Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Twin Light of the Eyes

And over this band [of martyrs], dearly-beloved, whom God has set forth for our example in patience and for our confirmation in the Faith, there must be rejoicing everywhere in the commemoration of all the saints, but of these two Fathers' excellence we must rightly make our boast in louder joy, for God's Grace has raised them to so high a place among the members of the Church, that He has set them like the twin light of the eyes in the body, whose Head is Christ. About their merits and virtues, which pass all power of speech, we must not make distinctions, because they were equal in their election, alike in their toils, undivided in their death. But as we have proved for ourselves, and our forefathers maintained, we believe, and are sure that, amid all the toils of this life, we must always be assisted in obtaining God's Mercy by the prayers of special interceders, that we may be raised by the Apostles' merits in proportion as we are weighed down by our own sins.

St. Leo the Great, Sermon 82 (On the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul).

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Labyrinths and Problems

In Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language, Umberto Eco identifies three kinds of labyrinth.

(1) Classical labyrinth: The classical labyrinth is unicursal, with a single path and no branches. (The famous mythological labyrinth of Daedelus seems to have been branching, and is occasionally represented as such in very, very early representations, but at some point the representation became invariably of a single, intricately folded path to a center.) Such a labyrinth involves no choice; if a path is possible, it is the path to take. However intricate its folds, it can be perfectly represented by a single line. Eco notes that Ariadne's thread is useless in such a labyrinth, or rather, "the labyrinth itself is an Ariadne thread" (p. 80). Any challenge, like the Minotaur, is distinct from the labyrinth as such.

(2) Maze: Except for rare cases, real mazes are almost never represented in art before the Renaissance. Structurally, it would be represented not by a line but by a tree. Unlike a classical labyrinth, a maze is multicursal. It offers choices: paths are not necessary paths, a path can be a mistaken path, and thus Ariadne's thread, the clue that shows where to go next, can be important. The challenge is built into the very structure:

A maze does not need a Minotaur: it is its own Minotaur: in other words, the Minotaur is the visitor's trial-and-error process. (p. 81)

(3) Meander: If we took the tree-structure and started connecting nodes, we would et a net. "A net is unlimited territory" (p. 81): there may still be wrong answers, but there may be more than one right answer, and anywhere could, at least potentially, take you anywhere. Meanders also allow for loops.

At one point Eco makes the interesting observation that the network of a meander can be seen as a system of hypothetical trees. If I want to go from Austin to Milan, there are any number of ways I can go; different ways I could go would lead me to be faced with different choices, and eventually, by the time I got to Milan, I would have narrowed it down to one particular series of choices, which would be one tree out of many. many of the trees making up the meander of possible air routes won't get to Milan at all; there will, on the other hand be many that do. Of course, if one thinks about it, the tree of a maze is a system of hypothetical lines, routes through the maze. One could perhaps imagine (although Eco does not) a labyrinth that was a system of hypothetical networks. (Eco suggests that the rhizomes of Deleuze and Guattari are meanders, but since rhizomes are able to change through time, it seems to me that they would be a better candidate for precisely such a system of possible meanders.)

We can adapt Eco's classification of labyrinths to a form a classification of problems we might have to solve.

A plain labyrinth-problem is one in which the rule for solution (Ariadne's thread) is the only option for working through the problem (the labyrinth itself). It may have obstacles to create a challenge (Minotaurs), but the way to solve the problem, however long and intricate, is set by the problem itself. Examples of problems like these would be purely mathematical or logical problems in which one simply has to work through the options, or apply the axioms, to get the right answer -- that is, you just have to solve in a straight line.

A maze-problem, then, would be a problem in which there are alternative ways one might go about trying to solve the problem, not all of which get you to the end. We have a branching tree of choices, or (what is the same thing) a set of possible paths. The basic challenge of the problem (Minotaur) is built into it, although, of course, additional challenges could arise from other things. In order to solve the problem directly, at least with any consistency, we need information from outside the problem itself (Ariadne's thread). Otherwise, we have to try options until we find the ones that work -- any problem that is solved by trial and error is a maze-problem.

A meander-problem is one in which we have more than one possible series of alternatives. Like a maze-problem, the Minotaur is built in; like a maze-problem, any Ariadne's thread requires additional information from outside the problem itself; unlike the maze-problem, there may be multiple Ariadne's threads heading in different directions, some of them better than others. A good way to think of the difference here is by thinking of what happens if the labyrinth is infinite. An infinite labyrinth-problem is insoluble -- you never finish the task required to solve it. This is true of an infinite maze-problem, as well. But it is not necessarily true of an infinite meander-problem -- it depends on where one starts and ends and on the topology of the network and on the actual process of choosing routes. Or, to put it in other terms, since the structure of a meander is that of a system of hypothetical trees, even if some, or most, of those trees are infinite (and thus lead to no solution), some of them could still be finite. An infinite network has finite as well as infinite trees for its parts. One often finds meander-problems with searches (although not all searches are meander-problems); and they come up a lot when we are beginning to explore ideas or possibilities about which we know very little (and thus do not really know what the best way to try to solve the problem might be).

-----
Umberto Eco, Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language, Indiana University Press (Bloomberg: 1984).

Monday, June 27, 2016

Two New Poem Drafts

The Rose

O none can hold swift beauty fast
as it to scattered winds is cast:
the rose is fair, she does not last.
The thorns remain when she is past.

The fair to scattered winds is cast;
the rose is fair: she does not last.
The thorns remain when she is past,
and none can hold her beauty fast.

The rose is fair; she does not last.
The thorns remain when she is past,
for none can hold her beauty fast
as it to scattered winds is cast.

The thorns remain when bloom is past,
and none can hold its beauty fast
as it to scattered winds is cast.
The rose is fair. She does not last.


Sunray

In the dawn of the sun,
in a hope bright-lit,
strong, pure, with the light
of the truth and the grace
of the angels of God,
hearts leap to the task
of a life well-lived
with a will and resolve
that endures to the end.

Rough Timeline of the Early Avignon Papacy

Some dates are approximate; events for a year are not necessarily in order.

1260 Gherardo Segarelli begins preaching and gathering what would become the Apostolic Brethren, Segarelli's version of a mendicant order; Siena (Ghibelline) defeats Florence (Guelph) at the Battle of Montaperti

1268 Pope Clement IV dies and the papal conclave deadlocks between the French and the Italians

1271 The last major Crusade, under Edward Longshanks, makes some notable but very temporary gains in the Holy Land; Bl. Gregory X becomes Pope as a compromise candidate to break the deadlock (he is very surprised to be elected because he is not a bishop and is on crusade with Edward)

1272 Second Council of Lyon convoked in Lyon, France; St. Thomas Aquinas dies on his way to attend the council

1274 Second Council of Lyon restructures papal elections and forbids new mendicant orders without papal sanction; Rudolph I proclaimed Holy Roman Emperor; St. Bonaventure dies while attending the council

1276 Pope Gregory X dies and Bl. Innocent V becomes Pope; Pope Innocent V dies and Adrian V becomes Pope; Pope Adrian V dies and John XXI becomes Pope

1277 Pope John XXI dies and Nicholas III becomes Pope

1280 Pope Nicholas III dies and Martin IV becomes Pope, being crowned at Orvieto due to the hostility of the Romans to him

1282 Sicilian Vespers: a rebellion against French rule breaks out in Sicily, with the result that thousands of French are slaughtered; the Sicilians appeal to King Peter of Aragon for defense and the War of the Sicilian Vespers begins, plunging Europe into war

1284 Pope Martin IV declares the Aragonese Crusade against Peter of Aragon as part of the War of the Vespers, leading to civil war in Aragon

1285 Pope Martin IV dies (never having visited Rome during his pontificate) and Honorius IV becomes Pope

1287 Pope Honorius IV dies

1288 Nicholas IV becomes Pope (the first Franciscan Pope)

1291 Fra Dolcino joins the Apostolic Brethren

1292 Pope Nicholas IV dies

1294 Four Segarellians are burned at the stake and Gherardo Segarelli is imprisoned; St. Celestine V becomes Pope in July and abdicates in December; Boniface VIII becomes Pope and imprisons Celestine; Pope Celestine V welcomes the Fraticelli pf Angelo da Clareno but Pope Boniface VIII revokes their privileges

1296 Pope Boniface VIII declares the Fraticelli heretical

1298 Peter John Olivi dies

1300 Gherardo Segarelli burned at the stake in Parma; Fra Dolcino becomes the leader of the Apostolic Brethren; Pope Boniface VIII declares the first Jubilee Year

1301 Pope Boniface VIII issues the papal bull Ausculta Fili, requiring King Philip IV (the Fair) of France to do penance for intrusions on papal authority

1302 King Philip has the bull Ausculta Fili publicly burned in Paris; Pope Boniface VIII issues the papal bull Unam Sanctam, emphasizing papal supremacy; the Peace of Caltabellota ends the War of the Sicilian Vespers

1303 Pope Boniface VIII excommunicates King Philip the Fair; Pope Boniface VIII dies; Bl. Benedict XI becomes Pope

1304 The Dolcinians retreat to mountain fortresses, from which they conduct a guerilla compaign against the crusaders sent to rout them; Pope Benedict XI dies;

1305 Clement V is elected Pope, and refuses to go to Italy for his coronation, choosing Lyon instead; the Curia is moved to Poitiers

1307 Fra Dolcino and Margareta are burned at the stake; King Philip IV begins rounding up the Templars to avoid having to repay loans from them and to enrich his treasury with their assets; Bernard Gui begins his tenure as Inquisitor of Toulouse

1309 The papal curia is moved to Avignon: the Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy begins

1311 Under pressure from King Philip, Clement V convokes the Council of Vienne, which will suppress the Templars in the next year; Henry VII is crowned King of Italy in Milan

1312 Henry VII becomes Holy Roman Emperor

1313 Marsilius of Padua is rector of the University of Paris; Pope Clement V canonizes St. Celestine V

1314 Pope Clement V dies; John of Jandun begins publishing works of natural philosophy

1316 John XXII becomes Pope; Michael Cesena is elected minister general of the Franciscans

1317 Pope John XXII excommunicates Angelo da Clareno; Ubertino of Casale allowed to leave the Franciscan Order and become a Benedictine

1318 Pope John XXII excommunicates Ubertino of Casale

1320 The Shepherds' Crusade: a popular movement of reconquest takes fire in Normandy and leads to assaults on castles, priests, and Jews

1322 Ubertino of Casale summoned to Avignon and manages to do well there; the Franciscans declare in favor of the doctrine of the absolute poverty of Christ; Pope John XXII issues the bull Ad conditorem canonum renouncing claim over all property the Church held for the Franciscans, thus forcing them to have property

1323 Louis IV becomes Holy Roman Emperor and sends an army to defend Milan against Naples; Pope John XXII opposes his accession and begins canonical proceedings against him; Pope John XXII issues the bull Cum inter nonnullos, declaring heretical the position that Christ and the Apostles had no property; Bernard Gui finishes his tenure as Inquisitor of Toulouse, having had over 900 heresy convictions in his fifteen years as Inquisitor

1324 Marsilius of Padua writes Defensor Pacis, arguing for imperial supremacy over the Church; Louis issues the Sachsenhausen Appeal, accusing Pope John XXII of being a heretic for his views on the poverty of Christ; Pope John XXII excommunicates the Emperor

1325 Ubertino of Casale accused of heresy for defending the ideas of Peter Olivi

1327 Louis is crowned King of Italy in Milan; Pope John XXII excommunicates Marsilius of Padua and John of Jandun; Michael Cesena is summoned to Avignon over the dispute about the poverty of Christ; the events of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose begin

1328 Louis reaches Rome and crowns himself Emperor; he issues a proclamation declaring Pope John XXII deposed for reasons of heresy and installs Nicholas V as antipope; John of Jandun becomes part of the Imperial court; Michael Cesena and his advisors (including William of Ockham) flee Avignon and are excommunicated by Pope John XXII

1329 Pope John XXII excommunicates Nicholas V

1330 Nicholas V begs pardon of Pope John XXII in Avignon and is absolved, but remains under house arrest; ; Michael Cesena accuses Pope John XXII of heresy; the Franciscans expel Michael of Cesena from the Order; Bertrand de Turre becomes Vicar General of the Order

1331 Bernard Gui dies

1333 Nicholas V dies

1334 Benedict XII becomes Pope

1336 Pope Benedict XII issues the bull Benedictus Deus establishing the doctrine that the souls of the saints go to the reward on death

1337 Angelo da Clareno dies

1342 Michael of Cesena dies; Pope Benedict XII dies and Clement VI becomes Pope

1346 Pope Clement VI excommunicates King Louis IV again and puts his support behind Charles IV to replace him; reports of the Black Death in Asia begin to filter into Europe

1347 William of Ockham dies; the Black Death reaches Sicily; Louis IV dies and after a short period, Charles IV is the only serious claimant to be Holy Roman Emperor

1348 The Black Death reaches Genoa, Venice, and Pisa; from Pisa it spreads throughout Europe; Pope Clement VI begins to attend the sick in Avignon personally and issues the bull Quamvis perfidiam, condemning anyone who initiated violence against Jews because of accusations that they were to blame for the plague

Sunday, June 26, 2016

A. V. Dicey on Rule of Law

Jeremy Waldron has an interesting article on The Rule of Law at the SEP. The section on Albert Venn Dicey seems to me to be very misleading, however: Waldron says, "For Dicey, the key to the Rule of Law was legal equality," but while legal equality is important, I think it is not the key to Dicey's understanding of the idea of the rule of law.

What Dicey tells us is that there are actually three 'kindred' notions that are involved when we talk about 'rule of law':

(1) Security from arbitrary governmental power: This is the 'first principle of the Rule of Law' that Waldron quotes, "no man is punishable or can be lawfully made to suffer in body or goods except for a distinct breach of law established in the ordinary legal manner before the ordinary Courts of the land".

(2) Equality before the law: This is what Waldron says is key to his account, namely, that "every man, whatever be his rank or condition, is subject to the ordinary law of the realm and amenable to the jurisdiction of the ordinary tribunals." Waldron's objection is irrelevant here; officials are not 'above the law', and they are not exempted from the ordinary law of the realm. If we say, as Waldron does, that officials "need to be hemmed in by extra restrictions" then if the restrictions are extra, they obviously are not exemptions from being subject to the law of the realm; and where are these restrictions coming from? If they arise from the ordinary legal means of ordinary tribunals, then this is precisely the kind of thing Dicey means. If you think that you need special courts for officials, or a special law governing officials only, the problems that immediately arise are (a) conflicts of jurisdiction in dealing with problems arising from the relations between officials and non-officials; (b) how is this not to say that one of the two groups, officials or non-officials, is a second-class citizenry, if they do not have the same protections for their rights and freedoms as everyone else?

[Note that Dicey's understanding of the rule of law in this second sense does not automatically generate a presumption of liberty, because Dicey specifically formulates his account of 'rule of law' so that it is consistent with a very, very strong view of parliamentary sovereignty (Parliament, understood as Crown, House of Lords, and House of Commons in cooperation, without restriction or limitation may make or unmake any law whatsoever, and the laws of Parliament may not be set aside by anything other than Parliament itself). Liberty is not what Dicey primarily has in mind when he is talking about rule of law.]

(3) Organic constitution: The constitutional law is not the source of but the consequence of the rights of individuals, as defined by courts; that is to say, "the constitution is the result of the ordinary law of the land." As Dicey points out in an example later on, English freedom is not guaranteed by a proposition in a document; freedom of person is not a privilege to be guaranteed at all -- it is the outcome of the ordinary law of the land as applied by courts. The Englishman's rights are built into the system, and require no paper guarantee or special intervention.

Dicey occasionally treats these as three perspectives on one thing (when he is talking about English law, usually), but more commonly treats them as distinct but related elements. Note that in all three cases the key concept is not 'equal' but 'ordinary'. Rule of law is, at a crude, vague level, about the primacy of ordinary law arising out of ordinary tribunals in an ordinary legal system. All three are ways in which one might recognize the supremacy of the ordinary law of the realm. If we look at droit administrif, one of the things this conception opposes, we find two ideas alien to English 'rule of law':

(1) That officials of the state have special privileges beyond those of ordinary citizens simply by being officials.
(2) Government should be structured by a separation of powers, which guarantees that other powers in the government are independent of the ordinary course of law as applied by courts.

Dicey's big idea with regard to rule of law is that the fundamental structure of government arises out of a normal course of law concerned with standard and stable protections for citizens, simply as citizens. He regards this as being, essentially, the power of courts to penalize any illegal activity, regardless of who has done it. This he sees as almost exclusively found in England (of his day), although he thinks that in practice the United States was also at least in the vicinity, despite its written constitution, because of judicial review.

It is possible that Dicey's view of rule of law is somewhat extravagant, as Waldron notes critics have often suggested, but it has more structure to it than you would get from Waldron's summary.

Maronite Year LVI

The Maronite calendar usually does not allow weekday feasts to be transferred to Sunday. Part of the reason for this is that most of the major feasts are already on Sundays, of course, and most of the rest are either saint's days or have such a close connection with a given date that it makes little sense to transfer them. There are some exceptions, however; a church can transfer the feast of its patron saint to Sunday, and there are two feasts that have fairly consistently been transferred to the closest Sunday, Holy Cross in September and the feast of Peter and Paul. Peter and Paul is on June 29, but liturgically it is transferred today to replace what would usually be the Seventh Sunday of Pentecost.

Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul
2 Corinthians 11:21-30; Matthew 16:13-20

Two grapes were pressed by the unbeliever,
from their pure wine the world's thirst is quenched.
O Christ our God, hope of all the martyrs,
You chose simple men to be Your lights;
fisher and tentmaker did great wonders,
You made them wise with Your wise Spirit.
You sent them to announce life's renewal
and salvation.

Two temples rise! The Spirit dwells within,
the Spirit of Christ the Word of God.
From among His friends, the Lord chose Simon,
giving him keys for heaven and earth.
Stand firm, Simon; you are the foundation;
the Church built on you shall not be lost.
O holy Peter, the Lord said, "Follow,"
and you followed.

Two precious pearls shine with splendid light,
bright on the crown of the Bride of Christ.
From among His enemies, Christ chose Saul;
the terror of lambs became a lamb.
He preached, worked wonders, built communities,
endured all things, converted nations.
O holy Paul, the Lord said, "Follow,"
and you followed.

Two tall columns stand, straight and unbending,
upholding the cathedral of heaven:
do not fear, O Church, for they shall endure;
the gates of hell shall not survive them.
On Peter the rock, Jesus built His Church,
through Paul's labors He raised up the frame,
a temple not made of timber or stone,
but of the saints.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Locus Focus



The Scriptorium of the Abbey
The Name of the Rose

by Umberto Eco

The abundance of windows meant that the great room was cheered by a constant diffused light, even on a winter afternoon. The panes were not colored like church windows, and the lead-framed squares of clear glass allowed the light to enter in the purest possible fashion.... I have seen at other times and in other places many scriptoria, but none where there shone so luminously, in the outpouring of physical light which made the room glow, the spiritual principle that light incarnates, radiance, source of all beauty and learning, inseparable attribute of that proportion the room embodied.

The obvious feature of the Abbey in Eco's The Name of the Rose is the library, but the scriptorium is its heart. The library, as we discover through the book, is really a sort of tomb of books, but it is in the scriptorium that books are alive. It is there that monks read the books of the library -- when they are allowed them -- and it is there that monks copy books that come into the Abbey, increasing the library and the Abbey's wealth. It is also in the scriptorium that the books themselves come alive, changing from mere words on the page to works of delightful art, full of color and picture and even, whatever some might wish, laughter.

Our first experience of this scriptorium is of light. Medieval scriptoria were quite diverse, as Adso implies, with the only constants being that they needed to be situated so as not to disturb prayer, the main purpose of the monastery, and that they be suitable for writing. The designers of this scriptorium have built theirs so that monks work above all in an abundance of clear sunlight, despite being indoors.

Thomas Aquinas says that light is what makes something manifest for a cognitive power, and Adso certainly agrees with this: the physical light is a symbol of intellectual light, each making it possible to see, and thus making it possible for us to experience the beautiful, which is what pleases on being seen. And the response of the mind to beauty, Adso notes, is peace.

But first impressions are sometimes misleading. The scriptorium, so filled with light, is, like everything else in the Abbey, a place of secrets, because it is linked to the library. And we see something of this in another visit to the scriptorium.


We reached the scriptorium, emerging from the south tower. Venantius's desk was directly opposite. The room was so vast that, as we moved, we illuminated only a few yards of the wall at a time. We hoped no one was in the court, to see the light through the windows. The desk appeared to be in order, but William bent at once to examine the pages on the shelf below, and he cried out in dismay.

It is in the scriptorium that the catalog of books in the library is kept, and the death of Venantius, on the trail of a book, gives the scriptorium a different, and more sinister, complexion. The scriptorium is not just a place of life and light; it is where the conspiratorial secrets of the library spill out into the world, and those secrets can bring darkness and death....

And that, of course, makes it fit with the Conspiratorial Corners theme Enbrethiliel is finishing up.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Music on My Mind



Ralph Stanley, "O Death". Stanley, one of the bluegrass greats, died yesterday at the age of 89.

Maronite Year LV

I have noted previously that where one finds a notable feast on a day other than Sunday in the Maronite calendar, this often means that it is received from elsewhere -- usually either because its date was established so early that it has never been changed, or because its existence in the calendar is due to the influence of another calendar at some point in Maronite history. This is part of the explanation for the fact that a number of Maronite feasts double, with a Sunday feast at some point and a fixed feast at another. The primary feast for the Nativity of John the Baptist is in the Season of Announcement, the Sunday of the Birth of John the Baptizer. But it is also often celebrated in summer, as well, when the Latin Church celebrates it.

Feast of the Birth of John the Baptist
Galatians 4:21-5:1; Luke 1:57-66

O Lord our God, today Judean hills ring out
with news of a mystical birth;
on this day, Zechariah and Elizabeth
despite age announce a new son.
His name shall be John, for God is truly gracious!
He is not the One awaited,
but he announces the One for whom prophets hoped.

O voice preaching in the wilderness,
fill our wilderness with your good news!

We gather at the banks of the river of grace,
waiting, O John, for precious news,
listening to your announcement of our Lord Christ.
From your birth you were a great sign.
A seed takes root in the desert; it bears sweet fruit,
for the word in the wilderness
prepares the way for the Word who is born of God.

O great forerunner of the Word of God,
bring a sign to those who wander lost!

Zechariah and Elizabeth exulted;
Judean hills rejoiced with them;
the Church sings hymns for the birth of God's own herald.
Prophets and angels saw this truth:
one will prepare the way for our great salvation,
who will point to the coming One,
the One who will shake the foundations of the earth.

O child of wonder, infant of grace,
bring us news of our Savior's coming!

O Lord our Light, you enlighten the universe;
You glorify Your holy saints.
When you come in glory, the righteous will rejoice.
They are the columns of Your Church;
like fresh springs they irrigate the world with new life;
they are waters that refresh all;
they rise in splendor like the towering cedars.

O Savior, through Your prophets' prayers
make us worthy of Your holy Church!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Reasonable Complaining

We live in a society in which it is very easy to find people complaining; and, what is more, people take themselves as being entitled to do so. But it's also fairly easy to recognize that not all complaints are reasonable complaints.

In certain kinds of legal systems there is a concept known as standing or locus standi: in order to bring a lawsuit, you need to have standing. The exact doctrine of standing varies somewhat from legal system to legal system, and can also vary according to the case, but there are often common themes. A fairly basic kind of standing has three elements, which can be roughly stated in the following way:

(1) Injury in fact: there is a genuine (legal) harm, one that is specific and actual.
(2) Causal relation: the harm is genuinely an effect of the specific behavior being challenged.
(3) Redressability: the legal action can reasonably be regarded as able to provide appropriate relief for the harm.

There have been attempts here and there in recent decades to argue that doctrines of standing are out of date, but I actually think that they are just specific forms of a more general set of principles concerning reasonable complaint and protest. That is to say, I think legal standing, and the above three elements especially, can be justified as preventing courts from wasting time on complaints that by their nature are unreasonable; precise details might need, and perhaps often do need, adjustment for this or that specifically legal reason, but the general structure is quite necessary. (There are other reasons for a doctrine of standing, including its value in limiting government overreach, but they are less relevant for my purposes here.)

Thus, I think one can generalize the notion of locus standi to cover all complaining of any kind; complaint without locus standi is unreasonable complaint. And, as with the above basic notion of legal standing, three principles seem to stand out as quite necessary for rational behavior. They can be formulated in a positive or a negative way.

(1) Reasonable complaint is about what is genuinely harmful. / Complaints about things that do not actually harm are unreasonable.
(2) Reasonable complaint depends on the fact that a harm is genuinely an effect of that about which one is complaining. / Complaints about things that do not actually cause the harm are unreasonable.
(3) Reasonable complaint is connected to solution of problems. / Complaints about things that cannot be remedied, or that are divorced from any remedy, are unreasonable.

There might be some pushback on the third, but it is in fact true that people often criticize complaints about the inevitable or the incorrigible, and it is difficult to give any account of the practical rationality of complaining about what one cannot change. As to complaints in cases where the problem could be solved but in which the complaint has nothing to do with actually solving the problem, people often criticize this, too, and allowing it creates a number of problems in practice (e.g., people interfering with actual solutions by their incessant complaining, or exasperating people who are actually looking for real solutions).

Thus one can assess the reasonableness of complaints by looking to see whether they have locus standi: Is the thing complained about a real harm, and why? Is the thing complained about really the cause of the harm, and why? Is the complaint contributing to a real practical solution to the problem? (It hardly needs to be said that complaining on the internet often fails these tests. Some of that which does could, perhaps, be taken as mere venting, which is the kind of action that is not reasonable in itself, but at least arguably could be reasonable in a particular context. And not all unreasonable action is morally culpable, of course; some of it is just itself a harmless waste of time. But we all know that it would be difficult to stretch considerations like these very far.)

Some points:

(1) This account is about complaint. Not all critique or criticism is complaint; there can be a considerable difference, in fact, between criticizing a position and complaining about it. However, I think there's reason to hold that the above principles of reasonable complaint are themselves specific forms of even more general principles of reasonable criticism. Even so, it is a matter for inquiry whether there are kinds of criticism sufficiently different from complaint to operate under very different kinds of principles.

(2) The above principles are almost certainly not exhaustive. There are many things to consider in reasonable action -- honesty, moderation, fortitude, appropriateness to context, justice -- and while some of the basic principles of these might reduce to the above three, I see no reason to think that they all do.

(3) As noted above, unreasonable complaint is not itself something that it is necessarily reasonable to complain about. Complaint may be unreasonable but harmless; or it may be unreasonable, but any harms associated with it are, for all we know, not associated with it at all; or it may be pointless to complain about. But this is going to be something that can only be determined on a case-by-case basis. And, of course, merely because a case of unreasonable complaining is not harmful doesn't make it any more reasonable.

The Rowdiest Council

Today in the Maronite calendar is the memorial for the Fathers of the Holy and Ecumenical Council of Ephesus. The third ecumenical council was as close to being a free-for-all as a council can be.

Nestorius was a monk of Antioch who became famous for the quality of his sermons; because of this, the Emperor Theodosius II named him Patriarch of Constantinople in 428. Almost immediately he found himself dealing with a local dispute between those who claimed that Mary was Theotokos and those who thought it absurd and suggestive of Arianism to say that God had a human mother, because it suggested that the Son began to be. Nestorius proposed and tried to enforce a compromise in which Mary would be called Christotokos and not Theotokos, Christ-bearer rather than God-bearer. The controversy grew, because Nestorius does not seem to have been well liked by the populace, and the news began to spread. The ultimate result was a war of letters between St. Cyril, the Patriarch of Alexandria, and Nestorius. Nestorius was absolutely not prepared for the fight; the strength and influence of Alexandria was immense, and Alexandrians were brawlers, not at all shy about fighting a matter out, and politically cunning, since life in Alexandria required the negotiation of perpetually shifting political alliances.

The great alliance between Rome and Alexandria which largely defines the early conciliar period of the Church had begun to crack in the reign of Cyril's predecessor and uncle, who had leveraged the alliance in a harassment campaign against St. John Chrysostom, but it was not yet broken. Cyril soon wrote to Pope Celestine I of Rome to ask for his decision on the question. Celestine held a synod and came down against Nestorius, authorizing Cyril to speak for Rome in the matter. It was all that Cyril needed to know that he was on sure ground. Constantinople had become increasingly important due to its connection to the Emperor, but against Alexandria and Rome together it was far outmatched.

So Nestorius took what was his only available option: he pushed the Emperor to summon the bishops of the Empire to a council. It is often forgotten that the initiative for the Council of Ephesus was Nestorian -- as far as Cyril was concerned, there could hardly have been any need for a council, since both Rome and Alexandria had spoken on the matter and agreed. It was Nestorius who pressed for a council to exonerate him and condemn Cyril. Nestorius, no doubt, thought that his hand was fairly strong, since he could count on the support of Antioch and the Emperor, and he seems always to have thought that his position was the only reasonable position, rejected by Cyril only because Cyril was obstinate. He was in many ways a thoroughgoing intellectual, fond of 'technically' and 'strictly speaking', and while he seems to have been quite charming personally (people who knew him directly often supported him quite loyally), his entire approach as patriarch was high-handed and condescending.

Theodosius called for a council to open on June 7, 431, in Ephesus. I'm not sure why this city in particular was chosen; perhaps it was intended as a minor concession to the other side, but Ephesus was actively hostile to anything suggestive of Nestorianism, and the bishop of Ephesus, Memnon, would refuse Nestorius entry into all the churches of Ephesus, citing the decisions of Rome and Alexandria. And when Cyril arrived, he took control of everything. The delegations from Rome and Antioch were late because of stormy weather, and Cyril wanted to open on time, but he was told by the imperial representative, Candidian, that it would be illegal to open the council without the reading of the Emperor's convocation letter, and that he should wait until the other delegations arrived. Cyril did wait, for two weeks, and then opened the council, anyway, on June 22, presiding over it as Patriarch of Alexandria and representative of Rome. When Candidian came in with the pro-Nestorian bishops protesting, Cyril had him read the Emperor's letter to the bishops to clarify a point, and then took that reading of the letter as the legal opening of the council.

The council summoned Nestorius, but Nestorius, complaining of harassment by the people of Ephesus, would not recognize any council that was led by Cyril. He refused the summons and was condemned and deposed by the council.

John, Patriarch of Antioch, arrived a few days afterward to find that the council had already started and, in fact, had already condemned Nestorius. Furious, he and Candidian opened a separate council and deposed Cyril and Memnon. Meanwhile, the Roman legation arrived, and, after giving the letters of Pope Celestine to Cyril's council and some brief investigation, they concluded that all that was required was that the documents of the first session be read aloud in their presence. That done, the legates then signed and made Rome's support of the condemnation of Nestorius official.

That in hand, Cyril now began to move against John of Antioch, summoning him to the council. When John refused, he was deposed. Other bishops attempted to take advantage of this -- the bishop of Jerusalem (unsuccessfully) and the bishop of Cyprus (successfully) tried to get the council to recognize its independence form Antioch. Canons were drawn up, and the council came to an end. Throughout the entire period, the Imperial representatives had difficulty keeping order, both sides complained of physical bullying, and the city stayed more or less in uproar mode the entire time.

But its decisions held. Rome confirmed the decisions of the council for the West. Cyril reconciled with John, although only after much negotiation. And the question for the East then became, how strictly should we interpret the decisions of Ephesus? It would take another council a century later to answer that question.