Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The surprising stories of converts . . .

Being a convert myself, I am ceaselessly amazed at the diverse backgrounds and paths from which our Lord draws converts to His Church. Some of you may have taken a look at my list of "Notable Catholic Converts" linked -- along with my other blogs -- in the sidebar of this blog. I keep updating this list occasionally, including not only 'notable' converts, but ordinary 'pew peasants' like myself (I will be happy to list any of you who email me your name, basic biographical information, religous background, and year of reception into the Church).

My most recent discoveries (not yet added to the list -- this takes a little time), include R.R. Reno (2005), Ola Tjørhom (2003), Randall Terry (2006), Orestes A. Brownson (1844), Henry G. Graham (author of Where We Got the Bible; no date yet, but I'm guessing ca. 1905-10), David Mills (senior Editor of Touchstone magazine; no date yet, but I'm guessing 2001 or 2002), and E.F. Schumacher (author of Small Is Beautiful; no date, but I'm guessing 1972, from this delightful piece by Charles Fager, "Small Is Beautiful, and So Is Rome: Surprising Faith of E.F. Schumacher" Religion-Online).

I have information from at least two or three of you that I have not yet posted online, for which I ask your indulgence: I promise it will appear in due time.

The stories, as I say, are ceaselessly amazing, inspiring, humbling, edifying, and very often surprising. "No news is good news," they say; but that's because the news media generally pander to our basest and most prurient appetites (another reason I am happy to have lived without television for the past 30 years). The news media manage to fill up their daily quota of alloted time and space (including human mental space) with much that is simply depressing -- about the latest killings in Iraq, terrorist bombings, murders, rapes, global warming, dystopic forcasts, etc. As important as these events may be, this myopic focus forms in the human mind an exceedingly distorted picture of the world. It shows us nothing of the wonder of a child's hour spent on a playground flying a kite, or a son's camping trip with his Boy Scout troop, or the experience of creating your first successful Tiramisu and sharing it with family and friends. Even on the religion front, there is plenty of good news in the world, though it's not often bound to make headlines (one rare exception is Chuck Colson's recent article, "Christian Comeback in Europe" on the revival of Christianity in the postmodern, secularist Netherlands). But if you want some really great stories to balance the horror of what Herbert Marcuse used to call telenewsmagspeak, try reading the stories of converts, which, like the classic stories of Saints, not only offer balance, but put things in eternity's perspective.

Of related interest:

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Martini vs. Pope over Euthanasia

For the former archbishop of Milan, the seriously ill person has at every moment the right to interrupt the care that keeps him alive. No, objects Bishop Elio Sgreccia, the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life in a January 23rd article in a major Milan newspaper. But the real clash is between Martini and the pope. See Sandro Magister's article, "Cardinal Martini and Euthanasia: When It Is Licit to Cut Life Short" (www.chiesa, January 30, 2007), for Martini's defection from the Church's public position over the case of Piergiorgio Welby, a seriously ill man who, at his own request, died at the hands of a doctor three days before Christmas. The case is said to have generated nearly as much public emotion as that surrounding the Terry Schiavo case in America.

William R. Farmer's critique of the Jesus Seminar

William R. Farmer, emeritus professor of the New Testament at Southern Methodist University and research scholar at the University of Dallas, is author of Part Two in the Crisis magazine series on the Jesus Seminar. He begins by posing -- and thetically answering -- a decisive question:
The Church canonized only four Gospels; however, Robert Funk, the leader of the Jesus Seminar, wants to add the Gospel of Thomas and the Sayings Gospel Q to our canon. This poses the question: Why did the Church canonize four Gospels and no more? The answer is that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the only Gospels that tell the story of "the flesh and blood martyrdom of the Son of God."

This is the question Farmer explores in detail in his critique of the Jesus Seminar, "Robert Funk & the Jesus Seminar" (Jesus Seminar Critically Examined, January 30, 2007). Farmer's recent publications include The Gospel of Jesus: The Pastoral Relevance of the Synoptic Problem (1994), Anti-Judaism and the Gospels (1999), and The Last Twelve Verses of Mark (Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series) (2005).

Monday, January 29, 2007

Thought of the evening (9:00pm)

. . . And thank the Lord
For the temporal sword,
And howling heretics too;
And whatever good things
Our Christendom brings,
But especially barley brew!
-- Hilaire Belloc (from Song of the Pelagian Heresy for the Strengthening of Men's Backs and the Very Robust Out-Thrusting of Doubtful Doctrine and the Uncertain Intellectual, also known as The Pelagian Drinking Song)
[Credit: "Catholic Humour - Bring on the Barley Brew!!!" (Where London Ends, Dec. 11, 2006)]

Blog on Jesus Seminar

I have created a separate blog (Jesus Seminar Critically Examined) devoted to critically examining the Jesus Seminar, including its underlying agenda and assumptions, as well the many disingenuous arguments and conclusions mounted by their adherents. The articles are by no means authored only by me. The first series of articles look at the origin of the Jesus Seminar and are several years old, but are well-worth revisiting. Thus far the blog has online:I dedicate the new blog to our friend and commentor, who calls himself "Realist, Former Convergent," in the vain hope that it may begin to ameliorate the pathological aversion towards recognizing the ineluctable role of fides in the workings of ratio, from which he and so many suffer suffer as a result of their affection for John Dominic Crossan and other similarly infected members of the Jesus Seminar.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

AmChurch dysfunction encapsulated

A reader sends the following story from Buffalo, NY. What is most striking about it, as he observes, is "the reaction of Catholics – people who supposedly believe that abortion and misuse of fetal stem cells is gravely sinful – who were nonetheless more scandalized by a deacon's rather brave exercise in fraternal correction than by the behavior of a putatively Catholic congressman. If you want a perfect capsulization of what is wrong with the Catholic Church in America, this is it."

The story is reported in an article by Mark Sommer, "Pulpit barb prompts walkout by Higgins," in The Buffalo News (January 24, 2007) [the story is archived after ten days].

Text of the original story follows, with commentary by the reader blocked in bold:
A deacon upbraided Rep. Brian Higgins [pictured right] during Sunday morning Mass in St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church for voting in favor of embryonic stem cell research, prompting the congressman and his family to walk out during the sermon.

The Rev. Art Smith, pastor of the South Buffalo church, said he felt "horrible" about the Higgins family's departure on "Respect Life Sunday" and offered an apology from the pulpit after the congressman had left.

Bishop Edward U. Kmiec of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo later issued a statement also criticizing Deacon Tom McDonnell's action.

"I can't tell you how terrible I felt," Smith said Tuesday. "While we have to always uphold the church's teachings regarding life, I don't think it's ever fair to publicly criticize someone who serves our community and our parish so well."
[The performance of Fr. Art Smith is painful to watch: he feels "horrible", he feels "terrible", he feels "so bad": he is practically bawling with shame – why?? Because a deacon did what he should have had to courage to do?]
Added Kmiec: "The pulpit is not the appropriate place for confronting a member of the congregation. It is my belief that in situations like this, we are more effective when we have substantive, one-on-one conversations with individuals outside the context of the Mass."
[So how many one-on-one conversations with Higgins has Kmiec had on the subject of Catholic moral and social doctrine? Maybe the subject will come up at the next cocktail party.]
Higgins, who was baptized and married in that church, apologized for walking out with his wife, Mary Jane, and son John.

"I want to apologize to the good people of St. Thomas Aquinas Church," Higgins said. "They should not have been subjected to that, and they deserved much better."
[Perhaps he should apologize for his voting record on life issues.]
Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, said the family was on hand primarily because the Mass was being said in memory of Shirley Higgins, the late wife of close friend and former Erie County Sheriff Thomas F. Higgins (emphasis added).
[What else would a good Catholic be doing on Sunday mornings?]
"People were there because of Tom and his family and his wife," Higgins said. "And to use this as a forum to ruin that remembrance Mass was very, very unfortunate. I apologized to his family."
[What evidence does Higgins have that McDonnell spoke with the specific intention of "ruining" what Higgins apparently regards as a Higgins family affair under the auspices of St. Thomas Aquinas parish? Did the Higgins family rent out the parish, like a fire hall, or a VFW post, for a family function?? What does the word "remembrance" mean on Pro-Life Sunday?]
The congressman was less conciliatory toward the deacon.

"What he was doing here was trying to drive a wedge, and it was a cheap shot," Higgins said. "But it's what I do. I take hits [as a politician], and I accept that."
[Is the very idea that moral rectitude is not a matter of personal preference a "cheap shot"?]
McDonnell declined to comment on the incident.

Noreen Curr of South Buffalo was among the congregants who considered the criticism out of bounds.

"I thought what was said was inappropriate, because [Higgins] was there for other reasons," Curr said. "I felt bad that he left."
[How many reasons are there for a Catholic to attend Mass on Sunday?]
McDonnell's sermon called attention to a Jan. 11 vote in Congress, which Higgins supported, that would authorize research using embryonic stem cells. McDonnell noted that Higgins was in attendance and suggested that congregants could talk with him about his vote.
[Public accountability: what a "cheap shot"!]
The bill would allow federal funding for research involving stem cell lines derived from surplus embryos created in fertility clinics, of which 400,000 are frozen and otherwise would be thrown away as medical waste, Higgins said. Instead, he said, they can be used to promote potentially lifesaving research.

Smith, pastor of the Abbott Road church, said that there have been several phone calls expressing "disappointment and embarrassment" over what happened.

Smith said he spoke with McDonnell and planned to talk with him again. "I'm hoping the deacon will somehow express his regret . . ."
[Uh oh, dust off the iron maiden . . .]
. . . "He could have done the whole [sermon] without publicly embarrassing Brian."
[Which would have been far less effective and far less hypocritical, but fiddle-dee-dee to that.]
However, the deacon also took a swipe at Higgins over the same stem cell vote the day before in a 4 p.m. Mass, with Smith in attendance.

Smith said he felt uncomfortable over the deacon's remarks then, too. But he said he didn't expect McDonnell to repeat his criticism with Higgins in attendance Sunday.
[Fr. Smith is clearly in over his head as pastor -- he apparently thinks it would have been better to have spoken against Higgins behind his back.]
"This is not my way of doing things. It really isn't. I feel caught in the middle . . ."
[My career! My glorious career!]
". . . because I want to be supportive of both [Higgins and McDonnell]. I just feel so bad that it happened."
[If I were McDonnell, I would not bet the farm on Fr. Smith's "supportiveness."]
At a reception in Thomas Higgins' house after Sunday Mass, Smith was turned away at the door. "What happened was atrocious," Thomas Higgins said. "It wouldn't have done any good for him to come into the house, because people's feelings were so hurt." Smith said he regrets that the congressman was not treated the way Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., was when she attended a Labor Day Mass in the church in 2001 and was warmly welcomed by Bishop Henry J. Mansell despite her pro-choice position on abortion.
[Oh yes, we were so supportive and toadyish, she may even come back when she runs for president!!]
"What happened is so painful, so hurtful," Smith said. ". . . I wish that [spirit] would have prevailed on Sunday."
A few days after the foregoing incident, the Buffalo Regional Right to Life Committee recovered from the shock of this horrible, unconscionable breach of decorum and defended the deacon's actions, as reported by Mark Sommer, "Deacon hailed for pulpit blast at Higgins," The Buffalo News (January 25, 2007) [archived after ten days].
"God bless the deacon a thousand times. He did his job. If every bishop, every clergy member of all faiths did their jobs, we wouldn't have the shedding of innocent life in our country," said Stacey Vogel of the Buffalo Regional Right to Life Committee.
[Hat tip to R.D.D.]

Friday, January 26, 2007

DUI - North Carolina Style

As St. Paul says in I Corinthians 15:3 -- "For I delivered to you . . . what I also received" -- just as I received it, that is, in an email this morning:
Only a person in North Carolina could think of this. From Catawba County, where drunk driving is considered a sport, comes this true story.

Recently a routine police patrol was parked outside a bar in Hickory, North
Carolina. After last call the officer noticed a man leaving the bar so apparently intoxicated that he could barely walk. The man stumbled around the parking lot for a few minutes, with the officer quietly observing.

After what seemed an eternity, in which he tried his keys on five different vehicles, the man managed to find his car and fall into it. He sat there for a few minutes as a number of other patrons left the bar and drove off. Finally he started the car, switched the wipers on and off a few times; it was a fine, dry summer night, flicked the blinkers on and off a couple of times, honked the horn and then switched on the lights. He moved the vehicle forward a few inches, reversed a little and then remained still for a few more minutes as some more of the other patrons' vehicles left. At last, when his was the only car left in the parking lot, he pulled out and drove slowly down the road.

The police officer, having waited patiently all this time, now started up his patrol car, put on the flashing lights, promptly pulled the man over and administered a breathalyzer test. To his utter amazement, the breathalyzer indicated no evidence that the man had consumed any alcohol at all!

Dumbfounded, the officer said, "I'll have to ask you to accompany me to the police station. This breathalyzer equipment must be broken."

"I doubt it," said the truly proud Redneck. "Tonight I'm the designated decoy."

What will these zany "Rednecks" think of next??
[Acknowledgements: as a nod in the direction of full disclosure, we note that Snopes.Com claims that this story, told as a true story, has been circulating the Internet since June of 1997 (see "De Coy Drunk"). Hat tip to J.B.]

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Contemplating the Past

Beginning at Jerusalem: Five Reflections on the History of the Church, by Glenn Olsen

A Featured Book Review by Thaddeus J. Kozinski

"This is our situation. We have largely lost the sense of God and therefore do not understand man. . . . We can hardly imagine ourselves freed from the confines of immanence and increasingly think of life not as a gift or a sacred trust but as something to be manipulated, even reshaped or redefined, by reconfiguring matter. Those of us who remain Christian are filled with a profound uneasiness made possible by being able to compare a culture in which God was at the center with one from which God has largely been removed. We sense that no amount of miscellaneous retrieval of the past will heal our decenteredness." (pp. 15-16)
If you resonate at all with this grim but trenchant assessment of our present age as a kind of prison, you have already, to some extent, broken out; for, the capacity of discerning loss presupposes awareness of a previous possession. We traditional Catholics have been gifted with an immemorial Mass where God is at the center, and we know that the manifest decenteredness of so many souls today and of our society as a whole has something to do with traditional liturgy having being relegated to the periphery, both in the world and in the Church.

Yet, are we not able to go beyond a “miscellaneous retrieval of our past?” by immersing ourselves in the traditional Mass? Yes, the immemorial Mass serves as an inexhaustible, archaeological treasure of Catholic cultural history, and in its timelessness, we transcend history as well to break the “confines of immanence.” However, grace builds upon nature, and if we desire to retrieve our entire Catholic tradition and effectively make it our own, the grace of a historically suffused liturgy must be built upon the nature of a historically informed mind. In this sense, Glenn Olsen’s Beginning at Jerusalem: Five Reflections on the History of the Church is not only an outstanding study of Catholic history, but it is also indispensable preparation for Mass.

Glenn Olsen, a professor of history at the University of Utah and a specialist in medieval history, has written a Church history that is at the same time a Catholic theology of history and a history of Catholic theology; it is a vivid portrayal of our Catholic Tradition that is amazingly erudite and pervaded by a traditional sensus Catholicus; he also displays a robust and properly belligerent resistance to any kind of ideological compromise or intellectual dishonesty. His writing and thinking bring to mind Christopher Dawson, Etienne Gilson, and Christopher Ferrara.

What Dr. Olsen gives us is, in his words, a “contemplation of the past” in which we can “compare a culture in which God was at the center with one from which God has largely been removed.” Olsen writes:
The easy answer to explain the increasing unintelligibility and unfamiliarity of central Christian teachings and practices in our culture is that the age is opposed to them. Schools, parents and pastors are disinclined to teach them and often themselves lack the education to do so. The more discomfiting answer is that these teachings took form in a very different historical situation, but also in important ways depend on that earlier world. The answer implies that our problems are not “merely” doctrinal or moral, but cultural. If this is so, our task must in some degree be recovery of certain habits of being, certain ways of looking at the world, which are not usually perceived as, strictly speaking, at the heart of Christian faith (11).
* * * * * * *
The easy answer to explain the increasing unintelligibility and unfamiliarity of central Christian teachings and practices in our culture is that the age is opposed to them. Schools, parents and pastors are disinclined to teach them and often themselves lack the education to do so. The more discomfiting answer is that these teachings took form in a very different historical situation, but also in important ways depend on that earlier world. The answer implies that our problems are not “merely” doctrinal or moral, but cultural.

* * * * * * *

Insofar as “the later world” has neglected to incorporate earlier neglected to incorporate earlier “habits of being” into its new cultural forms, and insofar as familiarity with these past habits of being is necessary to appropriate the supernatural doctrines and practices contemporaneous with them, then in our modern and now postmodern age, both predicated upon the explicit repudiation of tradition or history as a source of truth, we are at grave risk of becoming incapable of grasping vital Catholic teachings. Yes, we may possess the Tridentine mass and the Catholic Catechism, but without some way of coming into contact with the historical epochs in which authentic Catholic liturgy and doctrine developed, we are bound to perceive and practice the Faith through the distorting intellectual and imaginative lens of the contemporary zeitgeist. Contemplation of history can help us to remove this lens, as Olsen suggests: “A past age appears less something from which in isolation we can retrieve this or that element than an integrated whole that we may place before our imagination to suggest alternatives to our own times” (14).

Yet, there is a memory hole at the center of our consumerist, individualist, technocratic, illiterate and anti-historical culture. But even so, Olsen sees a peculiar redemptive possibility in the modern eclipse of the past. “There is a sense,” he writes, “in which loss of the past is a precondition for its reappropriation. It is only when we have developed a new world, with its own logic and coherence, that we have a contrast by which we can at least in part understand what we have lost” (14).

There is an obvious application of this principle to the loss of our Catholic liturgical tradition. Could it be that the post-Vatican II suppression of the Tridentine Mass was providential, a God-permitted evil from which the Church could finally gain the kind of profundity of understanding and depth of gratitude for her liturgical treasure that she could never posses absent the experience of almost losing it? Would the level of devotion, richness, and depth of perspective regarding traditional Catholic liturgy and culture, evinced in the writings of this journal, have been possible absent the post-Vatican II crisis?

* * * * * * *
Could it be that the post-Vatican II suppression of the Tridentine Mass was providential, a God-permitted evil from which the Church could finally gain the kind of profundity of understanding and depth of gratitude for her liturgical treasure that she could never posses absent the experience of almost losing it? Would the level of devotion, richness, and depth of perspective regarding traditional Catholic liturgy and culture, evinced in the writings of this journal, have been possible absent the post-Vatican II crisis?

* * * * * * *

Dr. Olsen’s study is divided into five chapters outlining the five major historical periods of the Church’s history. He also includes two appendices composed of beautiful meditations on prayer, as relation and as covenant drama, through a careful reading of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Olsen’s book itself is only 197 pages long, so this is obviously not an event-by-event history of the Catholic Church. Instead, Olsen gives us a historically informed theology and a theologically informed consideration of certain key aspects of the Church’s history. His primary lens is the simultaneous secularization and sacralization process at work in all periods of history, including our own. His other lenses are as follows: an evaluation of the writing of Church history itself (ancient Christianity); the development of a cosmological liturgical consciousness (late ancient and early medieval); the social, economic, and political ramifications of the Incarnation, as well as the development of scholasticism and the subjectivity of religious consciousness (high medieval); the Ignatian project of seeing God in all things (Renaissance to Enlightenment); and the problems of modernization and the Church’s relation to culture in our day.

Olsen is able to clarify and express immensely difficult concepts and complex historical dynamics with both brevity and depth, and since it is impossible to address everything the book, what follows are several passages of Olsen’s words that give expression to his most interesting and provocative ideas, accompanied by a brief commentary.

About ancient Christianity, Olsen writes:
To be ignorant of ancient Christianity is to be unaware of ways out of modern dead ends, to be impoverished in our imaginations, to be unable to make the comparisons that could lead to critical assessment of our own assumptions, and to leave much of the doctrinal heritage of Christianity a largely closed book (38).
For Olsen, there is an individualist ideology at the heart of the modern mind, one that precludes any real comprehension of ancient Christianity:
Many contemporary assumptions make it difficult to appreciate the central Christian doctrines of the Trinity, original sin, redemption through the saving act of Christ, baptism, the Eucharist, and the communion of saints. In each case, the individualism of a noncontemplative society stands between us and the appropriation of these doctrines (35).
A myth with which we are all familiar depicts the medieval world as full of ignorance, superstition, destitution, and the physical and mental anguish of a life perpetually focused on gaining a heavenly compensation for the price of an incorrigible earthly misery. But what is overlooked in this myth is the ecstatic joy that medieval man experienced knowing he was an integral part of the grand cosmic scheme of a loving God.
[T]oday we live in a world that has been largely denuded by science and technology of everything that in past times connected it to the heavens. . . . Early medieval peoples faced many material and physical difficulties, but they were not isolated from the world in ways that we are; they were not “lost in the cosmos” (43, 45).
A feeling of cosmic community was especially present in medieval liturgy:
Gregory the Great’s image of men and angels united in the earth-transcending core or column rising from the altar, the great “Sanctus” . . . stands in rather striking contrast to a certain emphasis on a horizontal sense of community found after the Second Vatican Council. This horizontality had rendered our worship mundane, unholy, and egocentric. The Early Middle Ages presents us an alternative (49).
Proceeding to the high-medieval era, Olsen sees a pronounced development of the social and political significance of the Incarnation, with its main proponent Pope Gregory VII:
What would a life be like that was unreservedly built on the gospel, as opposed to the inherited institutions of man? Gregory took the question to a new level by asking what the implications of the gospel were, not for an individual life, but for society itself (76).
The doctrine of the Incarnation, for example, mandates the harmony – not separation – of Church and state:
In such a theory, Church is not separated from the state, but distinguished from it or harmonized with it. The natural or political order has only a proper or limited autonomy, not a simple independence (81).
Olsen sees this medieval understanding of Catholic political theology as a needed corrective to the American “conservative” understanding of Church and state. Here, Olsen is at his most provocative:
Catholicism in America has been so co-opted by the “American experiment” that almost the whole spectrum of American Catholic interpretation declares, of instance, that Dignitatis Humanae, 22, that is, the “Declaration of Religious Freedom” of Vatican II rules out the confessional state. Thus liberalism rewrites and denies the explicit teaching of the encyclical tradition of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, making Vatican II mark a decisive break with that tradition and the acceptance of the liberal ideal of a state – if that is the right word – around the ideal of individual liberties. To think that other societies are somehow deficient because they have more communal values, less emphasis on liberty, or a larger agreement about religion than we do arguably is just one more expression of the combination of arrogance and ignorance that many find so insufferable in Americans. It also expresses a certain irrealism about the world, an attitude which, instead of appreciating the profoundly different ways in which various societies have developed, wishes them all to copy “the city set on a hill” . . . . Presumably in America we will continue to live in a political culture that at the first step, that is, the First Amendment, tries to prevent giving the form of Christ to the world (83, 84).
Many traditional Catholics will automatically dismiss Olsen out of hand for such “anti-American” sentiments, yet such facile dismissal of Olsen’s historically, theologically, and magisterially informed political perspective is symptomatic of exactly the kind of historical myopia that prevents even some of the most sincere traditional Catholics from grasping the practical implications of Catholic doctrine when it threatens their non-Catholic “habits of being.”

Olsen, in his chapter on the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods, threatens another modern myth, namely, the tale of the “tolerant” nation-state that saved us and still saves us from the big, bad “Wars of Religion.” Olsen quotes William Cavanaugh, one of the Founders of the Radical Orthodoxy movement, whose recent scholarship has turned this tale on its head:
The “Wars of Religion” were not the events which necessitated the birth of the modern State: they were in fact themselves the birth-pangs of the state…to call these conflicts “Wars of Religion” is an anachronism, for what was at issue in these wars was the very creation of religion as a set of privately held beliefs without direct political relevance… Toleration is thus the tool through which the State divides and conquers the Church (133).
* * * * * * *
Here the glory of God was expressed first of all neither in civic or domestic space, but in the liturgy, in an ecclesiological space that at once connected God and the soul through the altar…. The idea was not to conform the liturgy to the world, but to conform the world to the liturgy.

* * * * * * *

Limited space forbids me to touch on the many other profound and provocative ideas in Olsen’s book, but the most satisfying to me is his treatment of liturgy and culture. Olsen thinks like a traditional Catholic, and his sympathies are obviously with the traditional Latin Mass. I conclude with Olsen’s description of the cultural vision of the Baroque era and the project of St. Ignatius of Loyola in particular. The similarities with with his project and that of this journal are remarkable:
Here the glory of God was expressed first of all neither in civic or domestic space, but in the liturgy, in an ecclesiological space that at once connected God and the soul through the altar…. The idea was not to conform the liturgy to the world, but to conform the world to the liturgy. The goal of the Baroque era was not updating that simply brought the Church into conformity to the age, but a reform of the world that followed on the reform of the Church…. If the seventeenth-century Catholic world had so many saints, this was in no small measure due to the coming together of Tridentine emphasis on attendance at daily Mass; Ignatian emphasis on an active life supported by the sacraments; and that most glorious of eschatological expressions, the Mass celebrated in a Baroque setting. This was the Catholic response to the disenchanted world of the Utopians (135-137).
[Thaddeus Kozinski, Ph.D. (cd) (pictured right), has a Masters degree in the Liberal Arts from St. John’s College and is close to completing a doctorate in philosophy from Catholic University. He lives in Northern California with his wife Tami and their three children. His review article, "Contemplating the Past: Beginning at Jerusalem: Five Reflections on the History of the Church, by Glenn Olsen," was originally published in Latin Mass: A Journal of Catholic Culture and Tradition (Winter 2006), pp. 34-37, and is reproduced here by kind permission of Latin Mass Magazine, 391 E. Virginia Terrace, Santa Paula, CA 93060.

Glenn Olsen (pictured left), author of Beginning at Jerusalem: Five Reflections on the History of the Church, is Distinguished Fellow of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and Professor of History at the University of Utah.

Our thanks to Elizabeth Flow for assistance in transcribing the manuscript to electronic format.]

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Math today

The Evolution of Math in the United States

Last week I purchased a burger and fries at McDonalds for $3.58. The counter girl took my $4.00 and I pulled 8 cents from my pocket and gave it to her. She stood there, holding the nickel and 3 pennies. While looking at the screen on her register, I sensed her discomfort and tried to tell her to just give me two quarters, but she hailed the manager for help. While he tried to explain the transaction to her, she stood there and cried. Why do I tell you this?

Because of the evolution in teaching math since the 1960s ...

Teaching Math In 1960

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit?

Teaching Math In 1970

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or $80. What is his profit?

Teaching Math In 1980

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80. Did he make a profit?

Teaching Math In 1990

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20. Your assignment: Underline the number 20.

Teaching Math In 2000

A logger cuts down a beautiful forest because he is selfish and inconsiderate and cares nothing for the habitat of animals or the preservation of our woodlands. He does this so he can make a profit of $20. What do you think of this way of making a living? Topic for class participation after answering the question: How did the birds and squirrels feel as the logger cut down their homes? (There are no wrong answers.)

Teaching Math In 2006

Un ranchero vende una carretera de madera para $100. El cuesto de la produccion era $80. Cuantos tortillas se puede comprar?

[Hat tip to J.B.]

A Critical Review of John Courtney Murray:

To Make Catholics Fit Into America

by Thomas Storck

We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition By John Courtney Murray. Rowman & Littlefield. 300 pages. $24.95.

John Courtney Murray's We Hold These Truths is one of the most oft-mentioned American Catholic books of the past fifty years. It appeared in 1960, just after John F. Kennedy's election as President, and Murray himself was pictured on the cover of the December 12, 1960, Time magazine. We Hold These Truths is an important book in that it deals with important questions, even if it most often comes up with the wrong answers. But the questions Murray raises are still, though not always explicitly, central to the intellectual and even political debates carried on among Catholics in the U.S. For that reason alone, Murray's book is worth reading and discussing today. Because he wrote before the post-conciliar debacle and before Catholics so fiercely identified with what are essentially political labels -- liberal, conservative, and now neoconservative -- Murray can help us to understand better the origins and context of current controversies.

John Courtney Murray, a Jesuit and Professor of Theology at Woodstock College in Maryland, spent much of the 1950s writing articles whose aim was to overturn the then-reigning Catholic doctrine that, all things being equal, the best situation for Catholics was to live in a Catholic state with an explicitly Catholic government -- a government that was distinct from the Church to be sure, but not separate in the sense that the two powers pursued their own aims without reference to each other. Because of this, Murray got into some trouble with his Jesuit superiors and was prohibited from attending the first session of the Second Vatican Council. But he did eventually attend, and, according to the generally accepted account, Murray's views were then embodied in the Council's decree of religious liberty, Dignitatis Humanae. But this is not the place to discuss that document. Suffice it to say that Dig­nitatis Humanae need not be understood as reflective of Murray's position, and can be read as consistent with the traditional teaching of the Church.

Although Pope Leo XIII had reminded American bishops in 1895 that "it would be very erroneous to draw the conclusion that in America is to be sought the type of the most desirable status of the Church" and that the Church here "would bring forth more abundant fruits if, in addition to liberty, she enjoyed the favor of the laws and the patronage of the public authority," this teaching was never very popular, or even very much known, among American Catholics. Laboring under an inferiority complex and desiring above all to fit in, Catholics in general enthusiastically embraced the messianic nationalism that most often passes for patriotism in the U.S. Murray's dissatisfaction with Pope Leo's teaching seems to have stemmed from that same root, namely, his desire to be a good American above all. And so We Hold These Truths is in the main a book about Catholics fundamentally embracing what he calls the "American proposition." Yes, Murray is nuanced; yes, he writes with more of a sense of theological tradition and of the shortcomings of American Protestantism than the Catholic neoconservatives of today. But at bottom his aim is to explain and justify America as a Catholic project, or at least one that can be made Catholic.

We Hold These Truths is a collection of essays that appeared during the 1950s in various journals of opinion, Catholic and secular. Like most such compilations, it addresses a variety of themes. He deals with the questions of public support for parochial schools, the ethics of nuclear warfare, and our policy toward Communism, both at home and abroad. But a fundamental theme runs through the book, especially the first five chapters and the concluding two: How Catholic thought, and especially the Natural Law tradition, can justify and enrich the "American proposition."

We may question what Murray seems to take for granted -- the assertion that America is a proposition. In the very first sentence of his own Preface, Murray states that it "is classic American doctrine…that the new nation which our Fathers brought forth on this continent was dedicated to a ‘proposition.'" But why this should be so, Murray never says. Why a nation should be more an idea than a place, and why America, more than Spain or Argentina or Australia, should be dedicated to an idea are questions most Americans have never asked. Nor does Murray ask them. He simply accepts that we are as much a proposition as a nation and goes on from there.

Having accepted this claim, Murray proceeds to consider both how this claim may be defended and the place that Catholics have in this unusual polity. In brief, he is not satisfied with many of the justifications that have been given, both at the time of his writing and before. His attitude toward both the Founding Fathers and their philosophical mentor, John Locke, is ambiguous, as we will see; but at least he argues that their thought needs completion and amplification from Catholic Natural Law doctrine.

Murray affirms that the authors of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights incorporated important principles of traditional Christian thinking into their work: "the men who framed the American Bill of Rights understood history and tradition…. They too were individualists, but not to the point of ignoring the social nature of man. They did their thinking within the tradition of freedom that was their heritage from England." The monarchies of the baroque era, with their distorted notion of the divine right of kings, had divorced political power from any connection with popular consent. But with the founding of America, Murray avers, the earlier tradition was regained. While it is correct that medieval theorists had insisted on important checks on royal power, Murray here ignores many important questions as he represents the American founding as simply a continuation of the Catholic European political tradition. For example, while in later chapters he implies that the explicit intellectual influences on the Founders were Protestantism and John Locke, both of which he severely criticizes, at times he argues that despite these prevalent theories, the Founders stood more in the central Western political tradition than they realized and thus (quoting John C. Calhoun) the "federal constitution…is superior to the wisdom of any or all the men by whose agency it was made."

This ambivalence reappears in his treatment of John Locke, arguably the most important intellectual influence at the time of the writing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. At one point he calls Locke's ideas "superficial" and speaks of "his thin rationalism, and his empty nominalism." He characterizes Locke as essentially an ideologue, not a philosopher. But then he speaks of his "British common sense, caution and feeling for tradition." Murray cannot deny the fact the Locke, and many of the American Founders, held ideas that were either at variance with, or at best were watered-down versions of, traditional Christian political principles. But in order to save the "American proposition," Murray insists that despite this, they managed to preserve these older principles and incorporate them into their project. This is one of the fundamental questions on which necessarily hangs one's attitude toward the American political tradition.

Earlier I noted that before the Second Vatican Council the received teaching among Catholics was that, all things being equal, an explicit Catholic political state was the ideal. But Murray proclaims that the Catholic Church's strictures on separation of Church and state, made over and over again in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, applied only to European laicist liberalism, that is, to the type of regime that became common in countries of Latin culture during the 19th century and which severely restricted Catholic activity while at the same time trumpeting its devotion to liberty. And although it is true that the American arrangement was both milder and provided more freedom for Catholic activity, it did not meet the approval of a succession of popes, from Pius IX through Pius XII, most notably (as we have seen) Leo XIII.

How does Murray deal with this? Either he ignores it or he distorts the evidence. For example, he claims more than once that Pope Leo XIII, who quite explicitly had upheld the right and duty of a government to protect the Catholic religion and prohibit or restrict error, was interested only in freedom for the Church -- i.e., that Leo wanted not special protection for the Church, but only a legal freedom to pursue her mission. This is so far from the truth as to be absurd.

Murray discusses an important address, Ci riesce, that Pius XII had given in 1953. While Pius did say here that sometimes toleration of evil and error on the part of state authorities is both allowable and even necessary, he takes for granted that this is due to certain specific circumstances, and that in general there is a "duty of repressing moral and religious error." Toleration as such is not an ideal, but may be mandated due to "higher and more general norms." Pius even speaks of the "dangerous consequences that stem from toleration," and therefore of a Catholic statesman's duty to carefully weigh all factors before deciding in favor of toleration of religious error. But what does Murray say? He says that the American "First Amendment is simply the legal enunciation of this papal statement." Murray appears to be counting on his readers' ignorance of Catholic tradition and is perhaps hoping to mislead the largely non-Catholic American public as to the Church's real stance on these questions.

This discussion of the Church and the American political tradition leads to Murray's principal error: America is bigger than the Catholic Church. We must unite in a political community whose boundaries are set not by Catholic doctrine but by American tradition. The First Amendment is an "article of peace," prescribing agreement about how we are to act without agreement about ultimate truths. But how can we have anything except accidental agreement unless we agree about ultimates? And where does this lead in the end? Murray writes: "in a pluralist society no minority group has the right to demand that government should impose a general censorship, affecting all the citizenry…according to the special standards held within one group." Although Murray wrote this with regard to censorship, who cannot see here almost the same words that are used with reference to the legal prohibition of abortion or same-sex unions? The Catholic Church, the Universal Church, is now simply a "minority group," and her teachings, guaranteed by the protection of Almighty God, are now only "special standards held within one group." Moreover, Murray's constant appeal to Natural Law means little if the voice of the Catholic Church, the guarantor of both natural and revealed truth, is excluded from a final determination of what is and is not moral. While it is certainly the case that we are in no practical position to insist that Catholic morality -- which is mostly Natural Law -- reign supreme over American political and cultural life, that does not mean that we should simply acquiesce in our status as a "minority group" or admit in principle that American pluralism is either good or inevitable.

Murray's project, then, is to make Catholics fit into America. He is correct that, with Natural Law, Catholics can provide the best intellectual framework for the "American proposition," but he errs when he subordinates the Church to what he sees as a larger project. We become, in the end, simply another "minority group." Murray has reversed Chesterton's dictum that the Church is larger than the world, and has made America the framework within which the Church must act and even understand herself.

As I have suggested, we can see in this book the adumbrations of some of today's political controversies. For example, Murray calls Thomas Aquinas "the first Whig," a label often repeated today by Catholic neocons and libertarians. Such writers claim that the founding of America was not primarily the triumph of Enlightenment thought, but rather essentially rooted in medieval Christian tradition. This debate has far-reaching consequences over such diverse matters as economic and foreign policy, and the fundamental view we should take of our Constitution and political establishment. Murray is nearly as wrong on these matters as are the neocons, but it is helpful to see the controversy as it existed some 45 years ago, when things were less polemical than today.

There are, though, some good things I can say about this book. Murray's criticism of the essential injustice of the lack of public financial support for the Catholic school system makes for interesting reading, though his trust in the ultimate willingness of his compatriots to recognize this injustice seems widely misplaced. And, more fundamentally, writing before ecumenism seemingly made Catholics forget the unique truth of our Faith, Murray is refreshingly and amusingly frank about Protestantism. "If it be meant that [Natural Law] is alien to the general Protestant moral system, in so far as there is such a thing, the charge is true enough" (emphasis added). The essentially Protestant tenor of the American mind is something that has not changed since Murray wrote and is not likely to change soon.

This edition also includes what is called a "Critical Introduction" by Peter Lawler. It is, however, not critical. Lawler neither criticizes Murray's thought nor thoughtfully engages it; rather, he heaps mostly uncritical praise on it, and does not aid the reader in understanding how to approach Murray's arguments with a view to examining their truth claims.

[Thomas Storck is author of Foundations of a Catholic Political Order (1998), The Catholic Milieu (2004), and, most recently, of Christendom and the West: Essays on Culture, Society and History. His review article, "To Make Catholics Fit Into America," was originally published in the New Oxford Review (November 2006), pp. 43-46, and is reprinted here by kind permission of New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley CA 94706, U.S.A.]
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Update: Sungenis debate deepens

Following up on the topic a propos "Sungenis and the Jews, again" (Musings, 1/23/07), the debate continues and deepens:

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Polish secret service files on Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II)

Santro Magister has given his website (www.chiesa) over to a report by Gigi Riva, "Exclusive from Poland: Who Was Spying on Karol Wojtyla" (January 23, 2007) -- "Names, reports, and documents from the network of informants who kept watch over the life of the great churchman, before and after his election as pope. From L’Espresso no. 3, January 19-25, 2007." Excerpts:
. . . his life was bugged, filmed, followed, and analyzed “24/7.” Day and night. Everywhere. In Poland, and in Rome. In the airports, and on the trains. It was an extensive network that involved, in an unbroken relay, dozens and dozens of agents, moles, priests, journalists, intellectuals, blue and white-collar workers, secretaries, administrators. They included acquaintances, neighbors, and even some friends who came with him to Italy.

* * *

There is an inexplicable gap in the dossiers on Karol Wojtyla, and it concerns the assassination attempt by Ali Agca in 1981.

* * *

Karol Wojtyla was a genuine obsession for the Polish secret services, beginning in the late 1960’s. They wanted to know everything about him: about his opinions, habits, hobbies, state of health, and family. And two documents found in the archives of the Institute of National Memory are particularly chilling.

The first, which is more generic, bears the date of October 9, 1969, and is classified as “secret.” It is signed by “Boguslawski, deputy head of Department IV at Krakow headquarters,” and contains a list of questions that must be answered by the spies following Wojtyla. They include questions about his intellectual capacity, courage, and fidelity to the Church; about his attitude toward the Vatican and the “socialist reality” of Poland. Typical bureaucratic stuff.

But a second document, bearing no date but also concerning Wojtyla, is truly maniacal. It contains 97 questions for the spies shadowing the man who was by then a cardinal.

The first question: “What time does he get up on weekdays and on Sunday?” The second: “What does he do after he gets up, and in what order?” The third: “How often does he shave, and with what implements?” The fourth: “What are the toiletries that he uses?”

* * *

. . . they wanted to know, apart from general matters, who was his dentist, whether he wore glasses, and what medicines he kept at home. They also wanted to know if he collected stamps, if he enjoyed taking photographs, and whether he knew how to type. It was important to know how many suitcases Wojtyla had and what kind, and how he dressed for winter and summer sports.

His family was also an object of inquiry: “conflicts, inheritances, material help.” Finally, the police wanted to discover who his “most intimate” friends were, and who were the advisers to Cardinal Wojtyla.

Such a tremendous waste of money, energy, and human resources. Because, in the end, Wojtyla won, and communism lost.
Indeed. But megalomaniacal fantasies die hard -- and somewhere, sometime, you too may earn the singular distinction of being watched by 'Big Brother' at the national's taxpayers' expense.

Motu Proprio update

Just for the record, from Rorate Caeli, via Conversi ad Dominum, the following words from Father Claude Barthe (author of Beyond Vatican II: The Church at a New Crossroads), who had the following to say about the possible motu proprio in an online interview given on January 22, 2007, to the readers of Le Forum Catholique:
As far as it can be known, there have been two successive drafts of the MP. It was the second one — which should be more complete and which should detail the resolution of problems — which was examined by the full membership of the Ecclesia Dei Commission in December. A handful of modifications would have been added by the Commission and the text is “ready for signature” on the desk of the Pope. It is notorious that he takes his time for the decisions (that became legendary in Munich, during the short time in which he was Archbishop).

The text is now known to Cardinal Ricard, Cardinal Barbarin, and a certain number of French bishops, at least in its general lines. Their reactions, the precautions which they take, the manner in which they speak to their clergy seem to indicate that there is nothing institutional in the document (it would not refer at all, in theory, to the Ecclesia Dei communities themselves), but that the “needs of the faithful” must be compulsorily satisfied, without their being able to oppose it, except in a justified manner.

I do not believe, but I may be wrong here, that the freedom shall be restrained. I believe that the psychological shock which the freedom will generate will be salutary, even if it creates difficulties, those which we can predict and others which we quite surely cannot predict.... I insist on the conditional tone which I have constantly used [in this answer].
In related news:
Curia resists papal policies, Italian magazine says:

Rome, Jan. 19, 2007 ( - Pope Benedict XVI (bio - news) has faced steady opposition within the Vatican as he seeks to implement new policies, according to an article in Italy’s Panorama magazine. The article concludes that the Holy Father is now assembling his own management team to implement his policies.

“Benedict XVI does not have a decisive temperament,” writes Ignazio Ingrao in his analysis for Panorama. The Italian journalist reports that the Pontiff has faced stiff resistance in his effort to reform the Roman Curia and to broaden access to the traditional liturgy. ("Pope Hampered by Bureaucracy," Conversi ad Dominum, January 19, 2007)
Sources:[Hat tip to New Catholic for Rorate Caeli English translations from Le Forum Catholique]

Sungenis and the Jews, again

Robert Sungenis has recently posted a piece to his Catholic Apologetics International (CAI) website entitled, "Christopher Blosser and the Catholic ADL: A Review of Mr. Blosser's Website." This piece was written in response to a brief notation posted by Christopher on Sungenis quoting Shamir quoting Schmitt (Jan. 8, 2007), responding to one of CAI's "news alerts" promoting Israel Shamir's essay "The Tyranny of Liberalism" to CAI readers. (Apparently this page has been removed from CAI's main "news alerts" page in light of this recent controversy). Shamir is a notorious anti-semite. Back in July of 2006, Christopher addressed another instance of his promotion by a self-styled "traditionalist" Catholic (E. Michael Jones) in a post entitled, "Culture Wars' Troubling Praise of Israel Shamir" (Fringewatch, July 3, 2006). Christopher says of Shamir, "Apparently once a darling of the Palestinian cause, his anti-semitism proved so toxic that he was deemed a public relations disaster and eventually disowned by his comrades (See Nigel Parry's The Israel Shamir Case and Roland Rance's Israel Shamir: Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?, from the Socialist Viewpoint)."

Shamir's writings, according to Christopher, are similar to that of other anti-semites in that they perceive society's ills through the lens of a global Zionist conspiracy, setting "Talmudic" (or in some cases, secular) Judaism against Christian civilization. In his essay, "The Tyranny of Liberalism," Shamir relies upon the work of Carl Schmitt, a Nazi legal scholar whose writings laid the ideological groundwork for the Third Reich. As Christopher noted in his original post: " ... while I am not necessarily opposed to an academic study of Carl Schmitt, in light of Shamir's own reputation and polemical worldview it certainly made for a curious picture to find Sungenis quoting Shamir quoting Schmitt -- so soon after last year's controversy when Sungenis was once again outed for his reliance upon questionable ideological sources" (See Michael Forrest' Sungenis and the Jews).

This is where Sungenis' post, "Christopher Blosser and the Catholic ADL: A Review of Mr. Blosser's Website," surfaces in the picture. Christopher comments, "I am sorry to disappoint Sungenis, but his response to me reveals his knack for using dubious sources and a consistent failure to check his facts." Christopher details his own response to Sungenis in a long post entitled Carl Schmitt, Israel Shamir and Robert Sungenis (Against the Grain, January 19, 2007).

Third party observations include Kevin Tierney's article, "Thoughts on the latest Sungenis flareup" (KevinTierney.Org, January 23, 2007). If only tangentally related, the New Oxford Review website (NOR News Link Archive, Jan. 18, 2007) recently posted a link to an article in the Intelligence Report by Mark Potok, "The 'Synagogue of Satan'" (Southern Poverty Law Center), detailing instances of egregious antisemitism among fringe-traditionalist groups. Pieter Vree, Dale Vree's son and NOR Deputy Editor, independently confirmed that NOR neither endorses the view that "radical traditionalists are anti-semitic" nor has any intention of appearing to support the claims of this so-called "intelligence report," but posted this link for informational purposes only -- i.e., to show how "radical traditionalist" Catholics are viewed and portrayed by others.

Having said that, one can hardly avoid the conclusion that even a handfull of antisemitic traditionalists give Catholics a bad name and contaminate the Church's witness to the Gospel of Christ -- especially in light of the fact that Catholics historically have been among the most despised minorities in the United States, with hatred of "Romanists" and "papists" driving the Know Nothing party in the 1850s and swelling the ranks of the Ku Klux Klan (renown for its hatred of Catholics, African-Americans, and Jews) in the 1920s to almost 4 million members.

Update (1/24/07) -- the debate deepens:

Monday, January 22, 2007

Demonstrators protest 34 years of legal baby killing

The nation's capital witnessed tens of thousands of demonstrators today turning out in the cold for the 34th annual March for Life commemorating the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

Yesterday, one of our deacons gave the Sunday homily on the Church's teaching on abortion, and it was both one of the strongest and most compassionate homilies on the subject I have ever heard. I wish I had the entire text to reproduce for you here, because it was impressive. He told us that this was a homily he had been thinking about giving for several years. One could tell. It was one of those homilies in the course of which one asks himself "Did I really just hear him say that?" and gets goosebumps from the unexpected reality of rubber hitting the road. It's the kind of homily that one can't help feeling requires courage to preach these days, because -- and this is really sad to admit -- it clearly echoes Church teaching on a controversial subject! He even broke down the percentages of Catholics receiving abortions and applied those percentages to our parish of well-over one thousand families, suggesting that there were some in the congregation that very morning who were likely recovering from abortions. He did not buckle on the Church teaching that abortion is a grave and mortal sin. However, he also sounded the note of compassion struck by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical, Evangelium vitae, from which he quoted the the following words of the previous pontiff:
I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To the same Father and his mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone's right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life.
He received a standing ovation, led by our priest. Even the most reluctant heart could not help being touched by those words and that moment of grace.

In other, less-heartening news, LifeSiteNews carries a disappointing story (HLI Leader Says: "I don't believe Archbishop Wuerl is doing his job") on the new Archbishop of Washington, who has decided to pursue the path of steadfast and scandalous complacency blazed by his predecessor Cardinal McCarrick towards "pro-choice Catholic" legislators. LifeSiteNews reports:
Perhaps it was a bad omen when at the installation Mass for the new Archbishop of Washington Donald Wuerl last June, pro-abortion Democratic Senator John Kerry was given Holy Communion and caught on camera in the act. During the entrance procession, Archbishop Wuerl shook hands with Kerry and Senator Ted Kennedy. (see coverage)

Now, Archbishop Wuerl, who replaced Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, has said publicly that he would not discipline or direct priests to deny communion to pro-abortion Catholic politician Nancy Pelosi who was just made speaker of the House of Representatives.
For a full discussion of the issue, see Christopher Blosser's article, "Archbishop Donald Wuerl - Aiding & Abetting Nancy Pelosi?" (Against the Grain, January 22, 2007), which includes excerpts from Amy Welborn's extensive discussion and an extended excerpt from a relevant and noteworthy memo from then-Cardinal Ratzinger to Wuerl's predecessor ("Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion — General Principles" L'espresso, June 2004), as well as commentary by Michael Luccione and Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus. The latter concludes his comments ascerbically as follows: "It is understandable that Catholics and others have drawn the conclusion that, for both Wuerl and Egan, bishops of the two most prominent sees in the country, rejecting the Church’s teaching on the human dignity of the unborn child is not a big deal" ("Ambivalence and resolve about Roe" (First Things "On the Square" - January 19th, 2006).

Finally, in order to illustrate the absurd logic of most moderately pro-choice 'reasoning', it has become a tradition with me on January 22nd of every year to post the following quotation from Princeton professor, Robert P. George:

I am personally opposed to killing abortionists. However, inasmuch as my personal opposition to this practice is rooted in sectarian (Catholic) religious belief in the sanctity of human life, I am unwilling to impose it on others who may, as a matter of conscience, take a different view. Of course, I am entirely in favor of policies aimed at removing the root causes of violence against abortionists. Indeed, I would go as far as supporting mandatory one-week waiting periods, and even non-judgmental counseling, for people who are contemplating the choice of killing an abortionist. I believe in policies that reduce the urgent need some people feel to kill abortionists while, at the same time, respecting the rights of conscience of my fellow citizens who believe that the killing of abortionists is sometimes a tragic necessity--not a good, but a lesser evil. In short, I am moderately 'pro-choice.'"

[Dr. Robert P. George is George McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, a graduate of Harvard Law School, and earned his doctorate in philosophy of law at Oxford University. He currently sits on the President's Council of Bioethics and is author of numerous books on constitutional law and jurisprudence. Just in case anyone is still wondering, the foregoing statement is not intended to be taken at face value, but as a parody and reductio ad absurdum refutation of the fallacious reasoning employed pervasively by proponents of a "pro-choice" position favoring "abortion rights." I offer this explanation not to insult your intelligence, but only because of having learned the hard way to cover my bases: several years ago, I sent George's quotation out by email to all faculty, staff, and students at Lenoir-Rhyne College, only to hear that a President's cabinet meeting was called to address the issue, and, the dean of students, frantic to ensure the institution's political correctness, sent out a follow-up message indicating that the views of my email did not reflect the views of the institution and that the college did not endorse the killing of abortionists! Well guess what? Surprise - surprise! Neither do I or Bobby George!]

Schori on show

"I know some may think it unfair to remark on the lady's outfit. On the other hand, it is a very prominent and obviously posed photo in the New York Times Magazine [not the one shown at left]. The photo falls into the category of what sociologist Erving Goffman calls 'the presentation of self.' She is making a statement, and it would be churlish of us not to take notice. In the photo, the new presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katherine Jefferts Schori, is wearing an open clerical collar and the bright magenta shirt fancied by bishops of that persasion. Her black suit jacket is combined, as it were, with a baggy peir of striped pants. She is looking directly at the camera with an expression that says, 'So, you got a problem with this?' Add a mustache and cane and it would be Charlie Chaplin in a movie that might be called Postmodern Times. Please, I'm just taking notice...."
[Hat tip to Richard John Neuhaus, for that due observation in "While We're At It," First Things (February 2007), pp. 60-61).]

And now for a word from our fashion critic . . .

[Courtesy of the suggestion of our high society & haute couture consultant, Mr. R. Roister-Doister]

Friday, January 19, 2007

A whisper from Waugh against "untuning that string"

In a postscript to his biography of Waugh, Christopher Sykes, endeavored to put his friend's obstinate opposition [to liturgical innovations] into context. "His dislike of the reform-movement", Sykes wrote,
was not merely an expression of his conservatism, nor of aesthetic preferences. It was based on deeper things. He believed that in its long history the Church had developed a liturgy which enabled an ordinary, sensual man (as opposed to a saint who is outside generalisation) to approach God and be aware of sanctity and the divine. To abolish all this for the sake of up-to-dateness seemed to him not only silly but dangerous ... He could not bear the thought of modernized liturgy. "Untune that string" he felt, and loss of faith would follow ... Whether his fears were justified or not only "the unerring sentence of time" can show.

Joseph Pearce, Literary Giants: Literary Catholics (Ignatius Press, 2005) -- and my wife guarantees this is a top-drawer read!

"The Hand of God"

PBS has shown a "clergy sex abuse" documentary recently in some markets entitled "Hand of God." David L. Alexander did a review ("Biting the Hand," Man with black hat, January 17, 2007), which, he says, not only elicited a response from the director, Joe Cultrera, but got him pretty steamed. "He helps to prove a point I was making," writes Alexander. "What a good sport!"

The bottom line of his critique? "It is completely arbitrary to assign blame to a system of belief that, in its essential nature, is being ignored in a given situation by its own agents." Amen to that.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Hell and Other Destinations

by Tom Bethell

Few secular writers these days would contemplate writing a lengthy essay on Hell. Piers Paul Read did so because someone at Farm Street, the Jesuit church in the most fashionable part of London, asked him to give a talk on the subject. Later it was rejected. A new parish priest had been appointed to the church, and is said to have ruled that the talks in the intended series should be on secular subjects. "I don't know, in fact, if any talks were ever given," Read told me by email. "Mine was not, but was rewritten as an essay." It is published for the first time as the leading article in an absorbing collection of his Catholic journalism, Hell And Other Destinations: A Novelist's Reflections on This World And the Next (Ignatius Press, 2006).

Perhaps the leading Catholic writer in England today, Read is the author of many books, including the "authorized" biography of Alec Guinness (2005). Perhaps his best-known book is Alive, the story of young Uruguayans who survived a plane crash in the Andes and were reduced to eating the bodies of those who died. Sales of his 1999 book The Templars, a history of the Crusades, rose "dramatically," he says, following the publication of The DaVinci Code. His essay on Hell, which covers 35 pages and is both scholarly and judicious in tone, addresses a subject that most of us would rather not think about. He writes:
It would seem to a dispassionate observer that there is no longer any real belief among contemporary Catholics in the last item of the Nicean Creed, "life everlasting." There are calls to conversion and repentance, but no suggestion, explicit or implicit, of what may befall those who are not converted or who fail to repent; much talk of salvation, but no definition of what it is from which we are to be saved; no warning that while the gospel may be good news for some, it is decidedly bad news for others.
He quotes Blaise Pascal: "The immortality of the soul is a matter of such importance to us…that we must have lost our wits completely not to care what it is all about." Pascal wrote in the 17th century and what a pity it is that he did not live to complete the book that exists only as his fragmentary Pensées. Pascal went on to say: "All our actions and our thoughts must follow such different courses depending on whether there are eternal rewards to hope for or not, that it is impossible to take a single step with sense and judgment unless it is determined by our conception of our final end."

The intelligentsia of the Western world has to a very large extent decided that death itself is the final end, and the response of the Catholic Church is practically inaudible. At the outset of his essay, Read asks why the Four Last Things -- Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell -- "appear to have been forgotten in today's Catholic Church."

There can be no more basic question. Sometimes I suspect that Catholics do not even think very much about Heaven. As for the Judgment, and the possibility of Hell, we try to put them out of our minds. That's not difficult, of course, because there is so much to distract us -- far more now, surely, than there has ever been. In fact, our lives largely consist of such distractions and the search for ways to add more of them. Think of the Internet -- and I am not just thinking of the pornography that is instantly accessible. Even without that, it is a huge distraction. "Nothing is more intolerable to man than a state of complete repose, without desires, without work, without amusements, without occupation," as Pascal said.

Clerics, too, seem to skirt Judgment and Hell. The inclination of modern bishops is to issue statements on topics that steer them away from their true role as spiritual leaders. I have in mind their incessant concern with such issues as immigration, arms control, the distribution of income, the threat posed by landmines, the desirable level of foreign aid, and so on. These foolish preoccupations are, once again, distractions, and tell us that bishops as a body have lost sight of their true mission. Yes, I know there are some good bishops out there; others, however, seem to have little interest in the Gospels or the teachings of Jesus Christ. And they will thank you for not bringing the subject up.

Read briefly reviews Jesus' numerous sayings concerning Hell. They make for uncomfortable reading: For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction.... Many are called but few are chosen.... Cast the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.... The sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left; and those shall go away into everlasting punishment.... You generation of vipers, how can you escape the damnation of Hell?

St. Paul often seems less severe, more willing to "emphasize the positive in Christ's teachings," as Read says. How odd is the misconception, as C.S. Lewis once noted, that Jesus preached a "simple and kindly religion," which St. Paul turned into a cruel one. In fact, such warrant as we have for hoping that all will be saved comes from St. Paul, Lewis said, while "all the most terrifying texts come from the mouth of Our Lord." But St. Paul does not in fact preach universal salvation (see: Dale Vree, "If Everyone Is Saved…," NOR, Jan. 2001).

St. Paul raises the possibility that faith alone might save us. But Jesus seems to rebut that when He says: "Not every one that says unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my father which is in heaven."

More recent commentators, such as St. Augustine, St. Dominic, and St. Thomas Aquinas are scarcely more reassuring; nor is Thomas à Kempis, whose Imitation Of Christ was so influential. St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) was gentler, but even he warns Philothea, the composite woman whom he addresses in his Introduction to the Devout Life: "While you were at the ball many souls were burning in the flames of hell for sins committed at dances or occasioned by their dancing."

The Council of Trent warned of the eternal torment that awaited those who died unrepentant in mortal sin. John Henry Newman, who converted in the mid-19th century, brought with him from Anglicanism "a lively fear of eternal damnation." In 1917 the young visionaries of Fatima saw "a vast sea of fire," in which were plunged "the demons and souls [of the damned]." Catholics are not obliged to believe in the Fatima apparitions, but do well to recall that Pope John Paul II did. The Virgin later told the visionaries at Garabandal in northern Spain (1960) that "many cardinals, many bishops and many priests are on the road to perdition and are taking many souls with them."

The Church's teaching was not changed by Vatican II but, Piers Read writes, there was a change of emphasis from individual virtue and sin and its effects on the individual's soul "to a collective salvation through the permeation of the world with Christian values." The Council document Gau­dium et Spes depicted the world as no longer the principality of the devil, and held out the hope that the effects of Original Sin could be mitigated by a drive for social justice. For "ours is a new age of history," the document asserted, in which "a generation of new men, the molders of a new humanity," would transform the world.

"The eternity of the individual's afterlife seemed now to be subsumed into the destiny of the human race," Read comments. "Catholics, like Communists, now believed in ‘progress' in this world and seemed to lose interest in what might await us in the next."

Liberation theology took things one stage further, holding out the promise of Heaven on earth. Its errant theologians identified the promise of pain or happiness in the next life with the opiate of the masses that had allowed the oppressed to accept their fate. In a further blow to the Church's self-confidence, ecumenism was broadly substituted for conversion. The search for an ever more watery "lowest common denomination" tended to dissolve inherited Catholic certainties. Thus was the traditional teaching of the Church undermined, without being formally changed.

Avery Cardinal Dulles thinks that there has been a shift in Catholic theology on Hell, because the Church no longer teaches that outside the Church there is no salvation. He also thinks it right that the Church no longer dwells on a doctrine that fosters an image of God as "an unloving and cruel tyrant." He adds, however, that today "a kind of thoughtless optimism is the more prevalent error." The Cardinal believes that people should be told that they ought to fear God who "can punish soul and body together in hell." [See Avery Cardinal Dulles, "The Population of Hell," First Things (May 2003), 36-41.]

Read says of the recent (1994) Catechism of the Catholic Church: "The Catechism repeated the Church's traditional teaching that those who died in a state of serious sin would be damned; but there was no sense of urgency -- no impression, from the tone in which it was written, that its authors were worried that the Catholic girl on the pill who went only to Mass at Christmas and Easter, and came up to take Communion straight from the bed of her boyfriend, was in grave danger of eternal torment in Hell."

Our natural preference for ease no doubt also explains the widespread embrace of the vague mysticism emanating from Eastern sages. Their hazy remarks have all the sustenance of cotton candy, yet talk of Nirvana acts as a comforting narcotic. No demands are made, yet the devotees of such faiths can reassure themselves that they, too, are religious (preferring to call it "spirituality"). Unitarianism has much the same appeal.

In contrast, the openly anti-religious stance of such scientific materialists as Francis Crick and Richard Dawkins, seems to me bracing, even lucid. The faculty of reason can at least be brought to bear on their dogmas.

It is commonly said that the embrace of Christianity is an exercise in wishful thinking. But when we consider what Jesus said about Hell, that charge is more appropriately directed at those who make it. Their repudiation of the Church's teaching often expresses the hope that it is not true. One thinks of Charles Darwin, who could "hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so, the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my father, brother, and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished." And that is "a damnable doctrine," he added.

That passage, rarely quoted, did not come to light until about 100 years after the publication of the Origin of Species. It suggests that Darwinism itself originated as an exercise in wishful thinking. For it undermined the Thomistic "argument from design" for the existence of God. That in turn may well be the real basis of Darwinism's fervent support among so many intellectuals who know little or nothing about the evidence one way or the other and are not interested in it. Why else would the subject arouse them to such fury?

The idea that all will be saved does go back to a few of the early Church fathers and was mooted in the 20th century by Jacques Maritain. Karl Rahner suggested that Jesus' severity was, in Read's words, "admonitory rather than prescriptive, like the threats that parents sometimes make to their children but never intend to carry out." Possibly so, but we cannot rely on this, and as Read says, it is a "grave matter" for a priest or for anyone in ecclesiastical authority "to minimize or disregard altogether the danger of damnation."

Those in authority might seem to be at particular hazard -- whoso shall offend one of these little ones who believe in me, it were better that a millstone were hanged about his neck....

What is hard for some to see is that the fire-and-brimstone sermons that we no longer hear are less likely to "offend" the flock than bland reassurances that we're all basically O.K. As misguided as it is possible to be is the anti-Catholic writer John Cornwell, the author of Hitler's Pope and other books such as Breaking Faith. He is one of many who attribute declining Mass attendance to Rome's adherence to traditional standards. The old moral rules were tolerable, Cornwell thinks, but only because they were promulgated at a time when we didn't have anything better to do than obey them. But now that we have all these new gadgets, we can hardly be expected to live like monks.

On the contrary, decline has been most pronounced where the rules have been most relaxed. If a priest simply tells us what we want to hear, what need do we have for a priest? Warnings are more likely than reassurances to keep us coming back. Yet many priests are reluctant to suggest that we are at greater risk of damnation than we might suppose. Read argues that they are "browbeaten by the vocal Catholics, some prominent in the media, who claim that they were traumatized in their youth by the fear of Hell." (One is tempted to reply that if they were traumatized by hearing about Hell, they are likely to be even more traumatized by experiencing it.)

As long ago as the 1920s, the English convert and priest Ronald Knox emphasized that the hierarchy is influenced by public opinion. "The prevalent irreligion of the age does exercise a continual unconscious pressure upon the pulpit," he said. "It makes preachers hesitate to affirm doctrines whose affirmation would be unpopular. And a doctrine which has ceased to be affirmed, like a diseased organ, to atrophy." How much more true that is today.

Let me end with Read's conclusion, which is also mine: "There is a danger, it seems to me, that the shift among Catholics from a preoccupation with eternity to an engagement in the world has now gone so far that it effaces the very idea of an afterlife and so distorts the teaching of the gospel and endangers the coherence of the Christian religion. I would also suggest that neglect of the Four Last Things is one of the causes for the relative decline of the fortunes of the Catholic Church in the developed world."

[Tom Bethell is a Contributing Editor of the NOR and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science (Regnery, 2005). His article, "Hell and Other Destinations," was originally published in the New Oxford Review (December 2006), pp. 34-37, and is reprinted here by kind permission of New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley CA 94706, U.S.A.]
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