Happy feast of Saint Ambrose, one of my favorite Western saints! Also, this coming Sunday will be the feast of the Conception of the Theotokos (December 9—and December 22 as it currently falls on the Gregorian calendar).
As far as I know, we celebrate the conceptions of three persons—the Theotokos, John the Baptist, and Jesus. I always think of that fact when someone tries to justify abortion by pointing to the quickening debate among rabbinical Jews or the medieval schoolmen. Anyway, the feast of the Conception of the Theotokos started in the East and spread to the West, like so many Christian commemorations. However, the date was eventually transferred in the West from December 9 to December 8 in order to be exactly nine months before September 8, when everyone celebrates the feast of the Theotokos’ nativity. What the Westerners failed to understand was that the discrepancy was intentional, just as John the Baptist’s conception is celebrated on September 23 while his birthday is June 24. New Advent’s Catholic Encyclopedia states that some Western dioceses also celebrated the Conception of John, but they, again, transferred the feast to September 24 to make the date accord with the saint’s nativity celebration. There we see that old Western reflex to correct what it in ignorance fails to appreciate. Such reminds me of Chesterton’s fence:
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.
The gestation period discrepancies for the Theotokos and John the Baptist are like the number of fingers that the characters have in The Simpsons or like Persian or Arabian rugs. In The Simpsons, every cartoon human being has four fingers on a hand (or less), while only God is shown with five fingers (according to the Simpsons Wiki, a production mistake—or perhaps divine inspiration!). Similarly, rugs and tapestries from Islamic cultures have slightly flawed designs. Both conventions symbolize that perfection is only truly found in God. As such, baby Mary bakes too little and baby John bakes too long, but Jesus Christ God incarnate bakes just right, from March 25 to December 25. Merry Christmas!
Kristor published a brief but wonderful reflection on sex yesterday on the Orthosphere that suits well the occasion of the Conception of the Theotokos: “Sex Matters.” The post goes beyond the important but limited discussion of sexuality that one finds in traditionalist discourse:
The ultimate end of sex – which is to say, the true end of sex - is the actualization of human souls in the lives of immortal persons who by virtue of their very existence have the option of enjoying forever the Beatific Vision, and the endless other beauties of Heaven outside the throne room. Each life that succeeds to Heaven represents an infinite increase in the realized value of Creation. A forgone human life then represents an infinite cost to the whole economy of Heaven, forever and ever. Being himself infinite, God can of course cover that defect of creaturely perfection with no problem; but for all the other citizens of Heaven, the failure to implement a single tiny life is a catastrophic injury to the wealth of glory they might have enjoyed, had the imperfection of procreative potential implicit in creation ab initio never occurred. . . .
Sex is the way God has arranged to generate gods. For all Christians, then, it’s a really big deal, almost the best thing there is.
“Sex is the way God has arranged to generate gods.” What a fantastic quotation! Downright Athanasian!
Please make sure to read Arakawa’s comment on the post, as well.
Kristor’s idea leads to many questions, including Lydia’s comment in the thread. In short, how does the principle of plenitude providentially play out when it comes to rational beings? Are the Mormons onto something when they postulate premortal intelligences, waiting for their chance to become incarnate? The blessed Origen thought it a possibility. For we all exist eternally in the mind of God, but, then, God knows from all eternity what rational agents will do and thereby creates the world accordingly. Are there unrealized souls (in the fullness of time) whom God knows, whose existence is thwarted due to human sin—or even due to the necessary limitations of creation, as Lydia’s comment implies? For any good that we creatures of space and time do means that we are not doing many other good things. Limitation requires limiting choices. Any possible world seems to fall short of the total goodness that God knows to be possible in creation. However, as I wrote in “Does Quantum Physics Make It Easier to Believe in God?,” it is not clear to me that “our world” is “the world.” Perhaps, we are just modal chauvinists, while all the rational beings whom God creates and knows do get born, though not in each possible world. Fascinating thoughts! Regardless, God is great. Have a blessed feast and a beneficial remainder of Advent!