The Trinity in 1 Cor 2

Not too long ago I made a post about various analogies for the Trinity given by many ancient and medieval Christian authors. I’ve also come to realize that something very similar is going on in 1 Corinthians 2:

It is of the mysterious wisdom of God that we talk, the wisdom that was hidden, which God predestined to be for our glory before the ages began. None of the rulers of the age recognised it; for if they had recognised it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory … to us, though, God has given revelation through the Spirit, for the Spirit explores the depths of everything, even the depths of God. After all, is there anyone who knows the qualities of anyone except his own spirit, within him; and in the same way, nobody knows the qualities of God except the Spirit of God.

I find that this passage is remarkable for being such a condensed statement of the Orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. By stating that the rulers of the age “crucified the Lord of glory,” the Apostle recognizes Christ’s divinity and also undermines Nestorianism. By referring to the Holy Spirit as God’s “own spirit,” analogous to the spirit within each of us, St. Paul confirms that the Holy Spirit is likewise consubstantial with God, as our spirit is not identical to us but nor is it a different thing from us – and this, further, makes clearer how the Holy Spirit can be God without being the Father and without being another God, as later theologians would make more explicit.

Links

  • An article by our beloved Herbert McCabe OP critiquing the account of natural law in Veritatis Splendor (N.B., while the site hosting the article is pro-Church reform concerning, e.g., gay marriage and contraception, it would not be right to ascribe such an outlook to McCabe). The article is a nice summary of what “natural law” is and is not.
  • An old blog post from Neurology Update describes how an impurity in illegal drug synthesis led to extremely rapid-onset Parkinson’s disease in some patients. The good news, though, is that according to the chief scientific officer of the Parkinson’s Foundation, advances in Parkinson treatment “in the next 20 years will likely outpace the progress of the past 200.” As a side note, although nearly everyone associates Parkinson’s disease with motor difficulties, symptoms such as constipation, trouble sleeping, and a reduced sense of smell precede the onset of the disease’s characteristic motor symptoms by many years.
  • The Limits of Information” by the well-known neuropsychologist and philosopher Daniel N. Robinson, at The New Atlantis. Some of the arguments he uses (e.g., the Martian anthropologist) are not very new, but one passage stood out as having some importance: “Notwithstanding the progress in neuroscience, the elements of lived life yield a “folk psychology” without which the brain would be of no greater interest than the spleen. We are as good (or bad) at explaining ourselves to each other now as were our remote ancestors, including those who had no knowledge of brains at all. By ordinary standards and expectations, this suggests a fundamental gap between the character of lived life and the neural processes grounding such a life — and thus, again, between the various types of explanation.”
  • Recently a March for Life was held throughout Romania and Moldova under the slogan “Help the mother and child! They depend on you!” It was blessed by the Romanian Orthodox Church’s Holy Synod. Romania has one of the world’s highest abortion rates. It’s good to see the equal emphasis on mother and on child.

Herbert McCabe on Holy Week

Then there are those who do see that our world is heading towards destruction, that its alleged unity is born out of fear and that it is based on violence, the violence built into its structures; that it is not the unity of love but of concealed hatred, a hypocritical pretence of fellowship. But of these less-deceived people there are many for whom the answer lies at least for the most part in simply dismantling the economic structures of injustice by which this deeply divided world maintains itself as a fake unity. They have not reached down to the mystery of sin, which will always seek new forms as old ones are dismantled. For these people the mysteries of Holy Week should be not so much a challenge as an invitation: an invitation to go further, to enter into the deeper mystery of sin, to realize that the transformation we need if we are to escape destruction is even more radical than revolution; it is forgiveness.

Source: Herbert McCabe OP. “Holy Thursday: The Mystery of Unity.” New Blackfriars, 67, no. 788, p. 60.

Immediately prior to this paragraph, McCabe describes those who hold a different opinion: the people who think that, since the Enlightenment, the disunity of mankind (which McCabe calls ‘sin’) has been “abolished.” There are still problems, of course, but progress (through, e.g., better schooling) will eventually overcome them. Funny how one can still very clearly see these two groups which McCabe described in a sermon written in 1986. Those who believe the world is essentially good can still be in seen in organizations like the UN. Meanwhile, those who believe the current structures of the world are inherently violent remind me of communist social justice types (even the language is the same). And this latter group still are not heeding McCabe’s wisdom that “the transformation we need if we are to escape destruction is even more radical than revolution; it is forgiveness.” I have seen some of them portray forgiveness as a tool of oppression. While it is true that forgiveness is often used as an excuse to forget injustice, our Lord did set us an example when he prayed for the forgiveness of his murderers; and I find it hard to imagine how one can hope to build a just society while ignoring the deepest form of charity.

Early Miscarriage Arguments against Immediate Hominization

One class of arguments which is sometimes seen from pro-choice advocates relies on the fact that a large number of embryos die very early in pregnancy. From this they extrapolate that inducing abortion is permissible. Henry Morgentaler, the well-known Canadian abortion practitioner, makes this argument:

If abortion is always viewed as “intentional murder,” why isn’t miscarriage viewed in similar terms? After all, almost half of all embryos are spontaneously shed in what is called “miscarriage” or “spontaneous abortion.” If spontaneous abortions are an “act of God,” to use the common religious expression, is it not strange that God has so little concern for fetal life that He allows so much of it to go to waste without intervening? Is it not possible to then conclude that God does not mind or object to spontaneous abortions? Why is it that the Catholic church has no ritual to mark the abortion of so much fetal life when it occurs spontaneously, yet becomes so vociferous and condemnatory when it is a conscious decision by a woman or couple?
Source: “The Moral Argument for Abortion,” Free Inquiry 16, no. 3 (1996): 18.

A more recent example was made by Bill Nye in a BigThink video, which was panned in the National Review by two Catholic ethicists, Robert P. George and Patrick Lee. What is interesting about this is that arguments in the same class have been made by Catholic theologians in the past; not, of course, to show the permissibility of abortion, but to argue against immediate hominization. Karl Rahner, for example, wrote:

For a few centuries Catholic moral theology has been convinced that individual hominization occurs at the moment of the fusion of the gametes. Will the moral theologian still have today the courage to maintain this presupposition of many of his moral theological statements, when he is suddenly told that, from the start, 50% of the fecundated female ova never reach nidification [i.e., implantation] in the uterus? Will he be able to admit that 50% of the “human beings”—real human beings with an “immortal” soul and an eternal destiny—do not, from the very start, get beyond this first stage of a human existence?
Source: cited in Joseph F. Donceel, “Immediate Animation and Delayed Hominization,” Theological Studies 31, no. 1 (1970): 99-100. Donceel gives the source as “Schriften zur Theologie 8 (Einsielden, 1967) 287″ in the corresponding footnote; Schriften zur Theologie is better known in English as Rahner’s Theological Investigations.

What is more, Anselm of Canterbury makes a similar-sounding argument:

Anselm wrote that it is inadmissible that the infant should receive a rational soul from the moment of conception. This would imply that every time an embryo perishes soon after conception, a human soul would be damned forever, since it cannot be reconciled with Christ, “quod est nimis absurdum.”
Source: Donceel, “Immediate Animation and Delayed Hominization”: 78. Donceel sources the quote from “Liber de conceptu virginali et originali peccato 7 (PL 158, 440)”.

There is, however, a difference between the arguments made by the modern authors and the one made by Anselm. According to Rahner, for example, what is absurd is that God would allow so many people to die at the very first stage of existence. Anselm, meanwhile, argues that it is absurd that God would allow so many people to die without possibility of baptism. This I think highlights a flaw in the argument that many moderns miss, which is that for most of human history, infant mortality has also been extremely high, at times rivaling even the figure of 30%-50% of embryos which are said to die very early in pregnancy (even today, in certain countries the infant mortality ratio is 10%). It would of course be ridiculous for ancients to argue that since so many infants die, perhaps infants are not yet people. It would be even more absurd if they used this to argue for the permissibility of infanticide. But since Anselm’s position is about salvation more than it is about death, no such reductio objection is possible, as infants can be baptized, and so the high mortality of infants (with which Anselm was presumably aware) poses no problem for his argument.

While Latin theologians, following Aristotle, typically favored delayed hominization, Eastern theologians, including the Cappadocians and Maximus the Confessor, have typically favored immediate hominization upon conception. I’ve had to rely pretty heavily on secondary sources for what Catholic theologians have historically made of the high incidence of miscarriage, so what I can present is pretty limited. It would be interesting to see how much ‘air-time’ arguments in this class got among ancients or medievals outside of Anselm.

Enzyme Kinetics in Ordinary Life

From the New England Journal of Medicine:

A 68-year-old man presented with unilateral ptosis [i.e., one droopy eyelid] and no other symptoms […] Myasthenia gravis was suspected, and the ice-pack test was performed with the placement of an instant cold pack over the left eye. After 2 minutes, the ptosis was substantially diminished (>5 mm), indicating a positive test […] The inhibition of acetylcholinesterase activity at a reduced muscle temperature is thought to underlie the observed clinical improvement.

A bit of background:

  • Neurons secrete a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine onto muscle cells which binds to the muscle cells’ acetylcholine receptors. This leads to muscle contraction and is the way neurons cause muscles to contract. Acetylcholinesterase is an enzyme present in the junction between neuron and muscle cell, which speeds up the breakdown of acetylcholine so that its effect on the muscle isn’t too long-lasting.
  • In the disease known as myasthenia gravis, the body produces antibodies which bind to the muscle’s acetylcholine receptors, blocking acetylcholine from binding. The result is muscle weakness (one manifestation is droopy eyelids), as the nerves’ ability to stimulate muscle contraction is diminished.
  • Enzymes, including acetylcholinesterase, work less efficiently at lower temperatures, because at lower temperature molecules move slower, so are less likely to bump into the enzyme, and they are less likely to bump into the enzyme with sufficient energy to bring the reaction to completion.
  • One way to treat myasthenia gravis is by administering a drug which inhibits acetylcholinesterase, so that it cannot break down acetylcholine as quick, therefore leaving acetylcholine to act for longer. Now, decreasing temperature also has the same effect, which is why myasthenia gravis is alleviated in the presence of cold. (Note: inhibition of acetylcholinesterase is not the only reason for low temperature helping myasthenia gravis – there’s a couple others – just one major one).

I’m sharing this because I was really impressed by a basic principle of biochemistry (that low temperature reduces enzyme efficiency) having such a simple visual demonstration.

Links

  • This past week featured World Down Syndrome Day (to represent trisomy 21, it fittingly falls on 3/21). At Down Syndrome Uprising, I’ve found an old but cool article about pre-modern depictions of Down Syndrome in art.
  • Over at his blog Eastern Christian Books, Adam DeVille criticizes Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option. I love the quote near the end from Schmemann about how to live a monastic life (some of the things Wittgenstein did actually overlap remarkably well with Schmemann’s suggestions).
  • On YouTube, Vox has a video about the Hubble Deep Field image. I had seen the photo before, but I didn’t realize that it shows galaxies in different stages of development. Very cool. But some of the YouTube comments illustrate the tendency I’ve noticed among some atheists to deify the cosmos, e.g., “If you think about it, all we are is atoms. And these faraway galaxies are basically atoms too. And so is everything in between, and beyond. We may all feel separated, but we are all connected. We are one. We are all the universe.”

Ss. Patrick and Augustine on Language and Education

Happy St. Patrick’s day! Below are two passages, one from St. Patrick and the other from St. Augustine. Both of their remarks on the difficulty of expressing our thoughts (Patrick: “I can’t express myself with the brief words I would like in my heart and soul” and Augustine: “dwelling long in the tedious processes of syllables which come far beneath the standard of our ideas”) come in a discussion of preaching or catechesis. St. Patrick’s work seems to be a general letter of exhortation to recognize God’s greatness and St. Augustine’s is a set of instructions on how to catechize. This makes sense: trying to explain the reasons for a fact to someone else often leaves you fumbling with words to express what is self-evident in your mind (once in high school a classmate noted how this happens when explaining the limit surface area-to-volume ratio sets on cell size). Given how “much our articulate speech may differ from the vivacity of our intelligence,” it does seem reasonable to wonder how speech even has the ability to help us learn. According to Thomas Aquinas, words themselves do not provide knowledge but prompt the learner to derive conclusions from their own innate first principles, in a similar way to how the doctor only provides medicine for consumption, but it is the body which takes the medicine where it needs to go and brings it to take its effect. The role the student plays is significant. We often forget that when we are presenting students with new arguments, not only do they have to see how successive steps follow logically, but they also need to see why the argument had to go in this direction and not in any other direction (e.g., in a math proof, students often ask “why couldn’t you do this instead?”). This obviously fits with Aristotle’s account of certain knowledge: “We suppose ourselves to possess unqualified scientific knowledge of a thing, as opposed to knowing it in the accidental way in which the sophist knows, when we think that we know the cause on which the fact depends, as the cause of that fact and of no other, and, further, that the fact could not be other than it is” (Posterior Analytics, 1.2).

This is why I have long thought to write, but up to now I have hesitated, because I feared what people would say. This is because I did not learn as others did, who drank in equally well both the law and the sacred writings, and never had to change their way of speaking since childhood, but always grew better and better at it. For me, however, my speech and words have been translated into a foreign language, as it can be easily seen from my writings the standard of the instruction and learning I have had. As it is said: ‘The wise person is known through speech, and also understanding and knowledge and the teaching of truth [Sir 4:29].’ However, even though there’s truth in my excuse, it gets me nowhere. Now, in my old age, I want to do what I was unable to do in my youth. My sins then prevented me from really taking in what I read. But who believes me, even were I to repeat what I said previously? I was taken prisoner as a youth, particularly young in the matter of being able to speak, and before I knew what I should seek and what I should avoid. That is why, today, I blush and am afraid to expose my lack of experience, because I can’t express myself with the brief words I would like in my heart and soul.
—St. Patrick, Confessio, 9-10. Patrick’s remaining writings (the Confessio and the Epistola) are available for free online.

Now if the cause of our sadness lies in the circumstance that our hearer does not apprehend what we mean, so that we have to come down in a certain fashion from the elevation of our own conceptions, and are under the necessity of dwelling long in the tedious processes of syllables which come far beneath the standard of our ideas, and have anxiously to consider how that which we ourselves take in with a most rapid draught of mental apprehension is to be given forth by the mouth of flesh in the long and perplexed intricacies of its method of enunciation; and if the great dissimilarity thus felt (between our utterance and our thought) makes it distasteful to us to speak, and a pleasure to us to keep silence, then let us ponder what has been set before us by Him who has “showed us an example that we should follow His steps.” For however much our articulate speech may differ from the vivacity of our intelligence, much greater is the difference of the flesh of mortality from the equality of God.
—St. Augustine, On the Catechising of the Uninstructed, 10.15.