Sunday, October 28, 2007

Double Cognition

A short quote today, that I've been meaning to post for a while. I forget where it is from...somewhere in Ordinatio III ca. d.15 (Vat. ed. IX). It is a handy little summary of the two modes in which an object can be cognized, perhaps even at the same time. With the presence of some sensible object, a double cognition is caused, one intuitive, a direct (ie, unmediated by species) awareness of something, under the aspect of its existence. so no quiddity is associated with it either; not a whole lot of content other than existence. The other mode, the (almost) standard scholastic idea of abstractive cognition, which here he describes as the process of abstraction itself: agent intellect abstracting the intelligible species from the phantasm, which represents [oooh, scary, "representation" that Kant I hear knocking at the door?) the object. This passage raises some questions, as normally (say, in Ord. II) abstractive cognition and the quasi Aristotelico-scholastic abstraction are seen as not quite the same thing. Abstractive cognition is usually spelled out as the knowledge we have of something when it is not present to us (though, obviously, we had to get the species from somewhere, and intuitive cognition doesn't give it), abstraction the process of cognition whereby the object in se or "relucent" in the species and the agent intellect are essentially ordered co-causes of intellection. But here it seems they really are the same thing.

"Ita etiam, praesente aliquo sensibili sensui, potest virtute illius causari in intellectu duplex cognitio: una abstractiva, qua intellectus agens abstrahit speciem quiditatis, ut quiditas est, a specie in phantasmate, quae repraesentat obiectum absolute (non ut exsistit nunc et tunc); alia potest esse cognitio in intellectu intuitiva, qua obiectum cooperatur intellectui ut exsistens, - et ab hac potest derelinqui habitualis cognitio intuitiva importata in memoria intellectiva, quae non sit quiditatis absolute (sicut fuit alia prima abstractiva), sed cogniti ut exsistens, scilicet quo modo in praeterito apprehendebatur."

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Duns Scotus on "Ockham's" Razor

If, like some, you think that by inventing his Razor Ockham began to usher in the rationalism of modernity, perhaps this will blow your mind:

Tertio, pro sufficientia huius divisionis hanc generalem propono apud Aristotelem satis notam: Decima Quinta conclusio. Numquam pluralitas est ponenda sine necessitate. Cum igitur nulla necessitas appareat ponendi plures ordines essentiales primos quam duos praedictos, illi soli sunt.

"Third, for the sufficiency of this division [of essential orders] I propose this general [principle], well known to Aristotle: the Fifteenth conclusion: Plurality is never to be posited without necessity. Since therefore there is no apparent necessity of positing more essential orders than the two already spoken of, they are the only ones."

--Bl Scotus, De Primo Principio, chapter 2.

Ockham is widely credited with the invention of his Razor, otherwise known as the principle of parsimony. People who know better are accustomed to note that Ockham did not in fact discover the principle; it's just that he thought far less was necessary to explain reality than others did, prefering instead a slick, clean, pared-down design for his ontology, transfering all the complicated gadgetry to the mind. Sometimes they credit the Bl Duns with inventing it--occasionally with the hint that he didn't find enough uses for his tool, given the general impression that his is one of the more intricate metaphysics. This praise is also undeserved, however, since I seem to recall that it can also be found somewhere in St Thomas (please don't write in asking for referencs). Besides that, however, Duns does not think he's enunciating something new, but says that it was "known to Aristotle well enough."

I don't know that Aristotle states the principle in so many words. Bl John Duns may in fact be the first to give it an explicit expression. But it would be a mistake to attribute extremely universal principles to any one in particular, and if we do, it might as well be to Aristotle, the archetypal philosophus. Philosophy should aspire to discovery, not to invention, and tend to modesty rather than overreaching in its claims. All philosophers ought to be careful that what they posit has sufficient grounds, and distinguish between positing and hypothesizing, between reasoning and speculation. We should call this tool (not exactly a metaphysical principle so much as a methodological one) our "Philosopher's Razor."

Friday, October 26, 2007

Fr. Schall on the Regensburg Address

Well, I'm back. From St. Bonaventure and the Scotus conference, that is. Before I left I came across this interview with Fr. Schall, whose essays I have read at various times; this particular one was a bit disturbing. He follows in the line of Pope Benedict's remarks concerning Scotus, but fills them out and draws some rather horrible conclusions. Much of it is the same old nonsense, as is to be expected in this day and age, but I find myself rather disturbed that otherwise intelligent people will just make crap up. He reads almost like the Cambridge Phantasists. Sure, it's just an interview. But it is also all over the internet. Some days, inflicted with despair I wonder what the point is. No one reads scholarly articles, no one actually cares; people impose their own fancies as if they were truth without checking the facts. No one reads this blog either, but mayhap if people do searches for Schall this entry will turn up on google or some blog search so here goes:

Q: The Holy Father included in his lecture a discussion of the roots of voluntarism, a theological idea that attempts to put no limits on God, defying even reason. What role does this factor play in Islam as well as in non-Muslim thought?
Father Schall: This question, of course, was already in Greek and medieval philosophy. It exists as a perennial issue for the human mind to resolve. Voluntarism did not originate with Islam, except perhaps in the sense that nowhere else has it been carried out with such logical consistency and backed by such force. "Voluntarism" here means not the spontaneous effort to do something to help others of which the Pope spoke in "Deus Caritas Est," but the philosophic and theological idea that the will is superior to the intellect and is not subject to reason. The Pope is quite careful to note that the same problem exists in the West via Duns Scotus, the great medieval philosopher and theologian. It goes from him to William of Ockham, to Niccolò Machiavelli and to Thomas Hobbes, and onward into modern political philosophy.

The usual foolishness. We are worried about something in the present, Islam, and looking for the roots of some of its ideas. As is usual with the cambridge phantasists, some of the ultimate motivations are not historical but political. What exactly are the links between Ockham and Machiavelli and Hobbes? "Voluntarism" is a convenient scapegoat. Of course, what does it mean? Bonnie Kent has traced the rise of voluntarism in the thirteenth century in her book Virtues of the Will, where she details all sorts of positions. The notion that the will is superior to the intellect does not entail that the intellect plays no role in eliciting volitional acts, nor that it is not subject to reason. Even Henry of Ghent (a more extreme voluntarist than Scotus) says that the intellect functions as a sine qua non cause of volition. Duns Scotus holds (Lectura II d. 25) that the intellect and will are essentially ordered co-causes of acts of willing.

I have just been reading with a class Heinrich Rommen's most insightful book "TheNatural Law," which spells out in much detail why legal voluntarism stands at the basis of modern positivism and historicism, subjects that Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin were concerned with. From this point of view, the Regensburg lecture was directed at the heart of Europe and America, to those "justifications" that are in fact used by its laws and customs to justify the killing of the innocent. The Socratic principle that "it is never right to do wrong" still remains the bedrock of a philosophy not based on pure will.

Legal voluntarism? What does that have to do with metaphysical voluntarism and how is it not an equivocation? Again, what relation do Strauss and Voegelin have with Scotus? Did they read anything medieval?

Pure will can justify anything because it has evaporated any nature or order from man and the universe. Voluntarism allows no grounding for absolute principles of human dignity. If it is asked, if I might surmise a guess, why the Pope chose to begin his lecture with the conversation of the Greek Byzantine Emperor in the 1300's with a Persian gentleman, it was because it enabled him graphically to state the most pressing issue of our time, not merely "is it reasonable to extend religion by violence," but is it reasonable to use this violence on any innocent human being.

We've moved from "voluntarism" to "legal voluntarism" to "pure will" Neither Scotus nor Henry would have anything to do with pure will (I haven't read enough Ockham to know one way or the other). As for absolute principles of human dignity, it just doesn't follow that voluntarism cannot give them a ground. If the will wills in accordance with right reason (which Scotus maintains), then it would also will in accordance with nature...which itself is the usual complaint against voluntarism.

This is where the Islamic problem, in fact, is substantially the same as the Western problem. Both systems have to resort to a voluntaristic theory of state and being to explain why they are not immoral for using violence against those who are innocent and protected by the divine and natural law itself. We miss the point if we think voluntarism is not a theoretic system that seeks to praise God in the highest possible way. Voluntarism means that there is no nature or order behind appearances. Everything can be otherwise. Everything that happens occurs because God or Allah positively chose it, but who could have chosen the exact opposite. Some philosophers, not just Muslim, think that God cannot be limited in any way, even by the principle of contradiction. He can make right wrong, or even make hatred of God his will. It sounds strange to hear this position at first. But once we grant its first principle, that will is higher than intellect, and governs it, everything follows. This theory is why so-called Muslim terrorists claim and believe that they are in fact following Allah's will. They might even be acting on a good, if erroneous, conscience. Allah wants the whole world to worship him in the order laid down in the Koran. The world cannot be settled until this conversion to Islam happens, even if it takes centuries to accomplish. This submission to Allah is conceived to be a noble act of piety. There is in voluntarist principles nothing contradictory if Allah orders the extension of his kingdom by violence, since there is no objective order that would prevent the opposite of what is ordered from being ordered the next day. Again, I must say, that behind wars are theological and philosophical problems that must be spelled out and seen for what they are. This spelling out is what the Regensburg lecture is about.

The use of the potentia ordinata/potentia absoluta distinction of itself is not indicative of voluntarism; Thomas makes use of it as well. To be sure, if one is a voluntarist one may use it in a certain way, a way that might disturb people today. The fourteenth century saw a lot of crazy theories. But to label Scotus in with them all is just silly. Voluntarism certainly does not mean there is no order behind appearances, nor that God can perform a contradiction. Nor does any of this necessarily follow from the metaphysical claim that the will is "higher" than the intellect because that can be spelled out in so many different ways. According to Scotus, the precepts of the first table of the natual law are necessary because they concern the divine nature, which is necessary. Therefore he would not agree that God could make it "right" to hate him (God).


The very definition of God -- "I Am" -- was clearly something that was comprehensible in a philosophy itself based on reason. The Pope is quite careful to note that Paul's turning to Macedonia and not to some other culture had to do with a providential decision about what it means to comprehend revelation, particularly the Incarnation and the Trinity, the two basic doctrines that are denied in all other religions and philosophies. It is because of the unique contribution of Europe that this relation was hammered out, particularly by St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas and their heritage. To receive revelation of the word, of the inner life of the Godhead, we must have a preparation, a philosophy that allows us to comprehend what it being revealed to us. Not all philosophies do this, which is why it makes a difference what philosophy we understand to be true.

This is almost offensive, but not surprising. It is the usual Thomist claim (note the reference to the Augustinian-Thomist heritage). My point with all this (though it just look like a historian/medievalist whining about the need to take history seriously) is that terms used by philosophers have meanings, often very precise ones. It is a travesty to lump whole schools (all made up of devout Catholics whose teachings have never been censured) of thought together with modern political or terrorist movements we find offensive. I have no problem with appropriating the past in order to enrich the discussion of the present, but first we must understand the past.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Back to Scotus

Lest my gentle readers think I have some grudge against women or all feminism due to my latest posts, let me reassure you of the contray. I have something against pointless applications of postmodernism to the medieval era, coupled with complete ignorance of the culture itself in question conducted by certain feminist "medievalists" I have been forced to read lately for class. And the quote on books, though somewhat misogynistic, does have a grain of truth. Or so I have noticed in the past. Luckily my current love interest (so far) is not like the women mentioned in my previous post, and understands my love of books. In other news, Tomorrow I am off to St. Bonaventure for the Scotus congress, first of the Quodruple. Should be good times, as long as Noone brings his harmonica.

Here's some Scotus to tide y'all over until I get back, from Reportatio I A d. 29 q. unica (Oxford, Merton College Library, MS. 61, f. 139r. cited in Mohle's Formalitas und Intrinsecus Modus p. 20):

"Quia relationi reali et rationis non est unus conceptus eiusdem rationis, quia licet posset abstrahi unus conceptus univocus a Deo et creatura, non tamen a re rationis et a re reali, quia conceptus abstractus a Deo et creatura esset ex utraque parte realis et ita eiusdem rationis, non sic autem ab ente rationis et ente reali quia ex una parte esset realis, et ex alia non, sed tantum rationis. maior enim et prior est divisio entis in ens reale et rationis quam in ens creatum et increatum, quia ens reale, ut unum membrum alterius divisionis, est commune utrique membro secundae divisionis, ut enti creato et increato, quia utrumque est ens reale, et sic magis conveniunt sub ratione unius conceptus."

Translation: "Because there is not one concept of the same meaning [rationis] to a real relation and a relation of reason, because although one univocal concept between God and creatures can be abstracted, nevertheless not one from a being of reason and a real thing, because a concept abstracted from God and creatures would be reale from each side and so of the same meaning [rationis], not so however a concept abstracted from a being of reason and a real thing because from one side it would be real and the other not, but only of reason. For the division of being into real being and being of reason is greater and prior than the division into uncreated and created being, because real being,as one member of the other division, is common to each member of the second division, as to being created and uncreated, each is real being, and so they agree in the meaning [ratione] of one concept."


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Lament of Books

At a Chaucer lecture today the lecturer, AC Spearing for those in the know, used the following quote as an example of the war of women with books and the inherent misogyny of the latter. It is from Richard de Bury's "Philobiblon", and yes, the books are doing the talking.

"Our place is usurped by pet dogs, or by hunting hawks, or by that two-legged animal with whom clerics were long since forbidden to live together, and whom we have always taught our pupils to shun even more than a snake or a cockatrice. For that reason she has always been jealous of any devotion to us: she cannot be placated. Eventually, when she spies us languishing undefended (except by some dead spider's web) in a corner, she begins to scowl, abusing us and scorning us in malignant language. She points out that we are the only items in the household that are unnecessary; she complains that we serve no domestic purpose whatever; and she advises that we should quickly be exchanged for expensive hats, fine silk fabrics and deep-dyed scarlets, frocks and fancy furs, wool and linen. And with good reason, if she could see what lies within our hearts, if she had attended our private deliberations, if she had read the book of Theophrastus or Valerius, or if she had only listened with comprehending ears to the twenty-fifth chapter of Ecclesiasticus."

A Subtle Doctor?

More for the eclectic medievalist:

"Sir Launcelot, now I telle the, I have loved the this seven yere; but there may no woman have thy love but Quene Gwenyver--and sythen I myght nat rejoyse the nother thy body on lyve, I had kepte no more joy in this worlde but to have thy body dede: Than wolde I have bawmed hit and sered hit, and so to have kepte hit my lyve days--and dayly I sholde have clypped the and kyssed the, dispyte of Quene Gwenyvere." "Ye sey well," seyde Sir Launcelot. "Jesu preserve me frome your subtyle crauftys." And therewithall he tokehis horse and so departed frome hir. And as the booke seyth--whan Sir Launcelot was departed, she toke suche sorow that she deyde within a fourtenyte; and hir name was called Hallewes the Sorseres . . .

--Malory, Le Morte Darthur

In this passage Lancelot's embalmed and dessicated body represents the powerful and robust philosophia perennis of Thomism, stronger than any competitor, after having been made prey of by the "subtyle crauftys" of necropolitic pre-modernity. See "After Writing" for details and for equally compelling arguments.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Rarely-Quoted Passage from Fides et Ratio

Here is an interesting passage from John Paul II's famous encyclical, which, while he himself probably was referring in a general way to secular philosophy, is equally applicable to a certain form of Christian thought as well. It is right from the beginning, n.4

"Through philosophy's work, the ability to speculate which is proper to the human intellect produces a rigorous mode of thought; and then in turn, through the logical coherence of the affirmations made and the organic unity of their content, it produces a systematic body of knowledge. In different cultural contexts and at different times, this process has yielded results which have produced genuine systems of thought. Yet often enough in history this has brought with it the temptation to identify one single stream with the whole of philosophy. In such cases, we are clearly dealing with a “philosophical pride” which seeks to present its own partial and imperfect view as the complete reading of all reality. In effect, every philosophical system, while it should always be respected in its wholeness, without any instrumentalization, must still recognize the primacy of philosophical enquiry, from which it stems and which it ought loyally to serve."

Friday, October 12, 2007

Scholasticism in Chaucer

To Colcos comen is this duc Jasoun,
That is of love devourer and dragoun.
As mater apetiteth form alwey
And from forme into forme it passen may,
Or as a welle that were botomles,
Right so can false Jason have no pes.
For to desyren thourgh his apetit
To don with gentil women his delyt,
This is his lust and his felicite.

--Chaucer, The Legend of Good Women, "The Legend of Medea"

Normally any post of mine having to do with poetry would go up on, but in this case, the exerpt can only be understood if you're the sort of person who might like the Smithy. Also it seemed to chime nicely with Faber's latest post.

Jason's vice runs so deep that he desires to use women just as matter desires form. For St Thomas, then, it is Jason's womanising that gives him his very entity, and he has no esse of his own unless he his either pursuing or dumping some poor girl. For Bl John Duns, on the other hand, Jason could exist without philandering, but only by a special act of Divine Omnipotence.

If you think this is a good joke, you are a huge nerd.

Natural vs. Free Will

This will knock Michael, and my Cambridge Phantasist posts down a bit, but this has been floating around for a while, so here it is. This is more form Ord. III, about Christ's will. But it brings up the larger context of the inner workings of the will and intellect, and, I think, answers some of the ambiguities that might remain from Scotus's discussion of the two affections of the will (for justice and the advantageous) back in Ord. II d. 6 (which I posted on earlier). Here he distinguishes the natural will into three senses: 1. a general sense of inclination to a powers' perfection, 2. natural vs. supernatural will, 3. inclination/affection ad commodum. In the first section there is a rather arcane discussion of gravity that I left in, though it probably makes more sense in latin.

Ordinatio III d. 17 q. unica n. 9, 12-15, 18:

Sed estne voluntas creata tantum una in Christo?
Dico quod voluntas potest accipi sub propria ratione, - vel sub generali ratione et nomine, scilicet pro appetitu. Si generaliter accipiatur, sic ad minus in Christo fuerunt tres appetitus, scilicet intellectualis increatus, et rationalis creatus, et irrationalis creatus (scilicet sensitivus); sed proprie voluntas addit supra appetitum, quia ‘est appetitus cum ratione liber’. Et sic, stricte loquendo, tantum fuerunt in Christo duae voluntates.

* * *

Sed quid de voluntate naturali et libera, suntne duae potentiae?
Dico quod ‘appetitus naturalis’, in qualibet re, generali nomine accipitur pro inclinatione naturali rei ad suam propriam perfectionem, - sicut lapis inclinatur naturaliter ad centrum; et si in lapide sit inclinatio illa aliud absolutum a gravitate, tunc consequenter credo quod similiter inclinatio naturalis hominis ‘secundum quod homo’ ad propriam perfectionem, est aliud a voluntate libera. Sed primum credo esse falsum, scilicet quod inclinatio lapidis ad centrum sit aliud absolutum a gravitate et alia potentia, quae potentia habeat aliquam operationem in centrum, ut aliqui imaginantur; mirabilis enim tum foret illa operatio, cum non esset dare terminum illius, quia esset actio transiens; et cum centrum sit conveniens sibi, non agit actionem corruptivam ipsi nec salvativam, quia non posset poini qualis esset illa operatio nec quis terminus ipsius, nisi forte conservando proprium ‘ubi’, quia forte ‘ubi’ suum in centro est continue in fieri (sicut lumen in medio); sed tunc actio illa non est in centrum, quia ‘ubi’ est in locato et non in locante, et centrum est locans corpus in eo; igitur ultra gravitatem non dicit nisi relationem inclinationis eius ad centrum ut ad propriam perfectionem. Tunc dico quod sic est de voluntate, quia voluntas naturalis non est voluntas, nec velle naturale est velle, sed ly ‘naturalis’ distrahit ab utroque et nihil est nisi relatio consequens potentiam respectu propriae perfectionis; unde eadem potentia dicitur ‘naturalis voluntas’ cum respectu tali necessario consequente ipsam ad perfectionem, et dicitur ‘libera’ secundum rationem propriam et intrinsecam, quae est voluntas specifice.

Aliter potest voluntas dici ‘naturalis’ ut distinguitur contra potentiam sive voluntatem supernaturalem; et sic ipsa in puris naturalibus suis exsistens distinguitur contra se ipsam ut informata donis gratuitis.

Adhuc tertio modo accipitur ‘voluntas naturalis’ ut elicit actum conformem inclinationi naturali, quae semper est ad commodum; et sic est libera eliciendo actum conformem sicut in eliciendo actum positum, quia in potestate eius est elicere actum conformem vel non elicere (voluntas supernaturalis tantum actum conformem.)

* * *

Ad secundum, cum dicitur quod voluntas libera et naturalis sunt duae voluntates, dico quod voluntas naturalis – ut sic et ut naturalis – non est voluntas ut potentia, sed tantum importat inclinationem potentiae ad recipiendum perfectionem suam, non ad agendum ut sic; et ideo est imperfecta nisi sit sub illa perfectione ad quam illa tendentia inclinat illam potentiam; unde naturalis potentia non tendit, sed est tendentia illa qua voluntas absoluta tendit – et hoc passive – ad recipiendum. Sed est alia tendentia, in potentia eadem, ut libere et active tendat eliciendo actum, ita quod una potentia et duplex tendentia (activa et passiva). Tunc ad formam dico quod voluntas naturalis, secundum illud quod ‘formale’ importat, non est potentia vel voluntas, sed inclinatio voluntatis et tendentia qua tendit in perfectionem passive recipiendam.

“But is there only one created will in Christ?
I say that the will can be understood under its proper meaning and name, namely, for appetite. If it is understood generally, so there were at least three appetites in Christ, namely, uncreated intellectual, created rational and created irrational (namely, the sensitive); but properly the will adds over the appetite, because it “is a free appetite with reason.” And so, strictly speaking, there were in Christ two wills.

* * *
But what about the will considered as natural and free, are these two powers? I say that ‘natural appetite’ in whatever thing, is understood by a general name for the natural inclination of a thing for its own proper perfection, - just as a stone is inclined naturally to the center. And if in the stone that inclination is another absolute thing from its weight [gravitate], then consequently I believe that likewise the natural inclination of man ‘according as he is a man’ to his proper perfection, is other than free will. But the first I believe to be false, namely, that the inclination of a stone to the center is another absolute from the weight and another power, which power has some operation into the center, as some imagine. For that operation would then be miraculous, since it would not give an end to that operation, because it would be a transient action; and since the center is agreeable to itself, it does not with with a corruptive nor preservative action towards itself, because it can not be posited what sort of operation that operation would be nor what termination it would have, unless perhaps by preserving its proper ‘place’, because perhaps its own ‘place’ in the ceenter is continuously in becoming [fieri] (just as light in the medium). But then that action is not to the center, because ‘place’ is in the located and not in the locating, and the center is a locating body [locans corpus] in it. Therefore the further weight [ultra gravitatem] does not mean anything but the relation of its inclination to the center as to its proper perfection. Then I say that it is so in the will, because the natural will is not the will, nor is natural willing willing, but the term ‘natural’ separates [distrahit…technical logical term…see peter of spain] from each and is nothing except a relation following [consequens…bad, I know] the power with respect to its porper perfection. Whence the same power is called ‘natural will’ with respect to such necessary following to perfection, and it is called ‘free’ according to its proper and intrinsic definition, which is the will specifically.

Otherwise the will can be called ‘natural’ as distinguished against a supernatural power or will. And so existing in pure nature it is distinguished against itself as having been informed by the free gifts [donis gratuitis].

Still more in a third way ‘natural will’ can be understood as it elicits an act conformed to natural inclination, which always is to the advantageous [ad commodum]; and so the will is free in eliciting an act conformed just as in eliciting a posited act [?] because it is in its power to elicit an act conformed or not so to elicit (the supernatural will elicts only a conformed act).

* * *

To the second, when it is said that the free and natural will are two wills, I say that the natural will – insofar as it is natural – is not the will as power, but only implies the inclination of a power to receiving its own perfection, not for acting as such; and therefore it is imperfect unless it is under that perfection to which that tendency inclines that power; whence the natural power does not tend, but that tendency is that whereby the will tends absolutely – and this passively – for receiving. But there is another tendency, in the same power, as tends by eliciting and act freely and actively, so that one power and a double tendency (active and passive). Then to the form of the argument I say that the natural will, according to that which is implied formally, is not a power or will, but inclinatin of the will and tendency by whuich it tends into receiving a perfection passively.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Bonaventurian Humor

In his very first post on The Smithy, way back in May, Faber indicated that the site would focus especially on St Bonaventure and Bl John Duns Scotus. Since he's been embarked on the heroic project of reading through Scotus' Ordinatio, however, it's really been all Scotus and, I believe, not any Bonaventure at all. I haven't read the Ordinatio, unfortunately, being already occupied with other massive projects, including among them my dissertation and a reading through of St Bonaventure's Commentary In Libris Sententiarum. So while Faber continues to regale us with tales of his Itinierarium across Scotus' masterpiece, I will perhaps do the same with my journey in Bonaventure's. Luckily or otherwise for the reader, I am by now in book IV, so there's only a thousand pages left to go.

I thought I'd use my inaugural post to display an instance of Bonaventurian humor, if the following quotes can be called humor. At any rate they're as close as you get in scholastic writings.

The question (IV Sententiarum, Dist.3, Pars I, Art. II, Q. III) is about how much variation in the words of Baptism there can be while preserving the validity of the sacrament. If, for instance, the priest interjects something while performing the rite, must the baptism be repeated? No, says Bonaventure:

Interpositio est, cum in medio cadit actus, ut sternutatio vel verbum, ut: in nomine Patris, et aqua ista est frigida, et Filii etc. --Et quod hoc non impediat videtur quia totum est salvum, quando aliquid interponitur; et aliqui homines ita sunt obliviosi quod semper interponunt aliquid, antequam possint complere orationem inceptam.

"There is an interjection, when in the midst [of the rite] falls some act, such as a sneeze or a word, for instance: 'In the name of the Father, and--this water is cold!--and of the Son', etc. --And that this does not impede [the validity of the sacrament] is clear, because the whole [form] is preserved when something is interjected; and some men are so oblivious that they always interject something before they can finish a speech they've started."

I thought it was funny, anyway.

A little later an question is asked: what if the rite is actually interrupted? Must it be started over? The Seraphic Doctor responds:

Ad illud quod obicit de interpositione sive intermissione, dicendum quod aut est tanta intermissio quod discontinuet intentionem et longam faciat moram, utpote si longum facit sermonum vel vadit ad uninam faciendam; et tunc necesse est quod reincipiat. Sed si intervenit pava morula oblivione vel sternutatione, non discontinuatur actus nec oportet reincipere.

"To the objection about interjection or intermission, it should be said that there is a kind of intermission which interrupts the intention [of the rite] and makes a long delay, as if [the priest] were to make a long speech or leave to urinate; and then it would be necessary for him to start over. But if there intervenes [in the performance of the baptism] a small delay from forgetfulness or a sneeze, the act is not interrupted, nor does it need to be started over."

There you have it, folks. If the priest sneezes in the middle of your baptism, you're still cool. If the water is freezing and he says "I baptize you--Damn, this water's cold!" and then finishes, everything's fine. On the other hand, if the water is so warm that when he dips his hand in it he immediately feels the call of nature and has to leave, then when he gets back he must start over.

The moral of the story is obviously that having heated baptismal fonts is proximate to contempt of the sacrament. This comes as little surprise to me. Near my house is a hippie parish notorious for liturgical abuses, and their font (at the back of the church by the door, right in the middle of the center aisle, and the only source of holy water in the place) is actually a three-foot bubbling fountain kept heated to around ninety degrees. I wonder how many of their baptisms are interrupted.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

New Contributor

Welcome Michael, best of friends and bitterest of foes. May your entries be long and full of arcane lore.

Cross and Marenbon on the Cambridge Phantasists

From Deconstructing Radical Orthodoxy

Cross, p.72:
"It seems to me, then, that a closer examination of Scotus' main argument actually helps us clarify the nature of Milbank's project: the exclusion of all argument froms sytematic theology. This would certainly explain the curious, hermetic and allusive rhetoric that Milbank and his followers adopt as their chosen discourse. It would also explain the tendency to assert positions without arguing for them. but if we think - as Aquinas and Scotus would - that this would result in the radical impoverishment of orthodox systematic theology, then we will want to resist not only Milbank's conclusion, but also the rejection of Scotus' univocity theory, irrespective of any other supposed historical consequences of the theory."

Marenbon, P. 58:
"Of course, granted that Heidegger is talking about 'Western metaphysics', then perhaps he is being the profound philosopher for which his followers take him, and which perhaps he is. And why, then, is not Milbank also entitled to a supply of inverted commas, the most precious resource for philsophers too involved in the profunditites of their own thought to interest themselves in what really happened in the past? Let him have them! Who will then continue to read his writings? Although Radical Orthodoxy does not involve a simple return to the past, the greater part of its exponents' concern seems to be in putting forward the views of thinkers who lived in various centuries long ago. True, the Radically Orthodoxy are not interested in these views merely as history. They wish to take them as their own. But, since they do not argue for them independently, they need the authority of those who originally, they claim, proposed them in order to support their reassertion of them. The force and appeal of Radical Orthodoxy, for those who feel them, consist in the way it allows modern Christians to believe that they are at the cutting edge of modern philosophy by accepting as gospel the claims of postmodernism, and yet also to make their own the positions of Plato, Augustine, Aquinas and others. Clothe these eminent figures in inverted commas, and Radical Orthodoxy wil begin to seem very bare. 'Augustine' and 'Aquinas' do not carry any authority, and Radical Orthodoxy lacks the arguments that would make the positions represented by these labels independently convincing."

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Radical Orthodoxy and the Underpants Gnomes

I don't know if any of my gentle readers recall the early Southpark episode where Tweak is out of his mind due to his constant coffee drinking and thinks he sees little gnomes stealing his underpants. It turns out he was right all along, and that there was a gnome civilization living in the sewers (next to Mr. Hankey the Christmas poo I presume).

The other day I was reading some more Radical Orthodoxy. Milbank was faulting Scotus for arguing for the Immaculate Conception because it meant he could not appreciate fully the christmas carol "o felix culpa." He also said (apparently reviving the 19th century fantasies of Kleutgen or Stockl) that Scotus's views on the Incarnation amounted to having a series of predicates with nothing but the world to inhere in (though he did not make Kleutgen's follow up inference that this meant Scotus was a pantheist). Best of all, while allowing that the term "transubstantiation" predates the council of Trent, he claimed that the term "real presencef" dated to 1550. Moving on, Pickstock was so incensed by the Formal distinction that the only way she could detail the absolute horror and unease it introduced into metaphysics was to chronicle changes in bathing practice from the classical, medieval, and victorian eras (In true RO style I shall give only vague references to these opinions. Cf. Milbank, Being Reconciled, p. 3-300, Pickstock [2003]).

Reflecting upon these matters, I was struck by the similarity to the Underpants gnomes. When the children ask the gnomes why they steal people's underpants, they respond in their cute high-pitched voices, "stage 1: steal underpants. Stage 2: ? Stage 3: Profit!!" Radical Orthodoxy's method works very much the same way. Stage 1: Scotus says something that Aquinas does not. Stage 2: ? stage 3: Modernity! Holocaust of Nihilism! For the "?" one must imagine the little gnome shrugging his shoulders and making a questioning, wordless, utterance.

In light of these matters, I have made certain RESOLUTIONS:

1. Every post (few as they shall be, don't worry) that shall treat of Radical Orthodoxy shall be labelled as "Humor", due to the unscholarly, unhistorical, obscurantist (even, dare I say, gnomic) character of their work.

2. Therefore, I shall open the polls for a new name, more accurately characterizing the movement (recall Scott Carson's recent post on RO's relation to traditional sexual ethics when you vote, or the fact that Pickstock plagiarized her own 2003 article and republished it with minor modifications in 2005..."in doing so" became "in so doing" and "abiding nature" became "binding nature", just some of the 30 pages of gems).

Here are list I have come up with so far, though I am open to further suggestions:

1. "Radical" Orthodoxy
2. Radical "Orthodoxy"
3. "Radical Orthodoxy"
4. The Cambridge Fantasists
5. Conventional Orthodoxy
6. Secular Orthodoxy

Personally, I tend towards 4 or 5. I am a little uncomfortable with 4, however, as it almost gives them a respectible sheen from the Oxford fantasist, ie., JRR Tolkien. I'll admit, they have certain similarities. Both engaged in subcreation of a world that never existed, but wished it did. Both invented their own languages for their characters to speak, and so on. But only one would admit, in the end, that it was fiction so think I'll finally go with 5.

A final note: In my quest to understand the true nature of the movement, I asked a collegue "Why 'Radical'"? She responded, "Because they're not Presbyterian!"

Friday, October 5, 2007


The first installment of the Scotus quadruple congress is coming up, you can get the info from the St. Bonaventure University link I have on the sidebar. I hope I'll see you there. Oct. 18-21, 2007