Immaculate Conception

I will put enmity between you and the woman, between her seed and yours. 

-Mary was at enmity for as long as she was the woman.

-The enmity is attributed to the offspring – Christ – as much as to the woman. But it is beyond question that Christ’s enmity extends to the whole of his life without exception.

-The Fathers and writers…saying, “I will put enmities between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed” — taught that by this divine prophecy the merciful Redeemer of mankind, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, was clearly foretold: That his most Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, was prophetically indicated; and, at the same time, the very enmity of both against the evil one was significantly expressed. Hence, just as Christ, the Mediator between God and man, assumed human nature, blotted the handwriting of the decree that stood against us, and fastened it triumphantly to the cross, so the most holy Virgin, united with him by a most intimate and indissoluble bond, was, with him and through him, eternally at enmity with the evil serpent.

Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus 

Fifth Petition

14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

-This demands a habitual forgiveness, which demands daily training in forgiveness. The seventy times seven, etc.

-The practice of offering one’s daily sufferings includes forgiving one’s daily annoyances.

-As members of the mystical body, any trespass against Christ is a trespass against us. These can be recognized, felt and forgiven, always in a way that holds open the possibility of repentance. News stories play an important role in telling us about the trespasses.

-The passion is the paradigm for experiencing the outrage against our mystical body as the head himself experienced it.

-In Christ, the rejection of sin is experienced as rejection within a human heart. The whole weight of this is felt in the agony of the garden, but our ongoing experience of this as his mystical body fills up what is still lacking in Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.

-The Sacred Heart is lifted on the center of the cross and into the pinnacle of history. This heart experiences each offense against God as we experience each offense against us.  The heart was thus bore the trespass of many and was entirely crushed for our offenses. But this what allows us to see it, more correctly, as a supernova of divine forgiveness that will never die out, or even go dim.

Free will and indifference

Let free will mean a choice made with indifference to alternatives. I don’t think this defines free will, but it seems to be the working hypothesis for many. The Jesuit/ Franciscan Scholastic-era opinion, for example, arguably stressed the component of indifference in discussions of will, and these schools seemed to be more influential in forming modern thought.

But there are two very different ways of being indifferent to alternatives:

1.) On the part of the real equality of objects. There are all sorts of times when the objects we must choose between are equal and so provide us with no reason to choose one option over another. At the beginning of the buffet you reach out to a tray of forks and grab one. You could have just as easily grabbed that one as this one, but the objects themselves give no reason for preference.

2.) On the part of a defect of the subject. There are times when we are aware of being unable to choose between alternatives because we don’t have enough information, experience, wisdom, moral character, etc.

The first sort of indifference is best dealt with by never thinking about it. All such decisions must be recognized for what they are and simply not thought about. One seeks to remove them from reason. The second sorts of indifference, however, is completely contrary: one seeks to subsume it as far as possible into reason. One uses the indifference of (2) as the matter for the development of the virtue of prudence, and large parts of law and social arrangement need to be set up so as to subsume (2) indifference into the rational order.

So the indifference of the will forks into two contrary paths, one that drives objects further and further from rational consideration, and which recognizes the pointlessness of rational consideration; and another which seeks to become more and more under rational sovereignty and control. Discerning the difference between these two is not always easy, and this discernment is itself a matter of prudence.

So defining free will by indifference makes the relationship of free choice to reason inherently ambiguous. So long as we are considering (1) level indifference, free will has nothing to do with reason, and even irrational animals will need something like “free will” with respect to such objects. Consider Buridan’s ass, or the sorts of objects one is asked to “choose” in Libet experiments. But to cut the connection between (2) level objects and reason is a self-evident absurdity.

Brute force

At its most sympathetic, appeal to brute forces or blind forces is to explain motions without recourse to what is good for the mobile. Force will cause motion, one supposes, automatically even if it is not in the interest of preserving what it pushes. The same gravity explains the formation of the icicle as its getting too large, falling on the sidewalk, and shattering. One can make no sense of better or worse here.

But when one starts with an initial condition he already has a being, and motion from what is given in being is always for the worse. In this sense the sheer conatus of blind force makes sense, since privation can’t be the target of desire and motion from an initial condition is toward a privation. So it’s not that brute force is moving things, but to take a terminus a quo as given in actuality is to screen out an appeal to the good per se.

The contradiction of sin and divine causality

Sinning seeks happiness by an action incompatible with it. This is contradictory and so can only exist in a mind. To exist in the mind is not itself evil. The problem is when this mental being is, by voluntary choice, made a per se principle of action. Because contradictions cannot exist in reality, as soon as one acts from such a principle, something will come to exist in the world that must be different from what one wants, though it will probably have elements compatible with what he wants. This thing that comes to exist is entirely caused by God, even in the elements that happen to agree with the sinner’s will…

…Even these elements are ultimately repugnant to the sinner’s will, and he would reject them if he understood them. In fact, he would reject them even if he did not repent, just as the brothers of Joseph would not have sold him into slavery if they saw it would lead to them having to beg from Joseph, even if they did not repent of their desire to humiliate him…

God thus causes the whole act of sin but not the sin itself.

Sin as rule vs. Sin as violation

If I beat my wife, it would be strange to describe what was wrong about it as breaking my wife’s rules about wife beatingWhat is wrong is that I’ve injured another person, violated their trust, put impediments in the way of her loving me and me loving her, etc. etc. There are obviously rules forbidding wife beating – and my wife might even have formed such a rule, but to see the rule as the locus of the violation is to miss something.

So why is an account of sin as breaking God’s rule about X not equally strange? The rule can clearly have a juridical or legal value, and even a teaching value in making clear for us how we stand to a being that cannot be seen, but to describe the sin as the breaking of a rule is to speak of it through a sign or effect. Saying the sin is bad because it violates God’s rule is like saying the movie is bad because it got a Razzie. Both are true, but the “because” is not giving a proper and intrinsic cause. The truth of both is a sort of invitation to look deeper into what makes things bad.

Doctrine of the Mean

The doctrine of the mean is often the only thing that many students learn about Aristotle’s ethics and it is usually learned badly. To reduce everything to first principles:

1.) Every action has an ultimate end.

2.) Living a human life is an action

3.) Human life has an ultimate end. Call it happiness. 

4.) Happiness must therefore be something one must be human to enjoy.

5.) What is unique to human actions is their control by reason and their having contributions from another part that is not rational but can obey reason. Though there is a lot more to this part that is not rational but can obey reason, we will consider one of its most significant parts: emotion or the passions.

6.) Reason stands to emotions the same way reason stands to anything else that is not rational but can obey reason (horses, dogs, etc) it needs to train them to assist reason.

7.) Happiness consists in reason training the passions to achieve and assist in the attainment of the highest good one can attain.

8.) Training is complete when the thing to be trained has a habit.

9.) The acquired habit of acting well is Aristotle’s arete, usually translated as virtue. 

10.) Given any circumstance, any given emotional reaction can be either too much, not enough, or appropriate.

11.) Appropriate in this sense means in the mean, therefore the mean between too much and not enough.

12.) Happiness requires virtue consisting in the mean, or the state of emotions being trained by reason to react appropriately in any circumstance.

Notes on Angels

Definition: A finite intellectual substance that by nature is not unified to a matter. It’s thus distinguished from the divine and human nature.

So we understand angels by affirming what they have in common with finite substances and denying what is caused by matter.

Have in common with finite substances: They know, desire (both by nature and by choice, the former being a sort of emotion) govern, lead, are servants of divinity, and cannot know those things that are proper to be known by God and the blessed (revealed mysteries, the future, secrets of the divine will.)

Are without matter: They don’t develop over time, either individually or historically. They do not start in a stage of imperfection and become perfect later. They are not subject to natural defects or bad chance. They cannot repent after contemplating how their future will be so much worse.

Original Sin

-Membership in the mystical body of Adam. cf. Mystici Corporis §12.

-Our nature is transmitted to us in a way that does not save us. This counts as a “sin” relative to God’s desire to have saved us that way.

-Our nature, as nature, needs to be saved since (a) it desires goods by nature that it cannot by nature achieve (the vision of God) and (b) by nature it is practically impossible for it not to fall into many vices since it loves lower goods for many years as a child before it is rational in second act. But (c) given that there is also a broken mystical body of Adam, this is most of all what we need to be saved from.

-Our being part of a broken first plan that included no human sorrow.

-The fact that the act of conception is not sacramental. It was meant to transmit at least the grace of meriting, and perhaps even the grace of final beatitude. Adam was clearly not created in the grace of final beatitude, but it’s unclear to me whether his offspring were meant to be. My suspicion is they were.

-The mystical body of Adam vs. the mystical body of Christ. The infinite elevation of our Head. Felix culpa.

-The fault is happy relative to infinite elevation. The cost was extraordinary.

-The pathos of mystical membership with Adam and Romans 7: Who will deliver me from this body of death? and I do not do what I would, but what I hate. The doctrine is Romans 5.

-In the sorrowful mysteries we contemplate what the head merited for the body; in the glorious where the head exists, drawing the body to himself.

-Since Vatican II Catholics have been zealous in contemplating the hypothetical possibility of the righteous apart from the Church. The way to incorporate this into traditional theology is through the Mystical body of Christ as coextensive with the body of Adam.

Christianity vs. Religion

Religion unavoidably has a component where we act for God so he’ll act for us. One can see Christianity this way, even to the point of seeing it as the heart of what is going on. Christ, after all, came to offer his life to reconcile us to the Father, and in the most ancient forms of the religion he established there are rituals that confer grace even without a conversion of heart in the one performing the ritual. So is this vindicating some sort of formalism? 

No. Christ reconciled all to the Father by his charity, not by magic rituals, and the rituals that he left work ex opere operato not because they have magical power but because the Christ performs them in the same love he has always performed them. The foundation of the religion is his friendship and desire for God, which is the principle of everything else, including any access to divine power. 

There is no opposition between loving someone and having access to his power – the whole question is which one is the foundation of the other. The heart has a tendency to found religion – certainly including Christianity – on the harnessing of divine power. We make the offering and wait for the results – deo volente, of course. We’ve done what he told us, after all. The problem with this is not our desire for divine power to give us what we want. Creatures depend on omnipotence to be actual at all, whether in substance or operation. If anything, we need to become more craven of divine power, as we need it to gain anything we want. The problem is our inability to see that friendship and spousal union with God is precisely the thing we want. 


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