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Fortinbras Armstrong

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Gender: Male
Hometown: Suburban Chicago
Home country: UK
Current location: Suburban Chicago
Member since: Thu Apr 12, 2012, 09:54 AM
Number of posts: 2,469

About Me

Retired computer security expert/programmer. Married for 40 years, three sons, two dogs. Interested in history, music, religion -- mostly Catholic -- and cooking. MA in History of Religion (Harvard) and MS in Computer Science (U of Wisconsin).

Journal Archives

Actually, the Just War Theory says a lot more than that

Augustine of Hippo, circa 400, considered the question, "Under what criteria can war be morally justified?" He drew up a series of criteria, called "Just War Theory," all of which must be satisfied to make a morally acceptable war. The first set covers the declaration of war, or jus ad bellum.

• Legitimate Authority. Essentially, only a legitimate government may declare war. This disqualifies revolutionaries or terrorists. Whenever I have mentioned this in a class, at least one student will say that this one means that the American Revolution was not a just war. I quote Patrick Henry, "If this be treason, let us make the most of it" and Benjamin Franklin's "We must all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately."

• Just Cause. This disallows war for economic gain, land seizure or strategic position. Self defense is generally accepted as a just cause.

• Proportionality. For Sylvania to go to war with Freedonia because of a minor violation would be unjust. Consider the War of Jenkins' Ear.

• Probability of Success. You cannot lead your country into a war it has no chance of winning. National suicide is inherently unjust.

• Last Resort. Every possible effort should be made to settle differences without war.

After the war starts, it must be conducted justly, jus in bello.

• Discrimination. The acts of war should be directed towards the inflictors of the wrong, and not towards civilians caught in the middle. Prohibited acts include bombing civilian areas with no legitimate military targets. Acts of terrorism or reprisal against ordinary civilians. Many believe that weapons of mass destruction for any reason (such as the use of an atomic bomb) are forbidden.

• Proportionality. The force used must be proportional to the wrong committed, and to any possible good outcome.

• Minimum Force. Excessive and unnecessary death and destruction must be avoided. It differs from proportionality because the force proportionate to the goal may exceed the force necessary to accomplish it.

Brian Orend, from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, wrote an article, "Justice after War". This article suggests an additional set of criteria governing the ending of a war and the immediate post-war period, jus post bellum.

• Just cause for termination. A state should end a war if there has been a reasonable vindication of the rights that were violated and if the aggressor is willing to negotiate. The terms of surrender may include a formal apology, compensation, war crimes trials and perhaps rehabilitation.

• Right intention. Revenge is not permitted. Also, the victor must investigate and punish war crimes committed by its own armed forces.

• Proper authority. The peace terms must be set out by a legitimate authority, and the terms accepted by a legitimate authority.

• Discrimination. The victor must differentiate between political and military leaders, and between combatants and civilians. Punitive measures are to be limited to those directly responsible for the war and its conduct.

• Proportionality. The surrender terms must be proportional to the wrongs that set off the war. Draconian measures, absolutionist crusades and attempts to deny the losers the right to participate in the world are not permitted.

This just touches the surface of what is actually a quite complex subject.

Incidentally, no war in history has met all the criteria for a just war.
Posted by Fortinbras Armstrong | Mon Sep 9, 2013, 07:36 AM (1 replies)

Augustine of Hippo and sex

In another thread in this group, some statements were made about Augustine of Hippo's views on sex. I promised a thread on it, but first I had to reread De Bono Conjugali and parts of the Confessions.

As a young man, Augustine had managed a neat piece of doublethink, he was simultaneously a Manichee and a hedonist. For those one or two of you unfamiliar with Manichaeism, it was a gnostic, dualistic religion, which means that secret knowledge (gnosis in Greek) was required for salvation; and that there was a struggle between the good, spiritual world of light, and an evil, material world of darkness.

Manecheism started with the Problem of Evil, by saying that the good power (God) was opposed by the evil power (Satan). Humanity is the battleground for these powers, under the influence of both light and dark. Neither the Earth nor the flesh are intrinsically evil, but rather consist of both light and dark. Evil is a flawed creation God took no role in forming, the result of Satan striking out against God. There is a decent introduction to Manecheism on Wikipedia. Most Manichees believed that creating new life was acting on behalf of Satan, so they practiced what the Catholic Church would nowadays call "Natural Family Planning", AKA the Rhythm Method.

After his conversion to Christianity, Augustine became hostile to the pursuit of pleasure for its own sake. He saw excessive pleasure seeking as a distraction in what should be one's true purpose, the search for union with God.

He was flat-out wrong when he wrote that the original sin of Adam and Eve had introduced a fundamental disorder into human sexual desire. Augustine believed that Adam and Eve's choice to disobey God had led to disobedience within their own bodies. Sexual desire, because it operates independently of the human mind and will, became for Augustine a symptom of the sinful human attempt to assert autonomy against God. The result of the original sin, Augustine argued, was that human beings lost control even over themselves. When one Pelagian attacked him on this point, Augustine became almost obsessed with demonstrating the supposed linkage between sex and sin. (Note, I am not going to go into the Pelagians, since their beliefs do not really enter into this discussion. I may bring them up later in this thread.)

The starting point of any discussion of Augustine's views on sex and marriage must be his personal experience, at least in so far as that experience is presented to us and interpreted by Augustine himself in the Confessions. There he observed that his youthful sex drive led him to confuse the search for love and friendship with the satisfaction of his sexual desires: "The bubbling impulses of puberty befogged and obscured my heart so that it could not see the difference between love's serenity and lust's darkness." What is not often noted is that Augustine blames his parents for not arranging an early marriage for him. "That would have transformed to good purpose the fleeting experience of beauty in these lowest things, and fixed limits to indulgence in their charms. Then the stormy waves of my youth would have finally broken on the shore of marriage" (2.2.3). Marriage would have provided a disciplined way of life in which sexual desire could be directed towards producing and raising children -- something which Augustine praised. In book 6, he noted that at the time he failed to appreciate the value of marriage. When speaking to a friend,

Neither of us acknowledged that the beauty of having a wife lies in the obligation to respect the discipline of marriage and to bring up children. To a large extent what held me captive and tormented me was the habit of satisfying with vehement intensity an insatiable sexual desire.


Augustine says that if his desires had been directed towards procreation within a legitimate marriage, then something good would have come of them. The problem, as Augustine saw it, was that the "concupiscence of the flesh" had led him to seek sexual satisfaction just for its own sake: apart from love, apart from permanent commitment, and, above all, apart from procreation. He saw marriage as a legitimate way to manage the difficulties presented by unrestrained desires.

At the heart of Augustine's treatise De Bono Conjugali -- "On the Good of Marriage" -- was his teaching that there are three distinct "goods" in marriage: the procreation of children, the fidelity of the couple, and the sacramental bond. It was not at all unusual in the ancient world to see procreation as the primary purpose of marriage. It was a typical view in Augustine's day that the household should serve as the foundation of the city, while the city served as the foundation of the empire. Augustine drew on this tradition in the opening paragraph of De Bono Conjugali, where he presented marriage as fundamental to human community:

Every human being is part of the human race, and human nature is a social reality and possesses a great and natural good, the power of friendship. For this reason God wished to create all human beings from one, so that they would be held together in their social relationships not only by the similarity of race, but also by the bond of kinship. Therefore, the first natural bond of human society is the union of husband and wife.


Augustine's starting point is significant, for he grounds the marital relationship, and sexual reproduction in particular, in the social nature of the human race. From the beginning, God intended human community to be knit together by the closest possible bond, that of blood relationship. Therefore, God determined that sexual reproduction should be the natural means of producing individuals who were, quite literally, born for friendship in community. This, Augustine says, was the significance of God's taking of Eve from Adam's side. It signified the union of two people who walk side by side, with their eyes fixed ahead of them, focused on the same goal.

By starting his discussion of marriage with this emphasis on the social character of humanity and the social value of friendship, Augustine linked sexual intercourse and procreation to God's original intention at the beginning of creation. This might not sound surprising to us today, but many of Augustine's contemporaries tended to see sexuality as an inessential adjunct to human nature, something made necessary only because of the first sin. Many early Christians believed that sex was introduced only after the fall had led to death and made the reproduction of humanity necessary. Augustine did not agree. Rather, he saw sexual union and the procreation as natural and God-given. In Augustine said in his De Genisi ad Litteram (this title does not translate well; literally it's "On Genesis to the Letter", and a common translation is "The Literal Meaning of Genesis"), the "original blessing" which God bestowed on the first human beings, to "increase and multiply," is a blessing that has never been revoked, despite the sin and punishment of the human race.

Another implication of Augustine's emphasis on the social character of humanity is that while sex and procreation are good, they are not ends in themselves; they exist, rather, as the means to make friendship possible, which he describes as a good to be sought for its own sake. Sex is a "good necessary for the sake of something else," as he puts it. In other words, friendship and community are the primary goods, and sexual activity is a means to these ends. No matter how much Augustine insisted (especially in his later writings) that original sin damaged human nature, he maintained that sexual union itself and procreation were the good creations of a good Creator.

He wrote in De Bono Conjugali:

Marriages also have the benefit that sensual or youthful incontinence, even though it is wrong, is redirected to the honorable purpose of having children, and so out of the evil of lust sexual union in marriage achieves something good. Furthermore, parental feeling brings about a moderation in sexual desire, since it is held back and in a certain way burns more modestly. For a kind of dignity attaches to the ardor of the pleasure, when in the act whereby man and woman come together with each other, they have the thought of being father and mother.


Here Augustine states a theme often overlooked by those who see him as entirely hostile to sexual activity. He clearly regards sexual intercourse between married persons, when engaged in for the sake of procreation, as something good. The good consists not only in the production of children, but also in a change that occurs within desire itself. The evil of unrestrained sexual desire can be directed towards a good purpose when the intent is procreation.

Augustine suggests that procreation is necessary for the health of the human race, just as food is necessary for the health of the individual. "Neither activity is devoid of pleasure for the senses, and when this is regulated and put to its natural use under the restraint of moderation, it cannot be lust." In his review of his writings at the end of his career, the Retractions, Augustine provided an explanation: "I said this because the good and right use of 'lust' is not 'lust.' For just as it is evil to use good things in the wrong way, so it is good to use evil things in the right way." Although Augustine asserted that there was something "evil" about unrestrained sexual desire, he maintained that in respect to intercourse within marriage, the evil of lust ceased to be evil when it was directed to its proper purpose, procreation.

But procreation was not the only good of marriage that Augustine treated. There is a second good, which Augustine called fides -- "fidelity" or "faithfulness". Fidelity had several meanings for Augustine. It includes the rudimentary faithfulness that all married people owe each other, the duty to abstain from adultery. Fidelity is also the positive duty of married persons to engage in sex in order to help each other avoid adultery. Augustine spoke not of sex for the purpose of procreation, but of sex purely to satisfy desire. Such fidelity, Augustine wrote, is "a great good of the soul, even when manifested in the small and insignificant matters of the body." He does say, however, that such use of sex is venially sinful.

Augustine's point was that fidelity is a good quality of human relationships even in a context in which evil is present. In the case of a man and a woman, this fidelity establishes a union that can legitimately be considered a marriage, even if there is no intention to have children. Here Augustine took a stand virtually unique among early Christian writers. He acknowledged the value of a relationship that had come into being purely out of a desire for sexual pleasure, and not for procreation. He even called it a "marriage." What made such a marriage good, Augustine indicated, was the good of fidelity. "For the reason why such couples were married," he wrote, "was so that concupiscence itself might be directed towards a legitimate bond and not flow in a disordered or haphazard way. Concupiscence in itself has the unrestrained weakness of the flesh, but from marriage it receives the permanent bond of fidelity; in itself it leads to unrestrained intercourse, but from marriage it has the restraint of chaste procreation."

In this remarkable passage Augustine suggests that the good of fidelity can be present even if the couple's primary aim is not to produce children, but simply to enjoy sexual pleasure. Fidelity is "a sort of mutual servitude," in which spouses agree to support each other in their weakness. Augustine distinguished between the spouse who seeks to have intercourse primarily out of sexual desire and the spouse who agrees to have intercourse primarily out of the duty of fidelity. The one who acts out of lust (that is, out of greed or selfishness) is guilty of what he calls a "forgivable fault." But the one who engages in sex to support his or her partner is acting out of love and compassion, therefore, no sin is involved.

In addition to the good of procreation and the good of fidelity, Augustine spoke of a third good in marriage, the "sacrament." Augustine was one of the first Christian writers to use the language of "sacrament" in regard to marriage, although his usage of the term is different from the later Catholic idea of the seven sacraments. For Augustine, "sacrament" was related to the Greek word mysterion, or "mystery," which was translated as sacramentum in early Latin versions of the bible. A sacrament was a "mystery" in the sense of a sacred symbol, and the term was frequently applied to liturgical rites, as well as to the symbolic or allegorical interpretation of scripture. In Ephesians 5:31-32, Paul quotes the words of Genesis 2:24 ("A man will leave his mother and father and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh") and then said that the marital union was a "mystery" (or "sacrament") which referred to Christ and the church.

Perhaps the most important feature of Augustine's notion of the "sacrament" in marriage is that it is a way to think about a transcendent significance in human relationships. For Augustine, Christian marriages were meant to be indissoluble because they symbolized a unity that transcended their own fragile humanity, a unity that is realized fully only in the kingdom of God. Augustine's notion of the sacrament in marriage, therefore, acknowledged that of all human relationships marriage was the one that was capable of bearing a unique meaning in salvation history. Put simply, the "sacrament" in marriage meant that marriage was an eschatological sign, a sign of the ultimate unity of God and humanity, as embodied in the union of Christ and the Church.
Posted by Fortinbras Armstrong | Thu May 9, 2013, 08:38 AM (11 replies)

James Joyce defined Catholicism as

"Here comes everyone!"

Catholics are, all too often, lacking in humility and charity. We argue. We fight. We wrangle. But, to each of us, this faith of ours is worth fighting over. It is a major part of what we are. And, in our passions, we sometimes get so angry and so frustrated that we forget the Christian virtues that we should be practicing. For all of us, most certainly including myself, who have fallen short of the Christian ideal, I wish to apologize.

As far as leaving the Church, I am sometimes tempted to do just that. I was originally baptised into the Anglican Church, and I sometimes wonder if I would be happier there. (I hear one or two people saying "Yes, why don't you go there?") So why do I stay? As Tevye in the opening to Fiddler on the Roof says, "We stay, because Anatevka is our home." And the Catholic Church is my home. My favorite definition of "home" is from Robert Frost's poem, "The Death of the Hired Man":

"Home is the place where,
When you have to go there,
They have to take you in."


And where would I go if I were to leave? In John 6:67-68, Jesus asks the apostles "'Do you also want to leave?' Simon Peter answered him, 'Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.'"

The Church is my family. A large, sometimes dysfunctional, often unruly family. A family of drunks and liars, whores and advertising men (but I repeat myself), saints who make people wonder how they ever got canonized (read about Cyril of Alexandria sometime -- if you would like me to post on him, just ask).

I stay because I sometimes get glimpses of Jesus in my fellow Catholics -- enough glimpses to keep me hungering for more and also keep me convinced that this is the path that I must follow if I am to see Jesus eternally. I stay because I do find enough faith, hope, and especially love to sustain me on my pilgrimage along that path. Is it always easy? No, of course not. I often stumble. I sometimes get angry at the officious bureaucracy of the Church, who seem to be far more interested in power than they are in love. I often get angry with my fellow Christians for not living up to the ideals that they profess. I get angry with myself for the same reasons. Sometimes I get angry with God, who is the Malek Haolam -- the master of the universe --but seems to be doing a rotten job of running the place.

The Apostle Paul put it: "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice!" (Phillipians 4:4) I do not rejoice always -- I have far too many demons infesting my soul to permit this -- but I rejoice enough of the time that it is worth staying the course.
Posted by Fortinbras Armstrong | Tue Apr 2, 2013, 11:28 AM (0 replies)

It's an old question

This is taken from an essay I wrote in graduate school.

The classic New Testament account of judgment is Matthew 25:31-46. This is full of apocalyptic imagery, with Jesus as judge. He is arbiter of the fate of those who appear before him; and their attitude towards him determines their fate. Elsewhere, people’s destiny hinges on their faith in Jesus, on their witness to him, and on their fraternal love. Here, however, charity towards the needy is love for Jesus himself. While the wording suggests that the text originally referred to members of the Christian community, the context extends it to the whole world. Matthew 25 is central to the notion of "anonymous Christians," those who, never having heard the Gospel, nevertheless struggle to live its ideals.

The earlier Jewish writings have nothing similar to the punishments associated with hell. In the Old Testament, the spirits of both good and bad people inhabit a nether world, Sheol, in a pallid, shadowy existence. Punishment for Israel's enemies was an old idea, but this was a direct, immediate, and earthly punishment. The idea that there would be retribution for all the wicked came later, during the Hellenistic period, when personal immortality was accepted.

Then, the image of everlasting fire came to describe the punishment of the wicked. The apochryphal book of Judith has "Woe to the nations that rise against my people! The Lord Almighty will requite them; on the day of judgment he will punish them: He will send fire and worms into their flesh, and they shall burn and suffer forever." The New Testament picks up this imagery: "Anyone whose name was not found in the book of life was hurled into the pool of burning fire." (Revelation 20:15) In the second century, Justin Martyr argued that hell fire is eternal, otherwise there would be no sanctions regulating one's life.

In the third century, Origen maintained the opposite view. He denied hell, feeling that it frustrates God's plan of universal salvation, and thus is repugnant to a God of love. Origen's central idea is the restoration of all things in Christ. At death, the souls of sinners enter a purifying fire where they are cleansed and restored. Although Origen taught that when this restoration occurred, it would be the result of the sinner’s conversion; his ideas were repeatedly condemned.

Origen’s "universalism" -- all people are saved -- is at best a minority opinion, at worst considered heresy. Many Church fathers in the East and West, medieval theologians, and Catholics and Protestants from the Reformation to the present held that most are damned. Augustine in particular championed this view, maintaining that original sin condemns us all. He cited texts such as "Many are called, few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14) and "Many … will try to enter and will be unable." (Luke 13:24) See Augustine's The City of God, book 11.

Modern theologians are less eager to condemn everyone. Some present a version of universalism; while others, who accept an eternal hell, question if anyone is actually there. The late Anglican Bishop John A T Robinson acknowledges that judgment is necessary, but argues that its only function is to show God's mercy, which thus renders judgment superfluous. That a human could resist divine love and frustrate God’s will is unthinkable. To admit the possibility that some persons may be lost is for Robinson an impossible concession to a power outside God.

It is hard to reconcile this with human freedom. Free will implies the choice of eternal separation from God. If God overrides our free decisions, then freedom is a sham. If there is a connection between our acts in this world and our fate in the next, we must be allowed to make even a wrong choice in something so definitive as our final destiny. The late Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner gives the common position when he says that a time comes when each person either ratifies or reverses the fundamental choice lived throughout life, and accepts the consequences. C S Lewis agrees: "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, 'Thy will be done.' All that are in Hell, choose it." (The Great Divorce, p 69)

Whatever the torments of hell may be (fire is obviously a metaphor), they are not tortures imposed by a vindictive judge. Modern psychology is more helpful than medieval penology in understanding the suffering of the damned. Hell is a projection of the person, not a punishment imposed for sins (perhaps) bitterly and belatedly regretted. Hell is an extreme narcissism turning the sinner in on self and causing unending turmoil and frustration. Hell is estrangement from God and alienation from the created universe -- a renunciation of love. The suffering of hell is compounded, according to Augustine, because God continues to love the sinner, who is not able to return this love.

Although modern theologians differ on the possibility of an eternal hell, they generally agree that God wills to save all humanity. This is a departure from the Augustinian tradition of salvation only for the few. Jesus said at the Last Supper: "This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, to be poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matthew 26:28) The reference to the "many" must be interpreted in the broader context of Paul’s classic witness to God’s will: "I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be offered for all men … Prayer of this kind is good, and God our savior is pleased with it, for he wants all men to be saved and to come and know the truth. And the truth is this: God is one, one also is the mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all." (1 Timothy 2:1, 3-6)

Would the coming of the Son of Man represent a triumph over sin and hell in any significant way if most of the human race is lost?
Posted by Fortinbras Armstrong | Mon Mar 25, 2013, 11:53 AM (0 replies)

You're right, it did bring joy.

Here's another, at the Gare du Nord in Paris



But I like the one in Sabadell better.

One more, Verdi in Amsterdam

Posted by Fortinbras Armstrong | Sun Jan 27, 2013, 10:06 AM (0 replies)
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