“The Poor You Will Always Have With You”

This of course is a Gospel promise, to be sure – directly equivalent to “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” This is because, without the poor, there is no one capable of interpreting the words of our Lord. Apart from the poor it is a world of  eyes that can’t see, ears that can’t hear. And universal lack of memory. But with the poor our Lord accomplishes two things: 1. his words are unveiled and proclaimed. 2. When they call to repentance solidarity with Him is made possible through solidarity with them.

Of course there is still the problem of systemic misinterpretation and misrepresentation of his veiled words, which thereby not only remain veiled but become a false light. Never mind that for now. This post is simply to give thanks for this particular unveiling:  Where is Jesus in the “Talents” Parables?

This was not a parable about “God is sovereign” and “use your talents.” Jesus was teaching about speaking truth to power and paying the price for doing so.

Read it!

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Reboot: Doctoris Angelici

The blog has gone a bit stale. Time. I have none of it. Before travelling through some Presocratic lands this all began with a bit of Thomas Aquinas. Perhaps revisiting this territory might serve as an occasion for a reboot. The Presocratics are, it seems, on hiatus for the moment. As indeed are the Socratics, Post-Socratics, Neo-Socratics and whatever else might be out there.

On the 29th of June 1914 Pius X issued his motu proprio Doctoris Angelici encouraging the study of the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas in all Catholic Schools. Shortly thereafter the Sacred Congregation of Studies blessed creation with its Decree of Approval of some theses contained in the Doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas and proposed to the Teachers of Philosophy, (hereafter AKA “The 24 Theses” because, seriously, it’s the 21st century and ain’t nobody got time for that). The 24 Theses, as ordered, address Ontology, Cosmology, Psychology and Theodicy.

It’s important to understand from the outset the Catholic universe at the turn of the century into which Aquinas is being retrofitted with this reduction to these 24 Theses. The Thomistic “revival” begins in earnest with Leo XIII‘s Aeterni Patris of August 1879, an answer to the Enlightenment emancipation of philosophy from theology and the philosophical developments brought about by this liberation. Or, as Leo XIII sort of sees it:

Husband Theology gives Lady Philosophy the what-for

Husband Theology gives Lady Philosophy the what-for

Lady Philosophy has been behaving like a bit of a slag and needs to return to her Husband Theology — what God has joined together in holy matrimony let no-one tear asunder — surely a wedding made in heaven, they belong together and anyhow look what a cute couple they are. So back to Thomas, the architect of their wooing, courtship, and betrothal we go. Away with the cesspools of filth and slime that have enticed our Lady away from her right, fit and proper husband. Something like that.

In fine, for “Catholic theologians born between 1890 and 1940” the intention of the 24 Theses was “to inoculate them against infection by the idealist, subjectivist and positivist philosophies, which were held to have created ‘the modernist crisis’.” [1] Pius X had, four years prior established the Anti-Modernist oath which all “all clergy, pastors, confessors, preachers, religious superiors, and professors in philosophical-theological seminaries” were required to swear. Aquinas, or rather, the Aquinas one encounters in the likes of the 24 Theses, was the secret weapon against this newly-identified heresy now coined “Modernism”.  [2]  Anyhow (to make a long story so short that it never even gets told) beware of the weapons you forge because they will inevitably be wielded against you. My hunch is that the punch-line of the Catholic Revolution in Theology, which is one of the chief stories of the 20th-century (as those of you who pay attention to stories already know), is that it is precisely this massive reboot of Aquinas which led to the Catholic transformation officially inaugurated at Vatican II. We are accustomed to attributing this rather to the Aggiornamento, as if this provided a simple escape from Thomas into patristics and biblical exegesis. But the impulse for aggiornamento was already provided in actual historical and ad fontes approaches to Thomas taken by theologians like Chenu. Aggiornamento and Aquinas do not stand in opposition; they develop together. Neoscholasticism didn’t disappear — rather the dry and static philosophia perennis became something much more dynamic and lively. This, I reckon, is what happened.

However, since I don’t actually know anything about this firsthand I’m postulating it as a falsifiable hypothesis. So maybe I’ll blog some more stuff as I go about this business. We’ll see.

Change you can count on, not like the stuff that comes out of the US mint.

Change you can count on, not like the stuff that comes out of the US mint.

[1] Fergus Kerr, Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians: From Neoscholasticism to Nuptial Mysticism, p. 1.

[2] In this manner it’s Pius X, for my money, who invents and ushers in the Modern Era. The encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregispromulgated in 1907, is what gives this otherwise shadowy and ill-defined heresy the name “Modernism” and of course a thing doesn’t really exist until someone takes notice of it enough to want to exterminate it.

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Sodom & Gomorrah

And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city. (Matt. 10:14-15)

So that’s that. And for those of you less versed in the ways of the prophets and the profits let’s remind ourselves just what sort of city we’re talking about here.

This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. (Ezekiel 16:49)

What? You were expecting … something else? Oh sorry. I thought you had said you were a Christian. My bad.


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In which I circumscribe the definition of “theology” so that I don’t break my self-imposed blogging regulations

There is of course the classic two-fold distinction between natural and revealed knowledge. This is often traditionally extended to knowledge of God – knowing God in two ways. Never mind that for now. I’m not interested. My interest is in “revelation” itself, and what a great many traditional theologians consider “theology” to be.

There is, as any Protestant worth her salt will never fail to remind an enquirer, a certain Catholic insistence on “articles of faith” which must be believed without hesitation by all the faithful. Catholicism becomes an oppressive monster according to the gospel of our Protestant proselytiser. She well knows that the propositional statements insisted upon are not in accord with the revealed knowledge derived from the Bible …. yada … yada … yada … and so the monster must be slain and a doctrinally correct set of propositional statements — you know a sola scriptura set of dogmatics — is produced to replace the monstrous ones. And of course, in “Protestantism” (I once rejected that term out of hand I’ll have you know) the writing of dogmatics, multi-volumed, ever-swelling dogmatics after dogmatics after dogmatics, well, this activity knows no bounds (or at least that used to be the case until people by and large ceased to care about these sorts of books and the market dried up, thankfully).

The point I’d simply like to make is this. Our Protestant lady friend has missed the whole point of the term “articles of faith”. They are, to quote a classic commentator “precisely what they are called, namely articles of faith and not in themselves articles of revelation. They are not ‘propositional truth-statements, dropped, as it were from heaven…’ (Sebastian Bullough, Roman Catholicism, p. 16). Revelation, this way understood, is God’s self-impartation, which includes also knowledge of God. It it “made to man through the apostles and prophets who wrote the Bible, and this prophetical revelation, being made through human sense, imagination, and mind and moreover containing truths which in themselves are beyond the power of human reason, may be expressed in symbols and images, which taken as they stand are often not patient of being fitted into precise theological terms” (p. 16). Revelation is mystery, the impartation of that mystery, incorporation into that mystery. This reality (if indeed it is such, I’m making no claims here, it’s not a theological blog) drives our lady mad (not just her to be fair, but everyone like her, whether Catholic, Protestant, Atheist, Emacs user, and so on, you know a certain way of being religious). For her carefully crafted theological terminology is the means by which she seeks to cope with and control herself and others, without sacrificing the one thing secretly precious to her in the shrine of her heart — self-determination. The fatal irony then comes about, she loses any hope of that coveted freedom, for she is now enslaved to her self-constructed language, a language spoken by her members to guard against the threat of the Other. Security in this sort of self-determination is enslavement. Revelation is liberating. But Revelation (assuming the other way) comes from an Other. Revelation prompts a response — a word which responds in faith to the word of God. The “articles of faith” are this word of response, they are a confession of faith. And the Church (presumably) is ever striving so speak them anew. For this is the activity of faith — it is faith in God and the Word of Revelation, not in the “articles of faith”.

If this is so then one must realise then that there is inevitably a sort of Communio vs. Concilium sort of tension that is, and will always be, or must be, at play here (let the reader understand). The activity of faith does not always begin ab initio with a language that is sui generis. (You see, I said that last bit in Latin precisely to make my point. Clever, huh?) The tension is the very evidence that the activity of faith is truly active, and therefore the faith is a living faith. But what if the tension becomes a fracture, a divorce? I don’t know. This is not a theological blog. But one manner in which this probably does happen is when the parties to the divorce proceeedings circles their wagons, build their bulwarks, their mighty fortresses, by means of their propositional statements and their way of proposing them and conceiving them. Self-referential fortresses, simulacra of fortresses, no fortresses of all (they are not, existentially, articles of faith) for the illusory treasures being guarded are in the end simply the propositional statements and the manner of proposing them. The siren song of self-determination and all that sort of thing. Well tentatio is uncomfortable. But some would say that this way of the cross leads to freedom and suggest that our lady has lost her way. I would never dare. This is not a theology blog.


Of course the Revelation does not change. That is the Great Axiom. If not then what does? Something must. Or at the very least develop, which is to say grow into its fullness, its telos. So long as our dear old lady wants to engage in her game of stalemate, then for her something else must change. Wave a sola scriptura banner about (a diversionary tactic), write a carton full of dogmatics, tailor Revelation to a dress size that fits her perfectly when she admires herself in the mirror. Of course, she will insist, nothing actually changes. Indeed, nothing can change. Nothing must change.

Nothing must change?


Really? Nothing?

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I apologise if this post appears to be theology. It’s not. Not exactly. It’s just a rough and tumble paraphrase of the rhetoric of the Augsburg Confession.

Dear Emperor,

Seeing as you’ve taken upon yourself to defend the one true catholic faith and church in your realm, and we too are zealously committed to maintaining this outward unity of the faith (AC, Preface) we’d just like to affirm that, for our part, all this “reforming” stuff we are doing is hunky-dory and completely in accord with respect to Scriptures, the tradition of the Church of Rome, and Canon Law, to which we are appealing, the authorities to which we ourselves readily and happily submit. We believe all that doctrinal stuff that is taught by Scripture and tradition, and serves as a norm for ecclesiastical faith and law. (AC 1 through 21).

Sure, we may have fixed a few things here and there but nothing out of line with respect to the above. In fact, quite the opposite. So, in order to clarify the matters permit us briefly to address them. We’ve only just tried to amend certain modern innovations which many find unconscionable. We have done this out of fidelity to the true intention of the Canons. (AC 21.5-10ff) For example, we commune in both kinds out of fidelity to the Scriptures, the tradition of the Church of Rome and Canon Law. (AC 22.1ff) Out of fidelity to the same do we in our jurisidictions permit priests to marry. (AC 23 11.ff ) We think it is kind of scandalous to sell votive Masses to witless dupes for personal gain because this just seems wrong and those who do may very well be contravening Canon Law. (AC 24.10)  We don’t like to see the holy Mass disabused in such a manner. In fact, we love the Mass. That’s why we celebrate it every holy day and on all the Feast days. (AC 24.34)  So you see, our respect for the tradition of the Church and the Canons is great. That is why we zealously maintain the practice of Confession. (AC 25.1) We just think it’s a bit of overkill to expect people to remember every sin they’ve committed. Because people sin a lot and it’s easy to forget things. We have some divergent practices with respect to the discipline of Fasting. It’s been sending the wrong message in some quarters. We were worried that some people might get the wrong idea. But don’t think the changes in our practice are a barrier to the unity of the Catholic Faith and Church (AC 26.1ff) Now you’ve probably heard some rumours that we’ve been meddling in the affairs of the monastic orders and the matter of monastic vows. We just want to assure you that any changes we’ve made have been done to bring contemporary practice in line with existing Canon Law. We think it is scandalous how the authority of the Canons has been completely ignored in these matters. (AC 27.1ff) You may have also heard we’ve had some run-ins with a few bishops and have acted against their authority. We have only done so in instances clearly warranted by Scripture, the tradition of the Church and Canon Law. (AC 28.23ff) Quite obviously, on account of our love for Scripture, tradition and the canons we desire the continued oversight of the bishops in the church, so long as such oversight does not offend against Scripture, tradition and the intent of the canons. (AC 28.78)

Thanks for hearing us out dear Emperor. Yours truly, your feudal princes and subjects.

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Not Dead Yet?

I meant to post something about this a couple of months ago. Better late than never. I’m not dead yet.

The other Miliband would have us know he’s not dead yet, just the “Big State.” He appears to be putting together the rudiments of a political vision and manifesto since Ed is too busy at the moment to be bothered with such things. Perhaps, now… well … wouldn’t that be an exquisite form of entertainment down the road. A little political fratricide drama. Marvellous.

This blog was never intended for political asides. Then again, its only intention being to not be a theo-blog, I don’t see the problem in making some simple political remarks. Here are my knee-jerk reactions to DM’s “Seven Steps to Heaven Strategy for the Left”:

Firstly, it should be obvious to everyone that the purpose of the state is not to exist per se. The state serves the needs of the society. Therefore, reform of the state is in some ways always the overarching political mandate as those needs change or become either clarified or compromised. A point to DM for stating what should be the obvious.

Secondly, local political change means first and foremost actual flesh-and-blood political engagement. Complete disenfranchisement is the character of the age. Technological tyranny in service of power can only be resisted through such engagement. A point to DM.

Thirdly, I think it is good, right and salutary that the rubric of “social justice” is that which “provides a good guide to the competing demands of liberty, justice and equality.” However, the fourfold “scaffold” which DM presents is to me evidence of a deep bankruptcy of the actual level of commitment to the cause of social justice on the Left. Particularly, to state a need merely for a “thorough assault on inequality of opportunity” is completely insufficient. Of course everyone wants to live in a meritocracy. That is the Gospel of the modern world. Of course, everyone believes, as an article of their modern faith, that we must be about the business of providing a “level playing field” (not my metaphor – I abhor it, the very antithesis of solidarity this “life is a combat sport of all versus all” Weltanshauung). It is time to gore this sacred cow. This false Gospel of  “equality of opportunity” is a mask (as is the façade of “meritocracy”) which hides the legitimation of institutionalised social injustice. In the words of Zygmunt Bauman:

“Equality of opportunity” means, in fact, equal chances to make the best of inequality; indeed, equality of opportunity is an empty notion unless the social setting to which it refers is structured on a basis of inequality. Thus the very use of the term, in a sense, sanctifies and accepts as a constant predicament what socialism is bent on annihilating.* (quoted in Michael Newman’s Socialism, 2005)

No points to DM. In fact, I deduct a point on account of this demagoguery.

Fourthly, we “need a politics of economic growth, not just redistribution and regulation” claims DM.  Why? Because “the battle … is about responsible capitalism. It is also about productive capitalism.” Now this is about as Left as my right shoe. No points to DM. But it is worse than simply being as Right as my right shoe. It is a complete betrayal of some of the most viable alternatives to come out of social democratic thinking and capitalist critique in the 20th century. Are we simply to believe that growth as a given necessity while responsible discussion needs to address matters of catastrophic importance like sustainability, the finitude of natural resources, the subordination of life, liberty and humanity to the pursuit of profit? Sorry, I must deduct one point.

Fifthly, I have no idea what DM is trying to say here. The text is opaque to me. I’m not sure, but suspect, that buried within all the blah-dee-blah about “the international context” and “problems confronting all advanced western countries” and “profound shifts in the global power balance” and “the greatest strategic judgements” is some neo-con obscurantism, a feeble, war-mongering soul-cry: “I was right about Iraq, dammit!” No DM. You weren’t. And since I don’t understand at all what you’re trying to say here I’m giving you no points. And deducting one. On account of Iraq.

Sixthly, “we continue to need to modernise the party itself.” Splendid. Marshall the troops. Brother vs. brother. A coup! For the sheer entertainment value that this would bring I give you a point.

Seventhly: Hey Labour! We need to tell everybody about how great we once were. Yes, DM I can see how that might console you. Half a point to you. A pity point.

So the final tally. 3 points. Minus 3 points. Plus one-half a point. A pity point. DM gets one half of a point from me. Over to you Greens.

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The Iliad

The true hero, the true subject, the center of the Iliad is force. Force employed by man, force that enslaves man, force before which man’s flesh shrinks away. In this work, at all times, the human spirit is shown as modified by its relations with force, as swept away, blinded, by the very force it imagined it could handle, as deformed by the weight of the force it submits to. For those dreamers who considered that force, thanks to progress, would soon be a thing of the past, the Iliad could appear as an historical document; for others, whose powers of recognition are more acute and who perceive force, today as yesterday, at the very center of human history, the Iliad is the purest and loveliest of mirrors. Simone Weil, The Iliad, or Poem of Force

To define force–it is that x that turns anybody who is subjected to it into a thing. Exercised to the limit, it turns man into a thing in the most literal sense: it makes a corpse out of him. Somebody was here, and the next minute there is nobody here at all; this is the spectacle the Iliad never wearies of showing us. Simone Weil, The Iliad, or Poem of Force

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