Saturday, June 06, 2015

Umberto Eco, The Island of the Day Before


Opening Passage:

I take pride withal in my humiliation, and as I am to this privilege condemned, almost I find joy in an abhorrent salvation; I am, I believe, alone of all our race, the only man in human memory to have been shipwrecked and cast up upon a deserted ship.

Thus, with unabashed conceits, wrote Roberto della Griva presumably in July or August of 1643.

Summary: Roberto della Griva, a spy for Cardinal Mazarin trying to discover the details of a secret experiment for determining longitude, survives a shipwreck and finds himself cast up on a deserted ship anchored a way from an Island that is visible in the distance; but he cannot reach the Island because he is unable to swim. He will eventually meet up with Father Caspar Wanderdrossel, a German Jesuit, who is also castaway. They reason that they have actually reached the antipodal meridian, and that between the ship and the Island runs what we would call the International Date Line. Thus the title, of course: the Island is separated not just by space but by the fact that it exists in the day before. This gets us quite a few amusing bits, as when Father Caspar explains how God got all the water for the Flood, namely, by getting all the water across the line, thus adding to the oceans all of yesterday's ocean-water. A bizarrely mechanical and overly ingenious explanation, perhaps, but ingenious device and machination -- whether literal or metaphorical -- are major themes of the work.

For Roberto della Griva is the seventeenth century, and the novel is actually an exploration of the seventeenth century, the age that gets us to where we ourselves are. All of the seventeenth century comes before us, albeit in a jumbled form and not always named, in Roberto's increasing delirium aboard his deserted ship. We see the rise of modern astronomy and engineering and even the literary form of the novel. Kenelm Digby, Emanuele Tesauro, the great Jesuit scientists, Galileo Galilei, Rene Descartes, Blaise Pascal, Benedict Spinoza, all make some kind of appearance, just to give a small selection. And the seventeenth century can indeed be summed up in the Idea of the Machine: machines like clocks, the world as machine, the human being as machine, politics as machine, science as understanding of machines, and, most comprehensive of all, the attempt to reduce ingenuity, whether human or divine, to machine. The problem with this Baroque mentality, of course, is threefold: there always seems some residue of ingenuity that cannot be captured, the human ingenuity that is captured can never anticipate the full surprise of the world, and something always seems irretrievably lost in the attempt to capture ingenuity as a machine in the first place. All of the burgeoning technology and scientific discovery of the early modern period, and the Island is always just out of reach. Even the idea of the Island is in a sense out of reach; with its endless promise of providing the Fixed Point of the World, and the theological resonances of the mysterious Flame Dove, it is a medieval idea. The machines of the seventeenth century can never reach the promise of the day before. TRUTH, all capitals and glory, is a medieval notion. And the attempts to reach that Island get crazier and crazier until the Island has to be located on the other side of death itself.

One of the difficulties of the novel is that, despite its novelistic conventions and pretensions, it repeatedly verges very near allegory. This, I think, is a way in which the work is weaker as a novel than The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum. All three novels involve an implicit critique. The Name of the Rose put into question the idea that there was the sort of objective order to the world that the great medieval minds assumed there was. But it showed the divine, living beauty of that assumption, shining through despite all of human corruption and failing. The Island of the Day Before puts into question the idea that the rise of the modern age could reach the order of the world -- and we get so tangled up in the endless machinations of the age that Roberto and his contemporaries just look crazy. Foucault's Pendulum dealt with the same sort of incoherence in the modern age, but it showed us the human fascination of that 'psychosis of resemblances'. The Island of the Day Before gives us the incoherence of the age without all that much of its fascination. The characters never seem to stand out as more than allegorical representations, figures in a tableau, or (at best) goofy caricatures. Ironically, given the importance of the idea of the novel or romance to the story, tying everything together (as Descartes, in presenting his scientific ideas to the world, presented them explicitly as a kind of romance so as not to commit himself to the claim that they were True, and as the notion of progress can be seen as imposing the conventions of a novel on history), the book is the least successful of the three as a novel. Like the Baroque period it represents, it gets so caught up in ingenious representation and device that it is difficult to see it as anything other than highly artificial.

Nonetheless, this is Umberto Eco, and the ingenuity is a real ingenuity; the gimmicks are genuinely clever and the sheer torrent of images he pours into the book gives it a richness most novels lack. There are many charming episodes, many lovely passages, and genuine stretches of fun. It's just that the incoherence of the rise of what we call the modern age defeats even Eco's extraordinarily ingenious attempts to turn it into a coherent story that works as a story. Everything breaks down into a barely comprehensible delirium. The reader could very well be forgiven for concluding from the tale that in the post-medieval period the lunatics took over the asylum.

Favorite Passage:
But it was on that occasion, Father Caspar assured Roberto, that Noah and his family rediscovered the language Adam had spoken in Eden, which his sons had forgotten after the Fall, and which the descendants of Noah would almost all lose on the day of the great confusion of Babel, except the heirs of Gomer, who carried it into the forests of the north, where the German people faithfully preserved it. Only the German language--the obsessed Father Caspar now shouted in his native tongue--"redet mit der Zunge, donnert mit dem himmel, blitzet mit den schnellen Wolken," or, as he inventively continued, mixing the harsh sounds of different idioms, only German speaks the tongue of Nature, "blitzes with the Clouds, brumms with the Stag, gruntzes with the Schweine, zlides with the Eel, miaus with the Katz, schnatters with the Gandern, quackers with the Dux, klukken with the hen, clappers with the Schwan, kraka with the Ravfen, schwirrs with the Hirundin!" And in the end he was hoarse from his babelizing, and Roberto was convinced that the true language of Adam, rediscovered with the Flood, flourished only in the lands of the Holy Roman Emperor. (269-270)

Recommendation: Recommended, unquestionably, although, as everyone says, The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum are both better. I have to give kudos to William Weaver's translation, though; it is quite as good as we got with the other works.


Quotations from Umberto Eco, The Island of the Day Before, William Weaver, tr., Harcourt Brace & Company (New York: 1995).

Fallacies and the Appearance Condition

Hans Hansen has a good discussion of fallacies at the SEP. One of the sections discusses what Hansen calls the 'appearance condition', namely, that to be a fallacy an argumentative error must have a semblance of correctness. This is one of the fundamental ideas of fallacy theory, going back to Aristotle himself, but it has received some pushback more recently as being too psychological. Hansen notes that two reasons to keep it:

(1) "It can be part of explanations of why reasonable people make mistakes in arguments or argumentation: it may be due in part to an argument’s appearing to be better than it really is."

(2) "The appearance condition also serves to divide mistakes into those that are trivial or the result of carelessness for which there is no cure other than paying better attention, and those which we need to learn to detect through increased knowledge of their seductive nature."

But these are both 'psychological' in the sense the critics mean, important as they in fact are. There are other reasons why the appearance condition is important, and at least one of these is, I think, a more direct answer to the claim that the appearance condition is too much a matter of psychology and subjective appearance: namely, that it is not psychological at all. Discussions of the mask of the sophism or the misleading character of the argument have rarely been conducted in terms focusing on psychological states. Rather, the appearance condition is concerned with the relation the fallacy has to other arguments.

This can be of importance in several ways. For instance, a common way of thinking about fallacies is to suggest that they are argument forms, or things purporting to be argument forms, that fall short of a standard of correctness. All well and good, but there are endlessly many standards of correctness one might have in reasoning. Even formal fallacies don't all answer to one standard, since (for instance) formal fallacies for a propositional logic are not necessarily the same as formal fallacies for a term logic. It's one of the first lessons anyone gets in validity that an argument may be invalid in one way and yet still be valid according to a more appropriate way of determining validity. We usually just check which standard of correctness to use by looking at which common standard would make the argument a good one -- but fallacies aren't made good arguments, or they wouldn't be fallacies. So how do we determine which standard of correctness is most appropriate for understanding the fallacy itself? By the relation of the fallacies to arguments that are correct under various standards. And, indeed, how does anyone actually study fallacies? By comparing them to good arguments. To be recognizable as a fallacy, the fallacy must be 'groupable' with good arguments in some way.

The appearance condition is thus a classification requirement, and it simply tells us, in practical terms, that we should understand fallacies by determining the relation of the fallacy to arguments that are good and correct. Analyzing an error requires recognizing what it falls short of; and that by its nature is equivalent to identifying what standard to which it 'appears', but fails, to conform. Conceivably this could involve some kind of psychological approach, but when one recognizes that the formal fallacy of denying the antecedent has the 'appearance of correctness' of being grouped with modus tollens and modus ponens, this is not a psychological matter at all: one can identify precisely the purely logical features involved. Thus the objection goes astray from the beginning.

Poem a Day VI


The cars go sailing past us;
the roar along the roadway
makes a thrumming, rumbling noise
from which we can never hide.

Always furious with speed,
driven by some inner need
to race beyond the ruthless tide
from which we can never hide.

Friday, June 05, 2015

The Analects, Books IV-VI

Book IV

Much of Book IV is concerned with humanity to oneself and others (ren). We should live in that social setting that allows us to cultivate it (4.1). It gives one stability regardless of the circumstances (4.2; 4.5). Setting one's heart on humanity is the way to be without evil (4.4); but it is a high standard because, as Confucius says, he has never come across anyone who truly did, although no doubt they exist somewhere (4.6).

But what is clearly the major message of the book is repeated multiple times: The noble focus on the good and right and not on profit (4.10; 4.11; 4.12; 4.16).

Book V

Book V conveys its themes by having Confucius focus on people. We start out with comments about the men to whom Master Kong married his daughter and his niece (5.1; 5.2). Then we have Master Kong teaching by way of his evaluation of students: his compliments for several (5.3; 5.4; 5.9), his defense of another (5.5), his pleasure at the response of another (5.6), his criticisms of others (5.7; 5.8; 5.10; 5.12). He comments on other people to his students (5.15; 5.16; 5.17; 5.18; 5.19; 5.20; 5.21; 5.22; 5.23;. 5.24; 5.25). And he also talks of himself (5.26; 5.28). In a sense we can think of Confucius as doing ethics by building up profiles: the profile of the noble man or gentleman, the profile of the petty man, and the various ways in which different people approach the one or the other. One advantage of doing ethics this way comes up a lot in The Analects: it makes it easier to avoid confusing different kinds of character traits and practices (e.g., 5.19).

Book VI

The emphasis on persons begun in Book V continues into Book VI. We get three highly praised students, Yong, Hui, and Boniu (6.1; 6.3; 6.7; 6.10; 6.11) and more complex commentary on the students (6.6; 6.8). We also get Confucius's active concern for his students (6.10; 6.14) and his advice for others (6.12; 6.13).

We also get more general commentary on moral character, particularly humanity (ren). We get the contrast between wisdom and humanity (6.22; 6.23; and perhaps 6.26). Confucius also remarks on the absurdity of not focusing on moral life (6.17; 6.19; 6.24; and perhaps 6.25).

to be continued

Poem a Day V


leaping, rolling,
wagging, waggish, drolling,
all the universe extolling,
royal as they play.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Thursday Virtue: Chastity

Chastity as such was relatively little discussed in the ancient and medieval periods; it gets mentioned, but most discussion that can be recognized as being in some way about chastity is focused on particular practical issues in specific social contexts -- consecrated virginity and marriage being the most common contexts. To find any extended discussion of chastity as such, rather than chaste actions, one must look at those who were deliberately trying to be very thorough.

Aquinas, of course, takes chastity to be a subjective part of temperance (2-2.143.1). Temperance is often the most difficult of the cardinal virtues to pin down because it only draws hard and fast lines at the extremes; this is because it is concerned primarily with restraint in matters of pleasure in order to promote beauty and avoid shamefulness in action. Like all cardinal virtues, Aquinas assigns it 'parts'. Subjective parts are just versions of the same virtue with a specific matter -- in this case, quite obviously, the matter is sexual pleasure. Everybody recognizes that the pursuit of sexual pleasure must be moderated in light of what is reasonable; thus it is clear that there would have to be some virtue of moderation with respect it (2-2.151.1). It's important to grasp that chastity understood in this sense does not concern sex alone; it concerns all things relevant to the pursuit of sexual pleasure, because moderation in that pursuit requires attention to all the major circumstances of the pursuit. So it also pertains to kissing, hugging, and the like, which can function as signs and circumstances of the pursuit of sexual pleasure.

The question arises, of course, of how chastity relates to virginity, which involves abstention from sexual pleasure (2-2.152). Virginity in the proper sense is a virtue, because it is not mere abstention from sexual pleasure but abstention in order more perfectly to fulfill a higher purpose, namely, in order to contemplate truth. (Aquinas says quite explicitly that abstention from sex solely out of aversion to sex is the action of a vice, namely, the vice of insensibility.) So how is virginity related to chastity? Aquinas says that virginity is to chastity as magnificence is to liberality, so his answer requires a brief detour through those virtues.

Liberality (2-2.117), a potential part of justice, is the virtue concerned with making good use of one's wealth; there are two ways one may do this, namely, by spending it an appropriate way or by giving it for the good of others, but the latter is the more perfect expression of the virtue. Magnificence (2-2.134), a potential part of fortitude, is the virtue concerned with accomplishing great works with one's wealth. One cannot have the virtue as such without the money it would take actually to accomplish a virtue; but it is inseparably linked to liberality in that the truly liberal person will either be actually magnificent (if the money is at hand) or have a proximate disposition to being so (if it is not). Note, incidentally, that the line is merely the material resources required to do great things, which one then does, not how much money one has. What distinguishes the two is that magnificence adds a special excellence to that of liberality, namely the notion of something difficult to achieve (which is why it ends up as a potential part of fortitude despite being so closely linked with a potential part of justice). Liberality provides the formal part of magnificence; but magnificence as such requires a material element that liberality does not automatically provide. Because of this, magnificence has the quirk that if you lose it, repentance can restore the 'formal part', i.e., liberality, but it cannot guarantee that you will get the 'material part' back -- merely repenting will not increase your bank account, or, one supposes, repenting would be much more popular than it is. However there is a further quirk in that virtues are only lost by actions pertaining to vices; if you have lost your money through no fault of your own, you have not lost the disposition to use your wealth in a magnificent way, but simply lost the opportunity to do so, like someone cut off from his funds; to lose magnificence requires acting miserly.

Likewise, virginity, taken as a virtue, adds to chastity a special excellence, the integrity of the flesh for a higher purpose, which can be considered a sort of 'great work' of temperance. Thus virginity requires more than being chaste, but one who is genuinely chaste, whether as married or as widow, has a character such that it would be disposed to the virtue were that appropriate. Just like magnificence, virginity gets its formal part from chastity but adds to it an additional material excellence; thus if one loses it (the virtue, not physical virginity) one cannot be guaranteed to get the virtue back. However, if one loses one's physical virginity through no fault of one's own, as has happened all too often in history through rape, one still has the virginal disposition, and thus the virtue of virginity; that can only be lost by unchaste acts.

Poem a Day IV

Love, Joy, and Peace

True love is known by this: it forms a rite,
as birds will build a nest, or spiders spin,
and like a crystal rainbowing the light,
it facets to refract the light within,
each aspect drawing lines 'twixt good and sin
that, by restraint, true joy may leap to sight.

True joy is known by this: it cannot rest
with rush alone, or with the thrill of lover's kiss,
nor can it count its current state the best,
but project piled on project builds its bliss;
and yet it pours out more than even this,
that peace may be the crown to all its zest.

True peace is known by this: it moves unmoved.
In peace alone does love a world create:
the love of parent, child, comrade, mate,
each quests to find a world in what is loved,
and, loving one, finds all inside, innate.
Thus love abounds to joy, by peace is proved.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Proportionate Distribution of Appreciation and Love

Man is a finite real being endowed with the intuition of the essence of being, which has no bounds. By means of this intuition man is fitted to know every being, in such wise, however, that he has the power to will and love, or not to will and love, the beings which he knows. It is this faculty that enables him to act morally; for moral good consists "in willing and loving the essence of being, and therefore the whole of being without any exclusion whatever." Now, if the nature of moral good requires that the whole of being should be willed and loved, it manifestly requires also that each particular being should be loved in proportion to the degree in which it partakes of the essence of being.

This proportionate distribution of our appreciation and love constitutes the sum of our moral duties; and the more we maintain and love it, the more perfect we are.

Bl. Antonio Rosmini, Theodicy, volume 2, pp. 214-215.

Poem a Day III

Parable of the Rose

"How lovely grows this rose,"
the lover said,
"its petals fresh and sweet,
its leaves so green;
I give to it my heart,
and all my life.
Forever shall I love its splendor fair
and be its knight!"

The thorns were wicked sharp;
they drew his blood,
and yet he persevered.
His love was true
for freshly blossomed blooms
of of ruby hue.

But winters come, and snows;
and petals fell,
and nothing but the thorns
were left to hold.
"Alas, I was deceived!"
the lover said,
and left it there to stand
in bitter ice.

O faithless lover, think!
Can winter thaw?
Can bushes bloom again
with petals bright?
Was not to love the bloom
to bear the thorns?
Was not the winter price
of spring and growth?
Does not the earth return
around the sun,
elliptic roll the year,
and season change?

And more than this, yes, more,
can you not see
that one who loves the bloom,
and truly loves,
will love the bush that blooms,
and love it more,
though long may grow its thorn
upon the stem,
though winter shear the flower
and leave it bare?

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Steamboat Go by Steam, Sailboat Go by Sail

“The John B. Sails”

Come on the sloop John B.,
My grandfather and me,
Round Nassau town ve did roam.
Drinking all night, ve got in a fight,
Ve feel so break-up, ve vant to go home.

So hoist up the John B. sails,
See how the mainsail set,
Send for the captain ashore—let me go home,
Let me go home, let me go home,
I feel so break-up, I vant to go home.

The first mate he got drunk,
Break up the people trunk,
Constable come aboard, take him away—
Mr. Johnstone, leave me alone,
I feel so break-up, I vant to go home.

The poor cook got the fits,
Throw away all o’ my grits,
Captain’s pig done eat up all o’ my corn.
Lemme go home, I vant to go home,
I feel so break-up, I vant to go home.

Steamboat go by steam,
Sailboat go by sail,
My girl’s hat ’ain’t got no tail.
Lemme go home, I vant to go home,
I feel so break-up, I vant to go home.

Send all the things from ashore,
Let all the breezes blow,
I’m so sorry that I can longer stay,
Good-by to you— Tra-la-la-lu,
This is the vorst trip since I vas born.

The John B. was a real ship, and is thought to lie at the bottom of Governor's Harbor in Nassau. Apparently the crew was famous for being a bit on the hell-raising side.
This is a Bahamian folk song first written down by Richard Le Gallienne in 1916, and then published in part by Carl Sandburg in a collection of folksongs. It is difficult to determine when it was first audio-recorded, but The Weavers version (1950) under the title "Wreck of the John B" was the first widely popular one. After that, of course, it was sung by several different groups under various titles. I like Jimmie Rodgers's version (1960). But, of course, the version that was so catchy that it absolutely dominated, to the extent that it's hard to think of the song in any other way, is that of The Beach Boys (1966) under the title "Sloop John B".

Sui Juris Churches XVIII: The Greek Byzantine Catholic Church

(on sui juris churches in general)

Liturgical Family: Byzantine

Primary Liturgical Languages: Greek (both Koine and modern)

Juridical Status: Apostolic Exarchate

Approximate Population: Somewhere between 2500 and 5000

Brief History: Most of the Greek-speaking world fell to the Ottoman Turks, who recognized the danger to their rule of any East-West union among Christians, and therefore organized their policy with regard to Greek Christians in such a way as to hinder the possibility of it. It was thus not until the nineteenth century that an organized union with Rome (as opposed to fleeing West or counting oneself as Catholic secretly) became even a genuine feasibility. Certain possibilities rose immediately, however, when Ottoman control began to loosen and recede. In 1829, the Ottoman government under considerable external pressure removed Catholics from the authority of Orthodox patriarchs, and in 1856, John Marangos started a mission in Constantinople itself. He would later go on in 1878 to have missions in Athens. In part as the result of his efforts, a priest in Thrace, Isaias Papadopoulos, became Catholic and built up a small community there, as well. Further growth occurred through the arrival of Assumptionist missions in Constantinople in 1895.

While the community was still small and barely surviving, the growth and organization had developed enough that Pius X organized the Ordinariate for the Greeks in the Ottoman Empire in 1911, naming Isaias Papadopoulos its head. This was out of Constantinople; however, in the 1920s, after Papadopoulos had been succeeded by George Calavassy, Turkey and Greece exchanged portions of their population, and, barring a few scattered exceptions, most of the Byzantine Rite community in Constantinople was transferred to Athens. Thus in 1923, the Apostolic Exarchate for Byzantine-Rite Greek Catholics was formed, headquartered in Greece, although it still also covered the Byzantine Rite Catholics in Turkey.

In 1932 it was deemed better to divide the exarchate in two, one for Greece and the other for those in Turkey. The next several decades, however, were increasingly troublesome for Greeks of any kind in Turkey, and thus the Turkish exarchate dwindled through persecution and immigration. It is now almost defunct -- it is a single parish that has not had even a priest since 1997 and its church is mostly used by Chaldean Catholic refugees -- but it still exists.

The Exarchate for Byzantine-Rite Greek Catholics continues to grow slowly in Greece itself, however, despite strong opposition from the Greek Orthodox, who tend to regard it as a deliberate and gratuitous interference by Rome. For its size, it is quite active, and serves as the basic framework by which the Catholic Church serves Byzantine Rite Catholics of all kinds in Greece.

Notable Religious Institutes: The Sisters of the Pammakaristos Mother of God, founded in 1922.

Extent of Official Jurisdiction: Two exarchates in Greece and Turkey, although the latter is vacant, and some small scattered parishes elsewhere.

Online Sources and Resources:

Poem a Day II

(This poem-a-day series, incidentally, will probably only be a two-week one -- unless it just keeps going on its own, of course.)

Cracks in Tradition

The greatest foe of legacy
that springs from foolish men
is not the raging army
that raises such a din;
it's not the sands of ages
as they pour in strands so thin,
but so-called friends and lovers
corrupting from within.

A tradition lasts for ages
and forms both kith and kin;
it stands like stone and iron
when the raging storms begin;
but a fort immune to sieges
can fall from spineless men
and so-called friends and lovers
corrupting from within.

The one who rushes from his post,
thinking thus to win;
the one who cries "Peace, Peace"
to cover up his sin;
one who runs, or one who hides,
from fear of blood and din:
yes, so-called friends and lovers,
corrupting from within.

Lord, from lying to ourselves,
please deliver us with grace,
from falsehood on our tongues
and from falseness in our face,
from carelessness and smugness,
from rashness born of pride
and from stabbing in the back
the defenders on our side --
for a fort immune to sieges
can fall from spineless men
and so-called friends and lovers
corrupting from within.

Monday, June 01, 2015

The Analects, Books II-III

Book II

Book II opens with one of the more extraordinary images of the book: to govern with genuine de is to be like the pole star, staying in its place while all the other stars do reverence to it (2.1). De is often translated as 'virtue'; it is moral authority. The contrast, given by Master Kong himself at 2.3, is with coercive force. The notion of 'might makes right' is a perpetual universal human temptation; it promises success and power. But it is a lying promise. If people are governed by coercion but not moral authority, they are corrupted in ways that will begin to make it impossible to govern them. Confucius makes this clear to Duke Ai and Ji Kang Zi. The obedience of the people, he notes to Duke Ai, derives from the ruler putting the straight above the crooked (2.19). People reverence rulers who possess dignity, are loyal to rulers who fulfill their proper responsibilities in their families, and are encouraged by rulers who "promote the good and instruct the incompetent" (2.20). This alone is true governance.

As with Plato, so with Confucius: government in the proper sense begins with learning in the proper sense. What makes Hui Master Kong's most brilliant student is not that he seems clever, but that he is able to take what he learns and set a good example with what he has learned (2.9). There are two aspects to this kind of education: you must study, yes, but you must also think it through yourself; and you must think for yourself, yes, but you also must study (2.15). As with Hui, the one who truly learns becomes thereby a teacher, even if only by example; but true teaching is when "by keeping the old warm one can provide understanding of the new" (2.11). In admonishing You, one of his students, he remarks one of the universals of education: that real understanding requires understanding what you understand and what you don't (2.17). And learning needs to be pursued for the right reason. The goal of learning is to become a noble person. But the noble do not treat themselves as if they were mere tools for the use of others (2.12). To achieve this end we must be both practical in approach (2.13) and catholic in mind (2.14).

This is not some abstract standard. It literally starts at home, in the family, with children acting properly toward their parents. This is not merely a matter of support. One must follow the appropriate standard (li) at all times (2.5), and this requires most of all (and sometimes hardest of all) a proper attitude of respect (2.7; 2.8). This is not a trivial matter. If Master Kong is a teacher, and teaching is what makes it possible to govern properly, why does he not take part in government? But this involves a false notion of government, perhaps even one that falls back into the 'might makes right' idea. What is the single most important thing a person can do to contribute to government? "Only be dutiful towards your parents and friendly towards your brothers" (2.21). This was one of the most important things even for rulers to do (2.20); and it is more fundamental to the real governance of a real society than all the pomp and splendor associated with high office.

Book III

Much of Book III is concerned with the lamentable failure of people to live according to appropriate standard of action or rite (li). The Ji family tries to puff itself up by appropriating the symbols traditionally belonging to the Emperor (3.1; 3.6), as do the Three Families who hold the actual power in the state of Lu (3.2) and Guan Zhong, the chief minister of Qi (3.22). This kind of attempt shows a failure to grasp the elementary point of an appropriate standard or rite -- that it must be followed appropriately. If you cannot have the integrity that comes from humanity toward yourself and others (ren), how can you possibly act in genuine accordance with the rites (3.3)? The face must come before the make-up and the silk before the paint on it (3.8). You must, like the student Lin Fang, inquire into the root of the standard (3.4). And in that light, the absurdity of trying to appropriate the appearances of appropriate action without regard for its spirit becomes plain: the Ji family inappropriately sacrifices to Mount Tai, but in doing so they are treating Mount Tai as if it were worse than a student like Lin Fang who is able clearly to see that there must be a root to the rites (3.6).

To properly act in accordance with rite requires taking the trouble to learn, and finding the right exemplars (3.9; 3.14; 3.15). This relates to government as well, since rulers need to act toward ministers with appropriate standards (li), and ministers need to respond to rulers with loyalty (zhong), as Confucius told the duke of Lu (3.19).

to be continued

Poem a Day I


The sky is bluebird, bright and clear,
the wind is soft and fresh with scent,
the lilacs fresh, the dew just dried,
and life is blooming, sweet with joy.

If rain will come in later clouds,
it does not matter for today;
it cannot change this morning's good,
when life is blooming, sweet with joy.

The Greatest Possession

Today is the feast of St. Justin, Martyr. Justin's account of philosophical disagreements, from Chapter 2 of the Dialogue with Trypho:

"I will tell you," said I, "what seems to me; for philosophy is, in fact, the greatest possession, and most honourable before God, to whom it leads us and alone commends us; and these are truly holy men who have bestowed attention on philosophy. What philosophy is, however, and the reason why it has been sent down to men, have escaped the observation of most; for there would be neither Platonists, nor Stoics, nor Peripatetics, nor Theoretics, nor Pythagoreans, this knowledge being one. I wish to tell you why it has become many-headed. It has happened that those who first handled it, and who were therefore esteemed illustrious men, were succeeded by those who made no investigations concerning truth, but only admired the perseverance and self-discipline of the former, as well as the novelty of the doctrines; and each thought that to be true which he learned from his teacher: then, moreover, those latter persons handed down to their successors such things, and others similar to them; and this system was called by the name of him who was styled the father of the doctrine...."

I have previously discussed the Middle Platonist background to St. Justin's ideas.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Dark Fluxion, All Unfixable by Thought

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

—E coelo descendit Γνωθι σεαυτον.—Juvenal, xi. 27.

Γνωθι σεαυτον—and is this the prime
And heaven-sprung adage of the olden time !—
Say, canst thou make thyself?—Learn first that trade;—
Haply thou mayst know what thyself had made.
What hast thou, Man, that thou dar'st call thine own?—
What is there in thee, Man, that can be known?—
Dark fluxion, all unfixable by thought,
A phantom dim of past and future wrought,
Vain sister of the worm,—life, death, soul, clod—
Ignore thyself, and strive to know thy God!


An unusually pessimistic assessment of the importance of self-knowledge; which, of course, is deliberate, since Coleridge is turning the ancient adage to know thyself on its head.

Sui Juris Churches XVII: The Armenian Catholic Church

(on sui juris churches in general)

Liturgical Family: Armenian

Primary Liturgical Language: Armenian

Juridical Status: Patriarchal

Approximate Population: Somewhere between 600,000 and 800,000; exact numbers are difficult to achieve because the population of Armenian Catholics is very scattered.

Brief History: According to longstanding tradition, the first churches in Armenia were founded by the Apostles St. Bartholomew and St. Thaddeus. As the church grew, it underwent several persecutions until the great St. Gregory the Illuminator converted King Tiridates III; in 301, Tiridates proclaimed Christianity the official religion of Armenia, making Armenia the first officially Christian nation in the world. The principal bishop of the nation became known as the Catholicos. Armenian bishops participated in the First Council of Nicaea and the First Council of Constantinople; none participated in the Council of Ephesus, but that Council's decisions were accepted by the Armenian hierarchy. War with the Persians likewise prevented any Armenian bishops from participating in the Council of Chalcedon. Embrace of Chalcedon turned out not to be quite so simple; the Armenians were closely connected to bishops in the Roman Empire who were Monophysites, and appear to have affirmed the Emperor Zeno's Henotikon, an unsuccessful attempt to reconcile the two sides of the dispute.

At the Second Council of Dvin in 555, the Armenians seem to have broken communion with the Chalcedonian hierarchy in the Roman empire. The action seems to have been extraordinarily controversial in Armenia itself; several Armenian churches refused to accept the decision, including the rather important churches of Georgia and of the Aluans. The result is that Armenian Christian history involves a very strange fluctuation for the next several centuries, in which it is difficult to work out when the Armenians, and which Armenians, can be considered in communion with Rome and New Rome. The anti-Chalcedonian party seems to have largely managed to keep a hold of the most important sees, but there seems almost always to have been at least some Armenian bishops who were actually in communion with Constantinople or Rome. In the late sixth century, for instance, the Armenian church was itself broken by schism for a while when two different Catholicoi were elected by the anti-Chalcedonian and the Chalcedonian parties, and the Georgian Church simply broke off entirely. In addition, there are several instances in which the main trunk of the Armenian Church reunited with Constantinople, only to end up breaking off again when political tensions increased or a new Catholicos was elected. There are other cases, like that of the great Nerses Shnorhali, in which the Catholicos clearly made a good-faith attempt at reunion but was defeated by Byzantine politics -- in Nerses Shnorhali's case by Imperial demands he did not regard himself as having the authority to grant.

Over time Armenians migrated from Greater Armenia into Anatolia and Cilicia, which became known as Lesser Armenia; with the invasions of the Seljuk Turks, refugees poured into Cilician Armenia. The See of the Catholicos was also transferred to Cilicia. During the Crusades, which were beginning around the same time, Cilician Armenia became very close and important allies of the Crusaders, and thus the Armenian Church came into regular contact with Rome. In 1194 Grigor VI Apirat was elected Catholicos in Cilicia; but his election was opposed in Greater Armenia, who elected an anti-Catholicos. In part because of this, Gregory entered into communion with Rome. In practical terms, this seems to have remained mostly at the level of a formality, and very little seems to have been done to follow through with it, although there were occasional attempts on either side. Likewise, after the fall of Cilicia to the Mamluks, there was another attempt at reunion by the Council of Florence in 1439, but nothing came of this again. Things became even more complicated in the 1440s when the double Catholicosate developed, with a (primary) Catholicos in Etchmiadzin in Greater Armenia and a (subordinate) Catholicos in Sis.

Only in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries did anything begin to come together fully, although it should be noted that its doing so depended in part on the frameworks that were already in place due to the (many) previous attempts at union. It was a complicated development however; the Armenian Catholic Church as it exists today arose not out of a single union but out of an entire series of small, independent unions that were then consolidated. An important early major step was the formation of the Friars of Unity of St. Gregory the Illuminator in the fourteenth century, in which an Armenian monastery in Nakichevan affiliated itself with the Dominicans. This Dominican-Armenian offshoot, which would become a Dominican province in the sixteenth century and exist until the early nineteenth century, became the seed around which many scattered Armenian Catholic communities began to develop. Another major step was when a small community of Armenians living in Poland and modern Ukraine under Mikołaj Torosowicz united with Rome in the seventeenth century. Other small communities in Transylvania and elsewhere followed suit.

The most important step, however, was when a community of Armenian Catholics elected Abraham-Pierre I Ardzivian as their own Catholicos of Sis. Ardzivian asked Rome for recognition, and in 1742 the great Benedict XIV officially formed the Armenian Catholic Church, consolidating Ardzivian's followers, the Polish Armenians in communion with Rome, and the various other small groups of Catholic Armenians, into one organization. Like the Armenian Church itself, the original Armenian Catholic Church had a sort of dual headship, with Ardzivian as Catholicos of Sis and an Armenian Catholic Archbishop of Constantinople each operating independently. A major reason for this duality was the complication involved in working around the religious laws of the Ottoman Empire. This double church would be more completely integrated in 1866 by Pius IX -- not without some difficulty, since the Armenians in the jurisdiction of Constantinople resisted the move, despite the fact that it had been accomplished by letting the Archbishop of Constantinople succeed to the office. This problem would take more than a decade to work out completely.

Armenian Catholics flourished for a while, but dark days were on the horizon. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Russian persecution of Armenian Catholics desolated the eparchy that had been created for Armenian Catholics in Russia. Beginning around 1915, the Ottoman Empire began systematically arresting, deporting, and eventually killing Armenians. Perhaps 100,000 Armenian Catholics died, many others were scattered into a diaspora, and the hierarchy of the church within Turkey was almost annihilated. As an emergency measure, the primary see of the Church was moved from Turkey to Lebanon, where it still may be found. The rise of Communism also took its toll, since Armenians were found throughout the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union, and significant portions of the church were suppressed until the Armenia became a Republic in 1991.

The Armenian Catholic Church has always been a highly literary church. One of the major holidays of the liturgical calendar is Holy Translators Day, celebrating Saint Sahak and Saint Mesrob (who touched off a theological and literary golden age by developing the Armenian alphabet, translating the Bible and Greek theological works into Armenian, and developing a commentary tradition) and those who have followed in their footsteps. The Mechitarist, a monastic order founded in 1710, have devoted themselves without cease to studying, preserving, and teaching the Armenian heritage. The problems the church has faced over the years have sharply limited its ability to follow this impulse of its character, but as things have cleared up, it has begun to reassert itself more vigorously. Time only will tell what will come of it.

Notable Monuments: The Cathedral of St. Elie and St. Gregory the Illuminator in Beirut, Lebanon; the Church of Our Lady of the Dormition in Bzommar, Lebanon; the church of San Nicola da Tolentino agli Orti Sallustiani in Rome, Italy.

Notable Saints: St. Gregory the Illuminator (September 30); St. Sahak and St. Mesrob (February 17); St. Gregory of Narek (February 27); St. Nerses Shnorhali (August 13). There are also quite a few other saints who are not on the general calendar but are venerated on the Armenian Catholic calendar, like St. Nerses of Lambron (July 17). In addition, there is a large crowd of Armenian martyrs, both in the Armenian Genocide (like Bl. Ignatius Maloyan) and under Communist persecution, who may be raised to the general calendar at some point.

Notable Religious Institutes: The Mechitarists are extraordinarily important, not just for the Armenian Catholic Church in particular but for the Catholic Church as a whole. There are also the Patriarchal Congregation of Bzommar, and the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception.

Extent of Official Jurisdiction: The Patriarchate of Cilicia in Lebanon; four archeparchies in Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and the Ukraine; six eparchies, an apostolic exarchate, and three ordinariates, all scattered around the world. (Sphere of influence always extends beyond the official jurisdiction due to members of the church living outside of any official jurisdiction of the church. This is perhaps especially true of the Armenians, who are an unusually dispersed church.)

Online Sources and Resources: