Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Birthday of the Church - the Day of Pentecost

Spiritus Domini replevit orbem terrarum, alleluja:
Et hoc quod continet omnia, scientiam habet vocis,
alleluja, alleluja, alleluja.
Exsurgat Deus, et dissipentur inimici ejus:
et fugiant, qui oderunt eum, a facie ejus.
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.
Spiritus Domini replevit orbem terrarum, alleluja:
Et hoc quod continet omnia, scientiam habet vocis,
alleluja, alleluja, alleluja.

The Spirit of the Lord hath filled the whole world, alleluia.
And that which containeth all things, hath knowledge of the voice, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered:
and let them that hate him flee from before his face.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end, Amen.
The Spirit of the Lord hath filled the whole world, alleluia.
And that which containeth all things, hath knowledge of the voice,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

[This is today's Introit, from Wisdom 1:7 (emphasis added) and Psalm 67:2]

Friday, May 29, 2009

GKC's Birthday: the Proclamation of Liberty

This is Chesterton's 135th birthday. It is a day for founding institutions, for making rules, for being in high spirits, for having picnics on the roof, for luncheons on the floor...

All next day at Beacon House there was a crazy sense that it was everybody's birthday. It is the fashion to talk of institutions as cold and cramping things. The truth is that when people are in exceptionally high spirits, really wild with freedom and invention, they always must, and they always do, create institutions. When men are weary they fall into anarchy; but while they are gay and vigorous they invariably make rules. This, which is true of all the churches and republics of history, is also true of the most trivial parlour game or the most unsophisticated meadow romp. We are never free until some institution frees us, and liberty cannot exist till it is declared by authority.
[GKC, Manalive]

Alas for good reasons, I could not defer the foundation of the Duhem Society until now - and there is another project already nascent of which I am not yet at liberty to speak, for I am bound to others in the work, and its rules are only now being formulated... There's only so many hours in a day, after all.

But what about you? What institution are you establishing today? What rules are you going to devise - rules for worthy pursuits, be they for joy or for wisdom or for reverence?

You may claim Chesterton's own authority today... regardless of when your birthday is, he is glad to share his own with you. Come and join in the celebration!

And perhaps later this evening, we'll get together at Sunday's for refreshments:
"Cold pheasant is a good thing," said Syme reflectively, "and Burgundy is a spanking good thing."
and then discuss something really huge...
...perhaps I may leave in my will directions or (what is much more improbable) funds for the founding of a great university...
[GKC ILN Oct 30 1926 CW34:193]

Monday, May 25, 2009

Four years and counting...

Today, May 25, marks four years since this blogg was begun!

Gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro.

Verily, let us give thanks to the Lord our God - for as Chesterton said, "I have often thanked God for the telephone." [GKC What's Wrong With the World CW4:112]

I have no time to summarise today - you might check out my index over on the right to see some of the more interesting postings. If you are in the mood for other stories, there are also short stories and even a novel and some non-fiction available.

I am busy, as usual, which is a good thing. Some exciting plans have begun brewing, but I am not yet at liberty to go into them just now.

But I will give just a hint.

First let us recall the fact that yesterday, May 24, was the 126th anniversary of the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge - a day which happened to be a THURSDAY. (hee hee!)

With that little fact I shall give the hint by quoting Chesterton, a famous one I have used many times previously, which I first read in a book by Father Jaki:

The rebuilding of this bridge between science and human nature is one of the greatest needs of mankind.
[GKC The Defendant 75]

FInally, let us recall the fallen defenders of our country, and pray for them.

Also, we should remember - as I neglected to mention last week - that we are within the Great Novena, the period of nine days of prayer directed by our Lord himself in preparation for the feast of Pentecost....

Heart of Jesus, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, have mercy on us.
[cf. Col. 2:3]

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Science and the Roman Catholic Church

I have heard someone or other is making the usual noise about how the Roman Catholic Church "hates" Science. Speaking as a Chestertonian, and as a student of Jaki, and even simply as someone who has been a scientist almost as long as he has been a Catholic, I find that hilarious, since it is so plainly false. I won't attempt to summarize an argument here; I merely point to my recent Lenten study of some Catholic scientists, to the work of S. L. Jaki, and to The Duhem Society for more details.

However it may be that you'd like a somewhat more penetrating argument - and I am happy to supply it. It is not mine, but Chesterton's...

Just to set the stage, Mr. Turnbull, an atheist and MacIan, a Roman Catholic are arguing as they walk along...
"I begin to understand one or two of your dogmas, Mr. Turnbull," MacIan said emphatically as they ploughed heavily up a wooded hill. "And every one that I understand I deny. Take any one of them you like. You hold that your heretics and sceptics have helped the world forward and handed on a lamp of progress. I deny it. Nothing is plainer from real history than that each of your heretics invented a complete cosmos of his own which the next heretic smashed entirely to pieces. Who knows now exactly what Nestorius taught? Who cares? There are only two things that we know for certain about it. The first is that Nestorius, as a heretic, taught something quite opposite to the teaching of Arius, the heretic who came before him, and something quite useless to James Turnbull, the heretic who comes after. I defy you to go back to the Free-thinkers of the past and find any habitation for yourself at all. I defy you to read Godwin or Shelley or the deists of the eighteenth century or the nature-worshipping humanists of the Renaissance, without discovering that you differ from them twice as much as you differ from the Pope. You are a nineteenth-century sceptic, and you are always telling me that I ignore the cruelty of nature. If you had been an eighteenth-century sceptic you would have told me that I ignore the kindness and benevolence of nature. You are an atheist, and you praise the deists of the eighteenth century. Read them instead of praising them, and you will find that their whole universe stands or falls with the deity. You are a materialist, and you think Bruno a scientific hero. See what he said and you will think him an insane mystic. No, the great Freethinker, with his genuine ability and honesty, does not in practice destroy Christianity. What he does destroy is the Free-thinker who went before. Free-thought may be suggestive, it may be inspiriting, it may have as much as you please of the merits that come from vivacity and variety. But there is one thing Free-thought can never be by any possibility - Free-thought can never be progressive It can never be progressive because it will accept nothing from the past; it begins every time again from the beginning; and it goes every time in a different direction. All the rational philosophers have gone along different roads, so it is impossible to say which has gone farthest. Who can discuss whether Emerson was a better optimist than Schopenhauer was pessimist? It is like asking if this corn is as yellow as that hill is steep. No; there are only two things that really progress; and they both accept accumulations of authority. They may be progressing uphill or down; they may be growing steadily better or steadily worse; but they have steadily increased in certain definable matters; they have steadily advanced in a certain definable direction; they are the only two things, it seems, that ever can progress. The first is strictly physical science. The second is the Catholic Church."
"Physical science and the Catholic Church!" said Turnbull sarcastically; "and no doubt the first owes a great deal to the second."
"If you pressed that point I might reply that it was very probable," answered MacIan calmly. "I often fancy that your historical generalizations rest frequently on random instances; I should not be surprised if your vague notions of the Church as the persecutor of science was a generalization from Galileo. I should not be at all surprised if, when you counted the scientific investigations and discoveries since the fall of Rome, you found that a great mass of them had been made by monks. But the matter is irrelevant to my meaning. I say that if you want an example of anything which has progressed in the moral world by the same method as science in the material world, by continually adding to without unsettling what was there before, then I say that there is only one example of it. And that is Us."
[GKC The Ball and the Cross]

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The 156 Graphs with Six Vertices

For your colouring pleasure, or just for your amusement, here are the 156 possible graphs with six vertices. Below each graph are three values: (1) the number of edges, (2) the degree sequence, showing the number of vertices for each value from five down to zero, and (3) an index for that graph provided for identification purposes.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Miracles and Fatima - and a challenge

In commemoration of Our Lady of Fatima, I posted an excerpt from Jaki's God and the Sun at Fatima, a wonderful book which considers the science behind the miracle of the sun.

In writing a short addendum to my excerpt I made the mistake - a good and worthy mistake - of consulting AMBER for GKC's use of the term "miracle" - which occurs over 600 times. It urges the writing of a book "Chesterton on Miracles" - with perhaps a healthy dose of Jaki to keep a sound hold on science as well. Perhaps someone will do it. (Perhaps even I might do it, if I had time.) But I found this interesting bit, and I wish you to consider it, and perhaps undertake a challenge:
It is indeed difficult to account for the clinging curse of ugliness which blights everything brought forth by the most prosperous of centuries. In all created nature there is not, perhaps, anything so completely ugly as a pillar-box. [In America we call this a "mailbox".] Its shape is the most unmeaning of shapes, its height and thickness just neutralising each other; its colour is the most repulsive of colours - a fat and soulless red, a red without a touch of blood or fire, like the scarlet of dead men's sins. Yet there is no reason whatever why such hideousness should possess an object full of civic dignity, the treasure-house of a thousand secrets, the fortress of a thousand souls. If the old Greeks had had such an institution, we may be sure that it would have been surmounted by the severe, but graceful, figure of the god of letter-writing. If the mediaeval Christians has possessed it, it would have had a niche filled with the golden aureole of St. Rowland of the Postage Stamps. As it is, there it stands at all our street-corners, disguising one of the most beautiful of ideas under one of the most preposterous of forms. It is useless to deny that the miracles of science have not been such an incentive to art and imagination as were the miracles of religion. If men in the twelfth century had been told that the lightning had been driven for leagues underground, and had dragged at its destroying tail loads of laughing human beings, and if they had then been told that the people alluded to this pulverising portent chirpily as "The Twopenny Tube," they would have called down the fire of Heaven on us as a race of half-witted atheists. Probably they would have been quite right.
[GKC "Charlotte Brontë" in Varied Types]
What, you are wondering, is the challenge? To explain miracles? To argue for them - or against them?

Nothing that simple.

No; to contrive an artistic rendering of a mailbox, which would appeal to GKC - or at least to the Greeks - or the Medieval Christians.

Or, if a "mailbox" be too antiquated for you, then do the same for a personal computer!

Here's a sketch of my own design, arranged as a diptych...

On the left panel we see St. Joseph teaching the Boy Jesus to read while Mary works on some clothing. In the right, St. Thomas Aquinas, with the great word Ens (Being) in his library - I almost wrote laboratory. In the over-piece is Jesus Christ the King, the Everlasting Man, being adored by angels who are carrying messages; the motto reads "Not the smallest letter of the law" [Mt 5:18]. (Yes, it's not very well drawn, it was not one of the art department's better days.)

But why not see what you can come up with... it will be a good change from your usual struggles, and may help to restore your sense of what really matters.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Where are you, Doc?

Right here... as usual. Busy... as usual. Writing... as usual.

Just now I am pondering this very interesting bit of GKC

The present writer is prayerfully conscious that he was never meant to be a biographer; not having that eye for detail which can trace a tenable theory among many doubts. On the other hand, if unlearned in the more recondite documents, he has in his time studied about one thousand detective-stories, and is often struck by the resemblance between the ingenuity of their authors and the ingenuity of the learned biographers. The true biographer hunts down a hero as the romantic detective hunts down a villain; tracking him, so to speak, by lost buttons and cigarette-ends; deducing his designs from his slightest scribbles or scraps of paper; drawing hints from eavesdropping on his most casual conversational remarks. Unfortunately, there is a fallacy in transferring these talents to the task of biography. A decent detective story is itself a selected bundle of clues, with a few blinds as carefully selected as the clues. If therefore the reader, or his romantic detective, finds that somebody has made a note of the late train to Market Harborough, or observes somebody else wave his hat towards a particular window with a striped green blind, he knows that these things have some connexion, however obscure or remote, with the great problem of who hanged Admiral Bundleton with his own bootlaces. But when we are dealing with the whole life a real human being, and trying to trace its outstanding events, it is not in the least necessary, it is not in the least likely, that all the trivial incidents or allusions will refer to outstanding events. Many of them will refer to things that nobody can possibly discover, after five hundred years; many to things that were next to nothing even at the time; some actually to nothing at all.
[GKC Chaucer CW18:221]

But what are you writing? you ask.

Well, if you must know, the third part of the sequence which begins with The Black Hole in the Basement. And trying to make some headway in the development of The Duhem Society... And trying to figure out the clues (!) in several coats-of-arms which I have taped to the side of my laser printer.... Whose? Well, three of them belong to a man named John Fisher, all strangely similar and yet different. And the last belongs to Joseph Chandler... Twice he made alterations to his own arms: once when he became an American citizen and was no longer bound by English law and custom, and once at another time - for what was rumoured to be a secret purpose. Very curious indeed.

At some point I might show them to you. But even if there's some - uh - allusion to an outstanding event hinted at by these gaudy little ornaments, it remains to be seen what there is to be discovered by their study. Perhaps nothing at all. Or perhaps something as awesome and as dramatic as Bilbo's ring...

But for now, only the One True Author knows, and I've only just set out on that Road To Emmaus, hoping to hear His denouement.

Well... I have decided I will give you the first arms and its blazoning.

Fisher: Or, on a fess between three water-bougets azure, a fish naiant argent.
Motto: Noli timere ex hoc iam homines eris capiens. (Luke 5:10)
Should you infer anything from it, kindly keep it to yourself for the present. (Yes, the canting is obvious; but what more does it tell us? What?)

To complete this puzzle, I shall add something suggestive from a text on heraldry, which strongly links to one of my other projects, the sketchy beginnings of a practical study of pedagogy in science and mathematics:
The reader has, by now, acquired a sufficient number of the ringing, exciting heraldic words to realize that a familiarity with them is worthy of cultivation. The fact is, mastery of the art of blazon makes the Heraldist. A man may visualize hundreds of coats of arms in use in the thirteenth century, and know the family history attached to each achievement, but if he cannot (or will not) express them in proper terms he has nothing, for knowledge that is not generously shared can but poison the mind that imprisons it. A blazon, like a chemical formula, means one thing, and one thing only, hence, every heraldic artist can make a correct drawing from it: in that ability lies the difference between the heraldic-artist and the heraldic-draughtsman. The former emblazons (paints) from blazon (verbal description), the latter, at best, makes a neater copy of a rough sketch placed before him, or, at worst (and very commonly), adds a few of his own errors to the errors of his predecessors. Even some of those who can draw and paint from blazon produce nothing that rises to the status of art. To be neat and tidy is not enough.
[Julian Franklyn, Heraldry, 41, my emphasis]
Truly said, Julian. May God give me the words to express what I must, that knowledge might be shared generously.

Friday, May 01, 2009

A Break In the Action

My friend "Love2Learn Mom" asked me something about one of my favourite books, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, and I paused to wonder about it, as I have so many times... am I more like King Azaz or like the Mathemagician?

And, as a true Chestertonian, I must answer a resounding YES! Followed by the usual "Thank God for George Boole" - which is the response computer scientists make when they respond YES to a "or" question. Hee hee. (See here for more about all this, with an awesome tech picture for a teeshirt.)

Anyhow, I once wrote a kind of riddle poem (yes, rather like the kind for Gollum and Bilbo) which might help you grasp a little of why I agree with Chesterton in saying "I never can really feel that there is such a thing
as a different subject." [ILN Feb 17 1906 CW27:126]

OK - now - are you ready for the riddle? Take your hands out of your pocketses and read on...

8549176320 (or, A Curious Place)

Good comes after evil, and love after hate;
Peace precedes war, choice before fate.
One follows nine, and both before seven,
Heavy and height between hell and heaven.

Earth comes before sky, and land before sea,
First one is bound but then one is free.
Small after large and slow after fast;
But future first before present and past.

Humble humility comes before pride
Truth is discovered once falsehood has lied.
Courage is found before panic or fears
Hours and days before weeks or years.

[Made February 25, 1998; it appeared in Something Good To Read Vol. CXIV No. 232, and is used here by the kind permission of the Editor-in-Chief. Also published in my poem collection "Aren't You Glad".]
Now, if you can guess, please do not post your answers as comments. But if you cannot guess, and want a hint, you may ask. (Yes, it does remind one a little of "Anagram" by Rush, but that will not help you solve the riddle.)