Friday, June 30, 2006

Culture Quiz

Recently the results of a student cultural survey have come in after being tabulated and analyzed here at Lenoir-Rhyne College among a cross section of students. The questionnaire included 20 questions ranging across topics from classical and popular music to film and literature, politics, geography, and current events. Here are a sampling of the questions with some of the tabulated results:

1. J.S. Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven are two great classical composers whose names begin with a "B." Can you name another great classical composer whose name also begins with a "B"? (Answ. Brahms, Berlioz, Bizet, etc. are all correct)
87.2% could not answer this question. Of the 12.8% who succeeded in answering this question, the vast majority (83.3%) could not identify the newest American Idol (Question #20).
2. Who wrote The Great Gatsby? (Answ. F. Scott Fitzgerald)
Only 19.1% answered this question correctly.
5. When asked to match the band or artist with the song, 90.5% of respondents could not make the matches, which included Elvis, Green Day, The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, The Doors, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, and The Velvet Underground.

8. When asked to correctly match the work of art with the artist, 19.1% of respondents matched Rodin's sculpture, 'The Thinker,' with Michelangelo, 8.5% with Van Gogh, 6.4% with Breugel, 6.4% with Renoir, 4.3% with Joan Miro, 4.3% with Monet, and 2% with Leonardo da Vinci.

9. "I am a country called Chad. I am located on which continent?" (Answ. Africa)
53.2% answered this question correctly. On the other hand, of the 48.9% who got this question wrong, 26.1% identified Chad as being in South America, 8.7% said it was in Asia, and 4.3% each said it was in Europe and in Asia Minor.
11. "I am Paris Hilton's former best friend, and I have an on-again, off-again relationship with Adam Goldstein (AKA D.J. AM). Who am I?" (Answ. Nicole Ritchie)
68.1% (the highest percentage of correct answers) answered this question correctly.
12. "I am the current Secretary of Defense. Who am I?" (Answ. Donald Rumsfeld)
89.4% did not answer this question correctly. Of those who attempted but did not answer correctly, 11.9% identified the Secretary of Defense as Condoleezza Rice, 7.14% thought it was Colin Powell, and other answers included Tom Daschle, Dick Cheney at 2.4% each.
13. Who wrote The Nutcracker Suite? (Answ. Tchaikovsky)
Only 10.6% answered this question correctly.
14. Name one Right granted by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (Answ. Right to remain silent, not to incriminate oneself)
48.9% were able to answer this question correctly.
15. When asked to match the film with its director, 4.3% of respondents matched Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather with Robert Altman. Other matches included Woody Allen, Ed Wood, and Terry Gilliam (2% each).

19. Name the capital of the state that is directly East of North Carolina. (Answ. No such state exists.)
46.8% were unable to answer this question correctly. Of those who attempted to answer the question but did not do so correctly, 22.7% identified the capital as Nashville, 9.1% identified it as Knoxville, and other answers included Raleigh, Richmond, and Roanoke, VA (4.5% each).
20. Our newest American Idol is ... (Answ. Taylor Hicks)
63.8% answered this question correctly. Of these, only 3.3% were able to identify a classical composer whose name begins with "B" (Question # 1).

Generalizations & Inferences:

a) Students know their rights (#14)
b) Students know current pop culture celebrities very well (##11, 20)
c) Students do not know American geography (#19) (State East of North Carolina)
d) About half of all students do not know world geography well (#9)
e) Students do not know classical music, art, and literature (##1, 2, 8, 13)
f) Students do not know historical popular culture (##5, 15)
g) Most students have little acquaintance with the details of world politics (#12)

Northerners may be inclined to make snide remarks about such results in a southern liberal arts college. However, over half of our students are from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Florida and other states located outside the traditional 'south.' My hunch is that such patterns of cultural oblivion as represented here are pandemic throughout the United States.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Hustlin' Nun

"Arrest Warrant Details Nun's Alleged Embezzlement" -- A Catholic nun spends $81,000 in cash or cash advances, $67,000 to casinos, $33,000 on gifts, $31,000 on clothing and furniture and another $24,000 on travel.

Now, given that (a) a Catholic nun by definition swears herself to absolute poverty, chastity and obedience, and (b) this nun was spending a third of a million dollars on cruises, casinos and svelte threads, what does it tell you about the state of religious life in America that no one noticed that something was amiss? I.e., what does it tell you that this sort of lifestyle is seen as normal for a female religious in this country?

[Hat tip to Benjamin Blosser]

Monday, June 26, 2006

What homosexuals do

Fr. Joseph O'Leary (whose comment box signature is "Spirit of Vatican II"), is Associate Professor of English Literature at Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan, and a Catholic priest who dissents from Catholic Church teaching on very many points, especially pertaining to Church moral (read: sexual) teaching. Another Catholic priest, Fr. J. Scott Newman (on Fr. Al Kimel's Pontifications weblog) once called him "a closet Anglican on the Catholic payroll," which may be an apt description for him, as he seems quite the Anglophile, enamored of the aesthetic refinement of Anglican liturgy, what he regards as the non-doctrinaire and exegetically-based Anglican homiletics, and the openness to trendy liberal agendas one finds in the Anglican communion -- including openness to gays.

O'Leary waxes eloquent over the prospect of a day when sexually active gays and lesibans will be welcomed into the bosom also of the Catholic Church and their traditionally forbidden life-style embraced, "in Christian charity," as a 'natural' and 'ordinary' form of erotic love. He writes:
"Jesus declared many things not to be sin or unclean that the Pharisees regarded as sin or unclean. I fail to see why this paradigm does not apply to [ECUSA] Bishop Schori's view that homosexuality is not a disorder, an anomaly or something God does not like, but in fact a gift, made for love, like heterosexuality."
So what was once thought to be unclean is to be declared clean, and what was once classed among "sins that cry out to heaven for God's judgment," is now declassified as sin and elevated to the level of a divine gift. Again, he writes:
"Future generations (like very many in the present) will wonder 'what was the big deal?' when they look back on how we wrestled with the ethics of homosexuality etc."
His language can take ebullient flights of ecstasy, as when in a recent comment box, he enthused:
"A wave to the 400,000 who marched in the Gay Pride event in Paris and to the 200,000 spectators!"
So it's no secret where Fr. O'Leary's sympathies lie. Perhaps his superiors should take notice, because it gets even better. (Atiyah, here's your chance to check out whether Fr. O'Leary's views would in fact be approved by his superiors. You questioned my judgment on the matter. Why don't you find out for yourself. Pick up your phone. Of course, O'Leary has nothing at all to fear, since, he assures us, his Catholicism is above reproach and he cannot be pinned down on a single point of heterodoxy. But pick up your phone anyway, Atiyah. Go ahead. Make my day.)
Archbishop Alberto Bottari de Castello,
Apostolic Nuncio to Japan
Tokyo 102-0075, 9-2 Sanban-cho, Chiyoda-ku
Telephone: (81-3)3263-6851
Fax: 3263.60.60

Most Rev. Peter Takeo Okada
Archbishop of Tokyo
3-16-15, Sekiguchi, Bunkyo-ku,
TOKYO, 112-0014
As soon as traditional Catholics and/or other Christians begin to mount a defense of traditional sexual ethics against his views, however, Fr. O'Leary objects to the 'biologism' of their views, which are "focused heavily on the biology of anal intercourse" (a common refrain). He recently complained:
"Must we always be in biology 101 ... or rather out in the schoolyard scoffing at [the more sophisticated levels of such science] -- when the dreaded gay topic raises its head on this weblog?"
There are a couple of ironies here. First, as anybody who reads the comboxes (comment boxes) of this weblog knows, it is O'Leary himself who repeatedly steers the topic of conversation, no matter what the thread of the post, back to the subject of homosexuality. I don't know of a soul among the commentators on this weblog who would dispute this -- including his supporters, like Atiyah and Grega (I don't even know if O'Leary would dispute it). When I post an essay on this topic, it is almost invariably in response to some irrepressible issue that Fr. O'Leary has raised (unless it is something in the news worthy of note).

Second, when O'Leary complains about 'biology,' or 'biologism,' or being stuck in 'Biology 101,' it's because he's wanting to escape the inevitable biological rootedness of gender and move the discussion into flights of spiritual abstraction where he can talk more freely about "love" unencumbered by the obvious facts one can't not know about the biological rootedness of gender that pertain to natural law. Of course, partisans of homosexuality despise this. Hence, the derision of "Biology 101" and condescending dismissiveness of the reference to schoolyard scoffing of schoolboys toward anything of more sophistication.

The other thing that's ironic is that it's very often O'Leary himself who drags the discussion into the gutter (one recalls references made in his exchanges in former debates with 'Dreadnought' and his photographs, for example). But even in terms of sheer scatological focus, O'Leary isn't one to shy away, as when he writes:
"NOTE that [Budziszewski's] critique of anal sex changed grounds in mid-flight here. He began with the unitive nature of vaginal sex, then, knowing that many gay men claim to find a unitive significance in anal sex too, he shifted to the idea of Life.

He made much of the anus as a place of decay. But the vagina also is a place of decay (urine) as is the male member. 'Love has pitched his tent in the place of excrement'. Life and death go together.
So Fr. Joseph O'Leary wishes to promote the view that anal sex is on a par with vaginal sex of the matrimonial covenant here -- an interesting obsession for a Catholic priest. Yet he wants to assure everyone that he's reasonable. He understands how anal sex could be understood as reprehensible, depending on the circumstances and how one lookes at it, just as it might also be understood as "glorious and godgiven" (his words). Accordingly, he writes:
"Anal intercourse can be 'operose and diabolical' (Shelley) as practices in British public schools or as a contraceptive method; but many gays claim to find in its more positive meanings. You can 'read' sexual acts through the prism of Sade or of Lawrence; in the former they are instruments of degradation, in the latter they can be that but they can also be celebrations of the glorious, godgiven life of the human body etc."
So it's all relaive. It just depends. Under the right circumstances, given the right 'reading,' anal sex can also be "the glorious, godgiven life of the human body." Did you get that, Your Excellency, Archbishop Alberto Bottari de Castello? Your Excellency, Archbishop Peter Takeo Okada? This is your man in Tokyo, at Sophia University, proclaiming the Gospel of sodomy, the Evangel of rectal-anal sex, for the unwashed masses of the world to hear. Should we rejoice?

O'Leary says that anal sex can be "the glorious, godgiven life of the human body." Oh, really? Let's examine this. It's nasty business, and few may wish to follow us into this nasty little hell of a pit that Fr. O'Leary here wishes to elevate to the level of sanctity. But for those who want honest answers to honest questions, it may be worth the initial revulsion to push through and see what the facts are. Few people like to think about what homosexuals do. What do they do behind closed doors?

Surveys indicate that about 90% of gays have engaged in rectal intercourse, and about two-thirds do so regularly. In a six-month long daily sexual diary study (L. Corey and K.K. Holmes, "Sexual Transmission of Hepatitis A in Homosexual Men," New England Journal of Medicine, 1980:302:435-38.6), gays averaged 110 sex partners and 68 rectal encounters per year (more recent studies would likely show higher statistics). The anus must be lubricated enough to allow penetration. Often fingers and/or tongue are used to stretch and moiten the opening. Either the partner's sliva or an artificial lubricant may be used. Saliva, however, contains many germs foreign to the rectum. During rectal intercourse, the rectum therefore becomes a receptacle for a cocktail of 1) saliva and its germs and/or an artificial lubricant, 2) the recipient's own feces, 3) whatever germs, infections, or substances the penis has on it, and 4) the seminal fluid of the penitrant. Since sperm readily penetrate the extremely thin rectal wall (only one cell's width) causing immunological damage, and tearing or brusing the anal wall is very common during rectal sex, these substances have a high possibility of gaining direct access to the blood stream. In contrast to vaginal intercourse (in which sperm cannot penetrate the multilayered vagina and no fecal matter is present), rectal intercourse is probably the most sexually common way to speading hepatitis B & C, HIV, syphilis and other blood-borne diseases (G.W. Manligit, et al., "Chronic Immune Stimulation by Sperm Alloantigens," Journal of the American Medial Association, 1984:251:237-38.8). The risk of tearing the anal wall during rectal sex mounts exponentially with practices like "fisting," where the hand and arm are inserted into the rectum, or sex 'toys' (bottles, dildos, vegetables, even rodents) are inserted into the anus. The prospect of ending up with a colostomy bag for the duration of one's life is quite real.

That's just the rectal sex. Then there's fecal sex. About 80% of gays admit to licking and/or inserting their tongues into the anus of their partners (rimming) and thus ingesting medically significant amounts of fecal matter. In the aforementioned diary study, 70% engaged in this activity (50% regularly) over six months. The result was that the annual incidence of hepatitis A in homosexual men was 22%, in contrast to no incidence of hepatitus A among heterosexual men. I don't suppose we need really dwell on gay oral sex, urine sex, the "golden showers" reported in Kinsey's studies (drinking urine or being urinated upon); sadomasochism; pederasty -- sex with minors, admitted to by some 25% of white gays (A Bell and M. Weinberg, Homosexualities, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1978.18), sex in public restrooms, sex in gay baths, etc. Glory upon glory ...

But I would like to rejoin an argument tendered by O'Leary, when he takes issue with Budziszewski, saying:
He made much of the anus as a place of decay. But the vagina also is a place of decay (urine) as is the male member. 'Love has pitched his tent in the place of excrement'. Life and death go together."
Is this really so? Take the AIDS virus. It's actually very fragile. It can't survive when it comes in contact with the air, and can be transmitted only through the blood stream (contaminated blood transfusion, genital ulcers, etc.) -- or (you guessed it) through the mucosa of the anus. Nature (and nature's God) provides two very different systems of operation for the vagina and the anus. The vagina is normally open to the outside world so the sperm of the male can be deposited inside the female body through sexual intercourse. The vagina is virtually impermeable to viruses, because nature has provided that the vaginal mucosa has no lymphatic network, and the lymphatic network in our body is made to absorb substances. The rectum, by contrast, is designed precisely to absorb up to the last possible bit of useful nutrients from the food we have eaten and digested. There is an enormous lymphatic network in the mucosa of the rectum. The rectum is made to absorb as much as possible from whatever passes through it. If the vagina could accept viruses, women would be dying like flies from every sort of viral disease imaginable. Women survive because nature has designed the vagina for the reception of sperm but not viruses. The rectum was designed for the absorption of nutrients from digested food before its excretion, and clearly not for introducing anything from the outside. Hence, the use of the anus for intercourse is quite simply unnatural, contrary to nature, counter to the purposes for which human anatomy was naturally designed.

Natural law. It's just not that complicated. St. Paul had it right in the First Chapter of his Letter to the Romans. Church tradition had it right. Church teaching has it right. Homosexuals may enmesh themselves in emotional entanglements that ape all the emotions one finds in marriage. Who can doubt that these emotions are utterly real? But same-sex relationships simply are not marriage, any more than rectal sex is the vaginal intercourse of a husband and wife ordained by nature and nature's God from the beginning. We all know this. We know it, whatever lengths we may go to in order to repress this knowledge in the desparate attempt to evade it.

Budziszewski speaks of the "Five Furies" (remorse, confession, atonement, reconciliation, and justification). What does he mean? Ordinarily the normal outlet of remorse is to flee from sin; of the need for confession, to admit what one has done; of atonement, to pay the debt; of reconciliation, to restore the bonds one has broken; and of justification, to get back in the right. But if the Furies are denied payment in wonted coin, they exact it in whatever coin comes nearest, he says, driving the sinner's life yet further out of kilter. Accordingly, he writes:
We flee not from wrong but from thinking about it [pseudo-remorse]. We compulsively confess every detail of our story, except the moral [pseudo-confession]. We punish ourselves again and again, offering every sacrifice except the one demanded [pseudo-atonement]. We simulate the restoration of broken intimacy, by seeking companions as guilty as ourselves [pseudo-reconciliation]. And we seek not to become just, but to justify ourselves [pseudo-justification].
[Acknowledgements: Thanks to the folks at Family Research Institute, P.O. Box 2091, Washington, DC 20013, for the information they provided on homosexual practices through their pamphlet, Medical Consequences of What Homosexuals Do (1992), and for the gentleman (whose name I cannot remember) whose letter to the Editor of New Oxford Review several years ago furnished much of the medical information on the lymphatic system surrounding the male digestive tract and other relevant information.]

Interest in same sex 'marriage' waning among homosexuals

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands, June 24, 2006 ( - "After the clamor to legalize same-sex marriage, it turns out that not many homosexuals really want it. Following a bitter battle last year, the Spanish government gave homosexuals the right to marry. Since the law took effect last July 3, until May 31, only 1,275 same-sex marriages took place, reported the Madrid daily newspaper ABC last Saturday."

Comparatively, that would add up to a mere 0.6% of the 209,125 marriages contracted in Spain during 2005. Of the total number of same-sex marriages, 923 were between males and 352 among females.

A recent study by the Virginia-based Institute for Marriage and Public Policy did a roundup of same-sex marriage trends. The study, "Demand for Same-Sex Marriage: Evidence from the United States, Canada and Europe," was published April 26.

Maggie Gallagher and Joshua Baker, the authors of the study, warn that precise data is difficult to obtain, but offer statistics on the Dutch experience, Belgium, Canada, and the United States. The Zenit article states that information from newspaper reports and data collected by Gallagher and Baker suggest that the number of same-sex marriages, "after an initial burst, appears to be decreasing with each passing year." Further, it reports that the data contained in Gallagher and Baker's study was supported by Hudson Institute fellow Stanley Kurtz, who argued in National Review Online (June 5, 2006) that statistics from Northern Europe confirm the trend to low levels of same-sex unions. Meanwhile, in welcoming Spain's new ambassador to the Holy See, Pope Benedict XVI continued to defend the value of marriage between a man and woman as a vital social institution, adding that, during his July visit to the World Meeting of Families in Valencia, Spain, he is looking forward to being able to "celebrate the beauty and fruitfulness of the family founded on marriage, its exalted vocation and indispensable social value."

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The love that won't shut up, again

The love that dare not speak its name? No, the love that just won't shut up. Back at you by popular demand of the "Spirit of Vatican II, Gene Robinson and Co." Again. So hear this:
"Conjugal sex means self-giving, making one flesh out of two. By contrast, when a man puts the part of himself which represents new life into the cavity of another man which represents decay and expulsion, at the most basic of all possible levels he is saying 'Life, be swallowed in death.' We cannot overwrite such meanings with different ones just because we want to."
J. Budzieszewski, What We Can't Not Know (2003), pp. 86-87. (J. Budziszewski is professor of government and philosophy at the University of Texas.)

The fact is, we all know this. Even those of us desparate to evade the hold of its obviousness on us. We know this and a great many other things like it. This fact was once widely recognized. It was unexceptional for St. Thomas Aquinas to declare that the foundational moral principles are "the same for all, both as to rectitude and as to knowledge" (ST, I-II, Q 94, a. 4). That is, the foundational moral principles are not only right for everyone, but at some level known to everyone. But what was once considered unexceptional is now widely considered outrageous. People become angry when one asserts the moral law; and this outrage itself is an amazing fact that calls for explanation. Budziszewski suggests that we are passing through an eerie phase of history in which the things that everyone really knows are treated as unheard-of doctrines, a time in which the elements of common decency are themselves attacked as outrageous indecencies. Sexual purity and piety are considered deviant. To suggest that the sick should not be encouraged to seek death is decried as unfeeling. The moral law has become the very emblem of the immorality of intolerance. Yet this basic moral knowledge haunts us. It is inescapable. We appeal to it even to justify our evasions of it. It's something, Budziszewski would say, which we simply can't not know. This is nothing new, of course. Just read what St. Paul says in Romans about what the Gentiles know 'by nature' but 'suppress' in their wickedness (1:18-32). (Not too politically correct, that. Tut-tut.)

Monday, June 19, 2006

A canon lawyer responds

In our May 31st post on "Kneeling at Mass a mortal sin in Diocese of Orange, CA," you may recall we dealt with the case of the notorious Fr. Tran who declared kneeling at Mass (specifically for the Agnus Dei) a mortal sin in a parish that had hitherto been a Tridentine Rite parish. In the combox to that post, Fr. I-am-the-"Spirit"-of-Vatican-II O'Leary responded with his usual enthusiasm for steering the dialogue in his own direction (not always a bad thing, though usually annoying and sometimes in violation of 'Da Rulz') by writing the following:
Pb, this is merely one priest. But what of Popes who tell people that what they are doing is mortally sinful when it is not? In that case, does the papal decree, even if mistaken, make the matter mortally sinful?

I am thinking, of course, of the decrees against usury in the 16th century, which made normal banking practices we now find totally innocent a mortal sin meriting excommuniction.

I am also thinking of Humanae Vitae. On the Pelikan thread, you told me a competent canon lawyer can explain why the bulls against lending at interest have not the same authority as Humanae Vitae. Can you give a link to such a lawyer? Can you explain why the three solemn bulls of Pius V and Sixtus IV were not as solemn and authoritative as the encyclical of Paul VI?

Perhaps you will say that the theologians got around those bulls by declaring them part of positive papal law rather than permanent natural law -- but this is a ploy that runs against the letter of the bulls, much as the Canadian bishops' reception of Humanae Vitae as a papal opinion that Catholics were free to follow or not as they chose runs counter to the letter of the encyclical. It is hard to see how the 16th century popes could have made it any clearer that they were determining a disputed point of natural law.

The point is that even the most solemn utterances of the papacy on moral matters have been corrected by laity's and theologians' non-reception. Development moves in the direction of deepening moral insight, as JP2 stresses, but there are a lot of bumps on the way! (Comment source)
So I wrote to a priest friend of mine with an advanced degree in canon law, Fr. John T. Putnam. Unfortunately, most canon lawyers are kept extremely busy in their diocesan tribunals where they hear cases two or three days a week, but Fr. Putnam referred the question to another source in our Diocese of Charlotte, who furnished a link to the Encyclopedia of Catholicism article on 'Usury' and commented as follows:
As for the priest in the Diocese of Orange (Fr. Tran) declaring kneeling at Mass (specifically for the Agnus Dei) a mortal sin, he has since then "retracted" his statement. The Diocese of Orange, in typical fashion -- and much like the confusion so regnant here in Charlotte -- both supported his declaration on mortal sin as well as his retraction. (I suppose then that Fr. Tran could announce just about anything, followed by its contradiction, and receive diocesan support each time; such is the honor among thieves... er uh, liberals.)

It would seem to me, however, that the faithful of the Diocese of Orange are indeed obliged to stand for the Agnus Dei -- if I understand the Rome-approved norms for this point in the Mass. I've read, too, though, that the people have also been instructed to stand for the Eucharistic Prayer, an "instruction" that should be "disobeyed," since it is contrary to the mind of the Church.

As to usury and its comparison to Humanae vitae: the dissident priest makes a false analogy. Because the papal bulls against usury were obviously conditioned by the times and circumstances in which they were promulgated does not at all take away their supreme authority at the time of their application. That is, economic circumstances change, and at the time of the Popes mentioned [by him], usury was the means of ruining any number of people, especially the poor. And such avarice on the part of lenders is seriously sinful. Times have changed; yet I would not say, quoting from [his comment], "normal banking practices we now find totally innocent," for we Catholics do not find them so. Justice still needs be applied. But when it comes to contraception, here we are dealing not with time-related variables, but with the constancy of human nature and the essence of the sexual act -- constants, not variables (as with economics and banking practices).

To quote from the above linked article [on usury]: "The precise question then is this: if we consider justice only, without reference to extrinsic circumstances, can the loan of money, or any chattel which is not destroyed by use, entitle the lender to a gain or profit which is called interest? To this question some persons, namely the economists of the classic school, and some Catholic writers, answer 'yes, and always'; others, namely Socialists and some Catholic writers, answer, 'no, never'; and lastly some Catholics give a less unconditional answer, 'sometimes, but not always'; and they explain the different attitudes of he Church in condemning at one time, and at another authorizing, the practice of taking interest on loans, by the difference of circumstances and the state of society."

And, yes, the Popes of the 16th century were indeed "determining a disputed point of natural law"; for they were judging it against nature to ruin one's neighbor -- easily done during that time (just read the history of the Jews in Europe) -- by making a living off interest. The Popes' authority in condemning this is not diminished nor to be seen as lacking infallibility, simply because with the changing of the times and with economic circumstances, loaning at interest became something far less likely to ruin one's neighbor, but became far more regulated, as well as the rights of protection being recognized for the one making the risk of loans. This change of circumstances (with deepening understanding of economics and justice in the market place) with the attendant change of the Church in these matters does not at all relativise the Church's position on contraception. That's simply a non sequitur.
The 'Usury' article answers the question why the Medieval ecclesiastical decrees on usury cannot be considered infallible. The reason it offers is that the decree (Pope Benedict XIV's Encyclical "Vix pervenit" of 1745) was initially addressed only to Italian bishops to address a local problem (essentially of loan sharks), and therefore not an infallible decree. Hence, even when it was later applied to the whole Church by the Holy Office in 1836, this did not and could not change the original matter of the decree so as to have rendered it infallible. There are other grounds, too, on which medieval usury teaching can't be considered infallibe, as I have addressed elsewhere in the relevant comboxes, but this should suffice for here.

Will any of these arguments -- from canon lawyers and Catholic Encyclopedia -- satisfy Fr. I-AM-the-"Spirit"-of-Vatican-II O'Leary? You can be your sweet patooties they won't, because very little of this has anything to do with rationality and has everything to do with sweet patooties.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Thoughts on Alterations in the Liturgy Respectfully Addressed to the Clergy

John Henry Newman
John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890) was one of the most famous converts in the history of the Church. A man of profound eloquence and erudition, Newman was the author of such classics texts as The Idea of a University, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, and the autobiographical Apologia Pro Vita Sua. This essay, written while he was still an Anglican, was part of his Tracts for the Times series, and is dated September 9, 1833.
Attempts are making to get the Liturgy altered. My dear Brethren, I beseech you, consider with me, whether you ought not to resist the alteration of even one jot or tittle of it. Though you would in your own private judgments wish to have this or that phrase or arrangement amended, is this a time to concede one tittle?

Why do I say this? Because, though most of you would wish some immaterial points altered, yet not many of you agree in those points, and not many of you agree what is and what is not immaterial. If all your respective emendations are taken, the alterations in the Services will be extensive; and though each will gain something he wishes, he will lose more from those alterations which he did not wish. Tell me, are the present imperfections (as they seem to each) of such a nature, and so many, that their removal will compensate for the recasting of much which each thinks to be no imperfection, or rather an excellence?
"How few would be pleased by any given alterations; and how many pained! But once begin altering, and there will be no reason or justice in stopping, till the criticisms of all parties are satisfied."
There are persons who wish the Marriage Service emended; there are others who would be indignant at the changes proposed. There are some who wish the Consecration Prayer in the Holy Sacrament to be what is was in King Edward's first book; there are others who think this would be an approach to Popery. There are some who wish the imprecatory Psalms omitted; there are others who would lament this omission as savoring of the shallow and detestable liberalism of the day. There are some who wish the Services shortened; there are others who think we should have far more Services, and more frequent attendance at public worship than we now have.

How few would be pleased by any given alterations; and how many pained! But once begin altering, and there will be no reason or justice in stopping, till the criticisms of all parties are satisfied. Thus, will not the Liturgy be in the evil case described in the well-known story of the picture subjected by the artist to the observations of passersby? And, even to speak at present of comparatively immaterial alterations, I mean such as do not infringe upon the doctrines of the Prayer Book, will not it even with these be a changed book, and will not that new book be for certain an inconsistent one, the alterations being made, not on principle, but upon chance objections urged from various quarters.

But this is not all. A taste for criticism grows upon the mind. When we begin to examine and take to pieces, our judgment becomes perplexed, and our feelings unsettled. I do not know whether others feel this to the same extent, but for myself, I confess there are a few parts of the Service that I could not disturb myself about, and feel fastidious at, if I allowed my mind in this abuse of reason. First, e.g., I might object to the opening sentences; "they are not evangelical enough; CHRIST is not mentioned in them; they are principally from the Old Testament." Then I should criticize the exhortation, as having too many words, and as antiquated in style. I might find it hard to speak against the Confession; but "the Absolution," it might be said, "is not strong enough; it is a mere declaration, not an announcement of pardon to those who have confessed." And so on.

Now I think this unsettling of mind a frightful thing; both to ourselves, and more so to our flocks. They have long regarded the Prayer Book with reverence as they say of their faith and devotion. The weaker sort it will make skeptical; the better it will offend and pain. Take, e.g. an alterations which some have offered in the Creed, to omit or otherwise word the clause, "He descended into hell." Is it no comfort for mourners to be told that CHRIST Himself has been in that unseen state, or Paradise, which is the allotted place of sojourn for departed spirits? Is it not very easy to explain the ambiguous word, is it any great harm if it is misunderstood, and is it not very difficult to find any substitute for it in harmony with the composition of the Creed? I suspect we should find the best men in the number of those who would retain it as it is. On the other hand, will not the unstable learn from us the habit of criticizing what they should never think of but as a divine voice supplied by the Church for their need?

But as regards ourselves, the Clergy, what will be the effect of this temper of innovation in us? We have the power to bring about changes in the Liturgy; shall we not exert it? Have we any security, if we once begin, that we shall ever end? Shall not we pass from non-essentials to essentials? And then, on looking back after the mischief is done, what excuse shall we be able to make for ourselves for having encouraged such proceedings at first? Were there grievous errors in the Prayer Book, something might be said for beginning, but who can point out any? Cannot we very well bear things as they are? Does any part of it seriously disquiet us? No -- we have before now freely given our testimony to its accordance with Scripture.
"A taste for criticism grows upon the mind. When we begin to examine and take to pieces, our judgment becomes perplexed, and our feelings unsettled."
But it may be said that "we must conciliate an outcry which is made; that some alteration is demanded." By whom? No one can tell who cries, or who can be conciliate. Some of the laity, I suppose. Now consider this carefully. Who are these lay persons? Are they serious men, and are their consciences involuntarily hurt by the things they wish altered? Are they not rather the men you meet in company, worldly men, with little personal religion, of lax conversation and lax professed principles, who sometimes perhaps come to Church, and then are wearied and disgusted? Is it not so? You have been dining, perhaps with a wealthy neighbor, or fall in with this great Statesman, or that noble Land-holder, who considers the Church two centuries behind the world, and expresses to you wonder that its enlightened members do nothing to improve it. And then you get ashamed, and are betrayed into admission which sober reason disapproves. You consider, too, that it is a great pity so estimable or so influential a man should be disaffected to the Church; and you go away with a vague notion that something must be done to conciliate such persons. Is this to bear about you the solemn office of a GUIDE and TEACHER in Israel, or to follow a lead?

But consider what are the concessions which would conciliate such men. Would immaterial alterations? Do you really think they care one jot about the verbal or other changes which some recommend, and others are disposed to grant -- whether "the unseen state" is substituted for "hell," "condemnation" for "damnation," or the order of Sunday Lessons is remodeled? No, they dislike the doctrine of the Liturgy. These men of the world do not like the anathemas of the Athanasian Creed, and other such peculiarities of our Services. But even were the alterations, which would please them, small, are they the persons whom it is of use, whom it is becoming to conciliate by going out of our way?

I need not go on to speak against doctrinal alterations, because most thinking men are sufficiently averse to them. But, I earnestly beg you to consider whether we must not come to them if we once begin. For by altering immaterials, we merely raise without gratifying the desire of correcting; we excite the craving, but withhold the food. And it should be observed, that the changes called immaterial often contain in themselves the germ of some principle, of which they are thus the introduction, e.g., if we were to leave out he imprecatory Psalms, we certainly countenance the notion of the day, that love and love only is in the Gospel the character of ALMIGHTY GOD and the duty of regenerate man; whereas the Gospel, rightly understood, shows His Infinite Holiness and Justice as well as His Infinite Love; and it enjoins on men the duties of zeal towards Him, hatred of sin, and separation from sinners, as well as that of kindness and charity.

To the above observations it may be answered, that changes have formerly been made in the Services without leading to the issue I am predicting now; and therefore they may be safely made again. But, waving all other remarks in answer to this argument, is not this enough, viz. that there is peril? No one will deny that the rage of the day is for concession. Have we not already granted (political) points, without stopping the course of innovation? This is a fact. Now, is it worthwhile even to risk fearful changes merely to gain petty improvements, allowing those which are proposed to be such?

"Speculations about ecclesiastical improvements which might be innocent at other times, have a strength of mischief now."

We know not what is to come upon us; but the writer for one will try so to acquit himself now, that if any irremediable calamity befalls the Church, he may not have to vex himself with the recollections of silence on his part and indifference, when he might have been up and alive. There was a time when he, as well as others, might feel the wish, or rather the temptation, of steering a middle course between parties; but if so, a more close attention to passing events has cured his infirmity. In a day like this there are but two sides, zeal and persecution, the Church and the world; and those who attempt to occupy the ground between them, at best will lose their labor, but probably will be drawn back to the latter. Be practical, I respectfully urge you; do not attempt impossibilities; sail not as if in pleasure boats upon a troubled sea. Not a word falls to the ground, in a time like this. Speculations about ecclesiastical improvements which might be innocent at other times, have a strength of mischief now. They are realized before he who utters them understands that he has committed himself.

Be prepared then for petitioning against any alterations in the Prayer Book which may be proposed. And, should you see that our Fathers the Bishops seem to countenance them, petition still. Petition them. They will thank you for such a proceeding. They do not wish these alterations; but how can they resist them without the support of their Clergy? They consent to them (if they do) partly from the notion that they are thus pleasing you. Undeceive them. They will be rejoiced to hear that you are as unwilling to receive them as they are. However, if after all there be persons determined to allow some alterations, then let them quickly make up their minds how far they will go. They think it easier to draw the line elsewhere, than as things now exist. Let them point out the limit of their concessions now; and let them keep to it then; and (if they can do this) I will say that, though they are not as wise as they might have been, they are at least firm, and have at last come right.

[John Henry Newman, "Thoughts on Alterations in the Liturgy Respectfully Addressed to the Clergy," originally published in his Tracts for the Times series (September 9, 1833), was reprinted in Latin Mass (Winter 2002), 38-40, and is reproduced here by permission of Latin Mass Magazine, 391 E. Virginia Terrace, Santa Paula, CA 93060. Transcribed for the Internet by Elizabeth Flow.]

~ Nunc a fortiori, Ven. J.H. Card. Newman, ora pro nobis! ~

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

"Here's How the Church of the Future is Experimenting in the Cathedral of Milan"

"With video installations, electronic music, and abstract art. With Lenten readings from Oscar Wilde and Jack Kerouac. With the pulpit given over to non-believers. All this in the great diocese whose patrons are Saint Ambrose and Saint Charles Borromeo [and, I might add, the See of St. Augustine's conversion, baptism, and reception into the Church]." Read the rest of this article by Sandro Magister at www.chiesa, June 13, 2006.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy much of Oscar Wilde's humor immensely and quote him on other pages of my website. I think Jack Kerouac is a decent, if not profound, read. I'm not even opposed to everything in Spinoza's philosophical writings or to experimental art of the kind undertaken by Tatsuo Miyajima, in the right context (both are mentioned later in Sandro Magister's article). But it seems here that Church authorities have lost all sense of boundaries. The lack of fittingness is as jarring as what I have encountered among some of those Evangelical fringe groups that promote "Christian heavy metal," or parents in the seventies who thought they could earn the respect of the 'younger generation' by smoking pot with their kids. None of this will 'work.' Either it will denature the Gospel being proclaimed (the most likely result), or it will hobble the promotion of Wilde, Kerouac, etc. (Why trouble yourself to go to church to hear them? Most who wouldn't go for any other reason are going to find the church a major 'deduct' anyway, and if Wilde and Kerouac is their reason for going, they might prefer an environment where they can drink or get stoned.) When will "Spirit of Vatican II" liberals learn that the Gospel doesn't need secular 'supplements' to spice it up. The effect, rather, is to water it down, throw a wet towel over it, smother it, and kill it. The Gospel unencumbered by all this merda has done quite well over the past two millennia in converting whole continents and peoples to Christ. Again, I have nothing against study groups taking on the relationship between the Christian Faith and various expressions of secular culture, whether literary, cinematic, or otherwise. In fact, this is exactly what I promote in my classes. But let us pray for a return to sanity about keeping liturgy sacred and keeping the profane out of the sanctuary.

Monday, June 12, 2006

From a parish bulletin ...

My son, Nathan, who serves in the U.S. Navy, has spent time in some fairly exotic places, like Rota, Spain, just West of Cadiz. More recently, after a tour of duty at sea, which took him to Iraq, he was stationed in Portsmouth, Virginia. Now he has been re-assigned to Gulfport, Mississippi, where he and his wife have finally settled and bought a house, where he is now mastering the art of tiling his own floors.

One of the big decisions after such a move is where to go to church. After visiting two or three churches in the area, they finally found a parish they liked. It has a school attached to the church, is active, and has a pastor, an African, who strikes them as theologically sound (it's a shame, but a necessary one, that laity should have to take upon itself the business of assessing the theological soundness of clergy these days).

But one thing that bothered Nathan was that the Tabernacle was placed in an obscure corner where it was apparently hardly accessible, let alone prominently visible. He sent the priest a message about it, mentioning the problem. Then, after the next Sunday Mass, Nathan spoke briefly with the priest on the way out of the church, asking him if he received the communication; but, of course the priest was brief with him, as he was in the midst of greeting his parishioners after Mass, and Nathan thought this would go nowhere. So Nathan arranged a meeting with the priest, and they spoke for about twenty minutes about the problem. The next Sunday, the following announcement appeared in the parish bulletin at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Gulfport, Mississippi, where the Rev. Joseph Uko is Pastor (228) 864-2272:
In our last Pastoral Council meeting, it was decided that we relocate the tabernacle for the reservation of the Most Holy Eucharist to the main part of the Sanctuary. It is to be located in a place that is distinguished, conspicuous, beautifully decorated and suitable for prayer. The bishop has given his blessings and is very delighted with our decision. The bishop says "in purchasing a new tabernacle, it should be immovable, made of solid and opaque materials and capable of being locked to avoid the danger of profanation." A good tabernacle is expensive and runs into several thousand dollars. I am asking everyone to make a donation for the purchase of this tabernacle. Please make your check to St. John the Evangelist.
Is it not nice, for a change, to hear news of something positive, of a voice that was heard, of an actual response to a legitimate request?! Thank you, Nathan. Thank you, Pastor Joseph Uko. Thank you, Bishop Thomas J. Rodi. Thank you, God.

Contributions toward the purchase of the tabernacle may be sent to the address below (Make checks out to "St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church" and specify "For Tabernacle Renovation Project"):

Rev. Joseph Uko, Pastor
Tabernacle Renovation Project
St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church
Gulfport, Mississippi
(228) 864-2272

Entrees to Philosophy of Religion

One of our readers wrote recently enquiring whether I could suggest names of some important books or texts in the field of philosophy of religion. Here is a brief bibliography of books, beginning with texts I have used in some of my classes and others that I consider good entrees into the field, with no pretense of thoroughness. I begin with beginner's books, because I think those are the most difficult to pick, and proceed toward some of the more substantial classics. Feel free to suggest others that come to mind in the comment box.

Books and approaches in philosophy generally, and philosophy of religion as well, are divided along various ideological lines into various camps, one of the largest being (a) logical empiricist, or analytical, or anglo-American, and (b) continental/phenomenological. When it comes to philosophy of religion, the former has a tradition of preoccupation with analytical proofs for God's existence, truth claims, interest in religious languages statements, etc., whereas the latter is concerned less with truth claims than with understanding and describing the experience and meaning of religious experience. Both traditions have merit, as well as defects, and one finds Christians in both camps. The Catholic tradition of philosophy of religion was originally independent of either of these camps, though one now finds Catholics all over the place. Alvin Plantinga (pictured left), a Calvinist philosopher, writing from within the analytical tradition, was one of the first to break open the strangle-hold of positivist assumptions within that tradition. (See my review of The Analytic Theist: An Alvin Plantinga Reader, ed. James F. Sennett.) Some of his books are well worth reading. But here's what I would do. I would start with a few basic anthologies, and I would recommend the following, probably in something like the following order:Beyond that, there are important writers in the Catholic tradition one should be familiar with, of course, such as Etienne Gilson and Josef Pieper, particularly their books on St. Thomas Aquinas, as well as the works of St. Thomas himself. Some dismiss Thomas as irrelevant to issues in contemporary philosophy of religion. This, in my view, is a large mistake. Those unfamiliar with the thought of this master labor at a great disadvantage in this field, even -- perhaps especially -- in those areas where classic Thomistic positions are derisively dismissed (as in current debates about 'absolute divine simplicity'). In order of mounting difficulty, I would recommend the following:Other classics in philosophy of religion include, of course, such works as the following, and many, many others:

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Plumbing fixed

Saturday afternoon: Gus, the Dutch plumber has finished his work. He came out Thursday and tore through the sheet rock to assess the problem -- spent about an hour here. Today (Saturday) he was here from 10:00am until around 2:30pm. We tore out the base boards to the utility room, the linoleum covering the concrete, and then Gus took a jack hammer to the concrete to get at the ruptured pipes. He created a by-pass using CVP pipes, drilling through wood joists and routing the pipes around the wall of the room. We now have hot and cold water restored with no leaks. If we had called a commercial plumber, with all the work to get under the cement and the work under the crawl space, estimates averaged at $1500.00. Gus shared a Subway sandwich with me, sat on the porch, and talked late into the afternoon with me over beers, telling stories about how he was raised in Indonesia, became a plumber in California, worked in Las Vegas for six years until he got sick of it, and moved to North Carolina for a slower, more civil life. He charged me $256.52. I gave him $300, and we were both happy. Alright, to which one of you and your prayers do we owe this?

Monday, June 05, 2006

Cyberspace takes back seat to rude reality

My apologies for my absence from Blogville, my friends. For the last week we have been without hot water. A couple of futile visits from a plumber ruled out the water heater as cause. After the subsequent discovery of enough water beneath the house to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool, we concluded the cause must be a ruptured pipe. We cut off the main water supply to the house and have been without tap water since. The last several days I've spent pumping water out from under our house and crawling on my hands and knees in mud beneath our house in search of a broken pipe, to no avail. Yesterday a friend helped me locate the source: the rupture is in a pipe somewhere behind the cinder blocks at one end of the house beneath a concrete slab that serves as the floor for our garage and utility room housing washer, dryer, and water heater. We are engaged currently in enlisting the services of a plumber or contractor who will accommodate our needs without utterly fleecing us. Yes, I know some of you may be asking, like my friend Kirk, whether I believe in the existence of chaste prostitutes. No, but one hopes that good and honest men may still be found. ... And all of this, hard on the heels of the commencement of two summer courses and with an editor breathing down my neck for an article long past due. I solicit your prayers with thanksgiving.

Update (June 8, 2006): I've got a Dutchman named 'Gus' who lists himself in the phonebook simply as "The Plumber," who's coming out to assess the situation today (part of the reason for the delay is that I'm also trying to finish my Scheler paper by Friday). Gus came to my attention on the recommendation of family acquaintances, and speaks on the phone with a thick Dutch accent. My sons will remember their home schooling days when I undertook some Dutch lessons together with them and they kept collapsing into delirious laughter trying to pronounce 'Varkenskarbonades' (pork chops), which, for them, came out sounding like "farting Saint Bernards." Hey, the oldest was in junior high. That was sophisticated humor.