Friday, October 31, 2008

All Saints Eve 2008

"After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb." ~Revelation 7

DH Lawrence on "the great ordering"

I've been at Lucy Beckett's In The Light of Christ again--this time the chapter on the British writers from DH Lawrence to Saul Bellow. While writers like Joseph Conrad, Henry James, and Lawrence have never held much attraction for my little heart, she manages to frame them within a compelling narrative--the drama of Western culture's slow slide into the post-Christian.

But there is a real beauty in and of itself to Lawrence's prose. Here is his description of Tom Brangwen's "almost pre-Christian" and certainly pre-theological faith in God. From The Rainbow:

"During the long February nights with the ewes in labour, looking out from the shelter into the flashing stars, he knew he did not belong to himself. He must admit that he was only fragmentary, something incomplete and subject. There were the stars, in the dark heaven travelling, the whole host passing by on some eternal voyage. So he sat, small and submissive in the great ordering."

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A time to die.

"Only the person who renounces self-importance, who no longer struggles to defend or assert himself, can be large enough for God's boundless action."

--St. Edith Stein

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The King's Good Servant

I've just finished a re-read of James Monti's The King's Good Servant But God's First--really the most excellent biography of Thomas More I have read as well as a beautiful history of the Protestant "Reformation."

Thomas More is a man for our season: the right balance of muscular Catholicism with deep humility, masculine fortitude with a childlike dependence on God, loyalty to king and devotion to the Church, the ability to see clearly the "first things," and an irrepressible merriment that--counter-intuitively enough--arose directly from his preoccupation with the Last Things.

Here is Monti (and More himself) on More's trial. The jury has just found him guilty of high treason and "malicious bent." Before sentence is passed, More speaks plainly his conviction of the relationship between God's justice and the justice of Parliament. Listen carefully.

"The time had come for him to give the conscience of his country a living voice--a voice that would shake the rafters of Westminster Hall:

'...Forasmuch as this Indictment is grounded upon an Act of Parliament directly repugnant to the laws of God and his Holy Church, the supreme Government of which, or of any part whereof, may no temporal Prince presume by any law to take upon him, as rightfully belonging to the See of Rome, a spiritual pre-eminence by the mouth of our Saviour himself, personally present here on earth, only to St. Peter and his successors, Bishops of the same See, by special prerogative granted; it is therefore in law, amongst Christian men, insuffcient to charge any Christian man.'"

Let's unpack that a little.

More asserts that no temporal power, be it Congress or Parliament or a dictator, has the authority to make any "ecclesiastical" law in opposition to Rome. In other words, government cannot dictate matters of doctrine or morals; if it does, its laws are not binding on the conscience of men. Matters of faith and morals can only be decided by Christ himself, who gave that authority to Peter, his successors, and those in direct communion with them.

Then, the presiding judge challenges More, saying that "his obstinact and 'vehemnt' words against the Treasons Act were much to be marveled at, in virtue of the fact that he stood alone in his views against all England's 'Bishops, Universities, and best learned men.' There was lurking in this statement a non sequitur that so many learned men could not possibly be wrong."

More counters by appealing to a much more universal consensus:

"If the number of Bishops and universities be so material as your lordship seemeth to take it, then see I little cause, my lord, why that thing in my conscience should make any change. For I nothing doubt but that, though not in this realm, yet in Christendom about, of these well learned Bishops and virtuous men that are yet alive, they be not the fewer part that be of my mind therein. But if I should speak of those which already be dead, of whom many be now holy saints in heaven, I am very sure it is the far greater part of them that, all the while they lived, thought in this case that way that I think now. And threfore am I not bound, my lord, to conform my conscience to the Council of one Realm against the general Council of Christendom. For of the aforesaid holy Bishops I have for every Bishop of yours, above one hundred, and for one Council or Parliament of yours, I have all the Councils made these thousand years."

Hot diggity. The conscience of the Catholic is bound and beholden, not to the precedents of its nation's courts or to its laws and systems, but rather to the mind of Christ on earth: the Councils of his apostles, the constant teaching of their doctors. His hope is in heaven, not in some imminent eschatology.

Three more points on More's seasonability:

1. He died not only because he would not put a king before Christ's vicar, but also because of a "social teaching": the inviolability of marriage.

2. It was only because he put the authority of his king in its proper place--and he never denied the king's power to put him to death!--that he was in fact "the king's good servant." Had he placed the king above the pope, the king himself would have suffered.

3. He was terribly merry about the whole thing. He was a jolly martyr because, after all, the affairs of state are small things in light of eternity.

November approacheth.

And November is Dead Poets Month.

I have nothing against living poets; but since there are so very many dead poets and since November is the month to remember the dead, November is Dead Poets Month.

So, if you have any dead poets you'd like to hear from, let me know and I'll work him or her in. Starting on November 1 with my annual GK Chesterton sample, we'll enjoy some of the Good and the True through the medium of the Beautiful. It will sooth our souls in the election drama.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Second Child

Poor Isabella. Today alone, she has been tossed on the waves of Miriam's whim over four times. In order, she has been:



Babbity Bumble.

and the Baronness.

Here's what she thinks about that.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

More from Paul VI

The following is from Paul VI's letter to his brother, Ludovico, just prior to his marriage. It is appropriate following all our thoughts about abortion, to dwell on the beauty of human life--a beauty that finds its source only in divine life.

"Dear Lodovico,

You are now the heart of our household, and the two months yet to elapse before your marriage arouse in us all the tremor of anticipation and goes with life-making events. Looking at it selfishly, I can say that the happiness of the family now depends on you, for it is in you that the family is renewed and starts again. We who stand on the touchline are glad you are happy. You know that being happy is a difficult business. But the Lord has made it easier for you by giving you the lessons taught so simply and sublimely by our parents - the joy of love, that is, of understanding and being understood, of giving and receiving, of sacrificing oneself to be recreated, of pouring out treasures of one's own heart only to find them multiplied endlessly.

You have the blessing of having found a lovely woman, privileged and - you know better than I - unique. Having found a precious pearl, see to it that your soul is vested in a new personality; just think that now you are sealing for ever the means and the measure by which for your entire life you will communicate with another spirit in the mutual quest for human life (vita humana) and divine life. Mark well the providential design nature has implanted in you in this time of waiting, gentleness, self-giving, energy, generosity, abiding patience and immense desires. Use the plasticity of your soul in this period to create in yourself a new man, a new character, a new goodness, a new strength, and a new style as you seek the ideal offered by the Companion you await. Lay in a stock of love, yes indeed, for life is long and difficult, like winter, and the nest must always be warm and protected. Maybe in God's mind you have a sovereign right to expect that your marriage will grow and prosper. This is the grace I ask for you.

Farewell, Battista"

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Friday, October 17, 2008

Obama, Abortion, and the Common Good

A friend of mine recently read Cardinal George's letter to his faithful, and asked the following:

Would you please, in as many words as it takes, synthesize the following two ideas for me, please: "One cannot favor the legal status quo on abortion and also be working for the common good." and "The teaching, which covers intrinsic evils such as abortion and many other issues that are matters of prudential judgment, could not be clearer; the practice often falls short because we are all sinners." Or, to phrase my question differently, why is George "Unnecessary War" Bush pursuing the common good with his spate of misguided policies but Obama with his misguided views on abortion is not? I am assuming you're going to tell me about what it means to be intrinsically evil etc., but I'm really having some trouble with this idea. At a very practical level, how is pursuing an end to war not pursuing the common good, irrespective of one's views on abortion?

And here's my tome of a response!

I'll begin with the GW vs. Obama question and move to the more general principles. There are kind of two questions, there, I think. One is about GW's pursuit of the war: is it just or not? Another is about voting for Obama, who has promised to end the war: isn't he pursuing the common good in that way, even if not with regard to abortion? In other words, how does one's view on abortion disqualify you from pursuing the common good absolutely speaking?

GW: He may very well not have been pursuing the common good when he (and most of Congress) decided to pursue this war in Iraq. History may or may not tell (I assume we will know at the End of All Things!). Warfare against other nations, however, is not an intrinsic evil. It is always tragic and ugly, but it can in the context of human sinfulness be "just." The criteria for a just war are four: the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain; all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; there must be serious prospects of success; and the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. (The power of modern weapons weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.)

This teaching does not and does not profess to pass judgment on any particular war in history. Catholics of good will can accept these criteria while disagreeing on their particular application. War is in some cases a just weapon to use in pursuit of the common good. If, in this particular instance, you do not believe the war in Iraq to be just, you can deplore the war but still recognize the possibility of your own error in judgment as well as the fact that, in spite of waging an unjust war, GW's fundamental political philosophy is not intrinsically inimical to the common good of the nation's citizens (even if he's a clutz in trying to promote it!).

Likewise, Catholics of good will can disagree on Obama's proposed measures to end the war. It's an issue of pragmatic strategy, opinion, and our limited access to facts. I would, personally, wonder whether pulling out at this juncture (however wrong it was to leap in) would only make an unjust situation more unjust.

Abortion, however, unlike war, is never a just weapon to use in pursuit of the common good. It is not a defensive measure taken against an aggressor, real or imagined. There is no end or circumstance that justifies the taking of an infant's life. Barack Obama is committed to the idea that an entire class of human beings--which includes some infants separated from their mothers' bodies--is not worthy of the protection of the law. Human beings have no rights until after birth, and some not even then. (Per Robert George, I would describe him as pro-abortion, more than pro-choice, because of his repeated promises to sign into law the Freedom of Choice Act, to re-instate the Mexico City Policy, and his opposition to the Hyde policy and the Born Alive Infant Protection Act. He is actively against this class of human persons.)

Does this mean he is incapable of pursuing the common good in areas such as housing, the economy, and the war? Yes. You cannot support an intrinsic evil--deliberate killing of the unborn--and be pursuing the common good.

Here's why.

The good society is one ordered by its laws, culture, customs, to the common good of its members. The "common good" in Catholic understanding means those goods which are realized only in the individual members of society but not without the support and fellowship of other members. The common good does not diminish because it is distributed, but increases because it is protected and shared by all. Good multiplies; it is fruitful.

That is why we come together naturally in society--to enjoy those goods which, without the society of others, we could never attain. Now, because we are both Christians, I can speak in this way: The most basic and common good of all is the good of human life. "And, behold, God saw that it was very good..." All our confidence in our own salvation and in salvation history rests on this trust: that God sees life as an absolute good. Human life is a common good: it is enjoyed by the individual members of the human race, but we cannot enjoy it in isolation. We depend first on sexual intercourse, then the family, and then on society for this good. The infant, the disabled, and the elderly are simply stark reminders that, without society, we would all either be dead or even never have come to live in the first place. They are most at the mercy of the good society; therefore, the good society's ability to foster and increase the common good is in large part measured in how well it will vouchsafe that most basic good for its weakest members.

Any law-giver who orders the laws of a society against the lives of its own members cannot, de facto, order that society to the true common good (that is, according to God's justice). Aquinas writes:

"If the intention of the law-giver tends toward the true good, which is the common good regulated according to divine justice, it follows that by the law men become good in an unqualified sense. If the intention of the law-giver tends to something which is not good in an unqualified sense, but is a useful good, or something that is pleasurable to him, or something that goes against divine justice; then the law does not make men good in an unqualified sense, but in a qualified sense, that is, in the order to such a rule." Summa Theologica I-II, q. 92, a. 1, c.

Taking members of our society and saying that they are non-members and therefore may be killed by the most brutal means imaginable (saline burning, dismemberment while alive, brains sucked out while alive, etc...) is inconsonant, to say the least, with "good order." Obama may be able to bring about some housing for poor people or lower the deficit (doubtful), but his law-making and ordering of our society will never be good in any sense but an absolutely relativistic one: the common good belongs only to those of a certain size or viability. There's no justice guiding his justice beyond his own sense of expediency. There's no absolute good ordering all his various goods. And we know from history what happens to a society that judges itself based on its own opinion of right and wrong: cf. the genocides of the 20th-century.

Now, what's the difference between the lives of the unborn and the lives taken in an imprudent war (and I use the word "imprudent" because it is a matter of prudential judgment, not absolute good)? Before God, nothing--except perhaps a measure of innocence and defenselessness. But, as Augustine points out, the City of God is not the City of Man. As long as human societies exist (and they will until the Four Last Things, eh?), the common good will be pursued within the particular societies and poli. The burden of protection for the President of the United States lies in the human lives within the scope of his polity. Those lives are his first responsibility; the measure with which he saves and blesses the lives of those existing within his polity is the measure by which he is judged a good law-maker. Again, a war with another nation may or may not be just; war on your own members is never just. The common good is lost when one citizen takes another's life with the blessing of the country's laws and law-givers.

I'll leave you with Obama's speech on the floor of the IL Senate the day he opposed the BAIPA. They are, I believe, most telling: ''As I understand it,'' Obama said during the floor debate, ''this puts the burden on the attending physician who has determined, since they were performing this procedure, that, in fact, this is a nonviable fetus; that if that fetus, or child - however way you want to describe it - is now outside the mother's womb and the doctor continues to think that it's nonviable but there's, let's say, movement or some indication that, in fact, they're not just coming out limp and dead, that, in fact, they would then have to call a second physician to monitor and check off and make sure that this is not a live child that could be saved.''

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Teresa of Avila, October 15

Teresa, doctor and virgin, pray for us!

"O Lord, how different are your paths from our clumsy imaginings! And how from a soul that is already determined to love You and is abandoned into Your hands, You do not want anything but that it obey, that it inquire well into what is for Your service, and that it desire this! There's no need for seeking out paths and choosing them, for its will is Yours.

"May you be blessed forever and ever, my God, for within a moment You undo a soul and remake it... You know what You are doing, but I do not know what I am saying since Your works and judgments are incomprehensible. May You be ever glorified." ~Teresa, The Foundations

Monday, October 13, 2008

Abortion Survivor Speaks

The remarkable thing about this--aside from her survival--is the deep love and forgiveness with which she relates the story. If this does not at least sway a heart, there's not much that will.

Edward the Confessor, October 13

Edward: Such a good man. Not such a great king, according to Churchill. But holiness does not require worldly success. The patron of difficult marriages and separated spouses. Ora pro nobis.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Palin for life.

Here's Sarah Palin on Barack Obama's abortion "rights" voting record. It's a damning indictment, but what is most compelling about her speech is her testimony to her and her husband's own choice for life. Only he who loses his life will find it!

Whether she and McCain win or not, she has fought a good fight and been a valiant witness for the unborn. Well done, good and faithful servant!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Keirkegaard for President

Thanks to Matthew Dunch, SJ!

Paul VI on Life

Once in a while you come across a quote that strikes at the heart of a matter. Paul VI here speaks on the most fundamental reason for the Church's teaching on marriage, the conjugal embrace, and life. It's a matter of keeping your eye on heaven and of seeing the beauty of a human soul created for eternity. It makes me want to say, "Whah-tcha!"

"You must strive to multiply bread so that it suffices for the tables of mankind, and not rather favor an artificial control of birth, which would be irrational, in order to diminish the number of guests at the banquet of life."

~Paul VI

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

"Sorry, sorry..."

Over at First Things, Amanda Shaw gives a brief overview of Theodore Dalrymple's (what a marvelous name!) article on False Apology Syndrome. While it takes a certain strength of character called, I believe, pride, to agree wholeheartedly, I think there's a lot of truth in what he says. False Apology Syndrome is the tendency to confess the sins of others rather than one's own sins: E.g., perpetual (note the "perpetual") need to apologize for Galileo, the Crusades, and the Inquisition. E.g., the habit of explaining your bad choices in terms of "my father was a harsh man..." I love it. Goshdarnnit, just own up! Remove the log and then the splinter, what ho!

Here's Dalrymple:

"False Apology Syndrome is a way of judging others to avoid judging ourselves–of shrugging moral responsibility. It fosters a perpetrator–victim mentality: “For what can I do wrong to compare with the wrongs that my ancestors suffered at the hands of your ancestors? How dare you even mention it, you hypocrite!” For that matter, what could I do wrong to compare with the wrongs my ancestors committed? I must say, it’s a reassuring mode of thought."

Of course, I apologize if you don't agree. My father is a crotchety old fellow, after all, and my mother a genius of a housewife. And I am what I am, therefore, I am a sinner...

Miriam the (Protestant?) theologian.

Miriam recently began to tackle to mystery of the Eucharist. True to form, she comes back to it again and again--usually as I'm driving through particularly heavy traffic--each time with a new slant.

Miriam: "Mummy, does Jesus put himself in the bread?"

Parent: "Yes. He becomes the bread."

M: "Why does he do that?"

P: "So he can be with us."

M: "So we can eat him?"

P: "Well, yes." (Thinks: Wow. This sounds stranger than fiction!)

M:"But we shouldn't bited people!"

P: "Well, he wants us to eat him."

M: "But we can't bited people!"

two-day interlude....

M: "Mother. Jesus wants to be in my heart."

P: "That's right."

M: "So, I have to eated the bread, and then he's in my tummy."

P: "Yes. And your heart." (Wonders: How on earth does one explain this to a three-year-old? Or to anyone?)

M: "But he's already in my heart, you said, Mummy! So I don't have to bited him!"

P: "Ah. Yes, he's in your heart, but he wants to be more in your heart." (So lame.)

M: "Like he was in Mary's heart and her tummy?"

P: "Sure."

M: "Okay."

Okay. Indeed. And mummy has nothing more to say.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Benedict speaks well.

Well, if you have been following the news at all, you know there's a global financial crisis (except maybe for China). And, after reading this, you know why. Ah! the beauty of philosophy! Let's get down to the fundamental issue.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Makes me want to...

...throw out my television and read ooglingly long Victorian novels! Tip of the hat to Wine Dark Sea...