Monday, July 27, 2015

Book Review: "The Five Beasts of St. Hildegard"

I was recently contacted by Mr. Reid Turner, author of the book The Five Beasts of St. Hildegard, who graciously send me an advance copy of this excellent little work to review. Like Heralds of the Second Coming by Stephen Walford, Mr. Turner attempts to break fee of the standard eschatological tropes common in Catholic apocalyptic literature by restricting himself to a much narrower field of study. Rather than seeking to present the Church's whole teaching on the end times or exegete the Book of Revelation, he focuses in on a very specific study of the eschatological visions of St. Hildegard of Bingen.

St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), blessed with visionary experiences since childhood, was encouraged by Pope Eugenius III to record them. After ten years she produced Scivias, Latin for "Know the Ways", which includes her famous vision of five beasts. The five beasts are symbolic animals that represent five historical periods of time that Hildegard said would precede the Antichrist. Each era experiences a unique spiritual crisis intended to inflict damage on the Church in preparation for the coming of the son of perdition. 

Mr. Turner argues convincingly that the symbolism described in the vision reflects today’s world, with the first of the five eras having begun in the 1870s. He identifies the loss of the Papal States in 1870 as the eschatological key that begins the clock that ticks down to the end. Mr. Turner presents each of Hildegard's beasts and correlates them with the spiritual crises and mores of particular historical epochs, coming to the conclusion that we are currently in the middle of the fourth of five beasts. Hildegard's description of the fifth beast thus serves as a guide for what to expect in the decades ahead.

The book is very cautious; when it makes connections and inferences, it does so in a very qualified manner, respecting the limits posed by the nature of eschatological speculation. That being said, the inferences it does make are very strong and convincing. I have never investigated the beasts of Hildegard before reading Mr. Turner's book, but I found his historical interpretation of the beasts to be both historically and exegetically sound - in some cases, it was quite extraordinary how the visions of Hildegard lined up with Mr. Turner's proposed chronology.

Any student of Catholic eschatology, especially that branch which studies the private revelations of the saints, will want to check our Mr. Turner's book. It is brief - 91 pages. I read it in a single weekend. Reid Turner is no amateur, either; he has a BA in Biblical Studies from Bethel University in St. Paul and pursued graudate studies in the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, where he converted to Catholicism and was received into the Church in 1987.

I highly recommend this little book to your collection of eschatological works. And the price is right, too; at only $11.05, who can complain? You can obtain the book from Amazon

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Great Moments in Interreligious Dialogue: St. Fernando III

July 25th is the feast of Santiago Matamoros, "St. James the Moor-Slayer", the patron saint of Spain. In honor of St. James - and calling to mind a former day and time when men of God had not yet started down the desolate path of "dialogue" with Islam - we bring you this marvelous little passage from the life of St. Fernando III.

Fernando III (r. 1217-1252), King of Castile and later of Leon and Galicia, won back more territory from the Moors than any other Spanish monarch of the Reconquista. In the passage quoted below, St. Fernando is speaking to his mother, Queen Berenguera, about his desire to make war on the Moors. This decision, which St. Fernando formulated around Pentecost, 1224, Fernando said was "revealed by almighty God." This inspiration would lead to the campaign that would almost entirely conquer Andalusia from the Moors. St. Fernando told his mother:

"Most beloved mother and sweet lady: Of what benefit to me is the kingdom of Castile, which, though due to you by right, your generosity abdicated and granted to me; of what benefit to me is the most noble consort [Princess Beatrice of Swabia] brought from distant lands through your solicitude and labor and joined to me in marriage with indescribable honor; of what benefit to me is it that you anticipate my desires with maternal sweetness, and before I have fully conceived them, you bring them to most brilliant effect: if I am dulled by laziness, if the flower of my youth is fading away without fruit, if the light of royal glory, which already had begun to shine like certain rays, is being extinguished and annihilated? Behold, the time is revealed by almighty God, in which, unless I want to pretend otherwise like a weak and deficient man, I am able to serve the Lord Jesus Christ, by whom kings reign, against the enemies of the Christian faith, to the honor and glory of His name. The door is open indeed and the way is clear. Peace has been restored to us in our kingdom; discord and deadly enmities exist among the Moors; factions and quarrels have broken out anew. Christ, God and Man, is on our side; on that of the Moors , the infidel and damned apostate Muhammad. What more is there to say? Most kind mother, from whom, after God, I hold whatever I have, I beg that it may please you that I wage war against the Moors" [1].

A great moment in interreligious dialogue indeed! St. Fernando was under no illusion of how to deal with the threat of Islam. And he had greater success against the Moors than any modern democratic nation-builder. Were another great leader to arise who, like St. Fernando, was zealous for the glory of God and the kingdom of Christ, who knows what future victories God might grant?

For more on St. Fernando III, we recommend St. Fernando III: A Kingdom for Christ by James Fitzhenry, available for purchase here.

Also related: Our very non-PC Santiago Matamoros T-Shirt, available in the Cruachan Hill webstore.

Santiago Matamoros, ora pro nobis!
Sancte Fernando, ora pro nobis!

[1] Joseph F. O'Callaghan, The Latin Chronicle of the Kings of Castile (Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies: Tempe, AZ, 2002), pg. 88

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Adam Pontaby, Patron Saint of Catholic Traditionalism

Remember the classic film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers? I think the oldest of the Pontaby brothers, Adam, ought to be the patron saint of Catholic Traditionalism today.

This classic barn raising scene from the movie reminds me a lot of our current situation. Adam (in the green shirt) represents the spirit of Catholic Tradition. His brothers, in the other colored shirts, represent the contemporary Church hierarchy who are just trying their darndest to get along. The black and white gang represent the atheists, progressives, and secularists of the world. The barn that the brothers and the other gang are raising represent the edifice of the modern secular humanist establishment.

The Church, represented by the brothers, has at first bought into the lie that they must "dialogue" and "get along" with the world because they "don't want no trouble," but Adam calls them to their senses and the brothers wake up and respond appropriately. The key dialogue to watch for is at the 2:00 mark. Remember, Adam is Catholic Tradition.

"They're out to murder you! And what do you do? Apologize for livin'!"

Friday, July 17, 2015

"Not to abolish, but to fulfill"

There are few Scripture passages that elicit as much confusion as our Lord's words in the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew concerning the Law and its fulfillment by Christ. Let us review our Lord's teaching, as found in the Douay-Rheims version of the New Testament:

"Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For amen I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the law, till all be fulfilled" (Matt. 5:17-18).

Other translations will use the word "abolish" in place of destroy, but the meaning remains the same. Thus our Lord Jesus seemingly teaches that He has not overturned the Law of Moses. In fact, He seems to say that the Law shall remain in force "until heaven and earth pass away." At face value, this would suggest that the Law of Moses was permanently binding in all its rigor. Our Lord makes it explicitly clear that "not one jot or one tittle" shall pass away from the Law, "till all be fulfilled."

Confusion arises because our Lord's words seem to conflict with the constant teaching of the New Testament, which is emphatic that Christians are not under the Law of Moses and that the Law of Moses has in fact been superseded by the Gospel. For example:

" are not under the law, but under grace" (Rom. 6:14).
"You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace" (Gal. 5:4).
"Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian" (Gal. 3:23-25).
"In speaking of a new covenant, he has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear" (Heb. 8:13).

These teachings of St. Paul are fairly straightforward; the text of Hebrews 8:13, which says that the Old Covenant is "obsolete" and will "soon disappear" should be especially bookmarked by those who errantly assert that there is a permanent validity to the Old Covenant. Of course, this passage is not cited at all in the 2002 USCCB document "Reflections on Covenant and Mission."

Let us remind our readers of what exactly the Law of Moses consists of. Obviously, the Law refers to the series of commands and prohibitions given by God in the Old Testament that was to guide the life of the ancient Israelites, specifically those dictates found in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Some of these laws are ceremonial, like proscriptions for certain Feast days. Some are dietary; some concern various liturgical rituals, others concern purity. Still others dictate norms for civil society and have the character of civil law. All of these aspects of the Law center around core which is moral - the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments. The moral law gives meaning to the rest of the ceremonial laws. Some of the Law was merely provisional (the dietary law, rules for purity, etc) but the moral core of the Law abides forever because it reflects the natural law. This is a source of confusion for people; it means certain aspects of the Law of Moses are superseded by the New Testament but others are not.

This comes into play when comparing our Lord's statement that He did not come to abolish the Law to St. Paul's teaching that the Law is not obligatory. How can these passages be reconciled?

The most common approach to this is for people to simply play one passage off the others. For example, so-called "Messianic Christians" and "Messianic Jews" will tend to emphasize our Lord's words in Matthew while shrugging off St. Paul's teaching, thus asserting that the Law (or certain provisions of it) is still binding on Christians and offering various explanations to wiggle out of St. Paul's teachings. On the other hand, many Catholics will stand firm on St. Paul's teaching while scratching their head's as Jesus' words.

The answer is fairly simple, and hinges upon what it means to "fulfill" something.

Jesus notes that He did not come to earth to abolish the Law. Rather, the Law will be kept to its last jot and tittle "till all be fulfilled." This clause is critical.

Jesus says He has not come to "destroy" the Law; nothing will pass from the Law until it is "fulfilled." The implication, then, is that the "fulfillment" of the Law will bring about its "passing away." 

What we are looking at is a situation in which a single end can be brought about in two different ways. The end result is the "passing away" of the Law, there are two ways this can be brought about - "destroying" it, and "fulfilling" it. This is important to understand; our Lord does not teach that the Law will not pass away, only that it will not pass away by being destroyed. Those who misinterpret this passage typically miss this point.

Let us put forward an example to help exemplify this. The Law of Moses consists in a series of obligations binding upon its adherents. It is like a debt. To use this metaphor, suppose we incur a debt from the bank. The debt has certainly obligations, payment schedules, etc.

Now, how can I make my debt payments go away? There are two ways to get out of paying. First, I can simply repudiate the debt. I can just stop paying and default. Maybe I declare bankruptcy and have the court discharge the debt in some settlement. This would be sloppy, yes, and have other consequences, but I would make my monthly payments go away. This could be called getting out of the payments by destroying the relationship with the bank, the terms of the loan, etc.

Of course, there is another way to get out of my debt payments. I can make every debt payment down to the last penny and fulfill all the obligations of my loan to the letter. When the terms of the loan are fulfilled, the debt payments will go away. This could be seen as getting out of the payments by fulfilling the obligations of the loan down to the last jot and tittle.

Hopefully you can see the distinction and the solution to this problem. The Law of Moses had certain obligations: sacrifices, rituals, dietary code, festivals, etc. It also contained within it, because of its divine origin, various prophecies and fore-shadowing (such as Deut. 18:15, "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; him you shall obey").

When Jesus came, the Pharisees saw many of His actions and words as in contradiction to that Law. They accused Him of trying to overthrow the Law of Moses. Of course, they did not understand the provisional nature of the Law; that it was, as St. Paul says, meant as a "custodian" until the age of grace. Our Lord emphasizes that He has not come to overthrow or destroy the Law. His actions are actually in continuity with the Law, insofar as the Law itself was meant to be fulfilled by the Messiah. Hence, when He reaches out and touches the leper to heal Him, in a certain sense, He seems to break the Law by touching an unclean man (cf. Matt. 8:3, Lev. 13:45-46). One who touches a leper contracts his uncleanliness. But in another sense, since Jesus is divine, He cannot become "unclean." The situation the Law was meant to prohibit (contracting uncleanliness) does not apply to Jesus because in His divinity He is the giver of the Law. He does not become unclean. Rather, He transmits His cleanliness to the leper, thus healing Him. Similarly, He cannot break the Law of the Sabbath because He is the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-28).Jesus does not "break" the Law; He is the incarnation of the Law. He fulfills it, exemplifies it, perfects it.

Jesus did not come to destroy the Law. He came to fulfill its precepts, obligations and prophecies to the last letter. He fulfills the function of all the sacrifices, He lives a perfect life and keeps the essence of its commandments flawlessly, and brings to fulfillment all its prophecies - the greatest being His atoning death on the cross, which ushers in the New Covenant prophesied by Jeremiah 31 and brings the Old Law to its natural conclusion.

Yes, the Old Law is obsolete and has passed away. No, our Lord did not "destroy" it or "abolish" it; rather, like so much else of the Old Testament, He took it up, transfigured it, ennobled it, and fulfilled it.

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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Homosexualtiy and Tactical Accommodation

Since the infamous gay marriage ruling of June 26th, 2015, I have noticed a very troubling trend in the Catholic world. I'm not sure what to call it exactly, but I think I will say it is a sort of "tactical accommodation." What is this tactical accommodation? It is a degree of measured accommodation to homosexuality that, while stopping short of actually affirming it, allows a certain amount of legitimacy of some of the points of the homo-fascist crowd, thus giving the appearance of compromise to one side while maintaining fidelity to Catholic teaching on the other. I believe the purpose of this accommodation is to save some face with the other side.

In practice, this looks something like, "I believe in traditional marriage, but I also believe that conservative Catholics have generally failed at loving homosexual adequately." 

Or perhaps, "I know we should not encourage people to define themselves by their sins, but Christians should not be so dismissive of the concept of homosexual identity."

Or another favorite, "The Church's teaching has not changed; but at the same time, I think the Church needs to more fully utilize the unique gifts and that homosexuals can bring."

And so on.

It's as if the Supreme Court ruling is being used as an occasion for self-reflection; not a reflection on the corrupt morals of the world or the need for a stronger defense of Church teaching, mind you, but an occasion to reflect on how we can be more accommodating to homosexuality.  

Even so, the message is clear: The Church is the problem. It is Catholics who have been intolerant. Homosexuals are the victims who have not been sufficiently appreciated. It is the faithful who need to change their approach to homosexuality, not homosexuals who need to conform their lives to the truth.

My friends, while this might make some of us feel good and believe we look more respectable in the "dialogue" with the world, it all mere nonsense. 

This sort of waffling about the evils of the age is how the Church shifted massively to the left after Vatican II: Catholics ceded ground to the progressives, such that what was once merely Catholicism was redefined as "integralism." This horrid lie has Catholics believing that our perennial Tradition is "radical Traditionalism" while what goes on at your typical Catholic parish is "Catholicism."

Similarly, the Church's traditional, uncompromising approach to homosexuality will increasingly be seen as "rigid" and "unmerciful" as Catholics, pressured by society, cede ground to the homo-fascists by making the sorts of wrist-wringing, self-condemnatory statements mentioned above. Traditional Catholic disgust at such acts - which are sins crying to heaven for vengeance - will be seen as an "extreme" position, which will be contrasted to the other "extreme" of homosexual acceptance. The new middle, the new orthodoxy, will be a kind of Kasperian dichotomy that still affirms the inadmissibility of homosexual relations while steadfastly refusing to say anything even remotely "negative" about them. And this new center will be put forward as "the Church's teaching."

Black is white. White is black.

But what of the objections themselves? Have conservative Catholics been "unloving"? Do we need to make room for a homosexual "identity"? Do homosexual Catholics, by virtue of their homosexuality, have some special gifts or insights for the Church? Well, I of course deny all three, but I am not arguing these points here, merely noting that this sort of waffling compromise is being floated and seems especially prevalent among the "new evangelization" crowd.

To see how far we have fallen in our kiddie-gloves approach to this topic, look at the language of St. John Chrysostom, the great preacher and Bishop of Constantinople:

“All passions are dishonorable, for the soul is even more prejudiced and degraded by sin than is the body by disease; but the worst of all passions is lust between men…. The sins against nature are more difficult and less rewarding, since true pleasure is only the one according to nature. But when God abandons a man, everything is turned upside down! Therefore, not only are their passions [of the homosexuals] satanic, but their lives are diabolic…So I say to you that these are even worse than murderers, and that it would be better to die than to live in such dishonor. A murderer only separates the soul from the body, whereas these destroy the soul inside the body….. There is nothing, absolutely nothing more mad or damaging than this perversity.” (St. John Chrysostom, In Epistulam ad Romanos IV)

Was St. John Chrysostom insufficiently loving of homosexuals? Did he not adequately grasp the gifts they had to offer?

This is how Catholicism has always approached homosexuality. The leaders of today's Church need to take their cue from saints like Chrysostom and others who were unflinching in their attitude towards this evil. Bishops, priests, man up! Sound off like you've got a pair! We need clarity and power in the Holy Spirit, not tactical accommodation.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Some Vacation Reflections and Ranting

Well, it feels good to be back! For the past five days I have been away on vacation to my favorite destination - Michigan's Upper Peninsula, which is one of this country's hidden gems. My family and I were staying in a gorgeous little cabin on Lake Huron on one of the Upper Peninsula's many little islands. This place was so far out that standing on the ledge of the island's rocky escarpment on the east side we could see the Canadian mainland directly.

While I was away, I had time to reflect on several things.

1. Michigan's Upper Peninsula is sparsely populated, only 19 persons per square mile. This is even more so if one looks at the various islands in the Great Lakes, such as the one we were staying on. Because of this - and because of its character as a seasonal tourist destination with a migratory population - it seems that the parishes of the Upper Peninsula are not well attended to by the Ordinary. This is reflected in the bizarre priests I have encountered in the Upper Peninsula over the years. You get a lot of retired priests, a fair share of wacko priests, and priests with a lot of weird eccentricities. I guess it has a kind of internal logic. In a tourist town, there is not likely to be a very stable parish congregation. Probably not a lot of baptisms, weddings, or confessions. It makes sense that a bishop would stick these sorts of areas with priests that are - ahem - on the less well rounded side? This has always been my experience in "touristy" areas. I'd be interesting to see if anyone has any insight on this from other touristy areas around the country, especially those more remote places that do not have much of a population other than seasonal waves of tourists. It seems like these "touristy" seasonal areas are the bishops' dumping grounds for odd-ball priests.

This situation is exacerbated, of course, by declining vocations and parish clusters. Going to Mass on Sunday was a huge debacle. We were fortunate in that the island we were on actually had a Catholic mission parish on it. I went by and picked up a bulletin before Sunday so I could check out the Mass times. Masses at 8:30 and 11:00 on Sunday. Wow! Impressive for an island on the Upper Peninsula.

But alas, I was naive. This parish mission was actually part of a huge cluster of four parishes (er, a "faith community" as they called it) that stretched across almost fifty miles of remote forest and tiny villages and islands. The Mass times on the bulletin were for the cluster collectively; this Mass at one parish, that Mass at another, etc. Because I did not know this and could not decode the little abbreviations ("8:30 AM Mass Sunday OLS", where OLS stands for "Our Lady of the Snows", for example), I misunderstood where and when the Masses were. I showed up at the parish mission at 8:30 AM with my family all spiffed up for Mass to find the Church dark and parking lot empty.

Well, we panic, look over the bulletin again, and after a few minutes figure out the cluster, use the tiny key at the bottom of the page to decode the abbreviations. Not user friendly. Seriously, look at this bulletin. Note the Mass times at the upper right and then the tiny, dinky, insignificant little key at the bottom to help you decode the abbreviations (click on the image to see it bigger):

Well, after decoding the bulletin, we find that the 8:30 Mass was for another parish and the only other Mass in the region is at 11:00 AM over forty miles away. Not a big deal; that's over two hours. But remember, we are on an island! We have to use a ferry to get off. We drive like mad to the ferry, but when we get there, there is an insane line of cars stretching from the ferry down the road then around the bend and a quarter mile down another road! You see, this Sunday was the day after the 4th of July, and all the tourists were flocking to get off the island and get back home.As the ferry leaves only once per hour, failing to get on the first ferry means a delay of an hour at least. And we estimated there were two or three ferry's worth of cars in front of us. 

Some quick math and we figured we'd never get on the ferry on time - heck, even after waiting for an hour and a half to two hours to get on the fairy, it still takes the ferry 25 minutes to cross the straits, and then we still needed to drive for 30 miles to reach the parish. Not possible in time.

Well, long and short of it is for the first time in 15 years, I missed Sunday Mass. Dejected, we drove back to the empty parish, which surprisingly was unlocked. We went in and sat before the tabernacle and prayed the Rosary, read the readings, and did a little holy half hour. As I sat there moping and prayerful in the dark, empty church, I thought to myself, "This is what it will be like in many more places in the future; people wanting to get to Mass but unable to, praying alone in empty churches."

3. Later that day, the sun was shining and it was fairly warm, so we packed up and drove down an old two-track road through several miles of woods to reach an isolated cove. It was gorgeous. A rock strewn shore, pines, juniper, and birch crowding up to the shoreline shielding it from view from the land - and the crystal clear water of northern Lake Huron, with visibility of fifteen or twenty feet down. Pristine, fresh, vivifying...soft, sandy bottom perfect for swimming. Ah, so gorgeous. Here is a picture, which still fails to capture the beauty of the spot.

But as we walked up to the cove, I noticed little pieces of shimmering gold scattered across the floor of the lake near the shore. As I moved in closer, I saw they were the foil and rubbish left behind by detonated fireworks. It being the day after the 4th of July, some folks had apparently been out at the cove the night before blasting fireworks and letting the rubbish fall into the lake. I was so disappointed. My daughter was sad and confused; "Why would anyone do this?" she asked. I had no answer except to say that the idiots who did it had a severe case of rectal-cranial inversion. My son and I spent twenty minutes carefully picking them all out of the crystal waters of the lake and properly disposing of them.

You know, I'm not convinced the science behind "climate change" is entirely sound. I am not a climate change alarmist by any stretch. That's not to say I have a difficulty or problem accepting the concept of climate change as a scientific hypothesis; I'm just not sure the science backs up climate change, much less warrants broad government controls on emissions, etc. But that being said, Pope Francis is correct when he says in Laudato Si that a profound change in the way we approach the environment is necessary. I am shocked that in this day, with so much sensitivity to environmental issues, with knowledge that our synthetic plastics can take 10,000 years to break down, with all the knowledge we have about the way what we do can affect our ecosystem - well, I am shocked that there are still people out there who could somehow litter this pristine cove with firework rubbish and apparently think nothing of it.

So, I applaud much (I stress much, as in, not all) of what Francis wrote in Laudato Si. When I see crap like what I saw in that cove, I totally agree there is should be a change the way we think about the environment. But the problem with the approach taken by Laudato Si is that all environmental problems are kind of lumped together indiscriminately. Near where I live, every highway median, every grassy right of way, every roadside is littered with filth. Sometimes when I see it, I can't figure out how so many people can so carelessly toss their rubbish around. It's a real problem.. But that's a different problem than "climate change." Which is in turn a different problem than corrupt Third World tin-pot dictatorships embezzling funds meant for disaster relief, and so on. All of these problems have different causes and require different approaches. But Laudato Si merely lumps them all together and creates a false antithesis between those accept the environmentalist disaster narrative in totu and those who are "deniers."

I love nature. I was raised in the country. My heart broke when I came all the way to this secluded cove and saw so much rubbish in the water. I try to instill in my children a real attitude of stewardship and responsibility for the creation. If I could, the baser part of me would love to flog the people who stupidly (and probably drunkenly) littered this pristine water with their filth. But I wish we could get off the "environmentalist liberal" vs. "denier" paradigm. Like most either-or paradigms, it is not that simple.

Well, that's enough for now I suppose. Speaking of Laudato Si, I am still plodding away. I think I'm at paragraph 189. But I have not forgotten!

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Hagiography and a Populated Hell

Some time ago, we did a series on the reality of souls going to hell, not only in potentiality but actuality. We discussed this topic using not only the sources of Scripture and Tradition, but also pietistical, artistic, and literary sources to demonstrate that a populated hell has always been part of the Catholic sensus fidelium (see "Fr. Barron and Mark Shea and Balthasar Are Wrong", USC, Nov. 1, 2013, and subsequent articles in the series).

One aspect of this question we did not explore was the testimony of the saints. The lives of the saints throughout the centuries furnish us with innumerable examples - through private revelation and prophecy - of not only the possibility of a person going to hell, but the actual damnation of particular persons. St. Teresa of Avila famously noted that she saw souls - especially Lutherans - falling into hell like snowflakes. St. John Bosco had similar visions; Padre Pio had revelations of particular unrepentant individuals in hell. And so on and son on.

Those who support the empty hell theory of Balthasar must necessarily poo-poo such testimony. After all, they argue, such private revelations and accounts from hagiographical literature do not constitute the official teaching of the Church; no Catholic is bound to believe any particular miracle story. These tales are evidence of a particular piety, but they are not magisterial teaching. Therefore a Catholic is free to simply ignore them.

Of course, it is true that we need not believe any particular story. But when we weigh the sheer volume of references to individuals in hell we find in Catholic literature and hagiography, the amount of testimony the Balthasarians must cumulatively discard is astonishing.

For an example, take the Life of St. Columba, written by St. Adamnam (d. 704). In the Life of St. Columba alone, we have the following references to Columba's miraculous knowledge of the eternal damnation of particular individuals.

"He often saw, by the revelation of the Holy Ghost, the souls of some just men carried by angels to the highest heavens. And the reprobates too he very frequently beheld carried to hell by demons" (Vita St. Columba, Book I, Cap. 1).

"One day again, as the saint was sitting in his little hut, he said, in prophecy to the same Colca, then reading by his side, "Just now demons are dragging with them down to hell one of the chiefs of thy district who is a niggardly person." When Colca heard this, he marked the time accurately in a tablet, and, coming home within a few months, learned on inquiry from the inhabitants of the place, that Gallan, son of Fachtna, died at the very moment that the saint said to him the man was being carried off by demons" (Vita St. Columba, Book I, Cap. 29).

"At another time also, the holy man specially recommended a certain exile, of noble race among the Picts, named Tarain, to the care of one Feradach, a rich man, who lived in the Ilean island (Isla), that he might be received in his retinue for some months as one of his friends. After he had accepted the person thus highly recommended at the hand of the holy man, he in a few days acted treacherously, and cruelly ordered him to be put to death. When the news of this horrid crime was carried by travelers to the saint, he replied by the following prediction: "That unhappy wretch hath not lied unto me, but unto God, and his name shall be blotted out of the book of life. We are speaking these words now in the middle of summer, but in autumn, before he shall eat of swine's flesh that hath been fattened on the fruits of the trees, he shall be seized by a sudden death, and carried off to the infernal regions." When the miserable man was told this prophecy of the saint, he scorned and laughed at him; and when some days of the autumn months had passed, he ordered a sow that had been fattened on the kernels of nuts to be killed, none of his other swine having yet been slaughtered: he ordered also, that its entrails should be immediately taken out and a piece quickly roasted for him on the spit, so that by hurrying and eating of it thus early, he might falsify the prediction of the blessed man. As soon as it was roasted he asked for a very small morsel to taste it, but before the hand which he stretched out to take it had reached his mouth he expired, and fell down on his back a corpse. And all who saw or heard it were greatly astonished and terrified; and they honoured and glorified Christ in his holy prophet (Vita St. Columba, Book II, Cap. 24)

"When the holy man, while yet a youth in deacon's orders, was living in the region of Leinster, learning the divine wisdom, it happened one day that an unfeeling and pitiless oppressor of the innocent was pursuing a young girl who fled before him on a level plain. As she chanced to observe the aged Gemman, master of the foresaid young deacon, reading on the plain, she ran straight to him as fast as she could. Being alarmed at such an unexpected occurrence, he called on Columba, who was reading at some distance, that both together, to the best of their ability, might defend the girl from her pursuer; but he immediately came up, and without any regard to their presence, stabbed the girl with his lance under their very cloaks, and leaving her lying dead at their feet turned to go away back. Then the old man, in great affliction, turning to Columba, said: "How long, holy youth Columba, shall God, the just Judge, allow this horrid crime and this insult to us to go unpunished?" Then the saint at once pronounced this sentence on the perpetrator of the deed: "At the very instant the soul of this girl whom he hath murdered ascendeth into heaven, shall the soul of the murderer go down into hell." And scarcely had he spoken the words when the murderer of the innocent, like Ananias before Peter, fell down dead on the spot before the eyes of the holy youth. The news of this sudden and terrible vengeance was soon spread abroad throughout many districts of Scotia (Ireland), and with it the wonderful fame of the holy deacon" (Vita St. Columba, Book II, Cap. 26).

And these references come from a single work. The theme of the sinner being dragged to hell was a very common one in medieval Christian hagiography; so common it is featured in almost every piece of thaumaturgical literature that has come down to us.

The point is, if we are to reject these sorts of testimonies based on the fact that we need not believe any particular private revelation, we must indeed reject a vast bulk of the Christian hagiographical tradition, from St. Gregory the Great's Dialogues to Adamnan's Life of St. Columba to the visions of Hildegard and everything in between and right on up to the writings of Teresa of Avila and John Bosco. You cannot pick out "condemned sinner" narratives out of Christian hagiography without eviscerating Christian hagiography.

And if a theological school is willing to totally sacrifice our Christian hagiographical patrimony in the interests of furthering some novelty, some pet theory, then that school of theology is something the Church can do without.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Anniversarium Octum

Today, June 29th, 2015, Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, is the eighth anniversary of this humble little blog - which has grown to be quite a sprawling endeavor. The sister site, Facebook page, Cruachan Hill Press...there are all sorts of little spin-offs that begun with this site! I want to thank my co-founder and absentee blogger Anselm, our contributors Noah Moerbeek and Maximus, as well as new contributor Wes Hunt; also John Goodall (who edits all my rambling website articles for typos), Blake from Popin' Ain't Easy who does movie reviews, and AR Danziger Art & Design who have done most of the art for this site and its endeavors over the years. I also want to mention Alleluia Audio Books and Athanasius Contra Mundum, two sites with whom USC has a particularly close relationship - as well as all those blogs, Facebook pages, and folks who have helped promote USC over the years.

I find it ironic that my first post on June 29th, 2007 was on the question of morality and legislation and how issues of morality are intimately bound up with human law. This has been the view throughout all of Christendom; a far cry from the philosophy of Chief Justice John Roberts, who  -though he ultimately dissented on the same-sex "marriage" judgment - stated in his dissent that "Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us." This is why this experiment in secular republicanism that we call the United States is failing. The sooner Catholics divest themselves from putting any hopes in this governmental system, the better. "Back to the Constitution" will not save you.

But we are supposed to be celebrating USC's completion of its eighth year, not getting bogged down in the miseries of the day!

I am sorry I have not posted as frequently as I would like; my wife and I are in the process of selling our house and I have a lot less free time at the moment. I am also still in the process of reading Laudato Si, which I will post on sometime in the next month, hopefully. I know I will be way behind the ball on that, but I am not one of those bloggers who feels that they have to be the first to offer commentary on every current event as soon as it happens. Blogging is not journalism, and while I sometimes offer commentary on current events, I don't feel bound to that format. I like to take my time with something...mull it over carefully, and publish whenever I feel like I have a cogent thought - or at least that's the ideal! Can't always say my thought is cogent...

But in the meantime, there is a ton of stuff we have published on the sister site over the past six months. If you really have a lot of time on your hands, check out some of our other material:

Mandatum: Liturgical History
Poltergeist (2015)
American Sniper (2014)

Other items of interest...

Make sure you check out my podcast with Ryan Grant of Athanasius Contra Mundum.

Also, speaking of podcasts, in case you didn't know, the USC website features a podcast section. It is updated only infrequently and restricts itself to matters of history. The only thing up currently is a series on Christianity in ancient North Africa, but I am planning one expanding this in the future.

Thank you all for patronizing this blog, which as of today has been viewed over 1.1 million times - something I never would have imagined when I posted my first rant on legislation and morality eight years ago. Pax.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

My One Post on the Supreme Court Decision

A message to my friends in social media.

Up to now I have remained silent on the recent Supreme Court ruling because, well, let’s face it - if you know me then you know my thoughts on the matter. I’m not surprised at the ruling by any means; rather, it simply demonstrates that it is no longer truth, but rather, sentimentality detached from reason that has become the basis of determination in implementing our nation’s founding documents. The Court has demonstrated a great amount hubris to change the fundamental nature of an institution which predates all of the foundations of Western society, and which we have received from those who came before us. Since a law that is against the natural law is no law at all, I refuse to acknowledge the validity of such a determination and wish to express that the Court has lost my respect as a result of the manner in which they so negligently discharged the functions of their office.

Regarding our discourse in the public forum of the Internet, I have observed on the social media too many posts with the hashtag “#lovewins” - but what does this even mean in the light of the Court decision? The effect of the decision by the Courts is that there is no longer any real foundation for what married love “means” in the public sphere. The only thing that has been demonstrated is that “love,” meaning “married love,” can just as easily change definitions in another few years’ time, and so it would seem that no-one has won: we have all lost something good in our society.

Perhaps what is most shocking to me is the number of my Catholic friends who, in defiance of Church teaching, have formally supported the efforts to get to where we are today. They are not merely people in the pews, but include priests, youth group leaders and religious education coordinators, young people actively engaged in social outreach on behalf of the Church. This is scandalous. Those Catholics, insofar as they believe and show support for such a fundamental issue that is contrary to Church teaching, should discern whether or not they, in fact, are Catholic any longer. If you are one of those Catholics, I follow the guidelines of our Bishops in urging you to refrain from receiving Holy Communion until you have been reconciled to the Church for such gravely sinful matter. I will pray for you, that you might come to accept the truth, goodness, and beauty of the words of Christ and the authentic teaching of his Church on this matter.

For you who are faithful children of the Church, I call upon us all to pray and do penance in reparation for our brethren, for the conversion of sinners, and for the liberty and exaltation of our Holy Mother, the Church.

May God have mercy on our nation, and upon all of those people who have participated in this gravely sinful act, or who will be encouraged to participate in other sinful acts as a result of the events of this week.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Medjugorje: The End is the Beginning

The day has come. It has been announced that the CDF's long-awaited judgment on Medjugorje is negative (source). Of course, Pope Francis has yet to sign off on the judgment, but it is presumed he will.

The judgment on Medjugorje has now come down from the highest authority; no more waffling by Medjugorje adherents; no more ignoring the repeated condemnations of the local ordinaries while maintaining glibly that "the Vatican has not made any ruling." The Vatican has now made a ruling. And it does not bode well for Medjugorje. Medjugorje has been weighed in the balance and found wanting. "The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes" (Ps. 118:23).

It will be extraordinarily interesting to see how this plays out. We can only hope for the following:

1) That the Holy Father Pope Francis will sign off on the judgment of the CDF.

2) That Medjugorje devotees will accept the decision with docility and invest their time and efforts into other Marian Messages such as Fatima and Lourdes.

3) That anti-Medjugorje Catholics (such as ourselves) will not gloat...well, maybe a little gloating.

That is the best case scenario. May the Holy Spirit make it so! Yet, there has always been worry that, were Medjogorje ever condemned, the Medjugorje supporters would not adhere to the Church's judgment but rather would continue promoting the alleged apparitions in a state of blatant disobedience or possible schism. The apparition has already been characterized by disobedience to the local ordinary. Anyone who has really studied the history behind Medjugorje cannot fail to see that disobedience and division are the only real "fruits" of this apparition (cf."Understanding the Herzegovina Question", USC).

How likely is an outright schism? I do not see this as extremely likely. Yes, Medjugorje people can be a little eccentric, but the vast majority of them are decent Catholics who would never break with Rome over something like this.

I do not see an out and out schism as likely. But I do not see the confusion abating. In fact, the likelihood of the confusion continuing is exacerbated by a very troubling statement allegedly found in the CDF statement. Catholic Culture reports that the CDF document will:
"...urge recognition of Medjugorje as a special “place of prayer,” in light of the numerous reports of intense spiritual experiences enjoyed by visitors there. Pilgrimages to Medjugorje will not be forbidden, provided that they do not center on the alleged apparitions."
If the CDF has authoritatively decided that there is nothing supernatural going on a Medjugorje, by what rationale ought it to be designated a special "place of prayer", or why anyone would want to make a pilgrimage there if it did not center on the alleged apparitions? The CDF reportedly says the rationale is that it recognizes Medjugorje as a "special place of prayer" not based on on the credibility of any apparitions, but "in light of the numerous reports of intense spiritual experiences enjoyed by visitors there."

We do not know if this is the language the document will use, but if so, it is gravely troubling. To suggest any location can be designated as a "special place of prayer" and even pilgrimage based not on any objective reality but only on the "intense spiritual experiences" of people is nothing other than to pivot the whole issue towards the subjective. If a place can be designated as a special place of prayer just by virtue of what someone thinks they experience there, what is the point of attempting to objectively validate the experience at all?

My suspicion is this is a compromise arrangement. The Vatican realizes that the apparitions and messages of Medjugorje are prima facie absurd and indefensible. There's no way they can be approved without the Church looking completely idiotic. And yet, because so many millions of people go to Medjugorje - and because of the ostensible pious experiences of those people who go - the Vatican is hesitant to crush the smoldering wick or break the bruised reed. It fears the reaction of the Medjugorje lobby.

Therefore, lest these millions of Medjugorje fanatics adherents go into schism, fall away from the Church, or become even more distanced from the faith, the Vatican wanted to find a way to formally express its disapproval of the apparitions while allowing the pilgrimages and activity at Medjugorje to go on unabated. The ground has merely been shifted. "Look, go to Medjugorje all you want. Pilgrimage there. Stare at the sun there. Talk about the mystical experiences you have with our Lady. Just don't mention the apparitions; go there because of the way it makes you feel."

Of course, it could be argued that the Vatican cannot exactly prohibit Catholics from praying anywhere they want, so long as they are not promoting the apparitions. In fact, Scripture commands Catholics to pray not only always but everywhere (1 Tim. 2:8). The Vatican cannot say, "And henceforth nobody is to ever go to Medjugorje and pray."

Granted. But the Vatican could just say nothing. They could just say, "There is nothing supernatural going on at Medjugorje and it is prohibited to promote the apparitions." Period. There is no reason why the negative judgment needs to include a clause which urges recognition as a special place of prayer, let alone based on people's intense personal experiences. The only reason people had intense experiences is because they thought they were visiting an apparition site. Thus, the potential CDF wording does not distance the pilgrims from the apparitions; it merely distances the Church's judgment from the objective to the subjective, from the verifiable to the experiential.

The safety of defaulting to experience is that nobody can ever argue with an experience. We may be able to now authoritatively state that the apparitions are not supernatural in the objective sense, but who can argue against somebody's experience? Thus, while having the appearance of a condemnation, the Church may have in fact just abdicated its role here entirely by shuffling the whole ordeal off on to the shoulders of individual Catholics who now can decide in their own conscience whether it is worth it to go to Medjugorje based on an evaluation of their own "intense spiritual experiences."

But meanwhile, it remains "officially" condemned. Just like the Extraordinary Form is "officially" allowed everywhere and equal to the Ordinary Form. Just like the Church's teaching on marriage will "officially" remain intact under the Kasper proposal. Just like "officially" the normative manner for reception of Holy Communion is on the tongue.

Yes, it's official!

Now, I pray it does not go down that way. I pray the Medjugorje adherents are docile and that somewhere down in their sensus catholicus they say to themselves, "Why the hell would I spend thousands of dollars to fly over to Medjugorje to celebrate my own experiences?" Hopefully the whole thing withers and dies.

But the pessimist in me doubts it. The pessimist realist in me worries that the CDF will leave an out for those who want to continue patronizing Medjugorje. That part of me worries that while Medjugorje remains officially condemned, in practice it will go on unabated, now no longer in disobedience but in an official space created for it by the wording of the CDF judgment. It will allow the Church to affirm one thing while doing another.

The pessimist in me sees it as nothing other than the Kasper doctrine under another guise.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Just Some Thoughts on Charter Schools anyone out there in the Catholic world still under the illusion that public schools are a suitable choice for their children's education?

Anyone who has been paying attention knows that the State schools are increasingly centers for indoctrination with very substandard academics as well - yes, I know there are good teachers, yes, I know there are exceptions, but overall we should all be in agreement that things are bad.

This is not news.

What is surprising to me, as someone who has been in education for over a decade now, is the way in which conservative opponents of the public schools put blind confidence in charter schools, independent schools or private schools as a solution to the public schools, as if "more charter schools" will make things better.

For those who do not know, a charter school is a tax-payer funded entity (thus still technically a "public school") that operates under its own individualized charter and is typically administrated by a third party private company. This allows it to deviate from the norm on teacher wages, curriculum, and administration. This allows charter schools to follow a much more independent course; more variety.

I understand that charter schools give us an opportunity to do something better, and variety can be good. But variety for the sake of variety is not guaranteed to improve anything. Realistically it depends on the nature of the school. There are many charter schools where I live; some of them are essentially Christian schools with classical curricula; but some of them are basically Islamic schools with student bodies and faculty 95% Muslim.

The point is its really hit or miss. Just absent-mindedly advocating for more rights for charter schools is not, on its own, any sort of solution. Yes, it allows the formation of charter schools that are able to move in the right direction, but it's really a crap shoot. It's almost as if people have become so sick of the public schools that they have begun to assume that anything is preferable to the public schools and have begun to think that more alternatives, regardless of what they are, will better things.

Private, independent, or charter schools can be worse than public schools. For example, check out this little gem in Minneapolis. Make sure to browse around a bit, especially at the teacher biography pages. This is same school that recently came under heat for taking their students to a sex shop as part of their sexual education curriculum - without the permission of parents - something the Headmaster of the school is still unapologetic for.

We should know that the value of a charter school or private school is only as good as its particular charter or mission - and administration. The only Catholic private school I ever taught at had piss poor academics and terrible discipline.

Am I a charter school advocate? In one sense, no, because I don't just support "charter schools." I support particular charter schools, but it depends upon their particular charter. I suppose you could say I support charter schools insofar as more liberal allowances for the establishment of charter schools allows particular charters with classical curricula to flourish; but those same laws also allow Muslim charter schools and anything else under the sun.

I personally do not believe the future of education is with charter schools and certainly not with private. It is with homeschooling and family-managed educational cooperatives. I have no optimism that "school choice", more charter schools, or anything within the framework of the system will make anything better in the long run.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Curiosity of the Modern Encyclical

No, I have no immediate commentary on Laudato Si. Why? Well, the darn thing is 187 pages long and I want to digest it patiently, so maybe come Fall I will have some commentary on it - if I'm lucky!

I have to be honest - I had a very hard time getting through Lumen Fidei and couldn't finish Evangelii Gaudium. But then again, I struggled through Caritas in Veritate and Deus Caritas Est as well, so its certainly not a Francis thing.

Modern encyclicals are a curious thing. The encyclical developed from the papal bull. The bull was a primarily juridical instrument used as a means of promulgating an authoritative judgment of the Holy See, either in matters of doctrine or governance. These could often be very short; we marvel today at reading something like Boniface VIII's Unam Sanctam (1302) - which famously declared that submission to the Roman pontiff was necessary for salvation - and is only a page long! Papal bulls in the old days knew what they wanted to say and they said it. 

The modern encyclical developed out of the Enlightenment period as the popes realized that broader literacy and intellectual challenges to Christian revelation necessitated using the papal bull as a means of educating the flock on Catholic teaching, and hence by the time of the French Revolution the bull had begun to transform into the encyclical, the teaching letters of the modern pontiffs.

The encyclicals of the 19th and early 20th century are lucid and clear. Their purpose is to expound Catholic doctrine and defend it against modern errors, which they do very admirably. A friend recently commented to me that in thinking back on great documents like Pascendi, Quas Primas, Casti Conubii and so forth, one can immediately recall the substance of of them and the force of their arguments. Pius XII taught that the encyclical was the normative means by which the Roman pontiff exercised his teaching office. The same cannot be said about modern encyclicals - who can easily summarize what Redemptor Hominis or Populorum Progressio are about except in the vaguest terms?

That's not to say pre-Vatican II encyclicals were always to the point; the pre-Conciliar popes certainly had their moments of rambling - but at least their rambling was clear and fun to read!

When we get to Vatican II, a noticeable change comes about. I personally attribute this to John XXIII's famous principle from the opening of the Second Vatican Council:

"Nowadays however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity. She consider that she meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnations."

This principle has effected the manner in which the post-1965 ecclesia docens functions. Essentially, the post-Conciliar encyclical doesn't know what it wants to be when it grows up. The popes have still utilized them as a means of teaching, but rather than teaching what Catholic doctrine consists of, they have increasingly become occasions for popes to explain why Catholic doctrine is what it is. 

That's not entirely a bad thing; fides quaerens intellectum, right? 
But somewhere along the way the popes seemed to have dropped the declarative aspect of the encyclical in the overly optimistic hope that if we could just explain our teaching to the world - just walk them through our thinking step by step - then maybe the world would accept the Church's message. Maybe if we simply "proposed" our rationale for belief humbly instead of declaring that we "had" the truth, the world would reciprocate and enter into a "fruitful dialogue" with Christianity that would mutually enrich everybody?

Fruitful dialogue. Reciprocate. Mutually Enrich. Sorry, my post-Conciliar vocabulary started taking over for a moment.

Seriously though, the problem with this approach is fourfold:

(a) The world does not reject the Gospel because it has not been adequately explained. They reject it "because the light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light: for their works were evil" (John 3:19).

(b) Even when its has opted for explaining rather than declaring the Church's teaching, the Church has done a poor job of it because it has chosen to explain its teachings in terms of humanist phenomenology rather than having recourse to the Church's traditional pedagogy.

(c) By focusing so much on the explanation and presentation over the declaration, the Church has unwittingly given the false impression that the validity of its teachings are bound up with the force of her argumentation, a kind of false intellectualism. She feels shaky and inadequate simply saying, "Such is the voice of the Church; such is the teaching of our Faith"; she feels she must offer a humanistic centered explanation for everything - an explanation that will "suit" the needs of "contemporary man" - with the effect that her message has become completely man-centered. "He taught as one who had authority" (Matt. 7:29) said the people of old about Christ; but when the Church forgets the supernatural force that stands behind her teaching and opts instead for an anthropomorphized message, she no longer "speaks with authority", in the sense that her words lose their force. Hence people shrug at the latest papal document and move on.

(d) Finally, because the popes have sought for novel means to propose their teachings, encyclicals lose their strenght as teaching documents and become instead opportunities for the popes to foist their own theological or literary tastes on the Catholic people. The phenomenology of John Paul II, the Balthasarian-Hegelian-Teilhardism of Benedict XVI, and now the sort of "literary theology" of Francis. Each pontiff has opted not use traditional pedagogy, which means every pope has to "try something new" in how they choose to teach.

Thus, while retaining its authority in the juridical sense, from a strictly pedagogical viewpoint, the modern encyclical tends to become a rambling, sprawling mess that lacks the force to move minds and hearts. There have been exceptions; Humanae Vitae certainly did its job, as did Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. Fides et Ratio was profound. But by and large they have failed to really educate the Catholic flock on the substance of the Church's teaching and are too cumbersome to be accessible to the average pewsitter. There is reason why going on and on is called "pontificating."

At any rate, I look forward to digging into Laudato Si. Pray for our Holy Father Pope Francis. Pray for the Church of Christ. Pray that she stands firm in her identity as the Bride of Christ, teaching with the authority of Christ, and confident that the Light which cometh from her Lord is still sufficient of itself to change the hearts of men without having to pander to modern psychology, science, or theological novelties.

Mutans tenebras ad lucem

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Should we "support" or "oppose" law enforcement?

If you live in the United States, you have no doubt as of late been inundated with stories of police brutality from around the country. Whether there is a real increase in police brutality or whether these sorts of incidents are just getting more attention I could not say. But this discussion has spawned some really stupid knee-jerk reactions from both the Left and the Right. By way of reminding the mainly Catholic readership of this blog that Traditional Catholicism does not exist on the Left-Right spectrum - and that points of agreement with one side or the other tend to be merely incidental - I want to try to inject some sanity into a discussion that is rapidly degenerating into pure stupidity.

It has now been over a generation since the end of the Civil Rights movement, and the cadre of dying septuagenarian progressives on the Left are trying to stretch the momentum of the 60's to every possible corner of American society. This is what is behind trying to hand the mantle of the Civil Rights movement on to the perverts in the LGBT community (despite the protest of many African Americans).

This is also what is behind the liberal "opposition" to "police" as they attempt to make every engagement between a white office and a black person an issue of racism - which of course gets a bit muddled when the officers are black, as in the Freddie Gray case. It is a classic case of playing the race card, which consists essentially in viewing every social interaction solely through the lens of race and nothing else.

There is also a tendency on the Left to fail to sympathize with the difficult situations police officers are in. In the now infamous pool party arrest, the officer was surrounded by a hostile crowd. It is understandable why he drew his gun. Officers are asked to do a very tough job, and that job will inevitably at times involve them "getting tough." There are certainly some bad apples; but the Left's crusade against police brutality too often becomes a broadly ignorant "opposition" to any police action whatsoever and results in police who are afraid to do their jobs because they don't know if they will get in trouble for using force, drawing a weapon, etc.

As we will see with the Right, the Left can be schizophrenic on this issue. The same people who hate America, hate the police, etc. have no qualms about calling 911 or running to an Embassy when they get in trouble in a foreign country. Of course, not everybody who protests against police brutality "hates cops"; but if the Left would have us grant this, let the Left grant that not every police officer is a secret racist. This is way more complex than "Who are you with? Police or black people?"

Okay, so the Left is stupid. No big surprise there. But the Right has some equally stupid positions on this question; in fact, I think the Right's approach is equally schizophrenic.

One thing I have never been able to comprehend is how the conservative Right promotes a cult of law enforcement by its excessive honor of police officers and military personnel whilst simultaneously nurturing fears of a police state. One would think a constituency that demonstrates such anxiety over the establishment of a police state would be a little more reserved in the lauds they heap upon law enforcement? After all, you cannot have a police state without the police. Yet, the opposite is the case; they worry about the establishment of the dreaded American police state whilst simultaneously claiming that no honor is too high for our law enforcement and military.

The Right professes to abhor and fear the establishment of a police state but never misses and opportunity to engage in a public love fest with law enforcement. This is inconsistent and weird - just like conservative fear of "big government" goes hand in hand with reflexive support for a bigger and greater military, the very thing which ultimately makes "big government" possible. I know conservative fear of a police state is directed more towards liberal politicians and  not law enforcement as such, but any police state, liberal or otherwise, would require the cooperation of the police. I don't see how one can profess to fear a police state while simultaneously empowering the police consistently.

This is the major case of double-think regarding law enforcement in the conservative right, and the reflexive cult of law enforcement it engenders leads to another canard, which is the "I support police" campaign going around social media.

You know what I'm talking about. All sorts of images of police officers with their families or officers helping people with tags like "support our police" or "I stand with the police" and so forth.

It is the goofiest thing in the world to take a position as broad as "I support police." Not because I have anything against police qua police, but because its not rational to simply "support" an entire profession as if it were a political position.

For example, what if I were to sport a bumper sticker that said, "I support realtors." What? That would not make any sense. Or, "Stand with our accountants." "Support plumbers." Who talks like that about any other profession? I don't have anything against plumbers, but I certainly don't support plumbers qua plumbers, I support an individual plumber when he does a good job, and I do not support an individual plumber when he shows up late or screws me over.

I support an accountant who is competent. I oppose an accountant who is incompetent. Ditto with every other profession. People who do certain professions are judged according to their skill in that profession, so we are ultimately talking about the competence of individuals. I cannot simply "support realtors"; I support intelligent, hard working realtors and I oppose dumb, lazy realtors.

But with police - and I would argue military and teachers as well - we are supposed to either "support" them or be "against" them. I do not "support the police." Like anything else in this world, I support a police officer when he does good and oppose him when he does evil. To the degree that that evil is systemic, I oppose that institutional evil. To the degree that quality public service and self-service are systemic, I support that. And I understand that the two contrary qualities may be present in one department or even in a single officer, because even the best of us still do evil. So insofar as a particular officer does good, I support him, and insofar as he does wickedly, I oppose him.

Now, some will respond, "But the reason people speak of 'supporting' police, teachers, etc. is because these very professions have in fact become politicized and taken on the character of a political position which can be supported or opposed," to which I respond, if one or both sides in the stupid Left-Right dichotomy have politicized a profession, that is no argument that I need to. If one side has made a political platform out of "supporting" teachers, I will not allow myself to up the ante by adopting the knee-jerk political position of "opposing" teachers just because Party X supports them and I belong to Party Y. I support effective teachers and oppose ineffective teachers.

Similarly, if the Left is mobilizing against law enforcement (while simultaneously trying to establish a Leftist police state somehow?) in a move of crass politicization, I do not see how it helps anything by closing ranks "for" law enforcement in an act that is equally politicized. Those who are unable to get off the Left-Right paradigm will have a difficult time with this.

So no, conservatives, I do not "support" police. Nor do I "oppose" them, Mr. Liberal. I look for individuals to act in accord with their duty and the common good according to their office. If they can do that, I support them; if and when they fail (which clearly happens) I oppose them. I have known a lot of good, wonderful cops in my life; I've even had to make decisions regarding management of police officers. But I've also been totally shafted by cops and seen some really terrible things done by police officers, things that were so unjust that I couldn't think of them without trembling in rage. And I think if the Left suffers from an inability to recognize the difficult situation police can find themselves in, the Right suffers from a knee-jerk defense of law enforcement and often fails to recognize real abuses when they crop up.

Let us judge each instance - and each person - on their own merits and not get caught up in the stupidity of the Left-Right paradigm.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Safe Place for a Dove

Before we begin, let me just say that the following should be filed under "things that probably mean nothing", because I certainly don't take my spirituality or theology from such signs - but then again, I keep them in mind, as well.

Recently we posted an article here in which, among other things, we noted that doves being released by the pope from St. Peter's were frequently killed by crows or other birds almost as soon as they were released.

In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI attempted to release a dove as a prayer for world peace. The dove refused to fly away and instead returned to Benedict's window. The same thing occurred in 2011, as well as 2010.

On January 29, 2013, Pope Benedict XVI released two doves from St. Peter's as part of the "Caravan of Peace" celebration on Holocaust Remembrance Day. The doves were supposed to represent peace. Both were viciously attacked by seagulls and barely managed to escape.

Enter Pope Francis. Following the turmoil in the Ukraine, Pope Francis and two Ukrainian children released two doves symbolizing peace in January of 2014. The doves were immediately attacked by a seagull, but managed to escape. However, after escaping from the gull they were set upon by a crow! Again, both managed to escape, though severely disoriented and somewhat mauled.

Anyone who has been to Europe knows that in places like St. Peter's where there are lots of tourists there are an insane amount of pigeons and seagulls. There is a perfectly natural explanation for these events; there's just a lot of mean birds around.

However, one cannot but be struck by the irony of it all. A Church, increasingly caught up in the affairs of the world, sets loose doves as prayers for world peace - and those doves are brutally attacked by predatory birds - birds which in the parables of Jesus represent the devil and his demons. A Church that increasingly compromises with the world and in many places refuses to make a clear stand on her moral teaching, especially in the wake of homosexual militancy.

But meanwhile, we have an embattled archbishop in San Francisco who, whatever his previous faults, is courageously standing up for the Church's moral teaching and taking tremendous flak for it. He has been offered zero public support from the Vatican. And, yet, at a picnic of support for Archbishop Cordileone held on May 16th, 2015, we see the following:

This probably means nothing. It's just an amusing coincidence. Right?


Well, at any rate, it has been said that the real Gospel is being found lived "at the peripheries". This may prove to be true, although not in the way many expected.

H/T to James Larson for making me aware of this story.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Summer Class: "Christian Architecture Through the Ages"

Are you looking for some historical enrichment for your high schoolers over the summer?

I am teaching a four day online course via Homeschool Connections called "Christian Architecture Through the Ages." This course will acquaint students with the basic components of Christian ecclesiastical architecture, beginning with the basilicas of the late patristic era and moving through the Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neo-Classical and Neo-Gothic. While we will touch on some essential Byzantine motifs early on, most of the course will be focused on Western architecture.

Course Outline:

Day 1: Late patristic basilicas
Day 2: Romanesque and Gothic
Day 3: Renaissance and Baroque elements
Day 4: Revivalism and the Modern Descent

Dates: Monday, July 13-Thursday, July 16th

Time: 4:00-4:55 PM, EST

Cost: $65

Suggested Grade Level: 7th-12th

To Register: Please click this link to go right to the Homeschool Connections registration page for the course.

To learn more about Homeschool Connections, visit their website here. I have taught history for Homeschool Connections for six years and they are by far the best online Catholic homeschooling option out there. I have over 15 different history courses for Middle School and High School available and strongly encourage you to consider HSC for your homeschooling needs.