Scripture Memorization Journal

This entry journals my memorization of Hebrews – as far as possible on a day-to-day basis.

For the first time I am memorizing a passage with verse numbers. When repeating verses mentally or out loud, I include chapter and verse number for each verse. In learning them, I've found it easiest to remember especially the verse numbers of certain verses that have a number easy to recall (e.g., 7, 10, 12, 14, 20), and/or begin a new section of the text. Knowing those and knowing where verse divisions are, I can usually reconstruct the remaining verse numbers with enough accuracy to achieve my purpose in memorizing them, which is (1) to ensure that in reciting passages to myself from memory, I don´t skip over sections, (2) and to readily recall in which chapter and part of chapter a given text is in.

  • Chapters 1-7 I memorized 4-8 weeks ago, partly while travelling by train and partly while hiking in the mountains.
  • Oct 26: 45 minutes while signing letters (1000 to sign altogether, only part of that time did I use for memorization); learning chapter 8, and starting to get familiar with chapter 9, 1-4.
  • Oct 27: 30 minutes while biking; reviewed chapter 7 multiple times (chapter 7 being still quite new, and not very well fixed in my memory)
  • 30 minutes while cleaning bathroom; reviewed chapter 8, chapter 9:1-2.
  • Oct 28: 30 minutes while biking and climbing uphill; review chapters 1-8.

In the following days a number of reviews of chapters 1-8 mostly while underway, and have been refreshing other books of St. Paul as well. In a few cases I realized I needed to check one or another verse when I had an opportunity.

November 11, Monday: 45 Minutes in train and subway. Learned Heb 9:5-20 well enough to recite the whole passage twice stumbling at only two places and making only a couple very minor mistakes (substituting expressions that convey basically the same sense as the actual passage for the exact wording of the passage).

Note: I find it more efficient to learn a longer passage imperfectly on the first day than to learn a shorter passage perfectly on the first day. After a night's sleep it becomes clearer which verses or parts of verses are troublesome and need the most attention and repetition, so that I can apportion time specifically to those, rather than taking more time on every verse.

November 12, Tuesday: 20 minutes review of 9:5-20 in train and waiting on train platform (in this case I needed to look at the text often enough that I couldn't have done the review while engaged in anything that needed attention). Finished this review by reciting the whole passage three times. Status: most of the text is fairly firm, but certain conjugations and linking adverbs are not; for example, Heb 9:15, "Therefore he is the mediator", I could easily slip to remembering "Thus he is the mediator." In principle I try to learn the English text (RSV) as it stands, but don't care very much about the substitution of such synonyms when learning a translation rather than the original Greek text.

Another 10 minutes in another train and walking to the place where I have a course making a beginning of learning the last few verses of chapter 9.

November 13, Wednesday: in a 20 minutes short walk after lunch a review of 9:1-9:28 (at 9:15 and 9:23-end I had to look at the text). The second half of this period I spent working though the text backwards verse by verse, or in some cases in blocks of two verses, in order to strengthen the connection of each part with the preceding passage (without doing this, one ends up knowing a text well in relation to the following context, but not quite so well in relation to the context that precedes it.) 20 minutes walking to train station and while changing trains, reviewing chapters 8-9.

November 14, Thursday: 5-10 minutes reciting chapters 8-9 while showering and getting dressed; 12 minutes reciting chapters 6-9 while biking to Trumau. When reciting in the afternoon, I couldn't remember the second half of verse 26, though I knew there was a second part I couldn't remember.

November 15: 7 minutes reciting chapters 8-9 between church and home.

November 17: 7 minutes reciting chapters 7-9 between church and home.

November 18: 30 minutes learning chapter 10:1-11 (while on a bike path, so without being able to give full attention to memorization). Recited once again in the early evening.

November 19: 1 minute reviewing chapter 10:1-11, 8 minutes reciting it while showering and getting dressed.

20 minutes reciting chapter 5-10:11 while biking from Trumau to the train station

November 21: 3 minutes reciting chapter 10:1-11 while showering.

November 22: 5 minutes reciting chapters 9-10:11 while biking from Church.

November 23: 5 minutes reviewing chapter 10:1-11 and correcting some mistakes that arose in the course of reciting it the previous days without checking the text.

November 25: 20 minutes learning chapter 10:11-21

November 26-30: a couple times reciting chapter 10:1-14 (all I could remember without looking at the text)

December 1: 10 minutes relearning Heb 10:15-20 (There is a certain difficulty in remembering correctly Heb 8:10 "I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts" and Heb 10:16 "I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds" — this will always remain a difficulty, unless I can figure out a logical reason in the epistle for the change in order, or use a mnemonic trick to remember in which case "minds" comes first, and in which case "hearts" comes first.) Postscript: it works to remember that the second occurrence is the "strange" one, i.e., since the first meaning of heart is something physical, it is more normal to speak about writing on hearts than on minds.

From December to March: four times reciting Heb 1:1-10:18.

March 3: 15 minutes learning Heb 10:15-27.

March 9: 40 minutes learning Heb 10:15-39.

March 10: 40 minutes learning Heb 11:1-16.

March 13: 20 minutes reviewing Heb 11:1-16.

March 17: 1 hour 30 minutes reviewing Heb 11:1-16 and learning heb 11:17-end (while biking on bike trails).

March 24: 1 hour reviewing Heb 11 (15 minutes in train, 45 minutes biking and hiking).

March 31: 20 minutes reviewing Heb 11.

April 3: 5 minutes reviewing Heb 11.

(This post will be updated on an ongoing basis).


How to Memorize Scripture

In 2003, over a period of 9 months I learned the Gospel of John and the Epistles of St. Paul from Romans through 1 Thessalonians by heart. During the first four years after entering the seminary in Austria, I did very little review of these passages, and so some of them became a bit hazy. The amount of review to regain familiarity with the texts, is, however relatively small compared to learning them originally.

In the past weeks I have begun memorizing the Epistle to the Hebrews, and am keeping a journal of the time spent learning and of progress, so as to give an estimate of how much time it takes to learn a certain portion of Scripture by heart, and a more detailed account of techniques.

Here is a brief summary of some techniques I have found helpful for memorizing Scripture. I´ll write in more detail about some of these in individual posts.

Methods and techniques to memorize Scripture passages

  • Logical and poetic patterns: look for the flow of thought, logical divisions, for rhetorical techniques, for poetic patterns (parallel structures, chiasms [pyramid structure], etc.) This techniques has a long tradition. Fortunatianus writes in the 4th century: "What helps our memory the most? Division and composition: for order especially aids memory." Artis rhetoricae libri III.
  • Active recall: actively recalling something to memory fixes it more firmly in the mind than merely rereading or rehearing a passage.
    • When first learning, divide a passage or even larger verses into parts small enough that one can very quickly recite from memory without looking at the text. "The memory always rejoices in both brevity of length and paucity of number, and therefore it is necessary, when the sequence of your reading tends toward length, that it first be divided into a few units, so that what the mind could not comprehend in a single expanse it can comprehend at least in a number, and again, when later the more moderate number of items is subdivided into many, it may be aided in each case by the principle of paucity or brevity." (Hugh of St. Victor, De tribus maximis circumstantiis gestorum, written in 1130 A.D., translated in The Medieval Craft of Memory, 37-38)
    • Once you can recite a verse or a passage with confidence, do so three to five times.
    • When first memorizing a passage and when making the first refresher on a subsequent day, aim to be able to recall the text 85-95% of the time by the end of a study session.
    • Utilize time that is otherwise unused: memorize at a slow enough pace that you can keep up with reviewing passages in the time periods while walking to the store, while jogging or biking, while waiting in line, etc.
  • Sleep: sleep consolidates the memory;
    • don't attempt to permanently learn any passage in a single day; it is more efficient to study 15 minutes on one day and 15 minutes the following day than 30 minutes all on one day
    • After learning a passage on one day, in most cases after a night's sleep some parts will be more firmly fixed in the mind, and it will actually be easier to recall them, while other parts will be harder to recall. Rememorize the whole passage – you'll know which parts are difficult and need particular attention, and these parts will usually now also become more firmly fixed.
  • Spaced review: after having learned a passage firmly enough that you can recite it without needing to look at the text, continue to recite it every few days for the next few weeks — frequently enough that you can recite most or all of it accurately without needing to look at the text to remind yourself of it, and so that if you forget a verse or two while reciting it to yourself, you know while reciting what parts you have forgot, and can look them up, either immediately or sometime afterwards.
  • Utilize visual memory
    • Using the same edition of layout of a text, learning a passage in a fixed layout in the page, rather than using different editions, will allow the visual memory of where words are on the page to aid the oral memory of the heard and spoken words. Hugh of St. Victor advises using the same copy of a text when memorizing something, because one memorizes not “only the number and order of verses or ideas, but at the same time the color, shape, position, and placement of the letters, where we have seen this or that written, in what part, in what location (at the top, the middle, or the bottom) we saw it positioned, in what color we observed the trace of the letter” (De tribus maximis circumstantiis gestorum, ibid. p. 38) (I don't use this technique so much, as the convenience of having the Scripture text always with me, as for example on my cell phone, for me outweighs the value of the consistent layout of the text. – JFB)
    • A textual passage can be associated with a journey through a familiar place. (I have't used this technique myself.  – JFB)
  • Utilize music: singing a passage with a consistent melody aids the memory. (The passage may, however, remain difficult to remember without recalling the melody to one's imagination, which in turn can mean a slower rate of recall)
  • Analyze difficulties: When there is a particular difficult getting a passage right, look for the reason: is there a parallel passage elsewhere with which you are familiar, which brings confusion between the two passages? If so, make a specific mental note of the parallel passages and the differences between them.

Salvation of Non-Christians: Pope Francis on Dying for the Truth

Pope Francis in his Angelus Message of June 23, 2013, distinguishes several ways of losing one's life for Christ: (1) enduring death in order to remain faithful to Christ and his Gospel; (2) giving one's life daily in faithful love and sacrifice; (3) dying for the truth, and thus for Christ, who says of himself "I am the truth." His final comments seem to suggest that as dying for the truth is implicitly losing one's life for Christ, so daily sacrificial service of the truth is also implicitly giving one's life for Christ.

In this Sunday's Gospel resounds one of the most incisive sayings of Jesus: "whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it (Luke 9:24).

Here is a synthesis of Christ's message… But what does it mean to "lose one's life for Jesus's sake"? This can happen in two ways: explicitly, by confessing the faith, or implicitly, by defending the truth. The martyrs are the best example of losing one's life for Christ. In two thousand years have a host immense men and women who sacrificed their lives to remain faithful to Jesus Christ and his Gospel. … But there is also the daily martyrdom, which does not entail death but is also a "losing of life" for Christ, doing one's duty with love, according to the logic of Jesus, the logic of gift and sacrifice….

And then there are so many people, Christians and non-Christians, who "lose their life" for the truth. And Christ said "I am the truth"; thus those who serve the truth serve Christ…. One of these people who gave his life for the truth is John the Baptist… How many people pay dearly for their commitment to the truth! How many righteous men prefer to go against the tide, so as not to deny the voice of conscience, the voice of truth! Righteous people, who are not afraid to go against the tide!

Pope Francis's Daily Homilies

A lot of interest has been shown in Pope Francis's daily homilies in St. Martha's Residence, from persons and media sources critical of the things he says, and from persons and media sources pleased by them. Both sides seem to treat these homilies as though they were acts of the papal Magisterium. In matter of fact, they may not be that at all, given the limited audience and the fact that they are not published, which makes it hard to see any serious intention in the pope to speak as teacher of the universal Church.

This view is supported by a statement made on May 29 (yesterday) by Vatican speaker P. Lombardi: The Pope's Homilies in St. Martha's Residence: P. Lombardi's Notes in Response to Questions (Italian text)

He begins by noting the very great interest raised by the pope's brief homilies in the context of the morning Masses he celebrates in Casa Santa Marta, and the question asked by many about the possibility of accessing the complete celebration or homily, rather than only through the summaries published each day by the Vatican Radio and the Osservatore Romano.

He notes that the question is understandable, has been thoroughly considered, and deserves a clear response. Above all, [what follows is a translation of P. Lombardi's words]: "it is necessary to take into account the character the the Holy Father himself attributes to the morning celebration in St. Martha's residence. It is a matter of a Mass celebrated with a group of faithful that is not small (generally more than fifty persons), but for whom the Pope intends to preserve a familial character. For this reason, despite the requests that have been made, he has explicitly desired that the Mass not be broadcast live by video or audio.

As regards the homilies, they are not spoken on the basis of a written text, but spontaneously, in Italian, a language which the Pope knows well, but which is not his mother tongue. A "integral" publication would have to be therefore a transcription and a rewriting of the text at various points, given that the written form is different from the oral, which in this case is the original form chosen intentionally by the Holy Father. In short, there would be a revision by the Holy Father himself, but the result would be clearly "a different thing," not that which the Holy Father intends to do every morning.

After careful consideration it is therefore considered that the best way to make the richness of the Pope's homilies it accessible to a wide audience without altering its nature is to publish a detailed summary, also rich with quotes of original sentences, which reflect the genuine taste of the Pope's expressions….

It is necessary to insist on the fact that, in the entirety of the Pope's activity, one must carefully preserve the distinction between the various situations and celebrations, as well as the different level of commitment of his pronouncements. Thus, on the occasion of the public celebrations or activities of the Pope, broadcast live on television and radio, the homilies or speeches are transcribed and published in full. On the occasion of more familiar and private celebrations it is necessary to respect the specific character of the situation, of the spontaneity and the familiarity of the expressions of the Holy Father. The chosen solution thus respects above all the will of the Pope and of the nature of the morning celebration, and at the same time permits a broad public to access the principal messages that the Holy Father gives to the faithful even in such circumstances."

Habemus Papam!

Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., was elected today to the papacy, taking the name of Francis. He is the first Jesuit to be elected as pope. He gave a brief public address, beginning with an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be for Bishop Emeritus of Rome Benedict XIV, asked the people to pray for him, and gave the first papal blessing. Read the first public words of Pope Francis.

Words of Pope Benedict XVI at the General Audience

At the beginning of the general audience today, Feb 13, 2013, Pope Benedict spoke about his decision to renounce the Petrine ministry, and thanked the faithful for their prayers.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As you know, I have decided – thank you for your kindness – to renounce the ministry which the Lord entrusted to me on 19 April 2005. I have done this in full freedom for the good of the Church, after much prayer and having examined my conscience before God, knowing full well the seriousness of this act, but also realizing that I am no longer able to carry out the Petrine ministry with the strength which it demands. I am strengthened and reassured by the certainty that the Church is Christ’s, who will never leave her without his guidance and care. I thank all of you for the love and for the prayers with which you have accompanied me. Thank you; in these days which have not been easy for me, I have felt almost physically the power of prayer – your prayers – which the love of the Church has given me. Continue to pray for me, for the Church and for the future Pope. The Lord will guide us.

Pope Benedict Announces His Resignation

In a consistory today, February 11, Pope Benedict announced his resignation of the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, effective as of February 28, 2013, 8:00 PM, so that as of that time the See of Rome will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff shall need to be convoked by those whose competence it is. Apparently he does not intend to directly exercise papal authority or influence over the choice of the next pope, but wishes it to take place substantially as it would if he were to die.

An English translation of the Pope's statement and the audio of the Latin original is available on the website of the Radio Vaticana. Till now the reports and comments on the announcement have been pretty factual and have restrained from making any evaluation of the decision. Perhaps in part just to get the report out more quickly…

The pope gives as his reason for resignation, the recognition that his strength is no longer sufficient to adequately fulfill the Petrine ministry, showing a great humility and will for the good of the Church. It is not easy for anyone to voluntarily step down from a position of responsibility and honor, and few do it. The last one to resign the office in such a way Pope Celestine V in 1294. (Pope Gregory XII resigned in 1415 to settle the dispute about who was legitimate pope and the resulting schism.)

There is no particular reason to doubt that Pope Benedict's stated reason is his principal motivation. Still, he must surely also have considered what potential difference the precedent of a pope resigning in modern times could make, as well as the difference it could make to the choice of a new pope if the election is held while Benedict is still alive. One trusts in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit also works through human deliberations, and so such considerations are quite valid. While Benedict may not exercise any authority over the election to be held after he has resigned the Petrine office, his counsel and thoughts may be influential.

The Fallacy of Incommensurability II – Gun Control

In the past months there has been a lot of talk about various gun control measures. And a lot of the argumentation has presupposed the fallacy of incommensurability I mentioned in the previous post.

The idea that one has to do everything possible in order to save even one innocent life naturally leads people to the conclusion that, if the gun control measures X, Y, and Z will save even one person from being murdered, one has to take those measures.

Now, some of those measures can also be expected to result in the death of innocent persons who are killed because they, or someone around them, did not have a gun as a result of legislation or other pressures imposed by government or media. We may suppose, though, that at least some measures can be taken that will per year save more lives than those lost as a result of the same measures.

But what about the possibility that personal ownership of guns is a safeguard against a possible tyrannical government? Should that be a significant consideration in deliberation about gun control laws? Or is it ridiculous, as some have claimed, to avoid taking current measures helpful to save lives in order to safeguard ourselves from some imaginary future scenario of a tyrannical government?

I'll run through the numbers, but before I do that, let me state the summary result for those less interested in the numbers behind it. Basically, when one works out the various risks involved, one comes to the conclusion that a rational legislator considering any significant gun-control laws, is obliged to consider the risk of an increased probability of tyranny, and to take that risk into account in considering those laws.

Let's look at the numbers. Looking history, it is a pretty conservative estimate to say that there is a 2% chance that the government of the USA will within the next 100 years have become a tyrannical power that has murdered at least 5% of the civilian population (15,000,000 persons) due to personal characteristics (race, beliefs, infirmity, etc.) or in order to maintain its own power. Note that by this 2% chance I do not mean there is a 2% chance of tyranny if the country keeps going in such and such a direction, but that the chance is this high all things considered.

Statistically this risk of murder by a future tyrannical government is equivalent to the certain murder of 300,000 persons in that same 100 years, or 3000 persons per year. There would of course be a great deal of harm done to the other 95% of the population being a part of or living under tyranny, which would increase the evil of tyranny and the importance of considering the possibility of a future tyrannical government, but let's set that aside.

Now suppose a set of gun control laws increases the mentioned risk of murderous tyranny by a small amount, but enough that the increased risk is perceivable and plausible, say 5% (for a total of 2.1%). That additional risk is the equivalent of an expected 150 persons per year murdered.

So, if it is even plausible that a set of gun-control laws will increase the risk of an eventual tyranny by even a very small amount, those gun-control laws would need to have an expected outcome of at least 150 lives saved from murder per year. And there is, indeed based on historical evidence a good deal of plausibility, indeed probability for the opinion that the enaction of serious gun-control increases the chance of tyranny.

Consequently, the argument of gun-control opponents that the second amendment and the possession of guns is a safe-guard against tyranny is a significant argument, that a rational legislator is obliged to take seriously. It could only be set aside on the premise that there is no plausibility to the opinion that gun-control laws increase the chance of a future tyranny, or that it is just as probable that gun-control laws decrease the chance of a future tyranny.

Note that I make no claim to evaluate here the prudence of any particular legislation on guns, only a kind of meta-claim about what is necessary in order to establish the prudence of such legislation.

The Fallacy of Incommensurability

"if there’s even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try."

"If there's anything we can do to save even one life… we should do that."

"One life lost on the job is one too many."

"If even one innocent person would be convicted, that's too many."

Frequently in speech about policies pertinent to human life and safety, one hears absolute claims such as the above. The true principle that "one may not do evil that good may come," is transformed into the seemingly plausible, but false principle "one must do everything possible to prevent such-and-such evil [e.g., innocent human death]". The plausibility of this principle derives from the fact that human life is, in a sense, of infinite value, so it seems that the loss of innocent human life can never be weighed up and considered as an altogether acceptable risk.

President Obama has on several occasions invoked such a principle to justify his positions. He even gives the impression that he actually believes the principle is valid, which would be a strong indication that he is quite incompetent to lead any community, let alone a country.

It is hard to know how genuinely any politician holds such a principle, since it seems to have settled so deeply into popular consciousness that it may be difficult for a politician to truthfully and rationally justify such decisions without risking being widely regarded as inhuman and inconsiderate. Imagine a politician publicly stating something like the following:

"This health-care legislation could be expected to save 1000 lives per year, but it would cost 12 billion dollars per year, and would a burden for doctors and other medical professionals; it's not worth it."

In actual fact, it is quite impossible to apply this principle consistently in practice, and attempting to do so leads to many contradictions. In almost every case, one of the things one could do to prevent certain bad things from happening would be to refrain from certain actions one is purportedly obliged to do in order to hinder other bad things.

Imagine, for example, that a city is deliberating whether to build a bridge over a large river. As the situation stands at present, 10,000 persons are driving daily on average 40 miles to work and back; with the new bridge, they would only need to drive an average of 20 miles. The construction of the bridge is expected to cost 20,000,000 dollars, and is estimated to have an 85% chance of involving at least one fatality for a construction work, and probably several.

Given that at least one death is expected in the construction of the bridge, it seems the city must forbid its construction. On the other hand, by constructing the bridge, 100,000,000 miles less would need to be driven per year, which over just ten years would save 15 lives. So, according to the principle that if something can be done to save even one life, one is obliged to do it, the city must build the bridge.

What will someone do who pretends or thinks that he abides by this principle of incommensurability? Who thinks that, because human life has a kind of infinite value, one can never consider an expected loss of human life to be an acceptable consequence of some policy? Faced by such a dilemma, he will either choose randomly, or in accordance with personal or basic human prejudices.  Most frequently, he will be inclined to over-rate probable and proximate events, and under-rate large but improbable and remote events. In the case of the bridge construction, he will likely underrate the importance of the deaths in traffic accidents that would be avoided by building the bridge, and overrate the importance of the deaths involved in the construction of the bridge.

Homily for the First Sunday of Advent, Year C

Imagine that Jesus comes here today at noontime and speaks personally with each one of us. He heals every one who is sick, he takes the fear away from those who are afraid of losing their jobs, brings couples together, who are having trouble talking with each other, gives everyone what he or she needs.

We are hoping for this one day. Jesus promised that he would come again, and that we will then be completely free, completely happy.

That is something amazing, unimaginable.

Our wonder at his promise to come again gives us an occasion today to be amazed that Jesus Christ, God, was born as a child.

We get used very quickly to the various things we say and believe. We say, scarcely thinking about it: “I believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God… born of the Virgin Mary.” Yet that is a startling, almost unbelievable statement.

Do we believe that?

Are we filled with amazement at this unheard-of event?

In these weeks before Christmas we enter in our thoughts into the time before Christ, the time of longing for someone who has an answer to our questions, a solution for our troubles.

We take extra time for silence, for reflection, for prayer. We want to experience this longing. We want to experience the greatness of the gift, that Jesus is born as a child for us, and in this joy to celebrate Christmas.