Monday, June 29, 2009

Two year anniversary

Today is the two year anniversary of this blog - 678 posts and 110,711 hits. Thanks to all the great readers and fans who have encouraged me, corrected me, and in general made this a fun and worthwhile exercise in Catholic commentary. I hope this 678th post finds you all well, especially Anselm who is in the process of removing himself from Gaming to Tramau, a city east of his current home and a little ways south of Vienna.

If you find this blog amusing, edifying, stimulating, entertaining, please send it to others. If you have been a regular reader of this blog, please chime in on the com box and let's hear where you are from. Just city and state/country will be sufficient. I'm curious to see where y'all are from.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Ark to be unveiled? Not so fast...

A few days ago I my attention was drawn to this article on World Net Daily, in which Patriarch Pauolos of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church reportedly stated that Ethiopia was about to make the Ark of the Covenant public, supposed to take place on Friday (June 24th):

"Soon the world will be able to admire the Ark of the Covenant described in the Bible as the container of the tablets of the law that God delivered to Moses and the center of searches and studies for centuries."The announcement is expected to be made at 2 p.m. Italian time from the Hotel Aldrovandi in Rome. Pauolos will reportedly be accompanied by Prince Aklile Berhan Makonnen Haile Sellassie and Duke Amedeo D'Acosta.

I was excited to hear the news, but skeptical that the Ethiopians would actually reveal the revered ark (if they have it). As it stands now, they keep seven deacons in the Church of St. Mary in Axum who will kill anybody who tries to get inside the inner sanctuary to view the holy object - that's right, kill. I was thus at first very skeptical that the Ethiopians would suddenly change their tune and decide to reverse centuries of policy of keeping whatever is in that Church a closely guarded secret. The announcement was supposed to be made in Rome on Friday afternoon.

Well, Friday came and no announcement. Then Saturday. And then Sunday. Something seemed fishy. Kudos to the blogger Richard Bartholowmew who tracked down a report from the Italian news agency Adnkronos, which was the source of the Ark story. Apparently, the rumor that the Ark was going to be revealed was based partially on bad translation, partially on World Net Daily's desire to promote a new DVD series on the Ark.

When one reads the original Italian, the mistranslation is obvious. What the Italian actually says is:

"I am not here to give evidence that the Ark is in Ethiopia, but I am here to say what I saw, what I know and I can testify."

Here is what World Net Daily reported:

"I repeat the Ark of the Covenant is in Ethiopia and nobody … knows for how much time. Only God knows."

A very gross translating error, one that has me thoroughly disappointed. I never really thought it would come out, but I perhaps entertained a glimmer of hope. Following the debunking of the WND story, they posted a follow-up, in which they accused the patriarch of "copping out" of his "promise" to reveal the Ark. Another source affiliated with the Ethiopian Church chimed in just to make sure the message was now unambiguous:

"I think Abba Pauolos must be out of his mind. … An (artifact) should not be shown or touched other than by the clergies but to put it on display is a reckless comment let alone doing it," the statement said. "Not only the local clergies but the people of Ethiopia won't allow it and it is not going to happen."

WND's mistranslation looks even less excusable when it was discovered that they are selling an Ark of the Covenant DVD set that is advertised in connection with the original story. The hype about the Ark spread so fast that the patriarch was forced to call a press conference on the 19th, in which he denied strongly that he had ever said what WND claims:

"I did not say that the Ark will be shown to the world. It is a mystery, an object of worship."

One thing suspicious about the article is the connection with the Pope and this announcement being made in Rome. It is very unlikely that the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church should do this in conjunction with any "conference" with Benedict: since even those members of the EOC cannot see the Ark, it is extremely unlikely that the patriarch would make this gesture to the Pope. Remember, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is distinct from the "uniate" Ethiopian Catholic Church, which uses a Coptic Rite and is in union with Rome. The EOC is a monophysite sect that rejects the Hypostatic Union, claiming Christ has but a single nature. It seems very odd that a Monophysite sect that will kill even members of its own who try to gain access to the Ark would suddenly feel a sense of ecumenical coziness to Benedict that would cause them to suddenly back away from centuries of secrecy regarding whatever is in St. Mary of Axum. That would be a greater miracle of ecumenism than the reconciliation of the SSPX.

So, looks like we are going to have to be contended to wonder and speculate about what is in that room in St. Mary of Axum.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Why did pagans convert?

Following up on my last post on the absurdity of attributing the conversion of pagans in the Roman Empire to the excellent system of Roman roads, let's look at what, in my opinion, are the top three reasons why pagans converted to Christianity.

First and foremost, as a kind of overarching supra-reason behind all the other factors accounting for the growth of Christianity, we must place the will of the Holy Spirit: God wanted the Church the spread to the four corners of the earth and actively intervened to accomplish His will. This, of course, would not be mentioned in secular accounts, but we ought to keep it before our mind as we look at these three other factors, all of which can be seen as the working out of this one principle in the realm of history.

In the first place, we could call to mind the witness of the martyrs. The deaths of the martyrs stood for something substantial and meaningful, as opposed to the frivolous Greco-Roman myths which were amusing and sometimes moving but not ultimately hope-giving or consoling. The fact that the martyrs were quite willing to be put to death for their faith only made it that much more evident to the pagans that their faith was not worth being put to death over; i.e., that it lacked any of the instrinsic worth that Christianity possessed. Men and women were put to death for refusing to deny Jesus, because they had a true and proper belief. Sure, pagans believed in their gods, but not in the same way Christians did. G.K. Chesterton pointed this out in The Everlasting Man when he said, "One did not say "I believe in Zeus, Hera, and Hermes" in the same way that a Christian would say, "I believe in God the Father almighty . . ." The witness of the martyrs proved to a pagan world that Christians did possess something of great value, which they evidently lacked.

The martyrdoms do not prove the truth of Christianity - they just prove that its adherents found some ultimate value in the religion, something which led others to examine it and to find that "pearl of great price." Thus, Tertullian is correct when he says "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." This is especially pertinent since the Feast of the First Holy Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church is approaching on June 30th.

In the second place, I am going to quote Dr. Ramsay MacMullen, Professor Emeritus of History at Yale and world renowned scholar on the conversion of Rome who has spent decades studying Rome in the second, third and fourth centuries. In his book Christianizing the Roman Empire he says that the most frequently cited reason (in ancient accounts) of why pagans converted to Christianity was because of belief in miracles; meaning, because one had either seen one, heard about one from somebody trustworthy, or was the object of one themself (Christianizing the Roman Empire, 108-109). This factor is certainly under reported in secular accounts of the Christianization of the Empire, but was of pivotal importance in the early Church .

Especially powerful tools of conversion were when miracles accompanied martyrdoms, such as the miracle of the flames at the killing of St. Polycarp and other like incidents. Miracles had an especially potent power in the Roman world due to the natural awe proper to humanity when confronted with a miracle, something which was only magnified by the traditional Roman superstitiousness. These miracles continued confirming the message of the Church well after the Empire's conversion, and St. Augustine wrote in 419 that "even now miracles are wrought in the name of Christ, whether by his sacraments or by the prayers or relics of his saints" (City of God, 22:8). Miracles are still a powerful yet underrated reason why many people convert.

Third, I would cite the innate superiority of the Christian approach towards life and death over that of the pagans. Some years ago, I had a copy of the classic work Documents of the Early Christian Church by Bettenson, in which one can read many of the inscriptions found in the catacombs and the tombs of the martyrs. Here is an example of some of them:

Here lies Marcia, put to rest in a dream of peace.

Lawrence to his sweetest son, borne away of angels.

Victorious in peace and in Christ.

Being called away, he went in peace

Clearly, when confronted with death, even the agonizing death of a Roman martyr, the early Christians approached it with a sense of serenity and acceptance. This was unknown to the pagans, among whom death remained a bitter and unfair burden on the human condition, one that was not alleviated by their multidue of gods and goddesses. Let's look at some pagan tomb inscriptions from the same period:

Live for the present hour, since we are sure of nothing else.

I lift my hands against the gods who took me away at the age of twenty though I had done no harm.

Once I was not. Now I am not. I know nothing about it, and it is no concern of mine.

Traveler, curse me not as you pass, for I am in darkness and cannot answer.

These inscriptions reveal a pessimism and profound dissatisfaction with the pagan religions' answers to the most difficult philosophical problems of life. Regardless of whether or not a pagan may have derived any happiness from their religion, it is undoubtedly the case that when confronted with issues surrounding death, the destiny of the soul and the meaning of life, the pagans remained dumb. As Christian thinkers became more precise in their language and adept at explaining the mysteries of the faith to the people, the pagans perceived the inherent superiority of the Christian worldview to their own proto-nihilistic pessimism about existence. The fact that all the pagans did end up converting to Christianity is the strongest historical witness to this truth.

So there you have it - the witness of the martyrs, the many miracles wrought by the fathers and saints of the early Church, and the philosophical superiority of Christian thought over pagan thought, all part of the Holy Spirit's grand design for advancing Christianity throughtout the world.

Is this not a more satisfying account of Christianity's spread than 'Roman roads'?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Enough about 'Roman roads!'

Okay, so how many times have you allowed yourself to be suckered in by some article or program about the origins of Christianity only to find it full of modernism, heresy and faulty history? Your eyeball twitches as you attempt to sit through at least the next ten minutes, until finally you shut it off in anger when Jesus Seminar luminary and heretic ex-priest John Dominic Crossan appears on the screen jabbering about the historical Jesus.

In such popular documentaries on Christianity, I am very interested in how the phenomenal growth of Christianity in the Roman Empire is presented. In looking at the reasons most commonly put forth, we can see that they are all worldly and secular. For example. it is stated that Christianity grew because, unlike pagan religions, it accepted the poor. I don't know where people get this idea that pagan religions "didn't accept the poor" - sure, the poorer Romans wouldn't have had a chance of being initiated into the Elusinian Mysteries or of becoming Vestal Virgins (just like today the Church of Scientology and Kabbala seems to be restricted to the rich socialites), but Roman religion was syncretist and practical, and thus had gods and rituals for every walk of life. The poor certainly were not neglected by pagan religion - in fact, as we learn from the accounts in the life of St. Benedict, it was the rural poor who clung to paganism the longest. The poor had access to religion in paganism, even if it was only the vulgar cult of Priapus. To be sure, Christianity offered more to the poor by way of charity and egalitarian acceptance into the Church, but to say that the poor had no share in pagan religion is way too simplistic. The poor and even slaves were sometimes admitted to the obscene Bacchanalia alongside the wealthy, which were going on in Rome and Greece way prior to Christianity.

There are similar assertions about Christianity's growth that say it was because of its acceptance of women, but again, women were always accepted in pagan religions - some cults were exclusively made up of women, like the Bacchanalia, which were led by women and originally reserved exclusively to them. We could also mention the priesthood of Cybele and other cults, which though they were shameful, cannot be said to have been restrictive of women. Christianity certainly did elevate the status of women, but again, this was not as radical a break with pagan tradition as some would assert, and certainly a little bit of social advancement was not enough incentive on its own for Perpetua and Felicity to endure their grotesque martyrdoms for. These are weak explanations of why Christianity grew.

But first among the stupid accounts of the conversion of the empire is the assertion that "Roman roads" accounts for Christianity's explosive growth. I have heard this so many times that I am going to vomit if I hear it again. It has even become a standard explanation in Christian circles. A quick web search on Roman roads and Christianity brings up a plethora of not only historical sites but Christian sites where the explanation of "Roman roads" is put forward as a prime reason why Christians should believe their faith spread so fast. Here is a standard quote from an evangelical website:

The Roman Roads also served Christianity. Although the early Christians often suffered tremendous persecution from the Romans, the Roman Roads permitted the apostles and many of God's people (particularly those who held Roman citizenship) to travel much more easily, while protected by patrolling Roman troops from detachments who were stationed along the way. It's actually quite ironic that the infrastructure of the empire that attempted to destroy Christianity also made possible its spread to the very farthest frontier regions of the then-known world.

I don't debate anything here, but this is listed as the first reason why Christianity spread, and furthermore, no other reasons are given.

Roman roads certainly made travel easy, but that's an obvious redundancy - like saying that my drive to work was made possible by the car I was riding in. The Roman road system was neither the primary reason for Christianity's spread nor the only one. Take, for example, the rapid spread of the faith through rural Europe in the so-called Dark Ages: Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Scandanavia, etc. None of these places had the benefit of "Roman roads," yet zealous monk-missionaries spread the faith there just as effectively, proving that Roman roads were not a prerequisite to the quick and effective spread of the faith.

But, if we do a quick Google search on why Islam spread so rapidly, we can find this enlightening answer:

Although there were Arab conquests, the biggest reason Islam spread so rapidly was not because of the sword, but because of conversion. People were accepting Islam because of the message it was sending and because the Islamic world at that time had such a huge impact in world literature, arts, sciences and philosophy.

and also

When Islam appeared it played to the Arabic sensibility that they were the real chosen people ... [it] brought a very real improvement to the sense of worth in the Arabic world.

Did you hear that? Christianity spread because of Roman roads, but Islam spread because it made the Arabs have high self-esteem!

Now that we've looked at some of these over-exaggerated worldly reasons put forward for the growth of Christianity, next time we'll look at the true, supernatural explanations to account for the conversion of the Roman Empire.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Finally done

Well, I finished my Henry VIII paper a few days back, and last night was given over to putting the finishing touches on my presentation board that I'm using for my oral report today. I personally hate making these things, and I am a little put out that they are required in a senior seminar college class, but it wan't all that bad - I just feel a little juvenile cutting and pasting. Anyhow, here's the beast:

Today I have to give a talk before the faculty of the history department, then give a second presentation on my findings and conclusion - I'm sure exactly what the difference between the two talks is supposed to be, but I'll figure a way to muddle through. Pray for me!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Corpus Christi Procession

I just finished putting together the photo album from my parish's Corpus Christi procession...very beautiful. Have a look.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Lansing Ordination

Today I was tremendously blessed to attend the ordination of a friend of mine from college at Ave Maria, Mark Rutherford, now Fr. Mark Rutherford. This was the first time I have ever been to an ordination and it was quite an experience - I will confess that I was very teary eyed at least four times, partially from the penetrating knowledge of what it means to become a priest, and partially from the fact of my old acquaintance with Mark and seeing somebody who went to school with and studied with going up to the dignity of the presbyterate.

Mark currently has a You Tube conversion story video that has been circulating for about a year and has gotten several thousand hits:

We got to the Lansing cathedral around 10:15 and were greeted by a bunch of protesters out front. The protesters were from some "Catholic" group demanding married priests and women priests. It was a pretty pathetic protest; I think no more than five. Most of the people going in to the ordination just stopped to laugh at the protest, and I stopped to click a few photos:

As you can probably see, this one says "God is not a He; God is a We." It is true that God is a Trinity, of course, but this in no way negates His Fatherhood. Well,'s a stupid misunderstanding and not worth refuting here. Here is a photo of a lady claiming that 39 popes were married -

There certainly were a few popes who were widowers, and this could be a twisted reference to that, but I think mainly its just plain stupidity. Finally we have this humorous sign reading "Jesus was Inclusive!" case you can't read the bottom, it says "Yes to RC Womenpriests."

At any rate, I went into the cathedral and happily forgot about this riff-raff. The Lansing cathedral is pretty good as cathedrals go: it's got a nice neo-gothic look, stained glass, large and dominating cruicifix over the altar. The sanctuary area is a little minimalist, however; the altar is very table-like and the tabernacle is off to the side, but other than that it's not too bad a place. Here's a pic of the outside and then one of the sanctuary being prepared for the ordination:

The musicial selection for the liturgy was quite good and the choir sounded extremely professional. Some of the selections included Mozart's "Ave Verum Corpus," the "Asperges Me" for the sprinkling rite, and I think I heard 'Adoro Te Devote" and "Salve Regina" being played instrumentally before the liturgy. After the laying on of hands, at this part where all the other priests of the diocese come by and pray over the new priest, the choir sung the "Veni Creator Spiritus" which was very moving. It went on for a while, so I managed to take some film of it:

There were a few things I didn't understand, probably because I know very little about how ordinations are done, either now or in the past. I always thought the form of ordination was something about the words "receive the Holy Spirit to offer the sacrifice of the Mass and proclaim the Gospel" or something like that; I know the whole controversy over Anglican Orders was that they had changed the words in their prayer. But at the laying on of hands, where orders is actually conferred and the sacrament is bestowed, the bishop prayed silently. In the program, it reads,

"The bishop lays his hands on the candidate's head in silence. In this ancient gesture, he invokes the Holy Spirit and confers priesthood. Then, all the priests lay hands on the candidate."

Our current bishop, Earl Boyea, is very trustworthy liturgically and used to celebrate the Extraordinary Form over at St. Josaphat in Detroit, so I know this is not an innovation on his part but is probably what the current rite prescribes in the Ordinary Form. He did mention the sacrifice of the Mass and the proclamation of the Word, but not until later when he was anointing the candidate's hands with chrism, but I don't think the anoiIt was my understanding that the form of a sacrament was always something audible, some kind of words vocally uttered. Can someone who knows more about this perhaps comment on it? (Please, no comments trying to prove that NO ordinations are invalid).

One other thing I didn't know about: in this rite, the bishop seemingly asks permission of the people assembled to ordain the candidate, as if it is up to the people. The program read:

Election by the Bishop and Assent of the People

"The Bishop, in the name of the Church, chooses him to be ordained. The assent of the People of God is required before a member of the Chuch can be ordained for service to the Church."

Was it ever part of sacramental theology that the bishop ordains priests by the assent of the Church? I know in the ancient times men were often chosen for Holy Orders by acclamation, but I am unsure how and if this was part of the traditional ordination rite. Does anybody know (1) If historically the bishop symbolically asked permission of the people to ordain, and (2) if ordinations pre-1969 were even open to the public?

Also, at the litany of the saints, Origen somehow found his way in there again. I am at a loss as to why Origen is in the litany of the saints, but he continually is mentioned in the GIA version.

At any rate, the whole thing was beautiful. I got really teared up when I watched the newly ordained Fr. Mark giving Holy Communion to his father - something about a son becoming a father to his father really chokes me up. It was a wonderful day, and I pray blessings on Fr. Mark Rutherford in his new ministry.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Terrible Witness

A very pious and orthodox priest that I knew confided to me recently that he had been very upset by the uncharitable behavior of some fellow Catholics. This is nothing new, but he stressed that these Catholics were traditional, orthodox Catholics - the kind who really shouldn't be offending by their lack of charity.

He told me two very interesting points: first, he said that when traditional Catholics behave in this cold, uncaring manner, it makes him have more sympathy for the liberals and progressives. Coming from him, this was very shocking, but I can see his point. A happy progressive is more pleasant to be around than a stuffy, frowning, kill-joy trad (not to say all trads are stuffy or all progressives are happy).

Secondly, and more I think to the point, he said that traditional Catholics who are cold, uncaring and rude seem to be of the opinion that the fact that they hold the correct faith and have the proper bonds with the Church somehow excuses every other defect or flaw in their lives. This is hitting the nail on the head: being a traditionalist or orthodox or faithful or whatever you want to call it is not the end of faith - that is simply the faith. It is not as if you have arrived by simply believing what every Catholic is supposed to believe. The end of the faith is holiness, holiness "without which no man will see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14). If trads think they can get off being arrogant, vindictive, uncharitable and downright unpleasant just because they are trads, then they are sorely mistaken.

I say this from first hand experience, and many of you who have been around traditionalism for a long time can verify this. I have known trads whose faces are stuck in perpetual frowns. I've met some who couldn't muster up a sense of humor about the littlest thing, who a perpetually looking for something to criticize. It is worst when priests are dragged into it - when a priest tries to do something traditional for the first time, like celebrating ad orientem or having a Corpus Christi procession, and instead of being thankful they complain that he is not doing it good enough or to their specifications.

If trads complain when priests are trying to be traditional but are still learning, what are our pastors to think about trads in general? We all have to be holy, and holiness is charity. While I know there is a time for rebukes (which are always to be mild, according to St. Paul) and for boldly proclaiming the truth (in love, again Paul tells us), we ought not to go around in a perpetual "attitude of rebuke," where we simply live to rebuke and chastise, like the woman one blogger wrote about who sits in the Church with a stack of pamphlets on why it's sinful to talk before Mass and just waits for some person to violate that point of etiquette so she can rush up, tell them to be quiet and hand them a pamphlet, which she always has on hand.

Humility. Humility. Humility. St. Bernard said these were the three greatest virtues. If we are privileged to know and believe the truth, it is because God in His infinite mercy chose to extend His grace to us, like Xerxes extending the golden scepter to Esther even though she merited death by entering his chambers unbidden (Est. 5:2). It is assuredly not because we are better than anyone else. Many of the saints who were religious, when asked if they thought they were better than others who didn't do as rigorous penance, said that on the contrary, they were worse sinners and needed the extra penances and disciplines imposed by the religious life because they were so weak that without them they would fall away. That ought to be our attitude: if God gives us any special grace at all, whether it is to know and love the traditional Mass or whatever, it is because we are so weak that we needed it to stay faithful. Therefore, we have absolutely no grounds for boasting.

Interestingly enough, I have noticed one very important but unlikely factor that is present in all pleasant, well-rounded traditionalists that tends to set them apart from irritable, wet-blanket trads. It is very simple: G.K. Chesterton. Those who love G.K. Chesterton always tend to have a more balanced, humorous and common sense approach to things, even things pertaining to God and the liturgy. Those "stuffy" trads who are frumpy, frowning and complainers cannot seem to tolerate G.K.C. and don't understand why so many people like him. This is just an observation that is far from scientific, but what do you think? Do you know any mean-spirited trads who are Chesterton fans? I don't. Chesterton seems to keep things pleasant and put people in their proper place in a humorous sort of way.

Any how, in conclusion, just because you are traditional doesn't mean you have a blank check to be a jerk.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Leviticus vs. Deuteronomy

Perhaps this is inspired by the research I have been doing for my senior thesis on the divorce case of King Henry VIII, but I thought I'd take a crack at the apparent contradiction between Leviticus and Deuteronomy regarding the issue of a man marrying his brother's wife. Here is another case in the Scriptures where two verses, if read without the context of the rest of Scripture and with a modernist mindset against biblical authority, seem to contradict each other but can be happily resolved by a brief look at other relevant passages and historical precedent of interpretation and application.

First, in Leviticus 20:21 we encounted this verse, the one that meant so much to Henry VIII:

If a man takes his brother's wife, it is impurity; he has uncovered his brother's nakedness, they shall be childless.

This verse specifically forbids a man taking the wife of his brother. Pretty straightforward. But here, in Deuteronomy 25:5, we have the Law of Moses commanding what it apparently forbid previously:

If brothers dwell together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead shall not be remarried outside of the family to a stranger; her husband's brother shall go into her, and take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her.

In Deuteronomy, the marriage of a man to his brother's widow is considered a duty imposed upon him by God, called the "levirate marriage" (from levir, meaning 'brother-in-law'). Can these two verses be resolved without asserting that Scripture forbids and commands the same thing?

These two verses have been debated about since the beginning of Church history and are quite interesting because unlike other issues of apparent biblical contradictions (here and here) that are more on the level of the theoretical, the interpretation and application of these verses has passed concretely into canon law in how the Church looks at certain types of marriages. It has very practical consequences. Let's look at some hypotheses posed over the years on how to reconcile these verses, many of them used in the Henry VIII divorce case.

First, perhaps Leviticus is meant to be taken literally but Deuteronomy is spiritual? St. Augustine once argued against the Manichean Faustus that when Deuteronomy said that the passage is to be interpreted as instructing preachers of the Gospel to raise up "seed" (new converts) for their dead brother, Christ (Contra Faustum 32:10).

This argument suffers from several defects: first, it fails to reconcile the two verses, instead just explaining one away as a spiritual admonition. Second, any solution which posits to simply choose one as literal and the other as spiritual possesses a very arbitrary quality: couldn't one make an equal argument for the literal interpretation of Deuteronomy over Leviticus? Third, any use of a spiritual interpretation must be built first upon a literal foundation - you can't just say that there is no literal interpretation underlying the allegorical (unless it is clearly allegory, which it isn't - the passage from Deuteronomy falls in the same sections in which the Ten Commandments are spoken, hardly a place to insist on allegory! Fourth, St. Augustine does not even adopt the allegorical interpretation given above - if one reads the entire text of Contra Faustum, we see that Augustine is not denying a literal application of Deuteronomy but is rather citing this allegory as an example of how the Old Testament still has relevance to the New. That he believed in the historical reality of levirate marriage and its justness is indisputable from On the Harmony of the Gospels 2:3 where he cites the levirate as the reason between the discrepancies in the genealogies of Christ in St. Luke and St. Matthew. Therefore, we cannot cite St. Augsutine as a proponent of the allegorical view.

So we have shelved the idea that one is literal and one is allegorical. Perhaps Leviticus simply forbids intercourse with a brother's wife while the brother was still living, thus leaving freedom for a younger brother to marry the wife of a deceased brother who had died without issue. This argument was supported by Alexander of Hales as well as St. Albert the Great, but it has one major weakness, being its redundancy. To say you can't have intercourse with your brother's wife while he is still alive is to merely condemn adultery, and adultery is condemned already in many other places, rendering the specific prohibition of Leviticus superfluous.

A second argument might be that Leviticus forbids a man from marrying a woman whom his brother had put away, say for adultery, but did not impinge on his duty to marry a dead brother's wife, thus fulfilling Deuteronomy. However, this interpretation seems to limit the text much to narrowly and really draws a lot out of the text that is not warranted; i.e., Leviticus mentions nothing about whether or not the brother had put his wife away - it simply forbids another brother to marry her.

The best resolution for these two verses - the one adopted by St. Augustine and also St. John Fisher in the Henry VIII case (but also Ambrose, Chrysostom and Aquinas) - was that Leviticus was to be interpreted maximally as forbidding a man to marry his brother's wife under any circumstances - whether she was a widow or not - with one exception: if that brother had died without issue. This interpretation has the benefit of being true to the context of each Scripture, does not rob Leviticus of its binding nature but gives full room for a man to fulfill the obligation of Deuteronomy. Thus, Deuteronomy can be seen as the one exception to the general rule laid out in Leviticus.

But if marrying a brother's wife is always bad, how does it suddenly become good just because the brother had died without heir? St. Robert Bellarmine agreed that a union between brother and sister-in-law was base, but that the good that would come out of the marriage outweighed the baseness of the union. The marriage, which would have otherwise been forbidden, was made "honest" by the good that was expected to come from it (De Matrimonio).

This interpretation is also is born out by Scripture: Judah commands his sons to perform the levirate duty with regard to Tamar, widow of his eldest son Er, not once but twice (Gen. 35). In the Book of Ruth, Ruth has to perform an elaborate ceremony against a relative who has refused to perform her levirate duty in order to obtain legal permission to wed Boaz, a more distant kinsman. Furthermore, and most importantly, the above interpretation of the levirate obligation has been used since the time of St. Augustine (see Retractions II.7) to explain the divergent genealogies of Christ in St. Matthew and St. Luke. This would make St. Joseph the biological son of Jacob, who had married the widow of Heli in order to raise up seed for him - and thus Joseph is called both the son of Heli (by levirate) and son of Jacob (biologically). One certainly cannot say that the levirate obligation is negated when it was practiced even within the holy family.

So, we are left with a resolution to the two apparently contradictory verses which is exegetically sound, upheld by other Scriptures, as well as historical precedent (for this principle passed into the canon law of the Church) and gives adequate literal application to both the Levitical prohibition against marriage to a brother's wife and the Deuteronomic verse that allows for an exception if the brother has died without issue. Another nail in the coffin of those who say the Scripture contradicts itself.

By the way, thanks for your patronage of this blog - if this is your first time here, and if you enjoyed this post, check out some of my favorite posts here. Also, be sure to scroll down the side-bar for other favorite posts.I recommend my posts on reconciling apparent Scriptural contradictions, such as:

Synthesizing Resurrection Appearances
Conflicting Passover Chronologies?
On Seeking and Finding

Friday, June 05, 2009

Feast of St. Boniface

Today is the feast day of the patron of this blog, St. Boniface (I actually took my blog alias from Pope Boniface VIII, but since he is not a saint, St. Boniface of Germany will have to do).

St. Boniface was an English Benedictine monk who became the great Apostle of Germany. He was put to death at Dokkum in 755.

O God, Who didst vouchsafe by the zeal of blessed Boniface, Thy Martyr and Bishop, to call a multitude of peoples to the knowledge of Thy name: grant, in Thy mercy, that as we keep his solemn feast so we may also enjoy his protection.

I particularly like St. Boniface because he was willing to cut down the pagan shrine rather than tolerate the worship of false gods in his presence. I've often thought of this story when I hear about the Hindu shrines erected at Fatima and that sort of nonsense...

Homosexuality, Slavery and the Holocaust

I recently was asked by a friend to provide a rebuttal to the arguments of a certain homosexual Catholic who said that the Church would eventually change its teaching on homosexuality and apologize for its condemnation of homosexual acts, just like it needs to "apologize" for slavery and the Holocaust. I know it is a silly thing to waste time refuting, but I made some attempt to do so, and if you want to look at my eleven page outline on homosexuality, slavery and the holocaust, you can view it here. It is not an essay, but a structured series of arguments in outline form that were meant to help the person it was written for argue the Catholic position in a clear manner. I thought it might be interesting since I havent been able to post for the past few days. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Consequentialism or Providence?

Regarding the recent murder of the well-known abortionist George Tiller, the question has arisen over what is the proper Pro-Life response to this killing. Tiller was one of the most vocal, unapologetic advocates of abortion and estimated that he had personally killed over 20,000 babies without an ounce of regret. Yet many in the Pro-Life movement, while rightly condemning vigilantism, are coming out with way over the top statements almost in defense of Tiller - for example:

Today's actions were tragic, and serve as another reminder that all human life is sacred. Pro-lifers by our nature and commitment to human rights reject violence as a means of resistance. Our thoughts and prayers indeed extend to the Tiller family and the community at Reformation Lutheran Church (American Life League)

This senseless act of violence represents the utter antithesis of a people of life. The tens of millions of Americans who peacefully pray and work every day for the protection of all human life are rightfully grieved by this news (President of Catholic

I understand expressing a healthy Catholic sentiment that God rejoices not in the death of the sinner and that cold blooded murder can never be sanctioned. And yet, I find these "condolences" a bit too much. I'm not "grieved" at the news of his death. I am grieved not that he died, but that he died unrepentant.The man had ample opportunity to repent and chose not to. I see his death as a way of God stopping something that we should have stopped by legal means long ago.

As has been pointed out by many others, he Pro-Life movement is operating under a modern and fallacious assumption that it is always wrong to kill or take any life (as opposed to the traditional understanding which prohibits murder but allows for other licit circumstances for taking life). Much of this "sympathy" I think has to do with the Pro-Life movement not wanting to offend the politically correct media or do anything that would make them look less mainstream.

So, on the one hand, we have many bubbling affectionate platitudes about how all killing is evil and expressing regret for Tiller's death. Then, on the other extreme, would be those who would say that vigilante killing is a legitimate way to right the wrong of abortion since the powers that be will not take care of it. I cannot agree with this position. Though I don't personally know anybody who holds it, it appears the killer did. It is true that murder is still murder, and that vigilantism cannot be condoned, because along with the truth that it is sometimes necessary and just to take life comes the corresponding truth that only the legitimate authority can undertake this, and only through morally licit means (ie., the proper legal channels). So, I cannot support the position that "anything goes" in the fight to stop abortion.

The Catechism makes an interesting statement with regards to war that I think is applicable in this situation, too: "The Church and human reason both assert the permanent validity of the moral law during armed conflict. "The mere fact that war has regrettably broken out does not mean that everything becomes licit between the warring parties" (CCC 2312). In the same way, just because we are in a state of "war" against the culture of death does not mean that any method is licit in the winning of this fight.

Then what is the proper response to Tiller's murder? I have taken the approach that while I can never condone vigilante killings, I view this particular killing as providential. That is, I don't condone the means, but now that it is done, things are better off with him gone.

However, some may say that this opinion is consequentialist, meaning that I am wrongly judging moral actions based on the outcome or consequences without taking the act itself into consideration. Accordingly (some would say), if we condemn the means we have to condemn the end as well.

I don't think my position on this matter is consequentialist for a few reasons:

1) Consequentialism would be saying that the goodness or badness of an act is derived from its consequences alone. I am making no such assertion about the act; I maintain that the act of murdering George Tiller was an objectively evil one and I think the person who killed him sinned thereby (though I agree the culpability might be mitigated due to who Tiller was). It is possible to judge the act bad and the consequent good. Like supposing an arsonist sets your house on fire, but when it is burned down, you get a $1,000,000 insurance payment and get a much nicer place, so that in the end you can say, "I don't condone arson or anything, but I came out of this pretty well!" I don't condone vigilante killing, but now that he is in fact dead we are better off. I'm making a statement about the state of affairs we currently find ourselves in without reference to how we got here.

2) The means by which Tiller met his end are really inconsequential in the long run. We are all going to die, and the world will either be better or worse when we do for every one of us. What if Tiller had lived out his days and died peacefully in bed at age 90? Well, the world would still be better off without him, I'm sure. When he's dead he's dead, and the means by which one dies is really only a matter of importance to the one doing the dying. But if he had lived out his days and died naturally, would the Pro-Lifers still be offering all these condolences? After all, in some sense, it's tragic when anybody dies under any circumstances. Of course not. If he had died naturally, nobody on the Pro-Life side would be saying any such things as we here now. This demonstrates that they are overly focused on the inconsequential fact of how he died instead of the monumental fact that he is dead. The fact that I could say "The world is better off without Tiller" regardless of how or when he died is evidence that my judgment is completely separate from the act, and the fact that he is dead is what I think is good. I could care less how he went out, whether from a gunshot or heart attack brought on by cholesterol; death is death, and if he was bragging about performing 20,000 abortions, then I'm glad he's gone.

3) I admit that I am indeed focusing on the consequence here, but I am not saying the act is good because of the consequence, and therein lies the distinction between a consequentialist approach and just saying that Tiller's death is providential. God, in His providence, decided the time was right and allowed this fellow to be removed from the earth. We should neither be hot for blood and more vigilante killings (Ezekiel 18:32 reminds us that "God hath no pleasure in the death of the wicked"), nor should we weep with sympathy that the poor abortionist had somebody else take his life from him (everybody has their life taken from them, and if God in His providence chose to do it by the hand of man, that is His prerogative) - we should, I think, stoically assert that in God's providence Tiller got what he deserved and stand back in marvel in awe at how God works things out, giving thanks that Tiller's death means life for untold thousands, regretting that he died unrepentant, and all the while shrinking in humility, knowing that any of us could be taken out by God at any time with equal and unannounced celerity.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Thought's on Tiller's murder

Pro-Life "terrorists" plotting their next act of violence

Now that George Tiller has been regrettably slain by someone ostensibly acting on behalf of the Pro-Life movement, we are seeing a very strong push in the media reports of the incident towards painting Pro-Lifers as terrorists, in keeping with the official Obama administration's position elucidated by Janet Napolitano a few weeks back.

An article in the local Kansas paper The Wichita Eagle has gone to great length to point out the connection of the alleged gunman, Scott Roeder, with violent anti-government groups. This may or may not be the case, and I don't doubt that the killer may have been part of such groups - but it is interesting to note how the Eagle presents this. Look:

The suspect in custody in connection with the slaying of abortion doctor George Tiller was a member of an anti-government group in the 1990s and a staunch opponent of abortion.

In the rear window of the 1993 blue Ford Taurus that he was driving was a red rose, a symbol often used by abortion opponents.

Roeder, who in the 1990s was a manufacturing assemblyman, also was involved in the "Freemen" movement.

"Freemen" was a term adopted by those who claimed sovereignty from government jurisdiction and operated under their own legal system, which they called common-law courts. Adherents declared themselves exempt from laws, regulations and taxes and often filed liens against judges, prosecutors and others, claiming that money was owed to them as compensation.

In April 1996, Roeder was arrested in Topeka after Shawnee County sheriff's deputies stopped him for not having a proper license plate. In his car, officers said they found ammunition, a blasting cap, a fuse cord, a one-pound can of gunpowder and two 9-volt batteries, with one connected to a switch that could have been used to trigger a bomb.

Okay, so look at the first paragraph that states categorically that Roeder was part of an anti-government group. Then what substantiating evidence are we given to back up this claim? He had a red rose in his window...okay...anything else? In the third paragraph, it is simply reasserted that he was part of an anti-government group and the group is labeled as the 'Freemen.' Then follows a paragraph of who the Freemen are - that's helpful - and then a story of how Roeder was arrested once with bomb-making materials in his car.

Well, fine, but does any of this establish that he was part of some organized group and anything other than a lone wacko? Oh wait, there was his license plate:

Roeder, who then lived in Silver Lake, was stopped because he had an improper license plate that read "Sovereign private property. Immunity declared by law. Non-commercial American." Authorities said the plate was typical of those used by Freemen.

So the plate is 'typical' of those used by the Freemen. But does that establish that he was a "member of an anti-government organization" as the introductory paragraph states? Thta's like saying that a if I have a bumper sticker that says "Keep Jobs in America" it necessarily follows that I am a UAW member, since this is a bumper sticker 'typical' Union members would have. Sure, this Roeder character may have sympathized with the Freemen or like groups, and as I said above he may very well have been a member, but this allegation is not substantiated by the evidence that the reporter of this article has given. The idea is to draw a connection, however tenuous, between Pro-Lifers and some kind of organized terrorist organization.

One more thing - where is the evidence that actually connects Roeder with the killing? Okay, so he was arrested once in 1996 with some questionable stuff. So he posted a lot on anti-abortion websites. So he said Tiller had to be "stopped." All well and good, but when it comes to Roeder's arrest, all I ever see is that he was "apprehended" in connection with the killing - what is the exact connection? This is what I want to know. As you'll read in the AP article below, nobody at the church where Tiller was killed mentions Roeder or seems to have seen him.It's just interesting the obvious stuff that these stories neglect to go in to.

The AP story on this event has also tried to draw a more general link between violence and Pro-Lifers than is warranted. Look at this paragraph:

There was no immediate word of the motive Tiller's assailant. But the doctor's violent death was the latest in a string of shootings and bombings over two decades directed against abortion clinics, doctors and staff.

Okay, the "latest" in a "string" of shootings and bombings over "two decades?" Does that sentence make any sense? It's like saying, "The attempted murder Ronald Reagan in 1981 was the latest in a string of assassination attempts going back two centuries," as if to give the impression that presidential assassinations are the norm or that there is some ongoing trend. The last abortion-related murder of a doctor or other personnel before Tiller's was eleven years ago. Eleven years is hardly a proximate chronology to state "a string of shootings and bombings."

In fact, the National Abortion Federation reports only 17 attmpted murders since 1977 - and only 7 in the past thirty-two years, or an average of one killing every four and a half years. Now, any murder is tragic and to be condemned, no matter how much the victim may have merited it. But to take something that on average happens only once every four and a half years and try to twist it to give the impression that it is a constant campaign is dishonest.

I'd better just give you the rest of this AP story with my comments and emphases:

The slaying of the 67-year-old doctor [Why mention that he's 67 years old? Is that relevant? I think they are trying to make us think of him as a defenseless old man, not as the murderer of over 20,000 children] is "an unspeakable tragedy," his widow, four children and 10 grandchildren said in statement. "This is particularly heart-wrenching because George was shot down in his house of worship, a place of peace." [So, killing a person in what should be a place of peace is 'particularly heart-wrenching' says the abortionist's wife? Hmmm...makes one think]

The family said its loss "is also a loss for the city of Wichita and women across America. George dedicated his life to providing women with high-quality health care despite frequent threats and violence." [Remember, Tiller was once charged with 11 counts of criminal misconduct including performing an abortion on a fetus that was viable without having a documented referral from another physician not legally or financially affiliated with him; unprofessional or dishonorable conduct or professional incompetency; and commitment of acts likely to deceive, defraud or harm the public." (source)]

Stolz said all indications were that the gunman acted alone, although authorities were investigating whether he had any connection to anti-abortion groups [The Wichita Eagle seems to think the Freemen were involved in someway].

Tiller's Women's Health Care Services clinic is one of just three in the nation where abortions are performed after the 21st week of pregnancy. The clinic was heavily fortified and Tiller often traveled with a bodyguard, but Stolz said there was no indication of security at the church Sunday.

Anti-abortion groups denounced the shooting and stressed that they support only nonviolent protest
[As they should]. The movement's leaders fear the killing could create a backlash just as they are scrutinizing U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, whose views on abortion rights are not publicly known [The timing of this whole thing is interesting, is it not?].

"We are shocked at this morning's disturbing news that Mr. Tiller was gunned down," Troy Newman, Operation Rescue's president, said in a statement. "Operation Rescue has worked for years through peaceful, legal means, and through the proper channels to see him brought to justice. We denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place this morning."
[And Operation Rescue and such organizations are the mainstream of the Pro-Life movement - most Pro-Lifers are non-violent, despite what the media is trying to have us believe]

President Barack Obama said he was "shocked and outraged" by the murder. "However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence," he said.

At Tiller's church, Adam Watkins, 20, said he was sitting in the middle of the congregation when he heard a small pop at the start of the service.

"We just thought a child had come in with a balloon and it had popped, had gone up and hit the ceiling and popped," Watkins said.

Another usher came in and told the congregation to remain seated, then escorted Tiller's wife out. "When she got to the back doors, we heard her scream, and so we knew something bad had happened," Watkins said.

He said the service continued even after an associate pastor announced that Tiller had been injured. "We were just really shocked," he said. "We were kind of dumbfounded. We couldn't really believe it had happened."

Tiller had in the past endured threats and violence. A protester shot Tiller in both arms in 1993, and his clinic was bombed in 1985. More recently, Monnat said Tiller had asked federal prosecutors to step up investigations of vandalism and other threats against the clinic out of fear that the incidents were increasing and that Tiller's safety was in jeopardy. Stolz, however, said police knew of no threats connected to the shooting.

In early May, Tiller had asked the FBI to investigate vandalism at his clinic, including cut wires to surveillance cameras and damage to the roof that sent rainwater pouring into the building.

In 1991, the Summer of Mercy protests organized by Operation Rescue drew thousands of anti-abortion activists to this city for demonstrations marked by civil disobedience and mass arrests.

Tiller began providing abortion services in 1973. He acknowledged abortion was as socially divisive as slavery or prohibition but said the issue was about giving women a choice when dealing with technology that can diagnose severe fetal abnormalities before a baby is born.

Nancy Keenan, president of abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America, issued a statement
praising Tiller's commitment. [Barf]

"Dr. Tiller's murder will send a chill down the spines of the brave and courageous providers and other professionals who are part of reproductive-health centers that serve women [Abortion centers "serve" women? Reminds me of the way the aliens in the Twilight Zone said they were here "to serve man"] across this country. We want them to know that they have our support as they move forward in providing these essential services [Abortion on demand is a fundamental human right, remember?] in the aftermath of the shocking news from Wichita," Keenan said.

After the 1991 protests, Tiller kept mostly to his heavily guarded clinic, although in 1997 he opened it to three tours by state lawmakers and the media. He wore a button that read "Trust Women."

The clinic is fortified with bulletproof glass, and Tiller hired a private security team to protect the facility. Once outside the clinic, Tiller was routinely accompanied by a bodyguard.
[He must have been pretty wealthy to afford all this stuff - in his appearance on O'Reilly some years back it was stated that he had made millions in this vulgar trade]

At a recent trial, he told jurors that he and his family have suffered years of harassment and threats and that he knew he was a target of anti-abortion protesters.

Federal marshals protected Tiller during the 1991 Summer of Mercy protests, and he was protected again between 1994 and 1998 after another abortion provider was assassinated
[The last one before Tiller to be killed, over eleven years ago] and federal authorities reported finding Tiller's name on an assassination list.

Tiller remained prominent in the news, in part because of an investigation begun by former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, an abortion opponent.
[Okay, so (a) what was the investigation about? Don't you think the reader would like to know this Why doesn't the reporter state that Tiller was charged with 11 counts of criminal violations and 19 misdemeanor violations? Well, it must not matter, because (b) since the Attorney General happened to be against abortion, nothing he says matters]

Prosecutors had alleged that Tiller had gotten second opinions from a doctor who was essentially an employee of his, not independent as state law requires. [Just a technicality - no mention that the 'opinion' had to do with the killing of a viable fetus - and no mention of the charges of 'professional incompetence' or intent to 'defraud and harm the public'] , charges a jury in March acquitted Tiller of all 19 misdemeanor counts.

"I am stunned by this lawless and violent act, which must be condemned and should be met with the full force of law," Kline said in a statement. "We join in lifting prayer that God's grace and presence rest with Dr. Tiller's family and friends."
[Nice way to close - the Pro-Abortionists invoking God's grace and mercy while the terrorist Pro-Lifers are out plotting more killings]

This killing will provide all the justification Napolitano needs in her crusade to label Pro-Lifers as terrorists...

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