I've been humming Tantum Ergo all weekend, ever since the choir sang Tantum Ergo at Benediction on Friday night, up in the church after the fish fry and before the Stations. Since I started learning Latin several years ago, it's one of the few Latin hymns that I've bothered to puzzle out with a dictionary and grammar, and I'm very fond of it.
Tantum ergo sacramentum
et antiquum documentum
novo cedat ritui;
praestet fides supplementum
The last bit is often translated (so that it will scan), "For the failing of the senses, faith must serve to compensate," but even with my cruddy Latin-English dictionary I can catch glimpses of a more precise meaning: praestare (the "to serve" in the translation) means as a transitive verb "to become surety for, to be responsible for" and has connotations of excellence in its intransitive form; defectus -us is "a failing, disappearing, especially a failing of light, eclipse."
So it's maybe something more like: just in the measure that our senses fail, let faith fill up the gap between what we have and what we need.
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Elizabeth Scalia, on Twitter, linked to a page that featured an devious optical illusion:
I've seen illusions like this before, and am familiar with the explanations for them, but I never cease to marvel at them. In this case, the "blue" and "green" spirals are exactly the same color.
You could, perhaps, just trust me.
You can go over to the page and read there the explanation and see the evidence. You will be easily convinced. You'll know that there isn't a blue spiral and a green spiral; there are only spirals of a single bluish-green color.
And then you can come back here, where I have left off the explanation and the proof, and contemplate the image again. "I now know that the blue and the green spirals are the same color," you can tell yourself.
You will not see it any different. You will see the blue color and the green color. To go on believing the colors are the same color, you will have to defy your eyes. You will do it anyway, because you remember that some time ago (it was only a moment; but what if you come back to this page in a year, or five years?) you were satisfactorily convinced.
The process by which you carry your conviction from the past, where reason led you to a certain conclusion, into the present, where senses contradict your reasoned certitude -- that process goes by the name "faith."
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You know, there are many things in the study of the natural world, or sometimes in mathematics, which go against intuition. Our experience takes shape in a world of friction, gravity, and air resistance; when for the first time one sees the feather and the stone strike the floor of the vacuum chamber, it's a shock. After you file out of the demonstration lab, All objects accelerate at the same rate in a gravitational field becomes an article of faith, because how often do we put feathers and stones in vacuum chambers in daily life? Days go by, years, in which all falling feathers waft gently downwards and all stones drop like stones.
But we know better, only because of a determination: to "remember not to forget" that the whole picture is more complicated than it looks at first glance.
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"In the story, the frog was really a prince, wasn't he?"
"Yes," said Cecilia, "rather a good sort of prince. He fetched the princess's ball out of the fountain when she dropped it in."
"And if she touched him, he felt like a frog? And if she looked at him he looked like a frog. And if she heard him, it was a frog's croak she heard? That's three senses -- sight, hearing, and touch, and none of them could have told her he was really a prince, could they? And if she had smelt or tasted him (which I'm sure she didn't!) those two senses wouldn't have told her any more, would they?"
"What are senses, exactly?" said Michael.
"The five ways you have of finding out about things," said St. Patrick, "...If you think of it, you will see that those are the only ways we have of knowing anything about the world around us."
Cecilia and Michael both thought about it solemnly for a moment and then admitted that those were the only ways you could know about things.
"...I'll tell you something about them that not everybody knows. None of them will tell you what a thing is, only what it looks like, sounds like, feels like, and so on. And as a rule you know quite well what it is by means of those things. But it is quite easy to make a mistake now and then."
--from St. Patrick's Summer: A Children's Adventure Catechism by Marigold Hunt