instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, May 31, 2002

Into the hill country with haste

Today is a day for rising in haste to visit your kin; for celebrating new life; for wondering at the kenosis of the Incarnation; for wondering why we don't wonder more at God's willingness to come to us (us!); for leaping for joy; for blessing the Mother of God; for believing that what has been spoken by the Lord will be fulfilled; for proclaiming the greatness of the Lord with our souls and not just our lips; for rejoicing in our salvation; for praising God's eternal mercy; for rebuking our pride; for praying for a spirit of lowliness; for joining hearts with the hungry; for meditating on the promises of Christ; for thinking back to that very first Christian community, where the greater served the lesser with zeal, where the joy and hope of the salvation made possible through perfect surrender to God's will was so real and present that they could literally feel it within themselves, growing with their help they knew not how, with a destiny greater than they could imagine.

It is also a Friday, when those children among us who cannot pray a full rosary every day traditionally pray the five sorrowful mysteries. Thus the joy of the Visitation mingles with the sorrow of the crowning with thorns, a giddy communion of mothers-to-be somehow leads to a solitary man in vigil prayer as his closest friends doze in a garden. The meaning of the Visitation -- which, for me, is roughly that the Spirit prompts Christians to form a fruitful community -- must somehow be preserved through, even found in, the dreadful events of Good Friday. "Blessed is the fruit of thy womb." "Woman, behold thy son." Both must be said for God's will to be done; neither can be said without it first being said, "Let it be done according to Thy will."


Thursday, May 30, 2002

And people wonder why...

...there are so few married women saints. Is it any wonder most of them decided they were better off taking the veil?


Government by tenderness

It isn't so much that I disagree with almost everything I've ever read by Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, it's that almost everything I've ever read by him has been such foolish twaddle.

Alleviating human misery is, in my opinion, a good thing to do. But it isn't the highest good. Whenever I come across sentimentalism that sees human suffering as the worst of evils, I think of a passage from Flannery O'Connor's introduction to A Memoir of Mary Ann:
One of the tendencies of our age is to use the suffering of children to discredit the goodness of God, and once you have discredited His goodness, you are done with Him.... Ivan Karamazov cannot believe, as long as one child is in torment; Camus' hero cannot accept the divinity of Christ, because of the massacre of the innocents. In this popular piety, we mark our gain in sensibility and our loss in vision. If other ages felt less, they saw more, even though they saw with the blind, prophetical, unsentimental eye of acceptance, which is to say, of faith. In the absence of this faith now, we govern by tenderness. It is a tenderness which, long since cut off from the person of Christ, is wrapped in theory. When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced labor camps and in the fumes of the gas chamber.


The Z is silent; the j is invisible

Today in the Czech Republic, they honor one of their own, St. Zdislava of Lemberk, matron and lay Dominican.

St. Zdislava (the name is pronounced just like it's spelled) was a Thirteenth Century noblewoman who married Duke Havel of Lemberk, in Bohemia. To a saint living the spirit of humility and poverty, Havel was not an easy man to get along with, but they reached an agreement about how duchesses are supposed to dress and had four children together during a relatively successful if relatively short marriage. (She presumably was not dressed much like a duchess when she snuck out of their castle at night to work on the church she was building for the Dominican friars.)

St. Zdislava earned a reputation among the common folk for charity and healing (some miraculous) that endured the centuries between her death at age 32 in 1252 and her canonization in 1995. She is, for me, a model of domestic life and an effective intercessor in matters of health.

For a fuller biography, see her entry in For All the Saints. (In the Roman Calendar, her feast is on January 1. The Dominicans have moved it to January 4, since January 1 is otherwise engaged. In the U.S., January 4 is the feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, so U.S. Dominicans don't observe St. Zdislava's feast day liturgically, which is why I'm mentioning her on May 30. Ain't Catholicism grand?)
O uxor splendida, mater nobilis, sancta domina Zdislava,
Ora pro nobis, ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi.


Wednesday, May 29, 2002

My co-workers read the news today, oh boy

At Gregorian Rant, Chris relates the story of an anti-Catholic joke he had to swallow unseasoned at work:
And don't ask me why I didn't intervene and say something to the person who said that... in my opinion, there is no way of rationally defending the cover-ups that have caused the current scandal. They're inexcusable. Period.

I agree. I think that, generally speaking, now is not the time for vigorous apologetics in response to conversational darts about molestation and coverups tossed at the Church. Mostly as a matter of prudence: people aren't really in a teachable mood these days, are they, and a defense of the Church as the Bride of Christ is likely to be heard as a defense of molestation and coverups.

But maybe for another reason, too. There's a lot of chatter about this being a time of purification for the Church, which means a time of purification for each member of the Church. Part of that purification may well take the form of accepting the mockery of co-workers, even friends and family, in silence and humility. The circumstances may not be as unjust as those of the Suffering Servant who did not shield his face from buffets and spitting, but that may serve as a good model for conducting ourselves among others.

(This isn't to say that we shouldn't be prepared to give an account of the hope that is in us, or to refute error as the opportunity arises; but our neighbors may find humility and sorrow more eloquent than counterargument and statistics.)


What's a motto with you?

Something else that was remarked upon during last night's discussion on Fides et Ratio is how rich the final chapter is in pithy statements suitable for use as mottoes.

This, for example, might be carved above the doorway of many a church: "Indeed it may be said that it is we who belong to the tradition and that it is not ours to dispose of at will." [85]

Certain theologians might profit by reciting the following at the beginning and end of every working day: "The chief purpose of theology is to provide an understanding of Revelation and the content of faith." [93]

Other theologians could substitute this: "Theological work in the Church is first of all at the service of the proclamation of the faith and of catechesis." [99]

And for the letterheads of all elected officials and those who would shape public policy: "Truth and freedom either go together hand in hand or together they perish in misery." [90]


The shun of justice

Dappled Things joins the inner ring of Catholic blogs that have received emails warning of dogmatic impurities in permalinks to doubtful sites.

I am pleased to report that, since Disputations first went live, neither of the emails I have received expressed such hypercalvinistic scruples, despite all that tempting bait dangling under the "Disputed sites" sign on your left. This is scientific proof that Disputations readers are the wisest, humblest, and -- let's face it -- holiest bloggees on the Internet.


Time for a complete metaphysical

In the seventh and final chapter of Fides et Ratio, Pope John Paul II returns again and again to "the need for a philosophy of genuine metaphysical range, capable, that is, of transcending empirical data in order to attain something absolute, ultimate and foundational in its search for truth. [83]"

Not being a philosopher or theologian, my first reaction to this was, "Um, okay, if you say so." It makes sense, certainly, that Christian philosophy seek something absolute and foundational in its search for truth, but concern for the existence of a genuine metaphysical range struck me as something best left to the professionals. I was welcome to listen to the pope's repeated calls for a philosophy of being, but they were really directed at the men and women whose job description is to turn coffee into speculative argument.

But following a discussion of this chapter last night with some other non-philosphers and non-theologians, I think I now have a much clearer understanding of what it means, practically speaking, when the Pope writes, "If the intellectus fidei wishes to integrate all the wealth of the theological tradition, it must turn to the philosophy of being" [97].

Among the tensions Catholics must negotiate is the tension between faith as dogma and faith as experience. (These tensions will resolve themselves later, but for now they're what makes being Catholic so much fun.) Broadly speaking, this tension has been wildly unbalanced toward the faith as experience side in the U.S. in recent decades. Diocesan RCIA programs often stress the experiences and emotions of the catechumens and teachers, downplaying if not ignoring (or possibly rejecting) dogmatic theology.

All true, and all well known, but what does this have to do with metaphysics?

Well, if I have no philosophy of being -- if I have no thought-tools, so to speak, "to move from phenomenon to foundation"[83] -- then I have no way of moving from my own experience to the dogmatic truths proclaimed by the Church. I can't even move from my own experience to your experience. We are all marooned on our separate phenomenal islands. And although in day-to-day living I act as though our islands are connected by something under the water (as, indeed, they are), I have no rational basis for this (beyond frail common sense) and no framework for thinking rigorously about it. In short, even if I say that I believe what the Church proposes, without a philosophy of being, what the Church proposes just becomes so many words, unsupported by anything.

The best such an intellectual position can produce is pronounced shyness when questions of dogma arise.


Tuesday, May 28, 2002


Mike Hardy took a little offense to my infelicitously expressed reaction to something he wrote.

My words were these: "I think there are two very bad ideas in what Mike writes (which are not necessarily what Mike thinks)." By which I meant, "Implicit in what Mike wrote are a couple of bad ideas, which he doesn't necessarily endorse."

However, Mike read it -- not unreasonably -- as meaning, "What Mike writes is not necessarily what Mike thinks."

I apologize for my verbal clumsiness and any offense it has given.


Don't just do something, sit there

Steve Mattson writes some wise words about the suffering endured by the Pope in his travels.

An attitude I've noticed in recent articles and commentaries about Pope John Paul II is that he should resign because he no longer has the strength to deal with the problems facing the Church. (Well, most of the writers referred only to the problems in the U.S., but that's just standard American parochialism.)

This strikes me as the sort of functionalism the Pope warned against in Fides et Ratio:
The dogmatic pragmatism of the early years of this century, which viewed the truths of faith as nothing more than rules of conduct, has already been refuted and rejected; but the temptation always remains of understanding these truths in purely functional terms. This leads only to an approach which is inadequate, reductive and superficial at the level of speculation... an ecclesiology developed solely on the model of civil society would be hard pressed to avoid the danger of such reductionism. [97]

In this case, it is the papacy that is understood "in purely functional terms," and a pope who can do nothing but suffer for his Church can do nothing for his Church.

Of course, the Pope is doing more than suffering. What he isn't doing -- what he couldn't do, even if it were his job to do it -- is rushing here and there to fix all the problems of the Church. I have been a bit surprised at some of the people who have criticized Pope John Paul for not yanking his fellow successors of the Apostles around like lapdogs on leashes, since some of these critics don't seem to have agreed with anything any pope has done or said since Bl. John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council.

This pope has been very difficult for a lot of people to figure out without reducing him to a one-dimensional caricature. But as far as I can tell, pretty much everything he's done during his papacy is intelligible, and all but inevitable, when interpreted according to one simple key: the Creed of the Church.


In extremis
Kairos asks whether ther might "come a moment before death and after animal life, when Christ might stand before those who implicitly acknowledged Him in their hearts while denying Him with their minds?"

My answer to that question is, Sure.

There's a hint of this in St. Catherine's Dialogue, when she records the Father saying (of sinful priests, as it happens), "For if they do not accept the breadth of My mercy, I, the Supreme Judge, shall terribly condemn them at their last extremity, and they will be sent to the eternal fire."

This is Algar Thorold's translation; Sr. Suzanne Noffke's more modern translation makes it clearer that, at the moment of death, Jesus will offer the sinner a final opportunity to accept His mercy.

St. Augustine has an interesting take on the Final Judgment, in De Trinitate. He imagines that Christ the Judge will stand before the whole of mankind, and those who are damned will look upon Him and not recognize Him. This makes me think, when I hear people say things like, "Heaven doesn't have an entrance exam in theology," that maybe it does, and maybe it has one question: "Do you know Who I Am?"

Oh, and I must object to this, from Kairos:
Is it not possible for death to occur outside of time, for the transition from bastard half-spirit and half-animal to wholly spirit in a moment that has no “after”?

First, we are not bastards, we are bodies informed by immortal souls, as God intended. Second, the transition to wholly spirit is an evil, that will be corrected "after."


Monday, May 27, 2002

You call that charity?

Here's Fr. Jim Tucker, a priest of the Roman Catholic Church, who by his calling is supposed to communicate the love of God to the world, and then he goes and blogs on Fr. Andrew Greeley's two-year-old essay, "The Apologetics of Beauty," on the very weekend that I was working up some comments offline! What a dirty trick.

O well, I forgive him.

Anyway, although my experience of the Catholic Church in the United States seems to differ from Fr. Greeley's experience (for example, I've never noticed a particular insistence on doctrinal instruction), I agree with what he says positively about beauty, including
...the beauty of the Catholic heritage, flawed as it often is in practice especially in this country, is what attracts, what enchants, and what will not let people go no matter how hard they try to escape.

Beauty is the strongest asset of Catholicism.

and, maybe my favorite statement from the essay,
Catholic stories are simply more beautiful....

Fr. Greeley writes here and elsewhere about the importance of story, as distinct from (but not opposed to) doctrinal exposition, in Catholicism. I agree with him, and propose further that when we are united with God the doctrinal exposition will become the story, just as the truth of Catholicism -- which, if stopped on the street and asked, I would say is the strongest asset of Catholicism -- is identical to the beauty of Catholicism. Truth is the strongest asset of Catholicism regarded as something known, and beauty is the strongest asset of Catholicism regarded as something rested in and enjoyed, and the name we give this asset is Jesus Christ.

Knowing this to be true, but not entirely living that way, is one of the reasons I chose Fra Angelico as my patron in the Dominican Laity. The other reason is this.


Post leftovers

The Washington Post served up some leftover ideas about what the Church should do, courtesty of clinical psychologist Patricia Dalton. (And who better than a clinical psychologist to prescribe a fix to the "widespread dysfunction" of the family that is the Church?) My opinion of her opinion is over here.


Sunday, May 26, 2002

A better idea

I have been told via email that Opus Sanctorum Angelorum is better organized than I am.

Opus Sanctorum Angelorum "is a spiritual movement within the Catholic Church which invites all the faithful to a conscious and profound life in union with the Holy Angels." They have a Spiritual Adoption Program, in which participants "dedicate themselves to more intense prayers and sacrifices for the benefit of" an individual bishop, priest, seminarian, or young man discerning his vocation. You can send them an email, telling them which you want to adopt (bishop, priest, seminarian, or discerner), and they'll send you a prayer card and the name of the man you are promising to pray for for a year.

Sounds like a good program to me.


Friday, May 24, 2002

You want something really shocking?

Others have commented on how surprising the results of Fr. Andrew Greeley's survey of non-Catholic opinion are, based on the responses of 550 non-Catholics.

Imagine how depressing the results might be if he asked the same questions of 550 Catholics!

For another take on the article, see here.


Troubling information

Steve Mattson reports on a fellow-seminarian who is going through the wringer. There have been plenty of stories of other priests and seminarians who are also having a tough time, personally, emotionally, with the pains caused by the on-going scandals.

I think someone who is much better organized than I am should create and promote the Confraternity of St. Charles Borromeo, whose members would promise to pray for the seminarians of a different U.S. seminary each day. Local chapters of the fraternity could pray for each seminarian, by name, of their local seminary. And of course, let the seminarians know that they are being prayed for, because they are loved.

This, you probably know, is pretty much a direct rip-off of the Monthly Prayer Request for Priests program, which could stand a PR boost as well.


Which reminds me of a great joke

Two Dominican friars, a novice and an old-timer, are out begging for food. As they walk along, they meet the local miser. The older friar calls out a greeting. "God be with you! In the name of our Master and yours, will you give us a coin or two that we may buy food for our convent?"

"Hmph!" the miser answers. "And supposing I don't?"

"Then we shall all grow another day thinner," replies the friar with a gentle smile.

"Look, if I did give you money," the miser says with a shudder, "how do I know you won't just spend it on more of your fancy books?"

At this, the novice pipes in, "Oh, we've got book money!"


I don't care what that dumb test says...

I am not Fozzie Bear.


If not that, what?

So if St. Catherine says that it is God's will that our reverence for priests should never fail, what are we to do about evil or notorious priests?

You should love them therefore by reason of the virtue and dignity of the Sacrament, and by reason of that very virtue and dignity you should hate the defects of those who live miserably in sin, but not on that account appoint yourselves their judges, which I forbid, because they are My Christs, and you ought to love and reverence the authority which I have given them.

You know well that if a filthy and badly dressed person brought you a great treasure from which you obtained life, you would not hate the bearer, however ragged and filthy he might be, through love of the treasure and of the lord who sent it to you. His state would indeed displease you, and you would be anxious through love of his master that he should be cleansed from his foulness and properly clothed. This, then, is your duty according to the demands of charity, and thus I wish you to act with regard to such badly ordered priests, who themselves filthy and clothed in garments ragged with vice through their separation from My love, bring you great Treasures....

Their sins indeed should displease you, and you should hate them, and strive with love and holy prayer to re-clothe them, washing away their foulness with your tears -- that is to say, that you should offer them before Me with tears and great desire, that I may re-clothe them in My goodness, with the garment of charity.

Know well that I wish to do them grace, if only they will dispose themselves to receive it, and you to pray for it.... It not being My will that they should be in this state, you should pray for them, and not judge them, leaving their judgment to Me.


Thursday, May 23, 2002

Apropos of nothing

From St. Catherine of Siena's Dialogue:

I have told you, dearest daughter, something of the reverence that ought to be given my anointed ones [priests] no matter how sinful they may be. For reverence neither is not should be given them for what they are in themselves, but only for the authority I have entrusted to them. The sacramental mystery cannot be lessened or divided by their sinfulness. Therefore your reverence for them should never fail -- not for their own sake, but because of the treasure of the blood [of Christ].

St. Catherine is not the first person I would write down on a list of people whose reverence for priests never failed, but I may not understand the concept of reverence very well.

For St. Catherine, what the bishops (and everyone else) "are in themselves" is precisely nothing, so it makes sense that we shouldn't revere them for what they are in themselves. But if we believe that a bishop possesses the authority of a bishop, by what authority can we fail to give him reverence?


I am not a reactionary crank

I am not a reactionary crank.

After writing a few words in tribute to the Nashville Dominicans, I see (by way of Holy Weblog!) that the Adrian Dominican Sisters are advertising on TV to attract postulants.

When I check the Adrian Dominican website, I find that their visions include a lot of words about "racist practices in all societal structures," "oppressive systems," and "the healing of our planet by fostering right relationships and by confronting the destruction of life systems."

The Weber Retreat Center the Adrian Dominicans sponsor offers programs on "the symbolic realm of the psyche," t'ai chi, "Nature's Healing Connections," labyrinth facilitator training, and what it means for a man "to be not only courageous but also vulnerable."

From the ABC News story:
"Even the biggest orders feel they are lucky if they can recruit three a year," says Laura Nash, an expert on religious orders at the Harvard University Business School. "Many orders are not recruiting any people a year."

The Nashville Dominicans received 17 new postulants last August, bringing the total number of sisters in the novitiate to 53. Their retreat schedule is somewhat different from the Adrian Dominicans.

I am not a reactionary crank.


Where the elite meet to repeat

A reader of Annunciations assures Michael Dubruiel that he is right to repeat rumors about a gay cardinal. It is, after all, "being talked about in elite journalistic and Catholic circles."

Now there's a phrase to reassure the doubtful.

There's more to be said, but it can wait. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.


2 Corinthians 7:13

Fr. Jim Tucker mentions the Sisters of Mercy of Alma, "an excellent and vibrant religious community." Christina Hammond mentions the Sisters of Life.

Always one to hop on a bandwagon, I will mention the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecelia, commonly called the Nashville Dominicans.

The Nashville Dominicans are somewhat unusual in being an older congregation that is undergoing remarkable growth. Founded about 140 years ago, the congregation's apostolate is Catholic education, from pre-school through college level. I understand they are in some financial difficulty, having to expand their mother community to accomodate all the new vocations.

Those are the kinds of problems you like to have if you're a religious congregation.

The charism of the Nashville Dominicans is a bit unusual, starting as it does with a "contemplative focus." Well, it's not at all unusual in the authentic Dominican tradition, captured by St. Thomas's phrase "to contemplate and to give to others the fruits of contemplation." But many of the "who we are" statements I've seen on various women's religious congregations' websites begin and end with social justice, and some make more mention of protecting the environment than of serving Christ.

The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecelia have a firm grasp on what it means to be something as old-fashioned as a Dominican, and their success is, to me, proof that there really is something to a tradition of contemplative apostolic living.


Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Too young to be middle aged

Anne Wilson argues, "Dar-al-Islam is in its medieval period right now." And given her definition of "medieval," it looks to me like a pretty good argument.

My objection, though, isn't to her definition of medieval, but to [what I take to be] everyone else's. Specifically, my concern is that people have transferred the word from a meaning something like "of or relating to Christian Europe from AD 500 through AD 1500" to "thoroughly awful and cruel and backward and un-Enlightened and unjust" -- only to go back and apply the "thoroughly awful &c." definition to Christian Europe, which is to say Catholic Europe, from AD 500 through AD 1500.

I get the impression that this identification of pre-Reformation Catholic Europe and thorough awfulness dates back to the early years of post-Reformation Protestant Europe, and I don't like seeing these old-fashioned prejudices thoughtlessly repeated in the context of Muslim militancy.

It's not the vices of the Middle Ages I want concealed so much as its virtues I want uncovered.


Reason has reasons that the heart knows not of

Summa Contra Mundum wisely reminds us that we decide what is true with our head and what is valuable with our heart.

Fr. Walter Farrell, OP, once made a similar point:
...when we start thinking with our hearts we can call the product thinking only smilingly. Only a poet can talk this way without embarrassment.

Somehow, I don't think what can only smilingly be called the thinking of a lot of people (probably almost everyone, at least some of the time) is due to an excess of poetic imagination.


Not that you asked me

Many different people have many different opinions about whether Ordinatio Sacerdotalis's teaching is infallible. Even the Pope has an opinion:
Therefore, the doctrine that the priesthood is reserved to men possesses, by virtue of the Church's ordinary and universal Magisterium, that character of infallibility which Lumen gentium speaks of and to which I gave juridical form in the Motu Proprio Ad tuendam fidem: When the individual Bishops, "even though dispersed throughout the world but preserving among themselves and with Peter's Successor the bond of communion, agree in their authoritative teaching on matters of faith and morals that a particular teaching is to be held definitively and absolutely, they infallibly proclaim the doctrine of Christ" (Lumen gentium, n. 25; cf. Ad tuendam fidem, n. 3).

It's interesting, maybe, that the Pope quotes the part of Lumen gentium 25 about the bishops teaching something definitively and absolutely, rather than the part in the next paragraph, about "the infallibility which the Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith, by a definitive act he proclaims a doctrine of faith or morals." It seems that the Pope's opinion is that the doctrine that the priesthood is reserved to men is infallible, not so much because of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis's definitive act (although OS is evidence), but because all the bishops agree that it is to be held definitively and absolutely.



In an interview with USA Today, Cardinal McCarrick gave this answer to the question, "Has the way you prepare yourself spiritually to do your job changed?":

"I'm praying more. We haven't been focused on the Lord; I'm trying to do that. As I see the bishops losing credibility in many areas, I want to try to be as good a bishop as I can be. I've got a long way to go."

This prompted Michael Dubruiel to comment, "First it is good to hear that the Cardinal is praying more, but I find the second answer incredible. If he hasn't been focused on the Lord, what has he been focused on?"

Based on his biography, I'd say the cardinal has been focused on doing good works, in the areas of migration and religious freedom and in running his archdioceses. I don't find this incredible so much as unfortunate, an occupational hazard of bishops in non-persecuting societies.

On the other hand, I've read a lot of criticism that American bishops think they're above criticism. Cardinal McCarrick evidently doesn't share this opinion of himself; as he said in his statement upon being appointed Archbishop of Washington, "I wish I were a holier man, more prayerful, more trusting in God, wiser and courageous."

I wish he were all those things as well, mostly for the selfish reason that having a holy, prayerful, trusting, wise, and courageous bishop makes it easier for me to be all those things without having to work at it so hard myself. A bishop is to be focused on the Lord, certainly, but so is a layman. Cardinal McCarrick, at least, has his good works. What's my excuse?


Easy for you to shay

Some people are pleased by a report that drinking white wine in moderation is good for the lungs.

Such people evidently don't realize that others are already drinking moderate quantities of whisky and red wine for our hearts and moderate quantities of dark beer for some reason of health we can't quite recall but that has something to do with gaining a statistical edge over the teetotallers. (Speaking of which, tea too is to be moderately consumed.) Not being as young as we once were, this business of drinking for health is starting to take its toll.

Add to that the eight glasses of water a day for proper hydration, and staying healthy becomes a time consuming habit, time being the one thing not consumed in moderation.

Feast on wine or fast on water
And your honour shall stand sure,
God Almighty's son and daughter
He the valiant, she the pure;
If an angel out of heaven
Brings you other things to drink,
Thank him for his kind attentions,
Go and pour them down the sink.
from "The Song of Right and Wrong," by G. K. Chesterton


Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Catch It!

Pete Vere has clerihew fever (though it was E. C. Bentley who made them famous, Chesterton was the illustrator).

I used to have it, too. Somewhere I've got a collection of 365 of the little buggers, one for each day of the year. (I never did find out whether there's a saint whose feast day is February 29.)

Let's see if I've still got it. Extemporizing off my favorite collection of saints lives, for May 21:
St. Serapion the Sindonite
Scandalized the upright,
Who'd scold, "Is selling yourself as a slave
Any way to behave?"

Yup, whatever I had I haven't shaken off yet.

I'll bet if Our Sunday Visitor received thousands of emails asking when they're going to do a book of Catholic clerihews, they'd reconsider my collection....


Sense and nonsense

Mike Hardy writes, regarding the seal of the confessional coming under legal attack, "if priests can't keep the seal of the confessional then nobody with any sense will confess anything that can be used against them... Forcing priests to break the seal might--might provide evidence for a finite number of cases before folks wise up and stop confessing."

Based solely on anecdotal evidence, I'd say folks have by and large already stopped confessing.

More to my point, though, I think there are two very bad ideas in what Mike writes (which are not necessarily what Mike thinks). One is that, if the seal of the confessional is no longer honored by law, then priests will break the seal rather than the law. The other is that it makes sense for people to stop confessing their sins if their confessions may be used against them.

Obviously, I don't know what would happen if the law stopped recognizing the seal. However, I have never met a priest whom I have any reason to doubt would go to jail rather than break the seal.

And, while giving cheap acknowledgment of the difficulties of living with a fallen human will, I think that anyone who is more concerned over what the state will do to them for confessing their sins than what God will do to them for not confessing them is in desperate need of immediate and profound catechesis.


Indulge yourself

Emily Stimpson passes on Steve Mattson's suggestion to spend some time in Eucharistic adoration.

Those who can't make it to a site where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved -- which, presumably, is everyone, at some time or another -- might take a moment, any moment, to perform an act of spiritual communion according to a formula like this one:
My Jesus, I believe that you are in the Blessed Sacrament. I love you above all things, and I long for you in my soul. Since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. As though you have already come, I embrace you and unite myself entirely to you; never permit me to be separated from you.

Spiritual communion is enriched, as they used to say, with a partial indulgence, which may be applied to the remission of your own temporal punishment due to sin, or as suffrage for the souls in purgatory.


Sirach 5:14-16

Gerard Serafin has anticipated everything I might have written about detraction and rumor-mongering.

Trying not to judge others, I will only say that I have read things on others' blogs that I could not, in good conscience, put on my own. And, filled as I am with the vice of curiosity, I should keep in mind St. Bernard's words, "It is difficult to say which is the more to be condemned, the backbiter or he that listens to backbiting" (quoted by St. Thomas in S.T. II-II, 73, 4).


Monday, May 20, 2002

Steve Mattson reports on the Diocese of Ecumenical, Old Catholic Faith Communities' first female priest in Orange County. Included in the L.A. Times article is this quotation by Marvin Meyer, chairman of the religion department at Chapman University: "For us to expect that this would have a great impact on the church would be unrealistic. But if the Roman Catholic Church is going to survive, this [ordaining women] has to be the wave of the future."

I will admit to knowing little about Chapman University, or what makes the chairman of its religious department an authority for the Times on what the wave of the future has to be if the Roman Catholic Church is going to survive.

But the very phrasing of his comment -- "if the Roman Catholic Church is going to survive" -- implies he does not believe that the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ subsists in the Catholic Church. And, if he doesn't believe that, why should anyone care what he thinks about the future of the Church?

If there is one lessons American Catholics should agree has been driven home by the ongoing crisis, it's that setting aside her unique nature as the Bride of Christ and adopting secular models and standards is a disastrous approach for the Church. The L.A. Times can't be expected to point this out whenever it quotes someone recommending secular models and standards to the Church, so we Catholics must be prepared to do it -- perhaps especially to fellow Catholics who get most of their on-going religious formation via the secular media.


"If you choose to lump all flowers together...

"...lilies and dahlias and tulips and chrysanthemums and call them all daisies, you will find that you have spoiled the very fine word daisy." -- G. K. Chesterton, What's Wrong With the World?

Ever since last September, I've seen a steady stream of references to the "medieval" attitudes of various Islamic fringe groups, not-so-fringe groups, and even governments. I didn't like it the first time I saw it, and I didn't like it when I saw it yesterday.

My first objection is that using "medieval" this way makes it equivalent to "bad." Children of the Enlightenment that we are, we are to believe that everything that happened before 1500 was backward and repressive and just plain wrong. But some of my favorite people were medievals, and I think the world would be a lot better off today if more people thought about things the way they did.

But there is this, too: The word "medieval" (which only dates to the early 19th Century) comes from the Latin for "Middle Ages," and the Middle Ages in question are the Middle Ages of Europe. There's no such thing as "medieval Islam" because there was no such thing as the Middle Ages in the dar al-Islam. It's like saying that The Tale of Genji is a medieval Japanese novel, or that St. Anselm was a theologian of the Song Dynasty. These may be true as chronological coincidences, but in what they seem to imply they are absurdities.

I understand that human brains crave simplicity, and that life is easier to live if we think that there is nothing to be learned from studying medieval history but what not to do. But to lose a word like "medieval" to a meaning like "violently cruel and mindlessly repressive" is a genuine shame. More than a shame, perhaps, if there is knowledge the medievals had that would help us address the problems we have today.


More on forgiveness

A correspondent tells me that Sr. Joan Mueller, OSF, has written a book, Why Can't I Forgive You?, in which she makes the point "via the Gospel of Luke, that it is not ultimately we who forgive, but God."

Google tells me that Sr. Joan has written another book on the same theme, Is Forgiveness Possible?, "a pastoral and theological introduction to forgiveness based on Luke 23 [Jesus' crucifixion] and Acts 7 [St. Stephen's martyrdom]."

I find the idea of an associate professor of theology founding a religious community and donating her honoraria to a Catholic Worker women's shelter ... well, refreshing.


Happy Birthday, East Timor!

A brief thought on what happens when Catholics act like Catholics.


Saturday, May 18, 2002

No, it really is divine

Louder Fenn has some good thoughts on whether to forgive those who don't seek forgiveness.

As Jesus was being crucified, He prayed, "Forgive them, Father! They don't know what they are doing."

Which is sort of interesting, because He didn't pray, "Father, I forgive them." The forgiveness Jesus wanted for the soldiers was not His own, but the Father's.

This, I think, may be a key to the question, along with the verse from the Miserere: "Against You, You alone have I sinned; what is evil in Your sight I have done."

When I offend someone else, it is actually God against whom I sin. Therefore it is God who must forgive me. St. Catherine's Dialogue has some good stuff about how "every sin done against [God] is done through the medium of the neighbor."

What does this have to do with forgiving someone who doesn't seek forgiveness? It seems to me that what we are to do is to allow God to forgive them. This, I think, is the only healthy choice, because the injury that I insist on bearing within me is likely to become infected and start spreading poison. It is also a sign of love for the one who injures me, since if God never forgives someone a sin, that person will never enter into God's presence.

How does this relatively passive and ready (but not easy!) notion of forgiveness work with Matthew 18:15-17, in which you wind up treating an unrepentant brother as a pagan? Reading this with the law of love in mind, I think Jesus is instructing us on how to correct our fellow Christians. We cannot, in charity, leave someone we love in their sins to be lost to God. (As the verse immediately before this passage says, "your Father in heaven does not want any of these little ones to be lost.") The sequence of reproofs is intended to teach the offender the true nature of his offense, and even excommunication is best thought of as medicinal rather than punitive. Since, again, the offender is really sinning against God, it is our duty in love to do what we can to help him ask forgiveness of God.


Friday, May 17, 2002

Step 2: Repeat Step 1

Fr. Bob Carr mentions Fr. Dave Denny, OCD, and his comments about mysticism.

I once attended a talk Fr. Denny gave called something like, "How to Become a Saint in Ten Easy Steps." Unfortunately, I only remember one step, and while I acknowledge the importance of it in becoming holy, it's not a step I always find easy to take.

It's simply this: Seize the day. Or you might say, baptize the day. Rise early, put a Christian stamp on your first waking hour through prayer and a conscious rededication of your time to God's service.

Some days, I'd rather just stay in bed.

The Spiritual Life Institute that Fr. Denny belongs to has a recommended reading list, following the principle of its founder, Fr. William McNamara, OCD: "There is not ever enough time and energy to read what is good. We can only afford to read what is best." His own top-60 books (as of several years back) can be found here.


No pinhead jokes, please

Mark Butterworth hates the subject of predestination. "It's one of those that makes Christians look like they debate angels on the heads of pins," he writes.

For my part, I am leery of Christians who hate to debate angels on the heads of pins. For there to be angels dancing on pinheads, there must be angels, and there must be dancing, and I find both angels and dancing to be very good things to talk about. I even suspect that the reason this image endures as the proverbial knock at empty scholasticism is, not that people are so appalled by the thought of empty scholasticism, but that they are so attracted by the thought of dancing angels.


A note for kalophiles

Gerard Serafin is bringing his wonderfully incarnate vision to the world of blogs.


Thursday, May 16, 2002

First bill all the lawyers

Some people are unhappy with a deposition given by Bishop Joseph Imesch of Joliet, which allegedly reads in part:
Q. If you had a child, wouldn't you be concerned that the priest they were saying mass with had been convicted of sexually molesting children?

A. I don't have any children.

As a precis of the Gospel message, this is not very good.

I would point out, though, that this isn't intended as a precis of the Gospel message. It is an answer given during a deposition for a civil lawsuit, and if there is room in the pantheon of great oxymorons between "military intelligence" and "jumbo shrimp," then "civil lawsuit" belongs there.

The question was not asked by a scribe testing Imesch's holiness or a young man who came to him to find out how to gain eternal life. It was asked by a lawyer whose purpose in asking was to make more money for his client and for himself.

Frankly, if I were being sued, I would be inclined to refuse to answer hypothetical questions myself.

Now, I don't know from Bishop Imesch or the Diocese of Joliet. He may be a bum and it may be in terrible shape. But it seems to me that to draw any conclusion about the bishop based on hearsay helpfully supplied by an antagonistic lawyer is to overlook the context in which the statement was made.


I hope I don't jinx it

Amy Welborn wonders if there is any diocese or bishop "that hasn't protected clerical child predators."

From everything I haven't heard, the Archdiocese of Washington under Cardinal Hickey was pretty good, and its current bishop, Cardinal McCarrick, is relatively untainted. (As bishop of Metuchen in the early 1980s, Cardinal McCarrick did allow a confessed child rapist from Boston to do parish work, because "he had been assured by the Boston archdiocese and by medical personnel that the priest was rehabilitated.")

Cardinal Hickey wrote Mary at the Foot of the Cross, based on the Lenten retreat he preached for the Holy Father in 1988, in which he discusses the role of the priest and the bishop in the Church, specifically as a son given to Mary by Jesus on the Cross. Anyone who believes what Cardinal Hickey wrote in this wonderful book is, I think, likely to make a good bishop.

One of Cardinal McCarrick's notable traits is his humility -- or at least his self-deprecation. He says he tries to make up in energy what he lacks in ability, and he trusts in God to make do with what He has to work with. Also, and I think importantly, one of his favorite saints is St. Catherine of Siena. Considering the events of her lifetime, and her particular "charism of exhortation," I think this is a very good sign.

An article in the archdiocesan newspaper Catholic Standard reported on a May 8 meeting between Cardinal McCarrick and 250 archdiocesan priests. In the meeting, the cardinal said, "There is a policy of zero tolerance" for molesting minors in the Archdiocese, and, following the meeting of U.S. bishops this June, "the policy we have, I believe, will be the policy we will have throughout the country."

The article concluded with mention of
...five members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) [who] gathered at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center in Hyattsville... with a one-page statement calling for no statute of limitations in prosecuting suspected cases of clergy abuse, requiring notification of civil authorities once an allegation is made, and developing a national policy concerning allegations of sexual abuse by members of the clergy.

"Essentially most of what they are asking is already in place here in Washington," said Susan Gibbs, a spokesperson for the archdiocese. "We have civil reporting requirements, there are no statute of limitations in Maryland, and the cardinal has gone on record saying he supports national standards" regarding allegations of clergy sexual abuse.

...Of the five SNAP members who went to the Pastoral Center, none had experienced abuse in the Archdiocese of Washington.


Don't ask me

One of the best ways I know to get an idea of what St. Thomas's thoughts mean to us today is to browse A Companion to the Summa, by Fr. Walter Farrell, O.P. This four-volume work is "the Summa reduced to popular language," or at least the popular language of 1940 America. It doesn't go argument by argument, and it's not a Q&A catechism, more of an extended talk by a very wise man about what is.

"The Father of All" is the chapter that covers ST I, 22-26, which includes St. Thomas's treatment of predestination.

Fr. Farrell, too, writes of the problem of human freedom:

That brings us sharply against the problem of freedom. Why does God permit this defect? Why does He not make it impossible to sin? The answer to those questions is very, very simple: because this permission is demanded by the nobility of man.

God could have made us physically incapable of violating the laws by which we are led to our goal; in such a case we might be beasts, or vegetables, or minerals. We would certainly not be men and women. He could have created us in possession of eternal happiness, but it would not have been so divinely generous of Him. For He would thus have robbed our lives of loyalty and victory, of the stubborn courage that drags us to our feet after a severe beating; of merit, responsibility, personal accomplishment, of faith and hope and the whole life of virtue; of the light of the life of Christ and the exquisite joy of fellowship in His sufferings. It has been well said that it is the possibility of sin that made possible the lives of the saints. Because men can lie, cheat, steal, kill, make beasts of themselves there is great merit in truth, honesty, justice, and chastity. Because we can hate so bitterly and live so selfishly, human love is the precious thing it is. It is only because the gates of hell are wide open for us that we can batter down the walls of heaven with our own fists.


No problem!

Minute Particulars has a riff on reprobation that brings up the theme of human freedom, featuring an explanation by C. S. Lewis.

Actually, Veritas was the source of the idea that the timelessness of God contributes to errors about predestination, at least among laymen.

And I think you need to be careful in saying that reprobation is "the state of being predestined to damnation." Strictly speaking, the concept of predestination as given to the Church by St. Paul implies salvation. Predestination and reprobation are not simply inverses of each other; they are different kinds of acts with different kinds of causalities (see ST I, 23, 3, ad 2).

I agree with the conclusion More Minute Particulars adds at the end of the Lewis excerpts:
This doesn’t make evil any less of a mystery, but I think the notion of the “inexorable ‘laws of Nature’” Lewis offers sheds some light on how evil can occur in a Creation that is Good and how “a society of free souls” can exist in that Creation.

A book I've read that helped me understand the problem of pain is God Matters, by the late Fr. Herbert McCabe, O.P. He points out that a world in which lions don't eat lambs is impossible, because lions by their nature eat lambs. If in your tenderness toward lambs you wish them the good of not being eaten, you are wishing upon lions the evil of not eating -- or, possibly, the evil of never existing. (This is related, I think, to St. Thomas's idea that the perfection of the universe requires some things to be corruptible (ST I, 48, 2).)

My attitude on this is probably a little extreme, because I don't find pain to be much of a problem. Maybe it's my education: in mathematics, a lot of effort is spent proving that a solution to a problem exists without going to the trouble of actually finding the solution. Similarly, I know that a solution to the problems of theodicy exist -- in the mercy and justice of God -- so I don't get too worked up over what the actual solution is.


Wednesday, May 15, 2002

"Only the great saints...

...can speak of these matters without distorting them." -- Charles Cardinal Journet, The Meaning of Grace

Thanks to Chris Burgwald for quoting this; it's a fact that I need to remind myself of often, and not just when trying to discuss predestination.

I like this statement by the cardinal: "From eternity, he takes account of their free refusal in the establishment of his immutable and eternal plan." It might be said that St. Thomas taught that God counted on their free refusal:

God wills to manifest His goodness in men; in respect to those whom He predestines, by means of His mercy, as sparing them; and in respect of others, whom he reprobates, by means of His justice, in punishing them. This is the reason why God elects some and rejects others.[ST I, 23, 5, ad 3]

The fact of free refusal, then, which God forsees, appears in His plan for creation as reprobation, and incorporated in such a way that it is not (as, I think, some dubious contemporary theologies would hold) some sort of failure for God but actually a positive manifestation of Himself.

I keep trying to avoid drawing any hard conclusions, while hoping that nobody notices.


He knew I was going to write this

Chris Burgwald presents his understanding of Calvinistic and Thomistic reprobation, and comes out in favor of something more like Molinism:
the elect are chosen and the damned are reprobated not "before" their response to God's grace, but in view of them.

St. Thomas did teach that "God does reprobate predestination includes the will to confer grace and glory; so also reprobation includes the will to permit a person to fall into sin, and to impose the punishment of damnation on account of that sin." (ST I, 23, 3). I don't know what you want to call it, but that God permits people to fall into sin and imposes damnation on that account seems clearly to be Catholic doctrine.

What remains debatable is the basis according to which that permission and imposition are granted. St. Thomas was firmly against the idea that God predestines some to salvation based on their merits:
The Apostle says (Titus 3:5): "Not by works of justice which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us." But as He saved us, so He predestined that we should be saved. Therefore, foreknowledge of merits is not the cause or reason of predestination. [ST I, 23, 5]

The Molinists claim that predestination and reprobation are based on God's having (logically, not temporally) forseen our merits or lack of same.

These matters are, frankly, too subtle for my mind (I don't spend nearly enough time kneeling before a crucifix). But I don't think the difficulties of the "Thomistic" position (which is not necessarily St. Thomas's position) are caused by a failure to understand the timelessness of God, which is proven in Question 10 of the Summa Theologica. Fr. William Most wrote a lot about predestination, coming up with a third alternative he preferred to the old standards; an essay he wrote can be found here.


It's all geek to me

Another web-based medium I haven't quite got the hang of is the wiki. A wiki is a website that, broadly speaking, is editable by anyone who wanders by. Users can create, modify, and delete words on any existing page, and even add new pages to the site. The result is something of a corporate document, with the concept of text "ownership" taking a back seat to clarity of expression.

The one wiki I've been active on recently is Why Clublet, which bills itself as "a pluralism workshop all about worldview risk management." It's hosted by Richard Drake, an English Evangelical who's a decent enough fellow despite having a thing against St. Augustine.

You can browse Why starting anywhere, including a page of starting points and a page of the most recent changes. There's also a quick introduction to editing, if you want to add your tuppence.


What is this thing called, love?

Although Amy Welborn has an interesting insight about Catholic bloggers forming a parish, there is no St. Blog in the Roman Martyrology. I checked. There is, however, St. Zama, the first bishop of Bologna, whose name could have been corrupted to “St. Zama of Blognia” if anyone had had the foresight to do it.

But this does raise for me the question of how best to think about Catholic blogs and their role in proclaiming the Gospel on the Internet. Sean Gallagher suggests by email the model of “the constellation of Catholic blogs” as jewelers, each observing and commenting on different facets of the same Christian doctrine, which, “like a diamond, requires long observation over the course of many years before we come to understand the fullness of its truth.”

This leads me to imagine the blogs themselves as calcite spikes, all made from the same material but growing in different directions under different influences. The result is something very complex and possibly unexpected, yet in its way beautiful and united.


Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Or it might just be cockeyed

Sean Gallagher of Nota Bene gives me a good word at the end of a list of new blogs:

... there is a blog that might have a distinctly Thomistic slant. Its title is, appropriately enough, Disputations.

I hope Disputations will have a distinctly Thomistic slant, since I hope I have a distinctly Thomistic slant, but never having formally studied Thomism I may not be the best judge of how I slant. Still, as a Lay Dominican, I have some hope that my elder brother Thomas will protect me from at least some outrageous gaffes.

By the way, "John DaFiesole" is, as you've probably been suspecting, an Anglicized form of my name in religion, Giovanni da Fiesole.


Make the Jubilee last

Tim Drake mentions the book he edited about canonizations and beatifications during the Great Jubilee of 2000. What he didn't mention is that Saints of the Jubilee includes a biography of St. Katharine Drexel written by, well, me.

There is a noticable cross-over between Catholic blogs and the Catholic Writer's Association, including Tim Drake; Kat Lively and Come On, Get Lively; Michael Dubruiel and Annunciations; and Pete Vere and his canon law blog. Of course, it says nothing about the market for Catholic writing that so many Catholic writers are using the free version of Blogspot to get the Word out. Domenico Bettinelli, Jr. must be doing better than the rest of us.


A Top O.P.

Joseph A. P. De Feo is having an Aquinas slogan contest. My three entries:

1. Six impossible things before breakfast ... all straightened out and put in order by lunchtime.
2. Ho, ho, hey hey, Ente Dei est esse.
3. Grace perfects nature, like ice cream perfects apple pie.

And an opportunity to quote my Common Doctor clerihew:

The works of St. Thomas Aquinas
Have been accused of dryness.
Even the Angelic Doctor saw
The Summa as straw.


The business of progressives

Recently I was asked to describe what I think Catholics who are "truly progressive" are like. Here is my description:

Someone who is truly progressive would advocate changes that lead to true progress, right? And true progress for the Church means, among other things, an increase in the holiness of the Bride of Christ and an increase in her dedication to bringing the Good News to the world.

Since you can only make progress relative to where you currently are, I think the Church (in the U.S., at least) is in a position where to be progressive she must embrace orthodoxy, with the mad abandon of a lover. The seminaries need to tell the priests, and the priests need to tell the laity, and the laity need to tell the world that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary; that for us men and for our salvation He suffered, died, and was buried; and that on the third day He rose again from the dead.

The Church needs to instill in people the uncomfortable realization that Catholics actually believe all that. This means that the Church needs scholars, theologians, university presidents, and bishops who themselves actually believe all that, and show without shame that it makes a difference in their lives.

The central fact of Christianity is the Cross. The Church needs to teach this with utter clarity. This means that the Church needs to teach the world that mankind is fallen, not neurotic. The Cross is God's sacrifice of His own Son, not politicians' sacrifice of a troublemaker.

The central fact of Christianity is the Cross, has to be the Cross, because of the sinfulness of mankind. The sacrifice was made necessary because we commit sins that separate us from God, and that separation can not be overcome by our own efforts; I am not okay, you are not okay. True self-knowledge leads to humility, not self-esteem.

The above doesn't sound particularly progressive, but that's because we tend to think that progressive ideas have to be new ideas. At a time when true ideas have been abandoned, though, returning to them is true progress.

Today's Catholic progressives seem to think that the people they are supposed to be scandalizing are non-progressive Catholics. In fact, though, if the entire world isn't scandalized by foolish Catholics, it means the Church isn't doing its job.


Monday, May 13, 2002

Sed contra

This is where I react to things I read here, there, or elsewhere in Blogworld.