Monday, January 30, 2023

Words Cannot Explain…

…leaving scapegoats to take the blame….

The lack of real agreement at the council of 451 with reference to the Alexandrine emphasis is linked with the council’s treatment of Theodoret and Ibas.

The Council of Chalcedon Re-Examined, by V.C. Samuel

It will be recalled that these two were condemned at the Second Council of Ephesus – a council rejected by Pope Leo and repudiated at Chalcedon.   At the same time, many at Chalcedon believed the judgment against these two was sound – the two were, in fact, Nestorians.  A resolution exonerating them should not be passed unless the two explicitly reject Nestorianism.

First, Theodoret of Cyrus.  He was introduced at Chalcedon with no reference to his earlier condemnation.  This was justified – overriding the more than 100 bishops of the earlier council – by the plea that he had been restored single-handedly by Leo of Rome.

As [Theodoret] came in, the bishops of Egypt, Illyricum and Palestine voiced their strong protest.  ‘Have mercy on us,’ they shouted.  ‘The faith is destroyed! The canons cast him out!  Cast out the teacher of Nestorius!’

Shouts went back and forth, one side in opposition, the other in support.  In the end, the commissioners ruled that Theodoret would stay in the capacity of a petitioner.  His case was brought up eighteen days later.  Ignoring the action of Leo, the bishops in opposition proclaimed ‘Theodoret is still under excommunication.’

Theodoret wished that his petitions to the emperor and the Roman legates be read.  The opposing bishops wished not for this, but only that Theodoret anathematize Nestorius directly and openly.  He said a few words, unsatisfactory to these bishops. 

‘Speak plainly,’ demanded the bishops, ‘anathema to Nestorius and his doctrine; anathema to Nestorius and those who defend him.’

Theodoret would attempt to explain his position.  He would condemn Nestorius, but this was not sufficient – he must anathematize him.  Instead of doing so, Theodoret once again attempting to defend his position, the bishops exclaimed ‘He is a heretic!  He is a Nestorian!  Away with the heretic!’

With this, Theodoret made a clear statement: anathema to Nestorius, to him who does not confess that Mary is Theotokos and who divides the one and only Son into two sons.  He also reminded that he had signed the Tome of Leo.  With this, the bishops agreed and restored Theodoret to the communion of the Church.

Samuel notes of this entire episode – of Theodoret and Nestorius:

Here we want to observe that Leo of Rome, in declaring Nestorius a heretic on the one hand, and supporting Theodoret who had been an ally of Nestorius and who had not condemned the man on the other, maintained a double standard in the Christological controversy.

Whatever Leo did, he did it single-handedly as opposed to the one hundred and more bishops who had earlier condemned Theodoret. 

Next, to Ibas of Edessa.  In the so-called robber council of 449, he was deposed on a charge of heresy and of mismanaging ecclesiastical properties.  Samuel presents a summary of the history leading to Chalcedon.  He concludes his summary:

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Creating Man in Our Own Image…

…or the problem of the thing being measured being also used as the yardstick.

Indeed, the notion of the self with which we now intuitively operate in the West – that of something plastic that we believe we can shape in any way we wish – is arguably simply one example of a much broader worldview of the whole of reality.

Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution, by Carl R. Trueman

How did we come to this?  What ideas shaped western man to the point where there is nothing fixed, nothing certain, nothing objective, no such thing as truth? Trueman offers the thinkers that he considers necessary for us to have come to this point – Rousseau, the Romantics, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and Reich.

Necessary, but not sufficient.  How many in the West have heard of these men, let alone read anything by them?  Some of these were not even influential in their own day; why are they such a powerful force in ours – a century or more later?

Trueman will attempt to answer this question – how did these necessary-but-not-sufficient preconditions become sufficient?  He admits up front that even when he is through the reader might conclude that he has done nothing more than pile on a few more necessary preconditions without generate sufficient conditions.  Fair enough.  But pile up enough preconditions and eventually you will get the right conditions.

What he is after is to explain the how and why of our going from a fixed world to a plastic world – a world in which we have come to believe that we can shape reality to whatever we wish it to be.

Imagine being born a few hundred years ago.  Almost certainly you would have lived your entire life in the village in which you were born.  You would have married someone from the village, raised a family in the village, been baptized and buried in the village church. 

Your children would likely have remained in the village for their lives – and your sons likely would have learned their profession from you while your daughters would have learned how to be a wife and mother from your wife.

Every year, you would live the same cycle – governed by changes in seasons, changes in the time of sunrise and sunset.  Not only could you set your watch by it, you could have set the entire calendar by it.  Had this village been in western Europe, you would have belonged to the Catholic Church.

In other words, a very stable – even fixed – pattern of life.  But not our world.  Modern transportation, ease of migration, availability of education, social mobility, technology, science, medicine.  All have contributed to the changes in life’s rhythms and patterns when compared to that of the patterns in village life a few hundred years ago – a more plastic world.

I used to have to find my place in the fixed world of the village; now I can create my place in the wide-open spaces of the world.  I can shape my world – my being – to my will.

In 1400, the world seemed fixed, stable, and solid.  Today it seems as pliable as playdough.

Modern culture sees the world as raw material to be shaped by human will.  Trueman sees technology as having played the biggest part in this change.  As noted earlier, is technology to be considered just another necessary but insufficient precondition, or was it the sufficient condition that enabled the ideas of the aforementioned thinkers to be put into effect?

Technology reinforces the idea of “individual.”  In almost every way today we can individualize our experiences – music, news, videos, recreation.  Again, the individual is placed at the center of his reality.  The world is seen simply as “stuff,” to be molded and shaped according to the will of the creator – the modern individual.

We are the ones with power, and we are the ones who give the world significance.

Technology is the addition, the rise of something that gives the individual power and authority.  On the other side is the collapse of traditional external sources of authority and identity.  Trueman offers three examples to demonstrate this reality.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Words as Sticks and Stones

One of the most obvious aspects of modern public life is the central role that sex plays within it.

Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution, by Carl R. Trueman

The most private and intimate act has become the defining characteristic and primary category of our identity.  There was a time when sex was regarded as something human beings did; now it is to be understood as who human beings are.

Trueman traces this path from Marx to Nietzsche and Wilde.  A brief comment on these is necessary.  For Nietzsche, modern morality turned appropriate morality on its head.  What is appropriate morality?  Strength is good; weakness is bad.  Just the opposite of the Christian message, no doubt – a message designed such that the weak can demonize and manipulate the strong, according to Nietzsche.

Dwell on that for a moment.  In the bastardized form that many Christians practice today, we see that Nietzsche was right in a sense – the weak (more accurately, those on the fringes of society) use Christian morals to demonize those who hold to Christian morals, and many Christians have allowed themselves to be so demonized.  But, of course, the Christian message doesn’t end there (and for this, an understanding of natural law ethics is necessary).

Returning to Nietzsche, the moral codes that hinder strong individuals must be shattered.  But he did not pursue this via a return to natural law or to seeing God at the top of the hierarchy; instead, he gave us the superman: “a free spirit who transcended the spirit of his own age.”

Which brings Trueman to Oscar Wilde.  Wilde is described as the quintessential figure of modernity because the self-expressive individual that Nietzsche envisaged finds it most obvious manifestation in the shattering of traditional sexual moral codes.

Jacques Barzun addressed Wilde’s influence in his book From Dawn to Decadence.  He comments on Wilde’s Importance of Being Earnest.  This is not because Earnest has the moral qualities praised by the Victorians, but because a young woman he loves fancies the name. 

“I live constantly in fear of not being misunderstood,” says Wilde, meaning: the public should be baffled by new art, not reduce it to something it already understands.

In other words, not earnest, as in a character trait, but Earnest as the formal form of Ernie.  Barzun concludes that the sexual revolution took place, not in the 1960s, but in the 1890s – during Wilde’s time.  Returning to Trueman, and his comments on Wilde: ethics is just a matter of taste.  Citing Wilde: “All imitation in morals and life is wrong.”

…actions cease to have intrinsic moral value; what makes them “moral” rather is the freedom with which they are performed.

In this one can see the libertine libertarians: having the freedom to perform any act as long as the non-aggression principle is respected.  That’s fine for figuring out criminal trespasses.  As we have come to see the fruits of the success of those like Marx, Nietzsche and Wilde, it isn’t fine if one wishes to live in a free society.

This has come down in our time to the central public role that sex plays in self-identity.  As imitation in morals is wrong, the alphabet soup of identity markers is a sign of “right.”  No one should imitate anyone else, so everyone is entitled to (in fact, almost required to take) a new marker. 

Happiness is no longer understood as beatitudo, or fulfilment through other-regarding action.  At best, one is left to define happiness as avoiding pain and experiencing pleasure.  Well…what is the strongest feeling of pleasure?  Freud answers the question (but I bet you know the answer already): sex. “…[man] should make genital eroticism the central point in his life.”

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Agreement or Power?

…in its final form [the Chalcedonian definition of the faith] was so framed as to enable the delegates belonging to the three traditions then existing in the Church, namely the Alexandrine, the Antiochene, and the western, to interpret it in different ways.

The Council of Chalcedon Re-Examined, by V.C. Samuel

Two items bearing on the faith were considered and approved at Chalcedon.  First, the Tome of Leo was declared a document of the faith.  Second, it offered a definition of the faith.  It is this second point that is the subject of the quote above.

Samuel reminds of the political actions behind the council – the emperor, via his wife, wished the eastern Church to be unified under Constantinople.  Further, while supporting Rome, at the same time not allowing Rome to be seen as superior to Constantinople.

Hence, an understanding of Samuel’s statement: the purpose of the council was as much or more political as it was doctrinal.  An agreement must be reached, even if, once again, the terminology could be understood differently by the different traditions.  As long as agreement was reached, authority would move toward Constantinople and away from Alexandria.  And this would satisfy the desire of the emperor.

To be clear, this disagreement was not if Jesus was God or man; it was on the point of how, precisely, to understand and phrase that He was both God and man.

After some efforts, the bishops were ordered to come forward, and while over the Gospel that was placed in the middle, say they affirmed the faith in conformity with Nicaea, the creed of Constantinople, and the Tome of Leo.  One hundred fifty-eight men did so, each offering a short speech.  Thereafter, the remainder were asked to confirm by acclamation, and it was offered.

In their statement, the Illyrian bishops stated that – after having clarifying discussions with the Roman legates – the Tome offered nothing beyond that which was agreed in the earlier councils.  It was on this basis that they affirmed the Tome.  But here, again, is the problem.  The earlier councils were understood differently by different bishops.  Why wouldn’t this be?  Hence, doctrinally nothing was truly resolved.

In any case, thereafter having signed the Tome, the five who were condemned with Dioscorus were readmitted to the synod. 

What of the bishops of Egypt?  Seeing Dioscorus condemned, they realized their position on return to Egypt would be embarrassingly delicate.  The decision would not be accepted when the news reached home.  They signed a petition, asking to be free of involvement.  The petition included a statement of faith, did not condemn Eutyches, and it did not express acceptance of the Tome.

After much pressure, they did condemn Eutyches, but declared that they could not subscribe to the Tome without their archbishop…who was condemned!  The pressure grew greater, with the Egyptian bishops begging for mercy: “We shall be killed when we return to our country.”  “Be martyrs for the faith,” the council retorted.

The commissioners, secular officials of the Byzantine state, ordered the Egyptian bishops hold off on signing until an archbishop was appointed.  The Roman legate was not satisfied with this, demanding that the bishops could leave the city only after signing.  The intent was clear: acceptance of the Tome of Leo was required if one was to be considered a member in the Church.  The bishops from Egypt made it clear that the church in their country was not likely to accept the document.

The rest having accepted the Tome, now the eastern bishops presented their statement.  It did not conform to the Tome, nor did it refer to the Tome.  They apparently thought that, having accepted the Tome, the same courtesy would be extended to them. 

Monday, January 16, 2023

Order or Chaos?

Does human nature carry with it a moral structure  and a specific end or purpose that remain constant over time and to which we must conform ourselves in order to flourish? 


Or are we simply the stuff of which we are made and beyond that be free to be or do whatever we so choose?


Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution, by Carl R. Trueman

I have been thinking lately about the book of Genesis, specifically the first three or four chapters.  Not as science or as history, but as anthropology and as foundational for natural law.

Genesis 1: 1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Did God create a universe of order, or disorder?  We see the answer in all of creation, from the movement of the stars and planets to the sufficiency of all things necessary to sustain life on earth to the most minute processes in the human body.

We see the answer in the last verse of chapter 1:

And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.

Good: morally excellent; virtuous; righteous; pious: satisfactory in quality, quantity, or degree: of high quality; excellent.  As opposed to bad: not good in any manner or degree.  having a wicked or evil character; morally reprehensible: of poor or inferior quality; defective; deficient.

We see that creation is ordered, and God calls this order “good.”  Had creation been chaotic, well, first of all there would be no creation to speak of, but I suspect God would have called it “bad.”  This being not possible, of course….

Order was created.  In this, we find the roots of natural law.  If order is created, that order can be discovered – it must be discovered, it cannot be invented.  Just as we can discover the order of the universe, we can discover the order of and between men.  To the extent we conform to that order, we will be right with creation.

Earlier in chapter 1 we have the following:

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Here we see another key component of natural law: all men and all women are made in the image of God.  This verse is the foundation of understanding proper behavior between men, but it says nothing of the capabilities and qualities of any specific man.  The only sense in which we can use the phrase “all men are created equal” is the one offered in this verse.  One cannot find egalitarianism in creation, where all outcomes must be equal.  We see that all outcomes aren’t equal in God’s created order, for example when God found Cain’s “outcome” unequal. 

Continuing in the first chapter:

28(a) And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth,

I think this is self-explanatory.  It conforms to the proper created order that man populates the earth (and that requires some not-very-deep thinking on what this means regarding proper sexual relationships).

28(b) and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

This orders man’s place relative to the other living creatures.  As they are also created by God, man is to exercise proper dominion – to subdue the rest of creation.  This offers two aspects of this ordered creation: man is higher than any other aspect of creation, and man is to properly care for creation.  What cannot be derived from this is that man must be removed from creation in order to save creation, as many wish upon us today.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Winsome? Lose Some

According to, winsome means “sweetly or innocently charming; winning; engaging.” … While there is certainly nothing wrong with being kind or meek, the church must come to understand that winsomeness is not part of the fruit of the Spirit.

Addressing this issue requires starting with an understanding of natural law and natural rights.

There is a confusion when it comes to the topic of natural law.  There is also a confusion when it comes to the idea of natural rights.  There is a further confusion when discussing the two together, seeing the two as almost interchangeable terms or even synonyms one for the other.

Both those sympathetic to and those opposed to the idea of natural law share these confusions.  The confusion is grounded in the purpose of natural law as opposed to the purpose of natural rights. 

Natural law is an ethic.  It describes the proper way for man to live, based on objectively identifiable truths – both physical truths as well as truths that lead to a meaningful life that is beneficial to the individual, to the broader society, for today and for the future.

This ethic is understood and can be derived, ultimately, by identifying man’s purpose, or telos.  It is to grow ever more like Christ.  But for those out there who don’t like this idea, it is beatitudo.  This word is often translated as happiness, but it is best understood as fulfillment via other-regarding action.  I know…some won’t like that either.  But there you have it. 

Natural rights are rights possessed by individuals.  These are limited to rights in one’s person and one’s property.  Nothing more. 

To best and simply clarify the difference: natural law (ethics) demands from me that I act charitably – in other words, to act with regard toward the other.  Call it the Golden Rule.  So, while natural law demands of me to act charitably, no one has a natural right to demand charity from me.  All they can demand of me is to respect their natural rights in their person and the fruits of their person (i.e., their property).  I often phrase it as don’t hit first, don’t take my stuff.  The non-aggression principle.  Call this the Silver Rule (yes, there is one).

Of course, there is a small overlap: it is consistent with and a subset of natural law ethics that I act in a manner that respects another’s natural rights.  To respect another’s person and property is to act charitably toward that person.  But this is not the whole of natural law, just as the non-aggression principle is not the whole of an ethical system.

Not every violation of natural law should be subject to civil punishment.  That I do not act charitably toward someone is no cause for throwing me in jail.  That someone chooses sexual behavior that is outside of natural law is also no cause for that person to be thrown in jail.

Conversely, violations of natural law should not be made legal by civil law.  In other words, civil law should not force me to affirm violations of natural law.  Civil law should not force me to sell to those to whom I do not wish to sell.  Civil law should not force me to affirm gender identities which I choose not to affirm.

As should be expected, Thomas Aquinas has answered this question of the difference in natural law and natural rights, writing:

Now human law is framed for a number of human beings, the majority of whom are not perfect in virtue. Wherefore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus human law prohibits murder, theft and such like.

Not all vices should be forbidden by human law.  Only those through which human society cannot be maintained such as murder and theft.  Note, the examples given by Thomas are examples of violations against person and property “and such like.”  Nothing more.  The examples he gives are those that violate natural rights, not natural law.

Monday, January 9, 2023

Random Thoughts and Observations

First the Flood

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Jan 5 (Reuters) - A massive Pacific storm unleashed high winds, torrential rains and heavy snow across California for a second day on Thursday, knocking out power to tens of thousands of homes and disrupting road travel with flash floods, rock slides and toppled trees.

From the National Integrated Drought Information System

(I bet you didn’t know that your federal tax dollars went to something like this, did you?)

Regarding California:

·         37.1 million people in California are affected by drought

·         58 counties with USDA disaster designations

·         59th driest November was in 2022, over the past 128 years

·         2nd driest year to date was in 2022, over the past 128 years

We also have 100% electric vehicles in 12 years:

SACRAMENTO – The California Air Resources Board today approved the trailblazing Advanced Clean Cars II rule that sets California on a path to rapidly growing the zero-emission car, pickup truck and SUV market and deliver cleaner air and massive reductions in climate-warming pollution.

The rule establishes a year-by-year roadmap so that by 2035 100% of new cars and light trucks sold in California will be zero-emission vehicles, including plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

But don’t charge your electric vehicle.  Just one week after the above announcement to go all-electric:

The heatwave continues. For eight successive days, California’s independent grid operator (Cal ISO), the body that manages the transmission grid, has issued “Flex Alerts” asking households to voluntarily reduce power use, including not charging EVs between 4:00-9:00 pm.

Top 20 Largest California Wildfires: out of the top twenty, all but two have come in the 21st century.  Turning the Whig Theory of history on its head.

So, let’s summarize this: a state with no water cannot handle the rain when it does come; a state with no electricity mandates all cars are to run on electricity; a drought-stricken state that is abysmal when it comes to managing and containing wildfires.  Yet, it has plenty of money for this:

California’s high speed rail project:

On the cost side of the project, if the $100 billion estimate for cost of the Los Angeles to San Francisco phase of the project is taken seriously, that means the remaining portions – Merced to Sacramento and LA to San Diego – will cost an additional $60 billion and require an upping of the power needs discussed above by about 60%.

That $60 billion figure does not take into account the fact that the portion of the line slated to run down the I-15 corridor from Temecula to San Diego will be one of the most expensive.

Which, as everyone already knows, will never be completed and will cost at least double of any number currently advertised.

Yes, I know.  We all laugh at states like California, Illinois, and New York.  But we are all swimming in the same mud.  We are all getting dirty.  It just shows a little sooner in some places than in others.


CINCINNATI -- Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin had his heartbeat restored on the field after suffering cardiac arrest during the team's game Monday night against the Bengals, and he is currently in critical condition at a Cincinnati hospital, the Bills said in a statement Tuesday.

Two thoughts come to mind.  First, anyone who says it has something to do with the jab is told, “you aren’t a doctor, you haven’t even seen the patient, shut up.”  After which, the person who just said “you haven’t seen the patient” (who himself or herself also hasn’t seen the patient) immediately tells you that what happened was…whatever.  A hard hit to the chest at just the right moment in the heartbeat cycle, etc.

A hard hit to the chest in an NFL game.  Something that happens perhaps 300 times per game.  Saying a hard hit to the chest in an NFL game can cause a heart attack should end professional football, in the same way that saying burning furniture can bring down a high-rise building should cause all buildings over three stories to be condemned.

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Sentence First, Verdict Afterwards

`Let the jury consider their verdict,' the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.

`No, no!' said the Queen. `Sentence first--verdict afterwards.'

`Stuff and nonsense!' said Alice loudly. `The idea of having the sentence first!'

-          Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland


About five hundred delegates assembled in the great church of St. Euphemia, and the first session of the council was held on 8 October, 451.

The Council of Chalcedon Re-Examined, by V.C. Samuel

This is where and when the Council of Chalcedon began.  It was not initially intended to be held in Chalcedon, an ancient maritime town less than two miles opposite Constantinople.  It was first planned to be held in Nicea, about sixty miles away.  However, invasions necessitated the attention of emperor Marcian.  Thus, holding the council near the capitol allowed the emperor to look after both state duties and the council.

There was unprecedented imperial interest in this council.  It should be remembered that it was Pulcheria who gained the throne upon her brother’s death; Marcian was her consort.  Pulcheria was determined to support Rome against Alexandria in this council, but also did not want Rome to achieve too high a position.  She wanted Constantinople to come out as equal to Rome. 

Eighteen high-ranking state officials presided over the meetings of this Council.

Their seats were fixed in the church, directly facing the alter, and on either side were the delegates to be seated.

To the left were delegates from Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Caesarea in Cappadocia, Ephesus, and elsewhere; to the right, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Thessalonica, Egypt, Illyricum, and Palestine.  At the center: the Holy Gospel.

The most important decisions of the council which have a bearing on the present study are (i) the deposition of Dioscorus; (ii) the acceptance of the Tome of Leo; (iii) the adoption of a definition of faith; and (iv) the exoneration of persons like Theodoret of Cyrus and Ibas of Edessa.

It is this first point that is the subject of this post.  Dioscorus was from Alexandria, the bishopric that Pulcheria wanted to take down a notch. Immediately on the seating of the delegates, the Roman legate demanded that Dioscorus be excluded from the council.  The charge:

‘he had seized the office of judge and dared to conduct a council, without the authorization of the apostolic see, a thing which has never happened and which ought not to happen.’

This is reference to the council held in 449, later to be deemed indefensible by the Council of Chalcedon.  Despite the commissioners not being convinced, they “unwillingly” required the Alexandrine patriarch to move from his seat to a place in the middle reserved for the accused.  This was the opening scene.

The charges were presented so as to lay the entire blame of this council of 449 on Dioscorus and a small handful of others, thus not charging many of the other delegates attending the earlier council. 

Two specific charges were presented against Dioscorus: he infringed upon the faith of the Church by trying to establish the heresy of Eutyches as orthodoxy, and he deposed Eusebius and Flavian – neither of whom had trespassed the faith in any way.

Recall that until this point, there were different understandings in Alexandria and Antioch regarding the previous statements of the nature of Christ.  They could agree on the statements; they did not agree on what the statements meant.  It strikes me that to accuse either side of heresy – as each side did in turn – was premature.