Tuesday, November 30, 2004
I'm a little late on this, but I just noticed that the Diocese of Arlington put up a new webpage
last month. It's quite a nice one, too, both aesthetically and content-wise; would have done well in my diocesan homepage contest
a few months ago.
# posted by Jamie : 3:29 PM
Monday, November 29, 2004
Fr Kennedy said the words used by him and Fr Terry Fitzpatrick at St Mary's were not scripturally based but based on the doctrine of the trinity. "When we use the words 'God the creator, liberator and sustainer', it's just another way of expressing the trinitarian formula. It's fundamentalism to argue that the actual words are all-important."
If it is fundamentalism to argue that names in the Trinitarian formula are important, it is doctrinal suicide to argue that they are dispensible or interchangeable. The Christian Tradition has always understood the Trinitarian hypostases
not as arbitrary names, functions or roles, but rather as true persons in relation (East and West differ a bit here, but the difference does not touch on this matter). Thus the Godhead - in which the Father subsists as begetting the Son, the Son as begotten by the Father, and the Spirit as proceeding from both as the very embodiment of their reciprocal love - becomes the foundation for human interrelations, especially those within the human family (cf. Eph. 3:15). As St. Augustine says of the Spirit, "And if the love by which the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father, ineffably demonstrates the communion of both, what is more suitable than that He should be specially called love, who is the Spirit common to both
?" (De Trin
. 15.27) If, on the other hand, 'Father, Son and Spirit' are no more than dispensible names, then we must be prepared to face the consequence that human love, personhood and relation will become purely human realities, with no basis in the higher, divine realm.
# posted by Jamie : 1:23 PM
I'm normally quite liberal with the 'delete' key on unsolicited email requests for endorsements, but I'm going to give this one some play, only because I'm intrigued by the idea.
Ad Fontem: Catholic Texts that Speak to You
is offering audio files of sermons and writings of the Fathers:
Each recording is an opportunity to step back into a vibrant exploration of the gospel and it's application to the lives of those listening to the speaker in order to step forward with a new purpose in our lives. One can only imagine the thrill of St Augustine as he listened to St Ambrose preach. We hope to bring this thrill into our recordings and provide a contemporary experience akin to that of St Augustine. May our conversion be the same, too!
The downside is that they cost money; the upside is that it's pennies on the dollar, and easily worth the price. After listening to some samples, they confirm my assumption that one cannot adequately convey the experience of witnessing a live sermon to a guy listening to a cassette tape in his 93 Civic on his morning commute. Much more so when that sermon was preached in Northern Italy in the fifth century A.D. by a preacher who, on a bad day, would have put Jonathan Edwards to shame. The narrator here doesn't come even close to doing justice to St. Ambrose either (not that I have any clue what St. Ambrose sounded like, but one has to wonder if this guy's voice could possibly have inspired the conversion of an Augustine). But, all the same, it's certainly a good idea, and is sure to bear significant fruit.
# posted by Jamie : 9:57 AM
My monthly liturgical rant
The Pontificator offers ten suggestions
on how to 'fix' the modern Western rite.
I would proffer an eleventh:
Stop building circular naves.
Naves should be uni-directional. To build them otherwise is architecturally impractical and liturgically disorienting. If I'm going to sit and stare in one direction for an hour at mass, I want to be staring at the tabernacle, the altar, or the priest (in order of preference), not the silly hairdo or ridiculous get-up of my fellow worshipper sitting across from me. I go to Church to worship God with
my neighbor, not to worship my neighbor. So I'd rather not kneel before him, thank you very much. I know the circular nave is the most natural setting for Marty Haugen to 'Gather us In
,' so God can 'give us the courage to enter the song,' but I don't particularly feel like being gathered in today. Besides, there's something of the feel of a rock concert to some of these places
Let me cover my bases. I know circular naves are very traditional and Medieval and all that. But at those times they served one primary purpose: liturgical chant. If we're seriously going to restore congregational chant, or better yet, restore lauds and vespers, then by all means let's 'gather round' the nave. But until that happens, let's ditch the 1960s populist 'worship spaces.'
# posted by Jamie : 8:49 AM
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
One of the cool things about starting your own church . . .
I get to be a bishop, wear gold pectoral crosses and big draped hats, live in a consistory and use cool words like 'autocephalous' and 'protopresbyter,' and I haven't even graduated high school yet!
Note: Despite any slight resemblance, this guy
is not, in fact, me.
# posted by Jamie : 2:30 PM
Catholics and the Bible
I just came across an editorial
by one J. Grant Swank, Jr., complaining about the U.S. bishops' decision
last week to nix a proposed pastoral statement on the Catholic usage of the Bible. Somehow, Mr. Swank has interpreted this decision as a dismissal by the bishops of the Bible itself as a priority.
Swank's curious reading of this decision mirrors a broader misunderstanding within the American Church itself, that the importance of an issue is reflected in how many documents are published on it. In other words, if issue X is really important to us, then we ought to issue as many documents as possible on that issue, at least annually, even if we have next to nothing to say about it, and even if next to no one can be presumed to be reading our statements. It's this sort of approach to policy that weighs organizations like the USCCB down with bureaucratic paperwork, turning it into a Catholic publishinghouse for official statements which serve no purpose except to grant a self-assured satisfaction to the committees and subcommittees who write them.
Lest anyone think I'm being hard on our good bishops, this very appraisal was given by a bishops' committee during the November meeting, urging that the bishops cut down on producing redundant public statements ad nauseam and focus on the apostolic duties of governing, sanctifying and teaching. This committee's proposal was accepted nearly unanimously by the bishops.
The truth is, if you want a good statement on the Catholic reading of Scripture, it would be hard to surpass Pius XII's Divino Afflante Spiritu
, which, though written sixty years ago, remains of perennial significance (I have argued that this is the greatest papal encyclical ever written, but no one believes me). Tack on Benedict XV's Spiritus Paraclitus
, Leo XIII's Providentissimus Deus
, and Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum
(if you're into the whole 'brevity' thing), and you've got enough to satisfy anyone who's overly eager to read pastoral statements on Bible reading. Beyond this, we have the Catechism of the Catholic Church
, vastly underrated as a Bible-reading tool, saturated as it is with biblical texts and references. (Bishop Earl Boyea
, as mentioned in the Times article, objected to the aforementioned pastoral statement with the objection that the Catechism would make a much better tool than any such statement.)
Swank, however, waxes ecstatic on the primacy of the Bible in the evangelical churches (Swank, my research informs me, is himself a protestant minister), and what a great boon this has been to them: "The Bible is front and center in evangelical church life," etc., etc. Well, first off, the Catholic Church is not the evangelical church(es). If the holy Scriptures are 'front and center' in our Church, it is a position they must share with the holy Eucharist, the summit of our faith and worship. And the Scriptures in our Church serve not only as nourishment for the individual believer, but primarily for the common activities of "pastoral preaching, catechetics and all Christian instruction, in which the liturgical homily must hold the foremost place (Dei Verbum 24). In my view, the best way to nourish the Catholic reading of Scripture is to advance and reform these pastoral activities - i.e., preaching, catechetics, Christian instruction and liturgy. If these were carried out the way the Second Vatican Council intended them to be, Catholics would be getting fed with enough Scripture to put the most fervent evangelical to shame. But the last thing we need, to this end, is yet another pastoral statement; how about some implementation and enforcement of existing norms?
# posted by Jamie : 8:59 AM
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
Reading the City of God
A friend writes:
I'm about to embark on City of God for the first time . . . Is there any advice you have for me at this point? Anything I should look for or keep in mind as I'm reading it?
1. Keep in mind that this is definitely the longest work Augustine ever produced, and perhaps the longest work uniting a single, sustained argument in ancient history. In support of this argument, the author throws in about every tangential demonstration, record or fact that he can get his hands on. Thus, the reader is forced to work his way through volumes of seemingly irrelevant material - the minutiae of ancient Roman history and society, the natures and habits of various flora and fauna, the intricacies of Hebrew and Greek linguistic origins, etc. - in order to follow the thrust of the argument. Either buy a well-abridged version or learn to 'fast-forward' when the doctor of grace starts to wax ecstatic about the incandescent characteristics of peacock feathers, which he has somehow identified as the linchpin in his watertight argument against the Origenistic denial of a permanent hell.
2. It is customary to begin with book eleven in order to avoid all of the above, since books 1-10 involve an in-depth refutation of the classical Roman's view of his own history, point by historical point, generally focused on the foibles and moral failings of Roman aristocracy. But if this is your thing, by all means enjoy it. Note that St. Augustine's 'just war theory,' at least in its most seminal form, is contained in book 19. Remember that it's not going to look like the theory you learned in college; this theory has undergone quite a bit of development (most of it good).
3. Don't neglect the main themes. If this work is understood essentially as a consolation to teary-eyed Christians or a snipe at sneering pagans, it is profoundly misunderstood. Scholars now realize that Augustine had begun conceiving of this project, and had already worked through the main ideas behind it, at least ten years before the sack of Rome. It is not a hastily-written response to concurrent sociopolitical occurrences, but a systematic account of the world and its destiny which unites and synthesizes the entire theological career of one of the greatest minds in Christendom. It traces two classes of angels and men, those who love God and those who love only themselves, from their prehistorical origins, through biblical and secular history and beyond. It outlines the locus of the Church within the temporal world, while at the same time placing the temporal world in its own eschatological context. The final chapters, of course, are the best.
4. Enjoy. While not as personal or intimate as his Confessions, the City of God reveals the same passion and longing for God that mark all of Augustine's works. But it is here that he provides the systematic philosophical and theological foundations for that passion and longing.
# posted by Jamie : 2:18 PM
How it happened he did not know. But all at once something seemed to seize him and fling him at her feet. He wept and threw his arms round her knees. For the first instant she was terribly frightened and she turned pale. She jumped up and looked at him trembling. But at the same moment she understood, and a light of infinite happiness came into her eyes. She knew and had no doubt that he loved her beyond everything and that at last the moment had come....
They wanted to speak, but could not; tears stood in their eyes. They were both pale and thin; but those sick pale faces were bright with the dawn of a new future, of a full resurrection into a new life. They were renewed by love; the heart of each held infinite sources of life for the heart of the other.
Forgive me as the closet humanist in me emerges to the light of day. On our last evening in our old apartment, my wife and I ended a year-long journey through the pages of Crime and Punishment
, a narrative which I found saturated with the most gritty realism and sincere introspection as any I have read. After five hundred pages spent within the demented and egocentric mind of Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov, it is only on the final page that we are rewarded with what I think may be the most glorious conversion narrative in literary history. Its success is reflected in what is, in my mind, the crucial hallmark of good literature - upon putting down the book, my immediate instinct was to try and become a better person.
She too had been greatly agitated that day, and at night she was taken ill again. But she was so happy- and so unexpectedly happy- that she was almost frightened of her happiness. Seven years, only seven years! At the beginning of their happiness at some moments they were both ready to look on those seven years as though they were seven days. He did not know that the new life would not be given him for nothing, that he would have to pay dearly for it, that it would cost him great striving, great suffering.
But that is the beginning of a new story - the story of the gradual renewal of a man, the story of his gradual regeneration, of his passing from one world into another, of his initiation into a new unknown life. That might be the subject of a new story, but our present story is ended.
Like Augustine's autobiography, what comes through (as in all Dostoevsky's novels) is the depth of human depravity (when man refuses the spiritual), and the ever-present possibility of grace and human renewal (when man turns toward the spiritual). What makes this story unique from Augustine's is the testimony of lived holiness, manifested very subtly here in the person of Sonia the prostitute (perhaps we should say 'lived sincerity,' since Sonia is not really a 'holy' character - but she is honest and transparent in a way that Raskolnikov is not), whereas Augustine, for all the great role models in his life from St. Ambrose to St. Monica, experiences conversion in a surprisingly individualistic fashion. Whereas in Augustine's Confessions the presence of God is brought about through the soul's turning to God in prayer, for Dostoevsky it is mediated through interpersonal love.
# posted by Jamie : 1:35 PM
Thursday, November 18, 2004
As I make my quite undramatic re-emergence into St. Blog's, after two weeks of craziness, I'd like to thank everyone for their prayers.
All my travels and meetings went smoothly, my church history course was a great thrill (at least for me), and I successfully maneuvered my way through my oral examinations. Now I've got three days to pack up and move my family across town to our new place before we head south for the Thanksgiving holidays. Any of you fellow District of Columbians who want to help a poor sap and his pregnant wife relocate are more than welcome.
In honor of St. Elizabeth of Hungary we had a fine goulash
last night, although regrettably lacking authentic Hungarian
paprika, which I find so difficult to appropriate here. Can't wait to start planning dinner on next Wednesday
A few notes:
With the toppling of our would-be Catholic(?) president, the good people (among whom I occasionally count myself) at Catholic(?) Kerry Watch
have relocated themselves across the blogosphere to Catholics in the Public Square
, with an appropriate broadening and redefinition of their mission, which promise to be enduring and productive.
My own 'Augustine Page
,' a tribute to the life and works of the doctor of grace, has been touched up and embellished a bit, though remaining very much a work in progress. Suggestions are welcome.
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine. Et lux perpetua luceat eis
. The eminent Gerald Serafin (of the Catholic Page for Lovers
) passed away this morning, according to Curt Jester
. Please keep him in your prayers, though he probably needs them far less than I.
# posted by Jamie : 1:45 PM
Friday, November 05, 2004
I'll be absent from this blog for about a week and a half, from the 5th through the 16th of November.
I'm headed to Chicago for four days of meetings, to St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana to teach a church history course, back to Washington for another pair of meetings, and then I defend my doctoral examinations downtown the next day. Many prayers are appreciated.
# posted by Jamie : 4:03 PM
Transfer of St. Augustine's Relics
came in from Zenit three days ago; I'm not quite on the ball this week, but I'm terribly excited about the major POD potential of these events. I only a trip to Rome were within the budget:
ROME, OCT. 29, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The relics of St. Augustine will be in Rome from Nov. 7-15, for the 1,650th anniversary celebrations of his birth. The relics of the bishop of Hippo will be in the basilica dedicated to him
in the Campo Marzio
, and also in the Vatican.
Rome will observe the anniversary of the birth of this Doctor of the Church with celebrations, congresses and exhibitions from Nov. 7-15, the Italian newspaper Avvenire
It is anticipated that for one night during that week, the urn containing St. Augustine's relics
will be in John Paul II's private chapel
, as a sign of devotion and of the importance that the Holy Father accords to the thought of the saint of Tagaste, whom he has often quoted in the texts of his magisterium.
A restless man, "Doctor of Grace" and Father of the interior life, St. Augustine has thoroughly influenced Western culture. A rereading of his works shows how timely he is. This conviction has led the Italian Augustinian Province
and St. Augustine's order
to organize a week of celebrations under the motto "St. Augustine Among Us."
His remains will arrive in Rome from Pavia
on Nov. 7, and will be received in St. Augustine's Basilica
, where the prefect of the Congregation for Sainthood Causes, Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, will preside at vespers.
Each day will end with a Mass, that will be presided over, among others, by the prefects of the Vatican congregations for bishops, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, and for Catholic education, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski; the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano; and the president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo.
A congress on St. Augustine will be held in the city of Ostia
, which recently chose him as its patron
Among the music initiatives planned, on Nov. 8 Monsignor Marco Frisina, maestro and composer, and director of the Liturgical Office of the Diocese of Rome, will conduct the concert "Augustine Meets Monica." On Nov. 11, the saint's relics will be taken to the patristic institute Augustinianum
, where the Aula Magna will be dedicated to the institute's founder, Agostino Trape. Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, will preside at vespers.
On the night that the relics are received in the Pope's private chapel, a torchlight youth procession will leave from the Church of St. Agnes in Piazza Navona
and arrive in St. Augustine's Basilica. The Italian Federation of Augustinian monasteries will hold a prayer vigil on Nov. 13. The following day the relics will be taken to Ostia, where Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, will preside over the Mass in the Church of St. Aurea
. A concluding ceremony with the relics will take place Nov. 15. [hyperlinks added]
# posted by Jamie : 11:22 AM
Wednesday, November 03, 2004
Blogger Bill Cork
just posted an on-line version of his conversion story, 'Why I am a Catholic
.' Bill's a great gift to St. Blog's, and he's got a great testimony. His blog is one of the few that I follow daily.
# posted by Jamie : 8:04 AM
On Faith and Miracles
Dr. Blosser's note on 'faith and miracles
' brings to mind one of the most vexing - and for me, frustrating - aspects of modern theological discussion. I refer to the indisputable fact that modern theologians have swallowed the Enlightenment bias against miracles hook, line and sinker. I recently re-read Cardinal Kasper's famed christological tome, 'Jesus the Christ
,' which, regrettably, ends up recycling most of these objections. He reduces them to three:
(1) Since God is the author of the 'laws of nature,' and if miracles are defined as 'violations' of the laws of nature, it follows that God would be violating his own laws, which is unseemly.
(2) Testimonies of miracles are inherently incredible; if they happen at all, they are so inexplicable that they can never be accepted on the testimony of another (David Hume's famous objection).
(3) If an empirically verifiable miracle were to occur, it would 'compel' belief in its onlookers. Yet the nature of belief is that it must be free, and cannot be compelled; hence, it would be inappropriate for God to work miracles.
Theologians like Kasper think they have dissolved the first objection when they affirm the differentiation between primary and secondary causality. But, without getting into the philosophical nitty-gritty of causality, by reducing miracles to the ordinary workings of divine secondary causality, they render the concept of the miraculous empty and hollow. In his explanation, by my reading, Kasper seems to be saying that a miracle is an event which - while, if studied empirically, could be verified to have resulted from ordinary, cause-and-effect relationships entirely within the realm of nature - and yet which, given a perspective of faith on the part of an onlooker, can be understood to have a certain 'significance' within the realm of divine providence, although this 'significance' can mean nothing more than the fact that it excites wonder and trust in God on the part of the onlooker. My response is that this is all well and good, but it has nothing to do with a 'miracle' as we traditionally define it. Kasper's solution is something akin to overcoming objections to God's existence by explaining, that by 'God' the Church simply means one's positive self-concept.
C. S. Lewis handles this objection to the miraculous quite deftly in his book 'Miracles
,' by explaining the the 'laws' of nature aren't really 'laws' at all, but simply our observations about what normally happens in nature, which does not at all prevent occasional events which depart from the norm. The best theological treatment, however, in my opinion, comes from an Eastern orthodox theologian Dumitru Staniloae, in his book The Experience of God: Creation and Deification, vol. 2
. Staniloae, one of the great eschatological thinkers of our day, explains that 'nature' should be viewed not as a static collection of philosophical essences, but rather as a dynamic world of intelligible forms, all pointing and tending towards their eschatological fulfillment in their divine Archetype. Given this cosmic vision, miracles can be seen not as 'violations' of certain stable, unviolable and natural 'laws,' but rather as occasional 'anticipations' of the eschaton, in which the consummate perfection of a certain form is given premature expression, precisely as a divinely-bestowed sign of the eschatological consummation of all things.
The second objection, with regards to the supposed incredibility of witnesses to miracles, reeks of Enlightenment elitism - which saw miracles as accompaniments of 'primitive,' 'barbaric' religion - and modern skepticism, which sees all truth-claims as contingent and relative. Suffice it to say that, for a Catholic, for what it's worth, this position has been anathematized by Council:
"If anyone says that all miracles are impossible, and that therefore all reports of them, even those contained in Sacred Scripture, are to be set aside as fables or myths; or that miracles can never be known with certainty, nor can the divine origin of the Christian religion be proved from them: let him be anathema" (Vatican I Constitution Dei Filius, canon 3.4).
The third objection, that such a miracle would 'compel' belief, seems to me to arise from an overly idealistic view of faith. The nature of faith, especially given our 'embodied' state, is such that it can never be entirely 'free,' in the sense of being utterly disconnected from all external conditioning. And no one saw this more keenly than St. Augustine. There is always some element of 'compulsion' in faith, for we are not disembodied creatures, and our faith is necessarily immersed in our bodiliness. A thousand external factors always rush in upon our faculty of belief. What, for example, of the power of rational argument, which might convince one to take a step of faith, or at least overcome objections to it? What of the power of human witness, of a life well lived, which inspires one to take the same step? What of being born into a family, of living in a community, surrounded by those who hold faith? It is a point of fact that all fo these things can have an influence on the possibility of one's attaining to faith, a fact pointless to deny. Does faith become any less 'free' because of these fact? Or, more likely, do these factors simply arise necessarily from the fact that man is a composite of soul and body?
# posted by Jamie : 7:55 AM
Tuesday, November 02, 2004
Well, I did my patriotic duty this morning. Arrived at the polls at 6:30 am and still stood for two hours. My state's a little closer
than I had thought, so I suppose every vote counts.
# posted by Jamie : 9:22 AM