On the Creation of the Universe: God is Not Greater, Nor Happier, For Having Created the Universe

We’re back to Bossuet, starting another series of Elevations on the Mysteries, III, 1:

Collecting my thoughts in myself, only seeing in me sin, imperfection and nothingness, I see in the same time, above me, a happy and perfect nature: and I say to him in myself with the Psalmist: You are my God, you have no need of my goods (Psalm 15), you have no need of any goods.  What use to me are the multitude of your victims? All is mine, but I have no need of all which is mine: it is enough for me to be and I find in myself all things.  I have no need of your praises: the praises which you give me make you happy, but if you don’t give them to me I have no need: my work praise me.  But then do I not need the praise which my works give me: all praise me imperfectly, and no praise is worthy of me, except for that which I give myself in joy of myself and my perfection.

I am he who is.  It is enough that I am: all the rest is useless.  Yes, Lord, all the rest is useless to you and cannot take any part in your grandeur: you are not greater with all the world, with a thousand millions of worlds than you are alone.  When you made the world, it is by goodness, and not by need.  It is suitable for you to be able to create all that you please; because it is the perfection of your being and the efficacy of your will, not only that you are, but also that all that you wish, be: that he might be, as soon as you want it, as much as you want it, when you want it.  And when you want it, you do not start wanting it: from all eternity you want what you want, and never change: nothing begins in you and all begins outside of you by your eternal command.  Is there something missing because you have not made something you could have made? All this universe which you have made is but a small part of that which you could have made, and after all nothing is before you.  If you have made nothing, being would have missed the things you would not have made; but nothing is missing to you, because independently of all things, you are he who is, and that is all that is necessary for you to be happy and perfect.

O Father eternally and independently of all other things, your son and your Holy Spirit are with you: you have no need for fellowship, and see, one in yourself eternal and inseparable from you.  Content with this infinite and eternal communication of your perfect and happy being, to these two persons which are your equals, which are not your workmanship, but your co-operators, or better said with you the same creator of all your works; who are with you, not by your commandment or by an effect of your all-powerfulness, but by the unique perfection and fullness of your being: all other communication is incapable of adding anything to your grandeur, to you perfection, to your happiness.


Daniel-Rops on the One God

From his Sacred History:

 Moses is, in the Hebrew religious history, the man who revealed the name of God.  In the encounter of the burning bush, he had exclaimed, “Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?” (Exod. III:13).  And, bold as the question was, God did not conceal the answer.  The importance of the event is not easily understood by the modern mind, but in antiquity men attributed a mysterious power to the name, an irresistible potency.  We retain certain traces of this belief; we feel very strongly that a name describes a character; we speak of a Don Juan, or a Tartuffe; Balzac chose with great care the sounds that should designate his characters; and in the “Our Father” we still praise the name of God which, as the Commandment says, is not to be taken in vain.

In Mesopotamia and in Egypt the knowledge of a name was regarded as sacred.  The ancient Greek philosophers even admitted that there is a connection between things and their names.  To name is to call into existence.  To know the name of a god is to have the power to invoke him.  In the Egyptian legend of Isis we see the god Ra, stung by a serpent, begging the goddess-magician to cure him; and she first of all demands that he should give his name, the secret of his supreme power.  Something that our society, desiccated by rationalism, refuses to understand is regarded in the ancient traditions as one of the spiritual foundations of humanity…

And God said unto Moses, I am that I am: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I am…The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.  (Exodus III:14-15)  In speaking of himself, God says, I am.  When man speaks of Him, he must say, “He is.”  The latter is to be the name of God as we find it throughout the Bible….

What is the meaning of that enigmatic formula, I am that I am? Countless pages have been written on the subject of those simple words.  The study of grammar permits of two interpretations.  Jahweh could signify “it is”–which expresses the metaphysical idea of the uncreated being, which exists in itself which requires no thing and no person in order to be: the God of eternity.  Or it can mean, “it makes to be,” “it realises,” that which creates, sustains, keeps promises, God the creator.  The two interpretations are in fact linked and the tradition of Israel does not separate them.

At all events, the Bible clearly indicates that the knowledge of the divine name marks an advance.  “I am Jahweh,” God further said to Moses. “I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of El-Shaddai, but by my name of Jahweh was I not known to them.” (Exodus VI:3)  El-Shaddai was the God of power, the mysterious and incalculable power by which everything on earth is regulated.   It is the Most High, the Almighty.  Jahweh is something more, the same God, the God of the Patriarchs, but defined..

It would be out of place to carry metaphysical analysis too far.  Moses’ contemporaries probably had only a vague intuition of the immense varieties that were implied.  But what is clearly important is the development that in the course of generations grew from it and which is implicit in the sacred tetragram.  God is unique in His very nature, and not by the exclusive choice of a man or a nation, which differentiates him absolutely from Hammurabi’s Marduk, or the Egyptian Aton.  He is necessarily the God of the Universe, of the whole of humanity, even if He is know and served by a specific nation.  And the virtues which in Him are worshipped–bounty, justice, and benevolence–are the natural attributes of His unique being, since every injustice, every violence, is opposed to harmony and unity…

Here again, we are struck by the human character of this theology.  Its point of departure is an even in history.  Israel, unlike so many nations, does not claim any legendary descent from God; the revelation took place at a moment of time and was transmitted through a man.  Hebraic humanism which is, together with that of Athens and Rome, one of the three foundations of our civilisation, depends entirely upon this simple affirmation.

Sometimes It Pays to Give Your Professor a Little Attention

I’ve been forced to broaden my horizons in my PhD pursuit.  That’s because, although I’ve done coding since I was eighteen, I’ve had to acquire a deeper understanding for two things: linear algebra and numerical methods.  It’s no understatement to say that both of these are at the core of the advances wrought by computerisation, whether we’re talking about statistical analysis or (in my case) simulation.

After my initial boffo performance, I turned to my Iranian friends for more help.  So they let me use some of the books they found useful for study back in the “old country”.  One of those was a sizeable book entitled Applied Numerical Methods by Brice Carnahan, H.A. Luther and James O. Wilkes.  As was the case with their wedding video, the heart skipped a beat, because the middle author, Hubert A. Luther, was my Differential Equations teacher at Texas A&M, forty years ago this spring.

Applied Numerical Methods was, AFAIK, the first really comprehensive textbook which combined linear algebra, numerical methods, and coding (in their case, FORTRAN IV) in one text.  Although some of the methodologies have been improved since it was published in 1969, and languages have certainly changed, it’s still a very useful book, although a little dense in spots.  Many of the books on the subject that have come afterwards have learned from its mistakes, but still refer back to the original.

Dr. Luther taught me the last required math class in my pursuit of an engineering degree at Texas A&M.  It wasn’t an easy class, even after three semesters of calculus (which I did reasonably well at).  Although he was originally from Pennsylvania, he acclimated himself to the Lone Star State with western shirt, belt and string tie, the only professor I can remember who did so. The start to his course was especially rough; the textbook was terrible, he was a picky grader, the scores I got back were low.  I thought I was facing the abyss…until another one of those “aha” moments came along.

We (the engineering students) were standing outside our Modern Physics class, which came before Differential Equations.  I found out I wasn’t the only one having this problem.  But one of my colleagues, a Nuclear Engineering student who went on to become my class’ wealthiest member, had a simple suggestion.  Go visit his office, he said.  He’s lonely (he was nearing retirement) and likes the company.  Your grade will go up.

I wasn’t much for visiting my professors, but I was desperate enough to try anything.  I made a couple of office visits.  I’m not sure how helpful his advice was, but his grading became more lenient and I got through the course OK.

Today I’m on the other end of the visitation.  I spend a lot of time in the office with no student visits.  Part of the problem comes from scheduling, both theirs and mine.  But I’ve found out something else about student visits: the students that come to see you really care about what they’re supposed to be doing in your class.  Although there are still students who think it their duty to “tough it out” without asking questions, many others just want to get through in the quickest and least time-consuming way they can find.

I’m glad I took my classmate’s advice and made the office visits.  But there are two other lessons I have learned since that time.

The first is that I wish I had taken a numerical methods course taught by Dr. Luther, it would have prepared me for what I’ve been doing both before and during the time of my PhD pursuit.

The second is that, when I started my MS degree twenty years later, I took a course over basically the same material taught by a Russian.  I found out that there was a great deal I hadn’t learned from Dr. Luther, and that American math education leaves a lot to be desired of.  So sometimes making the way easier up front comes back to get you in the end.

The Assault on Christians Wasn’t Supposed to Happen This Fast

Back in 2006, before the accession of the current Occupant, I began to write a little novel entitled The Ten Weeks.  It describes, among other things, the result of a democratically elected left-wing government and how it, using the sexual revolution as one of its weapons (and mob action as another), took progressive power in the society.

If we look at history outside the U.S., the progression of left-wing regimes pretty much follows a pattern, one which varies depending upon how, when and where that regime got into the driver’s seat.  But the idea that this was coming has been in the background of this blog since its inception.

However, to tell the truth, even I am surprised at how fast things have come “over centre”.  This is supposed to be a “rights” crusade.  But in a society deeply in debt, with growing economic inequality and a weak moral compass, “rights” are a dicey concept.  That’s especially true when we consider how one-sided these rights are administered, the result of an outcome-based judiciary and administrative system.  It decides what it wants to happen and “interprets” the law to make that decision a reality.  Under those conditions the judicial redress option is too iffy to really count on any more.

So that leaves us Christians with Lenin’s (and Russia’s really) favourite question: what is to be done?  I’ve got a few suggestions that hopefully will take root, especially with our leadership, whose “deer in headlights” stance is all too clear.

The first is to remember what we’re supposed to be doing here.  Our core goal is eternal life; that needs to stay our mission, for ourselves and for those to whom we reach out.  We’ve gotten off track with our attempts to show that who we are and what we do has “social value”.  At this point our opponents don’t care if what we do has social value: if it doesn’t empower them and fit into their ideological lens, they will hate it no matter what it is.

That refocusing of our mission also applies to the other time and energy wasting thing that Evangelicals in particular are bad about: upward social mobility.  There are certainly benefits for drying out, getting off of drugs and being responsible.  But when your opponents only recognise the right to party as the core goal of life, any attempt to instil austerity will be met with opposition.  And trying to move up will likewise engender opposition from an established “clerisy”.  I found the following statement interesting in Rod Dreher’s secret interview with elite-school law professor “Kingsfield”:

“I could still imagine having a kid who was really strong in his faith, and believing that God was calling him to going to a prestige college. I’m not ready to say ‘never’ for that, but I do think there are a lot of kids that we need to steer away from such hostile places, and into smaller, reliably Christian schools where they can be built up in their faith, and not have to deal with such hostility before they’re strong enough to combat it.”

I tire of Christians trumpeting the entrance of their progeny into “élite” schools as a sign that they have “arrived”.  I’ve always taken a jaundiced view of such “advancement”, and now a few people have figured that out.  (I’ll bet that Harvard is wishing it turned down Ted Cruz, but that’s their problem…I’ll deal with the merit issue of these institutions next month).

That leads to the next point: stick together.  That’s not as easy as it looks, but at this point it’s necessary.  If those opposed to us figure out they can split us on stuff, it will be very difficult to live in this society.  That in turn will make two other things which will make our lives easier.

The first is to allow ourselves to enter into patron-client types of arrangements.   That’s the essence of what the LDS church did in Utah with their new law.  The Roman Catholics are probably thinking the same thing; the biggest problem there is disunity among the bishops.  Given the perils of Americans negotiating, this can be a tricky proposition.  It’s a fine line between entering an arrangement and carrying their water.  Getting past that problem, we may not like heading towards a system more like the Ottoman millet system than anything else, but face it: the old Ottoman millet system beats what is fashionable these days, which is ISIS.

One interesting part of this direction is taking place in New York.  It didn’t get much press, but SCOTUS declined to review the appeals court decision that allows the City of New York to boot churches from meeting in schools.  Then Mayor DeBlasio allowed them to continue.  DeBlasio has his shortcomings, but he is one of the few prominent politicians on the left who realises that the LGBT community is not the be-all and end-all of progressive politics.  That, in turn, was doubtless driven by the many non-white groups who have their own opinion of the LGBT community, and they’re a part of DeBlasio’s–and the Democrats’–base as well.

The other thing is to do what we have to do to insure the integrity of our institutions.  Dreher’s “Kingsfield” discusses that in some detail; I would throw in that our ministers should take the Marriage Pledge and get civil marriage out of the church altogether. One thing that would advance this is to lose the idea that church as a private club is bad; I dealt with this in my response to Frank Matthew Powell.  Evangelical churches are obsessed with this open, populist idea of church, but it’s a luxury we’ll find harder to afford as time passes. In Roman times the church was looked at as a collegium, which is a form of private club.

Finally, I also think we need to realise that, if it ever was, the U.S. isn’t our country any more.  That must inform how we act on a number of issues, from military service to how we look at the state to even where we do send our children to college.  (There’s no dishonour going abroad).  Besides, it’s hard to be really fired up about a country that, one the one hand, promotes LGBT rights all over the world and on the other is hell-bent on signing a nuclear agreement with a regime that hangs the same people from hydraulic cranes.

It’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to be fun.  But Our Lord never promised either.

Duck and Cover Catholicism? Maybe, Maybe Not.

R.R. Reno at First Things isn’t happy:

Some months ago, I predicted that Catholicism in America would basically accommodate itself to whatever sexual regime dominates our society. The accommodation won’t be explicit. The Church won’t endorse homosexuality or gay marriage. Instead, the bishops will step aside, avoid controversy, and just stop talking about things that carry a high price for dissent. This duck-and-cover non-statement fits perfectly into this trajectory.

I’m the first to decry the frequently Jesuitical tendency of the of the RCC to deal with issues (they elected one as Pope, after all).  But I think that the RCC, along with other religious institutions, is looking at this differently.

Given what’s going on in Indiana, the easiest way to put this into perspective is to look at another state and another church-defined religion to see how things can work out in another way.

The other state is Utah and the other church-defined religion is the LDS church, the Mormons.  The LDS church and the LGBT leadership basically brokered a deal which carves out exemptions for the LDS church (and anyone else who wants to go along for the ride) to allow them to practice their faith without impositions by pansexualists.  Some on both sides whined about this, but compared to the virtual slugfest we have in Indiana, it’s pretty peaceful and accepted by both sides.

The difference is that, in Indiana and anywhere else where RFRA type legislation is either being considered or on the books, the practices of religious people are protected by such legislation as a matter of right, not because their leadership cut a good deal.  For the LGBT leadership, whose goal is to swap one set of rights for another, this will not do.  For people who think that politics is all about different identity and special interest groups getting ahead through government action, it won’t do either.  Changing that very nature of politics and political life is a core (if unspoken) aim of the left in general and the Democrat Party in particular.

The RCC has a longer history of wheeling and dealing with governments of all kinds, from the Roman Empire onwards.  And, because of its sacramental concept of marriage, it’s in a better place (as, for a different reason, is the LDS church) to deflect public accommodation assaults on its churches to perform same-sex civil marriages.  Civil marriages? It’s marriage system is even ready to dispense with that nuisance, although it’s traditionally loathe (and in places like France, unable) to do so.

So it’s likely, IMHO, that what Reno sees as cowardice is in fact the realisation that the political food fight going on in places like Indiana isn’t their battle.  And they may be right.  The RCC has outlasted Hitler and Stalin; only Mao’s nationalisation of the RCC in China still sticks in the craw.  The RCC knows an undemocratic dictatorship when they see one; why voluntarily go into the political arena when the deck is stacked and the game is fixed?

The group left in the lurch are the Evangelicals, who have relied on “inalienable” rights to protect their status since the beginning of the Republic.  To pull off what the Mormons did in Utah would need a more cohesive leadership (difficult with their diffuse organisation) and a negotiating process with the LGBT counterparts.  Evangelicals view the latter pretty much in the same light as they view Obama’s negotiating with the Iranians.  (What we really need to see is the LGBT leadership go to the mat with the Iranians…)

This process isn’t going be pretty moving forward.  I’m not convinced that the low-laying strategy of the RCC is the best, but what the “Religious Right” has done the last forty years or so hasn’t worked either.  It’s time to get creative, and in a hurry.

What You’re Supposed to Sing on Easter Sunday

Nothing Baptistic on this blog:

Salve-Festa-Dies(Don’t ask me why, they don’t allow embedding on this video, but you can click to go to it on YouTube anyway).

The lyrics are very old, going back to the end of the Western Roman Empire.  The tune is by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

One of the advantages of this hymn is that it can be “recycled” with different lyrics for several feasts, such as Ascension, Pentecost, etc. This makes it easier for the choir and other involved musicians.

Losing this great hymn was one of the “hits” I took when leaving (?) the Anglican-Catholic world.  Hopefully, like Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology, this too can be fixed.