Sacrifice and Sanctity

One of my pet peeves is the way people throw around the word “holy” to mean a lot of things other than what the word historically means.  Sometimes when word-use shifts you just have to shift with it; thems the breaks in the evolution of language.  Sometimes it’s worth the effort of preserving the older usage alongside the new one and recognizing which one you are facing in any given context.  But sometimes, if the word and its concept matter enough, you just have to draw a line in the sand and say “No further!” and break your little ships if people try to take liberties with the word.

“Holy” is one of those latter words.

I think that the erosion of the meaning of the word “holy” has been a disaster for thinking seriously about the meaning of life and religious matters.  I go out of my way to teach a basic sense of the word to my younger students and always resolve to find more ways to use the concept with my older students.  I have occasionally alluded to the correct use of this word in some of my older posts, but I have never set down a full account of what I take to be the essential features of the concept of “holy.”  Let’s remedy that. Continue reading Sacrifice and Sanctity

Debt, Worship, Sacrifice

Let’s reinvent the wheel a little bit.  By the end of this we will have come back around to a very common, very basic doctrine of the Catholic Church.  In writing this I have in mind primarily my students, for whom connecting all the things we teach is usually very difficult.

Justice

We begin with justice, the repaying of debts that we owe.  Among all the different kinds of justice-relations we can find ourselves in, the just person above all recognizes that there are some debts that can never be properly repaid.  To be truly just is to attempt to repay those debts anyway, even knowing that it will never really be done.

By way of introductory example, consider the case of one person saving another person’s life.  It doesn’t seem strange to imagine a person feeling that they could never repay their savior, but that they would in any event constantly strive to do so.  Just because “thanks” or “a check for a million dollars” doesn’t seem to cover the debt doesn’t mean we should do nothing.  It’s not hard to imagine the indebted party gladly doing good for their savior in a variety of ways, hoping that some day they could reciprocate in some genuine way.  Anyone who shrugged and ceased to care about their debt because of the inadequacy of their efforts would be wicked. Continue reading Debt, Worship, Sacrifice

Theological Virtues

Brandon has a thoughtful piece on the virtue of hope which I enjoyed very much and yet with which I find myself in several points of disagreement.  Much as I typically agree with Brandon, that I might disagree on a few points here is no surprise: the nature of the theological virtues and their relation to the other virtues is notoriously problematic.  Perhaps putting down my own thoughts on the matter can mark a return to active blogging!

Caution: what follows is my idiosyncratic attempt to re-invent the wheel.  It is not really a proper response to Brandon either, more of a set of counter-thoughts inspired by him (much like his original post with respect to the article, I think).  Caveat lector. Continue reading Theological Virtues

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

St. Augustine on Beatitudes (II)

I threatened a cheap follow-up to finish talking about St. Augustine’s approach to the beatitudes.  Here it is!

Recall that St. Augustine took the Beatitudes as an 8-stage program for the moral life: the itinerary to happiness.

  1. Become Poor in Spirit (Humble)
  2. Become Meek (Teachable)
  3. Mourn over the attachments holding us back from happiness
  4. Labor to tear away from those attachments
  5. Be merciful to others on the same journey
  6. Become pure of heart
  7. Become a peacemaker
  8. Return to the beginning (and face persecution)

To really get St. Augustine (and Christianity), you have to understand that he thinks all this is impossible.  We have too much blindness and an invincibly stubborn will; the flesh is weak and the spirit really isn’t all that willing.  Throw out Pelagius and read more St. Paul. Continue reading St. Augustine on Beatitudes (II)

St. Augustine on Beatitudes

Thought I would put up a post on one of my favorite units for the juniors: a quick run through St. Augustine’s commentary on the Beatitudes.  It will keep the blog moving while I slash through mid-term exams.

[Ideally this goes up in a chart, but that won’t do for this format.  There’s an easter egg built into this presentation; see if you can catch it before I spoil at the end.]

Before we dive into the beatitudes, we need to get two very simple basics out of the way.  First, what does “blessed” mean?  I can send this question around the room a dozen times before my students give up and make me tell them.  There’s so much religious-y baggage draped all over that word! Continue reading St. Augustine on Beatitudes

Shanty Towns are Dangerous

My friends the Darwins have a post up, like just about everyone else in the blog-o-sphere, on refugees.  It’s got a provocative title and is filled with some nice historical context and common sense–boilerplate Darwins.  Go read the whole thing, and pay particular attention to the last two paragraphs (buried the lede a bit there, Darwin). Continue reading Shanty Towns are Dangerous