Words to remember

"Never doubt in the darkness what you believed in the light."

Friday, February 29, 2008

William F. Buckley, Jr. RIP

Every once in a while, the world is graced with the presence of remarkable individuals in all walks of life. Mr. Buckley was such a man. Sempiternally eloquent and singularly erudite, Mr. Buckley was, in many ways, the White Rider of American conservatism. His greatest contribution, if only in my life and thought, was to demonstrate that conservatism and traditional values can be (and ought to be) defended and explained with intellectual rigor and sophistication.

What was most refreshing about Mr. Buckley's political analyses and views was that they were, in a sense, peripheral; they proceeded from an already solid philosophical and intellectual grounding, and not vice versa. For Mr. Buckley, this grounding was that of a true Renaissance man, a breed altogether ill-used by today's culture, particularly in the intelligentsia.

Who else but William F. Buckley could have left us with gems such as these?

"A Conservative is a fellow who is standing athwart history yelling 'Stop!'"

"Relate it to what should happen; fuse it into the long morality play that began, really, in the Garden of Eden."

Truth is a demure lady, much too ladylike to knock you on your head and drag you to her cave. She is there, but people must want her, and seek her out. "

He will be honored and rememberd. "Goodnight, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Plan of Attack

This occurred to me shortly after posting my last bit on the Classics. I've been reading a lot of material about this lately, from the essays in literary criticism for class to Allan Bloom's book and Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath's book Who Killed Homer? I've also noticed that my last post was very stream-of-consciousness; my gripe began about Latin, but I ended up talking about Greeks. I think, though, the emphasis on the Classics, while tacit, is at least apparent, and didn't pose too much of a problem. There is method in my madness.

It seems to me that there is a strong correlation between the ripping of Latin from Catholic life and the ripping of Latin from the schools. Now the problem with this is readily apparent: correlation does not indicate causation. I think that one can, however, argue successfully that the removal of Latin from our liturgy did impact the study of Latin in school for a few reasons.
1. No introduction to Latin- for millions of people, Latin was something they experienced every week, and frequently more often than that. They experienced this through the Mass and their own private devotions. And because of this, there was nothing to instill any love of the language in young people. People can't come to enjoy that which they have never experienced.
2. No impetus to learn Latin- people wouldn't need to learn it now in order to follow along in the Mass (they never did, really, but this still was, I have been told, a common justification for intro-type courses). The educators could now successfully argue that it had no practical application (here's where our American pragmatism came 'round to bite us in the ass) and so need not be taught; we could focus instead on Warm Fuzzies 101, Diversity/Sensitivity Training, and making people feel good about themselves now that they felt no inadequacy for not knowing a gerund from a supine or botching an ablative absolute.

I should caution myself once again that these don't necessarily hold up; possibly the biggest problem to this line of thinking is the fact that the removal of Latin from the sanctuaries of worship and of learning were tandem phenomena, rather than causally related. In other words, the same social forces which wanted to take Latin out of the Mass wanted to take it out of the schools. In my moments of more bridled enthusiasm, I would probably agree more with this assessment. But I feel like being brash tonight, so let us assume that the causal relationship I have explained above is true.

What, then, is our plan of attack? How do we take back the classroom?

It's clear that His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI (long may God bless and keep him) is a keen strategist, an eminently clever and intelligent man, in addition to his great piety, steadfast faith and love, and deep theological and spiritual insights. When he acceded to the See of Peter, he had a plan. He had a strategy to renew all of Catholic life. And that plan starts with the liturgy. It is, in Fr. Z's words, the tip of the spear.

Let's work in cooperation with that. Let's help to bring Latin back into the Mass. Aside from the considerable devotional benefits of the use of the noble tongue in worship, this reintroduction of Latin gets the language back in people's ears. It's no longer a dead language, because that which is dead stays dead, and thus rarely gets up and says to you "Dominus vobiscum". It becomes relevant to people's lives once again; and teaching it now has those "practical applications".

And what will happen when we do this? In my experience, Latin is a kind of "gateway language"- once you've started with it, it not only becomes easier to learn other languages (okay, it becomes much easier), it also draws people on to some other languages. I was induced to start learning Greek because of all those damned intrusive Greek nouns one finds interspersed through Latin writings; Aenean- what the heck case is that? Greek accusative, you say? Second declension? Tell me more about this Greek stuff... it has declensions, like Latin?

Once the language hurdle has been cleared, studies of the Classics can flourish again. It's only too easy to keep the Classics safely out of universities when the languages one needs to know simply aren't taught. But as students are exposed to them and become more interested, there will be more demands for them to be taught. And then, what happens? What I like to call the Great Intellectual Lobotomy starts to be reversed; all of a sudden, the assumptions of relativism start to look pretty pallid. This thing we call democracy is 2500 years old, it has its defenders throughout history, it has theorists and apologists a lot keener and more passionate than today's jargon-encrusted 1960's flower-power faculty battle-axe. Or how about some of the other notions we claim as our own- equality before the law, the prominence of the middle class, limited government? Relativism becomes a lot less tenable when one sees that these concepts come from ancient knowledge and wisdom. And we need hardly say that once that primary doctrine of modernism falls, then we can start to repair the damage done to our culture and our civilization.

I realize this is all a pretty desperate pipe dream, but I think that if more people felt the same way (or were willing and permitted to express it publicly), this could happen. As it stands, however, I am fully prepared to man my foxhole accompanied by Virgil, Livy, Plato, Thucydides, Cicero, and Augustine and shoot it out till there's no more ammunition.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Quam ob rem linguam Latinam nosco

I am very fortunate to continue my directed study of St. Augustine's Confessions in Latin this semester. The professor and the other student are two of the most interesting people I have ever met, and each lesson truly is a pleasure.

Aside from the theological insights one can gain from closely reading any text by the great Latin doctor, which are considerable, the knowledge of that august language is an incomparable gift. Sadly, however, it is given extremely short shrift in modern education, if it is even mentioned at all.

It occurred to me today, after having translated with reasonable accuracy a rather lengthy ablative absolute that in studying the language, in learning to speak, read, and write it, I was becoming a part of a history that goes back more than 2000 years. Given the time and the proper instruction, I was able to communicate in the same language as some of the greatest figures in Western civilization. To be sure, it will be a long time before I'll be able to get through Cicero. But even in my own novice wanderings in the language, I have occasionally experienced this remarkable feeling or sense of the fraternitas Latinae, the brotherhood of Latin, a common bond between men and women that stretches on for centuries. These were the words mighty men used, even in our century, to delineate some of the noblest truths known to man. This is the speech which held the known Western world in thrall, the language of law, the soil upon which wise government was founded, the terminological heart of modern science and medicine and even philosophy. And as Chesterton pointed out, that particular brotherhood of man is far nobler when it crosses the deeps of time than when it simply bridges class.

It is an absolute travesty that, in an age where dissemination of information can occur instantaneously, the learning of Latin is deemed too difficult or undesirable. I submit with obstinate certainty that the number of people familiar with Latin 50 years ago was substantially higher than the number today. And they didn't have the Internet! Though perhaps that is why so many more knew Latin. The distractions of that time were of a different kind and degree. I am also not ignorant of the fact that the use of Latin in the liturgy also plays a huge part in this. Even with all of these things, though, it does not seem to me in any way reasonable that with our "sophistication", the increased time, money, effort, and emphasis put into education, and the command of resources almost instantly available to us, we should deem something in the main too difficult or not sufficiently rewarding.

What I fear most is that those great monuments of Western culture seem to be fading away before our very eyes. Instead of making a wider use of the tools we have, we increasingly focus on applying them to banal novelties. You can forget about reading anything by Cicero in a high school classroom, and in any but the more specialized classroom, save those of schools who have bravely stood by "Western Civ" or "Humanities" through the collective academic lobotomy known as the '60's, '70's, and '80's. In looking back at my high school curriculum, I found the following:
-5 books about racism
-1 book about gender bias
-1 book about AIDS
-a congealed glazing of Vomitguts, er, Vonnegut, that Catch-22 monstrosity, and some other crap I don't even want to remember
-the obligatory, over-done, under-treated Romeo and Juliet

Now it wasn't all bad; by junior and senior year we were reading "good stuff"- the Great Gatsby, Macbeth, Hamlet, et al. And there are plenty of books on racism which are great works- To Kill a Mockingbird comes to mind immediately. However, reading books about racism which reinforce that racism is a bad thing will not make good citizens. Rejecting racism does not make you a good thing. Especially if that rejection is itself expressed in the opposite direction- racism is bad, and a product of the White Man (who, incidentally, sucks). The funny thing about the modern emphasis on multiculturalism is that, while it claims to offer a broader perspective, it actually offers a narrower treatment of human issues. In Sophocles' Antigone, one can detect several different major concerns- the relationship between governor and governed, the abuse of power, the primacy of divine or civil law, the problem of pride, the demands of piety, tragic hybris, and how right intention is often not enough to ensure right action. And that's a short list, without my thoroughly annotated text to supplement it. To say nothing of Aristotle, who quite arguably talks about everything, or Plato, or Thucydides... Do we get this from Invisible Man? For all its great literary value, do we even get that much from To Kill a Mockingbird? We don't get it at all from a banal incoherent train-wreck like Chinhua Achebe's shtick. In focusing solely on the narrow modern insistence on non-racism, we're completely ignoring the rest of the vast field of human social thought. And so what we produce are people who can use the rhetoric of a principled stand against racism, but in the meantime can do a complete end-run around us because we've all but forgotten the pitfalls of power. There seems to be an odd assumption that because a fellow isn't racist, he'll govern well. The Greeks and Romans were smarter. They were not deluded by the untenable notion that the faults of mankind were relative, determined only to their particular geosociopoliticoeconomic circumstances. They knew full well that all men shared the same intrinsic faults and failings.

Philosophy and Atheists

Another cold day in Geneseo. Ah well, it makes one feel very alive. Unless you're exposed too long, naturally.

Today was the induction ceremony for members of the Philosophy Honor Society, Phi Sigma Tau (Greek: Philou Sophôn Timê), which was rather nice. Of course, they're silly philosophy majors, and everyone knows we historians are much more trustworthy... The interesting part of this ceremony was the paper given afterwards by one of the professors. He's evidently the closest thing the department has to a theist, terming himself a conceptual skeptic. He's a very nice and decent fellow, and certainly gives the theistic point of view as good a treatment as he is able. The topic of the paper concerns the popular oeuvre of Dawkins and Harris, and how they are barking up the wrong tree. (This was his wording, not mine. I find the metaphor interesting, as obviously the analogy to hounds loosed on a chase incites the question: Who is their master?, a topic I believe worthy of serious investigation)

As he presented them, the most glaring shortcomings in these works included the frequent use of the genetic fallacy to "debunk" the origins of religion and indeed morality. Also noted was their lack of philosophical sophistication in dismissing the ontological, cosmological, and teleological arguments out of hand without first presenting them, analyzing them, and seeing where they fall short. Rather humorously, Dawkins simply asserts that he has no patience for this sort of twaddle, and so naturally they must not carry any weight. This is about as legitimate as jumping into a lake and raising a stink about being wet.

What I thought could have been better addressed are the assertions about religious extremism. Certainly, fanaticism is a bad thing. And much has been done wrong in the name of religion. There is always a moralistic bent to arguments such as these, which is odd coming from a pair whose personal convictions tend towards relativism informed by that old evolutionary genetic fallacy. What they pass over, however, is the problem of human nature. They play the connection between religion and extremism as if religion simply produced extremism by itself. This makes a strikingly naive assumption about human nature, and one which history shoots down quite effectively. If a thing should be shunned because it brings about extremist attitudes and actions, then let us consider some other things which never ought to have been allowed to exist:
-socialism and communism- what was the death toll on that score again? Certainly greater than anything the Crusades ever wrought.
-the concept of the nation-state- this has quite demonstrably been one of the most destructive endeavors in human history. How many people died in the wars which brought about French supremacy in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries? Or in the wars which established Prussia as the major continental power under Bismarck? The great expressions of ultra-nationalism in the First and Second World War?
-the acquisition and expansion of wealth and property- I realize that I may sound slightly Marxist in listing this here, but that is not my intent. I will come to an explanation for this shortly. But a few examples should suffice: Japan's wars of expansion and modernization from Meiji onwards. And just about any minor squabble in history has these tenets as at least proximate causes.

What I hoped to have shown in this is that extremism is by no means, in any way, shape, or form the province solely of religion. Extremism is the product of disordered humanity. And as such, it can be found in any human endeavor, no matter how noble the original purpose may have been. I hope, in bringing up the concepts of the nation-state and the acquisition of wealth and property, that I have also shown that otherwise legitimate pursuits, against which I doubt Dawkins and Harris would try to argue, can become the bases for brutal violence and destruction. In sound-byte form, if it's a body count that excites atheist outrage, then we might as well get rid of democracy.

Ultimately, though, Harris and Dawkins represent an elite whose eyes have grown far bigger than their stomachs. They have latched onto concepts with which they are not sufficiently familiar, and so provide a suspect analysis. They have conflated scientific truth with objective truth, and made the ironically dogmatic assertion that only scientific inquiry can make any statement which could be considered true. The upsetting part is that the militant atheist crowd who laps these two hacks up like mother's milk do not hold them to their own standard and ask what scientific basis their criterion of sola scientia has.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Pro Iudaeis- Good Friday Prayer

When Summorum Pontificum first came out in July, one of the biggest stinks raised outside of the Church was directed towards the Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jews. And naturally, this point was latched onto by the guitar-toting solus-Novus-Ordo types who break out into hives and fits of violent convulsions at the mention of the word "Tridentine". Which is odd, because the people who are most likely to raise a high holy fuss about this wouldn't be caught dead in a TLM, anyway.

In the manner of Fr. Z's outstanding blog, let's take a look at the prayer in question. Many thanks go out to Baronius Press, who published the Summorum Pontificum edition of the 1962 Missale Romanum. It's an outstanding offering, and really a great service to the Church.

"Oremus et pro Iudaeis: ut Deus et Dominus noster auferat velamen de cordibus eorum; ut et ipsi agnoscant Iesum Christum Dominum nostrum.

Flectamus genua.

Omnipotens et sempiterne Deus, qui etiam Iudaeos a tua misericordia non repellis: exaudi preces nostras, quas pro illius populi obcaecatione deferimus; ut, agnita veritatis tuae luce, quae Christus est, a suis tenebris eruantur. Per eundem... Amen.."

Let us pray also for the Jews: that the Lord our God might remove the veil from their hearts, so that they too might acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ.

Let us pray.
Let us kneel.

Almighty and eternal God, who even repels not the Jews from your mercy: hear our prayers, which we offer on behalf of the blindness of that people; so that with the light of your truth, which is Christ, having been acknolwedged, they might be rescued from their darkness.

And here are the changes put forth by His Holiness B16:

Oremus et pro Iudaeis. Ut Deus et Dominus noster illuminet corda eorum, ut agnoscant Iesum Christum salvatorem omnium hominum.

Flectamus genua.

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui vis ut omnes homines salvi fiant et ad agnitionem veritatis veniant, concede propitius, ut plenitudine gentium in Ecclesiam Tuam intrante omnis Israel salvus fiat. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.

My rough translation:

"Let us pray also for the Jews, that the Lord our God may illumine their hearts, so that they might acknowledge Jesus Christ, the Savior of all men.

Let us pray.
Let us kneel.

Almighty and ever-living God, who desires that all men might be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, give pardon propitiously, so that through the fullness of peoples entering into Your Church, all Israel might be saved. Through Christ our Lord. Amen."

There are a few subtle differences of note: in the first prayer, God is asked to remove the veil from the hearts of the Jews, whereas in the newer prayer, God is asked to illumine their hearts. There is a perceptible change: the removal of a veil does not necessarily connote the granting of light. So there's one slight shift of focus there.

The next major section of difference comes in the appositive phrase following "Omnipotens... Deus"; in the first prayer, we have "who even repels not the Jews from your mercy", and in the second "who desires that all men might be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth". Again, there is a subtle shift in the focus of the prayer, and in the second we see now a decreased emphasis on the Jews themselves in the prayer. It is difficult to see what exactly would be so offensive in the first prayer, wherein the emphasis on "etiam" would be important. "Who repels not even the Jews" might ruffle a few feathers, with the attendant connotation that those Jews are such a distasteful bunch. But Latin doesn't fit that neatly into modern English. Etiam is placed with qui, which would lead me to think that it modifies qui, God, more than it does "Iudaeos".

The reference to blindness in the Missale Romanum is itself eminently defensible. This is, after all, a prayer said in a Christian church. And it would not be much of a stretch to imagine that the Church would hold that those who do not confess Jesus Christ are spiritually blind. (Cf. Amazing Grace "was blind but now I see") I daresay that, in worshipping one whom they consider to be a false Messiah, the Jews would tend to think that Christians are similarly "blind". Bound up with this notion of "blindness" is "darkness" (suis tenebris). Once again, context is key here. Darkness need not mean the darkness of Hell (though it may lead there). In the case of this prayer, this darkness is to be understood in the spiritual sense, in the same sense as the blindness referenced above. We are told "the people in darkness have seen a great light", and it is this light, Christ, which dispels darkness/blindness. So again I can't see where "darkness" need be portrayed as insulting when predicated of the Jews. They don't have the faith, and so they are not illumined by it.

These notions of darkness, blindness, and light, however, are left out from the revision, somewhat sadly. What we have in the revised prayer is "plenitudo gentium", the fullness of peoples. This seems to be a nod towards ecumenism and "diversity"; but fear not! these things are qualified in an important way. Not only do we have "plenitudine gentium", but also "in Ecclesiam Tuam intrante"- i.e., entering into your Church. So the Church is still portrayed as the conduit of salvation, if less explicitly.

On the whole, it does not seem that there is a particularly great deal with which to get upset in the 1962 prayer. Nor is there anything objectionable in Pope Benedict's revision. What I will say of it, with all due respect and love towards our good and Supreme Pontiff, is that it is not as good a prayer as the original. The idea in the older prayer form a much more unified and beautiful symbolic picture of conversion and salvation: the removing of a veil, the taking away of darkness, the illumination of the soul through Christ, the light of faith. It need hardly be said that the concepts in those words are also more Scripturally grounded and in fact resonate better with the spiritual heritage of the Jews.

But His Holiness is a wiser man than I.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Fear not- I have returned

After a long hiatus, I'm back to posting on here again. Now that I've started classes again, I needed some other way to procrastinate.

I was surprised to find that a situation very near to home had attracted some attention from the wider community of American Catholics. (Look Ma!!) The Closed Cafeteria kindly linked to the Newsday article on the matter.


Deputies remove protesters from Catholic church slated to close

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Deputies had to remove a group of parishioners from an upstate New York Roman Catholic church where they had been holding a vigil for the past seven months to protest the church's closing.

The Syracuse Roman Catholic Diocese last spring identified St. Mary's Church in Jamesville as one of 40 churches it planned to close in a massive diocesan restructuring driven by a decline in the number of clergy and demographic shifts from urban to suburban areas.

Restructuring, unfortunately, is just part of the landscape these days. In some areas, such as the diocese of Syracuse, demographic shifts only exacerbate the problem. St. Mary's isn't particularly far away from the city or its larger suburbs. If the population had continued to grow and spread out through to the present day, this might not have been an issue. But it seems that the growth of the Syracuse area was over-estimated; things didn't work out that way. More and more jobs continue to leave the area, and opportunities for businesses just aren't there.

But St. Mary's parishioners vowed to fight the closing.

Parishioners appealed to the Vatican, as did two other Syracuse area churches. The groups said they were not included in the decision-making process and the closings deprived them of a vibrant faith community.

The Vatican appeal was not an enterprise directed towards success. The canonical forms and procedures had been followed with all propriety during the whole process, both by His Excellency Bishop Moynihan and by Msgr. Yeazel of Holy Cross, who is pastor there and administered St. Mary's before the closing. The Holy See would not reverse the decision of the ordinary in matters like this. The best analogy to be found would be in the chain of command. In addition, the vast majority of the parishoners of St. Mary's came over to Holy Cross or other local churches without undue protest. Naturally, they were sad to have left their church, and who wouldn't be? I'm sure a great many of them, like anyone else, would have asked tacitly or flat out "Couldn't you have closed someone else's church?" So far as it goes, that is a natural reaction to the situation. But in the end, their priorities were in order. The Church is a whole lot bigger than a church.

Since July, about 100 volunteers have taken turns staying in the church, maintaining a 24-hour presence. The group recited the rosary together regularly.

Syracuse Bishop James Moynihan made it clear to the group that their round-the-clock vigil was unauthorized, but he allowed it to continue until Wednesday. Moynihan said he was prompted to take action after recently learning that someone had brought Communion to the church and the group was holding prayer services there.

"It crossed the line," said Monsignor Robert Yeazel, the former pastor of St. Mary who now serves at Holy Cross Church. "The bishop ordered it closed. It's time."

The small group at the church Wednesday left without resistance. Moynihan and Yeazel accompanied the deputies.

I had heard differing numbers for the vigil-holders, but never as much as 100. I know for a fact that there was only a very small number from St. Mary's participating in it, so this leaves a few interesting questions. Where did these other people come from? Why were they there? Well, I suppose I shan't be able to find out now. But here's the reason I ask: a few of the leaders of this vigil and the whole protest in general were noted anti-clerical types. When listening sessions were held by the Holy Cross priests, when planning the new church at HC and also discussing the future of St. Mary's, these fellows were heard saying all kinds of lovely things about how priests really work. If there's anyone still reading this, I'm sure they know the sort.

The communion part is also interesting. I had heard it mentioned, though not confirmed, that the people still staying in the church were not attending Mass, as a priest was obviously no longer at St. Mary's. This really throws the problem of the vigil into sharp relief: if you refuse to participate in the Sacraments over the closing of a building, there's a problem. Yes, we've said already that the closing of a church is not a pleasant affair for anyone. But participation in the Sacraments and the Liturgy is the cornerstone of Catholic life. As St. Benedict said, "Nothing is to be preferred to the work of God" (though he was referring to the Officium Divinum, the principle still stands)

The final comment, about this situation turning people away from the Church is the frustrating one. Given all the Church teaches about salvation, how it is attained, what one must do to be in a right relationship with God and mankind, what one's duties are as a Christian, it seems downright foolish to place such a high value on a building. Simply put, it isn't worth your immortal soul. To be turned away from the promises of life everlasting and the beatific vision over an ephemeral event such as this demonstrates a certain lack of faith which I think is problematic if extant in the wider Catholic population.

Anywho, that's my two cents on the matter.