Wednesday, August 30, 2006

President of FCS comes out for "ad orientem" liturgy

In the editorial of the latest issues of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly (Fall 2006), Dr. Bernard Dobranski, President of the Society, addresses the topic of "Sacrosanctum Concilium and the Reform of the Liturgy," the theme of the upcoming Society's annual conference in Kansas City (September 22-24, 2006). He suggests that the topic is particularly appropriate as we enter the second year of Pope Benedict XVI's papacy:
The Pope's much heralded efforts to reconcile the Society of St. Pius X, founded by the late archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, is one example of his strong interest in the liturgy and is a welcome sign of his concern for our alienated co-believers. Reports also indicate he possibility of a general indult being granted for all priests to celebrate the traditional Mass, known as the Tridentine Mass, as part of the reconciliation. Although for many -- including this writer -- this permission would be welcome news, it would be naive to think that the celebration of the liturgy as we knew it before 1968 would replace the Novus Ordo (New rite) or even become common.
Given the notorious obstacles that stand in the way of reconciliation between the SSPX and Rome, it may be naive even to suppose that such a general indult will ever be granted. In any case, Dobranski sees a more realistic and palpable approach to correcting the perceived flaws as lying with a "reform of the reform" as expressed in the theme of this year's conference.

Dobranski affirms the "full, conscious, and active participation" that the Fathers of Vatican II called for in Sacrosanctum Concilium (n. 4). However, he says, although physicality and movement are involved in worship, "this active participation does not connote the frenetic activity of the group or community building exercise model of worship now wrongly associated with the Novus Ordo, but rather the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual satisfaction that should come to the worshipper through seeing, knowing, and experiencing the divine beatitude (happiness) that the Sacred Mysteries contain." How can this latter and more Catholic perception of the Mass be recaptured and deepened? He writes:
It is vitally important that the sacrificial aspect of the Mass be foremost in each celebration. Too often, this central aspect of the Mass is obscured by a political statement or a specific agenda. This, in effect, reduces the Mass to a sociological tool which is man-centered and not God-oriented. Therefore, a sine qua non to protect against such abuses, a crucifix should be prominently displayed near the Altar. This serves as a potent reminder that the essence of the Mass is the re-enactment of Christ's redemptive act on our behalf to the Father.

Psychologists inform us of the value of word and symbol in any formal setting. This is especially true for the worship of the Church. It is therefore imperative that the prayer translations from the approved Latin text of The Roman Missal be assiduously adhered to. Clear Catholic theological teaching and religious concepts must be conveyed. To this end, I encourage you to read "Theological Principles that Guided the Redaction of the Roman Missal" (1970) in The Thomist 67 (2003): 157-95. You will be amazed at how inadequate and misleading the current translation is.

* * *

Also, vital to reform is the reorientation of worship away from the ego-centered community to a more traditional God-focused one. This can be easily achieved by celebrating the liturgy of the Eucharist or second part of the Mass with the priest and congregation together "Ad Orientem," facing toward the liturgical East. This will serve a twofold purpose. It will prevent the idiosyncratic priest from confusing the liturgical act of the Church with the promotion of himself and will also clearly focus the community on God where it belongs.
How far such a "reform of the reform" will get any time soon is anyone's guess. Yet any of these sorts of changes would clearly be a change for the better, a step in the right direction. Amidst the shambles and trenches, we pray.

Monday, August 28, 2006

A miracle

St. Augustine recounts miraculous healings in the closing books of his Civitas Dei, about which the Scottish Presbyterian editors of the Post-Nicene Fathers series express skepticism. Romish tall tales, credulity, and manipulation by the patristic bishops, they suggest. I've heard of miracles happening, third-hand, and have read of many instances of healing even in recent times, such as those in the chapter on Miracles in Means to Message by Stanley Jaki, Gifford Lecturer in physics and philosophy. But I've never seen an inexplicable healing up close and personal.

Friends of ours from church, Joe and Karen Cody, have three children -- John Paul, Kara, and Maria. Kara, age nine, recently developed a small tumor on the back of her head behind her hear -- not one that is movable, as in cysts associated with the lymphatic system, but a stationary, hard tumor, of a purplish-bluish color, growing in size. The whole family has been living under a cloud of terrible anxiety with this over the last several days and weekend. Joe called me last week and said he was notifying folk involved in the church's prayer chain. But not wanting to frighten their daughter, they didn't take her to the Emergency Room, but scheduled an appointment today (Monday) with a family physician, who, they expected, would refer them to a surgeon. Over the weekend, Karen had to work (she's a pharmacist), so Joe had the kids, and since his oldest had a game in Georgia, he took them all to Georgia over the weekend. He said his daughter, Kara, was constantly worried, and insisted on sleeping next to him in the motel at night. They went to a Vigil Mass in Georgia at a church called Our Lady of (Perpetual) Help. But he said he was frankly worried, because the growth on the back of Kara's head kept seemed to be growing larger.

Today (Monday), Joe told me, he felt an urge to go spend time with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament in Sebastian Chapel, a beautiful stone building that is the original church building of St. Aloysius Parish in the city where we live. He said nobody else was there, and he spent about half an hour alone there in prayer.

Before I go any farther, I have to tell you that Joe is a very 'hands-on' father. He's very intimately involved with his family and children. He's strict in his discipline, but abundant in his affection with them, and it's very clear that they have a good relationship with their father.

While Joe was in Sebastian Chapel, he said he had a sense that the Lord was asking him to "let go" of his daughter. He said it was such a vivid experience that he actually heard a voice tell him that he had to "give her to me." But Joe said he resisted. He told God that he loved his daughter and children so much that he would rather die than anything happen to them. Then he heard God ask him, "Don't you think I love Kara and your other children too? You have to let them go. Turn them over to me. You have to trust me." At that moment, said Joe, a vivid image came before his mind of a boat, containing all three of his children, with the Lord waiting with open hands on the other side of a body of water, a current drawing the boat towards Him, and Joe holding onto the boat by a rope. Joe wouldn't let go. But God told him: "Joe, you have to let go. Give her to me. Give them to me." For fifteen minutes this battle of the will continued, while Joe refused to let go, until, finally, Joe looked at the Crucifix above the Tabernacle and said, "Lord, what else do I have but You? There's no other certainty in life but You. Lord, I trust that you love my children. They're yours." At that moment, the rope immediately severed, and the boat floated over to the Lord.

Hours later, Kara was taken by her mother to her physician. The doctor examined her. He felt the back of her head. The doctor said to her mother, "You're going to have to show me where the growth is." Kara and her mother lifted Kara's hair and showed the doctor where to look. The doctor said: "There's no growth of any kind here." The doctor insisted on some blood work, after hearing the description of the kind of tumor they described. But I think most of us already know what those results will turn up: absolutely nothing. What will the doctor write in the medical report: "psychogenic hallucinations?" Whatever the case, I think most of us -- even if we're no more able to offer a scientific account of what happened here than this rather perplexed physician -- nevertheless understand what happened here. We call it a miracle. Soli Deo gloria.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The challenge of the Sedevacantist fringe

As we know from past experience, Fr. O'Leary and his left-leaning "Spirit of Vatican II" cohorts would likely label most of us here as 'right-wing,' 'conservative' 'neocon' types. Despite the fact that most of us might prefer to think of ourselves, more simply, as faithful orthodox Catholics, we probably find ourselves, in the larger scheme of things, somewhere more or less (comfortably or uneasily, as the case may be) in the middle between the polarities of radical liberal revisionism, on the one hand, and radical retrenching traditionalism (and certainly sedevacantism) on the other. The latter is, in fact, probably less common in our experience than the former, just as we have found ourselves in the posts of this blog in heated debate far more often with liberal revisionists (O'Leary, Grega, Atiyah, et al) than with radical traditionalists. In fact, the former group may sometimes be hard pressed to distinguish ourselves (in the middle) from the latter. But -- trust me on this one -- the comments to this post will help you see that there is a difference!

One of our readers, who says he is no sedevacantist, recently wrote me saying that he had come across the website of the writings of the recently deceased sedevacantist priest, Rama Coomaraswamy, at As he points out, Coomaraswamy is a fascinating individual, "especially if your impression of sedevacantists is comparable to Fr. Joe’s view of orthodox Catholics." His bio states:
Born in the United States, much of my early education was in India, England and Canada. For many years I was a cardiovascular and cardiac surgeon on the staff of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. I was chief of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery at Stamford Hospital in Connecticut for five years and also practiced at Greenwich Hospital, also in Connecticut. Subsequent to cardiac problems, I retired from surgery and retrained in Psychiatry and also taught at Albert Einstein in this field. In addition, I was also professor of Ecclesiastical History at the St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Ridgefield Connecticut for a period of five years.

"During the course of his medical career," writes our correspondent, "he was Mother Theresa’s heart surgeon, and they maintained a correspondence after her move to India. That correspondence is also on his web site. It is clear from it that she regarded him fondly, and worried greatly over the course of his development in the faith."

"Catholics seek to avoid the discussion of sedevacantism (save to accuse someone else of it) .... That is probably wise in one sense, but the problem of sedevacantism vs. resistance is something I don’t think ... Catholics ought to sweep under the rug. It is a real issue ...."

Fair enough. If we're willing to indulge Fr. O'Leary's 'Hot Tub Christology,' we're certainly willing to give one post to the challenge of sedevacantism. So, restraining our knee-jerk reaction to kick it out of court as dismissively as Matthew Fox's Creation Spirituality at the other extreme, what's this guy's logic?

My correspondent offers the following quote from Coomaraswamy's article, "Sedevacantism," which he says he found provocative:
What confuses me about the Anti-Sedevacantists [eg, Fr. Nicholas Gruner, and Christopher Ferrara] is their claim to be Catholic. Let us consider how the Church considers the function of a true Pope. According to the theologians he is “one hierarchical person with our Lord.” This being so, when he speaks within his function, it is our Lord who speaks – teaches, governs and sanctifies. These are the areas of his authority, the basis of his triple crown, and to say he has not used them is absurd. In so far as he appoints his Bishops and provides Jurisdiction, he is governing. Similarly, in declaring the Novus Ordo Missae to be the “normative” mass, he is sanctifying. And in declaring the documents of Vatican II to be the Supreme form of the Magisterium, he is teaching.

It is quite beyond my understanding how individuals who recognize the post-Conciliar “popes” to be a true and valid Popes, have no problem in disobeying them when they say things we do not like or agree with. Paul VI also told Archbishop Lefebvre that it was his task – not Lefebvre’s -- to determine what was and was not traditioinal. But people like Ferrara and Gruner are happy to guide us as to when we do and do not have to follow the teachings of these seeming papal individuals. The number of groups willing to guide us down what is essentially a Protestant path are legion.

What Father Gruner and Mr. Ferrara do not seem to understand is that the post-Conciliar Church (a name they chose for themselves) is a new and different religion. It is not the Catholic religion. The argument put forth that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” is indeed true. For the true Catholic Church is true and as such can never be destroyed – and God will be with it “unto the consummation of the world.” But we know that in the “end times” only a Remnant will remain Catholic, and obviously, it is with this remnant that God will remain. These Scriptural statements are verified by the fact that throughout the world there are a small but significant number of traditional Catholics who reject the post-Conciliar Church, and retain the true Catholic Faith As Catherine Emerich said, if there is only one Catholic left at the end, the Catholic Church will be found in him. To call this Remnant that has not changed their beliefs or practice “rebellious,” “schismatic” or subject to anathemas, is obviously absurd

The argument that the Remnant will always have a living Pope with it is has no basis in fact. It is a pure opinion – indeed as is the claim that if there is no pope, there is no Church. That the Church continues to exist despite the absence – temporary – of a pope in no way denies the statement of Vatican I. Indeed the saints tell us that at some time in the future Sts. Peter and Paul will return and inform us as to who the real pope is.
A couple of years ago on another blog, our correspondent says he had a running argument with a liberal Catholic that turned on the matter of conscience. He writes: "He of course thought that his 'conscience' gave him all the authority he needed to disregard anything the diabolical Ratzinger, newly elected pope, did to rein in his Amchurch brethren. I relied on the papal authority, and the necessity of a conscience rightly formed, to oppose him. It is sauce for the goose, I suppose, but nonetheless jarring, to find sedevacantists using the same arguments against traditionalist "resisters" (for lack of a better term)." Again, he notes: "Coomaraswamy's statements dramatically underline the proper role of the pope as that of an upholder, a caretaker, so to speak, of a tradition that completely overshadows him, and is in fact in no way dependent upon him (quite the reverse): all of this is ... in stark contrast to the pop-star papacy of John Paul II (I am stating the matter crudely), where the man seemed at times to overshadow, swallow up, the tradition."

There is doubtless ample grist for the mill here, and quite enough to drive some to distraction if not apoplexy (for anyone in dire straits, I do have an ample supply of Guinness on hand, and our local drugstore is well stocked with Valium.) But if it impels us all to re-evaluate the implications of what we are saying and doing, then, quite frankly, I think the post will have served us well. This is certainly, I think, what our correspondent intends.

Alright, have at it!

Note: When I attempted to access Fr. Coomaraswamy's website given above, I could not do so. But I found a host of information available about him on the Internet. One could easily begin with the Wikipedia article, Rama P. Coomaraswamy, which offers a gread deal of background. Among other things, he is the son of Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, the world renown historian and philosopher of Indian art and interpreter of Indian culture, and of Luisa Runstein, an Argentinian Jewess, and he was a graduate of Harvard University in the United States.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

"Jacksonville Bishop Excommunicates Defiant Priest" (August 22, 2006) reports that the Bishop Victor Galeone of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida, excommunicated Fr. Rouville Fisher for joining a Rent-a-Priest group for married clergy. Fisher is quoted as saying: "I'm a priest first, and I love the woman that I am going marry so much that I'm willing to give up everything for her."

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

"Vatican Dumps Darwinist-Boosting Astronomer"

The Jesuit priest-astronomer, Fr. George Coyne, who vocally opposed the Catholic understanding of God-directed creation, has been removed from his post as head of the Vatican observatory. Coyne, who has been head of the Vatican observatory for 25 years, is an expert in astrophysics, but more recently attracted controvercy by appointing himself as an expert in evolutionary biology and theology last summer in an article for the UK’s liberal Catholic magazine, The Tablet. Coyne wrote in opposition to Christoph Cardinal Schonborn, a principal author of the Catholic catechism, who said that an “unplanned process of random variation and natural selection,” both important parts of evolutionary thinking, are incompatible with Catholic belief in God’s ordering and guiding of creation. By contrast, Coyne dismisses the whole question as to whether human beings came about by chance or divine design as "no longer valid." (Hilary White, "Vatican Dumps Darwinist-Boosting Astronomer,", ROME, August 21, 2006)

Christoph Cardinal Schönborn claims random evolution is incompatible with belief in a creator God. In a critique of that view, the Vatican’s former chief astronomer, Fr. Coyne, says that science reflects God’s infinite purpose. Read Coyne's critique of Schönborn in his article, "God's Chance Creation," The Tablet (August 6, 2005).

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Catholic Howl

(with Apologies to Allen Ginsberg
and Lisa Simpson)

I saw the best Catholics of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving
hysterical naked
dragging themselves through the streets at dawn looking
for beautiful Liturgy

Coolheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
connection to the
Who passed through universities without ever learning
Aquinas, among the scholars of Küng,
who were expelled from the seminary for questioning
who cowered in rooms with no crucifixes, burning their
Missals in
wastebaskets and listening to the Feminist Theology
through the wall,
who got busted in their dorms reading Wojtyla,
who purgatoried their torsos night after night
with endless tales of bitter old nuns,
who chained themselves to altar rails for the timeless
reception of the Eucharist,

who sank all night in submarine light of renovated
Churches, listening to the
crack of doom from the folk group,
a lost battalion of Thomistic conversationalists,
screaming whispering facts and memories and
anecdotes of lecher priests, pedophiles, perverts
whole intellects who vanished into nowhere leaving a trail
of missed vocations,
who wandered around and around at midnight wondering
where to go for Adoration, and went, leaving no broken
who studied Newman, Stein, St. John of the Cross
because the teachers would forbid it,
who loned it through the streets of Georgetown seeking
visionary angels like Fessio
who lounged hungry and lonesome through USF seeking
Chesterton or Augustine or
Waugh, and followed the brilliant Spaniard to converse
about Opus Dei
who disappeared into the Traditionalist groups,
who reappeared on the Florida Coast building Ave Maria
with big pacifist eyes sexy in their dark skin passing out
Catholics United for the Faith leaflets,
who kneeled for communion and shrieked with delight
for committing no crime but their own desire for orthodoxy

who journeyed to Denver, who prayed With Chaput,
& waited in vain, for the New Evangelization

who fell on their knees in hopeless cathedrals praying for
each other's salvation

who threw potato salad at Jesuit lecturers on Dogma and subsequently
presented themselves on the granite steps of Groeschel’s
Friary with
shaven heads demanding true religious life.


What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their
skulls and ate up
their brains and imagination?
Moloch! Heterodoxy! Filth! Ugliness! Bare Churches and
stupid theology! Boys sobbing childhood molestation
Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the heavy
judger of orthodox seminarians!
Moloch the incomprehensible dissidents! Moloch the
soulless Liturgies! Moloch whose church buildings are
Moloch whose love is endless questioning and changing!
Moloch whose soul is America and National Catholic

Tuesday, February 04, 2003
A Catholic Long Islander
(Gen X Revert)

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Protestant converts and ironies among phenomenologists

We've all heard about the Catholic converts from among the ranks of the phenomenologists -- Edith Stein, Dietrich von Hildebrand, and (on a bit shakier ground) Max Scheler, etc. But how many of us have heard about the Protestant converts?

While in grad school, I had heard several rumors that the father of phenomenology, Edmund Husserl himself had converted to the Christian faith before his death, but no definite details. There was some mention about conversation between him and a nun on his deathbed. But these last details may have been apocryphal.

What I did discover last year, however, through a generous contact, was that Husserl had converted to the Lutheran faith; and it was hardly on his deathbed. Here is a quotation from an online Biography:
1886-7 was a pivotal year for Husserl. He moved to Halle, and studied psychology, writing his Habilitationsschrift, entitled, The Philosophy of Arithmetic. He converted to Christianity along with his fiancé and member of the Prossnitz Jewish community, Malvine Charlotte Steinschneider. They had three children together. (emphasis added)
Furthermore, on page 15 of a book titled Husserl-Chronik by Karl Schuhmann (Martinus Nijhoff, 1977), Husserl's baptism at a Lutheran church in Vienna is reported as having occurred on April 26, 1886:
"Husserl wird in der Stadtkirche der evangelischen Pfarr gemeinde Augsburgischen Bekenntnisses zu Wien auf den Namen Edmund Gustav Albrecht Husserl getauft. Als Pate fungiert Dr. Gustav Albrecht, Gymnasiallehrer in Maehrisch-Treubau."

Translation: "Husserl was baptized under the name of Edmund Gustav Albrecht Husserl in the town church of the evangelical Pfarr municipality of the Augsburg Confession in Vienna. Dr. Gustav Albrecht, a teacher at he Gymnasium in Maehrisch-Treubau, served as his godfather."
Again, on p. 16 of the same book, one reads: "Unter dem Einfluss Masaryks ging H. zum Protestantismus ueber" (Translation: "Husserl turned to Protestantism under the influence of Masaryks").

Another interesting conversion is that of Adolph Reinach (pictured left), a member of the phenomenological circle to which Husserl, Edith Stein, von Hildebrand, and Max Scheler belonged. He was of Jewish ancestry, but was apparently a lapsed Lutheran for most of his life (Evelyn Waugh called him an "apostate Lutheran" in his 1952 review of a biography of Edith Stein). However, he evidently returned to his Lutheran faith while in the army before he was killed in action. In another twist of Providence, his widow, Frau Reinach (who later became a Catholic), by the resignation and hope with which she accepted her husband's premature death, was instrumental in shedding significant light on the significance of the experience of the Christian faith for Edith Stein, who had agreed to organize Reinach's unpublished manuscripts.

Finally, as to ironies, Thomas S. Hibbs, in his splendid review of Alisdair MacIntyre's magisterial Edith Stein: A Philosophical Prologue 1913-1922 in First Things (May 2006), entitled "The Beginning of the Journey," notes how MacIntyre points out in his book the intriguing parallels and differences between Stein (pictured right) and Heidegger (below):
At various points, MacIntyre offers tantalizing comparisons of Stein and Heidegger, whose lives have intersecting but opposed trajectories. Heidegger began as a Catholic, studied with Husserl, abandoned Husserl to embark on a radical deconstruction of traditional metaphysics, and ended up an ally of the Third Reich. Edith Stein began as a practicing Jew, turned to atheism, studied with Husserl, struggled to move beyond the limitations she detected in Husserl’s phenomenology, became a Catholic, moved toward traditional metaphysics, and was executed by the Nazis at Auschwitz.
Simply amazing!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Obstinate O'Leary refuses to be banned

Fr. Joseph O'Leary -- a.k.a. "Spirit of Vatican II," or just "Spirit," or "SV2" -- is the second commentator in the history of this blog to be banned. He was banned a couple of weeks ago, long after having been banned from sites such as Al Kimel's Pontifications and John Heard's Dreadnought. O'Leary was not banned for his views -- for his dissent from Church teaching, his theological liberalism, or other ideological leanings. We consider the comboxes of this blog an open forum, open to any contributors interested in addressing the topics of the posts, as long as a modicum of courtesy and decorum is observed (see Da Rulz). O'Leary offended many readers of this blog. Most consistently offensive to readers was the fact that a man so obviously gifted with intelligence and broad learning who was ordained to the Catholic priesthood would represent himself in such unseemly ways in service of undermining all that is pure, good, holy, true, and beautiful in the Church and her tradition. "How could he be serious about being a Catholic priest?" they asked. He also offended and wearied readers by consistently dominating and spamming our comboxes. Despite this, and long after receiving many recommendations to ban him, I refused to ban O'Leary -- perhaps partly because of my personal acquaintance with him that goes back twenty-some years to graduate school days, but also because I seriously wanted to maintain an open forum. Yet in recent weeks, the obnoxiousness of his remarks towards fellow commentators and toward myself in the comboxes has reached such levels that permitting him to continue on would be a case of flagrantly turning a blind eye to the basic published protocol for decent conduct on this blog (again, see Da Rulz). A measure of O'Leary's indifference to matters of courtesy is that since his banning he has continued to obsessively post comments (to date) from no fewer than five different IP addresses! What this says about his lack of courtesy and respect for others is one thing. What it says about his state of mental and spiritual health, my readers may surmise for themselves. One thing is clear: this priest is under very little if any supervision and has far too much time on his hands. Any further comments posted by O'Leary from any other IP address will be deleted. In the meantime, pray for this sad and lonely priest. My own prayer for him is that which my late, great missionary mother taught me -- that God would heighten his loneliness, deprive him all his earthly consolations, and drive him to such despair that he may at last have nowhere else to turn but to the one Source of all consolation, hope, and joy.

Friday, August 11, 2006

ELCA bishop files charges against pastor in gay relationship

Bishop Ronald Warren of the Southeastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) filed formal charges against Pastor Bradley Schmeling of St. John's Lutheran Church, Atlanta, for being in violation of ELCA Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline for ordained ministers. Bradley is charged with behavior incompatible with the character of the ministerial office for being in a same-sex relationship with Darin Easler, formerly an ELCA pastor, already removed from the roster because of their relationship.

See:At the national level the ELCA bishops thus far have been nearly as stalwart and principled in matters homosexual as their sister and brother bishops in the ECUSA; which is to say, they have been generously and amply 'pastoral' in such matters by exercising virtually no discipline whatsoever. The discrepancy between word and deed in this respect is impressive. It will be interesting following this case, as it moves through the ELCA process; first, because here is a bishop with sufficient spine and fortitude to press for consistency between word and deed; second, because he faces an overtly defiant clergy appealing to the ELCA GLBT constituency for sympathy and a congregation apparently thoroughly supportive of the defiant pastor over against his bishop; and thirdly, because the charges are being filed not at the national level at Higgins Road, Chicago, but in Atlanta in the Southeastern Synod. It will be interesting to see what the Southeastern ELCA Synod bishops are made of, and whether they can do anything to stem the impending exodus of Lutherans preparing to swim the Tiber for Rome.

Benedict to host private seminar on creation & evolution

According to Sandro Magister, Pope Benedict is scheduled to host a private seminar on creation and evolution at Castel Gandolfo with his former theology students at Castel Gandolfo in early September. Magister writes:
Creationists versus Darwinists, “intelligent design” versus random selection, the controversy is as heated as ever. The pope is studying the issue with a team of experts. Keep reading to find the truth he wants to reassert. And the confusion he wants to clear up.
Magister's post includes the following relevant articles:
(1) Fiorenzo Facchini: “Evolution and Creation,” L’Osservatore Romano (January 16, 2006);
(2) Christoph Schönborn: “Finding Design in Nature,” The New York Times (July 7, 2005);
(3) The Church's Doctrine on Evolution: Basic References (links):
(a) "Alla Pontificia Accademia delle Scienze" (22 ottobre 1996);
(b) “Fede cristiana e teoria dell’evoluzione” (6 aprile 1985);
(c) Udienza generale, 10 luglio 1985;
(d) Udienza generale, 5 marzo 1986;
(e) "Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God";
(f) Catechism of the Catholic Church: The Creator
(g)"Professor Ratzinger goes back to school: After Islam last year, Darwin topic this year," (2.8.2006).
(Sandro Magister, www.chiesa, August 11, 2006)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The negative side of laughter and curiosity

Part I: Laughter

A good friend of mine and an occasional commentator on this blog recently sent me an email referencing an interesting entry on "Laughter" in The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, a three-volume reference work. According to the entry (2:1189), while the ancient pagans like Plutarch and Homer considered laughter a virtue, early Christians apparently "rejected laughter" as a vice. St. Jerome considered laughter "a sign of ungodliness," arguing that it "would be punished on the Day of Judgment." St. Basil the Great asserted that Christ never laughed (PG 31:961C). According to the dictionary, moreover, ancient monks had a particular antipathy for laughter.

This negativism toward laughter, however, must be qualified, since the dictionary also concedes that the Church Fathers thought that laughter could be used as a medium to exress spiritual joy, on the one hand, or "derision of the pagan world and of mundane objects," on the other. Early Christian antipathy towards laughter, then, was evidently antipathy towards laughter of a particular kind. St. John Chrysostom, for example, distinguished between permissible and inordinate laughter.

My friend writes:
Despite the warnings concerning laughter, the Byzantines apparently enjoyed a good laugh every now and again. Evidence for this practice is found in the vernacular literature of the Byzantines. Further information on this topic also can be found in N. Adkin, "The Fathers on Laughter," Orpheus 6 (1985): 149-152.
I remember hearing an interview on the radio some years ago (I think it was on National Public Radio), in which an author was being queried about a book he had written about laughter. His claim, if I remember correctly, was that all laughter (or humor -- it may have been a thesis about humor, I'm not sure) has a sadistic edge to it. Surely this thesis is a trifle excessive, to say the least, yet who cannot doubt that there is some truth in it? Who has not been the brunt of some hurtful joke, the object of some pejorative laughter, some barbed humor? Laughter may be vicious for other reasons as well. Who cannot remember the ethos of maniacal laughter in Petronius' Satyricon? A careful analysis of these and other vicious forms of laughter would be edifying, in order to distinguish them from that wholesome, good laughter Belloc celebrates famously in his rhyme:
Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There's always laughter and good red wine.
At least I've always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino!
Part II: Curiosity

Another friend and commentator on this blog recently sent me a great article by Paul J. Griffiths, whom I once had the pleasure of meeting in Madison, Wisconsin. The article, entitled "The Vice of Curiosity," is from Pro Ecclesia, Vol. XV, No. 1 (Winter, 2006). The article is of singular interest, so permit me to offer some extended excerpts for your reading pleasure. Griffiths begins thus:
Consider the claim that curiosity is a vice, an intellectual habit always and everywhere to be discouraged, abjured, and shunned. Tosay this of curiosity would be to make it something like envy, arrogance, or despair, all habits that most of us from time to time indulge in or fall victim to but that we would prefer to avoid and certainly do not seek. To speak of curiosity in this way sounds odd. Indeed, it sounds a little crazy. For us, curiosity is for the most part a positive word, a word we use to indicate an attitude or a practice we are happy to encourage and praise. But this was not so for almost all premodern Christian thinkers. They, almost without exception, did classify curiosity as a vice and did say that it should be shunned. In this brief essay I'll say something about why they held this view and offer a sketch of an argument that supports it.

To do this I will set before you two things. The first is a brief restatement of what I take to be Augustine's understanding and critique of curiositas, which is the Latin word that entered English as curiosity. For Augustine, as we shall see, curiosity was a vice rather than a virtue. The second is a sketch of an argument whose principal purpose is to support the distinction between virtuous and vicious intellectual appetites and to locate curiosity firmly within the camp of the vicious.

This article and the larger study, still mostly unwritten, of which it forms a part, have two motives. The first is a sense that the intellectual appetites that must be cultivated by academics and students if the knowledge industry of the contemporary academy is to be served as it demands to be served have become largely corrupt. This corruption, it seems to me, is evident in the ways in which scholars talk about their intellectual appetites -- and we do, obsessively, talk about them -- as well as in the practices of contemporary scholarship in the humanities, the Geisteswissenschaften as the Germans prefer to call them. Implied by this talk and these practices is an understanding, or perhaps better a family of understandings, of what human beings are like, what the intellect is for, and how knowledge should be understood and sought. This family of understandings is, or so I have come to think, incompatible with specifically Christian understandings of these same matters, as well as being finally incoherent. And this is or should be a matter of concern for the church and for Christian scholars, for the secular academy has enormous and effectively unrivaled power to define the intellectual life and the practices of scholarship.

There is also a second motivation. One of the more remarkable transformations in the history of European intellectual life was the removal of curiosity from the table of the vices and its inscription into the table of virtues. From the beginnings of Latin Christianity in the second century (Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose, Augustine), curiositas was defined as a vice; but by the fifteenth century it had begun to be considered a virtue, and by the eighteenth century it was simply assumed by most European thinkers to be virtuous, and the earlier understanding of the term was largely lost....
Why Augustine? Griffiths' answer: "It is no exaggeration to say that European thought about curiosity is Augustinian from the fifth century to the fifteenth." Why is curiosity a vice for Augustine? "Curiosity for Augustine is appetite for nothing other than the ownership of new knowledge." It is a kind of concupiscentia, a disordered desire that guarantees its own disappointment. Curious concupiscence engages in close study and investigation of its chosen objects. "But the curious man is always a fornicator: he pervets study and investigation in much the same way that having sex with those to whom you are not married perverts the gift of the sexual appetite." Thus the curious man is distinguished from the studious man.

Curiosity's desire is closed off to its objects relation to God, considered only in isolation, whereas the studious man's interest is open to a knowledge of things including their relatedness to God. The second of Jesus' three temptations in the wilderness (where Jesus is placed on the temple's pinnacle and asked to throw himself down because of the scripture that says God's angels will permit no harm to come to him) is the paridigmatic temptation of curiosity, says Griffiths, because it offers satisfaction of the experimental appetite. Appetite for novelty is another key element in curiosity, an appetite that prevents contemplative rest and also "prevents curiosity's gaze from seeing the vestigium aeternitatis, eternity's trace, in the things at which it looks." Yet again, curiosity is characterized by loquacitas, a garrulity or chattiness involved in becoming known as one who knows -- a characteristic for which Augustine sees the Manichees as paridigmatic, as well as the entire rhetorical trade in which he himself had been involved professionally. But the most important element in Augustine's critique of curiosity, according to Griffiths, has to do with the attempt to own knowledge, "to assert proprietas over it, to make it subject to oneself (sibi tribuere)." Griffiths helps explicate this connection by relating a number of cognates: "To own something, for him," he writes, "is to expropriate it, to make it 'proper' (proprium) to oneself, and thus private." Thus curiosity privatizes its knowledge. Griffiths goes on to offer an extended and fascinating technical analysis, referencing even Husserl and Jean-Luc Marion postmodern hermeneutic of human finitude. But the upshot of his analysis is that objects of human knowing cannot be exhaustively apprehended without remainder privately and individually. No phenomena, no object, and certainly no human other can be captured and privatized, owned or taken possession of without remainder, dominated or sequestered. Any attempt to do so must fail.
Curiositas, then, is an appetite that operates within the constraints of the libido dominandi, the lust for dominance that ownership brings. Its Augustinian contradictory is studiousness, and this is an intellectual appetite that operates within the constraints of a proper appreciation of givenness, or of what Augustine would prefer to call the gift, the donum Dei.
One hears an echo of Jean-Luc Marion's language here, but, of course, also much more: there is here the objective givenness of the entire order of creation, of natural law, as well as the objective gift of redemption.

[Hat tip to Brian Amend for information on date of issue.]

Monday, August 07, 2006

No place like home

It's always wonderful to venture forth and visit distant reaches of the world. It's in one's blood, I suppose. My mother was a Gingerich, and members of the Gingerich clan were notorious travelers. Like the Blossers, they came from Switzerland to Pennsylvania in the early 1700s, then branched out into the Ohio and Virginia valleys. My mother went to China by herself in 1947 as a medical nurse in Chengdu, in the province of Sichuan (or as it was then written, Chengtu, Szechwan), in China. My Gingerich cousins are currently traveling overland down the Pan-American highway through Central America, headed for South America. At one time they made it up the Amazon River as far as Manaus, where they lived for a time. As I say, travel is in the family blood.

But whatever wonderful regions one may venture forth to see, it is always a great comfort to come home again to one's Hobbit hole in the Shire. And so it was that after a wonderful week in Oxford, I arrived safely home again Saturday evening. But let me tell you just a bit about the trip, focusing on what I consider to be in many ways its more interesting incidental circumstances.

The purpose of my trip last week to the UK was to participate in the Oxford Round Table, a periodic forum on religion, education and the role of government conducted under agreements with certain of the Oxford Colleges (see this page on the History of the Oxford Round Table). Participants include members from academe, government, and religious institutions drawn from the UK, former Commonwealth countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, etc., and the United States. Religious affiliations ranged this summer from Christian and Muslim to Bahai and agnostic. The group of which I was a member was housed in Harris Manchester College (pictured above), where we also took our meals and were treated like royalty. Our papers were presented and discussed in the debating chamber of the Oxford Union during the mornings, and afternoons were devoted to walking tours and free time.

One of the moderators of our discussions at the Oxford Union was Canon Brian Mountford, Vicar of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford since 1986. (The spire of St. Mary the Virgin may be seen in the uppermost picture in this post, to the right of the dome of the Radcliffe Camera.) St. Mary's, where John Henry Newman was once Vicar and John Wesley once preached, has during Mountford's time become a center where Christian theology intersects with other academic disciplines and the modern challenge to traditional theology is apparently taken quite seriously. Canon Mountford himself has published a number of books, including Perfect Freedom, which was launched in the United States this July. During one of our afternoons, he treated us to an hour-long discussion of the history of St. Mary's and its role as the parish church of the University.

One thing I noticed again in the discussions (this was my third trip to Oxford), particularly of the various Oxford guides, was a decidedly Protestant textbook interpretation of Reformation history. On the one hand, there was a typically English gentility in the avoidance of any directly negative remarks about the Catholic Church. On the other hand, there was a decidedly one-sided slant in the presentation of facts, whether these concerned the Act of Supremacy or the burning of Cranmer, and a convenient overlooking of other facts altogether, whether it was the exclusion of Catholics from matriculation at the university they had founded in the Middle Ages, their coerced attendance at Anglican services with harsh penalties for recusancy under Elizabeth, or the hanging, drawing, and quartering of Catholic priests under the anti-'Popery' bloodhounds, William and Robert Cecil. One Anglican journalist, William Cobbett, was so incensed by the facts of history he discovered that were not in the standard textbook histories, that he wrote a History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland in which he declared that the English Reformation had been "engendered in beastly lust, brought forth in hypocrisy and perfidy, and cherished and fed by plunder, devastation, and by rivers of English and Irish blood" -- not the sort of perspective one ordinarily gets from courteous tour guides. Yet these guides suffered no apparent difficulty in offering nearly hagiographic accounts of the 'martyrdom' of the likes of Thomas Cranmer, about whose darker side there seemed to be an almost complete and convenient oblivion.

My previous trips to England brought me some acquaintance with the wonderful work the Oratorians are doing in that country. Any of you who have visited the Brompton Oratory in London will know what I mean, for the Oratory, founded by Cardinal Newman (after the Birmingham Oratory) along with Fr. Faber, has become an oasis of sensible, traditional liturgical piety, which finds expression in both pre- and post-Vatican II forms of the Mass (see Joanna Bogle's article, "Brompton Oratory Has Lessons for Parishes," Adoremus Bulletin, Sept., 1998). During my last trip to Oxford, a friend of mine, Bill English, who was studying at Worcester College in Oxford introduced me (and my wife who was then traveling with me) to the Church of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, which had been served since the 1970s by the Jesuits, and in the 1980s by the Archdiocese of Birmingham, and is now served by the Oratorians. In 1993 the Oxford Oratory was established here in this remarkably beautiful little church in which Cardinal Newman preached and Gerard Manley Hopkins served as curate.

Like Newman's University Church off of St. Stephen's Green in Dublin, the Oxford Oratory is hardly recognizable as a church from the street until you come right upon it and look inside the gate (pictured left). Although the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 restored civil rights to Catholics in England and lifted the penal laws, and Catholics were again permitted to build Catholic churches, these churches were typically not permitted to have spires, or bells so as to sound a public call to worship, or to be built in conspicuous places. Thus you will find that nearly all Catholic churches built since the Reformation in Britain and Ireland are in often obscure, out-of-the-way areas, and set back from main thoroughfares. Even Westminster Cathedral in London is set back behind some other buildings. Hannah Arendt might have inserted here a remark about the "banality of evil." Interesting, is it not? Accordingly, in the picture above, you see the entrance to the Oxford Oratory Church of St. Aloysius Gonzaga sandwiched between a store on the left and a building of Somerville College of Oxford University on the right. But look inside the gate, and you see an obvious church building (right).

I arrived in Oxford too late for the 8:00 am Tridentine Latin Mass. In fact, I didn't arrive until mid-afternoon. But the Oratory had an evening service, to which I arrived in time for Benediction (Latin) at 6:00 pm, followed by Mass at 6:30. There were around 45 persons present for Benediction, and I was curious how many would arrive for Mass. After my own experience on two previous occasions during which I taught in England, and after reading Tom Bethell's recent article on the state of the Church in the UK, "Bishops, Nuncios & Delators," New Oxford Review (July-August, 2006), I wasn't all that sanguine. However -- O Thee of little faith! -- there was standing room only! The place was packed! And small wonder. These Oratorians continue to defy the trends and to faithfully engage in the day-to-day work of doing what priests ought to do, and doing it very well. I assisted at daily Mass at St. Aloysius at 6:00 pm every evening, and found the Gospel presented clear as a bell -- in the homilies, in the confessionals open 10 minutes before every Mass, in the cheerfulness of the Oratorians, in the reverent atmosphere and comportment of the priests and parishioners (yes, the altar rail was still used), and -- with abundant clearity -- in the prominence of the Blessed Sacrament displayed frequently for Adoration and Benediction.

But the most telling incident -- one that attests to the secret of the Oratorians' great success -- was one I witnessed on my last full day in Oxford, a Friday, after the 6:00 pm Mass. I decided to have a look around the church, which I hadn't explored in any detail before. It is a beautiful church. The lights were turned off after Mass and most of the parishioners had left. I had crossed the center axis of the nave from right to left in front of the altar rail and was approaching the side chapel on the left side of the church. As I rounded the corner and looked to my right, I stopped in my tracks. There before me were the five Oratory priests recollected in prayer in the side chapel before a picture of the Holy Face. God bless the Oratorians!

On the way home, my flight from Gatwick was overbooked and I was informed that, as I was traveling alone, I would have to be upgraded to first class. I allowed as I could accommodate the adjustment. I had never before experienced such indulgent pampering. I must say that the extra room in the seating and the food service with linen table cloth and china and decent food is extraordinarily nice. But I found the seats unexpectedly uncomfortable, one of the chief difficulties that of being in a perpetually semi-reclined condition so that even in the 'upright' position one is inclined uncomfortably backwards, especially uncomfortable while eating. As a poor academic, I doubt I shall ever find it conscionable to fork over the kind of money needed to garner first-class accommodations ordinarily, but I must say that the experience did expand my educational horizons and was a nice conclusion, all things considered, to an altogether pleasant trip.

But best of all was stepping out of the shower the morning after my late return to find my 17-month old daughter standing at the door, having pushed it open, smiling brightly, with a helium-filled Chuck E. Cheese balloon in her hand and my wife giggling down the hall behind her. It's great to be home.