Translating Ignatius’s Rules for discernment

The multiple manuscripts for Ignatius’s Rules of Discernment have significant differences (for a comparison of the Autograph Spanish text and the Vatican approved Vulgata see here.) The most common English translation is Mullan’s 1914 translation from the Spanish text, which gives Rule One as

In the persons who go from mortal sin to mortal sin, the enemy is commonly used to propose to them apparent
pleasures, making them imagine sensual delights and pleasures in order to hold them more and make them
grow in their vices and sins. In these persons the good spirit uses the opposite method, pricking them and biting
their consciences through the process of reason.

The 1835 Latin text, however, is

To those persons who easily sin mortally and add sin to sin our enemy is usually accustomed to set forth forbidden delights of the flesh and of the senses to keep them filled with sins and to always add to the number of those sins. The good spirit, on the other hand, continually pricks their conscience and deters them from sin through the service of conscience and reason.

The 1835 text gives clearer descriptions of at least four things: 

1.) Sinners. The 1914 text describes the sinner metaphorically as “going” from sin to sin whereas the Latin text describes him literally as sinning with ease and adding one after another. 1914 gives only one distinguishing criteria of the sinner, 1835 gives two. 

2.) The enemy or bad spirit. In 1914 the spirit blandly offers temptations to the imagination so as to make them grow in sins. In 1835 it keeps them both filled with sins and goads them to add to their number in its insistence on a binging consumption without rest. 

3.) The object of temptation. In 1914 it is the almost incoherent “apparent pleasures” of “sensual delights and pleasures.” One can make this work with a theory that pleasures of sense that are contrary to reason are only pleasant per accidens (since they are not pleasures for man as man, and so not per se.) It’s simpler to just call them illicit and then to divide them into the carnal and those of “the senses”, i.e. the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes. As the commentary on 1835 puts it, the carnal pleasures are the animal ones and the sensual the lower pleasures proper to man like desire for honor or money. 

4.) The good spirit. It’s on this score that 1835 is incomparably better.  In 1914 the good spirit is said to “bite” the sinner, i.e. to attack in hostility in a way proper to an animal so as to wound him, just as in Rule Two the evil spirit is said to “bite” those who are striving to go from good to better. In 1835 the good spirit pricks those in sin, i.e. he gives a sharp, short lived pain that is meant entirely as a warning that makes one “ouch!” and then its over. The good spirit deals even with those in the basement of the spiritual life with minimal pain and compassion, with a sudden sharp warning so long as they keep reaching into spiritual thorns.  One can interpret 1914 in this way, but the “bite” of the good spirit has to be understood differently from the “bite” of the bad one. Ignatius is clear in later rules that the bad spirit threatens, acts aggressively, presses his advantage whenever he can, etc. but any bite of the good spirit is not like this.  1835 also describes the good spirit as acting though the officium of synderesis and reason, the sense being that he appeals to powers doing their proper work of service from within us. The attack of the evil spirit is never an officium and can never appeal to any of our officia. 

Hell Hypothesis

 If Hellfire is divine love as spurned then to lessen the intensity of its pains lessens the intensity of divine love even for the saved. If God is, a la C.S. Lewis, indifferent or merely permissive to the wickedness of the damned this argues for an indifference to the saved as well. If I’m indifferent to the loss of something, what does this say about my possession of it? 

Transcending the perfections of work and rest

Augustine concludes Confessions

52. For even then shall You so rest in us, as now You work in us; and thus shall that be Your rest through us, as these are Your works through us. But You, O Lord, always work, and are always at rest. Nor do You see in time, nor do You move in time, nor do You in time; and yet You make the scenes of time, and the times themselves, and the rest which results from time.

You always work and are always at rest. Both reduce to the divine goodness, the first by his work of creating and redeeming the world and the second by the impossibility of his being perfected by anything or acquiring make him better. His creation was moreover for the sake of drawing creation to himself above all in sharing the goodness of his divine essence by salvation, and so the same divine goodness that is the principle of his actions outside himself in redemption is the goodness in virtue of which he remains ever at rest within himself. 

As the Thomist tradition generalized this there is one formal ratio of divine action and divine inaction (cf. John of St. Thomas, Cursus Theologicus, q. 19 disp. V a. 1), not because the divine nature escapes or even flouts the principle of contradiction but because the divine infinity and pure act make any property formally present in him so far as his essence transcends the way in that property is opposed to another among finite things. Just as the friendship of virtue is pleasant and useful while both the friendships of utility and of pleasure are opposed to each other, so too the divine essence includes both action and inaction formally in its transcendence while action and inaction on their own level are opposed to each other.* So action (or inaction) in a created thing is just action (or inaction) but in God it is the divine essence so far as action is formally in an essence that transcends the opposition between action and inaction as diverse perfections described by Augustine (cf. Cajetan in Primam Partem, c. XIII c. 5 esp ¶ VII and VIII).  

The divine simplicity is virtually multiple so far as the simplicity itself unites perfections that, as understood and signified by us, are limited to themselves and thus opposed to other perfections. The divine infinity is of course incompatible with finitude and so with any opposition of perfections. This is the sort of argument that seems to be always overlooked by Analytic philosophers and some contemporary Eastern theologians who think that the contingency of creation has to be traced back to some destruction of necessity in divine action or that divine freedom is incompatible with the perfections of necessity. The Analytic-Eastern mistake smells like a return of the teaching of Eunomius, where “God knows no more of his own substance than we do; nor is this more known to him, and less to us: but whatever we know about the Divine substance, that precisely is known to God; and on the other hand, whatever he knows, the same also you will find without any difference in us (Church History Book IV c. 7.)”


This property also often belongs to virtue as such. Virtue is a mean between two extremes by transcendently containing the perfections of the extremes, e.g. if gluttony is one extreme seeking primarily pleasure in food and anorexia is another extreme seeking self-control with respect to it, only temperance is essentially taking pleasure both in food and one’s own self-control.

Determinism and occasionalism

 1.) If God’s action of determining the will to act makes my action not free then his action of determining the fire to burn makes its action not natural. Creation negates nature as soon as freedom. 

2.) Thomas divides a free cause from a first cause since some free causes are secondary or instrumental causes secundum quid. If he didn’t do this then to establish something is free would be ipso facto to prove it was divine. The reasonableness of the distinction should be clear to anyone who gave a cosmological argument  that inferred divinity immediately from any free choice. 

3.) In discussions of science and religion it’s a truism to seek a rapprochement by claiming that God is the author of nature. But if God’s authorship of nature – even in its concrete expression – allows nature to act naturally and not destroy it then his authorship of free agents and actions – even in their concrete expression here and now of and even my writing this word – does not destroy freedom. 

4.) Is the sense that nature can be subordinate in a way that freedom is not? This is true, since natural action has less autonomy and self-action than a free action. For all that, free actions simpliciter can be secondary causes secundum quid.  

5.) If you throw up your hands and say “well then I guess that there isn’t free action or natural action” then here again you’re right in a sense, since the way in which God’s action is free and natural is proper and unique to him and not communicable to creatures. If you decide that free action or natural action just is the action of a first cause, then what you’ve discovered is not the negation of freedom and nature but the first analogue of freedom and nature. Your problem is not in your theory of causality but your theory of divine names that imputes univocal predicates to God and creatures. 


God and evidence

I overheard two Twelve-year-olds arguing about religion and one stated with great confidence to the other “you have no physical evidence for that.” I put me in mind of Bertrand Russell’s quip that if he died and found himself face to face with God he’d protest “there wasn’t enough evidence.” So we all seem to be working from a theory of evidence that invests it with an omnipotence (or even a super-omnipotence) capable of going toe-to-toe with divinity and winning. Evidence! is a sort of one word exorcism sufficing to drive out the gods. This all involves a theory of evidence whose clarity and unity is largely imaginary, and which has been tendentiously rigged to exclude testimonial evidence and rigorous argumentation, but I’ll ignore this arguendo and see what I get.

On the one hand, expecting evidence for the supernatural is like expecting blood work for a rigged election or DNA results for the translation of cuneiform. The means of proof are disproprtioned to the object, or even in different categories. Like many elements of experience God is not a technology or a consensus reached by naturalists after a series of physical trials. Should he be? Maybe if we’re talking about his interventions in history, but then we’re on the familiar terrain of sifting through depositions, eyewitness accounts, canonization documents, etc. Even then, Scripture doesn’t give a historical narrative of continual worldwide miracles but a few moments of intense miraculous activity at nodal points in the history of salvation, sc. the Exodus, the beginning of the prophetic age, Christ’s public ministry, and the apostolic age. The Church also sees miracles as part of canonization as a sign that a person should be raised to public veneration, which is a sort of new node in the history of salvation, and it looks forward to some miracles at the end of the world, but outside of this God seems to show his preference for the ordinary course of nature. This befits God since creation is his first effect, but it might also be necessary since a new nodal point in salvation history only has meaning against a backdrop of the ordinary course of nature. Miraculous interventions are not usually made in order to meet even very sincere and pressing needs but to announce that something new is breaking out in history. At such times we’d expect some evidence, but the overwhelming number of times are not such times, which should inform our expectations of intercessory prayers which we’d want to suspend the natural order. To be sure, miracles aren’t limited to the narrow transition moments of salvation history but they are also part of extraordinary providence as opposed to some typical law or rule of the spiritual life, so expecting miracles on demand under the sort of controlled circumstances that yield physical evidence is unrealistic even if not presumptive. Another complicating factor is Christ’s insistence that miracles don’t convert hearts ex opere operato but only by antecedent grace. Would I know one even if I saw it?

So what is God doing in the meantime moments of salvation history like our own? In the Christian dispensation he’s freeing from sin so as to give the gift of himself. I suppose we could demand evidence of this, but it’s not obvious what it would look like. The union of the heart to God is not entirely interior: public ritual, moral transformation, works of mercy, evangelization and some sorts of devotion take place in the physical world but the cause that makes all these visible actions different from playacting or autosuggestion is supernatural and therefore not observable, and anything working within the heart, whether supernatural or not, whether convincing us of theism or atheism, is by definition not publicly verifiable.

If I had a scientific theory of the working of the human heart I suppose I could compare it to whatever I think is supernatural and see whether I’m misinterpreting the evidence that convinces me to believe, but the difficulties with such a theory start right out of the gate. We all have hearts but no one could take a “science of the heart” seriously, but for all that it’s at work whether we worship God or deny him for love of evidence.

The desire for an empirical world

Whenever A and B are really distinct and found together, whether simultaneously or as terms of a motion, this is not because an actual A is actually B but either because a potential B is an actual B or two potential Cs are actually so.

Parmenides figured out everything up to the “but” but did not leverage the truth into an insight into the difference between the potential and actual and so attributed real distinction in things to an act of the intellect. If a butterfly goes from Nevada to Utah this is not because Nevada becomes Utah (which is impossible) but because some butterflies outside Utah have the power to get there. If brown sugar is sweet it is not because it is so as brown, since this is both a category mistake and impossible. While it’s true that sugar is sweet as sugar (or, if one wanted to quibble about this, all I’m targeting is some essential accident of a substance) nevertheless this is not because substances are accidents, even their essential ones. Here too there are orders of potentiality and act: the substance actualizing the accident’s potential being absolutely and the accident actualizing the substance’s potential being with some qualification.

Absent potential being we’ll have to deny real distinctions being found together as Parmenides does. One halfway- house step is to call all things heaps of properties as Hume does, but in good logic he should also call motions heaps of termini, and just as he denies any substance of an apple that is red and sweet so too he has to deny any traveller that goes from La Flèche to Edinburgh. In some sense Hume does this in his denial of causality which would have to deny even the material and agent causality of a traveller, but this too leaves us with the Parmenidean world of motion only existing in the intellect or human opinion.

The Parmenidean or Humean world is both desirable and more fundamental. Potency is not empirical simpliciter as though one could distill out a ghostly pink goo from things that was somehow equivalent to all the substances or accidents they could acquire or become. Potency isn’t real in the normal, pound-the-table sense of reality and this to some extent justifies its empirical dismissal. Potency is not some tertium quid in addition to observable qualities but a different order of reality necessary to account for the unities we find among a things with diverse temporal and non-temporal parts.

The Empiricist is right that there is no need for such a shadowy-subtending world except that the purely luminous world he wants to look at and lay before his listener is not the physical world but the domain of God and the saints. Again, Empiricism is right that our understanding of the fundamental order of things is one where there are only heaps of qualities without substances, which qualities are held together in their division only by an act of the mind, but these heaps are the divine essence virtually distinguished by our intellect into diverse attributes but which is in itself the transcendent foundation of what we conceive in disjunction. Empiricism can thus only be perfectly verified in the beatific vision, but short of this it has to allow for not just being simpliciter but also a subtending and less-real secundum quid being of potency. We have to get rid of these Scholastic niceties, just not now but eschatologically.

Theology of the Bowels

 John 7 : 37-38

On the last day, the great day of the feast, Christ stood and cried out saying “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. As Scripture says, the one believing in me, rivers of living water will flow out of his bowels.”

Bowels here translates κοιλία or the Vulgate’s venter, ventris which are the hollow interior parts of persons starting under the ribs and ending at the genitals. The usual scriptural meaning is womb but often belly, and so signifies the principle of human life and its continuation. Human life comes forth from the κοιλία and continues by filling it again. 

1.) Human life has a principle in the hollow or emptiness. The κοιλία are fundamentally a hollow or dark cavity within. We don’t come forth from a treasury or fortress nor do we live with a storehouse at our center but from parts that cannot create unless they first receive, and what we receive is enough not for all life but for the day or even for the hour. 

2.) God blesses the κοιλία. This is clearest in Elizabeth’s inspired praise of Mary blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your κοιλία. Elizabeth might here be drawing from the praises of Deutoronomy 28.  The blessing upon man is from the beginning, a blessing that is more primordeal than even his own existence. This is verified most of all in Christ, who was in his person blessed from all ages and the principle of the blessing of all other things. Christ gives this blessing primarily by giving the spirit, as is clear from John’s explanation of the quotation at the head of the post “he said this concerning the spirit whom the ones believing in him were about to receive.”

3.) The κοιλία is also under the place where we bear our curse. This is clearest in the cursing of the serpent: on your κοιλία shall you crawl all the days of your life, and dust you shall eat. The sense is that he must act (crawl) only on the principle of his own life, and even then not according to how it was meant to function but only by its exterior part. As a consequence he will not be fed (dust you shall eat.) The life of sin seeks to attribute agency to what is in itself fundamentally receptive and as a consequence feeds on what cannot nourish.  

4.) The κοιλία are the place of compassion. Whereas we tend to ascribe tenderness to the heart Scripture speaks more often of the bowels of compassion which are attributed even to the divine nature (cf. Luke 1: 37.)

Thomas on dualism/physicalism

1.) Thomas’s most extensive treatment of what we now call the mind-body problem or the debate between dualism and physicalism is his treatise on the union of the soul and the body in II Contra gentiles c. 56-72.

2.) Though he synthesizes themes in many philosophical traditions, Thomas here as elsewhere uses Aristotle as the base for integration. The choice is not one of taste: Thomas positions the dualist-physicalist debate as both forcing an Aristotelian solution and finding their only solution in it. Materialism came first as the basis of any honest man’s attempt to understand mind, Plato was the first to spotlight its insufficiencies and contradictions in a way that preserved the rigor and clarity of the materialist project, but Plato himself overcorrected and lost the genuine insights of materialism.

3.) As a virtue is opposed to both vices simpliciter while still being closer to one extreme than another in a qualified sense, Thomas’s Aristotelian account of the soul is opposed to both dualism and materialism while being closer to dualism in a qualified sense. Nevertheless, Thomas criticizes dualism at length with arguments that any materialist would be happy to use, fundamentally in his insistence that natural beings are essentially material human beings are natural simply because they are seen, smelled, heard and born.

4.) Thomas’s solution is that man is a hylomorphic composite of an immaterial and material principle, but he’s not blithe about the difficulties this involves. He lists five up front:

a.) Two substances can’t make one while being both actual, so if man is actually physical he can’t be actually immaterial.

b.) Hylomorphism is the union of matter and form, but matter and form are one genera and immaterial and material beings are not.

c.) Something in matter as its form is a material form.

d.) Forms are not separate, but an immaterial form is separate.

e.) What exists in a body has bodily existence, and what has bodily existence has bodily operation, so if mind exists in body it has a bodily operation. The claim here is the same as saying “I am material and I think, therefore matter thinks.”

5.) we know ourselves as material first and there is no end of insightful explanations we can give of ourselves as material beings. Natural science might have years of low-hanging fruit in evolutionary, neuroscientific, and psychological accounts of human action, and attributing thought to computers might one day become as exclusive as attributing mowing to lawn mowers and other machines. To expand on that, mower was once a name for a man and not a machine, like the harvesting peasants described in Part 3 c. 2 of Anna Karenina. So if I call a mower whatever can do what I want with a plant-cutting blade, why not call a thinker whatever can do what I want with words or symbols?

The point of criminalization

So what’s the point of criminalizing drugs?

The question isn’t rhetorical: I’m in favor of criminalization. But the implicit assumption most persons have about drug criminalization is unsustainable, namely that the point of continuing a policy of criminalization is to diminish the illegal drug supply or at least interrupt its supply chains in significant ways. All this is implicit in the paradigm metaphor of American criminalization as a “War on Drugs” since the point of wars is to make significant advances leading to eventual defeats of one’s enemies or at least to significantly interrupt their activity. A perpetual war is literally Orwellian, being one of the central features of the regime described in 1984.

While the literature on drug statistics is not unanimous, if we understand criminalization as a war it is hard to see how any measurable gains (decreased number of overdoses in ERs?) are proportionate to its extent and expense. Even if decriminalization would lead to an increase in use, the war does not diminish the use we have. So why not legalize and regulate?

The mistaken assumption in all this is that the point of criminal law or the justice system is to eliminate crime or somehow cure us of it. To say the assumption out loud is to immediately realize its absurdity: we don’t take non-diminishing or even increasing rates of murder, rape, car theft, perjury or insider trading as evidence for their legalization. The typical criminal code is sufficiently justified by punishing evils and does not require the additional justification of eliminating them, especially not in a grand an universal way.

To be sure, drugs can be taken for therapeutic reasons, but therapeutic use by definition tries to minimize addiction and work for the good of the patient whereas the point of the drug trade is to make and exploit addicts and maintain them in a minimal state of health, diverse interests, balanced living and self-control. Dealing dehumanizes and degrades and those who do so need to be punished. As with any crime there are extenuating circumstances and exculpatory factors that need to be taken into account, but after all those are taken into consideration we still need to live in a world where Pablo Escobar ends up in jail. Perhaps more to the point, we deserve to live in a world where a corporate executives end up in jail if they intentionally set out to make and exploit addiction to opiates, ADHD drugs, or sugary food. This last point is ultimately why I’d reject both the “war on drugs” and legalization, since the first wrongly thinks that laws can do away with evils and the second in practice means that those with a monetary incentive to make and exploit addicts aren’t punished for doing so.

Theocentric Theology

In commenting on a rubric specifying that the altar of the church should be positioned so as to allow a liturgy versus populum, the commentary on the Novus Ordo says:

A theocentric theology occasioned the iconostasis and the altar apart from the people in the Eastern branches of Christendom as well as the people and the priest together facing God in Latin Christendom during and after the Middle Ages; an anthropocentric emphasis in theology has occasioned the current stance of the priest and people in immediate dialogue with each other. Each approach has its values and also its deficiencies. When the deficiencies of either approach become sufficiently evident, the pendulum swings in the opposite direction. Balanced, mature understanding is conscious of this tension.

The New Order of the Mass. Commentary on Para. 262

It’s hard to read this as anything other than a devastating criticism of the Novus Ordo. If “an anthropocentric emphasis in theology” is here taken as incompatible with “a theocentric theology” then it’s hard to see how this is anything but fatal to the anthropocentric emphasis. What else could theology be except theocentric? It’s as though one were proposing a theory of chemistry incompatible with chemical elements or a theory of medicine opposed to health.

But there are obviously silly understandings of the commentary passage. First of all, whatever the passage is saying, it isn’t talking about a shift to idolatry. An anthropocentric emphasis can’t be a shift in the object of worship. The terms of the opposition also require us to understand whatever this shift is within theology as such or a discourse or attention upon God.

As a Thomist, I’m brought to mind of the divisions of Thomas’s Summae, the first which might be called a theocentric theology (The Prima Pars, Books 1 and 2 of Contra gentiles) and the second a theology with an anthropocentric emphasis (The Secunda Pars, Book III of the Contra gentiles.) As Thomas explains it, the possibility of this shift in emphasis is from the person being in the image of God and so to study himself in precisely this way is a properly theological act. But it’s better to follow Thomas’s larger sweep of thought by seeing both these dimensions of theology as contained in the mystery of Christ. This is obvious not only from the Summae themselves but also from Thomas’s own life, in which his final and culminating theological statement was spoken to Jesus himself in which he asked for nothing but Jesus Christ. So while no Christian can understand an anthropocentric shift as a shift in the ultimate object of theology or any object of worship, we also can’t rule out the possibility of an anthropocentric emphasis within the ambit of theology.

The commentary itself sees this emphasis within theology as unstable and periodic, insisting that we are eventually driven from one emphasis to the other by theology itself, which probably arises from the centrality of Christ and history as the theater of revelation since history is proper to human beings (there being neither progress or eras for elm trees or angels.) I’m familiar with this from my own life as a Thomist, which flips back and forth between fascination with Thomas’s account of God as one, triune and creator and fascination with his account of the human soul and human happiness. This happens in one’s love of Augustine too, who adds the dimension of both emphases working themselves out in history, though in doing this he is clearly just following the the lead of Scripture. The dialectic in theology that flips between Patristic-Scholastic abstraction and scientific theology and the more modern approach that is linguistic and historical is probably another example of this same thing.

But how does this shift play out in liturgy? The commentary claims that it arises by the impossibility of symbolizing both separation and communion. The symbology of separation gives us an iconostasis, Latin, prayers in secreto, altar rails, symbols that are exotic or outside of familiar symbology, etc and by the second we get open-concept churches or even churches in the round, vernacular, microphones, simplification of symbols, etc. The first approach symbolizes the holy as separate from the world, numinous and potentially dangerous; the second as self-giving and interpersonal. The first approach runs the risk of identifying piety with formalism and religion with clerics, the second runs the risk of the banality of a liturgical action that all can perform; though the ultimate risk of each approach is simply that it can’t provide the benefits of the other and the degree to which this bothers us is one cause of our criticism of liturgy and the demand for its reform.

« Older entries