instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

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.


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.


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.


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.)


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.


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.


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.


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 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.)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Placet, magister?

While forgetting that she isn't in the smoking room of her club, Emily Stimpson points out that, as a rule, our crosses do not please us.

And since beauty is that which, being seen, pleases (id quod visum placet), I may say (with some understatement) that I don't find the crosses in my life to be beautiful.

And yet...

When I pray the Rosary, I usually reserve several Aves per decade to meditate on the aspects of goodness, truth, and beauty each mystery manifests. Broadly speaking, beauty is easier for me to find in the joyful mysteries, truth in the sorrowful mysteries, and goodness in the glorious mysteries. I doubt I will shock many people by admitting it's hard for me to find anything beautiful in the scourging at the pillar.

But what does the Father think of the Son's sacrifice? There are those who, rejecting the Catholic dogma of the impassibility of God as non-Biblical, insist that the Father suffered in Himself through His Son's Crucifixion. This is not a happy conclusion, if only because it means that God is no more perfectly happy than we are.

Moreover, this doesn't seem to be what the Bible says about how God viewed Jesus' passion. According to Scripture, the Father is pleased by the Son, always but especially by His sacrifice which reconciles all things to God.

How can God be pleased by something as terrible as a crucifixion -- much less the crucifixion of His only Son? One way of responding to this mystery is this: Our sin-mauled world reacts to the presence of the perfect love of God with crucifixion. The blood and death we see is the raging of sin against the hidden love the Father sees and finds pleasing, the love that is beautiful.

Our sin-mauled world lashes out against many things far less beautiful than the perfect love of God; these are our own crosses. It's by accepting God's invitation to unite our lesser crosses to Jesus' perfect cross that we can be united to His perfect love, and so become beautiful ourselves in the sight of the Father.
Yes, I know that it sounds odd
To speak of the beauty of the Cross,
Of the dying Son of God.
Yes, I know that it sounds odd
To embrace the lash and rod.
To gain lasting life by this great loss,
Yes, I know that it sounds odd.
Go, speak of the beauty of the Cross.


No thanks to Singer

Mark Shea quotes a reader who is grateful for the bad example given by Peter Singer:
He has taken one of the Zeitgeist's main axioms, i.e., "No sexual pleasure is illicit" and has taken it to its rational, if repugnant, ends. In so doing, he has exposed a number of deep flaws in contemporary moral philosophy....
Unfortunately, most people who accept the Zeitgeist aren't rational philosophers. They are entirely capable of embracing a principle while rejecting the principle's consequences. They may even celebrate their irrationality with a disparaging reference to the hobgoblin of little minds, or perhaps to Walt Whitman's aptly-named "Song of Myself." (I suppose it's just Biblical illiteracy that would allow any sort of Christian to think it's a good thing to contain multitudes.)

I have a theory that, when a generation embraces a false principle but rejects its corollary, the following generation will accept the corollary. What our parents found monstrous we find discomforting and our children will find normal. People I've told this theory to assure me that there comes a time when the enormity becomes so great that the whole tower of falsehood collapses, but I'm not going to hold my breath until Singer's disciples are laughed out of Western civilization.


Monday, June 24, 2002

The word of the day is triolet, an eight-line poetic form that dates back at least to the Thirteenth Century. The rules for construction are given, artlessly, in this triolet:
Both lines seven and four are the same as one.
And line eight is the same as line two.
Rhyme line three with line four, and you’re halfway done,
Both lines seven and four are the same as one.
Now line five rhymes with four, adding to the fun.
Rhyme line six with line eight and you’re through:
Both lines seven and four are the same as one,
And line eight is the same as line two.
The meter doesn't seem to matter; it's the rhyme and repetition that make a triolet.

If indeed beauty and goodness are fundamentally the same, it would be good to lace this site with beauty. Instead, I'll offer this trioletic impression of my Monday morning blogcrawl:
The bloggers every fault bemoan,
Grave and slight, remote and local.
The bishops’ follies set the tone;
The bloggers every fault bemoan.
I don't have far to cast my stone,
All Church politics is vocal.
The bloggers every fault bemoan,
Grave and slight, remote and local.


Sunday, June 23, 2002

Common sensus

In commenting on the consequences of Humanae Vitae, Anthony Marquis writes:
I do not think that the fathers of the [Second Vatican] Council would ever have imagined a time when the faithful would display a full-throated rejection of Church teaching. The Church is at a chicken-egg impasse: Institutional authority versus sensus fidelium. Church teaching is a teaching only insofar as it has been received by the faithful. We are in a new phase in the history of Church when official pronouncements are soundly rejected by the Catholic faithful.
This is a paragraph in which the errors so reinforce each other that a casual reading might miss them all.

I think Anthony's fundamental mistake is suggested by the words, "Institutional authority versus sensus fidelium." This implies, in context, that the sensus fidelium is the opinion of the majority of lay Catholics. In fact, though, as the words of Lumen Gentium 12 that he quoted immediately before this paragraph teach, the sensus fidelium is to be understood as "the entire people’s supernatural sense of the faith,...'from the bishops to the last of the faithful.'" Thus is is impossible for institutional authority to oppose the sensus fidelium, since the one is a part of the other.

This mistake leads directly into the equivocation of his final sentence. The term "the Catholic faithful" has two meanings that I think Anthony is confusing. One is simply "lay Catholics," the other is more like "Catholics authentically exercising their faith." It seems to beg the question to insist that the Catholics who reject Humanae Vitae are the ones authentically exercising their faith, while the ones who accept it are not.

I think the strongest point that the facts support here is that the sensus fidelium is not manifested clearly enough today to be invoked in arguments on the morality of contraception.


Transcendentals meditation

In replying to Steve Mattson's "Marquis misses the mark" blog entry, a reader comments, "Contraception is not only intrinsically evil, it is aesthetically repulsive."

This is true, for the very simple reason that goodness and beauty are fundamentally the same: goodness is being considered as something desired; and beauty is being considered as something that pleases.

This identity plays out in interesting ways in our fallen world. If a thing is good, but the Church is somehow failing to convince the world that it is good, then the Church is overlooking some presentation of this thing that manifests its beauty. If a thing is bad, then we know it is ugly however well gilded it be by the world.

There are people who are better guided by their aesthetic judgment than by their conscience. This may be because they have trained their conscience in error, or perhaps they are rebelling against training attempts from their youth, but have never thought to apply a false philosophy to their sense of beauty.

Another wrinkle is that some people believe everything that pleases them is good and everything that displeases them is evil. This may be true of the angels, but our aesthetics have been marred by sin, just like our will to do good. Our judgment, of both beauty and goodness, needs to inform itself according to something external to us.

A related problem is that some people think other people mean nothing more than, "This displeases me," when they say, "This is evil." If morality is merely aesthetics, and if there's no arguing over aesthetic taste, then there's no point in arguing with someone who tells you something is evil. This is a tough position to argue against, since there is so much truth to it. In fact, it would be the truth, if we were unfallen. And, despite the fact that original sin "is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved," as Chesterton put it in Orthodoxy, there are plenty of people who don't believe in it.


Friday, June 21, 2002

Putting vice to good use

Recently the "What deadly sin are you?" quiz made the rounds, and at least one person said they were Sloth. This leads me to ask: If they were truly slothful, would they really have gone to the trouble to take the quiz?

Perhaps they would, if they did so to escape the weariness of fulfilling their religious duty; following St. Gregory, St. Thomas defines the capital sin of sloth (acedia), not as simple laziness, but as "sorrow for spiritual good." [ST II-II, 35, 1] What brings you sorrow you want to avoid, so a slothful person (in the "seven deadly sins" sense) avoids those acts that bring him closer to God, because he finds them burdensome and wearying.

The daughters of sloth are, according to St. Gregory, "malice, spite, faint-heartedness, despair, sluggishness in regard to the commandments, [and] wandering of the mind after unlawful things." [Moralia xxxi, 45, quoted in ST II-II, 35, 4] If you'll grant me a confessional moment, I will admit to faint-heartedness and sluggishness in regard to the commandments, which St. Thomas interprets as avoidance of spiritual goods that lead to salvation in matters of difficulty (faint-heartedness) and in matters of common righteousness (sluggishness).

Significantly, St. Thomas treats sloth in his treatise on charity. (Specifically, sloth is a vice directed against charity's joy in the Divine good. [ST II-II, 35, 2]) Meanwhile, one of the acts of charity he identifies is fraternal correction.

Now, fraternal correction has always been a very popular aspect of Christianity, even when it does not, strictly speaking, arise from charity. And fraternal correction of the American episcopacy is the break-out fad of 2002 among Catholic laity (and others).

As a slothful man, though, I am sluggish to join in (a fact that has not gone unnoticed). I am, in fact, so sluggish that I prefer to think up imaginative alternatives to explain what others explain by the bishops' sinfulness. For example:

One matter on which numerous American Catholics have expressed the desire to fraternally correct the American bishops is the voice-vote defeat of Bishop Bruskewitz's amendment to investigate the roles homosexuality and dissent played in fomenting the molestation and cover-up crisis. That the amendment was defeated is taken as a sign of the bishops' pusillanimity; that it was done on a voice vote is taken as a sign that the bishops who voted against it didn't want it known that they voted against it.

Maybe the bishops are cowards; maybe they don't want people to know they are cowards. Or maybe (and here is where I channel my sluggishness into my imagination) a majority of the bishops saw the purpose of last week's meeting as crafting a charter and norms for dealing with accusations of abuse of minors by Church personnel. Maybe they thought that such a charter getting 95% of the bishops' votes was more important, that day, than fighting over the meaning and import of Bishop Bruskewitz's amendment and providing more material for reactive commentators of all stripes to root through in their rush to excoriate should the final charter fail to meet all of their demands. Maybe some of the bishops -- who's to say what fraction of the 252 with a vote -- were acting not out of cowardice but out of prudence.

It's an improbable idea, I realize, that a significant fraction of American bishops are able, at a specific moment in specific circumstances, to act virtuously rather than viciously, but it is by just such improbable ideas that I sustain my sluggishness.


Hand in hand

There's been some talk recently about the various reactions to the "Christ in Majesty" mosaic in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

There is a spot in the pews of the Great Upper Church where, looking up toward the mosaic (which is on the ceiling behind the main altar), the statue of Mary on top of the baldacchino is aligned such that the left hand of Mary appears to rest in the left hand of Christ. (Christ's hand is, of course, enormously bigger. If you've never been in the Basilica: the mosaic is the dominant feature of the Great Upper Church.)

This is an interesting perspective. We might imagine Mary leading the toddler Jesus around by the hand; or firmly gripping His wrist on a certain trip home from Jerusalem; or clasping the dead and bloodied hand after they took down His body; or looking in wonder at that same hand, now glorified, some days later.

And, too, it is Jesus' hand -- pierced forevermore by a nail, as the mosaic clearly shows -- that raised her body and soul from her tomb, and placed her on her throne in Heaven. And the same spirit that informs that hand formed her immaculate, blessed her with the singularly greatest joy of creation, sustained her in her sorrows, and guided her sinless to her eternal home.

As with all true aspects of Jesus, perhaps the awe-full expression He assumes in the "Christ in Majesty" mosaic is more richly understood when contemplated, at least in part, in the context of His relationship with His mother Mary, the Immaculate Conception, our life, our sweetness, and our hope.


Thursday, June 20, 2002

Rumor watch

I can't verify this, but I've heard that the reform group Voice of Catholics for Canon Law (VOCCaL) has disbanded, having discovered that its name is prohibited by canon law.


Buy Tim Drake's book

Saints of the Jubilee is now available as an electronic book from 1stBooks. Buy it now for $3.95, and buy it again later when it comes out as a paperback.

Saints of the Jubilee is a collection of biographical essays on people who were canonized or beatified during the Great Jubilee of 2000. Conceived, edited, and brought forth by Tim Drake, its subjects include:
  • the Martyrs of Nowogrodek (by Kathryn Lively)
  • Andrew the Catechist (by Kathryn Mulderink)
  • Blessed Cristobal Magallanes and Companions (by Ann Ball)
  • Blessed Pedro Calungsod (by Kathryn Lively)
  • Sts. Jacinta and Francisco Marto (by Kathryn Mulderink)
  • St. Maria Josefa of the Heart of Jesus (by Patti Dansereau)
  • St. Katharine Drexel (by Tom Kreitzberg)
  • St. Augustine Tchao and the Chinese Martyrs (by Christine Haapala with Fr. Matthew Carr)
  • St. Faustina Kowalska (by Mark Kwasny)
Sts. Katharine Drexel and Faustina Kowalska are yet two more of my patron saints; canonizationwise, 2000 was a good year for me.


The paradoxes of Mr. Beste

Louder Fenn, Lane Core, and Minute Particulars have taken up USS Clueless's challenge that a variant of Russell's Paradox proves that God is not omnipotent. Roughly speaking, their answer is, "Well of course; you're using the wrong definition of 'omnipotent.'"

They're right, of course, but I don't think we need to appeal to St. Thomas to answer the charge. (Not that lack of need should ever stop us from appealing to St. Thomas.)

Den Beste's argument reads in part:
Define the universe set V to be all actions. Within that we define two subsets G representing all the actions God is capable of, and G' representing all actions God is not capable of....

Let us define act A to be identify a member of G'. A is an action and therefore a member of V....
We can stop right there. That A is an action is an assertion that needs to be proved. Notionally it is an action, when we think about it we think of it as an action, but that's an artifact of grammar. "Tie a rainbow to my thought" is another such notional action, but "Tie a rainbow to my thought" is not a member of the set V of all actions. For a thing to actually be an action, it needs to be actable.

What has been demonstrated (if not strictly proven) on USS Clueless is that the set of all actions can be mapped onto the set of all grammatical actions (i.e., constructs of the form "verb object"), but that such a mapping is not one-to-one. This is, in effect, the mathematical way of saying what other Catholic bloggers have said: "To make a rock too heavy for God to lift is not a real thing, it's a non-thing, and as Frank Sheed says, with God no-thing is impossible."


Wednesday, June 19, 2002

A new reform group

Steve Schultz is pulling together a list of newly created Church reform groups. Since I don't know of any, I thought I'd found one myself, called

Reform the Hell out of The Church

Mission Statement: The mission of Reform the Hell out of The Church (ReHTCh) is, literally, to reform the hell (i.e., all demonic influences) out of the Church. Signs of demonic influence include, but are not limited to: good-for-nothing bishops; priests who do not humbly accept criticism; poor congregational singing; noisy children and the parents who spoil them; parking lot traffic snarls between the 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Masses on Palm Sunday; anything to do with Massachusetts politics; and youth ministers.

Recognizing that it wasn't the Second Vatican Council that let the Church go to hell, but rather attempts to implement the directives of the Council, ReHTCh is determined to reform the hell out of the Church by
  • setting up an Internet discussion group for people who believe exactly as we do to exchange the same anecdotes; and
  • writing blistering letters and articles condemning demonic influences in the Church for publication in the ReHTCh newsletter, Ad Remum Dareris.
Addendum: I've been informed that I ought to point out that ReHTCh should not be confused with the non-profit organization Reform Hell Out Of The Church (RHOOTCh), whose mission is to get the Vatican to open a discussion with the laity on whether damnation is a man-made tradition that should be set aside.


Tuesday, June 18, 2002

What Christians do

Once a bunch of Lay Dominican inquirers were talking about when to say the various offices of the Liturgy of the Hours. You know, like if you sleep in till 10 a.m., do you go with Morning Prayer or Mid-Morning Prayer, or if you're out till 9 p.m. do you do Evening Prayer or Night Prayer.

The friar who for his sins had agreed to be the spiritual advisor of this newly-founded chapter, when asked for his opinion on these matters, shifted in his seat and answered, "Christians pray."

This may be the best two-word sermon I've ever heard.


Poles apart

Greg Popcak of Heart, Mind & Strength has an interesting diagnosis of two irrational behaviors exhibited by American Catholics. One is interventionism, according to which fixing the problems with the Church is entirely up to personal action of the interventionist. The other is inspirationism, a passive acceptance that the Holy Spirit will make everything better. People who find themselves bouncing between these two poles exhibit "Catholic Bipolar Disorder."

I, too, have noticed some irrational behaviors among American Catholics lately. The most common of these might be called inlocoparentism. An inlocoparentist professes absolute moral certainty of precisely what the Holy Father must do, today, to whom, and with what implement, if the Church in the U.S. is not to be wiped out tomorrow.

Another is indolentism, whose exhibitors insist that responding to the crisis is entirely up to some person or persons other than themselves, who after all have never molested a child nor covered up for a molester.

Some American Catholics also show signs of inextremisism, the belief that every bishop in the United States needs to be banished to a monastery to do penance for the rest of his life.

The most dire irrational behavior, however -- the one with the least hope of recovery -- may be influentialism, the sense that what the individual says should or does affect what happens in the Church.


Monday, June 17, 2002

Our duty too

Rod Dreher quotes Bishop Bruskewitz of Lincoln at last Friday's Catholics United for the Faith bishop's conference "postmortem report":
The avuncular bishop, who is considered a right-wing fringe figure by most of his colleagues, cited the 14th-century St. Catherine of Siena, "an illiterate nun who is now a doctor of the Church," as a model.

"She was brave enough to tell the pope off when he needed telling off," said Bruskewitz. "She did her duty. We must too."
I wonder what the CUF crowd would have thought had they been told that St. Catherine (who was neither illiterate nor a nun) explicitly taught that neither the laity nor secular authorities are to attack any priest or bishop, however evil he may be (which, in the 14th Century, may have been very evil indeed). Instead, they are to resort to prayer in perfect charity.


A holy fool's folly?

Emily Stimpson is disquieted by the spectacle of modern American bishops:
I’m tired of the bishops being politic, and I’m tired of ecclesiastics who remind me of all the congressman, senators, and bureaucrats I left behind in Washington....
I don’t want politic bishops. I want holy bishops. I want bishops who stand up for Christ and His Church, who loudly proclaim the truth of God’s teachings, and who do the right thing, publicity be damned.
I know that’s unrealistic and probably not even wise. The demands of a modern day diocese, current divisions within the Church, and the omnipresent press all seem to call for a bishop skilled in the art of prudential diplomacy.
I think it's probably a good thing, for the sake of the faith of many Catholics now living (myself included), that we don't have any videotapes of the vast majority of Church councils and synods. What might we think of the sight of St. Peter declaring that mistakes were made, or St. Paul upbraiding him while looking out of the corner of his eye for the cameras?

Emily writes, "There are few things I would love to see more right now than a holy fool in a mitre, a Saint Francis in episcopal garb."

I think that would be entertaining, and it would certainly give me something to talk about other than my own actions, but I suspect that St. Francis would have been a disaster from start to finish as a bishop, his successes as a teacher and sanctifier overshadowed by his failures as a governor.

Maybe not; God's strength is made perfect in human weakness.

Still, while we don't seem to have a Saint Francis in episcopal garb, we do have an Emily Stimpson in lay garb. I'm in lay garb, too, as are most American Catholics waiting for God to raise up a saint to lead the Church out of the current mess.

So why isn't God doing what we're telling Him to do?


He ain't heavy, he's my brother priest

Amy Welborn didn't like some of the things she heard last week:
The hesitancy to enact "zero tolerance" we saw in Dallas on the part of some bishops was explicitly stated as a reluctance to "rat on" priests (the Rockford guy) and a sense that it would be difficult to go back to the diocese and "face my brother priests" with this kind of policy.

Why is the existence of this self-protective ethos, that sees loyalty to the brotherhood as the highest value, so difficult for lay people to admit?
I think another important question is this: Why is the sense that it will be difficult for bishops to face their brother priests with this kind of policy interpreted as a self-protective ethos that sees loyalty to the brotherhood as the highest value?

Priests are not bishops' employees, nor are they merely their assistants. According to the Vatican II decree Christus Dominus, the bishop together with diocesan clergy
form one presbytery and one family whose father is the bishop... The relationships between the bishop and the diocesan priests should rest most especially upon the bonds of supernatural charity so that the harmony of the will of the priests with that of their bishop will render their pastoral activity more fruitful. [CD 28]
It isn't hard for me to imagine that a bishop telling his spiritual sons he may disown them if they hug the wrong child could injure the harmony of wills necessary for their pastoral activity to be more fruitful. It isn't hard for me to imagine a father expressing concern about exposing his sons to a risk of grave injustice.


Sunday, June 16, 2002

I was thinking more along the lines of, "Happy 25th Anniversary!"

Mark Shea mentions his friend Greg Krehbiel's letter, and instructs us, "Go thou and do likewise."

You can read Greg Krehbiel's letter and make your own decision. As for me, my next letter to my bishop -- Cardinal McCarrick, the same as Mr. Krehbiel -- will look substantially different.

In particular, I will not be listing conditions that the Pope must meet -- such as laicizing bishops who do not live up to my standards -- in order for me to support my local church at more than a token amount. This, to me, would be too much like me telling my father I won't help take care of my sister until my grandfather makes my uncle stop drinking.

In fact, if someone sent me this letter anonymously, I would probably think that it betrayed a very confused ecclesiology, one according to which a parish in one diocese can reasonably be penalized for the behavior of the bishop of another diocese and the same extra-diocesan authority that allocates administrative duties within a diocese also allocates preaching and teaching duties to the bishop of that diocese.