Words to remember

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

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Quid novi in campo

Upon taking my leave from my Traditional China course this afternoon, I happened to walk by the College Green, and saw two people holding aloft large placards, bearing a message regarding the need of homosexuals to be saved by Jesus Christ. Some sort of website was included which would, evidently further this goal. Now I was unaware that Jesus Christ had a website, but I suppose I shouldn't underestimate the considerable talents of St. Isidore of Seville, the (proposed) Patron Saint of the Internet, and also the implied patron of all things awesome, interesting, really cool (read: nerdy). That's him on the left.

I didn't stay to see what the fellow's platform would entail (I was eager to pick up my package at the post office, containing Dom Alcuin Reid's The Organic Development of the Liturgy and Neuner and Dupuis' The Christian Faith in the Documents of the Catholic Church). Needless to say, I agree with his position, so far as it goes. We are, after all, sinners in need of God's grace, and should He mark our guilt, none could stand. The Church has very good, very wise teachings on this point. Singling out one group for chastisement isn't something we should be condoning, though. It also is the sort of thing that necessitates a rapid departure, followed by an unruly crowd of people possibly intending to do you grievous bodily harm. Moreover, the point is that, if this is to be seen as an evangelistic attempt, it was a poor one.

The distressing thing, though, is the talk that surrounded the episode afterward. Evidently, the fellow came off much the worse for wear after a failed debate with a science major and a philosophy major. It is something he should've prepared for, even if it wasn't particularly sporting of those gentlemen to engage him so. It also harms any sort of reasonable case that a Christian can make in the public sphere. It becomes that much harder for a Christian to speak about what is written in Holy Scripture, and what the Church or churches teach, and be listened to.

And then every grievance is pulled out from its closet with respect to Christianity (of which one man is now apparently an acceptably large sample): the usual gauntlet of "They actually believe this stuff [the Bible]?" and "They're just afraid of Hell." and "It's a lot smarter to believe we evolved from monkeys than that some Jewish guy rose from the dead two thousand years ago." and things of that nature. Tolerance, of course, is a very empty word these days. And I think such statements are the unguarded speech of a group of people who clearly feel secure in numbers, and have gotten careless about keeping up the façade.

As of this afternoon, an e-mail was sent out regarding the incident, strongly condemning it and reiterating the campus' philosophy of tolerance, &c. Not entirely unpredictable; but is it necessary? I think it was reasonably clear that this wasn't a campus-sanctioned event, and that the admins and faculty had no particular interest in the fellow. Why try to diffuse something like this? And while I think such an e-mail is largely unnecessary, if it is felt that it should be sent out, why isn't there a reminder that not everyone thinks like this man, and that there can be legitimate disagreement over such an issue? Or is the campus indeed endorsing the notion that to call homosexual acts a sin is 'hateful'? That sort of token tolerance is something that needs to be curtailed, as it is generally only monodirectionally tolerant.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Feast of Ss. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, Archangels

This is an important feast to me, as I took Michael for my confirmation name. The angels and archangels are our protectors and defenders, as well as the messengers of God to us. Indeed, it was the Archangel Gabriel who announced to Mary the greatest news ever told to man, who cried unto Zion "that her warfare was accomplished". I'll focus here on the Archangels Gabriel and Michael, as they are the best known and most widely revered archangels.

Angelology is an interesting, if somewhat obscure branch of Christian (and Jewish) tradition and thought, with some particularly important figures contributing to it. Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite is said to have been the author of De Coelesti Hierarcheia, which divided the angels into 3 choirs, of spheres, the First corresponding to the Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones, the Second to the Authorities, Lordships, and Powers, and the Third to Principalities, Archangels, and Angels. St. Thomas Aquinas preserves this system, but replaces Authorities with Dominions, and Lordships with Virtues. St. Gregory the Great and St. Isidore of Seville in his Etymologiae also maintain such an organization, with a few of the members being switched.

St. Gabriel, as has been mentioned, was the Herald of God. He announced the birth of Christ to Mary, and is also held in traditional piety to be the unnamed angel in Revelation who sounds the final trumpet, ushering in the Last Judgment. The Annunciation is a favorite subject in iconography, and particularly Marian iconography.

St. Michael is almost always depicted in martial regalia, and is the Protector of Israel, and so the Defender of the Church. Because of this, he was revered greatly by military orders during the Middle Ages, and is always associated with knights, chivalry, feats of arms, and deeds of honor. He is held by tradition, drawing mainly from Talmudic sources, to have been the angel who cast Satan out of Heaven, in some tellings even wounding him in single combat. While I'm usually not one for modern art or architecture, the representation of this story on the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral isn't half bad:

This is the story Milton relates in Paradise Lost, as Michael hurls Satan into the abyss, with a sword frequently depicted as being made of fire. A good example of this is found in Kiev:
Pretty cool, huh? The Russians are particularly fond of Michael as regards iconography. There was a fascinating piece I saw in an exhibit about the Hermitage Museum, I think it was, in which St. Michael was genuflecting before Christ crucified, with one hand raised up towards Him. Really spectacular. The Muscovite princes after Daniel were particularly devoted to St. Michael, and so there was a royal aspect to his patronage as well.

Evidently, one of the debates surrounding St. Michael is where he falls in the celestial hierarchy. This is sort of an unimportant point, and tends towards speculation, but I'm always happy to go off on an antiquarian and obscure-knowledge bent, and perhaps a little eager that the Defender of the Church (and my patron, :D) be pretty high up in the pecking order. We, the Church, perhaps, and I, assuredly, need all the help we can get. St. Thomas in the Summa Theologica places him as the prince of the choir of angels, the ones closest to man. This works out well, as St. Michael's actions with respect to man are pretty direct, second only perhaps to St. Gabriel's. St. Bonaventure places him as the Prince of the Seraphim, the highest choir of angels, who attend and guard God's sacred throne. This also has a case, as Satan is said to have been the brightest in the sky before his fall (hence, Lucifer), and this would seem to indicate that he was a seraph. His supreme enemy, St. Michael, would likely have come from the same choir. The Greek Fathers were fond of placing him over all the angels, taking the title of "the Archangel" to be just that: The Archangel, the one placed over all. That works, too. It's something we won't ever know on this side of the veil, and it wouldn't make much of a difference if we did, but it's an interesting thing to think about. And his name is, in a sense, the battle cry of Heaven- Quis ut Deus? Who is like God? Both adoration and challenge.

But why, then, this fuss about angels? It all seems kinda sci-fi, doesn't it? I mean, it's almost like a Star Wars-ish sort of story that's being told here. Well, that's quite true, and to many degrees a story like Star Wars can succeed because it feeds into common cultural motifs, elements, what-have-you that such legends and stories regarding the angels and their deeds have both maintained and expanded. I think that as we've developed, our capacity for stories is gradually circumscribed. Maybe we've started to feel a little embarrassed by that sort of thing. If I were to recount such a tale as the above to a cynical friend, I'm sure they'd guffaw and snort "You actually believe that??!" And I might sniffle a little bit and cry myself to sleep. But as far as the story goes, I doubt the cynic could come up with so good a tale. That should be observed first: if, indeed, the whole Bible was a series of tall tales, it must be said that they're awfully good ones. Second, it should be pointed out that we do, in fact, believe some of it, like Gabriel's role in the Annunciation or Michael's protectorship of Israel and the Church. Much of the rest has been piously believed, but not formally sanctioned. Much of what has arisen is in large part, explicative: it represents an attempt to understand something via a creative process.
And what's so wrong with that? This is an example of one of the ways in which we differ from other creatures: in our capacity for art. It's also an acknowledgment of the ways in which people approach salvation history. Sound theology and accurate disputation are critical to the faith; but what we seem to have gotten away from is seeing theology and theological questions as being based in Holy Scripture. At the time of Ss. Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas, the study of Holy Writ and theology meant one and the same thing. The 'story' of mankind's creation, temptation, fall, and redemption was already a painted canvas, whose details they were keen to resolve. And as I always do, I feel it wise to bring up something Chesterton observed: such stories are rarely understood well by one who claims to be on the outside of them, or somehow "beyond" them. We have to have some anchor in all that we discuss, or we're just spinning our wheels using a rational methodology ad infinitum. There must be grist for the natural wheel. And at the same time, there must be art, which lifts the human soul, the will and the intellect, up to a different level.

Sancte Michæle Archangele, defende nos in prœlio
Contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto præsidium.
Imperat illi Deus; supplices deprecamur:
Tuque, Princeps Militiæ Cœlestis,
Satanam aliosque spiritus malignos,
Qui ad perditionem animarum pervagantur in mundo,
Divina virtute in infernum detrude.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

De Veris Libris

It was pointed out to me yesterday that I have an apparent prejudice against paperback books. Currently sitting on my desk are 20 hardcovers, compared to only 6 paperbacks. A rather strong indication of bias, I must admit. I should state, for the record, that I do not hate or dislike paperbacks; why, some of the best books I've read have been paperbacks. But it must be stated that hardcovers are really the only true books we possess today. I organize my thoughts below not by chronology, but in terms of the quality of the material.

Papyri and scrolls are wonderful and elegant, but they're not meant to be read in the way we read. To have a papyrus of our modern book length would make the scroll far too unwieldy and large to be used effectively. And this is likely why they fell out of use to begin with. The codex is a much easier thing to operate. The preservation of the book is also much simpler in codex form, with the rolling of the papyrus being frequently quite deleterious to the text and the writing surface. For official proclamations, a scroll retains its character, but on the whole, I am not unhappy that it is confined to a few ceremonial functions.

Paperbacks are an improvement on this. They follow the codex form, and so can be read with any amount of necessary or desired pauses over a long period of time while still enabling one to find one's place relatively easily. They rest easily next to each on shelves, and can be stored better. One way in which I prefer them to hardcovers is that they are significantly more expendable. I feel no qualms about taking a paperback novel to the beach and risking its ruin, as the cost is generally less onerous. Furthermore, they can take a lot more punishment without losing their character. A paperback is still pretty much the same thing when folded in half and creased mightily; but a hardcover does not have this luxury.

But the hardcover stands alone today as the 'true book'. In form, it is ancient and venerable, taking its fabrication from the earliest days of the Middle Ages. Indeed, the techniques used in its assembly have changed little, even if the materials and technology has. Their board covers grants them both a respectability and seriousness which more flashy paper covers lack; it also establishes a greater permanence and better chance of longer preservation. This also individuates books much more. The texture and feel of one paperback is much the same as every other; usually a glossy cover, regular, predictable, unchanging. You know instantly that there are millions of other editions exactly like it in every detail, and you are saddened. This is not the end product of a human endeavor, but the output of a mechanical process. Not so with a hard cover. You know instantly that some man made this, as much as a smith works iron or a carpenter makes furniture. Each volume is seemingly unique, its texture subtly different than any others. The woven board covers take on different hues and characters as they age, so that no two editions would look quite the same after a number of years. And if leather, ah! From the very beginning they are unique. The cover could be smooth, or rough, or porous, or hard, and the colors could vary even within the cover itself.

I have also noted a marked difference in the paper used in hardcover books. Perhaps this is not quite so pronounced as the difference in covers. It is also a greater factor when dealing with books printed at different times. But it can still run the gamut from an almost glossy, thin sheet to a heavy, spongy, almost leathery one. And this also gives them a unique odor, so welcoming and timeless. A library or bookseller really is a sensory experience (excepting perhaps taste).

This being said, I shall now return to my hardcover for the rest of the afternoon.

Friday, September 26, 2008

An observation

One of the things I have been trying to do lately (if highly unsuccessfully) is to simply ignore politics. Don't get me wrong, I'll always retain my interest in them, and I think this election is an important one. I'm just to the point where getting worked up about isn't going to do anyone any good. I think Obama's a twit, and would take us in a completely wrong direction if elected (that is, if he takes us in any direction at all), and his running mate is a political liability to him. I've never been fond of McCain as a Presidential candidate, even if he is the best option at the moment. He also is a true American hero, and while I find some of his political moves disappointing, he's a braver and better man than I. Sarah Palin is an interesting addition, but she's being hamstrung by the pretty base attacks coming at her from just about every corner. At this point, Republican and Conservative leaders need to keep their lips more guarded regarding their VP candidate. We can disagree about her qualifications and aptitude for the position, but let's not do so in front of our enemies. A united front is important, and we have to keep in mind the big picture: Is having Sarah Palin in the second chair less palatable than having Barack Obama call the shots? Then let's not get caught having an internal meltdown for every hack in the mainstream media to wave before the people 24/7.

One of the amusing things I observed, however, was in walking about campus having my pipe this evening. A dangerous idea; a Friday night, after a Presidential debate in Geneseo. Not only is the place swarming with liberals, but whatever inhibitions they might have had regarding airing their political views have been removed. The canard that Palin is anti-woman was trotted out in front of me; upon asking whether or not it could be truly said that a woman is anti-woman, and whether or not the category 'woman' was wide enough to permit a conservative point of view, I was told I was really arrogant and needed to wake up and, oh Christ, I dunno, go to a Womyn's Action Coalition meeting or some such tripe. Kill me. Please.

The observation that I made in all of this, though, is this: It really seems that the liberally minded don't know when to stop. On this campus, it's not as if they're a minority. They're not being repressed in any way around here. Insofar as much of what they say is the Obama party line, none of it is particularly thought-provoking or original. And yet they can't help themselves. I can count on one hand the number of times I have self-identified as a conservative here on campus. I don't bring up politics myself; music, literature, philosophy, religion, soccer, pre-contemporary art, architecture, history, these things are the topics I discuss when I get to call the shots. But it seems that from my opposite numbers on the Left, there is a never-ending stream of political commentary constantly ebulliating from a seemingly bottomless abyss of 'social/class consciousness'. It would never occur to me to begin a conversation at random with "Oh my God, can you believe what Obama did?" in a situation in which this would not be a logical matter of business or concern.

Oi. Rant off. I've had enough of this. I need a retreat.

Post scriptum: I do notice the irony that my recent posts have been preoccupied with politics.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

In other news, the sky is still supsended, miraculously...

When I woke up this morning, evidently there was still an economy. So that's good.

In all seriousness, though, this whole "economic crisis" thing is trying; for one, trying to get information about the entire mess is almost completely futile. You're provided with several different personal analyses of what went wrong and who went and done wronged it, habitually followed by a political platitude ("If only those Republicans/Democrats hadn't gone and X, &c. ad infinitum).

I say, "If only the whole bloody lot of you stopped messing with things which are far more complex than you had the brains or patience for! Don't go fiddling with the economy based on abstractions, however lovely they might look on paper! Govern best by governing least." This is not to argue that principle should not be taken into account when assessing issues of legality and proper economic activity, but rather to cry out against the work of theorists, con-men, and witch doctors who promise economic miracles, "if only you accept this completely absurd and outrageously reductionist idea."

There. Enough on that.

Evidently, the Archbishop of Canterbury has gone and gotten himself into hot water again. Poor fellow, and this time I actually agreed with him! It seems to be just his luck that the one time he does something right, 2/3 of his bishops round and beat him about the head and shoulders. Evidently, going to Lourdes and preaching there did not quite sit well with the Protestant elements in the flailing Church of England.

What I really didn't get was the one statement by a Jeremy Brooks, who claimed that the whole sermon was a denial of Protestant orthodoxy. 1) I didn't know the CoE even had such a thing. 2) He mentioned in this context the untenability of referring to Mary as 'the Mother of God'. Now, I'm not as up on Protestant theology as I ought to be, but when the heck did they outright deny the Theotokos? I mean, what else can we call her? Have they gone Nestorian or something, and I missed the memo? I mean, yes, it is a Cath-o-lick sort of thing to say, but what does Protestant orthodoxy consist of, that it evidently accepts wholesale the tenets of a thousand year old heresy? Very confusing.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Really wishing I had a camera here

Today was one of those inimitable Geneseo days. Cool, clear, crisp; the sky was like burnished steel, and the land all around was still a lively green. I love days like this. Poised at the edge of fall, with the first leaves starting to turn, and the smell of a wood fire drifting over the breeze.

It was a well-spent afternoon; I walked around the Arboretum for a bit, and then out into the country some more, said a Rosary, walked some more, and came back to get ready for Mass in the evening.

Another angle on Gov. Palin

Well, the campaign has been going pretty much as one might expect. Pretty brutally. Which is a sure indication that the Obama camp is worried, which is good. The attacks made on Sen. McCain's VP pick aren't rational, or polite, or even particularly relevant; they're throwing up a whole lot of excrement and hoping some of it will stick. Only, no one ever told them that flinging poo around could leave you with more of an "image problem" than your target. And such has happened in this case.

The qualification issue is one of the funnier, more surreal aspects of this election. How many times have we seen news anchors put on their "Tough Talk" face, look at their guest with a scrutinizing expression, and ask "Is Sarah Palin qualified to become President should John McCain become incapacitated? Is she ready to assume that office on Day One if necessary?" And then in their free time, they'll extol the virtues of Barack Obama. Because, you know, he's so experienced. An idiotic move, that.

As I was musing over coffee this morning, though, there was another facet to a McCain-Palin ticket that I hadn't considered before. Usually, I'm not at all fond of the "populist" rhetoric that insists our representatives "be like us" or "be one of us". If there is an advantage to having your next-door neighbor in office, it is not that they are "like you" but rather that they have a much more direct knowledge of your interests and can represent them better in the body politic. But in American politics, in many cases, it's the person who can convince you they're more like you that gets your vote. This tends towards identity politics, but that's how these things work, sadly. Gov. Palin makes this a bit more interesting, though.

In many ways, she's got much more of a pedigree as an American woman than most of her opposite numbers on the Left side of the aisle. Yes, I know this'd get any feminist shrieking mad, but consider: Sarah Palin has 5 children. Soccer mom, right? Or even just a mom, whichever you prefer. It could be convincingly argued that her duties as a mother would or should prevent her from wielding executive power. But at the same time, if you're going for the ticket that looks "more like you", McCain/Palin comes out on top. Same for the gun-toting part. Most Americans enjoy firearms, and use them in some way or other. How many times has the "Hunting Trip Photo Op" became standard campaign fare? But under these circumstances, it's not something that needs to be fabricated or choreographed. By the time you as a campaign strategist have said, "OK, Mrs. Palin, we're going to have you go on a hunt toda-" she's come back, already having bagged a grizzly bear, three deer, a covey of quail, and an obnoxious MSM anchor who crossed her, cleaned them, and fixed 'em up nice for supper. So even for a died-in-the-wool elitist Ciceronian snob like me, this is kind of a hoot. And I suppose on some level, it doesn't even need to stem from a misguided faux-populism; really, it's simply refreshing to see a figure in American electoral politics who is genuine, who has some identity other than what expediency and polls dictate.

In other news, the Blood of St. Ianuarius has liquefied. It's an interesting event, and one of evidently considerable civic importance. to Naples. From what I've been told by friends who have visited the city, it could use a miracle at the moment. Drug usage is pretty widespread, and there was a whole huge debacle with public sanitation and trash. Neapolis sounded more like it might end up Necropolis. This does raise some important questions about miracles, popular piety, superstition, and other such topics, but that's for another day.

Another interesting topic is the issue of the Church and Darwin. John Allen of NCR has a good article up here. One of the things I cringed at was this: "I want to affirm, as an a priori, the compatibility of the theory of evolution with the message of the Bible and the church's theology." I'd be very reticent to categorize such a thing as a priori. That they can both speak well to their respective audiences I will grant, but this does not make them compatible. And while that case might have been easier to make if we were just dealing with Darwin (who was after all, trained as a theologian, and therefore wouldn't be so woefully inept at speaking our lingo), as far as the modern presentation of evolution is concerned, this seems a little bit like embracing a porcupine to say you're cool with nature.

The Church should interact with scientific knowledge, sure. At many times in history, we've been at its vanguard. But the position with respect to evolution needs to be an intelligent one. As it stands at the moment, the modern advocates of evolution hold to the theory with near-religious conviction. As a consequence, a series of other dogmatic "truths" have accreted to evolutionary theory, producing an ideology which is usually bought and sold wholesale. While it is lovely that we as a Church always strive to find "both/and" solutions to "either/or" problems, it would be a tactical mistake to think that everyone on the other side of the fence is doing the same. Too often, it is presented by scientists as a zero-sum game. We need to take this into account when formulating our position. Does biological evolution occur? That we can debate. Does it disprove God, Genesis, et al.? Absolutely not. And we can't hem and haw over it, either. We have to be firm on it. Too many times, people of faith are bullied into accepting a given proposition by accusations of a "hostility to science, a medieval mindset, an Inquisitorial streak, a primitive understanding" etc. It's time to stop getting shoved around. I'd also point out that for all its evident truth and usefulness as a scientific theory, evolution will remain only that. Its undeniability and predictive power are held up as proof positive that it might as well be a fact. I disagree. The same thing was thought of Euclidean geometry not too long ago, or Newtonian physics. Advances in the scientific tools of observation always bring about advancements or developments in scientific processes and thinking, and there's no reason to think that evolution will not find that it needs to be seriously qualified at some point in the future to remain tenable. That's how real science works. So let's not get too tied to the conventional wisdom regarding "scientific theories" as near-factual, doctrinal statements. They told Schliemann he was an idiot to look for Troy at Hissarlik, too.

Monday, September 15, 2008


So we had quite the interesting bit of weather roll through last night. Evidently, we were being hit by the meteorological disturbances that Ike caused as it made its way up towards Canada. This meant some of the highest winds I've yet seen in Geneseo, which is saying something. Surprisingly, though, there didn't seem to be too much damage; no large tree limbs down, no road signs torn off posts, &c. But the power did get knocked out, and stayed out until ca. 4:30 in the morning. This was, naturally, an occasion for campus to go crazy, with people running around in the dark, waving glow sticks (who the heck brings 200+ glow sticks to college with him??) and, at some point, following around a small tree branch held aloft like a banner at a marathon, uttering a quasi-pagan chant thing.

Post scriptum: I did indeed stand outside my rooms, yelling "Io, Arboralia!" at the revelers.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I suspected as much

Rorate Cæli kindly posted a statement by Pope Benedict regarding Summorum Pontificum in France. I knew there would be more to hear about the implementation of the motu proprio in la belle France. Voyez.

"I comprehend your difficulties, but I do not doubt that you will be able to reach, within reasonable time, solutions which are satisfactory to all, so that the seamless robe of Christ is not torn anymore. No one is excessive within the Church. Everyone, without exception, must be able to feel at home, and never rejected. God, who loves all men and wills that no one be lost, entrusts us with this mission of Pastors, making us Shepherds of His sheep. We can only give Him thanks for the honor and the confidence He places upon us. Let us endeavor to always be servants of unity."

fter the more conciliatory statement a few days ago, this seems much more to represent a reminder to the French episcopacy of the way things ought to be. Subtly done, though. I wonder to what degree it would be effective. The current make-up of the French ecclesiastical hierarchy is such that it's not going to respond easily to the motu proprio.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Bella Liturgica cont.

So the Liturgy Wars are still raging. His Holiness' Apostolic visit to France was the setting for a question on the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum and the r eaction to it by the faithful. Fr. Z. has the story on it here. More directly, the text of the question and the Holy Father's answer to it are kindly provided by Le Forum Catholique ici. My translation:
Q: What do you say to those in France who fear that the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum marks a return to the past, a turn away from the great intentions of the Second Vatican Council?
His Holiness' Answer: This is an unfounded fear, because this motu proprio is simply an act of tolerance, with a pastoral goal, for those who have been formed in this liturgy, who love it, who know it, and who want to live with this liturgy. This is a small group because it presupposes a formation in Latin, a formation in a certain culture. But it seems to me that this is a normal demand of faith and of pastoral care for a bishop of our Church to have love and tolerance for these persons and to permit them to live with this liturgy. There is no opposition between the liturgy /renewed/ newly made, peut-être?- by the Second Vatican Council and this liturgy. Each day the conciliar fathers celebrated Mass according to the Usus Antiquior and, at the same time, they conceived of a natural development for the liturgy in this century, for the liturgy is a living reality which develops and conserves in this development its identity. There are certainly different accents /features?/ but at the same time a fundamental identity which excludes a contradiction, an opposition between the new liturgy and the old. I think at the same time that there is a possibility for enrichment of both parties. On one hand, the friends of the Usus Antiquior can and must recognize the new saints, the new prefaces of the liturgy etc. On the other hand, the new liturgy highlights /underlines/ more the communal participation, but yet it is not only the assembly of one community but an action of the universal Church, in communion with all the faithful of every age, an act of adoration. In this sense, it seems to me that there is a reciprocal enrichment, and it is clear that the new liturgy is the ordinary liturgy of our time."

Okay, so what does this mean? A few initial observations: the Holy Father is not telling us anything we didn't already know. As much as we might not like to hear it (and as much as some relish to hear it), the friends of the UA or EF or TLM are comparatively small in number. It stings a little to hear it, sure, but the truth does that. Is the Pope belitting that number? No; it's no insult to say that a small group is small. It's also a bit of a needed wake-up call; we love reading stories about how the crowds at a TLM are almost too big for a given church, or that young people are coming to them in increasing numbers. While these are certainly positive developments, they are tentative ones. And at the same time, it should be kept in mind that while His Holiness does appreciate much of what the TLM has to offer, he has made it quite clear that the Novus Ordo is the ordinary form of the Mass, and that it is there that the efforts for liturgical renewal must be concentrated.

It's important to keep in mind the audience Pope Benedict wanted to reach with his response. The French episcopate was riled by Summorum Pontificum. And as much as it may be nice to see some of their more liberal and banal tendencies curbed by the Vicar of Christ, it would be very poor form and indeed poor leadership to infuriate the people working under him. At the same time, he uses language they like: tolerance, toleration, etc. In a sense, he's calling them to account for the principles they tout. Is it truly tolerant to deny people access to the UA? If it is under no canonical disability, why should it be locked away from the faithful? So even while the language is conciliatory, it could also be seen as a subtle challenge.

Out here in the blogosphere, there seems to be a little concern that the Holy Father is rolling back his support for the EF a bit, or trying to distance himself from it. I don't think that's what we're seeing here. We've seen much progress and many hopeful signs for the liturgy in this pontificate, and God willing, we will be permitted to see many more. Rather, what His Holiness seems to be doing is reminding the French bishops and faithful of some important points revolving around the liturgy, its historical forms, and the right relationship between Christian men of good will as it relates to these issues. And at the same time, he is reminding us supporters of the Usus Antiquior of just where the UA stands, and what his liturgical goals really are.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Ah, you've gotta laugh. Or you'd cry.

So I picked up the school newspaper on my way back from class this afternoon, and perused a few of the editorials which might have been of interest. One was a little piece about voting machines, complete with an implicit conspiracy theory that (you guessed it) there was some dastardly plan by the CEO of the company that makes the blasted thing to deliver more votes to George W. Bush. Of course, one would then need to ask why this CEO was not only crooked, but lazy. After all, if you're going to deliver your man a victory, it would be a much wiser policy to make it a victory by a wider margin. But no! the theorists protest, it had to be done this way, otherwise it would've been easier to smell a rat. The fact that the results were so close, far from indicating that the democratic process was carried out, merely point to a deeper, darker plot to steal the election from an apparently unbeatable candidate, but accomplished by the smallest of margins just to keep everyone happy. What did Chesterton say about these people? But that's politics. On to more important matters.

The other issue concerned decency. Evidently, one fine representative of SUNY Geneseo's English department is miffed that obscene speech or any sort of public obscenity should be curtailed. His argument ran something along the lines that, because obscenity is so prevalent on campus, it should not be censored or circumscribed, because (evidently) prevalence indicates an acceptance of a given behavior. My own sense is that, if you can't exercise your free speech without dropping an f-bomb, you should manifestly exercise this right far less frequently, and that perhaps a better option for all concerned would be to gag such individuals with a sock. They can still rant and cuss all they want, but the sound is muffled so more intelligent and professional folk don't have to endure them. Is this sort of speech what the Founding Fathers wanted? That's doubtful. Somehow, I can't imagine any of them, even the ones touted by modern liberals, being particularly keen on the idea that a loud, obnoxious, boisterous, and insolent ruffian should be given a bully pulpit. Here, again, though, are seen two opposing views of freedom, a conflict central to the direction our society is going: Some see freedom as doing whatever you want. Others see freedom as being able to do what you ought.

Why was free speech so protected in the Bill of Rights? Was the intent really to bestow some sort of benefice on everyone to make themselves as annoying as possible to as many people as possible? No. The framers of the Constitution hated demagogues. As should we all. What, then, was the purpose of safeguarding this right? It seems much more likely that such was intended to protect the right of those who were compelled by their conscience to speak about an issue. If your government should fail to secure your interests, then you have the right to make this known. This is an altogether different (and truer) casting of freedom. It was a means of protecting the people from the encroachment of innovatory government, rather than a grant of license to behave like braying jackasses.

Sadly, though, the view of freedom as license is gaining more popularity. The problem with such a view, however, is where it ends up. When everyone is permitted to do as they want, it won't be a free-for-all for very long. Very soon, the ones who are heard are the loudest, the ones who are heeded are the most coercive, the ones who rule are the strongest, and rarely the purest. The "freedom" afforded by an anarchy is the first step towards the tyranny of the brutal. People should read Hobbes more. The state of nature really isn't that much fun.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Big Topic

I hadn't taken much interest in this year's Presidential election. Truth to be told, John McCain's campaign seemed to me to be a rather lackluster affair. I find Obama entirely unpalatable, and yet singularly uninteresting. The choice of Biden as his VP also further bored me. I mean, sure it was fun ripping on him again and waiting for him to say something silly. But for someone who can't finish out a paragraph without mentioning "change" at least four times, he chooses Biden?? You can't help but look like "an agent of change" (whatever that means) next to Joe Biden. Maybe that was his idea. I dunno.

My disinterestedness changed with McCain's veep choice. All joking about her killing her food aside, Sarah Palin was something different in the campaign. A bit of an unknown quantity. She had the conservative credentials, and her policies, both official and personal, seemed to fit with that wisest system of government. The real test was in her address to the convention, which came out very well. At the same time, though, one of the most disheartening things is how ugly the campaign has gotten since. While Barack can try to cling to the moral high ground with his fingernails, his partisans clearly have no such scruples. His hounds have been unleashed, and they're out for blood.

The first indication that the gloves had come off was when the news broke about Palin's daughter's pregnancy. The initial reaction ranged from the reasonable, responsible "That was irresponsible of her, but it's very good that she's having the baby," to the doctrinaire shock, dismay, and revulsion that she would have first the temerity to get pregnant, and the sheer gall to have the child. But the most frequent phrase I heard around campus ran something like "flies in the face of conservative 'family values'" (how do you make a sneer emoticon?), or "totally shoots down any notion that conservatives have a claim on values" and other such. In what way, pray tell? I can't think of any conservative, or any Christian, who will look you in the face and tell you without a four drink minimum, that teens aren't having sex. We know. That's why we're on about this abstinence thing, by the way. Implicit in all of this was the accusation that the sins of the daughter fall upon the mother. I'd be willing to concede that, if it could be shown, that the mother either condoned her daughter having sex outside of marriage or simply didn't care. It hasn't. My own opinion is that it can't. But what it also reveals is an increasing inability of large sections of American society to think clearly and rationally about "values". I'd go back to Mao Ze-Dean's zinger a few years back that "Hypocrisy is a value [sic] practiced by the Republican Party". For any people who actually possess values, I'm willing to bet whatever's left in my bank account that "hypocrisy" doesn't make the list. Howie's ultimate goal in all of this was clear: 1) he wanted to get the word "value" in there, both to make the media take note and therefore ensure that the electorate was paying attention and 2) he wanted to insult the Republicans. What this showed, though, was a fundamental misunderstanding of what values are, nay, a complete inability to even use the concept to make an intelligent statement.
Take also, for your consideration, the massive attempt to "reach out" to "values voters", said with the sort of bewilderment one would have in talking about reaching out to ET. This at the same time when head-scratching dust-collectors like What's the Matter With Kansas? are still being pondered over by the cognoscenti. As this relates to young Ms. Palin, the problem is that these political attack dogs are equating the inability to live up to a value either with a cynical disbelief in values at all, or the invalidation of a given value. Does a value cease to be worthwhile if it is transgressed? "Thou shalt not kill" has been broken pretty regularly, but I'm willing to bet there's still some consensus on that. So while there's plenty of political mud-slinging over it, this is all symbolic of a deeper conflict within our culture. We're slowly forgetting what a value even is, or what it means.
The other really disgusting part that's becoming more and more of an issue is the response to Sarah Palin's decision to give birth to a child with Down's Syndrome. I do not think I do her a disservice to say that this action is not courageous in the sense it's being portrayed. Even with people on the right side of the aisle, it's being cast almost as a sort of selfless, ascetic renunciation to the difficulties of raising a child with a terrible affliction. I give her more credit. It was, indeed, a courageous action- but a courageous action in the sense of standing up for what is good, and true, and right, and just in a world where to do so is increasingly being seen as backwards, provincial, or ecologically harmful. I agree that those parents who have decided to give birth to children with such severe impairments are brave people- but they are brave in defending life and standing for the truth, not merely for a stoic resignation to drudgery in order to satisfy an abstract principle. And the truth be told, I've worked with children with Down's Syndrome, and met their parents. Few people love their children so fiercely, or so well. So many of these families know what a treasure God has given them, and thank Him every day for His blessing.

The most recent shock, though, was when Canada has once again proven how tribal and brutal it's become. One of their Ob.-Gyn. ghouls recently got down to worrying that Mrs. Palin's decision to give birth to her baby might actually decrease the number of abortions. We can only hope. But the chilling thing implicit in all of this is the subtle shift in the way pro-abortion folks are talking. Abortion isn't merely a "right" women have; it's almost becoming a eugenic duty. To some degree, that's always been there. But now, it's no longer just dirty historical laundry. Abortion as a means of social engineering could one day be a reality. Oh, Kirkman, you say, you're being melodramatic. Lighten up, will you? Perhaps I am. Okay, sometimes I am. Usually I am. Enough!- Now, where was I? Ah yes. It might be melodrama to say it now. When a given life is seen as a burden, and a method is prescribed for ridding society of this burden, how long before people start getting the same idea about other burdens to society? How soon before it goes from a right to be exercised to an act which is mandated by law? It's horrifying, and it's distant enough that my saying it might sound ridiculous and semiapocalyptic. But isn't this how such things always progress, incrementally? The campaign to make abortion acceptable to a larger swathe of the electorate is also pretty sizable.

So those are my musings for the moment.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


So my summer hiatus is now over. Expect more lovely, wonderful, intelligent, and eminently enjoyable posts to follow soon.