Thursday, February 27, 2014

Summer Theology Program in Norcia, Italy

You may have noticed the new sidebar ad to the right. Our long-time friends at the Albertus Magnus Center for Scholastic Studies asked that we post some information about the summer program that they will be holding in Norcia, Italy from June 16th-29th.

For two weeks room and board in Italy, you can't beat the price! And Norcia, the birthplace of Sts. Benedict and Scholastica, is an absolutely beautiful town. For anyone who has an interest in studying the Faith of the Church, I would wholeheartedly recommend attending the program.

From their website:

Contemplating the Faith in Umbria

From June 16-29th, the St. Albert the Great Center for Scholastic Studies will hold a summer session in Norcia, Italy. In partnership with the Monasterro San Benedetto, this will be the third year they have held the Summer Institute.

The St. Albert the Great Center is dedicated to the revival of higher studies in theology undertaken according to the mind and method of the great scholastics, and in particular the work of St. Thomas Aquinas.

This summer's program is focussing on St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans. With the sacred text as our primary source, we will also follow along the interpretive tradition of the Church by reading commentaries of the Fathers and in particular St. Thomas's commentary on the epistle.

In many ways, the epistle is already an early synthesis of the Faith that the Evangelists witness to, and it offers us the opportunity to explore in depth many theological questions such as grace, justification, the relationship between the Old Covenant and the New, and the salvation of the Jews, to name a few.

Besides the daily seminars, there will be a guest lecture by Fr. Cassian Folsom, OSB, the founder and prior of the monastery. The two-week program reaches its climax in an authentic scholastic disputation, moderated by one of the monks.

In addition to the academic program, we will, of course, be participating in the daily life of worship (High Mass, Divine Office) of the Benedictine monks who live and pray at the birthplace of SS. Benedict & Scholastica. There will be excursions to Assisi and to Cascia, as well as attendance at the Papal Mass in Rome for the Feast of SS. Peter & Paul at the conclusion of the program.

For more information, visit their website: http://www.albertusmagnuscss.org

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

New Book: The Gospel Illustrated by Duccio


The Gospel Illustrated by Duccio
For our second book review in recent weeks, I would like to introduce you to The Gospel Illustrated by Duccio: Sacred Images from the Maesta Altarpiece with Selections from the Holy Gospels and the Transitus Mariae compiled and edited by John Joy, a long-time friend of Unam Sanctam Catholicam:

The Gospel Illustrated by Duccio is a unique creation designed to celebrate one of the greatest artistic masterpieces of the high medieval period while also bringing to life the Gospel story with over fifty images of scenes from the lives of Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

The book includes the complete extant cycle of images from the Maesta Altarpiece, which Duccio di Buoninsegna completed in 1311 for the Cathedral of Siena, Italy. 

The Maesta begins with the Annunciation, Nativity, and other mysteries from the childhood of Christ and continues with scenes from His public ministry, such as the Wedding at Cana, the Healing of the Blind Man, the Transfiguration, the Raising of Lazarus, and many more. It glories in depicting over twenty scenes from the passion of Christ, continues with seven separate resurrection appearances and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, before concluding with six extra-Biblical scenes depicting the final days of the Blessed Virgin Mary's life on earth. 

Each large, full-color image is paired with the text, most of which are drawn directly from the Canonical Gospels, which tells the story illustrated by the painting. 

One of the extraordinary features of the book is found in the texts corresponding to the final six paintings, which tell the story of the last days of the Blessed Virgin Mary. These are drawn from the non-canonical text of the Transitus Mariae, dating from the fifth century. Although not the inspired Word of God, these texts do reflect ancient Christian traditions concerning the end of Mary's life on earth. Not as well known now as they were in Duccio's time, their discovery will be a delight for modern readers.

Here is a snapshot to give you an idea of the contents and layout of the book. On one side, the large, full color image painted by Duccio; on the other, the unabridged Gospel text based on the Challoner revision of the Douay-Rheims.



The crucifixion scene is particularly masterful:


I purchased a copy for my children and they have been fascinated by the pictures - which are far superior to the illustrations generally found in "Children's Bibles". And so they ask me repeatedly to read to them the associated stories. This exposes them at the same time to the life of Christ in the inspired words of the Holy Scriptures and to some of the greatest sacred art in the Catholic tradition.

The list price is $15.49, but it is currently available on Amazon for only $10.76.

I believe that it will also be available soon in the Unam Sanctam Catholicam Bookstore. And stay tuned for the forthcoming companion volume entitled The History of the Saviour Illustrated by Giotto.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Suicide of Razis

Some time ago, I posted an article on suicide in the Bible, specifically with reference to the story of Samson and why Samson is a hero of faith if he committed the sin of suicide. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion - the same many commentators have come to over the centuries - that Samson's suicide was not a suicide in the proper sense because his primary motive in pushing over the pillars was not to kill himself, but to destroy his enemies and the Philistine temple. Per the principle of double-effect, he was willing to accept his own death as an inevitable but unintended consequence of his actions.

Following this article, a reader brought to my attention the question of Razis in 2 Maccebees, which had escaped my attention when I was putting together the Samson article. Razis was a Jewish elder who committed suicide in order to escape being captured by the Greek soldiers of Nicanor during the persecution of Antiochus IV Epiphanes; his gruesome death is recounted in 2 Maccebees 14. In the case of Razis, we are presented with a greater difficulty because, unlike Samson, it is very hard to discern any principle of double-effect at work. Let us look at the passage in detail from 2 Maccebees chapter 14:

"A certain Razis, one of the elders of Jerusalem, was denounced to Nicanor as a patriot. A man highly regarded, he was called a father of the Jews because of his goodwill toward them. In the days before the revolt, he had been convicted of being a Jew, and had risked body and soul in his ardent zeal for Judaism. Nicanor, to show his disdain for the Jews, sent more than five hundred soldiers to arrest him. He thought that by arresting that man he would deal the Jews a hard blow

But when the troops, on the point of capturing the tower, were forcing the outer gate and calling for fire to set the door ablaze, Razis, now caught on all sides, turned his sword against himself, preferring to die nobly rather than fall into the hands of vile men and suffer outrages unworthy of his noble birth. In the excitement of the struggle he failed to strike exactly. So while the troops rushed in through the doors, he gallantly ran up to the top of the wall and courageously threw himself down into the crowd. But as they quickly drew back and left an opening, he fell into the middle of the empty space. Still breathing, and inflamed with anger, he got up and ran through the crowd, with blood gushing from his frightful wounds. Then, standing on a steep rock,as he lost the last of his blood, he tore out his entrails and flung them with both hands into the crowd, calling upon the Lord of life and of spirit to give these back to him again. Such was the manner of his death." (2 Macc. 14:37-46).

So we clearly are dealing with a suicide here. As in the case of Samson, it appears to be affirmed as the morally appropriate course of action. Unlike the case of Samson, Razis' actions are apparently done solely for the purpose of ending his own life; there is no external end to his actions (such as destroying the Temple of Dagon in the case of Samson). He is simply killing himself to avoid being shamed.

It is amusing that the NAB tries to get around this problem by calling Razis obvious suicide a "martyrdom." If that were the case, it is a completely novel definition of "martyrdom." By that definition, St. Agnes could have just slit her own wrists to avoid the impure intentions of her persecutors, or St. Cyprian could have taken cyanide in his villa and both still be considered  martyrs. Clearly this is an attempt to just skirt the issue by the NAB editorial staff, who are not known for their erudition.

Presuming we are working under the assumption that the moral law is universal and that it is not acceptable to suggest that Scripture contradicts the Church's moral teachings, it seems there are three possible ways we can look at this passage:

1) The Bible merely reports Razis suicide without affirming it as morally acceptable.
2) The Bible affirms Razis suicide as morally acceptable, but in fact it is not.
3) The Bible affirms Razis suicide as morally acceptable, and in fact it is, because it is not suicide in the proper sense.


Option 1 would have us take the position that the suicide of Razis is not actually being affirmed at all; the Bible is merely reporting that it happened without making a judgment upon it. This is a common interpretive principle when dealing with morality in Scripture. For example, the Old Testament merely reports the existence of slavery and polygamy without ever morally affirming them as positive institutions. If this principle applies in the case of Razis, we have no difficulty; it is in the same category as the polygamy of Jacob or the slavery Solomon imposed upon some of his subjects.

The problem with this position is that the text seems to actually affirm Razis; it says he acted "nobly", "courageously" and was "gallant." The presence of these descriptors makes it difficult to say that the Scriptures are not affirming Razis' actions.

Of course, one could save this position by noting that while affirmative language is used, none of it is used with reference to Razis' suicide directly; rather, it is used with reference to the way he runs, jumps, and refuses to allow himself to fall into the hands of his captors. While this might be technically true, no language really allows for this sort of thing in practice. For example, can you imagine describing how a bank robber "courageously" leap out the window, "skillfully" ran down the street from the police and "dexterously" handled his firearm? Even if these descriptors did not apply to the act of the bank robbery itself, anyone reading such an account would naturally presume the author was affirming the deeds of the robber. It would be difficult to suggest that the presence of such affirmative language did not constitute an affirmation of the robbery itself. Therefore, if affirmation, silence or condemnation are our only options, it seems that Option 1 is not tenable. 

Option 2 would solve the difficulty by appealing to the differentiation between Jewish and Christian thinking on the problem of suicide. The ancient Jews had a society in which shame was a considerable disincentive to certain actions. Because of this, the ancient Jews viewed suicide as a licit way to escape situations that were considered extraordinarily shameful. In this case, Razis is fears the shame that would follow if he were to "suffer outrages unworthy of his noble birth." Therefore, he prefers suicide. This was acceptable in Razis' time, but today it would not be acceptable. Christianity, in contrast to Judaism, fears sin much more than shame, and Christians from the New Testament on have frequently allowed themselves to be shamed and debased by their persecutors but would refuse to do anything that might lead them to sin. Therefore, we are dealing with two different moral systems, and this explains the difficulty.

This is a very common solution to the problem of Razis' suicide, but it assumes that there are two distinct moral systems for the Old and New Testaments. While Catholic Teaching affirms that the New Testament revelation is more complete than the Old, it is not permissible to posit that Old and New Testament moralities may actually contradict one another. This is why Christ makes a point to emphasize that while the Old Testament tolerated divorce, it was never affirmed as good (cf. Matt. 19:8). It is one thing to say the New Testament completes the Old; it is another thing to say it contradicts the Old. To say the suicide was noble in the Old Testament but a sin in the New is a blatant contradiction. Jewish culture at the time of Christ may have viewed suicide as a noble option, but Divine Revelation never has. Since Divine Revelation in the New Testament teaches unambiguously the immorality of suicide, we must affirm this as true in the Old as well. Therefore, we cannot seriously consider Option 2, since it presupposes that natural law can change from one age to another. It is a modernist solution to the problem.

In Option 3 we have the pretty straightforward solution that the reason Razis suicide is presented positively is because it was a morally acceptable act. Like the "suicide" of Samson, Razis' suicide was not suicide in the strict sense. The principle of double-effect means no suicide actually happened.

The principle of double-effect is a moral concept from Catholic Tradition which states that it is permissible to cause harm as a side effect (or “double effect”) of bringing about a good result even though it would not be permissible to cause such harm as a primary means to bringing about the same good end. St. Thomas Aquinas explains it this way:

Nothing hinders one act from having two effects, only one of which is intended, while the other is beside the intention. Now moral acts take their species according to what is intended, and not according to what is beside the intention, since this is accidental as explained above (43, 3; I-II, 12, 1). Accordingly the act of self-defense may have two effects, one is the saving of one's life, the other is the slaying of the aggressor” (II-II, Q. 64, art. 7).

As mentioned in the original article on Samson, Samson's primary goal is to bring down the Temple of the Philistines and defeat his enemies; he accepts his death as a predictable but unavoidable "double effect" of his primary act, similar to the way a soldier falls on a grenade to shelter a comrade. He knows the action will cost him his life, but the purpose of the action is not to take his own life, but to save his comrade.

Similarly, so one could argue, Razis did not fall on his sword, jump off a building, disembowel himself and hurl his guts at his oppressors because he wanted to end his own life; rather, his purpose was to avoid having to "suffer outrages unworthy of his noble birth." Therefore, this act was not suicide and hence does not present a problem.

If you have a difficulty with that line of thinking, you are not alone. I don't buy it either. Here's why.

When the principle of double-effect is invoked, there is a primary end that is intended and a secondary effect that is tolerated. Typically, the primary end is something extrinsic to the agent. Samson's primary end is the destruction of the temple, which is something extrinsic to himself, as is the situation with the soldier who falls on the grenade - the end goal of saving his comrade's life is extrinsic to himself.

Why is this distinction important? If we allow that double-effect can be invoked if the primary end is intrinsic to the agent, then almost anything becomes permissible. For example, consider all the ways this could be twisted as applying to the question of suicide:

"His primary end was not to end his life, but to escape his mental suffering."
"His primary end was not to end his life, but to get out of the punishment he was afraid of."
"His primary end was not to end his life, but to spite his enemy."
"His primary end was not to end his life, but to escape the pain brought on by his terminal illness."
"His primary end was not to end his life, but to end the boredom of his existence."
"His primary end was not to end his life, but to get out of the heartache brought on by his unfaithful lover."

Catholic Tradition has never accepted any of these situations as valid applications of the principle of double-effect, for the simple reason that all of them are intrinsic to the agent. To admit otherwise would be deny the fundamental unity of human action. When the primary end is intrinsic to the agent, the primary end and the double-effect are too difficult to distinguish, especially when the primary end is supposed to be morally desirable while the double-effect is not. This is similar to the reason why, according to Aquinas, a man may not commit a sin whilst simultaneously repenting of it; repentance must follow sin sequentially because a man might not at the same time will evil while willing to repent of the evil he is committing. 

There is also the matter of proportionality. The unintended consequence must not be out of proportion to the primary end; a man may not blow up his city in order to destroy a single hornet's nest, nor may he take his head off in a wood chipper in order to give himself a hair cut. In the example of Razis, it is questionable whether it is proportional to commit suicide in order to avoid being shamed in a manner not befitting one's noble birth.

So none of the three options present above are acceptable. Have we been totally stumped here? Fortunately, no. I believe there is an Option 4, and that the solution is found in the text itself, in conjunction with an important caveat on the Church's teaching on suicide.

4) The Bible neither affirms nor condemns Razis, but sympathizes with his plight; while neither affirming the objective evil of his suicide, it acknowledges it was a very difficult position for any man to be in and holds out the hope that Razis' culpability for this act may have been diminished or even eliminated by virtue of the difficulty of his circumstances.

It has always been understood that nobody takes their own life unless something is gravely wrong, either with themselves or in their circumstances. That Catechism states that certain circumstances can mitigate the guilt of one who has committed suicide:

"Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide" (CCC 2282).

The Catechism mentions fear of suffering or torture as factors that can diminish responsibility. The persecution of Antiochus IV Epiphanes chronicled in 2 Maccebees was exceptionally brutal; the tortures inflicted on obstinate Jews were horrendous, as anyone who has ever read the text of 2 Maccabees 7 of the widow with her seven sons knows. Because the persecution was so harsh and the tortures inflicted by the persecutors so horrible, the sacred author goes beyond a mere cold recitation of the facts; he clearly sympathizes with the plight of Razis, who through fear of what might be inflicted upon him, seems driven to a course of action he never would have contemplated in normal circumstances. Because Razis was so noble in character, the Scripture mentions his bravery, gallantry, etc. His suicide is recorded neither affirmatively nor with condemnation, but as a tragedy in the life of a man who was put into a moral dilemma no person should have to endure.

Can we say for certain that in this case the culpability for his suicide is wiped away? The Scripture text stops short of explicitly affirming the moral acceptability of Razis' suicide, as we have seen above. There is no doubt, however, that Razis believes he actions are pleasing to God. This is clear because it says that, after flinging away his entrails, he called upon God to return them to him again at the Resurrection. Were he conscious of committing a grave sin, he would not have done so. That is, he ends his life with a clear conscience, and the Scriptures seem to affirm that he was a just man and that we can have hope for his salvation.

Therefore, the ultimate solution to the problem is that Razis provides us with a example of a suicide where culpability may be diminished. If Samson is an example of the principle of double-effect as relating to losing one's own life, and Saul and Judas are examples of culpable suicide, Razis is an example of a suicide which remains a malum but where the culpa is mitigated, a hypothesis the Church has always acknowledged possible.

This is different from the double-effect hypothesis we looked at with Samson; in Samson's case, due to the principle of double-effect, there is no suicide in the formal sense. In Razis' case, there is a formal act of suicide, but the Scripture seems to hold out the possibility that Razis' culpability for this act was diminished due to his circumstances. This is also different from the "Scripture is merely recording, not affirming" argument, because the Scriptures are in fact sympathizing with Razis, though they stop short of affirming the act of suicide itself. It's affirmative language and statements about the Resurrection give us grounds for hope; it's silence on his act of death itself leave the traditional condemnation of suicide intact.

It is an admittedly difficult problem, but not insoluble given a background in Catholic moral theology.

Friday, February 21, 2014

What the Rise of Paganism says about the State of Christanity

“But we by the mention of Christ crucified put all demons to flight, whom you fear as if they were gods. Where the sign of the Cross is , magic is weak and witchcraft has no strength.


Tell us therefore where your oracles are now? Where are the charms of the Egyptians? Where the delusions of the magicians? When did all these things cease and grow weak except when the Cross of Christ arose? Is It then a fit subject for mockery, and not rather the things brought to nought by it, and convicted of weakness?”  St Anthony of the Desert, Against Proud Philosphers


It is a very important thing for Christians not to forget that we do not have a monopoly on the spiritual world.  People do not pray to idols, perform strange rituals or offer direct worship to false gods because they do not get anything out of it; they just don’t get anything good out of it.  

Illusions, false consolation, spirits of lust, pride, worldly power or any of the thing that the prince of the world can offer is often times enough for people to sign up their name on the dotted line to become a full blown practicing pagan or devil worshiper.

It appears that many people are signing up. The US Air force academy built a Pagan worship circle somewhat recently   The “Church of England” wants to paganize things up a little bit and not convert the pagans, but allow the pagans to convert the "church of England" .

And I could provide examples from my own life of the growth of paganism.  Next to the University of Riverside, CA there is a large witchcraft store that not only sells wares for all your pagan needs, but teaches both in-store and online classes on how to practice magic. On Meetup.com there are 3 (2 relatively large) groups for pagan meetups within 5 minutes of riverside and only 2 for the Bible (and of those two one is for singles and the other is for homeschoolers and they are much smaller than the 2 largest pagan groups).

According to some Poll numbers there are now over 1 million pagans in the US  Based on the most recent survey by the Pew Forum on religion, there are over one million Pagans estimated to be living in the United States.  Step back for a minute and consider how many devout Catholics there are in America?

Yet we know that wherever the Kingdom of God  is idols lose their strength, demons are cast out, sorcery is confounded and the such like and the weakness of demons is truly revealed, so how can their be this growth and what does the spread of paganism say about the state of Christianity?

For one it says that there is a lack of saints.  Luke 17:20 tells us that the Kingdom of Heaven is within us. The incarnation of God as Man and us becoming adopted children of God has made even our very breath a means of expelling demons.  The very mention of the Holy Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, (which can only be done by the Spirit) demands immediate reverence and respect from every being.  There is more to the anti-Christianity of the pagan world than an irritation with the superficiality of  so much that is presented as Christian.

“We however make our proof  not in the persuasive words of Greek wisdom as our teacher has it, but we persuade by the faith which manifestly precedes argumentative proof” St Anthony of the Desert

Our Holy Religion is the most consistent, reasonable and logical religion but yet, without a living faith preceding its manifestation throughout society it will fail to win converts through persuasion. It will fail to break through the strangle holds of the works of the flesh made manifest.

Before becoming distraught though over the idea that to confound pagan worship we would need to be the greatest Saints, I wish to assure you that common but faithful Christians are enough to confound demons and put them to flight.  However, it is a faith that must be visible so that God have Glory through his mocking of demons

“But when, as my fine fellow proceeded in the rites, the frightful things assailed him, unearthly noises, as they say, and unpleasant odors, and fiery apparitions, and other fables and nonsense of the sort, being terror-struck at the novelty (for he was yet a novice in these matters), he flies for help to the Cross, his old remedy, and makes the sign thereof against his terrors, and makes an ally of Him whom he persecuted. And what follows is yet more horrible.
The Seal prevailed: the demons are worsted, the terrors are allayed. And then what follows? The wickedness revives, he takes courage again; the attempt is repeated, the same terrors return; again the sign of the Cross, and the vanishing demons; the neophyte in despair.”  St Gregory Nazianzens Section 55-56 First Invective against Julian the Apostate.

Notice here that Julian the Apostate who is being initiated into diabolic rites having already turned his back on his Christian faith, makes a sign of the Cross out of habit when in fear at the manifestation of a demon, and the demon is immediately put to flight.

There is very little doubt that Julian at this stage is not in friendship with God, and yet a little sign of the cross still confounds the demons.  Imagine the power that the Sign of the Cross has from a faithful Christian!

My friends, there is a reason why certain policies wish to forbid the wearing of Catholic sacramentals at work, ban the mentioning of the Holy Name of Jesus, strip crucifixes out of every building and why the devil assails weak Christians to not make visible signs of the cross when among other companions.

God, through these Holy gifts confounds the demons and confuses their plots and wickedness.  Consider the great promises just to families who enthrone the Sacred Heart of Jesus?  Be assured that when God allows himself to become dethroned visibly by the taking down of Signs of Faith, by the passing of obscene and evil laws, or the persecution of the faithful that he is making manifest that protections and blessings are being removed.

So what is the state of Christianity with the rise of paganism?  My dear friends, it is better already if you resolve today to live an authentic Catholic life and do all that you can within your authority to honor God. Enthrone the Sacred Heart in your house, wear a crucifix in public, make bold signs of the Cross everywhere and constantly say the Holy Name of Jesus with great reverence.  The Pagan world did not stand a chance against the power of God that was with the 12 apostles, so let God arise and let his enemies be scattered!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

"A saint in Heaven"

Today is the 50th anniversary of the death of Fr. Reginald Garrigou-LaGrange, OP, who was perhaps the greatest theologian of the 20th century.

While he is known for many things, the least of which includes directing the doctoral work of Karol Wojtyla, two of his lasting contributions to 20th century theology are his synthesis of systematic theology with spiritual theology and also his vehement defense of the scholastic tradition against modernity.

Regarding the first, Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange undertook the synthesis of Thomistic theology with the spiritual works of St. John of the Cross, showing how the two were in fact complementary. His most well-known spiritual work is entitled The Three Ages of the Interior Life, and can be found online in its entirety.

He is perhaps more well-known for the second of the two, his defense of the scholastic tradition against modernity. He is alleged to have ghost-written Pope Pius XII's great encyclical Humani generis, "Concerning Some False Opinions Threatening to Undermine the Foundations of Catholic Doctrine". Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange also gives a clear, concise, and very readable treatise against the Nouvelle Theologie in his famous essay, "Where is the New Theology Leading Us?"

His book, Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought, is perhaps one of the best introductions to theology in existence, apart from the Summa itself.

While his intellectual merit is beyond dispute, Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange also lived what he taught. Asceticism was not merely an intellectual pursuit, but a way of life, the way of holiness for a humble Dominican friar. Perhaps today, then, we can ask for the intercession of Sts. Dominic and Thomas for the raising of this holy man to the altar of our Lord.

For more information on Fr. Reginald Garrigou-LaGrange, please see the biography written by Fr. Thomas Crean, O.P. to be found here.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

New Book: "Hermits & Anchorites of England"


Often when we think of the hermits, we think of the very first centuries of Christendom, of men like St. Anthony of Egypt or St. Simeon Stylites who spent decades in solitude seeking God's face in the empty places of the earth. But usually our thought of the hermits ends there, for with the organization of monastic communities around Rules, such as those of St. Benedict and St. Basil, does not the age of the hermits end and the age of the monasteries begin?

In fact it did not. While monasticism became the dominant manner of asceticism, at least in the west, there always remained an eremetic strain, albeit a minority. Medieval Europe never lacked for hermits, dwelling in the caves of France or on the rocky isles of the Irish Sea, sanctifying the world by their presence and offering unceasing prayer to God.

Medieval England had a particularly rich eremitic tradition, one that began with the great hermits of the Anglo-Saxon and Irish tradition and continued right up until the eve of the Anglican revolution. This long tradition is documented in the newest addition to the Unam Sanctam Catholicam bookstore, a new edition of the classic 1914 work Hermits and Anchorites of England by English medievalist Rotha Mary Clay.

Biographies of medieval hermits are not easy to pin down. We know of them mainly through anecdotes in other historical works, occasional hagiographies of the exceptionally saintly, depictions in manuscripts, and finally through the dark caves and desolate peaks they inhabited that still survive. The lives of evangelical monks such as St. Columba or St. Dominic are well attested, while the annual events of the monasteries are preserved in the various monastic annals that still survive. But the hermits did not go out into the highways and byways seeking converts, nor did they have disciples to record their deeds. Their lives are cloaked in obscurity. The very hiddeness of the eremitic life means it is difficult to document. A hermit, by definition, is one who tries to avoid the attention of the world, and this includes historians.

This difficulty is especially acute in the case of England where, besides the typical difficulties faced by historians, we are also confronted with the rupture occasioned by the Protestant Reformation. The 14th and 15th centuries were particularly fruitful eras in the history of English Catholic spirituality; on the eve of the Reformation the English wilderness was dotted with men and women seeking holiness through the eremitic life. But beginning in 1536, the now-Protestant English crown pursued a policy of suppression of monasticism throughout the kingdom; the tragic history of the dissolution of the monasteries is well known. What is less well known is that the hermits of England were subject to similar attacks during the same period, being forced out of their solitary abodes and onto public pensions. Not content to suppress and plunder the monasteries, Henry VIII and his successors could not tolerate that even one solitary hermit remained in the fens and rocks of the kingdom praising God alone in his cell. Thus, a rich English tradition was destroyed and the English eremitic age seems like a distant dream.

It is here that Mary Rotha Clay’s book is so valuable. Drawing on land titles, legal records, primary sources such as the 13th century Ancrene Riwle (“Guide for Anchoresses”), and even archaeological remains, Ms. Clay is able to reconstruct a vivid picture of the eremitical life in Merrie Old England. We are introduced to characters such as Kenyth of Glanmorgan, a Welsh hermit who lived exposed to the rain and wind on a promontory jutting into the Irish Sea; David Welkes, a 15th century hermit of Dover who won the esteem of King Henry V; Celestria, an enclosed anchoress of Gloucester, and many more men and women who served God in solitude from the days of Hengist and Horsa right up until the eve of the Reformation, when the agents of Cromwell drove them out of hiding and made them pensioners of the Crown.

Hermits and Anchorites of England is particularly noteworthy for its abundance of illustrations depicting the caves and dwellings of these hermit folk. Most of these descriptions were collected by Ms. Clay herself during her extensive travels throughout England researching the work. Rotha Mary Clay was born on 17 August 1878. She was of the minor nobility, a sort of hermit herself, remaining unmarried her entire life and devoting herself to scholarly pursuits . She was attained the honorary degree of Master of Arts (M.A.) by Bristol University and soon after published exhaustive study of England’s medieval hospitals (1909) that is still valued by historians today.

Hermits and Anchorites of England (1914) gives us an example of Ms. Clay’s work in her prime. Reading her voluminous compendium of land titles, pensions and archaeological sketches, one is astounded by the level of research that went into this book – and in an era when the only way to see a ruin or examine a parchment was to take a horse drawn carriage out to inspect them in person! It is indeed unfortunate that Ms. Clay did not publish more, though we are thankful for what she did. 

This new edition of Ms. Clay’s work preserves the original text in its entirety, with only minor changes in punctuation to make it more palatable to modern American readers. Differences in formatting between this edition and the 1914 original made it impossible to retain every illustration on the same page as Clay had them arranged, but we have attempted to get as close as possible. The book contains over fifty illustrations; no illustrations from the original are omitted

It is our hope that this reprint of Ms. Clay’s classic work will inspire in the reader a greater love for England’s medieval Catholic heritage, enkindle a deeper understanding of the eremitic vocation, and hasten the return of the day when our culture is again seasoned with the presence of Catholic hermits offering their prayers and their very lives to God in the solitary places of the earth.

Many reproductions of older books are done using optical character recognition software (OCR), which works by simply scanning pages and attempting to use artificial intelligence to translate the characters on the page into a particular font. It is a sloppy method which often leaves pages missing, pictures omitted, and other characters in the text blurred, mixed up or missing. This is not an OCR reproduction; it is an actual new edition of Ms. Clay's work, fourteen months in the making, edited by hand with a new introduction. As far as we know, this is the only print edition of Ms. Clay's work that is not a digitized OCR reproduction.

Hermits and Anchorites of England, by Rotha Mary Clay
Paperback, 261 pages
$16.95 USD + shipping


Or, you can purchase it, along with other original , independent Catholic books, from the Unam Sanctam Catholicam web store, here


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Study Onto Salvation

Praying, fasting and almsgiving, the three eminent good works. Blessed is the man that studies to perfect these three parts of his Christian life. Those 10 and strict commandments, blessed is the man who keeps these perfectly and who has the love of the Father and the company of our Lord constantly.  John 14:23  

It is interesting to note how many great Saints were illiterate and yet so perfect in virtue and full of wisdom.  For example, St Anthony of the Desert never learned how to read or write, and yet he came to a great understanding of virtue through its constant practice and imitation of those around him who exceeded him in virtue. (To hear more on the life of St Anthony of the Desert, check out our new Audiobook on his struggles with demons!)

It seems to have become like an echo that continues to reverberate throughout the Catholic world in recent times “Know your faith” or “We have to study our faith”.  In my limited experience of going about to Catholic gatherings or listening to recordings  of various conferences and homilies, it is normally one of the primary solutions presented to the crisis in the Church proposed to the faithful.

The exhortation to come to know one’s faith is a good one. Faith most certainly comes from hearing Romans 10:17 and all scripture is useful for teaching 2 Tim 3:16:17. But just like prayers can be said out of self love or out of a desire to be seen, fasting for vanity, and almsgiving for human respect, study of the faith can become an occasion for curiosity, a source of pride, a distraction from duty, a departure from the cross.  Like any good thing, it must be subjected to reason, and it must have some specific end in mind.

 “Leave curious questions.  Study such matters as bring thee sorrow for sin rather than amusement.” The Imitation of Christ, Chapter 20 Of the love of solitude and silence.

It is fair to say that it does a man no good to memorize all the scriptures, or have an encyclopedic knowledge of the Catechism when he offends God by his life by breaking the commandments.  We shall know if our study is motivated from the desire to please God if it is done with the mind of conquering sin, growing in virtue, the defense of His honor, or the perfecting of a good work.

If you feel irritation at me because you believe such a thing is obvious, let me explain why I mentioned it.  Ever know a Catholic apologist who could not guard his tongue from bad speech?  How about Catholic bloggers who cannot help themselves at slandering and attacking others?  Or  knowing a person who, after studying theology, feels more comfortable in committing sins because they better understand the distinctions between mortal and venial sins? (This is explicitly mentioned as a problem in Outlines for Asceticism for Seminarians by FJ Remeler, a pre-Vatican II textbook)

I’m sure you could think of your own examples.  The truth is that the world, the flesh and the devil will do anything to interfere with the keeping and perfecting of the commandments and of our own prayer, fasting and almsgiving. God, in order to confound His enemy, allows us to be tested (like He did with St Anthony) but He is present during the struggle of his faithful. “The Lord is as a man of war, Almighty is His Name.” Exodus 15:3

“Let this especially be the common aim of all, neither to give way having once begun, nor to faint in trouble, nor to say: We have lived in the discipline a long time: but rather as though making a beginning daily let us increase our earnestness”  St Anthony of the Desert

Whenever we pick a work to study, hear a homily, or observe virtuous actions let us strive to make practical resolutions to become more pleasing to God, especially by more strictly keeping the commandments and perfecting good works.  By doing this, God Himself will teach you “And as for you, let the unction, which you have received from Him, abide in you. And you have no need that any man teach you; but as His unction teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie. And as it hath taught you, abide in Him.” 1 John 2:27

No matter what one does - apologetics, teaching catechism, instructing home-schooled children, or just being a good neighbor - this is the means of study that gives glory to God's kingdom and draws others to Christ our King.

“And it is [the interior life] important to us not only as individuals, but also in our social relations; for it is evident that we can exert no real or profound influence upon our fellow-men unless we live a truly interior life ourselves” The Three Conversions of the Spiritual Life, Fr Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange OP

So let us not run to study to find excuses to break commandments, avoiding dry prayer, enduring hunger and or suffering deprivation. “So let us daily abide firm in our discipline, knowing that if we are careless for a single day the Lord will not pardon us, for the sake of the past, but will be wrath against us for our neglect.” St Anthony of the Desert.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

"Return, O' ye revolting children!"


It is a principle of Sacred Scripture that people get the leaders they deserve, in spheres both political and spiritual. The rulers that people end up with usually reflect in themselves both the virtues and the vices of the age they live in. In the book of the prophet Hosea, God laments how Israel has gone astray in setting up rulers apart from those whom God has sanctioned:

"They have set up kings, but not by me; they have made princes, but without my knowledge" (Hos. 8:4).

What a terrible thought for the omniscient God to say a prince has been set up without His knowledge, as when our Lord says to the unrighteous, "I never knew you." This is an indication that these kings and princes are self-seeking and wicked; but then again, so was Israel. Only two verses earlier, God says,

"They have broken my covenant and transgressed my law...Israel has spurned the good; the enemy shall pursue him" (Hos. 8:1,3).

Because they have rejected God, they have bad rulers. These two things go together. The people get the ruler's they deserve, and if they get bad rulers, it is part of God's just punishments. There is a certain justice in this, as well. Since in rebelling against God, a person casts off spiritual authority, one punishment for this sin is to be oppressed by temporal authority. This is why historically, the most anti-Christian regimes have also been the most corrupt and oppressive to their populations. "Israel has spurned the good; the enemy shall pursue him."

Without the wisdom which comes from God, authority will always be oppressive:

"A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor;
but one who hates unjust gain will enjoy a long life." (Prov. 28:16)

Knowing all this, when we examine the quality of our rulers both spiritual and temporal, what other conclusion can we come to other than that we are under God's judgment? God Himself says that he brings calamity upon a people in proportion to their rejection of Him, and that this judgment is reflected in the impotence of political rulers to better their situation, as well as of spiritual rulers to console their flock:

"Disaster comes upon disaster, rumor upon rumor; they seek a vision from the prophet, but the law perishes from the priest, and counsel from the elders. The king mourns, the prince is wrapped in despair, and the hands of the people of the land are palsied by terror. According to their way I will do to them, and according to their own judgments I will judge them; and they shall know that I am the Lord" (Ezk. 7:26-27). 

God's judgments are given to that "they shall know that I am the Lord"; what else can be inferred other than that the reason for the judgments are precisely because we do not know that He is the Lord? Because we have not acknowledged Him in our ways, because, in the words of Pius XI, we have neglected the "public duty of reverence and obedience to the rule of Christ" (Quas Primas, 18). Our society has rejected God, and therefore God rejects our society.

Nor is the Church free from this judgment; in fact, the Church, she who ought to have turned the hearts of the people backs towards righteousness, has at times been complicit in allowing the spirit of the world into the Household of God. The priests who ought to have been the leaders have been the followers, leading their flock to the slaughter. This is why priests who have been so complicit bear a greater degree of guilt:

"Let no one contend, and let no one accuse; for with you is my contention, O' priest. You shall stumble by day, and the prophet shall also stumble by night...My people perish for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, therefore I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten God, I also will forget your children" (Hos. 4:4-6).

Again, God warns that the blessings of the priests will be turned to curses if ecclesiastics persist in ignoring God's commandments:

"And now O' priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not lay it to heart to give glory to my name, says the Lord of Hosts, then I will send the curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart" (Mal. 2:1-2). 

The prayed-for blessings turned to cursings? Anticipated springtimes become winters? A hoped-for new Pentecost that has resulted in a spiritual vacuum? It all sounds familiar, and in light of these passages, it makes perfect sense. Yes, this thing is from God. That God has us under judgment is clear, but because we are His Bride, His judgments are purificatory, not solely penal. It serves to call us back to Him, to refine us, to refine His priests:

"For he is like a refiner's fire and like fuller's soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi [the priesthood] and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the Lord." (Mal. 3:2-3).

The judgment begins here, with us, "For it is time that judgment begins at the household of God" (1 Pet. 4:17). The principles that were true in the Old Testament are still true today. If the priests of the Old Covenant were guilty of not reverencing the glory of God, how much more guilty are today's priests, who spurn the grace of a greater dispensation? St. John Eudes famously noted that the most evident mark of God's anger with His people was the affliction of bad clerics in the Church. His words are worth citing in full; notice how he, too, grounds this principle in the Old Testament:

"The most evident mark of God's anger and the most terrible castigation He can inflict upon the world are manifested when He permits His people to fall into the hands of clerics who are priests more in name than in deed, priests who practice the cruelty of ravening wolves rather than the charity and affection of devoted shepherds. Instead of nourishing those committed to their care, they rend and devour them brutally. Instead of leading their people to God, they drag Christian souls into hell in their train. Instead of being the salt of the earth and the light of the world, they are its innocuous poison and its murky darkness.

...When God permits such things, it is a very positive proof that He is thoroughly angry with His people, and is visiting His most dreadful anger upon them. That is why He cries unceasingly to Christians, "Return, O' ye revolting children . . . and I will give you pastors according to my own heart" (Jer. 3:14-15). Thus, irregularities in the lives of priests constitute a scourge visited upon the people in consequence of sin." [Chapter 11: Qualities of a Holy Priest, in The Priest: His Dignity and Obligations by St. John Eudes]

Yes, we get the rulers we deserve. But thankfully, that is not the end of the story. "'Return to me,' declares the LORD Almighty, 'and I will return to you," (Zec. 1:3). Let us return to Him with all our hearts, praying for our priests, praying fervently for godly vocations, for rulers, spiritual and temporal, who will acknowledge God in all their ways and be men after God's own heart. Let us remember that God's glory must be sought and honored first, above all else - above the opinions of men, above the fads of the age, above one's own desires. Only when this is the conviction at the heart of the priesthood will this judgment be lifted from us.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Think of Vengeance Find Forgiveness

Dear reader, if you have ever been victim to a heinous crime such as theft, adultery, slander or another deliberate cruelty perhaps you have struggled in your heart to forgive such an act.  The injury feels fresh, our enemy who would harm us almost seems to gloat in their evil.  But what factors play into our inability to forgive, when the Saints suffered so much and forgave so readily?

In my opinion, one of the chief roots of the problem is that we are convinced that we ourselves would never commit an evil act like that.  Who would steal from a friend or commit adultery with another person's spouse?  It is what gives us confidence when we say with passion that the most heinously wicked (like pedophiles) should be shot or hanged.  Perhaps our indignation only really gets going when we see liturgical abuse, and our feelings of piety and righteous zeal become inflamed as we condemn the other and proclaim that we would never perform such and such an irreverent act in the house of God?

So I place before you the following considerations for either dealing with forgiving others now or to remember the next time you are grievously offended.

Remember always human weaknesses, passions and our disordered appetites.  Many people (probably most) do not think that they will commit the sins that they later wind up committing. If you have ever had the misfortune to commit a mortal sin then you are capable of turning your back completely on God; if you have not, then consider the Saints of the Church who at some point lost grace through sin (like King David). You should have pity on fellow men who fall as many times they fall from weakness and not malice. We must identify the real enemy and apply our hatred there. Sin oftentimes is instigated from the suggestion of the author of lies, the serpent, the devil. Do not hesitate to increase your hatred against him.

The next thing to consider is that only the grace of God preserves us from falling into sin, whether they be big or small.   Grace that inclines a person to do a good act or resist a temptation  is called preventive grace, when he is performing a good act it is called concomitant grace and when he has completed it subsequent grace.  It is true that our free will must choose to cooperate with His grace, but without His grace we could never choose good, because we would neither feel inclined nor be able to resist evil.  We are all capable of falling into the most grievous and outrageous sins.

Finally, and most importantly, realize that those who have greatly injured us - barring they repent - will burn in Hell for all eternity. No matter how much you dislike them or how greatly they had hurt you, could you imagine them being shoved into an oven set to 800 degrees, followed by the burning of flesh, terrible screams and complete pain?  Perhaps you are very mad or greatly hurt? How many minutes would you extract your vengeance on them in it? One minute, one hour, one day?  I say it would take a matter of minutes, perhaps seconds, of suffering before even an angry heart would be filled with pity. This is a very poor comparison to the very fires of Hell that burn the damned day and night.   (To learn more about what Hell is like, check out The Torments of Hell on audiobook, free)

In order for our enemies to be forgiven by God they will have to feel remorse (including for their offenses against you), confess their sin (or be baptized if they have not yet been) and resolve - with the help of God's grace - to never commit those sins again.

Repentance from those coming from sin can be quite bitter, and real sorrow is like a sword through the heart; that is the medicine God will demand if they are to be forgiven. Without this, they will surly go to Hell.

When we considerable the most holy and terrible vengeance of God, it not only become easy to forgive but also to pray for our enemies, lest they perish in the eternal fires of Hell.