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May 30, 2006

80's Comics Geeks Unite!

If there can be Civil War re-enactors then why not Secret Wars re-enactors?

Heroes... every last one of them. If you know of a better way of spending your Saturday mornings, drop a note in the comments. I dare you.

Posted by Al on May 30, 2006 at 09:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack


I just saw in the newspaper that there's a bar (The Otto Bar?) in Baltimore that is having a "Spelling Bee/Knife Throwing Contest."  Did they have me in mind?  With my mad spelling skills and my fairly impressive knife throwing skills I'd be a serious contender, if not a shoo-in.  Too bad I only found out about it just now and I can't arrange to go.  But it's amusing enough just that they're having one.  Maybe if they start having a Tomahawk Throwing/Catechism Bee Contest at the Four Green Fields.

Posted by Thomas A. on May 30, 2006 at 11:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Deus Caritas

If you surmised that the pope's encyclical, which was notable among other things for making the case for the essential unity of the different kinds of loves, could have had its roots in St. Augustine, you were correct.  But I could not place the specific passage until just now when I ran across it in City of God.  Does the following have a familiar ring to it?

When a man's resolve is to love God, and to love his neighbour as himself, not according to man's standards but according to God's, he is undoubtedly said to be a man of good will, because of this love.  This attitude is more commonly called 'charity' (caritas) in holy Scripture; but it appears in the same sacred writings under the appellation 'love' (amor).  For instance, when the Apostle is giving instructions about the choice of a man to rule God's people, he says that such a man should be a lover (amator) of the good.  And when the Lord himself had asked the apostle Peter, 'Are you more fond (diligis) of me than those?' Peter replied 'Lord, you know that I love (amo) you.'  Then the Lord repeated his question, asking, not whether Peter loved him, but whether he was fond of him; and Peter again replied, 'Lord, you know that I love you.'  However, when Jesus asked for the third time, he himself said, 'Do you love me?' instead of, 'Are you fond of me?'  And the evangelist goes on, 'Peter was grieved because  the Lord said to him, for the third time: "Do you love me?"' Whereas in fact it was not the third time; the Lord said, 'Do you love me?' only once, but the had twice asked, 'Are you fond of me?'  From this we infer that when the Lord said, 'Are you fond of me?' he meant precisely the same as when he asked, 'Do you love me?'  Peter, in contrast, did not change the word used to express the same meaning, when he replied the third time, 'Lord, you know everything.  You know that I love you.'

The reason why I thought I should mention this is that qute a number of people imagine that fondness and charity are something different from love.  They say, in fact, that 'fondness' is to be taken in a good sense, 'love' in a bad sense.  It is, however, well established that this was not the usage even of authors of secular literature.  But the philospohers will have to decide whether they make this distinction, and on what principle.  Certainly their books are sufficient evidence of the high value they place on love, when it is concerned with good things and directed towards God himself.  My task, however, was to make the point that the Scriptures of our religion, whose authority we rank above all other writings, do not distinguish between 'love' and 'fondness' or 'charity'.  For I have shown that 'love' also is used in a good sense.
-- St. Augustine, De Civitate Dei, Book XIV, Chapter 7

From the same chapter, on the goodness of rightly ordered eros (i.e. "desire," cupidity):

And so a rightly directed will is love in a good sense and a perverted will is love in a bad sense.  Therefore a love which strains after the possession of the loved object is desire; and the love which possesses and enjoys that object is joy.  The love that shuns what it opposes it is fear, while the love that feels that opposition when it happens is grief.  Consequently, these feelings are bad if the love is bad, and good if the love is good.  Let me prove this statement from Scripture   The Apostle 'desires to depart and to be with Christ' [a number of other examples follow --ed.].  All the same, it is the established usage that when we use 'desire' (cupiditas or concupiscientia) without specifying its object, it can only be understood in a bad sense.

Notes on language: It has been said that just as fleas, as the poem goes, "have smaller fleas to bite'em/and those fleas have smaller fleas, and so ad infinitum," so Latinists have smaller Latinists to pick at their work.  For the following passage to make more sense to you, I would suggest that you switch the places of the English words "love" and "fondness" for each other.  But I have quoted the translation (Penguin Classics Edition translated by Henry Bettenson) unaltered because it is his and not mine.  My issue is with the way diligere and amare are translated.  I think that the translator thinks of these words in a different sense than I think of them (and the way you might, and the way the editor of my Latin dictionary does), because in the above passage, "fondness" is supposed to be the higher, more disinterested, more perfect one, while "love" is supposed to be the lower, more self-interested one, whereas I would think of it as being the other way around (refer to the Latin words if I have made this too confusing).

Diligo, diligere, dilexi, dilectus is the word used in John 3:16: Sic dilexit Deus mundum - God so loved the world.  It is related to the English word "diligent," and if you think about it, it is an excellent word to use for self-sacrificing love.  Think of someone who is diligent in his studies.  His friends might be saying, come on, let's go to the bar, or let's go watch Lost or 24 or whatever, and he may want very much to do these things, but if doing well in that class means that he has to use that time to study, even if it's a hard choice, then that's what he'll do.  Or a mother who is diligent in caring for her newborn - if her baby needs her she'll get up in the middle of the night to attend to the child no matter how much she may want to sleep. 

If you look at a Greek NT, you'll see that the word that diligere is translating in this passage is the verb form of the noun agape - which is translated caritas, but in Latin there is no verb version of caritas, so I presume that is why diligere is used instead.   Amo, amare, amavi, amatus is the one that if you look it up in the dictionary has "to like" or "be fond of" among the definitions.  It is used here to translate the verb form of phila which means love (think Philadelphia) also but has different connotations - it wouldn't be used for a divine, supernatural love, but for the natural affection between two men, like brothers.   There are books you might read for a more thorough elaboration, such as C.S. Lewis' The Four Loves (I haven't read it but I imagine it's pretty informative).

Do you remember one of Pope Benedict's first homilies as pope (perhaps Pope John Paul's funeral)?   The Gospel for the day was this very passage, and he talked about what it meant that these two different words were used, which he mentioned is not evident in many modern-language translations.

Posted by Thomas A. on May 30, 2006 at 11:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


In Book XV, Chapter 23, St. Augustine is talking about Enoch, the OT Patriarch who was "translated."  He mentions that there is a Book of Enoch, but that the reason that it is not part of the canon of Scripture is not necessarily that there is anything patently false in it, but because, he reports, "it was impossible to discover whether they were what Enoch had written, since those who put them forward  are not found to have preserved them with the due formality, that is, through an appointed succession."

Interestingly enough, by this standard of the Early Church, if what Protestant doctrine typically claims about the history of the Church is true (i.e. that the true Church was lost at such-and-such a time, but was revived at the Protestant Reformation or whenever their particular denomination was founded), then the whole Bible falls into this category, and is nothing but apocrypha of doubtful authority and authenticity.

Indeed, right now we are seeing just how ill-equipped many non-Catholic bodies are to deal with quasi-historical what-iffing that calls into question the authenticity of the Gospels (though the process did not start yesterday).  So dark the con of man, indeed.

Posted by Thomas A. on May 30, 2006 at 11:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Solvet saeclum in favilla/Teste David cum Sybilla

You know that line about the Sybil in the Dies Irae?  Why is she in there?  In a post some time ago I mentioned that she was rather notable back in the day - she was even painted off to the side sometimes on medieval Jesse Trees.

For the details, see Book XVIII, Chapter 23 of De Civitate Dei.

Posted by Thomas A. on May 30, 2006 at 11:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack


You may have heard me talk about the notorious "Quodlibetal Question 12.20" of St. Thomas Aquinas.  These questions were the result of live question-and-answer sessions that the Dominicans held where the people could ask a friar questions about whatever (quodlibet) they pleased, and he would try to answer.

Anyway, at one of these sessions, some wag asked St. Thomas "Which is more influential in human affairs, kings, wine, women, or the truth?"  His answer is classic (the order, in case you were wondering, from lowest to highest was wine, the king, women, the truth [the truth has to win, among other reasons, because Jesus is The Truth - see John's Gospel - and Providence is the top-level authority over human history]).  If you're curious, you might be able to find it on a philosophy humor website somewhere.  His answer was something like, "That's a silly question, and you're asking me to compare apples to oranges" only in more polite and philosophically precise language, and "nevertheless, they can in some sense be compared by considering their effects."

If people tell me it's not googleable, I might be persuaded to get the book of Quodlibetal Questions from McKeldin Library and translate it for you, but not right now, because I don't have that kind of leisure time.

Anyway, this question was not a question out of the blue - the smart-aleck no doubt had some familiarity with St. Augustine's writings, because this question is alluded to in De Civ. Dei, Book XVIII, chapter 37.

Posted by Thomas A. on May 30, 2006 at 11:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

De Civitate Dei

The other day I took a look again at St. Augustine's monumental work City of God.  I noticed many interesting things this time that I hadn't picked up on last time.  I will share some of them with you in upcoming posts.

Posted by Thomas A. on May 30, 2006 at 11:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

God Talk

Recently I noticed something about how the way Popes John Paul and Benedict talk about the Christian vocation shapes the way young people like me talk about it, versus the way other people see it.

I have often observed (and often complained about) how when you are interviewed by a reporter for a story, you get to pick what you say, but not only does the reporter get to pick which questions to ask in the first place, also - since the article typically does not consist of the transcript of the whole interview - the reporter (and editor) gets to (or has to, depending on how you look at it) decide what of your replies is relevant enough to be reported, and of that, what is the most important part.

A while ago, some of the students at Maryland who are are in the process of discerning whether they have a vocation to the priesthood were interviewed by the school student newspaper (The Diamondback, for those of you who don't know).  It was a very positive article.  However, one thing I noticed when I saw the final article was that in the interview, the word "love" was used, I would estimate, twenty or more times in thirty or forty minutes.  I am not sure if it appeared even once in the article.  Interesting?

Posted by Thomas A. on May 30, 2006 at 09:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 27, 2006

Super Heroes Shouldn't Be Funny

To prepare Isabel for the new X-men movie, I showed her the first two films this week. I had forgotten how heavy-handed the gay issue was in these movies.

Characters are perpetually worried about being outted or exposed.

The government considers frightening laws that would limit their abilities to live "normal" lives.

Professor X even runs a school just for students dealing with their identity crisis (which apparently manifests during puberty).

Rogue discovers that her special "power" prevents her from engaging in any form of physical intimacy with another person without wearing protection because it might kill them (as if she were HIV positive).

Iceman (Rogue's boyfriend who wants to engage her physically despite the risk) actually has a "coming out" scene with his parents in which they tell him they still love him and ask him if he ever "tried not being a mutant."

The moral is pretty clear: homosexuals have super powers, and all of the hetero-normal straight people are just afraid of their superiority.

There are some problems with this dynamic, however. Pretty much every non-mutant hates mutants in these movies. Never once do we see a "straight" character support the mutants' cause. This is preposterous. Let's take a look at real life: the reason why legislators are trying to pass laws against gay marriage is because judges have already started ruling in favor of gay marriage despite its questionable constitutional basis. Nevertheless, the Democratic party (sans its chairman Dean, evidently) has rallied around the cause. Party politics would guarantee that if a senator ever tried to pass a "mutant registration act" in a universe that more closely resembled the real world, he would face self-righteous outrage from the opposing political party (if only to win the mutant vote...nobody knows how many of them there are, you see).

Does prejudice still exist in the real world? Sure. But I can't help but wonder what happens if the stories we tell ourselves depict that prejudice as worse than it really is. What happens to us when we consume a narrative in which one group is only ever the bad guy?

Posted by Peter Terp on May 27, 2006 at 10:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

When is a Chicken Not a Chicken...

A CNN article reports that a recent study (funded by Disney to promote it's new movie about the diminutive livestock that thought the sky was falling) argues that the egg did in fact come before the chicken. Furthermore, it defined the "chicken egg" by the following:

"I would argue it is a chicken egg if it has a chicken in it," he said.

So now what I want to know is at what point was the first chicken a chicken? If the chickeness of the first chicken egg is defined by the chickeness of the chicken inside, how developed did that chicken have to be to be a chicken? Or do we define it as a chicken egg because it eventually yielded a chicken? What if the chicken never hatched for some reason. What if the egg was eaten before the chicken hatched? Would that somehow have deprived it of its chickeness?

Posted by Peter Terp on May 27, 2006 at 09:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack