Negative interior emotions

-Guilt has value as a spur to admitting fault, but any guilt that can’t be resolved by admitting wrong is probably useless.

-Christ forbids worry and anxiety, which includes anxiety that one might fall back into sin if he’s not careful, or an anxiety that we feel keeps us sharp and safe from complacency. The general prohibition requires that there is no spiritually positive or constructive anxiety. Any anxiety is spiritually retarding and vain.

Work out your salvation with fear and trembling is immediately explained by the next verse for it is God himself who works in you, both to will and to work. The unspoken premise is that it is always a fearful and overwhelming thing to witness a sublime power (say, the waves at Nazaré, even seen from safe distance) Paul’s point is that even our very desire to be saved manifests the power of God working within us, i.e. that it is not just a personal feeling but a bona fide theophany, and that this is a greater display of power than even the greatest display of natural power.

Universalism and the means of salvation

It is unfitting that the ordinary means of salvation provided by the Catholic Church be less effective than the extraordinary means, but it’s hard to see how universal salvation, or even a popularly assumed salvation-as-a-rule account of salvation would avoid making the extraordinary means far more effective than the ordinary one, which, at least in adults, is at least as extensive as the rules for being in good standing with the Church: a general moral life, occasional reception of sacraments, attending Mass on days of obligation, supporting the needs of the Church. Though I doubt there are any statistics on this, I doubt that 10% of the Catholic population does this, and if we peg Catholics at 15% of the world population, universalism would be arguing that at least 98.5% of the world is saved by extraordinary means.

The argument doesn’t bring out any contradiction in universalism, but it’s hard to see how this account could preserve the necessity and urgency of the ordinary means, which would become a minor player in the filling out the number of the saints, and the actual system that Christ died to create would play a statistically insignificant role in the history of salvation.

Goods brought out of evils

That God brings good out of evil means

1.) In the case of every evil, he brings out a good for himself alone. Among moral evils, for example, the first good brought about is the act of the sin itself, which falls under the order of providence.

2.) In the case of natural evils, also he brings about a good for the universe as a whole. So far as a corruptible thing is corrupting or a contingent thing is going out of existence, the order of the universe is being preserved, even if it is obviously evil for the particular corruptible thing and for everyone who had an emotional attachment to it. Still, nothing changes about this account by making the corruptions or contingencies tragic or heartbreaking. The universe is universing. Good for it.

If you have a sense that this is leaving something out, it is.

3.) By grace, God confers to the created soul a perfection of the divine order, thereby making graced person fall under the protection explained in #1. It makes no difference whether persons in grace know what good in particular will accrue to them through the providential ordering of the evils they suffer. The most we can say is that the evils they suffer confer higher order goods to them, but it doesn’t follow that we can figure out that God gave us emotionally explosive children to help us with patience (though avoiding the inference is hard) or that he allows young persons to die because he knew they would fall away from him if they got older (although Wisdom 4 : 10-11 reveals this has happened at least once) or that the Father handed Christ over to death for the sake of a good that he conferred first and most of all upon Christ himself (though this was revealed too.)

Sin v. Act of sin

To sin is to will an action in a manner that cannot fulfill the divine rule.

God wills the same act in a manner that fulfills his will.

(This is clearest in the climactic moment of Genesis, where it becomes clear the act the sons of Jacob committed to degrade and destroy their brother was the initiation of process by which Joseph would be exalted over them. Any act of martyrdom is makes the same point: those who attempt to silence and  humiliate the saint commit the very act by which he is exalted over them. In seeking to give a definitive proof that God is not active in the world, they show how the evil that they seek to wield as a refutation is to be incorporated into a life that makes it instrumental to the manifestation of divine glory. Christ makes the same point in John 9:3 in saying that the evil of a man being born blind was not because this man sinned, nor his parents; but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.)

Divine punishment

God wills the act of sin but not the sin while the sinner wills the sin itself. So the act of sin as willed by God is opposed to what the sinner wills. But to will that one who does evil should receive something opposed to his will is to punish the one doing evil. The punishment for sin, therefore, begins with the very act of committing it.

Pretension to divinity in the object of craving

1. ) Pay attention to a craving: it’s object is a physical good that presents itself as infinite or unlimited, not in the sense that it could give you anything but that it would always satisfy and never let you down. If it were telling the truth, of course, we would control something that always satisfied, which would empower us to dispel our vexations and anxieties and suffer no adverse consequences for doing so. Who wouldn’t want consequenceless panaceas? Alas, there are unlimited goods and there are physical things under our control, but those two Venn circles do not overlap, though when we imagine an overlapping area or try to create it, it’s called “an idol.”

2.) Pay attention to what it feels like to plan on hemming in a craving: one immediately leaps to all the future times in life when he’ll need the thing, and experiences them as if they were all one burden (the usual way this is experienced is as a need for the thing at a time easy to imagine, i.e. “what will I do at a party when they’re serving_____?” but this one experience is felt as  paradigmatic, not a one-off, as though one is experiencing all future parties in that one instance) The object of craving thus presents itself as extending to all times. This is a sort of infinity that the thing obviously can’t have, since there is no possible experience of inability to satisfy all future cravings, and as soon as one denies enough of them to form a contrary habit his desires simply reflect that habit. Still, the craving presents itself as infinite, and so able to provide an infinite good, even if only seriatim, and here again, we imagine the intersection of an unlimited good and a physical object under our control.

3.) The object of craving presents itself as necessary for life.  One can have both cravings and real spiritual longings, but so long as he does the spiritual longings are experienced as something one can get to later after attending to the serious work of making sure the craving gets met, and one’s rewards are always with respect to the object of craving, not the spiritual goods. One job of spiritual discipline is to come to see that the reality is the reverse: it’s the spiritual things one needs. It’s those goods that deserve to structure our day and and which are in fact our highest rewards.

4.) Idols considered objectively are utterly foolish, and scripture insists repeatedly on their absurdity. Who could be so stupid as to think that something could be an infinite good and the work of our hands! But this is exactly how the object of craving presents itself to us.

5.) Imagine the ancient Israelite thinking to himself “Sure, I know that statue of Ashtaroth was carved out of a dead tree, but how could I ever give up the use of a ritual prostitute that might just ensure better harvests next year for everybody? Do I really want to live like Elijah, friendless and starving on the mountain and descending only to vex the king and his wife? Who could live like that for the rest of his life?”

Agents and essences

Agent causes give what an essence cannot. A thing must be supplied exteriorly with whatever it cannot bring forth interiorly.

1.) An agent simpliciter therefore brings forth essence simpliciter, and therefore an essence that does not exist of or in itself. This is implicit in (a) the real distinction and (b) the absolute consideration of the human intellect.

2.) The proper cause of an essence that does not exist in itself is one that does. The role played by “essence” in one that does not exist of itself is played by “existence” in one that does. An essence that exists of itself is what we would know in an absolute consideration of existence, if we could form such a concept. We can’t, except in the counterfactual and complex way we just formed it.

3.) The essence of an agent simpliciter can bring forth anything about which we can form an absolute consideration, and in this sense can bring forth all things. If it lacked any perfection in itself, it would not be the agent simpliciter.

4.) An agent other than the first deals with an essence that already in some way exists. Because of this, the perfections that second agents give belong to a reality other than the second agent. A perfection received from a second agent is more complete to the extent that the effect separates from the cause; a perfection received from the first is more complete to the extent that it is unified to the first cause.

The first principle of morals

Thomas lays down that the first principle of morals is do good and avoid evil, but the good and evil he is speaking of is happiness (good) and whatever is incompatible with happiness (evil simpliciter) or that which, while not strictly incompatible with happiness, weakens or wounds one’s enjoyment of it (evil secundum quid.) So Thomas understands the first principle of morals to commit him to the imperative do whatever makes you happy and avoid whatever doesn’t, or alternatively if it makes you happy, do it. In fact, even these formulations are weaker than what is actually being said, since the imperative sets down a command in the moral order with moral necessity, i.e. we should say you must do whatever makes you happy and avoid whatever is incompatible with this, or even what diminishes your happiness. 

But imagine saying this out loud to a group of teenagers. Chaos! Anarchy! In fact, it’s hard to imagine any group you could say this to without them taking it as a call to immediate indulgence of sloth, duty-shirking, carnality and bloodlust. All that stuff is obviously not good, so Thomas is left having to explain how it won’t make one happy.

Why does it make sense to us that happiness is whatever gives immediate gratification? There is a truth here that can’t be lost: no one would delay gratification for the sake of what only further delays it, so the ultimate end must immediately gratify. In fact, if our whole umwelt (i.e. the whole domain of our actions) was only the immediate world, then happiness and even virtue would be whatever gratifies us here and now, which is just how it is for non-human animals or even young-enough children. If there is a lion morality, it is in doing whatever gratifies him right here and now, which seems simultaneously to prove that there is something majestic and sublime in leonine morality and, in a different sense, that “leonine morality” is a contradiction in terms. On the one hand, there is something sublime in seeing perpetual napping punctuated by mauling large animals and glutting oneself on them as a lion’s virtue, on the other hand it simply seems to show that calling lions virtuous is a category mistake. The same can be said of the fippinger wasps that caused Darwin to doubt the reality of providence. Darwin’s facts and even some of his conclusions are right as far as they go, but they leave out the understanding of how the lion and the wasp are simultaneously God’s creation of a virtuous act that inflicts such a gruesome fate on another creature, and, in a different sense, the creation of sentient beings that act entirely outside the moral order. To make beings who live in an immediate world is to make beings whose virtue consists in immediate gratifications, and as we all know, immediate gratifications often come at the expense of another’s pain and suffering. The problem of animal suffering is just an observation of what is implicit in animals existing at all.

Humans are animals, but the immediate world is not the totality of our umwelt, and so what immediately gratifies us can conflict what we immediately experience. The full human umwelt includes not just the immediate, animal now (the literal “brute given” or “brute fact”) but other elements like an anticipated future, our parental ties to future generations, a spiritual and interior life, mystical participation in Christ, etc all of which include but go far beyond the brute given. It’s only in this broader world including the immediate that morality, virtue and happiness exist without qualification.

JOST on the real distinction

1.) The essence of a material thing does not include what individuates the essence.

2.) The existence of a material thing includes what individuates the essence.

3.) The essence of a material thing is not the existence of a material thing.

Liturgical wars, again.

American Catholic liturgies tend to extremes, and so our disagreements about the liturgy are correspondingly extreme. There are historical and cultural causes for this: Tocqueville explained why an American Catholic sees the only alternative to his faith as atheism and moral chaos, which makes any feature of the faith the hill to die on. Again, though the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) prioritizes silence and austerity, due to English suppression the Mass in Ireland was pushed toward being even more silent and austere, and Irish missionaries played a dominant role in the formation of American Catholicism. So a group of people prone to extreme stances about everything in the faith was habituated to an already extreme version of the liturgical action at the center of that faith. This is not a recipe for moderation or a detached liturgical stance.

That last paragraph was not an introduction to my thesis, but a general tag I’d like to place over anything I try to say about American liturgical disputes. The dispute I have in mind today is between the TLM and the Novus Ordo (NO), but it also occurs in the intramural disagreements within the NO itself between more and less traditional celebrations of the liturgy.

The TLM criticism of the NO is fine as far as it goes but fails to appreciate incommensurable and incompossible liturgical goods. The usual critique often starts with an appeal to self-evidence: it’s just obvious to anyone who attends the TLM that it is more appropriate to divine worship, and this greater appropriateness consists in its greater reverence, mystery, transcendence, and theocentrism. One makes the same critique negatively by pointing to the many ways in which the NO lends itself to casualness, to highlighting the character of the celebrant and congregation, and and to an aw-shucks populism that might be uncharitably described as banal. The list of TLM predicates seem a whole lot more appropriate to liturgy and worship, making it self-evidently better, QED.

Again, the critique of the NO is good as far as it goes, and one does lose reverence, mystery, and transcendence in the liturgical reform. This is decisively fatal, right?  Not exactly. The reverence in question is in the symbolic and aesthetic order. This order is essential to the liturgy, but less symbolic reverence is not greater symbolic irreverence or blasphemy. The NO is explicitly and consciously symbolizing the liturgy as an act of the Church, and the Church as the ekklesia or assembly of the people of God. The liturgical action is seen as God’s stretching throughout time and space to gather a people to himself, so that from the rising of the sun to its setting, a perfect sacrifice* might be made. There is unavoidably a populism to this, but it is a populism that must be understood as expressing God’s initiative to (i) gather a people to himself, (ii) speak to them and teach them, and (iii) to form a covenant with them. These three elements have been present in the liturgy from the beginning and are obviously present even in the TLM, but I think it’s fair to say that they had become garbled in the TLM, though this does nothing to diminish the aesthetic attributes we praised in it.

Aesthetic and symbolic descriptions of reality differ from scientific or forensic ones in that they can give incompossible descriptions of the same thing. To symbolize God’s gathering of all persons as a people of God requires a highlighting an interconnectedness and unity of the assembly that is incompossible with symbolizing the separation of its clerical and lay members, or the separation of the liturgical action and the assembly of the people. Of course all the arguments for why the priesthood of all believers and of the clerics is essentially different are the same as they ever were, just as it remains self-evident that the ekklesia or Church is the assembly of the people of God, but the first truth is symbolically more clear in the TLM and the second in the NO. These symbolisms cannot be read as refutations or denials of an incompossible symbol: it is just as uncharitable and nonsensical to argue that the NO denies the difference between the lay and clerical priesthood as to argue that the TLM denies that the Church is the people of God. We are dealing with the inherent limitations of symbols, not a difference between asserting and denying a doctrine.

We can push this further to even a discussion of the more controversial thematic differences of the TLM and NO. It is clear, for example, that the TLM has for more references to the sacrificial and propitiatory nature of the Mass, while the NO has far fewer. But isn’t the Mass essentially the sacrifice on Calvary? What else do we need to say? While we are stepping outside the level of symbols to real themes in texts, nevertheless the same problem of incompossible perfections arises. To stress sacrifice and propitiation stresses one’s separation or distance from God and God’s rejection and judgment while to stress God’s gathering of all people to himself and his renewal of the new and everlasting covenant stresses God’s reaching out to us in love and mercy. The difficulty is that the Mass is essentially both, for it is an everlasting covenant of sacrificial blood poured out for sins;  Christ’s bloody propitiation as an act of merciful love toward all persons individually. When I am raised up (as a bloody sacrifice) I will draw all persons to myself (in an everlasting covenant.) One simply can’t foreground both of these, but has to make a choice about which essential theme will be dominant and the other subordinate. The backgrounding of something essential, alas, is essential. If you tasked me to pick which to foreground I don’t know what I would do: on the one hand stressing negatives gets far better practical results, and so the liturgy would probably be more effective if we stressed sin, guilt, and propitiatory sacrifice; on the other hand God’s mercy is more definitive and central to his revelation of himself. In this sense, the NO has a certain claim to being more theocentric, even while we spoke of a sense in which it clearly isn’t, and the very rubrics of the NO explicitly say it is anthropocentric in opposition to the way the TLM is theocentric.

All this points to a fallacy in the usual appeal made to lex orandi lex credendi. True, how one prays effects what he believes, but it is the fallacy of the consequent to think that if something is not mentioned or not foregrounded in prayer that it ceases to be believed or that it is somehow denied. All prayers leave infinite truths of the faith out, but this does not mean that all prayers deny infinite truths, or even that they dispose one to denying them.

The NO is literally a reform or return-to-form, but the form it sees as obscured in the TLM is not the form so beloved in the TLM by those of us who love it, but rather the form of the Mass as described in (i-iii) above. This reform, like all reforms, came at a cost of real goods, though (to return to the opening paragraph) one of the great faults of the American mind is our sense that reforms can make things better in every possible way with no loss of real goods. What we lost in the TLM was great and venerable, and it deserves to be kept around as an extraordinary form of the liturgy that could suggest elements of mutual enrichment (my own parish church, for example, is built in the round but has an altar rail, which is a small but mutual enrichment of symbols appropriate to different liturgies.) The biggest impediment to this mutual enrichment is the one that so vexes Pope Francis: almost all American public voices speaking in support the TLM are dead-set against mutual enrichment, and they present the difference between the liturgies as simply between the reverent and appropriate TLM vs. the banal, inappropriate, irreverent NO. Even if I think they’re wrong, it’s also clear that the movement has been wronged and unduly marginalized. You’re not crazy or paranoid if someone has been out to get you for a long time. Any mutual enrichment of the two rites the the US would require forgiveness for many real slights. If only there were something that empowered one to be charitable even to those who wronged you.

*The Latin is oblatio munda. A comparison of the translation in the second and present editions of the Roman missal is a case in miniature for many of the things mentioned in this post, with the second edition opting for pure offering and the present translation being a perfect sacrifice. Both are acceptable literal translations (even if the first is a bit more literal) but speaking of a perfect sacrifice compares Christ’s blood to the blood offered of old, whereas a pure offering draws a mental picture of an offering already perfect.

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