Ad Limina Apostolorum (Blog) | St. Augustine's Library
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Remark of the week 

Tapping into the conversations between Zorak the Mantis and Old Oligarch is, at times, one of those things that get me through the day. The pair - the only two members of St. Blog's that I know of who are bound in holy matrimony - are expecting their first child shortly. This has got to be my favorite O.O. comment ever:

Had me in stitches.

# posted by Jamie : 12:40 PM


The Anglican Quest for Cultural Relevance continues! 

Now I'm at least half-sympathetic to efforts like this, cheesy as they are, and though they are more likely to make the church look pathetically desparate than to actually attract serious churchgoers. But the fact that the 'goody bags' include only 'fair trade' chocolate, and are a part of broader marketing proposals which include showing 'comedy videos' during the 'autumn harvest' service, earn this event a spot in the 'Anglican Quest for Cultural Relevance' file (TM).

# posted by Jamie : 10:37 AM


Monday, August 30, 2004

Coming Clean 

All right, I've kept this to myself long enough. Just over a week ago, my family purchased 115 (yes, one hundred and fifteen) cabbage patch kids, with my knowledge and approval.

The purchase was instigated by my wife; I objected at first but then gave in. I won't fess up the amount spent, but let's just say it was way more than I would ever have thought they were worth, but (apparently) way less than they actually are worth. My wife's eccentric get-rich-quick scheme this month is to sell them on ebay (in case you're interested), after buying them for dirt-cheap at a thrift shop whose owner had no idea how valuable they are. I'm the weirded-out and yet slightly bemused onlooker, but getting more and more weirded out as this thing pans out. We received a phone call from a strange, effeminate man last night, who insisted he was an itinerant truck driver from Washington state, and, in a sort of hushed voice, offered to buy one doll for over ten times what my wife paid for it, for his alleged 'sweetie-pie.' (Did you know ebay gives out your phone number? I'll never sleep at night again.)

So my life is consumed with cabbage patch kids. Our spare bedroom is overrun, and the kitchen table is no longer usable. The things scare me. They remind me of bloated corpses, with their puffed-out faces and eerie grins. Reputation is another concern. I've done pretty good so far at keeping this to myself. But five minutes ago someone I don't know very well asked me if I was the guy with the 'cabbage patch wife.' And he didn't remember who it was who told him. My guess is it's already gone through the office like wildfire.

# posted by Jamie : 3:39 PM


In case you didn't notice... 

This past Saturday was St. Augustine's feast day. I would have written up something more dramatic, exciting, and more worthy of so great a saint (who has, through unforeseen circumstances, become the patron saint of this blog), but as today and tomorrow will be busy days, this piece from Catholic Exchange will have to do.

# posted by Jamie : 2:24 PM



If you were a prominent church hosting a nationwide campaign "to recover America's spiritual, moral and democratic values," to be formally announced at a Sunday Worship Service, who would you invite to speak?

Former President Bill Clinton, right? (From Bill Cork.)

# posted by Jamie : 2:18 PM


More on Murray 

Christopher of Against the Grain has published a more lengthy treatment of John Courtney Murray's thought, focused on its present-day utilization in defending the pro-choice position (see my own 'Abortion and the Common Good' from last week), the newest feature on his fantastic resources/blog site 'The Church and the Liberal Tradition.' Christopher expands upon some of the observations I noted, and puts Murray's thought into its broader legal context. Reading this short article should leave no question that Murray, whatever the shortcomings of his own thought, has been unkindly betrayed by his own legacy.

# posted by Jamie : 1:20 PM


Friday, August 27, 2004

In case you need more idiocy in your day 

A recent article by America magazine is taking the statistics I cite below as the swan song for a celibate priesthood. As usual, the mainstream media takes it and runs with it, in completely the wrong direction. This article, far from being 'food for thought,' is the literary equivalent of starvation. There are so many erroneous and far-flung notions that I don't have time to comment on them. It's a useful benchmark for how little the secular media understand our Church.

# posted by Jamie : 2:32 PM


"Any real magic will appear as technology to the unenlightened" 

Secret Agent Man on Arthur C. Clarke and modern man's divinization of technology.

# posted by Jamie : 1:29 PM


Keyes the Thomist 

Good, faithful, and conservative friends of mine have written off Keyes as a political vigilante, a moral demagogue, and utterly unelectable. Perhaps there's some truth there. But he seems to be the only one in the Republican Party who has the capacity to intellectually and substantively reflect upon the issues involved, and the philosophical bases of the conclusions he has come to, rather than fumbling through a 'policy-by-the-polls' approach or a crude reactionism. Listen to him weigh in on homosexual marriage:

"When you talk about those rights endowed by God and you talk about issues of affirmative action or any other issues, one of the core principles as it relates to the notions of natural law is the idea, as you well know, that you cannot be judged for those things which you are powerless to affect - gender, race and so on. If, in fact, as some scientific studies suggest, that being homosexual is, in fact, biologically determined, what then would be wrong with granting rights, and even the right to marry?"

"First, no study has made such a determination. . . . And I say that unequivocally. I've looked at the question many times. Second, we are all in a certain sense genetically and biologically predisposed to a kind of sexual promiscuity. We want to engage and indulge our sexual appetites in ways that have no respect for basic human requirements, conventions, family responsibilities and so forth. That's not just true of homosexual people. That's true of heterosexual people. Healthy, red-blooded males who are sexually attracted to every attractive woman they see, and vice versa.'"

"We as human beings cannot assert that our sexual drive is uncontrollable. If we do, civilization is ended. These are not things we can't control. Our passions are precisely subject to our moral will and our rationality. That's what makes us human. So if you're going to tell me that the sexual impulse of anybody -- not just homosexuals -- is uncontrollable and you've got to do it, then you have removed us from the realm of human moral choice and you have consigned us to the realm of instinctive necessity and animal nature. And we are not there. I will not deny our humanity

"So I think that in this area as in all the areas of passion: our anger, our greed, our resentment, our jealousy -- these are all passions that can be very strong in us but which we know must be disciplined and regulated by our moral will for the sake of conscience and human community. And we have to expect that of one another. Do you realize that the very idea of freedom and self-government is absurd if we are, in fact, subject to uncontrollable passions? Then we're not free. We're slaves to our passions. But that's not so. We believe in this country, in liberty, in . . . true moral choice. And that moral choice is possible with respect to sexual action to such a degree you don't even have to engage in sexual activity. You can refrain from it altogether, if you think that is required by the dictates of moral conscience. And that capacity shouldn't be denied in any human being. And I don't think it's a question of homosexual or heterosexual. It's a question of humanity

I mean, come on, the man talks like he's reading from a Thomistic manual on moral theology. (Courtesy of My Domestic Church.)

# posted by Jamie : 1:09 PM


In case you needed a dose of humility today 

I've just discovered the blog of a young man by the name of Apolonio Latar III, whose work others have apparently been enjoying for some time. Now, I know, his name is the first cool thing about him. I mean, with a name like that you're destined to be either a bishop or a rock star. But the second cool thing is that he writes pieces like this (which make my pitiful attempts at blog-theologizing look rather embarrassing), and he's . . . in high school.

# posted by Jamie : 9:20 AM


The Feast of Saint Monica 

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of Saint Monica, mother of St. Augustine. If you think about it in perspective, she seems an odd choice for a saint. Even her son's memoirs of her, as detailed in his Confessiones, in which he would have been as motivated as any to present her in the best possible light, can hardly be considered hagiography. She emerges as a very ordinary woman. As a wife, she knows her place and remains somewhat aloof from her husband. As a mother, she is controlling and even overbearing towards her son; when he goes abroad as an adult, he must lie to her and sneak away under cover of night, lest he face her wrath. Yet she still succeeds in giving the 'once-over' to all of his associates in Milan, to be sure he is in good hands; she eventually follows him there, and even coerces him into an undesirable marriage, for the sake of the family's social standing. And she has the expected foibles as well: given to gossip, wrapped up in native superstitions, and not above drinking a bit too much wine on occasion. What is it, then, that makes this woman a saint?

The answer we all know: she spent herself in prayer for her son's salvation. So the office reads, "The tears of Saint Monica moved you to convert her son Saint Augustine to the faith of Christ." It was this goal which motivated all of her actions; images of her son's spiritual state even haunted her dreams at night. St. Ambrose was so shocked by her tearful petitions that he remarked to her, "It cannot be that the son of these tears shall perish." And so she pressed on, obsessed and driven to secure this goal, if she accomplished nothing else in life. And, once satisfied that he was converted, she stated that she was ready to die, and this she did only weeks later. Augustine's father, Patricius, stubbornly pagan, remains an absent and remarkably unlikeable figure; he appears as ambitious and proud, preoccupied with what his son's social achievements might do to advance the family's public status (though he, too, is brought to conversion at the end). But Monica accomplished in prayer what she could not bring about through persuasion. And we must assume that the immense spiritual harvest which arose from his life, was sown through the tearful prayers of his mother.

But the fruits of her piety were not limited the sphere of prayer: When Augustine, with his years of intense philosophical and rhetorical training, once invited her to engage in one of his philosophical dialogues for amusement, she stunned him by holding her ground with gracious ease. She remains for Augustine a model of what can be accomplished in the life of the mind through piety rather than book-learning, and thus it is she - and not his fellow students - who shares in the most intense mystical experience of his life, when mother and son shared in the fruits of Paradise while standing at the window in the port city of Ostia.

Her words to her newly-converted son, shortly thereafter, are what make Monica a perpetual inspiration for a Christian mother, and this may give us a hint at why the Church has determined to place her in the ranks of her saints:

"Son, for mine own part I have no further delight in any thing in this life. What I do here any longer, and to what I am here, I know not, now that my hopes in this world are accomplished. One thing there was for which I desired to linger for a while in this life, that I might see thee a Catholic Christian before I died. My God hath done this for me more abundantly, that I should now see thee withal, despising earthly happiness, become His servant: what do I here?" (Conf. 9.10.26)

# posted by Jamie : 8:44 AM


Thursday, August 26, 2004

On Pannenberg and the Eschatological Orientation of the Church 

Often what an author gets right is less interesting than what he gets wrong.

For example, it is less interesting that Plato grasped the soul's immateriality than that he left to posterity the erroneous notion of its preexistence. That he realized the world to have been generate by a single, monolithic deity is compelling, but I find it much more fascinating that he never quite managed to shake the notion of primal matter, eternally contiguous with this deity. Those areas in which Plato's knowledge fell short show us both the indefatigable powers of human rationality, and the ever-so-finite limits of those powers.

Having just finished the third volume of the finest work of the great Lutheran theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg (i.e., his Systematic Theology), I am both amazed at the depths of his profound insight and all-encompassing reflection, and at the same time keenly piqued at the foibles and failings of this magnum opus, which are probably clearer today than when he wrote it some years ago.

I just came across a well-written review of this work by Robert Jenson of First Things (and this one, of volume 2). He provides an excellent summary of the points I'm making.

Pannenberg's overriding concept is an eschatological, or 'futurist' view of God, and of epistemology. As the future has an ontological priority over the present, and God 'comes to us' always from the future, it follows that our knowledge of truth, in the present age, is always provisional upon its eschatological fulfillment. Hence, all 'truth-claims' must be viewed as likewise provisional, and this belief has rather telling implications for the science of dogma, the implications that one might expect from a post-Kantian European theorist.

Pannenberg does not believe, however, that the possibility of true religious knowledge is therefore futile. To the contrary, he is remarkable forward in his assumptions that certain Christian dogmas - especially those rooted in history - are empirically verifiable. The resurrection of Christ is a case in point, and Panneberg often frustrates mainstream, liberal Protestants with his insistence on the absolute historicity - and verifiable historicity - of this event. The resurrection, in fact, represents the only exception to Pannenberg's belief that all present truth-claims are provisional, because this event represents the 'inbreaking' of the eschatological future into the present moment. Yet Panneberg is hesitant to draw forth any conclusions from this decisive event as far as epistemological content is concerned. In fact, one can draw no metaphysical or ontological 'data' from this event; rather, it represents a 'truth claim' in the order of the will (not the intellect), inasmuch as one is 'staking a claim' in history, very much through an act of faith that what is claimed will ultimately be substantiated in the eschaton.

The implications of this epistemological field of vision for building a systematic ecclesiology are immense. Since no ontological (or rather, as I prefer, 'realist') truth-claims can be made with any definitive certitude on this side of eternity, the teaching office of the Church becomes virtually a fifth wheel, with little function aside from repeating creedal statements which it must admit are ungrounded and rationally unverifiable. How far from the Catholic vision, in which the Church's capacity to declare - and that infallibly - eternal, divine truths is central to her mission.

Perhaps Pannenberg's inability, or perhaps unwillingness, to take this step arises from an inadequate christological foundation of his view of Church. Given his admittance that the resurrection of Christ constitutes the only possibility for epistemological certitude, one must ask, is there then no connection between the Resurrection and the establishment of the Church? Indeed, for E. Schillebeeckx, the Resurrection itself constitutes this establishment, as the Church subsists only as the earthly 'elongation' of the glorified body of the risen Christ, drawing all of her prerogatives directly from the glorified Lord, now established in His Kingdom. If this latter conviction holds water, and it seems to find some support in the teaching of St. Paul, then one would be justified in asking whether or not the eschatological consummation of all things has indeed broken into the present, not only in the isolated event of the resurrection, but in the ongoing mission of the Body of Christ, the Church.

The eschatological orientation of the Church was a central facet of the thought of Origen of Alexandria (in fact, this was the subject of my master's thesis a couple years back, if anyone needs help with insomnia - know that it put my wife to sleep after the second page). Perhaps Panneberg's individualist view of the Church - unduly and disproportionately influenced by modern sociological theory - could profit from a more thorough imbibing of patristic and Medieval thought, which could never have described as a "society united by individuals’ shared interest" (Jenson's words, above) that which was, for them, that eschatological community in which eternity had staked a claim on the present age.

# posted by Jamie : 10:09 AM


Reunion All Round 

The Pontificator has made me aware of this wonderful satirical essay of the good Msgr. Ronald Knox, written in 1914, and alternately titled Jael's Hammer Laid Aside, and the Milk of Human Kindness Beaten Up Into Butter and Served in a Lordly Dish. It's a sarcastic take on the latitudinarian tendencies which were then beginning to creep into the Church of England, and which have since overtaken and conquered it. He begins, "It is now generally conceded, that those differences, which were once held to divide the Christian sects from one another . . . can no longer be thought to place any obstacle against unity and charity between Christians; rather, the more of them we find to exist, the more laudable a thing it is that Christian men should stomach, now and again, these uneasy scruples, and worship together for all the world as if they had never existed." At once acidic and prophetic.

# posted by Jamie : 9:39 AM



This week, with the help of my gracious webmaster, Christopher, I've been making some changes to the template this week. My long-term project, a comprehensive 'Augustine Library' - which will hopefully one day contain all on-line texts in all available languages, with appropriate commentaries and articles - has grown too large for this page, and was slowing down the feed, so I had it moved to another page (available, for now, on the horizontal bar up above). I've also been adding some liturgy links on the sidebar - Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, and Prayers - which will expand over time (mostly culled from other fine blogs out there). I'll shortly be adding some Scripture links (and hopefully hagiography and iconography), and few other categories. The blogroll is also being edited, with inactive blogs being removed and others added.

Any suggestions for links, etc. are more than welcome.

# posted by Jamie : 8:53 AM


Wednesday, August 25, 2004

The last acceptable prejudice in action 

Bill Cork continues to chronicle the fallout over religious discrimination at my alma mater, which has now begun to receive national attention. See articles here, here, here, here, and here.

# posted by Jamie : 4:15 PM


The Priesthood in the Year 2020 

I just finished reading an article by CUA sociologist Dean Hoge in the OSV publication 'The Priest' (I can't find the article on-line, chances are it'll show up sometime). Hoge is at the forefront of modern sociological studies of the American Catholic Church (without the leftist spin of folks like Greeley); his recent studies have shown up recently in Zenit and elsewhere, and his data is supported by another recent survey from the Official Catholic Directory, which shows the number of priests in this country rapidly shrinking. This article, entitled 'The Priesthood in the Year 2020,' paints a fairly harrowing picture of where the priesthood is going. Even taking into account the steadily-increasing number of American vocations, and the importing of priests from abroad, Hoge predicts that, by the year 2020, we will see (1) a decrease in the number of priests by approximately 20%, (2) an increase in the number of Catholics, and hence, in the laity-per-priest ratio (from 1,305 per priest to 1,500 per priest), (3) an increase in average parish size (from 3,086 to 3,700), (4) an approximate doubling of the number of 'lay ministers' involved in parish work, (5) an increase in parishes with no resident priest (15% to 25-30%), and (6) a much better-educated laity.

His general predictions, aside from the obvious ones of fewer priests who are more in demand - 'a smaller priesthood serving a larger Catholic community,' include a greater amount of ministry being performed by deacons or laymen (note that the ranks of the permanent deaconate, paradoxically, are swelling out of control), and what he calls an adjustment to a 'style of Catholicism in which sacraments are less central.' Before you jump the gun on accusations of heterodoxy, this is simply a reality for many Catholics, who simply do not have regular access to the sacraments (Mass, confession, last rites, etc.). It may be hard to imagine a Catholicism which has adjusted itself to more or less infrequent access to sacraments, but it's even harder to imagine any other scenario, given the data.

Of course, this is no time for despair, and things can always turn around. A rapid influx of vocations could change things (although Hoge claims it would take a tripling of vocations to keep the number of priests steady). Hoge's proposal - rather bizarre, I think - is invite back to the active priesthood those who have previously left it for marriage (apparently there are up to 16,000 of these men out there), as an irregular measure to keep the numbers up; others have proposed inviting members of the permanent diaconate to priestly ordination, permitting them a limited extent of priestly ministry. I don't think either are particularly workable ideas, but the numbers are pretty dreary, either way you look at them.

# posted by Jamie : 2:48 PM


Tuesday, August 24, 2004

"A martyr for the Church" 

Christine at Laudem Gloriae links to this cool story about a priest who died on the Titanic.

"He regularly gave masses on the Titanic, and was strolling along the deck reciting the Breviary when the ship was struck. He spent the rest of his time consoling and calming others, helping women and children into lifeboats. He was twice offered a seat but refused, remaining behind to give absolution and pray the Rosary with other passengers. He died along with 1500 others in the North Atlantic, and his body was never recovered."

Full story here.

# posted by Jamie : 9:41 AM


On Male Friendship 

I just finished my second viewing of Return of the King, the third installment of the Lord of the Rings film adaptations. Although best viewed on a big screen (rather than my twelve-inch television), it took my breath away nonetheless, and reaffirmed its status of one of my favorite films of all time (and definitely the best of the trilogy).

Something else jumped out at me, though, this time around. My first reaction after seeing the film, when asked about it, was that this film is first and foremost about relationships. In this respect, it is faithful to the book. Though the war scenes are grand and sweeping, actual combat accounts for only a few fleeting scenes. The vast bulk of the screen time is given to providing insight into the personalities of the main characters, showing us how these personalities develop, and most of all, how they do so by relating to one another. Sam comes center stage here, as do Merry and Pippin (in this film alone, it seems), and Aragorn as well. Sadly, we get very little sustained insight into Gimli's or Legolas' characters or their relationships, since they serve mostly as stock or even stereotyped characters. Frodo, too, remains elusive, but occasionally he does open up to others, and to us.

Most of all, we see the relationship between Sam and Frodo develop, especially between their painful falling out over Gollum's trickery and their touching solidarity at the foot of Mount Doom. The moment where Sam actually picks up the collapsed Frodo and carries him up the mountain is etched in my memory as a dramatized reenactment of Simon of Cyrene's bearing of the cross at Golgotha. The relationship between the two, at times, becomes intimate on a very deep level, and at times reaches such an emotional peak that it made me shift in my seat with a bit of discomfort. We're not used to seeing men relate with such intimacy and raw sincerity. When we do, we generally suspect that they're, you know, up to something. But Frodo and Sam's relationship is built upon a personal history of self-sacrificing love for one another, the mark of true friendship, and it is this alone which sustains them on their long pilgrimage together through the valley of Mordor. A friendship built upon a foundation such as this, I suppose, is what can allow them to look lovingly into one another's eyes as the seconds tick by, in a way that would make the rest of us men shy away, embarrassed and humiliated. The reason, is, I think, not that we're more masculine, but that we're not masculine enough. We're uncomfortable with our own manliness. Or rather, we've become impotent at the skill of building true masculine friendships. Our estrangement from our own masculinity makes us, in general, more comfortable in the company of women than with men. Or, when we are with men, we tend to divert our attention as far away from them as possible, avoiding at all costs actually engaging them in sustained, intimate and open conversation. That's for girls.

I ran across an article by Opus Dei priest Fr. John McCloskey some time ago, featured on someone else's blog (I forget whose), entitled Friendship: Key to the Evangelization of Men. Worth a few minutes of reading, I think, to return to a skill which is far too lacking in our times.

# posted by Jamie : 8:28 AM


Monday, August 23, 2004

Okay, this is getting weird 

If you've been blessed to be in a parish which uses the Gather Comprehensive Hymnal, and even more blessed to hear the so-called 'Servant Song' ("be fair and just, be merciful and true, these are the things I am asking of you!"), you may have noticed that it bears an odd similarity to the 'Oompa Loompa' song from Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory ("Ooompa Loompa Doompadee Doo, I've got a perfect puzzle for you!"). Seriously, the meter and rhythm are identical; I think it must have been inspired by it.
What's even eerier is if you look down to find out who the composer is. It's jointly composed, by two songwriters by the names of 'Ziggy Stardust' and 'Bobby Fisher' (you can find the song and last names of the composers somewhere near the middle of this list, if you don't believe me). 'Ziggy Stardust,' of course, for anyone who wasn't alive during the '70s, was the rock alter ego of the legendary frontman David Bowie. (Fisher I initially misidentified with Bobby Fischer, the equally eccentric world chess champion who disappeared from the world scene some time ago under mysterious circumstances, which weirded me out even more.) I have searched in vain to establish some connection between David Bowie and the Gather Hymnal's 'Servant Song,' but my efforts to make sense of the link have been fruitless. Either Bowie actually wrote this song (not entirely out of the question), or someone who writes for Gather took this as his songwriting pseudonym (not out of the question at all, given the cultural demographic of Gather's composers). Why do I bring this up now, after years of musings on my part? Because I just noticed a recent visitor to my blog from another blog maintained by two Spanish-speakers, by the names of 'Ziggy Stardust' and 'Fishman.' Sometimes life is stranger than fiction.

# posted by Jamie : 3:52 PM


Abortion and Bad Capitalism 

I've always found this odd. The far-left has generally shunned the assumptions of free market capitalism, and routinely mocks the language of 'supply' and 'demand,' when utilized in an mechanistic and overly-simplistic way which is seemingly blind to the vagaries of the real-life economic market. But there is one platform when the left can be trusted, without fail, to unreflectively and dogmatically propose this exact language, in its most naive form: the abortion question.

Thus the logic flows:
No one really 'likes' abortion, it is said. It's all a rather messy business which is best avoided altogether. But the real question, you see, is how to best 'reduce the number' of abortions. An outright ban, if enacted, would aim to reduce the supply of abortions, but would have no effect whatsoever upon demand; and an unmitigated demand, of course, would lead to drastic problems: unsafe 'back-alley' abortions, a vast abortion black-market, a massive bloc of now-criminalized citizens entering the penal system, etc. However, if we look at the reasons why women have abortions - i.e., the demand side of the equation - we see such factors as poverty, violence to women, paternal neglect, failed contraception, etc. By reducing these factors we reduce or eliminate the demand for abortions, which, in the end, is a much safer and less coercive strategy than the former.

This picture, of course, represents naive, outmoded, 'invisible hand' capitalism at its worst, a grotesque distortion which Adam Smith would have scoffed at, and which is rightly called into question in modern economics. Yet it is propounded, day in and day out, by countless 'pro-choice' lobbyists. Here in its starkest sense on the website of 'Catholics for a Free Choice' [sic]; a similar (if slightly more intelligible) version popped up yesterday on CKW, which got me thinking.

Such logic falls short on several accounts. First, it defies all the evidence we have on hand. Fact is, an the 'outright ban' approach was the norm before 1973. Debates rage on about the actual number of abortion which occurred during this period, with NARAL and others vastly inflating the numbers, but one would be hard-pressed to prove that the numbers during that period were anywhere close to where they are now. Hard statistics (here and here) on abortions only began in 1973. From this time, once abortion was legalized, one sees immediate jumps, and then a steady and rapid ascent, with the stats now holding steady at near 200% what they were in '73. Attempting to demonstrate that a return to the pre-1973 legal status would have no effect on minimizing abortions is a difficult case to make.

Secondly, it ignores the pedagogical effect of the law. In discussions of the morality of abortion, while pro-choicers will often grant the general moral undesirability of the action, they will often fall back on the stock phrase 'Well, it's a constitutional right.' In other words, we have no right to question it. Of course, this hasn't stopped us, in the past, from calling into question all sorts of laws (such as the Jim Crow laws) which were found to be immoral. But my point is that there is often an unstated assumption, which would never hold water if rendered explicit, but which undergirds much of the resistance to change the laws: 'If it's legal, it must be okay.' This is true especially for children and youth, who have no experience of life before the law, and for whom the current state of the law is simply the norm. The function of the law is not only to reward good and to punish evil, but to teach what is good and evil, by proposing and outlining which actions are deserving of merit and blame. When you punish a child, e.g., the purpose of the act is not strictly penal, but pedagogical: you draw a connection in his mind between a given behavior and an undesirable response. By legalizing abortion we teach people that it's morally acceptable. It doesn't follow that every morally unacceptable action should be criminalized (although certainly some should), but it does reveal the difficulty one will have in discouraging an action which is constitutionally protected.

Thirdly, it ignores the reality of sin. This is a specifically religious argument, but it is one that needs to be addressed. Mark Shea might dub this the 'sin makes you stupid' argument. Sin is inherently irrational. One does not generally commit a sin after a careful premeditation of the presumed merits or demerits of that activity, along with a cautious evaluation of the possible consequences. Most lies, threats, murders, thefts, and assaults arise from of an unreflective paroxysm of the passions, a subsersive and impulsive sublimation of the will to the rational faculty (rather than an ordered integration). Sin results, above all, from what St. Augustine called cupiditas, an obsessive and irrational love of self, divorced from any concern for others or the common good. Men in the happest imagineable marriages still end up in the arms of prostitutes, and the most moneyed and opulent youth still shoplift from department stores. Sin arises from 'the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.' In other words, you can eliminate and minimize every factor which might lead a man to sin, but if his heart is still hard and if his lust is unchecked, he will sin anyway, if only to spite you. And this is one of the purposes of law, viz. to place a check on the unbridled lusts and ambition of men, as a means of preserving peace and order and of preserving the common good.

Fourthly, when we're speaking of the legal status of a moral (or immoral) activity, an account needs to be made of the persons involved in this activity. A discussion of the legality of masturbation, e.g., would probably involve less moral gravity than a discussion of the legality of rape - not necessarily because rape is morally worse than masturbation (Aquinas, probably wrongly, argued that masturbation was worse), but because rape involves a most horrific, cruel and invasive violation of another person, whereas masturbation, by definition, involves only one person in the crime. Abortion is not a victimless crime, and hence, the discussion of its legality cannot be carried out without regard for its victims.

Thus, while the 'supply and demand' scenario could perhaps provide a workable framework for a discussion of the legality of masturbation, it proves more difficult for that of rape.

Take, e.g., the comment I linked to above, with 'abortion' replaced by 'rape.' As a mental exercise, imagine this argument being put forth in defense of an existing constitutional law protecting the right to rape:
Nobody in their right mind is "Pro-Rape" or "For" Rape per se. Nobody in their right mind is seeking recreational rape. Nobody in their right mind is advocating rapes for anybody. Everybody in their right mind knows that rape . . . reflects deeper social and spiritual problems. The issue that is being drowned-out by political rhetoric . . . is the governmental issue of establishing and maintaining workable Public Policy and Law regarding the legal availability of rape as a medical procedure. The Rape procedure is legal and regulated in the United States.
The decision to obtain a legal rape is within Public Policy and Law, placed at the level of the individual and her medical counsel, acknowledging the traditional values of individual freedom and liberty in this Nation. A Public Policy and Law regarding Rape that bans all rape outright on the bases of negative, moral absolute derived as derived from moral Philosophy and Theology was, is and will remain unworkable until the advocates of this approach can show how this Policy and Law will eliminate the re-emergence of a rape black market, prevent the wealthy from traveling abroad to obtain rapes, prevent the prisons from receiving some high number of youthful, perhaps minority, poor rapists to serve long (perhaps life) sentences and perhaps execution for murder, prevent family members and friends from being prosecuted for conspiricy to commit rape and other rape complicities, etc. The total-legal-ban-in-support-of-abstract-moral-truth would be bad Public Policy and Law. It would soon become apparent that their case is flawed, and that the current platform for dealing with Rape
[i.e., protecting rape as a constitutional right] has far more potential to prevent even one rape than does a Policy of "total ban".

# posted by Jamie : 10:38 AM



Catholic Spectator bans all links to National Catholic Reporter.

In the course of writing an article about Deal Hudson, the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) has chosen to reveal details of some of Hudson's past actions. The level of detail in the article is sexually extremely graphic, and vastly out of step with the kind of articles that Catholic Spectator is accustomed to providing links to.

On further examining the article, Catholic Spectator formed the opinion that the level of detail was prurient and unnecessary and -- based on statements within the article, and other statements about the article on NCR's web site -- that level of detail may have been provided primarily as a response to prior positions and actions taken by Deal Hudson that were not to NCR's liking. Such prurient articles by NCR have not been usual in the past, so this is a very grave departure from a prior norm. Such a departure is not good for a Catholic organization.

No NCR articles will be linked to until NCR shows definite evidence of changing back to the prior norm

# posted by Jamie : 9:34 AM


Friday, August 20, 2004

Have a good weekend, everyone 

I'm off to celebrate my son's first birthday. I talked my wife into getting a keg of Yuengling for the gentlemen present. Nice.

# posted by Jamie : 4:09 PM



I just got my student evaluations back from last Spring. All right, the good news is that I've apparently got them duped into thinking I'm a closet genius, a veritable master of matters theological. On the other hand, nearly half of the students had two complaints: I erratically pace back and forth way too much during my lectures, and I drink way too much coffee.

# posted by Jamie : 3:15 PM


Abortion and the Common Good 

A piece ran in early August in America Magazine, entitled 'American Catholics and the State,' by Gregory A. Kalscheur (right). It's essentially an application of John Courtney Murray's thought on the relation between the moral law and civil legislation, in response to the recent controversy surrounding pro-abortion Catholic politicians such as John Kerry.

First off, kudos to America for actually tackling this issue in an academic, philosophical manner, giving as thorough a treatment as can be expected to an issue which invites far too much off-hand cynicism and far too little serious thought. Sure, it's skewed, the foregone conclusion is stacked against the hierarchy, and Murray himself is a questionable source. But at least they're trying.

Secondly, I have virtually nil experience in Catholic social teaching, or even in political theory. The last political education I had was Poli 401 in college, and I have almost no exposure to Murray's thought. So, given the caveat that I'm in over my head, I thought I'd offer my reaction nonetheless. Kalscheur's goal here is to sketch the juridical sphere of civil law and that of the natural moral law, and, ultimately, to show how little the two overlap, so as to minimize (as it were) the Catholic politician's obligation to import his moral beliefs into civil legislation:

"[Morality and law] are not coextensive in their functions. Legal prohibitions can have only a limited effect on shaping moral character. Accordingly, Murray [left] argued that people can 'be coerced only to a minimal amount of moral action.' Indeed, 'the moral aspirations of the law are minimal.'"

"If society wishes to elevate and maintain moral standards above the minimal level required for the healthy functioining of the social order, it must look to institutions other than the law. The state and law, therefore, have a necessary - but a necessarily limited - role to play in society's work of establishing and maintaining the common good."

"In light of all these considerations, society should not expect a great deal of moral improvement from legal prohibitions. Instead, the limited effectiveness of legal coercion compelling obedience through fear of punishment as a vehicle toward enuine moral reform means that legal prohibitions must be used with caution in a free society."
I sense an odd disconnect present in these statements, which I can't quite explicate. There seem to be two ends envisioned for the civil law, implied here but not always rendered explicit. Perhaps they shouldn't be sharply distinguished, but I think they should be, at least conceptually: (1) that of preserving a minimal degree of peace and good order within society, usually dubbed the 'common good'; and (2) inculcating moral virtue in the general populace, at least to a relative degree. Without a doubt, from a Catholic point of view, civil law is meant to serve these two functions. But the two are clearly distinct. The second presupposes the first, as a minimal degree of peace and order seems beneficial for the flourishing of virtue; yet, at the same time, as a society grows in virtue it will correspondingly grow more peaceful and orderly. Yet the two are not the same. All men of good will would seem to agree with the first end of civil law; in fact, it seems the only goal which all rational men would agree upon, regardless of creed or ideology: government exists to maintain peace and order. The latter, however, would be more controversial, and many if not most social theorists would deny that the state has any right at all to impose or legislate a moral code on its citizens, or to have even the most subtle intention of influencing their moral creed or behavior (of course, at least a minimum of 'morality' is required to maintain peace and order, to prevent murder and mayhem, yet this would fall just as easily under the first category).

Kalscheur, however, seems to confuse the two, interposing them and switching them at crucial points. In the statements above, e.g., he is discussing the state's role in the latter category, to 'elevate and maintain moral standards,' 'shaping moral character,' 'moral improvement,' etc. He rightly minimizes the state's role in acting towards this end, and this is hardly surprising - who wants a state which imposes a moral creed on its citizens? His next step is to include the question of abortion as a 'moral principle' within this category. The conclusion, of course, is that the state (and Catholics inasmuch as they play a role in this state) have no particular mandate to outlaw abortion, as this would involve the state overstepping its bounds in attempting to coerce 'moral improvement.'

What's left entirely outside of this analysis is a treatment of abortion as a social evil. Abortion, of course, is both a moral crime and a social evil. Inasmuch as it is a moral crime, committed by the person who procures it, it falls within the scope of the moral law, and seemingly outside that of the civil law. In that respect, Kalscheur may be right to urge the state to be cautious in its intervention. The state is not a judge of souls. Yet beyond its status as a moral crime, abortion is also a social evil. When our viewpoint is imprisoned within the narrow lens of the pregnant mother, we forget that another person is very much involved in this act, i.e. the aborted child. Given that 1.37 million unborn children are killed annually in this country alone, we can hardly avoid the social implications of the act. And the legislated, state-sponsored execution of 1.37 million children a year, I think, is a factor that ought to be taken into consideration in the discussion of the role of the law in preserving 'peace and order' in society.

Insisting on discussing abortion exclusively in the context of a moral crime, and in the context of the government's presumed role in legislating morality, misses the point. Shouldn't we, also, distinguish between the moral law's 'negative' prohibitions - murder, deceit, theft, etc. - and its 'positive' obligations - e.g., charity, respect to parents, honor to God, etc.? Surely the civil law has a greater obligation to enforce the former than the latter? Murder, deceit and theft not only constitute moral crimes, they also, when unchecked, destroy the fabric of society. Hence, the state has a vested interest in curbing them, by force if necessary. The latter, although perhaps necessary for our salvation, play only a minimal role in preserving the common good of society, although they certainly assist in this. When you tuck abortion into a conversation about 'legislating morality,' it conjures up images of dragging someone to Sunday mass at gunpoint. But surely, taking forthright action to prevent the murder of over a million innocent children annually is more than a matter of state intervention in moral affairs. In this amateur political theorist's opinion, it seems more along the lines of the state's natural interest in preserving the peace and order of its own populace.

# posted by Jamie : 1:00 PM


Pontifications on the Dogmatic Status of the Doctrine of the Assumption in the Orthodox Church.

# posted by Jamie : 12:59 PM


On Valid Matter 

I was asked this morning about the case of the girl in New Jersey whose priest gave her a rice host for her first communion, to accomodate her digestive disorder, which communion was subsequently [and rightly] judged invalid by the Diocese of Trenton. I fumbled through an answer, then discovered a much better one at Defensor Fidei. Unfortunately, the public is going to take what they want from this story, and given the way it's presented, the Church, as usual, comes out in the worst possible way.

# posted by Jamie : 11:45 AM


Intense Theological Studies Continue in Najaf Shrine  

(2004-08-18) -- After rebuffing a peace delegation from Baghdad yesterday, revered Islamic leader Muqtada al-Sadr today continued to lead "intense theological studies" within the walls of Najaf's Imam Ali Shrine, Shia Islam's holiest place.

"The men are really cracking the books in here," said an unnamed spokesman for Mr. Al-Sadr. "After all, this is a holy place for the religion of peace, so most of our time is spent in prayer and studying the Koran. We have quite a stockpile of what we call 'theological supplies' and we're devoted to practical application of our theology."

Meanwhile, U.S. and Iraqi military forces continued to provide "complimentary sighting and range-finding services" to the young theologians in the mosque.

(From Scrappleface.)

# posted by Jamie : 8:30 AM


Thursday, August 19, 2004

Kampai to Houseguest #5319 

Kampai (that's Jap for 'Cheers,' or so I'm told) to the most recent houseguest at the modest villa of yours truly, the desert nomad Donald Brown. Donald - I determined right before he arrived to refer to him throughout the night as 'Donnie,' which I think irked him a bit, that being the goal - has just returned from several months of trekking across the deserts of the Middle East, from Monaco to Lebanon, including a trip to Santiago de Compostella. Donald and I go way back, to the University of North Carolina, where we were in cahoots in Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, a popular Evangelical ministry on college campuses, in which both of us played leadership roles. UNC is currently suing its chapter of IVCF, over the fact that the Christian organization requires that its leaders (e.g., Bible study leaders) be confessing Christians, which is apparently a violation of the university's non-discrimination policy. Apparently this policy would require a Christian organization to let its Bible studies be led by Buddhists or athiests. *sigh* What a world we live in.

# posted by Jamie : 4:24 PM


Deal Hudson steps down amidst scandal 

Just in from New York Times. Horrific. He's shark meat. Poor guy.

UPDATE: I knew it, those bastards at NCR were behind it.

# posted by Jamie : 3:06 PM


Patriotism in the House of God 

The good folks over at The Saintly Salmagundi have got to talking about posting national flags within the church sanctuary. This is, in fact, a fairly common practice; in fact, it's more common in these parts to fly both the American and the Vatican flag. Larger churches, cathedrals and basilicas tend to do this as a rule, in my experience (or maybe it's just here in the nation's capitol). The practice might seem objectionable for the number of reasons: it could indicate unwarranted support for a government which doesn't merit it, or indicate unwanted government involvement in religious affairs, etc. It goes back, at least in this country, to the Second World War, where it served as a gesture of support for American troops abroad.

Liturgical and canon law, however, have never developed any legislation to regard this custom. All we have is a handful of statements from the USCCB (I know, I know, booing and hissing anticipated in advance), which heartily discourage it (see this 2001 statement, but most definitively the notorious 'Environment and Art in Catholic Worship' of 1978, normally dubbed the 'church-wrecker' document, which isn't available on-line that I know of; see also the newsletter statement at the bottom of this page). The authority of these, unsurprisingly, is virtually nil. In fact, it's literally nil, since the EACW was not even approved by the full body of bishops; besides, it was supplanted by 'Built of Living Stones' in 2001, which does not address the question.

Since canon law, like civil law, is proscriptive, whatever is not prohibited is assumed to be permitted. No one can canonically prevent one from posting either a national or a Vatican flag within the sanctuary. Whether or not this is advisible is up to debate, I suppose. Personally, I see little reason to exclude the practice, which has become so fixed a part of American custom. But of course, I am (happily) not a liturgist.

# posted by Jamie : 12:05 PM


That funny little bar up top... 

This week, if you're a blog-surfer like me, you've noticed that nearly every blogspot blog has got that new horizontal bar on the top of the page, and nearly every blogmaster is complaining to high heaven about it. Granted, getting the nicest part of your blog template impaled by search engine isn't the most aesthetically pleasing, and it wasn't too considerate of blogspot to run this kind of thing with no notice (of course, it's a free service, so I suppose they can do what they like). But I don't mind too much. My blog's not much to speak of aesthetically anyhow. And I think it's kinda fun to click on the 'next blog' button and see what kind of random blog pops up; it seems to be different every time. And there are some bizarro ones out there. Fun way to spend an afternoon.

# posted by Jamie : 7:50 AM


Confessing a recent obsession 

I have been spending hours and hours over the last few weeks at a curious blog with the nomenclature 'Julie the Protestant.' Julie's a very decent young lady, whom I know through a network of close friends but have never actually met in person. She's a devout Protestant who's undertaken a serious investigation of the Catholic faith. But she's decided to do it in the format of a full-blown, 'taking-on-all-comers' debate, and on the platform of a blog. She began it a few months back with a fisking of one of Mark Shea's books, then he showed up and started rebutting her arguments, other bloggers started popping in, and Julie's blog became a sort of meeting spot for apologetically-minded Catholics. The fantastic thing is that Julie is refreshingly charitable and open-minded, and has been a wonderful host for some fruitful discussion. She is much to be lauded on that score, I think, so this is my tribute to her. Stop in sometime and contribute. And give Julie some positive feedback while you're there.

# posted by Jamie : 7:40 AM


Wednesday, August 18, 2004


"Why . . . won't . . . you . . . die??!!" (Austin Powers)

When I read pieces on the Holy Father by lefties like John Allen, I can't help but be struck by a sense of frustration, even latent anger, surrounding three undeniable realities: the Holy Father's enduring life, his enduring hope, and his enduring popularity.

When John Paul II rose to the pontificate in the late 1970s, progressives put their hopes on him to carry out their agenda of ecclesial revolution. But, by the mid 1990s, it was clear he was doing nothing of the sort. Not only did he show no inclination to ordain women, allow contraception, or strip down Church dogma, he showed a marked determination to consolidate and theologically elucidate traditional Church teaching on these positions. Thus, the progressives gave up hope, and are now eager to move on, to try their hand with the next Pope. That's why they're simply waiting for this one to die. The same crowd has prophesied over and over that, unless the Church 'changes with the times' it will die: if we don't ordain women they will leave the Church, if we don't let priests marry we will have no priests, if we don't modernize dogma modernity won't take us seriously, etc. Yet not only does 'this Pope' fail to carry out their agenda, he won't give in to their defeatist attitude either. He continues to call himself a 'witness to hope,' in the midst of a world of suffering and pain. The nerve. And yet, the more he goes on, the more the Church thrives and prospers in the midst of this suffering. And the progressives can't imagine that a Pope so 'reactionary,' so 'conservative,' could actually be popular, especially among young people, normally the first to throw aside custom and tradition. Yet the Beatles never got the swooning teenage mobs that the Pope gets daily. Youth adore him with an affection impossible to put into words. And they don't love him because he's faddish. Hardly. They love him because he represents the ancient faith, the ageless tradition, the unchanging Church which has sustained the world for two millenia. It defies all reason. But its' true.

Why doesn't he just give up hope? Why do they love him so much? Why, oh why, won't he just die?

# posted by Jamie : 1:16 PM


New Von Balthasar Site 

From a Saintly Salmagundi.

# posted by Jamie : 10:12 AM


Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Taking the 'Boy' out of 'Boy Scouts' 

David Morrison of Sed Contra covers a journalist's chronicling of the demise of Boy Scouting in Canada, whose increasing obsession with all-encompassing inclusivity is paradoxically accompanied by a plummeting of membership:

Thinking they could become more inclusive, the Boy Scouts of Canada Board of Governors decided in November 1998 to admit females, atheists, agnostics, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexuals into troops. Despite that established troops were not even allowed to remain all-male groups, Scouts Canada approved the establishment of the world's first all-homosexual troop in 1999. The troop marches in homosexual pride parades and loudly symbolizes what Scouts Canada calls its commitment to diversity.

# posted by Jamie : 4:44 PM


In case you wanted to know more about your blogmaster... 

The \\
Last Cigarette:Never
Last Alcoholic Drink:Camus brand Cognac from Amsterdam, this morning, with coffee
Last Car Ride:From confession at church to work (borrowed car, mine's wrecked)
Last Kiss:6:45 am this morning, wife
Last Good Cry:Real men don't
Last Library Book:Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, vol. 3
Last book bought:Interior Castle, St. Theresa of Avila, $1.00, Library, April?
Last Book Read:See 'Last Library Book'
Last Movie Seen in Theatres:Return of the King, February?
Last Movie Rented:Bend it like Beckham, March?
Last Cuss Word Uttered:The 'G.D.' word, two nights ago
Last Beverage Drank:H2O
Last Food Consumed:Some kind of dried bean with unreadable Japanese script on the bag (afraid to find out)
Last Crush:Three years ago. Ongoing.
Last Phone Call:To Diocese of Saskatoon, Canada. To ask about their seminary. It's closed. Don't ask.
Last TV Show Watched:Addam's Family. Three nights ago. Iowa.
Last Time Showered:This morning
Last Shoes Worn:Eastland black dress shoes
Last CD Played:Baby Beethoven
Last Item Bought:1 1/2 pounds of Pork Chops
Last Download:This survey
Last Annoyance:America Magazine
Last Disappointment:Bob Costas. What a loser.
Last Soda Drank:Dr. Pepper. Mmmm...
Last Thing Written:Mmmm...
Last Key Used:The period key (.)
Last Words Spoken:"Thank you" (the guy who opened the door for me)
Last Sleep:last night (10:30 pm - 5:45 am)
Last Ice Cream Eaten:Vanilla with fresh peaches and chocolate sauce
Last Chair Sat In:My desk chair. The one I'm sitting in right now.
Last Webpage Visited:The Old Oligarch's Painted Stoa (


# posted by Jamie : 1:56 PM


Steven Greydanus with more on the upcoming 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' 

# posted by Jamie : 11:01 AM


"Blessed is the Fruit of your Womb" 

This past Sunday the Church celebrated the Feast of Our Lady's Assumption. The Gospel reading (Luke 1:39-56) gives us Elizabeth's response to the Virgin's approach:

"When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, 'Blessed are you among women,and blessed is the fruit of your womb!'"

The female womb has always been revered as something sacred, as the source and font of life. And in literary terms, the womb becomes even more potent as a multi-valent symbol. The Fathers, including St. Augustine, were fond of such elastic symbols, and could rhetorically string along a closely-connected series of significations, all working off the polyvalence of a particular symbolic motif, drawing from every corner of the biblical canon to weave together a seemingly seamless flow of spiritual imagery. The womb was one such symbol, and St. Augustine does not hesitate to explore the limitless depths of its symbolic potentialities.

As I've said, the womb functions most basically as a symbol of life. And yet in the case of the Blessed Virgin, we have something quite unique, something different, for the womb in this case holds He who is the source of all life. And here is a paradox which stuns the imagination:

"But how," one will say, "can it be, that the Word of God, by whom the world is governed, by whom all things both were, and are created, should contract Himself into the womb of a Virgin; should abandon the world, and leave the Angels, and be shut up in one woman's womb?"

Yet the paradox deepens: "He created His Own mother. He chose her in whom He should be conceived, He created her of whom He should be created" (Homily 69 on the New Testament).

The Virgin's womb, then, became a Bridal Chamber, "because in that virginal womb were joined the two, the Bridegroom and the bride, the Bridegroom and the Word, and the bride and the flesh" (Homily 1 on John's Gospel). But the symbolism stretches even further, for in the womb of Mary, the Word joins to Himself a Body - not only in the sense of flesh, but in the sense of the Church as well. "To that flesh the Church is joined, and so there is made the whole Christ, Head and body" (Ibid.) Here is St. Augustine again, commenting on the Wedding at Cana:

"For the Word was the Bridegroom, and human flesh the bride; and both one, the Son of God, the same also being Son of man. The womb of the Virgin Mary, in which He became head of the Church, was His bridal chamber: thence He came forth, as a bridegroom from his chamber, as the Scripture foretold, "And rejoiced as a giant to run his way." From His chamber He came forth as a bridegroom; and being invited, came to the marriage" (Tractates on John's Gospel, 7, 4).

Hence, the womb of Mary is not only 'center stage' for the mystery of the Incarnation, but for the mystery of the Church as well. And here enters the ecclesial signifiance of Mary, or rather, the Marian signification of the Church. Mary, for St. Augustine, represents the quintessence of the Church, inasmuch as she is the ideal disciple of Christ. "Because even before she gave him birth, she bore her teacher in her womb . . . Because she heard the word of God and kept it. She kept truth safe in her mind even better than she kept flesh safe in her womb" (Homily 72/A, 7). Because she allowed, quite literally, the Word to come to life within her, she becomes the first and foremost member of the Church. And it is to this Church that she points, effacing all reference to herself:

"Mary is holy, Mary is blessed, but the Church is something better than the Virgin Mary. Why? Because Mary is part of the Church, a holy member, a quite exceptional member, the supremely wonderful member, but still a member of the whole body."

Just as Mary, then, gave life to Christ, the Church gives the life of Christ to the newborn believer. Thus all of the signification given to Mary passes over easily to the Church herself. In this vein, Augustine brings together two divergent biblical passages which speak of the Christian being given new life: first, "For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God" (1 Peter 1:23); second, "No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit" (John 3:5). The two, for Augustine, speak of complementary functions in the bringing-to-life of the Christian. First: "Even now before ye are born," he says, "ye have been conceived of His seed, as being on the eve of being brought forth" (Harmony of the Gospels 2.5.17). This 'conception,' which seems to refer to the interior conversion of the catechumens, is the 'masculine' component of mystagogy, instigated as it is by the 'imperishable seed' of the Father. Secondly, these children are "brought forth in the font, the womb as it were of the Church" (Ibid.) Augustine is often given to using natal imagery for the baptismal font: "Their mother's womb," he says of the catechumens, "is the water of baptism" (Ibid., 6.4-6). This corresponds to the 'feminine' component of mystagogy, the ecclesial integration of the believer into Mother Church. (Note that the order here depends upon adult converts, and would be somewhat subverted for baptized infants.)

The process of conversion, both in the sense of interior transformation and in that of ecclesial integration, are mirrored in the procreative process of conception and birth. And in the latter, the symbol of the womb becomes paramount, and within this symbol are conjoined two of the greatest symbols of the patristic imagination: the Mother of God and the Church as Mother. And it is in this rich symbolic field that the phrase, "Blessed is the fruit of thy womb!" echoes resoundingly.

# posted by Jamie : 9:41 AM


Monday, August 16, 2004

My Conscience, My Inconsistency 

The latest edition of Amerikka gives us a response to Archbishop Burke's piece in the last edition, 'Catholic Politicians and Bishops.' The response, 'My Conscience, My Vote,' is by David R. Obey, a U.S. Representative from Wisconsin, the initial 'target' of Burke's ecclesiastical sanctions. Obey (paradoxical name, I think, for someone who steadfastly refuses to do so) exemplifies the inconsistencies and contradictions which plague the cause of pro-choice 'Catholics.'

Fast-forward to the middle of his tirade, where he lays out what is, in his view, the scope of morality in civic life:

"In a democracy, public officials must reserve to themselves prudential judgments about how and under what circumstances to apply moral principles in a pluralistic society. But there are some in my own religion who believe it is the obligation of Catholic public officials to impose, through law, their religious values on issues such as abortion, upon those who do not share our religious beliefs."

He expands upon this kernal of naivete in the middle of the article:

"This means that in an American democracy no one, not a public official and not a bishop, gets to impose by law his religious beliefs on people of other religions who do not necessarily share those same beliefs."

And further on:

"In a pluralist society [here quoting John Courtney Murray] no minority group has the right to impose its own religious or moral views on other groups, through the use of the methods of force, coercion, or violence."

Now this last sentence seems quite self-evident. Murray was no idiot. But let's zero in on that buzzword, coercion, and wonder if Obey means the same thing by it as Murray meant.

Obey, in this article, complains that Archbishop Burke "attempted to use his interpretation of theology [his interpretation?] to coerce me into taking specific positions on matters that I believe are matters of constitutional law" (emphasis added). Coerce? What did the good Archbishop do - put him in a headlock? Use thumbscrews? No, he wrote Obey a letter advising him that he would be denied communion if he continued to support abortion legislation. Doesn't strike me as 'coercion' exactly, but I suppose it depends how you define the word. But Obey defines it rather broadly: "Law," says Obey, "by its very nature is coercive." Hmm. So legislation by its very definition coerces. Legislation, say, to outlaw murder, or to fine speeders. All right, that works.

But then return to Murray: "In a pluralist society no minority group has the right to impose its own religious or moral views on other groups through the use of the methods of . . . coercion." Since law by definition, Obey says, is coercive, we can conclude that no minority group can use law to impose its views upon others.

Rewind to the opening paragraphs of the article, where Obey opens his tirade by producing a litany of his credentials as a 'Good Catholic Politician' (tm):

"Virtually every issue I have fought for in my 35 years of service in the Congress of the United States has been driven by the values I learned from the nuns at St. James elementary school in Wasau, Wis. [Houston, we have a problem.] Through the years I have voted to oppose an unjust war in Nicaragua, a fruitless war in Vietnam and a premature war in Iraq because I believe in the message of the Beatitudes . . . Because I believe we are our brother's keepers, for 10 years I led efforts to push unpopular foreign aid legislation through the House of Representatives . . . "

Well, the litany continues ad nauseam, but you get the drift. At every turn, Obey cites a Scriptural prooftext, which he learned from nuns in his traditional parochial education, which justifies a particular moral stance, 'unpopular' among others, which he had to 'push' and 'fight' for, in order to . . . dare we say it? . . . to impose the views of his minority group upon others, who would not agree with them, through the use of legislation, which, according to Obey, is the equivalent of coercion.

And thus emerges the inherent self-contradiction festering within the 'pro-choice Catholic' cause. A revulsion towards legislating protection for the unborn on behalf of a public which, by and large, would seem to welcome it, combined with an unmitigated and unreflective eagerness to impose, fiercely and coercively, legislation of almost any other sort upon an unwilling public.

# posted by Jamie : 2:33 PM


Pro-Catholic Films 

The National Catholic Register has published a list of the top 100 'pro-Catholic' films, i.e. those which 'most celebrate Catholic life.' The top ten:

1. The Passion of the Christ (2004)
2. The Sound of Music (1985)
3. A Man For All Seasons (1966)
4. The Song of Bernadette (1943)
5. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
6. The Ten Commandments (1956)
7. The Scarlet and the Black (1983)
8. Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
9. Schindler's List (1993)
10. The Bells of St Mary's (1945)

The list is fairly unsurprising, given that it was generated by open polls and not by critics. I'm no critic myself, but it seems to me some of those included made the list more because they are simply enjoyable than because they are particularly Catholic, or particularly good. Of course, I'm happy to see 'A Man for All Seasons' up there. 'The Scarlet and the Black' was more profound than it seems, and I'm glad to see it appreciated. 'The Bells of St. Mary's' I found somewhat superficial, 'It's a Wonderful Life' even more so. And I'm sure someone out there will anathematize me for proposing that 'The Song of Bernadette' wasn't really that great of a movie, as far as quality storyline, acting and character development go. I mean, I like hagiography as much as the next guy, but I could barely stay awake for this one. Seemed a bit too oversaturated with saccharine piety. I dimly remember voting in this survey, and I think I put 'Becket' near the top: Becket's character is much more well-rounded, in my view, than Bernadette's. And where were 'Quo Vadis?' and 'The Robe'? And why is it that postwar sentimental melodramas seem disproportionately represented?

(From Against the Grain.)

# posted by Jamie : 9:46 AM


Thursday, August 12, 2004


Well, I'm off to corn country for the weekend.

You folks don't have too much fun.

# posted by Jamie : 3:06 PM


This just in... 

Bishop David Ricken's monumental contribution to the public discussion of abortion and the common good: "A Letter to Catholic Politicians and Public Officials on the Subject of Abortion and the Law."

Bishop Ricken is solid, real solid. He's as capable of treating this issue thoroughly and adequately as any of our shepherds. Bon appetit!

# posted by Jamie : 12:12 PM


Klanned Parenthood 

# posted by Jamie : 10:05 AM


Takashi Nagai and the Spiritual Meaning of the H-Bomb 

At the end of his book The Bells of Nagasaki, [Takashi Nagai] wrote, "Will humanity be happy in the atomic age, or truly miserable? What shall we do with this double-edged sword hidden in the universe by God and now discovered by man? A good use of it would be to make great strides of progress for civilization; an evil one would destroy the world. The decision rests in the free will of man. He holds his own destiny in his hands. When we think of it, we are struck with terror and, for my part, I believe that a true religious spirit is the sole guarantee in this area... On our knees, among the ashes of the atomic desert, we pray that Urakami will be the last victim of the bomb. The bell is ringing... 0 Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee."

The story of Takashi Nagai
, the Japanese Catholic convert who lived through the bombing of Nagasaki, Japan, 59 years ago last Friday. From Gerard Serafin.

# posted by Jamie : 9:17 AM


From Christ to Superman 

Rumours are flying in Hollywood that Jim Caviezel will play Superman in the next installments of that series. Reported by Steven Greydanus, filling in for Jimmy Akin at Defensor Fidei.

# posted by Jamie : 8:04 AM


Wednesday, August 11, 2004

"Gird up your loins" 

This past Sunday we heard a sermon of Jesus from the twelfth chapter of St. Luke's Gospel:

"Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master's return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks" (v. 35-36).

The phrase 'gird up your loins' strikes us as oddly antiquated, even quaint. The sense of the phrase, of course, is quite evident; perhaps 'fasten your belt' 'button up your khaki pants' might be better modern analogies. But this is not an isolated phrase in Scripture; symbolism of 'girding loins' is a common motif running throughout the biblical canon.

The term 'loins' refers to the area running from the small of the back around to the abdomen, spanning the hips, and including the genital area. Hence, the term 'loins' is used as a symbol for human strength and authority (Deut. 33:11, Job 40:16), or fertility (Gen. 35:11,I Kings 8:19). Beginning in the Old Testament, 'girding up one's loins' (i.e., fastening a loincloth) becomes a symbol for preparing oneself for action, readying oneself for obedience to God's will (e.g., God's words to Job, "Gird up your loins like a man; for I will demand of you, and answer thou me," Job 38:3, 40:7). In the New Testament, this is taken in a more moral, spiritual sense. We are told to 'gird our loins with truth' (Eph. 6:13-18), and 'gird up the loins of our mind' (I Pet. 1:6-13). On a more eschatological note, the girding of one's loins can be a symbol of expectation for Christ's return (because one normally 'girds one's loins' only when one is preparing to travel somewhere, it lends itself to the theme of preparation). Thus, the Church of Laodicea is told that, although they think their loins are girt, they are not as ready as they think for the return of the Lord (Rev. 3:14-22). In our passage this Sunday, the same signification is utilized, this time as wedding guests awaiting the Bridegroom's arrival (Luke 12: 31-48).

For St. Augustine, the 'girding of the loins' becomes a special symbol of chastity (in that the loins cover the genitals): the 'girding of the loins,' he says, 'is virginity' (Homily 43, 3). But he also sees this symbolism in terms of a general 'abstinence from unlawful desires' (Homily 58, 1), of which chastity is only a preeminent example. It can even mean 'departing from evil' in general (43, 2). The themes of moral regeneration and eschatological preparation are, of course, tightly linked for St. Augustine. The Gospel here, he says, bids "us to be unencumbered and prepared to await the end" (43, 1). For the moral framework of our lives must be framed by the hope for eternal life. To fail to 'gird our loins,' to fail to place our hope exclusively in the next life, to love this world instead, is to plunge into the depths of moral absurdity:

"This [present life] at the most is but brief, and of short duration; and yet how eagerly is it sought by men, with how great diligence, with how great toil, with how great carefulness, with how great watchfulness, with how great labour do men seek to live here for a long time, and to grow old. And yet this very living long, what is it but running to the end? Thou hadst yesterday, and thou dost wish also to have to-morrow. But when this day and to-morrow are passed, thou hast them not. Therefore thou dost wish for the day to break, that may draw near to thee whither thou hast no wish to come. Thou makest some annual festival with thy friends, and hearest it there said to thee by thy well-wishers, 'Mayest thou live many years,' thou dost wish that what they have said, may come to pass. What? Dost thou wish that years and years may come, and the end of these years [i.e., Judgment] come not? Thy wishes are contrary to one another; thou dost wish to walk on, and dost not wish to reach the end" (43, 3).

# posted by Jamie : 3:56 PM



This long-overdue manifesto on modesty in women's dress by the Old Oligarch in late July has been causing shock waves across the blogosphere since then. Criticisms have prompted these two counter arguments this week. See also Secret Agent Man's riposte, 'Dressing Like a Doofus.' Old Oligarch, despite having one of the oddest choices of background design in the blogosphere, delivers.

# posted by Jamie : 2:24 PM


Judges and Boy Scouts 

On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight

You would think those who took these sorts of oaths would make good judges. You'd be wrong.

# posted by Jamie : 1:01 PM


Required Reading for a Wednesday 

Secret Agent Man on war, support for troops, and the rule of law.

The Pertinacious Papist on the anti-Catholic roots of the American Revolution.

# posted by Jamie : 11:40 AM



Today, besides being the memorial of St. Clare, is my son's first birthday. He was due on August 28th (you-know-who's feast), but decided to show up two weeks early. One year of fatherhood has taught me more, I think, than a quarter century of bachelorhood, though it's hard to explicate or even fully comprehend the ways in which it has changed me. More than anything, it has made life a heck of a lot more exciting. And amusing. A few weeks back, while my wife was visiting a friend, my son trotted unsteadily out into the middle of the living room floor, waving a spatula around erratically, grunting noisily like a pig while in the throes of a loud bowel movement, and the friend says 'You know, he looks a lot like his father.' I mean, I never got to tell stories like that before this year.

# posted by Jamie : 7:43 AM


Monday, August 09, 2004

You have the Ad Limina Promise . . . 

. . . that this will be the only, only, only post you will ever see on this website on the subject of Oprah. But, seriously, I always wondered about her name, and I always suspected it was a bastardization of the biblical 'Orpah.' Turns out I was right.

# posted by Jamie : 4:05 PM


LA Times on the 'New Breed' of priests 

They call themselves the 'John Paul II Priests.'
And they're kickin' @$$ and taking names. (From the Notre Dame Nerds.)

# posted by Jamie : 3:35 PM


Liturgical Abuse of the Week 

In April Bishop Robert F. Vasa of Baker, Oregon issued a pastoral letter addressed to lay ministers (including the 'Catechist, Liturgical Reader, Cantor, Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion and other Church positions which entail a presumption of orthodoxy'), who were informed that they would be henceforth required to subscribe to an 'Affirmation of Faith' (whose contents were derived, verbatim, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church). Those who refused, for any reason, would be expected to step down quietly but immediately. After a handful of symbolic resignations, things have quieted down a bit in Baker. There was a general sense, however, especially among disaffected and left-leaning Catholics, that some foul play had been involved, and the controversy had more than a few liberal pundits scrambling for their Code of Canon Law. The question, at least in the public sphere, seems to have been hanging: Is there, in fact, any basis in the tradition for requiring such a statement of faith of ministers? Or more specifically, for requiring it of lay ministers, such as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist?

The most recent instruction from Rome on liturgical abuses, Redemptionis Sacramentum, includes a short paragraph on this question:

"The lay Christian faithful called to give assistance at liturgical celebrations should be well instructed and must be those whose Christian life, morals and fidelity to the Church's Magisterium recommend them. It is fitting that such a one should have received a liturgical formation in accordance with his or her age, condition, state of life, and religious culture. No one should be selected whose designation could cause consternation for the faithful" (46).

These required expectations of so-called 'lay ecclesial ministers'('LEMons,' as they're known in these parts) are serious enough to have merited inclusion in an Instruction on liturgical abuses, thereby making their failure to be met this week's Liturgical Abuse of the Week (TM).

Of greater import than RS, perhaps, is the document which is footnoted in the last sentence, a 1973 Instruction from the Sacred Congregation of the Sacraments entitled Immensae Caritatis: On Facilitating Reception Of Communion In Certain Circumstances. This document, significant for its time, seems to have been the first concrete provision for extraordinary ministers of the Holy Eucharist; hence, it lays out the norms requisite for the appointment of laypersons for this task. The pivotal declaration to this end is set forth as follows:

"Local Ordinaries possess the faculty enabling them to permit fit persons, each chosen by name as a special minister, in a given instance or for a set period or even permanently, to give communion to themselves and others of the faithful and to carry it to the sick residing at home."

A little further down, the term 'fit' is clarified:

"The faithful who are special ministers of communion must be persons whose good qualities of Christian life, faith, and morals recommend them. Let them strive to be worthy of this great office, foster their own devotion to the eucharist, and show an example to the rest of the faithful by their own devotion and reverence toward the most august sacrament of the altar. No one is to be chosen whose appointment the faithful might find disquieting."

Bishop Vasa's Affirmation of Faith, then, seems not only in accordance with the liturgical norms of our tradition; even more, it seems to be one of the more effective means of upholding and protecting these norms. Without regarding it as the 'normative' means of carrying them out (one would hope this wouldn't be necessary), it certainly ought to be considered a 'viable' means, and one wonders why it isn't yet (to my knowledge, at least) being imitated.

Now, getting back to Ms. Hens, one of our symbolic resignations in the initial fallout from Bishop Vasa's letter. "I happen to believe that many of the teachings on human sexuality are just plain faulty . . . I don't want to be held to those teachings. I cannot give my full assent," says Ms. Hens. Ms. Hens may well have been one of the persons Bishop Vasa had in mind in the following statement, which is, I think, bears repeating:

"Such persons can become a 'cause of stumbling' and if a Pastor or Bishop fails to act to correct the 'false teaching' then he too incurs the Lord's condemnation as a 'cause of stumbling' . . . . As I have reflected and prayed about [the failure of bishops to protect children from sexual abuse] for the past year I have become increasing convinced that there may be another much more subtle form of episcopal negligence which also has the potential to harm children, not only emotionally and physically, but primarily spiritually . . . I am convinced that causing the little ones to stumble could also apply when those commissioned by the Church to be witnesses to and examples for them give witness to values or beliefs incompatible with the authentic teachings of the Church."

# posted by Jamie : 1:09 PM


Under the Patronage of
St. Augustine of Hippo

Contact me:

Ad Limina Apostolorum: An ecclesiastical term meaning a pilgrimage to the sepulchres of St. Peter and St. Paul at Rome, i.e., to the Basilica of the Prince of the Apostles and to the Basilica of St. Paul "outside the walls".

"Augustine of Hippo Refuting Heretic"
(illuminated manuscript,
13th century)

"Jamie . . .
I could kill you in three seconds.
-Bishop Sheridan

Books Recently Read or Currently Reading

John Milbank's Theology & Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason (next in stack)

Colson Whitehead's Zone One (reading)

Michael Wyschogrod's Body of Faith: God and the People Israel (reading)

J. B. Schneewind's Invention of Autonomy: A History of Modern Moral Philosophy (reading)

Paul Hacker's Ego in Faith: Martin Luther and the Origins of Anthopocentric Religion (finished: 3 stars)

Edward Peter's Modern Guide to Indulgences: Rediscovering this Often-Ministerpreted Teaching (finished: 1 star)

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