Monday, September 30, 2013

"Delusions of peace"

This is John Gray's splendid 2011 review of Steven Pinker's book, The Better Angels of Our Nature.   It's more or less a total takedown of the (as Gray points out) untenable combination of Darwinism and liberal humanism espoused by all of our favorite top-flight atheists and scientism-ists.   An amazing example - once again - of the "colossal degree of human self-delusion."

I would like to just cite parts of this, but it doesn't seem possible without losing some of its sense - so here's the whole piece.  My bold, of course.  (There are some good ideas here that the church might want to look at....)
“Today we take it for granted that war happens in smaller, poorer and more backward countries,” Steven Pinker writes in his new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: the Decline of Violence in History and Its Causes. The celebrated Harvard professor of psychology is discussing what he calls “the Long Peace”: the period since the end of the second world war in which “the great powers, and developed states in general, have stopped waging war on one another.” As a result of “this blessed state of affairs,” he notes, “two entire categories of war—the imperial war to acquire colonies, and the colonial war to keep them—no longer exist.” Now and then there have been minor conflicts. “To be sure, [the super-powers] occasionally fought each other’s smaller allies and stoked proxy wars among their client states.” But these episodes do not diminish Pinker’s enthusiasm about the Long Peace. Chronic warfare is only to be expected in backward parts of the world. “Tribal, civil, private, slave-raiding, imperial, and colonial wars have inflamed the territories of the developing world for millennia.” In more civilised zones, war has all but disappeared. There is nothing inevitable in the process; major wars could break out again, even among the great powers. But the change in human affairs that has occurred is fundamental. “An underlying shift that supports predictions about the future,” the Long Peace points to a world in which violence is in steady decline.

A sceptical reader might wonder whether the outbreak of peace in developed countries and endemic conflict in less fortunate lands might not be somehow connected. Was the immense violence that ravaged southeast Asia after 1945 a result of immemorial backwardness in the region? Or was a subtle and refined civilisation wrecked by world war and the aftermath of decades of neo-colonial conflict—as Norman Lewis intimated would happen in his prophetic account of his travels in the region, A Dragon Apparent (1951)? It is true that the second world war was followed by over 40 years of peace in North America and Europe—even if for the eastern half of the continent it was a peace that rested on Soviet conquest. But there was no peace between the powers that had emerged as rivals from the global conflict.


In much the same way that rich societies exported their pollution to developing countries, the societies of the highly-developed world exported their conflicts. They were at war with one another the entire time—not only in Indo-China but in other parts of Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. The Korean war, the Chinese invasion of Tibet, British counter-insurgency warfare in Malaya and Kenya, the abortive Franco-British invasion of Suez, the Angolan civil war, decades of civil war in the Congo and Guatemala, the Six Day War, the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 and of Czechoslovakia in 1968, the Iran-Iraq war and the Soviet-Afghan war—these are only some of the armed conflicts through which the great powers pursued their rivalries while avoiding direct war with each other. When the end of the Cold War removed the Soviet Union from the scene, war did not end. It continued in the first Gulf war, the Balkan wars, Chechnya, the Iraq war and in Afghanistan and Kashmir, among other conflicts. Taken together these conflicts add up to a formidable sum of violence. For Pinker they are minor, peripheral and hardly worth mentioning. The real story, for him, is the outbreak of peace in advanced societies, a shift that augurs an unprecedented transformation in human affairs.


***


While Pinker makes a great show of relying on evidence—the 700-odd pages of this bulky treatise are stuffed with impressive-looking graphs and statistics—his argument that violence is on the way out does not, in the end, rest on scientific investigation. He cites numerous reasons for the change, including increasing wealth and the spread of democracy. For him, none is as important as the adoption of a particular view of the world: “The reason so many violent institutions succumbed within so short a span of time was that the arguments that slew them belong to a coherent philosophy that emerged during the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment. The ideas of thinkers like Hobbes, Spinoza, Descartes, Locke, David Hume, Mary Astell, Kant, Beccaria, Smith, Mary Wollstonecraft, Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton and John Stuart Mill coalesced into a worldview that we can call Enlightenment humanism.” (The italics are Pinker’s.)

Yet these are highly disparate thinkers, and it is far from clear that any coherent philosophy could have “coalesced” from their often incompatible ideas. The difficulty would be magnified if Pinker included Marx, Bakunin and Lenin, who undeniably belong within the extended family of intellectual movements that comprised the Enlightenment, but are left off the list. Like other latter-day partisans of “Enlightenment values,” Pinker prefers to ignore the fact that many Enlightenment thinkers have been doctrinally anti-liberal, while quite a few have favoured the large-scale use of political violence, from the Jacobins who insisted on the necessity of terror during the French revolution, to Engels who welcomed a world war in which the Slavs—“aborigines in the heart of Europe”—would be wiped out.

The idea that a new world can be constructed through the rational application of force is peculiarly modern, animating ideas of revolutionary war and pedagogic terror that feature in an influential tradition of radical Enlightenment thinking. Downplaying this tradition is extremely important for Pinker. Along with liberal humanists everywhere, he regards the core of the Enlightenment as a commitment to rationality. The fact that prominent Enlightenment figures have favoured violence as an instrument of social transformation is—to put it mildly—inconvenient.

There is a deeper difficulty. Like so many contemporary evangelists for humanism, Pinker takes for granted that science endorses an Enlightenment account of human reason. Since science is a human creation, how could humans not be rational? Surely science and humanism are one and the same. Actually it’s extremely curious—though entirely typical of current thinking—that science should be linked with humanism in this way. A method of inquiry rather than a settled view of the world, there can be no guarantee that science will vindicate Enlightenment ideals of human rationality. Science could just as well end up showing them to be unrealisable.

Admittedly, this was not a conflict that faced any of the thinkers Pinker cites. None of them based their view of the human animal on the findings of science. The Origin of Species appeared in the same year as John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty (1859), but the most influential liberal humanist (who died in 1873) never mentioned Darwin in his seminal works. Although Mill wrote extensively on the need for “moral science,” his view of human beings was a mix of classical philosophy (especially Aristotle) and the ideas of personal development he imbibed from the Romantics. Mill never considered the possibility that his view of human beings could be falsified by scientific investigation. Still, one must not judge him too harshly. He did not have to consider whether his view of humankind squared with science because the science of evolution was only just coming into being.

Pinker and his fellow humanists have no such excuse today. Evolutionary psychology is in its infancy, and much of what passes for knowledge in the subject is not much more than speculation—or worse. There have been countless attempts to apply evolutionary theory to social life but, since there is no mechanism in society comparable to natural selection in biology, they have produced only a succession of misleading metaphors, in which social systems are mistakenly viewed as living organisms. Indeed, if there is anything of substance to be derived from an evolutionary view of the human mind, it must be the persistence of unreason.

As the related discipline of behavioural finance has shown in some detail with regard to decision-making under conditions of risk and uncertainty, human thought and perception are riddled with bias, inconsistency and self-deception. Since our minds are animal minds—as Darwin argued in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872)—things could hardly be otherwise. Shaped by imperatives of survival, the human mind will not normally function as an organ for seeking out the truth. If science is the pursuit of truth—an assumption that begs some tricky questions—it doesn’t follow that anything similar is possible in other areas of human life. The idea that humans can shape their lives by the use of reason is an inheritance from rationalist philosophy that does not fit easily with what we know of the evolution of our mammalian brain. The end result of scientific inquiry may well be that irrational beliefs are humanly indispensable.

Science and humanism are at odds more often than they are at one. For a devoted Darwinist like Pinker to maintain that the world is being pacified by the spread of a particular world view is deeply ironic. There is nothing in Darwinism to suggest that ideas and beliefs can transform human life. To be sure, there have been attempts to formulate an idea of progress in terms of competing memes—vaguely defined concepts or units of meaning that are held to be in some ways akin to genes—although nothing like a scientific theory has been developed. Even if there were such things as memes and they did somehow compete with one another, there is nothing to say that benign memes would be the winners. Quite to the contrary, if history is any guide. Racist ideas are extremely resilient and highly contagious, as is shown by the re-emergence of xenophobic ethnic nationalism and antisemitism in post-communist Europe. So are utopian ideas, which have resurfaced in neoconservative thinking about regime change. The recurrent appearance of these memes suggests that outside of some fairly narrowly defined areas of scientific investigation, progress is at best fitful and elusive. Science may be the cumulative elimination of error, but the human fondness for toxic ideas is remarkably constant.

The irony is compounded when we recall that Pinker achieved notoriety through his attempt to reinstate the idea that the human mind is fixed and limited. His bestseller The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (2002), an assault on the idea that human behaviour is indefinitely malleable, was controversial for several reasons—not least for its attack on the belief that pre-agricultural cultures were inherently peaceable. The book provoked a storm of criticism from liberal humanists who sensed—rightly—that this emphasis on the constancy of human nature limited the scope of future human advance. Pinker seems to have come to share this anxiety, and the present volume is the result. The decline of violence posited in The Better Angels of Our Nature is a progressive transformation of precisely the kind his earlier book seemed to preclude. But the contradiction in which Pinker is stuck is not his alone. It afflicts anyone who tries to combine rigorous Darwinism with a belief in moral progress. Darwinism is unlikely to be the last word on evolution and, rather than identifying universal laws of natural selection, it may only apply in our corner of the universe. But if Darwin’s theory is even approximately right, there can be no rational basis for expecting any revolution in human behaviour.

***

This is a troubling truth for humanists, including Pinker. It can be avoided only by pointing to some kind of ongoing evolution in humans, and Pinker is now ready to entertain “the possibility that in recent history Homo Sapiens has literally evolved to become less violent in the biologist’s technical sense of a change in our genome.” He concludes that there is very little evidence that this is so, but the fact that he takes the possibility seriously is telling. Social violence is coeval with the human species. This is not because humans have always been driven by an inbuilt instinct of aggression. Some of the impulses we inherit from our evolutionary past may incline us to conflict, but others— “the better angels of our nature,” as Abraham Lincoln called them—incline us to peaceful cooperation. In order to show that conflicts between the two will in future increasingly be settled in favour of peace, Pinker needs to be able to identify some very powerful trends. He does his best, but the changes to which he points—the spread of democracy and the increase of wealth, for example—are more problematic than he realises. The formation of democratic nation-states was one of the principal drivers of violence of the last century, involving ethnic cleansing in inter-war Europe, post-colonial states and the post-communist Balkans. Steadily-growing prosperity may act as a kind of tranquilliser, but there is no reason to think the increase of wealth can go on indefinitely—and when it falters violence will surely return. In quite different ways, attacks on minorities and immigrants by neo-fascists in Europe, the popular demonstrations against austerity in Greece and the English riots of the past summer show the disruptive and dangerous impact of sudden economic slowdown on social peace. All the trends that supposedly lie behind the Long Peace are contingent and reversible.

Hobbes is cited more than once by Pinker, but he misses Hobbes’s most important insight: that even if humans were not moved by the pursuit of power and glory, scarcity and uncertainty would drive them repeatedly into conflict with one another. Recurrent violence is a result of the normal disorder of human life. In some ways Hobbes—an early Enlightenment thinker and an intrepid rationalist—was overly sanguine about the capacity of humans to lift themselves out of conflict. Envisioning a social contract in which the power of violence is handed over to a peace-making state, he failed to take account of the fact that humans adapt to violence and often turn it into a way of life. (The novelist Cormac McCarthy presents an image of such a way of life in Blood Meridian, his fictional recreation of the mid-19th century American-Mexican borderlands.) When it is not a way of life, violence is often simply a method. Suicide bombing is morally repugnant but it is also cheap and highly effective, deploying an abundant and easily replaceable resource—human life—to achieve objectives that could be compromised if the perpetrators survived to be captured and interrogated. Humans use violence for many reasons, and everything points to their doing so for the foreseeable future.

No doubt we have become less violent in some ways. But it is easy for liberal humanists to pass over the respects in which civilisation has retreated. Pinker is no exception. Just as he writes off mass killing in developing countries as evidence of backwardness without enquiring whether it might be linked in some way to peace in the developed world, he celebrates “recivilisation” in America without much concern for those who pay the price of the recivilising process. Focusing on large, ill-defined cultural changes—a decline of the values of respectability and self-control in the 1960s, for example, which he tells us resulted from the influence of “the counterculture”—his analysis has a tabloid flavour, not improved by his repeated recourse to not always very illuminating statistics.

One set of numbers does stand out, however. “By the early 1990s Americans had gotten sick of the muggers, vandals and drive-by shootings.” The result is clear: “Today more than two million Americans are in jail, the highest incarceration rate on the planet. This works out to three-quarters of a percent of the entire population and a much larger percentage of young men, especially African Americans.” (Again the italics are Pinker’s.) The astonishing numbers of black young men in jail in the US is due to the disproportionate impact on black people of the “decivilising process,” notably the high rate of black children born out of wedlock and what Pinker sees as the resulting potential for violence in families (black or white) that lack the civilising influence of women. While “massive imprisonment” has not reversed this trend, it “removes the most crime-prone individuals from the streets, incapacitating them.” America’s experiment in mass incarceration is, apparently, an integral part of the recivilising process.

The vast growth of the American penal state, reaching a size not achieved in any other country, does not immediately present itself as an advance in civilisation. A large part of the rise in the prison population has to do with America’s repressive policies on drugs, which Pinker endorses when he observes: “A regime that trawls for drug users or other petty delinquents will net a certain number of violent people as a by-catch, further thinning the ranks of the violent people who remain on the streets.” While it may be counter-productive in regard to its stated goal of controlling drugs use, it seems America’s prohibitionist regime offers a useful means of banging up troublesome people. The possibility that mass incarceration of young males may be in some way linked with family breakdown is not considered. Highly uneven access to education, disappearing low-skill jobs, cuts in welfare and greatly increased economic inequality are also disregarded, even though these factors go a long way in explaining why there are so many poor blacks and so few affluent whites in prison in America today.

Talking to the vacuum cleaner salesman and part-time British agent James Wormold in Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana, the Cuban secret policeman Captain Segura refers to “the torturable class”: those, chiefly the poor, who expect to be tortured and who (according to Segura) accept the fact. The poor in America may not fall exactly into this category—even if some of the practices to which they are subject in US prisons are not far from torture. But there is certainly an imprisonable class in the United States, largely composed of people that Pinker describes as decivilised, and once they have been defined in this way there is a kind of logic in consigning this category of human beings to the custody of America’s barbaric justice system.

Pinker’s attempt to ground the hope of peace in science is profoundly instructive, for it testifies to our enduring need for faith. We don’t need science to tell us that humans are violent animals. History and contemporary experience provide more than sufficient evidence. For liberal humanists, the role of science is, in effect, to explain away this evidence. They look to science to show that, over the long run, violence will decline—hence the panoply of statistics and graphs and the resolute avoidance of inconvenient facts. The result is no more credible than the efforts of Marxists to show the scientific necessity of socialism, or free-market economists to demonstrate the permanence of what was until quite recently hailed as the Long Boom. The Long Peace is another such delusion, and just as ephemeral.

"Psychotherapy’s Image Problem"

An interesting article at NYTimes.com.   I was just wondering about this myself; "self-examination" doesn't seem to be very high on the culture's list of priorities these days.  About 30 years ago, though, everybody in New York was in therapy.

So, psycotherapy is down; religious confession is way down, too; there's a proliferation, I guess, of "self-help" stuff out there - but this has always seemed to be of the "affirming" and "positive thinking" variety (although I'm never quite sure exactly what "self-help" refers to; some seem to include A.A. in the category, too); the "virtues" are unknown as concepts - and unless I've missed something, there's no particular philosophy out there that can help people get an accurate view of themselves and their own behavior.

Which does in fact explain quite a bit, I'd say, about the culture itself, and why it is the way it is.  Anyway:

 PROVIDENCE, R.I. — PSYCHOTHERAPY is in decline. In the United States, from 1998 to 2007, the number of patients in outpatient mental health facilities receiving psychotherapy alone fell by 34 percent, while the number receiving medication alone increased by 23 percent.

This is not necessarily for a lack of interest. A recent analysis of 33 studies found that patients expressed a three-times-greater preference for psychotherapy over medications.

As well they should: for patients with the most common conditions, like depression and anxiety, empirically supported psychotherapies — that is, those shown to be safe and effective in randomized controlled trials — are indeed the best treatments of first choice. Medications, because of their potential side effects, should in most cases be considered only if therapy either doesn’t work well or if the patient isn’t willing to try counseling.

So what explains the gap between what people might prefer and benefit from, and what they get?

The answer is that psychotherapy has an image problem. Primary care physicians, insurers, policy makers, the public and even many therapists are largely unaware of the high level of research support that psychotherapy has. The situation is exacerbated by an assumption of greater scientific rigor in the biologically based practices of the pharmaceutical industries — industries that, not incidentally, also have the money to aggressively market and lobby for those practices.

For the sake of patients and the health care system itself, psychotherapy needs to overhaul its image, more aggressively embracing, formalizing and promoting its empirically supported methods.

My colleague Ivan W. Miller and I recently surveyed the empirical literature on psychotherapy in a series of papers we edited for the November edition of the journal Clinical Psychology Review. It is clear that a variety of therapies have strong evidentiary support, including cognitive-behavioral, mindfulness, interpersonal, family and even brief psychodynamic therapies (e.g., 20 sessions).

In the short term, these therapies are about as effective as medications in reducing symptoms of clinical depression or anxiety disorders. They can also produce better long-term results for patients and their family members, in that they often improve functioning in social and work contexts and prevent relapse better than medications.

Given the chronic nature of many psychiatric conditions, the more lasting benefits of psychotherapy could help reduce our health care costs and climbing disability rates, which haven’t been significantly affected by the large increases in psychotropic medication prescribing in recent decades.

Psychotherapy faces an uphill battle in making this case to the public. There is no Big Therapy to counteract Big Pharma, with its billions of dollars spent on lobbying, advertising and research and development efforts. Most psychotherapies come from humble beginnings, born from an initial insight in the consulting office or a research finding that is quietly tested and refined in larger studies.

The fact that medications have a clearer, better marketed evidence base leads to more reliable insurance coverage than psychotherapy has. It also means more prescriptions and fewer referrals to psychotherapy.

But psychotherapy’s problems come as much from within as from without. Many therapists are contributing to the problem by failing to recognize and use evidence-based psychotherapies (and by sometimes proffering patently outlandish ideas). There has been a disappointing reluctance among psychotherapists to make the hard choices about which therapies are effective and which — like some old-fashioned Freudian therapies — should be abandoned.

There is a lot of organizational catching up to do. Groups like the American Psychiatric Association, which typically promote medications as treatments of first choice, have been publishing practice guidelines for more than two decades, providing recommendations for which treatments to use under what circumstances. The American Psychological Association, which promotes psychotherapeutic approaches, only recently formed a committee to begin developing treatment guidelines.

Professional psychotherapy organizations also must devote more of their membership dues and resources to lobbying efforts as well as to marketing campaigns targeting consumers, primary care providers and insurers.

If psychotherapeutic services and expenditures are not based on the best available research, the profession will be further squeezed out by a health care system that increasingly — and rightly — favors evidence-based medicine. Many of psychotherapy’s practices already meet such standards. For the good of its patients, the profession must fight for the parity it deserves.

Brandon A. Gaudiano is a clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the Alpert Medical School at Brown University.

HT Lee.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

An Alleluia for St. Michael and All Angels: Laudate Deum, omnes angelus

According to the Benedictines of Brazil, Laudate Deum, omnes angelus - the Alleluia for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany - can be used as an alternate to Sancte Michael archangele as the Alleluia for the September 29 Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (AKA "Ss. Michaelis, Gabrielis et Raphaelis, Archangelorum").

I could not find a recording of  Sancte Michael archangele - so here's Laudate Deum, omnes angelus, which is very pretty indeed.   (Again, though:  I am quite amazed at the cottage industry of St. Michael Archangel videos - all highly dramatic, and often using some of the most surprising music as background! - at YouTube.  It seems that the "soldier of God's armies" image really appeals to some people.)



The text comes from Psalm 148, verse 2:
Laudate Deum, omnes Angeli eius: laudate eum, omnes virtutes eius. Alleluia.

Praise God, all His Angels, praise Him, all His hosts. Alleluia.



You can listen to recordings of the Introit, Offertory, and Communio at Ss. Michaelis, Gabrielis et Raphaelis, Archangelorum (St. Michael and All Angels, that is): September 29.   Listen to the Office Hymns atSeptember 29: The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels.

Other posts for this feast day are collected here.


The Collect for St. Michael and All Angels is a nice one:
Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Marion Hatchett, in his Commentary on the American Prayer Book, says about this feast that:
The observance of a day to honor Saint Michael dates to the fifth century when a church near Rome was dedicated to the archangel.  The Leonine sacramentary contains a proper for St. Michael's Day (nos. 844-859).  In the Eastern churches other angels have been so honored, but the feasts of Gabriel and Raphael did not enter the ROman calendar until this century.

In the 1549 Book the title was expanded to include all angels.  Michael is mentioned in Jude 9 and Rev. 12:7 (see also Dan. 10:13, 21, and 12:1).  On the basis of these passages he has been honored as the "captain of the heavenly hosts."  Gabriel was the messenger of God at the annunciation to Zechariah (Lk. 1:19) and to Mary (Lk. 1:26).  He is also mentioned in Dan. 8:16 and 9:21.  Raphael is named in the Old Testament Apocrypha (Tobit 3:16-17 and 5:5 ff.).  The word "angel" literally means "messenger."

Just for interest, this appears to be a composition by one Rafał Krzychowiec based on the text of other Alleluia for today, Sancte Michael archangele (gregorian chant score below the vid).  Interestingly, this piece has spoken parts; I don't know what's being said, though.





I'm not sure which came first, but this text has often been used as an antiphon in various offices in addition to its use here as an Alleluia for the mass:
Sancte Michael archangele defende nos in proelio ut non pereamus in tremendo judicio
Saint Michael Archangel, defend us in battle so that we may not perish in the awful day of judgment.

Wikipedia has more about a longer "Prayer of St. Michael," and notes that:
This prayer, whose opening words are similar to the Alleluia verse for Saint Michael’s feasts on 8 May and 29 September in the Roman Missal of the time (which ran, "Sancte Michael, defende nos in proelio ut non pereamus in tremendo iudicio"), was added in 1886 to the Leonine Prayers that in 1884 Pope Leo XIII ordered to be said after Low Mass, for the intention of obtaining a satisfactory solution to the problem that the loss of the Pope's temporal sovereignty caused in depriving him of the evident independence required for effective use of his spiritual authority.


Here's a lovely piece of Byzantine art with Michael as subject; the page says it's an "Ivory panel from a Byzantine diptych. Constantinople (AD 525-550)," now in the British Museum.


More from the Wikpedia page:
Constantinople, 6th century AD

Standing beneath an ornate arch, at the top of a flight of steps, the archangel holds an orb and a staff. The Greek inscription, which would have continued on the other leaf read: Receive the suppliant before you, despite his sinfulness.

This is the largest surviving Byzantine ivory panel and probably represents an imperial commission originating from Constantinople. It has been suggested that the angel was presenting the orb to an emperor, perhaps Justinian I (527-565 AD), who was depicted on the other lost leaf.

Height: 42.8 cm (16.9 in) Width: 14.3 cm (5.6 in) Depth: 0.9 cm (0.35 in)

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Hymns at the Lesser Hours: Sext

The following are the hymns listed for Sext, in  Hymn melodies for the whole year, from the Sarum service-books:
Daily throughout the year :
Rector potens verax Deus

(i) On all 'Double Feasts throughout the year  ... ... ... 9

(2) On the Vigil of Epiphany & on all Sundays & Simple Feasts throughout the year ... ... ... ... ... 10

(3) On all Ferias throughout the year ... ... ... 7

[At Christmas-tide (York) :  Presepe poni pertulit ... ... ... 55]

Sext is the "Little Hour" said at noon (referring to the sixth hour of the day after dawn).   I've quoted extensively below from The Catholic Encylopedia (1917) on the topic; here's a bit from that citation about some of the original thought about the significance of this hour:
Noon is the hour when the sun is at its full, it is the image of Divine splendour, the plenitude of God, the time of grace; at the sixth hour Abraham received the three angels, the image of the Trinity; at the sixth hour Adam and Eve ate the fatal apple. We should pray at noon, says St. Ambrose, because that is the time when the Divine light is in its fulness.[2] Origen, St. Augustine, and several others regard this hour as favourable to prayer. Lastly and above all, it was the hour when Christ was nailed to the Cross; this memory excelling all the others left a still visible trace in most of the liturgy of this hour.

All these mystic reasons and traditions, which indicate the sixth hour as a culminating point in the day, a sort of pause in the life of affairs, the hour of repast, could not but exercise an influence on Christians, inducing them to choose it as an hour of prayer.

Follow along with the full office here, at Breviary Offices, from Lauds to Compline Inclusive (Society of St. Margaret, Boston, 1885).    I'll link-in via iFrame at the bottom of the post too.

TPL says the hymn Rector potens verax Deus is "attributed to St. Ambrose," and offers these Latin words, with the English translation by J.M. Neale:
RECTOR potens, verax Deus,
qui temperas rerum vices,
splendore mane instruis
et ignibus meridiem,    

Extingue flammas litium,
aufer calorem noxium,
confer salutem corporum
veramque pacem cordium.    

Praesta, Pater piissime,
Patrique compar Unice,
cum Spiritu Paraclito
regnans per omne saeculum. Amen.    


O GOD of truth, O Lord of might,
Who orderest time and change aright,
and sendest the early morning ray,
and lightest the glow of perfect day.

Extinguish Thou each sinful fire,
and banish every ill desire:
and while Thou keepest the body whole
shed forth Thy peace upon the soul.

Almighty Father, hear our cry
through Jesus Christ, Our Lord most High
Who, with the Holy Ghost and Thee,
doth live and reign eternally. Amen.

This is the hymn tune used for "all ferias throughout the year":
 

And here's is an mp3 of melody #7 from the Liber Hymnarius Wiki; this tune is the same simple tune used at Terce for Nunc sancte nobis Spiritus on ferias throughout the year, and is used here at Sext again.




I haven't found sound files for either melody #9 or #10Liber Hymnarius Wiki, though, again offers sound files for seven different melodies used for this hymn.  These may be the same melodies posted for Terce; I will have to take the time to check at some point.   Again I've pasted them in here; you can easily substitute the "in festis" tune below for melody #10 (used for Simple Feasts throughout the year), and "in sollemnitatibus" for melody #9 (used for Double Feasts throughout the year) - or use some other scheme of your own choosing.   (I will note that a couple of these melodies are well-known, and used at other times in the Divine Office.) 

Download in feriis per annum, H.D, p. 193
Download in memoriis, H.VIII, p. 193

Download in festis, H.VIII, p. 193
Melody: d c d f e d d c

Download in dominicis per annum, H.II, p. 186
Melody: g g ab b ag abCb ag g

Download in sollemnitatibus, H.VIII, p. 187
Melody: f e d e dc de e e

Download in Adventu, H.IV, p. 8
Melody: d d d c d f e d

Download in Nativitate, H.II, p. 25

Here are a couple of Giovanni Vianini's videos of this hymn; the first is the Gregorian melody and the second is an Ambrosian one.  Again, neither is any of the Sarum tunes, but here they are anyway:






Here's an interesting New Advent piece on Rector Potens, Verax Deus:
The daily hymn for Sext in the Roman Breviary finds its theme in the great heat and light of the noonday (hora sexta, or sixth hour of the day) sun, and prays the Almighty Ruler to take from the heart the heat of passion. Baudot ("The Roman Breviary", London, 1909, 34) thinks the hymn "probably" by St. Ambrose: "We know, moreover, that the hymns for Vespers, Terce, and None (probably also the hymn for Sext) are his." Perhaps, however, Baudot refers to other hymns ascribed to the saint by Bäumer ("Gesch. des Breviers", 1895, 135). Whatever probability attaches to the hymns for Terce and None affects equally that for Sext, none of the three being found in the oldest Benedictine cycle, while all three are found in the later Celtic cycle. (For discussion of authorship, see RERUM DEUS TENAX VIGOR.) It is interesting to note that the second stanza is in rhyme throughout:

    Extingue flammas litium,
    Aufer calorem noxium,
    Confer salutem corporum
    Veramque pacem cordium.

Biraghi thinks the rhyme merely a matter of chance; Piedmont thinks it deliberate, but finds no sufficient reason in this fact for denying it to St. Ambrose. Johner ("A New School of Gregorian Chant", tr. New York, 1906, 55) selects the first line to illustrate his contention that whilst in ordinary speech anyone would pronounce the line thus:

    Réctor pótens vérax Deús,

a singer commits no fault in stressing as follows:

    Rectór poténs veráx Déus.

"In German (or English), this kind of thing is impossible. But that does not give us a right to forbid the composer of Gregorian melodies to make use of this and similar licenses. We Germans (and English-speaking people) frequently pronounce Latin with such an exaggerated accent that the words fall too heavily on the ear. Other nations, the French, for example, pronounce the words more smoothly, with a lighter accent." (For the full argument, see pp. 55, 56.)

Again, York goes with a different hymn for Sext in Christmastide; the melody is the same one used at Terce:


Still no sound file for this one, sorry to say.  The hymn itself, Presepe poni pertulit, is again part of the longer Fortunatus hymn hymn/poem whose first line is "Agnoscat omne saeculum."   This time, the hymn begins with verse 5.  Here again is that entire poem/hymn from this book about the Christmas season by Dom Gueringer
Agnoscat omne saeculum
Vemsse vitae praemium;
Post  hostis asperi jugum
Apparuit redemptio

Esaias quae cecinit
Complete sunt in Virgine
Annuntiavit Angelus
Sanctus replevit Spiritus.

Maria ventre concipit
Verbi fidelis semine:
Quem totus orbis non capit
Portant puellae viscera.

Radix Jesse floruit,
Et Virga fructum edidit;
Foecunda partum protulit,
Et Virgo mater permanet.

Praesepo poni pertulit
Qui lucis auctor exstitit,
am Patre coelos condidit,
Sub Matre pannos induit.

Legem dedit qui saeculo,
Cujus decem praecepta sunt,
Dignando factus est homo
Sub Legis esse vinculo.

Adam vetus quod polluit
Adam novus hoc abluit:
Tumens quod ille dejicit
Humiliimus hie erigit,

Jam nata lux est et salus,
Fugnta nox et victa mora,
Venite gentes, credite,
Deum Maria protulit. Amen.


Let all ages acknowledge  that he is come,
Who is the reward of life.
After mankind had carried the yoke of its cruel enemy
Our Redemption appeared.

What Isaias foretold,
has been fulfilled in the Virgin;
an Angel announced the mystery to her,
and the Holy Ghost filled her by his power.

Mary conceived in her womb,
for she believed in the word that was spoken to her:
the womb of a youthful maid holds Him,
whom the whole earth cannot contain.

The Root of Jesse has given its flower,
and the Branch has borne its fruit:
Mary has given birth to Jesus,
and the Mother is still the spotless Virgin.

He that created the light
suffers himself to be laid in a manger;
He that, with the Father, made the heavens,
is now wrapt by his Mother's hand in swaddling-clothes.

He that gave to the world the ten
commandments of the law, deigns,
by becoming Man, to be
Under the bond of the law.

What the old Adam defiled,
that the new Adam has purified;
and what the first cast down by his pride,
the second raised up again by his humility.

Light and salvation are now born to us,
night is driven away, and death is vanquished:
oh! come, all ye people, believe;
God is born of Mary. Amen.



Here's a peek-in to the SSM Breviary entry for Sext (spelled "Sexts" here):




This long article about Sext comes from Wikipedia, and quotes from the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1917:
Sext, or Sixth Hour, is a fixed time of prayer of the Divine Office of almost all the traditional Christian liturgies. It consists mainly of psalms and is said at noon. Its name comes from Latin and refers to the sixth hour of the day after dawn.

Meaning, symbolism and origin

From the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1917; note that this describes the office before the reforms of the Second Vatican Council; the numbering system of psalms is that of the Septuagint and are said in Latin

The hora sexta of the Romans corresponded closely with our noon. Among the Jews it was already regarded, together with Terce and None, as an hour most favourable to prayer. In the Acts of the Apostles we read that St. Peter went up to the higher parts of the house to pray (Acts 10:9). It was the middle of the day, also the usual hour of rest, and in consequence for devout men, an occasion to pray to God, as were the morning and evening hours.

The Fathers of the Church dwell constantly on the symbolism of this hour; their teaching is merely summarized here: it is treated at length in Cardinal Bona's work on psalmody.[1] Noon is the hour when the sun is at its full, it is the image of Divine splendour, the plenitude of God, the time of grace; at the sixth hour Abraham received the three angels, the image of the Trinity; at the sixth hour Adam and Eve ate the fatal apple. We should pray at noon, says St. Ambrose, because that is the time when the Divine light is in its fulness.[2] Origen, St. Augustine, and several others regard this hour as favourable to prayer. Lastly and above all, it was the hour when Christ was nailed to the Cross; this memory excelling all the others left a still visible trace in most of the liturgy of this hour.

All these mystic reasons and traditions, which indicate the sixth hour as a culminating point in the day, a sort of pause in the life of affairs, the hour of repast, could not but exercise an influence on Christians, inducing them to choose it as an hour of prayer. As early as the third century the hour of Sext was considered as important as Terce and None as an hour of prayer. Clement of Alexandria speaks of these three hours of prayer,[3] as does Tertullian.[4] Long previous the Didache had spoken of the sixth hour in the same manner.[5] Origen, the "Canons of Hippolytus", and St. Cyprian express the same tradition.[6] It is therefore evident that the custom of prayer at the sixth hour was well established in the 3rd century and even in the 2nd century or at the end of the 1st century. But probably most of these texts refer to private prayer. In the 4th century the hour of Sext was widely established as a Canonical Hour. The following are very explicit examples. In his rule St. Basil made the sixth hour an hour of prayer for the monks,[7] St. John Cassian treats it as an hour of prayer generally recognized in his monasteries[8] The De virginitate, wrongly attributed to St. Athanasius, but in any case dating from the fourth century, speaks of the prayer of Sext, as do also the "Apostolic Constitutions", St. Ephrem, St. John Chrysostom[9] But this does not prove that the observance of Sext, any more than Prime, Terce, None, or even the other Canonical Hours, was universal. Discipline on this point varied widely according to regions and Churches. And in fact some countries may be mentioned where the custom was introduced only later. That the same variety prevailed in the formulæ of prayer is shown in the following paragraph.

Western Office

Note: reference to Psalms follows the numbering system of the Septuagint.

Despite its antiquity the hour of Sext never had the importance of those of Vigils, Matins, and Vespers. It must have been of short duration. The oldest testimonies mentioned seem to refer to a short prayer of a private nature. In the fourth and the following centuries the texts which speak of the compositions of this Office are far from uniform. John Cassian tells us that in Palestine three psalms were recited for Sext, as also for Terce and None[10] This number was adopted by the Rules of St. Benedict, St. Columbanus, St. Isidore, St. Fructuosus, and to a certain extent by the Roman Church. However, Cassian says that in some provinces three psalms were said at Terce, six at Sext, and nine at None. Others recited six psalms at each hour and this custom became general among the Gauls.[11] In Martène will be found the proof of variations in different Churches and monasteries. With regard to ancient times the Peregrinatio Sylviæ, tells us that at the hour of Sext all assembled in the Anastasis where psalms and anthems were recited, after which the bishop came and blessed the people.[12] The number of psalms is not stated.

In the sixth century the Rule of St. Benedict gives the detailed composition of this Office. We quote it here because it is almost the same as the Roman Liturgy; either the latter borrowed from St. Benedict, or St. Benedict was inspired by the Roman usage. Sext, like Terce and None, was composed at most of three psalms, of which the choice was fixed, the Deus in adjutorium, a hymn, a lesson (capitulum), a versicle, the Kyrie Eleison, and the customary concluding prayer and dismissal [13]

In the Roman liturgy Sext is also composed of the Deus in adjutorium, a hymn, three portions of Psalm 118, the lesson, the short response, the versicle, and the prayer. (For the Byzantine Rite, see Eastern Christian Office, below.) In the modern Mozarabic Office Sext consists only of Ps. 53, three "octonaries" of Psalm 118, two lessons, the hymn, the supplication, the capitulum, the Pater Noster, and the benediction.

Eastern Christian Office


In the Eastern Orthodox and Greek Catholic Churches the office of the Sixth Hour is normally read by a single Reader and has very little variation in it. Three fixed psalms are read at the Third Hour: Psalms 53, 54 and 90 (LXX). The only variable portions for most of the year are the Troparia (either one or two) and Kontakion of the Day.

During Great Lent a number of changes in the office take place. On Monday through Friday, after the three fixed psalms, the Reader says a kathisma from the Psalter. The Troparion of the Day is replaced by special Lenten hymns that are chanted with prostrations. Then, a special Troparion of the Prophecy is chanted, which is particular to that specific day of Great Lent. This is followed by a Prokeimenon, a reading from Isaiah and another Prokeimenon. Then there may follow a reading from the Ladder of Divine Ascent. The Kontakion of the Day is replaced by special Lenten troparia. Near the end of the Hour, the Prayer of St. Ephraim is said, with prostrations.

During Holy Week, on Great Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the services are similar to those during Great Lent (including the reading of a kathisma), but instead of the normal Lenten hymns which replace the Kontakion, the Kontakion of the day (i.e., that day of Holy Week) is chanted. On Great Thursday and Saturday, the Little Hours are more like normal. On Great Friday, the Royal Hours are chanted.

During the Lesser Lenten seasons (Nativity Fast, Apostles' Fast and Dormition Fast) the Little Hours undergo changes similar to those during Great Lent, except the Lenten hymns are usually read instead of chanted, and there are no kathismata. In addition, on weekdays of the Lesser Fasts, an Inter-Hour (Greek: Mesorion) may be read immediately after each Hour (at least on the first day of the Fast). The Inter-Hours may also be read during Great Lent if there is to be no reading from the Ladder of Divine Ascent at the Little Hours. The Inter-Hours follow the same general outline as the Little Hours, except they are shorter.



Friday, September 27, 2013

The 12 Steps - and the Rule of St. Benedict?

I came across a really interesting idea recently, and was amazed that I'd never heard of or seen it  before.  The suggestion was that the 12 Steps are a parallel to the 7th Chapter ("Of humility") of the Rule of St. Benedict!

And when you look at the two things side-by-side, it's hard to believe that the Rule isn't at least alluded to here.  Keep in mind that Step 7 (!), "Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings" starts out by saying that:
Since this Step so specifically concerns itself with humility, we should pause here to consider what humility is and what the practice of it can mean to us.

Indeed, the attainment of greater humility is the foundation principle of each of A.A.'s Twelve Steps. For without some degree of humility, no alcoholic can stay sober at all. Nearly all A.A.'s have found, too, that unless they develop much more of this precious quality than may be required just for sobriety, they still haven't much chance of becoming truly happy. Without it, they cannot live to much useful purpose, or, in adversity, be able to summon the faith that can meet any emergency.

Humility, as a word and as an ideal, has a very bad time of it in our world. Not only is the idea misunderstood; the word itself is often intensely disliked. Many people haven't even a nodding acquaintance with humility as a way of life. 

Another reference to "humility" is found in the 12th Tradition (“Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.”), which starts out this way:
THE spiritual substance of anonymity is sacrifice. Because A.A.’s Twelve Traditions repeatedly ask us to give up personal desires for the common good, we realize that the sacrificial spirit—well symbolized by anonymity—is the foundation of them all. It is A.A.’s proved willingness to make these sacrifices that gives people their high confidence in our future.

And ends like this, in its last paragraph:
We are sure that humility, expressed by anonymity, is the greatest safeguard that Alcoholics Anonymous can ever have.



When you consider the purpose of the Rule itself - a means of "giving up personal desires for the common good," and the working-out of a way for people to live together peacefully and productively in the love of God and man - well, it's hard to deny a certain similarity!


See what you think.  First, the 12 Steps:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.



Here's Chapter 7 of the Rule, from CCEL:
CHAPTER VII
Of Humility

Brethren, the Holy Scripture crieth to us saying: "Every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted" (Lk 14:11; 18:14). Since, therefore, it saith this, it showeth us that every exaltation is a kind of pride. The Prophet declareth that he guardeth himself against this, saying: "Lord, my heart is not puffed up; nor are my eyes haughty. Neither have I walked in great matters nor in wonderful things above me" (Ps 130[131]:1). What then? "If I was not humbly minded, but exalted my soul; as a child that is weaned is towards his mother so shalt Thou reward my soul" (Ps 130[131]:2).

Hence, brethren, if we wish to reach the greatest height of humility, and speedily to arrive at that heavenly exaltation to which ascent is made in the present life by humility, then, mounting by our actions, we must erect the ladder which appeared to Jacob in his dream, by means of which angels were shown to him ascending and descending (cf Gen 28:12). Without a doubt, we understand this ascending and descending to be nothing else but that we descend by pride and ascend by humility. The erected ladder, however, is our life in the present world, which, if the heart is humble, is by the Lord lifted up to heaven. For we say that our body and our soul are the two sides of this ladder; and into these sides the divine calling hath inserted various degrees of humility or discipline which we must mount.

The first degree of humility, then, is that a man always have the fear of God before his eyes (cf Ps 35[36]:2), shunning all forgetfulness and that he be ever mindful of all that God hath commanded, that he always considereth in his mind how those who despise God will burn in hell for their sins, and that life everlasting is prepared for those who fear God. And whilst he guardeth himself evermore against sin and vices of thought, word, deed, and self-will, let him also hasten to cut off the desires of the flesh.

Let a man consider that God always seeth him from Heaven, that the eye of God beholdeth his works everywhere, and that the angels report them to Him every hour. The Prophet telleth us this when he showeth God thus ever present in our thoughts, saying: "The searcher of hearts and reins is God" (Ps 7:10). And again: "The Lord knoweth the thoughts of men" (Ps 93[94]:11) And he saith: "Thou hast understood my thoughts afar off" (Ps 138[139]:3). And: "The thoughts of man shall give praise to Thee" (Ps 75[76]:11). Therefore, in order that he may always be on his guard against evil thoughts, let the humble brother always say in his heart: "Then I shall be spotless before Him, if I shall keep myself from iniquity" (Ps 17[18]:24).

We are thus forbidden to do our own will, since the Scripture saith to us: "And turn away from thy evil will" (Sir 18:30). And thus, too, we ask God in prayer that His will may be done in us (cf Mt 6:10). We are, therefore, rightly taught not to do our own will, when we guard against what Scripture saith: "There are ways that to men seem right, the end whereof plungeth into the depths of hell" (Prov 16:25). And also when we are filled with dread at what is said of the negligent: "They are corrupted and become abominable in their pleasure" (Ps 13[14]:1). But as regards desires of the flesh, let us believe that God is thus ever present to us, since the Prophet saith to the Lord: "Before Thee is all my desire" (Ps 37[38]:10).

We must, therefore, guard thus against evil desires, because death hath his station near the entrance of pleasure. Whence the Scripture commandeth, saying: "Go no after thy lusts" (Sir 18:30). If, therefore, the eyes of the Lord observe the good and the bad (cf Prov 15:3) and the Lord always looketh down from heaven on the children of men, to see whether there be anyone that understandeth or seeketh God (cf Ps 13[14]:2); and if our actions are reported to the Lord day and night by the angels who are appointed to watch over us daily, we must ever be on our guard, brethren, as the Prophet saith in the psalm, that God may at no time see us "gone aside to evil and become unprofitable" (Ps 13[14]:3), and having spared us in the present time, because He is kind and waiteth for us to be changed for the better, say to us in the future: "These things thou hast done and I was silent" (Ps 49[50]:21).

The second degree of humility is, when a man loveth not his own will, nor is pleased to fulfill his own desires but by his deeds carrieth our that word of the Lord which saith: "I came not to do My own will but the will of Him that sent Me" (Jn 6:38). It is likewise said: "Self-will hath its punishment, but necessity winneth the crown."

The third degree of humility is, that for the love of God a man subject himself to a Superior in all obedience, imitating the Lord, of whom the Apostle saith: "He became obedient unto death" (Phil 2:8).

The fourth degree of humility is, that, if hard and distasteful things are commanded, nay, even though injuries are inflicted, he accept them with patience and even temper, and not grow weary or give up, but hold out, as the Scripture saith: "He that shall persevere unto the end shall be saved" (Mt 10:22). And again: "Let thy heart take courage, and wait thou for the Lord" (Ps 26[27]:14). And showing that a faithful man ought even to bear every disagreeable thing for the Lord, it saith in the person of the suffering: "For Thy sake we suffer death all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter" (Rom 8:36; Ps 43[44]:22). And secure in the hope of the divine reward, they go on joyfully, saying: "But in all these things we overcome because of Him that hath loved us" (Rom 8:37). And likewise in another place the Scripture saith: "Thou, O God, hast proved us; Thou hast tried us by fire as silver is tried; Thou hast brought us into a net, Thou hast laid afflictions on our back" (Ps 65[66]:10-11). And to show us that we ought to be under a Superior, it continueth, saying: "Thou hast set men over our heads" (Ps 65[66]:12). And fulfilling the command of the Lord by patience also in adversities and injuries, when struck on the one cheek they turn also the other; the despoiler of their coat they give their cloak also; and when forced to go one mile they go two (cf Mt 5:39-41); with the Apostle Paul they bear with false brethren and "bless those who curse them" (2 Cor 11:26; 1 Cor 4:12).

The fifth degree of humility is, when one hideth from his Abbot none of the evil thoughts which rise in his heart or the evils committed by him in secret, but humbly confesseth them. Concerning this the Scripture exhorts us, saying: "Reveal thy way to the Lord and trust in Him" (Ps 36[37]:5). And it saith further: "Confess to the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endureth forever" (Ps 105[106]:1; Ps 117[118]:1). And the Prophet likewise saith: "I have acknowledged my sin to Thee and my injustice I have not concealed. I said I will confess against myself my injustice to the Lord; and Thou hast forgiven the wickedness of my sins" (Ps 31[32]:5).

The sixth degree of humility is, when a monk is content with the meanest and worst of everything, and in all that is enjoined him holdeth himself as a bad and worthless workman, saying with the Prophet: "I am brought to nothing and I knew it not; I am become as a beast before Thee, and I am always with Thee" (Ps 72[73]:22-23).

The seventh degree of humility is, when, not only with his tongue he declareth, but also in his inmost soul believeth, that he is the lowest and vilest of men, humbling himself and saying with the Prophet: "But I am a worm and no man, the reproach of men and the outcast of the people" (Ps 21[22]:7). "I have been exalted and humbled and confounded" (Ps 87[88]:16). And also: "It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me, that I may learn Thy commandments" (Ps 118[119]:71,73).

The eighth degree of humility is, when a monk doeth nothing but what is sanctioned by the common rule of the monastery and the example of his elders.

The ninth degree of humility is, when a monk withholdeth his tongue from speaking, and keeping silence doth not speak until he is asked; for the Scripture showeth that "in a multitude of words there shall not want sin" (Prov 10:19); and that "a man full of tongue is not established in the earth" (Ps 139[140]:12).

The tenth degree of humility is, when a monk is not easily moved and quick for laughter, for it is written: "The fool exalteth his voice in laughter" (Sir 21:23).

The eleventh degree of humility is, that, when a monk speaketh, he speak gently and without laughter, humbly and with gravity, with few and sensible words, and that he be not loud of voice, as it is written: "The wise man is known by the fewness of his words."

The twelfth degree of humility is, when a monk is not only humble of heart, but always letteth it appear also in his whole exterior to all that see him; namely, at the Work of God, in the garden, on a journey, in the field, or wherever he may be, sitting, walking, or standing, let him always have his head bowed down, his eyes fixed on the ground, ever holding himself guilty of his sins, thinking that he is already standing before the dread judgment seat of God, and always saying to himself in his heart what the publican in the Gospel said, with his eyes fixed on the ground: "Lord, I am a sinner and not worthy to lift up mine eyes to heaven" (Lk 18:13); and again with the Prophet: "I am bowed down and humbled exceedingly" (Ps 37[38]:7-9; Ps 118[119]:107).

Having, therefore, ascended all these degrees of humility, the monk will presently arrive at that love of God, which being perfect, casteth out fear (1 Jn 4:18). In virtue of this love all things which at first he observed not without fear, he will now begin to keep without any effort, and as it were, naturally by force of habit, no longer from the fear of hell, but from the love of Christ, from the very habit of good and the pleasure in virtue. May the Lord be pleased to manifest all this by His Holy Spirit in His laborer now cleansed from vice and sin.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

"Why Are You Not Dead Yet?"

The most important difference between the world today and 150 years ago isn’t airplane flight or nuclear weapons or the Internet. It’s lifespan. We used to live 35 or 40 years on average in the United States, but now we live almost 80. We used to get one life. Now we get two.

You may well be living your second life already. Have you ever had some health problem that could have killed you if you’d been born in an earlier era? Leave aside for a minute the probabilistic ways you would have died in the past—the smallpox that didn’t kill you because it was eradicated by a massive global vaccine drive, the cholera you never contracted because you drink filtered and chemically treated water. Did some specific medical treatment save your life? It’s a fun conversation starter: Why are you not dead yet?It turns out almost everybody has a story, but we rarely hear them; life-saving treatments have become routine. I asked around, and here is a small sample of what would have killed my friends and acquaintances:
  • Adrian’s lung spontaneously collapsed when he was 18.
  • Becky had an ectopic pregnancy that caused massive internal bleeding.
  • Carl had St. Anthony’s Fire, a strep infection of the skin that killed John Stuart Mill.*
  • Dahlia would have died delivering a child (twice) or later of a ruptured gall bladder.
  • David had an aortic valve replaced.
  • Hanna acquired Type 1 diabetes during a pregnancy and would die without insulin.
  • Julia had a burst appendix at age 14.
  • Katherine was diagnosed with pernicious anemia in her 20s. She treats it with supplements of vitamin B-12, but in the past she would have withered away.
  • Laura (that’s me) had scarlet fever when she was 2, which was once a leading cause of death among children but is now easily treatable with antibiotics.
  • Mitch was bitten by a cat (filthy animals) and had to have emergency surgery and a month of antibiotics or he would have died of cat scratch fever.

After a while, these not-dead-yet stories start to sound sort of absurd, like a giddy, hooray-for-modernity response to The Gashleycrumb Tinies. Edward Gorey’s delightfully dark poem is an alphabetical list of children (fictional!) who died gruesome deaths: “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs/ B is for Basil assaulted by bears.” Here’s how modern science, medicine, and public health would amend it:

M is for Maud who was swept out to sea … then brought back to shore by a lifeguard and resuscitated by emergency medical technicians.

O is for Olive run through with an awl … but saved during a four-hour emergency surgery to repair her collapsed lung.

S is for Susan, who perished of fits … or who would have, anyway, if her epilepsy hadn’t been diagnosed promptly and treated with powerful anticonvulsant drugs.

This, to me, may be the single biggest change in the human condition ever - and to my mind explains, in one go, why the churches have emptied out.   (The increase is not actually due, BTW, to recent advances in medicine as I had thought; the article says that the change began during the last century, and is credited to public health initiatives:  clean water, sewage treatment, washing hands, etc.  Also to improved farming methods; we're no longer subject to starvation.  Of course, vaccines and medical treatment have had a huge effect, too - particularly I think on worldviews; my mother - just one generation back - was deathly afraid of illness, particularly polio, for some reason.)

To understand why people live so long today, it helps to start with how people died in the past. (To take a step back in time, play our interactive game.) People died young, and they died painfully of consumption (tuberculosis), quinsy (tonsillitis), fever, childbirth, and worms. There’s nothing like looking back at the history of death and dying in the United States to dispel any romantic notions you may have that people used to live in harmony with the land or be more in touch with their bodies. Life was miserable—full of contagious disease, spoiled food, malnutrition, exposure, and injuries.

But disease was the worst. The vast majority of deaths before the mid-20th century were caused by microbes—bacteria, amoebas, protozoans, or viruses that ruled the Earth and to a lesser extent still do. It’s not always clear which microbes get the credit for which kills. Bills of mortality (lists of deaths by causes) were kept in London starting in the 1600s and in certain North American cities and parishes starting in the 1700s. At the time, people thought fevers were spread by miasmas (bad air) and the treatment of choice for pretty much everything was blood-letting. So we don’t necessarily know what caused “inflammatory fever” or what it meant to die of “dropsy” (swelling), or whether ague referred  to typhoid fever, malaria, or some other disease. Interpreting these records has become a fascinating sub-field of history. But overall, death was mysterious, capricious, and ever-present.

.....

One of the best tours of how people died in the past is The Deadly Truth: A History of Disease in America by Gerald Grob. It’s a great antidote to all the heroic pioneer narratives you learned in elementary school history class, and it makes the Little House on the Prairie books seem delusional in retrospect. Pioneers traveling west in wagon trains had barely enough food, and much of it spoiled; their water came from stagnant, larvae-infested ponds. They died in droves of dysentery. Did you ever play with Lincoln logs or dream about living in a log cabin? What a fun fort for grown-ups, right? Wrong. The poorly sealed, damp, unventilated houses were teeming with mosquitoes and vermin. Because of settlement patterns along waterways and the way people cleared the land, some of the most notorious places for malaria in the mid-1800s were Ohio and Michigan. Everybody in the Midwest had the ague!

* * *

How did we go from the miseries of the past to our current expectation of long and healthy lives? “Most people credit medical advances,” says David Jones, a medical historian at Harvard—“but most historians would not.” One problem is the timing. Most of the effective medical treatments we recognize as saving our lives today have been available only since World War II: antibiotics, chemotherapy, drugs to treat high blood pressure. But the steepest increase in life expectancy occurred from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s. Even some dramatically successful medical treatments such as insulin for diabetics have kept individual people alive—send in those #NotDeadYet stories!—but haven’t necessarily had a population-level impact on average lifespan. We’ll examine the second half of the 20th century in a later story, but for now let’s look at the bigger early drivers of the doubled lifespan.

The credit largely goes to a wide range of public health advances, broadly defined, some of which were explicitly aimed at preventing disease, others of which did so only incidentally. “There was a whole suite of things that occurred simultaneously,” says S. Jay Olshansky, a longevity researcher at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Mathematically, the interventions that saved infants and children from dying of communicable disease had the greatest impact on lifespan. (During a particularly awful plague in Europe, James Riley points out in Rising Life Expectancy: A Global History, the average life expectancy could temporarily drop by five years.) And until the early 20th century, the most common age of death was in infancy.

Clean water may be the biggest lifesaver in history. Some historians attribute one-half of the overall reduction in mortality, two-thirds of the reduction in child mortality, and three-fourths of the reduction in infant mortality to clean water. In 1854, John Snow traced a cholera outbreak in London to a water pump next to a leaky sewer, and some of the big public works projects of the late 1900s involved separating clean water from dirty. Cities ran water through sand and gravel to physically trap filth, and when that didn’t work (germs are awfully small) they started chlorinating water.

More at the link.  More later as to how this ties in with "The Trouble With Anglicanism" and "Why prooftexting?"

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The trouble with Anglicanism....

While it is a very wonderful, sane, healthy way to be Christian, it has no clue whatsoever why anybody should become a Christian.  I submit that Anglicanism does not itself know what faith is actually for, or why it's a good thing for human beings to pursue it.    It does know, I hasten to add, that one of faith's important roles is to "to give praise to God."  And that's great, I do acknowledge - but perfectly doable on one's own time, no?  And does worship - i.e., the famous "liturgy" - actually do much to help people just by itself?  Perhaps, for some people it does - those with a previous faith background and some understanding of faith practices (or those with a lot of patience - and a priest who uses the Prayer Book well) - but I'm not sure this idea is working very well these days.

The trouble with Anglicanism - and particularly the American version of it - is that it has no theology of human nature, and no particular thoughts - or perhaps rather  some trivial and at the same time contradictory thoughts - about the human condition itself (AKA "the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to" - plus "alienation from God").    It's the original "I'm OK, you're OK" religion - so how can it help anybody who isn't actually OK?  Answer:  it can't. 

If Anglicanism wants to discuss the human condition, it must borrow anthropological ideas from elsewhere - Catholicism has some well-developed ones, and Lutheranism has some more modern and psychologically interesting (and dramatic!) ones; the most interesting ideas, from our perspective, might be the Girardian ones - but it has totally forgotten that this is possible or desirable.   It simply doesn't speak of any of these things.

So, what you get are people who actually are OK (sounds unlikely to me), or who believe they are OK - or those who seem to be OK, or pretend to be OK.  And since everybody's OK, well:  there's nothing to see here, folks.  We have to hurry to get out there to help all the people who aren't OK - but only the actual poor and needy, please.  Let's just leave the troubled or addicted - and, for that matter, the "poor in spirit" - out of this, can we?  And remember:  it's just plain selfish to focus on your own problems!

Actually, though:  there is a tiny touch of reporting on the human condition in the 39 Articles:
IX. Of Original or Birth-Sin.
Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam, (as the Pelagians do vainly talk;) but it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the Spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God's wrath and damnation. And this infection of nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated; whereby the lust of the flesh, called in Greek, p¢vnæa sapk¢s, (which some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire, of the flesh), is not subject to the Law of God. And although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptized; yet the Apostle doth confess, that concupiscence and lust hath of itself the nature of sin.

X. Of Free-Will.
The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith; and calling upon God. Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.

XI. Of the Justification of Man.
We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.

But, of course:  the 39 Articles?  What the heck are those?

And you do get a bit about the Ten Commandments in the Catechism.  But there's a bit of a problem - kind of a large gap, in fact - in the thinking, given the issues enumerated in the articles above, isn't there?    How does one, in other words, actually get from there to here?  Seems to be a mystery.

Q.    What are the Ten Commandments?
A.    The Ten Commandments are the laws give to Moses and the people of Israel.
    
Q.    What do we learn from these commandments?
A.    We learn two things: our duty to God, and our duty to our neighbors.
    
Q.    What is our duty to God?
A.    Our duty is to believe and trust in God;
     I       To love and obey God and to bring others to know him;
     II       To put nothing in the place of God;
     III       To show God respect in thought, word, and deed;
     IV       And to set aside regular times for worship, prayer, and the study of God's ways.

Q.    What is our duty to our neighbors?
A.    Our duty to our neighbors is to love them as ourselves, and to do to other people as we wish them to do to us;
     V      To love, honor, and help our parents and family; to honor those in authority, and to meet their just demands;
     VI      To show respect for the life God has given us; to work and pray for peace; to bear no malice, prejudice, or hatred in our hearts; and to be kind to all the creatures of God;
     VII      To use our bodily desires as God intended;
     VIII      To be honest and fair in our dealings; to seek justice, freedom, and the necessities of life for all people; and to use our talents and possessions as ones who must answer for them to God;
     IX      To speak the truth, and not to mislead others by our silence;
     X      To resist temptations to envy, greed, and jealousy; to rejoice in other people's gifts and graces; and to do our duty for the love of God, who has called us into fellowship with him.


We're also told that "It is required that we should examine our lives, repent of our sins, and be in love and charity with all people" before receiving Communion.   Well, that's certainly nice - but again:  how is one supposed to accomplish any of this, if we are "very far gone from original righteousness, and of our nature inclined to evil"?

If we've dropped the 39 Articles because we don't actually believe that  we are "very far gone from original righteousness, and of our nature inclined to evil" - well, what do we believe about any of this?  That we're all OK?  That people really have no deep sorrows or pains or lonelinesses or obsessions or addictions or frustrations or feelings of alienation or self- or other-destructive impulses or habits?  That we can just naturally accomplish, on our own steam, all the things listed in the Commandments section above?  And that there's nothing more to worry about, as long as we don't steal from our places of employment?

And if we can accomplish all those things on our own - then just what is it we are being "saved" from?

Inquiring minds want to know.....