Oaths Are No Joke

A commenter on my Moral Sense vs. Moral of Story post raised a question about my interpretation of I Samuel 14:

I don’t really see how the people “take Jonathan’s death sentence upon themselves.” It looks to me like they just tell Saul to his face that they’re not going to let it happen, Magna Carta style.
What did you have in mind with that phrase in their particular case?

I tried to put together a short answer but I was afraid I was coming across too tersely.  So here’s a brief expansion.  Respondeo: Continue reading Oaths Are No Joke

St. Thomas Aquinas

Every January 28th I think of my birthday and early Church martyr-women.  Wait, what?

I did not start out loving St. Thomas, but after years of teaching him I have come to terms with the fact that I love him and he is mine (despite still thinking of myself as a Franciscan and now a Benedictine).  My friends and students think I am the biggest Aquinas fanboy and cast in his mold, which is flattering and hilariously untrue.  But it is true that over time I have come to maybe, just a little bit, think of the world like he does.  And because of that, every January 28th I get a little irritated.  Because he died on March 7, and his feast should be on my birthday. Continue reading St. Thomas Aquinas

Cool Math: (IR)Regular Polygons

I am a huge fan of Greek geometry.  That’s the real stuff.  Real geometry involves an unmarked straightedge and a compass.  If it has numbers, you are doing it wrong.  One of my colleagues is a geometrical genius–he’s actually one of the most famous origamists in the world (that’s right, I name-dropped an origami master!).  I like to tease him when they get into “analytic” stuff late in the year after the proofs are all done.  “Oh look, Algebra!  I thought you were teaching Geometry this year!”

Doubling the Cube?  Squaring the Circle?  Neusis Constructions?  Now we’re talking.  The Greeks thought geometrically in a way that borders on the mystical.  Come to think of it, they actually did make a religion out of it. Continue reading Cool Math: (IR)Regular Polygons

Aquinas on Prudence II

I wasn’t terribly pleased with some of my examples of the parts of prudence from my blizzard story.  So let me take another crack at it by setting down how St. Thomas thinks the mother of the virtues works (and then maybe try to work back to better examples).

His paradigm for means-end reasoning is the practical syllogism.  The end serves as one premise; other premises are either universal principles, conclusions of other sciences, or what lies close at hand–things we can actually do now.  The conclusion of the practical syllogism is the choice we are to make, which we then must execute to bring the end about. Continue reading Aquinas on Prudence II

Moral Sense vs. Moral of Story

Yes, back to my Scriptural hobby-horse.  Take four scenes from I-II Samuel (I’ll lump them as one book-one author for now; I can work the same angle even if that’s not a legit move):

I Sam 14: Saul’s Stupid Oath Snares Son Jonathan

I Sam 25: Wise Wife Intercedes for Foolish Husband

II Sam 12: Failure On Top of Failure for David

II Sam 24: David Finally Learns The Lesson On Intercession

The moral of the story is the power of intercession.  The people of Israel take Jonathan’s death sentence upon themselves, dissolving it.  Abigail goes out to meet David to stop him from fulfilling his oath to slaughter Nabal for his pointless insult.  David compounds his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah by not interceding to save the life of his son.  Finally, at the end of David’s saga, he intercedes and takes upon himself the curse of Israel (the plague that he himself had brought upon the people), dissolving it. Continue reading Moral Sense vs. Moral of Story

Cool Math: A New Prime!

So they found a new Mersenne Prime.  Mersenne Primes have the form (2^n) − 1.  For the newest prime, n = over 74 million (!).  That is an astronomically large number–actually, that’s not right.  It’s an unimaginably large, universe-busting number.

Of interesting note is that it would have been utterly impossible to find this number without computers, the internet, and a ton of people.  It was basically an enormous, crowd-sourced, brute-force method of discovery.  Given how far beyond the previous prime this number was, we may never find another in our lifetimes unless some super-spooky algorithm is discovered.

Then again, the magnitude of the primes does not grow in any predictable way.  The next one might not be too many thousands of powers of 2 beyond this one!

How cool is that?

Aquinas On Prudence: Snowstorm Edition

By amusing coincidence, yesterday I was teaching my juniors about the Mother of the Virtues, Prudence (from Pieper’s awesome book, Four Cardinal Virtues), while a blizzard loomed over our region.  It occurred to me that I could illustrate practical reasoning in general, and the parts of prudence in particular, through the simple act of preparing for a winter storm.  The “I” below is hypothetical, not historical!

Without further ado, the eight parts of prudence in Aquinas (II-II Q49): Continue reading Aquinas On Prudence: Snowstorm Edition

Teaching Badly: Six Great Schoolmasters

Michael Gilleland was posting excerpts from an old book, Six Great Schoolmasters, a while back.  They are riotously funny, especially for someone teaching at a boys school that nods to the British classification.  Finally the Laudator’s praises inspired me to Nook (thanks, Nook!) the book for free (yay, 1905 publications!).

It’s not just a light read of old-school mad caps.  The book is steeped in comedic British pretension about an absurdly specified Golden Age of education.  But it’s not a lost cause relic, either, for it concerns itself with universal questions and answers about how to teach kids.  This quotation very early on in the book grabbed my eye:

[Dr. Goodall] presumed that the work done in school was a small part only of the education of the boys, and expected that all would do an immense amount of private reading.  This he encouraged by inviting illustrations from other authors of the book which might be in hand.  Thus it is said that “no one of that set would think of going into school without being prepared to illustrate the lesson, if it were Homer or Vergil, from not only Milton but from Dante and Tasso; if it were Demosthenes or Cicero, from great English orators; if it were a Greek play, from the great modern dramatists, whether French or English.” Continue reading Teaching Badly: Six Great Schoolmasters

Cool Math: Infinitesimals

I have a complicated relationship with infinity as used in mathematics, which is very possibly explained by a math deficiency on my part.  I enjoy following proofs but I find myself questioning the moves that bring about some of the more counter-intuitive results of mathematical infinities.  Still I keep coming back for more!

Here’s a fun one on a topic directly connected to infinities: infinitesimals (infinitely small numbers).  Queue up some Leibniz and Newton, limits, and hyper-reals!

Math puts me in strange realms of thought.  Sometimes I think the Church saved me from being a theosophist or something.

The Eternal Significance of the Jew

(I’ve just read Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz.  Consider this a creative reflection on his wonderful book)

The Church has been struggling internally against anti-Semitism since the time of Marcion.  The dualism that periodically surfaces in our history courts it–from “Matter Is Evil” to “Creator Is Evil,” it is a short jump to tar that Creator’s Chosen People.  Marcion’s “theoretical anti-Semitism” found practical cause in the splitting of the synagogue and the rancor of a divided family; later forms found their blood from the more insidious fear of Other.  An interesting thought–as it has become more bloodless, it has become more appalling.  Though I suppose I need to account for the wealth and banking angle that drives some people; economic hardship and class envy is anything but bloodless.

Marcion got as far as he did by being enormously selective in his use of the New Testament canon (I take him as the first deviant, the reaction against him a sign that the canon is already largely formed).  Overemphasis on the writings of St. Paul is his major tool, and it shows a weakness in the Apostle’s writings (or rather, our understanding of them)–St. Paul’s references to “The Law” are not always clear and often confusing.  Marcion was the first but by no means the last to take “The Law” as meaning everything from Adam to the Baptist, and to overlook all references to that Law as good and necessary. Continue reading The Eternal Significance of the Jew