas the interaction problem either didn’t arise or didn’t amount to much for two reasons.

1.) The intellectual soul is substantial form of the body. If A (whether material or immaterial) interacts with the body B, then B must be an actual body. But the intellectual soul does not presuppose the actual body of which it is the soul, but is that which makes the body of the person an actual body at all. Anything that properly interacts with a body presupposes that the body is actual, but no substantial form presupposes the actuality of the body it informs. Seen in this way, the interaction problem conflates the difference between accidental forms (like pushing or pulling something actual) with substantial forms, which immediately actualize not another act, but a pure potency.

Of course, if one wants to say a hylomorphic composite results from the interaction of act and potency, I have no objections, though this is a new sense of the word “interaction.” More on this in 3…2…

2.) The knower and the known do not interact physically. If any action arises from two co-principles one supposes it can be called an “interaction,” but this requires an essential difference between physical and cognitive interaction. The cognitive interaction between knower and object is both from the knower and to the knower, being from him qua subject and to him qua object, though consisting in one and the same act of knowledge. This is analogous to the total action of one billiard ball interacting with another, but the two interactions cannot be conflated.

Immateriality and intellectuality

(This argument was developed from a lecture given by Dr. Therese Scarpelli Cory)

Thomas says that if God were to make an immaterial box, it would know itself (De spiritualibus creaturis, a. 1 ad 12) e.g. if the Flying Dutchman were really out there or if the dagger Macbeth saw was really in front of him, both would know themselves. Why?

1.) Whatever exists, acts. Or, a thing could not exist without having some proper activity. The medieval way of putting it was operatio sequitur esse or Omne agit secundum quod in actu. This also seems to be the idea behind the modern idea that abstract things (fictions?) differ from concrete things because the concrete are causal. It would also follow from our intelligence (a) knowing being and (b) knowing things through their activity. The truth of both requires that whatever is also acts.

2.) Immaterial action is the negation of an action qua material. If material action as material is X, Y, Z then what we mean by immaterial action is an action characterized by ~X, ~Y, and ~Z.

3.) Material action is of one part to another part, whether on the same thing or another. The edge of the ax splits the log, the battery in my laptop powers the hard drive, the sun feeds the tree through its leaves, I scratch my head, etc. Whether we talk about parts of a body or a field or a current makes no difference here. By “material” in other words, we mean to speak about an action that occurs immediately by the conjunction of extended physical parts.

4.) Immaterial action, therefore, is of a whole to a whole, whether in the same thing or another. By (3) we deny parts to an immaterial being though it is whole, perfect and complete in its being and activity. Since material things act on themselves by one part acting on another, immaterial activity with respect to itself is therefore a whole to a whole, and with respect to another is a whole to another. This allows two possibilities with respect to some other: (i.) The presence of the whole substance* to a whole and (ii) the presence of a material part to a whole.

5.) A whole relating to a whole, whether itself or another, is intellection. This is a definition, and so isn’t proven so much as simply seen. Negating matter means two** substances are immediately co-principles of one activity, i.e. the substance or essence of A, while remaining exactly what it is, becomes the co-principle of an action in which it is both one with anotherco-principle B and preserved as A. A thus is for B another as other, meaning it is known, and it is another as other according to its whole substance, meaning it is intellected and not simply sensed. This distinction between intellection and sense corresponds to (4i) and (4ii), since the whole knower and whole known are one only by intellection, while only part of the known is properly given to the knower in sensation, e.g. the part that reflects light, gives off odors, causes pressure waves in the air, etc. Notice, however, if the whole substance is present to itself as a whole, i.e. if it has self knowledge, it must be simply immaterial.

*The difference between the object in its entity and the object as cognitive species or esse intelligibile is being glossed over here. The main point of the argument is that the object of the intellect : object of sensation :: essence or substance : accident. But the entity of these objects is not here made clear.

**These two substances are either different in being or one and the same substance existing as object and subject in self-knowledge.

Secularization: an Ockham’s razor approach

Charles Taylor repeatedly insists that his project in A Secular Age is to explain How belief in God in Western societies was unavoidable in 1500 but became by 2000 one option among many. The text proved a magisterial contribution to a much larger literature concerned with explaining the same thing, and in turn generated a very large literature that took the text as a point of departure.

Here’s a criticism of the project: it is being defined per accidens, and once one defines the project per se the answer is both simple and familiar.

Here’s my attempt to give a per se account.

The Starting Point: 

In 1500 Western societies were Catholic in more or less the same way that, say, St. Ambrose Parish in Woodbury, MN is Catholic. There is nothing mysterious about this or hard to grasp: to say that the parish is Catholic or “religious” doesn’t rule out its doing all sorts of secular things like making payrolls, hiring janitors, subcontracting parking lots and painting lines on them, teaching 3rd grade Earth science, etc. For all that, any suggestion that St. Ambrose should “separate Church and state” or become officially secular would be odd to the point of being unintelligible. Saying this doesn’t rule out significant puzzles and conflicts between what we might call religious and secular authorities – the priest and the bishop (religious) can be fighting with the parish council (secular) or the school principal (secular but sometimes religious) and all of them can be fighting among each other, or even be “religious” to varying degrees of conviction and practice. In this sense, we might get a whiff of what it means to ‘separate’ religious and secular domains, but to go whole hog and declare St. Ambrose a secular institution requires killing what you have and replacing it with something else.

The Ending Point. 

By the year 2000 imagine the same Campus of the once St. Ambrose Church in Woodbury, except now calling it “St. Ambrose” no more suggests a parish than saying “San Diego” makes one think of a bishop of the church in Jerusalem or the Son of Zebedee. The buildings now have different insignia, symbols of secular governments who are proud of their history of religious liberty. The Campus still has the old church on it, down the street from a protestant churches, but the tallest building on the campus is now the St. Ambrose Capitol, where important decisions get made by men in ties and women in power suits who bring in scientists and lobbyists to decide how everyone should live, what they should learn in schools, how much they should be paid, how they should be punished, what should happen when their marriage falls apart, etc.

Catholicism, now called “a religion” or “a belief in God” is a free choice than anyone can make or not make.

The Middle Point. 

There doesn’t seem to be any mystery here: Catholicism went from being part of Western identity in 1500 to being a religion allowed by secular power in 2000 by a doctrine that declared that Catholicism was a religion that could be allowed (or not) by a secular power. In other words, all that happened was Augsburg and Westphalia.

Cuius regio eius religio means temporal power determines whether religion will exist, and for this to be just religion must exist for the sake of temporal power. In the same way that it’s only just for me to determine whether my hogs on my farm will live or die if the very existence of those hogs is ordered to my flourishing, so too sovereigns can only decide what religion will exist in the realm (or not) if religion exists for those sovereigns, who now become imputed with an authority and power transcending the merely religious.

Given this, the post-Catholic approach to religion can express itself in a few different ways, all of which can be different ingredients of the secular state.

1.) Deny that sovereignty is a matter of justice, but that it is mere power. This is the most pious (?) option since it does not require saying that the sovereign decides matters of religion as a matter of justice but of sheer power. This was the first post-Catholic political theory, devised by Hobbes, which reduces sovereign power as nothing beyond the ability to assert one’s will on another. It’s as if, in response to why we can kill pigs for food, we said “because we’re more clever than they are, with these sharp knives and winches to drag them upside down”. Though this is a sheer might-makes-right sophistry, it seems more reasonable than the absurdity that one could believe a religion was both revealed by God and yet subordinated and inferior in being to a temporal sovereign.

2.) Claim a truly transcendent power for the state. If sovereign power is just, then the secular is simply a greater sort of being than revealed religion. Just think of how magnificent the state must be! Something so magnificent deserves to be in charge of everything, everywhere, and to be unopposed by anyone!

3.) Demote revealed religion to a mere human construction. True, the state is greater than religion, but this is because religions are made by human beings. These religions are all partial, imperfect realizations of different aspects of some one reality (COEXIST!) and all have their part to play in the serious and supreme art of the single, supreme secular state, which of course would never need to “coexist” with other possible political forms (theocracy, fascism, integralism, etc.)

So, again, what gets called the question of “secularization” is per se a question of how people went from a state where the supreme power was Catholic/ religious to a state where the supreme power was above the Catholic or religious. The answer, it seems to me, requires no more historical knowledge than the you’d get from a high school history textbook. The Reformation happened, which placed temporal sovereigns over Catholicism/religion.

Gratia Naturam perfecit

Taken concretely, the axiom that grace perfects nature, never corrupts it means that acts of piety will also have good natural effects. Said another way, the acts we perform that unify ourselves to God and save us are also good in ways that, though good in themselves, do not of themselves unify us to God or save us. So we can consider all acts of piety as natural goods

1.) Prayer. As a natural good, prayer is meditation, or the conscious exertion of control over consciousness itself.  as consciousness is the principle of all our actions, in gaining a habitual control over this we similarly gain control over all action. It’s hard to see any road to virtue, or even any road to a life that isn’t lived sheerly by chance and the whim of circumstance, that doesn’t set aside daily time for meditative actions.

2.) Fasting. As a natural good, fasting is a diet plan. The typical OT fast, for example, was what is now called intermittent fasting, and was almost identical to what’s now called the 5:2 diet. Though most dieting happens for weight loss it has many other health benefits, in addition to involving the same sort of conscious control over desire, which again is to exert control over the principle of all action.

3.) Various mortifications. The contemporary Catholic world seems to have coalesced around the value of cold showers, and as a natural good this seems to involve direct conscious control over the irascible appetite. One suspects you could get identical results from jumping in a lake: there is the initial shock of something both discomforting and focusing, followed by an adjustment over the next fifteen seconds and an awareness that it doesn’t feel all that bad. The natural value of the mortification is a facing of fear and recognizing that one can master it and in a certain sense unmask it.

The same sort of natural good can come from exercise. If done vigorously enough one has to mentally train himself to be in the moment in order to push back against OTOH the concupiscible desire for comfort and OTOH the irascible threats that one should give up.

None of this is rocket science: have the mind and will practice control over the principles of human action: mind, will, concupiscence, irascibility. But as spiritual practices all these natural goods are transcended, i.e. they are maintained in existence by being elevated to a higher degree of being. To pray, fast, mortify while in charity is not just healthy and an aid to virtue but also a principle of justification for oneself and the world. It is an offering to God of something contrary to will but actively willed in charity, and so takes part in the redemptive justification of Christ.

Students ask me a lot whether one can fast or exercise while wanting natural benefits. If the argument I’m giving here is right the whole question is misguided: if these characteristic acts of piety didn’t have good natural effects then the life of grace would be destructive of nature and not perfective of it. This is at least the norm even if it might not be the case in every act of grace – it’s obvious that martyrdom as such is a natural good for the individual, though there are obvious social and species-wide benefits to making the highest ideal a willingness to sacrifice one’s personal desires to the common good.

In dialogue with those who question dialogue

Interreligious dialogue is a lot like dating. They’re pleasant enough experiences that seem self-justifying for everyone in favor of them, but their goals are extremely vague. Dating differs from courting in that courtship has a definite goal while dating doesn’t, and ecumentical dialogue differs from evangelization in the same way. Said another way, courting and evangelization are finite activities that end either in failure or success, dating and dialogue are open-ended (i.e. infinite) while still not being quite done for their own sake. The kids talk about dating to “get to know people” but they don’t stop once they get to know them; they see it as somehow a mark of maturity but they still see it as a stage one needs to transition out of. Ecumentical dialogue has similar vagaries: we see it as distinctively enlightened while we would still see it as a failure if it merely continued forever.

What can we make of all this? I don’t think it’s mere muddle-headedness, but I do think that both dating and dialogue need to be, well, in dialogue with those who bear unpleasant truths that daters and dialoguers easily forget, but these wet-blanket-people who remind them cannot have everything their way. Those who dialogue need to be in dialogue with those who question dialogue.

The dialoger 

On the one hand, we must know the religious other as a self. From within our own traditions the religious other can become a caricature who loses his dignity and humanity though our categorizing him. On the other hand, dialogue is open to the same criticism in reverse – in our interaction with the common humanity of the religious other we can lose sight of the peculiar horror of error.

Dialogue is a corrective tool that itself is in need of being corrected by its opposite. We can’t lose sight of common humanity and the universal desire for happiness and the good, while we also can’t lose sight of how this appreciation of common humanity carries the danger of blinding us to how actual human dignity* can be lost even in those who are otherwise pleasant, polite, profound, better than us, etc.

*The dignity we have in potency, by being ordered to or having a vocation to beatitude can’t be lost, though it is also need not be actualized.

Atoms and heavenly bodies

Understood in Aristotelian categories, the Democritean/Lucretian hypothesis of the world is to compose all things out of the heavenly bodies.

For Aristotle, the heavenly bodies were necessary beings since their matter was wholly proportioned to form, so given they had a form it could not be lost.

When made proportionate to form matter is no longer a source of ontological contingency. The core argument for contingency in nature is that what need not exist a fortiori need not act, this does not apply to Aristotelian heavenly bodies, so neither to Democritean atoms.

There is no ontology of nowadays “fundamental particles” so it’s hard to say if they are any more like Aristotelian heavenly or sublunar bodies. Because of this we’re confused about the role of determinism, and so confused about the extent to which we can model (really, cognitively replace) the physical world by the mathematical one.

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