When I confessed last week that I had for much of 2020 struggled against the sin of despair, my confessor replied: “I’m struggling with it myself. 90% of the confessions I hear these days include that one. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m shocked.”
A guest post by commenter PBW:
Nothing is impossible to God. Occam’s Razor cannot separate the works of God according to any principle of economy. What economy is evident in a cell, a tree, the biosphere, the galaxy, the farthest reaches of the universe? Irrespective of the models we construct to map and try to predict the behaviour of these things, all of them, in their concrete reality, are unfathomably complex, and each is a unique instance. What principle can place limits on the actions of the creator of all these wonders?
With this in mind, consider the conception, gestation and birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Accepting as an irreducible given that Mary, his blessed mother, “knew not man,” there is a minimalist scenario – Occam’s scenario, so to speak. On this view, the action of the Holy Ghost consisted in fusing a DNA strand of his own making with the DNA in a mature ovum of the Blessed Virgin, which at the moment of the Annunciation and Mary’s fiat, was making its way down one of her fallopian tubes. And with, “I am the servant of the Lord,” that fusion took place, and the Son became flesh as a single fertilised ovum.
Having followed the link in my latest Philosophical Skeleton Key on prayer to a prior post in which I set forth some of the metaphysical prolegomenae thereto, commenter Hambone there wrote the other day:
Kristor, you said:
Having no way to comprehend spiritual realities, I could not even understand quite exactly what the articles of the Credo properly mean, or what I was meant to be doing in worship.
I’m somewhere in the middle of understanding this post and applying it – I have long struggled with making my faith *real* rather than mental affirmation coupled with ritual observance. What ARE you meant to be doing in worship? And how does that flow from the fundamental spiritual nature of life?
Commenter Rhetocrates then suggested that my response should be promoted to a post of its own:
That’s the $64 question, isn’t it? I’m still working on it. One never finishes working on it. One cannot. Worship is fathomless. How not? Its object is infinite. We cannot begin to have a complete answer to your question.
But, I can say a few things about it.
To be a traditionalist is to wager that millions of lives already elapsed have tested most notions better than any one of them might, and have found that certain notions work better than others, and are therefore likely to be true.
To be a traditionalist then is rather like being an adherent of passive investing, which adjudges the project of beating millions of other intelligent, informed and educated investors and traders – or, in respect to any given security, at least several hundred such – to be a fool’s errand.
NN Taleb puts it bluntly in a recent tweet:
Let me rephrase for the slow at getting it. If you do not treat Tradition as (high dimensional) “experience,” you stand against science and statistical significance – the spine of experimental science.
What has worked 1010 times >>> some psych paper with 60% replication error.
Have you stumbled upon some heterodox insight about this or that topic in theology – which is to say, of the science of the Ultimate? Continue reading
Michael Praetorius (1571 – 1621)
As commonly used, the word “hope” has two components: to desire a thing, and to believe its attainment possible. Emphasis is usually placed on the second condition–when a man is said to have “lost hope” we assume that he has lost belief, not that he has lost desire. Thus it is said that the opposite of hope is despair. I believe, however, that the first component is the more crucial one. The opposite of hope is resignation.
Rosalind Murray (1890 – 1967) was the daughter of the Oxford classicist Gilbert Murray, who sensing early his daughter’s talent encouraged her to write. She published a first novel, The Leading Note, in 1910. In 1913 Murray became the wife of Arnold Toynbee, bearing him three sons. She divorced Toynbee in 1946, thirteen years after her conversion to Catholicism. No one today knows Murray’s name but in her lifetime she wrote steadily, sustained an audience, and garnered the attention of literary critics. In her later career she sidelined herself as a fiction-writer and devoted her productivity to religious non-fiction. She produced the first fruit of this authorial metamorphosis in 1939 under the heavily laden title The Good Pagan’s Failure. No doubt but that the coinage of “the Good Pagan” implies close personal relations, touching on both her father and her husband, but the book never mentions either. In it, rather, the formula denotes generically the modern, upper-class humanist whose sincere good intentions center on building up a global regime of justice and equality, but who, at the same time, rejects any concept of God and assumes a stance, sometimes dissimulated, that is hostile to religion. Such people appear as early as the Eighteenth Century. They refer to their advent as Enlightenment, which materializes in 1793 as the iconic Guillotine. Their heirs in later centuries have adopted, variously, such labels as Liberal, Progressive, Socialist, or Communist. Their failure consists in the irony that acquiring total control over the institutions and using them to carry out their policies they have by no means improved the human situation. They have largely torn down civilization and immiserated millions. When The Good Pagan’s Failure first appeared, Murray could point to the Great War as evidence for her thesis; revising the text in the early 1960s, she could point to another global conflict, the subsequent and dire Cold War, and many signs of degeneration in Western society.
Hermann Scherchen’s 1958 recording of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection,” the first to have been taped in stereo. The band is “The Vienna State Opera Orchestra,” actually a pick-up orchestra that assembled strictly for recording sessions.
Reactionaries often blame capitalism for eviscerating tradition and reducing everything to the lowest common denominator. But capitalism – i.e., free exchange – is not a recent phenomenon. It was not invented by the Franciscans, forsooth, but rather discovered by them as a subject amenable to moral, theological and philosophical analysis, and so to discourse, development and elaboration. Capitalism has been around since the beginning of human society. It is no more than a fancy word for exchange that develops surplus, after all; for mere trade, and commerce. For almost all of human history, capitalism supported and indeed mediated local tradition – or, at least, did not vitiate it.
We can’t work our way into Heaven, for finity is incapable of infinity. Indeed, we cannot achieve anything greater than ourselves, whatever; but only, rather, what is lesser than we. So, Heaven is given to us gratuitously. Our work consists only in accepting its invitation; in wu wei.
So then, there is a difference between interior holiness spirals and exterior holiness spirals. The former are done in secret, and in service of true spiritual ends, so as to accept the invitation of the Logos; whereas the latter are done publicly, and for purposes of social advantage. As essentially worldly, exterior holiness spirals partake the Arms Race to the Degenerate Bottom. They are motivated by the urge to be accepted and approved by the mob. So do they accept the conditions of the mob, and instantiate it.
The Pharisee is an agent of the mob.