Friday, October 09, 2015

The Cedars, Chanting Vespers to the Sea

by E. Pauline Johnson

Idles the night wind through the dreaming firs,
That waking murmur low,
As some lost melody returning stirs
The love of long ago;
And through the far, cool distance, zephyr fanned,
The moon is sinking into shadow land.

The troubled night-bird, calling plaintively,
Wanders on restless wing;
The cedars, chanting vespers to the sea,
Await its answering,
That comes in wash of waves along the strand,
The while the moon slips into shadow-land,

O! soft responsive voices of the night
I join your minstrelsy,
And call across the fading silver light
As something calls to me;
I may not all your meaning understand,
But I have touched your soul in shadow-land.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Campus Carry

Recent movements in the Texas legislature have made campus carry -- that is, concealed carry permits for buildings on university campuses -- a hotly debated issue here. The current legislation will come into effect in August 2016, and at least one UT professor has a response to it:

Economics professor emeritus Daniel Hamermesh will withdraw from his position next fall, citing concerns with campus carry legislation.

The law will allow the concealed carry of guns in campus buildings beginning Aug. 1, 2016. Hamermesh said he is not comfortable with the risk of having a student shoot at him in class. He teaches a course with 475 students enrolled, according to a letter Hamermesh wrote Sunday to UT President Gregory Fenves.

“With a huge group of students, my perception is that the risk that a disgruntled student might bring a gun into the classroom and start shooting at me has been substantially enhanced by the concealed-carry law,” Hamermesh wrote in the letter.

As some have noted, this is a rather baffling response, since anyone who wanted to shoot a college professor could already just walk in and do so; yes, they would be breaking the law to do it, but if they are actually out to shoot someone that seems hardly likely to be a deterrent. I could see worrying about the possibility of accidents, but disgruntled students are not going to be stopped by policies on paper. In addition, getting the relevant permit requires that one be 21 years old and have undergone training and background checks; it's a bit of a rigmarole to get the permit.

This is, of course, Texas. It has been a perpetual tradition that state legislators can be armed in their office or on the floor of their legislative chamber; and, in fact, anyone who is willing to go through the hassle can get a concealed firearms permit and stroll into the Texas State Capitol with a handgun -- it's actually easier to get through security that way, since by declaring your firearm and showing your permit you can bypass the metal detectors. Very famously it's quite common for lobbyists to get concealed gun permits despite not having any guns, just to make it easier to get in and out. Campus carry, not having the backing of tradition, is more controversial; Texans in general split about evenly on it, although it is very unpopular with students and faculties at universities.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Mortal Sins

Donald Cozzens has a very muddled article at Commonweal on mortal sins:

As a young priest in the late 1960s and early ’70s, I saw firsthand the moral anguish of married couples wrestling with this teaching. I believe their acute pain was intimately tied to their fear of committing mortal sin. We might have had a very different moral discussion following the birth-control encyclical if the church had not insisted that all forms of artificial birth control were intrinsically evil and therefore mortal sins. Labeling human moral acts and omissions that miss the mark as mortal sin always ups the ante—and threatens the credibility of the church’s teaching authority itself.

The essential distinction between mortal and venial sins, noted by (e.g.) Aquinas, is that wrongdoing is mortal if it is wrong because it is inconsistent with love of God and neighbor, and venial if it is wrong because it guarantees a falling short in love of God and neighbor. Thus the distinction is not a matter of how things are labeled, nor is it applied as a 'motivator'. One of the way Cozzens muddies the waters is by chatting about sins of disobedience -- not eating meat on Fridays, a priest not praying the Divine Office, attending Mass on Sundays -- whose status as mortal sins may change over time. But these change because they are actions that are not in themselves mortal sins at all; it's defiantly refusing to do them when they are required that is the problem. (It's likewise the case, with anything that is a mortal sin considered simply on its own, that circumstances may combine in such a way that it is only venial in a particular case, due to ignorance, confusion, pressure, or any number of other things.)

Since the heart of any genuine Christian morality is charity, the Church has a moral obligation to teach people about the ways in which their actions can be inconsistent with, or impediments to, true charity. This does not magically go away, ever; it does not go away if people stop believing it, it does not go away if people do not listen to it, it does not go away if the Church also explores other ways of approaching ethical matters.

What really gets me about Cozzens's article, though, is this:

Catholic moral tradition, especially in the arena of sexuality, remains married to a calculus of sin. Confessors, at least from the time of the Council of Trent, were trained to distinguish between venial matter and grave matter in hearing confessions. That led in turn to an emphasis on the “act committed” rather than on the penitent’s encounter with the healing mercy of Jesus Christ and his or her overall moral orientation. Pope Francis, in harmony with the work of contemporary theologians like Bernard Häring, Charles Curran, Margaret Farley and others, is showing us how to move beyond the narrow legalisms of act-centered morality.

But it seems that many Catholics have already managed to climb out of the dark hole of an act-centered, sin-focused morality all by themselves. They have not lost a healthy sense of sin, but they don’t think a second glance at their neighbor’s spouse or missing Mass on Sunday separates them from God’s grace. Nor do they believe that doing what is necessary to determine the size of their family is always mortally sinful.

The divorcing of actions from "overall moral orienation" -- an "overall moral orientation" to what, if not practical actions, known by what, if not by actions? -- and of actions from mercy toward people -- the "healing mercy of Jesus Christ" for what, if not the damage we cause ourselves and others by actions? -- is bizarre. The test of "moral orientation" is what we actually do; you can think yourself the most splendid person, and it means nothing unless your actions actually show it; you can have the most moral attitude ever, and it is hypocrisy if you do not make an effort to act appropriately to it. There is a reason why ethics is focused on acts; and there are reasons why theological ethics, in particular, tends to focus on acts. None of these are addressed in Cozzens's fantasy, which manages not actually to touch on any ethical points of substance, whether philosophical or theological. The whole thing is carried out in a void in which all actual ethical work outside a very narrow stream obsessed with avoiding legalisms is ignored.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015


Honest Trailers gives the perfect, and completely accurate, review of Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Wisdom and Play

Here one must consider that the contemplation of Wisdom is suitably compared to play on two counts, each of which is to be found in play. First, because play is delightful and the contemplation of Wisdom possesses maximum delight, whence Ecclesiasticus XXIIII <27> says by the mouth of wisdom: "My spirit is sweet above honey." Second, because things done in play are not ordered to anything else, but are sought for their own sake, and this same trait belongs to the delights of Wisdom. For it happens at times that someone is delighted within by considering what one desires, or proposes to do, but this delight is ordered to something external, which one struggles to attain. If there should be a failure or a delay no small affliction is joined to delight of this sort, in accord with the saying of Ecclesiasticus XXXIII <in fact, Proverbs 14:13>: "Laughter is mixed with sorrow." But the delight of contemplating Wisdom has within itself the cause of delight; hence one suffers no anxiety, as if awaiting something that might be lacking. On this account it is said in Wisdom VIII <16>: "Its conversation" (namely that of wisdom) "has no bitterness, nor does dwelling with it have any tedium." And therefore divine Wisdom compares her delight to play, in Proverbs VIII <30>: "I was delighted every day playing before Him," so that through the different 'days' the consideration of different truths might be understood.

St. Thomas Aquinas, An Exposition of the "On the Hebdomads" of Boethius, Schultz and Synan, trs., The Catholic University of America Press (Washington, D.C.: 2001), p. 5

Monday, October 05, 2015

Four Paths

Now, there are four ways a person may be prompted toward good and drawn away from evil: namely, by the precepts of a most powerful authority, by the teachings of a most wise truth, by the examples and benefits of a most innocent goodness, and finally, by a combination of these three ways. That is why the four kinds of Scriptural books were handed down in both the Old and New Testaments, as they correspond to these four ways. The legal books move people by the precepts of a most potent authority; the historical, by the examples of a most innocent goodness; the sapiential, by the teachings of a most prudent truth; and the prophetic, by a combination of the foregoing, as their content clearly illustrates. Hence these latter are, as it were, a recalling of all legal and doctrinal wisdom.

St. Bonaventure, Breviloquium, Prologue 1.3 [Franciscan Institute Publications (Saint Bonaventure, NY: 2005) p. 7.]

Sunday, October 04, 2015

The Lightning Flashes Diamond Fire

The Voice and the Dusk
by Duncan Campbell Scott

The slender moon and one pale star,
A rose leaf and a silver bee
From some god’s garden blown afar,
Go down the gold deep tranquilly.

Within the south there rolls and grows
A mighty town with tower and spire,
From a cloud bastion masked with rose
The lightning flashes diamond fire.

The purple-martin darts about
The purlieus of the iris fen;
The king-bird rushes up and out,
He screams and whirls and screams again.

A thrush is hidden in a maze
Of cedar buds and tamarac bloom,
He throws his rapid flexile phrase,
A flash of emeralds in the gloom.

A voice is singing from the hill
A happy love of long ago;
Ah! tender voice, be still, be still,
‘’Tis sometimes better not to know.’

The rapture from the amber height
Floats tremblingly along the plain,
Where in the reeds with fairy light
The lingering fireflies gleam again.

Buried in dingles more remote,
Or drifted from some ferny rise,
The swooning of the golden throat
Drops in the mellow dusk and dies.

A soft wind passes lightly drawn.
A wave leaps silverly and stirs
The rustling sedge, and then is gone
Down the black cavern in the firs.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

The Sceptre and Chrism of Kings

The Chrism of Kings
by Thomas O'Hagan

In the morn of the world, at the daybreak of time,
When Kingdoms were few and Empires unknown
God searched for a Ruler to sceptre the land,
And gather the harvest from the seed He had sown.
He found a young shepherd-boy watching his flock
Where the mountains looked down on deep meadows of green;
He hailed the young shepherd-boy king of the land
And anointed his brow with a Chrism unseen.

He placed in his frail hands the sceptre of power,
And taught his young heart all the wisdom of love;
He gave him the vision of prophet and priest,
And dowered him with counsel and light from above.
But alas! came a day when the shepherd forgot
And heaped on his realm all the woes that war brings,
And bartering his purple for the greed of his heart
He lost both the sceptre and Chrism of Kings.

Posting is likely to be light this next week due to grading.