The Plan

I now have a tentative plan for reading and for posting here. I am starting to work my way once again through Summa Contra Gentiles. SCG is my favorite work of St. Thomas, and I have not read it in a long time (as is true with almost any other book I could name prior to this year…but I digress). So I am setting myself a goal to try and post on what I read in SCG at least every two or three days. I would like to say that I will post daily, but notwithstanding my recent streak I deem it a bit premature to be planning on more frequent offerings than this.

I know, I know: some of you are already taking off your slightly larger glasses. That’s okay. It isn’t much of a plan, I admit. But it is a place for me to start.

Posted in Aquinas - Philosophy, Summa Contra Gentiles

Of Masks and Men

Before getting into this highly divisive topic, I take this moment to say I do not like wearing a mask. It is uncomfortable, and my glasses get steamed up almost constantly, and everybody’s voices are muffled. I always breathe a huge sigh of relief when I get outside and can take the thing off. It’s a nuisance I would rather not have to bear. So I completely sympathize with anyone and everyone who struggles with these bits of cloth in whatever ways they may do so – even if they are pulling the things down a bit to expose their noses so that they can breathe.

What I do not understand, however, is the visceral hatred of the things that some folks have because they have identified masks as a matter of personal and constitutional liberty. Even here, I concede that explicit authorization for mask mandates might be lacking in the Constitution (although I do think that promoting the general welfare is sufficient justification…but I am not a scholar, so I will not press the point).

My reasons for being pretty sanguine about mask mandates as mandates follow the lines I shall put forward in this post.

In the first place, I think a mask mandate is a pretty trivial exercise of governmental authority. I have come across more than one suggestion from anti-maskers that there is no significant difference between the mask mandate and being herded into trains for transport to concentration camps. Okay, full marks for the rhetorical flourish, but seriously? We should consider this:

(Source: Wikimedia)

…to inexorably lead to this:

(Source: Wikimedia)

Really?

With all due respect to my liberty-loving friends, I submit that they may be jumping to unwarranted conclusions here. There is nothing intrinsically immoral about wearing a mask (particularly of the sort and for the reasons we must wear them). Is it inconvenient? Absolutely. Uncomfortable? I do find them to be, yes. Annoying? I do not like dealing with steamed glasses, so yes. But is it really plausible to suggest that a mask mandate is just the first (or next) step on the road to totalitarianism? Maybe I am just terribly naïve, but no. Just no.

Secondly, you’re a bit late to the game if public safety and health issues are not reasonable areas of concern for the federal government. We have long ago accepted the imposition of all manner of indignities and inconveniences so that we can board an airplane. We walk through metal detectors without complaint (don’t we?) to get into federal courts. We accept that it is a Bad Idea for law-abiding citizens to try and carry weapons into the White House (don’t we?) just because there are bigger issues at stake there. We agree (don’t we?) that citizens have no right to march into the Capitol and make off with congressional computers or lecterns.

More remains to be said about this, but my point for today is that a mask mandate just doesn’t rise to the level of a restriction on liberty whose imposition is going to one day find us reduced to the level of the proles.

Posted in Etc

Liberty and Safety

I remember, back in the mid-1980s, reading a news piece about travel conditions for citizens of the Soviet Union. The particular thing that has stuck with me for lo these many years was that a Soviet citizen would be subject to demands for his identification papers and reasons for traveling almost anytime he might choose to visit another place in his motherland. I also remember thinking how very sad it was for the people of the Soviet Union to be saddled with such requirements, and how grateful I was to live in a country where none of that was true.

Back in 2001-2002 when we were still having somewhat of a national debate about proposed travel regulations, I recalled that 80s news piece, and I remembered what one of our nation’s Founders (Franklin, I think?) had to say about it: “Those who would exchange essential liberty for temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” And here we are, and no need to rehearse the indignities to which we submit ourselves for the opportunity to use mass transportation now. Worse yet, there is no obvious endgame for the restrictions we eventually accepted; the status quo of air travel is almost surely going to remain this: “Your papers please. Where are your papers?!”

I struggled with this problem in 2001. I still do. We accepted the imposition of a surveillance society upon ourselves because, quite frankly, we were afraid. We did not want a repeat of 9/11. And that reaction was not irrational then, nor is it today. No one in his right mind would want to suffer what we did as a country on that day.

But have we paid too high a price? I do not know. At one time I thought that we absolutely had done so, that we would regret it eventually. We may yet still do so if we haven’t already. It is terrible to live in fear, though. It doesn’t matter whether it’s fear of the government or fear of being blown to smithereens. Wanting to ease the pressure of that fear is perfectly sensible.

Imagine being a nomad living in fear of a nearby band of raiders. They have attacked you and your family and friends. You have no way of knowing when they might attack again, but the likelihood of them doing so seems almost certain. What do you do? One response, and a perfectly reasonable one too, is to just leave the area. You’re a nomad; just find some other place for your temporary settlement and never return to the Dangerous Place. That strategy doesn’t work for us in the modern world, obviously: the raiders can find us no matter where we go.

Another strategy that you might take is to draw a line in the sand: “We are here, and we are not going to run. We will make them pay if they attack us again.” This is also reasonable, but it has costs (as the flight strategy does too). You just can’t be as footloose and fancy-free as you were before the raiders came, or you will likely find yourself dead. Constant vigilance!

Whichever strategy one chooses, it is clear that pretending the problem does not exist is a dead end. Your world has changed, and now you must change as well.

The upshot for the USA after 9/11 is that our world changed. Ideological purity is a dead-end when you are faced with a serious existential threat. We can’t run away from the terrorist whack jobs. We can’t hide from them. But we also don’t have to be sitting ducks, and that means that we have to be willing to accept that some unpleasant circumstances have now been forced upon us.

Franklin and the other Founders, bless them, did not face a foe dedicated to our obliteration, nor one which would indiscriminately kill non-combatants as a matter of strategy. Our circumstances are different, and they stink, but we must accept the way that our world just is now. We may (and should) seek to improve things, and even to be reconciled to our enemies, but acting as if things are not different today than they were 235 years ago in some important ways is not going to help us to survive as a free people.

In reviewing this post it seems obvious to me that I am at best ambivalent in my thinking about it even today. Truly, I despise flying now. I dislike the privacy invasions. I can’t stand the implicit presumption that I am a terrorist until I can prove otherwise by means of my identification and travel plans. This sickens me. But I don’t know of a way, nor can I imagine one, in which we can deal with the dangers of terrorism and at the same time preserve our 18th century liberties entirely unchanged. If someone has an idea for accomplishing this, I am certainly all ears.

But the fact is that human society does not exist for its own sake. It exists for the sake of the individual humans of which it consists. It exists for the sake of promoting human flourishing for everyone in a society. If the circumstances we face today compel us to do so, we must be willing to change the way that we live in order to promote that primary end. It seems to me that to uncritically insist upon liberties that our circumstances do not foster is inherently dangerous and foolish. We don’t have to like the fact that we have to prove our harmlessness every time we get on a plane, and we may even choose not to fly at all just because we so strongly dislike doing so, but to suppose that there is no legitimate reason for surrendering that liberty at least for now is foolish.

I could not see this in 2001-2002 when they started to insist that we show we are harmless before we could fly. It is annoying, but as best I can tell it is definitely not contrary to that primary end of promoting human flourishing. Being obliged to demonstrate that you are harmless to others, especially in a time when we find that almost anyone might be such a threat, is not the same as being herded into concentration camps.

Posted in Etc

The Aftermath

In the days and weeks following 9/11 Americans became – very understandably, in my view – a bit skittish. We stopped buying stuff. We did it to such a degree that one radio talk show host in my city observed that the national economy was in danger of severe crisis. He used his platform to urge people to go out and spend money.

One may say, in fairness to this gentleman (whom I respected for his intellectual honesty, as far as that could be measured from what he said on the air), that he was attempting to be a voice of reason, and to help people navigate the roiling waters of our world immediately after the Towers were destroyed. He did not want to encourage panic; he did what he could to help Americans survive and thrive.

I was on the other side of that boat. I believed that it was lunacy to be worrying about something as irrelevant as the national economy when we did not yet even know when or how or whether the next attacks may come. I considered it an act of prudence to pause, as it were, in our relentless consumption. We should see just which way the wind was blowing before we act like nothing happened.

I concede that in the long run, Mr. Radio’s advice was very good. Indeed in retrospect he may have been far more wise than I might have been able to see in 2001. For better or worse – and I would still say the latter rather than the former – our economy is utterly dependent upon spending. Spend spend spend. We need this because we have built our economy by mortgaging it. We borrow money to make the goods to sell today and not tomorrow, and we need buyers to purchase those goods as predictably as possible. Because we are going to keep on doing the economy the same way. If buyers stop buying, then sellers lack the revenue they need in order to make payments on yesterday’s loans and to secure the loans that they need for today’s manufacturing of tomorrow’s goods that they need buyers to buy.

So: we must spend. And that is what Mr. Radio counseled. I objected in principle back in 2001, but given our economic circumstances both then and now, the repercussions of an uncertain future were and are fairly serious for us. Fortunately for the USA, people followed his strategy rather than mine, and we were able to get back on our feet much more quickly. In principle I would have said (and do say today) that a debt-based economy is a Bad Thing, but if that is where one finds himself he would be wise to take those circumstances into consideration. A national disaster is a really lousy time to preach ideological purity.

Posted in Etc

Where I Was

The Dreadful Day found me sleeping. We did not have a TV, and were unaware of what had happened until a phone call alerted us. We made our way to the internet immediately (no smartphones back then, at any rate not for us; we sat down in front of a desktop computer).

There was no YouTube at the time (as I was surprised to discover while writing this today), so we must have found some other source for video: perhaps by way of Drudge? Likewise for news.

Shock. Horror. I suppose we must have known the world was changed irrevocably in that moment, but we had no clue as to the direction or nature of those changes. Mostly I think we kept staring at the screen, refreshing web pages, hoping to learn more and hoping that the madness was over: Is the President safe? What about the Pentagon? WHO DID THIS??

We watched in near-realtime as the towers fell.

I really have no memory of what my reaction must have been, but I suppose that the most likely thing is that I (like everyone else?) wanted revenge. I wanted the perpetrators to be caught, tried, convicted, and executed.

Those were very dark days. I will, perhaps, write more about what I recall my thoughts to have been in the days and weeks and months following The Day. But that must wait for another post.

Posted in Etc

We return now to our previously scheduled program already in progress

Four years ago I was eighty percent of the way through Summa Theologiæ when things came to an abrupt halt. Rather than start over from scratch, I am resuming where I left off, which was with the Supplement. This seems fitting to me not least because it will allow me to say that I have read the Summa through twice, but it also appeals to me on some level because it is my preference to finish books that I start reading. So, with your kind indulgence, dear reader, we shall pursue this course and I shall post such thoughts of mine that occur during the reading as seem worthy of note.

Posted in Etc

Only Mostly Dead

… And “mostly dead” is not the same as “all dead.” And there is no loose change in my pockets.

Posted in Etc

Aquinas, Exegesis, and Prophecy

The Church teaches that interpretation of the Bible must be done

within “the living Tradition of the whole Church”. According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church’s heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God’s Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (“. . . according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church”). [Catechism of the Catholic Church, §113].

In short, the true and correct interpretation of Scripture conforms to that which the Church has always taught. This means that the exegete is not a solitary agent who may work without reference or appeal to Sacred Tradition; rather, his work is informed and guided by the Holy Spirit through the teaching of the Church.

St. Thomas Aquinas has some helpful things to say concerning prophecy which I think shed light on this subject. He reminds us of the very purpose of prophecy (and by extension the purpose of divine revelation as a whole): “the end of prophecy is the manifestation of a truth that surpasses the faculty of man” (Summa Theologiæ II-II q.174 a.2). Why did God give us revelation? What is Scripture’s purpose? To convey truth that man could not reach on his own. That is why, as Thomas says a little earlier, “not every prophet knows what he prophesies” (ibid., II-II q.173 a.4).

Nevertheless it must be observed that since the prophet’s mind is a defective instrument, as stated above, even true prophets know not all that the Holy Ghost means by the things they see, or speak, or even do. (ibid.)

No man’s knowledge is perfect, and this is particularly true when it comes to those supernatural things which by definition exceed human capacity entirely. Aquinas says that one effect of human weakness when it comes to service as authors of Scripture is that the authors “know not all that the Holy Ghost means.” A consequence of this is that an interpretation of the Bible which focuses solely upon the meaning that the human authors intended to convey is defective, precisely because what God means by the words of the Bible is (at least some of the time) beyond what the human authors could have possibly meant themselves.

What then? Well, then we need to resort to the Church, the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Timothy 3:15), as our help and guide when it comes to understanding the Bible.

Posted in Apologetics, Aquinas - Theology, Catechism, Dei Verbum, Epistemology, Fides et Ratio, Magisterium, Scripture, Solo Scriptura, Vatican II

The Guidelines are Void

This rubbish has no legal or judicial or administrative force in the real world where we all live. Like last summer’s vacuous, vapid, and vacant SCOTUS decision, these so-called guidelines were a dead letter upon issuance. Like I said about that ludicrous “decision” these guidelines are “contrary to reason, contrary to the laws of men throughout history, and contrary to the law of God.” No bureaucrat, no administrator, no civil servant has any authority whatsoever to pretend that human nature is other than what it actually is, and no one — no matter the extremes to which he may resort in his futile denial of who and what exactly he is — no one can change the facts of his nature.

We may and should have compassion for the one who is so badly confused or warped as to suppose other things about himself, but we must never kowtow to their illusory ideas about things as fundamental, as elementary as human nature, being, and essence. Let us pray that the bishop of Chicago will guide his flock with the wisdom and prudence they badly need in the face of such tyranny.

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Posted in Apologetics, Aquinas - Philosophy, Aquinas - Theology, Western Civilization

Habemus Episcopum

That did not take as long as I feared!

Our dear Bishop Johnston was transferred to Kansas City last November by Pope Francis. We were very sorry to see him go, but in a certain way it seemed inevitable; he is such a fine shepherd that we suspected this sort of thing might happen eventually. Our diocese is not so famous or important as to be likely to hold onto a great bishop for long! And so after seven years, alas he departed with the blessing of God.

Now the Lord has blessed us with a new bishop. The Most Reverend Edward M. Rice, auxiliary bishop of St. Louis, will be installed on June 1 as the bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau. We are very grateful to God for our new shepherd, and pray for God’s blessing upon his ministry here. And at our parish we particularly look forward now to the assignment of a new priest; our previous pastor left us for health reasons (and may God continue to bless his service elsewhere).

I have heard good things about Bishop Rice, and I am looking forward to his arrival.

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Posted in Ecclesiology, Etc, Francis I
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