Thursday, August 31, 2006

"The Church and the Second Sex"?

One point I've come across is that, whereas the word "Second" in Daily's book is always pejorative (as it would be to the Greeks, for whom "second" was always a lesser emanation, the finite to the infinite "First"), "Second" in Christianity is above all, coeternal, coequal, and intermediary. Within the Trinity, "Second" is not "secondary" but Central. Woman, more than man, is created in the image and likeness of God particularly in his Trinitarian relationality. Whatever her particular vocation, woman is called first to be the center of God's providential saving work in her own life and the lives of others--her children, in whatever sense they are hers. Man, relative to woman, is 'helper' (as Joseph to Mary; as Peter to the Church), and thus auxiliary and decentered--he is not the terminus a quo of the relation. Yet he is also an image of Christ, image of the Father, thus introducing an inequality which breaks open the relation; allows it to participate in higher orders of being, and also making it fruitful for the growth of the kingdom.

Within the Trinity, that which is Primary, that which is Central, and that which is Ultimate are One but also Three. So also in family and in the feminism question, that which is primary and that which is central are not one and the same person. The truer title of a book revealing God's dealings with woman would be "The Church and the Central Sex".

Monday, August 28, 2006

Equality and inequality of the sexes in Catholicism

My late night muse admittedly looks a great deal more attractive when I am half-asleep and waging a battle with the effects of an ill-advised half-cup of coffee than it does in the morning. By midday, a brilliant theological breakthrough is exposed as a common and relatively prosaic rehash of established tradition. But that night, I was mentally wrestling with the competing claims of feminism and Catholicism, and my thoughts were traversing entirely new territory for me--territory that could amount to my placing myself even more firmly outside of the mainstream thought patterns of my upbringing. It was like a mini-conversion; it felt just like the phenomenon described by William James' "Varieties of Religious Experience" - of the uniting of a divided subconscious. But it was a conversion regarding an issue of narrow, if also great importance.

Feminism is an intense concern of mine; almost, if not quite as strong as my concern for the right understanding of Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus. My obsession with both of these issues has a common root: a deeply ingrained egalitarianism that will not allow my conscience to rest unless I believe the God I worship does not, sub specie aeternis, afflict his children with undue, meaningless, or random ill fates. This is not to say that I believe God is unjust unless people get a perceptibly equal lot on this earth; one of the wonderful things I have learned about Catholic theology is that we understand how miserably unequal all of our conditions are--to say nothing of the unequal graces we are given! So, both visibly and invisibly, we have tremendous reasons not to judge, nor to take credit for our good works, nor to presume our own fidelity to the end.

The basic hope of a Christian egalitarian such as myself is that, mysteriously beneath the insanity and chaos in the world, there is a divine egalitarianism at work. I reject supralapsarian predestination as abominable--the notion that God, before time, according to his inscrutable will, elected who would be saved; and the rest be damned. That God would birth a creature whom he wished to burn forever makes any theodicy which respects the natural mind and conscience impossible. The hardened Augstinian argument is that, because of Original Sin, there is no injustice if even infants are left to be damned, because ultimately all deserve death. If God saved only one among us all, we should accord him infinite mercy. Yet even granting this, there is an injustice which results from the supralapsarian scenario: deception. As long as God's will regarding the saved and the damned is absolutely "inscrutible," giving the appearance of randomness and caprice and unfreedom to our miserable lives' eternal destinies, then God is made the liar when he says, through the Apostle,

"God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:13),

...or that God "wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4).

Unless we follow Origen or Meister Eckhart and believe that souls existed before their birth, such that they had something to be judged for beyond the Original Sin (from which God has acted to save the whole human race according to their finite freedom), the supralapsarian scenario makes a mockery of the very idea of religion. We could all mutiny against God, go to Hell, and it would all have been his inscrutible agency from before time was born. Perhaps Prometheus was right all along, and his everliving corpse hangs as a futile testimony to the cruelty of the gods.

The reason for this lengthy prologue to a discussion about equality of the sexes is that, just as we have no control over the majority of the historical circumstances that might place us within, or out of, saving Catholic faith, so also our sex is an irresistably given fact. We are thrown back onto our maleness or femaleness, helplessly participating in the mystery of gender which has been so long a part of nature. On the face of things it seems preposterous, again from a standpoint of justice, that one sex is due more status than another on biological grounds that, if not random (owing to providence), are at least mysterious.

So, for dutiful students of the school of modernity, Paul's letter to the Ephesians looks immediately mistaken.

"Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.

"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So (also) husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. 'For this reason a man shall leave (his) father and (his) mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.'

"This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church. In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband" (Eph 5:21-33).

Actual exegetes fumble with excuses for Paul to save their own credibility--such as that the above text is really only about the church, not relationships between men and women; or that Paul hadn't yet realized that everything he said applies in the reverse as well, etc. I doubt that hardly a single Christian child ever finishes grade school without seeing this embarrassing text (or the even more shameful one he wrote to the Corinthians!); and no educator, upon discovering that child with said text, will pass up the opportunity to instruct how "things are different now."

Things are different now, and principally for the better. But the historicist exegesis of Paul's seeming chauvanistic expectations has become so deeply ingrained in our consciousness, that we will hold to it even after our seminaries teach us that historicism is not the infallible 'voice of reason' it vogues to be. Paul's injunction of wives to obedience conjures so many images of spousal abuse awareness programs we watched in our classrooms that the very terms 'obedience' and 'abuse' become inextricably intertwined. We are trained from kindergarten that power corrupts, and so all categories of power, authority, patriarchy; or vice-versa, submission, obedience, and surrender have been systematically stripped out of all language pertaining to the family. We are shown stereotypical depictions of black pimps acting toward their prostitutes with a comedic-yet-tragic mixture of paternal lusty affection and humiliating commercial disregard. This depiction ironically combines a presumption of egalitarian moralism (which makes it 'outrageous' and hence funny), and a vicarious fulfillment of what is widely regarded and encouraged to be a male fantasy--to be a "pimp". More on that fantasy later.

My generation has been led quietly into a new kind of binary thinking. There are exactly two alternatives for the relationship between a man and a woman: a geometrical equality centered around the minimally limited mutual autonomy of each spouse, or else spousal abuse, i.e., marriage as institutional rape. The emphasis on equality of the sexes has become so strong that the possibility of greater intimacy via difference has been erased from the ideological landscape. However, it does pop up from time to time in the winking wisdom of pop culture--such as the Saturday Night Live parody of called ";" the implicit critique is that the website confuses compatibility with sameness, and leaves clients looking for the best mirror to look at themselves in.

However, equality remains the watchword for marriage and other male-female interactions, and it is not a word which is receptive to modifiers, qualifications, nuances, or a plurality of forms. George Orwell taught us in Animal Farm that those in power would attempt to hoodwink the masses with brilliant-seeming nuances of equality. "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others," quoth Napolean's amendment to the revolution's founding principle. "Separate but equal," the catch phrase behind segregated schools, became a splendid example of human naivette and the untouchable quality of egalitarianism. If equality is not absolute, it is a lie.

Of course, there is no shortage of Christian communities that follow Paul's epistle to the letter, eschewing all of the talk of equality.

**On hiatus until I feel like coming back to this topic**

A little revelation...

I've been reflecting a lot, recently, about the sexes and Catholic theology. Just about seven minutes ago my brain hit a point which brings me to the following conclusion.

There has never been, nor will there ever be, any religion, philosophy, ideology, or thought system, which affirms the equality of men and women more, at the deepest roots of its very being, than Catholic Christian faith.

To be unpacked... soon...

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Books I'm reading

  • Mary: The Church at the Source by Balthasar and Ratzinger
  • Our Lady and the Church by Hugo Rahner
  • On Grace and Free Choice by St. Bernard of Clairvaux


Muse is an amazing band. C'mon you wimpy rinky-dink Christian pop groups, learn from your betters!

Talking to young women about the restriction of Ordination to men.

It would seem that the restriction of Ordination to men is actually not a deal breaker for most Catholic women; although few rank-and-file Catholics actually agree with the Church that she has no authority to ordain women, few people leave the Church for that reason alone. Some women become "sisters in waiting," working like secret op agents to "change the Church from the inside." But generally, this doctrinal chestnut is neither agreed with nor very vigorously challenged, except within organizations founded for just that purpose.

Still the catechist has a prickly task in teaching the issue. I do not agree with some catechists who argue that the issue should not be raised by the teacher. If the Church really believes what she teaches, her pastors and catechists should not be embarrassed about it, but should instead try to understand things more and to help others do the same. Incidentally, with umpteen recent magisterial documents (and several books) about women, and few to none about men, one wonders whether there is not a guilt complex operating within the Vatican as well.

However, what those documents on women reveal is that the doctrine on the Ordination of men alone can actually be an occasion to open up deeper issues about the Catholic faith--the organic structure of the Body of Christ, the richness and height of the stature of the feminine within revelation (including the Marian component of the Christian life necessary for the salvation of all, including men, and exemplified equally by Christ), the priestly office exercised by all Christian women and men by virtue of their baptism, etc. It can also open more tangential subjects, like the relation between revelation and culture, the nature of equality, the distinctive role of the ordained clerical state (and it's non-priviledged status before the judgement seat), and the Biblical theme of the "scandal of election". It can be an occasion for the catechist to demonstrate unusual candor in coming to terms with real misogyny in Christian history and Catholic tradition--but also to unveil rarely mentioned occasions in Catholic tradition of bold egalitarianism.

My point is that the doctrine of the restriction of Ordination to men can be used as a doorway to discuss virtually endless issues--that is one of the magnificent things about theology: everything is connected to everything else. That is not to say that I suggest making that doctrine a cental component of catechesis (that would be a little wierd), but it does open up some possibilities.

But sometimes, going so much deeper is not necessary. Sometimes, the simplest answer is the best one. Sayeth the Catechism:

"The Lord Jesus chose men (viri) to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry. The college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the twelve an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ's return. The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible." CCC 1577

Although, nowadays, it is unlikely that young people will be satisfied with this explanation, there are some who will be. Some will see Christ's example as absolutely normative and thus will understand the Church's doctrine to be strictly a matter of humble obedience; not a smokescreen to justify an oppressive regime. It is true that boys and men are less likely to question it than women; but I would suggest that this is not because they subliminally or secretly feel gratified by a "favorable" inequality. Studies in Belgium have shown that Catholic boys typically respond more immediately to structures of authority--for example, prior to Vatican II, it was illegal for anyone but the priest to touch the consecrated host with his hands. If an old priest dropped a host on the floor, boys would assist the priest so that he could pick up the host. The girls, more often, just picked it up themselves. (That was the account of my psychology of religion professor--I don't have a citation).

It might be that students will have been told that the reason women cannot be priests is because Christianity teaches that women are more sinful, because Eve was the first to fall. In this case, it might be helpful to reference the Catholic Answers collection of quotes from the Church Fathers, which do not use Eve or the Fall to justify the ordination of men alone--the closest is the third passage from the Apostolic Constitutions, which quotes Gen 3:16, "...he shall be your master." But immensely more common among the Fathers is the teaching that the ordination of men is rooted in the example of Christ: the Didascalia, Epiphanius of Salamis, and the first passage of the Apostolic Constitutions.

It is important, if the Fathers are used, that the students understand that what an individual 'Church Father' says is not as important as what their overwhelming consensus is. Also, the Fathers' more shocking statements, if they are shown to the students, should be placed in the context of a Church struggling to maintain the purity of its doctrine in the face of opposition from Gnostics and Greeks. It might be helpful to cite Eusebius's Church History on the persecutions and the gnostics.

I would grant that a certain degree of chauvanism was almost universal in the first centuries of the Church. But I would also point out that Christian women did enjoy a revolutionary degree of human rights relative to non-Christian women. Ironically, the presence of priestesses in gnostic and Greek religions did not translate into higher standards or quality of living. Christianity was something an innovator in its requirements of chaste fidelity by men, and its teaching that wives had substantial rights within marriage, to say nothing of the dignity held by widows, virgins, deaconesses, and other lay women. Women martyrs and confessors were venerated and their prayers considered just as powerful as those of men.

But the most important lesson is that the Church has always considered the Ordination of men to be the inviolable pattern set by Christ and the apostles. In other words, that was not an sweetened excuse cooked up by Vatican II to cover up some kind of "Original Misogyny"--it is, and in a certain sense should only be, rooted only in the earnest obedience offered by Christian disciples from the very beginning. In other words, "Hey, it's nothing personal."

From here, the conversation will likely take a different path. Most commonly, someone will suggest that Christ's selection of men alone for the Twelve was not intended to set an ecclesial norm, but was only done out of convenience, in view of the prevailing chauvanism of his day. We should not extrapolate from Christ's decision a binding norm--as the argument goes--because if priests have to be men, why should they not also be bearded, ethnically Jewish men? (A variation on this, involving the priest's resemblance to Christ, also satirically asks, "why not require that they also be carpenters?")

Normally, the conversion gets caught in a stalemate at this point; the questioner will suggest that it would have been impossible for Jesus, along pragmatic lines, to have women among the Twelve. The teacher will respond (with the Magisterium) that Jesus did several 'impossible' things with respect to women; yet he did not elevate any of them to the Twelve, which thus indicates that it was his conscious will. The questioner will then, and correctly, point out that Jesus was not consistently counter-cultural. Indeed, sometimes practical circumstances did prevent Jesus from carrying out his conscious will. One example is the cured leper in Mark: "He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere" (Mark 1:45).

The whole thing winds up in an interminable back-and-forth about how much, or how little of Jesus', messianic will was behind his decision not to count among the Twelve his mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, or his other female disciples. It is based on two supposed premises, summarized nicely by John Wijngaards, an author of an online book arguing for women priests,

"If in selecting only men for the apostolic team Jesus was guided by the general practice of his own times, we have no reason to presume his objection against the ministry of women in changed circumstances. If however Jesus broke with the social myth of male predominance and yet refused to admit women to the apostolic team, we have a clear indication that he was setting a permanent norm."

In fact, neither of these premises is precisely true. The second premise makes it seems as though Church's forms are patterned off of a one-to-one imitation of the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. It forgets that it is not the recorded life of Jesus alone, nor Scripture alone that determines even the core dogmas of the Catholic faith. It is the entire received Tradition which indicates more fully how Jesus was received and understood by his first disciples. Jesus' election of men, even if it stood out amid a rebellious ministry, would have no binding force on the Church if Peter, Thomas, John, and Paul began 'laying hands on' women. This would not have been so strange, given the strongly Greek context of the early Church. She was forced, after all, to relinquish other laws of her Jewish heritage in order to adapt. Ordaining women would have illustrated that the apostles did not feel compelled to follow Jesus' pattern. But they did not alter the male constitution of the clergy.

But Wijngaards' first premise is, perhaps, even more off the mark. Jesus' being "guided by the general practice of his own times" had no bearing, one way or the other, on what eventually became normative for his Church. This does not mean his words and actions were not normative. But whether Jesus was guided by his culture or rebelled against it had absolutely no bearing on the developing Tradition. Not incidentally, the deepest elements of Catholic liturgy are Jewish in origin, and countless other elements of the faith--even permanent ones--come from historically conditioned cultural forms.

This is not yet a positive argument for the restriction of Ordination to men alone; but it does expose a certain popular fallacy attached to the notion of "inculturation". Catholicism is not a disembodied "ghost religion"; it has a body, flesh and bones, a birthday, a mother and father, living children, and even its favorite music, language, and architecture. It does not lose its flesh and bones--its historically conditioned forms and expressions--when it is transferred from one context to another. Yet neither does Catholic culture steamroll other cultures in some kind of imperialistic kulturkampf.

In his book "Truth and Tolerance," then-Cardinal Ratzinger put it this way:

"A first point we should note is that faith itself is cultural. It does not exist in a naked state, as sheer religion. Simply by telling a man who he is and how he should go about being human, faith is creating culture and is culture... The people of God, as a cultural agent, differs from the classic cultural agents, which are defined by the boundaries of a communal life as a tribe, as a nation, or otherwise, in that it subsists within various different cultural entities, which for their part do not thereby cease, even for the individual Christian, to be the primary and immediate agent of his culture... man now lives within two cultural entities: in his historical cultura and in the new one of faith, which meet and mingle in him. [...] It is the tension itself that is productive, renewing the faith and healing the culture" (Ratzinger, Truth and Tolerance, 67-70).

So the argument, that Jesus's election of men alone to the Twelve was guided by Jewish culture, does not have the force it intends. The idea that religion can be separated out from culture into a kind of pure, skeletal form is strictly modern, and it would have the effect of reducing Catholicism into an "empty collection of ideas" (Ratzinger, 70).


Still writing...

Question from the Maurer

"how do we reach the masses of former Catholics that are now convinced that the Church is nothing but a 'sunshine-happy cult'?"

Send them all to the seminary.

No, actually, I don't know what can be done. Evangelization is not a programmatic enterprise. I do believe one thing, though. Secularists can smell inauthenticity like old Payless shoes. And inauthenticity can come in two kinds--the kind we're familiar with, and the kind our parents were familiar with.

The inauthenticity we're familiar with is what gets called "Catholic-Lite"--the supersaturation of the happy cute in most average Catholic parishes, where transcendence has been so long smothered that the entire community is like one big institutional group hug. And maybe a round of the Hokey Pokey.

The inauthenticity our parents were familiar with (maybe not my parents, who are older, but most other folks', like embittered Generation X'ers) is kitchy plaster Catholicism--represented by stilted, off-key singing of soulless catechetical hymns, mass produced plaster statuettes of heaven-gazing saints who look as though dirt would just leap off of them if it touched them, and shrill, purity-obsessed moralism in homilies, as though we had nothing better to do than brood during our Suday afternoons.

Both of these inauthenticities are rabidly anti-intellectual; and in truth, I've found that secular-leaning teenagers have appreciated nothing more than my willingness to wrestle with any questions they gave me, on an intellectual level; and to research it if I couldn't deal with it right then and there. People want brutal honesty, they want depth, and they want the person they're talking to to be (duh) authentic--which in our case means genuinely prayerful and reverent. On the purely natural plane, those are the things I lay emphasis on when I do catechesis with teens and adults.

Friday, August 25, 2006

More on church music

I read the significant portions of the Directory for Masses with Children, and I thought I would add some remarks on it.

Lately, I have begun to develop a strong conviction that one of the greatest reasons college-aged adults--especially men--leave the faith is because they feel they have outgrown it. This is partially because secular culture has purged religiousity from its adult life. But it is also because the Catholic churches have purged adulthood from from their religious life. The last forty years of Catholic worship have completely turned worship into a project of "meeting people where they're at"--and people have become culturally less and less receptive to classical beauty and artistic representations of transcendent truth, especially in music. Strong relativistic ideologies in pop media emit a weaker relativist sense in Catholics that interprets human beings as closed systems, resistant to or incapable of growth (since "growth" implies that one transition to a state which is better than before--taboo for the relativist). Thus the exposure of a person to an artform that he or she has not yet been trained to appreciate is considered, at best, a mere invitation to boredom; at worst, a cruel imposition.

This concept of the human person as a closed system, combined with a desire for instant results, is what creates organizations like Life Teen and the more superficial corners of the Charistmatic Renewal, which have obvious numerical successes in attracting people to the Mass. But they also have the effect of turning their 'clients' into eternal cultural children for whom objectively more sophisticated, beautiful, and ancient artforms remain opaque. People get locked into an excessively narrow, 21st century popular notion of music, which calls frivolous songs "reverent" and self-centered anthems "holy" either because they have heard nothing else, or because their soft-relativism will not allow them to believe that the more beautiful music has any objective advantages to worship..

Meanwhile, the secular culture has an adult sophistication which far surpasses anything the Catholic parish-culture can hope to achieve. The energy generated by market forces produces extremely clever and intricate artforms, proclaiming the values of secularism more eloquently than OCP could ever hope to match. It is not classical--taste for classical has died everywhere--but it is overwhelmingly attractive, and driven by hotter-burning energies with more adult expressions than our prosaic church songs. College-aged women and (especially) men who are immersed in the stuff will inevitably--as I understand it--feel patronized and insulted by the kiddie, simplistic diddies found in Glory and Praise and Gather. The glazed-eye'd optimism of those songs directly contradicts the gritty "real world" of young adults, composed of equal parts their real tragic experiences and the popular interpretations inculcated by the media.

Ironically, the overemphasis in the last 40 years on "meeting people where they're at" has created an incredible misjudgement of where people are at. The church-wide forgetfulness of the fact that "taste" is a long-developed skill and not a mere mysterious opinion, has produced three generations of cultural retards (myself included) who are, however, starved for artistic expressions that are authentic and mature--both qualities which most modern church music lacks.

Secularist-minded young adults walk into a college Newman Center and see people holding hands and swaying back and forth to a schmaltzy rendition of the Our Father, and they would rather keep their keen instincts for the "hard truth" of the world than lose them in some kind of sunshine-happy cult. They don't need organized religion to know that kindness and friendship are important values--and church no longer has anything else to offer (certainly not mystery and transcendence)! Who can blame a guy for preferring a combination of KFMA (a 'new rock' station in Tucson) and clubbing, which more closely satiate his need for real, spontaneous friendship, and a gritty realistic worldview, than church?

But it was "church" which created that guy in the first place: "church" that refused--in view of children's (and adults'!) diminished "spiritual capacity"--to use anything but the most anemic, unchallenging, and unspiritual music and art. And still refuses.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

text scrap for continuation of "thought thinking itself"

The following line is an extension of my discussion of Galatians 3:28 and Scriptural unity, to be incorporated into the next portion of this essay:

"There are always firsts and lasts, judges and judged, bridegrooms and brides, bodies and heads and hands and feet, the Lamb, angels, kings and the lady clothed with the Sun, Lords and subjects--but these distinctions, unlike the distinctions that Paul says are no more, are not divisive but unitive; in their very differences lies the principle of their more intimate union. The distinction even between man and woman does not wholly evaporate; but only in its divisive, combative pathos does it disappear. What remains is the original distinction of man and woman, purified into a lovely ensemble which draws them closer than ever believed possible."

Thought thinking itself, continued...

Essentially, for the scientist, whatever things have in common is strictly contingent and coincidental; "law" is really a Platonistic misnomer for classes of phenomena that behave similarly--"generalization" is the closest that modern science hopes to achieve. And the consistent scientist never develops too high a respect for generalizations, lest that respect interfere with his or her willingness to scrap the theory upon the first indubitable falsification.

Modern science also has the characteristic of flattening the reality that it observes. The atoms of atomism are never greater or smaller; they simply are--and the advent of relativity theory and quantum physics has not changed this basic characteristic of modern science (the claims of some that quantum physics makes positivism any friendlier toward religion strike me as a lot of blustering). Modern science is inherently anti-hierarchic, not only because "hierarchy" involves notions of authority inimical to the skeptical approach, but because reductionistic scientism tends to break down all of the ontological qualities of "greater" and "lesser;" "micro" or "macro." Scientists do not play favorites with observable phenomena; one tick on the chart has absolutely the same importance as the next. Scientific wisdom has nothing to do with which data have been collected; only how much. Modern science is qualitatively blind; only quantities remain.

It is in this flattening spirit that the scientistic thinker appreciates the celebrated Pauline statement, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28). Modern uses of this text celebrate the absence of distinctions more than they do the "Jesus Christ" part. But beyond that there is little in common between the Scriptural and scientific sense of unity; nowhere in Scripture, least of all in Paul, is there preached the flat, numerical, distinterested equality of the scientific method.

In short, modern science has several tendencies vis-a-vis the perception of the world. Before it formulates any theories of 'laws', it approaches reality with absolute skepticism, because reality is methodologically treated as disconnected, disorderly, and qualitatively undifferentiated. It is only in the face of absolute skepticism that a slightly less absolute certainty can be hammered out, via falsifiable theories, while eliminating, as far as possible, the human factor--our psychological determinations.

Thus science is precisely so attractive because it requires so little actual reason or free will to execute. There is, ideally, no standard of morality or asceticism required for the scientist to correctly perform the requisite duties; the protocols of the method take care of themselves. Robots can replace most of the work of scientific investigators--and they do.

But the scientific tendencies to perceive the world as chaotic are not in themselves scientific conclusions; they are methodological strategies, buttresses against all possible error. Thus science is, in a very limited fashion, infallible--where done correctly, with strict respect to the question it asks, it eliminates psychologic blind spots; it is like an epistemic laser: brilliantly bright, but excessively narrow. But where the blind spots occur are not in the path of the laser but in the vast area that it excludes; it is a tunnel vision which, for purposes beyond data collection and generalization, is legally blind.

Yet it is not necessarily true that philosophy is the converse of a laser--broad, yet hazy. For if modern science has a fundamental epistemic principle in its data collection, philosophy has a fundamental principle in the acknowledgment of the analogy of being.

More later...

Thought thinking itself...

Last night, I was thinking about thought, partially in connection to my previous liberal/conservative ruminations. I jotted down a bunch of notes on my scrap whiteboard, and now I am going to try and shape it all into a somewhat coherent blog post; be forewarned, though, I haven't really synthesized it, so it is a little "stream of consciousness."

The first thing I was thinking was that, nowadays, liberal vs. conservative Catholicism seems largely divided according to two different intellectual disciplines: psychology, on the liberal side, and philosophy, on the conservative side. In fact, I would wager that psychology was a much more popular focus--besides theology--among seminarians in the 60's and 70's, and I say that because of the glut of psychological-religious books written in the 80's which now stock our parish library.

But psychology and philosophy have developed into two vastly different sciences. Speaking generally, I would characterize philosophy as both the history of ideas and the study of their neccessary connections and continued rational development. Psychology, on the other hand, is a modern science whose object is experience, behavior, and their efficient causes.

Both sciences deal with ideas, but psychology deals with ideas only insofar as they are the products of an organism, which is at least in some degree determined by explanable and repeated phenomena in nature, which is not conscious or reasoning. Frued set this characteristic almost permanently into the landscape of psychological science; but psychologists need not be determinists--they need only to believe that some part of human behavior, experience, and thought is determined, and that is the part they study.

In other words, psychology is the study of human experience/behavior/thought insofar as it is not free. If there is any element of human behavior which is truly spontaneous and singular, psychology can say nothing of it (but that does not mean that psychology necessarily denies the possibility of real sponteneity).

Now, if we were non-psychological animals--that is, if our rational thought were utterly free of the determinations of nature, circumstance, and psychosis; and our reason floated in a sublime void so that every step it made was deliberate, freely willed, and emminently rational, one might suppose that reason itself would stand to benefit. That is because, wherever unconscious determinations enter into our thinking, they rarely present us with new information, but instead create a mental blind spot. They unduly deprioritize some aspect of reality so that we mistakenly omit it from our ever-broadening picture of reality. One example of this might be the Enlightenment, which in spite of its warblings about the equality of men, had a tremendous blind-spot as regards the plight of women.

Of course, this is classical theory. Ancient and medieval thinkers were always convinced that reason could only be benefitted by the moral and ascetic lifestyle, to unburden the body as much as possible from the concupiscible desires of the flesh, whose unrational determinations were mere sandbags on a balloon that wanted to soar. And indeed, to the believer, psychology as a science serves a kindred purpose: by shedding light on the hostile determinations on our wills, psychology can give us an authentic "spiritual direction" by which we can strive against those determinations, making us more free. Yet psychology is most helpful when it admits its inability--not only de facto, but de jure--to encapsulate human behavior from beginning to end. When psychology forgets this, it includes within its presuppositions a truncated and mechanical vision of the person, and will incorporate this vision into its therapy, which can be deadly to the human spirit.

But the liberation of the intellect and the will from unconscious determinations cannot be the only goal, because we are, after all, finite creatures, who will be determined to some degree as long as we are alive. It is impossible to completely liberate the will on this earth; and thus it is impossible to eliminate all of the blind spots on our reason. Thus everybody, no matter how rational, will have blind spots; and even when those spots are brought to light, they will go back into the darkness once the psychological determinations take hold again.

But this is not all dreary news. While, certainly, blind spots are obstacles to unfettered reason, it is also true that one person's blind spot will allow them to focus more of their attention on a different area which is not blind. Friedrich Nietzsche was 'blind' to God, and soon was blind to much else, since giving himself over to concupiscible desires eventually left him with advanced syphilis. But it was precisely his peculiar psychological determinations which led him to see, with such brilliant clarity, the facade of bourgeois Christian optimism, the worthless "niceness" and "slave morality" which had infected modern society and made it sickeningly soft.

Every error, every heresy, even if it is incorrect, is often motivated by an earnest desire to expose a real blind spot in the mainstream; and the mainstream, even if it is technically correct on some point against the heretic, still cannot permit itself to remain blind to the issue that the heretic exposed. Such, I maintain, is true of Protestantism (vs. ecclesial corruption), modernism (vs. theological stagnation), feminism/liberation theology (vs. civil rights abuses or complacency), and schismatic traditionalism (vs. selling out to secular culture).

Just as physical blindness in a single organism enhances the other senses, so also ideological blindness in certain theologians or sectors can draw the acute attention of the mainstream social/ecclesial organism toward a matter which it had not previously given due consideration. Thus the response is dual: both correction and acceptance.

Let's go back to the subject of psychology and philosophy. Psychology, because it is a modern science, presupposes observation and data collection as the only legitimate engine of its progress--as it rightfully should. Modern science is intensely skeptical and inductive, and when done rightly it will never proclaim true what it cannot naturally demonstrate and reproduce as true; and even then, it is only true, ceteris paribus--i.e., so far as we can tell at this time for these given conditions.

The reason modern science does this is because it cannot afford, for its own sake, to allow any room within its method for those psychologically determined blind-spots to taint its investigations. Unfortunately, this happens frequently in spite of its methodological rigor; it happens most rampantly concerning the non-scientific matter of deciding which investigations to fund, where blind-spots typically reign. But setting that aside, modern science is methodically obsessed with immediacy, falsifiability, and certainty. Thus every particular object is a datum, and for a given question, no related datum can be ignored. Comparisons must be substantiated with observation.

The point I am taking so long in getting to is that the aim of science requires a certain default metholodigical worldview: namely, that reality is strictly piecemeal, atomistic, not governed by any laws (not even natural laws), and indeed, at its deepest base, an irrational brute fact. Science cannot presuppose laws or any kind of order within its method; a particular hypothesis may be building upon the formulation of a past 'law' with a new investigation; but the laws are always ceteris paribus; the presupposition of disorder is not.

Thus the scientistic bias will always prioritize a model of "data collection" as the fundamental principle of its epistemology. Everyone knows only as much as they have seen; the world traveller is inevitably wiser than the "arm chair philosopher" (a scientistic term of abuse). The measure of the greatness of a man is how many languages he can speak and how many different indigenous peoples he has been photographed with. Jeapoardy champions outclass philosophers; and when somebody has an "encyclopedic breadth of knowledge," it is an infinitely greater compliment than to say of a fellow, "what little he knows, he knows very well."

The scientistic worldview also has an impact on everyday interactions, in part because it pressuposes the disconnectedness of phenomena, and hence the disconnectedness of human beings. Relativist sociological theories bat about the notion that there is no community, nothing translatable between disparate societies. And even adolescents tell their parents, "You have no idea what it's like to be me!" Social atomism makes empathy a fanciful myth of the past.

...will finish later

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A little point.

Those who pour scorn on the past are doomed to forget it.

A Will for my Funeral

I've seen at least a couple dozen funerals since summer of last year. Most of them were for old folks, but every now and then we would send off the soul of a young kid or young adult, more than one of them my own age. Now, funerals are always troublesome for a priest to control, because how is a priest going to tell a mourning public that it wouldn't be appropriate to play Joey's favorite ACDC tune for the exit procession?

Well, I am going to save people the trouble of trying to guess what sort of ceremonial would honor my memory the best; I'll write it down. Violations of the following principles may lead to hauntings from beyond the grave.

  1. Some friends, family, or clergy might ask themselves whether the funeral is a mourning of my death or a celebration of my life. First, there really is no reason to believe that the latter honors me more than the former. If people want to mourn, for God's sake do not denigrate their mourning by telling them they are supposed to be celebrating. The anti-mourners usually carry the day, with their chummy cliches about celebration and such. I am dead! Kindly do not cheapen the whole business by white-washing it. Some will cry, and others will not, and that is that; what people will do naturally is healthiest.

    Second, allow me to answer the question directly: the funeral is neither a mourning of my death nor a celebration of my life. It will be, after all, a Mass. God alone is the Lord of the Mass. The Mass is a celebration--but not a sentimentalist celebration of my life. Rather, it is a solemn ritual celebration of God, his gift of life, and his mercy which we implore--not only for me, but for all of us. This leads me to the next point:

  2. For the sake of my immortal soul, please, please let no one say in public that they are sure I am in Heaven with God. It does not praise me, and it does not help me. For if, as is likely, I am in fact burning in Purgatory for my sins, then I am begging your prayers, not your praises. Honestly, it would honor me more if my pallbearers spit on my casket, than if priest or eulogy proclaimed falsely my presence in Heaven. So take whatever energy you would have spent extolling my virtues, and turn it instead into a plea to God for mercy for my vices. If I am, in fact, in Heaven, your prayers cannot hurt me, and I will return the favor by praying for you, if you also go to Purgatory.

  3. Please, I beg of you, let no fake plants near the funeral, nor my grave. Plants die, and so do we. A dead plant is more alive than a plastic thing that was never alive to begin with. In a similar vein, if the church uses gas or (God forbid!) electric candles, kindly remove them all and use wax ones instead, even if you have to borrow them from another church or somebody's home. I do not want the intelligence of my friends and family insulted by cheap substitutes, and I do not want our presence before God to mask the mortality and messiness of our everyday lives, like illegitimate technology does. Finally, for similar reasons, no electric keyboards. They sound horrible. I would prefer an organ, or failing that, a choir without instruments, or even just a single cantor, or failing that, silence.

  4. Please use traditional music. Nothing out of OCP. Instead, consider the music out of the hymnal called Adoremus (if it is still in publication), or else, what would be much better, Gregorian chant. And under no circumstances will there be recorded music; if that happens, and I am in Heaven, I will ask God to let me temporarily enter my body again, so that I can get out of the casket, kick the stereo system, and go back inside.

  5. Ask the priest to strictly obey the Magisterium's norms for the liturgy, if he is not already in the habit of doing so.

  6. No cremation, unless absolutely necessary; I find it faddish. But get a cheap casket. God is the focus of the funeral; not me.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Point on unity candles...

During my short trip to St. Meinrad Archabbey, my two friends and I went on a little road trip where, somehow, the subject of unity candles came up. Now, Chris (who really needs a blog) was raised in a corner of the earth where people apparently have never heard of unity candles. So for those of you who are similarly innocent, allow me to corrupt you.

The basic gist is that there's a big unlit candle and two smaller lit candles in the sanctuary. The mothers of the bride and groom (according to local practice) take wicks, and each one catches a flame from the smaller candles, which they then use to light the big one together.

It's meant to be a symbol of (duh) unity. But as far as images of unity go, candle-flame unity is contrary to the Christian understanding of unity. Think about it: nothing in Christianity is simply One. To be sure, God is more One than the one-ness of any created unity; he is One beyond all imagining. But God, as much as he is One, he is essentially relationship. So in God there is (all symbolic language here) community of Lover, Beloved, and their fecund and living Love.

Consider also the Genesis text, "the two of them become one body" (Gen 2:24). More 'traditional' translations render this "one flesh"--which, to our American ears, might conjure up an image of a big lump of undifferentiated flesh (as the Belgians working the fried treat stands in Louvain would politely offer, "would you like a flesh ball?" Mmmm... flesh ball). Anyway, marriage is not a flesh ball.

But, no, marriage brings two together as one body; but a real body is not just an amorphous thing; it is essentially community in unity, with part coming together not merely for the functional life of the organism, but for its beauty and creativity as well, and in order to bring it in relation to others. The unity of Matrimony images the unity we hope someday to have with God; to finally experience fully the fact of his being closer to us than we are to ourselves--yet not to be absorbed into his Being. Because our absorption would add nothing to him, it would be mathematically no different than our annihilation.

And that is the key to the insidiousness of the unity candle. Two flames do not join in a community of unity; they are mutually absorbed, and what is left is no different essentially than what came before. Taken to its limit, there is something tremendously abusive in the imagry of the Unity Candle. It makes marriage look like the Borg. Resistance is futile.

To be sure, I am not advocating an opposite mistake--prenuptial agreements, separate bank accounts, etc., which manifest a deeply "contraceptive" parasite attacking the union; a kind of self-sabotage meant to hedge one's bets against an uncertain future. This is not unity in community--it is not even unity--it is mere utility. Any such conscious reservation suffocates the marital love; it makes the individual spouse into a closed system, only permitting commerce with the beloved on his terms. Those terms eventually become more important than the commerce itself, at which point the love shrivels and dies.

So if marriage isn't undifferentiated union, nor is it contraceptive union, what is it? Henri de Lubac makes an important point in his book, Catholicism--the unity of lovers is such that, the less they hold back, and the closer they come, the more they naturally come to know themselves as separate individuals. The union and the distinction are part of the same process; but it is the complete and unreserved mutual self-giving which is primary. The distinction, the mutual building up of both individuals, is a natural biproduct, which lives best when it does not become the focus and is not forced via manufacture or technique.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


Is it me, or are the documents of Vatican II, and the Catechism, oddly quiet about the subject of Grace?

Thoughts on Catholic polarization.

I think we need a science of the Catholic left-right split. This has already started, in part, by Mary Jo Weaver's books, "Being Right: Conservative Catholics in America" and "What's Left? Liberal American Catholics," both of which contain essays by various authors attempting to grasp the fundamental projects of conflicting theologies.

Either because I actually see fatal contradictions within liberal/feminist Catholicism, or just because I lack sufficient intellectual humility, I would delight to see the elements of liberal Catholicism that are hostile to orthodoxy thoroughly discreditted. But of course, that does not leave conservative Catholicism off the hook. Conservativism and Catholicism are not identical, even though they might share the essential component of the starting point of Tradition. Catholicism lives on pre-reflectively with the blessing of the Holy Spirit, but conservativism is still trying to hammer out, intellectually and ever more precisely, what the delimitations of "Tradition" are.

Part of the problem is that liberalism and conservativism are understood, even seemingly by scholars, as ends of a spectrum. Spectrum-thinking (or shall I qualify, misplaced spectrum-thinking) is deadly to analysis of human controversies. This is first because the controversialists tend to exclude radical rethinking of the entire plane of the debate; and more deadly, the differences between these two real thought-systems are often defined as opposite beliefs, when they are not. One of the most common and irritating mistakes made in reading past Church documents is a forgetfulness that a condemnation of a heresy is not an affirmation of the opposite of the heresy; nor does it condemn the values and motivations that led to the heresy in the first place.

Part of the key is that liberalism and conservatism ought not be thought of as ends of a spectrum, but as two distinct, autonomous philosophies, with different orders of values, arisen from a historical and ideological constellation of philosophical influences and concepts. In other words, I hypothesize that liberalism and conservativism may be as different as a human being and a plant--that is to say, different right down to the cellular and molecular biology, even though occupying a shared sphere of physical biology, superficial differences are easily noted. Note that a plant is not the opposite of a human being, yet neither are the differences negligible; if the question is which of these one would rather marry, the differences do not allow for neutrality or suspension of judgment.

To be sure, anything written by me on this subject is going to be an apologetic firmly against liberal Catholicism; but no less important a part of it would be a purification of Catholicism rooted in Tradition of all of the extraneous elements which led to the sprouting of liberalism in the first place. But this can only be done first by departing from all talk of liberalism and conservatism at all, and instead examining the history of ideas and evaluating the validity of their foundations, whether mindful reflection, immediate experience, reaction and critique, a clamor for justice, etc.

Expect more on this later.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

"On Beauty" - Five Part Bulletin Article

Because I have too much free time (or rather, I make too much free time for myself when in fact I have none), I took my last Mundelein paper, on Hans Urs von Balthasar and beauty in the liturgy, and condensed it into five short paragraphs. I omitted some of the controversial bits about "selfish liturgy" that were at the end of my paper. :)

On Beauty, Part One

We often hear that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” since this is the easiest way to explain why people disagree about art, music, and such. But Hans Urs von Balthasar (a 20th century writer) believed differently. For him, beauty is as real as truth and goodness. Beauty is the power of certain things to delight us. They reveal the goodness and truth of all creation, in a way which is “infinitely and inexhaustibly fascinating.” When something is truly beautiful, it draws us out of ourselves and makes us yearn, not to possess it, but to be possessed by it. Psuedo-Dionysus (a 5th century writer) wrote that divine beauty does not allow “them that are touched by it to belong to themselves.” Beauty is the innocent power in creation to inspire rapturous awe—or even fear.

On Beauty, Part Two

Natural beauty reveals to us hints and glimmers of the divine, so it is no surprise that people have profound experiences of God within natural landscapes. Balthasar wrote that natural beauty “contains, hidden and unfinished, the goods of salvation: peace in God, beatitude and transfiguration, victory over sin, paradise present though concealed, all that the beautiful consoles us with—and without giving us more than a foretaste.” This is why Medieval art, architecture, and science were captivated by nature. The columns of Gothic churches look just like trees, whose branches merge into the arches; lecterns were carved in the shape of eagles; and natural proportions were imitated wherever possible.

On Beauty, Part Three

Yet Christianity and beauty are uneasy bedfellows. According to Balthasar, “not only [is beauty] not one of the supreme Biblical values, but... it cannot seriously be considered as a Biblical value at all.” There are two reasons for this. First, beauty is “erotic,” from the Greek word eros meaning “yearning.” Beauty can tempt us to desire (in a hungry, possessive way) what is not God, whether it is the physical beauty of another person, the beauty of material possessions, or the beauty of an idea. Natural beauty can also threaten to become a replacement for God, leading some people to worship a creature rather than the Creator. Biblical faith resists the siren song of the world whose “form is passing away” (1 Cor 7:31).

On Beauty, Part Four

Because of this, there are two pitfalls which we can fall into as Christians. The first pitfall is “aestheticism,” which means that one tries to find God in natural beauty (without the help of revelation or the community of faith). Natural beauty is good, but it is still only a creature, so it never rises to God by itself. In other words, God gives us all beauty, but beauty does not give us God. The opposite pitfall is called “iconoclasm,” which fears idolatry so much that it opposes using any beautiful things as images of God and his works. Iconoclasm separates us from God, because we naturally experience everything through our bodies, and we need something physical to help us encounter and love God.

On Beauty, Part Five

Beauty seems both a necessity and a danger. We need to commune with God, but every artwork of ours threatens to become an idol. For a solution, Balthasar looks instead to supernatural beauty—God's own beauty: fulfilled, complete, and victorious (unlike natural beauty). This beauty is real and concrete; it is Jesus, in his love and obedience to the Father, bodily present in the Eucharist. If art imitates nature, worship imitates Christ. Jesus' supernatural beauty is imitated by the Christ-like humility and devotion of everyone at Mass. The externals flow from hearts giving themselves up to God, making the Mass into our sacramental imitation of Jesus on the cross, for love of the Father, in hope of the Resurrection. What greater beauty is there?

Three random bulletin articles...

One of my responsibilities in my current parish assignment is to write weekly 130-word essays to fit in a small corner of the weekly bulletin. Here are some samples.

Pray for Migrants; Plead for their Lives

This month, I drove a van full of seminarians to Altar, Mexico. With us were Joanne Welter of Catholic Social Mission, and Fr. Mariano, Director of Vocations. [Our guide] explained to us the political and economic history of the US-Mexican border, and we met with would-be migrants in the town. Now, I am a traditional sort of Catholic, so I am leveraging that reputation to make a plea: we cannot spiritually afford to be passive in the face of the desperation on the border. There are Catholic initiatives based on firm Catholic teaching and thoroughgoing political realism. For more information, see: .

A Day in the Seminary

I am currently attending Mundelein Seminary, nearby Chicago, which is intensely academic. Most days have a tight routine. Everybody wakes up early and gathers for the Morning Office at 7:30 am; breakfast is at 8:00, and the first lecture begins at 8:25. We have anywhere from one to five lectures in a day, each lasting about 90 minutes, on topics such as Scripture, moral theology, spirituality, systematics, Church history, and sacraments. We celebrate the Eucharist at noon, eat lunch, and finish our lectures. Time left before the Evening Office (5:15 pm) is spent studying or (more likely) relaxing. After dinner, there are sports played in the field or special meetings and lectures. The rest of the time is for us to study, pray, work out, or socialize.

All Greek to Me: Thlipsis

Thlipsis is the word usually translated as “affliction” or “tribulation” in English Bibles. It literally means a great pressure, squeezing, or compressing (and so it is also written in ancient medicine and agriculture). In the early Church, however, thlipsis—the thlipsis of Paul and of the martyrs—takes on the meaning of holy suffering. “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great thlipsis, with joy from the holy Spirit” (1 Thes 1:11). Thlipsis is a little bit like the Catholic advise that, when you hit your thumb with a hammer, you “offer it up” to God. But thlipsis is really suffering in imitation of Jesus; to give up comfort and safety out of love for someone else. That is why, in thlipsis, pain and joy come together.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

A liturgical principle...

  1. He must increase; I must decrease. (John 3:30)
  2. "He" = God in his fullness, including his saving works, manifested in particular creation through a ritual of natural beauty (the declension of His supernatural beauty), structured by an apostolic and hierarchic Church, expressed through all means available to a given people, accessible to their active participation (i.e., the complete investment of their subjectivity) while always eluding the grasp of the delusion of private possession and manipulation.
  3. "I" = Our autonomous selves, any part of ourselves that would seek to create its own meaning apart from God, or reach God by a Promethean grasp or Romantic "intuition"; all desire for personal recognition or credit, and for attainment of any goal (no matter how lofty and good) not essentially and directly connected to the worship of God the Father.

Selfish, selfish, selfish.

Some folks have got it into their heads that Christians are a selfless, unassuming, modest lot. I would like to correct this perception. Christians are, rather, the most presumptuous, demanding, and impatient bunch. Whereas most people are satisfied with the world, the Christians are not happy unless they possess God. So impatient and demanding are they, that when they discover that God cannot be owned, they sell themselves to him as slaves, for the mere gratification of proximity to him. The more modest of us Christians learn to be satisfied with this "settlement," filling what remains of our unsatiated appetite with trifles (some of us bide our time with toys we call God). But the most prideful of them dig deeper into slavery, believing that they deserve, by divine right, to merge with the Ultimate and learn his secrets; nothing else is worthy of them. One of those secrets, they learn along the way, is that slavery to Freedom is citizenship; and amorosity with the finite is death.

To be perfectly clear...

There is nothing "liberal" about clamoring for social justice. Such is the medium through which souls are saved. The only thing that is "liberal" is a distaste for saving souls.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Five pitfalls of modern Catholic hymnody

There is a pretty decent article in the 1999 Adoremus Bulletin by Fr. Paul Scalia: "Ritus Narcissus: Why Do We Sing Ourselves and Celebrate Ourselves?" Scalia touches on something which has always been something of raw nerve, and is close to the subject of my last theology paper on Balthasar and the liturgy.

The standard parish wisdom is that, so long as a song says something about God, or at least ourselves qua Christians, and does not brazenly declare any obvious heresies, then it qualifies as "sacred music". The minimalism of these criteria is sometimes stringently enforced, so that all other criteria are dismissed as "impositions of taste,"--a kind of liturgical positivism, since we have not yet discovered how to scientifically measure reverence.

The following are my guide-posts to, well, basically whether or not I get worked up about bad music at Mass.
  1. Singing a song of ourselves.

    God should have an obvious primacy of place in the actual message of the hymn. Importantly, I mean God-as-Other, not ourselves-as-Body-of-Christ, which is not the same thing. Now, this does not necessarily exclude songs which mention our activity more frequently than they mention God. A clear example would be a recent hymn I heard at the monastery, which exhorted us to ask God's blessing on our daily work, and it described that work at great length.

    [Edit: Upon further reflection, even though a single hymn might legitimately favor talking about our activity--such as the entrance hymn--it should probably be limited to one. A string of songs "mostly about us," even if not bad individually, make the Mass overly self-absorbed.]

    The "violators" may incidentally mention God more often, but only to banish him into shadows of our own activity, make him coextensive with that activity, or relegate God to one actor among ourselves. The key to this principle is a firm emphasis on transcendence, without which our immanent significance is nil.

    (a) God is ultimately the focus of our attention [even if other things are mentioned], so we should avoid excessive introspection,
    (b) God is the initiator of our works, worship, and sanctification, so we should avoid semi-Pelagianism (the idea that grace starts with our free choices).
    (c) God's singular, objective call to Caritas and incarnational saving work in Christ is the true principle of our unity; no other impetus to unity can substitute--not justice, not peace, not mission, not welcoming or hospitality, not even the immanent desire for unity itself. These are consequences of the true unity, not causes--if made into causes, they are counterfeit.
    (d) God is the goal for which our lives are given and destined, so we should avoid singing a mere worldly eschatology.
    (e) God is ineffable mystery which yet condescends to us in grace, so we should avoid Hegelianism (reducing God being or activity to our activity, e.g., prayer, social justice, gathering, etc.)

  2. "Supper" at the total expense of "Sacrifice"

    People living in the years after Vatican II must have been really excited to discover that the Eucharist's meaning was not limited to oblation, sacrifice, and atonement--because their songwriters went promptly to work eliminating those qualities from Catholic worship altogether (lending credence to Peter Burger's claim that modern Catholics are experts at excluding the middle).

    I will say it plainly: I do not believe that any Eucharistic hymn can exclude the sacrificial dimension without irrepairably distorting the essence of the Last Supper, whose significance is rooted in Christ's saving atonement on the cross; not vice-versa. Yes, it is God's love for his children, from the beginning of Creation, that brings Christ to the cross in the first place. But the apostles are "no longer slaves, but friends" precisely in view of the fact that they will all partake of the same cup of the martyrdom of Christ. There is no banquet without the cross; there is no friendship without suffering; and let's not fool ourselves--there is nobody in those pews whose daily pains accrue any meaning when we pooh-pooh them with a damn picnic.

    That said, I have no problem with hymns that tend to focus on the banquet aspect of the Eucharist--which, after all, is our final hope that we must always keep in view. Depending on the context, I might be satisfied if a hymn only bothers to include reference to the bread being "broken," which itself has wonderful sacrificial significance (even if it doesn't jibe perfectly with the point that none Christ's bones were broken--hey, his life was). But there are hymns whose hostility to sacrifice practically screams underneath the veil of vapid smiles and token hugs... I'm looking at you, Table of Plenty!

  3. The nefarious "voice of God"

    Contemporary songs have an irritating habit of employing the "voice of God"--giving God's words to the congregation to sing. This is especially disfunctional when the words are not a quote from Scripture, presumptuously ascribing to God our own words. Whether the text is Biblical or not, this interrupts prayer because it is not prayer--it is pretend, and it wobbles on the precarious edge of parody. Who, in their private prayer, pretends to be God? Who, in ordinary conversation, speaks as if he was his conversation partner? The partner would rightfully be confused, if not offended.

    Singing "God's lines" is not a legitimate expression of the presence of God in each of us, because that presence is manifested instead through our humility, praise, thanks, and obedience to God--just as Christ did in his earthly ministry. Nor is it an authentic expression of the dialogic quality of the liturgy, because this dynamic is effected by the dialogue between the congregation and the celebrant, who is a sacramental presence of Christ as the head to the body.

    The liturgical, symbolic significance of the congregation singing the "voice of God" is, ironically, the silencing of God--of God as Other, as distinct from our own voices and as the object of our worship. When we sing as if we were God, we cease to be in dialogue with God and instead engage in mimicry and monologue.

  4. The triumphalist indicative.

    The indicative voice gives a phrase the character of unqualified statement. Thus there are a plethora of reasons to avoid indicative statements about our own good works, eschatological destiny, or sacramental status. First is the fact that not everybody in the congregation will be singing the truth about themselves; unbaptized guests are not (yet), per Catholic faith, the Body of Christ; similar crimes of logic occur when ecumenical services sing "One Spirit, One Church". Second is the fact that, given the prevalence of sin and evil in the world, and in our own hearts, there is absolutely no excuse for self-preening at the Mass. Whether it is "we" or "I," songs that declare us holy before God reek of the insidious self-praise of the Pharisee (Luke 18:11-12).

    This principle is not, strictly speaking, a denial that there is great good in the worshipping community. But liturgical prayer, if it is a radical imitation of Christ, cannot praise itself before the Father--not even to acknowledge its objective merits ("Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone" [Mark 10:18]).

    A comparison between OCP's "Today's Missal - Music Issue" and the hymnal included in the back of the one-volume "Christian Prayer" reveals a marked difference between traditional and modern hymns. Modern hymns are in love with indicative proclamations about our status as Christians; none of them wrong, per se, but always exceedingly positive--"We Are the Body of Christ," "We are the light of the world," "we are one body in this one Lord," "You and I are the bread of life," "we come as gift to you..." Now, what is striking about all of this is not so much that any of it contradicts Catholic theology as such--but the sheer absence of it from traditional Catholic hymnody.

    In 200 pages of hymns in Christian Prayer, there is hardly ever an indicative statement about us. Not only are the lion's share of hymns about God, Christ, God's work in Christ, (whether in the second or third person), but the few hymns that do mention us are exhortatory ("Now Thank We All Our God"), confessional ("Firmly I believe and truly God is three and God is one"), penitential ("We have not loved you"), or subjunctive ("That I may love the things you love").

    Implicit in this consistency on the part of traditional hymns is the principle that we do not name ourselves in the liturgy. If we are made into the Body of Christ by the sacraments, it is God, and God alone who does so. Exalting ourselves through song--even if we give technically correct names; even if we exalt ourselves as 'People of God' rather than "I, me"--is tantamount to reclining "at table in the place of honor" (Luke 14:8).

  5. The congregationalist "we" vs the individualistic (?) "I".

    If Henri de Lubac's book Catholicism is any indication, there was probably a widespread pre-Vatican II opinion that Catholicism was too individualistic--given it's focus on individual sins and guilt, individual means to salvation through the sacraments, etc. The fact that traditional hymns and the official liturgical prayers all favored the word "I" rather than "we" (true even of the official Latin prayers today!) perhaps further fostered this notion.

    Thus it is understandable, perhaps, after Vatican II, that 'Catholic individualism' was the new bugbear among liturgical reformers... as evinced by the clerical movement imposing the practice of holding hands during the "Our Father" upon congregations, and the virtual erradication of the word "I" from modern Catholic hymns. Apparently, there is no 'I' in "Church" (except, of course, when priests' homilies consist in long personal life stories).

    Yet what has been the effect of the now dominant "we" in Catholic hymns? I fear it has not got us as far as celebrating Catholic universalism, as much as it has turned individualism into congregationalism. Most modern gathering hymns take no note of the connection between 'this Mass' and the One Mass; some of them, in fact, deliberately isolate the Mass into "this place" - "Here, the cup we raise: here, in this holy place;" "...and the Spirit that is here in this place;" "What is this place, where we are meeting?" "Here in this place, new light is streaming..."

    There is an irony in all of this, that in the transition from the singular to the plural, we have slipped from the old Catholic sense that "I am taking part in universal mysteries of salvation" to the congregationalist sense that "We are having ourselves quite a hootenanny." What was once an point of access to a globe-spanning (and world-transcending) truth has become a provincial, placenta-like bubble of local influence.

    Is it possible that the "I" of those old hymns and in the Roman Rite does not mean what the reformers thought it meant--a self-absorbed individualism? I had always believed as much, before I even knew what it actually meant. The General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours is clear: "Where possible, the principal Hours should be celebrated communally in church by other groups of the faithful." And yet, in the same book, the prayer begins, "God, come to my assistance." It seems we have a contradiction! My thought-process moved as follows: "Did they make a mistake? It seems an awfully stupid mistake to be printed again and again. Is the commission that assembled this book full of idiots? I severely doubt it! Therefore, there must be some reason behind the use of the singular." Originally I believed it was simply meant to retain a faithful rendition of the Psalm texts used to structure the liturgy; and that was good enough for me.

    Only two years ago did I learn that that was not the reason behind the singular "help me." Fr. Douglas Martis, the Director of the Liturgical Institute at Mundelein, explained to us the concept of liturgical solidarity--the "I" in the liturgy is not "me, myself" but "I" the Body, "I" the Church, "I" Israel. For more on the ancient (!) 'singular solidarity' see this great article by Fr. Charles Miller, CM

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Where to begin thinking about political parties?

Parties are a messy, messy business. I've left my last post up as an example of stillborn amatuer analysis. Political philosophy is not something I have had any decent training in, so even while the Democrat=positivist & Republican=capitalist associations might have a nugget of substance today, there is really no way to build off of them into a generalized theory of the two-party system. I love looking for, and occasionally finding real patterns, but in this case, patterns will only be yielded by a much more intensive historical study--which has probably already been done.

The significant thing, I think, is that in fact, it is better that parties actually be difficult to analyze. The less ideological a party is, the more difficult it will be to figure out. Appropriately, parties have always been a constellation of competing values of religion, philosophy, national interests, and international relations; the more that all of these values begin begin subsumed into a totalizing closed logical system, the easier my job is, yet the greater the opportunity for totalitarianism.

Positivism and capitalism are "hungry" systems; by their nature they have a gravitational pull on spheres of reality beyond their original intent. They become totalitarian when they become black holes of social thought, and eventually, of human lives. But in fact, the American historical landscape really has been a multi-way struggle between a complex mishmash of goals, and will continue to be such as long as Christianity continues to be an anti-ideological force, as well as other basically human dimensions of interests.

Political parties [scrapped]]

More political theorizing! While I was at St. Meinrad I spent a long time thinking about the two big parties in the United States. Now I know that there's a whole historical perspective I'm missing out here (I'm relying on Wikipedia), but I wanted to try and go deeper than my usual conviction that the parties have their own pet ideologies.

I've always believed that the Republicans had an inordinate attachment to the laws of Adam Smith, just as the Democrats had an inordinate attachment to positivism--say, that exemplified by Auguste Comte or AJ Ayer. Even if a particular democrat may be a Christian, there is a kind of 'political positivism'--that is, that whatever might be reasonable to believe for oneself, the law must be atheistic and positivistic, and thus not recognize any system of "oughts" besides the function which human society itself has attached to it.

But that naughty hermenuetic principle keeps gnawing away at my mental conscience, not allowing me to be satisfied with this diganosis, always nagging me that there's more to the story.

Both parties are modern and rationalistic, root and branch. And both parties are entirely unreflective beasts of self-preservation, lacking their former young malleability and adaptability to a changing political atmosphere. Neither shows signs of substantial growth or decay. Both just sit there, like the two women before King David, only both of them are perfectly satisfied to walk home with half the corpse of an infant.

What is behind their competing claims? What drives their priorities, and why do the Republicans seem singularly impotent to enact a program of moral reform if they seem to care so much about it? Why does the Democratic party (if not democrat voters) slavishly cling to a radical pro-abortion platform even when that platform is miles away from the thinking of their own constituency, and losing popular support?

What is the most fundamental ideological difference between the Democrats and Republicans? Well, in fact, this is one case where it is not helpful to try and reduce the differences to one. The names of the parties do in fact refer to collectives of ideas whose unity is contingent; and in fact, other less visible 'political parties' are merely recombinations of those ideas. However, behind the shifting ideas, priorities, and names lies a limited series of competing "threads" of developing philosophies--basic convictions about individual human nature, justice, morality, society, the destiny of civilization, the duty of government, and the definition of 'order'.

There is also the interesting element that, prior to the 1960's, liberalism and conservativism were competing forces within both parties, possibly indicating that my question should not be phrased in terms of parties at all, but the "spectrum." This creates a scenario of multi-layered divisions--for example, the issue of national defense might not actually have anything to do with liberalism or conservativism, just as environmental policies may not have any necessary connection to one party or another. Perhaps 'liberalism' and 'conservativism' are more important terms than their usual party associations.

Yet, according to the Wiki, "Liberal" didn't...


Saturday, August 05, 2006

A Trinitarian theory of catechesis

Mind's been in overdrive since my arrival here at the St. Meinrad Archabbey. Wait for another political analysis. But for now, I want to put my notes on Catechesis here.

Soon I will be teaching an introductory Catechism class to parents and their young children at the same time. The difficulty of the project has forced me to consider my goals and strategies. What began as a reflection on the nature and purpose of games and toys in Catechesis, has developed into something like a Trinitarian theory of Catechesis. Let's see how it looks.

Considering that the doctrine of the Trinity is not the product of speculative reason (though neither is it arbitrarily historical), it has a shocking degree of value for speculation. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, along with their varying roles and intrinsic unity within revelation, yield an unending series of correlates which have assisted in human thought about mind, time, being, and pastoral theology. Consider these various correlations:

[by the way, everything in this post falls under the universal theologian's disclaimer. You know, that thing about all language is analogical and symbolic, God is ungraspable mystery, etc. and so on, ad infinitum. It also falls under the amatuer theologian's disclaimer: I make no claims to originality or accuracy. In other words, set your expectations low.]

TrinityFatherSonHoly Spirit
Theological VirtuesFaithCharityHope

Now, these classical correlations have a coextensive connection with the Trinitarian formula; they inform one another. All of the first terms tell us something distinctive of the Father; that he is the begetter, pure mystery, Origin of Origins (though, of course, not in a temporal sense). Fr. Robert Baron of Mundelein Seminary teaches that Buddhism and other schemas of pure negative theology can be said to have a profound spirituality of the Father. Thus God has allowed us to attribute to God the Father elements of originality, of being the source, the root, that which is our highest desire but which does not come to us unmediated. Thus the Father is symbolically Lord of the Past, whence flows our wellspring of revelation and salvation.

The second Person of the Trinity, Son, the Logos, the Incarnation, is the middle (and hence 'central', 'pivotal') term of the Trinity; the beloved of the Father, and the Father's love for beloved Creation, the one and only Mediator. Mediation, as distinct (but not separate) from Origin, is the common characteristic of the Son. The soteriological principle--what is not assumed is not redeemed--places Christ as the fulfillment of what comes before and the impetus of what comes after; at the same time the completion of human destiny and the entire Word of God.

The Holy Spirit is the advocate, the one sent by the Son, who directs, protects, and empowers the Church as the visible Body of Christ. Emphatically, the Holy Spirit not only shows us Christ but empowers us to say yes to what we are shown; the Spirit is thus the very life of the Church, making possible the inclusion of the Church within the dynamic of the Father and the Son as the Lover and Beloved. I will take a risk here and suggest that the central term for thinking the Spirit is Transformation.

The pattern of Origin, Mediation, and Transformation forms something like a logical skeleton around which Trinitarian 'analogies' are formed. In the case of the Transcendentals, Truth has the most immediate reference to 'What Is' and hence yields something of the character of primacy, whence Goodness and Beauty (no less vital) emerge; Goodness corresponds to Mediation because Truth ceases to be 'cold' and 'objective' and instead takes on value, thus for the first time soliciting the attention of the valu-ers... in other words, that which is both True and Good takes on a kind of hypostatic union of the objective Original and the subjective anthropological--a union which ends the futility of desire and the unattainability of the Original. Beauty corresponds to Transformation because of the transformative power of eros, as inspired by awe.

Now, in the midst of all this ethereal speculation, I have a very practical Trinitarian set:


Here we see that the practical foundations of good catechesis can make use of the same categories. Catechesis is a deeply different activity than simply teaching, because its goal is salvation; thus, whatever its methods, it should be conductive to the sanctification of the students. Doctrine is the root (the 'Origin') of Catechesis. Transformation takes the shape of Grace-accompanied experience (liturgy, service, devotion, etc). But the most controversial element of this schema is the middle term.

Among my conservative seminarian friends, there is a popular contempt for the use of games in catechesis. This is a reaction to a reaction; the post Vatican II popular church raged against the stilted and hyper-disciplinarian Baltimore memorization of the past. With all of the flair and romanticism of Robin Williams in Dead Poet's Society, Catechism teachers of children and adults jettisoned, in varying degrees, objectivity from the parish classroom. The reign of Schleiermachian psychologized cuddly-wuddliness has been dominant for more than 30 years--longer than most of my conservative friends have lived. Hence, to us, it is self-evident that we have systematically encouraged a generation of Catholics to understand God predominantly as a projection of their most deeply rooted satisfactions and personalities. "Who is God for you?" asks the grandmotherly sister to her RCIA students. God is as I have experienced her/it/them.

The standard prejudice is that the deepest root of this phenomenon, where it happens, is simply a vapid, wide-eyed, ideological niceness--once called "nicety-nice at any price" by a bitter Catholic forumite (shockingly, not yours truly). Nice-ism has come to be viewed as a great plague of parishes, both in liturgy and in catechesis. Accordingly, seminarians like to scoff at the use of games in catechesis; such teachers "sell out," in a sense, to the promise of a non-conflictual, "nice" time spent with their students. In exchange, they give up any partaking in the preparation of the student to understand their faith in a world where it is more likely to be attacked than ever.

But I believe these seminarians, while having a strong point, forget the indispensibility of delight--delight which was, more likely than not, an ingredient of their own reception of the faith, whether they like to admit it or not. (And if their catechesis was in fact joyless, one wonders at the quality of their wish to inflict the same upon others). All age groups need play, games, fun; certainly, especially children. But even adults need to be given reason to laugh when they learn--no amount of importance of the material can withstand the power of the appetite to sleep through boredom.

Play, I suggest, has three critical purposes, one of which I would like to elaborate in more detail. In the first place, it is simply and immediately healthy. In the second, play is the school of enjoyment and hence of all value; games, toys, sports, and stories delight the child even while they continually broaden the child's notion of the delightful. It is incredibly important that the lessons our Faith grants us be transmitted in a delightful way; and moreover, I suggest that, through delight, there is virtually no limit to the real complexity of the concepts which can be transmitted to even the youngest children. Anthropologically speaking, there is nothing immediately intuitive about the whole business of driving a car; yet hardly a teenager in this country does not expect to, thanks to the toys they had as chidlren. Why should we not then use games to inculcate the expectation to receive the Sacraments?

But the third purpose, I believe, is less obvious and even more vital. Play is not only the school of what is good, but the school of the very hope for the good. Play is the realm of surprise, of the unexpected, of joy that leaps effortlessly above the predictable rat race of appetite and wish-fulfillment. Play does not obey that determinitive logic, and I am certain that a healthy play life is the best immunization to any satisfaction or infatuation with utilitarianism, either as an ideal or a way of life. Salvation is not (essentially) the fulfillment of any natural need we feel on earth. It does, de facto, fulfill all needs; but more importantly it is the promise of infinitely more joy than we could have imagined, come to us even in this life. In fact, as C.S. Lewis demonstrates in The Great Divorce that too meager a desire can itself be the thing that keeps us from God. Evangelization is not only promising that in God people's wishes are granted; nor is it to get people to think predominantly of others' needs before their own; it is to show how the Glory of the Lord explodes our needs and those of others. It invites us to be daring in our quest for that Glory, in which the service of others ceases to be an important, difficult thing, but a weightless trifle.

Delight in catechesis teaches students, especially children, the most important lesson they could learn: that the greatest things in life are things we never thought to ask for. After all, we didn't ask for Jesus Christ, either--all the more reason why both occupy the "middle term" of the Trinity.