Ad Limina Apostolorum (Blog) | St. Augustine's Library
Friday, April 29, 2005

It's not exactly the Popemobile, but... 

You can apparently buy the Pope's former car on Ebay. Proof of his ownership and everything. (Weren't we supposed to be boycotting them or something?) Hat tip, Zadok the Roman.

# posted by Jamie : 9:34 AM


Thirty one Swiss Guard Recruits to be Sworn in May 6 

VATICAN CITY, APR 29, 2005 (VIS) - At 5 p.m. on May 6 in the San Damaso Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, thirty-one new recruits will be sworn in as members of the Pontifical Swiss Guards in the presence of members of the Roman Curia, diplomatic representatives and civil and religious authorities from Switzerland. Twenty-five will take their oath in German, four in French, one in Italian and one in Romansch. From the commandant to the newest halberdier of the 110-man corps, all Swiss Guards are in full dress uniform on this day.

The Pontifical Swiss Guard was founded by Pope Julius II in 1506 as a stable corps, directly dependant on the Holy See, whose main duties were to guard the person of the Roman Pontiff and the Apostolic Palaces.

The day will start at 7:30 a.m. with Mass in St. Peter's Basilica for the Swiss Guards and their family members and friends. At 9 a.m., Archbishop Leonardo Sandri will confer military decorations on members of the corps, and the commander of the guards will place a laurel wreath at the monument that honors the fallen members of the corps. May 6, in fact, is the date chosen for the swearing-in ceremony of the new guards because on that date in 1527, 147 members of the 189-member Swiss Guards lost their lives during the Sack of Rome when they fell in battle, protecting Pope Clement VII and the Church from the onslaught of the troops of Emperor Charles V.

The oath is read by the Swiss Guard chaplain: "I swear to faithfully, loyally and honorably serve the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI and his legitimate successors, and also dedicate myself to them with all my strength, sacrificing if necessary also my life to defend them. I assume this same commitment with regard to the Sacred College of Cardinals whenever the See is vacant. Furthermore I promise to the Commanding Captain and my other superiors respect, fidelity and obedience. This I swear! May God and our Holy Patrons assist me."

Each recruit is then called by name and, in his native tongue, confirms the oath. The patron saints of the Pontifical Swiss Guards are St. Martin, St. Sebastian and St. Niklaus von Flue, "defender of the peace and father of the Country."

To become a guard, one must be a Swiss Catholic male under the age of 30, unmarried, over 174 cm (5' 8") in height and with a professional diploma or high school degree. The candidate must have attended Swiss military school. Guards live inside Vatican City. The minimum term of service is two years.

# posted by Jamie : 9:30 AM


Thursday, April 28, 2005

"Quite frankly, we don't care what you people think" 

Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic to a journalist, when asked about the Cardinals' response to the media's backlash after the papal election (from Globe and Mail, hat tip Veritas).

# posted by Jamie : 3:53 PM


For he has no true ground for keeping the commandments who is destitute of love 

"Continue ye," He says, "in my love." How shall we continue? Listen to what follows: "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love." Love brings about the keeping of His commandments; but does the keeping of His commandments bring about love? Who can doubt that it is love which precedes? For he has no true ground for keeping the commandments who is destitute of love. And so, in saying, "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love," He shows not the source from which love springs, but the means whereby it is manifested. As if He said, Think not that ye abide in my love if ye keep not my commandments; for it is only if ye have kept them that ye shall abide. In other words, it will thus be made apparent that ye shall abide in my love if ye keep my commandments. So that no one need deceive himself by saying that he loveth Him, if he keepeth not His commandments. For we love Him just in the same measure as we keep His commandments; and the less we keep them, the less we love.

What, then, do the words mean, "Continue ye in my love," but just, continue ye in my grace? And what do these mean, "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love," but, hereby shall ye know that ye shall abide in the love which I bear to you, if ye keep my commandments? It is not, then, for the purpose of awakening His love to us that we first keep His commandments; but this, that unless He loves us, we cannot keep His commandments. This is a grace which lies all disclosed to the humble, but is hid from the proud.
(Tractate on the Gospel of John, LXXXII, 3).

# posted by Jamie : 2:14 PM


Justice is not reducible to the categories of this world 

Zenit has chosen to reissue a homily of the Holy Father's (then Cardinal Ratzinger) from March 2005, on the fortieth anniversary of the Vatican II Constitution Gaudium et Spes. (Be sure that every theologian in the country is now digging through used bookstores, trying to find copies of Cardinal Ratzinger's commentaries on the Council. All of the sudden it's somehow . . . more relevant.) The theme of the homily is the virtue of 'justice'.

Classical theology, as we know, understands the virtue of justice as composed of two elements which for Christians cannot be separated; justice is the firm will to render to God what is owed to God, and to our neighbour what is owed to him; indeed, justice toward God is what we call the 'virtue of religion'; justice toward other human beings is the fundamental attitude that respects the other as a person created by God.

As Christians we must constantly be reminded that the call of justice is not something which can be reduced to the categories of this world. And this is the beauty of the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, evident in the very structure of the Council's text; only when we Christians grasp our vocation, as having been created in the image of God and believing that 'the form of this world is passing away... [and] that God is preparing a new dwelling and a new earth, in which justice dwells' (Gaudium et Spes n. 39), can we address the urgent social problems of our time from a truly Christian perspective.

This is where our Holy Father's Augustinian background shows its face: in the steadfast refusal to allow nature to remain isolated from grace. There is no corner, no hollow where nature can hide from the gleaming countenance of the divine face. It was made for God and will ever remain unsatisfied and fragmented so long as it is estranged from Him: "Thou hast made us for thyself, and our hearts our restless until they find rest in Thee." This is as true for virtue as it is for human government.

In his masterpiece, City of God, Augustine takes head-on the pretensions of Roman aristocracy, that Rome stands alone as the world's commonwealth, the perfect embodiment of justice on earth. But for Augustine, there can be no justice unless and until God is recognized as God: Since Rome was always too proud for this, he draws the startling conclusion that, in the end, "there never was a Roman republic."
[A] republic cannot be administered without justice. Where, therefore, there is no true justice there can be no right. For that which is done by right is justly done, and what is unjustly done cannot be done by right. For the unjust inventions of men are neither to be considered nor spoken of as rights . . . . Consequently, if the republic is the weal of the people, and there is no people if it be not associated by a common acknowledgment of right, and if there is no right where there is no justice, then most certainly it follows that there is no republic where there is no justice. Further, justice is that virtue which gives every one his due. Where, then, is the justice of man, when he deserts the true God and yields himself to impure demons? Is this to give every one his due? Or is he who keeps back a piece of ground from the purchaser, and gives it to a man who has no right to it, unjust, while he who keeps back himself from the God who made him, and serves wicked spirits, is just? (Ibid.)
Henri de Lubac has shown how the thought of both Augustine and Aquinas (shown here and elsewhere to have been very much in agreement with Augustine) was misconstrued by later scholastics into imagining, beneath man's supernatural end, a subordinate yet integral, 'natural' end. Around this latter end were built entire systems of theology, philosophy and political theory. Once churchmen had fashioned an alternative, natural end for man, the Enlightenment thinkers happily dismissed with the supernatural end altogether and contented themselves with the natural. To this natural end could be oriented all the resources of man's natural reason, all the activities of the political state, the common good, the goals of science, etc. Augustine never denied that there were lesser 'goods' beside The Good, but it did not take long before men denied that there was a Good at all, and satisfied themselves with the accumulation of lesser goods, mere shadows of Goodness.

As Pope Benedict XVI notes, all men clamor for lesser goods, for the earthly justice that is owed' them by their neighbor, reducing, all too often, the virtue of justice to the 'categories of this world'. But it is the solemn duty of the Church to remind man that there is a higher justice, inseparable from the lower, a higher Good of which all the lower goods are but fleeting mirages. Whenever nature sets itself up against its Maker, and fashions a fortress for itself impenetrable by divine grace, it can only wither and die within. Only when grasp our divine vocation, our heavenly calling, only when we note that we are not made for this world but for Another, "can we address the urgent social problems of our time from a truly Christian perspective."

# posted by Jamie : 11:57 AM


Wednesday, April 27, 2005

USA Today carried a good article a few days back about the Vatican's chief in-house Latin linguist, Carmelite Father Reginald Foster.

One of Father Foster's Latin students has fashioned the product of three of his courses into an on-line teaching program, 'Learn Latin with Reginald Foster'. I picked this up months ago, somewhere in Blog-dom, and anticipate starting it sometime in the near future. My Latin could definitely use a jump-start. Father Foster also, apparently in his spare time, recorded the sermons of Leo the Great and made them available for listening. He also, apparently, has a Latinist radio program.

# posted by Jamie : 4:10 PM


I have to agree.

# posted by Jamie : 2:27 PM


Tuesday, April 26, 2005

A Modest Proposal 

We always hear about the vocations crisis in this country, the priest shortage, empty pulpits. Various solutions have been proposed - the tiresome cries to ordain women, married men, gays, etc., and the somewhat more serious attempts to renew vocations by restoring appropriate catechesis, renewing the liturgy, and the like.

One method which, to my knowledge, has not yet been tried in the modern church, is the renewal of the most ancient of vocation programs, the routine way by which the earliest and most primitive Christian churches resolved their clergy shortages: forcible ordinations.

We have more than a few notable and well-documented examples. I mean, some of our greatest saints have risen to prominence through the coercive usage of holy orders.

Augustine, already nested into his newly-formed lay contemplative community near his hometown, paid an inauspicious visit to the city of Hippo in 391 to visit a potential member of his community. He knew, of course, that Africa was in the thoes of a horrible clergy shortage, rendered even more acute due to poor education of most existing clergy. With his well-established reputation as an international scholar and public speaker, visiting a city with a frail, elderly bishop who couldn't even speak the local language, Augustine simply should have known better. A riotous crowd met him at the city gates and swept him into the cathedral, where he was ordained posthaste against his will. It was the realization of his worst nightmare: he lamented the loss of his cherished retirement for years afterwards, though he soon accomodated himself to his pastoral duties.

Ambrose, a well-educated Roman aristocrat at the height of a career in the civil service, had finally achieved the crown of his endeavors by securing a post as governor in Milan. When Arians attempted to inferfere in the election of the bishop of that city, Ambrose arrived with a police battalion to quell the riot that erupted. Perhaps Ambrose thought he was immune to the ever-present threat of forcible ordination, since he wasn't even baptized at the time. But when the competing hordes of rioters failed to come to an agreement over an episcopal candidate, someone just had to shout, 'Ambrose for bishop!' The poor governor, in his secretary's account of the affair, made a desparate attempt to flee the city. To no avail. He was baptized and consecrated a bishop a week later.

Gregory Nazianzus' troubles began when his best friend Basil was ordained as bishop of Caesarea, and quickly made hordes of enemies in the Arian-ridden region of Cappadocia. Basil needed some support, so he created a new episcopal see in a virtually non-existent hick town named Sasima and forced Gregory to accept consecration against the latter's will. Gregory, though consecrated, ultimately refused to take over the diocese, though many years later he reluctantly accepted the See of Constantinople.

Other examples could be put forward. A student of church history might be led think that voluntary ordination was a rare think in the ancient world. So why, I ask, should we shrink back from such a course of action today, when so many good Catholic men abound in our churches? Perhaps they lack only . . . the opportunity. So, know any good young Catholic guys?

# posted by Jamie : 1:09 PM


Pontifications on the grammatical gendering of the divine: Parts I and II.

# posted by Jamie : 10:18 AM


Monday, April 25, 2005

More on Pope Benedict 

The Vatican has finally gotten a page for the Holy Father, who gives us a glimpse here of his emotions within the conclave:

'As the trend in the ballots slowly made me realize that - in a manner of speaking, the guillotine would fall on me - I started to feel quite dizzy,' a smiling Benedict said, clearly joking. 'I thought that I had done my life's work and could now hope to live out my days in peace. I told the Lord with deep conviction, 'Don't do this to me.'

Speaking in his native German, Benedict, 78, told the audience that a cardinal slipped him a note of paper reminding him what he had preached about Christ calling Peter to follow him even if he did not want to go.' Evidently, this time he didn'listen to me,' the pontiff said.

Hat tip to Bill Cork.

# posted by Jamie : 1:32 PM


On Saturday we hosted a 'Pope Benedict Party' to honor the enthronement of His Holiness. Lots of saurkraut, lots of bratwurst, and of course, lots and lots of German beer. At the pinnacle of the celebration, we swore the following oath of fidelity to the Holy Father. We had had a difficult time finding a suitable oath. We slapped this one together from a variety of existing oaths, so it's somewhat of a patchwork job. But in my opinion, quite heavy on the POD side. Which is a good thing.

Solemn Oath of Fidelity to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI

I, __________, with firm faith believe and profess everything that is contained in the Symbol of faith, everything contained in the Word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals.

I promise and swear to be faithful henceforth and forever, while I live, to Christ and his Gospel, being constantly obedient to the Holy Roman Apostolic Church, to Blessed Peter in the person of the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI, and of his canonically elected Successors; to maintain communion with the Catholic Church always, in word and deed; to carry out with great diligence and faithfulness those tasks to which I am called by my service to the Church.

I now, in the presence of the indivisible Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the blessed Michael the Archangel, the blessed St. John the Baptist, the holy Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul and all the saints and sacred hosts of heaven, do declare and swear, that his holiness the Pope is Christ's Vice-regent and is the true and only head of the Catholic or Universal Church throughout the earth.

I swear I will faithfully, loyally and honourably serve the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI and his legitimate successors, and also dedicate myself to them with all my strength, sacrificing if necessary also my life to defend them.

In fulfilling the charge entrusted to me in the name of the Church, I shall hold fast to the deposit of faith in its entirety; I shall faithfully hand it on and explain it, and I shall avoid any teachings contrary to it.

So help me Almighty God and all His saints.

# posted by Jamie : 11:04 AM


Friday, April 22, 2005

Attaboy, Chris.

# posted by Jamie : 10:33 AM


Thursday, April 21, 2005

In case any of you were wondering why the banners on my blog aren't showing up, it's because, when I started this blog just over a year ago, Christopher of the Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club was kind enough to host the graphics for me on his server. Given the course of recent events, that should clear up the confusion as to why Christopher's server, and my graphics with it, has committed ritual suicide.

# posted by Jamie : 12:49 PM


Augustine and Sola Scriptura 

A reader writes:

In some of his writings, it seems Augustine promotes the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura. In this verse, he seems to deny the authority of the Church to interpret the Bible:

But who can fail to be aware that the sacred canon of Scripture, both of the Old and New Testament, is confined within its own limits, and that it stands so absolutely in a superior position to all later letters of the bishops, that about it we can hold no manner of doubt or disputation whether what is confessedly contained in it is right and true; but that all the letters of bishops which have been written, or are being written, since the closing of the canon, are liable to be refuted if there be anything contained in them which strays from the truth (On Baptism Against the Donatists II, 3).

It would seem, from this quote, that Augustine has not only affirmed the absolute authority of Scripture, but has actually opposed biblical authority to that of ecclesiastical tradition, even 'to all later letters of the bishops', which for their part are denied any sort of infallibility. Oh dear. Out the window, apparently, goes the authority of not only bishops, but that of the bishops gathered in council, and that of the bishop of Rome, along with any sort of infallibility any of these might claim. The Bible alone, it seems, is infallible and authoritative for the good doctor, and no Pope or bishop has any business claiming otherwise.

Or so it seems. But then, dear readers, when you face any patristic quotation cited in the defense of a polemical point, you will remember Ad Limina Apostolorum's first two rules of inquiry:

Rule 1: Finish the Quote

It seems that the quotation above has managed to end with a period only by uprooting a comma:

[...which strays from the truth], either by the discourse of some one who happens to be wiser in the matter than themselves, or by the weightier authority and more learned experience of other bishops, by the authority of Councils; and further, that the Councils themselves, which are held in the several districts and provinces, must yield, beyond all possibility of doubt, to the authority of plenary Councils which are formed for the whole Christian world; (Ibid., emphasis added)
Oops. It looks like our 'Bible versus Church' dichotomy was a bit premature. It seems, after completing his train of thought, that Augustine is not trying to degrade the authority of the whole Church, throwing the rhetorical baby out with the bathwater. On the other hand, it seems he has something much more modest in mind. He opposes the authority of Holy Writ only to the supposed authority of a mere letter from a single bishop. He is only concerned that some scribbled note from any lone ranger in a mitre might be taken as Revealed Truth, subject to no higher authority or court of appeal.

But such an episcopal letter, says Augustine, is not the last word on doctrinal matters - it is subject, not only to Sacred Scripture, but also to the scrutiny of more authoritative bishops, to the jurisdiction of provincial councils, and even more, to the solemn and final authority of ecumenical councils. It seems Augustine is not so hostile to ecclesiastical prerogative as we thought.

Rule 2: Read Your Chadwick

Not only Chadwick, of course, who is deficient in more than one respect, but he's the best start for a working knowledge of Church history. If all else fails, simply read the translator's introduction to the work in question: these days, they usually aren't half-bad.

The slightest study of the background of this work will tell you its occasion, which weighs heavily on the question we are discussing. Looming behind the Donatists, to whom Augustine addresses this letter, is the massive authority of St. Cyprian, the saint-martyr-bishop of greater Africa. The international prestige of Cyprian, unfortunately, made all the more devastating the fact that, on a crucial matter of theology, he was horribly, horribly wrong. I refer to the question of the rebaptism of heretics, on which question Cyprian came down firmly in the positive - that is, on requiring heretics reconciled to the Church to be rebaptized, their former baptism in schism presumed to be null and void. As brighter luminaries in the Church saw at the time, this position deftly undercut the Church's understanding of the efficacy of the sacraments, an efficacy derived from the Lord Himself. Yet the Donatists built an entire theological superstructure atop Cyprian's error, and soon all of Africa had gone astray. When courted by the Catholics, the Donatists would simply toss up quotes from the esteemed master, Cyprian, solidifying their own position.

And this is the occasion of Augustine's work, not to defend Cyprian (who was, clearly, indefensible on this point), but to convince the Donatists that they needn't follow him into his error. A bishop, even so great a bishop as Cyprian, is only one lone bishop. It helped Augustine's case that Cyprian had been rebuffed in his error, during his own lifetime, by the Bishop of Rome, Pope Stephen I. And with Stephen, the whole Church stood arrayed against the good Cyprian, who promptly and angrily retired to his library to re-edit all of the nice things he had said about the Papacy.

My point is that Augustine's On Baptism Against the Donatists is no systematic treatise on the absolute supremacy of Scripture to all other comers. It is a four-volume tract whose central thesis is that a lone, renegade bishop from the corner of Africa, when he stands alone against the Pope, councils, all the world's bishops, and even against Holy Writ itself, needn't be thought to be infallible. Augustine is far from encouraging the Donatists to forsake ecclesiastical authority. Rather, he is beseeching them, by all means, to acknowledge it and submit to it, for the good of their own souls.

# posted by Jamie : 9:04 AM


Wednesday, April 20, 2005

'There Were No Folk Songs' 

Cardinal George recalled that on the evening Pope John Paul was elected pope, he was joined by the other Polish cardinals in singing some Polish folk songs.

This time at the dinner after Pope Benedict's election, "we sang a couple of songs in Latin. There were no folk songs," he said. (CNS).

# posted by Jamie : 2:14 PM


'No one has yet really seen this wonderful, beautiful human being.' 

Fr. Augustine T. DiNoia on Benedict XVI (Newsweek).

# posted by Jamie : 2:11 PM


Just, *ahem*, so all of you know, Pope Benedict XVI wrote his doctoral thesis on . . . well, you-know-who.

# posted by Jamie : 1:20 PM


Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Heffevisen and Bratwurst tonight.

# posted by Jamie : 4:14 PM


Monday, April 18, 2005

Petition to stop Ebay blasphemy.

# posted by Jamie : 1:26 PM


Friday, April 15, 2005

On Virginity and Hierarchy 

So, back to our conversation. The next question put to me was what, in my opinion, was the theological significance of both our Lord and our Lady choosing to remain virgins? I responded unblinkingly, 'Well, because it's a more perfect form of life.' The recoil from that response was a bit more severe. I admit I had to backpedal a bit.

As I've said before, I live so much of my life between pages of patrology texts, and I sometimes find myself saying things that don't quite make sense to modern ears. You see, among the Fathers it hardly needed being said that virginity was, in St. Augustine's words, a 'greater gift' than marriage. St. Augustine's treatise, On Holy Virginity, is definitely representative of the thought of his age. In fact, as he himself says, he found himself constrained to write a parallel treatise, On the Good of Marriage, in order "to admonish the virgins of Christ, not, on account of that greater gift which they have received, to despise, in comparison of themselves, the fathers and mothers...' Jovinian, who alone dared to pronounce virginity equal to marriage, was branded a heretic and cast out of the Church in 390.

But I have to catch myself whenever I speak of Augustine being 'representative of the thought of his age'. Whenever an educator uses that phrase of some past saint, you can be sure that he doesn't care a whit either for the saint or his thought. But, in my mind, this conviction, that the life of the consecrated man constitutes a higher calling than that of his married counterpart, is somewhat of a 'constant' in our tradition (as to how 'higher' is defined, that is another story, and would be an interesting discussion). Read the seventh chapter of St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians, where he speaks of the ideal life as "undivided devotion to the Lord," a state which for him this was incompatible with the married state. Skip to the height of the Middle Ages and we have St. Thomas not only declaring that certain states in life are 'more perfect' than others, but generating a somewhat complex and top-heavy hierarchy of perfection, in which bishops, parish priests, archdeacons, contemplative religious, active religious, and laity are each placed on their proper rung on the ladder. True, we have more than one modern theologian - many of them fully orthodox ones - who altogether shun this elitism, but, from my point of view, the more ancient belief casts too broad a shadow across the tradition to ignore altogether. Perhaps we can hedge some of Jerome's more radical claims (probably made on days when he just woke up on the wrong side of the bed), but to reject the belief as entirely misguided would be to challenge minds possessed of far more wisdom than my own.

Egalitarianism is rooted more deeply into the modern mind than any other idea. And by egalitarianism I do not simply mean the presupposition that all should be equal: Rather, the presupposition that any sort of hierarchy requires a denigration, a disparagement, of that which is lower.

It is a well-known fact that, from the perspective of the ancient mind, the whole cosmos was shot through with hierarchy. When man looked upwards he saw an upward-reaching chain of heroes, demigods, daemons, planets and stars, gods, the Supreme God, and then even beyond, to Being and the Good at the pinnacle. When he looked downward he saw the irrational animals, plant life, and inanimate objects. But when did we hear of Plato complain that he was cheated of divinity? When did Aristotle declare himself worthless because he was less than a demigod? For them, every being attained its perfection by living to the fullest that life which was proper to its station. Man, a rational being, attained perfection by living reasonably, in accord with wisdom. Accordingly, the horse attained its proper perfection by, well, being the best damned horse it could be. And so on and so forth. Yes, many of the ancient thinkers believed women inferior to men, and we shant follow them there, but at the same time, this did not prevent them from believing women capable of their own proper perfection, i.e. that which was appropriate to womankind. In short, just because you are not at the tip-top of the hierarchy of being, does not deprive you of value, or even of perfection.

But for the modern, all this is anathema. If another is intrinsically greater than I, in any fashion or mode, than I am dispossessed and belittled - if there are grades of perfection, I will settle for none but the highest. This is why we recoil at the possibility of one state of life being higher than another. Isn't this unfair? Isn't marriage thus denigrated, rendered second-class and undesirable? Should all of us, then, shun marriage and embrace solitude? Isn't all this just elitism and snobbery?

This is, maybe, why I'm more at home amongst the fathers and doctors. For Augustine, it is not enough to say that the goodness of marriage is not spoiled by the superiority of virginity. Even more, virginity could not be superior unless marriage existed for it to be superior to. You see, if there were no good, there could be no better. If the married state were not available as an option, there would be no virtue in choosing virginity. There is also a more practical edge: If all men were dirt-poor, solitary and celibate, how would the human race sustain itself? As usual, Augustine has the best take:

As, therefore, that was good, which Martha was doing, being engaged in the ministering unto the Saints, but that better, which Mary, her sister, sitting at the feet of the Lord, and hearing His word; thus we praise the good of Susanna in married chastity, but yet we set before her the good of the widow Anna, and, much more, of the Virgin Mary. It was good that they were doing, who of their substance were ministering necessaries unto Christ and His disciples: but better, who left all their substance, that they might be freer to follow the same Lord. But in both these cases of good, whether what these, or whether what Martha and Mary were doing, the better could not be done, unless the other had been passed over or left. Whence we are to understand, that we are not, on this account, to think marriage an evil, because, unless there be abstinence from it, widowed chastity, or virgin purity, cannot be had. For neither on this account was what Martha was doing evil, because, unless her sister abstained from it, she could not do what was better: nor on this account is it evil to receive a just man or a prophet into one's house, because he, who wills to follow Christ unto perfection, ought not even to have a house, in order to do what is better. (On the Good of Marriage, 8).

# posted by Jamie : 10:25 AM


Cardinal Lustiger . . . has come from nowhere to top the list - two weeks ago he was at 20-1. (source)

A flurry of bets on Thursday helped boost Ratzinger . . . after Italian media reported he had initial support of 40 to 50 cardinals and a church official told Reuters on Wednesday that support for him looked strong.

Honduran Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga . . . has also fallenfrom grace among punters slipping from third to eighth at 14-1. That puts him level with the relatively unknown Chilean archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, 71, whose odds shortened from 50-1 after a good few bets. (source)

Alternatively . . . men such as Severino Poletto or Ennio Antonelli might be strong runners. (

And the indisputable front runner in this conclave at the beginning of the third millennium is also German. (source)
Does it strike anyone else that the media seems to view the phenomenon of a papal conclave as something akin to . . . horse racing?

# posted by Jamie : 9:06 AM


Thursday, April 14, 2005

Divine Necessity and Divine Virginity 

A conversation late last night with my sister-in-law gave me the opportunity to think through a few theological concepts I hadn't revisited in some time. She is keeping vigil on the banks of the Tiber, not yet Catholic, but in another sense a better one than I (she woke up at 6am this morning to make the hour's drive to fulfill her weekly 7am Perpetual Adoration shift). She continues to think through a few doctrinal issues, with which she is not yet comfortable. One of them, as is often the case, is the perpetual virginity of Our Lady. (It does often strike me as funny, sometimes, that the sex life of the mother of Christ should be the stumbling block for so many.)

She asked why it really mattered that Mary remained a virgin. Was it just, perhaps, an arbitrary choice which she happened to make, which might as well have gone the other way? If so, why are Catholics so insistent on it? I replied that, like many Catholic dogmas, the virginity of our Lady is not, from the perspective of the divine oikonomia, strictly necessary, but this does not prevent it from being meaningful. Even the virginity of our Lord, I proposed, was not strictly necessary, meaning that it would not have violated any immutable divine laws should our Lord have chosen to marry. (Sure, it would have created its own theological dilemmas, but that's another story - theologizing with hypotheticals has never been my business.) The fact that He chose not to marry, however, is pregnant (no pun intended) with spiritual and theological meaning. It is only a handful of Catholic beliefs, such as those relative to the Holy Trinity, which are strictly necessary, in that they could not have been otherwise; the majority of them, even including the Incarnation, are not. (I must remark that, on these points, especially that of the Incarnation not being strictly necessary, many are prepared to disagree with me, including, as I recall, the estimable Pontificator.)

This provoked a fiery response: How dare I propose that the Savior's celibacy was not necessary, that it could have been otherwise, that the Incarnate God might have freely chosen to take a wife??! I responded that our Lord had taken up human nature in its integrity, becoming like us in all ways but sin. This would exclude necessarily only those aspects of our human nature which arise through the advent of sin - concupiscence, a darkened intellect and eviscerated will, etc. - but would include, at least potentially, all of human nature in its integrity. I say potentially because Christ, as a historical person, did not (and could not) realize actually every accidental quality relative to human nature, which would have been impossible, requiring him to be both blonde and brunette, male and female, tall and short, and so on. While, potentially, all of these were available to Him, he chose to take on only some - Jewishness, maleness, and the like. Even in the course of his life, although he could potentially have taken up any and every human vocation, he chose actually that of celibacy rather than that of marriage. He could not, obviously, have chosen both. None of these choices, I believe, were intrinsically out of his reach, unavailable to him, except those which resulted from sin. To say that marriage was an impossible choice for the God-man is to say that marriage is a product of sin. Thus, the Catholic in the room swoops to the defense of the intrinsic goodness of marriage.

The choices which the Incarnate Word did make, as far as which accidental human qualities and which vocation to take up, were not strictly necessary. God could have incarnated himself, I believe, as a middle-class Italian seamstress in uptown New York. But the fact that He did not, the fact that He chose to enflesh himself as a Jewish male in first-century Palestine, in the lower-income household of a manual laborer, and that He then chose to enter upon the life of a celibate - these facts, precisely because they could have been otherwise, are thereby rendered especially theologically meaningful. And we are freed to speculate why these things are so. And each of these accidental qualities of Christ's life - we know so few of them - are themselves packed with spiritual and theological potency, which is why so many theologians have written so many books about why Christ was male, why He was Jewish, why He was born precisely in the time He was, etc. (the last being a crucial point in Augustine's history of the Roman Empire in City of God) (sorry, have to get my Augustinian plug in somewhere).

I was then, of course, asked what meaning I thought lay in our Lord's choice of celibacy, and what in the choice of His mother. My answer there got me into a bit of trouble. I'll relate that discussion, perhaps, down the road.

# posted by Jamie : 12:29 PM


Thursday, April 07, 2005

Last night I had the privilege of clinking pint glasses with the Pontificator at a nice pub outside of Arlington. He happened to be in town and looked me up. I must admit my biggest questions concerned what the Pontificator would look like. I had anticipated this. But, in fact, to all interested parties, he looks more like this (only markedly younger, and the beard isn't quite as full). The Pontificator is a cordial, earnest and delightful gentleman (and I must add generous, since he picked up the tab). We discussed patristics, metaphysics, the passing of the Holy Father, and the joys and challenges of fatherhood. As usual, I drank too much. But I must say, two pints of porter ale render the mind remarkably acute: Augustine's Trinitarian metaphysic never sounded quite so sensible and matter-of-fact as it did when I was explaining it. I also note that the Pontificator was easily identifiable, when I found him, by the massive tome of the Summa that was sitting on his bar table.

# posted by Jamie : 1:43 PM


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