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.
The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.
– Sun Tzu
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.
- Part 1: Why Plato?
- Part 2: Who was Plato’s Socrates?
- Part 3: Philosophy as a way of life
- Part 4: What do you love?
- Part 5: Love and the perception of forms
- Part 6: The philosophical school
- Part 7: Plato and Christianity
- Part 8: A man for all seasons
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.
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.
- Part 1: A world figure
- Part 2: A practical theology
- Part 3: Knowledge of God and of ourselves
- Part 4: Word and Spirit
- Part 5: Predestination
- Part 6: The world
- Part 7: Heresy and death
- Part 8: The legacy
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.
“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?
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! 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.
- Part 1: Rediscovering a father of modernity
- Part 2: The mind as soul
- Part 3: Scripture, reason, and the being of God
- Part 4: How did the world begin
- Part 5: What does it mean to be human?
- Part 6: Natural law
- Part 7: The question of evil
- Part 8: Thomas for today
- Chesterton, The Dumb Ox
- Penguin Classics, Selected Writings
- Bauerschmidt, Holy Teaching: Introducing the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas
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.
Some day, Faculty Assembly, some day…
"Writing by hand activates the brain in ways that typing doesn’t to improve learning."
Always thought this was true; nice to have some evidence to back it up. Even better: it’s an argument for banning the laptops in class! But then that assumes that student longhand is good enough to keep up…
UPDATE: If you like the idea, here’s a set of Moleskine notebooks at Amazon.
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.
How to Find Your Vocation in College | Intercollegiate Review: College is both a place where you learn things and a phase of your life. For many of those with the opportunity to go to college—and never despise those who don’t—it is a transition between childhood, living with your parents, and independent adulthood. So it is a time for seeking, preparing for, and finding vocations. (Not just in the sense of jobs. College can also lead to other vocations, such as marriage or a heightened awareness of your citizenship.)One for the BAC incoming students today, as well as the returning ones.
No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.
Magna Carta, 15 June 1215.
My sunbeams are mine. Yours are negotiable.
Five Oldest Pubs in the United Kingdom - Anglotopia.net: "The Old Ferry Boat is a great example of one of the pubs that started as an inn and still operates as such today. Though no documents apparently exist of when the Inn actually began, one record stated that liquor was served there as early as 560 A.D. and the foundations are reportedly another century older."
Mind-boggling witness to some of the continuities possible in the Old World.
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.
How Geography Explains the United States - By Aaron David Miller | Foreign Policy: "Canadians, Mexicans, and fish. That trio of neighbors has given the United States an unprecedented degree of security, a huge margin for error in international affairs, and the luxury of largely unfettered development."
Reminds me of classes as an undergraduate at Georgetown.
Sandro Magister: "This benevolence of the media toward Pope Francis is one of the features that characterize the beginning of this pontificate.
The gentleness with which he is able to speak even the most uncomfortable truths facilitates this benevolence. But it is easy to predict that sooner or later it will cool down and give way to a reappearance of criticism."
A very nice examination of PF's rhetorical habits, illustrated in his morning homilies.
"We priests tend to clericalize the laity. We do not realize it, but it is as if we infect them with our own disease. And the laity — not all, but many — ask us on their knees to clericalize them, because it is more comfortable to be an altar server than the protagonist of a lay path. We cannot fall into that trap — it is a sinful complicity."
Follow the link; it’s worth reading as an example of what PF means when he talks about the necessity of going out and the downside of a “self-referential church.”
When the National Catholic Reporter’s senior correspondent John L. Allen, Jr. was called upon to put a question to Pope Benedict XVI in 2008, the Vatican press officer said: “Holy Father, this man needs no introduction.”
So very true, and the interview gives a model of what sober reporting should look like.
Bipartisan protip: if you want to be a prophet, or if you revel in it, you’re not. And if a President is in your audience, and you’re agreeing with him or telling him things that he doesn’t mind hearing, you’re definitely not.
Rev. Leon and Prophecy - Michael Sean Winters
“I am tired, very tired, of people, clerical or lay, who pat themselves on the back by articulating their positions on this issue or that and claim that they are taking a prophetic stance. All too often, it seems to me that this claiming the prophet’s mantle is designed to keep the person claiming it from the normal method we humans employ to face problems of a terrestrial nature: an argument. Claiming to be a prophet has become a way to avoid argument, not engage it, a way to claim the moral high ground for oneself and, just so, an evidence not of a genuine prophecy which comes from God, but a false prophecy that comes from the desires of the speaker.”
I shall look forward to the future progress of this with considerable interest; many people from across the spectrum have taken notice of the Economist piece.
AGW panic ending with a whimper - Eric S. Raymond
The Economist, which (despite a recent decline) remains probably the best news magazine in the English language, now admits that (a) global average temperature has been flat for 15 years even as CO2 levels have been rising rapidly, (b) surface temperatures are at the lowest edge of the range predicted by IPCC climate models, (c) on current trends, they will soon fall clean outside and below the model predictions, (c) estimates of climate sensitivity need revising downwards, and (d) something, probably multiple things, is badly wrong with AGW climate models.
Jonathan Haidt’s theory of moral foundations is one of the most interesting approaches to the ongoing social strife that I can remember. Here’s a basic explanation; read the whole article for an application as the battle space of the culture war shifts from the social to the economic. There’s even a fascinating WWII analogy!
To make sense of these cultural variations, I created a theory in 2003 called “moral-foundations theory.” My goal was to specify the “taste buds” of the moral sense. Every human being has the same five taste receptors – tiny structures on the tongue specialized for detecting five classes of molecules, which we experience as sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savory. Yet our food preferences aren’t dictated just by our tongues. Rather, they depend heavily on our cultures, each of which has constructed its own cuisine.
In the same way, I aimed to identify the innate psychological systems that were given to us all by evolution, and that each culture uses to construct its unique moral systems. For example, you’ll never find a human culture that makes no use of reciprocity and has no conception of fairness and cheating. Fairness is a really good candidate for being a moral taste bud, yet cultures vary greatly in how they implement fairness. Consider this quote from the Code of Hammurabi, the ancient Babylonian legal text: “If a builder builds a house and does not construct it properly, and the building collapses and kills the owner, the builder shall be put to death. If it kills the owner’s son, the builder’s son shall be put to death.” You can see the psychology of fairness here, but this is not quite the way we’d implement it.
Drawing on the work of many anthropologists (particularly Richard Shweder at the University of Chicago) and many evolutionary biologists and psychologists, my colleagues and I came to the conclusion that there are six best candidates for being the taste buds of the moral mind: Care/Harm, Fairness/Cheating, Liberty/Oppression, Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation.
Pope Francis came into the Vatican with a mandate to change the way its bureaucracy functions (or disfunctions), in the wake of scandals, leaks and power struggles that have embarrassed the church. It seems to me that he’s taking that task seriously, by laying the spiritual groundwork for change.
He’s approaching the various Vatican environments not so much as the new boss, but as the new pastor.
I think that’s one big reason why he’s decided to continue to live in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican guest house, instead of moving into the formal papal apartment. In the Domus, he’s a few steps away from St. Peter’s, as well as the Vatican City governor’s office, and his morning liturgies are accessible to Vatican employees.
In the Apostolic Palace, the pope would have been surrounded by Secretariat of State offices and the usual filters. In effect, the Domus provides a much better pastoral base for evangelizing the Vatican.
Blogging is light, now that we're rehearsing for As You Like It. On top of that, @viola_illyria had her computer blow up on her so there's serious geekery afoot redoing the household infrastructure. Hoping to get a few things lined up, though, and there's a serious academic workflow post hovering in the ether.