Monday, January 31, 2005

Terror Humor

One thing you can say about Europeans, at least they have a sense of humor about the impending collapse of their society . . . . ;)

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Gregorian Before Gregory

A very nice piece by Fr. Joseph Fessio, founder of Ignatius Press and Provost of Ave Maria University in Florida, analyzing what Vatican II really said about the liturgy -- in brief, "No Innovations Unless the Good of the Church Requires Them". Of many splendid passages I particularly liked this one:

In reflecting on these things about Church music, I began to think about the Psalms a few years back. And a very obvious idea suddenly struck me. Why it didn't come earlier I don't know, but the fact is that the Psalms are songs. Every one of the 150 Psalms is meant to be sung; and was sung by the Jews. When this thought came to me, I immediately called a friend, a rabbi in San Francisco who runs the Hebrew School, and I asked, "Do you sing the Psalms at your synagogue?" "Well, no, we recite them," he said. "Do you know what they sounded like when they were sung in the Old Testament times and the time of Jesus and the Apostles?" I asked. He said, "No, but why don't you call this company in Upstate New York. They publish Hebrew music, and they may know."

So, I called the company and they said, "We don't know; call 1-800-JUDAISM." So I did. And I got an information center for Jewish traditions, and they didn't know either. But they said, "You call this music teacher in Manhattan. He will know." So, I called this wonderful rabbi in Manhattan and we had a long conversation. At the end, I said, "I want to bring some focus to this, can you give me any idea what it sounded like when Jesus and his Apostles sang the Psalms?" He said, "Of course, Father. It sounded like Gregorian Chant. You got it from us."

I was amazed. I called Professor William Mart, a Professor of Music at Stanford University and a friend. I said, "Bill, is this true?" He said, "Yes. The Psalm tones have their roots in ancient Jewish hymnody and psalmody." So, you know something? If you sing the Psalms at Mass with the Gregorian tones, you are as close as you can get to praying with Jesus and Mary. They sang the Psalms in tones that have come down to us today in Gregorian Chant.

Orthos Logos

An interesting approach to faith and reason from an early Father of the Church, Justin Martyr:

We have been taught that Christ is the first-begotten of God, and we have declared him to be the Logos of which all mankind partakes [John 1:9]. Those, therefore, who lived according to reason [Greek, logos] were really Christians, even though they were thought to be atheists, such as, among the Greeks, Socrates, Heraclitus, and others like them. . . . Those who lived before Christ but did not live according to reason [logos] were wicked men, and enemies of Christ, and murderers of those who did live according to reason [logos], whereas those who lived then or who live now according to reason [logos] are Christians. Such as these can be confident and unafraid.

First Apology 46 (A.D. 151)

Friday, January 28, 2005

Leaky Cisterns

Lately I've begun reading a very fascinating book called Man, The Saint (also available in a more recent edition as Saint in the World. I don't know which translation is better, but the Spanish title of the book, by Jesus Urteaga Loidi, is El valor divino de lo humano, which I belive translates to "The divine worth of the human being". It is addressed primarily to men, citing 1 John II, 14: Scribo vobis juvenes, quoniam fortes est (I write to you young men, for you are strong). But its matter, both theological and natural, is immensely instructive to me in a way I think ought to apply to anyone, male female or whathaveyou, who has not received the kind of practical catechisis that used to be widely available (if not widely used) not so long ago.

The basic argument of the work is simple but vital: in order to live a holy life, we must cultivate the natural virtues -- including the cardinal ones (prudence, justice, temperance, courage) and many others, all of which are the result of our own choices and actions. Divine grace, which infuses the theological virtues (faith, hope, love, and the gifts of the Holy Ghost) assists us in cultivating the natural virtues and perfects them by orienting them towards the true God and eternal life; but it builds on nature rather than substituting for it.

The title of the book refers to our human worth or (in Spanish) valor. Its epigram is Jeremias II 13: "For my people have done two evils. They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and have digged to themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water." The first evil refers (in Fr. Urteaga's use) to the abandonment of God by modern man. The second refers to the loss of virtue. In Latin, the word "can" in "can hold no water" is valere, "to be able", the root of valor, worth. By cultivating the natural virtues, we are able to hold the water of divine grace given through the Sacraments and other practices of the faith; without them, we are leaky cisterns who will be able to do nothing with what God gives us.

There are lots of wonderful passages in the first couple chapters I have read so far. One that has really captivated me is his discussion of personality. Forgive me for quoting rather lengthy parts of it, but I think this is really good stuff:

If we only open our eyes to reality we will see that one of the obstacles which Catholicism has to fight is the bad name which many so-called Catholics give the Church. It is of vital importance that we should win back its true meaning for the word Christianity. In the early days of the Church the Christians were men to be respected and feared ; to-day we are to be pitied, and, believe me, one of the reasons for this sad truth is the lack of real men.

We live in the world, and we must behave as true men of the world, — though never as worldly men- We must not be afraid to speak of personality simply because it is sometimes confused with vanity or pride ; or of strength of character which must always be distinguished from obstinacy; or of manliness, of strength, of courage — all virtues absolutely necessary if we are to live on the earth as men. These, among others, are essential virtues in every Christian. . . .

A true Christian not merely can, but is seriously obliged to, develop a personality — his own individual personality. He must retain his own particular character, his mannerisms, without any artificial affectations. He must keep his own likes, his dislikes, his own sensitivity. In short, he must keep everything that is human in him provided that it is not a barrier between himself and God.

Next comes one of the most useful explanations of the concept personality (or its equivalents -- I would say 'character') I have ever encountered:

You want to know whether you have any personality ? Just ask yourself whether you are still yourself, your own natural self, when you are with others. Does the crowd overcome you ? In order to save the crowd — and that is precisely what we have to do — we must never be one of the crowd although always in the middle of it.

This reminds me of the famous definition the late Allan Bloom gave of the bourgeois (modern man): a man who thinks only of himself when with others, and only of others when with himself. Bloom's friend Fr. Ernest Fortin provides an insightful gloss on that: the bourgeois is "The man who has been taught to live for himself in the midst of people for whom he does not care but in whom, for his own sake, he is obliged to feign interest".

A great criticism indeed. But what is the alternative? I have much yet to read, but Fr. Urteaga's sequel already satisfies us with a very tangible and inspiring example:

Saul, the persecutor of the Christians, is the absolute personification of rage and fury. . . .He cannot tolerate that Church, which for him is heresy. He has armed himself with complete civil power to bring about the death of those who, to his mind, are seeking the downfall of the Synagogue. . . . But God knows the loyalty of this creature of His, and He knows the principles which go to make up his character. So, to make him change his ways, God flings him violently from his horse. . . . By means of water and the Holy Ghost he ceases to be Saul the persecutor of Christians and becomes Paul the Apostle.

And with the very same energy as before, because he is the same man, the great Apostle of the Gentiles changes his ways, and with the dignity and manliness of a noble soldier goes to preach the Truth which he has seen with his own eyes. . . . From that moment on Paul is a man who puts all his energy, all his being, without the slightest reserve, into the service of Christ. He cheerfully accepts hunger, shipwreck, prison, fetters. He preaches in defence of those who worship the Lord without making himself a burden to anyone, since he subjects himself to the fatigue and hard work of earning his living. He saw in Christ the Way, the Truth, the Life ; and he is ready never to rest in his zeal to spread His doctrine until death ends his fruitful work. The cruel whip, vicious slander, iron chains, vile dishonour — nothing can ever separate him from his God.

Paul was a fearless man and for that very reason he had the courage to surrender to God. Later on, for that reason also, he was always able to remain faithful to the norms of firmness, truth and honour. I mention him to you as an example of a loyalty which it is difficult to find in the men of to-day.

The life of Paul of Tarsus is most impressive. He is a man — and a saint — who fulfilled to the minutest detail all his obligations to society. And like a good citizen of his country who does his duty he also demanded all his rights. Perhaps you thought it was humility not to exercise one's rights ? Nonsense ! Only those who do not fulfil their obligations should not demand their rights.

But Paul is not concerned with that false humility. When he has a chance to escape the lashes of the whip he does not passively submit to the punishment in silence : " And they had already tied Paul down with thongs, when he said to the centurion who was in charge, Have you the right to scourge a man, when he is a Roman citizen, and has not been sentenced ? The centurion, as soon as he heard this, went to the captain and told him of it. What art thou about ? he said. This man is a Roman citizen. So the captain came and asked him, what is this ? Thou art a Roman citizen ? Yes, he said. Why, answered the captain, it cost me a heavy sum to win this privilege." He says this with a certain respect and fear. And Paul replies, excelling himself in manliness, in dignity, with the calm ability of a man who knows that he is living truth : " But I am a citizen by birth."

I want now to tell you a few incidents from the life of this Apostle to let you see how a true Christian should behave in moments of difficulty.

False witnesses testified against Paul and Silas, and by order of the praetors, without any trial, they were stripped of their clothes and beaten with sticks in front of all the people. They were then thrown into jail, covered in wounds, closely guarded, their feet in chains. But they were happy to suffer for Christ. After some time the praetors realised that they were innocent. The Jailer entered their cell to release them in the name of Justice : ' The magistrates have sent ordering your discharge ; it is time you should come out, and go on your way in peace." But no, a man like Paul, an able-bodied man, cannot tolerate such an insult - "What, have they beaten us in public, without trial, Roman citizens as we are, and sent us to prison, and now would they let us out secretly ? That will not serve ; they must come here themselves, and fetch us out in person." That is the action of a man who could say later : " I make an honest effort always to have a clear conscience before God and before men." You must admire the personality and the manliness of Paul, the strength of his convictions.

To be Christians we must never cease to be men. To live an interior life, a life of the soul, we must never give up being strong and virile. And the question now is why we have allowed this intimacy between the soul and God, which should be a marvellous relationship, become in so many cases effeminate and insipid. Why have we allowed our interior life to become soft and flabby ? That is, unfortunately, what has happened. It seems as if we Christians have decided to forego as Christians our quality of men, and to accept for our dealings with God, for our interior life, empty forms and sentiments incompatible with a manly way of life. It is true, I suppose, that in general women have more inclination than men towards a life of devotion, more facility for the sentimental religious practices. But that is no reason why men — and I am speaking now to men — who, after all, have a psychology of their own, should allow themselves to be influenced by feminine psychology in their dealings with God. A man's interior life should be founded on his reason and his will ; but it is an unfortunate fact that in many cases it suffers from an excess of unmanly sentimentality.

I could go on, but Blogger would probably cancel my account. I hope you enjoyed those selections, and I heartily recommend the book.

A Few Good Posts

Albeit not happy ones, over at Times Against Humanity. The first is an update on the Terry Schiavo case -- it appears not all hope is lost, despite the SC's not to intervene to prevent judicially activated death. Keep her -- and our nation's robed rulers -- in your prayers.

Then there is this on what "gay" activists are doing to undermine the Church's authority in this country -- even further I regretfully have to say. I suppose we should take heart that most of the biships are still in line (for how long?) on this no-brainer.

Finally Earl's news ticker linked me to this story from Canada -- the country from which I recently escaped. As was easily preidcted before the fact, judicially mandated "homosexual marriage" will lead to the government oppression of all who continue to dissent for moral reasons -- in this case the Knights of Columbus will be forced to rent their premises to lesbians, or be subject to lawsuits. The piece concludes:

Thus far, Canada’s judicial courts and extra-judicial Human Rights Tribunals have maintained a near-perfect record of finding against Christians’ right to freedom of religion over gay activist demands.

In an unusually strong editorial today, the National Post warned that a victory by the lesbian couple "would set the province - and indeed, the entire country - down a very dangerous path." The editorial noted that "Those who seek to humble traditional religion in this country in the name of radical identity politics know just what they are doing." That "doing," explained the Post, is to deny religious organizations the freedom to discriminate and choose what they believe to be moral or immoral. The editorial concluded, "for that right to be taken away even before gay marriage has been enshrined in federal law would be an immensely dark omen."

I would add that since there is no such thing as moral neutrality -- at least not on fundamental issues -- this circumstance was eminently predictable. The state has to recognize the basic principles of natural law, or it will be a facilitator of tyranny, if not a tyrant itself. And most likely both.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

More Fool You!

Or: More, you fool! as the wise then and now would say . . . .


Sunday, January 23, 2005

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said Saturday that people of faith should not fear being viewed by "educated circles" as "fools for Christ."

. . .

"God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools ... and he has not been disappointed."

Scalia praised "traditional Catholics" who say the rosary, go on pilgrimages, kneel during the Eucharist and "follow religiously the teaching of the pope," adding that "intellect and reason need not be laid aside for religion. It is not irrational to accept the testimony of eyewitnesses who had nothing to gain. There is something wrong with rejecting a priori (deductively) the existence of miracles."

The outspoken conservative justice -- known for his views on religion in America -- didn't shy from them during his visit to south Louisiana Saturday. He didn't discuss any specific issues before the high court, but did tell those in attendance they had "no greater model" for their faith than St. Thomas More.

. . .

"I find it hard to understand people who revere Thomas More but who themselves selectively oppose the teachings of the pope," said Scalia, widely cited as a potential nominee for the position of chief justice when William Rehnquist leaves the bench.

"If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world."

. . .

The Catholic justice -- raised in the New York City Borough of Queens, and the father of nine children, one of them a priest -- has become an anti-abortion hero to many in the American political right and a leading conservative voice on the court.

He has described himself as an "originalist," following the Constitution as written by the Founding Fathers, rather than interpreting it to reflect the changing times.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

May we all merrily meet

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen said, “There has never been a time in the history of the world when more people were more unhappy than they are today.” The saints were not unhappy. They had countless trials and difficulties but they were pleasant. The saying, “I admire saints but I wouldn't want to live with one,” is garbage. You wouldn't want to live with St. Francis of Assisi, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Philip Neri, St. Thomas More? You would have to be out of your mind to say such a thing. It would be the most delightful thing in the world. It is the long-faced Pharisees around today that are most difficult to live

St. Thomas More could be mirthful even in the face of death. Weak from weeks in the dungeon of the Tower of London, at the platform steps where he was to be beheaded, he asked the guard, “Please help me up, as for my coming down let me shift for myself.”

When Thomas was told that he was only to be beheaded because he was a friend of the king and not to be drawn and quartered, he smiled and said God should save us from such friends. As he put his head on the chopping block he said to the soldier that he should put his beard aside for “it has committed no treason.”

And in his cell he wrote on the wall as he went out to meet his death, “May we all merrily meet in heaven.”

By Rawley Myers

Iraqi Catholicism

Some snippets from an interesting interview with Archbishop Basilios Georges Casmoussa, head the Syrian Catholic Archdiocese of Mosul, who was recently kidnapped and released (most of this interview is from before his kidnapping):

In many countries, religious minorities face discrimination at the hands of the majority - both as a matter of law and as a matter of common social practice. Has it been the same in Iraq?

Casmoussa: There were no official restrictions [under Saddam Hussein] for the Christians in the army and in the government. They faced no discrimination.

In democratic terms, every citizen must have the right to have his place in government and economic activity. There was no discrimination or persecution of the Christian minorities. They were free to come up through the ranks. That is why Aziz reached a high position.

. . .

For us, every Muslim is a free human being and we accept him as he is. We also want them to accept us as we are. We should be protected by the law, and we expect our rights as citizens. We pay all the taxes, do our duties as citizens then, we should have all the same rights as citizens as our Muslim neighbors.

What we worry about most is our security: our right to live peacefully in this country which is our home.

. . .

Our schools were nationalized in 1970 when the Baath party took over. There were private schools, and the first university in Iraq was established by American Jesuits and known as the University of Wisdom. But it was taken over by the government.

We also have some schools which are official government schools, but where we can teach catechism on holidays. Wherever the population is more than 20 percent Christian, the official schools allow the teaching of the catechism. These schools are not Catholic schools, but community schools in Christian villages. In my diocese, there are about 10 big villages with such schools where we can teach catechism. Now we are demanding that all students should get the opportunity to study their religion.

We have our ways to teach catechism in the Christian villages. We teach catechism on Fridays [the Islamic Sabbath day, and a day of rest in Iraq] and other days, in the churches, using the trained lay teachers who do the work voluntarily.

We do have the regular Sunday Mass and if any one has to leave an official job [to attend Mass] we generally have no problem. In the Christian villages, both Sundays and Fridays are important for church services and programs.

Are there any conversions taking place?

Casmoussa: No, there is not much conversion taking place in Iraq. Christians remain Christians and Muslims remain Muslims.

Some Muslims do approach us asking to be converted after listening to Bible lectures and so forth. But if they convert, it would be dangerous. It would not be safe for them to live in the country. The official law is against conversions.

Moreover the social pressure is great on a Muslim who converts to another religion, since he is considered an apostate.

Did you face censorship under the Saddam Hussein regime?

Casmoussa: We had to work with the ministry of information, which was abolished by the Americans. We had to get permission from the local governor to publish anything. We would prepare the text and present it to them for approval.

Things have changed now. I have in my diocese a new biannual magazine for which permission is given easily now. With Saddam, it was not easy. Now we have freedom to speak about everything. But also, everyone is free to kill anyone. That is our problem now.

During the Jubilee Year 2000, Pope John Paul II had plans to visit Iraq. Those plans were called off at the last minute. Could you explain what happened?

Casmoussa: The Holy Father's program was to visit Ur, the land of Abraham, and surely Baghdad as well.

It was joyful news for all the Christians in Iraq that the Pope would be visiting our country. We began preparations in earnest for that, with the participation of other Christian churches.

But, it was cancelled because the government had some plans to exploit the visit for political purposes and to impose conditions: asking the Pope publicly to state his concerns about the Palestine problem in a speech. The Saddam Hussein regime wanted that, but the Vatican refused.

Although the government explained that the visit had been cancelled because they could not ensure the security of the Pope during his visit, the people obviously understood the real reason.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

True Peace

"Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God." It is the perfection of peace, where nothing offers opposition; and the children of God are peacemakers, because nothing resists God, and surely children ought to have the likeness of their father. Now, they are peacemakers in themselves who, by bringing in order all the motions of their soul, and subjecting them to reason--i.e. to the mind and spirit--and by having their carnal lusts thoroughly subdued, become a kingdom of God: in which all things are so arranged, that that which is chief and pre-eminent in man rules without resistance over the other elements, which are common to us with the beasts; and that very element which is pre-eminent in man, i.e. mind and reason, is brought under subjection to something better still, which is the truth itself, the only-begotten Son of God. For a man is not able to rule over things which are inferior, unless he subjects himself to what is superior. And this is the peace which is given on earth to men of goodwill; this the life of the fully developed and perfect wise man. From a kingdom of this sort brought to a condition of thorough peace and order, the prince of this world is cast out, who rules where there is perversity and disorder. When this peace has been inwardly established and confirmed, whatever persecutions he who has been east out shall stir up from without, he only increases the glory which is according to God; being unable to shake anything in that edifice, but by the failure of his machinations making it to be known with how great strength it has been built from within outwardly. Hence there follows: "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

St. Augustine of Hippo, The Sermon on the Mount

Saturday, January 22, 2005

The Splendor of Nature

The beginnings of this thread on evolution were in David Warren's words,

Science cannot now explain, and probably will never be able to explain, the origin of any species in nature -- least of all man. It can assemble the succession of species in the fossil record; it can catalogue resemblances between species in space and time; it can begin to show the fine adaptations of each to its environment; and the workings of "natural selection" when the environment changes; it can even look into the mechanism by which heritable traits are passed along from individual to individual within a species (thanks, incidentally, to a line of intellectual descent not from Charles Darwin, but from an Augustinian monk named Gregor Mendel). But science cannot even tell you how a species is defined, let alone how life emerged from the lifeless sterility of the "primordial swamp".

Now, Warren is widely read in this and I'm not. Many thanks to Jeff Grace for giving me some links to turn to on the subject of speciation and transitional human forms and the disputes surrounding them. It will take some time to read through this, in the meantime I'm interested in hearing how others would summarize what they know on the subject.

Meanwhile, Mr. Warren has some further thoughts on the most recent find, in China, at a site which also looks likely to reveal some other controversial things:

Today's creature, or rather creatures, [A dinosaur-eating mammal in the early Cretaceous] were just found in China's Lianoning province. As anyone familiar with the existing evolutionary charts will know, a powerful, warm-blooded mammal has no business being found in the early Cretaceous strata, of about 130 million years ago.

. . .

But as I say, no such discovery can endanger the "evolutionists", who are merely put to the (rather delightful and remunerative) trouble of rearranging the chart, to accommodate new, previously unimagined, family trees. It wouldn't necessarily bother the "Darwinists", theoretically, if the whole evolutionary sequence were turned upside down: for the "theory" doesn't predict anything. It only explains things after the fact.

. . .

So, what kind of theory is that? One which lacks coherence, can predict nothing, cannot be tested in any way, and is entirely disconnected from the evidence it purports to explain?

Not a theory at all, but a "doctrine", or more politely, a "paradigm". That all living creatures to this day are descended from a single primitive organism is the credo, the declaration of faith, upon which it ultimately rests. This can no more be disproved than the Immaculate Conception. The only thing that could possibly displace it, would be a more plausible paradigm. And none is currently in sight.

My own views on "evolutionary science" have evolved recently, under the environmental pressure of much reading. I used to think it was a false theory. Now I realize it isn't a theory at all, just a cataloguing system -- with a cumbersome and redundant materialist ideology attached like a big canker.

Did the Linnaean system of classification threaten Christian beliefs?

No, because it didn't come with the canker.

. . .

Readers keep asking me what is my alternative to "Darwinism"? I don't have one.

But here is my basic thought, in all its naive glory. The splendour of nature and the heavens used to serve as an overwhelming persuasion to the idea of the holy. Now it is converted to the uses of scientism. How, without interfering with real science, do we take it back?

Friday, January 21, 2005

How to Fight the ACLU

The American Civil Liberties Union threatened to sue the city of Frederick, Md., over a Ten Commandments monument in a city park, so Mayor Jennifer Dougherty came up with a clever idea: She sold the land on which the monument sat to the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Eagles. Since it's no longer on public land, she argued, it doesn't violate the separation of church and state--even though it's still in the middle of a city park.

[. . .]

Mayor Dougherty's effort to save the Ten Commandments didn't satisfy Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The Associated Press reports the group is pursuing a lawsuit on behalf of a local resident, Roy Chambers, who argues that the sale "was a 'scam' that left church and state entwined."

-- James Taranto

Jersey Jihad

January 16, 2005 -- The father of a murdered New Jersey family was threatened for making anti-Muslim remarks online — and the gruesome quadruple slaying may have been the hateful retaliation, sources told The Post yesterday.

Hossam Armanious, 47, who along with his wife and two daughters was found stabbed to death in his Jersey City home early Friday, would regularly debate religion in a Middle Eastern chat room, one source said.

Armanious, an Egyptian Christian, was well known for expressing his Coptic beliefs and engaging in fiery back-and-forth with Muslims on the Web site

He "had the reputation for being one of the most outspoken Egyptian Christians," said the source, who had close ties to the family.

The source, who had knowledge of the investigation, refused to specify the anti-Muslim statement. But he said cops told him they were looking into the exchanges as a possible motive.

The married father of two had recently been threatened by Muslim members of the Web site, said a fellow Copt and store clerk who uses the chat room.

"You'd better stop this bull---- or we are going to track you down like a chicken and kill you," was the threat, said the clerk, who was online at the time and saw the exchange.

But Armanious refused to back down, according to two sources who use the Web site.

{. . .]

Armanious' fervor apparently rubbed off on his daughter, Sylvia — who would have turned 16 yesterday.

[. . .]

A family member who viewed photos of the bloodbath said Sylvia seemed to have taken the most savage punishment.

"When we saw the pictures, you could tell that they were hurt really, really bad in the face; especially Sylvia," said Milad Garas, the high-school sophomore's great-uncle.

The heartless killer not only slit Sylvia's throat, but also sliced a huge gash in her chest and stabbed her in the wrist, where she had a tattoo of a Coptic cross.

Also found murdered were the wife, Amal Garas, and the parents' other daughter, Monica.

[. . .]

The deacon and uncle poured cold water on the theory that the family were the victims of a robbery gone wrong.

"This is not a robbery, Ayed said. "We found all of the jewelry in the house. They didn't take anything."

The FBI confirmed it has been called in to help with the case.


I've been involved in a little discussion on evolution, which you'll find here, here, and here. Anyone in the know about this, especially as it pertains to metaphysics, I'd appreciate some guidance!

Moderation and Law

We must not expect that liberal education can ever become universal education. It will always remain the obligation and the privilege of a minority. Nor can we expect that the liberally educated will become a political power in their own right. For we cannot expect that liberal education will lead all who benefit from it to understand their civic responsibility in the same way or to agree politically. Karl Marx, the father of communism, and Friedrich Nietzsche, the step-grandfather of fascism, were liberally educated on a level to which we cannot even hope to aspire. But perhaps one can say that their grandiose failures make it easier for us who have experienced those failures to understand again the old saying that wisdom cannot be separated from moderation and hence to understand that wisdom requires unhesitating loyalty to a decent constitution and even to the cause of constitutionalism. Moderation will protect us against the twin dangers of visionary expectations from politics and unmanly contempt for politics. Thus it may again become true that all liberally educated men will be politically moderate men. It is in this way that the liberally educated may again receive a hearing even in the marketplace.

Leo Strauss, "Liberal Education and Mass Democracy"

More: There is no law against that.
Roper: There is! God’s law!
More: Then God can arrest him.
Roper: Sophistication upon sophistication!
More: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what’s legal not what’s right. And I’ll stick to what’s legal.
Roper: Then you set man’s law above God’s!
More: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact—I’m not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can’t navigate. I’m no voyager. But in the thickets of the law, oh, there I’m a forester. I doubt if there’s a man alive who could follow me there, thank God…
Alice: While you talk, he’s gone!
More: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law!
Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!
More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you—where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast—man’s laws, not God’s—and if you cut them down—and you’re just the man to do it—d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.
Roper: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law’s your god.

From Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons.

P.S. Does anyone familiar with St. Thomas More know how true to him this fictional dialogue is?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

New Church

I caught this circulating the web. Note it refers to what some regard as the spirit of Vatican II, not to the real thing. Sad to say, so many do not know the difference!

"Vatican Two" (sung to the tune of "Y.M.C.A.")

"Cath'lic" doesn't mean quite the same
As what you've been taught to know by that name.
We're removin' all the scandal and shame
Of a church that stands for something.

Cath'lic, just believe what you choose!
Yes, it's true now, we're the same as the Jews!
The new Doctrine leaves us nothin' to lose---
Just a warm and fuzzy feeling.


We've got the Spirit of VA-TI-CAN-TWO.
We've got the Spirit of VA-TI-CAN-TWO.
We'll have women in black,
Now there's no turning back
To the hang-ups of dead white guys.

We've got the Spirit of VA-TI-CAN-TWO.
We've got the Spirit of VA-TI-CAN-TWO.
You can set yourself free
From dead orthodoxy,
You can do whatever you please.

Cath'lic, won't you please come along
To the New Church, where's there's no right or wrong.
In the New Church, heretics can belong,
They can teach at seminary.

"Cath'lic," but our fingers were crossed,
All our doctrine has been totally lost.
All that's Cath'lic is what we have embossed
On our cards and stationery.


New Church, where it's very uncouth
And unwelcome to say you have the truth
And where seldom is a word ever heard
To discourage sin or error.

New Church, where it's all shades of gray,
I said, New Church, where it's hip to be gay.
Our umbrella is as big as a tent,
There's no need for you to repent.


Monday, January 17, 2005

The Right Stuff

Now that's what I call a real bishop!

Just before Christmas, the Archdiocese of Denver told the local chapter of the Catholic Lawyers Guild to take a hike—a hike away from Church property, that is. It seems the Guild had decided to honor pro-abortion attorney Ken Salazar with its Thomas More Award. As a result, Archbishop Chaput refused to celebrate the annual Red Mass with the group at their dinner this month, and has also told them they can’t hold the event on Church property as planned.

Ken Salazar is the Colorado Attorney General who was elected to the US Senate last November. Unfortunately, Salazar pledged in his campaign to “defend the constitutional right” to abortion and to oppose “mandatory waiting periods, spousal consent, biased counseling requirements, or other extreme limits on abortion rights."

Dr. Jeff Mirus says it all: "If every bishop refused to recognize the claimed Catholicity of such wayward groups, we would have a far more congenial climate for constructive change."

Veil of Authoritarianism

According to David Warren,

still-untested fresh Iraqi intelligence assessments [. . .] hold that the terrorism is likely to continue at a fairly high level of nuisance for another year, unless the U.S. does something dramatic to cut off its sources of personnel, money, and weaponry, from Syria and Iran.

There are fluid political situations, meanwhile, not only in Syria and Iran but about five more regional countries, including Saudi Arabia and even Egypt. What I mean by this is that each government faces increasingly restive elites, within its own ruling structure. At any moment, a coup, or other revolutionary act, could take most foreign observers entirely by surprise in any of these countries. The regimes in each are executing complicated balancing acts -- nowhere more precariously than in Syria, where Bashir Assad's Ba'athists seem to be purposely antagonizing the U.S., on the nervy calculation that this will improve their negotiating position, and thus their chances of survival, in President Bush's second term.

The one thing we can observe, from all this, is the degree to which political developments continue to determine events on the ground, throughout the region. This is not a truism. In Ukraine, for example, the chain of causation has been vice versa. It means the veil of authoritarianism has not begun to lift over the Middle East.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

A More Discriminating Discussion

Sounds almost blasphemous to the modern ear! From John Paul II's Fides et Raio:

in his Encyclical Letter Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII warned against mistaken interpretations linked to evolutionism, existentialism and historicism. He made it clear that these theories had not been proposed and developed by theologians, but had their origins “outside the sheepfold of Christ”. He added, however, that errors of this kind should not simply be rejected but should be examined critically:

“Catholic theologians and philosophers, whose grave duty it is to defend natural and supernatural truth and instill it in human hearts, cannot afford to ignore these more or less erroneous opinions. Rather they must come to understand these theories well, not only because diseases are properly treated only if rightly diagnosed and because even in these false theories some truth is found at times, but because in the end these theories provoke a more discriminating discussion and evaluation of philosophical and theological truths”.


Reuters reports:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has been conducting secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran to help identify potential nuclear, chemical and missile targets, The New Yorker magazine reported Sunday.

The article, by award-winning reporter Seymour Hersh, said the secret missions have been going on at least since last summer with the goal of identifying target information for three dozen or more suspected sites.

. . .

The former intelligence official told Hersh that an American commando task force in South Asia is working closely with a group of Pakistani scientists who had dealt with their Iranian counterparts.

The New Yorker reports that this task force, aided by information from Pakistan, has been penetrating into eastern Iran in a hunt for underground nuclear-weapons installations.

In exchange for this cooperation, the official told Hersh, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has received assurances that his government will not have to turn over Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's atomic bomb, to face questioning about his role in selling nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

Hersh reported that Bush has already "signed a series of top-secret findings and executive orders authorizing secret commando groups and other Special Forces units to conduct covert operations against suspected terrorist targets in as many as 10 nations in the Middle East and South Asia."

Defining these as military rather than intelligence operations, Hersh reported, will enable the Bush administration to evade legal restrictions imposed on the CIA's covert activities overseas.

Can Hirsh be believed? The 'denials' are not that strong:

The White House said Iran is a concern and a threat that needs to be taken seriously . . . "We obviously have a concern about Iran. The whole world has a concern about Iran," Dan Bartlett, a top aide to President Bush, told CNN's "Late Edition."

Of The New Yorker report, he said: "I think it's riddled with inaccuracies, and I don't believe that some of the conclusions he's drawing are based on fact."

Bartlett said the administration "will continue to work through the diplomatic initiatives" to convince Iran -- which Bush once called part of an "axis of evil" -- not to pursue nuclear weapons.

"No president, at any juncture in history, has ever taken military options off the table," Bartlett added. "But what President Bush has shown is that he believes we can emphasize the diplomatic initiatives that are underway right now."

Of course, even if we were *not doing this, I doubt we'd deny it. But one would like to think something is being done to avert the emergence of a nuclear Iran.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Fate Of Nations (II)

Phil is back with a vengeance! He provides a nice summary of international affairs since the days when modern civilization could be proud of its balance of powers, to the point where it is in life-and-death struggle with barbarians:

But, most of all, the expectations, as in the previous transitional stage, are up for grabs. Will the United States remain a hegemonic power for some time to come? Will a competitor state[s] take its place? What will the influence of the new vanguards be? Will they be destroyed or whither away, or will the gain control of some state or states, bringing about a new cold (or perhaps hot) war?

At least for the two last questions, the situation is serious. The reason, to put it bluntly, is demographics. The most vulnerable region is Europe. The European population is aging, and is not replenishing itself through births. Immigration and higher birthrates among immigrants, however, are the exceptions. As a great deal of this immigration in some nations (France, the Netherlands, to an extent Germany and Britain) comes from Muslim-heavy regions, and tends not to assimilate, the possibility of a vanguard-style coup within a European state by Islamist radicals in fifteen to twenty years is not inconceivable. Should this occur, two things could be possible. On the one hand, after some tensions, a certain modus vivendi between the US and the new regime could form - never friendly, but not immediately dangerous. On the other, a war like that of Hitler's could come about. Neither possibility is terribly appealing.

That is why the war on terror is important now. To prevent such occurrences, the vanguard organizations must be eradicated. While the ideas may still float about, the organization is the catalyst that brings the ideas into practical action. With the organizations destroyed, or at least greatly crippled, the settling upon new expectations can begin, hopefully without the resort to arms.

Which leads me to a general reflection, pertinent to those of us who have 'problems' as they say with modernity in particular. The fate of all foreseeable civilization seems to rest with that of modern civilization, does it not? A sobering thought.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Missa Per Omnia Saecula Saeculorum?

My good friend the Concerned Catholic recently attended the Tridentine Mass for the first time -- and I hope not his last! He and his family are always welcome at my parish, and home.

The experience led to some very interesting comments, and questions. Specifically, he notes that the Mass felt very alien to him and wonders whether the Church does not need something more worldly -- "just a bit" so -- for evangelization purposes. And he solicits comments on this.

Well, here are my thoughts. In truth I have mixed feelings about whether the future of the Church depends on the Tridentine rite per se. It is not the only legitimate rite -- the new rite is legitimate even if bastardized by ICEL, and there are other (some older) rites probably just as beautiful and efficacious as the Tridentine. (I will, God willing, have the chance to experience a few of them soon.)

And, though myself grossly ignorant of history, I find plausible CC's contention that in its history the Church has successfully used local variations in the Mass to draw the people in -- with aberrations sometimes but not always resulting.

However, the question has to be looked at in our specific context, and what CC has to say about this puts us on the right track:

[The Mass] was also alien because of its demonstrable reverence for the Holy Eucharist. Even the most orthodox Novus Ordo Mass I have attended still seems to have much more in common with a Protestant service than this alien and strange celebration of the liturgy. And, I believe, it SHOULD be alien and strange... at least on some level... because we are entering God's house and this is something that we do not do every day, such a journey should be taken very seriously.

My only quibble here would be that we might very well visit God's house every day, but whether or not we do so it is the most important thing we could ever do, for reasons I'll elaborate momentarily. CC also reflects on the most pertinent issues pertaining to your typical new rite Mass today:

I would say that my major problem with my former parish is not the liturgical novelties, per se, but what those novelties represented. I have seen video of Masses in Africa that, while very different from both the Tridentine and orthodox Novus Ordo Masses, express a level of belief and devotion that I have never seen in an American Church. So the question comes down to what is being taught more than anything else.

I wholly agree, and would only consolidate the whole by saying that what matters is whether the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is being taught; and as importantly whether the proper inner disposition (reverence) for the Blessed Sacrament is inculcated -- which as CC notes is very much the case in the Tridentine rite, hardly at all in your average new rite Mass. Sadly, I would say that most of the significant changes in the Mass have precisely been designed to minimize the very thing that should be unabashedly emphasized in the Mass. And it has been done for the misguided purpose of reaching out to more people and supposedly in this manner increasing the numbers of the faithful.

Now obviously I am not opposed to evangelizing the world -- this is the mission of the Church (whence the very word Mass or Missa is derived . . .). But the mission of the Church must be understood for what it is.

The Church exists for no other reason than to perpetuate the Sacraments through which mankind is saved. And all the other Sacraments exist for the sake of the Blessed Sacrament, the real presence of the immolated (and resurrected) Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, without whom none of us can be saved. In other words, every feature of the Church must be strictly subordinate to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, without which the Church is nothing but smoke and mirrors (or microphones and tambourines these days).

Evangelization means nothing if it is not an invitation to participation in this Holy Sacrifice. Sadly most Catholics today are barely if at all aware that this is what happens at Mass, not to mention that it is the only purpose of the Church! And the way Mass is done contributes (purposefully I am convinced on the part of many a "reformer") to this unawareness.

I do not literally contend that the Tridentine Mass is the only solution. As I've said before, I would potentially be happy to see the Tridentine rite used (seriously) as a model for significant reform to the standard Mass today. I myself will go to a new rite Mass when none other is available, though more or less reluctantly depending on its orthopraxy. But so long as anything resembling the present circumstances prevail, I will seek out the Tridentine rite (or, that failing, the new rite in Latin) so that I may have every available opportunity to receive the Blessed Sacrament with proper preparation and disposition (without which the objective grace of the Sacrament is less likely to preserve the likes of me from sin).

Another point regarding evangelization: I went to Mass all my life without ever taking it seriously. While this is attributable to original sin and actual sin on my part, it is also indicative of what the current misuse of the Mass is doing to Catholics as a whole in this country and elsewhere. While it is possible for a very holy person to focus on what is holy in the new rite Mass (though he or she would have to be pained by liturgy that fails to revere the Lord), the vagueness -- not to mention the cheesiness and wrongness in some cases -- of the standard Mass here and now is a stumbling block or scandal to the soul of anyone who might take the Blessed Sacrament seriously but requires assistance in doing so.

Now, evangelization is not just about numbers. Let's say for the sake of argument that instituting the Tridentine rite (or something more like it) tomorrow would drive 50-60% of "Catholics" out of the churches. This is an extreme example and prudentially I would not recommend anything quite this drastic. But it is not clear that this would be an evangelization problem. A "Catholic" who attends Mass believing that the bread is only bread is not Catholic at all. This is why public opinion polls show a majority or large minority of "Catholics" to be heretics on so many questions. Driving them out of the churches would not be so bad a thing as it sounds. If they are invincibly opposed to the Church's teaching they do not belong there at all, except as spectators of something they can choose to participate in or not. In fact, many may leave and return on the proper terms, having a newfound respect for the Church and therefore having a much better chance of being saved! Many would no doubt stay, harboring some doubts, and gradually be instructed in the one holy Catholic and apostolic faith.

And I expect that all who are open to the faith will find, as I have, that participation in a Mass that is not ashamed to be what it is is the single most enriching thing they can do for their own faith. This is no small thing as the Church is in dire need of holiness today, and human beings per se are notoriously bad at providing that. We *need something "alien" (which, were things in proper order, would not *be alien) if the Church is to prosper.

Whatever reforms are made must be done prudentially and charitably, but I think we have to see the extent of the problem and the nature of the solution, and the Tridentine rite reveals both with crystal clarity. I encourage any of you, Catholic or not, practising or not, to find one near you and check it out!

The Trinity Explained!

"One easily becomes a heretic when one tries to explain the Trinity" -- Fr. George Rutler

With that warning in mind, I am *not going to attempt to "explain" the Trinity at this stage, acknowledging that I have much to learn about this doctrine -- and also soliciting advice from my readers many of whom know far more about it than I!

Nonetheless, I do want to say something about a series of posts by the Maverick Philosopher, Bill Vallicella, who has raised doubts about the coherency of the teaching. To his great credit, Bill has formulated this as a request for explanation, not an attempted critique -- he describes his enterprise here as faith seeking reason, which places the discussion in the proper context. I don't think one would ever ask such a question were it not for faith.

However I think Bill does go wrong here when he says that repeating the old formulas is no avail, since we are testing their coherence. My point is that precisely if we are testing their coherence, we have to articulate them very carefully. Now, Bill has expressly put aside the question of the procession of divine persons (the Father generating the Son, the Holy Ghost proceeding from the Father and the Son) as irrelevant to his critique. I believe it is fair to say that without considering that issue, at least in outline, one cannot know what the Trinity IS in the first place, and therefore cannot meaningfully discuss its coherence as a doctrine.

What do I mean? In the course of my researches I found that the most thorough concise summary of the Trinity is the Council of Toledo (675), to which most quotation marks here refer. (I am also taking examples from St. Thomas' Summa Theologiae and from conversations I've had with the knowledgeable.)

Here we learn that the persons of the Trinity, qua persons, are nothing but the relations of God to Himself. I repeat: each person IS a relation, of God, to Himself. In a nut shell this is how each one IS God without being A God (and thus making three gods). For although God does not have "parts" He does relate to Himself, and since He is supreme Being His relations are real in the highest sense, without causing Him division.

This is a mystery, but not any kind of contradiction. If we think of a mind (an incorporeal mind, which God is) that one mind can be divided into intellect, thought, and self-consciousness, all of which are distinct and real, but are not so much parts of the mind as relations of the mind to itself. Just as act and passion correspond to the same motion -- both are motion and (in a given case) are the same motion -- but are clearly distinct relations within that motion; so too are intellect, thought, and self-consciousness inseparable relations of the singular act of a mind thinking.

The same applies to the Trinity. God in His essence is pure act, the pure act of an infinite, eternal, omniscient, and omnipotent mind. As a mind God relates to Himself and (Revelation tells us) does so as Trinity -- the Father generating the Son and from the two the Holy Ghost proceeding. This procession "was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be" -- none of the persons is any less infinite, eternal, omniscient, or omnipotent than the others, because none of them is separate in any way from the others -- they are not separate things but distinct relations of one thing to itself. And to repeat, the relativity of the persons does not make them less real, since the relation of the real to itself is real.

Now let's consider Bill's challenge:

The problem, to put it schematically, is to prove the consistency of the following set of propositions:

a) P1 is numerically distinct from P2.

b) P2 is numerically distinct from P3.

c) P1 is numerically distinct from P3.

d) P1 is G.

e) P2 is G.

f) P3 is G.

If the 'is' in the last three propositions is the 'is' of identity, then a contradiction is easily derivable.

This suggests that the solution must lie in the direction of reinterpreting the 'is' as it occurs in the last three propositions. . . .

Reading the 'is' as the 'is' of predication won't cut it, as I have already argued in more than one post. Are there any other possibilities?

In fact we have to question the premises of the propositions themselves. I say they do not represent the doctrine of the Trinity accurately enough for our purposes.

The Father is God in the sense that He is a relation of God to Himself. As Father, He is Father of the Son with whom he causes to proceed the Holy Ghost. Whatever we say about the Father, it either refers to his being God (in which case He is not at all distinct from the other persons) or it refers to His being a relation of God, in which case we cannot conceptually separate the Father from the Son and Holy Ghost.

Now, it is true to say that the Father, as distinct from the Son and Holy Ghost, is God. But since He is a relation, his distinctness is not separation. Therefore it is accurate and most helpful here to insist that the Father -- with the Son and Holy Ghost -- is God. This can be represented in two ways:

P1 (with P2 and P3) is God

To which we could add:

P2 (with P1 and P3) is God
P3 (with P2 and P3) is God

In other words, each P implies the others; they are distinct but not separate.

This does not make God a composite, for it is a question of one Being relating to Himself, not being composed of pre-existing parts. So:

God, in relation to P1, is P2 and P3.
God, in relation to P2, is P1 and P3.
God, in relation to P3, is P1 and P2.

Just as my mind, in relation to its intellect, is thougths and self-consciousness; in relation to its thoughts, is intellect and self-consciousness; and in relation to its self-consciousness is intellect and thoughts.

I may be making a mistake here -- rest assured I am not finished investigating this. But any corrections would be appreciated!

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

What's Nothin' Worth, Anyhow?

Bill Vallicella recounts the true derivation of a line repeated by Janis Joplin -- it originates with Kris Kristofferson. But he neglects to metnion that poor Janis bungled it, in a telling way. Kristofferson, in a song about being a drifter and therefore losing the love of his life, sings:

Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose
Nothin' aint worth nothin', but it's free

It is a line tinged with irony directed at the idea of 'freedom'. Janis renders this "Nothin' don't mean nothin' hon' if it ain't free!". It is a line tinged with hippiedom, or the unadulterated celebration of 'freedom'. Did she get Krisofferson's point? Perhaps on the other side of the grave . . . .

Friday, January 07, 2005

Quote of the Month

Roman Catholic political philosophy will thus always be heavily “will” oriented, even when it understands that the will is a spiritual faculty only “determined” by the good known in intellect. It is not, in the modern sense, “pro-choice” -- pro-whatever is chosen just because it is chosen. But it is pro-will, pro-free-will. When evil is chosen, it always must at the same time exist some good, some good generally placed out of the order of truth by the power of will. It is because of this remaining good that Roman Catholic political philosophy must retain the capacity for change or conversion in all human things. It cannot ultimately for this reason be a dogmatic pessimism or optimism. It is realist without being Machiavellian or utopian, without denying the dire conditions that do happen or undervaluing the good that does occur in this world’s regimes.

James V. Schall, S.J. "Fides et Ratio: Approaches to a Roman Catholic Political Philosophy"

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Bucking Roe

What do freedom and responsibility have to do with abortion? In Mississippi, they apparently have cut it in half. Catholics in the Public Square has this from

a plethora of pro-life legislation [. . .] has helped lead to the closing of all but one abortion business in the state, abortions in Mississippi have decreased by half in the last decade. . . . Mississippi has a sweeping conscience clause allowing any medical professional to opt out of participating in an abortion, it is one of two states that requires both parents to give consent before an abortion, and it requires abortion practitioners to tell women about abortion's risks and alternatives. The state also passed an unborn victims law that targets criminals such as Scott Peterson who kill or injure an unborn child as a result of attacking a pregnant woman. Those laws have contributed to the abortion decline, according to an attorney with Americans United for Life.

Obviously this is insufficient, but it tells you something about how the culture of death works -- through lies and manipulation.

Rule Change

From US News & World Report

The Abu Ghraib prison affair has changed the rules for how U.S. special operations forces handle detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it's not all for the better. For example, most have to be released in three days if the prisoners don't meet a long list of requirements. But U.S. forces complain it often takes more than three days to determine that. Troops also must use padded handcuffs and blacked-out goggles--not head bags--when moving prisoners. The problem here: One insider told of how detainees were moved without handcuffs because none of the padded-style were available. Sources say the prisoners know of the new rules. Arabic script on the walls of Abu Ghraib counsel the detainees to stay mum for the three days, and then they will be set free. Out of frustration, some units are detaining fewer suspects, we're told.

Hat tip: Best of the Web.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The Trinity and the Rapture

Not that I'm going to try to relate them. Just wanted to point out a couple curious items on this here world wide web. First, a discussion on the Trinity at Maverick Philosopher, beginning here and ending (for now) here, with lots in between (like this). A pretty new topic for me, but a fun one; I encourage any and all to jump into the ring.

Also an interesting post over at Ignatius Insight Scoop on "dispensationalism", Zionist Christians, and the Bush administration -- countering some "theories" I have heard myself from the mouths of academics who study religion professionally. What really disturbs me is that Vatican Radio features this crap, giving lots of friendly air-time to "ecumenical liberation theology" -- i.e. hard core lefty religious indiffertist -- groups. Not good.

Many more things in my head that want posting, but so little time. More later . . .

Monday, January 03, 2005

Liturgical Renewal

The Ratzinger Fan Club refers us to a very interesting piece on liturgical renewal. Father Dowd lists the four reasons for renewal given by Vatican II and reflects on their application today. Some excerpts:

The pastoral goal: "To adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change."

. . .

I think the key word in this passage is the word "needs". The Council did not say we needed to adapt the liturgy to "our times", but rather to "the NEEDS of our times". The latter shows the liturgy at its best, as a servant to the men and women of our day, seeking to help them in their most profound needs; the former simply makes the liturgy a slave to the Zeitgeist, the "spirit of the age".

I think this distinction goes quite far to shed light on certain liturgical behaviours which otherwise seem to defy explanation. Take, for example, the increasing interest of people of my generation in the Latin liturgy. Seems odd, don't you think? After all, we grew up with the liturgy in the vernacular language — why would some of us want to return to a tradition that never really was our own? Certainly the Latin liturgy is not "adapted to our times", given that nobody speaks Latin anymore. But perhaps it *IS* adapted to the NEEDS of our times. I look around at the people of my generation, growing up in this post-modern culture of ours, and I see people who have often been cheated of any solid base for their life: moral relativism, family breakdown, and spiritual agnosticism seem rampant. And often these people, these members of my generation, *feel* cheated. They *know* all they've been given upon which to build their lives is shifting sand, and they want something solid. And they look at the Latin liturgy, and they see something timeless, something that connects them to a great Tradition that stretches back centuries. This genuine and legitimate NEED for rootedness is real, and is definitely part of our times. So while I have no personal overriding interest in Latin liturgies, I am very sympathetic to those who see great value in that tradition, and I dislike when such persons are simply written-off as liturgical and spiritual dinosaurs.

. . .

The ecumenical goal: "To foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ."

. . .

Much has been accomplished to place the Catholic liturgy at the service of Christian unity, but unfortunately all has not been smooth. Much effort has gone into trying to establish Eucharistic intercommunion with Protestants, for example, without the prerequisite communion of faith being established first. With regards to the Orthodox, on the other hand, the liturgical "craziness" of the 60's and 70's has tended to alientate them — many openly wonder how they could trust that the Catholic Church would respect their traditions when it appeared that it did not even respect its own.

. . .

The missionary goal: "To strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church."

Part of Catholic doctrine is that man is essentially a religious being, with a deep thirst built into him for the Infinite. The liturgy, at its best, is meant to be a place where man can come and have that thirst satisfied. The key word in this 4th goal is the word "call". The liturgy is meant to be a beacon shining forth the light of Christ, whether in word or in sacramental action, summoning all to God. The Council is reminding us that the the liturgy has the powerful function of being a witness to the world: non-believers are supposed to look at the liturgy and be able to say to themselves, "God is there."

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Ensoulment (II)

That last post requires some addenda. What is the classical, Aristotelian view of the soul/body I referred to? I am far from expert in this. The following will probably require correction from some of my more knowledgeable readers.

Through the grapevine (I am unable to corroborate this from a Google search or even my own library, sadly, but see here for a short summary of Aristotle's psychology) I have heard that soul as the form of the body is what Aristotle calls intellikeia, which I may have misspelt, but which literally means something like "telos [end or purpose] within". For Aristotle, living creatures have their purposes built into them, and ethics (what we call morality) derives from our very being. We can see this by analogy to a plant. The plant takes various "loose" forms of matter -- nutrients, air, light -- and incorporates them into organic growth. It does so in a fashion ordered toward a given end -- for instance an acorn will, under the proper conditions, make itself into an oak tree. Its purpose so to speak is innate, although external factors help or hinder it, and inner factors (like defects or excellences) also affect the outcome. Nonetheless, we can easily understand what the tree is and judge it as a tree (good or bad or mediocre) with reference to the end contained in it from its germ -- every acorn wants to be a flourishing oak, so to speak.

Of course, the tree also has a "second end", so to speak, namely death. But this end -- death -- is precisely the final loss of the first end or telos, the healthy condition. Thus after death a living body decomposes -- and the first inklings of decomposition that occur before death (aging) represent a loss of vitality against which the organism struggles -- a sort of backwards telos, which in human beings might be witnessed in the joy the old take in observing the young, and/or reminiscing about their own youth (or if corrupt, shamelessly trying to relive their youth . . . ).

For human beings the telos itself is more complicated, since we have not only nutritive but also locomotive and rational powers all of which are part of our telos or mature, flourishing state. The proper realization of these things is clearly our purpose as human beings and the mother idea of ethics -- human flourishing or eudaimonia. What precisely this is, however, is no easy question.

So this is (in part) where the Church gets the idea of the soul as the form of the body. And Aristotle would most prbably support her position on embryonic stem-cell research. However, he is not as strict about these issues as the Church, as the following passage from the Politics (7.16) indicates:

As to the exposure and rearing of children, let there be a law that no deformed child shall live, but that on the ground of an excess in the number of children, if the established customs of the state forbid this (for in our state population has a limit), no child is to be exposed, but when couples have children in excess, let abortion be procured before sense and life have begun; what may or may not be lawfully done in these cases depends on the question of life and sensation.

Interestingly, Aristotle only permits abortion "before . . . life ha[s] begun"; he thought there was significant delay between copulation and procreation (40-80 days). The actual figure is about 20 minutes. So in effect, we can say that Aristotle permits what he thought to be the equivalent of contraception under certain conditions, and infanticide under other conditions. The latter is especially shocking, but the Church forbids both, and the reason for the difference is interesting.

The crux of the issue is that for Aristotle the soul is mortal and dies with the body. The telos it gives us is this-worldly, and defined in relation to politics, gentlemanship, and philosophy. Human life has meaning insofar as it contributes to or does not obstruct those things. Killing potential citizens, gentlemen, or philosophers (living embryos) is wrong; killing the "deformed child" is apparently something else from this point of view. Contraception would be wrong were the family in need of more children in order to live in accordance with regime principles; not wrong if they already had enough children. Clearly then, there is little of the modern culture of death that Aristotle would support, although the care of the handicapped would apparently not be his top priority.

Christianity, without denying the goodness and necessity of politics, gentlemanship, and philosophy, looks beyond them to our eternal destination. As the Catechism puts it,

Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day.

The telos contained in our bodies (formed by and one with our soul -- now and in eternity) is in the contemplation of God (which Aristotle saw) who has made us in His image and likeness for the purpose of worshipping him eternally in Heaven (which Aristotle did not see). This is the end we all have, well- or ill-formed as we may be. No longer can the polis's need for population stability or able citizens place limits on our duty to beget and foster human life.

This view is not totally alien to Aristotle. A more literal translation of the end of the passage quoted above says that "what is holy and what is not [regarding abortion] will be defined by reference to perception and life". Aristotle clearly sees that the potential we have as human beings -- our ensoulment -- gives us a dignity that political society must respect. He also considers contemplation of God to be the highest human end. But he does not know when ensoulment occurs, or the God we know:

Dearly beloved, The grace of God our Savior hath appeared to all men, instructing us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live soberly and justly and godly in this world, looking for the blessed hope and coming of the glory of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ: Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and might cleanse to Himself a people acceptable, a pursuer of good works. These things speak and exhort: in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Titus 2. 11-15)

Secularists today have no such excuse. But they resist the Church with arguments based on moral chaos. I think it would do us a lot of good to revive the Aristotelian understanding of things. In doing so I think very few people would want to go back to the view that deformed babies are expendable (though I shudder to think that the head of ethics at Princeton University does advocate infanticide). If they search their hearts to know why, they will probably find an answer they did not expect.


Don't know how many National Review readers I have here, but I thought it worth while to remark on a recent piece by Ramesh Ponnuru -- whose work I generally think excellent. In the course of trying to introduce sanity into the debate between religion and secularism in modern America, he gets defensive about the idea that opposition to embryonic stem-cell research is motivated "either by the view that human embryos have souls or by the condemnation of the research by religious authorities — neither of which is a valid reason for public policy", liberals contend. Now, he does not entirely concede that religious motives are invalid, but does rightly maintain that in public matters "Since an appeal to a religious belief, authority, or text will be unpersuasive to people who do not accept it, such an appeal will often be counterproductive (rather than "dangerous")". This makes sense, but it or some other thing drives him into desparate confusion when it comes to the Catholic teaching on the embryo. He says:

I have followed (and participated in) the debate over stem-cell research since it became a national issue four years ago. In my experience, opponents of the research rarely bring up the possibility that embryos have souls. Slightly more often, religious supporters of the research will suggest that they do not have souls. The context in which the question of ensoulment most frequently comes up, however, is precisely the one in which it has come up here: the false suggestion by supporters that a view of ensoulment is what motivates opponents.

The Catholic church, to which I belong, is the leading institutional opponent of the intentional destruction of human embryos. It does not base its teaching on the belief that human embryos have souls. It has no definitive teaching on that point. Nor does it believe that Scripture yields a definitive view of the ethics of embryo research. Rather, it believes that it is rationally demonstrable that human embryos are human beings, ensouled or not. The "religious" component of the church's teaching is the view that God wants us to do justice. Our knowledge of that desire does not help us ascertain what justice is in this case. To the extent that the Catholic church's case against embryo destruction rests on "theology," it is on a point that almost nobody, including atheists, wants to controvert: the requirement to do justice. And the argument the church makes is, essentially, the argument all opponents of embryo-destruction make. Those opponents do not generally believe, and do not argue, that God has told us in some direct way what the government's policy toward stem-cell research should be. They understand themselves to be making reasoned arguments.

First, he is way off on Catholic teaching. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has the following, crystal-clear words to contribute here:

365 The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the "form" of the body:234 i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.

The human body is constituted by its form, i.e., the soul. There can be no human being without a soul, no genuinely human body without a soul. (A corpse not being the same thing as a living body, when you think about it.)

Does this render the argument simply religious, and inaccessible to the secular? Well, that would be hard to maintain since its source (not cited in the CCC) is Aristotle! Once again our ignorance of the classics is doing us in. Perhaps it is true that modern man regards any talk of the soul as religious and would dismiss as archaic any natural-reason account of the soul. But that is mere prejudice, and should not be permitted to interfere with the sound doctrine of the Church or the thinking of any genuinely open-minded person.
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