Thursday, March 27, 2008

Benedictio contra sternumenta

The Blessing Against Sneezes

My four-year-old daughter recently asked why one of our relatives responds to someone’s sneeze with the expression, “God bless you,” while my wife and I are in the habit of saying merely, “Bless you.” I replied that the sayings were equivalent, and that our habit was to leave the divine agent unexpressed, but assumed.

This started me thinking how one might expand the Benedictio contra sternumenta (or is there a better name for it?), i.e., what else might be assumed, even in the fuller three-word version, “God bless you.”

I think the following is about as detailed as you would want to get. I may use it the next time I hear someone sneeze. I assume it will make the sneezer feel like I’ve put some thought into my blessing, instead of making a merely customary comment that really has no significance.

Here is my new Benedictio contra sternumenta:

May the Lord our God, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and His Son Jesus Christ who has redeemed us from all our transgressions, and Their Holy Spirit, who has inspired the divine scriptures, bless thee that this sneeze not portend any descent from that measure of bodily health that thou dost now enjoy, so that thou wilt be strong in body, mind, and spirit, both now and through eternity, Amen and Amen.

I believe the archaic second person singular pronouns are essential in such situations.

Suggestions for improvements?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Profundity of St. Anselm

I remember the first time I heard one of my undergraduate professors declare that he was no theologian, only a biblical scholar. I was confused, for I had thought that those two occupations were quite identical. Now, when I make the same statement to my students, I see the same confusion written on their faces.

I do long for a more adequate understanding of classical Christian theology. Recently, a chance to sample some came to me as I was asked to teach an apologetics class to the high school students of my local church. Of course, we don’t get too deep in the class, but our discussion of the existence of God led me to seek out more information about the ontological argument.

I am now slowly making my way through a collection of extracts from those who have discussed the ontological argument through the ages (The Ontological Argument: from St. Anselm to Contemporary Philosophers, ed. Alvin Plantinga, with an introduction by Richard Taylor [New York: Doubleday, 1965]). I am still reading extracts from Anselm, so you can tell that I have not made it far.

I’m not sure what to make of the ontological argument. But the following from St. Anselm certainly brings humor, not to mention despair, to my quest for deeper theological understanding.

This is taken from chapter 2 of St. Anselm’s Reply to Gaunilo, p. 16 of the aforementioned collection.

But you will say that although it is in the understanding, it does not follow that it is understood. But observe that the fact of its being understood does necessitate its being in the understanding. For as what is conceived, is conceived by conception, and what is conceived by conception, as it is conceived, so is in conception; so what is understood, is understood by understanding, and what is understood by understanding, as it is understood, so is in the understanding. What can be more clear than this?

I think I’m beginning to understand this, though I’m not sure if it is understood in the understanding, or by understanding, or whatever. What can be more clear than this?