Monday 28 January 2013

Aquinas' Feast Day

Many reminders today of what a rubbish Catholic I really am. First, the above image of the Holy Spirit as a kamikaze dove  rather amused me (in a thoroughly low way) in view of the reports of the Pope's dove of peace being attacked by a seagull. Beyond such avian high japes, second (or rather chronologically first), I had to be reminded of today's being St Thomas Aquinas' feast by The Bones. And this need for a reminder despite the fact that I have often banged on about Aquinas and, moreover, that his feast represents the anniversary of my last having taken Communion in an Anglican Church.

Oh well! Frailty of flesh and all that...

Having being spurred into action to say something today, why should Catholics and non-Catholics take Aquinas seriously? I had intended to say something very quickly about the 24 Theses and the canonical status of Aquinas within the Catholic Church. But having seen the post and ensuing comments about Thomism and the Magisterium from the Scotists at The Smithy, I just don't think I have either the strength or the detailed knowledge to do justice to that. So something a little more personal...

Like I suspect many UK educated Catholics, I came to Aquinas through academic study of ancient philosophy. Although the situation has changed a little in recent years, it's still generally true that someone studying philosophy at a UK university will undoubtedly encounter Plato and Aristotle as a core part of the curriculum, but will very likely not encounter Aquinas or Scholasticism except perhaps -and even then rarely- as an optional course somewhere along the line. So for me, certainly as an historical account of my development, Aquinas is Aristotle + Christianity, which is very much against that sort of interpretation of his works recommended by Gilson which takes him as a thoroughly Christian  philosopher where Aristotle is utterly transformed rather than added on to. (As such, I take myself to be much more in sympathy with the nineteenth century neo-Thomist manualists.) As a side effect of my educational background, I certainly tend to underestimate the differences between various forms of Thomism and even various forms of Scholasticism: it's all so clearly based in Aristotle's metaphysics etc that differences between Cajetan or Suarez or even nominalists or Scotists are much less striking to me than they probably should be.

But why should modern Catholics take Aquinas or even Scholasticism as a whole seriously? I think I'd give two main answers to that. First, the general intellectual space of Aristotelianism which they inhabit is a space that attempts to do justice to two insights. One is that we have to investigate to know: our knowledge comes, broadly speaking, from human experience. In that, of course, we have one foot in modern empiricism and stand opposed to the sort of raw fideism which has it that everything is in the Bible (or in some political commitment such as feminism). The other is that the nature of the world and the beings within it, particularly human beings, are rationally graspable: they make sense and can be articulated. Of course there's much more to say about why Aristotelianism specifically, but even those bare bones are enough to set it in opposition to a number of modern world views. (Within that general space, I'd put the key concepts as being form and matter, and act and potency. As a example of how they might contribute to a modern debate, see here.)

The second main answer is that every reflective adult has to start somewhere within a tradition: if you try and cover everything, you cover nothing. So the Catholic should start within that tradition of Scholasticism which offers an achieved attempt to resolve the various intellectual tensions that we are all subject to, in particular, the tension between revealed truth and natural reason. That will provide a solid foundation even if thereafter you find yourself moving beyond it. It is our tradition, and there is nothing else obviously available that offers anything like a comparable, detailed intellectual training which is compatible with theological orthodoxy. (That also strikes me as an obvious reason for at least beginning with the sort of Thomism developed by neo-Thomism: it has been developed as a pedagogical tool in a way that others varieties of Scholasticism haven't. But I put that aside rather as a suspicion more than a conviction I can fully justify.)

Anyway, whilst mulling over that, here's Aquinas' hymn, Pange Lingua:

Sing, my tongue, the Saviour's glory,
of His Flesh, the mystery sing;
of the Blood, all price exceeding,
shed by our Immortal King,
destined, for the world's redemption,
from a noble Womb to spring.
Of a pure and spotless Virgin
born for us on earth below,
He, as Man, with man conversing,
stayed, the seeds of truth to sow;
then He closed in solemn order
wond'rously His Life of woe.
On the night of that Last Supper,
seated with His chosen band,
He, the Paschal Victim eating,
first fulfils the Law's command;
then as Food to His Apostles
gives Himself with His own Hand.
Word-made-Flesh, the bread of nature
by His Word to Flesh He turns;
wine into His Blood He changes;
what though sense no change discerns?
Only be the heart in earnest,
faith her lesson quickly learns.
Down in adoration falling,
This great Sacrament we hail,
O'er ancient forms of worship
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Faith will tell us Christ is present,
When our human senses fail.
To the Everlasting Father,
And the Son who made us free
And the Spirit, God proceeding
From them Each eternally,
Be salvation, honour, blessing,
Might and endless majesty.
Amen. Alleluia.

Friday 25 January 2013

Leading barrister calls on Scottish Government to aid Catholic Charity

Neil Addison, a specialist in the area of law and religion, has commented on the recent decision of the Scottish Charities' regulator to withdraw the charitable status of the Catholic adoption agency, the St Margaret’s Children and Family Care Society:

The threat by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) to remove the Charitable status of the St Margarets Adoption Agency is a disgraceful abuse of regulatory power which ignores the clear provisions of the Equality Act.

Section 193 of the Act permits Charities to restrict their services in accordance with their constitution and that is all that St Margarets was doing. The ruling by OSCR that St Margarets cannot be a Charity if it restricts its services in accordance with s193 is a completely circular argument because only a Charity can take advantage of s193.

Parliament passed the Equality Act including s193 and only Parliament has the right to change the act, not an unelected bureaucracy like OSCR. By its decision OSCR has in effect subverted the clear intentions of Parliament as expressed in s193 and it is to be hoped that the Scottish Government will offer financial support to St Margarets in the legal fight it is now faced with.
(From Protect the Pope. For the original story of the regulator's decision, see here and here.)

Wednesday 23 January 2013

The classicist mind vs the empirical mind

                                              Knock it down, I say...! 

Those Catholics troubled by the relentless liberal grumbling of The Tablet should probably avoid Open House which is a Scottish magazine 'rooted in the renewal of Vatican II'. I rarely read it since taking it without payment is theft and paying for it is just encouraging it.

On the occasions when I do, it never disappoints. In the current issue, we have letters proclaiming that 'nothing is more certain' than that we will have women priests, a plug for a prayer group that 'encourages exploration, diversity, novelty and listening to the Spirit' (the current fruits of which appear largely to be grumbling about the new translation of the Mass), and finally a friendly ecumenical intervention by a member of the Church of Scotland criticizing Catholics for lacking 'the maturity to overcome gender disinheritance' (Thanks, bro!).  In fairness, there is also rather a good article by John Scott on the decline in the Scottish Church since Vatican II, which rightly talks about the way 1960s Catholics were bullied into accepting radical change. But on the whole it's really The Tablet without that organ's customary respect for Catholic Tradition and the Papacy...

Anyway, my attention was seized by an article on Cardinal Martini, which suggests that he was influenced by Lonergan's criticism of the 'classicist' understanding of culture, and support for the 'empirical' understanding. I'll put aside the question of how adequate an understanding of Lonergan the article shows and also the question of the influence on Martini, and take the article's distinction between classicist and empirical and favouring of the empirical on its own merits.

Where the classicist considers there to have been but one changeless culture of mankind, scholars today find that cultures have changed and developed over time...[As the article explains elsewhere, 'Behind this [classicist] notion of culture stands the Aristotelian notion of science as true, certain knowledge of things through their causes.'] Behind the empirical notion of culture stands the modern notion of science as a provisional knowledge based on a dynamic, open-ended method of inquiry that yields cumulative and progressive results. 

This leads to an expected conclusion:

For example, the fact that the church has for many centuries refused to allow women to play a significant role in religious services means that this practice must continue indefinitely into the future. This is the way the classicist mind works. But if we hold to a modern empirical notion of culture, we would ask, Why not? makes possible for us to realize that change -change!- is possible and, if the church is to survive, inevitable.

Two issues here. First, there is the identification of the two poles of thinking as 'classical' and 'empirical'. Second, there is the opposition of stability and change.

Taking the issue of the terminology involved, the suggestion that the 'classical' world is somehow superseded by the modern 'empirical' world is lazy and misleading. Certainly, modern natural scientific methodology is in principle cumulative and open to revision, but then so was Aristotle's. Aristotle certainly envisages the possibility of laying out an achieved science in the form of an account of causes, but the way of achieving that knowledge is via research and investigation. To the extent that modern science is cumulative, it also envisages the possibility of settled, bankable achievements. (There are certainly differences in how that achievement is systematized, but in both cases, there is the possibility of stability achieved by a methodology that allows change in beliefs -and that's the crucial point here.)

Moreover, it simply isn't true to claim that the classical world was somehow unaware of change or was against it. Plato's Republic for example advocates massive political change as a way of achieving the good life within the good city.

The problem here is that 'classicism', to the extent that such a monolithic entity can be identified at all, is really 'rationalism': a belief in the possibility of achieving an order  that is good, beautiful and true. Once that rational order is achieved, then it has to be defended, but that isn't the same as arguing that everything that exists must be preserved: the good must be preserved, the bad purged. Really, the term 'classicism' in the context of the Catholic Church is a bit of a rhetorical trick. It suggests 'Rome' and 'Greece' and thus suggests that the really bad things we should be getting rid of are Latin (nasty Roman language) and  Scholasticism (nasty Greek philosophy). Perhaps we should. (We shouldn't.) But such an argument could be and has been itself constructed on 'classicist' grounds: a return to noble simplicity in liturgy for example; a ressourcement to the fons et origo of Thomism rather than the accretions of the manualists. There is no short cut here: you can't get rid of everything smacking of ancient Greek and Roman culture just because it is Roman and Greek culture: you have to argue for that position, on rational grounds, and that means painstaking, bit by bit, analysis.

So let's put aside the attack on 'classicism', and turn to the attack on stability. Here, as the article acknowledges. some dogmatic content has to be preserved. (We apparently can rest assured that we'll be still worshipping God for a little while longer yet. Anyway, for as long as she wants us to.) But the rest is up for grabs.

In essence, this is perfectly reasonable. There's absolutely no reason why the Church shouldn't change quite radically, providing that central stability is preserved. But the first problem here is what that central, dogmatic stability consists in: women priests, for example, have been clearly ruled out by infallible authority. Those of us who oppose them do so because we think it is part of that central stability: if that is disagreed with, it's back to painstaking reasoning to show why an apparently settled issue isn't in fact settled, rather than simply shouting for change (or even change!). Second, even in the rest of teachings and practice of the Church outwith this central stability, the acceptance of the possibility of change is very different from concluding its advisability. Here, it's not a matter of 'classicist' vs 'empirical': both, in not so different ways, accept the possibility of change and the need for reasoned engagement on whether that change should be effected. Rather it is a matter of whether we should be biased towards stability or change in areas of doubt. I'm not sure how to answer that it in general terms: I'm quite willing to experiment boldly in my reading matter; I'm extremely loath to experiment with my children's education. But in any case, the opposition is misstated by labelling it 'classicist' vs 'empirical' rather than (say) 'sceptical' vs 'enthusiastic'. The sceptic naturally waits immobile for proof; the enthusiast rushes off at every new opportunity. Neither is obviously right always, but, on the whole, I'd think that the sceptic was more rational than the enthusiast. (And if she isn't, then show it rather than assume it.)

To sum it up, this article suggests a shabby attempt to short circuit difficult discussions about change in the Church. By its terminology, it hints that Latin and Thomistic philosophy should be done away with, without providing any argument to support that position beyond rhetorical tricks. While acknowledging that some things are unchangeable in Catholicism, it pays little more than lip service to that insight, and again provides no argument as to why the default position should be change! in areas where change is possible, still less what the nature of that change should be. (The Holy Father recently changed the wording of the English Mass. But that doesn't seem to have made the Tabletistas happy.)

There really is no short cut here. If you want change, argue for it on a case by case basis.

Thursday 17 January 2013

Alfred Duggan

                                                   Alfred Duggan: 1903–1964

A cheeky young savage -obviously regarding anyone over the age of thirty as akin to Methuselah- recently remarked to me that the one piece of technology the old seem to have taken to with any enthusiasm is the Kindle.

He's quite right, of course, and despite occasional frustrations -particularly with the tendency of the earlier devices to freeze up with Rorschach like patterns on the screen- I like my Kindle. One of the particular pleasures (or risks, if money is tight) is the ability to spot an old favourite and, in the press of a button, to have downloaded it.

Having spotted that most of Alfred Duggan's historical fiction has been republished in the Kindle format, I've been rereading books on which I spent rather too much time in my early teens. Duggan, for those who aren't familiar with the name, was a popular historical novelist in the fifties, a notorious rake in his youth, but having converted to Catholicism, apparently settled down to a life of blameless domesticity and literary work. There's rather a good biographical essay here.

When I read Duggan as a teenager, I liked the combination of the attempt at historical accuracy coupled with a pellucid modern prose style. I also very much enjoyed the extensive deployment of a dry wit, seen most obviously in the titles of his books such as Family Favourites which treats of the sexually scandalous Roman Emperor, Elagabalus. Anyway, I can heartily recommend them as a thumping good read.

Returning to them after a long absence, I found myself wondering whether they are anything more than that, and, in particular, to what extent his Catholicism is apparent in the novels. For example, in the essay by John Derbyshire linked to above, it's claimed:

 ...there is little overt piety in the novels, other than what is required for mediæval scene-setting. Duggan's characters are, in fact, a very worldly lot. Whatever the quality of his faith, he did not impose it on his fictions.

At one level, that's true. Most of the leading characters are cynical warriors or civil leaders, and even in dealing with saints such as Thomas Beckett or Edward the Confessor, there is an appreciation of their weaknesses and secular motivation. And yet, the very air that the characters breathe, particularly in the mediaeval novels, is one where religion and the Church are treated with respect and of central importance, even if many of the individuals can't quite manage to live up to its demands. Religion, particularly Catholicism, is treated matter of factly, rather like a family which is sometimes inconvenient, but is never going to go away or which really you would want to go away. Beyond this, there is a strong sense of the struggle between civilization and chaos: that the good life is tentative and ephemeral, and has to be defended, even if such a defence is futile, against the encroachment of the barbarians. And yet the novels are never melancholy or nostalgic, if even many of the characters operate on the principle of 'après nous le déluge': our duty is to embody those higher values for as long as we can, and to make a good fighting end of it when we can't. More specifically, those values of civilization are focused in Romanitas, the civilization first of pagan Rome and then of the Roman Church (and Byzantium) as the exercise of power in the service of goodness, beauty and truth. (Even if the realities of that exercise are occasionally somewhat shabby.)

It's a shame that there doesn't seem to be much information publicly available about Mrs Duggan. As well as presumably having played a central role in keeping Alfred on the straight and narrow, the novels are stacked full of rather characterful  women. I suspect that slight erotic charge (nothing salacious, just a reminder of what men and women appreciate about each other's personality in a deep relationship) was part of what I enjoyed as teenager, and no bad thing either. As Derbyshire puts it,

Duggan speaks frankly about adult matters, but his books are free of salacity and profanity, and I would recommend them without reservation to intelligent young-teen readers of the present day.

Anyway, I can't help wondering if Mrs Duggan was the model for some of these formidable women.

I'd probably recommend Lord Geoffrey's Fancy as one of my favourites. And this has the considerable advantage of being also available as a free ebook here from the Internet Archive.

Thursday 10 January 2013

Let 'flourishing' flourish

                                                      Eudaimonia is bloomin' lovely

With my finely tuned paranoia, I've been detecting the occasional sneer in Catholic blogs against the use of the word 'flourishing', a sneer directed at liberals who use the word as a cover for their plan to smuggle in liturgically dancing female bishops and contraceptive waving gay married priests and thus undermine the Church.

Although none of this has been directed at me, I can't help feeling a little involved because -and I know this will be a shock to the more sensitive among you- I am a regular user of 'flourishing'. Indeed, in my non-blogging life, the word is hardly ever off my lips. So have I turned? Am I coming out in favour of liturgical dance and group hugs round the altar?

It's all Aristotle's fault really. Catholic ethics is heavily indebted to Thomas Aquinas who is heavily indebted to Aristotle. Aristotle's ethics are centred on the notion of 'eudaimonia' (Latin 'beatitudo'/'felicitas'), which is traditionally translated as 'happiness'. But here's the problem. As Gerard J. Hughes puts it in his Routledge Guide to Aristotle's Ethics (p.22):

...this translation can easily give a misleading impression. 'Happiness' in English suggests a feeling of one kind or another, perhaps a feeling of contentment,or delight, or pleasure. Aristotle makes it quite clear that he does not have any such feeling in mind at all. At X, 7, 1177a11 [in the Nicomachean Ethics] he says that eudaimonia is achieving one's full potential; and that surely is not simply a matter of feeling, even if to do so would be very satisfying.

In other words, the modern English word 'happiness' tends to conjure up ideas of feeling pleasant, whilst Aristotle's 'eudaimonia' is an objective assessment of successful human living: roughly, 'eudaimonia' is as much of an objective test in a human being as blooming is of flowers. (No need to ask your petunias how they are feeling, unless you're the Prince of Wales...)

As a result, alongside 'happiness', you'll find various other translations of 'eudaimonia', including 'success', 'fulfilment', 'living well' and, you've guessed it, 'flourishing'. In the modern (secular) academic version of Aristotle's ethics, virtue ethics, the use of 'flourishing' is common. So the use of 'flourishing' in these areas is not the result of some deeply suspect liberal desire to swing our pants and hang out with the cool kids, but rather an attempt to emphasize the objective side of eudaimonia rather than just feeling pleasant.

I'd not really picked up that 'flourishing' has become the pet word of suspect Tabletista types. If it has, I suspect that it's down to the fact those who have any sort of ethical or philosophical training at university level in the UK will have come through academic departments where, in the study of Ancient Greek ethics or modern virtue ethics, 'flourishing' is a standard translation of 'eudaimonia'. Of course, noting that 'flourishing' is a perfectly reasonable word to use in ethical discussions does not settle the ethical substance that this word describes. As Aristotle puts it (EN I 4 1095a17ff)

Verbally there is very general agreement; for both the general run of men and people of superior refinement say that it is flourishing, and identify living well and faring well with flourishing; but with regard to what flourishing is they differ, and the many do not give the same account as the wise.

Monday 7 January 2013

Marriage Borgen style

Hoorah! Borgen's back!! (Screening on BBC 4.)

Part of the fascination of the series is seeing what government in a small country is like. Anyone with even a remote sympathy with Scottish independence is going to look at this series and start thinking, 'Hmm, could Holyrood look like that after 2014?' (And if so, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Are we, for example, really desperate to achieve those heady heights of international influence that lead Denmark, after the first episode of the new series, to have a Commissioner in charge of what seems to be the EU equivalent of the Ministry of String, the Commissioner for Multilingualism?)

Anyway, as usual, the game of musical chairs that is Scandinavian family life continues apace. The only person with what seems like a traditional family life of one wife, children and grandchildren (and even this is narrated, not seen) is Bent Sejrø, a political dinosaur who is of the previous generation to the Prime Minister, and who anyway has a stroke at the end of the second episode. Everyone else is wandering around finding it difficult to square working life with relationships, and hopping to a new partner (or in the case of one older female journalist, the bottle) if the going gets too tough.

As I discussed in a previous post, the husband of the PM, Phillip, is still behaving like a complete plonker. And still, no one seems to notice. A running thread through the first episode was the claim, 'Sometimes, we all have to do things we don't want to do', a truism first uttered by the self-serving Phillip to the PM when he was trying to get her to sign the divorce papers despite her crying and saying that she didn't want their marriage to end.

Borgen exemplifies what is a major cultural meme of modern Western entertainment: the enjoyment of relationship failure. Previous generations enjoyed the bittersweetness of unrequited love. We enjoy the bittersweetness of breakup, surviving, and becoming a better, more independent person as a result.

Had Borgen been written by an orthodox Catholic scriptwriter, this is what would have happened. Birgitte, the PM, would have thrown a conveniently large, leather bound (aptly named) missal of the sort easily found in Catholic homes at Phillip and told him to get his act together. Instead of sobbing rather wetly on his treacherous shoulder, she'd have screamed at him a reminder of his marriage vows and the hellfire awaiting him if he broke them. He, having conducted his daily examination of conscience, would have realized his fault, made things up with Birgitte, and dashed off to confession as soon as possible. (Since she chucked a missal, she'd probably be well advised to check into the confessional as well, even though I suspect at worst it would be a venial sin and probably just a well justified instance of righteous anger.) Happy ever after. Simples.

Instead, we're left with Birgitte sniffing the pillow of her absent son, as he has asked to stay with his father rather than her.

[Spoiler alert: if Wikipedia is right, this series might end on a slightly more optimistic note for the marriage. Good. But it shouldn't take 10 episodes for Phillip to have a little bit of a rethink. Come on, man, Denmark and the sanctity of marriage both need you now!]

Friday 4 January 2013

Bonking all over the world

                                        'Progressive individuals are likely to join her'

It is of course standard lazy journalism to find a nutter, get her to say something, and then manufacture a moral outrage in response. As a firm believer in the value of tradition, I see no reason why I shouldn't indulge myself (particularly in the post-prandial fug from the Christmas season)...

Thanks to the Huffington Post, we have been treated to the thoughts of the self styled 'Pleasure Professor', Louise van der Welde, on the future of marriage. Under the heading, 'Monogamy Is Out: I'm Living a New Model of Relationships and it Works', van der Welde (puffing her own book of course and therefore being rather coy about the precise details in advance of a purchase) says:

The truth is that we have all got the capacity to find happiness in relationships. To create a relationship scene, where we sit in the centre, and attract the heights of intimacy as it suits us.

I have spent my career counseling couples on their relationships and sex lives. It's no wonder I advocate a new model of relationships that truly makes people happy.

If it means rocking the boat to get my message across, then so be it. What I'm all about is helping people become whole in themselves so they can attract the right partner from the off.

That way we can make ourselves and others happy, without the pressures or expectations that arise from a traditional, and, I would argue, outdated, one-man, one-woman relationship.

[...]progressive individuals out there who want more, who know in their heart of hearts that they can have it all, are likely to join me.

I'm living the new model of relationships, and I can assure you, it not only works, it'll help you reach new heights of intimacy, that you may not have ever previously dreamed possible.

Now, Professor Pleasure does seem a gold plated New Age fruitcake:

As so often happens with therapists, there comes a time when the whole universe tests you. For Louise, this was the time she put all the learnings she had gained from 15 years of experience, into practice. She used techniques like NLP, Time line therapy and yoga to bring balance and health back to her life. By firmly believing in the possibility of miracles and that all we ever need at any time is inside of us, Louise transformed her life for good. 


The very popular Transformation Treatment has become Louise’s signature, uniquely designed using her vast life experiences and amazing change therapies. It works so profoundly and rapidly, because it is not slowed or blocked by the traditional “what, why and how’s” of old-school psychology. Quite simply the seven steps of The Transformation process work on clearing and changing emotions, thus creating resolution and release of problems at the depth and cellular level of their creation. Once we remove those negative e-motions (which are “energy – in – motion”) a feeling of confidence, well-being and ultimately total contentment can prevail. Louise has a huge passion for what she does and is delighted to be living her life’s purpose guiding and helping people to cure disease, and achieve their highest aspirations in life. (Both quotes from her website.)

But the basic mix of a) the buffered individual ('you can't judge what's inside of me, man') b) the consequent unchallengeability of desire, and c) the distrust of any settled pattern or institutional solution is commonplace.

The Catholic vision of marriage is different. In many senses, it is built on the fact that life long monogamy doesn't suit us: it's a real struggle to surrender your ego, your male (or female) interests to a person of the opposite sex -and to children. That's not easy, but precisely because it's not easy, that it requires effort and self-sacrifice, for those reasons it's profoundly worthwhile in a way that a relationship where 'we sit in the centre' just isn't.

Thursday 3 January 2013

Relics of St Don Bosco visiting Scotland

Relics of St Don Bosco will be visiting Scotland on 4 and 5 January (website here). (H/T Catholic Herald article here.)

Friday 4th
St Andrews Cathedral, Glasgow:

Pilgrim Experience
9am – 12:45pm
Holy Mass
Pilgrim Experience
2:30pm – 6pm
Closing Liturgy

Saturday 5th
St Francis Xavier Church, 
Carfin Lourdes Grotto:

Pilgrim Experience
8:30am – 10am
Parish Holy Mass
Pilgrim Experience
11am – 1:30pm
Pilgrimage Holy Mass

On Don Bosco's method of education:

Don Bosco's method of study knew nothing of punishment. Observance of rules was obtained by instilling a true sense of duty, by removing assiduously all occasions for disobedience, and by allowing no effort towards virtue, how trivial soever it might be, to pass unappreciated. He held that the teacher should be father, adviser, and friend, and he was the first to adopt the preventive method. Of punishment he said: "As far as possible avoid punishing . . . . try to gain love before inspiring fear." And in 1887 he wrote: "I do not remember to have used formal punishment; and with God's grace I have always obtained, and from apparently hopeless children, not alone what duty exacted, but what my wish simply expressed." In one of his books he has discussed the causes of weakness of character, and derives them largely from a misdirected kindness in the rearing of children. Parents make a parade of precocious talents: the child understands quickly, and his sensitiveness enraptures all who meet him, but the parents have only succeeded in producing an affectionate, perfected, intelligent animal. The chief object should be to form the will and to temper the character. In all his pupils Don Bosco tried to cultivate a taste for music, believing it to be a powerful and refining influence. "Instruction", he said, "is but an accessory, like a game; knowledge never makes a man because it does not directly touch the heart. It gives more power in the exercise of good or evil; but alone it is an indifferent weapon, wanting guidance."  (Full article here. Wikipedia here.) 

Tuesday 1 January 2013

Happy New Year

                                             Our Lady of Holyrood, pray for us!

There are, of course, all sorts of rather troubling things to be faced in 2013. In Scotland, and elsewhere in the UK, the bandwagons of euthanasia and same sex 'marriage' will trundle on. The independence referendum campaigns will continue and doubtless increase in heat as 2014 approaches. And all this besides what will no doubt be a deteriorating economic situation.

And yet...

Although Catholics in Scotland had better get used to being seen as the only bigots in the village, we also live in a time when Scotland's foremost composer, James MacMillan and Scotland's foremost philosopher, John Haldane, are both well-known here for their faithful Catholicism. Over the pond in the diaspora, Alasdair MacIntyre continues to demonstrate both his Catholicism and his position as one of the foremost thinkers of the modern age. Given the historical marginalization of Catholicism within Scotland and modern secularization, the continuing strength of orthodox Catholic intellectual and artistic life, both in the well-kent figures I've mentioned and in other artists and intellectuals throughout the nation is remarkable. Their very existence is a reminder that Catholicism is a life lived in the fullness of the good, the beautiful and the true.

So, as my New Year's present to you all, a suggestion for a thoroughly Scottish and Papist welcoming in of the New Year. Sit down, read John Haldane's interview 'Aquinas among the analytics' (extract below), listen to MacMillan's 'Tu es Petrus'

and toast the New Year in with that traditional Benedictine treat, a bottle of Buckie (preferably drunk al fresco, of course):

There is also a general tendency to think that human failings can be righted by introducing structures and regulations, but while these have a role they cannot of themselves produce understanding, and often they are the enemy of it. Secularists, in the modern sense, tend to depict religious believers as dumb and angry; while believers incline to the view that atheists are shallow and bullying. This kind of opposition feeds on itself and leads to deeper animosity. One way of halting the process is to engage in discussion, recognising that there may be reasonable disagreements, I mean possibly intractable differences expressing reasonable outlooks. This is not to endorse relativism but to recognize that our takes on things tend to be partial and it is very difficult to get to a comprehensive understanding. That is not impossible but it takes the full resources of philosophy, and goodness of heart and will besides. John Haldane (full interview here).

Happy 2013!