St. Benedict retrospective

Yesterday was St. Benedict‘s day; it’s the second of two, as his proper day is March 21st, but June 11th has also long been celebrated. St benedictThree monks made simple vows and that’s always a fine moment for the college as well as the monastery.

In the spirit of the day, here’s a reflection on Benedict the saint from Benedict the pope emeritus.

Weekly Reading – Spinoza

And now to the last of the Guardian weekly readings posts, with a look at Spinoza. There’s an odd resemblance to Calvin, at least in my personal pantheon, that would have horrified both of them. Each is a beautifully structured thinker, in a very admirable way, but one that I just can’t follow along with.

The particular thing about Spinoza is the recent vogue in attributing the entire foundation of the modern world to him, exemplified in a whole series of things by Jonathan Israel.

When I was reading him in grad school, there were various editions but they all seem to have been superseded by the Hackett Complete Works. The biography to read is Nadler’s.

Insight into Vatican politics

Francis Cleans House at Vatican’s Financial Watchdog: “By reforming the Church, Francis is doing more than serving his flock. He is making a contribution to the well-being of people of all faiths and no faith all over the world.”

One of the political blogs I follow has the habit of occasionally venturing into theology; surprised to see this today about a bit of Vatican inside baseball.

Weekly Reading – Plato

When I started studying political philosophy in graduate school, the emphasis was on the classics and above all, Plato. Augustine, the Church Fathers, and Bonaventure only kept reinforcing this as I got farther and farther into theology. Here Mark Vernon gives a fair rundown on how Plato somehow stands across Western thinking.

Plato: a very short introduction will give you more, as will Stanford (Web), but the more important thing to grasp about any ancient philosopher is that they’re pursuing a way of life. Then you could consider the Republic or even the Complete Works in tandem with Plato’s Philosophers: The Coherence of the Dialogues, which is one of the few texts I’ve found that covers all the dialogues.

Weekly Reading – Calvin

I’ve been looking forward to this, since despite being a Catholic theologian who’s firmly convinced that double predestination is a horrible blasphemy, I’ve always admired Calvin as a theologian. The sheer architectural brilliance and comprehensive nature of his thought inspires a kind of intellectual awe. If I had landed at a Reformed college rather than a Catholic one (Deo gratias), I could easily have wound up a Calvinist.

In belated commemoration of his deathiversary (May 27, 1564), here’s the Weekly Reader on John Calvin. We’re still working through these sets of Guardian posts on various thinkers (Plato and Spinoza to go).

In their choice of writer, the newspaper really rolled sixes with Paul Helm (Helm’s Deep), who’s one of the best bloggers on the wider Reformed tradition as well as the writer of an amazing Calvin book.

Fuller take to be found at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. If you’re up for more reading, try this fine biography by F. Bruce Gordon and then perhaps move on to The Unaccommodated Calvin by Muller. (NB: Calvin is not necessarily the same as Calvinism.)

For the truly brave, of course, there’s no substitute for Calvin himself. Institutes of the Christian Religion is his Summa, although as it’s two thick volumes, the bravery will definitely be required.

Masons & Catholics, no Monty Python

“Indeed, much of European and American politics over the past two centuries has involved a running and often bitter confrontation between Masons and Catholics. Why is that?”

Follow the link to see why, as Philip Jenkins continues his discussion. It also shows how much, perhaps, of the past had to be forgotten to reach our more ecumenical age. I’m sure the reporter who asked me about this was expecting to hear that there was no problem any more.

And indeed, in the United States, there probably would not be. But how much of that would simply be due to not taking these things as seriously as our forebears did, rather than actual growth in understanding?

Weekly Reading – Aquinas

When I was in elementary school, I vaguely remember something called the Weekly Reader that functioned like a newspaper for children. A lot of water and a great many books have gone under the bridge since then, but I thought a Weekly Reading post might be fun to keep up.

The Guardian has a whole series going on major thinkers, and we’ll be reviewing what they have to say on Calvin, Plato, and Spinoza before we’re through. After that, it’ll be far enough into the summer to have some of my own reading built up.

But first, Thomas Aquinas! image The following columns by Tina Beattie do a good job on the basics of his outlook. I wouldn’t normally think to find this in the Guardian, but they’re being honest brokers.

If you’re up for some more reading, there’s always the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy or any of these (for a start):

Odd Combo: Freemasonry, Monty Python, Catholicism

“You absolutely cannot understand the British Empire without masonry”

Monty Python was right!

But still interesting; I’m going to look forward to the next few posts along these lines. Always admired Philip Jenkins‘s scholarship.

Ironically, a few years ago, a reporter asked me about the prohibition against Catholics becoming Masons. I’d thought it had dropped out, but it turned out that it’s still in force.

And Jesus said to Simon…

And Jesus said to Simon, Son of Jonah B.A. (Philosophy, Oxford), ‘Who do you say that I am?’ And he replied, ‘Given a) the probability that God exists, that is, given fine-tuning, the kalam cosmological argument and the low probability of atheism being true given the modal form of the ontological argument, and given b) the compatibility of incarnation with the prescriptions of Perfect Being theology and given c) the apparently inexplicable things you’re reported to have done (though, given that this is early in your ministry, ideally I’d need to see a few more), and given d) defeaters to the counter-argument from the Biblically defined role of the Messiah, I’d guesstimate that, on a Bayesian account, there is a conditional probability of at least 0.7 that you are in fact the Messiah. At the same time, of course, I should acknowledge that there is a corresponding probability of 0.3 that you aren’t.’ And Jesus responded, “Blessed be you, son of Jonah BA (Oxon). On this rock I shall build my church!”

Alan J. Torrance, “Analytic Theology and the Reconciled Mind

More complicated but also funnier than saying, Non in dialectica complacuit Deo salvum facere populum suum.

Cloud, corporations, and trust falls

Mixed into an Andy Ihnatko article on FB’s likely purchase of a traffic navigation app is this gem of an analogy that perfectly catches my anxieties about FB. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t run a social network and Google+ is unlikely to draw enough family & friends to be worthwhile. And so we remain serfs on the Zuckerberg plantation…

Chicago Grid | What if Facebook buys Waze?

   I hand over lots of my personal information to Apple, Google, and Facebook. I use a “trust fall” analogy when I talk about how much I trust each of these companies. You know the exercise: turn your back to this person, close your eyes, count to three aloud, and then fall backwards.
I’m certain that Apple would catch me. My sole worries are of the “accidents can happen” variety.
   I’m pretty sure that I’d be safe with Google. There’s a good chance I’ll fall. If that happened, though, it’d probably be because Google often doesn’t really think things through. Google thought I was going to say “1… 2… 3…” and then start falling instead of falling on “3.”
   I’m pretty sure that Facebook would watch me fall. I can see myself smacking into the ground, and then Facebook would update my status to “Concussed” without my asking it to. As I struggled to my feet, Facebook would update its own private profile about me and my habits, noting that I trust companies so blindly that I didn’t even try to stop myself from falling. That’s a very valuable demographic for ads about home-refinancing.