instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, July 29, 2002

Liturgy of the Hours, on the hour

David Alexander indicates that I've done a fair -- well, shocking -- amount of blogging on the Liturgy of the Hours, specifically the Office of Prime. I'd intended those to be something of a warm-up to more substantive commentary, but I think I'll let the iron cool a bit. I shouldn't be spending more time talking about the Divine Office than praying it.

I will, though, add an enthusiastic word for Magnificat magazine, and not just because it's produced by the Dominicans of St. Joseph's (Eastern U.S.) Province. Apart from its use as material for prayer and study, it is a simply beautiful magazine. Having copies in your home will make your home, and therefore you, more beautiful. Skip the leatherette cover unless you always spill things on your nightstand.

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You can only give what you have

It's a trite observation that Pope John Paul II draws energy from the enthusiasm of the young (although the contrast between his appearance in Toronto and his appearances over the previous months was astonishing, to say the least).

It makes me wonder, though, whether the Pope would find much to draw from in a crowd of 200,000 of me.

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Beati immaculati

"Apostles of the obvious." I like that. An apostolate of the obvious may be just what this generation needs. Let me try it out:

I think there's a clear tie-in between the "Why bother?"/"How to evangelize the post-evangelized" discussion, the "If not VotF, what?" discussion, and the World Youth Day triumph (the final Mass being the largest gathering in the history of Canada). The common thread might be inelegantly put this way:

Live the Faith as though you believe it.

A lot of Catholics live the Faith as though they know it. A lot live it as though they accept it. But when you live it as though you believe it, it becomes a fountain of living water that flows right out of you, and other people notice. Seeing the water will remind many of them that they are thirsty, and they will come and drink. (As my spiritual advisor, Dr. Catherine Benincasa, points out, Jesus offers the water of life to everyone, but only people who are thirsty will drink it.)

That, I think, is how you evangelize people who think good enough is good enough; that is what needs to be the basis of any lay reaction to any crisis in the Church; that is why the Pope is such a surprising winter lion for the unthirsty journalists covering him. Can anyone but a fool deny that the Pope lives as though he believes the Faith?

The responsorial at yesterday's Mass was selected from Psalm 119, the longest in the Psalter. If you read modern notes on this psalm, you find it's an acrostic, a series of disjoint statements about God's law arranged alphabetically. The notes can make the psalm seem like it was composed as an intellectual exercise, to be read more from diligence than piety.

But just imagine reciting the Psalm and meaning what you say: "I rejoiced to do your will as though all riches were mine... I take delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word." Joy and delight! In the word of God, in doing His will! This, I think, is a measure of how much we live as though we believe.

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Friday, July 26, 2002

Don't just kneel there, do something

There are those who are displeased with the criticism of Voice of the Faithful found on various blogs (including this one). They point out that we critics have not proposed much in the way of resolving the crisis, while the Faithful are at least attempting something.

True enough, but I don't think this scores any points against critics of VotF. If I am stranded on a desert island, I can observe that my fellow castaway's plan to swim for the mainland is doomed, even if I don't have any ideas for getting home myself. Similarly, if I don't have a five-point plan for resolving the crisis of world, flesh, and devil thriving within the Church, I can at least suggest that rallying under the banner of lay financial power is not a sufficiently Christian approach toward pervasive moral failure.

For the record, I do approve of the efforts of VotF that match up with my own, humble and inadequate, two-point plan of prayer and fasting.

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Why Wodehouse matters

Do you really have to ask?

And in case you are asking why Wodehouse matters are being brought up on this blog -- whatever can be said for him, Wodehouse was not a particularly religious man -- I happen to have a little something that ties him nicely into my whole theme:
Why is P. G. Wodehouse the Master? Because his prose, being read, pleases.
In other words, Wodehouse wrote beautifully.

Thomas Aquinas gives three conditions for beauty: integrity or perfection; due proportion or harmony; and brightness or clarity. The integrity and harmony of a Wodehouse story is practically guaranteed; this explains why the range of his plots is so limited. His brightness, though, comes from his use of the language, invented, adapted, and synthesized to meet his needs.

What does it mean to say that a story has "clarity"? It means that the form of the story, the words strung together and the meaning they impart, show clearly what the story is. There are no hidden depths to Wodehouse; what some misconstrue as a weakness is in fact a strength of the stories he wrote. To add some psychological twist, some complexity of character, would be to ruin his stories. In this way, Wodehouse displays what Aquinas would call right reasoning with regard to his story. And right reasoning with regard to the thing to be made is, for Aquinas, the very definition of art.

P. G. Wodehouse was an artist.
I might also refer you to James V. Schall's book, What Is God Like: Philosophers and "Hereticks" on the Triune God: The Sundry Paths of Orthodoxy from Plato, Augustine, Samuel Johnson, Nietzsche, Camus, and Flannery O'Connor, Even to Charlie Brown and the Wodehouse Clergy, but I've never seen a copy myself.

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The golden chalice

This is a story about the Church in the United States, although the events are related by a young American asked at a World Youth Day-related event to talk about his experiences with the Church in Russia:
I only told of Baba who lived out in the country. We drove to her log cabin datcha so that Myron could give her Holy Communion. I guess Baba's family are non-believers so they left the cabin when we arrived. Baba was almost completly blind so she touched our faces when she spoke to us. She had cheap paper prints of holy pictures nailed to her walls and she was in her nineties. I had never seen anyone so happy as she chatted and fed us hot tea. Baba had no teeth, was a hunch-back and wore no shoes.

On the drive back, Myron said that she chatted again, as she always does of "her golden chalice." When she was a girl, the Communists shot the Orthodox and Catholic priests in the town center and she and the villagers witnessed the execution. As I rememeber the story, the last time she spoke with her priest, he said that she would get a golden cup in heaven if she kept the Faith and she persevered and I came to know her.

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Allow me

There has been a heap of criticism about the makeup of the National Review Board for the Office of Child and Youth Protection. Yesterday, Gregory Popcak summed up his opinion this way: "Not a truly informed, faithful Catholic in the batch."



So far the criticism has been restrained and thoughtful. I'd like to go beyond that and come right out and say:

I should be on the board.


Why? For one thing, I pass the "First, do no harm" test. Not being active in politics, law, medicine, or academics, I would bring nothing to the board that would skew it further in any direction it's already skewed in — unless they all also like barbecue and Wodehouse. (Though, come to think of it, if they don't like barbecue and Wodehouse, they probably shouldn't be on the board anyway.)

But I would also bring important skills to the board: I am a knowledgeable, faithful Catholic; I am not beholden to any interests; I use vulgar expression sparingly yet when necessary; I do not withhold my opinion for fear of offending or losing social standing; I've never given a politician or a political party a plug nickel; public opinion no longer worries me; and I think it's more important for the Church to save souls than to save face. As for what the Globe, the Times, the Post, or Andrew Sullivan might think, je m'en fiche de cela.

For 2,000 years, the Church has tried to get along without listening to me, and look where it's got us.

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Private prime

Fr. Jim Tucker gives the reason the Office of Prime was suppressed: If you're praying Lauds at daybreak, you don't need to be praying Prime at daybreak. He adds, "Still, it's a nice hour, and so I sometimes pull an old breviary off the shelf and say Prime as a private devotion, which strikes me as an altogether wholesome thing to do if one's so inclined."

A sentiment I warmly agree with, although I think you could also use a new breviary. In the reformed liturgy for the daytime hours, only the reading, response, and collect varies with the hour, so for Prime -- and let's use those critical words, as a private devotion -- you can use the daytime psalms from the psalter. The reading might be borrowed from the old Office of Prime: 1 Timothy 1:17 for Sundays and feasts:
To the king of ages, incorruptible, invisible, the only God, honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Zechariah 8:19b for other days:
Love faithfulness and peace, says the LORD of hosts.
For a response:
Unto you have I cried, O Lord.
— And early shall my prayer come before you.
And for the final prayer, the Domine, Deus omnipotens (good for a partial indulgence):
Lord, God Almighty, you have brought us safely to the beginning of this day. Defend us today by your mighty power, that we may not fall into any sin, but that all our words may so proceed and all our thoughts and actions be so directed, as to be always just in your sight. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
See how easy it is?

Where I live, sunrise tomorrow will be at about 5:58 a.m., which will make it difficult to fit in Lauds at sunrise and Prime at six o'clock, but I suppose it could be done if someone were determined enough.

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Thursday, July 25, 2002

I got a secunda

Where once muddled and muddied thinking saw crankiness, Kairos now sees extra-judicial verbal injury of a neighbor against his will opposed to the virtue of justice. Score one for the perennial philosophy.

I was going to leave a comforting comment on Kairos, to the effect that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but then I noticed a lack of anything very comforting in the section of the Companion the the Summa that corresponds with II-II, 75, derision:
Do not be deceived by its air of jollity or its disguise of humor; [derision] is a petty, vicious snob that considers the rights of others as so many coins to buy laughs. It is the sarcastic weapon of the negative wit... Mockery saunters lightly into the house of the soul to rob a man of his intrinsic goods, his peace and self-respect. Its aim is to shame a man, to shatter him publicly that others might make sport of his shame. Christ was a victim of it when the taunts from Calvary echoed back from the walls of Jerusalem; nor has the satanic art been lost through the ages.
As Pavel Chichikov says, "How was I supposed to know?"

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Can I get a secunda?

One of the great things about St. Thomas's Summa Theologica is that it is a perennial example of order and clarity of thought, from one of the most orderly and clear-thinking minds of all time. (Another great thing is that it's all pretty much true.)

Consider, for example, the topic of extra-judicial verbal injuries of a neighbor against his will opposed to the virtue of justice. The name of the topic alone exhausts all I have to say about it, but St. Thomas is able to distinguish and write perceptively about five separate sub-types:
  • reviling, an injury to the honor of the reviled
  • backbiting, the blackening of another's character by secret words
  • tale-bearing, the destruction of friendship
  • derision, the shaming of the derided
  • cursing, speaking ill with a desire that it happen
Some people see writing page after page (the above questions run to just under 11,000 words in English translation) on such subjects as the perfect example of what's wrong with the Roman Catholic Church (too rational, too navel-gazing, too far from God, too far from the real world).

It seems to me, though, that it is only through clear thinking -- as typified by St. Thomas, though not necessarily Thomistic -- that we have a chance of understanding the world around us and making intelligent choices. If my intellect is muddled and muddied, it will present muddled and muddied choices to my will, and what my will does is what I am.

There is nothing about the times we live in that makes it opportune to be muddled and muddied, as an individual, a society, a Church, or a world.

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The essentials of a Precious Blood parish

The New Gasparian's Fr. Jeffrey Keyes, C.PP.S., gave a keynote address at the International Symposium on Parish Ministry and Precious Blood Spirituality yesterday, in which he identified seven essential elements of a Precious Blood parish: collaboration; an all-embracing spirit; generosity; prayer; a contemplative dimension; a missionary dimension; and explicit expression of the "graphic and earthy Spirituality" of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood.

Send Fr. Keyes an email if you'd like a copy of his talk.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Now that's what I call a groundswell!

Interest in the Little Officers continues to grow, with membership doubling daily. We've got an editor for the newsletter, Prima Horations, and almost all of us know someone who should be waking up at 6 a.m. to pray.

There is now a mailing list, Little_Off, for those interested in: a) restoring the Office of Prime; b) talking about the other "little hours" (Terce, Sext, None); or c) nostalgia for all those para-liturgical "little offices" that used to be popular among the laity before the reform of the Divine Office made the Liturgy of the Hours practical for most of us.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Does that make him a semi-heresiarch?

Today is the feast of St. John Cassian (c. 360 - c. 435).

The old Catholic Encyclopedia isn't strictly correct when it states that he was "never formally canonized;" what it means is that his name has not been put in the Roman Martyrology. He is in the Greek canon of saints, and his feast is celebrated in Marseilles, which makes him saint enough for me.

I suspect the reason he isn't in the Roman canon is because of his espousal of what came to be called Semi-Pelagianism, his attempt to sail the boat of free will on the sea of God's grace between the Scylla of Pelagian rejection of original sin and the Charybdis of Augustinian fatalism before God's sovereignty. In retrospect, he should have sailed somewhat closer to Augustine, but the debate was far from settled at the time and if we dropped from the canon all the Church Fathers who taught what was later recognized as heresy, we'd lose almost all of them (including St. Augustine).

One element of Cassian's influence that is not widely known is that his Conferences was one of the two books that St. Dominic always carried with him as he went about preaching; the other was the Gospel of St. Matthew. I know having only two books doesn't sound very Dominican, but there it is.

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Although....

...the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of a movement dedicated to restoring the Office of Prime. We could call ourselves the Little Officers, and the newsletter would be Prima Horations. Local chapters would meet Saturdays at 5:55 a.m. in parish rectories, which would guard against people with different agendas from co-opting the movement.

Who's with me?

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Voice of the President

Dr. James E. Muller is a cardiologist, one of the founders of the organization (International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War) that won the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize, and president of Voice of the Faithful. On Sunday, he was quoted in the Boston Globe:
''The core of the problem is centralized power, with no voice of the faithful... The people of Boston know what to do about absolute power - they showed the world 200 years ago.''

''No more donation without representation... We have to gain financial power in this church. They say the laity are weak, but we are 99.9 percent of the church and 100 percent of the money, and we now have a structure where we can exert that power.''
When the Boston Archdiocese refused the money Voice of the Faithful wanted to donate to particular archdiocesan programs, Muller was quoted by the New York Times:
"It is not the intention of Voice of the Faithful to undercut the cardinal... On the contrary, it's our intention to make these funds available to the cardinal for the good works of the archdiocese. We feel that what has undercut the fund-raising has been the scandal and that's not to be blamed on Voice of the Faithful."
The president of Voice of the Faithful apparently sees its mission as all about power. When he discovers that it doesn't have the power he thought it had -- in particular, the power to sling itself into a comfortable chair in the cardinal's office and start barking out orders about how the archdiocese will spend the money VotF deigns to give it, with the cardinal responding to each order with a respectful, "Yes, your excellencies" -- he falls into blather.

Yes, yes, stick a microphone in front of almost anyone when they're surprised and ask them a leading question, and they're likely to blather. But I don't think it's a good sign that the particular blather that the president of Voice of the Faithful blathered amounted to, "Hey, we're the good guys, remember? The cardinal's the bad guy!"

To be fair, if twenty thousand people like me were to form a reform movement, it would probably look and sound a lot like Voice of the Faithful (minus the echoes of liberal Episcopalianism). Which is why I'm not joining a reform movement.

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Monday, July 22, 2002

Microbreviary

Anyone who wants to ease into the spirit of the Liturgy of the Hours without any prayerbooks can try this three-step method:If your memorization skills are up to it, you can throw in a Miserere Friday mornings and a Te Deum Sunday and feast day mornings.

Oh, and a Visita, quaesumus, Domine following the Nunc Dimittis as you lay you down to sleep is also liturgically correct.

(And don't forget that, except for the Benedictus and the Nunc Dimittis, all these prayers are indulgenced. The souls in purgatory will thank you.)

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The liturgy of the hour

There's a lot to be said for praying the Liturgy of the Hours, and Peter Nixon says some of it, and says it well, at Sursum Corda.

The post-Vatican II reform of the Liturgy of the Hours was carried out without much strife, at least compared to the reform of the Mass. I don't know of any magazines, still less schismatic groups, founded to resist the suppression of the Office of Prime. My guess is that this is because the Divine Office was always a clerical and religious thing, without much emotional investment by, or devotional material written for, the laity. That the reform was successful in meeting its goals of making the liturgy less burdensome and more suitable to prayer couldn't have hurt, either.

The trend, though, is of increasing numbers of laity regularly praying the Liturgy of the Hours. If I were still a cynic, I would point out that this is one way for layfolk to perform an activity traditionally reserved for priests that a) doesn't come with much public glory; and b) isn't being talked about much by would-be lay reformers.

If you're interested in trying the Liturgy of the Hours, I'd second Peter Nixon's recommendation of starting with a simplified breviary (Shorter Christian Prayer is one approved in the U.S. and some other English-speaking countries). The more complete prayerbooks are considerably more expensive, and you should probably make sure this form of prayer is for you before investing in them. (Also, a new English translation might be coming along in a few years.)

A word of warning for the novice: The Divine Office was developed over the course of centuries, primarily by a bunch of men. Consequently, it bears the marks of androcomplexity (the tendency of men to make things more complicated than necessary). In other words, the Liturgy of the Hours is confusing when you first get started. If at all possible, pray it once or twice with others who are familiar with it, just to get an idea of how it works. Then buy one of those annual guides that tells you where to put your ribbons every day. You'll get the hang of it eventually.

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Sunday, July 21, 2002

Just an observation

Newspaper reporters -- well, humans generally -- are known for ignoring the important points and seeing mostly what they expect to see.

Still, in today's Boston Globe article on the Voice of the Faithful convention, "Lay Catholics issue call to transform their church" (link via Gerard Serafin), the words "power" and "powerful" appear a total of nine times; the word "Jesus" twice; and the words "Christ," "God," and "holy" once each -- the last in a reference to a march on Boston's Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

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Saturday, July 20, 2002

It runs in the Family

The purpose of a formal disputation -- or disputatio, if you're being fancy -- is not to win. It's not even to make the other guy lose. It's to arrive at the truth of the matter. (See the quotation from St. Thomas in the left-hand column.) And since "Truth" is one of the mottoes of the Dominican Order, the disputatio is one of its customs.

The custom is being continued by the Berlin office of ESPACES, the Institut M.-Dominique Chenu, which sponsored a disputatio between two speakers with very different views. The first speaker "supposed that there is nothing true, but merely interpretations, and from this standpoint he invited Christianity to change hermeneutically." The second "insisted on the importance of the Triune God" and the truths related to Him.

The article highlights some of the important characteristics of disputatio, particularly in how it differs from the sorts of debates we are used to in the U.S. For one thing, the second speaker "began by acknowledging that he was in agreement with" the first speaker in two of his main points. The idea of acknowledging the truth in the other's position is one an American political debater might consider too risky to entertain, but truth cannot be reached by denying truth.

Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, O.P., former Master General of the Dominicans, put it this way:
In the disputatio the aim was not so much to demonstrate that your opponent was utterly and in every way wrong, and to be derided and dismissed as a fool. Instead you had to show the limited sense in which he was right... The aim was, through disagreement and mutual criticism, to arrive at a common truth, that was able to accommodate what was true in each position.
The other characteristic I noticed reflected in the article is suggested by these words: "After these two hours of disputatio, everyone gathered round the drinks table...." Though substantial areas of significant disagreement might remain, there also remains a spirit of comraderie, based on the shared goal of truth-seeking.

Imagine how different political, social, and religious discourse would be if everyone followed these rules:
  • Seek and acknowledge the truth in your opponent's position.
  • Disagree without being disagreeable.
For more on the medieval method of disputatio, see here and here.

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Friday, July 19, 2002

Some like it prolix

If questions like this --
Is it not true, as Bouyer contends in Spirit and Forms of Protestantism (originally entitled Du protestantisme a l'eglise) that Luther's God was able to declare an untruth, i.e. to grant imputation of justice without impartation, only because Luther had previously accepted Ockham's nominalism which reduced God's being to an uncircumscribed and therefore arbitrary act of His will, utterly disconnected from an enduring, fully actuated, immutable nature, the very possibility of which nominalism repudiated in an a priori fashion? --
leave you breathless for more, see the discussion on Nominalism at Sacra Doctrina.

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More cross words

Fr. Keyes at The New Gasparian writes, "John DaFiesole sounds a bit like he wants to disagree with me."

Well, sure, if at all possible. This site ain't called Affirmations, you know.

But then he has to write this:
Yes his healing touch may be experienced as pain to us. But that is due to our condition, not to what he sent.
To which I must grudgingly shout: Amen!

You can't send what you don't have, and all God has is love. An unchanging God, His love is unchanging. But this constant and perfect love is experienced by us changing and imperfect humans in a host of different ways. As caring love when we are hurting. As stern love when we are resisting. As patient love when we are far from Him. As merciful love when we ask forgiveness. As healing love when we stop wounding ourselves.

And what do we know of God's ways beyond that? Not much, but enough.

By the way, Fr. Keyes also quotes his spiritual father St. Gaspar on the Book of the Cross:
But, my dearly beloved, what do we read in the wounds of Jesus Crucified if not this, that Christ is the mystic rock struck with the staff of the Cross.
The mystic rock struck with the staff of the Cross. That's brilliant.

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Simplify simplify

Within an extended rumination on culture and lifestyle on the Goliard Blog can be found this statement on the "granola lifestyle":
I would add that it also requires an awful lot of bother and fuss and time for those of us who are scrambling just to gain a foothold in this world.
One thing I've noticed about a lot of "simple living" advocates is how complicated their lives are. I once read a story about a couple who had adoped a life of voluntary poverty who spent three days getting an old refrigerator -- including negotiating the price (around $50), driving halfway across the state and back, repairing their old truck when it broke down on the journey, and fixing the fridge when they finally got it home -- and then extolled this adventure as a triumph of their life of simplicity.

To such as these I say:

By all means, buy your wheat in bulk, reuse natural fiber sacks to bring it home, grind it yourself, add hand-pumped water, let it ferment into sourdough starter, add more flour and water, bake it into a loaf, and enjoy! You have my blessing.

But please don't tell me that this is simpler than going to the local supermarket and buying a loaf of Sunbeam Whole Wheat.

It may be better, healthier, safer, tastier, saner, wiser, and more fun, but it simply isn't simpler.

For reasons that aren't entirely clear, I have a subscription to a magazine called Real Simple, "the magazine about simplifying your life." I find it hugely entertaining, mostly because its basic recommendation for how to simplify your life is to spend money. Is housecleaning complicating your life? Hire a maid. Laundry? Drop it off at the cleaners. Closet clutter? Drop a few C-notes at The Container Store. Cooking? Try this recipe from 100% prepared foods. The magazine doesn't promote unrelenting consumption, but it does recongize the simple truth that money makes a lot of things simpler.

Many people have an idea that there is something called "simplicity" that is a virtue, but their concept of "simplicity" seems to come more from Thoreau than from Thomas. This, clearly, is going to lead to problems. (And, most likely, another post.)

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Thursday, July 18, 2002

The thing that has no being

In classical theology, evil is a non-thing, a lack of goodness rather than something that exists itself.

Now, we become like what we love. A married couple grows to resemble each other. A miser is cold and hard. God becomes man.

Put the two together, and you can see why vices are so vicious. If I love to sin, then I become like sin, which is to say moral evil, which is to say...nothing.

St. Catherine of Siena put it this way:
It is no shame to serve God, for to serve God is not to be a servant but to reign. And the more perfect our service and the more we submit ourselves to him, the more free we are and the more we become masters of ourselves rather than being controlled by sin, the thing that has no being. For we cannot bring a greater wretchedness on ourselves than to become the servants and slaves of sin, since we thereby lose the being that is grace and serve nothingness and become nothings. [Letter T254, to Pietro di Jacomo Attaghufi]
When I think of my habits of sin, I usually think of them as things that are a part of me. It would be more true to think of them as holes where there should be parts of me. To the extent that I sin, I reduce my very existence.

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Getting cross

On The New Gasparian, Fr. Jeffrey Keyes, C.PP.S., writes, "God does not cause, ask for, demand our suffering."

Well, surely God is the cause of some of our suffering. As St. Thomas teaches, "God is the author of the evil which is penalty." [ST I, 49, 2] But I don't think that was what Fr. Keyes was getting at.

Still, I wonder why Jesus cannot be said to have caused the rich young to suffer when He told him to sell all that he had. And what of Paul's thorn:
Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. [2 Cor 12:7b]
This sounds like God-given suffering to me.

Now, "God-given" is a slippery adjective. In one sense, everything is God-given. But here I mean it in a stronger sense. That it was an angel of Satan in Paul’s case might suggest that Satan, rather than God, was the cause of his suffering (a similar argument can be made for Job). But according to Paul, the reason this thorn was given to him was to keep him from being too elated. By whom was it given? Keeping Paul from being too elated is a strange motive for Satan to have, but not for God, who used Paul’s weakness to glorify Himself.

One way of understanding this discussion is as an attempt to figure out what words may be used to fill in the blank in this sentence: "God            our suffering." Everyone agrees that "allows" is true and "enjoys" is false. As for the disputed ways – "causes," "wills," and so forth – even those of us who argue for them must keep in mind that we’re speaking in an analagous, and ultimately mysterious, sense.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Indulge me

Among my favorite indulgenced prayers is the Sub tuum praesidium:
We fly to your patronage, O holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin.
Dating from at latest the Third Century, it is the oldest known Christian prayer to Mary.

Indulgences are wonderful things, I think -- and not just because they embarrass with-it Catholics.

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"The uninformed, the lazy, the affected, the ambitious, and the dumb"

In isolation, that's a pretty good description of the starting lineup of the Washington Wizards.

In context, it's a phrase, from a Jonah Goldberg column, that Mark at Minute Particulars doesn't care for:
I do wonder at the ease with which some equate the “common man” with the “uninformed, the lazy, the affected, the ambitious, and the dumb.”
I don't think Goldberg was saying that "the common man" is uninformed, lazy, affected, ambitious and dumb. I think he was saying a) among "the masses" (which conservatism does not fetishize) there are uninformed, lazy, affected, ambitious, and dumb people; and b) this fact (which is not recognized by those who do fetishize the masses) is the reason why ideas are dangerous when aerosolized throughout a society.

I'm not sure how one can fetishize the masses at the same time one ridicules them, but I'm just trying to paraphrase Goldberg's argument.

Mark also quotes Chesterton from Heretics: "Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are most dangerous is the man of no ideas." I'd amend this to, "The man to whom ideas are most dangerous is the man of one idea." And the one idea that is most dangerous to man is Epigonism, which I'll use to mean consciously deciding to adhere to the ideas of some authority (e.g., postmodernism, The New York Times, National Review Online) despite being unable to understand the ideas.

Within the Church (which for some can be the authority behind their own Epigonism), I notice this most strongly among a certain class of Catholics for whom whatever they've heard some historical-critical textual scholar said (particularly if it contradicts what the nuns taught) becomes the truth against which the teachings of the Church must be measured. (We might take, as a simple example, the question of whether St. Peter died in Rome. "No!" said some anti-papist Protestant. "No!" echo some eager beaver Catholic professors. "That's good enough for me!" conclude the epigones, who move on to web fora and RCIA classes to instruct the ignorant in acts of spiritual mercilessness.)

So yes, first generation ideas can be handled safely by those used to handling such things. But ideas have a way of mutating (usually, I think, by dropping off all those nuances that are necessary for them to be even partially true) and transmitting themselves from the minds of people who understand them to the minds of people who only think they understand them to the minds of people who simply accept them. These last minds are not found merely among the masses, nor does every mind among the masses simply accept the ideas that come to it.

Just to complicate things, there's the principle (similar to Sturgeon's Law) I call "The Ninety Percent of Everybody is an Idiot Principle," which states that ninety percent of everybody is an idiot. This means within almost everyone's mind are ideas the mind understands, ideas the mind only thinks it understands, and ideas it simply accepts -- and, since we're ninety percent idiot, it's not always possible to be sure which is which.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Moving heaven and earth

Contributing to the Great Granola Conservative Uprising of '02, Dave Pawlak of Pompous Ponderings refers to Caelum et Terra, a quirky early-90s magazine that begat a quirly late-90s mailing list that begat a quirky early-00s website. (For a bunch of technophobes, the CetTers do get around.)

I subscribed to Caelum et Terra for a year or two, until it folded in 1996. It was, as the website implies, "insightful and counter-cultural," as concerned about making things beautiful as making them by hand. It also had its daffy side, celebrating the "Catholic Amish" movement too uncritically in my judgment; if people have problems with Catholic Restorationists who want to turn back the clock to the 1950s, what about turning it back to the 1750s? (Many of the articles are now online.)

Still, the Church has room for everyone, and I was disappointed to learn that C&T was folding. I was even more disappointed, though, with the handful of copies of New Oxford Review I received to make up the rest of my subscription. I found NOR too unrelentingly shrill, serving up spiteful stones and calling it orthodox bread. It was a jarring contrast to C&T, whatever their shared doctrinal sympathies. (Not having read NOR since then, I can't comment on what it's been like in the past five years.)

I think the difference has something to do with the beauty of truth. An argument may be valid and its premises correct, but that doesn't make it true in the important sense that it establishes a correspondence in the mind to something that is. Truth proclaimed with the goal of winning is not truth that will set anyone free; it is, frankly, an ugly thing, because it is a perversion of a good thing to a false end.

As I've written before, I think there are ways in which people's aesthetic judgments can be sounder than their moral ones. I'm inclined to prefer a Catholic viewpoint that is beautiful if a touch daft to one that is rigorously correct but without beauty.

Follow-up: There is a print successor to Caelum et Terra, hoping to find its own readership, called Heaven and Earth. A man with black hat is one of the editors.

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Normal Science

Over the weekend, Peter Sean Bradley of Lex Communis wrote a perceptive article on the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity. He did a much better job than I did of showing how Sola Scriptura Protestant arguments that the Bible teaches that God comprises three co-equal, consubstantial Persons are actually "normal science" applications of Patristic theology rather than blank-slate exegesis of Scripture.

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Nothing new here

Kairos is back and firing on all cylinders after a short vacation. Of course, Kairos was firing on all cylinders before the vacation, so I'm not telling you anything you don't already know.

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Did he really?

According to an American Prospect article by Charles Marsh (link via Relapsed Catholic), Dietrich Bonhoeffer came to believe that, "Responsible Christians must sometimes sin boldly."

You probably knew that about Bonhoeffer already. I'd assumed he figured that assassinating Hitler wouldn't be a sin.

In any case, that statement can't help but remind me of one of my favorite Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman bits, from the first appendix of Apologia Pro Vita Sua when he's talking about historic opinions on lying:
To these must be added the unscientific way of dealing with lies — viz. that on a great or cruel occasion a man cannot help telling a lie, and he would not be a man, did he not tell it, but still it is very wrong and he ought not to do it, and he must trust that the sin will be forgiven him, though he goes about to commit it ever so deliberately, and is sure to commit it again under similar circumstances. It is a necessary frailty, and had better not be anticipated, and not thought of again, after it is once over. This view cannot for a moment be defended, but, I suppose, it is very common.
That last sentence -- "This view cannot for a moment be defended, but, I suppose, it is very common." -- can be used in a whole host of situations today; it probably always has been widely applicable, and it probably always will be.

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Monday, July 15, 2002

Happy St. Bonaventure Day!

Allow me to wrench something Steve Mattson wrote completely out of context: "The Catholic challenge is not figuring out the truth, but living by it."

This is a good text for today, the feast of St. Bonaventure. I think his holy father Francis would have agreed with Steve: Catholics may be sinners, but we are faithful. What the faithful need, then, is not so much the faith (which we already have) as exhortation and example and encouragement to live it.

(St. Dominic, St. Francis's contemporary, saw things somewhat differently, but then he was looking at different things. Where St. Francis looked out across fallen but Catholic Italy, St. Dominic was concerned with Manichean Languedoc, where the faith was not just unlived but explicitly rejected. The Friars Preachers' mission was to bring the truth they obtained from God (by prayer and study) to others -- heretics and pagans, certainly, but also under-catechized Catholics.)

Tangentially, Amy Welborn quotes For All the Saints quoting St. Bonaventure: "For in truth, a poor and unlearned old woman can love God better than a Doctor of Theology." The truth of this cannot be denied, but I have also encountered a certain reverse snobbishness that in effect denies a Doctor of Theology can love God better than a poor and unlearned old woman. All that is old is not unembittered.

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It's not just a bad idea, it's the law

Mark Shea offers a link to my entry on Spong's Law of Theophysical Asininity. A Saintly Salmagundi offers a link providing further experimental evidence that the Law is universally true.

A good part of the success theophysical asininities achieve is due to a psychological condition called Pedagogical Mathematical Neurosis, or PMN. PMN begins to develop when a student takes a math class and realizes the teacher is doing some sort of bizarro ritual with numbers and symbols and stuff that just doesn't make any sense, but which the teacher insists produces TRVTH. The brain's natural reaction to this sort of stress is to respond, "Yeah, whatever, just let me pass this class and get out!"

(I should point out that I am a trained mathematician, so what I say about human psychology is true. If you don't believe me, I will begin to prove it mathematically, and I won't stop until you give in.)

Now, the thing about quantum physics is that nobody understands it. Some people are simply able to get used to it. (Sort of like being married.) So if someone starts slinging around dΦ/dts and eigenvectors of ΨXH and ends with, "Therefore, we have proven that all mass-energy is created from a substance called Love," the odds are that a lot of people are going to answer, "Yes, okay, if you say so, only please don't show those equations again."

The other major contributor to the credibility of theophysical asininity is that the only thing most people know about modern physics is that there is some really weird stuff going on. As a species, humans don't like weird stuff going on; what we want is for someone to complete the sentence, "And what all this weird stuff means is...", preferably in a way that we're already prepared to agree with. Physicists as a rule (with some notable and ignoble exceptions) won't complete that sentence for us, so some non-physicists (who probably couldn't interpolate a logarithm from a table if their livelihoods depended on it) are happy to step in and do it instead.

For homework, derive the relationship between theophysical asininity and the fear of technology caused by a disordered anthropology as described in the encyclical Fides et Ratio. Show all your work.

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Friday, July 12, 2002

The interior life

I was strolling with God in the cool of the evening, and to show him I'd been paying attention I said, "Lord, make me humble."

"What are you talking about?" He replied. "I made you a tiny, damp, helpless baby. You couldn't walk or talk or feed yourself or reason very well. You were utterly dependent on others for your every need. How much more humble could I have made you?"

I could see He wasn't following me. "No, I mean, give me the grace to be humble now."

God shot me a dark look. "Why? What have you been doing since I created you that wouldn't keep you humble?"

I shook my head. "Never mind."

Sometimes I think God doesn't listen very carefully during our conversations.

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Thursday, July 11, 2002

What, he is a Catholic?

Amy Welborn has blogged a review of Garry Wills's new book, Why I am a Catholic.

(I joke, writing as though you're reading this before reading Amy's review.)

I have read precisely one chapter's worth of words by Garry Wills, Chapter Nine of Papal Sin. Coincidentally, I read it a couple of days ago, in response to an ex-Catholic's claim that it presented evidence that St. Athanasius invented the Eucharist as a way for the Church hierarchy to control the desert monks. I was relieved to see that Wills makes no such claim in his book. (Not for St. Athanasius's sake, of course, but for Wills's.)

Still, the chapter is a mess. From paragraph to paragraph, Wills roams from Fourth Century Egypt to Twentieth Century America to First Century Palestine without evident control; pulls out a thesis like "Latin is a tool for maintaining priestly power" (my paraphrase) like a moose out of a coffee mug; asks sneering questions about whether the Beloved Disciple was at the Last Supper; fulminates against something he once heard a priest say.

On one level, Wills is molding a tendentious form of historical theology. He selectively quotes St. Ignatius and St. Augustine, for example, to make it seem like the Doctors would agree with his argument that the Real Presence was at best unimportant and at worst untaught in the Early Church.

On another level, he's making rude noises in public. Should a Pulitzer Prize-winning professor of history really be paid for revealing that some of the things the nuns told him in school were pious falsehoods?

I might, if the occasion arises, read Garry Wills's biography of St. Augustine, of which I've heard mixed but generally positive things. (And at less than 200 pages, it's not a daunting read.) But I have no desire to read any more of his diatribes against the Church. (I base my word choice on an introduction to Paul J. Griffith's article "On Garry Wills's Papal Sin":
Identifying the genre of Papal Sin as “diatribe” (which is in itself a long-standing tradition going back as far as Jeremiah), Griffiths shows that Wills is either mistaken or deceptive concerning the account of the nature of lying in the thought of St. Augustine (an argument that Wills wants to build upon in moving toward his own conclusions). The article concludes that the heat of diatribe in Wills’ book prevents the book from making a contribution to an important question raised in the book: “It is the question of how developments in the extraordinary magisterium’s understanding of its own authority affect its relation to and understanding of its own past teachings.”
This article, which I haven't read, appeared in the University of St. Thomas's Center for Catholic Studies' journal Logos, vol. 4 no. 3.)

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What's so great about the G8?

There is some grousing over the "political beliefs" of Dionigi Cardinal Tettamanzi, newly-named archbishop of Milan, amongst the comments at In Between Naps.

These political beliefs include, "Man does not exist for globalization, but globalization for man," and, "One African child sick with AIDS counts more than the entire universe."

Now I'm not entirely sure that globalization exists for man, but I think I understand and agree with the point Cardinal Tettamanzi was trying to make. (He seems to have a weakness for that rhetorical form; a CWN article from March quotes him as saying, "Man is not made for games; games are made for man.")

I also agree with his other statement, assuming again that he meant what I think he meant, although whether the child has AIDS strikes me as immaterial.

The chief source of distrust of the cardinal seems to come from his support of protests during the 2001 G8 meeting in his archdiocese of Genoa. As CWN reported a week before the meeting:
Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi of Genoa has pronounced himself satisfied with the preparations for the "G8" summit that will take place in the Italian city next week. The cardinal has indicated that he is especially pleased with the lively debate on the issues of globalization, and the peaceful demonstrations that have taken place in preparation for the summit...

The heads of the world's 8 largest industrial powers will meet in Genoa from July 20- 22. But demonstrations have been taking place for a week, with several influential Italian Catholic groups joining the protests to call attention to Church social teaching on the need for solidarity and care for the poor. Cardinal Tettamanzi told one seminar that the issues of the global economy are directly relevant to Catholic social teaching.

The cardinal stressed that demonstrations must continue peacefully, so that they would be "fruitful and not destructive." He called for "nothing but peaceful gestures" during the coming days.
It's entirely possible that I have dumb political beliefs, but I don't see much to complain about in this. In fact, I'd interpret a bishop's uncritical acceptance of whatever the G8 meeting happened to decide to mean that the bishop believed either the G8 was infallibly directed by God or the Church has no right to preach to the rich on behalf of the poor.

Perhaps it isn't just cardinals who confuse the Gospels with their own ideological preferences.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Happy to be a few in a fleeting world

Let me draw your attention to a brief Zenit interview with fr. Carlos Azpiroz Costa, the Master General of the Dominican Order.

When asked what the new heresies are, fr. Carlos answered:
Certainly egotism, the self-sufficiency typical of the consumer society. And then narcissism: a man who is shut in on himself only discovers his self love but forgets the other. With Arianism the Church already experienced similar risks. It is thought that a course in self-knowledge is enough to feel well.
Meet the new heresies. Same as the old heresies.

fr. Carlos mentions Arianism; it seems to me that a form of Pelagianism is flourishing as well, perhaps alongside the egotism. There is widespread rejection of original sin -- "which," Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy, "is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved" -- even within the Catholic Church. Possessors of "original grace" are, of course, friends with God, not His dependents.

Fortunately, there are a few thousand men in white who can offer the Church, and the world, "a way of seeing reality through the light given to us by the thought of Thomas Aquinas." And, if I may add to the Master General's words, by the spirit of Dominic de Guzman.

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Forget "The Vatican Rag," here's the Tripudium!

The wretched excesses at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco, brought to everyone's attention by Ad Orientem, are laughable and dreadful and beyond parody and sad. It's obvious that this "intentional community" doesn't trust the liturgy (to steal a phrase from Amy Welborn) of the Book of Common Prayer.

The staid rubrics of the BCP isn't enough, the Communion Services of their parents' day doesn't satisfy them. They need to cha-cha up to the Lord's table because ... well, because they choose to. They see their worship as "reflecting rational choice rather than givenness."

And yet, "Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, 'Take and eat; this is my body.'"

The Eucharist is something that has been given to us, or it is nothing. Well, not nothing, but still only a symbol, a Christian symbol not much better than the symbols of virtuous pagans, or the rites of the Masons, or the songs sung during high school football games.

Now, I am not an Episcopalian; it's not for me to tell the community of St. Gregory of Nyssa how they should worship. My concern is that the ignorance of what the Liturgy is is not confined to Episcopalians. I have no doubt that a worship service at St. Gregory's would be very enjoyable for a large number of Catholics, certainly more enjoyable than the typical Sunday Mass in their parishes. And the questions these Catholics would ask are not so simple to answer: "Why not dance up to Communion? Why not make everything colorful and tuneful and lively? Why not take the best from around the world to craft a Sunday morning celebration that people -- kids especially -- will actually look forward to going to? Isn't the Holy Spirit more visible in St. Gregory's than in our own church?"

These are difficult questions, I think, because the Church founded by Christ is not simple. They must be answered according to the "both/and, not either/or" aspect of Catholicism, the source of so much richness and so much irritation. The Eucharist is a sacrifice, but it is also a celebration. It is Christ's prayer to the Father, but it is also the sacrament of our unity with Christ and the Father and each other in the Spirit.

In the end, the Mass is a mystery. And by "mystery," I don't mean, "No one really understands, so shut up about it and do it the way it's always been done." I mean full understanding of the Mass surpasses human reason. Beyond human reason lies, not human emotion, but Divine wisdom, and Divine wisdom is something we must approach with great prudence, balancing theology and anthropology, reason and emotion, song and silence. There is truth in the worship at St. Gregory's, but our goal must be worship that has the fullness of truth.

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Tuesday, July 09, 2002

All we are saying is let the pagans fight it out

There's something about the simplicity of Christian pacifism that appeals to me, even as the arguments I've seen in its favor leave me unimpressed. What I've read on Pax Christi sites and elsewhere has been rather weak on theological and philosophical justifications. In particular, the pacifist press releases in the wake of the September 11 attacks that I read amounted to little more than flaccid question-begging. Jesus doesn't want us to fight wars, so we shouldn't.

So when Eve Tushnet wrote that Telford Work offered some good arguments for Christian pacifism, I wandered over to his site and looked around.

Having read his October 18, 2001, speech, "Divided Loyalties? Christian Identity in Wartime America" (requires Acrobat Reader), I will admit that he has some important things to say, but ultimately his argument does not persuade me.

To simplify to epigrammatic proportions, his position is that the world is how God mediates "common" (or "primal") grace, but only through the Christian Church (broadly defined; Work is an Evangelical) does He mediate the "special" (or "final") grace of salvation. Christians must act as Christians to mediate this special grace, and they must not allow themselves to settle for mediating common grace, since this is a task non-Christians are perfectly capable of.

One distinguishing feature of Work's pacifism is that he is not a pacifist, properly speaking; he thinks fighting a war can be a good thing, and he's grateful that there are people willing to fight one to keep him free. He is a Christian pacifist, arguing not that people shouldn't fight, but that Christians shouldn't fight, because they cannot be effective as Christians while fighting, and no one but Christians can be effective as Christians, and the world needs effective Christians to receive the special grace only Christians can mediate. Non-Christians are free to fight, and at times ought to; Christians, he writes, "are entirely right to demand that governments protect us from persecution, terrorism, and atrocities, even if it requires the threat or use of force."

There is something to this line of thought. But when Work writes, "certain social roles which are primally appropriate offer common grace, but so compromise the specific character of Christian community and witness that disciples should avoid them altogether," I must disagree.

For it to be true that there are appropriate social roles that are not appropriate Christian roles (Work suggests such roles would include government, defense, police work, and firefighting(!)), it must be true that not everyone should be a Christian. I do not accept this. God wants everyone to be saved and to be drawn into the Body of His Son; He wants everyone to be a member of the Church. Work seems to require some people -- in fact, a considerable percentage of a society -- to remain outside the Church, with God's approval and blessing. To my mind, this raises the question of what the point of being the Church among them is, if our evangelization is not supposed to convert them.

There are other specific problems I have with "Divided Loyalties?" Work tries to set up a parallelism between journalists not revealing their sources and Christians not fighting their countries' wars that, I think, fails drastically. I have reservations about his interpreting Matthew 25:35, "I was hungry and you fed me," to refer just to service to other Christians, while feeding "hungry multitudes outside the fellowship...is a missionary witness" only.

I supsect, though, my significant reservations are all based on his requirement that a society have non-Christians to do the dirty work of common grace. (It's worth noting that a good portion of his speech is devoted to Work's rejection of what he calls "Constantinianism," which as he describes it would include all countries with state churches -- including all of Christendom prior to the Reformation, a society that happened to lack enough non-Christians to fill his primarily-appropriate-but-Christianly-inappropriate roles.)

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I give to you a new law

A Saintly Salmagundi finds the following in a National Catholic Reporter article:
[Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Barbara] Fiand contended that the dualistic worldview that held sway for some 5,000 years is yielding to a new, emerging, unitive view through the discoveries of quantum physics.
Here Sr. Barbara trips over Spong's Law of Theophysical Asininity.

Spong's Law of Theophysical Asininity states, "Whenver a person appeals to quantum physics as the basis for a theological or religious principle, he is making an ass of himself." It is a law that has never been broken.

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Friday, July 05, 2002

Those who forget the past...

Outnumber the others ten to one.

In response to something Mark Shea wrote, Mark Byron took a "quick stab at going after the Trinity by using just the Bible proper." He follows up with the reassurance "that the doctrine of the Trinity is biblically sound."

I won't speak for Mark Shea (it doesn't pay well enough), but I think Mark Byron is still missing the point. The question is not whether the doctrine of the Trinity is biblically sound -- of course it is -- but why evangelicals are most all orthodox Trinitarians, with hardly any Arians or whatnot.

It seems obvious to me that the answer is that evangelicals accept the Christological and Pneumatological Tradition of the Church. They may not accept the Church Councils that defined this Tradition (certainly not as Catholics and Orthodox do), but they accept the teaching of people who accepted the teaching of people who [...] accepted the teaching of the Councils. In Mark B.'s case, he seems to not have given much thought at all to whether the Trinity is derivable from the Bible until Mark S. suggested it's not clear that it is. Even now he admits that his "case for the Holy Spirit's a bit loose," but I have no doubt his faith in the consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit and the Father is as strong as it ever was.

I was once in a discussion about the impassibility of God in which an Evangelical offered the equivalent of this syllogism: "Jesus is God. Jesus suffered. Therefore God suffered." I countered that "Jesus is God" is not at all the trivial identity required to make her argument valid, that its meaning depended on one's Christology. She seemed to think she didn't have a Christology, that such a thing was just a big word used by intellectual types who weren't satisfied with the Bible alone. And yet was as solidly Trinitarian as I am.

There's a blindness to history that affects different Christian traditions in different ways. Some Catholics seem to believe that, the night before He died, Jesus celebrated the Mass of the Lord's Supper, complete with paten and purificator, then dictated detailed notes about auricular confession and Benediction. Some Episcopalians seem to believe that the Celtic Church was the life-affirming Church as Jesus intended her to be, cruelly smothered by Rome but now subsisting in the Anglican Communion. Some Evangelicals seem to believe that everything Catholics do was invented by St. Augustine, who thereby destroyed the perfect Bible-based unity of the Early Church through her first three centuries. (And some Catholics seem to agree with these Evangelicals; sometimes this leads to confused CCD programs, sometimes to lucrative book contracts.)

Catholics need to know that we have nothing to fear from history, that we won't discover the papacy was invented for political purposes in AD 506 any more than we'll discover that Jesus of Nazareth never existed. What the Church teaches about herself is not just wishful thinking, which means that what she teaches about God isn't wishful thinking, either. Knowing the facts of history -- sparse and sometimes unsettling as they may be -- and sharing them with our separated brethren is, I think, one of the best ways of breaking down the defenses they have constructed against the Catholic Church. And let the Holy Spirit do the rest.

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Wednesday, July 03, 2002

Whose cross is it anyway?

Emily Stimpson muses:
The Lord, knowing us more intimately and more deeply than we know ourselves, knows exactly what each of us needs to be saved and sanctified. Does He never present us with crosses designed by Him for just those purposes?
Kairos responds, "I still think the answer is no."

The Fathers seem to have generally interpreted the cross in Jesus' statement, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me [Mt 16:24]," to mean the cross that necessarily arises in the life of anyone who truly attempts to follow Christ. From the Catena Aurea:
Hilary: We are to follow our Lord by taking up the cross of His passion; and if not in deed, yet in will, bear Him company.

Gregory, Hom. in Ev., xxxii, 3: There are two ways of taking our cross; when the body is afflicted by abstinence, or when the heart is pained by compassion for another.

Jerome: He takes up his cross who is crucified to the world; and he to whom the world is crucified, follows his crucified Lord.
This is not quite the same idea as a cross as a source of suffering through which our virtues may be strengthened and tested, an idea found, for example, in the Book of Judith:
"[W]e should be grateful to the Lord our God, for putting us to the test, as he did our forefathers. Recall how he dealt with Abraham, and how he tried Isaac, and all that happened to Jacob in Syrian Mesopotamia while he was tending the flocks of Laban, his mother's brother. Not for vengeance did the Lord put them in the crucible to try their hearts, nor has he done so with us. It is by way of admonition that he chastises those who are close to him." Judith 8:25-27
This idea is echoed in St. Catherine of Siena's Dialogue, in which the Father says, "I wish that you should know, that not all the pains that are given to men in this life are given as punishments, but as corrections, in order to chastise a son when he offends."

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales touches on the idea of something that is a source of suffering being both caused by God's will and an opportunity to grow in virtue:
"[I]t is not your own choice, but God's Will alone, which has made you poor. Now, whatever we accept simply because it is God's Will is acceptable in His Sight, so long as we accept it heartily and out of love:--the less of self the more of God,--and a singlehearted acceptance of God's Will purifies any suffering very greatly."
This, I think, is part of a larger stream of spirituality (including de Caussade's Abandonment to Divine Providence) that urges Christians to accept whatever they experience as a divinely-sanctioned means of growing in sanctity.

So there are different kinds of crosses that we experience in this world: those due to our doing good; those due to our doing evil; and those not evidently due to anything we've done. I think there is a strong tradition (in the West at least) holding that God grants us medicinal suffering to correct our faults, strengthen our virtues, and expiate our sins, all of which happens, as St. Catherine teaches, not through the suffering itself -- which as noted on Kairos is evil -- but through Christ's sacrificial love that accompanies it within us.

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Thomas doubting

Sean Gallagher, normally a sound fellow, today falls into the age-old heresy of Antididymusism, which, like all heresies, so exaggerates something true that it becomes false:
St. Thomas the apostle could very well serve as the patron saint of those many skeptics who fill our age. He could identify with and be sympathetic to all those people who refuse to accept the various claims about Christ simply because they are part of an ancient tradition or because a church says they are true. He could be a companion for those who put on their cars bumperstickers that read "My karma overcame my dogma." ... St. Thomas the apostle also wanted to believe in something new, something that he could examine for himself.
First, we must balance the dramatic presentation of John with the more matter-of-fact reports of Luke and Matthew. (And, for that matter, even John writes that Jesus showed the disciples His hands and feet the time Thomas wasn't there.)

Having thereby discarded the notion that St. Thomas was unique among the Apostles for not believing his ears nor even his eyes, we may now reconsider his actions as the Gospel of John describes them.

St. Thomas certainly did, as Sean writes, want to believe in something new, but what was this new thing he wanted to believe? Simply this: the resurrection of the Lord. To believe in something as astounding as this, he would not accept the testimony of the other Apostles -- and in this, who can blame him? In his experience, his fellow apostles were not ... well, let's say noted for their reliability. Is the pre-Pentecostal Peter really someone you'd place much faith in? (Yes, in John's Gospel Peter has already received the Holy Spirit by this time, but it doesn't seem to have effected much change in him as yet.)

And what was it that the other Apostles were telling Thomas? Nothing less than that their master Jesus of Nazareth is God. This is the meaning that Thomas applies to the bodily resurrection of Jesus. If He is truly risen, then He is Lord and God.

The idea that a man -- even someone you knew, admired, and loved; even someone who demonstrated power over demons, sickness, and storms; even the Messiah -- could, somehow, be God is utterly outrageous for a faithful Jew to entertain. So outrageous, I think, that Thomas might be more fairly judged as prudent rather than blameworthy to refuse to accept anything less than the testimony of his own hands.

True, Jesus tells him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." But He doesn't scold Thomas or refuse him the sight of Himself that he might believe. The moment becomes one in which Jesus teaches us that, although we are denied the physical proof of His resurrection that the Apostles enjoyed, we may yet be blessed through our faith in a way not available to them.

Such, at least, is my interpretation of the "Doubting Thomas" passage.

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Tuesday, July 02, 2002

Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy ... but what?

Kathy Shaidle doesn't find the adjective "prophetic" very flattering:
I'm always being lectured at that Dorothy Day and Hella-wuss et al are merely acting in the glorious, God-approved tradition of the Biblical prophets. But they are not, because God called the Biblical prophets by name.
I don't want to say anything against Dorothy Day; I know too little about her, and too many people I respect consider her a saint, and I think that pacifism is a useful corrective to militarism.

But I have noticed that, when I read words like "a prophetic voice" applied to a contemporary Catholic, what is usually meant is the voice is calling for the Church to move forward in this or that direction.

The idea that a prophet moves his people forward is, I'll grandstand, contrary to Catholicism. The prophets of the Old Testament seem to have been wholly dedicated to getting Israel to move, not forward, but back, back to God and His covenant with them. Public revelation ended, as the saying goes, with the death of the last apostle. A prophet who preaches any other Gospel is not a prophet of God.

The history of Christianity is full of prophets who moved their little bands away from the Church; such bands as still exist are still waiting for the Church to catch up to them.

This isn't to say that those who preach on, say, environmental justice have necessarily moved outside the Church or are preaching a false gospel. But if they are acting as Christians, it seems to me that they are not acting as Christian prophets. Christian kings, perhaps, or maybe just Christians, but I don't see anything prophetic in the Christian sense in calling for greater concern for biodiversity.

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