Guilt When Reasoning is Impaired

In light of the accusations against Brett Kavanaugh that, as a teen, he committed sexually assaulted while drunk, people have been looking again at alcohol and its role in violence.

Alcohol can cause people to act differently than they would if their reason had not been compromised. Nonetheless, someone who commits a crime, such as sexual assault, while drunk is still generally considered culpable. Either (1) they should not have gotten so drunk in the first place, or (2) they should have not been of such character that they did what they did regardless of intoxication. While lawyers have considered this specific issue in depth, Christian tradition also touches on it: (1) drunkenness itself is condemned in Scripture (e.g., 1 Cor 6:9-11), and (2) it has reflected on another case beside intoxicants where our ‘better judgment’ is impaired: dreams. The Christian tradition does not necessarily condemn wet dreams as sin, but it at least views them as an imperfection in the soul. Brandon has a good post about St. Augustine’s thoughts, which I believe align with what we find in the Philokalia’s extracts of St. John Cassian: “A sign that we have acquired this virtue [self-restraint] perfectly is that our soul ignores those images which the defiled fantasy produces during sleep; for even if the production of such images is not a sin, nevertheless it is a sign that the soul is ill and has not been freed from passion” (vol. I, p. 76).


The Faith and Greek Philosophy

From vol. 1 of A History of Greek Philosophy by W.K.C. Guthrie (Cambridge, 1962), pp. 23-24:

In its primitive form, the teaching of Jesus and his handful of Hebrew followers may seem to have had little to do with the impressive and continuous unfolding of Greek philosophy. But after the conquests of Alexander, this continuing development was accompanied by ever widening opportunities for impact on other peoples. Greek and Semite had already met in Zeno and later Stoic philosophers. The first men to set down the new Gospel in writing did so not in their own vernacular but in the language of Plato and Aristotle as it had now adapted itself to its function as the lingua franca of the greatly enlarged Hellenic world. The task of converting the Gentiles brought the need to meet them on their own ground, as we see Saint Paul already doing in his famous speech to the Athenians, in which he commends the Christian belief that all men are sons of God by quoting a line of the Stoic poet Aratus. Later on, there is a continuous interaction between Christian and pagan thought. The Christian attitude varies in individual writers between extreme hostility and considerable sympathy, from the ‘What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?’ of Tertullian to the idea of Greek philosophy as a praeparatio evangelica, the idea that, as Clement of Alexandria put it, philosophy had prepared the Greeks for Christ, as the Law prepared the Jews. With the birth of the highly spiritual religious philosophy of Neoplatonism, the interaction became even more marked. Whether for hostile and apologetic purposes or not, understanding and some degree of assimilation of the views of the opposite camp became indispensable. Thus even with the growth of Christianity to be the recognized religion of the civilized world, the continuity is not broken nor the influence of the Greek tradition at an end. Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics continue to exert their power over the scholastics of the Middle Ages. We have our Cambridge Platonists in the seventeenth century, our Catholic Thomists and our Protestant Platonists today.

Confusing ‘Beyond Nature’ with ‘Contrary to Nature’

In St. Gregory Palamas’s dialogue Theophanes, the learner Theotimos asks Theophanes (who represents Palamas) about the view of those who claim that, although the essence of God is incomprehensible and incommunicable, it still can be comprehended and communicated in a way beyond nature (Lt tr.: supernaturaliter, Gk: ὑπερφυῶς), because, after all, it is fitting for God to be beyond nature. To this view Theophanes responds (PG 150:944-945):

But this is not beyond nature, nor fitting God – away with it! But rather it is contrary to nature and entirely impossible. For the same thing, in the same respect, being communicable and incommunicable, comprehensible and incomprehensible, is certainly unsuitable, and incoherent, and furthest from the truth, and as it were contradictory in the highest degree, because according to divine Gregory of Nyssa, whatever is said about God, although they may differ in meaning, may have no contradiction at the same time with the name applied. He who speaks thus, affirming the same thing in the same respect, he himself by his own words is opposed to God, and confuses in Him what is beyond nature with what is contrary to nature.

Certainly a very important reminder even today.

St. Photius on Different Depictions of Christ in Different Cultures

In question 210 of his Amphilochia (PG 101:947-952), St. Photius takes on an objection from those opposed to icons:

Those who are most audacious and wicked among the iconoclasts, and who consider vain curiosity to be wisdom, ask what is the true image of Christ, whether it is that which the Romans draw, or that which the Indians, or the Greeks, or the Egyptians portray, since these do not agree among themselves in likeness … [Later on Photius repeats the objection:] They say that, seeing as the Greeks endeavor to have Christ similar to themselves, the Romans instead to themselves, the Indians to their own figure, and the Ethiopians to theirs … it is not apparent from these things who might be taken for the true Christ.

St. Photius gives six objections that can be used against this argument.

What is first to be said to them is: from that very assortment of images whence you propose to indicate a conflict, you unwillingly admit that, throughout the world wherever Christianity exists, the existence and cult of images is to be had. Thus in that which they desired to destroy, they confirm even more the images, and they are caught enmeshed by their own reasoning.

The second, third, and fourth objections are pretty similar. Essentially, Photius argues that this reasoning could equally be applied to the differences in the gospels and liturgies between different cultures, which would lead to the absurd result that these are not legitimate either. Furthermore, it even applies to the crosses which the iconoclasts set up, some of which have a title, others not. In the fifth objection he argues (I admittedly found it difficult to follow) that anyone who attacks an image necessarily is targeting the one depicted in the image. In the final thing which St. Photius adds, he writes:

The dissimilitude which is observed among images does not void the nature and truth of the image. For the thing depicted is not expressed only by the figure of the body and the form of the colors, but also by its disposition, its harmonious action, its emphasis of passions, its dedication in holy places, by the explanation of its inscriptions, and in other more prominent symbols which should not at all (or at least for the most part) be absent in the images of the faithful. Through these things, no less than if everything were present, we are lead to the memory and honor of the thing depicted, which is the purpose of iconography.

St. Photius’s list of the components of an image which give it meaning has its own interest (note that he remarks that the location of an image is part of what gives it its meaning). But what I find most remarkable about this is, first, the topic, which is still discussed today (e.g., whenever someone asks why Jesus is often depicted as white), and, second, St. Photius’s response. It is not triumphalist, i.e., dismissing the Indian, Egyptian, or Ethiopian depiction of Christ as erroneous. Indeed, he acknowledges that each culture depicts Christ in its own way. But he remarks that this is no less astonishing than each culture having gospels in its own tongue and modes of expression, or its own liturgies; for these things, each suited to a different culture, express their truths no less than if they were only expressed according to one way.

St. Photius on the Baptism of the Apostles

I have recently renewed my study of Latin from last summer and I am very pleased that this time I have been able to make progress understanding the Latin in Migne (though not without difficulty). It is early days still, but here is a taste of St. Photius’s Amphilochia, which is a work dedicated to answering numerous questions about the Scripture (and the faith and philosophy more generally). It is full of very interesting remarks. Here is one question, about the baptism of the apostles (PG 101:719).

Question 124: When were the apostles baptized, and by whom?

We see that the apostles received the baptism of John before Christ’s passion. And the Savior did not bring out another baptism before his passion, so that He might not render the office of John void, or give an occasion of talk to the Jews opposed to him, because this would have put the baptism of John in disrepute. But whatever was lacking in it, He supplied, not baptizing in water, but in the Spirit. For so He himself says: “Before many days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5), indeed not before ten. Ten days is given for this work, so that the faith of the apostles might be proved. For it is by a quiescent grace, and not by what was promised appearing, that their faith is exercised, and their hope given an opportunity (to show), faith and not doubt of those things to be obtained. To be baptized in the Holy Spirit is the same thing as to receive the Holy Spirit. Therefore in the Spirit and in water the apostles were baptized before Christ’s suffering, and this washing yielded to them remission of sins, however not union with the Holy Spirit. Our Lord teaches that John baptized (all) the apostles when He tells Peter, who was denying that he should be washed: “He who has been bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet” (John 13:10). By this word it appears that not only Peter but also the other apostles, whose feet He also washed, were purified by the baptism of John. The Savior therefore did not abrogate the baptism of repentance which was administered by John for the remission of sins, but completed it with an added gift of the Holy Spirit.

The End Days

St. John Chrysostom, Hom. 34 on John, 3:

If three hundred years ago, when those words were used, Paul called that season “the fullness of time,” much more would he have called the present so. But perhaps for this very reason some disbelieve, yet they ought on this account to believe the more. For whence do you know, O man, that the end is not “at hand,” and the words shortly to be accomplished? For as we speak of the end of the year not as being the last day, but also the last month, though it has thirty days; so if of so many years I call even four hundred years “the end,” I shall not be wrong; and so at that time Paul spoke of the end by anticipation. Let us then set ourselves in order, let us delight in the fear of God; for if we live here without fear of Him, His coming will surprise us suddenly, when we are neither careful, nor looking for Him.

St. Augustine, Eighty-three Different Questions, qu. 58, 2:

Now old age usually lasts as long as all the other ages together. For since old age is said to begin with the sixtieth year, and since human life can reach one hundred twenty years, it is clear that old age alone can be as long as all the other earlier ages. Therefore, in regard to the final age of mankind, which begins with the Lord’s coming until the end of the present world, it is uncertain how many generations are reckoned to it. Moreover, God has willed for our benefit to hide this, as it is written in the Gospel and the Apostle attests, saying that the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night.


  • At BPS Research Digest, a summary of a paper which points out misconceptions in introductory psychology textbooks regarding intelligence tests. I recommend reading the full paper if you have access. At Slate Star Codex, Scott Alexander talks a bit about IQ tests within this blog post. Although I guess I should note that just because IQ does seem to measure a quality related to various real-life variables, that by itself does not make it the same thing as what we mean when we say ‘intelligence.’
  • At Quanta: ‘A Classical Math Problem Gets Pulled Into the Modern World’.
  • An old article at Ethika Politika by David Pederson provides an Aristotelian portrait and defense of Karl Marx.
  • At Marginalia, a review of a new book on St. John of Damascus’s relationship with Islam.
  • Thomas Reese writes that the repeal of the Irish eighth amendment shows that pro-life groups need to change tactics: “In almost every country where abortion has been on the ballot, abortion has won. Rarely have pro-choice laws been reversed. This trend is not going to change. To think otherwise is simply ignoring reality.” There is some truth to what he writes, especially when he notes that the American pro-life focus on Roe is a bit misguided, since even if overturned, most states would still maintain pro-choice laws. He’s also right that it is very difficult to pass pro-life laws without first having a pro-life culture. However, while welfare for mothers (as he recommends) is good (both in itself and ceteris paribus would reduce abortions), such a program would be incomplete without an attempt to change the culture. Note that some countries show that strong welfare, e.g., Scandinavian ones, is no guarantee by itself of low abortion rates. Also his enthusiasm for contraception goes a bit beyond what the data says (the relation between contraceptive use and abortion is very complicated to say the least). I am actively interested in researching this topic and have more to say on it, but I guess this will do for now.