instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Flos daily

Steven Riddle of Flos Carmeli was feeling despondent about the lack of visible reaction to his reflections on St. John of the Cross. He's since seen this feeling in the light his vocation as a Carmelite.

At the risk of interfering with Steven's ascent of Mt. Carmel, I encourage everyone to join me in visiting Flos Carmeli frequently. It's a remarkable blog, even if no one's told Steven.


For the record

John McGuinness places Disputations in "orthodox blog land." In a related note, Mike at Enemy of the Church? is resisting
the temptation to grill the more "orthodox" members of St. Blogs about the way it sometimes seems they wallow in hostility and blamesmanship. I wonder how can they live with what appears to be such constant anger and with the caustic combination of being convinced most of the members of "AmChurch" are fools and being unwilling to suffer fools (hence most of "Amchurch") gladly.
While I do consider myself orthodox -- which, after all, merely means "having right beliefs" -- I don't think I ever identify myself as an "orthodox Catholic." I find the use of the term "AmChurch" wearisome. My favorite description of me, from a list someone wrote describing members of a Catholic mailing list I'm on, is, "Average Catholic, likes St. Thomas." I will also raise my hand when someone asks if there are any boot-licking Vatican toadies in the house.

I don't have any insightful or non-negotiable opinions about liturgy, translations, enneagrams, EWTN, or Cardinal Law. What I will object to strenuously, though, are Catholics who demonstrate no faith in the Catholic faith.


Subjunctive sophistication

A popular hypothetical question directed to Christians is, "What if they found Jesus' bones in a tomb?"

One common answer is, "This would have no significant effect upon my faith, which is based on a personal encounter with the Divine, not a rigorous and literal reading of Biblical texts. Certainly the Resurrection event, as experienced by the disciples in the years following the crucifixion, would therefore not have been one of experiencing Jesus physically, but of experiencing his spiritual presence in their community, none the less real -- and in a sense much more real -- of a presence for it not being defined by the spatial limitations of even a glorified human body."

A moment's thought shows this to be a nuanced, flexible, and cowardly answer more suitable for belly-crawling corporate yes-men two years from retirement than for faith-filled disciples of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, more for people whose faith consists merely of vague and ambiguously subjective emotions than for those whose faith is of Christ and Him crucified.

The correct answer, it seems to me, is (borrowing a phrase from Flannery O'Connor), "Then to hell with it." Or, as someone else once put it, "If Christ has not been raised, then empty too is our preaching; empty, too, your faith."


Not only isn't it miraculous... doesn't even make an interesting story.

John McGuinness on Man Bites Blog urges restraint on the rhetoric swirling over the miracle of sharing" interpretation of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. In response to Rod Dreher's claim that "we are in the middle of a war for the survival of the Church. The lack of fidelity is the root cause for all our woes," John writes:
First of all, the root cause for all our woes is priests who sexually abused children. Period.
I think John misses the scope of Rod's claim, which is not about the abuse-and-coverup scandals, but about the survival of the Church. Priests who sexually abused children did not cause attendance at Sunday Mass to fall to whatever dismal fraction it was last December; they did not cause large numbers of American Catholics to be so poorly catechized, to support legal abortion, to avoid the sacrament of reconciliation, to believe that any religion is about as good as any other.

I'm not sure that Rod's claim (borrowed, perhaps, from Fr. Richard John Neuhaus) that infidelity is the root cause for all our woes says all that much; it seems to me to be derivable from, "Not being holy is the cause of us not being holy." Still, being the creatures we are, we need to be reminded of such things from time to time.

John goes on to wonder at the vehemence with which the Woodstock moment interpretation of the miracle of the loaves and fishes is rejected:
What I do think is worth examining is why this interpretation is so threatening to people. What would it mean if someone could factually verify that it was in fact a miracle of sharing? Would that change what we believe in?
First, I reject the assertion that I find the sharing interpretation threatening. I do not find it threatening. I find it foolish and ignorant and self-centered and damaging, but not threatening.

The first question to ask of a Scriptural passage -- and this is Catholicism 101, going back explicitly pretty much as far back as Christians asked questions of Scriptural passages -- is, "What is the literal meaning of the passage?"

But this is not a question the sharing interpreters ask -- or, if they do ask, they don't care about the answer. They cannot possibly care, because in all five of the passages recording a miraculous feeding of a multitude, the literal meaning is unambiguously and undeniably that the entire multitude ate their fill from a very small number of loaves and fishes, and that the leftover scraps from those self-same loaves and fishes amounted to far more than the very small number they were to begin with. This is what the Gospels say. This is what the priest or deacon proclaims to the congregation -- explicitly and unequivocally -- when he reads the Gospel passages.

How, then, can someone even arrive at the thought that the "real miracle" is one of sharing? It's not in the Gospels. In fact, it explicitly contradicts what is in the Gospels. It's not in the Church Fathers. It's not anywhere in the Church down through the centuries.

Instead, it comes from men outside the Church whose foremost dogma was, "Miracles have never happened."

Now, if miracles have never happened, the exegete has a problem with the miracle of the loaves and fishes. He needs a non-miraculous explanation of how a multitude ate. Well, obviously there must have been a multitude of food, despite the stories explicitly stating that there was not a multitude of food.

But the exegete also needs an explanation of why such an uninteresting story would be recorded five times in four Gospels. He seizes on this: "It is a miracle to get people to share with each other."

The problem with this, as has been pointed out by others, is that it is not a miracle to get people to share with others. It just isn't. People help other people in need; haven't you noticed?

The claim that sharing with others is miraculous may say something true about the person making the claim, or about his opinion of the people around him, but it is demonstrably false in itself.

So, from my perspective, anyone asserting that the Gospel stories of the miracle of the loaves and fishes is really about Jesus coaxing the crowd into sharing what they had
  1. has never read the Gospels with any level of attention.
  2. bases his assertion on a dogma that contradicts the Catholic faith.
  3. is a lousy observer of human nature.
  4. reduces Jesus from the source of our life to a good example.
Given that, I think it's clear to see why I do not want to hear (or hear of) Catholics preaching this nonsense to other Catholics.


Monday, August 05, 2002

Washington area get-together

As seen on Catholic Light: This Thursday, August 8, St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Great Falls, Virginia, will be the site of a special liturgical program. The public Rosary (good under the usual conditions for a plenary indulgence) at 6:30 will be followed by chanted Vespers at 7 p.m., then a chanted Latin Mass at 7:30 p.m. The Washington Capella Antiqua (featuring Catholic Light's Steve Schultz) will do much of the singing, which is good news for people like me who -- well, let's just say who wouldn't be invited to a second audition with a group like the Washington Capella Antiqua.

I will be there, God willing, faking my way through the Latin responses with gusto. I hope to meet Steve and any other blogfolk who can make it. (There's a phone number to RSVP on the web page.) I'll be the one wearing a small Dominican shield on my lapel, in honor of the Feast of St. Dominic.


God is not good

There's an old saw that mysticism begins in a mist and ends in a schism, and it's widely thought that this is just what happened with Meister Eckhart.

Eckhart was a Fourteenth Century Dominican friar and mystic whose startling and original style of preaching left him open to charges of heresy. One of his famous statements is, "I am good, but God is not good," and he goes on to claim that it is untrue to say that God is wise or even that He exists. His point, of course, is that words cannot adequately describe God:
Be silent therefore, and do not chatter about God, for by chattering about him, you tell lies and commit a sin. If you wish to be perfect and without sin, then do not prattle about God. Also you should not wish to understand anything about God, for God is beyond all understanding. A master says: If I had a God that I could understand, I would not regard him as God.
If you've read the Tao Te Ching, this may well put you in mind of its opening line: "The Tao that can be named is not the read Tao."

Syncretists, of course, love to find similarities between different traditions, and Eckhart is a mine of difficult or ambiguous sayings that bear at least a surface similarity to a lot of non-Christian mystical writing. Add to that the cachet of the condemnation of several of Eckhart's propositions by the Church as heretical -- after his death, to be sure, and with explicit recognition of his submission to the judgment of the Holy See, but not all wise Catholics can be burned by the Church -- and you can see why Meister Eckhart is a popular authority among Western Postchristians. (You can also see why he is referred to as a pantheist by Western fundamentalists.)

The Dominican Order, which has never disowned its Meister, has been working toward obtaining a papal declaration to the effect that Eckhart's writings are "an expression of authentic Christian mysticism and ... trustworthy guides to the Christian life according to the spirit of the gospel." There is even a fifteen-year-old Eckhart Society whose goals include the promotion of Eckhart's writings and the scholarly study of his life and works. (The goals also include promotion of Eckhart's teachings in interreligious dialogue, so even should a papal declaration be given the pantheist charge will survive.)

More excerpts from Meister Eckhart's works can be found here.


The sole concern of the Church

JB the Kairos Guy expresses concern about the states of souls:
I could really use some help with mine, for instance, and I imagine yours is in much the same shape. That guy down the street needs some help, too. And the person on the way to work this morning…And the woman who…
As with air masks that drop down from the ceiling in the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, the saving of souls works best if you take care of yourself before assisting those around you.

The Fundamental Constitution of the Dominican friars, quoting the Order's Primitive Constitutions, states that "the Order of Friars Preachers founded by St. Dominic 'is known from the beginning to have been instituted especially for preaching and the salvation of souls.'" St. Dominic understood that the salvation of souls begins at home. A preaching friar who saves thousands of souls, but not his own, isn't a very good preaching friar.

Fortunately, the way things are set up is such that saving your own soul makes it much easier to save other souls. You have the help of the graces that come to a soul that is right with God, you are more likely to do what is effective for others if your own mind and heart are properly ordered, and you are simply more attractive to others who are open to the Spirit.

I don't think I'm writing anything contrary to what JB wrote. We can't wait until our souls are irreversibly saved to start worrying about others. I'm just making the obvious point that the holier we are, the holier we can help others to be.


Yes, it's Monday. Could you tell?

The conversation at In Between Naps turned to the "naturalistic" explanation of the miracle of the loaves and the fishes: that the "real" miracle was that everyone shared their food with everyone else.

I'm pro-miracle by temperament. I like to say that not all miracles are miraculous, meaning that God's actions in our lives don't always take astonishing or inexplicable forms.

But this multiplication-by-sharing wheeze is playing Scripture backwards, taking something that is clearly related as a miraculous miracle and downgrading it into a soft-focus moment of gosh-darned neighborliness brought to you by your local Coca-Cola bottler.
I'd like to teach the world to share
Their barley loaves and fish.
To get my friends to love and care
Is my one greatest wish.
The absurdity of the non-miracle position is made worse by the fact that it makes utter hash of the story.
"Martha, have you heard? That healer, Jesus of Nazareth, is in a boat near a deserted place not far from here. Perhaps if we bring young Jude to him, he will be able to heal Jude's withered arm. Let us go!"

"Okay, but first let me pack a picnic basket."

"Good thinking. While you're at it, pack more food than we'll need. I can use the exercise carrying that extra weight."
As I understand it, Catholic belief in non-miracles can be traced to (at least) the 19th Century dogmatic denial of miracles by men who considered themselves theologians. As with most things, Catholics complicate the simple idea that Jesus performed no miracles by believing that He is nevertheless God's Son. The result smacks of Pelagianism: "Gosh, Jesus showed others how to be nice. I'm nice, too, and I can show others how to be nice. Heaven, here I come!"

What we have, then, are trendy theologians teaching 150-year-old oxymorons to people eager to hear that they're God's children, too. This is bad theology. When a theologian does bad theology, what's left?

(It occurred to me yesterday that the Attack of the Workshopped Liturgists is, too often, the story of liturgists who don't know liturgy. And I don't mean they do bad liturgy, I mean they flat don't know the liturgy. When a liturgist does something that is explicitly contrary to liturgical norms, she is not demonstrating creativity or sensibility or prophetic vision, she is demonstrating ignorance. If liturgists don't know liturgy, what are they good for except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot?)

(Er, I mean, if they don't know liturgy, why are they considered liturgists?)


Friday, August 02, 2002

Translations from the English

It has been suggested that St. Thomas is no doubt sound on the question, but he's hardly the thing to spring on a chap with a morning head.

Let me repeat my recommendation to turn to the Companion to the Summa, by Walter Farrell, OP, for those times when the Summa straight up reads like it hasn't been translated from medieval Latin yet. For example, I quoted a bit below from ST II-II, 82, 3. In the Companion, this shows up like so:
Just what thought causes this devotion? What mysteries pondered over by our minds can give us that ready willingness to do what concerns the worship of God? St. Thomas points out two great classes of truth which are immediate causes of devotion; one positive, the other negative. On the positive side there are the beauties of divine goodness in itself and in its benefits to us; on the negative side, our side, there are the defects and insufficiencies that drive home our need of God and uproot the great impediment to devotion which is presumption. God made it easier for us by sending His Son. To our stumbling minds and fickle hearts the tangible world has an immediate and powerful appeal; ready to our hand we have the humanity of Christ with its infinite material for our prayerful consideration. We cannot think very often of Christ without seeing the magnificence of His divinity bursting through into His human acts, filling us with awe, love and loyalty to the Son of Mary. Nor can we follow His tired feet through Palestine without becoming acutely conscious of the insufficiencies, the defects of our nature.
Not quite "See Dick run," but to me Fr. Farrell's work reads the way the Summa ought to be preached.


"This is your weapon"

A comment on one of my Rosary posts points out that both Marian apparitions and papal exhortations have called on Catholics to pray the Rosary:
Now are you gonna disobey your mother AND "father"? Mary even gives acknowledgment to the fact that excuses will be made so she starts a beginner out slowly. But most of all she asks us to pray with the heart - and giving a mother something that takes effort shows far more love from the heart than trying to discover something that feels good to ME.
Apparitions, of course, cannot promulgate binding precepts on Catholics, and while many popes have urged all the faithful to pray the Rosary, none has commanded it.

But I find extremely distateful any implication that anyone who finds the Rosary a less fruitful way of prayer than some other form is merely looking for something that makes them feel good. The Rosary is a weapon against the world, the flesh, and the devil, not other Catholics who do not measure up to one's personal standards of piety.

The goal of the Christian life is perfection in Christ. Praying the Rosary is a tremendously effective aid to achieving this goal, but it doesn't work by magic. If it is not helping you to become perfect in Christ -- although, as I've written before, it takes some time and effort to be sure about this -- then don't pray it.

I will say, though, that all Catholics ought to honor Mary in some devotional way. Not only is this honor due her as Mother of God and Mother of the Church, but in my experience and that of many, many people throughout the centuries, it is astonishingly, almost exhiliratingly, returned in spiritual graces and favors.



Maybe it's just my parenting skills

On HMS Blog, Woodeene Koenig-Bricker thinks like a parent and concludes that God doesn't send us suffering:
If I, as an imperfect parent, wouldn't out of the blue impose pain and suffering on my child even though I know, as the parent and adult, that he still had some growth stages to go through, then why would God, who is so much better a parent, do that to me? I can understand God allowing me to suffer as the natural (or even supernatural) consequences of my sinful actions, but I can't accept the notion that God would suddenly decide to send a little suffering my way just to improve me.
First, whatever God does, He doesn't do them suddenly or out of the blue, but from eternity and out of love.

But I'm surprised that Woodeene's conclusions arose from her thinking about herself as a parent. When I think about myself as a parent, I come to quite different conclusions.

Of course, I impose pain and suffering on my children every day. I even have a name for it: "Bedtime."

My children's pain at bedtime is real pain, and their suffering is real suffering, and I am the efficient cause of both. I intentionally take away from them a real good -- the good of play (which, for children, also includes the good of work) -- and give them no immediate or evident good in its place. Sometimes I literally take something out of their hands, and they react to this actual loss of something good precisely as though they have had something good taken away from them by their father. Yet their suffering is not a consequence of their sinful actions.

This homely rumination says more about me and my kids than it does about God, but it is the sort of thinking I do to help me understand such passages as Job 5:17-18:
Happy is the man whom God reproves! The Almighty's chastening do not reject. For he wounds, but he binds up; he smites, but his hands give healing.


There are burdens and there are burdens

Tom Abbott of GoodForm offers a passionate exhortation to the Rosary for those who find it burdensome:
Get a hold of books by St. Louis DeMontfort. Ask our Blessed Mother to help you with the Rosary. If the Rosary is burdensome, then offer it up as penance and be reminded that you are creating a beautiful crown of roses and presenting it to our Lady as a gift of love and gratitude. If the rosary is a burden, then how much more beautiful and how much more well received will that crown of roses be when our Blessed Mother receives it knowing how difficult it was for you to create it.
I agree that the Rosary can be a difficult treasure box to open and that the effort to open it can be very rewarding.

But: If it doesn't work for you, it doesn't work for you.

The purpose of a devotion is to bring you closer to God, and if all the Rosary brings you close to is chucking the beads out of a window, then perhaps you should chuck the beads, not out of a window, but out of your prayer life. (Put the beads away some place; there may yet come a time when you'll need them.)

St. Therese wrote, "It's a terrible thing to admit, but saying the Rosary takes it out of me more than any hair shirt ... Try as I will, I cannot meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary. I just cannot fix my mind on them." (I'm told the early editions of her autobiography omitted such passages.) As a Carmelite, though, she had to pray the Rosary, and -- agreeing with Tom -- decided that the sheer effort of doing so would be at least as profitable as twenty minutes of easy meditation.

Trying to balance all this, I'd say that, yes, even an arid and burdensome habit of praying the Rosary can be good for the soul, but it's entirely possible that for you there is another form of prayer that is better.

As an aside, in the same post Tom quotes St. Louis de Montfort, T.O.P., quoting Bl. Alan de la Roche, O.P., quoting a vision of Mary:
Know, my son, and make all others know, that it is a probable and proximate sign of eternal damnation to have an aversion, a lukewarmness, or a negligence in saying the Angelical Salutation, which has repaired the whole world.
Taking nothing away from the sanctity and the good works of Bl. Alan, he is not, shall we say, universally considered an impeccable recorder of genuine mystical experience.



Thursday, August 01, 2002

Apologia pro matre sua, prima pars

St. Thomas Aquinas, taking up the question of whether contemplation is the cause of devotion, considers this objection:
[I]f contemplation were the proper and essential cause of devotion, the higher objects of contemplation would arouse greater devotion. But the contrary is the case: since frequently we are urged to greater devotion by considering Christ's Passion and other mysteries of His humanity than by considering the greatness of His Godhead.
He replied:
Matters concerning the Godhead are, in themselves, the strongest incentive to love and consequently to devotion, because God is supremely lovable. Yet such is the weakness of the human mind that it needs a guiding hand, not only to the knowledge, but also to the love of Divine things by means of certain sensible objects known to us. Chief among these is the humanity of Christ, according to the words of the Preface [for Christmastide], "that through knowing God visibly, we may be caught up to the love of things invisible." Wherefore matters relating to Christ's humanity are the chief incentive to devotion, leading us thither as a guiding hand, although devotion itself has for its object matters concerning the Godhead.
I've emphasized the point I want to draw out: The human mind needs a guiding hand, by means of sensible objects, to the love [dilectio] of divine things.

This is not a theological argument. It's not a matter of Revelation, and you won't find it explicit in Scripture. It's simply an observed fact about humans: We do better moving from the sensible to the incomprehensible.

As an observed fact, it isn't categorical and universal. There are exceptions; numerous saints fell into rapture with no physical or mental prompting, and God may grant us moments of contemplation whenever He choses. Still, this is the experience of almost everyone almost all the time.

St. Thomas rightly points out that chief among the sensible things that lead to devotion is the humanity of Christ. It's a point that bears a lifetime of study, but for now let me move on to the next best thing: the humanity of Mary, the Mother of God.


Bring back the clausulae!

David Alexander thinks something not quite entirely unlike an older form of the Rosary -- which older form featured different clausulae (short phrases recalling elements of Jesus' life, death and resurrection) recited for each Ave, rather than the "second half" of the "Hail Mary" ("Holy Mary, Mother of God,....") -- is worth fostering. (My apologies for misrepresenting him in the first version of this.)

I agree, largely because it gives me an (admittedly weak) excuse to tout one of my favorite books: Through the Rosary with Fra Angelico.

This is a booklet of 150 clausulae, taken from the writings of St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, with accompanying pictures of the fifteen mysteries taken from paintings by Fra Angelico (John da Fiesole, to his friends).

You can buy the booklet for $2.95 through most of the major on-line booksellers, or go through the St. Joseph Province Dominican Laity catalogue for $2.50. Go ahead and order two copies, so you can give one away to the next person you meet who loves beauty.



The dreariness of the Rosary

Steven Riddle of the very fine blog Flos Carmeli confesses that the Rosary is not his prayer of choice: "I regard the rosary as a onerous penance -- doing a single decade is, for me, like trampling through a lake of liquid lead."

He's hardly the first Carmelite to feel that way. St. Therese didn't get much out of it either.

Most people think of the Rosary as a five-decade prayer, the mysteries varying with the day. Purists would say it's a fifteen-decade prayer, by custom divided into three parts.

I think there's a case to be made that the Rosary is an unending prayer; after the Coronation, you turn to the Annunciation, and keep going. Day by day, you incorporate the rhythm of Christ's life, death, and resurrection -- and of Mary's participation in them -- into your own life.

Taking this long view helps me pray the Rosary. When I get to the end of a decade and realized I barely thought about the mystery, I don't get too upset. For one thing, I know I'll have another chance to meditate on that mystery every few days for the rest of my life. For another, even barely thinking about it is more thinking about it than I'd have done if I weren't praying the Rosary.

As you can tell, I am not very efficient in praying the Rosary, but then I don't think the Rosary needs to be a very efficient prayer.

I don't believe that every Catholic needs to pray the Rosary every day; if people say they are temperamentally ill-suited for it who am I to say they're wrong? But I suspect some of the people who find the Rosary dreary are expecting too much of it, and of themselves, at every Hail Mary, or even every five decades.

What I recommend for those who are unsure, one way or another, of the role of the Rosary in their prayer life is to commit to praying it daily for a month, supported by some of the vast devotional literature that brings out its richness (this is important; there are hundreds of techniques and variations that might help bring the Rosary to life). They can see what they think about it after using it for a while unfettered by expectations of immediate results.



Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Cheap to offer, dear to counter

The reason I held off adding comments to Disputations for a couple of months was that I didn't want to be responsible for the sort of irresponsible comments -- wanting in charity, prudence, and occasionally plain facts -- I was seeing on other blogs.

Eventually, though, I recognized that this site attracts a higher caliber of reader, and I had little to fear on that score.

Soon after, Mark Butterworth of Sunny Days in Heaven took issue with my statement, "Can anyone but a fool deny that the Pope lives as though he believes the Faith?", writing in a comment, "I don't find JPII is all that much a believer other than in a simplistic, and rather superstitious way."

Over the course of two further comments, Mark attacked the Church's Mariology, the Eucharist, and my own faith and rationality. "What a frightening kind of Christianity and God you believe in," he wrote with characteristic hauteur.

His attacks are of a kind I call "cheap to offer, dear to counter." It is the work of a moment to write, as he did, "[E]xplain in a rational, logical, and sensible manner why anyone should pray to Mary rather than to God. You can't do so....." It takes considerable more time and trouble to explain in a rational, logical, and sensible manner why anyone should pray to Mary rather than to God. (As it happens, just last week I came across the perfect launching point for this precise question in an unlikely spot in the Summa (II-II, 82, 3, if you want to work ahead), but I haven't had a chance to pull it together.)

The impression such a cheap-to-offer assertion leaves is that -- since the dear-to-counter reply is so late in coming, and so wordy when finally presented, and (most likely) admittedly incomplete even then -- the assertion must be true. Given a choice, the human mind tends to prefer the simpler answer.

I can't really complain about having my faith publically challenged. Above and beyond the basic requirement for Christians to be prepared to defend their faith, I belong to an Order whose rule for laity states, "Every Dominican should be able to preach the word of God."

At the same time, I don't feel obligated to leave Mark's insulting and inaccurate attacks on me, the Pope, and the Church unanswered in the Disputations comments until I have the opportunity to answer them. He can post them on his own blog, if he likes, but I prefer not to sponsor a falsehood uncountered by the truth. I've saved his comments, though, and will reply in my own time.


Here comes everybody

I occasionally tell people they should be saints, along the lines of this:
Joe Smith: What we really need now is a 21st Century St. Catherine of Siena.

Me: Have you considered the possibility that what we really need now is a 21st Century St. Joe Smith?
I feel like I'm being daring and boldly prophetic, but more often than not the response is, "Oh, I don't want to be a saint, I just want to be better than I am." (The reply that really shuts me up, though, is, "You first.")

People seem to be afraid, or at least unwilling, to see holiness as a personal goal. Some see it as too far beyond their ability (which it is; hence the Crucifixion). Some see it as a mark of pride, as though "I want to be a saint" means "Venerate me" rather than "I want to love God with all my heart, and all my soul, and all my mind, and all my strength." Some are genuinely uninterested in being holy; they're satisfied with loving God with some of their heart, a fair piece of their soul, a smackerel of their mind, and whatever strength they can summon for an hour Sunday morning.

Exhortation will only work for those who already know they should be holy. For the others, I'm afraid what's needed is an example.


That's why they call them habits

Someone told Emily "Fun While It Lasted" Stimpson that Fr. John McCloskey's "Seven Daily Habits of Holy Apostolic People" was a "living holier for people who are already holy."

I disagree.

The daily habits Fr. McCloskey recommends are these:
  1. A brief morning offering.
  2. 15 minutes of silent prayer.
  3. 15 minutes of spiritual reading.
  4. Attending Mass.
  5. The Angelus at noon.
  6. The Rosary.
  7. A brief nighttime examination of conscience.
These are not ideas holy people might try out to become holier. Prayer -- regular, disciplined, daily -- is how people become holy in the first place! It's a safe bet that anyone who isn't already doing at least the equivalent of the above isn't going to be very holy.

This list is, by and large, the one spiritual directors have been giving people -- rich, poor, simple, educated -- for centuries. Other than daily Mass, anyone in good health who can read this blog could do everything on this list by simply chosing to do so. It means taking less than an hour out of your day -- don't try to "find the time," it's not misplaced, just misused -- and giving it back to God, Who gave it to you in the first place. American Catholics are famously bad at tithing their treasure. How do we do at tithing our time?

The key word, I think, is "habit." (And remember, a good habit is called a virtue.) You don't develop a habit by waking up one Monday and making a morning offering. You develop it by doing it every day, until doing it is easier than not doing it. You do it, for example, by saying, "Every day of August, I will spend fifteen minutes reading the Gospels. On September 1, I will ask myself whether I want to continue."

And if you did spend fifteen minutes reading the Gospels every day of August -- not studying them so much as praying them, not to discover ordinary life in 1st Century Palestine so much as to discover Christ -- then I bet you'll spend fifteen minutes reading the Gospels on September 1.



Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Dead or alive

Minute Particulars (which could rename itself Ten Minute Particulars, at least when the subject is philosophy) had an interesting challenge to the idea of cryonics: a corpse is not a human being, and once the soul separates from the body there is no natural mechanism capable of reuniting them.

This has been dismissed by others as "religion" or "mysticism," although Mark is explicit about his argument being based on Aristotle's hoary old pagan theory about the soul being the principle of life of the body.

Honestly, what do they teach in school these days? Apparently not hylomorphism.

(Well, they didn't teach hylomorphism to me in school, either, but I've picked up a little about it here and there. One excellent contemporary source of radical Aristotelianism is William A. Wallace, OP. If you find his name as author of an article or book, it's a safe bet you're going to get some straight-up, unreconstructed Aristotelian philosophy.)


Cross words puzzles, cont.

Woodeene Koenig-Bricker adds a categorical statement to the ongoing discussion about God and suffering: "God cannot be the source of all that is good and still be the author of pain and suffering in my theological framework."

One question this raises is, "What does it mean to be an 'author of pain and suffering'?" As I've written before, a lot of this discussion is as much semantic as theological, an effort to find words that express (analogically, it is true, but no less meaningfully for that) a mystery we at best only dimly understand.

For example, we might be able to agree that lions are good, and that God is the source of lions, and that lions cause a great deal of pain and suffering to zebras. Is the "source" of the "cause" of pain the "author" of the pain? It depends how you define your terms.

(There is an argument that lions only eat zebras because of Adam's sin. I'm not convinced of the soundness of this argument.)

But however we define our terms, I think we need to account for such Scriptural passages as Judith 8:25-27, Job 2:10, and 2 Cor 12:7.

Fr. Keyes brings in an important dimension -- perhaps the important dimension -- to human suffering: our relationship to Jesus:
For me, “why” and “how” are more important than “what end?” The question of “who with” has never seen the light of day in other posts.

The meaning of suffering is discovered in who we are and who we are with, and not simply in “our response.”
If you are never far from the sufferings of Jesus, then your own sufferings will be united to His just as you are united to Him, and indeed you will come to love your sufferings insofar as you see them as the means to union with Jesus. As St. Gaspar writes, the soul "loves its sufferings in peace.... It loves the cup the Father gave [Jesus]."

The more I read from St. Gaspar, the better I like him.


Sensus fidei sensus laici non est

Summa Contra Mundum points out one of Garry Wills's errors, the one that confuses the sensus fidei with informal majority opinion of white American Catholics as determined by polls taken by the secular media.

This confusion is a symptom of clericalism, the idea that the Church has a two-class membership: priests and rabble. The rabble are supposed to possess an infallibility, independent of and greater than that of the bishops. This view cannot for a moment be defended, but, I suppose, it is very common.

There are various more or less obvious theological and ecclesiological points to be made, but to descend to the baldly practical: No church that practices infant baptism can rely on opinion polls to define unchanging doctrine. Being a baptized Catholic and being knowledgable about the Faith are only weakly correlated.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?"


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.


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.


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.


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.



...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?


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.


Monday, July 22, 2002


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.)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.)


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.


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.


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.


"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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.