Conception to holy death

We need to stop praying for life to be protected from conception to natural death and start praying that it be protected from conception to holy death or, even better, from a holy conception to a holy death. The reasons:

1.) Many natural deaths are not holy, many holy deaths are not natural. A person can die of old age in mortal sin or die by violence as a martyr or some other act of loving sacrifice. To pray for a natural death, as such, is to pray for the first in preference to the second, which is nonsensical. What we want is persons to die in union with the Lord, which includes the totality of the natural law and many goods transcending it.

2.) The word natural proves too much and not enough. In the slogan “natural” is both opposed to violent death (and so is praying that people don’t die as victims of war, crime, active eugenics, or capital punishment) and to self-inflicted death (and so is praying that no one commits suicide.) But violent death isn’t necessarily less desirable than a natural one, even for the one dying – e.g. who wouldn’t prefer die violently of a quick martyrdom or heroic self-sacrifice than naturally of a protracted painful illness? Someone also shouldn’t avoid killing himself merely to prefer a natural death, since at their most sympathetic a suicide makes his choice in the face of the tremendous evils that loom in the prospect of a natural death. I want a suicide, even the most sympathetic suicide, to realize that the sufferings and pains he confronts in a natural death have meaning and merit by filling out the sufferings of Christ, and this demands praying that his love terminate in the author or nature and not nature as such.

3.) It misconceives natural law as secular or non-religious law. The reason why we pray for a natural death and not a holy one is that American Catholics want their public slogans to be secular and non-religious. Over the last fifty years or so Americans have internalized a Lemon law of public discourse that takes for granted that any reference to God is out of bounds. To see something as “religious” is to immediately disqualify it from the public sphere. We can call this presumed right to disqualify “secular” or “non-religious law” but it must be absolutely divided from natural law which absolutely does contain the command to worship God.  True, we can’t just ignore the Lemon v. Kurtzman regime that we labored under for so many years, but if you haven’t heard the news, Lemon was overturned (cf. page 11 of the opinion or 2 of the dissent.)

4.) “Natural” does not allow for the licit differences of opinion about capital punishment. The Church allows diversity of opinion on capital punishment, as is clear both from the historical diversity of its proclamations about it and formally from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Insisting on the word “natural” is a passive-aggressive way of insisting that everyone fall in line with one side of an issue that allows for diversity of opinion.

Darwinism and objective goods

Making Darwinian insights fundamental and unsupplemented to our morality seems to require abandoning the idea that we act for objective goods. We seek survival or co-operation or mates or punishing offenders, and we feel vengeance or sexual desire or the desire to know because our ancestors who didn’t, didn’t survive. Any further claim that these desires are for things “good in themselves” seems superfluous.

One tension in this account arises when we deliberate about which of two conflicting goods to choose, since Darwinism seems to explain only why we desire things qua members of a species and says nothing about what we should think about a desire that we have under some other description. So I have a strong species-level desire to continue existing, but I personally find myself depressed and want to stop existing. What should I do? A pregnant woman has a species-level desire to bear the child and a personal desire to finish law school without one. Which is better?

If by “better” you mean “which one do you want more?” then Darwinism has a kind of better and worse because it demands that animals act out of desire, and perhaps there is nothing to being good except that we desire it. This certainly seems to be true for a vast domain of sense objects – the foul odor of manure is something dung beetles experience as sweet; the smoothness of holding someone’s hand is something micro-organisms experience as like landing in tar pits; and all sorts of animals relish eating things that make me retch. The goodness of scents, tactile experience, and certainly taste is not a mere feature of the object but an interaction between object and organism, and so is subjective. We need to be careful not to make sensation too subjective, since the proper object of the sense is always something objective. e.g. if eyes detect light, then if they are detecting anything there is really light there, and so for all the senses. Nevertheless, this proper object is always detected with innumerable side-effect qualia that arise from the structure, health, and relative speed of the organ, and so any goodness it has is also enmeshed with it.

Although the proper object of the senses is enmeshed with innumerable subjective qualia, such goods are subordinated to other goods of a different description. Sure, the sweetness of manure is peculiar to dung-beetles, but when they offer it as a present or gift to potential mates the sweetness is subordinated to the goodness of reproduction, and to insist that reproduction is the same sort of good as sweetness is the sort of argument one makes only to support a very silly theory. More to the point, such a silly theory finds itself at odds with Darwinian theory. Darwinism is nothing if not a correct theory of animal development, and so explains animals as such; but to say that reproduction is only a good because of the contingent structure, health, or relative speed of the animals we happen to have (whatever this would mean) means reproductive fitness is not a feature of animals as such.

So Darwinism requires that reproduction – and every good relating to reproduction as such – be good in a way different from how odors, tastes, or other subjective qualia are good, since in seeking reproduction the animal is not seeking what reduces to the contingent structure of his organs but something proper to organic life as such – and if Darwinism does not explain this it is simply not the correct theory of organic life.

So even if the Darwinian qua Darwinian says that we desire to exist because if our ancestors didn’t, they didn’t survive, he has to understand this action as involving a good that is fundamentally different from subjective goods. The correct biological theory of reproduction, life, existence, desire, etc has to take these as objective goods.

Every action for one end, one end for all actions

It’s relatively easy, even often uncontroversial to claim that all human acts are ordered to a goal or purpose, but even Aristotle seems to pause before saying that there is one end to which all human acts are ordered. Anscombe accuses Aristotle of a quantifier shift mistake on just this point.

Thomas responds to the question by saying the unity of deliberation proves there is one end of all human actions. The sense is that deliberation can be done over any and all goods, making them commensurate as better, worse, or equal. But for goods to be commensurate just means they have a common measure, i.e. one good in virtue of which they can be better, worse, or equal in goodness. If there was no unity of deliberation then deliberation would no more be possible for one man than for two men who didn’t even know each other.

Nazarius: two views of intellection

As his first move in explaining how God and the blessed are unified in the beatific vision, Nazarius describes an account of the intelligible species that Cajetan once believed and later renounced. (NB an intelligible species is any intrinsic form making an intellect understand)

The first opinion set forth is Cajetan’s, who once claimed to belong to the school of those who distinguish the intelligible species by saying it can be taken in two ways: (1) a form inhering in the intellect and (2) as representing an intelligible (vicem gerit intelligibilis) In the first way the species contributes (concurrit) per accidens to the act of understanding and in the second way per se, since the intelligible species is a principle of intellection insofar as it takes the place of the intelligible but not as an inherent form. … Cajetan rejects this manner of speaking as not discerning the dignity of the intellect or the nature of a knower and degrading it to the level of a natural agent. Nevertheless, this [rejected] opinion was embraced by Molina, Suarez, and Vasquez as the best.

The force of the rejected opinion is clearer if seen a la Descartes: there are times, like in dreams, when a species informs the intellect but it seems not to be representing anything. So are we knowing anything then or not? If we distinguish a-form-in-intellect from a-form-representing, the answer is easy: only the latter is knowledge per se while the latter gives us the qualia of understanding without any things understood. The mind, it seems, can be informed without any object extrinsic to it informing it, but only knows something in the exterior world when the species acts qua representative of the exterior world.

But it’s just this view of form-in-intellect that Cajetan claims can’t constitute knowledge since it fails to capture the sort of unity between knower and known constituting knowledge.

Counteracting binity

The Holy Spirit is frequently called the love between the Father and the Son, which is captures the principle of his procession and its volitional mode, but it threatens to collapse the Trinity into a binity. To counteract this, notice that the Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son only as the Son himself is the Wisdom and Logos of the Father, i.e. thinking about  the principle and mode of procession of a trinitarian person is different from thinking about them qua person. Since the Father in no way proceeds, the procession account always thinks about him qua person.

Sensation in accounts of knowledge as immaterial

Thomas’s theory of knowledge made sense knowledge immaterial. The commentary tradition gave explanations of this that were all over the map – one of the best traditions, starting with Cajetan, divides the unity of matter and form from the unity of knower and known, and since the known is the act of the knower just as form is the act of matter,  knowers existed as non-material given the convertibility of unity and being.

This answer works fine, but we could also use Thomas’s argument as an opportunity to show that what we mean by knowledge is only very faintly and imperfectly realized in sensation since knowledge is essentially objective but the corporeality of sensation is an impediment to objectivity. The physical character of the organ means that the objective component of the sensation arrives with innumerable non-objective features, just as the impression of the signet in the wax is not just the shape of the ring (the objective) but also the softness, color, warmth, density etc of the wax. The sense organ in itself can’t distinguish what belongs to the object and what doesn’t – which is why we feel the arctic ocean as freezing when the polar bears swim in it like bathwater. There is something objective in the sensation, but the sense organ in itself is in principle incapable of discovering what it is, and precisely because the sensation involves a physical alteration of an organ. The objective component is no more real than the innumerable qualia that come as side-effects.

So if we narrow our account of knowledge from what is objective in some way (which includes sensation) to what is in itself and in principle capable of knowing the objective in its distinction from innumerable side-effect qualia, then knowledge is formally immaterial as properly spiritual.

As a side note: though contemporary philosophy of consciousness seems to think that consciousness is above all characterized by qualia, these seem to have little to do with what knowledge is. One needs knowledge to have qualia, but qualia aren’t themselves known objects. How chocolate tastes to me or what red looks like are not features of objects. This doesn’t matter in all contexts, but it is a serious impediment to getting a clear view of what knowledge is if we assume that knowledge is what consciousness should be about creating, and it is particularly important when qualia get appealed to as evidence in arguments for the necessity of modes of being beyond the physical.

Spirit and Letter

Here’s a typical experience in spiritual reading: you’re fascinated by some saint or holy book, you sit down to read them, but you soon experience discouragement, confusion, and perhaps even a bit of disgust at the life they are recommending. If you want a refresher on the experience, click here to read Book 1 c. 13 or c. 11 of Ascent of Mount Carmel or Teresa’s maxims at the end of Conceptions of Divine Love. For a scriptural enactment of the same experience, revisit the story of Christ and the rich young man.

The usual response to the experience is to either soften the teaching or to abandon the book and look for one more inspiring or at least less discouraging. This makes sense of course, and it certainly made sense to the rich young man, but it is hard to overstate how much of a mistake this is. To be blunt, this is to miss christianity altogether. In one sense this is obvious – the rich man misses his chance – but it is easy to take the wrong lesson from the experience.

The basic axiom of christian spiritual reading is 2 Cor. 3: 6 (cf. also John 6:63) the letter killeth, the spirit giveth life. Augustine of course wrote a book-length commentary on the text whose thesis gets a particularly concise expression in c. 32:

If he knows not the way of truth, man’s free-will, indeed, is good for for nothing except to sin; but even after his duty and his proper aim become known to him he neither does his duty, nor sets about it, nor lives rightly unless he also take delight in and feel a love for it. God’s love is shed abroad in our hearts in order that [our duty] may engage our affections not through the free-will which arises from ourselves, but through the Holy Ghost, which is given to us.

Notice Augustine describes three states of life: (1) ignorance of sanctity (2) knowledge of what constitutes sanctity without any affection or love for it and (3) The transformation of the heart from disgust at sanctity to love for it, which must be understood as a free gift of God, and not our toughing it out to do something holy we don’t feel like doing. Anyone earnestly doing spiritual reading is certainly not at stage (1) but he will always experience something of stage (2.) That last point is easy to prove since Saint Paul’s sanctity was world-historic, but he still confessed in Romans 7 that

 I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So Paul too, for all his sanctity, still knew and experienced all the discouragement or even disgust we feel at reading Ascent of Mount Carmel. He wanted to be a saint too, and could see exactly what it took, but then confessed with a shocking frankness the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual. The desire to read the saints starts with love and fascination and hopefulness while the actual reading of them starts with discouragement. This is because the letter kills. I read the saints looking for knowledge or some sort of gnostic “secret” but all I find are descriptions of a life which I can see is theirs but which strikes me as nothing but loss. If I’m honest with myself I can’t get very far in the Gospel without feeling much the same thing. Sure, we all love the prodigal son and the pardoning of the adulteress, but we spiritualize or soften the commands to radical poverty and renunciation. Don’t. Christ gave a law, the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual. 

The letter killeth, the spirit gives life is speaks about a letter that is said as much about the Old Testament Law as the New Testament command as the spiritual writings of the saints. We need to read them and know them, but our knowledge will always include an awareness that we need to be transformed within in order to love what they are saying, which of course means we now experience some distaste for the life they are describing. The basic Christian experience is precisely this move from distaste to love, which we are always in danger of taking for granted or forgetting about after it has happened. We find ourselves loving to do all sorts of things that we would have found repugnant or burdensome at earlier stages in our spiritual life, and it’s very easy to assume we’ve always loved doing them.

This is why it’s a great mistake to run from the discouragement. In fact, it’s a mistake not to seek it out. One can’t be christian until he realizes he both wants to be holy and has a strong distaste for what it requires. One doesn’t know what he needs to pray for until he experiences his disgust at the spiritual life and recognizes that this disgust will master him until, by God’s free gift, he is set free by grace from the bondage of death by the love that is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost. 

The point is not to power through disgust, which no one could do for long anyway, and which he would almost certainly compensate for by some carnality or another. The point is to recognize the need for the heart to be transformed by grace to love and enjoy what he cannot now love and enjoy, which we cannot do unless we begin by recognizing exactly what it is in holiness that we find to be distasteful and nothing but loss.

So what about the rich young man? True, he clearly loved holiness but was disgusted by some part of it. He couldn’t follow Christ, and he knew it was wrong to walk away. Every option he had, he knew was wrong! But this is everyone’s spiritual life with respect to some spiritual demand. The rich young man was set free in many ways – it was only by grace that he “followed the commandments from his youth” but for all his spiritual progress he still experienced himself as entirely trapped given the heart that he had. But the heart he had was the same heart everyone will always have, even at the height of sanctity. There will always be something in holiness that is too much given the heart that we have. But grace can transform that too. And the next thing. And the next.

Communicative of itself

-Here’s the hylomorphic way of seeing everything around you: in one way it is a desire to exist, in another way is has sources of existence making it exactly what it is. The second one is satisfying the first one, but not entirely. Anything you look at is this thing, here and now, which means it has sources making it both this and here and now, but at the same time the thing is whatever it could be next, whether that next thing is different accidentally or substantively. So the cue ball at rest is a desire or potency to be in motion and a desire to keep resting at some later time. It is also a desire for any substantial difference it could undergo, so if I could digest cue balls they would be potential parts of my body in the same way any food source is, and my eating them would actualize and make definite something as yet indefinite when one is just using the ball to play pool.

-We look at things this way because it is the only way to explain how they can exist in time or be in motion. If your account of time is a bunch of actualities arranged spatially on a metaphorical line then one way or another you won’t be able to explain how they are temporal or mobile. Say the cue ball rests, then moves. The property of something changed, to be sure, but the “something” is hiding the problem. Did rest insofar as it is rest become motion? No. Is the cue ball different qua cue ball? No. Motion and time are inescapably from this to that (hence the ease with which we understand them as different points on a line) but we have to understand the first term as a desire or potency for the second, not a definite thing-in-itself.

– Form is thus the thing-in-itself as satisfying one desire of potential, at least partially. OTOH form is distinct from matter as (a) the definite from the indefinite, (b) the necessary here-and-now from the contingent later, (c) the source of satisfaction from the desire for satisfaction, etc OTOH it is within matter as actively satisfying and fulfilling it. What we see when we see trees or men or horses or elements or whatever just is this imparting and satisfying of matter by form. The thing you’re seeing is the event of imparting being, satisfying desire, fulfilling a potential, etc. Note that form has to both give rise to the subject or reality in its actuality (since otherwise it would not be actual) and constitute one nature with it.

-What we call reality is thus a sharing of actuality with some other or subject, or what in Latin we would call the communicatio of act. The deepest inner character of form and so of being is this communicatio; and all we see around us is the evidence for and result of it

-The communicatio of form happens in the entitative and the cognitive or intentional orders which, if defined in a way that accounts for form in both the material and spiritual order, are.

1.) Entitatively, form is a principle that gives rise to another actual reality or subject so as to form one nature with it;

2.) Intentionally or cognitively, form is a co-principle of operation with another reality or subject.

So in the entitative order heat makes something hot, the soul makes a body living, gabrielity makes the angel Gabriel, and the Father and the Son are the principle of the Holy Spirit. In the intentional order whatever is objective is the same as what is an object; so if the water is cold then the cold we feel is the cold of the water; if the tower is round then the roundness we judge is the roundness of the tower; if the species existing in Gabriel are the species of things then in knowing himself he knows things; and if the one actuality in God is the intelligible blueprint of all finite being both actual and potential then in knowing himself he knows all things.

The Feast of Amos the Prophet

Today is the feast of Amos the Prophet:

“Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord God,
    “when I will send a famine on the land;
not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water,
    but of hearing the words of the Lord.

Amos, 8 :11

Meaning and goodness

-Replace discussions of “meaning” (i.e. the crisis of meaning, the loss of meaning, etc) with “good,” though only the good per se and first, i.e. a supreme good or good to which all other goods are relative.

-The Nietzschean desire to replace good with value would only work if we stopped being ashamed when we wanted something that we thought was wrong. It is essential to the value that the value be good.

-“The value is an illusion.” Perhaps, but your discovery of an illusion an unmasking and even a therapy. We all delight to see the illusion for what it is.

-Those who love God see all as desiring the same thing we desire. The question is whether we use this to mold all others to ourselves or use this to gain greater insight into what divinity must be. This latter does not mean we can come to the question with a sense of anything goes, which would itself be just another mistake, perhaps worse than the first option, but it does mean that the status of another as enemy is accidental to his deeper desire to be one with us in a love not diminished by sharing.

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