Fr. Pontificator quotes C. S. Lewis, from The Great Divorce:

``But I don't understand. Is judgment not final? Is there really a way out of Hell into Heaven?''

``It depends on the way ye're using the words. If they leave that grey town behind it will not have been Hell. To any that leaves it, it is Purgatory. And perhaps ye had better not call this country Heaven. Not Deep Heaven, ye understand.'' (Here he smiled at me.) ``Ye can call it the Valley of the Shadow of Life. And yet to those who stay here it will have been Heaven from the first. And ye can call those sad streets in the town yonder the Valley of the Shadow of Death: but to those who remain there they will have been Hell even from the beginning.'' I suppose he saw that I looked puzzled, for presently he spoke again. ``Son,'' he said, ``ye cannot in your present state understand eternity ...''

C. S. Lewis has bumped into, unrecognized, the openness and ambiguity of all human action, to which Herbert Fingarette, among others, was for me the clue. What an action is is constituted, ontologically constituted, by more than just the material in motion that is part of it, by more even than the intentions, conscious or not, of the actor. It is constituted as what it is by the larger narratives that it fits into -- and those narratives are terrifyingly open-ended.

Therein lies not the ``problem'' of human action, but the essential condition for a solution. For the larger narratives extend to all of history, and it then becomes possible to transform what particular human acts are in the present. When they intend to be fitted into a larger narrative that includes the Exodus, the Exile, and the Disasters of the first century, they become redeemable, even redeemed. The consumation of that transformation, we do not see. Yet. Indeed, the idea of judgement day serves here and now, in our present, to embody the faith that there is ultimately some sort of closure, that we do not live in a world in which nothing means anything and anything goes, that truth in narratives is possible.

(2004/12/14), St. John of the Cross

Fr. Pontificator by email thinks I was criticising him yesterday. I was not. I wrote to strengthen his position. The situation with human actions is more cause for fear and trembling than is generally realized.

Nothing about human actions is the same after Fingarette.

(2004/12/13), St. Lucy

The Pontificator for 2004/12/12 reflects on the aftermath of Charles Curran's ideas about the ``fundamental option'' for or against God and the distinction of mortal from venial sin. The Catechism insists on the importance of the distinction and the gravity of mortal sins, as well it should. So how can a ``fundamental choice'' for God and for the blessedness of this created world be undermined by particular actions? That question is radicalized by Herbert Fingarette's Self Deception, chapter three, ``To Say or Not to Say'': all the hard problems in making sense of human action are about how to spell out what was done, what needs to be included, and how it should be characterized. (The self-deceived one does not spell out, to himself or to others, what he is doing, and does not spell out that he does not spell out. Can you do that? Can you conduct a major engagement with life without spelling out what you are doing? We do it all the time.)

And so knowledge of human action, one's own or another's, is a matter of a skill, not simply a passive cognitive capacity. Given the openness of intentional narratives of human action, and the ever-present possibility that the events can be told in an unflattering way (the original meaning of ``Satan,'' as in Job, was the Prosecutor, the one who can tell anyone's story in a damning light), things begin to look fairly terrifying. A fundamental option can easily be undermined by particular actions.

Fingarette's book deserves wider reading.

(2004/12/07), the feast-day of St. Ambrose:

Donjim, Fr. Tucker, in the diocese of Alexandria, VA, linked to The Pontificator with ten suggestions for improving the liturgical practice in Catholic parishes. I would agree easily with all but the first; as for the first, celebrant facing the wall rather than facing the people across a free-standing altar, the present post-Vatican II practice seems instinctively better to me. The rationale in the early church was apparently more than a little complicated. I would want to know the reasons for the reform by the liturgical movement that turned the priest toward the people before going back to the old way. I'm not in holy orders, much less a liturgist, but these things are not so arcane as to be unintelligible to the laity. The old way (versus apsidem) was common in Anglican parishes, too, when I grew up. Even my Dad, low-church pastor that he was, celebrated facing the wall. The argument that the old way was more conducive to a sense of transcendence strikes me as extremely dubious on philosophical grounds, but that would be a dispute for another time.

About music, guitars, and such: much of the oeuvre of the Oregon Catholic Press is meant to be performed for an audience, not sung by a congregation. Or it is songs taken from Cursillo, a revival movement worthy of the highest regard, but one whose music doesn't wear well in a parish week after week on a Sunday morning.

Anglican chant: most Catholics don't know that it is perfectly possible to do sublime Gregorian chant in languages other than Latin. Sing your heart out. You can do it.

The solo song leader: Catholic music directors want, I think, to see congregational singing. To do that, you're going to have to take lessons from the people who know how to do congretational singing -- the Protestants. That means no electronic amplification for the choir, no cantor, a hymnal that is stable for decades, hymns that are singable, and a good mix of hymns from every century as far back as texts survive. See also Thomas Day, Why Catholics Can't Sing: The culture of Catholicism and the triumph of bad taste (New York: Crossroad, 1990). ( Amazon info here.)

Sticking to the text of the liturgy: in my own parish, St. Michael's in Livermore, the clergy are pretty good about respecting the canonical text. Growing up as a low-church Episcopalian (Southern Ohio was even lower than Texas, the proverbial snake-belly-low diocese), departing from the exact text just wasn't done. Low-church Anglicans had a better sense of the meaning of obedience than Anglo-Catholics, in my recollection. Things have evidently changed among Episcopalians since I was received into the Catholic Church.

Start building more beautiful churches: See Steve Schloeder's web-site. Steve has a handful of churches to his credit, with bilateral symmetry, floor plans complex enough to give a feeling of being a liturgical home, and a focus on the action at the altar. He published an article in Crisis if memory serves, in which he said that typical modern Catholic floor plans left no place for a worshipper to hide; people need places off to the side, in quiet and the dark, to pray or light a candle. Reading the article, I said to myself, ``he wants a fractal floor plan!'' See also his Architecture in Communion: Implementing the Second Vatican Council through Liturgy and Architecture, San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 1988, on his web-site. A shoe box works best only for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and then only by sheer acoustical good luck. A commentor to the Pontfications post said we get ``sanctunasiums.'' I would call them concrete teepees, designed for talk-shows. St. Michael's in Livermore is a blessed relic of the old days, a bilateral basilica-style Spanish stucco treasure.


The Breviary patristic lesson this morning,
the Wednesday in the first week of Advent:
St. Bernard, from a sermon (Sermo 5, in adventu Domini 1-3
Opera Omnia, Edit. Cisterc. 4 (1966) 188-190):

``We know that there are three comings of the Lord.
The third lies between the other two. . . .
The Intermediate coming is a hidden one; . . .
. . . this coming is like a road on which we travel
from the first coming to the last. . . . in this
middle coming, [the Lord] is our rest and consolation.

My NT teacher, Edward Hobbs, once said that the ``Second Coming''
was a second-century theological invention that worked
very effectively to put off the presence of Christ
in daily life, because that presence is too uncomfortable:
Christ comes to us as exposure, that is, as the events
in which we are shown up to be who we really are,
instead of who we pretend to be. Yet when exposure is
welcomed, it can indeed be rest and consolation,
and the opening into meeting limitation and others' need
as blessing-bearing also. If St. Bernard saw this, it was not totally forgotten.


Yesterday, Instapundit linked to The Belmont Club who linked to an address by Cardinal Pell of Sydney, Australia, asking whether democracies can get away with being amoral. The piece was apparently originally an address at the Acton Institute , and here is the URL for the text at Acton's web-site. More specifically, can democracies be silent about issues in social ethics. Cardinal Pell wondered how much democracy is rooted in Western Christianity.

Some pertinent background is in Daniel O'Connor and Francis Oakley, eds., Creation: The Impact of an Idea (New York, Scribners, 1969). Democracy was born from Christian medieval institutions, monastic governance among them. In another source, Richard Rubenstein, in ``Covenant, Holocaust, and Intifada,'' an essay in After Auschwitz, locates the roots of civil society in the Exodus, and the Exodus covenant, the idea of a community of moral obligation. More can be found in the Talmud, Baba Metzia 59b +-, in the story of the dispute about how to clean an oven; the human community has the authority to regulate its own affairs. But I don't think that relieves it of moral responsibility, not even when God looks down and laughs to Elijah, ``My children have defeated me, my children have defeated me!''

Behind all this is a call to re-evangelize the Christian world; perhaps, but this Roman Catholic retread from Neo-Orthodox theology is not very impressed with the evangelism we have now. It is usually re-cycled nineteenth-century piety, or just pre-Kantian, pre-critical thought, unwilling to engage the critical challenges of the nineteenth and twentieth century in theology, philosophy, history (biblical history, history in general, history of religions), and biblical scholarship. Don't dismiss this as Liberal Theology (which is what pre-critical types usually think of anyone who has engaged critical thought); Liberal Theology was a very particular movement in German and American Protestant theology, but it is hardly the only option after Kant, Schleiermacher, and Hegel.

Jacob Neusner, in The Death and Birth of Judaism argued that when religion and the state became each unnecessary to the other (circa 1789), Reform Judaism was born, and Reform Judaism is older than Orthodox Judaism, contrary to the claims of Orthodox Judaism to be ``the'' Judaism of the Dual Torah. Orthodox Judaism was a reaction to Reform Judaism, and Conservative Judaism was last, a program of engaging the challenges of modernity with responsibility to the tradition, but without trying to retreat into tradition. Reading this, I thought that Neusner explained the rise of Liberal Theology in Christianity at exactly the same time: Friedrich Schleiermacher. Though not wrong about everything, his program was never convincing to me. Fundamentalism arose as a reaction to Liberal Theology (cf. Orthodox Judaism), and the twentieth-century Neo-Orthodox are the analog of Conservative Judaism. I wouldn't tell Jews how to be Jewish, but am happy to dispute among Christians. (My own reasons for being Roman Catholic lie well outside these disputes; cf. ``A simple pro-life theology.''

A functional sense of what biblical religion is doing would help, and it is available: see Mircea Eliade, Cosmos and History and the last three chapters of Merold Westphal, God, Guilt, and Death. They lay out the differences between (inter alia) religions of nature and religions of history. Democracy makes sense only where the reality and importance of history is at least partially seen and acknowledged.


Most of the pictures on this web-site have been inaccessible for some time; apologies.
It was a permissions issue, and appears to be fixed.


Saturday was day 2 of the Pacific Coast Theological Society meeting,
and it was a Cal football day; thoughts driving in to Berkeley and around the Cal campus ...

Turn back O man, avoid the football game;
Old now is Cal, and none gainsay her ways.
Yet thou, O child, whose brow is crowned with flame,
Still wilt not hear thy common sense proclaim:
Try to park near Cal, and look for space in vain.

On the other hand, Bancroft was cleared and I could
park to return two books to the anthro lib in the last minutes
before parking became illegal. Go figure, but nice anyway!


Tomorrow is both All Souls and election day;
the office hymn in the breviary is from the Office of the Dead:
the Dies Irae -- hopefully not too appropriate for the day:

Day of wrath! O day of mourning!
Heaven and earth in ashes burning -- 
All the world to lawyers turning ...

You can see the correct words here .

On the other hand, R. Vaughan Williams great hymn for November 1, All Saints Day, has

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
and hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.

There are bigger things than this election.
But pray that the next president is elected and not appointed by the courts.


A harried Heidegger student's new language:

A is Anxiety, quite authentic, it seems
B is for Being, and being-There, our Themes
C is for Care, as in take care of yourself
D is for Dasein: that's You, Baby!

E is Equipment, for just about anything
F is for Falling, away from itself
G is the Ground; it lets things be seen
H is for Heidegger; hadn't you guessed?

I is Inauthentic (usually I am)
J is Just-already-alongside of itself
K is for Keine, that's keine kleine Nachtlesung
L is for Language, which  s p e a k s  u s

M is the Mode--of Being (what's yours?)
N are the Nobody--or are they the "they"?
O is Ontology, at which we're quite diligent
P's the Phenomenon, Being Uncovered

Q is the Question, of Being, that is
R's Ready-to-hand, just waiting for use
S is for Sein, Seins of the Times
T's Temporality, at the root of it all

U is Uncovered--Oh yes You is!
V is Verstehen--do you Understand?
W is the Worldhood--of the World where we Be
X Xistential--or Xistentiel?

Y is for You--are you With the Project?
Z is for Zeit: already; not yet ...


A slightly jaundiced view of life in academia:

From, The Critique of Health Scares and State Paternalism by Chris R. Tame and David Botsford,

The Popperian philosopher the late William W. Bartley III has argued that the academic world, as the "marketplace of ideas", is far less of a real market than the marketplace for the production of goods and services [122]. In the latter, market forces and common law standards maintain real quality and a high degree of honesty. The academic world, he argues, resembles far more a feudal order. Corruption, nepotism, obscurantism, intellectual "cartels", suppression of dissent and competition, fraud, plagiarism, theft, false advertising, lies, slander, "conspiracies of silence", deceit, etc, are all far more common in academia than they are in business. Woe betide the scholar who bucks predominant medical orthodoxy. Research funds, academic appointment or advancement are controlled by "medical barons" who will allow no threat to their favoured doctrine. I regret that the rather strict British laws of libel prevent us from elaborating further on this point.

They cite [122] W. W. Bartley III, Unfathomed Knowledge, Unmeasured Wealth: On Universities and the Wealth of Nations, Open Court, LaSalle, Illinois, 1990. [Note added 2004/10/17:] Actually, I've not seen most of this, at least not in egregious cases. What I have seen in the humanities in academia is an overpowering herd instinct. Contrary to the quest for newness, which often degenerates into nihilism, academics want the approval of other academics, and to do that you have to follow the rules. To do that, the rules have to be explicit -- but not too spelled out, or else everybody would laugh. Even appetite for controversy doesn't automatically generate progress.


In 1971, Paul Ricoeur published an article entitled ``The Model of Text: Meaningful Action Considered as a Text,'' Social Research 38, 529-62 (1971). It is reprinted in Rabinow and Sullivan, eds., Interpretive Social Science, A Reader (University of California Press, 1979); in J.B. Thompson, ed. and trans., Paul Ricoeur: Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1981, and in Fred R. Dallmayr and Thomas A. McCarthy, eds., Understanding and Social Inquiry, University of Notre Dame Press, 1977;

The article does many things, and suffice it here to say that an act can grow over time in what it means, and indeed in what it is.

One example of an action that has become fixed on the way to growth of its significance would be the Mourner's Kaddish in the Siddur, whose origins are attributed to the table-grace of a rabbi in the Babylonian diaspora long before the Common Era. That grace that was remembered after his death by his students, and has since become the lament at Jewish funerals. One need only hear the Kaddish once to sense the place it has come to hold in Jewish hearts: the sobbing father of a young woman who has died of ovarian cancer at the start of a promising career. It is not overtly about death, nor is it mourning. It is more like a combination of Psalm 122 and the Lord's Prayer; indeed, the story is told of a infirm Trappist monk, who sensing that his death was near, repeated Psalm 122 over and over until indeed his feet stood within the gates of Jerusalem and he could sing no more -- here. The Psalm and the Lord's Prayer are widely available; here is the Kaddish. Google will find many more versions of it for you, some in audio.

Another example, more familiar to Christian readers, is the development of the Eucharist, from berakoth before and after a meal by a teacher with his friends into the action ... well, the action that it has become. A meditation on the growth of that act, very much in the sense that Ricoeur explains theoretically, can be found in Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, approximately pp. 743-746, At the heart of it all . . . In a sense, it is a meditation on the Litany of the Saints, fragments of which are embedded in the old Roman Canon.

If you live your life for something, you will pay with your life -- but you always do that; it is just a question of what your life will be lived, and spent, for. The Great Thanksgiving is a making sacred of the people who offer it, and who thereby offer themselves: ``And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee,'' in the words of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. This sentence is not the heart of any canon of the Mass, and is missing from most, but it does say something about them all. The Kaddish and the canons are not directly about death but about life: ``We have forgotten that the study of liturgy is above all a study of life'' (Dix, p. 741). And it might also be pointed out that the present sacrifice is made a sacrifice not simply by present actions but by past events, and thereby constituted as a sacrifice in one act that transcends time and space. The Great Thanksgiving is a celebration of the past act (embedded in a complex history) that makes present lives be what they are.