Saturday, May 03, 2008

Whether to tear down the gate...

From the inimitable G.K. Chesterton:
IN the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it."

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious.

There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, or that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion. We might even say that he is seeing things in a nightmare. This principle applies to a thousand things, to trifles as well as true institutions, to convention as well as to conviction.
From his essay, The Drift from Domesticity, available in The Thing.
Science and Eternal Things

Some interesting thoughts by the Thomist:
Al-Ghazali said that one does more harm to a doctrine by defending it with a method not suited to it, than by attacking it with a method suited to it. A perfect example of such a harmful defense is the ID movement, or any other movement that might try to find God or intelligence through science.

What we now call science is a method that deals with things insofar as they can be made proportionate to our intelligence. Science only accepts accounts that can be reduced to things we create: numerals, graphs, meters, grams, seconds, equation/variable-based mathematics. Because we are understanding the world in relation to things which owe their existence to our own will, it’s no surprise that we gain more and more power over things as science advances. If you understand something only so far as it conforms to something you control, then the extent of your understanding will stay close to the extent of your control.

So how well do you think God or intelligence can be understood by this method? The bare fact that both are free makes them impervious to the kind of reduction that science demands. So far as we expect understanding to be proportionate to control, can you “understand” anything about anyone? Well, yes, but only to the extent that they are not free- so to what extent does this apply to God?

One of the constantly recurring themes in perennial philosophy is that the eternal things are hard to know. The reason for this difficulty is always the same: eternal things are not proportionate to our intelligence. In Aristotle’s terms, we stand to God, the soul, and the angelic universe like the eye of a bat stands to the sun; in Plato’s terms, we are as a man who’s lived his whole life in a cave stands to the noonday sun. This is not to say we can’t know these things- everyone who knows how hard they are only says thisbecause he knows them- but it takes a while to acclamate oneself to the sight of the higher things. One can’t simply expect to drag people out of the cave in a day. For like reasons, a public debate with the cave-dwellers won’t get very far. How do you depict the sun with shadow-puppets?

In Plato’s terms, science is one of the most wonderful and edifying shows that the cave has ever put on. It has provided more corruptible (falsifible) knowledge than the world has ever known. It has provided more power and material comfort than human beings have found in anything else. Like church stained-glass, science is the closest that most people ever get to a sight of the eternal things.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Musica Sacra: The Symphonic Organ

Concert this Friday evening at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Sugar Land, part of the ongoing Musica Sacra concert series.

Presented by organist/music director Gregory Hamilton, featuring the Toccata and Fugue in d minor of Bach. Also, music of Franck, Wood and Others.

Friday May 2nd 7:30pm!

Admission free!!
The Jesuits on the Moon

Did you know there are Jesuits on the moon? Well, sorta. A lot of folks don't know, but today there are at least 38 craters on the moon named after Jesuit priests, all of whom were renowned scientists and astronomers. Some craters were named more recently, but as many as 35 can be traced back more than 350 years. One of the earliest records we have of these craters is a 17th century selenograph, which shows the location many of the craters.

The late Joseph MacDonnell, S.J. of Fairfield University describes the selenograph and how 35 of the names came to be:
Since 1645 selenographers had named at least 40 craters to honor Jesuits, but 5 have been renamed since then. Some of the craters are on the far side of the moon. When looking at the moon these craters can be located by eye when noting their position relative to the large Copernicus (O) crater with the distinctive "crater steaks" radiating from it like the stem of an orange.

At the entrance to the Smithsonian's Moon exhibit is a large copy of one of the earliest (1651) selenographs. This map, taken from a Jesuit book Almagestum novum, was composed by the Jesuit astronomers Riccioli and Grimaldi and across the top is written: "Neither do men inhabit the moon nor do souls migrate there".

It is the best known of all selenographs and has been used by most scholars for lunar nomenclature for three centuries. During these centuries astronomers took turns naming and renaming craters which resulted in conflicting lunar maps. In 1922 the International Astronomical Union (IAU) was formed, and eventually eliminated these conflicts and codified all lunar objects: 35 of the 40 Jesuit names survived to be listed in the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) catalog which identifies about 1600 points on the moon's surface.
And why were their names used to identify the craters in the first place? MacDonnell continues:
It would be a mistake to think that the Jesuit names are on selenographs only because other Jesuits put them there. Rather it was a convergence of astronomers' opinions over three centuries: map makers before and after Riccioli confirmed the decisions again and again that these 40 men deserved this honor. This is not surprising. Recent histories emphasize the enormous influence Jesuits had not only on mathematics but on the other developing sciences such as astronomy. Historians of science always listed a surprisingly large number of Jesuits among the greatest scientists and mathematicians of all time. They were at the cutting edge of the sciences. For instance, by the time of the suppression in 1773, of the world's 130 astronomy observatories, 30 were operated by Jesuits. Furthermore Jesuit names are still being added to the list by the I. A. U.
And just who are these Jesuits? Well, among them is the great Christopher Clavius, who was the main architect of the Gregorian Calendar and inspired mathematicians like Leibniz. Also among them is Matteo Ricci, and also Francesco Grimaldi, who inspired Isaac Newton in the study of optics.

Of course, you can view detailed information and images of these craters on-line, courtesy of The-Moon Wiki.
St. Catherine of Siena

Today is the glorious feast of St. Catherine of Siena (Catherine Benincasa), Lay Dominican, Virgin, and Doctor of the Church. Born in Siena, Italy in 1347, she played a very influential role in Church history.

From a letter of St. Catherine to the novices of the Dominican Order at Santa Maria de Monte Oliveto:
Have confidence! You shall find the source of charity in the side of the crucified Christ. I wish you to establish yourselves there and make a dwelling there for yourselves. Rise up then with great and burning desire. Approach, enter and remain in this sweet dwelling. No demon or any other creature can take this grace from you or hinder you from reaching your end, namely, that you should come to see and taste God. I say no more. Abide in the holy and sweet love of God. Love, love one another.
Holy Catherine, pray for me.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Church, spread throughout the whole world...

St. Irenaeus of Lyons, from Book 1, Ch. 10 of Against Heresies:
The Church, though dispersed through out the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father "to gather all things in one," and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, "every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess" to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send "spiritual wickednesses," and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.

As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same.

For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shines everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth.


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