Saturday, 31 December 2016

Christmas slacking

I'm breaking my Christmas blog silence to say a hearty 'Happy Christmas' to anyone passing by and a happy New Year for 2017 .... whatever it brings!

Christmas family time is too precious to interrupt with blogarrhea! More from me in January.

Friday, 23 December 2016

And the end game?

Anyone who has seen the various interviews of Cardinal Burke in the last few days - no need for links, I'm sure you all have - will have been struck by how resolute he sounds when questioned about his current course of action. The dubia were posed discreetly in private in September. When the pope refused to clarify matters in the growing confusion, the dubia were published. Now, we stand on the edge of the next stage: this formal correction that Cardinal Burke has been talking about is no idle threat. He has not raised this issue without having thought through and contemplated the possibility of having to do it. At least, if he has talked without thinking, he's not half the man we thought he was.

And now this: the pope has delivered his Christmas address to the Curia and ripped into the critics of reform, classifying them in three groups:

In this process, it is normal, and indeed healthy, to encounter difficulties, which in the case of the reform, might present themselves as different types of resistance. There can be cases of open resistance, often born of goodwill and sincere dialogue, and cases of hidden resistance, born of fearful or hardened hearts content with the empty rhetoric of “spiritual window-dressing” typical of those who say they are ready for change, yet want everything to remain as it was before. There are also cases of malicious resistance, which spring up in misguided minds and come to the fore when the devil inspires ill intentions (often cloaked in sheep’s clothing). This last kind of resistance hides behind words of self-justification and, often, accusation; it takes refuge in traditions, appearances, formalities, in the familiar, or else in a desire to make everything personal, failing to distinguish between the act, the actor, and the action.

I know ostensible this is about the Curia first and foremost but are you thinking what I'm thinking? I could go off here into metaphors about unstoppable forces and immovable objects, but I'm not even sure that would capture what looks like the coming clash. The language is a real give away:

This last kind of resistance hides behind words of self-justification and, often, accusation; it takes refuge in traditions, appearances, formalities, in the familiar, or else in a desire to make everything personal, 

Accusation, tradition, formalities ... Now, to whom could Pope Francis be alluding? Mark my words: this does not end well, unless there is some extraordinary intervention of grace and softening of hearts.

I'm off right now to Eucharistic Adoration. One word to men; a thousand words to God.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Nunc dimittis

Sometimes the weeks are just so intensely busy that I hardly draw breath from Monday to Friday. I managed to tonight though, mostly by heading to bed at 8.15pm! 

Still in my mood for sensible human things, my thoughts turn this evening to the following piece of music that I came across recently:  a version of Rachmaninov's Nunc dimittis (from All Night Vespers) by popster Katie Melua. Melua is a Georgian, so I dare say she might have heard this kind of liturgical music as a child. She certainly sings it with enough feeling.

The Rachmaninov is still exquisite, even if you do not appreciate the guitar accompaniment. 

And now your servant departeth ...

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Sensible, Human Things

I came across the following quotation the other day. It comes from C. S. Lewis, writing about the atomic age:

The first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb, when it comes, find us doing sensible and human things -- praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts -- not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs.

In our age of rare wisdom and rarer good sense, this strikes me as a recipe for confirmed sanity. 

Our age of rare wisdom is also of course an age of ecclesiastical drama and chaos - the atomic bomb of the Franciscan papacy perhaps? The internet, moreover, seems to give us a front row view of the unfolding events, and hardly fails to distort them at the same time. The temptation to anxiety that grew after the events of Hiroshima finds a strange echo in the anxieties we now face in the Church. The revolution in Eucharistic discipline has its own potential for fission and perhaps even meltdown. Thus, the growing importance of Lewis's prescient recipe for sanity. 

When the crisis comes, let ift find us doing sensible and human things -- praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts.

We all have our own recipe for sanity, I'm sure. Parents of younger children, like me, sometimes doubt such sanity is attainable, but it is there, lurking among the meteoric movements that gravitate around us in various stages of entropy. As I write, we are all 'working hard' in our living room, writing with various implements or fingers on a range of receptive surfaces. Breakfast is a distant memory while lunch is a pleasant and imminent prospect. The sharp winter sun has been dampened with a half drawn curtain and for once there is quiet. I know it won't last - this happy and paradoxical mood of sane industry and repose. In fact, as I write, one child has just fallen into jealous paroxysms over a sibling's writing implement - and we're off again.

But there it was, for a few minutes. Amid the chaos of family life, and the digitally amplified anxieties that would crowd about us like Tolkien's Ringwraiths, there breaks through the cloud such moments of wise, sane domestic normality. Our default condition is not to be in a state of apocalyptic agitation. Or as Chesterton says somewhere, we are most ourselves when the fundamental thing in us is joy

The soundscape is important too, for me at least. If I'm in the car on my own, I confess it might be as wild as a little Noel Gallagher unplugged. If I'm at home, it's more likely to be a Schubert string quartet, with all the vast hinterland of Romantic sentiment and classical remembrance that suffuses the music of the Austrian genius.  And, like a musical motive that broods and struggles towards its liberation in some inspired cadence, sanity in a mad, mad world, or indeed in a mad, mad Church, is a work in progress. It is not available to us at the click of a button, an easy upgrade or a software update. It is the result of a manual process. Or, the result of a practice. Practice makes perfect. 

In this observation, there is some terrible truth about what contemporary patterns of living do to us; about how they draw us away from the sources of sanity and push our noses into the troughs of consumerism and social media. It's not that we don't need to buy things or communicate and network with people. But how these garnishes of sensible life become toxins in the enclosure of digital space!

Anyway, enough of the blog. I'm away to be sane elsewhere for half an hour. Rome won't fail to circulate more madness before the end of the weekend, and no doubt it will catch up with us somewhere in the newsfeed or the myriad forms of panic on social media. Still, let it find us being sane and, with any luck, half the world away. 

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Letter from a rigid Catholic

Someone I know shared the following text today and I think it deserves to be passed on. I admit it is written by a rigid Catholic.


My most dear lord, king and husband,
The hour of my death now drawing on, the tender love I owe you forceth me, my case being such, to commend myself to you, and to put you in remembrance with a few words of the health and safeguard of your soul which you ought to prefer before all worldly matters, and before the care and pampering of your body, for the which you have cast me into many calamities and yourself into many troubles. For my part, I pardon you everything, and I wish to devoutly pray God that He will pardon you also. For the rest, I commend unto you our daughter Mary, beseeching you to be a good father unto her, as I have heretofore desired. I entreat you also, on behalf of my maids, to give them marriage portions, which is not much, they being but three. For all my other servants I solicit the wages due them, and a year more, lest they be unprovided for. Lastly, I make this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things.
Katharine the Quene.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Prayer: the only revolt that ever remains standing

Austen Ivereigh admitting he's a bit of a "head-the-ball"
Austen Ivereigh over at Crux has written an article every line of which drips with a kind of prevenient cynicism. I utterly refuse to link to the site and create click-bait which will drive up their revenue. Still, I cannot help scratching my head at his brand of totalitarising contrariness.

In Ivereigh's account of the dubia crisis, those four pesky cardinals, their dubia and their lamentable followers have not a gnat pube's worth of sense, logic or grace on which to build their case. They are dissenters, akin to the pro-women priest lobby. They have rejected a Spirit-filled process and questioned the incontrovertible truth that whatever the Church does is what God wants; it's not just an infallible but an impeccable Church apparently.

Worse still, Ivereigh has seen their inner hearts and is disturbed by them. They are all hidebound by reason, this breed of self-regarding dolourists, who covert their own pain and then anaesthetise it with liturgy. They are also all totally forgetful of the fact that the Synod settled all these questions beyond doubt in favour of Communion for the divorced and remarried in certain circumstances.

But don't think that you can know why or how the Synod and Pope Francis did this. Asking for detail is casuistry. You cannot be told the principle to apply; you will only recognise it if you are a pastor. But in any case, it is not a principle. It is an understanding of the particularity of difficult cases that means somehow divine law can be suspended because, you know, even Jesus suspended the law, right?

Roma locuta, causa finita, Ivereigh says, and concludes that the train has left the station and your four pesky cardinals and every other 'dissenter' have just been left behind on the platform.


I call this prevenient cynicism because no matter what your current reservation about Amoris Laetitia is, Ivereigh has been there before you, considered it all and educed the reasons that falsify everything you think. It's not just that the dissenters are wrong about Amoris Laetitia. They are wrong about everything. Their hearts are wrong. Their heads are wrong. Their sensibilities are wrong. They have not got any points to make. And thus they are being left behind on the station platform. They have made their own fate thus.

He tries to polish this turd of an argument by making allusions to 'friends' in the middle of it - how he has friends who think like this and how he is announcing to them their uselessness as an exercise in charity. But the effect is cold and he soon leaves off to return to his goodbye theme, presumably because it captures his feelings so well. The unbearable Burke and co. are on the platform as the Church's train pulls away from the station. Good riddance to bad rubbish.


My only response to stuff like this these days is simply to counsel the quiet wisdom of the long game. Ivereigh is so keen to board this train that he has not stopped to think for a moment about the implications.  All these arguments about subjective culpability and obstacles to grace cannot only apply to those in second unions. Must they not also apply to the unmarried as well, because, you know, sometimes an unbelieving partner resists marriage while their devout Catholic partner longs for the Eucharist and sexual rights in equal measure? I mean, if subjective culpability can apply to believing Catholics who are not married after a real marriage, surely a fortiori, they can apply to those not married before a real marriage, capisce?  Is this not where the train is heading? And we all know the other 'hard cases' lurking behind those...

  Oh, but wait a minute, now I'm using my reason and following the implications of a principle, and that is not at all how this new station-hopping choo-choo Church works, at least not in Ivereigh's telling. I must suspend my mind. If I don't understand, it is a mystery to be accepted because the Spirit is with us. If I feel I understand it and therefore take issue with it, I'm guilty of using my mind too much. So says Ivereigh anyway. Let it not be said that he can be accused of the latter sin!


But let me finish on a different note. Let's pray for Austen Ivereigh. His soul belongs to Jesus, and I'm not about to sit in judgment on it. I have my own soul to worry about.

But, by the same token, we should not underestimate this attempt to demoralise the supporters of the dubia. This article is only typical of a wider strategy of demoralisation that has accompanied the slow clarification of Amoris Laetitia. For ever since its real implications have begun to be drawn into the light, all questions and objections have been met with accusations of rigidity and pharisaism. Now, Ivereigh threatens them with irrelevance and redundancy. His counsel for future action? Resignation to the inevitable. Don't be left behind.

Personally, I feel the only resignation worth embracing is the resignation of prayer. We are in a maelstrom of chaos and nonsense, make no mistake about it. The rationality of the arguments is peeling off the Church's walls as quickly as it gets pasted up. We are surrounded by blather. We are taunted by cant.

So, what else is there to do but pray? Prayer is the resignation of the soul not to certain death but to the power of God in whatever circumstances. Prayer makes light of the doctors of abusive rhetoric. Prayer is a shield against certain despair.

I say it is resignation but that is only speaking from a divine perspective. From the human perspective it is revolt. And, as Bernanos remarks somewhere, prayer is the only revolt which can ever remain standing.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

The acceleration of the post-dubia Church: why time is sometimes not greater than space

When I launched this blog on 30th November I gave it the following description:

De Ecclesia arienarum republicae or living in a post-dubia Church

I wouldn't be surprised if my Latin is a bit wayward - I've enough for reading St Thomas (mostly) though perhaps not enough to tackle Terence - but the post-dubia label was one I felt strongly. This is why.


The dubia of the four cardinals marks a kind of watershed. We have seen any number of letters and protests over the last two years about Amoris Laetitia. Only yesterday we heard news of yet another, this time from John Finnis and Germain Grisez. More of that in a moment.

I have always felt such letters were pretty futile in the long run, easy to stonewall, quickly forgotten and not worth the trouble of responding to, at least in the view of authorities whose notions of dialogue extend only so far .... but no further. Yet the dubia were different, and they have left the papal rhetoric echoing in a void.

The exceptionalism of Amoris Laetitia was facilitated by its ambiguity. I am not sufficiently expert in the history of ecclesiastical governance to say how original such an instrument was. To me it smacks more of Lambeth than of the Lateran. That said, the ambiguity of the footnote which did not clearly say what everybody thought it said - and whose intended message is now being repeated with increasing clarity and insistence - was the armour-piercing head designed to break through the plates of conservative doctrinal rigidity. I read the opening of Amoris Laetitia the other day in a new light. Here is part of paragraph 2 and the start of paragraph 3:

The debates carried on in the media, in certain publications and even among the Church’s ministers, range from an immoderate desire for total change without sufficient reflection or grounding, to an attitude that would solve everything by applying general rules or deriving undue conclusions from particular theological considerations. 

3. Since “time is greater than space”, I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium.

Here, you have all you need to know about the pope's plan to defeat those damned generalist rule-obsessives: couch the changes in ambiguity, kick the difficult bit into the long grass of interpretation and discernment, and let time do its work.  Hagan lio, as the pope told young people in Rio: make a mess. It's the sign of the Spirit!


Yet, these dubia have not only repelled the armour-piercing armament of ambiguity; they have sought to undo the Franciscan method from the inside. They seek precisely to establish what principles are in play, and that of course is impossible to clarify for someone who has just criticised those who are prone to

applying general rules or deriving undue conclusions from particular theological considerations. 

I refer the reader here back to what I wrote the other day about the nature of exceptions. The implication of Amoris Laetitia seems to be that exceptions are simply exceptions, untying the binding nature of law. If this is what is meant ...if ... then it is on very shaky ground. The only reason for an exception is for a lower law to cede to a higher law. Exceptions are not the suspension of law but the affirmation of its hierarchy.

Therefore,  attacking those who '[apply] general rules' seems all the more difficult to interpret charitably (although we must try). If we are being urged to give way to a higher law, then let the higher law be stated without ambiguity.


And thus to the post-dubia Church. No amount of letter writing could have pierced the papal plan of largely ignoring critics of Amoris Laetitia. But dubia are different. They are like a lever reaching into the machine, forcing it to perform key processes that belong to the constitution of the Church. To do nothing in response to them - or to simply give yet more newspaper interviews making allusions to rigourism and psychological problems - is not to do nothing at all. In some ways it is to break the machine; or to change the metaphor, it is to block an essential function of the organism. And, as we all know, if you block a function at one end, you often get the consequences at the other end!

These last few weeks, we have seen a rising tide of objections being made, inducing counter-attacks from the other side. Fr Spadaro has become embroiled in the most ludicrous spats on Twitter; the pope has continued to talk to the press about rigidity; murmurs of canonical sanctions have been made by senior ecclesiastical judges. And thus we begin to see the undoing of one of those curious phrases the pope has used several times: time is greater than space...

The pope who seems to love all kinds of modern theories appears not to have done his homework on social acceleration. Theorists have been speculating about this for some time, but let us cut to the chase. Time is only greater than space when it is a constant. When time is accelerating, then the same may not be true. In fact, the risk is one that we all face every day: we simply run out of time.

And now Finnis and Grisez are entering the fray: Finnis, one of the most distinguished lay Catholic philosophers alive, and Grisez, one of the touchstones of orthodox, moral theology. These men have been charitable to a fault in joining in the fiction that Amoris Laetitia can be read in continuity with the past, and warn the pope against possible manipulations of the document. It is a way of allowing the pope a gracious way of backing down from the precipice over which he appears to want to drive us. At this point, I'm not convinced its subtlety will be appreciated in the Casa Santa Marta.

Time is greater than space ... except when it's not; except when we are in a moment of acceleration. The dubia have opened up the injectors in the Church's engines, and we are now being catapulted towards some Gargantuan moment where this pope and this papacy may find that both time and space are bent out of all recognition by the gravitational singularity of God's saving plans.

Monday, 5 December 2016

On the nature of exceptions

There is an awful commotion at the moment about rules and those who want them. If you insist on black and white laws, you are, it is said, unmerciful and rigid. And when such rigid folk ask referees to clarify the exact meaning of some ruling, it is said that they need to get with the programme and stop being so hidebound. Rules are out and mercy is in! Welcome to the Brave New Church.

If only the internet allowed one to blow a big, fat raspberry. Hang on a minute, it probably does.

Rather satisfying that.

As I was saying, there are few things sillier than labelling the need for rules as something inherently rigid. Au contraire, mes amis, in a sense nothing is beyond the rules. Even exceptions to rules are only the effect of lower rules yielding to more important rules higher in the hierarchy of norms until, of course, we reach the goodness of God which allows of no exceptions.

Let me state that again in another way for clarity. Those who think exceptions are less 'rule-led' than rules are hardly lucid. Exceptions are only 'rule-less' when one does not admit a higher law.

The paradoxical conclusion, therefore, is that when Jesus gets tough on the Pharisees for their rule-bound rigidity, it is only because they are binding themselves within one category of law without seeing how lower categories of law depend on higher categories for their life and virtue. Jesus is totally black and white; it's just that on the electromagnetic spectrum of the law, some rules are only visible to reason, while others are visible to faith and some are only visible to divine wisdom. How unsearchable are His ways, right? Well, indeed.


There is another way to go about this argument and it lies in considering the virtue of rules, rather than their vices. Yes, yes, yes, everyone knows about their vices. But what about their virtues?

Great minds seize on their fecundity immediately. It was said, for example, that Stravinsky was mad about compositional rules. You might find that difficult to believe by the time you get 10 minutes into The Rite of Spring - the opening-night's audience in Paris in 1913 certainly did! - but he affirmed that compositional rules were the absolute condition of creativity. He wrote, for example, about the 'abyss of freedom' that opened up without rules, and complained, moreover, of the terror he felt without first establishing his compositional presuppositions. And with rules in place, the creativity could flow and lead him to write things like this, for example:

Another example that springs to mind is Chesterton's famous walled garden analogy. It comes in Chapter 9 of Orthodoxy and Chesterton uses it to explain how Christianity could incorporate all the pleasures of Paganism in their place, i.e. in the wider order of norms that all come ultimately from the goodness of God. The great man writes as follows:

Christianity is the only frame which has preserved the pleasure of Paganism. We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff's edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the centre of the island; and their song had ceased.

This is not just some Chestertonian paradox to be enjoyed and then ignored. As I argued above, exceptions are only applications of some higher law. Tearing down rules in the name of getting away from the supposed rigidity of law is to misunderstand fundamentally what exceptions do for us. It is implicitly to undermine the order of the universe, not by requiring an exception but by only looking at the exception as a liberation ... whereas in truth it is only a statement of fidelity to some higher rule.

And the corollary follows. If an exception is not in fact an admission of the higher law, then an exception simply serves as a principle of anarchy. In this light, asking for clarity about the laws that apply is not Pharisaical. It is merely a request that exceptions be placed in the context of the higher order of norms, above and beyond which we finally arrive at the goodness of God. To block or crush this process, to behave as if exceptions speak for themselves because exceptions are always liberating, is to obscure the reason for the exception in the first place.


Well, I'm sure you know what I'm talking about, so what else is there to do but bid you a pleasant evening? I'm off to listen to Stravinsky at his most hidebound, as he was by the late 1930s. How interesting that he was dabbling in apparently rule-lite chaos in The Rite of Spring on the eve of the First World War, a war that interrupted the famous garden-party atmosphere of the Belle Epoque. And how interesting, in the same light, that he was dabbling in the rule-bound straightjacket of neo-classicalism in the late 1930s when just about everyone knew what was on its way.

A lesson for those who would muck about with rules perhaps...? When you sow the wind, expect to reap what's coming to you.

PS The Rite of Spring does in fact have its own almost inscrutable rules, but I'll leave that for another time.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Digital liberation and the narrowness factor

I'm reading Andrew Keen's The Internet is not the Answer at the moment, and it has underscored an observation that I have made in other areas. The internet came to us with a great promise of liberation in all kinds of ways. The internet was set to have the freedom of the Wild West, and no doubt some of the dangers. It was meant to create a much more variegated economy since it provides new economic opportunities that non-digital economies simply cannot offer. People said it would usher in a new age of democracy since it would create virtual communities, hitherto isolated in the conditions of contemporary consumerist society. There is hardly any need to mention its offer of sexual liberation too, with the proliferation of apps designed to facilitate an easy and rapid hook-up culture.

And yet in all these domains, after initial shoots of growth, we have seen the burgeoning of the opposite tendencies. The internet's economy is now dominated by huge, mega companies like Google, Facebook and Instagram whose business model is barely understood by most people, but which are valued at billions of dollars. Many erstwhile giants of the previous economic model where special manufacturers or service operations provided something people needed, have come crashing down: Keen's case studies include Kodak which folded in bankruptcy about the time Instagram was bought for $1 billion dollars. What about politics too? While it could be argued that the internet has facilitated a break in the propaganda hegemonies of political parties and news corporations, what has replaced them if not a cacophony of contradictory stories, theories and conspiracies beyond the ability of most people to test or discern? At the same time, we have seen a massive collapse in civil discourse in which people can hardly talk to each other online without accusing each other of fascism. Trolling seems not to be a minority pursuit these days, so much as the style in which we express all contradiction. In the field of sexuality of course, the situation is even worse. The app culture has only intensified the decline of respect between the sexes, to the point where normal relations are frequently an afterthought: the primary purpose of the other is the satisfaction of sexual whim. Rape threats are common occurrences for almost any woman who speaks out on anything on Twitter. And let's not get into the cyber-sexual pathologies that have been developing under the reign of what Proudhon labelled Pornocratie over 150 years ago.

So, while the internet still pretends to be the newest thing, it has in so many ways facilitated the old, old story so beautifully captured in these lines from Measure for Measure:

Lucio: Why, how now, Claudio! whence comes this restraint?

Claudio: From too much liberty, my Lucio, liberty: 
As surfeit is the father of much fast,
So every scope by the immoderate use
Turns to restraint. Our natures do pursue,
Like rats that ravin down their proper bane,
A thirsty evil. And when we drink, we die.

I'm not making a case here for throwing out the baby with the bathwater ... me, a blogger and all. The internet is a life raft. It has helped us make connections that bring illumination in the age of feeble, feeble light I tried to define the other day. I welcome its sociability. I prize my online friends. We do indeed form a community of interest and support across the digital divide. My life is enriched by all these things ....

But I am wondering about the narrowness factor, what a risk it represents, whether we suffer it mostly without even realising it, and what we can even do about that. When we choose to look at an app or a webpage rather than talk to the person next to us - a sight I most frequently see in parks where parents take their children and then ignore them -  are we not in danger of becoming those people that Chesterton lamented who called their home Christmas Cottage but went away from it at Christmas? The narrowness factor finds its evil twin in the speed factor of course, but that is for another time.

I suppose one lesson that might be drawn from this concerns how we react to internet news (and that means most news these days). If we are victims of the 'immoderate scope', we are likewise victims of the narrow scope of the supposedly all-seeing eye. Even if we spurn the fake liberation of the internet, do we not risk constantly falling prey to its partiality, thinking that we are in command of all the facts, whereas we are only in command of the strangulated news feed? Ultimately, if we're looking for liberation, my bet is we're more likely to find it in a good book than a digital stream.

In other words, just hand me that saw while I remove this branch I'm sitting on!

Thursday, 1 December 2016

In the bath

In these days of madness and deceit, it pays to refresh ourselves at the best sources of all. To that end, I've recently started dipping into the Summa Theologica again after a hiatus of some duration. A teacher of mine many years ago gave me this golden rule: 'An article a day keeps the trick cyclist at bay.' Oddly enough, this rule didn't keep his trick cyclist at bay. Mind you, was it a rule or was it just a guideline, like the Pirate Code?

One of St Thomas's more amusing articles concerns whether bathing and sleep can alleviate sorrow. It is quite a thought, isn't it, imagining that vast bulk of a man trying out his hypothesis by slipping into a bath of Radox. 'Do you think he actually took a bath?' Mrs Carlyle asked me this morning. 'No,' I replied, 'but I think he might have read about it in Augustine.' 

Be that as it may, I feel St Thomas's preoccupation with bathing is becoming more and more important as our age descends into chaos. Or, to take another metaphor, the nearer we move to the edge of the cliff, the more we have to somehow develop our head for heights. We might be here some time after all. And if bathing makes us feel better, well, we have no less an authority than the greatest Doctor of them all to prove we're not just blowing bubbles.

In related articles, St Thomas also comments on how joy is the soul's repose. This is a powerful but neglected dimension of spiritual guidance. Joy is not consolation, and yet I fear too often the two are confused, and the former is tainted by association with the latter. Tainted? But of course. Consolation sits under a special, dark cloud in the climate of hand-me-down Ignatian spirituality left over by the Counter-Reformation. Yet that is no reason to be suspicious of consolation in its place and, a fortiori, no reason to fear joy.

I'm reminded at this juncture of two things that are joyful in themselves, as well as problematisations of my discussion. The first comes from Vaclav Havel who, for all I know, talked solemn nonsense the rest of the time, but who once said that 'Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.'  In this sense, joy is nothing so prosaic or naive as optimism; rather, it is associated with the certainty of already possessing the beloved and rejoicing therein.

The second thing I am reminded of is Chesterton's injunction, found towards the end of Orthodoxy, that we are most ourselves when the fundamental thing in us is our joy. I look up the quotation and its actual words are even more apposite:

Man is more himself, more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him and grief the superficial.

The challenge in these words, as in Havel's, have been beyond many of us in recent times. But what if, just what if, we were prepared to rise from our slough of subprime grumbling and leap into the bath with Summa Theologica in hand?

I admit we cannot all be as gifted as Eccles in this regard. But might we surpass perhaps the giddiness of Eyeore? We can but try.