Lamont condemns the NO

John Lamont argues that the Novus Ordo (NO) is illicit. I’ve enjoyed Lamont’s work in the past, so it was disconcerting to find him arguing that the continuation of my spiritual life would be habitual mortal sin. From his conclusion:

We can therefore conclude that the promulgation of the Novus Ordo by Missale Romanum
has no legal force, and that the Novus Ordo is illicit. It is not permitted for any Catholic priest to say it, and it is not permitted for any Catholic to attend it, except perhaps under the most exceptional circumstances (as perhaps at a funeral, where it is clear that attendance at it is not intended to be an act of worship but is simply an act of respect for the dead). Nor, according to the current Code of Canon Law, can attendance at the Novus Ordo satisfy the Sunday obligation; that obligation requires attendance at a mass of a Catholic rite, and the Novus Ordo does not belong to a Catholic rite. 
Well, at least he’s clear.
To deal with the whole of Lamont’s argument would demand a historical knowledge of the liturgy that I don’t have and that I’m not even sure exists. Still, one key denial in the argument demands attention:
[The Novus Ordo] could only be claimed to be a form of the Roman Rite if it is assumed that the Roman Rite is simply anything that the pope chooses to call the Roman Rite, and that the content of what is given this name by the pope is irrelevant to its identity.

The question is about the extent of the power of a pope’s fiat. While I agree with Lamont that there are limits, I disagree with him about how to understand the extent of those limits given that the pope himself has said the Mass reforms fall within them. Normally our opinion about whether something is permitted can be answered apart from considering whether it has been done, and we are certainly able to address the question of whether the NO falls within papal power in abstraction from whether the it exists or not. But the NO does exist, has saints, and has been the norm of worship for half a century. Nowhere in his argument does one detect a docility or presumption in favor of the NO as a clear exercise of the chair of Peter in the area of discipline. True, I agree with him that the normal avenues of defending liturgical reforms as organic developments do not defend the NO, and for me this means one has to move considerably beyond Newman’s conservative and balanced approach to defend the new rite. So what might that approach look like?

All agree that the NO is a move toward re-unification of Western Christianity divided in the Reformation. Leaving aside the tridentine response, Vatican II is intentionally a move toward integrating the whole of Western Christianity. Catholics cannot view Protestantism as a mere heresy, as though it were nothing but a historical label for a single erroneous theological claim, but it has to be taken as a melange of wrong ideas and worthwhile reforms. Good grief, we all still live among Protestants, and it’s silly to think that all there is to them is all heresy in every way. The NO reforms are indeed very suggestive of the Reformation (their radical nature, speed, vernacularization, popularization, humanism, etc.)  so a defense of the NO will require a properly Catholic sympathy for the Reformation.

Note on a fallacy

For whatever reason, most contemporary persons find it easy to equate “S is P” and “My belief about S is that it is P.” The equation makes it easy for us to collapse a dispassionate and impersonal claim about S to a claim about ourselves believing P about S. We were speaking about how the one and only world is and then – violà – suddenly all we have is a belief, trapped in our own head, occupying the beliefosphere along with its contradictory. You can tell a student slips into this when you lay out an argument for SP and suddenly, at the end of it, he says something like “so how do we know that the people who believe S~P are wrong?” Rob Bell uses this as a refutation at 51:40 here.

One response to the disorientation is to return to whatever evidence led us to S is P, but it’s more important to notice that the equation of the two is only disorienting when it is a case of the fallacy of the accident. S is P from whatever evidence it has, and not because we believe it. That we believe S is P doesn’t enter into the evidence that it is, even when we’re appealing to something we witnessed. The evidence makes us believe the claim, and belief will always be an accident of evidence, but it provides no context to truth.

Female sexual liberation

From the same article quoted below:

Still, it’s debatable whether these women achieved any level of sexual empowerment at all when straight men seemingly benefited from their sexuality the entire time. And that begs [sic] the question: Could the women of Playboy have ever gained authority over their sexuality without simultaneously falling prey to the straight male fantasy?

The question is about how modeling pornography can be a vehicle for female sexual empowerment as opposed to one for female sexual exploitation, which of course raises the question of just what female sexual empowerment consists in, and the ways in which it is in danger of being co-opted by men. This limits the question to the sexual revolution as a male-female affair, and so leaves aside for the moment the question of liberation in sexual minorities. Even then, what is female empowerment?

Male sexual power is probably the same thing for man, beast or even bugs: sexual access to females. Call it notch-in-the-bedpost power or sheer odometer sexuality, like the way that McDonald’s relates to burger sales. Such power can be perfectly represented by pointing to a number of sex partners, and leaves out no relevant information. Obviously, female sexual empowerment is not this since the corresponding number for females only creates stigmas. The article itself makes just this case, pointing out that success in erotica rarely led to higher levels of success but rather seemed to limit one’s prospects through stigma:

But we’ve seen the motivations of sexually liberated women, through no fault of their own, be commandeered by men’s interests countless times. Just within the branches of the Playboy family tree, Canadian-born girl-next-door Pamela Anderson appeared on the cover of the magazine 14 times between 1989 and 2016 — and was also known as the hot “Baywatch” bimbo a significant portion of that time.

As empowered as Anderson might have and should have felt, she was also exploited and even ridiculed by men who simultaneously lusted after and condemned her sexuality “Pam and Tommy” the new Hulu series that dramatizes the fallout from her unlawfully leaked sex tape with her former husband Tommy Lee, details how her acting career was never taken seriously because people only really saw her as a sexual object. The inherent problem, the male gaze, wasn’t hers to fix, and yet she was being punished for it.

Part of that could be due to the fact that, as Pitzulo states, the pipeline from Playboy centerfold to Hollywood success story was and is still extremely uncommon because of that stereotype of “the naked blonde bimbo.”

The question then becomes why the sexual revolution has had a great deal more success at getting women to change their attitudes about granting easy sexual access than at getting men to change their feelings about them when they do.

Common sense and the sexual revolution

Hugh Hefner is being MeTooed on the A&E network:

As Los Angeles Times TV critic Lorraine Ali put it, “Exactly no one will be surprised to discover that the late Hugh Hefner used and traded young women like commodities and that his mythology of Playboy as a progressive outgrowth of the sexual revolution and a bold expression of feminism was largely a charade.”

The claim is true of course, but it’s epistemic status is… well, what? It’s a claim about a lack of surprise that something happened and is therefore an appeal to common sense, but it is no different from all sorts of other truths about the sexual revolution, like:

“to no one’s surprise, allowing a biological man compete in women’s sports gives him an unfair advantage”

“to no one’s surprise, framing abortion as entirely a women’s right occludes the ways men often coerce women into having them”.

“to no one’s surprise, letting college-aged men share dorm buildings with women leads to many non-consensual sexual encounters.”

“to no one’s surprise, defining marriage in such a way as to include two married men must drastically weaken expectations for fidelity”

One can go on like this for quite a long time, but I’m only interested now in how truth in the sexual revolution is less about what everyone knows and more about what everyone is allowed to know. Had Miss Ali made her claims about Hefner at more or less any time during his career… first of all, she couldn’t… but second she’d be known a priori as either an obnoxious, ugly, killjoy feminist or an obnoxious, dogma-blinded and hypocritical Christian. The common sense Ali appeals to now would only appear in the LA Times as a “controversial” religious op-ed which would generate a week’s worth of condescending responses from people who proved Hefner’s sincere feminism from personal experience, scientific studies, and, of course, common sense.

The Trinity as paradigmatic love

As supreme existent, God is both intellective (supreme in life) and the highest good, and so within himself there is not just the intellective order but the volitional order whose supreme principle is love, bringing with it six sequelaeunion, perichoresis, ecstasy, zeal, perfection-by-dissolving, principle of all other action.  So far as perfection-by-dissolving involves change it is said of God only metaphorically, but otherwise God is the first instance of all.

1.) UNION: As supreme existent, the divine essence transcends absolute and relative being and so transcends his virtually distinct absolute attributes and his really distinct relations. The relations subsist as persons, each therefore being the transcendent divine essence. As one divine essence, the persons are perfectly one and the paradigm of all other union.

2.) PERICHORESIS: by subsisting correlatively, the union of the persons is not like the contact or enclosure of one body to another but a necessary subsistence of each to and within the others in a perichoresis standing as the unreachable limit of all other indwelling by friendship, since no other friends can overcome the absolute existence that divides them in being.

3.) ECSTASY: Because the divine person does not subsist as an absolute being with a relation to another but rather subsists as the relation, his very subsistence is to another and therefore ecstatic or tending outside of oneself.

4.) ZEAL: Because there is a single act of existence for all three persons, each loves the others with exactly the same love as he loves himself – the preservation of his essence is the preservation of the other’s. Because of this, no greater zeal of love for another is possible, and all other zeal approaches this at an infinite distance.

5.) PERFECTION-BY-DISSOLUTION: Because we exist absolutely and are perfected by love later, our love softens and dissolves us in preparation to for us to receive its perfection. The subsistence of the divine person, however, simply is relative. Love does not need to soften or dissolve the divine person to make it for another in love since the person subsists for another by subsisting at all. No matter how immediately a creature races to love, God will already have beaten him.

6.) PRINCIPLE OF ALL OTHER THINGS. Evident by creation.

Fears of the Lord

Fear of the Lord has three meanings. Though I’ll use Thomas’s names for them, the names are not particularly illuminative.

1.) Worldly fear. This is a fear that takes God or divine things as evils. So one who saw Christianity or the dogmas of the church as threats to civil society or human happiness would certainly have worldly fear, but so would a christian who, while believing the dogmas, saw them as burdensome, causes of anxiety, purely arbitrary or irrational, etc. Seeing Christianity as something that we must simply suffer through to gain access to heaven involves worldly fear.

Worldly fear is a sin against hope and charity. It is contrary to faith insofar as revelation repeatedly commands us to rejoice in the Lord always.

2.) Servile fear. This is a fear that (a) while recognizing the justice or providence of God as good and wise in itself, (b) recognizes that in my particular circumstance of having sinned his justice has bad effects for me. To the extent that we don’t have (a) at least implicitly and see God’s justice as irrational or not fundamentally good, we simply collapse into worldly fear. In the confessional servile fear is imperfect contrition, and so it is important for Catholics to make acts of contrition that express dread of God’s just punishments and not simply a dread for the loss of heaven and the pains of hell.

Servile fear is compatible with the virtue of hope, but it clearly presupposes we deserve punishment, and so it cannot be fear of the lord in its fullest sense as a gift of the Holy Spirit, present even in Christ and the Blessed.

3.) Filial fear. Filial fear is counterfactual.  If I say “I got my wife flowers since I was afraid I was going to forget” then I’m expressing a fear of what would have happened if I had done something, even if I now in fact can’t disappoint her by forgetting. This sort of fear gives rise to attention, focus, and care, even if – perhaps even especially if – there is a thrill and a joy in the action. This sort of fear is proportioned to the perfection of charity, and is had far more perfectly by Christ and the Blessed than by us.

Something like this fear also arises when we find ourselves in the presence of the sublime, even if we know it is not reasonable to think it will harm us. I know I am far more likely to die by driving to the grocery store than by riding the LA’s US Bank slide, but to look down through glass that is a thousand feet above ground is something few are casual about. The sublime comes with its own fear, and God is infinitely sublime.

Creation and the beatific vision

Throughout his career Thomas claims that the beatific vision follows from the perfection of a being consisting in attaining its principle (QDV VIII a.1, cf. also II SCG c.66*). The claim is odd on its face since the principle he has in mind is extrinsic and so needs to be either the agent or final cause, but it can’t be the agent since, e.g. trees are the principle of fruit but ripe fruit  separates from the tree. Generally, maturity or perfection is the ability to live apart from the principle that generated you. But if Thomas has in mind not the efficient cause but the final cause he seems to beg the question, since he appears to be assuming that the divine essence is the end of creatures as part of proving that it is. In fact Thomas is working from an analogy between created and divine art – specifically, he’s noticing what needs to change about art when we say it about God.

What we make or do is in some way elicited by the way the world is. Following the lit, I’ll call this way-the-world-is-as-motivating-us the forma elicitans or eliciting form, and a voluntary act in response to it the actus elicitus. So the success of the actus elicitus is measured by the extent to which hits the forma elicitans, e.g. the world demands we have a house or something like it (forma elicitans), which sets us to thinking, and eventually we come up with some ideas motivating action (actus elicitus) and whether our ideas work or not will be measured to the extent the latter hit the form that elicited them in the first place. Even at our most creative, our creative act is still measured by something in the world.

God, however, creates ex nihilo, which negates any real division between his forma elicitans and actus elicitus. There is no way-the-world-is-etc. that God sees outside himself as measure of his action, but only the way-the-divine-essence-is as virtually distinct from God’s voluntary act of creation. There is, in fact, only the divine essence as the transcendent unity between the divine forma elicitans and actus elicitus.

So the forma elicitans of creation is not and cannot be created but is simply the divine essence, which is nevertheless the measure of creation qua forma elicitans. It follows that creation could not reach its ultimate perfection if some creature could not attain to the divine essence in itself.


*Most of all, however, we should point to the exitus-reditus theme that structures the Summa.

Worldly Fear

Fear of the Lord can be understood in more than one way, but worldly fear is any fear that causes some motion away from God as a source of evil. One who judged that God was overly judgmental, hated some minority group, or was a horrible monster for allowing the existence of evil or Hell would certainly have this sort of fear. As fear, all these are formally sins contrary to the virtue of hope.

But worldly fear also includes any judgment that divine things are a source of anxiety, and so would be relatively common even among the pious. Moral scruples would be an obvious case, but so also is any sense that greater dedication to God would leave one on balance less happy than he was before. There is something defective in any unqualified claim that piety is unenjoyable, or even in having unqualifiedly negative emotions in divine service. In the last analysis we are called to take Christianity as our identity, and our identity is most of all what we habitually enjoy. Let the heart rejoice that seeks the Lord. 

The objection to all of this is the demand for mortification in Christianity, or even the agony of Christ, but both belie their point. If you think Christ’s agony was primarily the negative emotion of approaching death you miss the point of the passion, which was motivated above all by a desire to manifest to the world the merciful love of the Father. You see what Christ endured, but not why he endured it. The pain of the agony serves to prove the extent of Christ’s love for each individual, not his perverse fascination with self-abasement or a desire to endure the hatred of the Father (which seems to be the sort of judgment that Calvinism forms when it is at its most grotesque.) That mortification excludes some pleasures is self-evident, but it does not follow it excludes all, or even that it does not bring greater ones. To name only one, the pleasure of self control is both more lasting and more rewarding than the pleasure of eating – one enjoys eating only in looking forward to it and in eating, but one enjoys self-control all day.

Foundationalism and the critical stance

John Meier famously described his historical project as

 [T]he “unpapal conclave.” Suppose that a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jew, and an agnostic — all honest historians cognizant of 1st-century religious movements — were locked up in the bowels of the Harvard Divinity School library, put on a spartan diet, and not allowed to emerge until they had hammered out a consensus document on who Jesus of Nazareth was and what he intended in his own time and place.

Put as a syllogism, we get

Bias is removed by allowing differing viewpoints.

Objective history requires the removal of bias.

So objective history requires allowing differing viewpoints.

So far, so good. The minor premise is practically a definition of knowledge or objectivity, and the major premise is integral to every systematic method we’ve ever developed, from Platonic dialogues to scholastic disputed questions to the scientific method.


A reasonable viewpoint about S requires more than your firm conviction that S is P, S is P must also fall on the spectrum of reasonable disagreement. John Meier – like everyone – has some sense of what falls on this spectrum and what doesn’t.  Meier’s leaving Jesus Mythicists outside the conclave is not mere omission. One suspects he left them off simply because he knew none or practically none, and that he left out those who thought Jesus was an alien for similar reasons. The limits of reasonable disagreement about Jesus can’t be set by whatever predicate one could utter after saying the word “Jesus,” since all one is talking about here is sounds and there is no reason for any one sound to rule out the production of another one.

So in one sense the million-dollar question is “where are the parameters of reasonable disagreement?” But it’s easy to overstate the importance here: these parameters can change for different projects and in different social situations. Much of what counts as reasonable disagreement is determined simply by the company we keep, and our company is only in our control up to a point. This company, however, is underdetermined to the outcome: sometimes being surrounded by a lot of persons in group X practically forces us to take X as on the spectrum of reasonable belief, sometimes it makes us all the more convinced that we must prove beyond all doubt that X-ism is beyond the pale.

Nevertheless, we can’t be blithe about setting these parameters, for there is a real sense in which they make all the difference. In a certain sense we can’t even set these parameters until the science is over, which creates problems for the fact that we have to set them in order to get the science started. This is clearly one mode of the foundationalist problem. It adds something to that problem, though, especially in the realm of historical research, since history like morality and cookery makes judgments about particulars and so relies more heavily on a taste for what works. This sort of discernment demands the rightly ordered appetite of the prudent or wise person, and it’s on this score that Meier’s theory- and a good deal of critical theory with it – is most open to criticism.

The noetic order

Consider that tree. 

So begins some uncountable number of philosophical discussions of knowledge. Besides the tree’s dependable familiarity it is also fixed and evident, making it a particularly good guide to what knowledge is like. At the moment, however, I’m more interested in a limitation of the example, which doesn’t come from picking a tree as opposed to something else (though Therese Cory’s multi-page discussion of seeing a spider was particularly good for sticking in memory) but in starting from any discrete object at all.

The limitation in focusing on any single object is it occludes that knowledge is first of a world. You open your eyes and get everything from the stars to the back of your eyelashes. You don’t lego-build a world from linking this object, then that, then that; you get the world first and a discrete object only by focusing your attention on a part in a whole, though even this part still gets its location, perspective, and context from your foundational experience of a whole.

This is why Thomas defines the noetic object as overcoming the ontological limitation of a substance. Ontologically, any substance is just itself; noetically it a participant in a world or in some sense of infinite worlds, so far as there are infinite knowers, contexts, perspectives, etc. Ontologically, the form of the substance is a proper good limited to this matter; noetically that same form is a common or superabundant good in as many ways as it measures different cognitive modalities. Ontologically, one substance interacts with another, but even while sense knowledge presupposes interaction with the perceiver, to the extent that objects mix their features with the organism or are inflected through its limits and desires they are, by definition, not known per se.

The non-materiality of a noetic object is thus (a) its unity with all others in constituting a world; (b) the non-limitation of its form to this matter; and (c) its transcendence above interaction even where knowledge presupposes it. The noetic order of objects is therefore a higher modality of existence than the sub-noetic or ontological order. Nevertheless, the noetic order is, on the side of the object, the measure in which form and actuality exceeds limitation to matter and, on the side of the knower, a level of life, and so noetic existence transcends ontological existence.

Because of the transcendence of the noetic order, every finite substance overcomes the egoism that would be appropriate to it if, per impossibile, it existed only in the ontological order. By existing at all, everything exists for another, and indeed for all others, and by this act it is a more superabundant good than it is by existing only for itself. By the very act of striving to maintain its existence, a substance is not just seeking to preserve its own ontological existence, but also (and even more) its noetic existence.

What supremely exists, therefore, is necessarily noetic and therefore, on the side of the object, an actuality exceeding all limitation and, on the side of the knower, supreme life. In fact, as soon as one concludes there is a supreme being and actuality it follows that it is supreme noetic life and immaterial being. This is first the procession of the Logos from the Father in the triune God, and then the procession of the Logos being sent by the Father into creation. The identity of the mission and procession first gives rise to the hypostatic union and then the order of grace, in which the creature begins its transformation, in the noetic order, into the Logos himself.

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