A Thought on Eternal Evil

Eternity is not just more time, in a sense similar to how  God is not just a bigger cause. As God is the Cause of causes – the Unmoved Mover, in classic Greek philosophy, wherein, in Christian theology, all created things live and move and have their being – eternity is that within which time takes place. Eternity is more than the sum of all time.

This has implications for redemption and repentance. We, bounded by time, find it strictly unimaginable (strictly, since our acts of imaginations are realized over time) that a creature could act eternally. Angels are such creatures. We, having been given eternal life, are also such creatures, though we haven’t (in both senses of that word) realized it yet.

Image result for the fall of luciferWhen we talk of the fall of Satan and a battle in Heaven, we are speaking about events that take place (if that’s a meaningful way to say it) in eternity – they are not something that happened in the past. Satan is falling now, has fallen in the past, will continue to fall in the future – that’s how events in eternity necessarily look to us living in time, like seeing a 2-dimensional slice of a three dimensional figure, and trying to imagine the figure – only it’s worse, since eternity is not just the sum of a bunch of snapshots of time.

People sometimes wonder if Satan or any human in Hell can repent and be saved. If eternity were just more time, then that would be an interesting question. But if eternal acts are eternal, there is no ‘later’ in which to reconsider or be redeemed. This will be our fate once we realize, in the sense of make real to our own eyes, our eternal nature. This is why saints, as they start to see God, are mortified by their slightest fault – becoming more Christ-like is also becoming more aware of their own eternal nature, and how their sins tend to become eternal as a result.

So here’s the mind-bender: Satan and his angels knew all this. Their ‘act’ in falling away from God included all the temptations, manipulations, possessions and horrors by which we see evil unveiled over time – and their defeat at the hands of Christ. All these acts took place at once, as it were, as it was, is now and ever shall be. The fall of the angels IS the evil they work in the world and our lives. There was no ‘before’ Satan fell, and no ‘after’. He is falling now; he is rejecting God now; he is hating us with a white-hot passion now. And he will be doing all this for ever – for all eternity.

The fallen angels knew all this, saw how it worked out to their own destruction and pain, and rejected God anyway.

Christianity proposes we all get to make eternal decisions, that there comes a point where we pass from time within which one can change one’s mind, to eternity, where knowledge and decisions are complete.

Being Rash for Christ

When reading the lives of the saints, it’s common to see both a relentless practical disposition and utter spontaneity side by side in the same person. This is that whole Catholic both/and thing Chesterton among others likes to go on about. Thus, great saints will typically devote themselves to a rigorous, no excuses life of prayer and discipline AND run off to convert the Saracens at the drop of a biretta. Or kiss the leper, give somebody the clothes off their backs, take a condemned man’s place – that sort of thing.

A certain tiny rash act on my part, not remotely in the league of anything an actual saint would do reflects,  I hope, a tiny bit of the spirit of the thing: I will, it seems, be in charge of a bit of continuing Catholic education at our parish. Because the director said I could do a class, and so I submitted an outline and that was that.

Here’s what I’ll be trying to do. First note my abiding hatred of the graded classroom model, so imagine this as being done in a way to defeat that model (which lurks, after 12+ years of Pavlovian training, in our minds despite our dislike of it and despite even efforts to root it out) so as to allow actual personal relationships to be formed – which is by far my most obvious weakness as a ‘teacher’. People are just so much more demanding than living in my own head! Anyway:

Feasts and Faith: Continuing Catholic Education Continue reading “Being Rash for Christ”

Music at Mass Review: October 26, 2014

(Already beat this song up here, but it clawed its way out of the ground to eat more brains, so here we go again.)

So, what say you to starting a Catholic Mass with a little ditty by this fellow? From the English & Dutch (responsible for the funky Google English) Wikipedia sites:

In 1954, inspired by Che Guevara who said that churches have the potential to transform the social structure of society,[3] Oosterhuis combined his priesthood with political activism.

Che – now, there’s a guy to model one’s Christian response to the world on. Another proponent of the ever-popular theory that if you just kill enough of the flexibly-defined bad people, the world will be great! If the world isn’t great, you haven’t killed enough of the bad people – maybe the definition of ‘bad’ isn’t broad enough? This leads me to wonder about the former Fr. Oosterhuis’s level of mental acuity.

In 1969 the deleted Superior General of the Jesuits, Father Pedro Arrupe Oosterhuis from the order after conflicts of celibacy . For the same reason the suspended diocese of Haarlem him as a priest.

I think we can suss out the gist of the nub there. Whoa – imagine what you’d have needed to do to get expelled from the Jesuits in 1969. Boggles. Further,

Oosterhuis and his team decided with the vast majority of their congregation from then beyond the responsibility of the Bishop of Haarlem to proceed. In 2014, the now 80-year-old Oosterhuis still pastor within thisekklesia , albeit now in the shelter; the seven teammates when, all now ex-Jesuits, pulled out for various reasons soon off.

So our man takes a bunch of Jesuit buddies, declares himself “beyond the responsibility” of the bishop, and runs his own little parish-thing, at least until he was “in shelter”. And his buddies all left him. It’s almost like one can’t expect a Jesuit to stick to something.

He also stated that they no longer believe in interviews in a personal God, the divinity of Jesus Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ, the miracles of the Gospels, the atonement and original sin.

Is that all? Well, at least he was good to the people around him, right?

On 25 April 1970 Huub Oosterhuis joined in civil marriage with the young nurse Josefien Melief . They had two children musical, composer Tjeerd and singer TrijntjeOosterhuis, who initially acted together as the duo Total Touch. The civil marriage ended in a divorce , after Oosterhuis and Melief went separately living near the children. Oosterhuis is married to journalist Colet van der Ven .

So once he escaped the evil influences of the Church, he married, bred, divorced and remarried. Not that that kind of behavior has any downside on the people involved, like say children.

Now, of course it would be mean spirited to imagine that the enormous theological, liturgical, ecclesiastical and personal tire fire the former Fr. Oosterhuis has made of his life would bleed over into his liturgical music. Nope, all that could possibly leak through would be his unbounded love of the not at all divine Jesus who stayed buried and died for no reason at all. So we should expect sweetness and light, right?

So here’s the ditty: What is This Place? We’ll intersperse comments in red: 

Verse 1

What is this place, where we are meeting?

First, if you’re at Mass, it should be pretty clear, usually, where we are meeting. So, we’re talking rhetorical question here? Why yes, yes we are: 

Only a house, the earth its floor.

Well, no. A church is a sacred space, made sacred not only by our gathering there in Christ’s name, but most especially due to His Real Presence. This sanctification of place is such a basic and inevitable outcome of the Incarnation that the liturgical calendar even has feast days for the dedications of various important churches. Places, like people, play a role in salvation history. 

Walls and a roof, sheltering people,

Windows for light, an open door.

Nothing special, an attitude evinced in almost all modern churches. 

Yet it becomes a body that lives

When we are gathered here,

It lives! As the cross vaults lumber down the alleys, seeking victims to slake its blood thirst… OK, maybe not ‘lives’ like that. But we have established to dependencies: Each time we gather, we make the church building live. Without us, it is dead. . 

And know our God is near.

A God no Unitarian would object to. 

Verse 2

Words from afar, stars that are falling.

Sparks that are sown in us like seed;

Names for our God, dreams, signs and wonders

Sent from the past are all we need.

Too much LSD in the 60s, clearly. Coherency is so overrated! But the gist of the nub: Words are all we need. That, and like totally trippy images. 

We in this place remember and speak

Again what we have heard:

God’s free redeeming word.

Trouble is, I don’t think even the Lutherans would want this guy, even with the Sola bone he throws them here. 

Verse 3

And we accept bread at his table,

Broken and shared, a living sign.

Here in this world, dying and living,

We are each other’s bread and wine.

Shockingly, it turns out to be all about us! Imagine my surprise. His rejection of the Real Presense managed somehow to sneak through! Who, oh who, could have guessed this would happen? 

This is the place where we can receive

What we need to increase:

Our justice and God’s peace.

*Our* justice? Is this a Che reference? Because God’s justice might just barely differ from ours, maybe. But hey, we acknowledge that we need God’s peace – that’s something! At least, we finally got around to admitting we need something. 

This was the entrance hymn at today’s Mass. I looked for the choir director who chooses the music, just to register my polite disagreement with using this song anywhere within a mile of Mass or anything catholic at all – but he wasn’t there this week.

Next time. Dear God, please let there not be a next time!

Both/And – The Prison of a Single Idea

(Another half-thought-out idea that I’m trying to give form to. You’ve been warned. Also will be discussing math while using as little math as possible – just a reckless thrill-seeker, me.)

One of the things it becomes important to know when building models of the physical world turns out to be the slope at a point on a curve. It represents the rate of change at that point for the function that describes the line. (Newton would have made it into the Math & Science Hall of Fame on the strength of having figured out how to determine the slope at a point on a curve if that’s all he did; he and Leibniz share a wing for this.)

How you do it requires a wee leap, because the very logic that compels you to agree that the first derivative is the slope is based on an equation that inconveniently negates itself right when you need it most. Let’s see how that works.

Here is that equation for a secant, a line that connects two points on a curve:

The slope of the secant is the average rate of change over the curve between the two end points of the secant.

Newton and Leibniz noticed that, as you bring the two end-points closer together, you get a slope that’s closer and closer to the slope *at* either of the points – so, if you wanted to know the slope at a point, you could get real close by making the end-points as close as you want.

But you just can’t make the end-points the same point – if there’s no distance between them, then the formula becomes y – y over  x – x, which is just  0/0 – which is not a slope, and in fact is scary enough that mathematicians (at least, the ones I understand)  will say that it is ‘undefined’.

So you just can’t find the slope of the tangent by solving the secant equation for a single point. The math falls apart.

Just so, you can’t solve for free will using God’s omnipotence and omniscience as your formula – that resolves to 0/0, too – undefined.

But saying that God’s omniscience and omnipotence preclude free will for any creatures is a bit like saying that, because we can’t use the slope for a secant formula to solve for the slope at a point, the tangent doesn’t exist. The question should be: does the tangent exist? If it does, then the failure of our formula only means that we can’t use it in this case – we must use some other approach. Formulas do not prove or disprove existence.

Bishop Berkeley (if I’m recalling correctly – it’s been almost 40 years) did argue at the time that the calculus was nonsensical as math, and had no claim on an honest man’s acceptance, because, right where you expect a proof, it starts getting all philosophical and talking about limits and infinitesimals and other mythical creatures. And he’s right, up to a point – the way math had progressed so far seems free of such fantastic doodads. Why we should trust something whose proof requires us to imagine never before imagined things* is at least debateable.

Yet, we know the tangent exists and has a slope – we just can’t get at it directly using that formula.

angle with a tangentSo, how about we show the tangent on a point on a curve exists and has a slope we can know in a special case, then see, once we’re convinced, if we can get to the calculus from there? Here is a tangent to a point on circle.  A circle is just a special curve with an interesting property: all points on a circle lie exactly the same distance from the center. That distance is called a radius.

Here, we show a tangent to a circle, and indicate that it is at a right angle to the radius. Now, a nice reductio proof can be whipped up in a minute or two to show that the tangent must only touch one point, and must be at a right angles to the radius from the tangent point. We’re going to skip that. Instead, I’ll just mention that, for circles anyway, we can use a formula and our knowledge of angles to figure out what the slope is for any tangent to the circle we chose.

The important point: we know that tangents to the special case curve called a circle exist, and we know that we can figure out their slopes with a tidy formula. So, it’s reasonable from what we know about curves and tangents to believe that there might be a tangent with a knowable slope to points on curves that aren’t circles even when we may not have a tidy, non-calculus formula to find them with.

It turns out that the slope of the secant formula used above works fine on circles, and that we can figure out the slope at the tangent independently – 90 degrees to the radius. And, best of all, if we use infinitesimals and limits, we get the same answer we get from geometry.  So, now we have something – a reason to trust Newton and Leibniz when they say the calculus works.

So, do we see reasons to believe free will exists? Yes. It’s certainly the constant subjective experience of mankind. But is free will objectively true? We’ll leave it here for now, with the notion that just because one argument can be presented in such a way as to contradict what we otherwise think is true doesn’t mean it’s the end of the story/

* Well, OK, there’s Zeno. But not imagined in exactly this way. I think.

Eucharistic Theology in the Liturgy

Writing this to expand on my response to a thoughtful comment by Edward Isaacs on my over-the-top criticisms of a piece of liturgical music in the last post.  The relevant portion of Mr. Isaac’s comment:

Can’t say I fully understand some of your complaints about liturgical songs like this one. Maybe it’s my age—I’m twenty-three in a week…

As far as I have been taught about the doctrine of the Real Presence, it’s precisely the fact that the signs of bread and wine are present that gives us the assurance that the Real Presence is there. Signification and analogy are important themes in Aquinas, too. So I’m not able to see why a song like this is “bad,” theologically speaking.

I mean, if there’s been a sort of overarching tendency in the post-Vatican II era to re-evaluate the Mass in exclusively “horizontal” rather than “vertical” terms, then I think that’s a bad thing. But surely you can’t really pin the blame for that on specific songs failing to be sufficiently “vertical” in every verse. It’s not as if the “horizontal” dimension of Christian worship is not a real part of Christianity, or that it doesn’t have its place in the Mass.

The particular song being criticized: See Us, Lord, About Your Altar. The focus of the criticism is verse 3:

Once were seen the blood and water:
Now are seen but bread and wine;
Once in human form he suffered,
Now his form is but a sign.

A commenter over at the Musica Sacra forum puts it succinctly (here): “This text is oddly confusing and can be taken several ways. It surely does seem to introduce confusion. I mean, you could regard it as saying that the bread and wine are mere visible signs of the real presence. But is that right? It’s always bugged me.”

While it is certainly possible to take the text to be making a completely orthodox point about accidents versus substance, it’s also possible to take this to mean that the Eucharist Itself is ‘but’ a sign.

So, are we splitting hairs? It may be that J Greally, SJ, to whom this text is attributed, was a fine old school Jesuit who dabbled in poetry and penned this work with nothing but the most orthodox intentions. In which case we doubt not his sincerity, but rather his skill as a poet and a reader of poetry. However, as I’ve pointed out on this blog many times over the last few years, modern publishers of catholic liturgical songs show a strong and unmistakable bias toward songs that DO NOT clearly convey orthodox theology, preferring everything from the incoherent to the out and out heretical, so long as the proper PC idols get their incense.

The very thing that concerns me here, the confusing way the theology has been expressed, has been shown, I believe, to be a *plus* in the eyes of the OCP, for example.  In other words, that it could be taken to mean what many of our Protestant brethren mean is not, in their eyes, a bad thing, but a good thing.

It is a bad thing. Continue reading “Eucharistic Theology in the Liturgy”

Douglas Adams and the Fall of Lucifer

Here, I play at theologian, in the same way I play at philosopher, scientist, mathematician, historian and economist. It is well, perhaps, to keep in mind that, unless I’m talking equipment finance (the one field where I am a recognized stone expert. Yay, me.), my opinions aren’t worth the electromagnetic medium they’re written on. That said:

On the radio, heard this memorable bit from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

 The Babel fish is small, yellow and leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with the nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain which has supplied them. The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language. The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel fish.

Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindbogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen it to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.

The argument goes something like this: “I refuse to prove that I exist,” says God, “for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.”

“But,” says Man, “the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.

“Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.

“Oh, that was easy,” says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets killed on the next zebra crossing.

The assumption that God wants faith as a positive good, to be preferred for some reason to knowledge is, I think, wrong. (Shocking, I know.) Both the story of the Fall of Adam and Eve and the tradition of the Fall of Lucifer show sin in the light of certain knowledge of God’s existence: He walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden, and Lucifer lived in his presence, yet all three sinned in choosing their will over the will of the God that called them into being. The question of certainty in God’s existence does not seem to be relevant to the question of His free and rational creatures choosing to love Him or not.

Dante froze Lucifer in Hell – kinda like how his choice froze him in relation to God.

In Lucifer’s case, as an eternal being with full knowledge of God’s existence, his choices are eternal – unlike people in the temporal world, who choose one thing today and another tomorrow, if an angel chooses, that choice is always and everywhere. We, while we live here, can both sin and repent from sin. Lucifer and the fallen angels chose once and for all.

But we too are eternal beings. Now, with the possible exception of a few great mystics, we only gets glimpses of that eternity which is our true home while we walk this earth. If we were to stand in the full light of that eternity and still chose our will over God’s, our sin would be like that of the fallen angels, a choice made in eternity.

Therefore, as a feature of our created natures and likely for our own good, the particular brand of miracle that nonbelievers think they want, a miracle of irresistible persuasive power, does not exist. We, like Zola, can always deny the miracle in front of out eyes.

But that’s not the worst of it – we, like Lucifer, can know with certainty the God of all miracles and still choose not to love him. If we were to see with clarity the workings of God around us, we’d have a foot on the threshhold of eternity, where all choices are eternal. Therefore, to have any hope in salvation, a good has been brought out of the results of the Fall: our darkened intellects and weakened wills prevent us, for the most part, from making one single act that determines our eternal state while we live on earth. Our choices are made for the most part over a lifetime, and can be revised and reversed as long as we live. Once we become truly present in eternity, our wills are fixed as the angels.

But what do I know? If you want to know the cash flow implications of a manufacturer’s blind discount on the economics of a lease, I’m your boy. Eternal truths, not so much.

Update, May 16 & 17, 2014: Trip to TAC

1. Spent Friday & Saturday at Thomas Aquinas College. My beloved wife had wanted to attend the graduation of Andrew’s class – we received a number of invitations, one from the college, and several from Andrew’s classmates. So we all went down, all 6 of us.

The trip and the graduation ceremony were beautiful and inspiring. More below.

2. In a little over 40 years, TAC has gone from a meadow in the foothills and some portable building to about as pretty a campus as you can imagine:

This chapel, designed by Duncan Stroik of Notre Dame, is a jewel:

It’s that whole Truth and Beauty thing incarnate.

3. Was musing on our 6 hour drives both to and from, that if someone wanted to understand or at least get an overview of California, a good start would be to drive state highway 101 from L.A. to Eureka. You start in Hollywood, with a view of downtown; wind past both ends of Mulholland Drive and off into suburban foothills. Next, you snake past the beaches of Ventura and Santa Barbara, with glimpses of agriculture and the Channel Islands. Wind up toward San Luis Obispo through more scrub-covered mountains, back down to Pismo Beach and its sand dunes, then back into the interior eventually entering the Salinas Valley (of East of Eden fame) after passing oil fields – it has been said that the value of the oil extracted from California each year is greater than the value of the gold extracted over all of the state’s history.

And the value of the agricultural output dwarfs that of oil. The Salinas Valley is a fraction of the size of the Central Valley, yet contains mile after mile of some of the world’s most productive farmland. After a few bucolic hours, the highway exits the valley, passes through another agricultural area, then winds through a spit of the coastal mountains, through pine and eucalyptus forests, then back into the garlic farms near Gilroy (what’s left of them – they now import garlic for the annual Garlic Festival) and into the southernmost suburbs of Silicon Valley.

The produce of *this* valley is only as green as VC money, although a few orchards remain on the fringes of the ubiquitous technology parks and ‘campuses’. A few quaint suburbs later, and the road segways into San Francisco along Van Ness and Lombard and along the Marina. Cross the Golden Gate to Marin, which contrasts a dangerous amount of quaint with some rugged cliffs and mountains.

Agriculture resumes at Novato, although food is gradually losing out to suburbia there. Past the cows through the hills past Santa Rosa, and into Sonoma Valley wine country, the Russian River, and, once past Cloverdale, back into the rugged mountains full time. By Myer’s Flat, the road winds through the old growth redwoods and on up to Eureka, a Northern California coastal town with a very different spirit and feel from the balmy beaches of Santa Barbara.

Once you’ve done 101, then you can take the 89 down from Tahoe, to 395 down the eastern side of the Sierras, then on to 190 through Death Valley and up 127 to Interstate 15 – and you’d still need to see the interior mountains of the north, with their series of volcanoes, as well as the huge southern deserts, Yosemite, and the beaches of San Diego – and that would complete your survey class, part one.

California is mostly mountains and deserts, with huge areas of agriculture. The vast majority of the people live in the L.A., Orange and San Diego areas – on under 10% of the land area.

4. But I digress. While attending events at TAC, a number of the graduates came by to talk with us. They were charming, clean-scrubbed and serious. Not grim or anything, but serious. One young couple, preparing for their wedding at the school chapel in a couple months, mentioned that 3 of the graduates are going down to Phoenix to teach at a Catholic grade school being revived by Bishop Olmsted. This brought to mind this post – after the pope has restocked with orthodox bishops, and those bishops have replaced the seminary heads, and started to phase out the crazier priests, then the next step is to reform the schools.

To do that, they need smart, educated and devote teachers – which TAC is well positioned to supply.

5. Edwin Cardinal O’Brien gave a wonderful address. His Eminence took the occasion of the Pope and the Greek Patriarch making a joint pilgrimage to Jerusalem to highlight how inseparable Jerusalem, Athens and Rome are in founding and sustaining Christendom, otherwise known as Western Civilization. Here’s the Athens part:

Athens: From classical Greek philosophy, which lives here in Santa Paula as it lives in few other American institutions of higher learning, Western civilization learned that there are truths embedded in the world and in us, and that men and women can arrive at those truths through the exercise of reason. That confidence is at the root of our convictions about the natural moral law, as it is at the root of Western science.

You have learned here, I’m sure, that reasoning is hard work. But I expect you’ve also learned that the exercise of reason can be exhilarating. Love lifts us out of ourselves; so does learning. As heirs and trustees of the tradition of Athens, my hope for you is that you will all be lifetime learners, who never tire of stretching your minds, as I pray you will never tire of opening your hearts.

And in a culture that is increasingly confused about the truth of things, be, like John Paul II, witnesses to the truth: the truth that there is more than “your truth” and “my truth,” the truth that there is something properly called “the truth,” and we have access to it by our reason. There are other avenues to truth, of course: but it will be the task of your generation, tutored by the Pope and saint who wrote the encyclical Fides et Ratio, to remind the West that reason is part of our civilizational heritage, and that the Catholic Church is the great institutional safe-deposit box of reason in the 21st century West.

Brings a tear to me eye, it does.

6. Of course, it was sad, too, seeing all the young men and women graduating without our son. The class did choose Kentigern as their patron saint – Andrew went by ‘Kent’ while at TAC, for the simple reason that there were too many Andrews, and Kentigern is his middle name – and dedicated the graduation to his memory.

I’ll update the Memorium page with details at some future date.