Tolerance and Virtue

by Andrew Simmons                                                                           Friday,  March 20, 2015

When Socrates spoke on the two principles of knowledge and ignorance, there is the notion that sound ethical behavior arises from knowledge and evil by the latter. Morality becomes centered on the progression towards knowledge.For Aristotle, this was the point of pure contemplation upon one’s existence. In order to produce a ethical modern society, we are encouraged to go out and learn about the cultures that compose our communities. This coincides with Augustine’s statement, which is also used by Aquinas, that “one cannot love what they do not know”. Yet, when confronted with ideas that one does not like, we are told to practice tolerance as a form of social virtue. The problem is the emphasis on tolerance does not work with the pursuit of knowledgable love. Rather, it does that opposite by acting as a censure in which we force ourselves to be ignorant of another.

Tolerance is defined primarily as accepting the existence of traits and practices that one does not approve of. But what is happening in order to allow communication between two individuals tolerating the other? In the theoretical scenario of an African-American citizen conversing with a racially biased individual, is it just these two simply accepting, as a present reality, the conflicting differences between the two? I say no, as, especially in situations of race and prejudice, the conscious awareness of these traits cannot be simply accepted. If communication is possible, it is only because these negative characteristics are pushed into the background. We know they are there, but we choose to not let them immediately dictate the current situation. As such, one is never fully addressing another as they are in their totality.

This is important in terms of the inability for tolerance to fully resolve the problems of social communication. This can be seen explicitly in the growing circular arguments of “You are not tolerant” followed by “You are not tolerant of my intolerance”. What is happening here is not a rhetorical means of evading tolerance, but a showing of tolerances own limitation. Tolerance, as a permanent means of creating peace, becomes obstructed by its own intolerance towards the intolerant. Within any social relationship, there is this initial moment of tolerance in which one differs their attention away from traits they do not like. But, in the growth of knowledge and communication with that individual, there arises this point in which tolerance of these characteristics is no longer possible. There is this process by which those who promote tolerance must become intolerant of another’s refusal to be tolerant. In dialogues concerning sexuality for instance, there is this necessary moment in which the conservative and liberal can no longer tolerate the other.

What should not be concluded from this is intolerance being the more lasting method of communication. It does not follow that the limitations of tolerance should lead to an opposite unlimited intolerance. Intolerance is just as limited as it focuses on changing perspectives of individual characteristics. What truly elevates relationships within society is the application of the virtue. With specific differences in mind, the general definition of the virtues are that they are dispositions/attitudes towards life that allow for one to be a good person. To understand its relationship to tolerance and intolerance, virtue acts as a mediator between when to reasonably be tolerant or intolerant. The mediating principle of virtue is important as it clarifies my view of tolerance: it is inherently pragmatic. It is important, but its importance should be understood within the confines of pragmatism. Virtues provide a means of elevating relationships outside of a tolerance/intolerance dynamic. In lifting one up towards goodness, there is an ethical condition that goes beyond needing to tolerate.

Andrew Simmons is a graduate from Aquinas College and  a student of the Ukrainian Catholic University. He is working on a masters in philosophy <and theology>, but has to go through a lot of language courses. He finally remembered that he has his own blog

Catholicism and the University: The Analogy of Catholicism

by Andrew Simmons                                                                           Saturday,  March 14, 2015


In the City of God, Augustine presented the world as being divided between two groups: the City of God and the City of Men. The rift between these demonstrate the clear “otherness” each city displays towards the other. As Christopher Dawson relates in his Dynamics of World History, the two cities have served as a metanarrative for the medieval world’s inconclusive attitude towards Church and State. This rift appears again within the current spheres of the secular and the religious insomuch as each are credited with their own autonomy. Tensions arise when either of these institutions seek to assert themselves upon the other. One particular focal point of this tension can be found in the Catholic university. How does it identify itself when the secular and religious compose its student demographic? Has it not become a sort of unitive point in which both cities have been interwoven with each other? It is my view that this conflict arises from the burden poorly handled by those assuming the catholic identity. Moving from the whole to the particular, an answer to this dilemma can be found in harkening back to the very understanding of this identity: Catholic.

The philosophical stance by which the Church identifies the nature of the world is the analogia entis. Proponents of the stance can trace their origin to the works of St. Thomas Aquinas and his Aristotelian stance in the 12th century. As clarified by Erich Przywara, the analogy of being stipulates that the transcendent is “in-beyond” the nature of creation; the transcendent is outside of the world while also remaining immanent to what it does . There remains no radical ontological separation between the created and uncreated within the analogia entis. What is presented is a unity of what are two very distinct philosophical stances: The Platonic and the Aristotelian.

The founders of these two schools held two very different views of the world. Plato viewed truth and reality as entirely pertaining to the transcendent in which the created domain is an image of these transcendent forms. To unify the multitude of forms, Plotinus proposed that these forms are in the mind of God and united within his one Being. Aristotle differed by asserting that these divine ideas are immanent to the created world, while proposing that the divine is indifferent to the operations of the created world. There is no personal God by which the world refers to. Rather, there is merely many beings united in an act of existence with their reality fully within them. Man need not work to ascend a divine ladder, but focus on contemplating themselves and the idea that is within them; God contemplates himself, while creation works to contemplate itself amid its own changing. This difference between the two schools is seen in Aristotle’s rejection of Plato’s assertion that the arts can be inspired by a divine agency.

The response with the dynamics of history have shown how the unity of these two schools have been a difficult and tumultuous road. From the Platonic/Neo-Platonic perspective, the secular and the Church in this world share the same status as images but distinct in that they reflect different eternal ideas. Plotinus further adds to this by making both of these ideas intermingled in the unity of God’s Being. For the Aristotelian view, both share existence but contain different principles within their very actions. Yet, in history, the actions of both are intermingled and confused which halts an immediate knowledge of pure difference. The Church works to be the form of the secular by making it part a divinely oriented society. Meanwhile, the secular perceives the Church as arising from the same social institutions that compose the secular.

This conflict proceeds from the Medieval struggle to distance the two. The monastic communities were able to succeed by separating themselves from the feudal system, while the Pope could not amid the Investiture crises. Medieval society was able to maintain two strictly different codes of law, but the practice of these laws differed in regards to bishops and popes who maintained both ecclesial and secular authority. Universities, especially within Aquinas own time, shared this struggle between whether the Church or the secular should lead it. Essentially, the struggle pertained to whether one community would restrict the ability for students and teachers to perform their duties. The ecclesiastical fear was that the secular would reduce the university to serving particular needs of the local bureaucracies. Concerns such as this are practically reversed today as the secular fears a limitation of knowledge by the Church; fears which have become justified following the implementation of the Codex of Errors. The Church’s response to modernity has hard-locked the identity of the Church from the secular; meanwhile, the secular’s antipathy towards the ancien regime has created an antithetical structure. Each has proceeded to police and monitor those among their ranks for issues of liberalism or conservatism. From where does the synthesis arise that resolves these two?

What needs to be recognized, regardless of the feud, is that there has never been a clear and definitive break within the shared intellectual history. Any such breaks within a system of thought has continued within that thought’s very history. To point out an example of this, the Church’s history brings with it the continued knowledge of its detractors. The heretic continues on through the historical data just as much as the orthodox. The Gnostics, Nomians, Antinomians, Ebionites, and Docetists are recorded within its earliest histories. Arius follows alongside Nicea, and Nestorius proceeds alongside Chalcedon. Modernity’s principles continue to be entirely accessible from the Church’s own writings in Vatican I. If this knowledge was to be confined to some punitive abyss, it should have been forgotten. Rather, the Church has become a nexus of knowledge in which its benefactors and detractors are united within the historical procession towards the divine. Secular history also contain this nexus as the “Age of Reason”, the Enlightenment, Modernity, and Postmodernity have also continue to appeal to the ancients. As Umberto Eco points out in his From the Tree to the Labyrinth, the Enlightenment, for all its assaults on the aforementioned ancien regime, still keeps the knowledge of its antithesis in its encyclopedic pool of knowledge.

The nexus not only provides a structure for a continuation of knowledge, but also points to a proper understanding of what it means to refer to one as “catholic”. In regards to its very etymology, when one is identified as being catholic, they are identified as “universal”. There never is, historically speaking, a pure mimesis of what is contrary to it, as the detractors are caught up in its very universality. The heretics and excommunicants are the Church’s excommunicants and heretics; they are still identified in regards to it and still compose its history. Duns Scotus speaks of language as the symbols by which the understandings of our minds are expressed to each other. As such, the word “catholic” is not some Derridean construct from rhetoric detached from the intellect. Catholic, much like “multiplicity” or “all”, are these singular expressions of understanding that contain all particulars within them. To use a Deleuzian phrase, it is the “One-All” term that unites the many within one understanding, definition, and identity. As such, there should never be a willingness to cast something out of this unity, especially within the Catholic university. Anything less would detract from this universality. If one is going to assert that transcendent principles are in-beyond all, it must assert that true universality of this phrase.

Andrew Simmons is a graduate from Aquinas College and  a student of the Ukrainian Catholic University. He is working on a masters in philosophy <and theology>, but has to go through a lot of language courses. He finally remembered that he has his own blog

Modern Indulgences

by Andrew Simmons                                                                           Saturday,  February 28, 2015

When reading about Reformation Europe, there is also that recourse to the practice of paid indulgences within the Church. The main point of this recourse is to discuss the issue with the notion of buying one’s way into heaven. While, as many apologists no doubt have said, the notion of buying one’s way into heaven is a overly reductionist explanation. Indulgences exist prior to the economical method of the Reformation era. But there is a fundamental question related to economically buying one’s way into a good ethical standing. The importance of such a question is evident when one looks at the socio-economical ethics that seems common in our business models today.

The practice of paid indulgences arose in the 15th-16th as the result of changing European society. Leonard Hoff’s insightful text The Analogical Turn: Rethinking Modernity with Nicholas of Cusa describes this change as the severing of the old medieval communitas <more specifically, the liturgical common space>. One contributor to this was the growing economic conditions within Christendom that lead to the development of a distinct merchant class. Within the Divine Economy <the many ways by which God draws his people to salvation>, the paid indulgences became a common occurrence to suit those within this merchant class. Indulgence practices would very over what was viewed to be the most appropriate method to the individual. Usually, what this would lead to would be fiscal payment by the rich, and physical labor (e.g. pilgrimages) for the poor.

"A Question to a Mintmaker" by Jeorg Breu Elder

“A Question to a Mintmaker” by Jeorg Breu Elder

From my experience, the furor over this between the Reformation era Catholics and modern day commentators differ. Nobility generally complained about what the money was being used for <with harsh critiques of the Papal States for using them to help with its prestige>. Among the peasants, the class distinction between them and the rich <merchants, priests, nobility> inspired more hostility as presented in texts such as Peasant’s Fire: The Drummer of Niklashausen by Richard Wunderli. Even within Luther’s Catholic early writings, the hostility was more drawn towards malpractice that always followed the paid method, not the indulgences themselves. The modern critique, on a more normative level, revolves around the notion of buying one’s way to heaven. While certainly influenced by the faith v works dichotomy of the Reformation, the view, at least among the secular, can be said to revolve around buying one’s ethical status. The question is, with current trends, have the moderns lost the validity of this critique?

Within the current economical mindset, consumption is rewarded by buying into charity with every purchase. For instance, when buying fast food, one is commonly asked to contribute money to St. Jude’s Hospital. Starbucks promotes assisting the countries they export from; Chick-fil-A found itself benefiting financially from the American culture war. The ethical and economic spheres are grounded together within our culture. While certainly one will say, “Well of course ethics and the economy are grounded together. An ethical economy is a healthy economy.” True. The point I wish to present is the relationship between one’s ethical status and the medium by which it is accomplished. To refer back to the Chick-fil-A example, the conservative Christian perceives his consumption as a means of holding back the domineering Liberal threat. The act of consumption has become the medium by which the Right is supporting its views of traditional marriage. What is derived from this is an ethical status derived from consumption not sacrifice. The money paid for fast food is not sacrificial, it is consumptive.

As a final note, there should be a brief reference to another critique which simply is the emphasis on heaven in indulgences. Perhaps, from a more atheistic perspective, paying for some fictional status in the afterlife is what makes indulgences unethical. Fair enough, but the notion of heaven is no purged from the atheistic model; it is rendered material or at least immanent. I do not believe the rise in volunteer work, ethical capitalist alternatives, and environmental care are the result of some self-masturbatory need to feel good. There is this sense of contributing to a better world. This is not a transcendent heaven, yes, but it is a better future than what it currently present. Regardless of the atheistic or the ethical critiques, upon looking at our society, we are throwing our money towards an ethics. We are indeed making a system of paying for the sins of our own system.

Andrew Simmons is a graduate from Aquinas College and  a student of the Ukrainian Catholic University. He is working on a masters in philosophy <and theology>, but has to go through a lot of language courses. Sooner or later he will work on his course material, but there are blog posts to write! 

Crusading One’s Way Into the Ground

by Andrew Simmons                                                                           Wednesday,  February 11, 2015

Generally, when one hears a statement that is pedestrian, the best course of action is to regard it for what it is: a pedestrian statement. Obama’s remark really should just be passed a long and forgotten; but, this current political sphere has decided to elevate it to an absurd level. What has been unleashed is a sleuth of media releases concerning the “true history” of the Crusades. This post will not be counted amongst the Crusader apologists. What is presented to you, the esteemed reader, is a former-apologist’s recantations of his former charge. When I converted to Catholicism, there was this spirit of needing to solidify the ground by which I chose to stand. Years later, views have changed and information was re-analyzed. As such, this is a very brief counter to the ideological views that both the promoters and detractors learn by.

1. The Amorphic Mass of Mohammedans

Appeals to the great Muslim Other’s conquering hordes is a trend appearing on my Facebook feed as of late. The basic summary of this position is that the Crusades were launched against this coordinated Islamic horde that had conquered a lot of East Christian territory. This view is usually always accompanied by the map of the Umayyad Caliphate because “Look at all that conquest!”


One point needs to be very clear: the Umayyad Caliphate was very short lived. The Islamic unity did not withstand the schism between the Sunni and Shiites which divided this caliphate. This is not what the Crusaders were fighting. The Crusader, specifically during the First Crusade, were primarily fighting the Sunni Seljuk Turks and the Sultanate of Rum in Anatolia. The Egyptian Caliphate at the time was Shiite <although this would change under Saladin who politically converted Egypt to Sunni>. The stories of pilgrims being slaughtered on their way to Jerusalem are true, but it must be remembered that this itself was not even coordinated. The Seljuk fought under the decentralized authority of military leaders who primarily gained wealth from plunder. The Levant, while still having Arabic leaders, was primarily a frontier of Turkish warbands. If anything, the Muslim leaders had very little control over what was happening and they too also suffered economically from this. The Crusaders were primarily fighting these warbands which would become progressively more centralized under Kilij Arslan against the Crusaders <who, for the record, was busy fighting other Turks before fighting the Crusaders>.

2. But the Crusades were ethical due to Just War theory!


The Fall of Constantinople

Another defense centers primarily on the Church’s stance concerning Just War and what is needed for a just cause. The problem I have with relying heavily on the causa bellum argument is that the just war theory pertains to one thing: the initiation of a war. Just War theorists, in my honest opinion, continue to run into an issue that an initially just cause equates to an overarching value judgment of a war despite the incidence that occur within the war. In short: good cause means good war despite bad occurrences. This might have further underpinnings, especially among Catholic scholars, with the claim that effects are never greater than their cause. The initial issues that I have with this position is that it relies on the broadest denominator of judgment in order to discern value. Within the pursuit of knowledge and clarity, refinements are necessary in order to properly assess information. When studying the Crusades, there are instances of heroism but also instances of depravity. The Gesta Francorum presents pious figures such as Raymond de Toulouse, and horrendous acts such as the cannibalism of dead Islamic soldiers <which, to be fair, horrified the Crusaders as well>. The Fourth Crusade with the sack of Constantinople also appears as giant black mark on the Crusader record. Specifically with regards to Constantinople, the claim that good causes remain sound despite bad effects can be challenged. Just War theory acts as if the causes and effects of a particular situation are isolated enough to be adequately valued. Rather, the causes of wars themselves find themselves as effects of causes that led to them. The further split between East and West, the collapse of the Shiite Caliphates, the rise of the Sunnis, the recurring infighting in Christendom, et al emerge as effects that act as causes that lead to much greater events in history than that which triggered the Crusades. And what triggered the Crusades? According to Pope Urban II, the violence done to pilgrims and Eastern Christians by the Turks <who were not even affiliated with the Umayyid Caliphate…>.

3. For the Wealth!

To conclude this, a brief mention must be made about the secular responses to the Crusades. The general opinion of secular scholars is the Crusades were immersed within economic causes. The issue I have had with the economic interpretation is that it does not adequately match up to the data. Christendom, after the First Crusade especially, was generally plunged into economic ruin as debts would be made and the debtor would inexplicably die overseas. The time after a particular Crusade were generally violent pursuits to re-solidify an economy broken by war debts. Financially theories, in my opinion, are more applicable to the Reconquista of Spain as the Spanish territories were more valuable than the Levant. This is also true for the Albigensian Crusade which occurred in Toulouse, a crucial trade route between the Spanish and French kingdoms. If anything can be ascertained by the invalidity of a pure economic theory <in addition to the bellicose views of the apologists>, the Crusades covers a grey area of conflicting motives. The apologist may find shelter in the moral haziness, but the grey still does not shine with the light of grace.

Instead of a bilbiography, a very short recommended reading list:

Warriors of God by James Reston

God’s War: A New History of the Crusades by Christopher Tyerman

Andrew Simmons is a graduate from Aquinas College and  a student of the Ukrainian Catholic University. He is working on a masters in philosophy <and theology>, but has to go through a lot of language courses. He wishes people would take a deep breath and calm down before sending the painful controversy train onward….maybe chill with yoga and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. 

The Journey of the Magi

Advent is coming and is almost here. It is a season of ‘yet and not yet.’ Christ has come to us and Christ is not yet arrived; we have gone to him and we have not yet gone to him. It is a season of dual anticipation, for what is coming soon (the season of Christmas) and for what is at an unknown distance (the coming of Christ).

I have been strongly impacted the last few months by the Advent image of the journey of the Magi. The story is incredibly familiar to us, but also incredibly short. Much of what must have gone on is left unsaid. It is an element of this silence that has captured my imagination.

Totally not kings.

We three Kings

One of the few facts we know is that there were more than one Magi. Traditionally it is said that there were three, not only because of the three gifts but also because the world was divided into three parts. Thus one Magi was Asian, one African, one European. One can only assume that after such a journey (and probably before) they were friends. It is this friendship that inspires me. They traveled together through undoubted hardship, presented powerfully by T.S. Eliot in his poem “The Journey of the Magi.” The goal of this journey was nothing short of God himself.

This is our task as Christians, to follow the star to Christ wherever he is. But contrary to contemporary opinion, this is a journey to be taken together, as a community and in particular as friends. Here friendship finds it’s highest form, aiding each other to pursue the greatest good. We are all coming from the east, through uncertainty, to know Christ. And we too shall be overjoyed by each guiding light leading us to him.

I leave you with Eliot’s poem. It does not emphasize the side of friendship but it captures the challenge and struggle of this journey we all undertake. I recommend listening to Eliot himself read it.

The Journey Of The Magi

Of orient are . . .

Of orient are . . .


‘A cold coming we had

of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.’

And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,

Lying down in the melting snow.

There were times we regretted

The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,

And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling

and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,

And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,

And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly

And the villages dirty and charging high prices:

A hard time we had of it.

At the end we preferred to travel all night,

Sleeping in snatches,

With the voices singing in our ears, saying

That this was all folly.


Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,

Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;

With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,

And three trees on the low sky,

And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.

Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,

Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,

And feet kiking the empty wine-skins.

But there was no information, and so we continued

And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon

Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.


All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we led all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

Justin Burgard is getting prepared. Advent is coming.

The Problem With the Friend Zone

This is a continuation (after a fashion) of this post.

The Friend Zone is more or less universally a negative place. The individual pursuing romance is frustrated by the fact that the relationship is stuck at the level of friends. To be Friend-Zoned is to lose out.

Yet this is certainly strange on two levels. The first level has been pointed out often before me: being a friend is not a bad thing. The idea that somehow your relationship is ruined because you can’t have romance/sex with the other is highly demeaning to the majority of the relationships one is in. Our inability to value friendship is damaging.

Recently I was talking with a friend about why I thought dating is problematic today (not the concept but the practice): “we have forgotten how to be friends” as a culture. This is fairly obvious. It does not mean that nobody is a friend or there are no friends; rather people generally presume romantic entanglements on any couple of people. Two people can hardly have dinner together without there being a presumption of romance (a recent article presumed that since Jennifer Lawrence had something nice to say about someone they might well be “Hollywood’s next a-list couple”). Others have commented on this better than I.

The second level is the one I feel has been neglected, or at least poorly presented: being a friend is the only sure foundation for a marriage. We see this in the idea of “marrying your best friend” but when it comes to practice this rarely means anything more than “marrying the person you spend the most time with.” It tends toward an impoverished definition of friendship.

Our romance-saturated storytelling reminds us over and over again that the best foundation for a lasting marriage is head-over-heals in-love-ness. Once we find that incredible emotion that is indescribable we know we’ve found “the one” and our romance concerns are over.

Any survey of marriage survival rates will disprove you of this notion, at least until you next fall in love.



When I consider the attributes I am looking for in a future spouse the first one is friendship. I have no interest in hoping my random sentimentality (to use Pope St. John Paul II’s term) will result in a good (much less successful) match. Rather, friendship—in the serious, Aristotelian sense (likewise espoused by C.S. Lewis)—is a system for success which is a natural platform to grow sentimentality and romance.

The hardest part about this idea is that it is so simple it feels almost ‘wrong.’ It can be summed up as “friendship is better for marriage than romance” which tends to sound like I’m saying I don’t like romance (a charge I have been forced to answer on several occasions). It is not that I dislike romance/sentimentality, but rather that I find friendship so much more powerful. I want to marry my best friend because there is no one else I would rather spend the rest of my life with.

In the end, this is not an opposition to the romance in our culture. It is an opposition to how we go about finding that romance. It is much easier to turn your friendship into a romance than your romance into a friendship. And in the end, it is better to have one true friendship than a thousand romances.

Justin Burgard is finishing his MA in philosophy and eyeing one in theology.

August 3, 1964

A 22 year old Flannery O'Connor.

A 22 year old Flannery O’Connor.

Fifty years ago today, Flannery O’Connor died, after a 14 year battle with lupus. It is hard to say something about Ms. O’Connor that has not been said, so I will not say anything about her. Instead, I will speak about a friend of mine.

A few days ago this friend was diagnosed with lupus. She is slightly older than Flannery was when diagnosed; she also is a single mother. And, unless treatment is successful, she has 6 months to live.

The last year of her life resemble a Flannery O’Connor story: she was committed to a psychiatric hospital after staying awake for over a week. The first prognosis was sever bi-polar (with hallucinations). Multiple medicines were involved, her husband was addicted to prescription drugs, and she moved back in with her parents. She began to call friends to apologize for how she responded to what they may not have done in the past 10 years; many episodes were mild hallucinations. At first the drugs worked, then they stopped. There was a risk no cure would work. Then they determined the issue was with her myelin sheath and a whole new realm of solutions arose. Until the lupus prognosis. And we don’t know what will happen from here.

What can I say about all this? Not much. Prayer is the only answer and it is not the kind of answer we tend to like. Flannery O’Connor provided a glimpse into the mystery of life and death and the grotesque world it happens in. Her answer is the Catholic one, but it would take a lifetime (no matter how short) of experience to lay it out. So perhaps all I can say is pray and read some Flannery O’Connor.