Friday, March 25, 2011

Jaki on the Annunciation and the Defence of Life

Today, upon Mary's assent, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity was incarnate as a single-cell male human being - Jesus Christ, True God and True Man - and the angels adored Him dwelling among us in that virginal tabernacle.

The Incarnation is, of course, the will of the Most High conveyed by the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin and her consent to that will. The very moment she pronounced the words, "Let it be done to me according to thy word," the Incarnation was a fact. At that point she could only believe it, she had no other evidence and was not to have any physical evidence for the next twenty-eight days. Even then it was still a matter of faith on her part as to what was really taking place in her physically. Embryology, genetics, and even gynecology were still almost two thousand years away.

But in her case too, and above all in her case, faith had to have its unexpected rewards. She rushed to Elizabeth, her aged aunt, unbelievably in her sixth month. Rush she did, the Greek text of Luke says so, and did so immediately, again according to the Greek text, the only record to go by. It was not out of curiosity that she did so. She did not rush because on verifying that some unbelievable thing happened to Elizabeth, she herself could believe the even more unbelievable about herself. A woman with Mary's faith was at safe remove of such scheming. She rushed because she wanted to help. And help she did by staying with Elizabeth for three months, the remainder of her pregnancy.

Mary certainly must have been surprised that before she could say a word about herself to Elizabeth, Elizabeth got the word. She got it from inside, from her own womb, as the baby leapt there out of joy and reverence for the arrival of his Lord. A six-month-old fetus bowed in worship to the Lord of all, not yet two-weeks-old, in Mary's womb. What greater witness should one expect from on High in defense of life? Strange as it may seem, this supreme witness on behalf of life has remained curiously unexploited. No encouragement has been given by leading exegetes. Of course, exegetes like anyone else are limited in their perception. They draw out of a text, this is what exegesis is, not necessarily everything that is there. It often takes a shock to have one's eyes opened and such a shock has been available ever since abortion entered a runaway course.

Thus I find little excuse for recent leading exegetes of Luke's Gospel who invariably fail to point out the bearing which Mary's visit to Elizabeth has on the Christian view of unborn babies.

[SLJ "Life's Defence: Natural and Supernatural" in The Gist of Catholicism and Other Essays 155-6]

Perhaps one day, once that concrete teaching of the fetus-Jesus has shaped popular consciousness, there may develop a greater consciousness of the Feast of the Visitation. By advancing that Feast from July 2 to May 31, the Church wanted to achieve two objectives. One, a more obvious, was the upgrading of the Feast by turning it into the crowning of the month devoted to Mary. The other objective, less obvious, was the bringing closer in the Liturgical Year the Visitation to the Annunciation. If it were not for the usual closeness of March 25 to the Holy Week, it might not be impracticable to make the Visitation the octave of Annunciation. This would provide another stunning seal of the Church's respect for any and all foetus as a truly human being. But even as it stands, the Feast of the Visitation powerfully translates the principle of legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi and should thereby serve as a strong guidance in an agonizing confrontation. Of course, what happened at the Annunciation is a far greater fact than the visit made in virtue of the fact. But the actual human recognition of that fact came only with the visitation of Christ to John the Baptist, the visit of the Creator become-a-mere-fetus to the greatest of mere human fetuses ever alive in a woman's womb.
[SLJ "Christ, Catholics, and Abortion" in Catholic Essays 73]

Indeed! Perhaps one day the bishops will grasp that they have a tool to deal with this matter in a most effective manner. It is simply to make today's feast day a holy day of Obligation in the same fashion as Christmas. They should also insist that all homilies for this feast provide a thorough exposition of the Incarnation of the Word as Man, including the scientific perspective that true humanity resides in the living single cell as well as all subsequent stages of development.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Jaki and Newman on the Feast of St. Joseph

It shows Newman's profound Catholic sense and of the very Catholic character of his ideas on doctrinal development, that he was never tempted to show any uneasiness about that phenomenon. On the contrary, he offered in that Letter of his to Pusey a profoundly supernatural perspective in which one was to see the late rise of devotion toward Saint Joseph. To explain this to Pusey, who set great store by the known practices of the Ancient Church though not so much on the deeper considerations underlying them, Newman began with the principle that the intercessory power of a given individual with the ruler of an empire was proportional to his closeness, through friendship or association, to that ruler. Yet, neither the apostles nor the martyrs were the closest persons to Christ, the Incarnate God, the true Ruler of all. These persons were Mary and Joseph, but at first, so Newman argued, those two were "immersed and lost in the effulgence of His [Christ's] glory, and because they did not manifest themselves, when in the body, in external works separate from him, it happened that for a long while they [Mary and Joseph] were less dwelt upon." ... Such was Newman's justification not only of the relative novelty of signal devotions to Mary, but also to Saint Joseph. "Those names, I say, which at first sight might have been expected to enter soon in the devotions of the faithful, with better reasons might have been looked for at a later date, and actually were late in their coming." For Newman the signal example of this was what he called the recent vigor of devotion to Saint Joseph: "Saint Joseph furnishes the most striking instance of this remark; here is the clearest of instances of the distinction between doctrine and devotion." The latter often runs ahead, often far ahead, if one is to amplify on Newman's train of thought, of doctrinal specifications.
[SLJ The Litany of St. Joseph, introduction]

St. Joseph, patron of scientists, pray for us.
St. Joseph, patron of engineers, pray for us.
St. Joseph, patron of workers, pray for us.

St. Joseph, who taught the Incarnate Son to walk, pray for us.
St. Joseph, who taught the Incarnate Son to talk, pray for us.
St. Joseph, who taught the Incarnate Son to work, pray for us.

St. Joseph, who taught Jesus to be honest, pray for us.
St. Joseph, who taught Jesus to be generous, pray for us.
St. Joseph, who taught Jesus to be patient, pray for us.

St. Joseph, who defended Mary his most chaste spouse, pray for us.
St. Joseph, who defended his foster son the Incarnate Word of God, pray for us.
St. Joseph, who defended the Holy Family, defend our families.

Imaculate Mary, pray for us; St. Joseph, pray for us; and do so together.

[Note: That last is not mine; Fr. Jaki mentions this in his book on Mary's litany, which I cannot get at just now to give the precise citation for.]

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Thinking about why our Society exists

Yes, I've been busy... I wish I could give you a full report, but it's boring, and not useful for us.

On the other hand, I continue to struggle with the idea of an introduction, or at least a suggestion of which SLJ book to start with. Sooner or later I will have to try to get something together, even if it is just a series of blogg-postings - but that will depend on time and other complexities. As time may permit, I will try to sift and collect and organize; should you have suggestions regarding this, do let me know.

For today, please consider this brief excerpt:
Socrates argued that the motion of matter was expressive of purpose, namely, that all bits of matter tried to achieve what was best for them. Therefore, so Socrates thought, if one looked in such a way on matter, one could not object to assuming that man also sought what was best for him in that fullest sense which is an eternal reward (or punishment) for man's actions.

This train of thought of Socrates was first developed into a systematic explanation of the physical world in Plato's Timaeus, where the world is described in terms of an organism in which every part acts for a purpose. An even more systematic treatment of the same organismic (animistic) notion of the universe was given in Aristotle's Meteorologica, which deals with the sublunary world, and in his De coelo or his account of the nature and motion of the heavenly bodies. In both works the notion of an organism, of a living body, is the framework of explanation. In De coelo Aristotle explicitly states about the cosmos that it is a living being or animal that has the perfect shape, the shape of a sphere. Quite crudely organismic or animistic are, however, the analogies which Aristotle uses in the Meteorologica. Thus he presents earthquakes as the results of a digestive process that goes on in the bowels of the earth.

This organismic perception of the physical world invited man to view nature, as he does his own nature, introspectively and volitionally. This could but discourage the genuinely scientific, that is, quantitative approach to matter and motion among the Greeks. It did the same, as was noted above, in all ancient cultures in all of which science suffered a stillbirth. In other words, in spite of some promising insights and technological achievements, science failed to emerge as a self-sustaining enterprise. Only one culture, the premodern Christian West avoided that failure through a process that began with Buridan and Oresme, continued with Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo, and culminated in Newton.

[SLJ "Giordano Bruno's Place in Science" in Numbers Decide and Other Essays 214-5]
Here, we need to grasp not so much the animistic error of the ancient Greeks, but the error of proposing an "impassable divide" between Science and Philosophy. This sort of error is all too common in current institutes of higher learning, nearly all of which have forgotten (or vetoed) Newman's warning about the matter:
...if you drop any science out of the circle of knowledge, you cannot keep its place vacant for it; that science is forgotten; the other sciences close up, or, in other words, they exceed their proper bounds, and intrude where they have no right.
[JHN "Discourse IV. Bearing of Other Knowledge on Theology" in The Idea of a University]
Newman uses the word "science" to stand for any ordered field or discipline of study. Note, of course, that by symmetry what applies to Theology applies to Science and each of its divisions as well - but we'll examine that interesting topic some other day. (And yes there is lots more to say.)

For Science and Philosophy what matters is the Real World. (Otherwise, we have only fantasy, and one might enjoy that, but cannot do reasoning about it: that way leads solipsism and then Nothing.) We live in the Real World, the world of water, rocks and iron, of sun and moon, of trees and wheat and grapes, of lambs and scorpions, fish and turtledoves; the world in which "Jesus Christ suffered under Pontius Pilate" - and this Truth is the culmination of both Science and Philosophy, for as St. Paul tells us, in Him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. [see Col 2:3] Some people use the world "anthropocentric" about the universe; in reality it ought to be Christocentric, which is not a new idea: we attest it every Sunday the Nicean creed when we say Per quem omnia facta sunt = "Through Him all things were made."

Only when Christianity gave us that key - the right relation of Man to the Universe, revealed in Christ - could we cease making those absurd mistakes of the ancients: uranocentrically treating the "heavens" (the "superlunary regions" as they used to be called) as divine and hence beyond our study, or the egocentric mistakes of the moderns, applying philosophy or science to matters out of their rightful arenas. And this key principle was not revealed by Newton or by Galileo, who derived his work from Stevin and Cardanus, who built on Jordanus Nemorarius (fl. 1320) and who is linked to Buridan and Oresme, by whom that key WAS revealed. (All this is explained at length in several places in SLJ's writing, e.g. Science and Creation.)

And this revelation was itself revealed to us by Duhem's work of a century ago, as Jaki's work now reveals it by revealing Duhem's.

Remember: "...for a Catholic [such as Duhem] the Middle Ages could not be the Dark Ages. He [Duhem] knew that there was more genuine light in a single page of Thomas Aquinas than in entire volumes written by the champions of the Enlightenment." [SLJ "Christ and the History of Science" in A Late Awakening and Other Essays]

Let us then do as Chesterton stated, and "revert to the doctrinal methods of the thirteenth century, inspired by the general hope of getting something done." [GKC Heretics CW1:46]

For "all depends on what is the philosophy of Light." [ibid]


Postscript. As I re-read this before posting, I realized that some of it may be considered "fighting words". That may be the case - but I have no "opponent" to whom I am addressing them, neither real nor imaginary. If I failed to state things in a positive sense, that is because I am limited, and perhaps all too rushed in trying to get SOMETHING written during a brief pause in other business. But let me say this: if they are fighting words, perhaps we can speak about them at a Duhem Society Conference - which, please God, we shall have one day. These bloggs and comment-boxes can only do so much, alas. But maybe after all I have written poorly - and so I suggest you read more Jaki, rather than my own fumblings.