instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, June 27, 2003

"It's in the Bible"

I did not realize there were "Criteria for the Evaluation of Dramatizations of the Passion", from the U.S. Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. Busy, those bishops' committees.

The 1988 document makes an interesting, and challenging, point:
First, it must be understood that the gospel authors did not intend to write "history" in our modern sense, but rather "sacred history" (i.e., offering "the honest truth about Jesus") ... in light of revelation. To attempt to utilize the four passion narratives literally by picking one passage from one gospel and the next from another gospel, and so forth, is to risk violating the integrity of the texts themselves....

A clear and precise hermeneutic and a guiding artistic vision sensitive to historical fact and to the best biblical scholarship are obviously necessary. Just as obviously, it is not sufficient for the producers of passion dramatizations to respond to responsible criticism simply by appealing to the notion that "it's in the Bible."
I suspect many Christians don't really appreciate the differences between the Gospels, especially in their passion narratives. An attempt to synthesize a single narrative from all four could well result in a dramatization that lacks any of the Gospels' theological perspectives -- or worse, in muddled storytelling.

I'm giving Mel Gibson's The Passion the benefit of the doubt -- or actually, I love it sight unseen. But the fact remains that any passion dramatization is an interpretation of Scripture, just as each Gospel is an (admittedly inspired) interpretation of history. An event may well be in the Bible, but its dramatic interpretation is not, and Catholics ought to understand the limits and risks of private interpretation of Scripture.


On a lighter note

I maintain the web page for the Sovereign Knight-Almoners of Malta, an organization I invented after reading about self-styled chivalric orders only too happy to sell memberships to foolish middle-aged men who like to play dress-up and call themselves fancy names. (We would call them fake orders, but that wouldn't be chivalric.)

Yesterday, I received the following email from someone replying to the Sovereign Knight-Almoners of Malta page:
Gouvernorat général et Chancellerie internationale


Le Gouverneur général de l’Ordre a l’honneur et le plaisir de vous inviter cordialement à visiter le site Internet de notre Institution chevaleresque, laquelle compte 612 ans d’existence sans solution de continuité.
Voici son adresse :

Ce domaine Internet est consacré à l’Ordre équestre apostolique de Saint-Georges de Bourgogne, qu’un gentilhomme franc-comtois – Philibert de Mollans – créa en 1390 pour honorer les reliques du Mégalomartyr, rapportées de Terre sainte. Les fondateurs ne formèrent à l’origine qu’une pie union; mais, dès 1485, de nouveaux statuts l’instituèrent en Ordre équestre, tout aussitôt reconnu par le pape Innocent VIII.
Déjà enrichi de privilèges par Philippe le Bon, puis par tous les rois de France de Louis XIV à Charles X, la Sodalité bénéficia de spéciales faveurs spirituelles concédées tant par les pontifes romains que par les hiérarques orientaux. Elles furent toutes confirmées par Sa Béatitude ?minentissime le cardinal Ignace Gabriel Ier Tappouni, patriarche d’Antioche et de tout l’Orient, qui, le 11 octobre 1929, l’érigea canoniquement, lui accorda la qualification d’Ordre apostolique et le plaça sous la protection perpétuelle de ce très saint Trône patriarcal.
En notre époque où les traditions et les valeurs se perdent et où le matérialisme asservit le monde, l’Ordre lutte avec la dernière énergie pour développer sa spiritualité irénique et engager ses membres dans la voie de l’altruisme, au sein d’œuvres d’intérêt public.
La conclusion de notre site souligne l’orientation monarchiste de l’Ordre, en parfaite symbiose avec tous les mouvements royalistes, légitimistes et traditionnels.
Si cette suggestion vous agrée, nous serions heureux d’établir entre votre site et le nôtre un lien mutuel et réciproque. Nous espérons votre aimable réponse à ce sujet et, dans l’affirmative, nous vous saurions gré de rappeler votre adresse URL et/ou de nous envoyer votre bannière.
En vous remerciant de l’intérêt que vous voudrez bien porter à ce message, le Gouverneur général, les dignitaires du Conseil et tous les membres de l’Ordre saisissent cette occasion de vous assurer de leurs sentiments très attentifs et tout dévoués.

Par mandement de S.A.S.,
le Secrétaire de commandements.

Chef de l’Ordre :
S.A.S. Mgr Pierre de CHARNAY de SURMONT
XXIIIe Gouverneur général «ad vitam» de l’Ordre
Equestre Apostolique de Saint-Georges de Bourgogne
rue de la Reine, 19
B-4500 HUY (Belgique)
Téléphone : +32-85/21.26.71 - télécopie : +32-85/21.10.71
E-mail de l’Ordre :
E-mail personnel :

For my American readers, this note basically asks the Sovereign Knight-Almoners of Malta to exchange links with the Apostolic Equestrian Order of Saint George of Burgundy, which was founded in 1390 to honor the relics of Saint George that were rescued from the Holy Land. In its fight against materialism and the loss of tradition and values, the Order of St. George is reaching out to all the other royalist, legitimate, and traditional movements. Such as, the context implies, the Sovereign Knight-Almoners of Malta.

Now, far be it from me to cast aspersions on the Apostolic Equestrian Order of Saint George of Burgundy; I'll leave that to the Vatican Secretariat of State. So if you want to play dress-up and call yourself a fancy name -- and if you want the monarchy restored (it's not entirely clear to me which monarchy, but I'm sure it's a noble and storied one) -- by all means look into admission into the Order of Saint George of Burgundy.


Which I have loved long since and lost awhile

Many thanks for your prayers and condolences. On the whole, I'd as soon keep this sort of thing private, but I think that desire is based on a false sense of independence, self-sufficiency, and pride. It's probably uncharitable, even, to keep from others a charitable opportunity like praying for another.

Then too, death is not really a private thing. It is an inheritance shared by all the children of Adam. The death of a Christian affects the whole Body of Christ.

Finally, although I am sanguine about my father's eternal destiny, it would mar our meeting merrily in Heaven if he were to greet me with the words, "So, you thought I liked being in purgatory?"

Thomas the Misplaced Protestant quoted a traditional Lutheran prayer:
Amid our tears, O Lord, we praise Thee as Thou hast received our loved one to Thyself in glory for all eternity. We thank Thee that Thou has brought him to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Comfort us with the glorious hope of the resurrection and the life eternal. Grant us grace to say with a believing heart, 'Thy will be done,' and to know that Thy will is a good and gracious will even in the present hour. Comfort us through Thy Gospel, which promises strength and help to the troubled and weary. O Lord, forsake us not in this hour; for Jesus' sake we ask it. Amen.
That's a fine prayer. I particularly like how by praying it you continue to preach the Gospel to yourself, rather than indulging in sentimental celebration of the deceased, sentimental admiration of God's condescending mercy, or sentimental grief of the survivors.

I can also see the psychological and practical advantages at times like this of rejecting the Romish doctrine concerning purgatory. Nevertheless, let me remind my fellow Catholics that partial as well as plenary indulgences can always be applied to the departed by way of suffrage.

Camassia commented:
I'm not terribly good at praying, but I will include him in my attempts.
I am terrible at praying, particularly prayers of supplication and intercession. If I were a widow pleading with a crooked judge, I'd never get a just decision. No neighbor of mine will ever get up in the middle of the night and give me a loaf of bread because of my persistence. That's why I depend so much on the prayers of the saints. I figure they're a lot more conscientious than I am.


Thursday, June 26, 2003

And with the morn those Angel faces smile

Suffrages are welcome for the happy repose of the soul of my father Carl, whose death this morning was not unexpected. But too soon, too soon.


Do the poor deserve it?

I hate it when people call my rhetorical bluffs.

The world-weary tone in which I wrote of "documents, encyclicals, even Scripture I could quote in reply" to the claim that poverty in America is the fault of the poor didn't deter a couple of people from inviting me to go ahead and quote them.

Scripture, obviously, doesn't speak explicitly of American poverty in 2003, but it does speak quite a bit about poverty itself, and of our responsibility to the poor. It may be residual cynicism, but I have a hard time believing a person can be the "cheerful giver" loved by God if he thinks it's their fault the poor he gives to are poor. Jesus' clarification of the meaning of poverty and riches -- that the former is not necessarily a curse from God nor the latter a blessing -- doesn't seem to me to leave room for the resentment I sense behind the idea that, if they'd only get off their duffs and apply themselves, the poor would soon be doing fine.

For encyclicals, I had in mind Rerum Novarum and its children. In 1931, for example, Pope Piux XI wrote in Quadragesimo Anno:
Yet while it is true that the status of non owning worker is to be carefully distinguished from pauperism, nevertheless the immense multitude of the non-owning workers on the one hand and the enormous riches of certain very wealthy men on the other establish an unanswerable argument that the riches which are so abundantly produced in our age of "industrialism," as it is called, are not rightly distributed and equitably made available to the various classes of the people.
Now, the world in 1931 is not America in 2003, but I must ask what has happened in America since 1931 that makes this no longer true.

General documents are a bit trickier to quote; everyone has his own definitions, statistics, and agenda. But for what it's worth I'll provide a link to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development's Poverty USA website. (And yes, I'm aware of the complaints about the CCHD; what does that have to do with the causes of poverty?)

Using the CCHD's statistics, there are 6.8 million American families living in poverty (that's 33 million Americans, 12 million of them children); poverty is defined as a family of four living on less than $18,100 per year. This is a 6% increase since last year. (Oh, and for those who roll their eyes at the USCCB writing papers on American Indians, the poverty rate among them is 24.5%, compared to 11% overall.)

The implication that started all this was that people who, under a Democratic tax plan, would earn a tax credit, demonstrate "little ambition, few skills and poor work habits." Does this mean that the 400,000 heads of households that fell below the poverty level in the last twelve months lost their ambition, skills, and work habits?

None of this is to say that the Democratic tax plan is better than the Republican plan, or even that it's any good at all. But to believe that ambition, skill, and good work habits guarantee success is, in effect, to believe that the American economic system is perfect, or nearly so. And Catholics shouldn't be worshipping the American economic system.


Wednesday, June 25, 2003

What would Jesus tax?

Mark at Minute Particulars notes a peculiar lack of dissonance when reading some blogs that comment on both Church and State:
I doubt many folks, if any, would ever claim that the U.S. is a Catholic country. I doubt as well that many would ever claim that either major political party is Catholic at heart. So why is it often difficult to distinguish the "Catholic theme" from the "political theme" on many blogs that readily delve into both? ...

I would think that blogs that espouse Catholic thought and a pretty clear political leaning would grind a few gears on occasion when trying to get everything to mesh. Does the Republican Party or Bush Administration really jibe so well with Catholic Teaching? Does the Democratic Party really resonate so perfectly with Catholic Teaching? I often come away with that impression. Where's the dissonance?
I was reminded of this when I came across a post at The Blog From The Core titled "Here Is The Tax Cut As 'Explained' By The Democrats." The analogy is a refund scheme for a baseball game that was rained out:
People in the $10 seats will get back $15, because they have less money to spend. Call it an "Earned Income Ticket Credit." Persons "earn" it by demonstrating little ambition, few skills and poor work habits, thus keeping them at entry level wages.
Now, Lane Core was only posting something someone forwarded to him, and his main interest is in ridiculing Democrats, not poor people. Still, the plain meaning of this paragraph is that, in America, you aren't poor unless you have little ambition, few skills, and poor work habits. In short, unless it's your fault.

There are documents, encyclicals, even Scripture I could quote in reply. But whose opinion would that change?


Pancake Tuesday entertainments

Last night at dinner, my children asked me to tell a joke. I have the common inability to remember jokes, and this was a tough crowd. (Five-year-olds favorite joke: Knock knock. Who's there? Boo. Boo who? Aw, don't cry! Seven-year-old's favorite joke: What's a snail? A slug with a crash helmet.)

So I dug deep, and came up with this original (or at least independently derived) riddle, which I will share with you today because I'm giving up boasting of dubious achievements for Lent:
Why didn't the motorcycle go out dancing?

It was too tired.
I hope God isn't giving up humor for Lent, but He had another good one for me at the cafeteria today. Since I plan on very modest lunches for the next six and a half weeks, I figured I'd splurge again today. No sense in being penitent a day early, and nothing says "Mardi Gras!" quite like Maryland-style fajitas.

The total at the cash register was $6.66.


GIRMinating a devotion

You all know to bow profoundly at the words, "By the power of the Holy Spirit, He was born of the Virgin Mary and became man," when the Creed is recited at Mass.

All you Americans know to bow simply before receiving the Blessed Sacrament.

And you all know there was an ancient custom of bowing simply whenever the name of "Jesus" was spoken.

But did you know that the ancient custom is still in force? The General Instruction on the Roman Missal states:
A bow of the head is made when the three Divine Persons are named together and at the names of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saint in whose honor Mass is being celebrated.
Since we are, of course, all occupied with these bows, we can't look at others to see whether they too are bowing their heads. No doubt they are.


Cum Deo vel de Deo

It is said of St. Dominic that he always spoke cum Deo vel de Deo, with God or about God. This ideal was enshrined in the primitive constitutions of the Order he founded:
Let them act, with religious decorum, as men of the Gospel following in the footsteps of their Savior and speaking with or about God to themselves and their neighbor, being careful to avoid undue familiarity with others.
At a recent event sponsored by my Lay Dominican chapter, a friar was surprised to learn that another chapter member and I were using a short break to talk about formation in the Order. "You know me, Father," I explained. "I'm always talking to God or about God."

"'To God'?" he replied. "Or 'with God'? 'Cum Deo'?"

"Oh, no, I just talk to God. He doesn't usually answer."

I had, of course, misquoted the expression, but my comeback was basically true.

"Prayer is a conversation with God." You've probably heard that said often enough that you don't expect to hear anything new immediately following. But my short exchange with the friar taught me something I already knew.

Talking to God is not the same as talking with God. There are times when we need to talk to God; these times may come uninvited, and often unwanted.

But we must also talk with God. Not "at times," but "by making time." The events of the day tend to drive me to distraction, the opposite of contemplation. Talking with God, then, isn't a response to life, but a response to God, possible only if I choose to set aside periods of time during which (God willing) I can hear Him.

With practice and grace, of course, conversing with God becomes easier even in the midst of busyness, but when my mind is busy even in the midst of my prayers I shouldn't fool myself into thinking my prayer is conversation.

As always, balance. Talking to God isn't bad; in fact, it's postively good. But though it is necessary, it's not sufficient, and it's not likely to lead to talking with God without a conscious effort of will on my part.


Tuesday, June 24, 2003

The Holy Name of Jesus

All of which reminds me, I've been meaning to fan the flames of devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus.

The natural way to do this would seem to be through the Holy Name Society, but the HNS is far from recovered from its collapse. Eighty years ago, it was the largest Catholic men's organization in the country, and in many places the Catholic men's organization. I suspect the time is not ripe for a significant revival of a parish-based men's spiritual organization. (And in any case, the Knights of Columbus is the ascendant Catholic men's group nowadays.)

It's been the Dominicans' job to promote devotion to the Holy Name for more than seven hundred years, but I suppose the friars have been busy lately. So, just to get things moving, here are a few links:


Divine names, cont.

On the meanings and distinctions between the names "Jesus" and "Christ," Hernan Gonzales suggests Pope John Paul's Christological catechesis, as well as the discussion in the Catechism.

It's also been suggested that Catholics are likelier to refer to "Jesus" -- in terms of, e.g., the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Holy Name of Jesus -- while Lutherans are likelier to refer to "Christ." I didn't know this, but it does fit in with Gerard's words about the value of such Catholic devotions:
Devotional Catholicism translates for me, anyway, into a Catholic Faith with the PERSON of Jesus Christ at its core: and thus our relationship with Christ is of the very essence of being a Catholic.
It would have been better if Gerard had written "our relationship with Jesus," but I think the point remains: The Church's public liturgies express the corporate relationship between the Church and the Father, which is mediated by the Son; this is the Son as Christ. The Church's private devotions express the personal relationship between the individual Christian and the Persons of the Trinity; this is the Son as Jesus.

If Lutherans keep the idea of corporate worship but discard private devotions, it would make sense for them to speak of "Christ" more than of "Jesus." If Evangelicals discard the meaning of corporate worship in favor of a personal relationship with their Savior, it would make sense for them to speak of "Jesus" more than of "Christ." To the extent Catholics maintain both perspectives, they should be more balanced in their usage than either of the others.

Of course, Catholics have widely discarded private devotions, and for some "being Catholic" is identical to "attending Mass." So we might expect more references to "Jesus" in the Mass than before, simply because the Mass is the only place for many Catholics to express their personal relationship with the Son of God.


Monday, June 23, 2003

Self-propagating debate

A comment on an Envoy Encore post on Harry Potter reads in part:
Parents who underestimate the effect of bad company deserve what they get.
This, I think, is the perfect illustration of why the debate will not end, despite the poverty of the arguments of those opposed to the books. Fundamentally, the claim is not, "The Harry Potter books are evil," but, "You are a bad parent."

When you tell someone, "You are a bad parent," you will get a reply.


Speaking of good things from Argentina

I picked up a bag of yerba mate at the grocery story yesterday.

For those who don't know, mate (pronounced "mahtay") is a tea made from the leaves of a South American tree. People who aren't from South America will guarantee that mate can Energize The Body, Stimulate Mental Alertness, Aid Weight Loss, Cleanse The Colon, Accelerate Healing Process, Relieve Stress, Calm Allergies, Fortify Immune System, and Increase Longevity. Not bad for two bucks a pound.

Some time ago, Hernan had mentioned that mate is a big part of Argentinian culture. Folks in Argentina carry their mate around in (more or less fancy) carved gourds, and drink from (more or less) fancy straws with filters on the bottom to keep the leaves where they belong.

I'm told it's considered rude to refuse an Argentinian's offer of a sip from his gourd. I'm not sure how that translates to the U.S., where almost nothing is still rude, but I'd guess it would be like saying, "No, thanks," when your neighbor invites you to come over and look at the engine in his new car.

Anyway, I have neither carved gourd nor filtered straw. Until I dig out that tea ball from the junk drawer in the kitchen, I'm stuck with a multi-state process using a coffee maker. (Yeah, yeah, coffee mate. That's hilarious; thanks for your comment.)

What makes it all the more interesting is that I have no idea what mate is supposed to taste like. I've eaten in enough Mexican restaurants to know that the label says to use warm but not too hot water, "a mas de 80" degrees. I can even do the math in my head -- 80 Celsius is 176 real degrees -- which might help if I had any idea how hot my coffee maker gets. Oh, and the nutritional label says one serving is 50 g. of mate leaves per 16.8 fl. oz. of water -- as though someone who can't find a tea ball is going to have a kitchen scale on hand.

In the event, I used yea much mate for so much water, and it turned out to be entirely drinkable. That's more than I can say for dried green grass tea (in Spanish, it's probably called "mat-hay"). The mate even has a flavor, which is more than I can say for white [seriously, this is just hot water, right?] tea. And, having finished it, I'm not overcome by a desire to gargle with mouthwash for half an hour, which distinguishes this experience from the decadennial cigar I smoked the other night.


En modo quejoso

Hernan Gonzalez blogged while cranky, but as usual makes some good points.

One in particular is on the difference between "Jesus" and "Christ," as in "the Body and Blood of Jesus" vs "the Body and Blood of Christ":
It is the same, some will say to me. Then... in that context... I believe it's not. Clearly, in general the names "Jesus" and "Christ" (and "Jesus Christ") are interchangeable. But each name has its own shade. And we see in today's desacralizing atmosphere the first is too much preferred: too much "Jesus" (and also "Jesus of Nazareth") and too little "Christ." Part of that modern tendency to accentuate His human nature, clearly; and perhaps that is not bad. But in this case, it seems to me unacceptable.
I agree. The point is not that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of the man Jesus bar-Joseph of Nazareth, but that It is the Body and Blood of the Christ, God's Anointed One Who hung upon the cross that we may be saved. It's not, of course, an error to say it's the Body of Jesus, but that obscures a point that is extremely important -- and, thanks to centuries of custom, dead easy to make.

I think "Jesus" vs. "Christ" -- again, simply as words used to identify the Person -- is something of a personal vs. communal thing. The Person with whom I have a relationship is Jesus; His place in the Church, and in creation, is as Christ. When we come together to worship, we worship Jesus in His role as mediator and sacrificial victim -- which is to say, in His role as Christ. The less we refer to Him as Christ, the more obscure His mediation and sacrifice become.

This sounds a little counterintuitive, since Evangelicals are more likely to refer to Him as Jesus than are Catholics, and Evangelicals are more likely to emphasize His unique mediation between God and man than are Catholics. But then, Evangelicals emphasize Jesus' personal mediation -- "I know a Man Who saved me" -- over (or perhaps entirely instead of) His mediation between God and the Church as a community.


Friday, June 20, 2003

The best thing about having a blog...

is when someone does all your work for you.

A case in point is Lynn Gazis-Sax's eloquent argument against the position of accepting the canon of the Bible while rejecting the Real Presence.


Light dawns on Marblehead

Okay, it took me a long time to come to a very simple realization. The important thing is I've come to it, right?

Or rather, it came to me, as I was reading Amy Welborn's criticisms (with which I'm sympathetic) about the USCCB meeting in hotels to discuss "pointless position papers on issues no one cares about." It's simply this:

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is not a synod of bishops.

I don't mean that, as a technical matter of canon law, the USCCB isn't a synod. I mean it isn't in any sense a synod, which canon law defines this way:
The synod of Bishops is a group of Bishops selected from different parts of the world, who meet together at specified times to promote the close relationship between the Roman Pontiff and the Bishops. These Bishops, by their counsel, assist the Roman Pontiff in the defense and development of faith and morals and in the preservation and strengthening of ecclesiastical discipline. They also consider questions concerning the mission of the Church in the world.
I think the reason it took me so long to appreciate this is two-fold. First, the USCCB does sort of sound like a synod: you've got bishops who meet together at specific times and consider faith and morals (somewhat), ecclesiastical discipline (a bit more), and the mission of the Church in the world (even more). Second, you'd expect the bishops, when they gather, to gather as a synod, as a primarily apostolic and religious body.

But that isn't what the USCCB is, is it? Look at the departments. It's a governance body, not a priestly or prophetic body.

We can debate whether it's doing a good job as a governance body; we can even debate whether, as a governance body, it should exist at all. But I think we're being unreasonable if we expect a governance body not to act like a governance body.

So while I'll continue to prefer, with Amy Welborn, that the USCCB meet in a nice abbey rather than a nice downtown hotel, and I will continue to ignore, with the vast majority of American Catholics, those position papers I don't care about, I think I need to temper my expectations of the USCCB, what it does, and how it operates.


A valuable distinction

There's been some discussion this week about the alleged faults of the complexity of Catholicism. See Mark Shea, Chris Burgwald, and Karl Thienes (look for "Why Must Science be Complex and Theology Simple?").

I think whether the favored simplicity is of Protestantism or science, there's a distinction that should be made -- although it may be too subtle for me to express well. It's the distinction between, let me say, complexity and complicatedness.

The distinction may best be thought of in terms of order. A complex thing has a lot to it, but everything is well-ordered with respect to the other components. Not only do the different aspects of a complex thing fit well together, you can sort of expect to find a certain aspect once you begin to understand some of the other aspects and how they work. A mass transit system is complex. Pneumatology is complex.

A complicated thing, on the other hand, has a lot to it, but not much order. The different aspects don't so much work together as simply co-exist. Knowing something about a complicated thing doesn't help you know what else to expect. The U.S. income tax code is complicated. The Liturgy of the Hours is complicated.

What's interesting about the universe is that it appears to be complex, but not complicated. In fact, the complexity seems to arise from an underlying simplicity, and underlying simplicity can't generate complicatedness, because complicatedness implies unrelatedness. (That complexity arises from simplicity is something of a scientific "meta-hypothesis" that directs scientists to look for certain simplifying solutions; so far, it's worked very well.)

If the universe is complex, you'd expect whatever describes the universe to be complex as well (although derived from simplicity). To the extent Catholic theology describes reality, it's unsurprisingly complex. (It can get complicated, too, of course, but that's accidental and rightly derided.) To the extent Catholic praxis is a fullness of living in reality, it too is unsurprisingly complex. (I'm not sure it's merely a semantic accident that traditional Christian theology holds that God is simple. It also holds that Love is the cause of the universe, which may be a bit too much underlying simplicity for a lot of scientists.)

So if you want to tell me my faith is suspiciously complex, we should take the time to see whether you mean "complex" or "complicated." If you mean "complex," I answer, "Exactly!" If you mean "complicated," we should take the time to see whether you're correct, and if you are, I should answer, "Oops!"

My favorite contribution to this topic was made James, commenting at Karl's blog:
One of the women in the catechism class before mine is getting a Ph. D. in some agricultural field. She asked "Why does this stuff have to be so complicated?" Our priest said, "You're getting a Ph. D. in dirt and you want to know why this so complicated?"


All religious politics is local

There's not much news, in the papers or in the blogs, on the U.S. bishops' meeting in St. Louis. I, following one of my pet theories, interpret this as a sign that bishops aren't seen as particularly important until they transfer your priest or quash your parish building project. How much of this perceived irrelevance is due to the bishops' own actions and how much due to the laity's antiauthoritarianism is another question.

I don't know much about USCCB president Bishop Gregory, but there are at least two things about him I do like. One is the Reuters photograph on this New York Times webpage, of Bishop Gregory appearing to pray and Robert Bennett appearing to not. [Speaking of a bishop praying...]

The other is this statement the Washington Post reported, in which Bishop Gregory discusses Frank Keating's resignation from the National Review Board:
"Did we lose an important individual? Of course we did.... Did the bishops bounce him? No, they didn't. No bishop took him out behind the barn and shot him. Wanting to, and doing it, are two different things."


Thursday, June 19, 2003

Just the reply I was looking for

Here is the last sentence from a recent post at Not For Sheep, about a speech given by abortion fetishist Sarah Weddington:
I'm normally not a person to stand up and give someone a standing ovation, but at the end, I found myself on my feet screaming and applauding for this woman who has done so much for American women...
Here is the last sentence from an earlier post at the same blog:
We have become a culture of euphemism... and this euphemizing will surely kill us all in the end.
It will surely kill some of us.


To all those in more civilized lands,

Happy Solemnity of Corpus Christi. We'll catch you up this Sunday.

And since I'll be busy eating fish and s'mores this Sunday, let me anticipate with a little Dumb Ox by way of Gerard Manley Hopkins:

Adoro Te Devote
Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God's Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth himself speaks truly or there's nothing true.

On the cross thy godhead made no sign to men,
Here thy very manhood steals from human ken:
Both are my confession, both are my belief,
And I pray the prayer of the dying thief.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
But can plainly call thee Lord and God as he;
Let me to a deeper faith daily nearer move,
Daily make me harder hope and dearer love.

O thou our reminder of Christ crucified,
Living Bread, the life of us for whom he died,
Lend this life to me then: feed and feast my mind,
There be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.

Bring the tender tale true of the Pelican;
Bathe me, Jesu Lord, in what thy bosom ran---
Blood whereof a single drop has power to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.

Jesu, whom I look at shrouded here below,
I beseech thee send me what I thirst for so,
Some day to gaze on thee face to face in light
And be blest for ever with thy glory's sight. Amen.


A new standard

Next time the Kairos Guy accuses me of -- well, anything, I suppose, but in particular of wallowing in matters beyond human ken, I shall accuse him of antitriclavianism, which is of course the belief in the perniciousness of triclavianism, which is the belief that exactly three nails were used in Jesus' crucifixion.

Or perhaps neoantitriclavianism.

(As it happens, the problem Dr. Miller of Objective: Christian Ministries has with triclavianism isn't that it might be true -- he admits "evidences uncovered by Biblical researchers positively point to this conclusion" -- but with making it a binding doctrine.)

My thanks to ibidem for introducing me to triclavianism, which (at the risk of incurring theomeny) is surely more interesting as a word than as a dispute. According to Forthright's Phrontistery (a dangerous site for some, perhaps), "triclavianism" last (and first!) flourished in 1838.


Good news for the Church in the United States

In The Sadness of Christ, St. Thomas More suggests there are two kinds of martyrs: those who are happy about it, and those who aren't. Which kind a particular martyr is depends on the particular graces God gives him. (St. Thomas was unquestionably one of the second kind.)

The Church, though, thrives on either kind of martyrdom, and even on lesser persecutions as well. (Does that sound macabre? Maybe the Church wouldn't need martyrs at all if the rest of us were doing our jobs.)

The good news in all this for the Church in the U.S. is that there are so many people, Catholics in particular, firmly determined to persecute the American bishops, individually and collectively, no matter what.

(And I mean no matter what. If an angel from heaven appeared to some of the detractors and calumnators that frequent St. Blog's to tell them to back off their detraction and calumny, I wouldn't be surprised if at least one of them replied, "Those wings make you look effeminate. No wonder you support the bishops.")

So even though none of the bishops like it, many wouldn't choose it, and some try to ignore it, the persecution will find its way to them.

From all this low-grade evil, I feel certain, God will draw good for the Church. And I expect it will be a postive good, with the bishops (and maybe their priests (and even, maybe (miracles do happen), the laity)) becoming genuinely holier rather than merely less sinful. The prayers of a just man availeth much, but the revilement of a vicious man can also avail more than somewhat.


Whether I argued soundly against Calvin

Objection 1. It would seem that I didn't offer a sound argument against John Calvin in my post below. For the crux of my reply was this statement:
Calvin can argue all he wants about what he cannot find in Scripture, but he can't argue away the historical facts that Christians do encounter Jesus through icons, that Christians do come to the Father through the saints and especially Mary, that Christians do hear the wisdom leading to salvation in papal decrees.
But these are simple assertions, which by the laws of argument can be sufficiently answered with simple counter-assertions, such as, "Christians do not encounter Jesus through icons," etc.

Objection 2. Further, the assertions depend on human experience, which is not a reliable guide in matters of religious truth. A Buddhist or Hindu may equally assert he has experienced something his religion holds true but that is contrary to the Christian faith.

On the contrary, Scripture says, "Answer a fool according to his folly." As Calvin's folly in this matter is an undue minimalism, it suffices to answer him minimally.

I answer that, in replying to a universal negative proposition -- one that takes the form, "No S are P" -- it suffices to show that there exists one S that is P.

Calvin's argument is that no aspect of Catholic doctrine or practice he does not find supported in Scripture is a means to God. This is a universal negative proposition, which can therefore be sufficiently answered by identifying an aspect of Catholic doctrine or practice Calvin did not find supported in Scripture that is a means to God. Icons, invocation of saints and especially Mary, and papal decrees have all been means to God in the lives of Christians. Pointing out this fact, therefore, suffices to answer Calvin's argument.

Reply to Objection 1. The counter-assertions do not answer the assertions, because the assertions are particular affirmative propositions while the counter-assertions are universal negative propositions. To each assertion and counter-assertion, one may reply, "How do you know?" The truth of the particular affirmative propositions -- that icons, invocation of saints and especially Mary, and papal decrees have been means to God -- is known by direct experience and by trustworthy testimony. That the universal negative propostions -- that icons, invocation of saints , and papal decrees have never been means to God -- cannot be known by direct experience nor by testimony (since no one person can testify by experience to the truth of such a proposition), unless it be testimony from God: i.e., Revelation. But Scripture does not testify against these particular affirmative propositions, and Tradition positively affirms them.

Reply to Objection 2. Human experience by itself is not wholly reliable in matters of religious truth; it requires Revelation to guide, interpret, and complete it. Thus, when a Buddhist or Hindu claims a personal experience proves the truth of some proposition contrary to Revelation, we can be certain that he is misinterpreting or misrepresenting his experience. A personal experience that demonstrates a truth not contrary to Revelation, however, must be accepted according to the authority and trustworthiness of the person claiming the experience. Thus, not only do we accept the testimony of holy Christians -- as well as our own personal experiences -- in matters relating to icons, invocation of saints, and so forth, but we may also accept the testimony of Buddhists and Hindus insofar as it doesn't contradict the Christian faith, and where there is a contradiction, we may look for an explanation that preserves as much of the experience, if not its interpretation, as possible.


Wednesday, June 18, 2003

What Protestants still protest

The suggestion was made that I might be doing a bit of an injustice in not directly addressing this post alleging idoloatry in the Catholic Church -- specifically, in a parking lot of a Catholic church. The post quotes a 1995 First Things opinion piece by Peter J. Leithart, in which the author agrees with Calvin's basic charge "that Roman Catholicism taught people to look for God in all the wrong places":
While Jesus promised to offer Himself to His people through bread and wine, Calvin argued, He never promised to encounter them through icons or relics. While Jesus promised that sinners could gain access to the Father through Him, He nowhere promised access to the Father through the saints or Mary. While Jesus promised that Scripture gives wisdom leading to salvation, He never promised to communicate that wisdom through papal decrees.
To me, this assumes a doctrine of minimalism nowhere promised in Scripture. In fact, the idea that the lived experience of the Church counts as nothing -- which is what Leithart's description of Calvin's version of sola Scriptura amounts to -- is explicitly rejected throughout the New Testament.

Calvin can argue all he wants about what he cannot find in Scripture, but he can't argue away the historical facts that Christians do encounter Jesus through icons, that Christians do come to the Father through the saints and especially Mary, that Christians do hear the wisdom leading to salvation in papal decrees. I don't know much about the pastoral abuses of Calvin's day, but I do know quite a bit about the truth of the doctrines he rejected.

What Calvinism seems to want to do is limit where and how God can be found. But God is more. God is more than any one person, even any one generation, can know and experience in this life. So we should expect that this sort of sola Scriptura will turn out to be false, even without Scripture's repudiation of it. Protestantism understands what is necessary for salvation well enough, I suppose, but it seems to think that what is not necessary to do is necessary to not do. That sort of minimalism always sounds utterly false to me when compared to the superabundance Jesus asked for and promised.

Well, and what about the alleged idolatry? This, I think, is another instance of the cramped intellectual space Protestantism occupies. When you try to fit all of heaven and earth between the covers of a Bible, you have to throw away a lot of distinctions. In this case, the distinction is between honoring a saint and worshipping a god.

Has two millenia taught us that reverencing the Mother of God not only draws us closer to her Son but often brings us the answer to our prayers? Do we understand that, as incarnate beings, we benefit from visual and tactile signs of the holy? Tough! The Bible doesn't mention praying before a statue of Mary, but it does mention praying before statues of gods, which it condemns as idolatry. So when we see people praying before a statue, what can it be but idolatry?

David Henreckson might have received an answer to that question if, instead of taking pictures and taking scandal, he had taken the time to ask the Catholics he photographed just what they thought they were doing.


Reginald the Tiger Quoll Says:


Endeavouring to give satisfaction

Last week, I admitted that, as a Roman Catholic, I do not feel a close spiritual kinship with Christians who deny that Catholics are Christians. Since then, a few Protestants have, in different ways, invited me to join a debate on the resolution, "That Catholicism is idol-worshipping paganism."

So far, I have resisted. I try not to debate people who believe that Catholicism is idol-worshipping paganism, for many of the same reasons I try not to debate people who believe that the stars determine our destinies, or that the moon landings were faked. There are levels of fatuity faced with which the only charitable response I can manage is silence.

Today, though, it occurs to me that Disputations has the means at hand to participate in the debate, in the manner and to the extent I think worth the nature of the question. The next post -- which, of course, is the post above this one -- is my contribution to the public conversation on this subject.


Tuesday, June 17, 2003

"It is better to be doing God’s Will than to be looking at it"

I learn from Gerard Serafin that today is the sixtieth anniversary of the death of Fr. Vincent McNabb, OP. I learn from someone commenting at Gerard's site that there is (there would be, wouldn't there?) a Vincent McNabb Society, comprising at least a website.

Fr. McNabb inspired Chesterton, Belloc, and other Distributists with his concern for justice, but perhaps as much by his personal, uncompromising holiness.

Some of his works are on the web, including a collection of talks on the craft of prayer. In one brief article on distractions, Fr. McNabb wrote:
It is not very good for people to know how well they pray! To try to find out whether we are standing well with God is rather a perilous thing. It is not a good thing for us to be taking our spiritual temperature. But experts seem to say that prayer is a sort of spiritual thermometer. The state of our prayer would be an index of our perfection and our love of God....

It is very important to have such simple things as morning and right prayers. That was dinned into my ears by an old theologian. He said, ` If penitents say to you that they have committed grievous bodily sins, and are very sorry, that is enough. But if they say they have habitually omitted their morning and night prayers, have a row with them.’...

It is very important to have even a minimum of deliberate prayer. There are many ways in which the Church prays. She is a dear old model. She uses all kinds of gestures, dispositions of the body. It is not all kneeling. Sometimes she is lying on her face. Please do not think it is necessary to be on one’s knees for prayer. At Holy Mass the priest kneels very rarely. But going down on one’s knees is a part of prayer, and at least twice a day we should be on our knees. In the Garden of Gethsemane our Blessed Lord was on His knees....

People think they are not very good hands at prayer, yet in their heart at least they may be praying all day long, --by doing God’s Holy Will in all the departments of their life. A good husband and father, who is working because it is his duty to work for his family and because it is God’s Will, is really praying all the time....

It is very difficult to think and to keep our attention fixed. St. Francis de Sales said we could only keep our attention for a quarter of an hour. St. Thomas Aquinas, who knew much more about prayer, said we could only keep it during one Credo....

I find it very hard not to be impatient with books on Meditation and Contemplation which seem to belittle or overlook the Rosary. By saying the Rosary, countless numbers of people are practising contemplative prayer. At Holy Mass, it is almost impossible not to be contemplating Jesus Christ. And, almost unconsciously, we take up the attitude of sinners, unworthy to approach Him. We could not approach with a better prayer than this, - LORD, BE MERCIFUL TO ME, A SINNER.


A few days late

But maybe I'm in time for the Orthodox Father's Day?

I recently came across an interesting essay by Fr. Edmund Hill, O.P., called "Concept of the Father God." The essay begins with these challenging words:
Despite the title (given by the organisers of the talk), this is not really going to be directly about “The Concept of the Father God”, but about the divine names: Adonai, Elohim and Abba. The concept of the ‘Father God’ is a purely contemporary one, brought in to prominence by the current feminist movement – it is to be found nowhere in the Bible.
Some very ripe stuff on the Divine Names of the Old Testament follows, and then this claim (Fr. Hill's italics, my emboldening):
... for much if not most of their history, YHWH’s relationship with Israel was rather that of lover, of betrothed, of husband, than of father.... But the bride, as we have already noticed, proved continuously unfaithful – so much so that even her ancestors, her fathers, would be tempted to repudiate her. And that is when YHWH steps in to take their place.
In the Old Testament, then, God is not Father-as-Creator, He is Father-in-place-of-human-ancestor. And not just human father:
“Though father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me”. Father and mother, Sarah as well as Abraham; it is surely by the parent God that they are replaced, not just by the father God.
As for the New Testament, Fr. Hill sees the three uses of the word Abba -- and forget what your CCD teacher told you, it means "Father," not "Daddy" -- in a strictly Trinitarian sense; the way St. Paul uses it
makes it clear ... that the name is a definitely trinitarian one, the name of God the Father, Father of God the Son, so addressed by his Son, and hence by us, in the Holy Spirit. If we have here a “Father God”, he is not one as a ‘father figure’ but one in inseparable relationship with a “Son God”, and indeed a “Spirit God”. And when we take over the prayer of Jesus Christ himself, the eternal Son of the Father, we are addressing with him God the Father, his and our Father, expressing surely, not so much the ‘lordship’ and the ‘patriarchy’ as our brother/sister relationship – our being co-heirs – with Christ.
I've quoted too much, but you should still read the whole essay.

When you're done reading it, you can go on to browse the rest of the Blackfriars' electronic library, to see what else they're thinking about in the English Dominican Province.


Learned helplessness

I don't like the Cantor Wave.

On the face of it, it seems like a good, or at least neutral, thing. The cantor raises an arm to cue the congregation so we know when to sing the responsorial psalm's antiphon. That should help the congregation sing at the right time, which should make for a better liturgy.

Some cantors gesture with both arms like a scenery-chewing Pantaloon in a seaside pantomime. This doesn't endear the practice to me, but I think it primarily raises only an aesthetic objection.

As I see it, the bigger problem with the Cantor Wave is that it trains the congregation to do nothing until we are cued. We sit there and wait until someone says, "Speak, Ginger!," then we do our little trick.

Now, I don't have a very sophisticated grasp of music theory, but I am able to recognize -- based on how loud the musical accompaniment is -- when the congregation is supposed to be singing and when we are not.

Or at least, I usually am. Once a congregation is trained to be quiet until waved at, the musicians are free to do whatever they like. If a refrain consists of the same line sung twice, the cantor can have the congregation begin singing whenever he wants: after the cantor or choir has sung it once, twice, or even not at all. The pre-Gospel "Alleluia" can be sung a different way at each Mass, using the same arrangement. The congregation will pipe up on cue.

I suppose an argument could be made that having to pay close attention to the cantor makes the congregation's participation in the liturgy more active, but I think the much stronger argument is that it is distractive. The only time I should be on the edge of my seat, wondering what's going to happen next, is while listening to the homily. (Well, and during the first two readings, if I haven't read them ahead of time.)

I think we can trust the congregation to figure out when we should sing. Not right away; we've been trained to be passive. But after a while, we can probably learn what that loud chord from the organ right after the cantor finishes singing a strophe means. If we still don't sing -- and I've been to Christmas Eve Masses where the congregation didn't sing -- it may not be because we don't know when.


Friday, June 13, 2003

Okay, maybe he ain't exactly light, but still

I have to say that, for all the profound and [in this life] irreconcilable differences I have with numerous members of St. Blog's, they are as my own soul compared to the "Catholicism is idol-worshipping paganism" crowd whose posts are regularly and approvingly featured at blogs4God.


That's the way to do it

You just gotta love a commencement speech that begins by quoting these words:
[T]he proper satisfaction of wonder is knowledge of causes. But causes are of two sorts: a cause may simply be primary within some particular order, or it may be primary without qualification, a cause of causes. Knowledge of the latter is called wisdom; the science which treats of first causes in the light of the natural capacity of human reason is metaphysics, which may be called wisdom only with the qualification "human"; the science which studies God in the light of what He has revealed about Himself is wisdom without qualification.
Not the thing to spring on a chap with a bit of a morning head, perhaps, but sound and true stuff nonetheless.

Okay, it's not a speech, exactly, but the homily delivered by Francis Cardinal Stafford at the commencement Mass of Thomas Aquinas College last month. It's both a commentary on life at that college and, less directly, a challenge to all of us to see our parishes as Eucharistic communities.
The Spirit of the Risen Lord has made known to you a wondrous sense that, even though the blunders, hypocrisies, jealousies and even malice of your personal and collective histories have scattered and divided at times the children of Adam here, Christ's mercy has "gathered up the fragments from every side, forged them into the fire of love and welded into one what had been broken" (St. Augustine).

During your years here, you have seen the face of Christ in one another.... The Eucharist has revealed Christ's face in their faces. For, as St. John Chrysostom teaches: In the Eucharist "we are mutually joined to one another and together united with Christ."

The eucharistic face of Christ has taught you that the problem of life is not simply the problem of suffering. It is that, but it is more. The whole of the problem of life and its violence and its sinfulness finds ample leg-room within the revelation of redemptive pardon and forgiveness.

The eucharistic community is the Holy Spirit's greatest pedagogue. These eucharistic years here have shown that, despite all human sinfulness and perverse cunning, you can still believe that human nature is one and good and overflowing with possibilities. God's love has revealed to you that human existence is unified and comprehensive. For much can be forgiven among those who have "loved much" (Luke 7:47).


Is ageism the last acceptable prejudice...

...of conservative American Catholics?

Strictly speaking, the answer is: Of course not. Anti-semitism is not hard to find, and there's plenty of racism, sexism, and all the other prejudices, too. But you recognize the rhetoric.

Even if "ageism" is too strong a word, I think there is an identifiable phenomenon of younger conservative Catholics mocking older liberal Catholics for being old. It is evident in references to "geezers" and "ageing hippies," in calling someone more than twice your age an "old bat," in the refrain, "Some day they'll all be dead."

Part of this, I suppose, is symptomatic of the infantilism public (and private) discourse wallows in, of thinking that saying, "Nyaah, nyaah, nyaah, you're so !" is a clever or amusing thing for a grownup to say.

But I think there's also a certain viciousness involved, a message like, "You are old, and therefore impotent. You are bound for oblivion." It's not just that the thirty-year-old "progressive" ideas are sterile and will soon pass from the earth without a trace, but that the people who hold the ideas are as well. This thought seems to be relished. "I am dancing on the grave of my enemy, who doesn't even realize he is already dead."

None of this is particularly remarkable. Few Catholics of any kind have made a personal fetish out of loving their enemies, and arrested intellectual and emotional development seems to be the norm rather than the exception in these parts.

But I see something more in this than blatant disregard for the commandments given us by Jesus. I think there's a certain evasion of responsibility at work here, too.

If a particular idea I oppose is sterile, a dead end destined to lose all adherents within five or ten years, then I don't have a strong need to actively oppose it. I can focus my attention elsewhere, since at best my efforts would only hasten the inevitable by a small amount. A bad but sterile idea is a problem solved.

So if we convince ourselves that a certain bad idea (choose your own) is only held by ageing hippies (or, for that matter, ageing reactionaries; it works any way you set it) who will be dead or in dotage in a few years, we can convince ourselves that we have triumphed over that bad idea. We borrow that triumph from the future, rub it in the noses of those who held that idea, then congratulate ourselves on a successful battle.

There is a downside to this process.

First, what if the idea isn't held only by impotent geezers? What if we've only talked ourselves into believing this, when in fact the idea is widely held by people our own age (or even, though we don't like to think of them, by people younger than us)? The effortlessness of letting a sterile idea die off may be too appealing for us to accurately judge the idea itself.

The lack of charity shown to the impotent geezers also takes a darker form than common or garden hatred. Not only do we in effect say, "It is good to hate these old bats. May their blindness destroy them." We actually depend on their blindness and failings to get what we want. It's a sort of perverse and passive use of others as objects, as means to our desired end.

Maybe I'm reading too much into the occasional insult, taunt, or mock. But evil has a way of making itself at home in the human heart, even if you try to keep it to one small closet.


Thursday, June 12, 2003

Harry Potter and the Thunderous Din

What can I say? I think the fuss is more interesting than the books.

I also think Kathy Shaidle has the right take (if too bluntly stated) on the question of whether Harry Potter encourages witchcraft among children:
Some Wiccans say yes, but then, Wiccans are morons.
The Mighty Barrister, reacting to the same article, disagrees:
I haven't read the Harry Potter books. I don't intend to read them....
[Fair enough. I don't believe it's always necessary to have read a book to have an opinion of its worth.]
With all the really good books out there, why bother with Potter? For all the defenders of the Potter books, it seems to me that you are putting on Christian goggles when you read these books. "Oh, but look at the Christian imagery!" How could it not have Christian imagery? First, Christianity has defined who we are for 2000 years. Second, if de debbil wants to tempt you, you think he'll do it with something spectacularly evil-looking, like bizarre pr0n or human sacrifice? No, he'll create a world you know, one in which you will feel comfortable enough to drop your guard.
This whole paragraph strikes me as doubtful.

First, I don't think there are that many "really good books" out there in the children's fantasy genre. I'm also relatively sympathetic to the benefits of knowing popular culture, particularly for children.

And I would hope that Christians don't have "Christian goggles," but look at everything with an interiorized Christian worldview.

The second non-Christian explanation of the Christian imagery of the books seems to suggest that whatever is comfortable and not spectacularly evil-looking should be suspected of having been created under devilish influence. I hope that isn't the Barrister's intent, because it's a daft notion.

Mostly, though, isn't the fact the writer is a Christian sufficient to explain any non-accidental Christian imagery? Is there really anything in the books that hints at any sort of veiled plot at all? Heck, the literal plots aren't exactly shocking revelation piled upon unexpected twist.


Don't tell the moral theologians, but...

Minute Particulars features yet another post marveling at the human ability to tell yourself that the ends justify the means.

I'm with Mark on this. In fact, Disputations may well be the only member of St. Blog's so far this month to feature a picture of a carnivorous marsupial saying, "The ends don't justify the means." The epigraph on my tombstone will probably read something like
You read it right: I died, my friend;
I hope I caused no scenes.
But when my life came to its end,
It justified no means.
Still, I wonder if part of the reason people find it so easy to say ends justify means is that, in a sense, they do.

For example, the end of getting to work on time justifies the means of setting my alarm clock. True, most people don't really see any moral issues involved in setting an alarm clock (although, from my perspective, it's a cruel thing to do to Brother Ass). But most people would say that forcibly taking goods or money from a man against his will is wrong; they would also say the end of righting the injustice of a theft justifies it when the man stole the goods or money.

There's an equivocation at work here. Let me see if I can describe it (and then please correct me).

A particular type of human action is always just, or it is sometimes just, or it is never just. This is true of the action per se, regardless of any end for which it might be taken.

The problem is that the justice of performing an action that is "per se sometimes just" depends on the circumstances of the act -- and the end for which the act is a means is one of those circumstances. As a result, the ends can "justify" the means in the sense of providing a necessary or sufficient circumstance for an inherently justifiable act. Obviously, no end is a circumstance justifying a per se unjustifiable act.

But once we've allowed that an end exists which makes an act just, it becomes difficult to know which ends make it just. It also becomes difficult to care. Sure, shooting my neighbor might be wrong, technically, but the neighborhood's better off without him -- and besides, if he'd pulled a gun on me first, it would have been fine.

What Mark is looking at is a somewhat different aspect: Supposing that the invasion of Iraq was justified by national security concerns, it follows that invasion is per se sometimes just. If national security concerns is a justifying end, and ending the evils of the Baathist regime is a higher end than national security concerns -- the reasoning goes -- it follows that ending the evils of the Baathist regime justifies invasion. The evils of the Baathist regime have ended; therefore the invasion is justified.

Mark points out why this is lousy reasoning, but I think the impulse will remain. Who wants to throw away justified means, epsecially when the justification was hard-bought?


There's local and there's local

Kathleen KENNEDY Townsend's speech went as planned, with a reported fifteen protestors holding signs outside the school. Pretty much a yawner story -- although the Post article adds the detail that the students were offered the chance to change speakers but stuck with Kathleen KENNEDY Townsend, who thanked them for doing so.

(One might also wonder, if one were prone to cattiness, what sort of Catholic high school Ethel Kennedy went to that she didn't learn the Magnificat until her graduation ceremony.)


Wednesday, June 11, 2003

All politics is local

The Mighty Barrister mentions with approval a planned protest at this evening's commencement ceremony at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, a posh Catholic girl's school in Bethesda, MD. (How posh? The half-day Pre-K program costs $8,800.) The reason for the protest is the commencement speaker, Kathleen KENNEDY Townsend, a pro-abortion rights Catholic politician.

I dunno.

On the one hand, I don't see why anyone would ever want to listen to anything Kathleen KENNEDY Townsend might have to say about anything.

On the other hand, the ceremony isn't about Kathleen KENNEDY Townsend (who attended Stone Ridge for several years), it's about the graduates. Protesting Kathleen KENNEDY Townsend makes the protestors feel better at the expense of the graduates and their parents in order to accomplish ... what?

I happen to know someone who teaches at Stone Ridge. Due to the protests -- do I read the newspaper article correctly, that the organizer isn't affiliated with the school? -- attendance at the ceremony may be strictly limited, to keep protestors from interfering. "Sorry, Grandma, but since one group of adults over whom I have no control is upset with another group of adults over whom I have no control, you'll have to wait in the car while I receive my diploma."

I just don't see that winning over many hearts and minds among Montgomery County Catholics.


The meaning of The Meaning of Jesus

I seem to have given Telford Work the impression I think his project of commenting on [at least Marcus Borg's chapters in] The Meaning of Jesus is a waste of time.

Actually, I think it's a terrific project, largely because it's a cheap and easy way for me to learn about both Borg and Wright, who for worse or better are significant figures in English-speaking Christianity these days. I did suggest "the only reason to take Borg seriously is that a tremendous number of Catholics ... agree with what he writes," but even if it be the only reason, it's still a very good reason.

And yes, Borg knows a lot of things I don't that are worth knowing, so I'm sure I could learn a lot from him if I could get past [what I contend are] his errors.

But I think Telford Work misunderstands at least one thing I wrote:
In Wright's case, he rejects a lot of the sophomoric notions Borg ... for ... well, I'm not sure for what, exactly, but from what I've read it's a lot closer to orthodox Christianity than many Biblical scholars embrace.
Here I think I detect an argument from irreformable Holy Tradition: Why bother revisiting issues that have already been settled? We should just stay with "what has been given" us.
That's not what I meant. I understand Wright to have attempted to search out for himself the truths behind the New Testament, paying respectful attention to but not uncritically accepting of Holy Tradition. From the scraps I've read of and by him, I think Wright wound up accepting much more of Holy Tradition than -- well, certainly more than Borg, and possibly more than a plurality or even majority of active Biblical academics. As one example, Wright has concluded Jesus rose physically and bodily from the grave because he has concluded that's what Scripture teaches, not because that's what Holy Tradition teaches.

Now, what do I think of a project like Wright's? I think it's an excellent idea, if done as honestly as possible. Since I believe Holy Tradition is true, I don't think it is placed at risk whenever and however truth is genuinely sought. Nor do I think we should be afraid to test our own understanding of Holy Tradition against this sort of scientific investigation.

For example, I think Fr. Raymond Brown's work is extremely valuable, even as I deny that the various sorts of criticisms being applied to Scripture -- which, after a point, amount to the personal opinions of a small number of scholars -- trump Tradition. I get the sense that, if a particular Gospel passage serves a clear literary purpose, scholars will deny its historicity. This sort of "minimal necessary explanation" approach doesn't fit with the Incarnation, in my personal opinion, which was neither minimal nor necessary and which, in the end, defies sufficient explanation.


No, actually it is the better part

Hernan Gonzalez and T.S. O'Rama have both pointed out a reasonable but improper inference from my post below: that I think the secular and the religious lives are equivalent.

I should have been clearer. Objectively, following the evangelical counsels is a higher state in life than not following them.

I wrote the post primarily to counter the reasonable but no doubt improper inference from Christine's post that secular laity shouldn't really be expected to be holy. As Steven Riddle points out in a comment, we have our own unique means of holiness -- and too, there are means of holiness that cross all states in life.

(Strictly speaking, the only means of holiness is God's grace. There are, however, different ways in which God sends his grace -- through a marriage, for example, or through ordination -- and different paths of perfection.)

I did take Christine's post to be praise of the religious life rather than deprecation of the secular life, but it is difficult to do the one without sounding like you're doing the other (as St. Jerome noticed when he wrote about the subject).

Another point is that, while one state may be objectively higher, following it may be subjectively worse. It is better for me to respond to God's grace as best I can as a married man than to presume graces God doesn't intend for me as a friar.

Finally, there's the question of recognizing the benefits of a state from the percentage of canonizations that state has produced. It seems to me there are enough social, psychological, and political factors affecting who is canonized that evidence for spiritual factors can only be weakly inferred, if at all. Of the three principal ways people have been declared saints -- martyrdom, local acclamation confirmed by a bishop, and papal confirmation following a formal investigation -- the latter two have, I think, a clear bias in favor of religious and clerical candidates. I suspect most lay saints were martyrs.

(Then too, it's not as easy as it should be to figure out how to classify everyone. A layperson who achieved great sanctity in the world was once likely, once worldly demands were met, to retire to a convent or monastery (or hermitage!) to prepare for death. Is a saint holy because of his religious state, or does he enter the religious state because he is holy?)


Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Choosing the better part

Christine of Christus Victor writes, of those in vowed religious life:
The religious life is the training towards self-mastery, and thus, true freedom. In a world filled with the violence and cruelty of unrestrained passions, the religious life offers the way of peace, joy, fulfillment through the continual exercise of restraint. Such lives of simplicity and poverty are truly the most profound, the most beautiful, and the most to be envied. While the rest of us remain in the world, pulled by competing interests, constantly under the subjugation of our passions and jealousies and fears, concerned with the opinions of the world and of man, these others who have forsaken all to live for God alone draw from the depths of His peace and His joy--depths that are barred to us who cling to our reputations, to our own glory, and refuse to forsake all for Him.
To me, this sounds too romanticized, like copy for a pre-conciliar vocations advertisement.

Self-mastery, true freedom, peace, joy, continual exercise of restraint, simplicity, poverty: are these denied to those living secular lives? Competing interests, passions, jealousies, fears, clinging to reputation and glory: are these absent in religious lives?

Her post concludes:
... it is no accident that the vast majority of the canonized have been those who have abandoned everything--including the solace of marriage and children, of money and property--to cling wholeheartedly to Him.
Here I think Christine certainly overstates her point. Canonization implies holiness, but holiness doesn't imply canonization. It is no accident that the vast majority of the canonized have been those who belonged to enduring organizations with vested interests in obtaining their canonization. Lay heroic virtue tends to be less evident, and its evidence less historically durable, than religious or clerical heroic virtue.

Is it, though, in some sense "easier" to be holy as a vowed religious than as a secular layperson? I think that might be an ill-formed question. Holiness isn't a quality amenable to statistical analysis. We become holy only be responding to God's grace, which is as present on a city street as in a rural cloister. Personally, I think I have a much better chance of becoming a saint -- and, for that matter, of helping others to become saints -- living in the world than in a monastery. And "personally" is the only real way to speak of holiness.


A fist or an open hand?

Neil Dhingra wrote a comment to the post below that I think is too interesting not to promote to its own post:
I have heard two 'conservative' explanations for the decline in episcopal authority in present day American Catholicism:

1) American Catholics, by virtue of living in a democratic and largely Protestant country, are anti-hierarchical and will always tend to have too much respect for private judgment and too little respect for authority. Catholic bishops in the United States must be self-consciously countercultural and should focus on inculcating discipline rather than working for consensus and cooperation.

2) American Catholics have been misled by a 'new class' of catechists and theologians into being suspicious of hierarchy and authority. Catholics in the 1950's had a high degree of coherence with little dissent, a rich devotional culture, and the ability to convert Walker Percy and Thomas Merton. American Catholics will naturally gravitate towards this if bishops simply free them from the liberal interlopers. Catholics bishops in the United States can trust their flocks and work for consensus and cooperation with them, as well as with the positive aspects of American culture (political conservatism and evangelicalism, for instance).

Are these two analyses mutually exclusive? And, if so, is it disingenuous for 'conservatives' to move back and forth between them?
My answer: I think there's some truth to both analyses. As for what the bishops should do, I'll cop out with an appeal to that fine Dominican custom of "balance": a true disciple of Christ is disciplined; a true brother in Christ is trustworthy.

More generally, though, I don't think a bishop should trust his flock, or his own iron fist, so much as trust Christ. In practice, that means to trust the Gospel. It has the advantage of being true, and therefore naturally attractive. It is also difficult, and therefore naturally both repulsive and attractive (people don't like to change, but they like to be challenged). If a bishop gives his flock the Gospel, and they accept it, they become true brothers and sisters in Christ, and can be trusted, liberal interlopers notwithstanding.


Papa don't teach

Lately, Mark Shea has been arguing that American Catholics have the kind of bishops they desire -- viz., "bishops who will leave them alone and not bother them about their sex lives."

It seems to me, though, that American Catholics don't want bishops who will teach them anything. Not just not sexual morality, but also not social morality, political morality -- nor, God help their excellencies, economic morality.

And I think this desire to be left untaught covers everything the bishops might teach. It isn't that "progressive Catholics" don't want to be taught sexual morality, while "conservative Catholics" don't want to be taught economic morality. When we agree with the bishops, it is just that: agreement. Just as we might agree with our neighbor that Barry Sanders was the best pure running back in the NFL but disagree with him about Joe Montana, so we might agree with our bishops about sexuality (or church-and-state matters), but disagree with them about economics (or the death penalty).

When we want the bishops to teach, it seems, we want them to teach other people things we already know or accept.

I suppose you could say American Catholics, by and large, want their bishops to confirm them, then go.


Monday, June 09, 2003

And you welcomed me

I've noticed a lot of Catholics, and more than one blogging Catholic, seem to treat U.S. immigration law as sacrosanct: an illegal immigrant is by definition a criminal and therefore deserves whatever punishment the law imposes.

While remaining comfortably ignorant of the specifics of U.S. immigration law, I don't think uncritical reverence is prudent. I would point out that the American bishops seem to agree with me, but among Catholics who treat U.S. immigration law as sacrosanct, episcopal endorsement counts as a strike against you.


The satisfying discomfort of trust

Camassia and Telford Work move on to the second chapter of The Meaning of Jesus, written by N.T. Wright. From the selections they quote, I approve of their approval.

They both quote this passage, which confirms my extremely limited experience with contemporary Biblical scholars:
If two ancient writers agree about something, that proves one got it from the other. I fthey seem to disagree, that proves that one or both are wrong. If they say an event fulfilled biblical prophecy, they made it up to look like that. If an event or saying fits a writer's theological scheme, that writer invented it. If there are two accounts of similar events, they are a "doublet" (there was only one event); but if a single account has anything odd about it, there must have been two events, which are now conflate. And so on. Anything to show how clever we are, how subtle, to have smoked out the reality behind the text.
I think it's worth noting that both Borg and Wright begin by pointing out that they are, essentially, rejecting what has been given them for what they can make sense of on their own. In Borg's case, it seems to me, he rejects childish notions for sophomoric notions. In Wright's case, he rejects a lot of the sophomoric notions Borg endorses -- principally, the up-front assumption of a radical distinction between the "Jesus of history" and the "Christ of faith" -- for ... well, I'm not sure for what, exactly, but from what I've read it's a lot closer to orthodox Christianity than many Biblical scholars embrace.

I get the sense that a major difference between the two men is intellectual honesty. Borg thinks he's being honest by throwing away tradition, when he's actually swapping one for another. Wright, at least in principle, seems to have been prepared to wind up wherever his studies led him, while at the same time recognizing that his faith was affecting his studies, just as his studies affected his faith. Telford Work writes that Wright is on "a quest that trades the empty comfort of convention for the satisfying discomfort of trust," which strikes me as the sort of journey everyone has to make when it's time to grow up.


Metametablogging: Guess who's been playing with Adobe Photo Deluxe

I try to avoid blogging about blogging. Disputations is basically a what you read is what you get site. I think the behind-the-curtain stuff should, for the most part, stay behind the curtain, so I don't bother pointing out when Blogger was down, or I made changes to the junk in the left-hand column, or I was thinking about upgrading the comments server, or whatever.

Still, I want Disputations to be an enjoyable and distinctive reading experience. Two of my concerns about it is that it isn't particularly attractive visually, and that it has occasional runs of wordy, abstract posts on theological minutiae that a reader might find wearisome.

To address both of these concerns, I decided that what Disputations needs is a mascot. A mascot will add visual appeal to an all-but-completely text-based blog, and I may also be able to use it to help make some of my convoluted arguments more accessible to people who don't want to spend the time and energy to figure out what I'm rambling on about.

And so, allow me to introduce Disputations's new mascot, Reginald the Tiger Quoll:


Friday, June 06, 2003

That's what I'm talking about

Unless I missed something, I can endorse pretty much all of Telford Work's commentary on the first chapter (written by Marcus Borg) of The Meaning of Jesus:
Borg is constructing a public Jesus and a private Christ. How convenient for a liberal Protestant living in pluralist America! We can talk to each other about the crucified Jesus of history, then if we like withdraw to pray to the risen Jesus of personal faith. How polite of Jesus to bifurcate himself so that we can remain in conversation but stay out of each other's way. Now that's class.
I'm not sure I'd call the commentary, critical as it is -- when Borg is quoted, "[!]" and "[!!]" are inserted to show where Work's jaw hit the floor -- an example of applying the Parvus Error In Principio method. (Actually, I'm sure I wouldn't, because I'd never heard of it before yesterday.) The error Borg begins with isn't a small one that will be magnified by the end, but a large one that will (presumably) be carried throughout the book.

Frankly, there's not much I find interesting about Borg or what he apparently has to say. I knew him only as a named benchmark for bad theology, only spending a little while looking into exactly what his theology was after I overheard a Catholic priest reverently mention his Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. I suspect the only reason to take Borg seriously is that a tremendous number of Catholics, not all of them priests, agree with what he writes.


Further on today's liturgy

The following is one of this morning's intercessions:
Help us to show reverence for those who are weak in faith,
-- may we never be hard or impatient with them, but always treat them with love.


Novena of the Ascension, Day 8

Hernán González goes to the trouble of looking up what St. Thomas wrote about the advantage of Christ's ascending rather than remaining on earth.

Much of St. Thomas's lengthy reply to objection 3 ("it would have been more beneficial for men if He had tarried always with us upon earth") was scratched out in the discussions on this over the past week. St. Thomas, though, elegantly frames the benefits of the Ascension according to how they serve the virtues of faith, hope, and love.

As I write, Easter was almost two months ago; the Ascension is behind us, and Pentecost is upon us. Yet the prayers in the Liturgy of the Hours for today reach back before Easter, to Good Friday, and the reason I'm writing this today. We have received the Holy Spirit because Jesus has sent Him to us from Heaven; Jesus is there, exalted at God's right hand, because He is risen; He is risen because He hung upon the cross for us. (See Acts 5:30-32, the reading for Morning Prayer.)

Our faith includes the whole sequence; we can't be "a Resurrection people" or "a Spirit-filled people" if we aren't also a crucified people. We can turn a jewel to study its different faces, but it's all a single jewel. If you try to remove one of its faces, you will destroy the jewel.


The Baltigrondomena Catechism

Mark at Minute Particulars suggests an answer to the question, "Yeah, but why did God make me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven?":
God made us because He wanted to zorbidoo the fragligs and hargmarglin the rostulations while keeping the gimblonies in weltonsingflees....
Who can dispute that?

I think the idea that there's some purpose behind creation is somewhat misguided. Certainly God has a plan for creation, but I don't think His intention is to accomplish anything with it. Jesus' many parables of banquets seem to me to capture the idea of, not just the Kingdom of God, but all of creation: Creation is the party God throws to celebrate Himself.

This doesn't sound quite right to a lot of people, because it's hard for us to think of doing something for the sheer joy of doing it. Who hasn't heard the complaint that God must be awfully petty if He wants us to worship Him? The reality, though, is that in worshipping Him, we are filled with His joy. We don't -- we can't -- make God any happier by serving Him in this world and being happy with Him for ever in heaven.

I've read that St. Thomas explains creation this way: goodness is fecund by its very nature. Goodness begets goodness; goodness creates goodness. As infinite Goodness, God overflows heaven, so to speak, into creation, as a spring pours water down a hillside. Creation is the smile on God's face, the song of joy sung as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit love each other.

Sometimes the idea of however many billions of galaxies there are makes us seem awfully small and awfully unlikely candidates for God's Son to be born among. But apart from whatever personal contacts God may have elsewhere in creation, it only makes sense that God's love would be manifested in a very big way.


Thursday, June 05, 2003

Not quite contrary

I recently finished Mary, Called Magdalene, a historical novel by Margaret George that was enthusiastically recommended to me.

Alas, I can't enthusiastically recommend it. At just over 600 pages, it's one of those long novels that goes down easily but doesn't really satisfy, particularly the more you think about it too much. Like a slice of cream pie at a chain family restaurant.

There are instances of poor writing and discontinuity -- something Mary learns when she is 90 we later find she was told when she was 60, for example -- and George seems to go out of her way to rebut several Catholic doctrines (the primacy of Peter, Mamma Mary's perpetual virginity and assumption, probably the Virgin Birth). More positively, she implies some form of Real Presence and treats Jesus' mother with great reverence (by Protestant standards).

In a reader's guide printed at the back of the book, the author answers a question on her "own spiritual background":
A long pilgrimage that has led me from my family backgrounds of Quaker and Baptist, to the traditions of the Episcopal and Catholic churches. I am married to a Jewish man, and now am discovering New Age spirituality.
The pilgrimage to the Catholic Church seems to have been brief; elsewhere in the interview she refers to the sixty-six books of the Bible. So going in, it's safe to say she wouldn't write a book that would please me in all particulars.

Mostly, though, I think the problem with the book is that it attempts to novelize the Gospels, and the Gospels are not really novelable. Not that it's blasphemous or sacriligious, but that (as I've been suggesting this week) they are purposefully terse and episodic, and that each Gospel is intentionally distinct from the others.

The novelist, then, attempts to write or rewrite various scenes from the Gospels into a coherent story that presents Jesus as a psychologically believable character. Her job is to make the reader believe that the events she describes could have happened, and if they did they could have led to the written Gospels as we have them.

That's a chore.

In Mary, Called Magdalene, the result is a Jesus who is just making it up as he goes along (or rather, as the Father reveals it to Him, sometimes with the assistance of Mary Magdalene). He's charismatic, easygoing, and deeply mysterious. As he talks with his disciples, he'll suddenly let loose with a whopping mouthful from a modern Bible translation. The effect is almost like a Regency romance hero suffering from Heavenly Tourette Syndrome.

It's not impossible to do a good job adapting the Gospels (or at least a Gospel) to other art forms. Jesus of Nazareth was pretty good, and I thought the script for Dorothy L. Sayers' The Man Born to be King was excellent.

But when an adaptation tries to fill in the intentionally parabolic nature of the Gospels with psychological, social, or even religious explanations -- to, as it were bend the parabola into a circle -- then I think it will fail. The reader or viewer won't only say, "This is not Jesus as I know Him," but, "This is not a Jesus interesting enough to die for."


The fully human person is divine

Camassia and Telford Work are biblogging their way through The Meaning of Jesus, written (in alternating chapters) by Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright. I know almost nothing about Borg, and none of it I find favorable. I know very little about Wright, and most of it I find favorable.

In the very first paragraph by Borg (who wrote the first chapter of the book) Camassia quotes, he loses me. His intent is to draw the already shopworn distinction between the "protoplasmic [historical] Jesus" and the "living [post-Resurrection] Jesus." Borg thinks this distinction is necessary for the historical Jesus to be human:
A person who knows himself to be the divinely begotten Son of God (and even the second person of the Trinity) and who has divine knowledge and power is not a real human being. Because he is more than human, he is not fully human ...
Borg's assertion of this last idea -- that he who is more than human is not fully human -- tells me two things. First, little or none of his Christology will be consistent with the Christian faith of the first nineteen centuries after Christ's death. Second, little or none of his Christology will be correct -- not just because it is contradicted by Christian faith, but because it is based on a falsehood.

To be human is to possess human nature, to have a human soul. In one sense, to be "fully human" is redundant; you either are human, or you aren't. In this sense, clearly, having a divine nature as well as a human nature does not make a person less than fully human, any more than a clock radio isn't a radio (if I'm allowed such a humble analogy).

In another sense, though, a person becomes "more fully" human the more his life expresses the fullness of human nature. A person incapable of thought is said to be in a "vegetative" state. A person incapable of love is said to be "inhuman." Such people aren't, of course, non-humans, but I think the language does indicate a true notion that incapacities like these mark people who do not live "full human lives," which is to say lives that fulfill all aspects of human nature.

The concept of human nature itself is debatable, still more the concept of the fullness of human nature. The message of Jesus Christ, though, is that through Him we can become children of God. "Not by nature," as the formula goes, "but by adoption." The Christian faith is that we, who are human if anything is, can become God's sons and daughters.

How do we become this something "more than human"? By the grace of God. Do we cease to be human when we become this something more than human? No: grace perfects nature, it doesn't replace it.

So if our own destiny is to be both fully human and more than human, how can it be that Jesus could not be both?

Some say (and I think Borg is among them) that the weaknesses and limitations of human nature are of such central importance that, if Jesus was able to overcome them in His divine nature, He cannot be said to have been human in a truly meaningful way. I don't see why this is true. I think -- and again, it's a crude simile, but it works -- this is like saying a radio only reports the time when someone announces it on the station to which the radio is tuned, so a clock radio isn't a radio in a meaningful sense.

St. Paul wrote that Jesus was a man like us, not that He was just a man, like us. To insist He was is to insist the hypostasis of His divine and human natures is impossible. And that, obviously, is something that needs to be proved, not simply asserted.