On Consideration

I watched a video of a conference in Colombia that took place a few weeks back. I had been joking with a friend about it, knew several of the lay people who attended, and heard from one who is a deacon a good report. He said his favorite was one on the history of the translation of Scripture that is most common in Spanish. He said he was able to understand better what was being said thanks to these Church History talks I get up to with another pastor down there.

Then I heard about it from the guy whom I instructed for a while in Greek. He was not so sanguine about this session and had some questions. It turns out that the Trinitarian Bible Societies, which have headquarters in England, are Reformed, and so they are eager to participate in Reformed efforts. They somehow got in at the last minute and sent a guy with a power point down to participate in the Reformed version of Big Eva in Colombia. People loved it; thought it was great. It is all the rage nowadays: follow the TGC.

Of course, Colombians will say good things about anything. What we need brother, they have been known to exclaim in confidence and sincerity, is exactly what you just did here. What you just came and gave us made all the other conferences seem like a devotional; you totally put them in the shade. Colombians are encouragers, they love to be loved, they want you to fall in love with them, to think them grateful and eager. If you pour money in, they’ll cheer. It is part of how they are, and part of what they do. It is part of the warmth, and not altogether bad. It also requires a corresponding absence of judgment which fortuitously is also there in quantities.

The video was characterized by made up history. There was a made up story about how the early churches kept their originals of the books of the New Testament and about how when a copy was made, travelers were sent to the location of the original to compare and always preserve an accurate copy. It was intimated that Christians have always been scrupulously careful about the NT text. The other made up story came by way of a tissue of insinuations. It was the notion that any manuscript not agreeing with the Textus Receptus is associated with Alexandria, where diligent heretics modified the text to fit their views. There were so many things wrong with this part it was almost ingenious: there was implied Biblicism, there was conflation, there were selective details, etc.

The doctrine was: God preserves his word, of course. Translations that contain less than the TR can therefore not be said to contain all of God’s word. (It is interesting that the next conference has as its theme Mark 16:15. Is there a pattern emerging here?)

Then came the proof: verses where doctrine is minimized. Apparently, the Trinitarian Bible Societies, which claim to value the 17th century protestant confessions, have a Biblicist view not only of how heretics derive doctrine from Scripture, but how orthodox doctrines are derived as well. Noting how this guy does history, it comes as no surprise. It was all organized to prey on ignorance, of course; at least, one is hard pressed not to believe it is done without intent. What sort of intent? I wonder. And, if ignorance and chance come together this coherently, do I need to start believing in evolution?

Everybody is eager to start seminaries in Colombia nowadays. People down there are, people with money here are, and people with varying skills volunteer. As long as you need a translator to give the class or have some notoriety even if you are crippled by Spanish fluency, and as long as you do not cost them anything, you are qualified to teach, it seems. And who are the gatekeepers on all this? The organizers. Those who do the work of brokering the arrangements between the supply side and the demand side, and who answer to the supply, not the demand.

Bernard of Clairvaux lived a life between action and contemplation. He called it consideration. Consideration is what is needed.

Philosophies & Theologies of the Unexamined Life

I have often felt, living as I do in a moment of Platonic minority, that my position resembles that of Augustine in Numidia. He was surrounded by a Donatist majority, but scorned them as so many frogs on the edge of their marsh croaking that they were the true Christians. He could afford to be scornful, he knew the company he kept. In the same way, there is for me a deep and inescapable affinity of Christianity and Platonism, one that transcends the peculiarities and distortions of time and space. The genius of Aquinas, and Albert before him, lay in discovering what Aristotle was good for, a project with no inconsiderable scope and achievement. It is perhaps, of all the minor movements within Christianity, the greatest yet. But it is not co-extensive with Christianity, and has yet to prove as lasting as the Platonic moment which lasted over one thousand years, and lives on still, and pervades and suffuses, Plato’s philosophy being the more perennial. The present materialism of our society will no doubt pass, and with it perhaps the appeal of Thomism will diminish, his insights be consolidated and platonized, and the project of Christian Platonism may resume with its greater wonder, more robust confidence in reason, more soaring metaphysics, and far more intelligible epistemology.

I can hope so.

Here is an observation you may find more interesting. My teacher for the class at Villanova is a committed Thomist. We have been studying Rahner, and there is an interesting thing I read going on between the lines. It is tacit, it is suggested, but I sense it, and this is what I sense: That there is a feeling that Rahner is an Aquinas wannabe. Aquinas, living in a Platonic world, actually manages successfully to accommodate Christian theology to something new: the coming of the dominant Aristotelian approach: theology as a science, rather than simply as a philosophy, with a corresponding method, rather than just the discipline of a life. These modern guys are wannabes in that they want to accommodate theology to Kant and Hegel, and there is a bit of a Thomist amusement buried away deep lest it be seen as an outright sneer.

I have little sympathy for 20th century theologians of any eminence, and as a result almost no interest. So you must take my observations with a grain of salt. Besides, I’m not a theologian, reading theology is not something I do for the sake of knowing theology; it does not interest me as literature or history do. Anything that is science falls below my threshold of wonder (modern philosophy, for example). But I have to be exposed to them in what I’m doing, and I think they are as difficult and laborious, that people debate what they mean because they are incoherent. They are incoherent because what they’re trying to do, their project of reconciling Christian theology to modern assumptions is impossible, it strains the Christian meaning they’re trying to retain to distortion. Hence Rahner, when he tries to bring the Trinity into interfaith dialogue with Islam and Judaism, ends up sounding like a modalist. I assume that if you bring Christian theology into dialogue with polytheists, you’ll end up sounding tritheist. They’re trying to replicate Aquinas’ achievement, but the span this time, instead of being a river, is the sea, and they must always fall short.

Morning & Evening of the Unexamined Life

I had a morning’s walk in the rain, and so did not get all my reading done, though some was. Spring is doing, and that is worth it. Who needs activism in the academy? I need contemplation.

I also need a job. What will it be this time? I do a lot of work these days, but the only one paying for it is my wife. And my problem is that I’ll prioritize an activity in which I can learn high over earning money. At one point will I know enough for anybody to want to pay me? I doubt it. I have too long to go for that. I should go for the money, but I do enjoy learning, however gradually.

I had an evening’s walk in the sun. These are days to be enjoyed here, before the brutalities of summer come. It is a harsh and indelicate country that engages yearly in the summers here indulged. For now there is humane and pleasant weather for the last month of classes.

What Ails Them

“At this point we are reminded by how far today we are afflicted by a certain kind of provinciality of mind, a reductivist mentality that can conceive of a question’s being worth asking only if we know in advance some routine procedure guaranteed to provide intelligible answers to it. It is indeed an exceedingly curious reversal of commonsense intellectual priorities that a pre-formed procedure for answering questions should be allowed to dictate the legitimacy of the questions that may be asked.”

Turner, Thomas Aquinas, 135

NYC: a Place for Learning

I learn how life is. You see all these people standing before the doors, waiting to get into the boat, their heads down and their thumb constantly moving. Wires go into their ears; they talk to someone elsewhere, turning away from the physical presence that might disturb their attention. And over this scene stand the prophetic words of Heidegger: Technology alienates from being. I have seen a woman walking down the street with a phone in each hand, absorbed in each alternately, dimly aware of the surrounding world.

They use sunglasses as masks there, eye contact not being encouraged. Not that they’re not bold or curious. They are. I have looked up from my table at a veranda and almost always it is to see someone drop his gaze. You look at New Yorkers directly and they’ll automatically drop their gaze. They are curious about other people, but surreptitiously so. There are a lot of weirdos on the street, and these are looking for an opening. There are predators, and you want to make no contact with them at all, or seem like one. Life is so public in that place, so much the life of crowds that the fashion of the glasses is a fashion of armor too.

Because it is a hard life, that of the City. One of the things I learn is how forward you are expected to be. You make your way and you do not expect it to come to you. There is, of course, politeness and good service. But you must be forward: blessed are those who hustle and do what it takes. It is engaged, knowing, and unreceptive, which is to say: acquisitive. I went up and down Madison Ave looking to see a Dunkin Donuts, ubiquitous elsewhere. North of 38th one is not to be found: south there are two. North is the world of luxury goods, of shops in which security guards wearing nothing ill-tailored stare out, deftly avoiding your gaze, alert to the coming of one wearing the badges of inclusion. Affluence is paraded because it means success. Hard surfaces cover the vulnerabilities of the face for those who can afford to keep to themselves.

Two things I’ve learned about fashion. One is that a man can still look well with a mustache not entirely enormous, which I would not have formerly believed. Not an odd or an elaborate mustache, but something natural and ordered, corresponding to the face. Not many in our day will, but this guy understood all the factors and pulled it off. I have yet to wrap my head around how the thing comes to be. I did manage to wrap my head, thanks to New York, around another phenomenon: that is the man in sandals. The sandal is such a thing as requires a certain proportion around the naked foot and corresponding leg. It is more fitting for a woman because it can be more delicate, and so maintain proportion. There is a corresponding grace to the whole effect, which is of a different nature in the male. In men’s sandals, they must be less delicate, more substantial; but because they are, they usually overwhelm the foot, characterizing it not by grace but mere clumsiness. There is only a certain minimum of clunk available to the male sandal before it becomes effeminate, like a flip-flop. This all changes if you are a sufficiently large man. The proportions of a sufficient but not egregious sandal being dwarfed by a great foot clear up the problem. And that is what I saw, and wondered at, not having before believed such a thing at all could be.

All this is the world, but it is the world made obvious. I walk through the grim underworld of downtown Philadelphia, where the subways rattle and the cold light of ancient fluorescent tubes shows unrelieved corridors of wasted space. Nobody makes a bid for it. In the farthest habitable desolation, before the unvarying corridors begin, you have a Taco Bell. There is nothing of ambition in a Taco Bell since such a place contains nothing human kind associates with desire. The space ns Manhattan is at a premium in a way Philadelphia cannot rival, not being on an island. So it is concentrated, and humankind is concentrated, and for some purposes more observable in the avidity which this brings out.

Avidity, and other humanizing things. They don’t do ice as much now in New York, and that I celebrate. They give you water in glass bottles nowadays, not chilled either, and plain glass cups. None of it with ice, though this has not affected the potation of other chilled beverages. Perhaps it is in an effort to save water. After you are done they dump the remainder out and wash the whole apparatus, of course.

The Kind of Paragraph that Makes Brian Davies on Aquinas Valuable

“By ‘speculative intellect’ he means the mind as understanding at a purely theoretical level, and, under this heading, he distinguishes between ‘understanding’ (intellectus), ‘science’ (scientia), and ‘wisdom’ (sapientia). By ‘practical intellect’ he means the mind as understanding with a view to action. Under this heading he distinguishes between ‘art’ (ars) and ‘prudence’ (prudentia). ‘Understanding’ is a matter of grasping basic principles of reasoning. ‘Science’ is a matter of good reasoning using these principles to arrive at truth regarding different kinds of things in the world. ‘Wisdom’ is a matter of good reasoning concerning God. ‘Art’ is correct reason about things to be made. ‘Prudence’ is correct reason about things to be done and aims at the good of the agent.”

p 241

Fewer Seeds

Princeton Seminary, due to the financial outlook, is planing to reduce its operating budget to $37 million, if I understand the basic math. See here or here. (Can it be they are being a bit too reluctant to believe Trump will lead us into a new financial boom making America great again?)

How exactly will they cut back? Consolidate the campus sprawl and sell off or rent out the extra buildings, not cut back on faculty at all, not replace normal workforce attrition, and cut back on student body by 30-40% over the next few years.

A bold solution.

An odd solution, too, don’t you think? It is as if the problem with Princeton Seminary is that it has too many students. I understand constraints, but usually you eliminate excess. Is there an excess of students?

Is that just odd to me? Where is the cart and where the horse? I don’t think it is odd given how Princeton Seminary is set up, but I do think the whole situation is a peculiarity. It obviously doesn’t need students for its income (WTS does, and is constrained to raise tuition therefore). That is an enviable position, probably, from other seminaries’ financial point of view. And yet, it is as if students, above a certain minimum, are a luxury rather than a necessity. What is the product if some students can be a by-product? Think of it: when push comes to shove, it is students who must go.

Actually, it is students who do not get in and the whole place becomes more exclusive: harder to get in. Though they’re spinning it as more inclusive: “A smaller student body would allow us to shape the composition of each entering class with greater intentionality for diversity in its manifold forms, including race, gender, and denomination.”

If I were a transgender Inca swedenborgian just graduating from basket-weaving college, I’d probably have a shot at getting into the new and even more exclusive Princeton Seminary. I think it is all very weird.