5) SENSE AND NONSENSE.


            Series published since 1985 in Crisis, (1814½ "N" Street, NW, Washington, D. C., 20036). My book Idylls and Rambles: Lighter Christian Essays, Ignatius Press, 1992, is a collection of fifty-four of these essays. Over the years, the subject matter ranges widely, with, indeed, some sense and nonsense hopefully contained in each of therein.


            I will include thirty-five essays here. I will then add twenty-five essays in a “New Series”:


            1) "The Eastertide"; 2) "To Understand Better All the 'Whys"; 3) "The Nativity: 'An Admirable Exchange'"; 4) "On Things We May Not Have Noticed"; 5) "Horizontal Man: A New Humanity 'Without God'"; 6) "Scott Walter: An Appreciation"; 7) "Truth"; 8) "Gnosticism Reconsidered"; 9) "St. Paul"; 10) "On Pens and Pencils."


            11) "On Things We May Not Have Noticed," 12) "The "Stabat Mater," 13) "Order," 14) "On the Reality of Fantasy," 15) "'Speak So That I May See You'," 16) "John Joseph Schall," 17) "At a Christmas Eve Mass," 18) "The Craftsman," 19) "A Little Bit of Deism," 20) "On Falling Down on "M" Street."


            21) "Grace Has Appeared"; 22) "On Being Greatly Pleased"; 23) "No Light Sorrow"; 24) "On Making Sense of the Universe"; 25) "Alphabet of Gratitude"; 26) "On the Bug in the Window"; 27) "Government in a Perfect Society"; 28) "Albertus Magnus"; 29) "The Day of the Dead"; 30) "The Resurrection of the Body."


            31) "On Some Nietzschean Aphorisms"; 32) "No Patience for Divisions"; 33) "Adoremus in Aeternum"; 34) "Brief Thoughts for the Briefest Month"; 35) "Horace."

 

 

“New Series”


            1) “Some Thoughts on Globalization,” 2) “Our Time,” 3) “Our Personal Philosophy,” 4) “Munificence,” 5) “Liturgy,” 6) “On Freely Giving,” 7) “Will,” 8) “Resurrection of the Body: Credo ut Intelligam,” 9) “The Capital of Modernity,” 10) “The Great Dance,” 11) “‘Speak so that I May See You.’” 12) “The Exciting Task,” ; 13) "On Love and Dogma," 14) “‘The Garden of Evil,’” 15) “The Problem with Ecumenism,” 16) “The Worst Punishment,” 17) “Guitton,” 18) “Mass and Creed,” 19) “On the Propriety of the Verb, ‘To Feel,’” 20) “Nietzsche on Jesuitism and Democratic Enlightenment,” 21) “The Year 2001,” 22) “Idolatry,” 23) “The Trinity: The Ultimate Truth,” 24) “‘What’s Your Name?’” 25) “On the Right to Be Obeise.”


Other essays in this series can be found below in section 21) Bibliography.

 

_______________



1) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 15 (April, 1997), 59.


THE EASTERTIDE


            In 1997, Easter fell early on March 30. On Easter Thursday, 1966 (14 April), Margaret Waugh wrote to Lady Diana Cooper recounting the death at home of her father, Evelyn Waugh, on Easter Sunday. "Don't be too upset about Papa," Margaret wrote. "I think it was kind of a wonderful miracle. You know how he longed to die and dying as he did on Easter Sunday, when all the liturgy is about death and resurrection, after a Latin Mass and holy communion, would be exactly as he wanted. I am sure he had prayed for death at Mass. I am very happy for him" (A Bitter Trial, St. Austin Press, p. 66).


            I have a copy of Waugh's autobiography, A Little Learning. In it there is a photo identified as "The Lundy Island Group, Easter, 1925." In it Waugh, at 22, is seen sitting on beach rocks; he wears a turtle-neck sweater, knickers. Behind him are two friends, Terence Greenidge and David Plunkett-Green, with Green's two sisters Olivia and Gwen. Waugh has some romantic interest in Olivia at the time. But "there was no question of me and Olivia marrying...." This is how Waugh described this Olivia: "She nagged and bullied at times, she suffered from morbid self-consciousness, she was incapable of the ordinary arts and efforts of pleasing and was generally incapable of any kind of ostentation; a little crazy, truth-loving, and in the end holy" (p. 218). At Eastertide, from 1925, it is well to remember that anyone can be holy.


            Waugh himself died in the faith but was not a happy man with it. His last letter of 30 March 1966 (hence thirty-one years ago this Easter) was written to Lady Diana (Mitford) Mosley, a letter found Mark Amory's The Letters of Evelyn Waugh, a book which someone gave me years ago with this delightful inscription: "J. As Flannery (O'Connor) says, don't make an algebra problem out of this, just enjoy." I still laugh when I read this inscription as much directed to my character as Waugh's wit.      Waugh writes to Lady Diana, "Easter used to mean so much to me. Before Pope John and his Council -- they destroyed the beauty of the Liturgy. I have not yet soaked myself in petrol and gone up in flames, but I now cling to the faith doggedly without joy. Church going is a pure duty parade. I shall not live to see it restored." As he only lived twelve more days, we can be sure he did not see the Liturgy "restored."


            Margaret Waugh was born in 1942. Waugh had great affection for her. On the First Sunday in Lent, 1954, (she was twelve), he wrote to her at school, "I hope that you have given up swearing & smoking & drinking for Lent." When she was fifteen, Margaret wrote to her father complaining how much she disliked the girls' Convent school. With a piece of advice that would either put him in jail or earn the undying hatred of educationists today, Waugh wrote to her, "I think it a weakness of girls' schools that they have no adequate punishments. When a boy is naughty he is beaten and that is the end of it. All this admonition makes for resentment and the part of your letter that I don't like at all is where you say the nuns 'hate' you. That is rubbish. And when you run down girls who behave better than you. That is mean. Chuck it, Meg."


            Margaret wants to leave school early. Waugh tells her that they will talk about it at the next vacation. Then he added:

 

I was miserable at Lancing (his prep school) and kept asking my father to take me away. I am very glad now that he did not.... The whole of our life is a test & preparation for heaven -- most of it irksome. So each part of our life is an irksome test & preparation for something better. I think you would greatly enjoy Oxford and get the best out of it. But you can't get there without much boring labour and discipline.


Waugh adds this tender instruction to his daughter unhappy at school: "Don't get into your silly head that anyone hates you or is unfair to you. You are loved far beyond your deserts, especially by your Papa."


            There is something appropriate at Eastertide in reading these two letters, Margaret Waugh to Lady Cooper and of Waugh to his daughter at school. The daughter knows something is right about her father dying on Easter Sunday after Latin Mass. Even though he did not live to see the Liturgy restored, this was the same man who wrote to his daughter that "the whole of our life is a test and a preparation for something better."




2) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 9 (December, 1991), 39-40.                                                    

 

"TO UNDERSTAND BETTER ALL THE 'WHYS'"


            The Feast of St. Luke, one of those perfectly beautiful October days in Washington, was a Friday. After a noon class in which I was discoursing on Hobbes, a Saudi student in class told me that he liked this material. Machiavelli and Hobbes were not allowed to be studied in his country, he explained. This remark about their now being his "favorites," however, made me wonder whether he thought these two strange philosophers were also favorites of mine. I decided I was just luminously unclear. I did not especially want to be known as what Strauss called "a teacher of evil" in Saudi Arabia!


            In any case, the Sun was out and warm after a very wet, cozy day. I cut down to the C & O Canal Path below the campus and just above the Potomac. As I walked under Key Bridge, I noticed a rather elegant chalk pastel on the base of the Arch under which I was about to walk. The mural-like painting began with a large "WHY?" On getting closer, the words following were, "Is Life So Hard?"

            We never know what to make of such random graphics on abandoned walls and sturdy bridges. But we wonder if this poignant question is perhaps a joke or is it a cri de coeur? Is it a philosophical query or a sign of existential pain? If you bother to read the other graphics on such public walls, of course, you will soon decide to take nothing on them too seriously.


            Yet, the perennial question -- "why is life so hard, so difficult?" -- takes on a further depth if we think of it in the Christmas Season. The Incarnation of the Son of God among men was intended to address that poignant query found at the Base of Key Bridge on the Feast of St. Luke, the same St. Luke who gave us an account of the Nativity of Christ. The Incarnation, itself the primary grounding for joy for our kind, does not immediately take away the difficulties, as we might, at first sight, expect God to do for us.


            On July 10, 1985, John Paul II gave a brief address on "Proof of God's Existence." The Holy Father is the first to acknowledge that what we think of God makes a difference. Indeed this very question, "why is life so hard?", is a challenge to God. It implies that life ought not to be so hard; but if it is, it is somehow God's problem if not His fault.


            Christianity, of course, holds that if we did not exist, if the world did not exist at all, there would be no difficulties, no pain. Some no doubt would rather prefer to think the world and God out of existence than to have one human soul cry out below Key Bridge, "why is life so hard?" And yet, the askers of such questions need to listen for answers, something that may require even more bravery.


            After reviewing the arguments for the existence of God, John Paul II concluded,

 

The proofs of the existence of God are many and convergent. They contribute to show that faith does not humble human intelligence, but stimulates it to reflections and permits it to understand better all the "whys" posed by the observation of reality.


What is remarkable about this passage of the Holy Father is its recognition that we are both to "pose" our "whys" and to answer them in the light of God's existence. We are given knowledge of God not so that we will be humble but that we may know more, may know all that is. "Why is life so hard?" is clearly a question that most people have asked if not about themselves, surely about others. The more important question is not "why is life so hard?" but why is there human life at all, even if it is difficult?


            If we look at Luke's account of the Nativity, it is striking to note the number of "whys" that appear in the text. First of all, Caesar Augustus wanted to know how the number of inhabitants in his Empire. This census turned out directly to effect where Christ was born. Why was Christ born in Bethlehem? Because of Caesar, because of the Prophecy. The conditions of making it to Bethlehem answered why Christ was born in a manger.


            And what does one do with questions properly posed? St. Luke describes Mary. She listened to what the Shepherds had told her about events going on around this Birth. "When (the Shepherds) saw Him, they recounted what they had been told about this Child; and all who heard were astonished at what the shepherds said."


            What did Mary "do" about this new knowledge? "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered over them." She treasured and she pondered.


            In his A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart, Josef Pieper wrote: "Only someone who is silent is listening." And he goes on, as if to reflect on this scene of Mary "pondering" in silence the events which she has seen and heard.

 

Since reason is nothing else than the power to understand reality, then all reasonable, sensible, sound, clear, and heart-stirring talk stems from listening silence. Thus all discourse requires a foundation in the motherly depth of silence.


Only someone who is silent is listening. All discourse comes out of the motherly depths of silence. The words of silence are to be fruitful.


            We are then to understand all the "whys" that are posed from our observations of nature and, with Mary, our listening to the words and the events about the Nativity when the Shepherds heard the "Glory to God in the Highest."


            "Why is life so hard?" I think it is a remarkably Catholic thing to realize that we are meant also to "understand" this hardness of life. To do this, we must ponder why the Christ was born among us as a Child. We must realize that God created and redeemed precisely us, our kind, ourselves. We must say, looking at the Incarnation, that in spite of the tragedies and difficulties of life, we exist and post the questions about the "whys."


            In silence we listen with Mary, who pondered all these things in her heart, a heart that the sword would pierce, a heart that knew that this suffering was intended, even from its beginning, for our glory, for our joy in which all these cries are subsumed in glory if we accept the dignity God has given to us, the dignity of choosing what we are, of choosing to learn from what God is so that we may know what we are.




3) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 11 (December, 1993). 47-48. 


THE NATIVITY: AN "ADMIRABLE EXCHANGE"


            In And the Beagles and the Bunnies Shall Lie Down Together, there is a sequence on the Great Pumpkin, the Peanuts not so subtle homage to Christmas, about how the Great Pumpkin rises out of the Patch and looks for sincere boys and girls to whom to give lots of toys. Peppermint Patty and Linus are sitting under a tree, both looking off in the distance in different directions. Peppermint Patty, in the previous sequence, had been the only one who would believe Linus' story. Linus is actually astonished that someone else would believe him.


            Patty explains to Linus, "You know why I believe your story about the 'Great Pumpkin'?" As they walk away, Linus behind her, Patty continues, "Because I am very superstitious that's why! The more impossible something is, the more I believe it! That's the way I am!" The next scene shows a perplexed Linus asking Patty, "You think the Great Pumpkin story is impossible?" Patty replied, "Oh, it's impossible all right.... It's impossible, ridiculous, and stupid." But in the final scene, she turns to Linus with a yell that blows him over, "BUT I BELIEVE IT!!"


            Credo quia impossibile, quia absurdam.... But of course, the Christian account of the Nativity is not based on impossibility or absurdity as many would like us to believe. It is based on fact, which requires us to change our definitions of what we think possible and impossible. If it happened; it is not impossible. Then, granting that it happened and is therefore possible, we are required to think about this event, this possibility, this "but I believe it". To explain the Nativity, we have to explain the world and more than the world. We also have to explain ourselves to ourselves. And we cannot fully explain ourselves to ourselves without Christ.


            In his Pensées, Pascal wrote, "Through Jesus Christ, and in Jesus Christ, we prove God, and teach morality and doctrine. Jesus Christ is then the true God of men" (#546). We find a deliberate paradox here, of course. "True God of men".... Jesus is man-God, true God and true man, as the Creeds say. We might argue that the Pascal's "true God of man" need not be a man-God, though what Pascal probably meant was that we men will never really understand God unless He is like unto ourselves somehow. The very meaning of the Nativity is that He is like unto ourselves. We prove God and teach morality and doctrine because the Word is made flesh.


            Christmas falls on a Saturday this year. We also know that it falls in the Summer in the Southern Hemisphere, that it can be very warm on Christmas in California, very cold in Minnesota, that different lands celebrate Christmas in different manners. The Christmas tree, the Yule Log, the carols, the mangers, the presents. We know of efforts to bring "Christ back into Christmas." We are aware that His presence in Christmas is looked upon by many as a threat, and it is in a way. The public imagery of Christmas in our society has been almost entirely secularized with bells and trees and dippy Santas. And even Santa causes objections to some. Yet, at least till now, we keep the day, keep the day holy even.


            Christmas is said to be overly commercialized and secularized, and of course it is. Yet this is not such a bad thing. Over reaction to something good is not nearly so dangerous as a kind of parsimonious refusal to be excited about anything at all, particularly about something of the proportions of The Nativity.


            What is this Christmas anyhow? It is about the birth of a Child into the world, at a definite time, in a definite place. This Child was born during the reign of Caesar Augustus, when the whole world was said to be "at peace." Very few noticed this event at the time -- records talk about the parents, a Mary and a Joseph, about some shepherds, some Magi, some angels. Later there is a search for this Child. The Magi get the local king into the act because he thinks this Child might be a threat to his power. So he kills off a number of male children under two hoping to get this Child, who evidently escaped to Egypt in time thanks to his father.


            Le Catéchisme de la Eglise Catholique has this to say about the Nativity, that "the coming of the Son of God on earth is an event so immense that God wished to prepare for it during the centuries." All the rites and sacrifices and symbols of the Old Testament converge toward Christ's coming (#522). We are not prepared to contemplate these striking words, that there was long preparation, lasting centuries for His coming. They mean that the events of the world, one way or another, have purpose and order, in spite of their seemingly haphazard sequences. Christ was not an accident or an after-thought.


            When it comes to the mystery of this "Noël", we are told that "Jesus is born in the humility of a stable, in a poor family. Some shepherds are the first witnesses of the event. It is in that poverty that the glory of heaven is manifested" (#525). We wonder why it was this way, in such odd circumstances?


            Would it not have been more effective were the glory of heaven to have been manifested directly in the household of, say, Caesar Augustus, right at the center of things, to where Paul and Peter had to go later anyhow? We have to assume that the way via Bethlehem was not only a much less flamboyant way, but also a more effective way for the reasons why the Incarnation and Nativity took place in the first place.


            The Catechism then cites an ancient antiphon or anthem from the Octave of Christmas which calls the fact that "the Creator of the human race, assuming a body and a soul, has deigned to be born of a virgin and, became man without the intervention of man. He has made us a gift of His divinity" (#526). This Christ becoming man and our receiving the gift of his divinity is called "an admirable exchange." Indeed it is.


            It is striking to me that the few paragraphs on the Nativity in the General Catechism talk mainly of the "admirable exchange" of God becoming man and man becoming in turn divinized so that he might live the life of God in grace. The Nativity, of course, presupposes the Incarnation, about which the first question to be asked is why did God become man? The answer is startling, yet it is that of the Creeds: "The Word became flesh in order to save us while reconciling us with God" (#457).


            So Christ was not born in a manger in Bethlehem in order to demonstrate the power of God. At first sight, for God to become man in the form of an infant seems rather an act of humility, not power -- which is of course the way Christians have always seen it since Paul's notion that God emptied himself out becoming a man. We are not wrong, no doubt, to suspect that this peculiar way, the way of Incarnation and Nativity, is a better way, a way when thought about that leads to the most profound of insights into the ways of God and the meaning of man.


            The Nativity of Christ, like all births, is a new beginning. Things are never the same once it has taken place. Things are new, unexpected. Yet, this Nativity took place in order to reconcile us with God. The great Cowper Madonna in the National Gallery shows Mary holding the Child with little John the Baptist as their side. All three are gazing at a Cross. Things are being prepared.


            But the "admirable exchange" has taken place and is being carried out. God has become man; we are divinized. "The Word became flesh in order to save us while reconciling us with God." This is why we celebrate the Nativity. This is what we could not do by or for ourselves. That is our belief -- it is not impossible, it is not absurd. The coming of the Son of God on earth is an event of such immensity that we are still preparing for it, even as it is being carried out in time before our very eyes. The Nativity -- the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us. Jesus Christ is then the true God of man.



4) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 12 (January, 1994), 61-62. 


ON THINGS WE MAY NOT HAVE NOTICED


            Once upon a January, many long years ago, I was born, in a small town in Iowa. My recollections of this momentous event, naturally, remain somewhat vague. Actually, this is a great mercy, as you can readily realize, otherwise I might be tempted to write about it. As Chesterton said in his Autobiography, we have to take the fact of our own birth on faith. We have to accept the testimony of others for the truth of a primal event in which we have some considerable interest.


            What made me think of this reference to my this-worldly origins was a passage I came across by chance in the works of that noted theologian, P. G. Wodehouse. He caused me to think of baptism and that original sin in which we are conceived and born, of why things go wrong in spite of our best intentions. I do not recall my own baptism either, but I believe I have seen the document attesting to it someplace. Baptism, of course, is addressed to this prevailing disorder we all seem somehow to find ourselves locked into.


            My parents, also good theologians, upheld the practice of infant baptism. Give or take a couple of days, I am a born Catholic. Infant baptism, more than anything else almost, suggests that, while there is much right with the world, there is also something subtly deviant, something in the order of spirit that is capable of turning us away from what we truly are to become. If, because you are aware of the implications of this dire situation, you think you need all the help you can get in this life to get out of it in good shape, then you are for infant baptism even on pragmatic grounds. The Lord pursues us "down the nights and down the days," to recall Francis Thompson's poem.


            I had even been reading Hegel, always itself a daunting exercise. Hegel observed that "the History of the World is not the theatre of happiness. Periods of happiness are blank pages in it." But even Hegel wanted to redeem these periods of unhappiness. He wanted to show us how "History as the slaughterbench (of the) happiness of peoples" had some purpose. He wanted to know "to what principle, to what final aim these enormous sacrifices have been offered?" To what aim indeed? Somehow we must explain, if only to ourselves, the meaning of these "enormous sacrifices" in the slaughterbench that is too often our history.


            Thus, in The World of Jeeves, I read, to continue these profound topics: "I don't know if you have noticed it, but it's rummy how nothing in this world ever seems to be absolutely perfect." To be sure, I had noticed this. That is why I put Wodehouse in italics. I remember once standing on Fell Street in San Francisco for a long time thinking words very similar -- how nothing in this world ever seems to be perfect. Unfortunately, at the time, I did not have Wodehouse's memorable words to explain it all to me.


            None the less, as I said, I have noticed this unsettling situation. In truth, however, something perhaps even more mysterious, I think that there probably are "absolutely perfect" things in this world, except, because even these originate in the divine perfection itself, they always have, as they should, a reference to something higher about them, even by being what they are, what E. F. Schumacher called "progressions."


            Yet, there is almost something sad about Wodehouse's remark -- perhaps it was the word "rummy". We catch a certain disappointment, a certain poignancy in the heart of the comedian. He recognizes that the world is not "absolutely perfect", of course. Nevertheless, he suspects that we are not really made for this less than perfect world, even though we find ourselves in it. His very laughter at the odd things we do portends a kind of joy that we barely understand.


            The fact is that things usually do turn out to be "rummy". We come to expect this "rumminess" of things. We become realists and pride ourselves on our knowledge of the way things actually are. We rightly distrust the perfection-seekers. They somehow do more damage than those who believe in the Wodehouse doctrine that "nothing in this world ever seems to turn out absolutely perfect."


            This is a Christian theme. We live in a world that exists for some cause that we cannot find in the world itself. We think, all in all, it is a pretty good place. It is certainly a beautiful place in so many ways. We know ourselves to be good, yet there is always this annoying thing about our not doing what we would, something St. Paul saw in himself quite clearly.


            The Councils of Orange and Trent did not speak of man's original "rumminess", to be sure. But they did say something rather similar when talking of Original Sin. Le Catéchisme de l'Eglise Catholique has some excellent and moving paragraphs on Original Sin (#396-412). I want to cite a couple lines about this topic here:

 

The doctrine of Original Sin -- bound to that of the Redemption by Christ, gives a glance of lucid discernment over man's condition and his acting in the world. By the sin of the First Parents, the Devil has acquired a certain domination over men, although this latter remains free. Original Sin implies "servitude under the power of him who possesses the empire of death, that is to day, the Devil" (Trent, Dz. 1511). To ignore that man has a wounded nature, inclined to evil, gives place to some grave errors in the domain of education, of politics, of social action, and of morals (#407).


I was especially struck by this last sentence. If we do not understand what is really wrong with us and the revelational remedies for it, we will never get it right in other areas.


            I had just been reading Rousseau also, who is the source of much of the notion that we solve our human problems by education, politics, or social action, by changes of external structures rather than changes in our hearts. We live in a political and educational regime that has bought almost completely this doctrine. The key issues lie elsewhere, however, even though the sinful condition of mankind somehow result from the accumulation of our personal sins. 


            At the very beginning of Veritatis Splendor, John Paul stressed the importance of this very topic:

 

As a result of that mysterious original sin, committed at the prompting of Satan, the one who is "a liar and the father of lies" (Jn. 8:44), man is constantly tempted to turn his gaze away from the living and true God in order to direct it towards idols (cf. 1 Thes. 1:9), exchanging "the truth about God for a lie" (Rom. 1:25). Man's capacity to know the truth is also darkened, and his will to submit to it is weakened. Thus, giving himself over to relativism and skepticism (cf. Jn. 18:38), he goes off in search of an illusory freedom apart from truth itself (#1).


No paragraph I know more clearly suggests what is behind the ideologies and moral currents of our time. The search for illusory freedom is precisely the meaning of our public order in so far as it rejects, as it does, the truths contained in revelation and the reason that supports it.


            Bertie Wooster's Aunt Agatha is a most formidable woman who looks with a most critical eye on her nephew's aberrations. "'Bertie,'she said -- in part and chattily -- 'it is young men like you who make the person with the future of the race at heart despair!'" About the only thing that Bertie could reply to this not altogether inaccurate observation was "What-ho!"


            Aunt Agatha continued her analysis, ending with a most surprising solution to her nephew's problems:

 

"Cursed with too much money, you fritter away in selfish idleness a life which might have been made useful, helpful, and profitable. You do nothing but waste your time on frivolous pleasures. You are simply an anti-social animal, a drone --" She fixed me with a glittering eye, "Bertie, you must marry!"


Aunt Agatha, to Bertie's consternation, proceeded to explain just what sort of woman she had in mind. "You want somebody strong, self-reliant, and sensible, to counterbalance the deficiencies and weaknesses of your character...."


            Well, we get the point. Our fallenness is pretty real, and not altogether without its amusing side. That is to say, we are a fallen race, with many deficiencies and weaknesses in our characters, but we are also redeemed. We go off, as the Pope said, because we turn our gaze away from the living and true God and substitute our own inventions. Those who have the future of the human race at heard are indeed tempted to despair. Yet, we cannot help but suspecting that Bertie is closer to the truth than Aunt Agatha. It's rummy "how nothing in this world ever seems to turn out to be absolutely perfect."


            As I said, I have noticed this too. It is a question, however, as the Pope hinted, about where we allow our gaze to fall. We can conclude from all this rumminess but two things, I think. The first is that our gaze does have a proper object in the light of which all else is and is glorious. And the second is that our gaze is such that we can avert it from what we might really want. In the end, what we really want is first given to us.


            "Joy," Josef Pieper wrote, "lies in receiving what we love." Our reaction to the slaughterbenches of history, to the rumminess of actual things ultimately suggests that all things are related to an absolute perfection, on which we seek to gaze. We are what we are because we must still choose to see what is to be seen. This is our lot. This is the context both of our damnation and of our glory. We would not have it otherwise.




5) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 10 (September, 1992), 43-44. 


THE HORIZONTAL MAN: "A 'NEW HUMANITY' WITHOUT GOD"


            A cartoon in the New Yorker (Mankoff, 2 D 91) puts us in the office of a "Mob Psychologist," The Psychologist is dutifully sitting in his arm chair, notebook in hand, glasses, rather innocent-looking. He turns slightly to the patient. There, horizontal on the proverbial couch, lies a middle-aged Mafioso, in pin-stripped suit, fedora, dark glasses, bearing a certain anguish on his face as if he has suffered an unaccustomed spiritual crisis. To reassure the troubled Mobster, the Psychologist says to him soothingly, "So, while extortion, racketeering, and murder may be bad acts, they don't make you a bad person."


            Those of us who still recall our common sense Aristotle -- and if we don't, we will miss the humor -- will recognize in the cartoon the exact opposite philosophy to that on which our civilization is based, namely, that the only things that can make us "bad persons" are precisely our own "bad acts." While it is true that our essential being remains good, even in Hell, still for the sort of beings we are, rational and free finite persons, we decide what we do with our given goodness. We implicitly deny it or affirm it by our thoughts and our deeds.


            In his extraordinarily enlightening Encyclical, Redemptoris Missio (December 7, 1990), John Paul II wrote,

 

In the modern world there is a tendency to reduce man to his horizontal dimension alone. But without an openness to the Absolute, what does man become? The answer to this question is found in the experience of every individual, but it is also written in the history of humanity with the blood shed in the name of ideologies or by political regimes which have sought to build a "new humanity" without God (#8).


We should not, forget, I think, to ponder this last phrase of the Holy Father, as it is a picture of our own time, including too often, of our democratic time. We should not fail to wonder what a "New Humanity" constructed obviously by ourselves but explicitly "without God" might look like.


            The Holy Father often uses this imagery of "horizontal" and "vertical" because it is an apt one to clarify what is at issue in the modern world. The horizontal dimension of "man alone" means simply that the Mobster was wrong to have bad feelings about his actions. Whatever he might do, he remains "a good person." The link between what caused the person to be and the person's actions following on his reality is broken. If we eliminate any "vertical" dimension of man, any direct and personal relation to God as to what man is in his being and in his actions, we receive, admittedly, a certain kind of "new freedom." This new freedom separates us from a morality of action itself based on being, on what is, in which we are not creators of ourselves or completely independent formulators of what we ought to do.


            On Thursday, April 8, 1773, Boswell tells that he sat a good part of the evening with Samuel Johnson, who was "very silent." However, Johnson interrupted his silence to remark that "Burnet's History of His Own Times is very entertaining. The style, indeed, is mere chit-chat. I do not believe that Burnet intentionally lyed; but he was so much prejudiced, that he took no pains to find out the truth." Finding out the truth, in other words, takes "pains," even when we are not intentionally lying and enjoy the "chit-chat."


            I bring Samuel Johnson up in the context of "the Horizontal Man" and the Mobster who does not want to be "a bad person" because we often forget that we have an obligation not merely to avoid bad acts like "extortion, racketeering, and murder" but also to think properly, to think truly.

this is why we are given minds in the first place. We live in a time, I think, when the very notion of "thinking properly" or "thinking the truth" is looked upon as a contradiction or impossibility. "Truth" discourse becomes cynically "whose truth"? That is to say, "truth discourse" does not exist, there is only "interest discourse." This is the contemporary ideological party line.


            At the very first address he gave to the Jury, Socrates told them: "Think only of the truth of my words, and give heed to them: let the speaker speak truly." Our civilization is based on Socrates in this sense, that truth, its telling, its pursuit, is the center of what we are. A man who "takes no pains to tell the truth," as Samuel Johnson pointed out, is not to be praised, not because the truth cannot be found, but because he does not want to take any pains to find it. But if we think there is no truth, if we implicitly repeat as our own Pilate's retort to Christ "what is truth?", then we will not know why the Mobster is not right, why being a good person has something to do with our deeds.


            We are not, ultimately, horizontal men, however much we are concerned with our world. Of course, it is best to say that we are both horizontal, concerned with the world, and vertical, concerned first with God. In one of his letters, to Nancy Mitford, August 26, 1946, the British novelist Evelyn Waugh wrote:

 

Saints are people who have a peculiar intimacy with God and as a result give evidence of sublime virtues and usually of miraculous powers. You can never understand them unless you start with God, then go to man as his creation -- a special order of being with unique limitations, opportunities & obligations. Saints are simply men & women who have fulfilled their natural obligation which is to approach God. It is in that that all mankind has a different nature from the rest of the animal kingdom.


The special nature of man, intimacy with God -- these are things we do not hear so often. Indeed, many would deny such truths as they understand both the possibility of an exclusively horizontal relation of man to man and the possibility that we can be good in our order of being no matter what we do.


            "A 'new humanity' without God" is not only not possible, it is not even desirable. This is the truth of the matter. John Paul II, as usual, has it right:

 

The temptation today is to reduce Christianity to merely human wisdom, a pseudoscience of well-being. In our heavily secularized world a "gradual secularization of salvation" has taken place, so that people strive for the good of man, but man who is truncated, reduced to his merely horizontal dimension (#11).


The "pseudoscience of well-being," the "gradual secularization of salvation" have indeed taken place. This reductionism is what our media and our politics are basically about in one way or another. The noble language of "striving for the good of man" is largely the good of horizontal man, the man truncated, the man reduced.


            We can never understand saints, we can never understand men and women, unless we start with God. The Holy Father's question remains to haunt us -- "Without an openness to the Absolute, what does man become?" The fact is, we are finding out. This discovery is the meaning and history of our time, that the new humanities without God are lethal, that the truth of man includes the truth of God's creating him to be of "a different nature from the rest of the animal kingdom."


            "So while extortion, racketeering, and murder may be bad actions, they don't make you a bad person." "But I do not believe that Burnet intentionally lyed; but he was so much prejudiced, that he took no pains to find out the truth." "Think only of the truth of my words, and give heed to them: let the speaker speak truly." "The temptation today is to reduce Christianity to merely human wisdom." "Saints are men and women who have fulfilled their natural obligation, which is to approach God."


            Our style, in other words, should not be "mere chit-chat." Yet "truth talk" can be entertaining. Even in cartoons with mobsters and psychologists can we grasp the truth of things. There is thus a "history of our times." We should, knowing our prejudices, seek with great pains its truth, that there is no explanation of humanity, new or old, without God. In the end, even the word "horizontal" implies the word "horizon."



6) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 12 (October, 1994), 60-62.                                                      

SCOTT WALTER -- AN APPRECIATION


            Generally, before publication these Sense and Nonsense columns are faxed to me by Scott Walter every month to see if there are any corrections or other changes in the text before final publication. This exchange has been going on for over a decade now. In late July, I received the galleys for the September issue. In the course of the instructions, Scott added, "By the way, it's official: I leave Crisis October 1 for the AEI magazine." Of course, I had not known that Scott Walter, the Managing Editor of Crisis almost since its beginnings, had any such idea in mind. To be sure, many of his friends and admirers had long thought that Scott's very obvious talents could well be exercised in a more well-known, larger environment. So I suppose it was just a question of time until something else came along for Scott, something he would be foolish to pass up. Still, I know that Crisis has been something that Scott has thought worthy of his careful attention. Every page of the journal over these years shows the marks of his devotion to it.


            Scott Walter grew up in the printing business. His father had a printing company in Knoxville, Tennessee. I first ran into Scott when he was an undergraduate here at Georgetown. He was always one of those fine inquisitive students who made teaching eminently worthwhile. Scott was, moreover, that pleasantly annoying student in the presence of whom you would mention a book not to be missed, only to find out that by the next class he had gone out and read it, plus a couple of other tomes in the same area which you yourself had not yet read. He was in the first course in St. Thomas that I taught here at Georgetown, aeons ago, not that Scott is that old. He can still cite some of the things I said in that class. No teacher can relax his guard before such a retentive student! Years later, some outlandish thing you said will be recalled word-for-word at a party before all your bemused, but not overly surprised, friends.


            In fact, to return to his age, as an undergraduate, Scott looked like he was about fourteen. Scott always dresses well and has a penchant for bow ties. I am sure when he is seventy, he will still look about forty. This youngish quality is no doubt a genetic characteristic we would all like to possess. Scott's parents now live in Fort Myers, in Florida. One of his parents, his mother, I think, actually made a hole-in-one on one of the golf courses there. Scott, I believe, has successfully eschewed athletics since youth, thought he is known to have appeared at the near-by Middleburg Hunt in a natty Madras jacket.


            Crisis magazine has two founders, but at the level of actual production and organization, of putting the thing together and getting it out, Scott Walter has been Crisis. I know of no one more devoted to his job, better at it, and more generous with his time. And he is good. I recall several years ago that B. F. Smith, that most careful and exact of writers, told me that Scott is amazing in his editorship. He knows the language and just what an author is about. His corrections or advice to authors is always right to the point and somehow always according to the spirit of the writer's intention. Anne Burleigh, an equally concise and elegant writer, has noted the same quality in Scott. Very few things, in my experience, slip by Scott. If something looks dubious, badly stated, or inaccurate, he well want to have the matter clarified. Nothing helps a writer more than such a good editor.


            Every so often, Scott will invite me to supper, usually at Clyde's, here in Georgetown, a favorite haunt of his. Scott is an expert in bartenders, not so much in their pourings, but in their lives. He will often bring along one or other of his friends. His conversation is always lively, informed, and witty. So, he has been a good friend. I also call him one of my very greatest benefactors. Ever since he was an undergraduate, he has saved articles or clippings that he thought I would like to see. He knows somehow what I need to see that I might otherwise miss. At Christmas or my birthday, he often sends me a book that I would not otherwise have known about. He is a follower of the used-book sales here in Washington and regularly reminds me when big sales are taking place.


            Once Scott gave me a copy of Thomas à Kempis' Sermons to the Novices Regular. This was a book coming from the middle of the 1400's, translated by Dom Vincent Scully at St. Ives in Cornwall, and printed in London by Kegan Paul, Trench, Truener and Company, in 1907. The dedication in Scott's script reads, following the spirit of Thomas a Kempis' advice to his novices, but with obvious overtones for older clerics: "For Father Schall, in the hopes that he may 'have patience amid the slothful and perverse'." Needless to say, this is good Augustinian advice for anyone in this vale of tears, to have "patience amid the slothful and perverse". In Sermon XX to the Novices at Mt. St. Agnes, entitled, "On Daily Taking Up the Cross Embraced in Religion," I read this admonition: "Wo, also to wandering and dissipated monks, religious only in name and habit; who carry their cross with murmuring and obey unwillingly: keep their cell ill, easily break silence; shun toil, love idleness...." Scott did not underline these lines, but I got the point.


            Scott also gave me the wonderful London Folio Society Editions of George and Weedon Grossmith's The Diary of a Nobody and P. G. Wodehouse's Leave It to Psmith, along with the Peter Pauper Press's elegant edition of the Discourses of Epictetus. Anyone who would even know about these three books, let alone the Folio Society and the Peter Pauper Press, cannot be all bad. Scott has always had a cordial and stimulating interest in anything connected with Crisis, its writers, and its operation. Indeed, one of the very best things ever in Crisis was Scott's "Interview" with the late Walker Percy (July, 1989). I manage to go over to the office on 15th and K Streets once in a while. It is a clutter of magazines and things connected with magazines. Scott has overseen the installation of the Crisis computer system. He has been on top of every issue as it has come out over the past decade and more. Perhaps some can imagine that Crisis would have existed and grown without him. I cannot imagine it. How often have I called late at night or on the weekends, to find him still there finishing or starting a new month's edition. I am sure he could not have been paid by the hour else the magazine would have been broke long ago.


            Crisis, I think, occupies a unique place in Catholic and general literary journalism. It has occupied a permanent things center mostly abandoned by Commonweal, America, and other journals. But it has carved out its own unique style and slant and philosophy. It is clearly a journal of high intelligence written by and for men and women who love and know the Church, who have a sense of the romance of "orthodoxy" and a hard-headed appreciation of things that can go wrong both in political and sacred things. And the Crisis editors and writers bear marks of that infallible sign -- they love and know the Holy Father, surely the greatest and most learned Pope of modern time, of any time, the most remarkable man in public life today. Needless to say, as a Jesuit I have been particularly touched by this sense of the centrality of the Holy Father. Under Ralph McInerny and Michael Novak, that sanity so characteristic of classical Catholicism has been manifest. I think Crisis's many devoted non-Catholic readers and writers have appreciated the fact that they could look to this journal to find an intelligent, careful, and reasonable position about things sacred and secular.

            Scott Walter, in addition, has known so many younger writers and encouraged them. I have gotten in the habit of asking him who is new on the scene or what are the people we mutually know thinking about. He has always had, for a young man, a sense of style and the instinct for what Chesterton called "Orthodoxy". Scott came into the Catholic Church on a Holy Saturday a couple of years ago. It seemed his natural home and he was the first to realize it. He found a good priest to instruct him at St. Joseph's on Capitol Hill. But he also knew so many lay Catholics and, let me add, sane and wonderful Jews, Protestants, and whatever, that crossed his path at Crisis. So Crisis has been his natural home during this past decade. Scott knew the audience that needed to hear what Crisis had to say, and he knew the literature. He knew about Chesterton and Belloc, about a Kempis and St. Thomas, about St. Augustine and St. Teresa. He knows about Mother Teresa, about Fathers Robert Sokolowski, Bill Smith, Martin O'Connell, Paul Mankowski, Ernest Fortin, Richard John Neuhaus, and Kenneth Baker. He also knew a whole remarkable host of younger (and getting older) scholars, editors, and writers -- Terry Hall, Michael Jackson, George Weigel, Anne Carson Daly, Daniel Mahoney, David Boveniser, the Hitchcocks, Gerry Russello, Russell Hittinger, Kimberly Gustin Bright, Hadley Arkes, Leon Podles, Dinesh D'Souza, George Marlin, Michael Pakaluk, Robert Royal, Tracy Simmons, Mark Henrie, and scores of others who grace the pages of Crisis.


            As Scott is staying right here in the Nation's Capital, I am not saying farewell. However, it would be unseemly if he were to leave Crisis without knowing the esteem and appreciation that many of us have had for his devoted and exceptional work. Scott has enormous energy and will not be far away in distance and, we hope, not away at all in advice and interest. Scott was the one who organized "The Idler" column as a sometime feature in Crisis. He has guided and encouraged the "Common Wisdom" regular column in Crisis with the late Ann O' Donnell, with B. F. Smith, Anne Burleigh, and Ellen Wilson Fielding, perhaps the best thing about Crisis. Indeed, I know there are many hundreds of small and large things that have gone to make Crisis the fine journal that it is that are the results of Scott's quiet and persistent efforts.


            Let me, to revert to my academic mode as his former teacher, leave Scott Walter with two thoughts, the first from Epictetus, from the handsome book he once gave me:

 

Not with the stones of Euboea and Sparta let the structure of your city walls be variegated; but let the discipline and teaching that comes from Greece penetrate with order the minds of citizens and statesmen. For with the thoughts of men are cities well established, and not with wood and stone (Bk. III, C. 6).


The second is from P. G. Wodehouse, from an equally handsome book:

 

Time and neglect had done their work with the flooring of the room in which Psmith had bestowed the Hon. Freddie Threpwood, and, creeping cautiously about in the dark, he had the misfortune to go through. But, as so often happens in this life, the misfortune of one is the good fortune of another. Badly as the accident had shake (sic!) Freddie, from the point of view of Psmith it was almost ideal (p. 253).


Needless to say, that at the AEI magazine, Scott will be concerned with those "thoughts of men" that establish our cities. The misfortune of Crisis, let us admit it, is surely the good fortune of AEI.


            And may I make one final observation that, unless there be some form of English English grammar of which I know not, the Folio Society in London did not catch, as Scott surely would have caught, that "shake" should have been "shaken". Good editors catch these things, and Scott Walter is a very good editor. He also will need, even at such a nice place as the American Enterprise Institute, "patience amid the slothful and perverse" of this world. In losing Scott Walter from Crisis, our sentiments can do no more than to repeat those words of his great hero, P. G. Wodehouse, "But as so often happens in this life, the misfortune of one is the good fortune of another."





7) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 14 (February, 1996), 58. 


TRUTH


            Intellectual disorder eats at the heart of every university, journal, city, and, yes, church. Will we choose to live the truth that we can and do know? We are taught that there is no truth to be known. The only thing that exists is power. That is, everyone presents and stands for an arbitrary commitment. We cannot resolve controversy on objective grounds, so we avoid even trying. Truth-tellers and truth-claimers are the most dangerous people in our social contract. They imply that it is possible to do wrong, to err.


            The crusades in our society are against those who profess to know and live what is true, even if they themselves often fail. The only way to deal with the truth-claimers is to marginalize them, to treat them as just another peculiar power group. If they can be made to be content with their own little version of reality, only then can we tolerate them. Truth-claimers are, by definition, arrogant. The humble claim that we can know nothing.


            "We have an intellectual class which for the most part does not believe that the human being is capable of using its intellect to discern truth from falsehood and, given such premises, is reduced to substituting semantic games and ideological deconstruction for scholarship and critical judgment," Tracey Rowland wrote in The Australian (April 28, 1995). Scholarship and critical judgment imply that the mind can know the truth. Such is its purpose. Standards and criteria exist whereby truth can be distinguished from error.


            Often it is intimated that truth is afraid of error. In the tradition of Thomas Aquinas, of course, just the opposite is the case. We do not know the truth until we can identify and explain accurately the arguments against the truth of any order, including that which claims there is no truth. Knowledge of truth includes the knowledge of error.


            Truth is the conformity of mind with reality. Thus if we doubt our own knowing faculty, we will never know the truth. If we think the world an illusion, nothing exists to which we can conform ourselves. If we hold that it is only our mind that imposes order on a chaotic world, we will remain locked into ourselves. Thus, to butt up against a reality that does not conform to the vagaries of a mind filled only with itself is a very healthy experience.


            In his Four Men, about a walk in Sussex in l902, Belloc wrote, "For men become companionable by working with their bodies and not with their weary noodles, and the spinning out of stuff from oneself is an inhuman thing." This remarkable passage suggests that noodles and brains, become weary and tired when they are not constantly refreshed with a reality that did not arise in themselves.


            Aristotle said that we begin our quest for knowledge in wonder, not in fear, or need, or power. That is, our minds are made simply to know and to know the truth. When we know the truth of something, we affirm this of that, in seeing why it is so. We say of what is, that it is, and of what is not, that it is not, as Plato taught us.


            If these things about truth be so, why is it that we have suddenly become a people for whom the truth of things is dangerous? It is because we know the direction of reality, of the truth of things, and we do not want to accept it. The greatest proof of the objectivity of intellect is its refusal to pursue an argument about the validity of the mind. When, in Plato's Gorgias, Callicles, the consummate politician, refused to speak any longer with Socrates, it was because he knew very well where the argument would lead him -- to a truth that would require him to change his way of living and ruling. So he refused to talk with Socrates any longer.


            This refusal is where we are civilizationally. When the Holy Father writes of "the Splendor of Truth", he stands boldly in the most counter-cultural position of our era. He argues from truth to truth. He must be stopped at all costs because his logic, his argument, as such, cannot be broken. The only thing we can do about him is to deny the possibility of truth itself, a position that is itself contradictory, a contradiction we are willing to accept as a last desperate measure to prevent us from facing the fact that there are truths and we can know them. The only way we can not know them is to refuse to think about them, to lapse into myths, ideologies, and the silly things we spin out of our weary noodles.




8) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 10 (May, 1992), 41-43.                                                           

 

GNOSTICISM RECONSIDERED


            Recently, I was at a conference on the West Coast. I had the good fortune to be driven from the airport by a perceptive young graduate student, a Catholic. In the course of conversation, he told me that he stopped going to the local Catholic parish the day they removed the Crucifix on the altar to replaced it with a painting of Mother Earth herself being held up by a politically correct number of differing cultural hands all reaching up to her. A priest where I was saying Mass told me of another parish that was built with the Tree of Life instead of the Crucifix, until the parishioners protested enough to get the Crucifix back. This is in a diocese in which the Ordinary preaches against abortion. Another young man, this time from the East Coast, told me that as soon as he hears his pastor begin his latest sermon on a social justice theme that is readily identifiable as a specific kind of leftist ideology, he gets up and walks out.


            Symbols count. The student was right. In Rome, considerable attention is being paid of late to the extent to which Gnosticism and Pelagianism are present in modern culture and within many movements in the Church itself. Marxism may (or may not) be passé but New Age, environmentalism, what passes for social justice, feminism, Eastern religions, multi-culturalism, dogmatic relativism, and such variant enthusiasms are not. More and more it is getting difficult to find Catholicism within Catholicism. As a Jesuit friend of mine remarked on hearing the story of the Mother Earth incident, "there comes a point when we are dealing with another religion."


            Curiously many of these same movements profess a certain deep spiritualism. We have been told, perhaps too often, that our great enemy is "materialism." But materialism has never been the most dangerous heresy. Indeed, all really dangerous heresies or disorders of soul arise from the spirit, from, most often, the hearts of the dons, from the clerical and academic leaders whose faith is strong, but not strong enough to accept the content and history of salvation as it is given to us in specifically Catholic revelation. We have, it often seems, a religion full of enthusiasm but not doctrine, or at least not Catholic doctrine.


            The most "unbelievable" aspect of classical Christianity, it seems, is precisely its dogged "materialism," its clinging to the Old Testament doctrine that matter is good and to the New Testament teaching that the Word became flesh. Evil is rooted in will, not matter, machines, institutions, or intelligence. Christ after all only makes sense if there is something wrong with us that we cannot remedy by ourselves, individually or collectively. Christ only makes sense if there is something at fault in our wills and not merely in the structures of the world. The New Testament has much to say about conversion and repentance but practically nothing about politics.


            What is all this sudden Roman concern with Gnosticism all about? I think it is a sign that at long last the Roman Church in its highest reaches is beginning to realize the degree to which it is itself infiltrated by ideas and movements at variance with its own teachings about itself. These worrisome ideas come from the culture itself. Conformity to culture seems the predominant imperative for religion itself.


            Father Richard McBrian recently (The Tablet. January 25, 1992) boasted that Rome could no longer touch dissident theologians because they were protected by the laws of the civil state. What this means, of course, is rather that these same civil institutions are locked into themselves and cannot admit any presence of the Catholicism that is identified with what the Roman Church actually teaches and stands for. When Erastianism guarantees the church, it guarantees itself. The Church is no longer heard.


            John Paul II has both in Centesimus Annus and Redemptoris Missio taken up the theme that culture itself needs something from outside itself even to save itself. He told a group of cultural leaders in Salvador in Brazil (October 20, 1991):

 

In regard to those living cultures that must be saved by Christ, it is essential that the Gospel, faith and religion play a decisive role in them, imbuing them with Christian values. Either the cultures have not understood these values deeply or they have continued to hide them because of the harmful influences of secularization, consummerism, relativism, and the other evils of the modern age that does without Christ's message and the Church's fruitful presence.


No culture is closed in on itself to the exclusion of the vitality of revelation addressing itself to each people.


            Since Vatican II, the Church, it seems, has been bent on accommodating itself as much as possible to prevailing cultures, beliefs, and political systems. In itself this is not bad. Belatedly, however, the Church has come increasingly to realize that what is specific to itself is no longer much known or taught. The Christian "mission" is preaching mostly modernity, human autonomy, not Christianity. Indeed, Catholicism in particular is being systematically excluded so that its only sort of presence is when its own language and principles are modified to conform to secular culture. The policy of adaptation has resulted in little compromise from the secular culture itself except insofar as the Church has agreed to look just like the culture in which it lives. The radical newness of Catholicism is replaced with the radicalism of the culture itself.


            Those of us who have read our Voegelin, of course, know that this great philosopher argued that Gnosticism is in fact the heart of modernity. Modernity is the project to remove from the cosmos and from human nature itself any sign of a divine presence, origin, or transcendent destiny. Religious ideas were to be "immanentized," made into political movements with inner-worldly goals. These ideas were to replace Christianity with willed forms of human intellect projected onto all of mankind with no other source but human autonomy. Perfection becomes "self-realization" in which the self that is realized has no source other but itself, granted that this "self" is usually the disguised heritage of some philosopher.


            I have mused about this phenomenon. Back in 1962, I wrote an essay in the old American Ecclesiastical Review entitled, "The Abiding Significance of Gnosticism" and in this column in May, 1986, I described "Gnostic Catholicism." (The column, "The Strangest Century" of October 1990, is also on this topic). Thus, when I heard of the essay of Father Giandomenico Mucci, S. J., "Mito e Pericolo della Gnosi Moderna," in La Civiltà Cattolica for January 4, 1992, I hastened over to the Woodstock Library to read it. It was indeed a fascinating essay and summed up several lines of thought that have been appearing regularly in particularly Italian journals about the nature of the contemporary religious mind.


            All of this controversy is an aspect of a question that Paul Johnson asked (Crisis, February, 1989) about whether the demise of Marxism meant the end of "totalitarian temptations" on the part of the cultural elite of our era. These elites have been formed in secular ideals of rights and obligations that promise to achieve what Christianity never promised, namely, a new man and a new earth, a bringing to this very world all the elaborate promises that the faith called salvation. But these promises were to be obtained by excluding faith and its sense of how salvation is to be achieved.


            Mucci considers "modern Gnosticism" to include within its reaches not just an elite, as in classic Gnosticism, but all of humanity and the whole of the world in an all-embracing "knowledge" about man's only happiness. This happiness is exclusively the result of man's own efforts. There is no "word" or nature in the world. Thus no "Word" could become flesh. Modern Gnosticism specifically rejects notions of sin and the consequent need of salvation by Christ. Christ becomes a social reformer, an inspiration to complete the worldly enterprise, which is the only enterprise there is. Marx's concern that concern for the afterlife impeded concern for this life is not forgotten. A religion that supports this inner-worldly revolution is quite acceptable but one that maintains the classic Christian doctrines is its most dangerous threat. This fear of revelational religion explains the growing hatred for the Church as it stands for itself.


            To suggest that there is anything wrong with the intellectual structure of modernity and post-modernity, of course, risks the charge of being against "man." In a brilliant and too little known essay, "Church Activism in the 1980's: Politics in the Guise of Religion?" (in Religion and Politics, University of Virginia Press, 1989), Father Ernest Fortin wrote that an increasing number of Christians "have come to view their faith as an enterprise dedicated to eradication of the evils that plague human existence by transforming society along more or less leftist lines." When such projects become the main line of presentation about what is Christian, whether in Sunday sermons or religious journals, then clearly there is a deeper crisis than most are willing openly to admit.


            "The Pelagian temptation returns today in consequence of neo-Gnosticism," Father Mucci wrote,

 

If with modern Gnosticism there is asserted an inner-worldly self-redemption of man, it is evident that with this approach also the myth of Prometheus comes back again. This Promethean position includes the consciousness of an all-powerful morality that professes to achieve the good and to realize every sort of justice without recurring to the theological help of grace. If it is possible to measure the fullness of the apostasy of modern culture, before which the Church stands, it ought to recall above all to itself that man, every man, cannot, normally and for a long time, do good and remain good without the historic-salvific encounter with Christ" (La Civiltà Cattolica, 4 Gennaio 1992).


The point is not that there are no things produced in the modern world that are good. Rather it is that the theoretic understanding of these things, an understanding that can be based on a classic and Christian philosophy loyal to its own inspiration, are being presented in a Gnostic and Pelagian context even when Christian terms and offices are used to support them.


            Thus, I suspect, the replacing of a Crucifix by a painting of Mother Earth (Gaia) in a regular Catholic parish reveals rather strikingly that this sort of mentality is wide-spread in our culture. Perhaps it is just a mistake or an aberration. But I rather think Father Mucci is closer to the real problem. When Eric Voegelin wrote that "Gnosticism is the form of modernity," he meant that modern humanism would claim all for itself. There would remain no check on human pride, not even reality itself. Reality, what is, is no longer "nature," that is, something already itself, already a finite something, to which our minds are open to discover the truth of things. Rather reality is what we will in society and in the cosmos. If Marx has died, Nietzsche and Heidegger have appeared. But this intellectual appearance is itself a "choice," a choice against what is, not an intellectual necessity. The choice lies in the heart of a modernity that recognizes no other principle but itself as the cause of the distinction of things.




9) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 13 (January, 1995), 59-61.                                                      

SAINT PAUL


            In the little town in Iowa where I was born, there were two Catholic churches -- Sacred Heart and Sts. Peter and Paul. From my very youth, these two apostles, Peter and Paul, were visibly associated. Somehow, when spoken aloud, I have always liked the very ring of the words "Saints Peter and Paul". The Church celebrates the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29, but it has a separate Feast of St. Paul in January -- the Twenty-Fifth.


            In the olden days, St. Paul wrote a good number of the epistles of the New Testament. We used to say, for instance, that he wrote Hebrews. Today, we read "as the Author of the Letter to the Hebrews said...." No Paul. A good trivia question among literate Christians is "which Letters of St. Paul did he not write?" The extremes range from none to all. All of which gets into the good fun of scripture authorship, scholarship, tradition, interpretation, and what it all means for us.


            In a Sermon he gave to Catholic undergraduates at Oxford in 1941, Ronald Knox wondered about this linking of these two saints, Peter and Paul. Except for one famous occasion, he noted, they seemed to get along pretty well together, but at various times they are thought to be rather antagonistic. The Reformation in particular tended to emphasize Paul at the expense of Peter. The great Protestant cathedral in London is St. Paul's. "Protestantism, in revolt against the Petrine claims, and basing its most characteristic theology on a false reading of St. Paul's epistle to the Romans," Knox remarked, "could hardly fail to draw invidious comparisons, in which St. Paul came out best."


            Certain "learned and untrustworthy men", Knox told the undergraduates, as if to warn them to be alert in their classes, even saw the Acts of the Apostles as a kind of competition for honor and glory between Paul and Peter. "If Peter is rescued from prison at Jerusalem, Paul must be rescued at Philippi; if Paul rises Eutychus to life, Peter must do as much for Dorcas; and so on throughout." How are we to evaluate this approach? Knox's own view is clear: "Most of us will find it difficult to believe in this sort of thing."


            The fact is that St. Paul is a pretty interesting character. I am in the habit of saying that we know more about the insides of St. Augustine than of any other ancient man. The only rivals, I think, are Cicero and St. Paul. And obviously, there is a lot of both Cicero and St. Paul in St. Augustine. In his History of Christianity, Paul Johnson had this to say about the man for whom he is named:

 

Paul insisted (that Jesus Christ) was God; it is the only thing about him which really matters, otherwise the Pauline theology collapses, and with it Christianity. But equally, Paul is an obstacle to those who wish to turn Christianity into a closed system. He believed in freedom. For him, Christianity was the only kind of freedom that matters, the liberation from the law, and the donation of life. He associated freedom with truth, for which he had an unlimited reverence.


Christ is God, freedom is from the law, life if a gift, the truth will make us free -- these are no small things that we have from St. Paul. Without them Christianity does collapse, we should not doubt it.


            St. Paul had no hesitation to use his Roman citizenship when he had need of it. I have always liked this about him. He was born in Tarsus and so had Roman citizenship by birth. When (Acts c. 25) he suspected that he might be treated improperly by Jewish courts, in a famous scene in Caesarea, he chose Rome. This appeal to Rome meant that he preferred to be tried in a Roman court in Rome. He thought it would be a more just trial. Paul made this appeal to Festus, the local Roman governor in Caesarea. Festus wanted to appease the Jews and send him to Jerusalem. None of this for Paul. "I am standing before the tribunal of Caesar and this is where I should be tried," Paul admonished Festus. "I have done the Jews no wrong, as you very well know. If I am guilty of committing any capital crime, I do not ask to be spared the death penalty. But if there is no substance to the accusation against me, no one has a right to surrender me to them. I appeal to Caesar."


            Festus, for his part, seemed only too glad to get Paul out of his jurisdiction. "You appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you shall go." Festus obviously knew that he had a very tough man on his hands. Paul, however, was not just telling Festus that he was innocent. He went on to explain the principles of law to Festus himself. Paul in effect said to Festus, "Look, if I am guilty, kill me. But follow the law, your law. Show the accusation. You, Festus, have no right to violate your own rules of procedure. I don't trust you. Send me to the Roman courts."


            A couple of days later, King Agrippa and his wife Bernice came to Caesarea. Festus told Agrippa about the problem with Paul. After listening to Festus recount Paul's situation, Agrippa wanted to hear his story from Paul himself. So Festus arranged a meeting with Paul for the following day. Festus, at this point, claims to Agrippa that he does not know what exactly it is that he should tell the Roman court that Paul has done. "It seems to me pointless to send a prisoner without indicating the charges against him." So Festus should have released Paul at this point by his own law.


            Paul does not help Festus formulate an accusation against himself. Rather he takes the opportunity to explain his whole life to Agrippa, Bernice, and Festus. Agrippa knew more than Festus did about Jewish and Christian issues. Paul explains how he is a Pharisee and a strict one. But he also makes precise that he is on trial for his "hope in the promise made by God to our ancestors." Paul already associates his work with Jewish revelation and its completion. Festus is obviously wondering what this all means.


            Paul proceeds to recount to Agrippa that he himself, Saul, in his earlier days opposed "the name of Jesus the Nazarene". He even tossed many Christians into prison and tried to make them renounce their faith. This Saul, as he was earlier called, was a rather formidable character. So, here we have Paul giving an account of his life to a local monarch and a local Roman governor. Next Paul tells them of the scene on the road to Damascus. Paul is on his way to continue persecuting Christians. He is knocked off his horse. He hears someone calling to him in Hebrew, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?"


            Paul naturally tries to find out what is going on. He thought he was doing Yahweh's business. He learns that the voice is of Jesus. Paul discovers that Jesus has special plans for him. He is to go to the pagans, and "through faith in me (Jesus), (to obtain) forgiveness of their sins". Paul immediately begins to follow his new commission, first to the folks in Damascus and then in Jerusalem, even in the Temple where, naturally, he is arrested and finds himself in the present predicament.


            Paul concludes his account, "I was blessed with God's help, and so I have stood firm to this day, testifying to great and small alike, saying nothing more than what the prophets and Moses himself said would happen; that the Christ was to suffer and that, as the first to rise from the dead, he was to proclaim that light now shone for our people and for the pagans too." Clearly, this is pretty heady stuff.


            Festus meantime is trying to figure out what all this has to do with the Jerusalem efforts to "get rid" of Paul. Festus, who was no fool, can see no sense in all this theological jargon of Paul. Festus shouts, "Paul, you are out of your mind; all that learning of yours is driving you mad." We can imagine the situation. Here a pretty sober and decent Roman governor gets this Paul dropped in his lap. He hates to deal with the case which seems almost a "no win" case for Festus. But Paul has managed to tie his hands legally and Festus knows it. Actually, Festus seems to like Paul and to recognize his intelligence. All this silliness about being knocked off a horse and especially raising from the dead, however, seems outlandish to him.


            But Paul understands Festus' problem. He calmly tells the Governor, "I am not mad; I am speaking nothing but the sober truth." It is not Paul's fault that he found himself involved in all these things either. He was not going to lie about or make up what had happened. Paul knew, however, that Agrippa grasped some of these things. Paul knew that Agrippa believed in the Hebrew prophets. Agrippa even admits to Paul, "A little more, and your arguments would make a Christian of me." And Paul adds, "little or more, I wish before God that not only you but all who have heard me today would come to be as I am -- except for these chains." Paul does not like imprisonment any more than anyone else.


            At this point Agrippa, Bernice, and Festus rise and go out. They talked together for a while about this extraordinary man and what he had told them. They agreed that Paul had done nothing worthy of death or imprisonment. Finally, Agrippa adds to Festus, "The man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar." There is something ironical, of course, in this latter remark. Paul had appealed to Caesar so he could be set free. No more chains. He had appealed to Caesar, moreover, because he was worried about Festus' willingness to judge his case on its merits. Festus did not need to send Paul to Caesar in Rome if Paul was not guilty. One wonders what sort of accusation that Festus did send since before Paul's speech he did not know how to charge him and apparently even less so after.


            When Paul does get to Rome, after his stormy trip, he looks up the leading Jewish authorities to explain his situation. He states his case again, how he was accused, arrested, turned over to Caesar. He told them that he did not himself have "any accusation against his own nation," which is why he wanted to talk to them. Surprisingly, the Roman Jews had heard nothing about Paul's case from Judea. They knew he belonged to a new "sect" and wanted to hear his own account of it. However, they had heard that of Paul's sect, "opinion had everywhere condemned it".


            What seems ironical about Paul is that after all his efforts to "appeal to Caesar" that no one heard much about him in Rome. He did, however, make it to the capital of the pagans, to the heart of Empire, to where he had been directed on the road to Damascus. Festus the Roman Governor in Caesarea thought his great learning drove him mad, but Paul stuck to his position wherever he went. He was indeed eloquent and persuasive, as Agrippa acknowledged. Paul held that Jesus Christ was God, that freedom mattered, that life is a gift, that truth is to be acknowledged in liberty. Without these positions, Paul's theology does collapse, and with it Christianity. However difficult it is "to believe this sort of thing," as Festus and perhaps the Oxford undergraduates might acknowledge, still when we read St. Paul's account of his life, we know even today his wish remains that which he told Agrippa, that "before God that not only you but all who have heard me would come to be as I am -- except for the chains."




10) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 16 (February, 1998), 5                                                          


ON PENS AND PENCILS


            For Christmas a decade ago, Anne and Bill Burleigh gave me a Cross pen and pencil. In subsequent years I lost or broke about three of the pens. Cross had a wonderful extra-fine felt point black filler, #8424, the best writing instrument I had ever seen. About two years ago, they stopped producing this superior filler and replaced it with an inferior plastic point, #8444. I wrote to the Company in Rhode Island, suggesting that they fire the executive who made this silly decision to replace #8424 with #8444. I received no response.


            But I want to speak of the pencil. My set is black, graphite, comfortably heavy. My friends intimate that my handwriting leaves something to be desired even with the finest writing instruments. The U. S. Postal Service not infrequently returns mail to my box claiming that the address is unknown, when it is right there on the envelope.


            About three years ago, the mechanical pencil's inner mechanism stuck. I could not get it to turn. When I tried to buy another Cross pencil, no store in Washington would sell me just a pencil. I had to buy both pen and pencil, which I, thinking dark thoughts about the decline the free market, refused to do.


            So, I thought I would buy another pencil brand. The leading pen store in Washington is Fahrney's, across from the U. S. Treasury Department on G Street. For $13, I bought a heavy, firm pencil that you twist to make the lead come out. From its container, it automatically replaces the lead when one stick runs out.


            I thought that the pencil used odd-sized, .4 mm. I remember being with my friends Jim and Kay Kline in Florida trying to find lead that size. The only thing the stores carried were .5, .7, and .9, none of which, as far as I could tell, worked.


            Suddenly, I had a broken Cross pencil and a new shiny black pencil with a lead size that I could not replace. So I went back to Fahrney's. The nice lady found the proper lead, .4, thought I. I remember stowing the packet of lead away in my room. To this day, I have never found it. As an after-thought, though, I asked her if she could fix the Cross pen. Sure enough, a young man repaired it in no time and charged me nine bucks. This was getting expensive.


            About two weeks after I had two classy functioning pencils, I misplaced my repaired Cross pencil. That was about three years ago. It is still lost. This reduced me to one pencil. Naturally, when the supply of .4 lead in the pencil was used up, I tried to find more in various stores. I could not find the rare .4 lead.


            My story begins here. One lovely day last summer, during the noon hour, I decided a third time to walk to Fahrney's from Georgetown to get the required .4 lead. The pencil was useless with no lead. I love to walk in Washington during the noon hour. I strolled through Georgetown, to M Street, then to Pennsylvania Avenue, all the way by the barricaded White House, where folks were taking photos, on by the Treasury Department. I crossed Fifteenth Street to G Street.


            I enter Fahrney's. A gentleman who looks like the owner kindly interrupts talking to a salesman to serve me. I explain about the .4 lead. He looks dubiously at the pencil, twists it a couple of times, says authoritatively that it uses .5 lead, of which I had a huge supply that would not, say I, work in the said pencil.. The owner-type goes back to the repair counter. About four minutes later he returns with that sort of impatient look that a gas station attendant gets on his face when you cannot work the automatic pump.


            The man tells me that the pencil is fine, that I had stuck a .7 lead into the shaft. That is why it would not work. He shows me the my .7 lead. I pretend I am not the klutz he thinks I am. At my humorous best, I tell him that it was a great pen and I was pleased that he fixed it. The fact is, that he did not fix it because it was not broken. It was just fouled up. He only charged me about a dollar for the lead, nothing for the remedial education. He was sure I was unteachable in the lead department. I now have enough lead to last till the Fourth Millennium. .4mm lead does not exist and would not have worked had I found it. Moral: Only look for what is.


11) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 12 (January, 1994), 61-62. 


ON THINGS WE MAY NOT HAVE NOTICED


            Once upon a January, many long years ago, I was born, in a small town in Iowa. My recollections of this momentous event, naturally, remain somewhat vague. Actually, this is a great mercy, as you can readily realize, otherwise I might be tempted to write about it. As Chesterton said in his Autobiography, we have to take the fact of our own birth on faith. We have to accept the testimony of others for the truth of a primal event in which we have some considerable interest.


            What made me think of this reference to my this-worldly origins was a passage I came across by chance in the works of that noted theologian, P. G. Wodehouse. He caused me to think of baptism and that original sin in which we are conceived and born, of why things go wrong in spite of our best intentions. I do not recall my own baptism either, but I believe I have seen the document attesting to it someplace. Baptism, of course, is addressed to this prevailing disorder we all seem somehow to find ourselves locked into.


            My parents, also good theologians, upheld the practice of infant baptism. Give or take a couple of days, I am a born Catholic. Infant baptism, more than anything else almost, suggests that, while there is much right with the world, there is also something subtly deviant, something in the order of spirit that is capable of turning us away from what we truly are to become. If, because you are aware of the implications of this dire situation, you think you need all the help you can get in this life to get out of it in good shape, then you are for infant baptism even on pragmatic grounds. The Lord pursues us "down the nights and down the days," to recall Francis Thompson's poem.


            I had even been reading Hegel, always itself a daunting exercise. Hegel observed that "the History of the World is not the theatre of happiness. Periods of happiness are blank pages in it." But even Hegel wanted to redeem these periods of unhappiness. He wanted to show us how "History as the slaughterbench (of the) happiness of peoples" had some purpose. He wanted to know "to what principle, to what final aim these enormous sacrifices have been offered?" To what aim indeed? Somehow we must explain, if only to ourselves, the meaning of these "enormous sacrifices" in the slaughterbench that is too often our history.


            Thus, in The World of Jeeves, I read, to continue these profound topics: "I don't know if you have noticed it, but it's rummy how nothing in this world ever seems to be absolutely perfect." To be sure, I had noticed this. That is why I put Wodehouse in italics. I remember once standing on Fell Street in San Francisco for a long time thinking words very similar -- how nothing in this world ever seems to be perfect. Unfortunately, at the time, I did not have Wodehouse's memorable words to explain it all to me.


            None the less, as I said, I have noticed this unsettling situation. In truth, however, something perhaps even more mysterious, I think that there probably are "absolutely perfect" things in this world, except, because even these originate in the divine perfection itself, they always have, as they should, a reference to something higher about them, even by being what they are, what E. F. Schumacher called "progressions."


            Yet, there is almost something sad about Wodehouse's remark -- perhaps it was the word "rummy". We catch a certain disappointment, a certain poignancy in the heart of the comedian. He recognizes that the world is not "absolutely perfect", of course. Nevertheless, he suspects that we are not really made for this less than perfect world, even though we find ourselves in it. His very laughter at the odd things we do portends a kind of joy that we barely understand.


            The fact is that things usually do turn out to be "rummy". We come to expect this "rumminess" of things. We become realists and pride ourselves on our knowledge of the way things actually are. We rightly distrust the perfection-seekers. They somehow do more damage than those who believe in the Wodehouse doctrine that "nothing in this world ever seems to turn out absolutely perfect."


            This is a Christian theme. We live in a world that exists for some cause that we cannot find in the world itself. We think, all in all, it is a pretty good place. It is certainly a beautiful place in so many ways. We know ourselves to be good, yet there is always this annoying thing about our not doing what we would, something St. Paul saw in himself quite clearly.


            The Councils of Orange and Trent did not speak of man's original "rumminess", to be sure. But they did say something rather similar when talking of Original Sin. Le Catéchisme de l'Eglise Catholique has some excellent and moving paragraphs on Original Sin (#396-412). I want to cite a couple lines about this topic here:

 

The doctrine of Original Sin -- bound to that of the Redemption by Christ, gives a glance of lucid discernment over man's condition and his acting in the world. By the sin of the First Parents, the Devil has acquired a certain domination over men, although this latter remains free. Original Sin implies "servitude under the power of him who possesses the empire of death, that is to day, the Devil" (Trent, Dz. 1511). To ignore that man has a wounded nature, inclined to evil, gives place to some grave errors in the domain of education, of politics, of social action, and of morals (#407).


I was especially struck by this last sentence. If we do not understand what is really wrong with us and the revelational remedies for it, we will never get it right in other areas.


            I had just been reading Rousseau also, who is the source of much of the notion that we solve our human problems by education, politics, or social action, by changes of external structures rather than changes in our hearts. We live in a political and educational regime that has bought almost completely this doctrine. The key issues lie elsewhere, however, even though the sinful condition of mankind somehow result from the accumulation of our personal sins. 


            At the very beginning of Veritatis Splendor, John Paul stressed the importance of this very topic:

 

As a result of that mysterious original sin, committed at the prompting of Satan, the one who is "a liar and the father of lies" (Jn. 8:44), man is constantly tempted to turn his gaze away from the living and true God in order to direct it towards idols (cf. 1 Thes. 1:9), exchanging "the truth about God for a lie" (Rom. 1:25). Man's capacity to know the truth is also darkened, and his will to submit to it is weakened. Thus, giving himself over to relativism and scepticism (cf. Jn. 18:38), he goes off in search of an illusory freedom apart from truth itself (#1).


No paragraph I know more clearly suggests what is behind the ideologies and moral currents of our time. The search for illusory freedom is precisely the meaning of our public order in so far as it rejects, as it does, the truths contained in revelation and the reason that supports it.


            Bertie Wooster's Aunt Agatha is a most formidable woman who looks with a most critical eye on her nephew's aberrations. "'Bertie,'she said -- in part and chattily -- 'it is young men like you who make the person with the future of the race at heart despair!'" About the only thing that Bertie could reply to this not altogether inaccurate observation was "What-ho!"


            Aunt Agatha continued her analysis, ending with a most surprising solution to her nephew's problems:

 

"Cursed with too much money, you fritter away in selfish idleness a life which might have been made useful, helpful, and profitable. You do nothing but waste your time on frivolous pleasures. You are simply an anti-social animal, a drone --" She fixed me with a glittering eye, "Bertie, you must marry!"


Aunt Agatha, to Bertie's consternation, proceeded to explain just what sort of woman she had in mind. "You want somebody strong, self-reliant, and sensible, to counterbalance the deficiencies and weaknesses of your character...."


            Well, we get the point. Our fallenness is pretty real, and not altogether without its amusing side. That is to say, we are a fallen race, with many deficiencies and weaknesses in our characters, but we are also redeemed. We go off, as the Pope said, because we turn our gaze away from the living and true God and substitute our own inventions. Those who have the future of the human race at heard are indeed tempted to despair. Yet, we cannot help but suspecting that Bertie is closer to the truth than Aunt Agatha. It's rummy "how nothing in this world ever seems to turn out to be absolutely perfect."


            As I said, I have noticed this too. It is a question, however, as the Pope hinted, about where we allow our gaze to fall. We can conclude from all this rumminess but two things, I think. The first is that our gaze does have a proper object in the light of which all else is and is glorious. And the second is that our gaze is such that we can avert it from what we might really want. In the end, what we really want is first given to us.


            "Joy," Josef Pieper wrote, "lies in receiving what we love." Our reaction to the slaughterbenches of history, to the rumminess of actual things ultimately suggests that all things are related to an absolute perfection, on which we seek to gaze. We are what we are because we must still choose to see what is to be seen. This is our lot. This is the context both of our damnation and of our glory. We would not have it otherwise.



12) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 11 (January, 1993), 43-45.                                                    

 

THE "STABAT MATER"


            One afternoon, I was in the Woodstock Center xeroxing something or other. The young man in charge of the operations there told me that the following Friday, he was singing at the Kennedy Center. The National Symphony Orchestra was doing Antonin Dvorak's "Stabat Mater," with the Czech conductor Zdenek Macal and the Oratorio Society of Washington.


            This event seemed like something that should not be missed, particularly with my Bohemian blood. My mother's family was from Iowa. Older members of the family, with great pride, have often mentioned the visit Dvorak (1841-1904) made to Spillville, Iowa, the 19th Century center of Czech immigration into the homesteading farmland of Iowa. One likes to think that the familiar music of "The New World Symphony" -- was it called "From the New World?" -- or the quartet or the cello concerto, that Mstislav Rostropovich loves to play, bore the spirit and flavor of those fertile plains of Northern Iowa that were home to my mother's parents and grandparents. My Bohemian mother was born in the year Dvorak died in Prague.


            The "Stabat Mater" itself, moreover, in what musical version I know not, probably a Gregorian one -- I can still hum it in my off-key way for anyone who can stand it -- was most familiar to me from my altar boy days at St. Anthony's Parish in Knoxville, in South-Central Iowa. As we lived but two houses away from the Church, during Lent my brother and I were often recruited for regular duty to serve for the Stations of the Cross, that seem in memory to have been held every day, but probably only on Wednesdays and Fridays.


            This familiar music of the Stations, when I hear it, still puts me back in that little Church, wondering when the Stations would be over as kneeling so much made my knees sore, or at least I thought so at the time. We would have a Cross, two candle bearers, with Father Horan or Father Garrity to lead us around to each Station. The "Stabat Mater," as I recall it now, was sung at every second Station so that the end of the Stations coincided with the last stanza of the hymn. I remember an organ and a goodly number of people present for such a small parish in a Protestant town.

            It is easy to recall the first stanza that sets both the tone and the teaching of the hymn:


            Stabat Mater dolorosa

            Juxta crucem lacrimosa,

            Dum pendebat filius.


The program notes gave the Latin text, which Dvorak divided into ten parts, alongside an English text. The above lines are translated:


            At the Cross her station keeping,

            Stood the mournful Mother, weeping,

            Close to Jesus at the last.


Actually, that is the way I remember the words, so I wonder if we sang it in English. Perhaps it was only in the Order that we sang it in Latin. Those words to that music always seemed touchingly sad as they evoked so graphically the scene they described, the Blessed Mother at the Cross of her Son.


            What took nine words in Latin, in any case, took twice that many in English. There is probably a lesson there somewhere. My briefest translation of the same stanza would be, "(The) Sorrowful Mother weeping stood next to the Cross while (her) Son was hanging (there)." The Old Catholic Encyclopedia noted that by 1912, there were over sixty translations of this hymn into English.


            This particular Sequence, as it is called, has several attributed authors, from Innocent II, to St. Bernard, to Jacopone da Todi. It has been set to music many times, over a hundred apparently. Palestrina, Pergolesi, Hayden, Scarlati, Bocherini, Rossini, Schubert, Verdi, and more recently Penderecki, each has composed a score for the "Stabat Mater."


            The "Stabat Mater," which came into the Roman Missal in 1727, is now used in the Office for the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, on September 15. Formerly it was used for the same Feast (Mater Dolorosa) that occurred on the Friday after Passion Sunday (two weeks before Easter) in the Old Liturgy.


            The music is quite solemn, lovely, meditative. The writing of his "Stabat Mater," moreover, had a personal meaning for Dvorak of some considerable poignancy. He and his wife Anna had three infant children. Between 1875-76, one (Joesfa) died a few days after birth, a second (Otakar) of small pox at about three years of age, and another (Ruzena), eleven months, after accidently drinking an acid used for making matches. Dvorak was about thirty-six at the time his children died and he wrote the music.


            This work, consequently, is very much addressed to the grief of his wife. She was herself an alto, the voice the second from the last stanza features. It is accompanied by neither chorus or other soloist, bass, tenor, or soprano.


            Fac me cruce custodiri,

            Morte Christi praemuniri,

            Confoveri gratia.


"Make me to be protected by the Cross, / To fortified by the Death of Christ, / To be favored by grace," she sings.


            Yet, the music is, what can I say? -- itself redemptive. By the time we arrive at the last stanza, we comprehend that the words of the hymn through the very grandeur of the music have lead us from a most somber and tragic experience with corresponding musical setting to a new hope, that death, though present, is transformed.


            The contrasting music, beginning in sadness, becomes lightsome, joyful. The Christian experience of the "Stabat Mater" bears, identifies, and transcends the tragedy of actual life, without in any way denying the reality of this life.


            Quando corpus morietur,

            Fac, ut animae donetur

            Paradisi gloria;

            Amen.


"When my body dies, / Make it, that the glory of Paradise / Be given to my soul," would be my most jejune translation. But the musical effect is stunning in context.


            An experience like this, unexpectedly listing to such glorious music, music rooted in the very depths of the human condition and its redemption -- the man and wife who lose their first three children (they went on to have six more, to be sure) -- at once makes us realize the power and consolation of Christian dogma and its immediacy to life. The reviewer in the Washington Post suggested that even those of differing theologies might grasp the import of this music, but I doubt that is fully so, really.


            Then too there is the evident power of the Virgin, that, because of her, in our grief, we do not simply lapse into abstraction.


            Inflammatus et accensus,

            Per te, Virgo, sim defensus

            In die judicii.


"Inflamed and burning, / Through thee, O Virgin, let me be defended / On judgment day." Dvorak understood that we are not alone in such sorrows as his as long as we knew of the Virgin.


            But again I go back to the sense of sorrow and hope that shines through this remarkably lovely music. The effect of the music, the comprehension of its truth, you could almost see on the face of one who listens to this music, this hymn. Hearing it we are mindful of St. Paul's oft repeated idea that we want to see God and one another "face-to-face."


            Fac me vere tecum flere,

            Crucifixo condolere,

            Donec ego vixero.


"Make me truly to weep with thee, / To grieve with thee over the Crucified One, / As long as I shall have lived." The translation of this last line in my Ritual is the familiar "All the days that I may live," a translation I like.


            I have in my files the Address that the Czech President Vaclav Havel gave to the United States Congress in February of 1990. This was the speech in which Havel remarked that "the salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and in human responsibility."


            Havel is abstract. No Virgin appears. Only "human consciousness" -- "without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, nothing will change for the better in the sphere of our Being as humans." Hope seems focused in this world. "If I subordinate my political behavior to this imperative mediated to me by my conscience, I can't go far wrong." Yet, we wonder about this thesis. By itself, conscience often goes wrong, and "consciousness" can reveal merely itself, not what is, if we want it to.

            Dvorak seems closer to the truth, even to the truth of consciousness, when he concludes his "Stabat Mater":


            Quando corpus morietur,

            Fac, ut animae donetur

            Paradisi gloria.

            Amen.


The "Amen" of this music is hauntingly lovely and glorious, almost as if to say that the last thing heard by mortal ears is the first thing for which we shall listen in Paradise. Perhaps it is true to say that we can only bear to speak of "consciousness" when we have ceased in our Parliaments and Senates to be free enough even to speak of the Virgin. Eia, Mater, fons amoris... ("Ah, Mother, font of love..."), so the ninth stanza begins.


            In the end, even on scientific grounds, I think, with some irony, it is more likely that the Virgin was more apt to have been the reason Vaclav Havel was free of Marxist rule, so unexpectedly free as he said himself, free to speak to a Senate wherein speech of the Virgin is not proper even in Czech, than anything "consciousness" ever dreamed of. We dare not speak of these things for they might well be true. Eia, Mater, fons amoris....


13) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 14 (June, 1996), 58.                        -- James V. Schall, S. J.

ORDER


            St. Thomas often cites the famous phrase, "sapientis est ordinare" -- the function of the wise man is to order. We human beings have the added burden, if I can call it that -- for it is also a glory -- of ordering ourselves. To order means that we properly place ourselves amidst the other things, including human things, that are not ourselves.


            We human beings have a certain nobility. We can even protest what we are. We can think that it is unjust that we are what we are or that we are in the existential situation that we are. Aristotle remarked that man, when he is good, is the best of the animals, but when he is not, he is the worst. Our defiance of what we are is not merely a statement of fact. It bears the remark of a positive opposition, as if we are talking to someone.


            But we protest too much. We want God to make us free. But God has said that the only way we can be free is to know the truth. And we can choose not to know the truth. How seldomly do we reflect on this enormous power we have. I like to think that God, when He created us, took the risk of God; that is, He could have chosen not to create us. God was not necessitated to create, or to create precisely us. We underestimate the Godhead if we suppose that God did not know what human choice entailed. It entailed the fact that we could choose to reject God and claim virtue for doing so.


            St. Augustine explained that peace was the "tranquillity of order". Augustine knew the ambiguities of the word "pax". Imposed order could be a devastation. Ruin too has some sort of order. So the order from which tranquillity stems is not a destruction. The parts cannot be the parts unless the whole is the whole. Order does not mean absorbing all the parts into a unity, into a sameness. Rather it means keeping the parts to be what they are, yet parts that are complete, not intended to be other than they are. When we die, we are not absorbed into God. God keeps us what we are, finite human beings, indeed, particular human beings, each like unto nothing ever known before or nothing ever to be known again. We remain, we abide.


            The scandal of the Incarnation is not that man is absorbed into God, but that the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us. God has His own internal order, what is revealed to us as the Trinity. What is not God has its own order, essentially related to the inner life of God. We are promised precisely "eternal life", the life of God as our own end. Everything in us and about us is ordained to our achieving this end. Any thing else is a seeking for it under false assumptions. We cannot, and do not, rest in what is not God. We cannot find anything that does not originate in God. Each tiny thing that we encounter, especially each human person, is directly related to the Godhead in all its glory.


            C. S. Lewis remarked that we have never met a mere mortal. Our lives are not insignificant. They are risks. We really can lose our souls. Augustine thought that probably most people in fact did lose them. We like to be optimistic and suggest that no one loses his soul. But if this is so, it is hard to see how anything is of much importance. If nothing we do, say, or believe can really make any difference, what is our dignity? We end up doing what we want with impunity. Surely this is not the order of God for our good.


            In God's intention, creation did not come first, then men. Men came first, then creation. We should not allow the size of space or its age to lessen the grandeur of spirit. We are given dominion over creation. We are to order it for our ends, not denying what it is. God does not "need" us. God was not once unhappy, then He found us. God was always happy, complete. The human being that did not make itself cannot explain itself by itself. The order of its being is not first its order. Our order is greater than we could propose for ourselves. This is why it is not ours to establish in the first place. Sapientis est ordinare. The end of all things is not that we establish here a lasting city. The end of all things is that, having been first chosen, we still must choose, choose not ourselves, but eternal life.




14) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 10 (March, 1992), 42-44. 


ON THE REALITY OF FANTASY


            By chance, just before leaving my brother's in Santa Cruz in January, I happened to notice an article in the San Jose Mercury-News (January 7, 1992) commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the birth of J. R. R. Tolkien. The article noted that a number of elaborate editions of Tolkien's works are being published this year. It also identified several societies devoted to study of Tolkien, among which are "The Mythopoeic Society," the "Elvish Linguistic Fellowship," and the "American Tolkien Society." Keeble College in Oxford holds a large academic Symposium on Tolkien in August.


            The founder of the Mythopoeic Society, Glen GoodKnight, is cited as remarking that "Tolkien is considered the grandfather of the modern fantasy phenomena. Go into the science-fiction section (of a book store) and half are fantasy." Tolkien, no doubt, is full of elves, Hobbits, dwarves, and all sorts of awesome races of beings. Yet, I could not help but thinking that to assign Tolkien to the category of mere "fantasy" somehow missed the essence of what he was about. I have always found in reading Tolkien a certain doom or dread strangely combined with a certain joy and exhilaration precisely because he was talking about something very real, about the way this, yes fantastic, world really is.


            Several years ago, now, I was in a used book store in San Francisco down near the end of Ellis Street, I think. For reasons I forget now, I had wanted to obtain a copy of Tolkien's Silmarillion. After I had looked all over this vast chaotic place by myself, a friend who was with me called down from a ladder over against the West Wall to come over. I was triumphantly handed a hardback edition of The Silmarillion. I was frankly astonished.


            This particular edition, amusingly, was published by the Bookcase Shop in Taipei in 1977. It cost $2 used and was (and still is) in good condition. It says "This is an authorized Taiwan Edition reprinted by permission of the Publisher (George Allen & Unwin) for sale in Taiwan only. It is not to be exported." Well, we were definitely not on Taiwan. But, as I told my friend who found the book later, "I have never read anything quite so beautiful as the first page of The Silmarillion, the Chapter entitled, 'Ainulindale: The Music of the Aimur'." I like to read it or have it read aloud.


            In the book, a previous owner, perhaps the one who pirated it out of Taipei, had inserted a review of The Silmarillion from the September 11, 1977, Chicago Tribune. The Review was by Roger Sale, a Professor at the University of Washington, who wrote a book called Tolkien and Frodo Baggins. Sale did not think many people would like this book in comparison to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which sold as many as 50 million copies. He added, "Tolkien was one of those moderns who, in his 20th Century darkness, was driven to invent an earlier time when the world was fresh, the sky clear, the grass green and the past was important." Again, I thought, this observation surely misses the point Tolkien was driving at. Tolkien was not escaping from the Twentieth Century just as his "fantasy" was not apart from reality. Tolkien, I suspect, thought that what was going on in the Twentieth century was just what was going on in his stories.


            The end of The Hobbit, perhaps Tolkien's most famous book, reads like this:

 

"Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!" said Bilbo.

"Of course!" said Gandalf. "And why should not they prove true? Surely you don't disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!"

"Thank goodness" said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar.


At first glance, it is sobering to think this marvelous conversation could not take place any more on any domestic flight in Continental America because of the tobacco-jar bit, not even in fantasy.


            But if we look at the "teaching," at the truth of what is being said in this passage, we might be somewhat cautious to intimate that this book is merely "fantasy," merely an escape from the Twentieth Century. Nor is it a fiction dreamed up by a rather dotty Oxford don that would later give hope for the "sixties," as the article in the San Jose paper seemed to imply. What Tolkien was about and what the "sixties" were about seem almost to be total opposites, however much the illusions of the "sixties" would not have surprised a Tolkien.


              The teaching of Gandalf is that we are part of an order, a providence. Simply because we are involved in adventure and escape does not mean that we are the sole actors in our lives. The world is very wide and what benefits us does not merely benefit only us, just as what hurts us does not merely hurt us. Bilbo's response to this teaching, "Thank goodness," is a very contented, Christian one. It implies that the whole burden of the world is not on us even if we are ourselves involved in the agonies and drama of the world with its struggles of good and evil.


            In his famous essay "On Fairy Stories," Tolkien himself explained some of this deeper meaning that would cause us to hesitate to think that somehow such fantasy is not dealing with reality, our reality. "It is often reported of fairies (truly or lyingly, I do not know) that they are workers of illusion, that they are cheaters of men by "fantasy"; but that is quite another matter," Tolkien wrote. "Such trickeries happen, at any rate, inside tales in which the fairies are not themselves illusions; behind the fantasy real wills and powers exist, independent of the minds and purposes of men."


            This is heady stuff, no doubt -- real wills and powers exist independent of the minds and purposes of men, yet, as Gandalf said to Bilbo, not excluding them either. Tolkien remarks in the same essay that we must accept the inside of the fairy story as true in its plot and order. If we break the spell of its story, we lose what it is saying.


            When we come, however, to the conclusion of this remarkable essay -- which was originally a Lecture given at St. Andrew's in Scotland in 1937 and later enlarged and included in Essays in Honor of Charles Williams -- we see that Tolkien is about something of far more serious purpose than we might think if we allow ourselves to think of "fantasy" in a superficial manner. If there are stories and tales in the world of Tolkien's characters, there are tales and stories in our world too. If Tolkien "creates" a world, he reminds us that the accounts of Creation and Redemption as they appear in our tradition contain a striking truth about them. "The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories." Moreover, it is a story that has "entered history."


            The difficulty of this story we find in Scripture, when seen from the point if view of its plausibility as fantasy, is that it is too true, too much like what we would want if we could have it.

There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many skeptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.


This latter remark about rejection explains why central to all of Tolkien's characters of whatever nature is the will, the power to choose, to accept or to reject. Without this, there is no drama, no fairy-story, no human or angelic life. If the world is full of sadness and wrath, as it no doubt is, it is because it is full of will. This is why fairy-stories, like life itself, include both doom and glory.


            Tolkien ends the essay "On Fairy-Stories" with these lines whose power is almost overwhelming:

 

But in God's kingdom the presence of the greatest does not depress the small. Redeemed Man is still man. Story, fantasy, still go on, and should go on. The Evangelium has not abrogated the legends; it has hallowed them, especially the "happy ending." The Christian has still to work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed.


Tolkien's world contains diversity even of virtue. He sees that the real temptation against which fairy-stories are written is the despair that in the end there is no happy ending. But it is also written with the clear, if paradoxical, knowledge that if in the end there is indeed no happiness, it is because of our wills. Fairy tales, as Tolkien said, "enrich" creation. The unsuspecting reader who thinks he is only reading "fantasy" in reading Tolkien will suddenly find himself pondering the state of his own soul because he recognizes his own soul in each fairy-tale.


            Is the "real" world, then, like the "fantasy" world? Is there some "imagination" in which the tales of Genesis and John may be "true"? The "fallen," real world we know, is this all there is and do we, like Bilbo Baggins, remain in it, in the stories? "All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know." There is something uncanny here, when the greatest fantasy writer of our time hints that the truth of fantasy is justified because "the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true."


            On the first page of The Silmarillion, we read:

 

Then Iluvatar said to them (the Ainur, His first created beings): "Of the theme that I have declared to you, I will now that ye make in harmony together a Great Music. And since I have kindled you with the Flame Imperishable, ye shall show forth your powers in adorning this theme, each with his own thoughts and devices, if he will. But I will sit and harken, and be glad that through you great beauty has been wakened into song."


All the great Tolkien themes are already here -- the dignity of creation, of finite beings, awe, will, hence potential doom or glory, providence, beauty, desire, order, grace, joy.


            There is no tale ever told that men would rather find to be true .... To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath. Surely you don't disbelieve the prophecies because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself?




15) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 9 (October, 1991), 38-39  


"SPEAK, SO THAT I MAY SEE YOU"


            On my desk is a post-card I received several years ago from the Bodleian Library in Oxford. The imprint on the card is a most curious one. It shows Socrates sitting on a throne-like chair, with a kind of dunce cap on. He is behind a writing table, with a stylus in both hands. Perhaps he has a pen of some sort, as he seems to be dipping one pen in a kind of ink-pot, while he is writing with his left hand on the slate or paper. Socrates has very wide, almost dubious eyes. He is bearded, in a robe.


            Behind Socrates -- we look at both figures from the side -- is a shorter man with a kind of skull cap on. He is identified as Plato. His left arm is around behind Socrates' left shoulder. Plato's arm is stretched out half way between Socrates' face and the desk on which he is writing. Plato's index finger is in the air, though Socrates does not seem to see it, as if he is making a point to an uncomprehending Socrates. The right index-finger of Plato is on Socrates' lower right shoulder, almost tapping on it. Plato seems to be informing a hesitant Socrates about what to write. There is an inscription below the print-drawing. I cannot make it out, even with a magnifying glass.


            The information on the front of the card tells us that this was a frontispiece drawn by "Matthew Paris of St. Albans (d. 1259) for a fortune-telling tract of the sortes genre, The Prognostics of Socrates the King. MS. Ashmole, 304, fol. 31."


            The friend who sent the card several years ago writes, "You should frame this print for your wall. A Great Picture!" I have never framed it, but I have it sitting on the ledge in front of me. It is a great, curious reproduction. The figures of Plato and Socrates are ever worthy ones to have before us, even in a version of the Thirteenth Century, about fortune-telling, from the Bodleian Library, in Oxford, "the city of dreaming spires," as my friend reminded me, from Matthew Arnold, I think, or is it Hopkins?


            Several things are obviously striking about this print. The first is that Socrates was not a king, but a philosopher. Needless to say, the justification for calling him a king also is quite understandable from the Fifth Book of The Republic, where we read of the city in speech in which the king and philosopher should be the same person. Socrates himself said that he had to remain a private citizen to stay alive in Athens as long as he did, albeit it was for seventy years. Rulers of disordered regimes cannot tolerate philosophers who seek to teach the truth.


            Secondly, it seems like the scene should be turned around. Plato should be sitting at the desk writing to the promptings of Socrates. One might say, of course, that the Socrates we know is mainly a figment of Plato's imagination. And we find it difficult to associate Socrates with fortune-telling as opposed to rational reflection and investigation. Just as science or white magis is said to have grown to some extent out of black magic, with the attempt to learn how things work and to be able to control nature, so philosophy arose out of efforts to know the future, to know the stars. Socrates said that all he knew was that he knew nothing. This could be an act of arrogance or of humility. St. Thomas said that we begin by knowing something.


            And the reason Socrates was said to have written nothing was because he was the supreme teacher. Socrates and Christ wrote no books. Their followers, lesser men than they, wrote down what they said. This is how we still meet them, initially. The most important things are not first written. First is the dynamic of person and character, of contemplation. Then follows what someone speaks and writes about how to live.


            Glaucon and Adeimantos in The Republic wanted to hear Socrates explain what justice is because they recognized that it might be their last chance to have this question properly treated. Plato, the brother of Glaucon and Adeimantos, wrote the book, which we can still read. The testimony of Socrates is that the higher things are sufficient and all absorbing. The someone who tells this cannot be busy writing books, else that would suggest something is more absorbing than the higher things.

 

            There is only one reference to Socrates in Boswell's Life of Johnson. It is a curious one in the context of Socrates the King. It was April 10, 1778. Boswell and Samuel Johnson were dining with Sir William Scott, later His Majesty's Advocate General, "at his chambers in the Temple, nobody else was there." As the company was small, conversation was slow.


            Johnson suddenly began to speak of subordination, then of fame, of wealth, and finally of war. Johnson observed provocatively, "Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier, or not having been at sea." Boswell pointed out that "Lord Mansfield did not." But Johnson denied it by saying that if Lord Mansfield were present when Generals and Admirals were talking together, "he would shrink; he'd wish to creep under the table." Boswell denied this also.


            Finally, in exasperation, Johnson replied to Boswell, "No, Sir; were Socrates and Charles the Twelfth of Sweden both present in any company, and Socrates to say, 'Follow me, and hear a lecture on philosophy;' and Charles, laying his hand on his sword, to say, 'Follow me, and dethrone the Czar;' a man would be ashamed to follow Socrates. Sir, the impression is universal; yet it is strange."


            On Boswell's Grand Tour through Switzerland and Germany in 1764, it was July 31. Boswell was in "Richardsche Kaffeegarten" near the Zoo in Berlin. He proceeded to write a letter in French to a certain Henri de Catt, who was a reader of the Prussian King. Boswell was trying to get a personal interview with the King. In explaining why he would not be put off, Boswell remarked that he was not like the famous English knight who made a trip to Potsdam to see the King but after he saw him on parade, "went quietly home."


            Boswell continued, "I am like the ancient philosopher who said, 'Speak, so that I can see you.'" This "ancient philosopher," of course, brings us back to our subject. Boswell told de Catt that he himself had already seen the King (Frederich the Great) two or three times on Parade during his visit to Berlin. The King "electrified" him, so he wanted to see him in person. But we should not forget, remembering Johnson's story about Socrates and Charles the Twelfth, that Boswell himself wrote a biography of Samuel Johnson, not Frederick the Great of Prussia, however much the latter electrified him.


            In the footnote to this passage in my Edition (Boswell on the Grand Tour, Edited by F. A. Pottle [New York: McGraw-Hill, 1953], pp. 43-44), we are informed that Erasmus was probably the source of this passage about Socrates to which Boswell referred. The footnote continues, with some interest to our theme:

 

A rich man had sent his son so that Socrates might look him over and judge of his talents. "Well, then, my lad," said Socrates, "speak, so that I can see you." [Loquere igitur, inquit, adolescens, ut te videam]. Erasmus continues, "meaning thereby that a man's character is reflected less fully in his face than in his speech" (Apophthegmata, iii, 70).


So we have Plato, behind King Socrates, informing him what to write. We have Socrates, who never wrote a book, writing a book. We have Socrates telling us "to speak" so that he can "see" us, because, as Erasmus said, we are reflected less in our face than in our speech.


            Socrates the philosopher spent his life speaking. He was said to have been quite ugly. Johnson said that if Socrates were to say "Follow me, I will give you a lecture on philosophy," no one would follow him if he also heard Charles the Twelfth of Sweden announce, "Follow me, I am going to conquer the Czar." Johnson thought this latter preference was true, if strange. Adeimantos and Glaucon listened to the other philosophers, but wanted to hear Socrates as he did not write a book.


            Loquere igitur, inquit, adolescens, ut te videam. Are we embarrassed to follow Socrates or Christ or Aquinas, even if the Generals and Admirals are not always wrong, even if it is often "electrifying" to follow Charles the Twelfth or even Frederick the Great? "Well, then, my lad," said Socrates, "speak, so that I can see you."




16) A shorter version in Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 13 (September, 1995), 59.

JOHN JOSEPH SCHALL


            On April 28, a Friday morning, about ten-thirty, I got boarded a United Express at Islip, Long Island, for the flight back to Washington. I had been in that area to give a talk on the papacy, the title of which I thought was rather catchy, if I do say so myself: "Alexander VI and John Paul II: On Why Do They Love the Bad Popes and Hate the Good Ones?" The plane landed at about noon at Dulles. On the flight back, I thought I had better go down town on return to convert one of my senior citizen's coupons for a ticket to the West Coast to see my family after classes ended in May, a yearly routine since being at Georgetown. This year I had planned to go first to Spokane to see my brother Jack and family.


            When I got back to my room, I noticed that the red blinker was on indicating a message on the phone. That is normal when I am away so I did not bother to check it. I went downtown to schedule a ticket to Spokane with a return ticket from San Jose, as my other brother lives near-by in Santa Cruz. Since my sister lives in Medford, Oregon, I usually manage a ride from Spokane to the Bay Area via Medford. After I walked back from 19th Street with the ticket, Father Gus Keppens called me to tell me that people had been looking for me, that I should check my box. I did. It was a message to call my brother Jerry in Santa Cruz. As my step-sister Jeanne has had a serious cancer problem, as had my brother Jack, I was naturally uneasy. It was my brother Jack. He had died in Spokane that morning, almost at the very moment I landed at Dulles.


            So I had to get to Spokane as soon as possible. The funeral was scheduled for Monday morning, May 1, at Jack's parish, St. Thomas More, in North Spokane. The Catholic cemetery is almost adjacent to this parish. Jack would rest in peace there. Jack often attended morning Mass at St. Thomas More and respected the priests there. When it was first discovered about eighteen months ago that Jack had an esophagus cancer, Jack told me that after Mass one morning he mentioned it to the Pastor, Father John Steiner, who simply said to Jack, "Well, we better give you the Sacrament of the Sick right away," which he did. Good priest.


            John Joseph Schall was my next younger brother. He would have been sixty-six in August. He was born, as was I, in Pocahontas, Iowa, on a farm North of the town. My parents had four children. My mother died in 1937, so I suppose there was no reason that we might not have had other brothers and sisters had she lived. In any case, my father about five years later married a dear lady, a widow, with two daughters, my good step-sisters of now so many years. Our step-mother Mary had, in fact, died about two years ago the afternoon Jack and I drove over to see Grand Coulee Dam. We flew together to her funeral in San Jose the next day.


            United Airlines was very nice in rearranging my ticket to Spokane. I arrived there unannounced on Saturday evening. I stayed with the Jesuit Community at Gonzaga University, where I have many friends. The men in that community were especially nice to me. When I first went into the Residence, almost the first person I ran into was Father Pat Stewart, a classmate of mine, whom I had not seen in maybe thirty years. When I told him that my brother had died, he immediately asked me, "Is there anything I can do?" I answered gratefully, "Yes, come to the funeral Mass to see I get through it properly." Pat said simply, "I'll be there and drive you over."


            When Jack was in Sacred Heart Hospital for chemo/radiation, another of my old classmates -- I did part of my studies in Spokane -- Father Tom Williams, one of the world's good men, along with Pat Stewart, looked in on Jack fairly frequently. Jack liked and enjoyed Tom. Tom was at the Mass also. I asked Tom to say a few words about Jack. He began, "Jack Schall was a realist." This was really exactly what Jack was.


            Actually, Jack's death was moving in many ways. He had not told me that he was not really feeling well again. He died at morning Mass at a neighboring parish. Jack's little granddaughter Katie was to read something at the children's Mass that morning. Jack would never miss anything that his grandchildren did if he could help it. He had evidently told her, as she said later, that that he was going to die. In any case, he collapsed before he could hear her read. In the vestibule, a good nurse there at Mass revived him a bit; the ambulance came, but he died just after he arrived at the hospital of cardiac arrhythmia.


            This was the neighboring parish where Jack went every school day to pick up Katie and usually to see his niece Colleen, Jerry's daughter, and her three children, the oldest of whom went to the same school as Katie. Jack always had some sweet for these children and, as Colleen full of tears told me on the way to the airport to pick up her folks, "my kids sure loved Uncle Jack."


            Jack had said to one or the other of us in recent years, often to Jeanne when she suddenly developed cancer, that death is not something to be feared. As Jeanne said later, "Jack understood what such suffering was about." In fact, he told his good wife Gwen, that death was no doubt a thing of joy, that it would be like preparing for the happiest day of your life, like your wedding, when you knew it would be delightful but you were not quite sure why.


            As I flew out to the funeral of my brother, I said to myself and have said to others often since, that the very best thing that your parents give to you is brothers and sisters. It is perfectly all right to be an only child, of course, but there is an abundance of joy in having brothers and sisters. A good deal of what I think is good and true, of where I have been, and even of the people I know are because I have brothers and sisters. But if you do have brothers and sisters, I vividly realized that day, one of you must go first. Someone said to me once that you can never really fear death if someone you love has died. The only way that you can be spared the grief of this "one goes first" is not to have any brothers and sisters. What you realize from your brother's death is that your parents gave you an especially great gift in giving you a brother who in turn had a wife and children and grandchildren, each of whom is part of your life.


            My brother was two years behind me in school. He was a good athlete. He went to Bellarmine High in San Jose and the University of Santa Clara. He was in the army a couple of times in fact. I think he went to Fort Ord for Officers' Training. He met his wife -- herself as I mused later from Long Island -- while he was in Fort Lewis. We always thought Jack was a bit what is called "wild' while he was younger. He was famous in the Schall side of the family for always managing to break his arm or to get cut on the last day of our vacation at our Uncle Tom's farm near Pocahontas and thereby he extend all of our vacations another couple of weeks.


            Army and family settled him immediately. He worked all his life with the telephone system, either Long Distance or Pacific Bell. He knew a lot about everything and was a very sane and wise man. I used to love to chat with him. He insisted on honor and good work. I remember visiting him often in various places. When I first went to Europe for studies then to teach in Rome, in 1964, he was in New Jersey. I remember how he and the family delivered me to Kennedy Airport for my initial excursion into the Old World.  


            When I was at the University of San Francisco, he was across the Bay in Walnut Creek. I often was over there in the semesters I was at USF. I would stay overnight with the family, get up and take BART with him when he went to work downtown San Francisco. I would then take the #5 Bus back to USF. He and Gwen and the kids were always gracious to friends of mine. I have often recalled the remark of a Jesuit, who was at USF for the summer. He came over to dinner with Jack and Gwen and the family one night. On the way back, over the Bay Bridge, I remember the man, I recall his name being Pete, said to me, "Your brother has never met a stranger, has he?" That was pretty close to Jack.


            Jack and Gwen lived in Reno for several years. He retired there. I often took what I called the Gamblers' Special on Greyhound to Harrah's. Jack would pick me up and I would stay with them for a few days. Jack liked Reno. Jack always had good parish priests, as I recall, such as Msgr. Bolling in Reno. Jack and Gwen had a lovely home over looking the city and desert below and the often snow-capped peaks above Tahoe to the back. I helped him put in the back yard of that house. It looked like a park when he finally got done with it. A couple of years ago, one of Jack's daughters, Leslie, moved with her husband and two girls to Spokane from Reno. Jack and Gwen decided to move to Spokane. I think enjoyed it there also, though the first Summer had the big fires, the first Winter had eighty inches of snow, and a year or so later a drought set in..


            Looking through my family letters, I find several letters from Jack. He used to write or call frequently. His letter from Reno of November 7, 1988 began typically, "Well, tomorrow is the big day -- no more political ads. The news today reports Jessie Jackson comments to the effect that if Bush is elected, the 1992 campaign will begin on Wednesday. I guess our system works but something must be done."


            I have another letter from Reno, not sure what year. Our other brother Jerry, whom we both enjoyed immensely, is famous in the family for his accurate picks at the horse races. "It looks as if Jer has picked a real long shot for the Kentucky Derby," Jack wrote. "It is a horse named 'Olympiad' (75-1), but it appears it won't even be entered. The only race I could find it in, it finished last." Unfortunately, I do not have Jerry's usually terse remarks to our speculating on his picks. All of us know that when Jerry wins, as he sometimes does, we will never hear the end of it. Jack used to like to go to the racetrack in Spokane where, he claimed, as a senior citizen, he could park, buy a ticket and a form for a dollar, a far cry from the Alameda County Fairgrounds or Bay Meadows, where Jer likes to go.


            On March 7, another year, Jack wrote, "We have had a very mild winter with very little rain. Reno has had only 2.09" since last July 1 (normal is about 6"). The snow pack is less than 50% of normal. Fishing won't be much this year. I have been working on the 'far back' of the yard and have it ready for planting, It's still too early to plant as the temperature gets down to the mid 20's at night. I will start seeds in the wash room in the garage in a week or so and then transplant mid-April. I have also built my shelter (a poor man's gazebo). Gwen thinks I should tear it down." Jack liked his property, to plant and watch the cycles of nature. He liked to fish and to be in a place, his place.


            So this brother was a good man. The night before the funeral, we went to the funeral home. He looked just like he always did, strong, calm, gentle. We said the rosary together. I lead a mystery, then my brother, sister, brother-in-law, sister-in-law. Our step-sister Jo was there, Jack's son, and grandson. Somehow, I thought that rosary was a grace for all of us. His funeral and burial were quiet and dignified, as he would have wanted it. I managed not to weep saying Mass thanks to Fathers Steiner, Stewart, and Williams, but also because Jack would have wanted to hear what I had to say.  


            Mainly, again so I would not be weepy, I began my homily lightly. With some amusement I had noticed in Jack's bathroom a copy of John Paul II's Crossing the Threshold of Hope, a book his son-in-law, Sam, said Jack had read twice. Jack admired this Pope. I recalled too that there was always some problem in the family with both Jack's birthday and with his name. I, as the older brother, definitely recall that his name was "John Joseph Schall". I used to tell Jack that I ought to know because I was there. But on his army papers and birth certificate, he is "Jack Joseph Schall". His birthday, according to me, is August 25, but it is August 26th on the documents. The reason for this discrepancy, I figure, was that our uncle, "Doc" Kepler, mother's brother-in-law, delivered Jack. Uncle Doc evidently put "Jack" on the certificate and put the date in of the following morning after he was born.


            The important thing about a human being, of course, is not his date of birth or name even, but that he manages to get born in the first place and that when he dies, he knows what life is about, that he is made for the glory of the Lord. Jack knew this, I think, much better than his clerical brother. This was his realism, as Tom Williams rightly said. Clerics have good brothers and sisters, I am sure, so that someone will be around to keep them sane, no easy task. And brothers and sisters have children who call you "Uncle Jim" and carry on your brother's legacy to you. When I said the final prayer at graveside, I thought, the Church does it right in the steps it takes us through at the death of a brother -- the rosary, the Mass, the final prayers. John (Jack) Joseph Schall, RIP.



17) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 12 (December, 1994), 60-62.                                                .

AT A CHRISTMAS EVE MASS


            A couple of years ago, I was to spend Christmas Eve with one of my nephews and his dear family. For reasons of protecting any minimal sanity that may remain in the Holy Roman Catholic Church, I will not specify just where the following account took place. Following St. Luke's example, however, I will only say that I was an eye witness to the truth of every detail that follows in this sober account. I write these lines here lest posterity be deprived of what it is that actually can happen in this world some two millennia after the Decree of Caesar Augustus went forth. No one, not even I, could ever have imagined these things. Reality continues to surprise us by remaining both odder and funnier than fiction.


            The family procedure for Christmas Eve was as follows: my nephew's local parish was to have an early Mass, say about four or five in the evening, as I recall. While I was still in Washington, my niece-in-law had arranged that I concelebrate this Mass with the local priest who was saying the Mass. I do not recall if he was the pastor or the assistant. Since there are several children in my nephew's family, this Christmas Eve Mass seemed to be most fitting. In the Church, there would be a large Manger with its blessing, singing. I believe that one of my little grand-nieces was in the children's choir.


            I recall arriving fifteen minutes before Mass to a teeming Church. I remember wending my way to the sacristy with all its scurrying in preparation for the Mass. No one quite knew what to do with me as I had no assigned role in the ceremony except for a chair on which I was to sit. The other priest finally came. I introduced myself. He showed me the vestments. Milling about all over the place were altar boys, altar girls, and altar adults. We were at last organized and processed out the side door to the back of the Church. We were a long file of Crucifix, candles, books, gifts, I do not know what all. The music was in full tune. Children were running all over the Church. The place was jammed. Carefully, we muscled our way through the crowd to the elaborate Nativity scene. The priest blessed Joseph, Mary, and the Child in the crib. The animals and straw were appropriately scattered about the scene at a side altar amidst the Christmas trees and lights.


            Finally, we got to the main altar to begin Mass. Evidently, I had no role in this Mass as all essential parts such as reading and distribution of Communion were assigned to the altar adults. I doggedly followed the usual formula for concelebration. I was glad to be there. It came time to sit down for the Readings of the Epistles and Gospel (attention: I still call them Epistle, Gospel, and Mass). Only then, much to my astonishment, did I notice that there were three chairs, one for the principal celebrant, one for me, and a third already occupied by what appeared to my good eye as a very large, almost twice my size, stuffed bird, quite yellow.


            Now fortunately, the reader will be relieved to know, I did not panic at this unexpectedly pagan scene on Christmas Eve since by now, I am shell-shocked enough to expect just about anything in a Holy Roman Catholic Church service. Moreover, I recalled having another grand-niece in Spokane who had a chair made in the same image as this very large stuffed bird that was occupying the third chair to listen to the Epistle and the Gospel with me. After the altar adults had finished the Epistles, the priest went over to read the Gospel and give his homily. I was suddenly alone there to the left of the Altar, isolated with Big Bird. Actually, I recall something unusual with the altar pendant, but I cannot now recall what it was.


            Now I knew, and this was of considerable concern to me at the time, that my brother and my two nephews, not to mention my sister-in-law and my niece-in-law, were witnessing and watching with critical eyes this remarkable scene of Uncle Jim in chasuble and stole sitting beside Big Bird in yellow feathers listening to the Christmas Eve homily. I still recollect sitting there in utter disbelief that a Holy Roman Catholic Church could on Christmas Eve, along with myself, feature Big Bird as part of the Mass. I knew, so-to-speak, that there would be hell to pay when the family got to Christmas Eve dinner after Mass. I could already hear my nephew solemnly remarking to my brother how well Uncle Jim went on the altar with Big Bird. Fortunately, no one had a camera to record this preposterous but immortal scene.


              The worst was yet to come. Mind you, I just walked off the plane from the District of Columbia after having read term papers and handed in grades into what I took to be a normal Holy Roman Catholic Christmas Eve Mass in a local parish. I had not the slightest warning about what might follow. I am still not sure whether my nephew deliberately did not alert me to test my mettle or if even he was surprised. My suspicion is the former because he goes to the place every Sunday and surely this sort of thing could not have been entirely unexpected.


            Usually, I believe, the rubrics of the Church suggest that if another priest is present, when it comes time for distribution of Holy Communion, that he should assist at this service. Well, of course, this rule, in America at least, is observed in the breaking of it, normally. I was aware of that likelihood. So I went to Communion myself and dutifully sat back down next to my new clerical friend, Big Bird, while the altar adults distributed Communion. Though everyone but the small children went to Communion, I thought that Mass would soon end.


            Wrong. Suddenly before Big Bird's and my very eyes, there was a swarming of the very little children. The priest or altar adult, I forget which, announced that on Christmas Eve they were also celebrating their parish's monthly birthday treat for the children. Somehow I also recall, vaguely, a stuffed Snoopy around. He may have been a companion to Big Bird. Needless to say, I was much surprised to learn that this birthday treat on Christmas Eve was a Hershey's lollipop. Following Holy Communion, in the same format, they apparently gave out Hershey lollipops to every child who came up to the sanctuary.  


            Before I could catch my breath in realizing what was about to happen, however, the priest handed me a big basket of said Hershey lollipops and assigned me a distribution place, again just like Communion. So, here it was Christmas Eve, and I was celebrating children's birthday night by giving out lollipops after Communion. The altar adults handled the Communion; the priests took the lollipops. This ceremony had naturally nothing to do with the Nativity Scene. No attempt was made to associate gifts with the Christ Child. I think the children thought the lollipops came from Big Bird. The kids were smart enough to figure out that they did not come from Schall.


            Several of the little children, to be sure, all dressed up for Christmas Eve Mass, wanted to know if they could have more than one lollipop. Naturally, I did not want to violate the principles of distributive justice in this delicate affair. It looked like there were suddenly about a thousand little children under four cramming around Uncle Jim wanting their birthday treats. I was clearly out of my depth. Apparently, as far as I could tell, every child under four in that parish had a birthday in December. Or maybe the parish operated on a principle of compassion whereby it would be discrimination not to give a child a lollipop on lollipop birthday Sunday with Big Bird even if his birthday was in July or September.


            Anyhow, mentally acknowledging that the children were very cute in their Christmas outfits, I handed out my last birthday treat Mass lollipop and returned to sit beside Big Bird in a Holy Roman Catholic Church on Christmas Eve. As I sat there waiting for the last Blessing, wondering if indeed there would be a last Blessing -- I do nor recall a Creed -- while all the altar girls, altar boys, and altar adults lined up for the exit procession, looking out on this festive gathering, I fortunately not catching my nephew's eye. I knew he would be in hysterics and I would begin to giggle uncontrollably at this incredible scene.  


            But more soberly, I did wonder to myself if I should write to the local Bishop. As I mulled it over, I thought to myself, "No, it would do no good. If the local bishop does now know that lollipops are being given out as birthday treats on Christmas Eve, if he does not know that Big Bird occupies the seat of the Deacon at the Holy Mysteries, he must be so utterly incompetent that it would not be worth the effort." "On the other hand," I thought, "if the bishop did know these things went on in his parishes, then the situation is even worse. Either, in perfect dilemma form, he was incompetent or a fool." So I dropped that line of musing, not wanting to be uncharitable to the local ordinary on Christmas Eve.


            Still, as I processed out of the sanctuary to the strains of "Adeste Fideles", I put it up to a bet to myself. "Would you, following the logic of your horseracing brother, who was also observing these things in his son's Holy Roman Catholic parish, bet that the bishop did or did not know about the lollipops and Big Bird as deacon for Christmas Eve Mass?" You will not be surprised to know that, on the whole, I bet that he did know.


            When Mass was over and I chatted unbelieving with the altar adults, with parishioners, with children, and, finally outside, with my nephew, he said to me laughing but with what I thought to be a touching sense of responsibility for the mental health of his aging uncle, "I'm sorry, Uncle Jim, I knew it would be bad." And then I believe he added with his arm on my shoulder, "You really looked good up there with Big Bird." At least he did not complain that I did not save him a Hershey lollipop.


            I recount this tale, this true tale, to my Holy Roman Catholic friends at this Christmastide to give them comfort and consolation. Surely this sort of stuff is madness. No doubt, there is a place for Big Bird and for Hershey lollipops, even at Christmas time, under the tree for the little ones. All that we need, however, is surely the Crib, the Manger, the Christmas stories, the music, the lovely and moving account of the Birth of the Lord as we read it in the Gospels. It seemed sad to me to see a parish confused on Christmas Eve by symbols that could in no way match the normal Christmas drama of our tradition. I know the Christmas tree is from the pagan Germans, the Yule log from the English, and "White Christmas" form the Americans. I guess what I want to say is that at least once a year, let's get it straight because only when it is straight is Christmas, the Birth of Our Lord, what really moves our souls.


            I will conclude by citing the new Catechism: "The Word became flesh so that we might know God's love: 'In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him' (1 Jn 4:9). 'For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son , that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life' (Jn 3:16)" (#458).


            When we walk out of Christmas Eve Mass with our dear families, hopefully ourselves not having been distracted by Big Bird on the Holy Altar or our children by free birthday Hershey lollipops after Communion, or even by Uncle Jim sitting there midst it all, this is what should stick in the depth of our souls, this only Son sent into the world that we should have eternal life. This is what our priests and bishops should be sure we understand and realize on this Holy Night. And if they persist in confusing us with Big Birds and lollipops, we still have the Catechism and the accounts of Luke and Matthew.



18) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 10 (July-August, 1992), 48-50.                                             

THE CRAFTSMAN


            I do a good deal of walking. In the instructions to my new Dexter walk shoes (more anon), I am told "walking conditions almost all of your 650 muscles, and uses almost all of your 206 bones." Now, I happen never to have known the number of my muscles, let alone bones. None the less, I do not think I have ever walked "just for the exercise." Somehow, I have always found a walk a kind of everyday small adventure in which something unexpected somehow always happens, even if it is just recalling the word "thorough" or being startled by the small bird I saw just now sort of flitting backwards up the library stairs.  


            However, no matter what you think of going "barefoot in the summer" as we used to say when we were kids in Iowa, walking requires shoes (and socks). I wear the outside of my heels down pretty rapidly, so I try to put on a pair of rubber cleats every so often. This requires a shoe repair shop. In San Francisco, I used to go to one on Clement Street just off Aguello. Here, in Washington, early on I found a shop just over the P Street Bridge going out of Georgetown, about fifteen or twenty blocks out the front gate of the University. I do not know the name of the shop or the wonderful old gentleman who runs it. Just as you go towards Dupont Circle, it is on the left, next to a liquor store, next to the pub on the corner, by the bus stop.


            On a beautiful May Saturday morning, I had a couple of pairs of black shoes that needed cleats. I also was in the mood for a good walk. Classes were just over; the dogwoods were still in bloom. In the meantime, I had had to toss away my heavier walking shoes. What they say about old shoes is true, I think. You sort of grow attached to them. No matter how odd the shape of your feet, old shoes somehow accommodate themselves to them.


            These particular old shoes I bought down on F Street maybe ten or so years ago. I bought them for a remarkable $22. They were the only brand of its kind in the store the day I bought them, so they must have been remainders. They were leather, perhaps made in Yugoslavia or someplace and the right size, 9½ D. They were, for a walking shoe, a rather handsome shoe. As I give shoes a beating, they had to be repaired once or twice a year. Finally, after about nine years, they developed a tear on both insteps, which were also repaired with a handy patch. At last, however, I decided that they could not be repaired any longer. The left sole completely broke in two. So I gave them up, not without a touch of nostalgia for all the sights these shoes and I had seen together.


            In the meantime, with the guidance of a friend not impressed with my purchasing habits, I bought a pair of sort of imitation Rockport walking shoes by the name of Decker. These shoes felt good from the moment I put them on. They were a darker, softer leather, lighter in weight than the Yugoslav variety. But I examined the heels and knew I would wear them down in three or four good walks if I did not have cleats put on them too. Cannot someone invent heels that do not wear down? Of course, that would end the repair business, like fluoride ends the cavity business. However, I was not sure if cleats would stay on this sort of shoe.


            I got to the shoe shop about nine-thirty. No one was in the shop but the cobbler. The old man was working away. He has one of those old fashioned shoe repair shops -- smells shoes and polish. I noticed a lithograph of an old time cobbler on the wall sponsored by Biltrite. I asked him if Biltrite was still in business. He told me "no." I explained to him what I wanted. "When do you want them?" "Now, would be preferable." As he had done this quick job for me before, I did not hesitate to ask.


            I showed him my new Decker model. He told me he could put cleats on these also. I took my shoes off and also gave him the other two pairs.


            He took the shoes over to his polishing-scraping machine whirring away to clean the heels off. I asked him if these machines were German. He did not think so. "What if they need repairs?" "Oh," he told me, "that can be a problem. It is not like the car which you can get repaired any place. I have to call the repairman and make an appointment. When the machine is not working, I am in trouble." I asked him how the business was going. He told me that there are only a few old time repair shops like his left.


            About this time another man came in and stood beside me at the counter. He joined the conversation. He seemed to know the old man. Evidently, he had a pair of shoes to pick up. I asked the old man how long he had been in this shop, "Thirty-two years." The other man informed me that he himself had been coming there since 1972. "This man is no ordinary man," the man told me. "I am an information specialist. This man is not a specialist. He is a craftsman. He rebuilds shoes. I need that. Almost every two weeks or so." I thought this was odd that someone would need to have shoes repaired so often. But I agreed, this old man was a craftsman, a wonderful old word going back to the guilds, to the notion that the making and repairing of things should be a kind of skill, art, the recta ratio factabilium, something one learns mostly by doing, by doing well, honestly.


            The customer said that he hoped the old man would stay in business for a long time. The old craftsman had intimated that he would like to sell the place. In fact, I had kidded him about selling it to some bar. He said that he could not get anyone willing to do this kind of work. He told us that he had his sons in when they were young, but within a couple of weeks the were itching to get out. "But they had an education. They are working in jobs with time off and vacations. I have to work all the time. No work, no money coming in." I said, "Well, your boys will take care of you when you are old." He laughed and said he would take care of himself.


            All the time the old shoe craftsman was busy repairing my shows. At the same time, he continued putting cleats on various sets of women's high heels he had hanging from his workbench. I could smell the glue and hear him hammer behind the low bench headboard.


            The customer next to me asked him how much for his repaired shoes, which I was holding up and admiring the craftsmanship of the repair job. I suggested "about a hundred dollars." The customer said about thirty. The old man settled for twenty-five. The customer wrote out a check. As the he left, again expressing his gratefulness that this man was still in business, I glanced over my shoulder to notice that he was shuffling along as a man who had some limb impediment. I suddenly realized why he was so grateful to this old man who could carefully rebuild his shoes as he would wear them out so fast on the sidewalks. Another customer came in to collect his shoes. Another twenty-five.


            I asked the old man how he put the cleats on those tiny women's high heels. He brought over a box with some long spikes at the end of which were the tiny cleats. He explained how it worked. He said that at one time, women had steel or aluminum heels, but they tore things up too much. He then showed me some women's shoes. "These cost a hundred dollars or so," he told me. "Some lady from one of the hotels brought them in as she has just broken them." "They cannot walk too much in these streets with high heels can they?" I asked referring to the brick sidewalks outside. "No," he said.


            The old man next held up another pair of black lady's shoes for my inspection. Even I could see they were elegant. "These cost three hundred dollars," he told me, "but they are not worth it. These salesmen can talk them into buying these things for three hundred dollars and that's it." I was about to suggest that he should gear his repairs according to the price of the shoe, but thought better of it.


            A middle-aged Mexican gentleman came in and was listening to us. Finally, the old man said to him, "You want the paper?" The man nodded. So the old man went into the back room and brought out the morning Post and gave it to him. "Bring it back," he told him, "I want to read it." Another old man came in with a cup of coffee and brought it over to the craftsman without a word. I suppose this happens every day in that shop.


            Next, as if he sensed that I might be interested in taking over his shop, the old man brought over another inexpensive pair of woman's slippers. "These cost her twenty dollars at a sale," he told me. "She wanted cleats on heel and toe. Look at this material. No telling what it is. Trouble is today, they make shoes all over the world. No set standards." To prove his point, he brought me a pile of old heels in various stages of decay. "You cannot tell if this is paper or leather sometimes from the outside, but these are paper. They won't last at all." He brought over another pair of shoes to show how difficult it was to tell whether a heel was leather or paper.


            "Nobody wants to do this work any more," the craftsman returned to the topic of his profession. "The new repair shops in the malls won't do this kind of careful repair work. They want just to do the easy stuff. Man comes in with a hundred dollar pair of shoes and the shop in the mall wants to charge him twenty dollars for a little polishing." He became philosophical, "Shoes nowadays are made to be thrown away, not repaired." These guys (apparently referring to your average DC politician) buy a two hundred dollar pair of shoes and toss them away rather than have then repaired. What's money to them?"


            I looked down on the counter to examined the reading material he had stacked on it. I had noticed that the crippled man had taken a couple of magazines with him. He probably had brought some back. The craftsman had on the counter a January 4, 1992 copy of The Economist of London. "You have some good journals here," I told him. He also had lots of the usual Time and such. Nothing off color, I was glad to see. He laughed.


            After hammering in the last nails -- which I was glad to see, as some repairmen use staples that last about one walk -- the craftsman brought over my six shoes. I had been standing in my stocking feet. "How much?" I asked him. He added, "let's see, two dollars and two dollars and two dollars, that will be six dollars." I paid him. Earlier he had said that he should be in the liquor business like the man next door. "It is easier, all you do is hand him the bottle; you do not have to do any work." I replied, "Yes, but you get robbed in liquor stores." He corrected my ignorance of the criminal mind, "why just last week they broke my front window."


            After I put on my now cleated Deckers and picked up the other two pairs of shoes, going out the door, I said to the craftsman, "Goodbye, I will see you next time I wear these heels down. I enjoyed talking to you." And I did.


            Somehow on that May Saturday morning, as I swung along in my new Deckers, back along P Street to Georgetown, now sporting a new, firmly secured cleat on each heel, all my 650 muscles and 206 bones just felt better. 



19) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 14 (May, 1996). .

A LITTLE BIT OF DEISM


            In some old notes, written in my own inimitable script, a script that B. F. Smith described, not wholly inaccurately, as "your familiar, illegible scrawl", I came across the following two citations, one from St. Thomas' Summa Contra Gentiles, the other from John Paul II. Both made the same point, a point contrary to our modern way of thinking but at the heart of Christian doctrine.


            First, St. Thomas: "But unless divine grace aid us, we cannot love or delight in true righteousness." Secondly, the Holy Father, from a talk to some Asian Bishops on January 15, 1995: "The Church's future will not be solely the result of our human efforts but, more fundamentally, the work of the Divine Spirit whom we must not impede but assist."


            Let it be noticed for the record that I can sometimes, with effort, read my own handwriting. But are these citations not rather anti-humanistic? Cannot we recognize and delight in true righteousness with our own faculties? Why cannot we assist the work of the Divine Spirit more than we can impede it? What is so inadequate with "our human efforts"?


            Yet, we must ask ourselves whether what we can reach with our own efforts is sufficient to achieve what we really want? Are we made for our human powers alone?


            In St. Augustine's time, an English monk by the name of Pelagius held, or was thought to have held, that we could attain salvation by our own efforts. If we just rolled up our sleeves, we could dispense with grace. Logically, this would mean that we did not need a redeemer. We could achieve the divine purpose for which we were created by our own unaided efforts. It was thought that anything less, any dependence on God, would demean man. Most modern humanists tend to be Pelagians. It appeared that we could be like gods without being gods, something that the Church rather frowned upon.


            What brought these passages to mind was my happening on a brief comment that Josef Cardinal Ratzinger made at the Roman Synod of the Lebanese Bishops late in 1995. Ratzinger can be remarkably frank. He had missed speaking earlier at the Synod but wanted to make certain remarks about the basic document that the Lebanese bishops were discussing.


            The document contained this passage: "The Christian adheres to this Word, makes it 'his' in the Church and thus enters into communion with God and with his brothers in the faith." At first sight, this seems like a worthy sentiment. Ratzinger noticed, however, that the biblical text to which this passage referred was somewhat different: "For all that I have heard from the Father I have made known to you" (Jn. 15:15). The subject of the biblical text is Christ, while the subject of the document's text is "the Christian." This change suggested to the German Cardinal presuppositions of modern self-sufficiency.


            "We are the basically the acting subject. We are the ones building the Church, building the kingdom of God," Ratzinger summarized this view.

 

Western activism has spread -- at least as an idea -- to almost every part of the world. We easily forget that God is not only Creator and Revealer in the past, but the word of the Lord is always valid.... God is always the acting agent in history; his actions precede ours and we can only act in a good way by conforming to the action of God. I feel that a little bit of deism is also found today in the Church; it is so much more important to speak unequivocally of the fact that God, who is always at work, is at work today.


Here is my title, A Little Bit of Deism -- found sometimes in the Church itself, a de-emphasis on sin and grace, on attentiveness to God's action in history.


            Deism held that once God set the world in motion; the rest was up to us. We thus need little prayer, little attention to a natural law or to grace. We can do it by ourselves. We will be proud of what we make by ourselves, even though it is not the righteousness to which we are called in delight and glory.


            What is the alternative to a little bit of deism? The German Cardinal concludes, "The knowledge of God is eternal life. We must always speak more forcefully about this dimension of our faith" (Osservatore Romano, Jan. 10, 1996). No purely humanist end gives us this purpose or the means to it. This is why St. Thomas said that "unless divine grace aid us, we cannot love or delight in true righteousness." Modernity's results, in many ways, prove this thesis, as Cardinal Ratzinger intimated.



20) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 13 (May, 1995), 57-58.                                                         .

ON FALLING DOWN ON "M" STREET


            One Saturday afternoon in late Winter, I decided to take one of my usual walks. I put on a jacket with a hood, Levis, some sturdy shoes, gloves. It was chilly. The particular walk I took that Saturday goes down Prospect Street out of the University, to 33d Street in Georgetown, across "M" Street, which is the main arterial leading back across the Key Bridge into Virginia, and, the other way, connects with Pennsylvania Avenue and downtown Washington. Once across "M" Street, I usually cross the foot-bridge over the C&O Canal, down to "K" Street under the Whitehurst Freeway, to the River. I continue along the Potomac, by Georgetown Harbor, which has such a lovely Fountain. This is at the bend in the River, Watergate and the Kennedy Center are on the other side of the bend, with Roosevelt Island across the waters.


            Then I return back along Rock Creek Parkway, up into Georgetown by the Four Seasons, cross "M" Street just at the Meiggs Bridge over Rock Creek which separates Georgetown from Washington proper. There I turn back to the University, usually along "N" Street to cross Wisconsin Avenue. It is a most pleasant walk. Some wonderful vistas along the way never cease to delight me. My theory is that no one, but no one, should stay on a university campus all day and forget that the rest of the world is still out there, even if it is the rather odd world of the Nation's Capital.


            Anyhow, on this particular Saturday, I cut down a kind of side street between 34th and 33d to "M" Street. As I came along to 33d Street, there were two fire trucks blocking 33d, with ladders up over the building. I could see no smoke or fire; but, with everyone else, I gawked a bit at what might be happening. I walked around the fire truck, to cross "M" Street at the light.


            When the "walk" sign went on, I stepped down only to feel my right ankle give out somehow. I fell right down on the street, though with, as I think of it in retrospect, a rather graceful fall. Naturally, when I fall I worry about my one good eye, but I fell heads up on my knees, stomach, and left hand. Needless to say, I was grateful all the traffic was stopped; otherwise I would have been a gonner, though optimistically I presume I would have had sense enough not to step out against the traffic light. I picked myself up, felt that my knees might have been scratched and continued across "M" Street before what I presume to be the amazed eyes of the several drivers, passengers, and pedestrians stopped at the lights. I checked my knees at the next place I could brace my foot, but nothing seemed wrong. I took off my glove to find my left thumb was bleeding at the nail, but I could move it all right. So I wrapped it in a handkerchief, put my glove back on, and, undaunted, continued my walk across the Canal and down the hill to the River.


            The reader is dying to know, of course, why I fell in the first place, right? As I have subsequently told this story to several friends, the same speculation comes up. When he first heard of this incident from my sister in Medford, Oregon, my youngest and most critical brother in California, in a feeble attempt to be amusing at the expense of his oldest and, in at least one quarter, wiser sibling, conjectured that the fall might be due to inebriation. But I assured him that, as always, as he should be the first to know after all these years, such conjecture was totally contrary to my well-known character. I was, as ever, perfectly sober, having just had, I believe, a hamburger at lunch at the Community.


            The real cause of this now famous fall on "M" Street was a bout of what appears to be gout in my right ankle, for which at the time, I was dutifully taking Indicin. However, it was still tender when, to avoid a puddle of water, I stepped off the rather high curb without paying much attention to what I was doing.


            But it is at this point wherein the theoretical speculation about the cause and events surrounding the fall become interesting and why I am recounting this momentous incident in these august pages. Several of my friends and my other brother in Spokane have also joined in this wild speculation, as I have proposed the issue to them. To test their virtue, I initially, by way of hypothesis, ask them: "Let us suppose that some old man falls down on 'M' Street at 33d during a relatively crowded Georgetown noon-hour. Two fire fully manned trucks stand right there. Would you not expect alert citizen to rush over to help -- as no one did?" Since I am the one asking this question, most of my friends and brothers have sense enough to realize this is a trap. The key word is "old" -- that is, if they admit the situation as I describe it, they know that they will be accused of calling me an "old man"! Most of them, to their credit, skillfully avoid this pitfall.


            At this point, however, several other not unfriendly critics have taken up my brother's ungrounded suspicions, only from the other angle. They reply that the reason folks did not rush out of their cars and shops to help me was because they presumed that I, as the fallen gentleman, was indeed "loaded", as they say. They did not want to be "involved", as it is put today. They did not want to hassle the whole thing with some senior citizen who obviously did not know what he was doing. I assured them that this weak justification was also completely invalid.


            Next, like a good Christian, I bring up the case of the Good Samaritan as it is applied to the streets of Georgetown, however mind-boggling that supposition might appear to be in the murder capital of the nation. I suggest that here we have a case in which just anyone, myself included, falls down off a curb, in front of stopped cars. This is the perfect case. No Levite, Priest, or Samaritan appeared to pick me up off the pavement. Not even the firemen, who are supposedly equipped to deal with such things with all sorts of resuscitation equipment, lifted a finger. Am I to conclude that there are no Good Samaritans in Georgetown? that we are in a wholly pagan and secularized society?

            One other school of thought suggested that I got up too quickly, that everyone was so shocked that a fine looking specimen like myself could fall down on "M" and 33d that all were in a state of initial paralysis. Had I only remained collapsed there for a couple of minutes, I would have found my wounded thumb being bandaged in some plushy Georgetown shop out of the kindness of some proprietor's heart.  


            Yet, another view of this intellectually fertile situation intimates that it was because Schall, dressed in Levis and walking shoes, is inconspicuous, if not downright suspicious. Had he been, on the contrary, dressed in formal clerical garb for his afternoon stroll, surely some good soul would have come to help, as did the kind young naval officer a couple of months ago when he saw a helpless priest, to be sure, myself, stranded with a flat tire on Key Bridge. These days when clerics are getting absolutely terrible headlines in the local press, I admit that the thing could go either way. Nor do I have any problem wearing clerical garb as apparently do so many, particularly academic, clerics. The fact is, clerical garb is not designed for a game of basketball, or golf, or a good brisk walk in the afternoon.


            Still another theory has to do with the gentlemen who sit at practically every corner in Georgetown with a Dixie Cup in hand asking every passer-by for money. Some perceptive observers about the reason why no one of these on-lookers picked me up on "M" Street was that these men with cups who saw me fall may have read my Sense and Nonsense column several years ago called "The Begging Industry" (June, 1993). Here I had rashly expressed some doubt about the authenticity or value of having so many able-bodied males at these posts and to whom, I thought, no one should ever give any money. In this view, these young men with the cups, on seeing who it was flat on the pavement, said to themselves, "Let him lie! Serves him right!"


            A variant version of the same theory is that Schall, dressed in Levis and walking shoes, does not look like he could possibly have a dime to his name. Thus, the reason why none of these begging gentlemen came out, not to mention the other criminal types who, according to the press, freely roam the streets of Washington, was that any self-respecting beggar or robber figured that it was useless to get blood out of a turnip, as they say. They knew with practiced eye that even if they robbed this hapless man with the gouty ankle flung unexpectedly onto the "M" Street asphalt, they would go away empty handed.


            What are the metaphysical conclusions to be drawn from these remarkable speculations? Needless to say, I might harken back to the title of what I call my "English" book, since it was published there, however uncharacteristically, namely, The Praise of 'Sons of Bitches': On the Worship of God by Fallen Men. The word "fallen" in the context of that title referred to "The Fall", to Original Sin, to the fact that even though we are members of a race that has "fallen", we are still to praise God. In this theological sense, we literally have here the classic case of a "fallen man" who quite literally falls in the streets of Georgetown. It will be noticed that all the reflections about the actually "fallen" man, namely, myself, do refer back in one way or another to The Fall, even gout in classical literature is said, I hope erroneously, to be due to high living and over indulgence.


            A fall in a street thus can also be a symbol for The Fall. The Fall implies a standard that we know about but to which we do not rise. An accident generally has a cause that produces an unanticipated event of another kind when it crosses another cause. Had I been conscious that I might fall on "M" Street, I would have taken care to step more gently, hence no fall. The fall in the street was the result of an ankle not working normally, of a standard not being maintained. This discrepancy between the standard and what does not come up to it can be physical or moral. People can let old gentlemen lie in the street. Robbers can take advantage of the weak and helpless. Some people do fall because they drink too much, and some people do not want to be bothered with them in this condition because it is almost impossible to know what to do. On the other hand, you might have fallen in front of a truck when it could not stop.


            The fact is that we are finite beings; we are men who fall. Moreover, we belong to a Fallen Race. In both conditions, finite and fallen, we are to praise God. This last conclusion is, approximately, what I learned at 33d and "M" Street after stepping off the curb and falling, as I said, rather gracefully. I use the word "gracefully" on purpose, of course, because once we understand The Fall, we begin to understand grace. And once we understand grace, God's gift to us to enable us, if we will, to praise Him, even as He is, even as we are, "fallen", as I say, then we can begin to know why younger brothers are entertained at the predicament of older ones. We can begin to understand why, after all, our "fallenness" does not stand in the way either of our brother's or of our own amusement at the sight of ourselves in Levis and walking shoes sprawled flat on the roadway at 33d and "M" Street in Georgetown wondering if anyone else noticed how our fall related to The Fall..


21) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 10 (December, 1992), 44-45.                                                

"GRACE HAS APPEARED!"


            Several months ago, I received a letter from Professor John Schrems at Villanova University, an old friend and classmate. A couple of years ago, the two of us had gathered together the remarkable academic essays of Father Charles N. R. McCoy (On the Intelligibility of Political Philosophy, The Catholic University of America Press, 1989). McCoy had been teaching at Catholic University during the time we were both graduate students. McCoy remains one of the hidden and most incisive intellectual presences in the American Church and in American political philosophy.


            In any case, in connection with this project, Professor Schrems had received a communication from Msgr. Francis Schmitt in Nebraska about a brief essay that McCoy had written in the old Orate Fratres, in June, 1941. We had not known of this essay when we were doing our book. It was an essay entitled "Let Israel Hope in the Lord."


            In this brief essay, in words that are still both familiar and pertinent, McCoy wrote:

 

We feel the tension and instability of these times -- the uncertainty of getting a job, of providing for a family, the fear of war, the bewilderment and resentment at propaganda. And in these circumstances there is a peculiar danger to our confidence in God, not the danger so much of our losing that confidence, but a danger more subtle and not uncommon. It is the danger of a sort of religious connivance with skepticism. We are likely to regard the whole world as unregenerate -- that world in whose redemption we are actually supposed to be co-sharers with Christ.


That is a remarkable phrase, "a religious connivance with skepticism." We are likely to regard, as a consequence, the whole world "as unregenerate," in which case, we will consider that the whole project of salvation is inner-worldly and up to our own talents and enterprise. But we are redeemed. We do not have to do it all ourselves, even when we do something ourselves.


            At the end of this essay of McCoy, Orate Fratres added as a kind of filler, a brief account from the "Third Rhythm on the Nativity" of St. Ephrem. It is such a lovely passage at Christmas-tide.

 

The Bread that He brake exceeded the world's needs, for the more it was divided, the more it multiplied exceedingly. With much wine also He filled the waterpots. They drew it out, yet it failed though it was abundant: though of the Cup that He gave the draught was small, very great was its strength, so that there is no stint thereto. A Cup is He that containeth all strong wines, and also a Mystery, in the midst of which is He Himself. The one Bread that He brake hath no bound, and the one Cup that He mingled hath no stint. The Wheat that was sown, on the third day came up and filled the Garner of Life.


This is the Mystery, in the midst of which "is He Himself."


            At Midnight Mass in St. Peter's in 1984, John Paul II's Homily was entitled, "Grace Has Appeared!" In this marvelous Homily, the Holy Father, that wonderful and wise man, said to us,

 

Nearly two thousand years now divide us from "that time". And behold we still come, we still gather together at midnight. We recall from afar that one unique Night in the history of humanity. We belong to that generation that has openly shifted the emphasis from God to the world, from eternity to temporal things....


Yes, we do belong to this generation of humanity, we often are in "connivance" with skepticism, precisely "religious" connivance, The problems of the world are primarily to be found, I suspect, in the hearts of the believers, of those shepherds and pastors and believers on whose faith the world depends. When they are not faithful, the world remains "unregenerate" in practice. For they are not there; they have "openly shifted the emphasis from God to the world...." The danger is "more subtle and not uncommon ... the danger of a sort of religious connivance with skepticism."


            The Holy Father continued, "Some people think, are we not perhaps already in a post-Christian era? Some people have made atheism the programme for human progress." Yes, we are in a post-Christian era. Atheism is proposed as progress. We who "recall from afar that one unique Night in the history of humanity," we know that human progress has replaced God as our idol. And yet, the replacement is not working. We have seen the fall of marxism and have learned little. It is a remarkable lesson, our blindness.


            The following day, Christmas Day, 1984, in his Message, Urbi et Orbi, the Holy Father added, "Are there not today, all over the world, many 'rich people' who are 'frighteningly poor'?"


            An old letter from a friend of mine I came across of late reminded me of Mother Teresa's book -- which in turn reminded me of something she said about the rich who are frighteningly poor. In recent years, I have been rather insistent on the fact that the poor are human beings. They are not simply automata of theories and ideologies. That is, just because people are poor, "frighteningly poor," does not mean that the whole drama of salvation, of freedom, of human worth and honor is not still theirs. Neither the rich nor the middle class are closer to God than the poor. And, by the same token, however difficult it is for the rich to gain the Kingdom of God, they can do so. They too are more than ideological integers.


            "The spiritual poverty of the Western world is much greater than the physical poverty of our people," Mother Teresa said. "You in the West have millions of people who suffer such terrible loneliness and emptiness. They feel unloved and unwanted" (The Daily Meditations of Mother Teresa, Ignatius, p. 226).


            In a recent column in the New York Guardian (September, 1992), Christopher Hitchens wrote that this same Mother Teresa is a "dangerous, sinister person ... whose ostensible works of charity ... actually are an exercise in propaganda." I would hate to be someone who sees such good as evil.


            My friend wrote of Mother Teresa:

 

I was quite struck with Mother Teresa's diagnosis of loneliness being the worst disease. She is so right. It is the most emaciating disease whose metastasis goes from spirit to will. Actually, I have been reflecting on your delight in, enthusiasm for, her book of meditations. She loves others more than she loves herself. I cannot help but connect these meditations from Mother Teresa with the education of women. I really do believe that a woman's education is important only if it potentiates her ability to love. A woman's ability to love others more than she loves herself is the identifying trait that separates women from feminists, mothers from career women, wives from lovers, real sisters from nuns who would be priests. And it is this capacity to love, generating from the very essence of woman, which motivates her to give more than she will ever receive and in so doing receive more than she ever realized possible. Mother Teresa is probably the greatest educator of women in the 20th Century -- not because of all she knows but because of all she loves.


If this be the "propaganda" of Mother Teresa, as it is, the world depends on its truth and will not solve its poverty and its loneliness without it.


            "Are there not today, all over the world, many 'rich people' who are 'frighteningly poor'?"


            "Behold we still come, we still gather together at midnight."


            "A Cup is He that containeth all strong wines, and also a Mystery, in the midst of which is He Himself."


            "Grace has appeared!"


            "The Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us" -- this is from the Prologue of St. John, that we read at the Mass during the Day of Christmas. "And we saw His glory, the glory that is His as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth." Let us still recall "from afar that one unique Night in the history of humanity," that Night of Christ's Birth among us who remain within the history of humanity, still approaching the Third Millennium, as the Holy Father constantly reminds us.


22) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 12 (March, 1994), 61-62. 


ON BEING GREATLY PLEASED


            This is March and it seems fitting to begin with something about St. Patrick. Almost everyone knows that his Feast is on the Seventeenth, two days before the Feast of St. Joseph and eight days before the Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lady, on the Twenty-Fifth. These days, throughout the land, in places like the "Old Brogue" or "Ireland's Own" or "The Blarney Stone", I suspect that St. Patrick is more remembered than Our Lady and Her Husband. Guinness is more familiar than grace, though I have nothing against the former, especially when it is cut with about half beer.


            New York seems to have tried to have a St. Patrick's Day Parade that includes everyone but the Irish with principles, or at least to include so many others that the Irish are lost in their own marchings. One of the signs of the disorder of our time, I suspect, is that we insist that being ourselves and among our own is either anti-human or anti-American or one because of the other or vice versa.


            Incidently, I like that expression "The Signs of the Disorders of Our Time." John XXII and Vatican II were seemingly frequently and glowingly talking about the "Signs of the Times". But I think they missed the boat about what was really going on

in our time. We are much more into disorder than into order, as far as I can judge.


            In an essay on "St. Patrick", the date of writing of which my edition of his Selected Essays, does not indicate, Belloc, the greatest of essayists in our tongue, wrote, "When I was last in Ireland, I bought in the town of Wexford a coloured picture of St. Patrick which greatly pleased me." I read that passage on the coldest night of the Winter.


            On reading Belloc's sentence, I thought, how nice it is, among us, that very capacity "to be pleased." We are beings who can be pleased. This is almost our ontological status, an awareness that what we want most, we do not already possess. What we want must come to us from beyond our own making or control.


            We have often heard the expression, I suppose, "it is impossible to please him." This expression usually refers to a rather finicky person who will never be satisfied with anything. In another sense, however, this sentence could be the sign of a perfectionist, or at least of someone who thinks that the "perfect" is worth striving for. In this sense, the expression

would mean that someone was not going to be satisfied with what did not really please him until he got it right. We think of the pianist who practices again and again just finally to get it right.


            But Belloc said that it was the picture of St. Patrick that pleased him. He found this picture in Wexford. We are not to suppose that this picture was a famous painting or even a reproduction of a famous stained-glass window in an Irish church. He may not even have thought it a good picture. Belloc in fact described the picture. It was mostly "green in colour". In it St. Patrick had a mitre on his head and a crosier in his hand.


            In the picture, moreover, St. Patrick was evidently bent on the business for which he and Ireland have become famous before the invention of Guinness, namely, he was "turning into the sea a number of nasty reptiles: snakes and toads and the rest." I must confess that I had heard that St. Patrick had driven the snakes out of Ireland, but I did not know that he had also driven the toads out. I wonder if there are no toads in Ireland? That seems to me like carrying grace too far. I have been startled by an ugly toad now and then, but I know that they usually just sit there and eat flies and bugs. Surely, there are bugs and flies in Ireland?


            Belloc even tells us just why he bought the picture -- "I bought this picture because it seemed to me as modern a piece of symbolism as ever I had seen." Since it was this modern symbol, he purchased it "for my children and for my home." I surely would like to see this picture. I wonder if it still exists somewhere in Belloc's memorabilia? Does Belloc mean that a mostly green picture of the great Irish bishop, in ecclesiastical garb, driving the snakes and toads out of Ireland is symbolic of something? Or is the picture just itself, not symbolizing anything but itself?


            Belloc tells us that after he paid for the picture of St. Patrick, there were "a few pence change." He did not want this change, so he gave it "to the person who sold him the picture." We do not know this person's name, gender, age, but presumably we know, unlike a random marcher in New York's St. Patrick's Day Parade, that he or she was Irish, there in Wexford.


            Belloc then uses what seems to me to be bad grammar to make a lovely point about our faith. "The person who sold me the picture said they would spend the change in candles for St. Patrick's altar." Since this passage was written before the feminist depredations on our language and since Belloc would never have yielded to such nonsense, I have to assume this is just bad grammar on his part. That is, person is singular and the pronoun, they, that modifies it is plural. "The person ... they...." It should be either the "persons ... they", presuming, which does not appear to be the case, that more than one clerk were involved in the selling of St. Patrick's picture, or the "person ... he...." But perhaps there is some obscure principle of grammar that I do not know about to cover the case. I am always loathe to think Belloc ever used bad grammar.


            In any case, what does Belloc conclude from this fact that the clerk or clerks would not accept the few pence change for him or themselves but offered it at the Altar of St.Patrick at the local Church in Wexford? He concludes, "So St. Patrick is still alive." Belloc is obviously pleased to observe this in Wexford.


            I cannot think of a more Christian message for St. Patrick Day than that one, that the Great Saint of Green Ireland is still alive. This is after all our faith. I confess it greatly pleases me too.


23) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 10 (April, 1992), 40-42.                                                       

NO LIGHT SORROW


            In an Easter Meditation he published in The Tablet of London on April 8, 1939, Msgr. Ronald Knox wrote that in comparison to other political and civil societies in history, the Church has not changed much. The sequence of rebellion and radical change that appears to be inherent in other institutions does not seem so evident in the Church.


            We in the Church still recite the same Creed. We still believe in life everlasting, in the communion of saints, in the forgiveness of sins, in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. "Those who know her best know that she does not merely continue to exist; she lives. Her vitality is profound, witnessed from age to age not by revolutions or new deals, but by the fresh shoots of devotion and charity which she puts forth continually, age after age" (The Pastoral Sermons of Ronald Knox, 1960).


            This then contemporary reference to by-gone New Deals and failed revolutions seems both poignant and fitting today when we begin to realize the God is not going to change the world in our way, even if it is sometimes changed to our liking. No doubt the most momentous intellectual event of our time is hardly noticed because we have no adequate tools with which to measure it. More oftern we do not want to admit its implications. This event is the academic failure to explain in any even minimal fashion the forces that changed marxism. I tend to think that the failure to explain the failure of marxism is, in a way, even more momentous than the failure of marxism as a system because marxism from its very beginning has somehow been involved with transcendent spiritual forces.

            This failure is momentous, I think, not because we do not know certain economic or political failings, but because in knowing these latter, we do not yet suspect what forces breathe in our times behind these factual failings. In our history, we are not alert to the forces that changed the world. "Maybe prayer works" may well be both an explanation and a mystery of world-historical proportions. No scientific proof will corroborate this suspicion, however much we can demonstrate the failures of our normal methods to explain what did happen.


            Recently, I was chatting with a colleague of mine about his local parish. His comments were ones that I think might apply to many of our contemporaries who suspect that very often they do not hear preached in their churches or have taught in their schools and universities any thing that might relate to their salvation in the accurate light of Christian truth. We are almost never told about our responsibilities to God, but only about political and economic things and these mostly wrong. When questions of salvation and ultimate meaning come up, one finds oneself, as my friend remarked, turning to one's reading, to one's friends, to one's prayers "for guidance and comfort. I wish that I could turn to my (local) church."


            "My parish is a large one -- 2700 families," my friend explained to me after I asked him to sit down and write briefly the remarks he had just made to me.

 

It is a busy, busy parish. Much outreach -- the poor, the homeless, the singles. There is considerable catechetical activity. The school is a central activity. Classes on scripture are almost always available. What is not available is teaching for salvation from the pulpit. The pulpit is, for the most part, the source of the two readings, petitions, the Gospel, and a brief and generally indifferent homily, which is normally only a few moments longer than the parish announcements.


Though I suppose all of us could find parishes in which this description is not at all accurate, still we feel the sense of loss. University teaching and sermons, I suspect, are an even bleaker lot, again for the most part.


            My friend wondered why this sad sitiation exists. "I cannot believe that there is a satisfactory excuse for this state of affairs." I myself, suspicious that my own teaching or preaching does not reflect enough the truths of faith, try to read John Paul II's various homilies as they appear in my bi-weekly L'Osservatore Romano. Again I realize that the Holy Father does systematically preach to us about the things of our salvation. Why is it in our time, I wonder, that the See of Peter is so strong? Why is it so little listened to? The irony is almost too much to bear.


            This unsatisfactory situation in which we are not really spoken to about our lives or taught the truths about our souls means, to continue my colleague's remarks, that the serious questions of obligations to God, family, society are not clearly dealt with. He continued, "It is from the pulpit that the majesty and the authority of the Church is most clearly manifested whether it be from the Vatican balcony or the altar of a missionary church. I want to hear from the Church. My salvation may be at stake."


            "In the life of grace, ah, if we could only see it," Msgr. Knox continued, "there is a perpetual burgeoning of new life, not merely from one Easter to another ... but with every worthy reception of the sacraments." Perhaps this is it, that salvation takes place even when we are least suspecting of its workings, that the freedom of God is active in our own freedoms.


            "Grace abounds," as St. Paul said, almost in direct response to these ponderings of a man in an ordinary parish. "From time to time, and not nearly often enough, I remember that I, alone, am responsible for my salvation. This thought is indeed awesome, even though minimized to a great degree by faith in the goodness and mercy of God." The work of God, the "opus Dei," is in fact going forward in the quiet and even strange places that we do not know of. Pastors and curates who do not preach are listened to by men and women who wonder why they are not told the truth of the faith. This too is a grace.


            A friend who worries that the truths of salvation are not hearded in his busy, busy parish hints at a deeper level that the Holy Spirit is at work among us, disturbing us. We are indeed responsible for our salvation, but that we can be saved at all, in what it consists, in that we are not alone. God is an actor in history and in our lives. This is what all the examinations of the fall of marxism do not know how to account for, that something else may be taking place in the world, salvation, our salvation to be exact, something besides the rise and fall of empires.

 

            I am doing a class on St. Augustine this semester with some valiant and especially nice students. I am not sure who is more astonished by what we read, the students or me. "What am I to Thee that Thou demandest my love, and unless I give it to Thee, art angry, and threatenest me with great sorrows? Is it, then, a light sorrow not to love Thee?"


            Can we imagine being preached such things from our pulpits? When I read these things to my class, I think, how extraordinary this Augustine! Have these young men and women ever wondered about the "light sorrow"? Have I? The thought that we are responsible for our salvation is indeed mitigated by the thought of the "goodness and mercy of God."


            How does St. Augustine put it? He does not say it is an obligation to love God or to obey Him. He asks himself rather whether it is a but "light sorrow" not to love God. The answer he hints at is rather that the sorrow in not loving God is much heavier than we think. This is why almost the very first thing St. Augustine prayed out loud for to us in the beginning of The Confessions was "Lord, teach me to know and understand which of these should be first, to call on Thee, or to praise Thee; and likewise to know Thee, or to call upon Thee." We are, of course, to call upon, to know, and to praise.


            On Easter Sunday, Msgr. Knox, reflecting back on the ceremonies of Holy Week, wrote "We have heard snatches of chants long disused, seen the survivals of ceremonies which belong to an older world than ours. Still, obstinately, the Church takes refuge in her remote past while she announces to us complacently: 'Christ is risen; all things are made new'."


            The truth of the Resurrection is why Augustine can so poignantly tell us of God that it is indeed not "a light sorrow not to love Thee."


24) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 11 (April, 1993), 47-48.                                                        

ON MAKING SENSE OF THE UNIVERSE


            One afternoon, I was sitting at my computer when a knock came to my door. In walked José Funes, a young Argentine Jesuit scholastic who has been studying English here. He was carrying a magazine to give to me. He said that Father Murphy told him to give it to me when he was finished.


            I thanked him and we chatted a bit. When he left, I looked at the magazine. It was the February, 1993, issue of Sky & Telescope. José, I knew, had been studying astronomy and had, I believe, worked a bit at the Vatican Observatory. But just why Murphy wanted me to see the latest in Sky & Telescope was a puzzle to me.


            So I took a look at the table of contents, thinking there was probably some stirring event, someplace in the sky, that would, in Murphy's acute perception, obviously be of interest to my eclectic interests. The only thing I could figure out, looking it over, however, had to do with an essay by Serge Brunier on "Temples in the Sky," an article about observatories throughout the world.


            Brunier recounted how he set aside his normal astronomical interests to investigate the places where astronomers do their work. As he tells us, "I put down my 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegram, hypering tanks, and my own pursuit of the Orion nebula, Stephan's Qintet, and Seyfert's Sextet. Instead I've focused my cameras on the places where astronomers of today actually try to make sense of the universe."


            Just about the time I got to that passage about "making sense of the universe," something I always wondered about -- a chapter in my Redeeming the Time is entitled, "The Cosmos and Christianity" -- José again knocked on my door. He politely explained to me that I was the wrong man to whom Murphy assigned Sky & Telescope. José in his best English tried to describe the intended recipient but the best we could come up with was Jim Shea, the hospital chaplain, also an unlikely candidate for Sky & Telescope. I told José that I would put the magazine back in Murphy's mailbox, which I did. I have heard nothing further on this sidereal subject since.


            Naturally, I was somewhat relieved that I was not missing some obvious message from "the Crab Nebula in Taurus, which is 6,000 light-years away," about which, as Walker Percy quipped, "you can learn more in ten minutes ... than you presently know about yourself, even though you've been stuck with yourself all your life." For someone who but recently received his Social Security Card, this is sobering news indeed. Percy thought that man was far more mysterious enigma than the cosmos itself in which he -- man, not Percy -- was lost. I believe Einstein was of a similar opinion.


            But for the next couple of days, such are the ironies of mistaken identities, I kept thinking of the lines about the astronomers sitting up there on Mt. Hamilton, in California, or on La Silla, in Chile, trying "to make sense of the universe."


            I kept thinking of some lines Father Stanley Jaki had written in The Road of Science and the Ways to God. "Once the boundary conditions of the universe are anchored in a rational Creator, they will appear as a choice out of an infinitely large number of conceivable boundary conditions" (p. 292).

            But mostly, I kept thinking of these lines from Le Catéchisme de l'Eglise Catholique: "Dans un discernement selon l'Esprit, les chrétiens doivent distinguer entre la croissance du Règne de Dieu et le progrès de la culture et de la société où ils sont engagés. Cette distinction n'est pas une séparation. La vocation de l'homme à la vie éternelle ne supprime pas mais renforce son devoir de mettre en practique les énergies et la moyens reçus du Créateur pour servir en ce monde la justice et la paix" (#2820). ("By a discernment of the Spirit, Christians ought to distinguish between the growth of the Kingdom of God and the progress of the culture and of the society in which they are engaged. This distinction is not a separation. The vocation of man to eternal life does not suppress but reinforces his duty to place in practice the energies and means received from his Creator to serve justice and peace in this world.")


            So here we have the astronomers sitting in the lofty observatories trying to make sense of the universe, themselves dealing with distances measured in tens and thousands of light-years, meeting a religious document that deals with "eternal life." This Christian teaching seeks to relate itself to the history of mankind in its search for some sort of justice and peace, while reminding us that the Kingdom of God is not the same thing as "the progress of culture and society."


            One cold February morning, I happened to be wandering through the huge old Protestant Cemetery in Leesburg, Virginia, the one begun in 1851, I think, not the older one closer to town. By chance I walked up a slight incline midst the fading tombstones. Unfortunately, I did not copy the wording on a Stone that struck me very much. It went something like this: "Mary F. Treadwell, Born in Christ (I do nor recall a date), Died in 1876, Awaits Here the Morning of the First Resurrection."


            I knew that in the Apocalypse there was a notion of First and Second Death, the First meaning our normal death, the Second meaning damnation. I was curious if there was a theory someplace in Protestant Theology of First and Second Resurrection? But I decided that this simply meant that Mary F. Treadwell anticipated the Eternal Now, the Same Morning in which Christ rose from the dead into eternal life, a life which would, in good Christian doctrine, be her resurrection, even there in Leesburg, where she awaited.


            What I deduce from all of this, in case you might wonder, is that the doctrine of the resurrection, without which our faith is indeed vain, is at the heart of the explanation of the universe. There are two ways that we can perhaps go wrong in thinking about this doctrine, besides the most obvious error of confusing it with the related doctrine of the immortality of the soul.


            The first thing we might erroneously do is ask the astronomers sitting up there on La Silla whether they have ever spotted any activity of this resurrected sort in the universe. Naturally, they would report in the negative, even though they would admit that there are a few things they have yet to figure out. The second error would be to replace the centrality of the resurrection with the formation of a perfect kingdom of justice and peace on this earth. What the whole meaning of the universe is about, in this position, is some political construction down the ages of time in which all evils are removed, but all the myriads of actual lives spent in acquiring this end are merely evaporated means.


            April 7, 1776, the year of our Country's Founding, was Easter Sunday. Over in London, on that very day, as Boswell tells us, he went to St. Paul's Cathedral. After the Services, as was his custom, Boswell proceeded to visit Samuel Johnson. Boswell continued:

 

It seemed to me, that there was always something peculiarly mild and placid in his manner upon this holy festival, the commemoration of the most joyful event in the history of the world, the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, who, having triumphed over death and the grave, proclaimed immortality to mankind (II, p. 17).


Now, as I said, the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior does not proclaim "immortality," something Socrates had already proclaimed in a way. What is precisely proclaimed is the Resurrection of the body, a much more consoling doctrine, but no doubt one that stimulates us to take a good look at the universe.


            But "making sense of the universe" at some point must reach to Boswell's "the most joyful event in the history of the world." If you make sense of the universe without this joyful event, you are left with a pretty dull cosmos. On the other hand, if you have this joyful event without a world, you seem to be depriving God's creation of its reality, even if you are left with God alone. And if you do not await in a body, you definitely seem to be missing something characteristically human, to say the least.  


            We must not hesitate to cite St. Paul's discourse to the Romans here: "From the beginning till now the entire creation, as we know, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth; and not only creation, but all of us who possess the first-fruits of the Spirit, we too groan inwardly as we wait for our bodies to be set free" (8:22-23).


            George Gilder wrote near the end of his Microcosm: "Wielding the power of knowledge, the human mind is the great and growing disequilibrium at the center of the universe. Made in the image of its creator, the human mind wields the power of knowledge against the powers of decay. Conquering the microcosm, mind transcends every entropic trap and overthrows matter itself."


            "The Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us."


            "The human mind is the growing disequilibrium at the center of the universe."


            The universe appears as a "choice."


            No, the astronomers sitting up there on La Silla trying to "make sense of the universe" have something to do, there searching for its center.


            "In the beginning was the Word" -- not just the human mind, not just the immortality of the soul, but the resurrection of the body, this is really what astounds us.


            "The most joyous event in the history of the world...."


            The next time someone mistakenly brings me a copy of Sky & Telescope, I will let you know. You will want to hear what's what with Stefan's Quintet and the Crab Nebula in Taurus, 6,000 light-years away, about which "you can learn more in ten minutes than you presently know about yourself, even though you've been stuck with yourself all your life." No wonder we "groan inwardly and wait for our bodies to be set free."


            "Mary F. Treadwell, Born ..., Died, 1876, Awaits Here the Morning of the First Resurrection."


25) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 10 (January, 1992), 44-46.  


"THE ALPHABET OF GRATITUDE"


            On the stack of books by my computer monitor, I noticed a paper back novel with a black cover. I did not pay too much attention to it, except that I wondered where it came from, as I did not remember buying it nor did I recall anyone giving it to me. Perhaps I picked it up absent-mindedly some place.


            In a fit of straightening things out, I looked at it one day. I read the first couple of pages, always a dangerous thing to do. At the bottom of page two, I read this sentence: "There it was, there it is, the place where during the best time of our lives friendship had its home and happiness its headquarters." Here were within two pages the great classical themes, deliberately treated -- Beatitudo et Amicitia.


            This novel was written by a man from Iowa who lived in Los Altos Hills, California, familiar places to me, both. The author was Wallace Stegner. Stegner had won the Pulitzer Prize for another novel. I had heard of Stegner someplace, but I had never read him. My loss. This particular book's title, Crossing to Safety, came from a poem by Robert Frost.


            The book, at first glance, was a book about academic life, about a young couple, wife pregnant, the husband just beginning his teaching career at the University of Wisconsin in the late 1930's. He was soon to run into tenure problems. I had been in Madison once or twice so I had seen these places.


            But this book was rather a special one. Neither wife nor husband, the Morgans, had family, parents either recently killed or died early on. Into their lives comes another couple, the Langs, he also, as her insistence, on the English tenure track. The Langs, Sid and Charity, are an extraordinarily engaging and bright couple. Apparently, Sid and Charity have everything, -- family, good looks, good character, money, lots of children, relatives, estates, lovers of good wine and good music. But this is not a book about envy or sex or crime or education, though these things are there in their own way. It is a book about what? Happiness, friendship, the ultimate destiny of each.


            Yet, it is a book about sadness too as all human books about happiness are somehow. The young professor's wife Sally eventually gets polio and will die just after the book ends. The wife of the talented couple, Charity, as the book ends, dies of cancer. But she is determined not to bother anyone in her death, not even her husband, especially not her husband, Sid. He is a poet, who never quite succeeds in academia largely because Charity wants him to succeed according to the rules of academia. Charity, whose father is a Harvard professor, plans much of his life about how to succeed in academia. A hopeless task, as it turns out, as hope is not an academic virtue.


            I will not here write a "book review," not that I have anything against book reviews. Yet I want to describe my reactions to this book, if for no one else but myself. The proposition to be considered in Crossing to Safety, I suppose, if put in Thomistic form, would be something like this: whether we human beings can be happy in this world?


            The book is full of genuinely good people, of singing, picnics, humor, beauty, laughter, hikes, dinner parties, swimming, wisdom, generosity, nostalgia, sentiment, forgiveness.

 

We liked these two from the minute of our first acquaintance. After that shipwreck afternoon we loved them both sometimes in spite of themselves and ourselves. At the time I could not have told them that. I am not sure that either Sally or I was ever able to tell them, though it had to be apparent without telling. Just in case, I tell them now.


The novel is the telling. One feels something autobiographical here.


            The plot is not, like Greek tragedy, about the downfall of a good man or woman due to their own tragic flaw. Yet there is a tragic flaw. In some sense for Charity and Sid, the most attractive of couples, it is a downfall in her death itself. "Eden. With, of course, its serpent. No Eden valid without serpent. It was not a big serpent, nor very alarming. But once we noticed it, we realized it had been there all along...."


            What is striking about this novel, I think, is hint of the old spiritual teaching that the serpent works in the most holy lives and within the most exalted of motives, of generosity, of kindness, of considerateness, of understanding. "And there it is. Confrontation. Challenge and response. 'Why, of course, I will if I want to,' (Charity) says." This is a citation directly from Eden, from the Paradise that is Battel Pond, Charity's family's compound, in Vermont in which much of the novel is set.


            Crossing to Safety is about four very happy and talented people, generous people, people loveable and extraordinary. It is a book filled with warmth and giving, with good taste and enthusiasm. The four are not gods. Yet, their motives are humanly high, discriminating. The couples are faithful to each other. Children are wanted, begotten, born, loved. Parents are esteemed. So are aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins once removed. In-laws are especially well-loved in the family.

            No overt religion is found in the novel. Yet, we hear talk of Paradise, serpents, Eden, generosity that gives without seeking return, even generosity that makes it seem like a happy obligation to receive it. The name of Sid Lang's wife is "Charity." Her younger sister's name is "Comfort." When asked why she was not named "Faith or Hope," Comfort responded, with annoyance, as she did not like her name, that when Charity was born, the parents lost both faith and hope. And Charity is extraordinary, almost as if to imply that if you have charity, you do not need either faith or hope -- good Pauline doctrine in its own way.


            The book is about success and failure. It is about death and sickness, loyalty and faithfulness. In it there are many Catholic allusions -- to Mass, to the eyes of Christ, to sacrifice, to the "crown of thorns," to "'Hail Mary, full of grease,' he said, and stepped on the starter," to "The Divine Comedy." Yet, the book almost studiously avoids religion. There are no clergy at death, no prayers. The couples go to Venice and Florence, even to Mass, but only for the music and art. The remains of the Christian problems are there, not the explanations or solutions. Yet, Charity is there. The great modern experiment -- to keep the Christian virtues, especially the greatest of these, without grace, without Christianty. Caritas sine gratia.


            There is an ancient suspicion that happy people are not interesting people, have no history. Yet, even happy people, and this is the novel's plot, their tragic flaws, have wills and characters. Even in doing good there is something too possessive. And yet the good is good. Charity asks Larry Morgan and Sid, her husband, both academics and writers, at one point:

 

Why don't you just ignore all that stuff so many modern writers concentrate on, and write something about a really decent, kind, good human being living a normal life in a normal community, interested in the things most ordinary people are interested in -- family, children, education...?


And of course, this is precisely what the novel is about. There is irony here, yet it is not cynicism. It is very near to the most subtle of all temptations -- why is not the Kingdom of God already here when we have such glimpses of it?


            This book is also about "survial," about how one goes on, why one goes on, when real happiness and good works will end in death, end in not fully resoling the dilemmas that the pursuit of happiness causes us? Death in Charity's case is faced rationally and soberly, by oneself, with all the atmosphere of modern medicine, of death and dying theory, whose very working out emphasizes its inadequacy.


            And the novel is about "safety." In Frost's poem, the conflict of time and timelessness is there, time-out-of-time. We could give all to time except what we have "held." The image Frost uses is that of slipping through the Customs line with things forbidden to us. Once we are "crossed to safety," we are there. We are lucky. The things we would not "part with," we "keep." To love is to keep.


            This book is about death, about keeping and dying, about crossing to the safety after death, with the loves we have known that we would not want to part with. The two men in the novel are loyal, honorable men. It is the women who suffer and die. The women wonder if their men can survive the loves that were surely deep and all consuming to them. The men wonder about this too. Charity, in a fit of rationalism, even plans for her successor to enable, so she thinks, Sid to survive.


            The men learn what life is about from the suffering of others. Like the Greeks, the men learn by suffering, not their own suffering, but that of those they loved, the dying women. In the end, Morgan, watching his wife Sally with polio and Charity with cancer, realizes that perhaps it was precisely in this vicarious suffering that he learned the most essential things of his life, of life itself. There is a Christian theme here too.

 

... Over the years Sally's crippling has been a rueful blessing. It has made her more than she was; it has let her give me more than she would ever have been able to give me healthy; it has taught me at least the alphabet of gratitude.


Sid, Charity's husband, only sees his friend Morgan's life as a kind of stoic example that gives him "comfort." Charity, rationally but selfishly, did not let her husband Sid see her die. Death did them part. She was trying to be reasonable and kind, yet she realized that she was also harsh. The serpent was in her will, the will to order and to take care.


            "The alphabet of gratitude" -- just after Sally has contracted polio, for her recuperation, the Langs arrange for Sally and her baby to spend a summer in Vermont with them. It is an act of kindness and generosity on the part of Charity and Sid. The Morgans do not know how to repay them. "'As for repaying,' (Charity) said in rebuke, 'friends don't have to repay anything. Friendship is the most selfish thing there is.'"


            Larry Morgan reflects on the theory here. He knows that some theorists postulate that gratitude is a kind of concealed hatred or "festering sore." But he has just witnessed a generous act done in his favor. Yet the generous people are thanking him for accepting their offer. "Maybe (friendship is a festering sore)," he thinks to himself, "if it's insisted on. But instead of insisting on gratitude, the Langs insisted that their generosity was selfish, so how could we dislike them for it?"


            We can cross to safety at many points. No place is completely safe. When we have crossed, there are things we want to hold and to keep. The alphabet of gratitude is made possible by suffering and loyalty. Perhaps Stegner was not wrong to call the two sisters "Charity" and "Comfort."


26) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 16 (July/August, 1998), 59.                                                   

ON THE BUG IN THE WINDOW


            Contrary to initial impressions, this column is not about a virus or bug in the Windows set-up of my computer. Rather, it is about an actual bug on the screen of my window facing Dalghren Chapel and the early morning sun.  


            Looking out one day, I noticed a rather large, indeed, ugly, bug slowly crawling around on the screen. The bug was caught within the window-screen enclosure of about five by four feet with a depth of maybe five inches. This was its immediate world.


            My screen has a couple of slashes in it through which initially the bug probably entered. The bug, of unidentified gender, had no companion; nor was I anxious to attract any. I had unpleasant visions of him deliberately creeping over me about three in the morning when I could not draw a clear bead on him. Apparently immobile, facing north, he was first located about three quarters of the way up the screen. I was not sure if he was alive or dead.  


            My first instinct was to open up the window and bash him. I gave no thought of calling the Sierra Club or Ace Exterminators. Human rooms are for humans, not bugs. That is the natural law, no doubt of it. In any case, I was pretty sure, if it came to a war between the species, I could outsmart him. That is the right order of things. It is all in Genesis. The morning after I spotted him, he, very much alive, had crawled to the top of the screen, ponderously, headed to its top left corner. With his six legs and two long feelers, he had no trouble negotiating the screen.


            I began to wonder if he was hungry or thirsty. But I did not plan to leave him any water or scraps, partly because I did not know what the critter ate, partly because I secretly wanted him to "bug out" so I could open the window with the warmer Spring air. Next, he made the corner, bypassing the slight hole in the screen an inch below his present location. St. Thomas says that non-rational beings know absolutely but do not figure out relations or order. This led me to assume he would never get out.


            I gave no thought to naming him, as I understand such bugs reproduce by the hundreds of thousands. I was afraid his brothers and sisters would be jealous if he had a name and they didn't. He was about three quarters of an inch long, with a brown, hard-looking shell. I wondered if the Japanese put chocolate on such beasties, not a profitable line of thought, I realized. On no account would I ever eat such a thing wrapped in anything. Again I wondered if he could get food and water from thin air. Well, I decided, he better because he was not going to get them from me.


            As the days went on, he crawled back across the top of the screen. Then, during one of my absences from the room, he dropped down to the screen bottom. I figured that sooner or later I would see him flat on his back on the window sill, out like a light, exhausted from crawling around on that maze of a screen.


            Finally, one evening, I came back to my room. Dutifully, I inspected the screen. Lo, he was not there. The bug was gone. Not a sign of him. He was not flat on his back. He defied death by starvation or dehydration. He had been safe from the birds because of the screen. But he must have found the hole in the screen through which he entered. Maybe he could reason after all!


            Now, lest you think I have become rather, as the word goes, "buggy" myself, I have not, in my days, given much thought to insects. I once read that perhaps sixty percent of living matter on this planet is composed of various bugs and bug-like creatures. It takes rather a large amount of them to keep fish and birds going.


            The fact is, I am glad he escaped, that I did not have eventually to smash him. St. Thomas implies that each particular being, like this bug on my screen, participates in existence. If we could understand its dependence on the First Cause of existence itself, we would see a mystery here that touches the origin of all things that are. Now, I am not given to such meditations everytime I see a bug crawling down a tree. I belong to the "if you've seen one, you've seen them all" school of thought. Still this little fellow made me think.


27) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 10 (February, 1992), 41-43.  

GOVERNMENT IN A PERFECT SOCIETY


            During the first day of the Clarence Thomas Senate Hearings, Mr, Kennedy read from an Interview with Mr. Thomas in which Thomas suggested that perhaps in a perfect society we would not need things like the Economic Opportunities Commission, the Department of Commerce, and other such worrisome bodies. Mr. Kennedy was appropriately appalled at this suggestion that such bureaucracy is not needed. It seemed at the time as if in Thomas he had a live anarchist on his hands.


            In response to this query, Thomas dutifully explained that he did not mean that such illustrious bodies as Agriculture or Commerce should not now exist. He pointed out that the EOC and other such Departments of Government came into existence because folks in general were so bad. They discriminated. They cheated. They lied and generally indulged in other unpleasant things. So government bodies were instituted not because men were "perfect" or free or good, but because they were, on the whole, quite distasteful.


            As if to confirm this thesis, Senator Hatch also read the same Interview of Judge Thomas into the record. He carefully explained again that Thomas was by no means against having such arms of government. He just meant that they would not be needed if men were free or perfect. Thomas did not necessarily think branches of government needed to be as big as they have come to be, but he insisted that they were needed. He explained that the journal that interviewed him was one that doubted that government was necessary at all. Not merely was that government best which governed least, but that government was best that did not govern period.


            Some time after Judge Thomas is now on the Supreme Court, it seems still useful to take a further look as the principles involved in this exchange between Senators Kennedy and Hatch with Judge Thomas. Thomas' thesis about government, revealed in this incident, is one, in the history of political thought, generally associated with St. Augustine. It holds that government was instituted with the Fall of Man. If men were not evil, government would not exist. However, the fact is that the world is full of sundry kinds of evil-doing inhabitants. Government thus is remedial. That is, it is designed to meet things, rather awful things, that should not exist in the first place, but do.


            This position is often called simply "political realism." Government ought not to exist but does so because human beings do awful things. Government itself, however, is unnecessary in a perfect world, but we may need a rather large dose of it in this one, including the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture, not to mention EOC, which Thomas himself seemed to imply needed a rather strong arm. We might even need a Supreme Court in a perfect world -- an even more mind-boggling thought, to be sure.


            The Thomas Hearings, no doubt, have been the best (and the worst) thing to happen to natural law since Cicero and Aquinas. We can now add to our current fund of political discourse the Augustinian thesis. This thesis was echoed even in our Founding Fathers, by Madison in a famous passage in #51 of The Federalist: "If men were angels, no government would be necessary." Judge Thomas is in good company.  


            On the other hand, it is not exactly right that government as such is rooted in disorder, sin, evil, or whatever you want to call it. The tradition of Aristotle and Aquinas argued rather that man was by nature a political animal. This means, God forbid, that it might be advisable to have a Department of Commerce or Agriculture or a Supreme Court even if men were perfect. The main reason we have government, in this view, is not that we are fallen or imperfect, as Judge Thomas seemed to imply.


            Probably the best and clearest discussion of this topic is that of Yves Simon in his General Theory of Authority. Aquinas had already pointed out that Augustine was partly right, that much disorder in the world was due to the fact of personal and social disorder, a disorder rooted in our very souls. We were not perfect beings and we had to face this fact as best we could. Plato and Aristotle understood this dire aspect of human nature as well as Augustine did, as would Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Madison after Aquinas.


            Moreover, government itself could be an additional cause of this disorder. The libertarians and anarchists have a point. A good deal of the worst disorders in human history come from disordered government, from inefficient or brutal tyrants, from corrupt bureaucrats or legislators or judges. Worry about the rulers is a healthy American tradition. John Paul II touched on this issue in his reaffirmation of the doctrine of original sin in Centesimus Annus.


            However, there were at least three reasons why we would have government even if we were perfect. It is important to consider them. One of these reasons was that we would always have people, children to be exact, who needed guidance, In a perfect world, we would still have children. Parents would still need to address them, substitute for their reason until they were capable of rule. Presumably also, it would take time to learn all the things needed to rule in any civil society, even of the perfect, so some temporary substitutional role for government, not rooted in disorder, might be conceived on a temporary basis, analogous to parental rule.


            The two main reasons for government, however, would exist even if we lived in a perfect society. First we would still need to decide to stay together, to will our unity, to judge its reasonableness. If we saw that it would be well that we lived an organized life together, as we would, we would still have in many cases a variety of good alternatives about what to do. Indeed, the more perfect we were, the more varied would be our choices, and therefore the more we would need an authority to decide among the many good choices.


            If, rarely, we all agreed on some one alternative, then of course we would not need government. But mostly we would. If we can imagine automobiles in a perfect society, we still have to decide on which side of the road to drive. As there is no rational reason why left or right are to be preferred, we just have to have someone decide and stick to it. Reason argues to authority.


            But most importantly, the very good of any organized group of human beings requires that many of us do very many different things. To do these things well, we need to spend time, to specialize, sometimes for our whole lives. It is not wrong that, even a perfect society, it would take a person his whole life to develop some theory or invention or order or knowledge. We could not have everyone doing everything. Even in a perfect society, this universal agility would not work.


            However, with everyone devoting himself to what he is best at, there would need to be a decision about the order of the whole, about the limits of each particular specialty. This decision would not be rooted in anything evil or imperfect, but in perfection itself. Presumably, there would be different functions, different specializations still to be met. In other words, we would still need informed bureaucracies and distinct authorities to decide questions rooted in locality, in freedom, and in the abundance of reason.


            Judge Thomas was making a point about the need to confront disorder. He was even making an American point -- Madison said in #10 of The Federalist, "the latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man." None the less, I think his position that "in the perfect state we would not need these things" to be a bit off the mark, even when it was on the mark.


            The classic tradition maintains that government in its necessity has causes both in human bias or disorder and especially in reason or perfection. Judge Thomas would have made the natural law look considerably better if he knew this aspect of it, about the fact that government is not essentially or only rooted in our crimes, irregularities, and violations but in our perfections and in our natural well-being.


            When Aristotle and Aquinas observed that man is by nature a political and social animal, this is what they meant, that to be what we are and ought to be, we will need to fashion a political society. That this is not all we will need goes without saying and that we can corrupt ourselves and others through our political institutions remains obvious as Judge Thomas affirmed. And while it is comforting to have an Augustinian on the Supreme Court, we might still hope for one who did not forget his Aristotle and Aquinas.


28) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 9 (November, 1991), 41-42.  


ALBERTUS MAGNUS


            In Chesterton's book on St. Thomas Aquinas, the third Chapter on "The Aristotelian Revolution" begins, "Albert, the Swabian, rightly called the Great, was the founder of modern science. He did more than any other man to prepare that process, which has turned the alchemist into the chemist, and the astrologer into the astronomer."


            Albert himself, however, was often called an alchemist and an astrologer. Richard McKeon wrote of him,

 

Many legends have grown about the name of Albertus Magnus. For centuries his repute as a scientist made him the form and type of magician and sorcerer, and aobut that reputation accumulated stories of brazen statues that talked, of philtres and curing chalices, of spells, enchantments and divinely inspired architectural projects (Selections from Medieval Philosophy, Scribner's, 1957, vol. I).


No doubt, we could use a few "divinely inspired architectural projects" these days, but it is easy to see how Albert's great learning, which made him the "Stupor Mundi," the astonishment of the world, easily confused with a magician.


            In his Medieval Religion, Christopher Dawson wrote in 1934 of Albert's importance in science:

 

(Albert's) greatest achievement was to put the whole corpus of Graeco-Arabic thoght at the disposal of Western scholasticism through the encyclopedic series of commentaries and expositions by which, as he said, he made "all the parts of philosophy, physics, metaphysics and mathematics, intelligible to the Latins." Nor was he merely a passive intermediary between two intellectual traditions...; he had a really original mind, and his scientific observations, above all in biology, botany and geology, were among the first independent achievements of Western European science.


Clearly, this Albert remains someone worth our attention.


            The Feast of St. Albert is November 15. Albert was born in Lauingen around 1206. He is best known today, of course, as St. Thomas Aquinas' teacher. Yet, in his own time, Albert was the better known man. He was a Dominican, a professor at Paris, a provincial, and finally the Bishop of Ratisbon. Albert resigned from this episcopal see in 1262 and continued to teach in Cologne until his death in Cologne on November 15, 1280.


            Following the Dominican practice of the day, Albert literally walked all over Europe. I believe he was even called "Boots" or "Clogs" because of his endurance in walking the paths of Europe. Belloc even suggested at the turn of this Century, in The Path to Rome, that walking was perhaps the best way to see Europe. Maybe the Dominicans should not have dropped that custom! I do not recall, to be honest, that the Jesuits ever took it up. I draw no metaphysical conclusions. Albert, in any case, was way ahead of his time!


            Albert was indeed a remarkable man. I once visited his Grave in the Cathedral in Cologne. I have even written an essay on Albert -- "Immortality and the Political Life of Man in Albertus Magnus," The Thomist (October, 1984). I have always meant to do a November column on Albert. Let me delay no longer.


            In the Divine Office for November 15, there is a Second Reading, as it is called, from St. Albert himself, from his Commentary on the Gospel of Luke. The text is that of the Last Supper, in which Christ tells the Apostles to "do this in remembrance of me." Albert's exposition is a model of Aristotelian order and touching piety.


            Albert observes that this command asks two things of us: a) to "use this sacrament," for what else could "do this mean?" b) The sacrament "commemorates the Lord's going to death for our sake." Albert then, in good Ciceronian fashion, expands on the meaning of "Do This." Christ, Albert maintains, certainly would not command anything of us to do if it were not the best thing. In fact, Albert's Ciceronian style makes his point emphatic: "Certainly he (Christ) would demand nothing more profitable, nothing more pleasant, nothing more beneficial, nothing more desirable, nothing more similar to eternal life." One can just hear the power of the repetition of the "nothing more" grow in force as Albert rose to the occasion.


            But in a more Aristotelian fashion perhaps, Albert then adds, "We will now look at each of these qualities separately.' He will tell us why this "Do This" is profitable, why it is pleasant, why beneficial, why lovable, why like eternal life. Christians, thus, see nothing wrong with rhetoric, with preaching, but what they preach is the Gospel -- "Do This" -- and it is addressed to our good sense, to our intelligence.


            So why is this sacrament "profitable"? Albert answers "because it grants the remission of sins." And he adds that the sacrament is "useful" also because "it bestows the fullness of grace on us in this life." To demonstrate this Albert cites St. Paul telling us that "The Father of spirits instructs us in what is useful for our sanctification." This sanctification is in "Christ's sacrifice." Our sanctification comes, Albert explains, "when he (Christ) offers himself in this sacrament to the Father for our redemption, to us for our use." Christians do not eschew the Aristotelian category of "usefulness" even in divine things. Unabashedly we are to seek our own sanctification and salvation in the only way it is offered to us, in Christ's sacrifice.


            Not only is this "Do This" useful, it is "pleasant" -- more shades of Aristotle. "What is better," Albert asks, "than God manifesting his whole sweetness to us?" And not only is the sacrament useful and pleasant, but it is also "beneficial." Nothing is "more beneficial." This sacrament is the fruit of the "tree of life." And as if to show that he means no mean fruit, Albert adds that he is dealing with the greatest benefit we can possibly imagine: "Anyone who receives this sacrament with the devotion of sincere faith will never taste death." Of course, Albert himself is dead. I have seen his Grave in Cologne. But eternal death, no, the sacrament is that of Christ, who died and rose again.


            Albert next asks whether anything is more "lovable" or desirable. This very sacrament, he observes, "produces love and union." He adds, "It is characteristic of great love to give itself as food." The mystery of the Bread of Life, the sacrament -- "as if to say," Albert explains, "I have loved them and they have loved me so much that I desire to be within them, and they wish to receive me so that they may become my members. There is no more intimate or more natural means for them to be united to me, and I to them." It is striking, in this context, that Albert describes the sacrament as "natural."


            And finally, in a remarkable image, Albert asks how it is that nothing is more like eternal life than this sacrament? He answers simply, "Eternal life flows from this sacrament because God with all sweetness pours himself out upon the blessed." Why, we might ask, is this an answer to Albert's question? It is simply because eternal life is the presence of God to us, a presence that can be described in many ways as to its effects. "Sweetness" is as good a way as any since it implies that in the sacrament, in eternal life, our relation to God is not alien, not distant, not harsh.


            Etienne Gilson, in his famous History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages, remarked of Albert, "There is little in Albert of the objectivity of Thomas Aquinas in abstract discussion; nothing is more familiar to him than the "I" and in this sense, he is ... concretely and humanly real to us...." Albert's little discusison of "Do this in remembrance of me," I think, does serve to see something of an Albert who is not afraid to tell us what he holds, of what is profitable and lovable to him, of someone who is concretely and ultimately real to us.


29) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 10 (November, 1992), 43-45.                                                

THE DAY OF THE DEAD


            One of the most beautiful Masses of the Liturgical Year is that of All Saints' Day, on November 1. I have always loved this Mass. I even wrote a poem about it once -- no, relax, dear reader, I am not going to impose it on you here! Its first reading is that from Revelation about the Great Gathering, the second from John's Epistle about our seeing God as he really is, a doctrine whose only fault is that it is, as Chesterton said, too good to be true.


            Finally the Gospel is from Matthew about our being glad that our reward is great in heaven. We often forget the sheer beauty of the Masses we hear. Even more, we forget that our religion is unique in that it promises the highest things precisely to us, not to some abstraction or grouping down the eons of time. Christianity is not a selfish religion, but it is a religion that forbids us to doubt that we shall see God, unless, of course, we choose not to see Him. Such is our liberty.


            The day following All Saints' Day is All Souls' Day. Traditionally, the Church dedicates the whole month of November to prayers for the souls in Purgatory. All Souls is the day on which we remember the dead, our dead. Christianity is not, strictly speaking, a "soul" philosophy or religion. We love Plato, but we are not Platonists. The immortality of the soul is not a Christian doctrine but a Greek philosophical conclusion, no less valid for all that.


            All Souls' Day, furthermore, is not about the Greek philosophical doctrine, which is most useful in Christianity, but about those of our dead who are not yet with God. In recent time there has been something of a shadow cast on All Souls' Day by the way Masses for the Dead are celebrated, as if all the trappings of heaven are immediately and definitely acquired at any death.


            But Christianity at its best takes the power of evil much more seriously than a kind of automatic resolving of our problems and the dubious record of our deeds at death. Christianity, perhaps I should say Catholicism, thinks that the power of choice is so fundamental, so dangerous, if you will, that it somehow can reach beyond death. Those who would take away Purgatory and All Souls are those who would make the power of our choice to be flabby and inconsequential.


            We have, to be sure, Memorial Day in May, a secular day in this country, having I believe rather much to do with our wars, especially World War I, Flanders' Field. In Catholic Europe, on the other hand, All Souls' Day is the day to visit the graves of our ancestors, our parents, family, and friends. It is a day in which to remember the tremendous doctrine of our freedom as it existed in the lives of those we loved.


            All Souls' Day is a day of remembering -- one of the great words of our metaphysics. It is a day of doctrine, of the realization of our ultimate dignity, that of creatures, free creatures, who have the power to reject God because they have the power to choose Him. I cannot, I confess, tolerate the wishy-washiness of those who save everyone at the cost of reducing all of our actions to insignificance, because, it is implied, there is nothing that we can do to offend God whose essence is said to be a kind of universal "compassion" that does not care what it is we do or what we think, for that matter. No God who gave us the Commandments thinks this way.


            In the Breviary for All Souls' Day, there is a wonderful passage from a book that St. Ambrose of Milan wrote on the death of his brother Satyrus. I do not want to reflect on this whole passage. But I do want to cite the passage in which Ambrose refers to immortality. He puts it in a way I had never seen before.


            "Death was not part of nature; it became part of nature," Ambrose wrote.

God did not decree death from the beginning; he prescribed it as a remedy. Human life was condemned because of sin to unremitting labor and unbearable sorrow and so began to experience the burden of wretchedness. There had to be a limit to its evils; death had to restore what life had forfeited. Without the assistance of grace, immortality is more of a burden than a blessing.


We sometimes forget, though Plato did not, that the philosophic doctrine of immortality does not by itself solve the problem of happiness.


            To have an immortal soul then does not by itself decide how we live or choose through the souls that animate us. This is why both our blessings and our punishments, even unto a hell, are more dramatic if we are in fact immortal. Ambrose was right, All Souls' Day was right. Without the doctrine of grace, the immortality of the soul is more a burden than a blessing.


            We are said to live in a world that has no need of God. When we hear this sort of thing, we should not forget that this is a "proposition" not at all established or proved. In such a proposition of not needing, we end up with a world that has no "need" of much of anything because in order for something to be truly "needed," it must somehow have a transcendent purpose about it, even if it be the most finite of finite things.


            The immortality of the soul, as I said, is a Greek doctrine. It is a philosophical doctrine. This origin in reason does not mean that Christians do not hold it, do not think it necessary for their own faith. The only way that we can hold Christianity to be true is to hold that something that is not specifically Christian is true, that which is presupposed to anything being true at all. The central doctrine of Christianity about our destiny is not the immortality of the soul but the resurrection of the body, a much more consoling, and at the same time, much more defiant doctrine.


            The immortality of the soul, however, is needed to account for the continuity between our lives and the resurrection of the body. Without the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, we cannot account for the fact that the same person who actually died is the same one that shall rise again. This point is what the Christian doctrine is about in the first place. If we, as unique individuals with our own names, are utterly destroyed at death, but God "re-creates" us in the resurrection, then we are simply not "us." And to be ourselves is precisely what we want to be, even unto everlasting. This is something at least hinted at by Aristotle when he remarked that we do not want our friends to become something other than they are, gods, for example.


            But if our souls are immortal, whether unto good or unto evil, as Plato suggested in Book X of The Republic, then there must be some relation between them all, again for better or worse. All Souls' Day, if you will, has to do with the "for better" side of those who have died but whose lives were by no means completely honorable or holy in their lifetime choosings. There is nothing unchristian in saying that we need to be purified to see God. We would not want it otherwise.


            How are we to understand this need, this "world" that includes souls of the living and the dead, the damned and the glorified? Some friends of mine happened to see recently the Folger Theater production of Shakespeare's "Troilus and Cressida," a play that I had never seen and may or may not have read. I do not remember reading it, which says something not wholly complimentary about either my education or my memory, or both.


            In any case, I happen to have the Viking (1977) Complete Works of Shakespeare, or, to refer to Joseph Sobran's work, of whoever he was. In the Introduction to "Troilus and Cressida," a wonderful Introduction in my view, Professor Virgil K. Whitaker sets down a brief description of the "world" in which Shakespeare lived. In the context of All Souls' Day, I want to cite this passage since I think it gives as good a description of "the world" that we presuppose in our tradition as any I have seen of late.


            In this world of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, God was the Creator. He placed an order in nature at once hierarchical and universal. By being and doing what they were, these creatures that were not God "did their part in achieving His ultimate purposes." The order of things came about through the obedience of creatures to both the physical and moral or political laws.


            This same human being, however, was free. He could choose not to obey these laws. With God and the angels, man possessed free will, each person possessed this power. Living rationally meant being free to live according to the laws of God in all their manifestations. Man could also disobey them. This was his freedom. But his disobedience was not without its consequences in himself and others, even in some sense in the Deity itself, as the Incarnation itself suggests.


            The powers and appetites of men could cause them to break the laws they did not make. Such were the passions and emotions of men that their calm reason could be overshadowed, rejected, forgotten. But evil itself gives rise to suffering. We cannot but recall Teiresias's famous line in Oedipus Rex, "To be wise is to suffer." Nor can we forget Socrates' "it is better to suffer evil than to do it." Even with evil and suffering, we are not done with God.


            Whitaker calls "Troilus and Cressida" Shakespeare's most "modern play." That is to say, we see the accounts of the evils we would do to one another without the overarching context of their understanding before God. What is the world like?

 

The modern reader does not need to be told that what passes for love is often lust, and that what motivates much patriotism has nothing to do with love of country. Modern literature has made these points in wearisome detail. But Shakespeare has intensified and clarified even this aspect of human nature.... His eye has roved from the councils of the mighty to the backbiting of their hangers-on. Modern fiction has done much better, moreover, at giving us Cressidas, or a Pandarus and Thersites, than at showing us a Hector betraying his intellect under pressure of the moment or a Ulysses expending his wisdom on an intrigue to end a petty broil.... We may not like its (in "Troilus and Cressida") people, but they are with us everywhere. Shakespeare often tells us what we can be or should be. Here he tells us what, unfortunately, we all too often are (pp. 978-79).


And if "this" is what we "all too often are," surely it is not so difficult to find a place for All Souls' Day, a day in which we realize that, though there are not a few saints among us, there are far more numbers of what we can only call, following Shakespeare's logic and our own self-awareness, sinners.


            As I did before (Crisis, November 1990), I cannot let this day pass without again recalling Belloc's Four Men, his walk through Sussex in 1902, a walk that ended on All Souls' Day. "I went till I suddenly remembered with the pang that catches men at the clang of bells what this time was in November," Belloc wrote.

 

It was the day of the Dead. All that day I had so moved and thought alone and fasting, and now the light was failing. I had consumed the day in that deep wandering on the heights alone, and now it was evening. Just at that moment of memory I looked up and saw that I was there. I had come upon that lawn which I had fixed for all these hours to be my goal.


And in the end, that immortality that comes with memory of land, deed, family, and polity Belloc combined with the naming of things, with what we have done and not done, with the sorrow of our endings and the hope of our rising.


            When Belloc left the oldest men of the four, who were indeed himself, Grizzlebeard said to the others:

 

\But I who am old will give you advice, which is this -- to consider chiefly from now onward those permanent things which are, as it were, the shores of this age and the harbours of our glittering and pleasant but dangerous and wholly changeful sea.

When he had said this (by which he meant Death), the other two, looking sadly at me, stood silent also for about the time in which a man can say good-bye with reverence.


This is the world that is, isn't it, Shakespeare's world, Belloc's world, Sophocles' world, were our lives seek the "harbours of our glittering and pleasant but dangerous and wholly changeful sea."


            Ambrose of Milan, to whom the young Augustine listened so carefully, wrote in the same discourse on the death of his brother: "Death is then no cause for mourning, something to be avoided, for the Son of God did not think it beneath his dignity, nor did he seek to escape it."


            "Shakespeare often tells us what we can be or should be. Here (in "Troilus and Cressida") he tells us what, unfortunately, we all too often are."


            In the passage from Revelation on All Saints' Day, we read:

And all the angels stood round the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, crying, "Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honour, power and might, be to our God for ever and ever! Amen."


We will understand modern man, understand what, "unfortunately, we all too often are," when we again know the relation between All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day, when we again know with Plato the philosophic reasons for the immortality of our souls, but also with Ambrose, know why "without the assistance of grace," this same "immortality is more of a burden than a blessing."


            "To be wise is to suffer." We say "good-bye with reverence." For "it was the Day of the Dead."


30) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 16 (April, 1998), 59.

THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY: CREDO UT INTELLIGAM


            Easter is this: Christ, true man, crucified under Pontius Pilate, a Roman Governor in Palestine, died, was buried, and rose again on the third day. Several identifiable, credible witnesses saw Him, ate with Him. He was same Jesus from Nazareth who died, not some other man. This man, Jesus, in fact, was executed in a public trial. The trial was doubtlessly a frame-up. But the execution took place.


            However, this Jesus was, in His being, a divine person. He was "God from God, light from light." His rising again was part of a divine plan to redeem all men from their sins and to lead them into the condition in which Christ now was, resurrected in His body. Jesus was not some abstraction or shadow. He was human in all things, but sin. He was likewise divine, of the Godhead.


            Christ's coming was intended to explain the inner life of God to us, as well as our own inner lives. Christ's resurrection is a perplexity to the philosophers and scientists throughout the ages. They lack the tools to test it by repeating it, so they doubt it. Plato, the philosopher, however, thought divine life was suffused with goodness. Aristotle thought it moved by thought and love. Christ spoke directly of His Father, the Almighty. He spoke of sending His Spirit, of coming again.


            While it is important for us to know about God with our own powers, the fact is that we know precious little, even with the most diligent work, a work, however, that Aristotle said we should earnestly undertake. The Christian scriptures can be read by anyone. One might not "believe" them, but what they maintain is at least intelligible, with, whatever we make of it, some tangible evidence for it. What these accounts imply is that this Christ, true man, died as man, and rose again, still as man. This rising is, because of who Christ is, the grounds for teaching that each human being, after dying, shall also rise again. This does not happen by human power or configurations, but it happens.


            Approaching the Third Millennium, we are to think particularly, as John Paul II told us, of the specific Christian teaching about God, about His inner life, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost or Spirit. We think too little of what God is, in fact. We are culpable in this neglect, for there is much to think about and to learn. We have been sent the Holy Spirit by whom we are able to call God what He wishes to be called, "Abba, Father." God is not some sort of being now father, now mother, now all the above mixed up. These latter sort of images arise from current philosophy. They are unfortunately imposed back on right thinking about God. The distinctions within God come before any distinctions within creatures such as that of male and female. If, in teaching us, revelation uses images we know, father-son, it is because they are the closest we might approach to understanding by analogy what the inner life of God might be like.


            But the resurrection of the body seems the ultimate absurdity. "Where is the mechanism?" we might inquire. Each us, it is true, has a unique genetic structure that appears as such only in us. An intelligibility, that might almost be called a "word," exists in the way we are put together, however we might concoct its precise formulae.


            In Paris in August, John Paul II observed that "Jesus Christ has reversed the meaning of human existence. If everyday experience shows us this existence as a passage toward death, the pascal mystery opens us to the perspective of a new life beyond death. ... The Church, which professes her belief in Jesus' death and resurrection has every reason to speak these words (from the Creed): 'We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.'"


            Probably if we were present at the resurrection of Christ, the scientific question would not have occurred to us, the asking Christ to "do that again so we can see just how He pulled it off." Rather, looking at the fact we would realize that, "This is what I want for myself!" We do not necessarily want to live forever in the condition in which we now are. We know that we shall die, as Christ did.


            But we do want what we are to continue, body and soul. We might not see how this is possible, but no doubt we want it. Thus, if we believe in the resurrection of the body, we do so that we might understand what it implies. It implies just what we want.


31) Prepared for Sense and Nonsense, Crisis.                                                                                    


ON SOME NIETZSCHEAN APHORISMS


            In Preface of Beyond Good and Evil, a most provocative title, mindful of Genesis, Nietzsche (✝1900) tells us that both "Jesuitism" and "democratic enlightenment" can reduce the pressure for living according to the "truth", a truth stemming from Plato and the Bible that Nietzsche himself wanted to get rid of Jesuits, by their casuistry, and democratic enlightenment, mainly by inventing newspapers, made people comfortable and distracted in their moral slavery.


            Contented and diverted, people would not increase the tension needed for the explosion Nietzsche thought necessary to accomplish his own goal. Instead of teaching people to live according to virtue and faith, Jesuits taught them probabilism, a lax sort of morality that left most people off the hook by finding subtle, if improbable, excuses for what they did. Nietzsche hastened to affirm that he was neither "a Jesuit nor a democrat". Frederick Nietzsche, S. J., does have a certain ring to it.


            "Jesuitism" did take its lumps from Nietzsche. Coming back to the relaxation of tension by lessening obligation, Nietzsche held that telling the common man that it was all right to be common or mediocre, was the worst of sins.

 

The worst and most dangerous thing of which a scholar is capable comes from the instinct of mediocrity which characterizes his species; from that Jesuitism of mediocrity which instinctively works for the destruction of the uncommon man and tries to break -- or better still! -- relaxes every bent bow. For relaxing -- with consideration, with indulgent hand, naturally, relaxing with importunate pity: that is the true art of Jesuitism, which has always understood how to introduce itself as the religion of pity (p. 114).


The scholarly species to which Jesuits presumably belong supports mediocrity by its pity, by its excuses for the moral errors and sins of the common man.  


            Instead of teaching man the blunt truth, Jesuits relax the burden of truth because they pity the weakness of Christians, all of whom Nietzsche already thought to be radically ennervated by Christian doctrine. Jesuits are afraid to teach the truth. They refuse to accept that men can observe it, so they pity them by lessening their moral expectations of them. None of this, be it noted, is intended to be a compliment either to the Jesuits or the truth. It is prophetic that Nietzsche saw a relation between moral laxness or compassion and pity.


            Nietzsche produced some five thousand short aphorisms. Scattered throughout many of his works are brief, pithy statements or sayings that, on examination, contain the drift of what he was proposing. They are memorable, not unlike Chesterton's paradoxes, but leading in precisely the opposite direction to that of Chesterton. It does not take too long to see what Nietzsche had against Jesuitism and democratic enlightenment. Let it be said that Nietzsche is nothing if not amusing, charming, and devastatingly ironic. One can hardly believe that he means what he says. Man needs a noble cause, he thinks, to save himself. But this cause does not have to be at all true. It just has to be "noble", something to bring us together, out of ourselves, some enthusiasm, some grandiose scheme of things.


            Take the following Aphorism (#104): "It is not their love for men but the impotence of their love for men that hinders the Christians of today from -- burning us."


            That sentence is provocative. If Christians really loved men, they would have burned Nietzsche, as they did Bruno, long ago. True Christians burn heretics. Why? because they know the immense damage heretics can do. Who can do the most damage? Nietzsche himself, of course. But Christians of today (1885) are gutless wonders, as they say. They will burn nobody and Nietzsche will win. Conclusion: Christians do not love men. Conclusion: Christians are not Christian. God is dead.


            Aphorism #153 reads: "That which takes place out of love always takes place beyond good and evil."


            Again, something appears directly contrary to Christian teaching wherein love is not and cannot be "beyond" good and evil, but something that takes its primary orientation from what is good, its primary aversion from what is evil.


            Aphorism #126 connects politics and the Nietzschean philosopher: "A people is a detour of nature to get six or seven great men. -- Yes: and then to get around them."


            Nietzsche scorned believers who did not practice what they professed. We forget how engaging the devil can be. Aphorism #129: "The devil has the widest perspectives for God, and that is why he keeps so far away from him -- the devil being the oldest friend of knowledge." The devil told Eve that what God told them was a lie.


            Nietzsche is said to be one of the major intellectual architects of our time.


32) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 14 (January, 1996), 58.                                                         


"NO PATIENCE FOR DIVISIONS"


            John Paul II interests himself in a hundred things at once. In his letter on the Third Millennium and in his Encyclical on Christian Unity, he has let us know what he thinks about the diversity that exists among Christians. Roughly, it ought to stop. While not lessening the importance of prayer for unity, the Holy Father is putting considerable pressure on all of us, Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox, to come clean. This historic disunity ought to stop, preferably by the Year 2000. This disarray among Christians disrupts his further plans with regard to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and whoever.


            Christian disunity, the Pope thinks, has lasted too long. Let's leave it at the Twentieth Century and go on to what the world ought to be about. One cannot help but be amused and delighted by how this greatest man of our time operates. He is so far beyond most of us that we do not even suspect what he is thinking about next. What he does seems humanly impossible, except that he is about the most human man that we have ever seen. What he does in fact is not humanly possible. That is probably why he is treated so gingerly by those who confuse us either from within the Church or with other visions of human purpose.


            The Holy Father, however, is at home on all grounds, social, philosophical, literary, human, theological, what have you. No other public figure ever spoke to the United Nations in all six of its official languages. No other public figure could. Likewise, no one has ever talked to us simultaneously of moral philosophy in Veritatis Splendor, of the fall of Marxism and the free market as in Centesimus Annus, of the essentials of our faith as in the Catechism, and of heaven knows what in almost everything else he does. He has spoken to women in Cairo and Bejing, of St. Thomas to the Dominicans, to Franciscans about St. Francis' concern about Islam, to universities about what they are in Ex Corde Ecclesiae. He has taught us to read and preach the Scripture again, all of it. His ordinary sermons in ordinary parishes in almost anywhere on the planet -- where has he not been? -- make us wonder whether he has not surpassed, both in depth and in quantity, all the other homilies of all the other bishops put together.


            At Castel Gandolfo on August 30, 1995, he talked of Christian unity. To recall this brief elocution during January, the month devoted to Christian unity, seems fitting. "The faith tells us that the Church's unity is not only a future hope: it already exists. Jesus Christ did not pray for it in vain." When we start from this position, the many distinct churches on our blocks look different. The visible unity is not yet achieved. The Church is holy, but requires our renewal and forgiveness; it is catholic, but needs missionary activity to find ways to respect and vitalize other cultures.


            Christian unity is not something that we produce by ourselves, then turn to God to approve our efforts. "The problem of ecumenism is not to bring about from nothing a unity that does not yet exist, but to live fully and faithfully, under the action of the Holy Spirit, that unity in which the Church was constituted by Christ." We have seen an energetic effort on the part of the Pope to gather all Christian denominations in a serious conversation about their differences. We have made progress, even agreements about common principles. But the agreement cannot be simply from below. The Church is "a gift from on high. A redeemed people, the Church has a unique structure that differs from that which regulates human societies." This sentence is powerful and clarifying, since many of the problems with the Church come from those who insist on treating it as a human organization to be modeled on and criticized as if it were a political entity. However, "the Church ... receives her institution and structure from Jesus Christ." This structure includes the papacy and episcopacy. The principle of authority in the Church is to serve. "This is the basis of Church structure."


            What I like about John Paul II is his utter honesty and uncanny ability to state both what he is as pope and what the Church is, not because it makes sense philosophically, though in an odd way it does, witness his own ability to talk to the world, but because it is structured as Christ would have it. That the churches come to see this divine structure is an immediate task. What the Pope is telling us is to get at it.


33) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 11 (November, 1993), 49-50.                                                

"ADOREMUS IN AETERNUM SANCTISSIMUM SACRAMENTUM!"


            The Latin title to this column contains the initial words of John Paul II, on June 12, 1993, when he was at the Eucharistic Congress in Seville, in Spain, in its famous Cathedral. The words mean, of course, simply, "Let us adore unto eternity the most Holy Sacrament."


            The moving photo in L'Osservatore Romano (June 23, 1993) shows the Holy Father at the Altar with the Monstrance containing the Most Holy Sacrament blessing the people. The Pope is wearing the cope. Around his shoulders is the veil, the ends of which, as is the custom, he holds about the base of the Monstrance. He, even the Pope, does not wear any headdress at this solemn moment -- symbolic of man, every man, before God. His white hair though slightly ruffled is noble. His eyes with gentle attention concentrate on the Host in the Monstrance. Again I think to myself, as I often do, "What a man this Pope is!"


            The subject of the Holy Father's homily on this occasion in Seville was "Eucharistic Devotion outside of Mass." This devotion is what we normally call Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament -- usually a brief ceremony with which many of us are familiar since youth. I can recall with my brothers serving at this lovely service at old St. Anthony's Parish in Knoxville. In the Order, we used to have Benediction on Sunday afternoon and on holy days. There were moments in my life when, I was sure, this devotion was particularly salvific for me.


            The music -- "O Salutaris" and "Tantum Ergo" -- is haunting and familiar. The "Tantum Ergo" was part of the lovely "Pange Lingua" composed by St. Thomas Aquinas for the Feast of "Corpus Christi". I have found Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament somehow unique, a devotion of quiet, undisturbed adoration, except sometimes when one or two of the brethren were significantly off key on the "O Salutaris". (A good account of the intellectual and liturgical background to Benediction can be found in James Weisheipl, O. P., Friar Thomas D'Aquino, Catholic University Press, pp. 176-86),


            To all those before him in Seville -- "Dear Brother Bishops, Priests and Religious, Dear Brothers and Sisters" -- John Paul II began solemnly:

 

United with the angels and saints of the heavenly Church, let us adore the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. Prostrate, we adore this great mystery that contains God's new and definitive covenant with humankind in Christ. It gives me great joy to kneel with you before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, in an act of humble and fervent adoration, in praise of the merciful God, in thanksgiving to the giver of all good gifts and in prayer to the One who "loves forever to make intercession" for us (cf. Hebrews 7:25).


How he teaches us, this man!


            The most exalted and primary act of an individual human being, the one most contrary to the secular and humanist spirit of our time, and therefore the one most needed, is that of adoration, of the acknowledgement of the reality of God. For Christians, this Christ, this Second Person of the Trinity, is present in the Sacrament, under the appearances of Bread and Wine.


            The custom of reservation of the Blessed Sacrament in the beginning had to do with being able to take Communion to the sick. Benediction, of course, which as such really only became popular after the 15th Century, is not intended to take the place of or to be in competition with Mass or Vespers. Sometimes, as Cardinal Ratzinger remarked, in our day we have the opposite problem. We tend of late to put too much burden on the Mass, making it suffice for everything, changing its hours and even its shape so that no other devotion, adapted to different times, moods, and people, is practiced, advised, or even permitted.


            "When we speak of worship in the parish community, we immediately think exclusively of the Eucharist," Ratzinger remarked in his Feast of Faith.

 

But this very fact expresses the regrettable narrowing and impoverishment which have taken us in these last years. The Eucharist is the heart and center of our worshipping life, but in order to be this center it must have a many-layered whole in which to live (Ignatius, p. 153).


Ratzinger mentioned in particular the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross. (See this column of October, 1988, on the Rosary).  


            The Holy Father in his homily in Seville was especially concerned with Benediction and Perpetual Adoration services. (Perpetual Adoration is a service that normally takes the form of a prolonged Benediction). "The continual adoration of Jesus in the Host was the leitmotif of all the work of this International Eucharistic Congress...," the Pope observed.

 

The continual adoration -- which took place in many churches throughout the city, and in some even at night -- was an enriching feature that distinguished this Congress. If only this form of adoration ... would continue in the future too, so that in all the parishes and Christian communities the custom of some form of adoration of the Eucharist might take place.


Many parishes, in fact, have a particular devotion to Perpetual Adoration of the Sacrament -- I think of St. Michael's Parish over in Annandale. Contemplative orders of nuns have this devotion -- I think of the Good Shepherd Sisters, of the Carmelites, of course.


            In the thorough and clear account of the Eucharist, in its theology and practice, Le Catéchisme de la Eglise Catholique has a brief discussion it calls "Le culte de l'Eucharistie." This is what it says about this devotion, about our external presence, and even about the construction of the church itself to foster our understanding and devotion:

 

In the liturgy of the Mass, we express our faith in the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine, among other ways, by bending our knees (genuflecting), or by bowing profoundly as a sign of adoration of the Lord (#1378)


We are to give some sign before the Sacred Presence that we know and acknowledge the truth before us -- generally in the West we genuflect, in the East we bow profoundly.


            The Catechism continues to make its point clear by citing with approval Paul VI's "Mysterium Fidei" (1965):

 

The Catholic Church has rendered and continues to render this cult of adoration which is due to the Sacrament of the Eucharist not only during Mass, but also outside of its celebration, in conserving with the greatest care the consecrated Hosts, in presenting them to the faithful in order that they might venerate them with solemnity, and in bearing them in procession.


Adoration, what is owed to God, is due to the Sacrament, to the Host, but not because we humans have established the truth of this reality but because this is what Christ instituted among us. By custom, various ways have become common and are to be encouraged -- Benediction, visits to the Blessed Sacrament, and the special processions, typical of many Latin countries.


            Next, the Catechism turns its attention to the tabernacle where the Hosts should be reserved for the sick and for those who want Communion outside of Mass. By taking cognisance of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the Church fosters the "silent adoration of the Lord present under the Eucharistic Species." For this reason the tabernacle ought to be placed in a "particularly worthy place" in the Church. It ought to be constructed in such a fashion "to underline and manifest the truth of the real presence of Christ in the Holy Sacrament" (#1379). We should not pass over lightly here the notion found in this passage that architecture can be used to "manifest the truth" of Christian doctrine.


            The custom of visits to the Blessed Sacrament, in quiet prayer, moreover, are essential to the worship and adoration of the believing Community. The Pope cited this very passage from the Catechism about "silent adoration" before the Lord in the Eucharist in his Seville homily. He remarked, finally, "You know well that he various forms of Eucharistic devotion are both an extension of the Sacrifice and of Communion and a preparation for them." Then he asked, rhetorically, "Is it necessary to stress once again the deep theological and spiritual motivation which underline devotion to the Blessed Sacrament outside the celebration of the Mass?"


            Well, I suppose it is necessary in a way. We -- priests, bishops, sisters, ordinary Catholics alike -- need to be guided in how to worship God in our way, our Catholic way. This is why we have a Pope. Benediction, visits before the Blessed Sacrament, and Perpetual Adoration are our tradition, some of the ways we have learned to adore and worship that extraordinary fact that the Lord is present among us in the Host.


            We are human beings and we have, no doubt, many things to do. The one thing we cannot neglect to do, however, is to worship God in the way the Holy Father so movingly teaches us by his words and actions, seeing him there with the Monstrance blessing the faithful in Seville.


            "Adoremus in aeternum Sanctissimum Sacramentum!"


34) From prepared for Sense and Nonsense, Crisis.  


BRIEF THOUGHTS FOR THE BRIEFEST MONTH


            The late Allan Bloom remarked that the most unhappy souls in our society are the young men and women at the twenty or thirty best universities where they are not taught that they have souls. He thought they were unhappy, I take it, because they mostly believed what they were taught. What they were taught had little to do with reality, with what is, but they had to praise their learning, as it cost them so much, their very souls.


            The only really liberal people are those who are free to discover the truth and who are brave enough to affirm it. The only way to shock us is to affirm that the Ten Commandments have a point that corresponds to our own possibility of happiness.


            The most dangerous thing one can do is to accurately describe a political regime in terms of what it actually is, not in terms of what it says it is. No one is accurately describing democracies today, describing what it is they actually are, what they actually have become. It is much too dangerous.


            For the first time in my lifetime, indeed perhaps in modern times, one must begin to wonder about the essential orthodoxy of one's own clergy and bishop. They may be perfectly orthodox, but then again they may not. One can no longer just assume it. Obscure journals maintain that the third Fatima secret has something to do with theologians and bishops betraying the faith, that is, confusing us about what it teaches.


            George Rutler has noted what is very difficult to say without being classified as a hopeless conservative. Namely, the results of Vatican Two have been in many ways horrendously bad for the Church.


            Most of the practices we associate with Sodom and Gomorrah are now civil rights and actively promoted as proper ways of life, not to be criticized, not even by quoting the Bible.


            Woodrow Wilson has finally won. We are going to make the world safe for democracy. We are still not sure if the kind of democracy we have now established, with its grounding in a freedom from anything higher than our own choosings, is safe for the world.


            The poverty of the world is not caused by a lack of resources, or by a lack of energy, or by a lack of anything else except those ideas, religious ideas often, about the nature of the works and man's institutions in it that allow us to eliminate it. Poverty is caused by the ideas and beliefs that we have, ideas that often sound noble and are held of pious men of good will.


            Our era of one in which we are trying to put into effect the egalitarian ideas about family and sex that were proposed in the Fifth Book of The Republic. What we do not know is that these ideas are not meant for our kind to be established.


            We will live to see the Tomb of the Unknown Woman Soldier, though with our technology, she will be known, like the men on the Vietnam Memorial. Today anonymity is reserved for the unborn. We will have no public monument to them until we repent. This monument to the Unknown Woman Soldier will be the sign of democratic corruption of nature. The monument to the Unknown Fetus will only be erected when the Unknown Woman Soldier turns her sword in her babies.


            The disorders of our souls are being lived out in the public forum, in our laws, our diseases, our poverty. Mother Teresa said that the worst poor were found in the richest lands. The poor in the Third World, she thought, only lack things. The spiritual poor in the rich world lack virtue. They lack it because they have read philosophy books which taught them that it did not exist. They had no place to go to hear otherwise after the Churches began to preach only the social gospel which maintained that our faults lie in our systems. When Rousseau became the teacher of theologians, there was no place to escape to.


            If we look into our souls, we will find that we did not create ourselves. We will also find that there is an order of things. Yet, we want to know all things and seem to have the capacity to do so.


            The link between our thoughts and the world outside of us is our hand. The human hand is the greatest tool in the universe. Every hand is different. Lend me your hand. God would not have needed to create the physical universe if we did not have hands.


            The world exists so that love can be multipied in its intensity, not fused together in one general equality. What we discover about God is that He loves us all, but He loves us all differently. God begins as an egalitarian but ends as an elitist. He will have nothing half-hearted. Blessed be He.


            The greatest of problems is not that we want too much, but that we want too little. It is God that maintains that we are made for eternal life. We tend to think we are made for some society down the ages after we are dead and gone.


            What we do is important, but only because we are already important, from the moment of conception. If we are not important then, we are not important later but subject to the manipulations of states and sciences that want to make this the best possible world. We are already in the best possible world. This is why we are told to love one another. We do not give worth to others, but discover it already mysteriously in them.


            Why are you saying all these pithy and outlandish things in February, the Shortest Month? It is because I cannot get over all those sad students in the best universities whose souls have never been thouched by the grandeur or what is.


            Doesn't this what is stuff smack of St. Thomas? Indeed. John Paul II said to a meeting of erstwhile Thomists in 1986, that "the problem of the soul is linked to the question which man always asks himself about the profound meaning of his experience and of the principle of his life, tought, and action. In every age, man is a great mystery to himself. Man is born for truth and he restlessly seeks the truth about man, the answer to the question which St. Augustine posed in this way: "What then am I, my God?" (Confessions, X, 17). The reason why the Pope is dangerous and thoroughly mistrusted in many places is because he insists on asking these questions when the universities and media refuse to do so.


            Mr. Clinton said that he was going to pick a Cabinet that "looks like America." He did. That is the problem.


            "What then am I, my God?" If we do not believe in God, to whom do we address this question? Ourselves? But we, individually or collectively, we do not know, do we?


            "Man is born for truth and he restlessly seeks the truth about man." We are not allowed to say such things about ourselves. If we maintain that we are born for truth, we are called fascists who seek to impose our truth on others. If we relentlessly seek the truth about man, we are said to waste our time, because no one's truth is better than another's.


            If such are thoughts in the Shortest Month, warn us when you come to the Longest Month.

            I still like St. Augustine's question to himself -- "What then am I, my God?" If someone is going to explain me to me, I prefer it not be the democracy nor the professors in the twenty best universities.


            Does that mean you are a bit of a pessimist? It is pretty hard, in fact, to be a pessimist and a Christian. Indeed, it is not possible. We still need, as the Pope said, a little of St. Thomas' metaphysics to understand the reality of our personhood. "The greatest perfection is given to being understood as the 'act of being' (esse ut actus). Here, the person, much more than 'nature' or 'essence,' by means of the act of being which sustains him, is exalted to the very height of the perfection of being and reality..." (The Pope Speaks, v. 31, #2, 1986, p. 100). Again, I worry, the problem with Christianty in February is that it promises us too much, not too little. No wonder it cannot be heard in the universities or the democracy. This doctrine is dangerous, we should not doubt it.


            The Archbishop of San Francisco has warned of upcoming persecutions and sufferings for Catholics. But will anyone be able to find them? Will they sound just all the other graduates of the best universities?


            "What then am I, my God?"


35) From Sense and Nonsense, Crisis, 12 (February, 1994), 60-62. 

                                             

HORACE


            Don't ask me why, but on Thanksgiving morning, before going over to friends for dinner, I was looking through the 29 September 1993, English Edition of L'Osservatore Romano. On the back page, I noticed that the Vatican Post Office had issued two postcards on "Bimillenary of Horace's Death." Quintus Horatius Flaccus, the great Latin poet, was born in Venosa, Lucania, near heel in Southern Italy, in 65 B.C. He died in Rome on November 17 (some say 27th), in the year 8 B.C.


            The postcards, from a 15th Century Codex (#3173) in the Vatican Library, contain two different reproductions of Horace climbing Mount Helicon. Also on the back of one of the cards is reproduced from Codex Chigi H (VII 229), also of the 15th Century, a page print from Enea Silvio Piccolomini's edition of Porphyry's (A.D. 233-304) commentary on Horace. Piccolomini was to become Pope Pius II (1458-64). The Vatican Library had organized an Exhibit for the 2000th anniversary of Horace's death by displaying its codices and incunabula (extant copies of books produced before 1500) from the 9th to the 16th Century, indicating how this material was preserved and emphasizing the Library's Horatian holdings.


            I tried to recall what I have on Horace on my book shelves. I have a wonderful chapter on Horace by Gilbert Highet in his Poets in a Landscape: Great Latin Poets in the Italy of Today (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1957) which someone had given to me in Rome, a lovely book. "Alone and thoughtful, Horace wrote letters to his friends," Highet wrote.

 

Lonely people write letters, so that they can communicate even with those whose eyes are turned elsewhere. Often such letters are merely negative, calls for sympathy, cries of despair. Often they are dreary personal reports.... But Horace was one of the great letter-writers -- as, we may judge from his other poems, he had been one of the great talkers and charmers. He gave positive and winning advice. He sketches, in these poetic Letters, both his own character and the personalities of his correspondents. He gossiped without rambling. And into some of his Letters, he distilled the thought of a lifetime -- on ethics, on literature, on social life.


As I am a great lover of letters, I find this ancient writer of them of great fascination.


            On my shelves, I also have several collections of Latin authors that have some translations of Horace. I went over to the Library which has a fine collection on Horace. Indeed, as Father John Songster told me, there used to be a Horace Society here at Georgetown. I did not know of that society but I notice in Coleman Nevils' Miniatures of Georgetown (1934), the following rather poignant remark:

 

Latin and Greek for over one hundred and twenty-five years were required subjects for the Bachelor of Arts, and it was only with the World War that military science was accepted as a substitute for Greek. From the start every encouragement is given to those who did special work in the classics; this was particularly true of Latin. One of the handsomest medals ever struck by the United States Mint is the Horace Medal....


I have never seen that Medal, but I presume it is around here someplace, so I will have to look it up. Just what one is to make of the relation of Greek and military science, both worthy subjects, is anybody's guess.


            In any case, the book I could not resist on the Library shelves was a two volume collection of The Works of Horace. It would be impossible for me to resist citing the title page of this collection:

 

The Works of Horace, Translated into English Prose, as Near as the Propriety of the Two Languages Will Admit, together with the Original Latin, from the Best Editions. Wherein the Words of the Latin Text Are Ranged in their Grammatical Order; the Ellipses Carefully Supplied; the Observations of the Most Valuable Commentators, both Ancient and Modern, Represented; and the Author's Design and Beautiful Descriptions Fully Set Forth in a Key Annexed to Each Poem, with Notes Geographical and Historical; also the Various Readings of Dr. Bentley, the Whole Adapted to the Capacities of Youth at School, as well as of Private Gentlemen.


Obviously, for some decades now, I have not qualified as a "youth at school"; but when it comes to Horace, I might modestly claim, granting the difference Orders make, some modest proximity to the "capacities" of a "private gentleman".


            This particular edition comes, not unexpectedly, as a reprint of the London original: "Printed for T. Longman, B. Law and Son; C. Dilly; J. Johnson; R. Baldwin; T. Vernor; Oglivy and Speare; G. and T. Wilkie; and W. Darton and J. Harvey, MDCCXCII." Dilly, I believe, was one of Samuel Johnson's publishers. I think Darton and Longman are still in business. Eric Mascall's marvelous The Christian Universe (1966), which I have been rereading, was published in London by "Darton, Longman, & Todd," Todd obviously being a late-comer.


            The original Edition was edited by David Watson, M.A., (1710-56), St. Leonard's College, St. Andrews, in Scotland. This version was "revised and carefully corrected throughout" in 1792 by W. Crakelt, M.A. (1741-1812).


            Horace, no doubt, was the most delightful and witty of the Latin poets. He wrote Epodes, Odes, Satires, and Letters, all in verse. Horace studied in Athens, was caught in the civil war that resulted from the murder of Julius Caesar. Indeed, he joined the forces of Brutus in the Battle of Phillipi. He later became a friend of Augustus Caesar, and indeed was invited to become his general secretary, something he refused to do. The fact that he could reject this appointment and get by with it is looked upon by most authors as a remarkable act of courage on Horace's part and a sign of Octavian's esteem for him.


            Horace's father seems to have been a slave who was eventually freed to become an assistant auctioneer. He sought to give his son a good education both in Rome and in Athens. At first sight, moreover, Horace's writings contain rather a good deal of personal information. Of all the ancient writers, we know perhaps more of Cicero, St. Paul, St. Augustine, and Horace than of any others.

            On the other hand, it is sometimes difficult to know, when Horace was writing about himself, whether he was really writing about something he actually did. He often imitated Greek poets and in fact considered this effort to translate Greek forms into Latin to be among his most important contributions to Roman literature. Daniel Garrison in his book Horace (University of Oklahoma Press, 1991) observes to this point:

... Though as a rule Horace tells the truth, it is not always the whole truth. No other major poet in antiquity tells us more about himself and his life than Horace, but everything he says is calculated to fit the occasion. Horace's overall public image, sometimes ... is mellow, good-humored, philosophic, detached, and rational.... We enjoy the personality Horace puts before us, we even feel affection for it, but we need not confuse it with historical fact.


Horace's wit, for which we can forgive him much, can be biting, but it is also in the service of a natural rightness that sees in our foibles precisely the exaggeration of a norm against which we measure our acts.


            Horace found a patron in Maecenas, who eventually enabled him to live in Tivoli and then on a small farm in the Sabine hills. Horace displayed that distrust of public life, its dangers and inconveniences that we associate with the Epicureans and early Stoics. Every one has heard the expression "carpe diem", which means roughly that we should "enjoy the day", not worry about things beyond us since we can know nothing about them, so that we should not be unsettled by the gods or the idols or our attempts to fathom the future.


            In context, this famous passage reads (Odes, I, 11):


                        Sapias, vina liques, et spatio brevi

            Spem longam reseces; dum loquimur, fugerit invidia

            Aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.


                        ("Be wise, drink your wine, and cut off for a brief period your distant hope; while we speak, envious time flees away from us, so seize the day, trust as little as possible in the future").


The context of this passage has to do with certain ladies interested in fortune tellers, in failing to do what we can in the time given to us. If we do what we can and what is right today, the future will take care of itself.


            During my Roman years, as I called them, when I was teaching at the Gregorian University, I recall one Sunday my friend Charles Lowe, an Englishmen, who with his Irish wife and children I had met in Milan, but living in Rome at the time, invited me to climb Mount Soracte with him. Soracte is North of Rome, not too far; it rises to about three thousand feet. On the top of Soracte used to be a Temple of Jupiter and more recently a convent.             One of Horace's most famous odes (I,9) is about this Mountain which, in Winter, stands white in deep snow against the sky -- Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte....


            Of Horace's Satires no one can fail to mention the one (I,9) about the bore he meets on the Via Sacra:


            Ibam forte via sacra, sicut meus est mos,

            Nescio quid meditans nugarum, totus in illis;

            Accurit quidam notus mihi nomine tantum;

            Arreptaque manu, Quid agis, dulcissime rerum?


Roughly, "by chance one day, I was walking along the Via Sacra, as is my custom, thinking about I do not know what trifling thing, fully absorbed in it, when a certain man, barely known to me, came up, took my hand, and asked 'What are you doing, my dearest friend in all the world....'" How to deal with such bores who do not know they are bores is, no doubt, one of Horace's abiding contributions to civilization.


            But what struck me about Horace was the poignancy that we find in him about a civilization and its disorders, those that arise from disorders of our own souls and manners. In the Second Satire, Horace asks:


            Nonne cupidinibus statuit natura modum; quem,

            Quid latura sibi, quid fit dolitura negatum,

            Quaerere plus prodest, et inane abscindere soldo?


("Does not nature itself establish some limit to our desires, which limit we ought to seek out in order to know what can profit and what can be denied and by this means to separate the inane and the solid?")


            This passage and other similar ones in Horace in which he seemed to want to do what is right and yet realized his difficulty in so doing caused me to pause over the comment of, I presume, Mr. Watson, on this Satire:

 

As Horace, through the whole of this Satire, talks like a libertine, I have endeavoured to soften it in the translation, and flatter myself, I have rendered his sentiments in language that will not offend the chastest ear. It abounds with many excellent precepts, and such as may be very serviceable to the present age, in which men seem to have thrown off all restraint, and acknowledge no other rule of action but blind appetite. As to the excess before mentioned, this can only serve to convince us of the insufficiency of human reason, when left to itself, and the superior merit of that religion, which enables us to correct those errors, that some of the greatest men among the ancients blindly gave into. I once intended to have omitted the translation of the latter part of this Satire, but reflecting that it might only serve to excite a hurtful curiosity, and that by not pointing out to youth the mistakes they were to guard against, they were exposed to the greater danger afterwards, I chose to render it in the manner I have done (I, p. 29).


No doubt, nothing could be more quaint than the end of this marvelous paragraph. But not even moralists in our time have the courage of Mr. Watson in the Eighteenth Century to state the truth about our capacity to do what is right by our own efforts. John Paul II has often said almost exactly the same thing.


            This reflection then is why the classics remain so important for Christianity. Not merely does it suggest how reason by itself, with its attempts to live properly, reaches certain impasses, but it also implies that these very impasses are precisely what opens our minds and souls to revelation. The more we cease to study the classics, the less we are able to understand even ourselves, even with the aid of Christianity. Thus, we owe a debt to the Vatican Library for its reminder of the 2000th year of Horace's death and to Mr. Watson and Mr. Crakelt who, in the Eighteenth Century, read him so charmingly and profoundly.


            In the last of the Twentieth Century, from Horace himself, we can ponder what he wrote to the Romans (Odes, III,6):


            Foecunda culpae secula nuptias

            Primum inquinavere, et genus, et domos:

              Hoc fonte derivata clades

               In patriam populumque fluxit.


"This age, full of vice, has first polluted marriage, then families, then homes: from this source came the corruption of our land and our people." Two thousand years after his death, as we increasingly reject revelation, Horace, it seems, becomes ever more pertinent.



“New Series.”


1) Sense and Nonsense                                                                                    James V. Schall, S. J.


SECOND THOUGHTS ON GLOBALIZATION


            The greatest buzz word of our time is, no doubt, “globalization.” Globalization is when a man with a cell phone on the Metro in Washington talks to a colleague in a skyscraper in Tokyo about opening a branch office in Hamburg. Many people can hardly wait to have a genuine global government that would correspond to the scope of world wide business, communications, and arms. They want courts, taxing powers, and police that would be able to reach, without local interference, from international political organs directly to the individuals in whatever state. Whether such a government is more likely to help mankind or to be a tyranny on a world scale is seldom wondered about.


            Belloc’s thesis of “the servile state,” I must confess, haunts me. He thought that modern corporations would gradually offer to take care of all of us from cradle to grave if we would implicitly consent to be their docile subjects. Modern governments, however, are more likely than corporations to serve as our wardens and guardians. Ironically, the greatest threats of tyranny today arise from proposals to take care of us, not from threats to enslave us. Or, perhaps better, our enslavement is offered to us as a kindness. If we consent to be taken care of, we will not notice that we are not free.


            Is there an alternative to globalization? Or how would we even think of one? Globalization is when, as I saw in a United Airlines ad the other day, all flights from the U. S. East Coast to European capitals are twenty dollars cheaper than any flight to the West Coast U. S. cities. This price difference may mean that more volume of travel goes to Europe than to San Diego. And of course, we do not much fly to places of famine, war, or extreme poverty. What we notice is that when we do go to Europe or when Europeans come to the States, the folks working in the kitchens and on the streets often come from places of famine, war, and extreme poverty. We do not like to think how they got there.


            The poor of the world are said to be a problem. The population control folks have long proposed that the best way to solve the poverty problem is to “inhibit” the poor from begetting. Billions have been spent for this presumably happy purpose. What has happened, however, is that the rich are the ones who have mostly stopped begetting. The result is that the rich need labor since they do not have children, hence labor, of their own. This condition results in an enormous flow of migration from poor to rich countries. We live by other people’s children. The poor settle into these more wealthy countries, begin to change the face of the older lands. Settled customs are strained to the breaking-point.


            Poverty, some enthusiasts tell us, is caused by “unjust structures.” This implies that political solutions can be found to moral problems before moral solutions to political problems. It does seem that free, responsible governments, with generally free trade and valid laws of property and profit are necessary if the poor nations are to become richer. We know how to produce wealth. But few of the customs and laws that cause wealth are in place where most needed. And it is contrary to our multi-cultural ideologies to suggest that some culture needs to take on the principles or habits of another. So we are caught in our own theories. We have a thesis about how to help the poor. We have another thesis about not interfering with the customs and habits of other folk.


            It is said of Aristotle that the reason he opposed the much vaunted empire theory of Alexander the Great, his own pupil, was that he did not think that vast empires, early forms of globalization, as it were, permitted the practice of real virtue in human life. This latter needed a much smaller scale in which to be properly operative. Instead of one world government, one globalized mass, maybe it would be better to have, not two hundred national states or political entitles, but say two thousand, or maybe five thousand. Maybe Singapore or Luxembourg is the wave of the future. If the District of Columbia is said to be fit to be a state (which it isn’t), why is not Los Angeles fit to be a nation? Or even Bakersfield? Why cannot our technology and our philosophy help us to be smaller rather than bigger? In short, is globalization the direction in which we should be going? I suspect not. We should be returning things to smaller units, to people, if they would, demanding responsibility for themselves.



2) Published in Crisis, 17 (December, 1999), 57-58.


OUR TIME


            Cicero, the Roman orator and philosopher, was concerned with this moral question: how can one be honorable and virtuous in a corrupt regime? He was not upset by the immorality of individuals but by the corruption of institutions designed to check and counteract these individual disorders of soul. When responsible institutions are corrupt, he thought, when they overlook the corruption within the institutions of the body politic, then the path to tyranny is open. Tyranny or despotism is a likely consequence of the disorder of soul that manifests itself in efforts to use the instruments of government for private gain or glory. Moreover, this tyranny is not likely to be ugly or off-putting, but quite popular. It will be embodied in political characters who are, ostensibly, quite charming and “sincere.”


            The turn of a century, of a millennium, is “our time.” Our news is full of hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, drought, and other natural disasters that worldwide media make us think are daily happing in our backyards. We bomb Serbia, Iraq, even Sudan. Timor is a war zone. A new mass shooting happens every month. Christians are persecuted on a wide scale, with little protest on their part. We just wait till something else breaks. We almost never have relief from such natural and man-made disasters going on half-way around the world, or across the country.


            Even our spiritual forces manifest themselves largely as instruments whose major purpose is to alleviate disaster. Nothing is transcendent. We hardly ever get out of this unbroken circle of urgency. Crisis (not the magazine!) has itself become the chief instrument for growth of governmental power and control. Often even our weather forecasting seems little more than an instrument to find someone to blame for nature’s ways.


            When we speak of “our time,” we realize that there are other times. Our culture is full of talk of such things as ”globalization,” of “new world orders,” of doctrines named after the current President that evidently allow, indeed encourage, in the name of “humanity,” an international incursion into all or any of these natural or man-made disasters. The sovereign national state is rapidly becoming obsolete, even in theory. A much larger “world-state” is charged with meeting all disasters and preventing their human causes, at the root of which, most often, is the existence of human beings themselves.


            What is perhaps most unsettling about this often much-praised world-state trend is the potential tyranny on a scale never before much imagined. We have few checks and balances to prevent it. Moreover, it will not be a tyranny of brute force but, as in much of the Twentieth Century, a tyranny of ideology, a tyranny that presents its case in the name of man and his world or cosmic good. Global warming, which seems largely to be either a myth or something wholly cyclic, is so present because it provides an easy excuse to impose a tyrannical control on all positive growth movements in the world, movements that can in fact meet the needs of mankind. As I have often thought, probably ecology and population control are the two most tyrannical movements in the world today. They are rapidly dwarfing any national sovereignty’s ability to prevent their take-over of its internal autonomy and order.


            Behind all of this, however, is, as the Greeks long thought, the disorder of the human soul in each of us. The real disorders are not at the public level but at the hidden level of soul. Perhaps a hundred ways exist to interpret the recent impeachment process in our time, in our society. In essence it represented a disorder of soul projected onto the public order in a way that revealed the soul of the democracy as its worst, as helpless and unwilling to acknowledge even that there is a disorder. The instruments of government designed to prevent this manifestation did not work because their working demands a sufficiency of virtue and good sense in the people capable of recognizing corruption at the deepest personal level. “Our time” begins not at the level of the world but at the level of our souls in their unwillingness to acknowledge and live by standards of what is good, standards that are not merely based on what we want and choose.


            Yet, even this public disorder of those who get by with what they want and of those with no willingness to stop it, goes back to a theory of mind that no longer maintains that there is any connection between what we know and what is. We choose our order of polity and soul on no other basis but what we want. We allow no other criterion and look upon those who see some natural or revelational standards as our only and most dangerous enemies.

             


3) Published in Crisis, 19 (October, 2002), 63.


“OUR PERSONAL PHILOSOPHY”


            In an old Peanuts, Charlie is sitting in a big, comfortable chair, quietly reading a book. Meantime, his little sister, Sally, walks by also reading a book. She announces, “We have to write a short piece for school that expresses our personal philosophy....” Charlie turns around with considerable perplexity to hear her continue, “So far, I’ve written ‘Who Cares?’ and ‘Forget it!’”


            In the last scene, Charlie, obviously concerned, returns to his own book, but he proposes another “personal philosophy,” namely his own – “How about, ‘Why me?’” Sally, turning around to walk away, still reading her book, adds, “That’s good. I’ll fit it in.”


            The very idea of a “personal” philosophy, of course, is probably a contradiction in terms. If I have a philosophy personal to me, and you have one personal to you, there is no possibility of either of us having a “philosophy” that states the truth of all things that we both hold in common.


            Sally seems to have understood this. After all, if my “personal philosophy” is “who cares?”, it means that whatever I might come up with makes no real difference to any one else. Or if I am to “forget it,” forget the whole project, it again implies that such heavy stuff is not worth anyone’s attention.


            Charlie’s suggestion, “Why me?”, reflects his own status as a perennial victim. This concept, I suppose, can be “fitted in” to any “personal” philosophy. It reflects, after all, the perennial complaint that the world is not “fair,” especially to me. Just who said it “should” be fair, of course, reflects another philosophy, one that hints that perhaps the world is not well made. And if the world is indeed not “fair,” what is it? Is “fairness” the ultimate criterion of reality? Could the world be, in our perception, “not fair” and still be eminently good? What does this “more good” do to our “personal philosophy?”


            C. S. Lewis suggested somewhere that when (and if) we get to heaven, everyone will be becoming more and more unlike each other at every moment. We are most alike in our sins and least alike in our virtues and gifts and glories. I am not here, God forbid, presenting a theory that justifies absolute diversity as the highest good. Yet, the greatest saints, Chesterton remarked, as very unalike one another. Criminals are pretty much alike. But saints do not become “gods” in any proper sense of that term, though they do become more themselves. They remain men and women, remain what they are created to be from their individual beginning in conception. This in part is what the Incarnation means for us, that it is all right not to be God.


            Who cares? Why me?


            My own “personal” philosophy is that I do not have, and ought not to have, any purely “personal” philosophy. Where, after all, would Schall get his own philosophy? From Schall, right? If neither Schall nor any one else should concoct his own personal philosophy, one meant for himself alone and dependent on himself alone, it means that nothing is wrong or dangerous in principle from my getting my philosophy from someone else.  


            St. Thomas’ philosophy is sometimes called the “philosophia perennis.” That is to say, that what St. Thomas held, what he cared about, as it were, was not necessarily something he thought up solely by himself. No doubt, as any of us might on a lesser scale, he did have insights that added to our knowledge of truth of things. But he did not think that, if what he said was true, that it was something he “owned.” If it was true, anyone could have it, hold it. Truth was a gift, even to St. Thomas, or Aristotle or Plato. Yet, when they saw it, it was St. Thomas or Aristotle or Plato who saw it.


            In Flannery O’Connor’s story, “Parker’s Back,” the hero, Parker, goes to a local county fair where he sees a man with tatoos all over him. This sight has an astonishing effect on Parker. “Until he saw the man at the fair, it did not enter his head that there was anything out of the ordinary about the fact that he existed.”


            If someone should ask me, which thank goodness no one does, what is my “personal philosophy?”, I would have to respond with this very Thomist idea about the extraordinariness of my own, and any one else’s, existence. Why is there something, not nothing? Why is this thing not that thing?


            Who cares? Forget it? Why me?


            The fact is that someone cares. Nothing will be forgotten, except hopefully my sins. And “why me?” -- because, like everyone else, I do not cause myself, yet I am. The most extraordinary fact of all, the most extraordinary philosophy, is that we exist, but not of ourselves.



4) Published in Crisis, 19 (June, 2001), 63.


MUNIFICENCE


            In Book Four of Aristotle’s Ethics, he discusses a virtue, variously translated as “liberality” or “generosity,” which has to do with how we stand to our wealth, or better, our material goods. Aristotle notes that a difference is detected between those who have much wealth and those who have little or only a moderate amount. He does not think that, from the point of view of virtue, it makes much difference if we have much or little wealth. We have essentially the same problem rich or poor, namely, how to rule ourselves with regard to our actual wealth. The poor man can be greedy, the rich man generous. Aristotle would be astonished at the modern view that the poor were virtuous simply because they are poor or that the rich were bad simply because they are rich, granted the dangers of both. He also understood that human beings need a certain amount of wealth simply to exist at all.


            The best way to come at this issue is through the salaries of professional athletes, especially basketball, football, and baseball players, not to forget golf, hockey, and tennis. They seem “unearned” and often cause a certain resentment. These salaries reach tens of millions of dollars over a five year period. Granted the nature of advertizing today, these salaries are not all that outlandish as it seems at first sight. If people did not freely watch the games, no such salaries would be paid. Before we worry too much about salaries of athletes, we need to look at the comparative salaries of lobbyists, corporate executives, professors, bond holders, government officials, Hollywood entertainers, and other such pricy folks. Athletes are not at the top.


            In general, the generation of wealth is a good thing. This principle does not approve drug money and mafioso activities, of course, but we have an economic system that does reward according to the interest of the buyers or consumers. If there is an ethical problem, it lies more in the reasons why people make possible such high incomes by “buying” the products of the athletes.


            What interests me here, however, are large incomes. We know that the highest income brackets do provide a significant percentage of tax monies. Half the legal industry seems engaged in preventing the government from getting it all. Even in Republican times, few think the government would not take more if it could.


            But the question is what happens to large sums of after-tax money in the hands of private citizens? This large amount of wealth is the grounds for the virtue Aristotle called “munificence,” as opposed to “liberality” dealing with smaller amounts. From the point of view of virtue, poor, medium, and rich people can manifest a virtue that shows that their souls are not controlled or corrupted by their wealth. They know what it is for, how to use and conserve what they have. It makes certain great gifts possible.


            Aristotle said that those with large amounts of wealth show their virtue in providing for three areas of reality that would otherwise not be so well attended to – that is, the good, the true, and the beautiful. If those with large amounts of wealth simply hoard it or waste it, some fault follows. They should, of course, provide for their own. But beyond that, their great wealth puts an obligation on them to use it for a public or private purpose that would not be stressed by the government or the poorer classes. Thus, when we see anyone with incomes in the millions of dollars, we know that they have large sums at their disposal. The question is, how do they deal with it? This is what the virtue of “munificence” is about.


            Much of the public display in Washington in museums or galleries or gardens, for example, is provided by donations from American businessmen who left their art collections to the public. What else could they do with it? And buildings and chairs are found on university campuses that are the result of wealth that sought to memorialize or legitimize itself in aiding the pursuit of knowledge and truth. Money given to churches, to help the poor, to health studies, all of this is made possible because of the munificent gifts of those with great wealth. And often munificence seeks to provide lasting arrangements so that wealth will be available to future generations.


            Of course, we must live in a society with a system of wealth production for this generosity to happen. We must also think that it is best for the government not to confiscate all wealth and control access to the good, true, and beautiful all by itself. We have here the key to a public policy that is virtue-oriented and understands the limits of the state.



5)


LITURGY


            After protesting that certain clerical professors should buy their own books, Fr. Joseph Fessio S. J. at Ignatius Press gave me a copy of Josef Cardinal Ratzinger’s The Spirit of the Liturgy. This present column is not a “review” of this incisive book, except to say that it is not to be missed. The book, I might add, is at times quite amusing: “Moving the Altar Cross aside to give an uninterrupted view of the priest is something I regard as one of the most absurd phenomena of recent decades” (84). Indeed.


            A further thesis of this book is that the personality of the priest should decrease so that central attention to the Lord and His sacrifice can increase. The priest is not an actor, nor is he a talk-show host, however much we are often hard pressed to tell the difference. A “clericalization,” even of the laity, has arisen in much contemporary liturgical practice. “Now the priest – the ‘presider’, as they now prefer to call him – becomes the real point of reference for the whole liturgy,” Cardinal Ratzinger writes.

 

Everything depends on him. We have to see him, to respond to him, to be involved in what he is doing. His creativity sustains the whole thing. Not surprisingly, people try to reduce this newly created role by assigning all kinds of liturgical functions to different individuals and entrusting the “creative” planning of the liturgy to groups of people who like to, and are supposed to, “make their own contributions”. Less and less is God in the picture. More and more important is what is done by the human beings who meet here and do not like to subject themselves to a “pre-determined patter.” The turning of the priest toward the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle (80).


That is a pungent phrase, the community as “a self-enclosed circle.” The community, however, does not “cause” the Sacrifice, but rather is first caused by it. The Mass does not “close in” but opens out, not to one another nor to the world, but to God the Father . The way we are to worship has been revealed to us. We do not worship one another or the world. Nor, like the classical philosophers, do we speculate about the First Movers.


            Chesterton once responded to a newspaper query about “what’s wrong with the world?” His pithy answer, “Dear Sir, I am,” evokes the presence of original sin in all of us. No “external” cause can be located for the world’s disorders. Chesterton’s remark remains an acute reminder of where we must start any thinking on the problems of this world. We begin not with “social structures,” nor with malformed institutions, but with something disoriented in our own souls. If we do not see that we must begin here, we are dangerous both to ourselves and to the world we claim to “reform.”


            Yet, Ratzinger’s book makes me think that Chesterton’s answer needs an addendum, an addendum that Chesterton would have approved. Our liturgy arises out of Christ’s atonement on the Cross for our sins. “What’s wrong with the world” is paradoxically that it does not worship God as God has established that He is to be worshiped. This proper worship, I think, comes before not after we decide to live virtuously, to live as we ought. Worship is the first thing, not the last thing.


            The Mass at its core is not a human creation. By ourselves, we are not free either to define what it is or to change it to something other than what was handed down to us. Worshiping God in the way that God indicated to us in revelation is not an indifferent matter. True, the word “religion” refers to our natural or rational response to God. In this sense, many “religions” are possible. This is why Christianity is not, properly speaking, a “religion.” It is not just another way of doing what other religions are doing, of making some kind of human response to what God is perceived to be.

             Men can, moreover, refuse to accept that a positive revelation has in fact taken place, one that obliges those who receive it to state precisely what it is and means. But those who receive this revelation and believe what it tells us to do – “Do this in memory of me” – are not free and should not think themselves free to interfere with the freedom of God in guiding us to what it is we most need, most want.


            Aidan Nichols, O.P, writes, in his Christendom Awake, that the “‘re-enchantment’ of the Catholic Liturgy is the single most urgent ecclesial need of our time” (21). The Spirit of the Liturgy spells out this need, this “re-enchantment,” in detail.



6) Published in Crisis, 17 (October, 1999), 59.


ON FREELY GIVING


            Early on the morning of the Eleventh Sunday of the Year, I said Mass. As I read the last words of the Gospel that day – from Matthew, 10:8 – I said to myself, “that doesn’t sound right.” Unfamiliar wording unexpectedly distracted me. I was using the new 1998 American Lectionary. After years of saying Mass and reading Scripture, one has a sixth sense about unaccustomed phrases. The distracting words were: “without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.” Without cost? Surely I had never heard those words before.


            Nothing is technically wrong with such words. But for amusement after Mass, I consulted several other sources about this unrecognized passage. The chapel in which I said Mass also had the 1970 American Missal. I looked up that translation: “the gift you have received, give as a gift.” That sounded only less odd than the 1998 version. One emphasizes “cost,” the other “gift.” Several years ago for Christmas, my brother and wife gave me the OSV/Scepter Daily Roman Missal (1994), in which the text is: “you have received without charge, give without charge” – this is what I now call the “MasterCharge Version” as opposed to the current “Cost-Plus Version.”


            It so happens that I have a book containing, in parallel columns, four other English translations of the Bible. Here they are: 1) King James, “freely ye have received, freely give.” 2) Modern Language, “freely you have received, freely give.” 3) Living Bible, “Give as freely as you have received.” 4) Revised Standard, “you received without paying, give without pay.” My desk copy of this same Revised Standard Version, 1962, gives: “you received without pay, give without pay.” I now call these two slightly different versions of the RSV the “Payless Version.”


            The Jerusalem Bible (1966), itself a British version of a French translation, reads: “you received without charge, give without charge.” This must be the original location of the “MasterCharge Version.” The New English Bible (also British, 1970) has another variant: “you received without cost, give without charge” – the “Cost-Plus/MasterCharge Version.” The Anchor Bible tries: “you receive without paying anything – give without payment.” One begins to suspect that the English words are changed around (copyright?) at random just to be different – gift, cost, charge, pay, paying, payment.


            The Jerome Biblical Commentary of 1968 (McKenzie), on this text, translates it: “freely you have received, freely give.” These words evidently deal with whether the disciples should be paid for preaching. “It was clearly understood of the apostolic Church that the Gospel was not sold, nor were the apostles paid.” This remark, of course, necessitated reconciling St. Paul’s statement that, by working, he was not a burden on the Churches, with the idea that the apostles are worthy of their keep. Peake’s Commentary points out that taking care of wandering missionaries was a constant question. The 1990 New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Viviano), likewise, states, “‘freely have you received’: A surprisingly Pauline phrase (see Romans, 3:24; 2 Corinthians 11:7) the point of which is that the divine truths of salvation are so important for everyone that they must be taught without regard to the listeners ability to pay.”


            Finally, I checked the Latin and Greek texts in my Merk. The concise 4-word passages reads respectively: “gratis accepistis, gratis date” (Vulgate) and “δωρεαν έλάΒετε, δωρεαν δότε.” Both look like, “freely you have received, freely give.” Though I normally do not think in Greek or Latin, this is still the lovely phrase that I remembered when I first read the unfamiliar text about “cost.” The German Catholic translation (1989) is similar: “umsonst habt ihr empfangen; umsonst sollt ihr geben” – “freely have you received; freely shall you give.”


            Now why bother with all these variations? One can hardly be against different efforts to translate the Bible into words we understand in this or that language. The comment in the Jerome Biblical Commentary seems correct: “They (editors) did not wish to countenance the extravagant claims of advertizing for the universal superiority of the one translation, since part of the serious study of the Bible is the recognition of the limitations inherent in all translations” (xix).


            Yet, the use of Scripture in Liturgy, while not being unaware of, is not intended primarily for academic purposes. St. Thomas warns that it is not always wise to be changing things because some different law or custom might be a bit better. Every time we change a word in the Liturgy, memories cease. We cannot remember whether it is “cost,” “pay,” “gift,” “charge,” “payment,” or what. As I look at the earlier 1970 and the later 1998 liturgical translations, both seemed more or less lousy to me. None in fact improved on the King James version – “freely ye have received, freely give.”   


7)


WILL


            We are called rational beings, the beings who speak, think, and laugh. We are also free beings, the beings who might do otherwise. We are "wilful" beings, but "wilful", literally, "full of will", has a more ominous connotation than just will. Indeed, the difference between ourselves and the Greek or medieval thinkers is that we define ourselves primarily in terms of will and not in terms of reason, although later medieval thinkers like Scotus and Occam were the ones who first emphasized the primacy of will, even in God.


            Thomas Aquinas argued that there are two explanations for law, one based on reason, the other on will. He did not mean that a reason-based law had no relation to will, but rather that will-based law required no justification but itself, but its own act, whatever that might be. Reason-based law required constant attention to reason, to objective grounding. Hence, it had some means for declaring itself in principle valid or invalid.


            What will-based law must do is to discover whether the will of the prince or the legislature is expressed in identifiable form. If it is, it is law. Technically, in will-based theories, there are no "unjust laws", that is, no laws that can be overturned once their form of enactment is correct. If the "prince" (congress, president, courts) willed it, it is law, as the Roman lawyers put it.


            Our faculty of will is a power we ought to reflect on. We say that someone has a "will of iron". This means he is persistent of purpose in carrying out an action or project. Someone is said to have a "will of his own", as if he could have anyone else's. If we say that most modern problems come with confusion about the will, we will not be wrong. The solution, however, is not to be weak-willed but to examine this internal power, for it is the power of the good, the potency that, on seeing that something is in fact reasonable, can choose it.


            No more fruitful account of will and its complexities exists than the Genesis narration of "The Fall". Adam and Eve, while free to choose everything else, are forbidden something under a severe penalty, a penalty of death, a penalty designed to help them to choose the good. They are told, however, that God has lied to them in promising them death for disobedience. Rather, the prohibition is an interference with their wills, their status as free beings. If they eat the fruit, they will be "like gods". What they do, in other words, is to make their own wills the cause of the order or distinction of things.


            What is more, such is the power of the will, even God respects its autonomy by letting the chosen action bear its own consequences. What is not God, ourselves in fact, exists because of the divine Will. We are willed to be precisely what we are. When reality is different from what we will, our choices, however, still have an impact on things, on the objects of our will, as well as on ourselves. What we "choose" lasts in the world as long as the will remains the same. If "ideas have consequences," will has them even more so, or perhaps better, enables them to have consequences. We can only repair the results of a wrongful use of the will by our choosing a second time, choosing to recognize that reason did not conform to our wills. This possibility is what enables us to repent and be forgiven.


            The will is, by itself, blind. It gets its information from reason. What reason knows is that we did not cause ourselves or our own order. But it is possible, because of our artistic capacity, to project out onto the world only our self-devised ideas. We can refuse to take into ourselves any idea or truth or reality that did not find its location in our own will. When we so refuse, we lock ourselves into ourselves and meet one another only as independent wills, not as finite beings who can reason about what is true and real in itself, who discover something that is not rooted in ourselves.


            The drama of our lives is indeed a drama of will. The Greeks were right to suggest that pride lies at the root of our real problems. When Christians came to define pride as the central sin, they understood that in all we did, even things objectively good, we could impose our wills on them to divert them from their natural ends to our own purposes, subject to nothing but ourselves. The more mysterious drama, however, is to will the good.



8) Published in Crisis, 16 (April, 1998), 59.


THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY: CREDO UT INTELLIGAM


            Easter is this: Christ, true man, crucified under Pontius Pilate, a Roman Governor in Palestine, died, was buried, and rose again on the third day. Several identifiable, credible witnesses saw Him, ate with Him. He was same Jesus from Nazareth who died, not some other man. This man, Jesus, in fact, was executed in a public trial. The trial was doubtlessly a frame-up. But the execution took place.


            However, this Jesus was, in His being, a divine person. He was "God from God, light from light." His rising again was part of a divine plan to redeem all men from their sins and to lead them into the condition in which Christ now was, resurrected in His body. Jesus was not some abstraction or shadow. He was human in all things, but sin. He was likewise divine, of the Godhead.


            Christ's coming was intended to explain the inner life of God to us, as well as our own inner lives. Christ's resurrection is a perplexity to the philosophers and scientists throughout the ages. They lack the tools to test it by repeating it, so they doubt it. Plato, the philosopher, however, thought divine life was suffused with goodness. Aristotle thought it moved by thought and love. Christ spoke directly of His Father, the Almighty. He spoke of sending His Spirit, of coming again.


            While it is important for us to know about God with our own powers, the fact is that we know precious little, even with the most diligent work, a work, however, that Aristotle said we should earnestly undertake. The Christian scriptures can be read by anyone. One might not "believe" them, but what they maintain is at least intelligible, with, whatever we make of it, some tangible evidence for it. What these accounts imply is that this Christ, true man, died as man, and rose again, still as man. This rising is, because of who Christ is, the grounds for teaching that each human being, after dying, shall also rise again. This does not happen by human power or configurations, but it happens.


            Approaching the Third Millennium, we are to think particularly, as John Paul II told us, of the specific Christian teaching about God, about His inner life, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost or Spirit. We think too little of what God is, in fact. We are culpable in this neglect, for there is much to think about and to learn. We have been sent the Holy Spirit by whom we are able to call God what He wishes to be called, "Abba, Father." God is not some sort of being now father, now mother, now all the above mixed up. These latter sort of images arise from current philosophy. They are unfortunately imposed back on right thinking about God. The distinctions within God come before any distinctions within creatures such as that of male and female. If, in teaching us, revelation uses images we know, father-son, it is because they are the closest we might approach to understanding by analogy what the inner life of God might be like.


            But the resurrection of the body seems the ultimate absurdity. "Where is the mechanism?" we might inquire. Each us, it is true, has a unique genetic structure that appears as such only in us. An intelligibility, that might almost be called a "word," exists in the way we are put together, however we might concoct its precise formulae.


            In Paris in August, John Paul II observed that "Jesus Christ has reversed the meaning of human existence. If everyday experience shows us this existence as a passage toward death, the pascal mystery opens us to the perspective of a new life beyond death. ... The Church, which professes her belief in Jesus' death and resurrection has every reason to speak these words (from the Creed): 'We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.'"


            Probably if we were present at the resurrection of Christ, the scientific question would not have occurred to us, the asking Christ to "do that again so we can see just how He pulled it off." Rather, looking at the fact we would realize that, "This is what I want for myself!" We do not necessarily want to live forever in the condition in which we now are. We know that we shall die, as Christ did.


            But we do want what we are to continue, body and soul. We might not see how this is possible, but no doubt we want it. Thus, if we believe in the resurrection of the body, we do so that we might understand what it implies. It implies just what we want. Resurrectiion.



9) 1997


"THE CAPITAL OF MODERNITY"


            In 1981, I collected the addresses that John Paul II had to that time given to university students and faculties (The Whole Truth about Man, St. Paul Editions). Each Fall, the Holy Father addresses students of ecclesiastical universities and later of state universities in Rome. In the January 8, 1997, L' Osservatore Romano (English), I noticed that the Mass for Italian university students was held in St. Peter's on 12 December. Since this group contained French students studying in Italian universities, John Paul II mentioned the World Youth Day scheduled for Paris in August, 1997.


            I was amused at how the Holy Father described this occasion: "There, in the heart of modernity, together we will give testimony to the splendor of the truth that emanates from the light of Christ." What amused me was his calling Paris, "the heart of modernity," wherein he proposed to the youth to "give testimony" to "the splendor of truth" not just that emanates from science but from Christ. Splendor of truth, Veritatis Splendor, is of course the title of his encyclical on the nature and purpose of intellect. All belong together to this remarkable man -- the youth, himself, truth, the heart of modernity.


            Speaking in St. Peter's to the Italian students and faculty, the Pope recalled, fondly, "the custom of meeting the university students of Krakow, where the university apostolate developed in difficult times, times during which the Marxist regime was making a systematic effort to spread atheism." The remark made me wonder if the atmosphere of our universities is not in fact more difficult than in the days in Krakow to which the Pope referred.


            But the Pope recalls what he himself learned in those days, itself mentioned in Crossing the Threshold of Hope, namely, his "discovery of the fundamental importance of youth." He implies that we can live our whole lives and never really know "what is youth?" It is not just a number of years, say fifteen to the middle twenties. Rather "it is a time given by Providence to every person and given to him as a responsibility."


            "A responsibility for what?" we might ask. The Pope again recalls the young man of the Gospel, so prominently in Veritatis Splendor. This youth, looks "for answers to basic questions; he searches not only for the meaning of life but also for a concrete way to go about living his life." The questions have to do with the meaning of life and the way to live that meaning. "The most fundamental characteristic of youth," John Paul II adds, is to have these questions.  


            One might ask whether our chronological youth today are in fact able to formulate the basic questions of life, the answers to which they seek? If they do, we might argue that they must do so outside of academic circles wherein such questions are often deliberately obscured, relativized, or forbidden. The Pope here hints that university students -- youth who look for answers and want to know how to live -- must accept their own responsibility when the universities they attend are in fact closed societies about the highest things.


            The Pope next adds a Christian dimension to the questions, answers, and possible ways

concretely to live out youthful lives. He challengess the Italian students to deepen their Christian "awareness" and hence the "consequences" of their behavior. If we formulate the basic questions properly, a Christian dimension will be evident in the answers and in behavior. Clearly, these students would not bother to go to St. Peter's if they thought that everything that they would hear there could just as easily be found in their academies. They know what they hear will be direct, distinct.


            What follows then is "what does it mean to be a Christian?" The first thing it means is that "we are aware of the redemption carried out by Christ." Surely this awareness is found in few classrooms. The Pope also implies something that no youth can honestly be unaware of in his own life; namely, that something is wrong, that he does not do what he ought, that he finds a conflict in his members. He does what he would not. Intently gazing at them, the Holy Father tells them, "Each one of us is redeemed."


            When I read that, I thought , "Wow, this man tells the truth!" He adds, "Redeemed are our souls and our bodies. Redeemed are marriage and the family; people and nations." He does not say that they "will be redeemed," but that they already are redeemed. He does not mean all is well with them. The Pope is not a follower of Rousseau. But once they have the questions, answers are available to them. Redemption is still through suffering.



10) Published in Crisis, 13 (November, 1995), 59.


THE GREAT DANCE


            Aristotle suggests tat there is something higher than praise, even though praise is perhaps one of our highest acts. Praise results from our capacity and willingness to acknowledge that someone else, besides ourselves, has actually accomplished something worth while. Praise is, in this sense, our highest reward from others and the most precious gift. Yet, there seems to be something higher even than praise.


            Praise is not only a recognition of fine things someone has done, but it also encourages us to do fine things. In this sense, a desire to be praised is one of the great tools of education. To praise and to celebrate, however, have different emphases. Virtue is something we may or may not accomplish, even though what we should seek to be virtuous. If we do, it is worthy and merits praise, which is a response not of ourselves to ourselves but of others to what is worthy in ourselves. Praise implies that its recipients have a certain humility and a certain honesty about what they have done.


            However, celebrations, Aristotle argues, are for successful achievements. We celebrate not when we are striving to do something but when we have accomplished it. Happiness, the end of all our activities and all our longings, once achieved, is no longer to be praised but to be celebdrated. Or to put it another way, the activity of happiness is celebration. And this word has the connotation of a certain abundance and fullness, a largesse. The Latin word, celebrare, means a great concourse of people coming to honor and delight about a person or a place. And the Greek word can also note a touch of, to use a good old English word, the revel.


            Celebration is something more than joy, the enjoyment in having what we rightly desire. Celebration implies that our highest activities have to do with more than ourselves. We can hardly imagine what it would mean to celebrate by ourselves. That would be not merely anti-social, but anti-reality. This world is not a parsimonious place, in spite of what the ecologists like to tell us. But celebration is itself an image of something more than itself.


            We can only celebrate, I think, if we live in a world other than the one we claim to have made by and for ourselves, over against the world that is. Envy refuses to acknowledge the good that we see in others. Pride refuses to acknowledge any other world but our own, one in which we, not God, give all the meaning and all the norms. We cannot really celebrate in such a world of our own exclusive making, and in fact there are no celebrations in self-contained worlds. Celebration includes the surprise that the world makes sense.


            “The Great Dance ... has been from before always,” it says in C. S. Lewis’ Perelandra.” “There was no time when we did not rejoice before His face as now. The dance which we dance is at the center and for the dance all things were made.” There is, I think, no way to describe the meaning of celebration better than in this passage of Lewis, though Plato and Aristotle, in their own ways, came remarkably close. We do not, in the end, celebrate ourselves, but we ourselves celebrate tat which caused us our capacity to praise. With the great concourse of our kind before His face, we celebrate in order to respond to the great adventure, to the great achievement of having received that for which we were created.


11) Published in Crisis, 9 (October, 1991), 38-39.


"SPEAK, SO THAT I MAY SEE YOU"


            On my desk is a post-card I received several years ago from the Bodleian Library in Oxford. The imprint on the card is a most curious one. It shows Socrates sitting on a throne-like chair, with a kind of dunce cap on. He is behind a writing table, with a stylus in both hands. Perhaps he has a pen of some sort, as he seems to be dipping one pen in a kind of ink-pot, while he is writing with his left hand on the slate or paper. Socrates has very wide, almost dubious eyes. He is bearded, in a robe.


            Behind Socrates -- we look at both figures from the side -- is a shorter man with a kind of skull cap on. He is identified as Plato. His left arm is around behind Socrates' left shoulder. Plato's arm is stretched out half way between Socrates' face and the desk on which he is writing. Plato's index finger is in the air, though Socrates does not seem to see it, as if he is making a point to an uncomprehending Socrates. The right index-finger of Plato is on Socrates' lower right shoulder, almost tapping on it. Plato seems to be informing a hesitant Socrates about what to write. There is an inscription below the print-drawing. I cannot make it out, even with a magnifying glass.


            The information on the front of the card tells us that this was a frontispiece drawn by "Matthew Paris of St. Albans (d. 1259) for a fortune-telling tract of the sortes genre, The Prognostics of Socrates the King. MS. Ashmole, 304, fol. 31."


            The friend who sent the card several years ago writes, "You should frame this print for your wall. A Great Picture!" I have never framed it, but I have it sitting on the ledge in front of me. It is a great, curious reproduction. The figures of Plato and Socrates are ever worthy ones to have before us, even in a version of the Thirteenth Century, about fortune-telling, from the Bodleian Library, in Oxford, "the city of dreaming spires," as my friend reminded me, from Matthew Arnold, I think, or is it Hopkins?


            Several things are obviously striking about this print. The first is that Socrates was not a king, but a philosopher. Needless to say, the justification for calling him a king also is quite understandable from the Fifth Book of The Republic, where we read of the city in speech in which the king and philosopher should be the same person. Socrates himself said that he had to remain a private citizen to stay alive in Athens as long as he did, albeit it was for seventy years. Rulers of disordered regimes cannot tolerate philosophers who seek to teach the truth.


            Secondly, it seems like the scene should be turned around. Plato should be sitting at the desk writing to the promptings of Socrates. One might say, of course, that the Socrates we know is mainly a figment of Plato's imagination. And we find it difficult to associate Socrates with fortune-telling as opposed to rational reflection and investigation. Just as science or white magis is said to have grown to some extent out of black magic, with the attempt to learn how things work and to be able to control nature, so philosophy arose out of efforts to know the future, to know the stars. Socrates said that all he knew was that he knew nothing. This could be an act of arrogance or of humility. St. Thomas said that we begin by knowing something.


            And the reason Socrates was said to have written nothing was because he was the supreme teacher. Socrates and Christ wrote no books. Their followers, lesser men than they, wrote down what they said. This is how we still meet them, initially. The most important things are not first written. First is the dynamic of person and character, of contemplation. Then follows what someone speaks and writes about how to live.


            Glaucon and Adeimantos in The Republic wanted to hear Socrates explain what justice is because they recognized that it might be their last chance to have this question properly treated. Plato, the brother of Glaucon and Adeimantos, wrote the book, which we can still read. The testimony of Socrates is that the higher things are sufficient and all absorbing. The someone who tells this cannot be busy writing books, else that would suggest something is more absorbing than the higher things.

 

            There is only one reference to Socrates in Boswell's Life of Johnson. It is a curious one in the context of Socrates the King. It was April 10, 1778. Boswell and Samuel Johnson were dining with Sir William Scott, later His Majesty's Advocate General, "at his chambers in the Temple, nobody else was there." As the company was small, conversation was slow.


            Johnson suddenly began to speak of subordination, then of fame, of wealth, and finally of war. Johnson observed provocatively, "Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier, or not having been at sea." Boswell pointed out that "Lord Mansfield did not." But Johnson denied it by saying that if Lord Mansfield were present when Generals and Admirals were talking together, "he would shrink; he'd wish to creep under the table." Boswell denied this also.


            Finally, in exasperation, Johnson replied to Boswell, "No, Sir; were Socrates and Charles the Twelfth of Sweden both present in any company, and Socrates to say, 'Follow me, and hear a lecture on philosophy;' and Charles, laying his hand on his sword, to say, 'Follow me, and dethrone the Czar;' a man would be ashamed to follow Socrates. Sir, the impression is universal; yet it is strange."


            On Boswell's Grand Tour through Switzerland and Germany in 1764, it was July 31. Boswell was in "Richardsche Kaffeegarten" near the Zoo in Berlin. He proceeded to write a letter in French to a certain Henri de Catt, who was a reader of the Prussian King. Boswell was trying to get a personal interview with the King. In explaining why he would not be put off, Boswell remarked that he was not like the famous English knight who made a trip to Potsdam to see the King but after he saw him on parade, "went quietly home."


            Boswell continued, "I am like the ancient philosopher who said, 'Speak, so that I can see you.'" This "ancient philosopher," of course, brings us back to our subject. Boswell told de Catt that he himself had already seen the King (Frederich the Great) two or three times on Parade during his visit to Berlin. The King "electrified" him, so he wanted to see him in person. But we should not forget, remembering Johnson's story about Socrates and Charles the Twelfth, that Boswell himself wrote a biography of Samuel Johnson, not Frederick the Great of Prussia, however much the latter electrified him.


            In the footnote to this passage in my Edition (Boswell on the Grand Tour, Edited by F. A. Pottle [New York: McGraw-Hill, 1953], pp. 43-44), we are informed that Erasmus was probably the source of this passage about Socrates to which Boswell referred. The footnote continues, with some interest to our theme:

 

A rich man had sent his son so that Socrates might look him over and judge of his talents. "Well, then, my lad," said Socrates, "speak, so that I can see you." [Loquere igitur, inquit, adolescens, ut te videam]. Erasmus continues, "meaning thereby that a man's character is reflected less fully in his face than in his speech" (Apophthegmata, iii, 70).


So we have Plato, behind King Socrates, informing him what to write. We have Socrates, who never wrote a book, writing a book. We have Socrates telling us "to speak" so that he can "see" us, because, as Erasmus said, we are reflected less in our face than in our speech.


            Socrates the philosopher spent his life speaking. He was said to have been quite ugly. Johnson said that if Socrates were to say "Follow me, I will give you a lecture on philosophy," no one would follow him if he also heard Charles the Twelfth of Sweden announce, "Follow me, I am going to conquer the Czar." Johnson thought this latter preference was true, if strange. Adeimantos and Glaucon listened to the other philosophers, but wanted to hear Socrates as he did not write a book.


            Loquere igitur, inquit, adolescens, ut te videam. Are we embarrassed to follow Socrates or Christ or Aquinas, even if the Generals and Admirals are not always wrong, even if it is often "electrifying" to follow Charles the Twelfth or even Frederick the Great? "Well, then, my lad," said Socrates, "speak, so that I can see you."



12) Published in Crisis, 20 (May, 2002), 63.


“THE EXCITING TASK”


            As a reader of the Holy Father, I am often astonished at what he tells us. On December 4, 2001, John Paul II gave an audience to the Bishops of Honduras. The Pope frequently gives such conferences to world episcopates. Indeed, the man talks to almost everyone. He informs, exhorts, encourages, criticizes sometimes, prays, sings, instructs, recalls his visit to the audience’s country of origin.


            To the Honduran bishops the Pope recalls the Fifth Centenary of the First Mass on the Americana Continent. The Pope has no hesitation in thinking this Mass was a great event for everyone. I read this particular address because of its title: “Promote the social doctrine of the Church to improve the social order.” How so? The Holy Father thinks “of the need to improve the social order, by promoting greater justice and structures that favour a more equitable distribution of goods. It is primarily necessary to avoid having a few citizens with so many resources to the detriment of the great majority” (L’Osservatore Romano, English, December 12, 2001, #3).


            On first reading these remarks, I was somewhat annoyed. Here is the old “distribution” fallacy again! All we have to do is take from the rich and give it to the poor and all will be well. But as a colleague of mine pointed out, though it is easy to read these lines in that manner, the Holy Father does not say anything about how we might go about correcting an imbalance, if that is the right word. That is, if there is a wide disparity of goods, it can point to some correctable disorder. This is what the Pope was suggesting.


            The question of what to do about it when imbalance exists is another matter, not touched on here. The simple political or socialist redistribution of available goods would no doubt end up by making everyone poorer, especially the poorest. The Pope has shown in Centesimus Annus that he does understand the importance of innovation, of growth. The way to help the poor is usually to enable everyone to grow, including the rich. Due to preferences of taste, to differences of talent and personal energy, to difference in what is considered important, there will always be a legitimate and valuable difference in goods distribution and accumulation in any healthy society. Some societies have bad distribution of goods because of governmental philosophy or policy, because of religious concepts, because of lack of understanding of money, market, taxation, and private property, some simply because of moral corruption.


            But as I read on in this short speech, the Holy Father moved to other topics. He talked about marriage and family life, as he often does. He spoke about the spirituality of communion, the laity, and the consecrated life. Then he added some comments about vocations and the need to foster them. This Holy Father, as in Veritatis Splendor, often recalls the rich young man of the Gospels, the young man who wanted to know what “good” he could yet do, but when he found out, went away “sad.” Like Christ’s, the Pope’s concept of a vocation has really very little to do with any narrow or restricted concept of human venture.


            John Paul II actually tells these, no doubt astonished, Central American bishops that in their “plan” to foster vocations to the priesthood, they have “the exciting task of provoking profound unrest in the hearts of youth and preparing them to welcome the invitation of the Lord....” The Pope deliberately seeks to “provoke” unrest in our hearts, especially of youth. A Pope foments unrest in dull human hearts!


            What obviously bothers this Pope about our youth, whom he loves dearly and who in fact often listen to him, is that they are so narrow in what they see in the choices ahead of them. Such papal words no doubt are deliberately mindful of Augustine who warns us that our hearts are “restless” until they rest in “Thee.” Augustine knew the truth. Do we have a world, I wonder, full of hearts too much “at rest?”


            The Holy Father hints that the priesthood is not exactly a job. It is not designed for those who see too little but rather for those who suspect how much there is yet to see. “The first response to vocation is only the beginning of the journey.” That is really the right word for this exciting task, a journey, homo viator. Such is an exhortation all of us, priest or not, can well listen to in defining our lot. Let us not be of those who are so unaware of what this world is about that we need to be “provoked to unrest” to see what is really there. And if we do need such incitement, John Paul is there to provide it for us.


13) Published in Crisis, 19 (November, 2001), 63.


ON LOVE AND DOGMA


            Of late, a gentleman told me that his eight-or-nine year old son is in a private Catholic school, one outside the diocesan or religious order systems. He and his wife were evidently happy with the place: “It is a much more loving place, no Baltimore Catechism sort of thing.” Aside from the fact that few remember the last time this famous and worthy Catechism was taught to anybody, this remark set me to thinking about what it “logically” implied.


            What first came to my mind was the memory of my own first or second grade experience in Eagle Grove, Iowa. We went to the local Catholic school, not the larger public school. When we walked by the local public school kids on our way home, we were often taunted as “Catleggers.” There were hints of fights. A little later, in another town, I can recall that we went out of our way to avoid a bigger and tougher kid by the name of Ray. Whether we were better prepared to stand for what we held by turning the other cheek or defending ourselves, or perhaps by a little of both, was not always clear. I do not mind little boys being “loving” provided they also learn at a pretty early age that sometimes they have to stand their ground, even if they lose.


            But this brings up a further question, is the teaching of the Catechism, Baltimore or General, really an impediment to teaching children to be loving? I think, on the contrary, that it is rather a dangerous thing to teach boys to be “loving” without teaching them doctrine. This is more than the “tough love” that we sometimes hear about in connection with delinquents or other types of problem students or adults. Indeed, I would say that we cannot know what love is unless we know the general doctrinal framework in which love exists in relation to the rest of life and to other virtues. Love does not come to us in spite of the truth but rather, if it is to be sane and safe, because of it.


            The first thing that a young boy learns is not love but justice. When we were young, most of the fights with our brothers, if we were fortunate enough to have brothers, were over conflicting claims to justice. It was in this context that some inkling of love for our brother, even if we were unjust, came into our heads and hearts.


            Christ said, “if you love me, keep the commandments.” What else might this mean except that to love, we must know what the commandments entail. Moreover, I am on the side of teaching young men and women what it is that they are to hold even before they know the full meaning of what this teaching imply. Thus, teaching the Catechism is not a bad idea. Lord knows that if we are only taught to be “loving,” without any doctrinal context of what this might comprise, chances are that we will have a difficult time distinguishing between selfishness and love. It will be easy to buy the modern doctrine that whatever it is we want ought to be ours because we “love” it.


            This man’s remark about his son recalled Dorothy Sayer’s 1954 essay “Creed or Chaos?” from The Whimsical Christian, still one of the great expositions on the relation between what we know and what we do. Though she was speaking of England, her words still ring true. “The brutal fact is that in this Christian country not one person in a hundred has the faintest notion what the Church teaches about God or man or society or the person of Jesus Christ.... Theologically, this country is at present in a state of utter chaos, established in the name of religious toleration, and rapidly degenerating into the flight from reason and the death of hope.” Simply being loving or tolerant without knowing the structure of the world, even at an early age – children do have minds – is not the best way to educate our children, even if they be in college.  


            Maligners of the Baltimore Catechism assume that this famous work taught that a second grade memorizing of what the Church teaches – the Church never doubted that children should be taught serious things – would also be sufficient for the same child at forty who, in the meantime, learned absolutely nothing more about the intelligence of his faith and its logic. The Baltimore Catechism in fact had different editions for different ages. It presupposed that, on reaching college or adulthood, the person would continue with understandings of the faith more adapted to his intelligence or profession. In the end, the chances of teaching “loving” without also teaching doctrine are almost zero.


14) From Crisis, 20 (February, 2002), 63.“THE GARDEN OF EVIL”

            A gentleman in South Carolina recently recalled hearing Professor Ronald Nash (Western Kentucky) speaking at Hillsdale College. Nash had received a copy of my The Praise of ‘Sons of Bitches’: On the Worship of God by Fallen Men. Nash quipped that, on receiving the book, he immediately hastened to its Index to see if his name was mentioned! Since I did not know Nash at the time of writing the book, naturally his name is not mentioned. But I still am not sure whether Nash was pleased or disappointed to find his name not listed.


            I bring this up because I give a lecture on “The Fall” from Genesis in one of my classes. On a mid-term exam, I received the following analysis of the situation: “The main point ... of the Book of Genesis is that in the Garden of Evil (sic) something went wrong not because someone was lacking but because they experienced free will.” Such an answer does make one wonder what he is doing in academic life.


            But aside from the duly marked grammar – “someone ... they” – the student, give or take a few clarifications, was close the right answer, however much “The Garden of Evil” at first amuses us. And no one will know why the name given to that Garden was funny who does not know its proper name. Laughter requires some education, some seeing of relationships.


            Students today will have read little or nothing of the Bible. But I was not surprised when a young Muslim student from Bangladesh told me that she had not read the Bible. She was pleased to have a chance to do so. But I am frequently astonished that Christian or Jewish students know little of the basic structure of the Bible -- but some do. A student who had never heard of “The Garden of Eden” might well in class, on encountering the phrase for the first time, hear Schall to be calling it “The Garden of Evil.” And actually, the confusion is logical for the account of this famous Garden does have something to do with evil.


            What about the “lacking” and the “free will” in the student’s response? What was it that this student heard about this famous “Garden of Evil?” What was the “main point” of the Genesis account? What went wrong?


            The Genesis account of Creation and the Fall is enormously insightful. Genesis is designed to counteract a thesis about the origin of the cosmos, namely, that the world was created by two gods, one of good and the other of evil. The god of good created spirit and the god of evil created matter. Thus, if we want to be “spiritual,” we will withdraw as far from matter as possible. In the Creation account, God looks on each thing to see that it is good. At the end of the Creation account, everything is said to be “very good.” Matter and the things belonging to it, though finite and not themselves gods, remain good.


            Moreover, when human beings are created, they are placed in this Garden, not of “Evil,” but of “Eden” – the word means “delight” in Hebrew. The significance of this situation is that the reason for the famous “Fall” cannot be because Adam and Eve lacked anything that they might need or even want – thus the student had this part of it right. In other words, they could not blame anyone else, God especially, for putting them in some excusing dire straight.. To put it in more graphically, the source or cause of evil had to be located not outside of themselves, but within, in some faculty or source that was itself good but could “go wrong.”.


            Thus, when the student said that the “Garden of Evil” had to do with the “experience” of “free will,” this point was also correct. However, Adam and Eve had “free will” from their beginning. It did not come about as a result of the Fall, though their free will made the Fall possible. Our First Parents did not “have” to choose as they did.


            Why, then, did they so choose, we wonder? We must examine what the text seems to tell us, namely, that they were given a test, not to eat of the fruit of the “tree of knowledge of good and evil.” Their temptation was to claim themselves to be the “cause” of the distinction of good and evil, to make their own laws or rules, as it were. Every sin, subsequently, bears some mark of this initial Fall. Somewhere within every sin lies the claim to do one’s own will as itself the cause of the distinction between good and evil. This is the point of the Genesis account that all things are good, but free creatures in their acts can reject this goodness or reorient it to their own definition of what is good and what evil.



15)


THE PROBLEM OF ECUMENISM


            John Paul II interests himself in a hundred things at once. In his letter on the Third Millennium and in his Encyclical on Christian Unity, he has let us know what he thinks about the diversity that exists among Christians. Roughly, it ought to stop. While not lessening the importance of prayer for unity, the Holy Father is putting considerable pressure on all of us, Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox, to come clean. This historic disunity ought to stop, preferably by the Year 2000. This disarray among Christians disrupts his further plans with regard to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and whoever.


            Christian disunity, the Pope thinks, has lasted too long. Let's leave it at the Twentieth Century and go on to what the world ought to be about. One cannot help but be amused and delighted by how this greatest man of our time operates. He is so far beyond most of us that we do not even suspect what he is thinking about next. What he does seems humanly impossible, except that he is about the most human man that we have ever seen. What he does in fact is not humanly possible. That is probably why he is treated so gingerly by those who confuse us either from within the Church or with other visions of human purpose.


            The Holy Father, however, is at home on all grounds, social, philosophical, literary, human, theological, what have you. No other public figure ever spoke to the United Nations in all six of its official languages. No other public figure could. Likewise, no one has ever talked to us simultaneously of moral philosophy in Veritatis Splendor, of the fall of Marxism and the free market as in Centesimus Annus, of the essentials of our faith as in the Catechism, and of heaven knows what in almost everything else he does. He has spoken to women in Cairo and Bejing, of St. Thomas to the Dominicans, to Franciscans about St. Francis' concern about Islam, to universities about what they are in Ex Corde Ecclesiae. He has taught us to read and preach the Scripture again, all of it. His ordinary sermons in ordinary parishes in almost anywhere on the planet -- where has he not been? -- make us wonder whether he has not surpassed, both in depth and in quantity, all the other homilies of all the other bishops put together.


            At Castel Gandolfo on August 30, 1995, he talked of Christian unity. To recall this brief elocution during January, the month devoted to Christian unity, seems fitting. "The faith tells us that the Church's unity is not only a future hope: it already exists. Jesus Christ did not pray for it in vain." When we start from this position, the many distinct churches on our blocks look different. The visible unity is not yet achieved. The Church is holy, but requires our renewal and forgiveness; it is catholic, but needs missionary activity to find ways to respect and vitalize other cultures.


            Christian unity is not something that we produce by ourselves, then turn to God to approve our efforts. "The problem of ecumenism is not to bring about from nothing a unity that does not yet exist, but to live fully and faithfully, under the action of the Holy Spirit, that unity in which the Church was constituted by Christ." We have seen an energetic effort on the part of the Pope to gather all Christian denominations in a serious conversation about their differences. We have made progress, even agreements about common principles. But the agreement cannot be simply from below. The Church is "a gift from on high. A redeemed people, the Church has a unique structure that differs from that which regulates human societies." This sentence is powerful and clarifying, since many of the problems with the Church come from those who insist on treating it as a human organization to be modeled on and criticized as if it were a political entity. However, "the Church ... receives her institution and structure from Jesus Christ." This structure includes the papacy and episcopacy. The principle of authority in the Church is to serve. "This is the basis of Church structure."


            What I like about John Paul II is his utter honesty and uncanny ability to state both what he is as pope and what the Church is, not because it makes sense philosophically, though in an odd way it does, witness his own ability to talk to the world, but because it is structured as Christ would have it. That the churches come to see this divine structure is an immediate task. What the Pope is telling us is to get at it.



16) Published in Crisis, 18 (December, 2000), 63.


ON THE WORST PUNISHMENT


            In the Phaedo, Plato tells of the punishment handed out in Tartarus for sins committed in this life. He pictures those swept along through the Acherusian Lake crying out to those whom they have “killed or misused.” It seems that “there is no relief for their suffering until they prevail upon those whom they have wronged; for this is the punishment which their judge has imposed upon them” (#114). Already here, as so often in Plato, we see that some connection exists between our sins and the forgiveness of those against whom we have sinned.


            Certain theories tell us that punishment should be “remedial,” designed only for the “reform” of the one committing the crime. The plot thickens somewhat when we consider the question of “against whom” are sins committed? Once in a while, on a basketball court, we see two “off-setting” fouls called against two players. This indicates that both are guilty of some violation. Usually, in such cases, the fouls are counter-balanced so nothing happens. In most cases, however, we think of crime or sin as an act of one person (the guilty) against another person (the innocent). This seems to be what Plato had in mind.


            Christian thought, and indeed civil penal law, adds the idea that sins and crimes, of their very nature, are not just one private person against another, but also violations of the public order and/or of God’s law. In this case, our own efforts to repair any damage may not be enough. We may still have to “go to Confession,” or appear before a court. The famous witticism that “no good deed goes unpunished,” in fact, stresses the original counterpart that this statement parodies, namely, crimes should be punished.


            In The Crito, Socrates talks of his being “banished,” i.e., exiled, to another “civilized” state, say, Thebes, rather than suffer death at the hands of Athens. The trouble with this alternative, he thought, was that the Thebans, being knowledgeable about such things, would not want a philosophic “lawbreaker” in their midst. So, Socrates really could not escape from Athens.


            The popular opinion is, no doubt, that no one wants to be punished, even if guilty. Anyone would do anything he could to escape punishment. This is not the view of Plato or Aristotle. They did not think that punishment by itself was unjust or to be avoided at any cost. Of course, they did not want punishment to be leveled at the innocent or disproportionate to the crime. In itself, Aristotle thought that punishment was added to the law so that undisciplined youth (they say most violent crime is committed by young men between the ages of 16 and 32) could be restrained at least to the act of the law even if they would not follow its spirit.


            In his Gorgias, a dialogue about a young, handsome, undisciplined, dangerous democratic politician, Plato spelled out the purpose and nature of punishment as well as any one has since. Students are always astonished at this dialogue. So are their teachers. Quite bluntly, Plato says that, if we do commit sins or crimes, we should want to be punished. At first sight, we brush this position off as a Greek exaggeration. But on closer study, we see that the desire for punishment by the guilty is the only thing that can really safeguard the public order by restoring inner order to the sinner’s soul. The law, St. Thomas says, cannot reach to the inner soul, but only to the exterior act. But it is from within that our acts proceed and, if conscience or commandment or law does not deter us, then the threat of punishment is the only alternative.


            The acceptance of punishment -- assuming of course that the law is indeed good -- shows that the one who caused the crime now understands the law did have a reason behind it. He can only “restore” the law’s principle by accepting punishment. The crime with its results remains “done”; it cannot be changed as it is now a fact of history. But it can be acknowledged. The refusal to accept punishment continues to be a sign of the actor’s claim to be above the law, to be himself the law.


            Plato goes even further. Let us suppose that we hate someone who has committed serious crimes or immoralities. Let us suppose we wanted to do him the most damage possible out of spite. What would we do? In this case, Plato says, we would take every means we can to prevent his punishment/repentance. Punishment might bring the doer to see the wrong. But non-punishment will assure that the immoral actor remains in his sin. Hence, he will be ultimately subject to eternal

punishment. Why, we wonder, does Plato seem so up-to-date?



17)


GUITTON


            Jean Guitton, the 97 year-old French writer and philosopher, died in Paris on March 27, 1999. In his New York Times obituary, Eric Pace writes, “After imbibing basic religious and ethical principles, Professor Guitton was able to square his Catholic faith with the teachings of science and history in his day.” One cannot but be amused by that sentence. It sounds like Guitton was involved in some latter day squaring the circle. Le Monde is also cited : “Guitton was the last of the great Catholic philosophers.” This is more rubbish. Probably more great Catholic philosophers are alive today than when Guitton flourished – the media takes awhile to catch up.


            David Yost gave me this particular obituary. I had missed it, though I had noted Guitton’s death. This public notice made me attentive to Guitton’s name. While reading a book by Josef Pieper, the following footnote struck me: “‘Sine dolore non vivitur in amore.’ Quoted from J. Guitton, Vom Wesen der Liebe zwischen Mann und Frau [Freiburg 1960], 168.” The Latin citation, evidently from St. Thomas, means that no love is possible without some suffering or grief. That is to say, true love concerns real human beings themselves ever subject to the ordinary conditions of mortality and finiteness. If we expect otherwise, we will never love or know another human being.


            I have Guitton’s 1961 book, Man in Time. The book’s original French title was Justification du temps. The two titles strike me as rather different in emphasis. The French title seems more concerned with defending God, as it were, for creating in time. The first chapter is entitled “Eternity.” Guitton wants to keep the mystery of time, not to absorb it all into changelessness in such a way that no relation survives between the being in time and the same being in eternity.


            No doubt, the wrestling with time and our presence in this “flow of the now itself” is of particular difficulty. Time, to recall Augustine, is the most perplexing of realities to define or ponder. Guitton keeps the many aspects of time together. Now that he himself has completed his journey in the kind of time we still know, it is striking to read why he thought we still needed some instrument like a body even in eternity. Some thought it better not to be encumbered by a body.


             Guitton’s reasons are worth recording: “But without an analogue for what biology calls the body – or at least without the subsistence of our consciousness and consequently without the persistence of what has been in time – how could the finite being offer that unresisting opposition to the infinite being which it needs in order to enjoy the presence of the infinite without being absorbed in it?”


            Guitton is speaking as a philosopher here. He is not asking about the resurrection of the body, by far the best alternative, if we think of it. He asks what it would mean for a being created in time actually to encounter the infinite. He sees that the ideal is not that being be re-absorbed into the divine and therefore not be itself any longer. To allow the finite being to remain what it is shows the greater wisdom. Aristotle also implied something like this principle when he suggested that in friendship we did not want to cease to be ourselves. We would not want happiness if it meant that we ceased to be what we are.


            “The first condition of beauty,” Guitton wrote in Man in Time, “is that it corresponds to and be sufficient unto itself.” This is the same point. If God, in His own being, can be described as “beautiful,” -- quod visum placet – He must have the option of creating what is beautiful even if it is not itself God.


            Just a few pages before the above-cited Guitton footnote, Pieper had remarked of joy, “Man can (and wants to) rejoice only when there is a reason for joy. And this reason is, therefore, primary, the joy itself is secondary.” We do not cause our own joy; we receive its cause. The finite human being remains himself even before the divine Beauty. This is man’s joy.


            “The idea of the brevity of time serves as a seasoning of pleasure; but enjoyment would turn into suffering were it to last, and would perhaps not be bearable if we knew we could have it without hindrance or risk.” This is the same reason Chesterton gives to explain why in the Scripture accounts of Christ, He did not laugh. For if we knew His “mirth,” the mirth to which we are destined before the time to be able to enjoy, we would despair. Guitton knew about time and beauty and why we have bodies.



18) Published in Crisis, 19 (April, 2001), 63.


MASS AND CREED


            On walking by the two nearest Catholic Churches, I noticed something odd. One has a “Daily Worship” and the other has “Mass.” This diversity of wording made me curious. St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington and the National Shrine both have “Masses.” I looked in the phone book under “Churches.” Anglican Churches have “Holy Eucharist.” The Ukranian Catholic Church has “Divine Liturgy.” Most of the Protestant churches have “Worship.” Such variation is not, I think, without theological import.


            Worship is the kind of honor we give to God. Direction is man to God. Saying the Rosary would be worship in this sense as would taking off our shoes on entering a mosque. The Protestant churches that do not have Eucharist “worship.” Though the word “Mass” seems to come from the closing Latin phrase – Ite, Missa est – by custom it refers to that particular and exact manner of offering objective honor to God, a manner not conceived primarily by human beings. Direction is God to man. Mass does not refer to our subjective “feelings” or “emotions” but to that rite that is the memorial of Christ’s sacrifice, a memorial seen through the Last Supper but making present Christ’s one sacrifice.


            What we do at Mass is not something of human concoction. If we want to “worship” God, any number of alternatives are conceivable. But if we “go to Mass,” we are not primarily welling forth our subjective thoughts or formulating some scenario of our own making. In Liturgiam Authenticam, the recent Vatican document on liturgical translations (April 25, 2001), we read, “the words of sacred Scripture, as well as other words spoken in liturgical celebrations, especially in the celebration of the sacraments, are not intended primarily to be a sort of mirror of the interior dispositions of the faithful; rather, they express truths that transcend the limits of time and space” (#19). Revelation means that the ancient longing of mankind to worship the true God in the right way is met by God Himself in a way that no human being could have foretold.


            “We as a group of Christians at worship,” Msgr. Robert Sokolowski has written in his Eucharistic Presence,

 

we as addressing the Father, living in our own present time and place, scattered into countless celebrations of the Eucharist all over the earth, “we” are now all brought together in the single time, place, and perspective from which Jesus, at the Passover he celebrated with his disciples, anticipates his own sacrificial death. The one event on Calvary that we commemorate and reenact was first anticipated, before it occurred, by Jesus. It was anticipated and accepted by him as the will of the Father (14).


The Mass is not a drama, nor a stage, not a performance. What goes on at Mass does “transcend the limits of time and space.”


            The Church still requires us to “keep holy the Sabbath day,” by which it means, above all, that we attend Mass. The people, moreover, have a right to have the Mass they attend to follow exactly the norms of the Church both in manner and in understanding. The priest or bishop does not and cannot “make up” what the Mass is. They are subject to what it is.


            Another related thing struck me about Liturgiam Authenticam, its comment about reciting the Creed at Sunday Mass. I cite this passage (#65) because the last time I con-celebrated a parish Mass, a solemnity, the priest did not see fit to lead the Creed. The General Instructions for the Roman Missal state: “Recitation of the profession of faith (the Creed) by the priest together with the people is obligatory on Sundays and solemnities” (#44). Nothing could be clearer.


            “The Creed is to be translated according to the precise wording that the tradition of the Latin Church has bestowed upon it,” the Roman document reads, “including the use of the first person singular, by which is clearly made manifest that ‘the confession of faith is handed down in the Creed, as it were, as coming from the person of the whole Church, united by means of the faith.’”


            I have a Missal with Latin on one side and English on the other. For the Creed, the Latin says, “Credo in unum Deum....” The English opposite says, “We believe in one God....” Any difference? If I say “I believe,” it means that I explicitly affirm in my soul and in public these truths of faith. If, however, I say “We believe..,” it might merely mean that I understand that this is the teaching of the Church whether I affirm it or not. I suspect that this ambiguity lies behind the insistence on the proper translation of such a simple word as “Credo.” – I believe. The Mass and the Creed – both “truths that transcend the limits of time and space.”



19) Published in Crisis, 19 (February, 2001), 62.


ON THE PROPRIETY OF THE VERB “TO FEEL”


            With her daughter, once a Georgetown student, B. F. Smith, the Crisis columnist often appearing just before Schall, was in town from Atherton. They were visiting their Pentagon-stationed son/brother, the one with no fear of flying, to recall one of Mrs. Smith’s witty accounts (“Up in the Air,” Crisis, September, 2000). Knowing Mrs. Smith’s almost infallible instinct for precise language, with her daughter not far behind, I asked them, “What is the most common verb appearing on term papers?” I forget what daughter Whitney said. But her mother was on target. “To feel,” she replied without the slightest doubt. “Right,” I replied, duly impressed.


            On term papers, I circle in black or red pencil wherever a student uses any form of the verb “to feel” when he clearly means “to think,” “to hold,” “to argue,” or “to decide.” This “feel” usage has been around for at least a decade, probably longer. Sometimes, I can return a short paper with twenty or thirty encircled “feels.” Bewildered students later wonder why so many marked words? They are genuinely puzzled. Obviously, something must be wrong with Schall’s vocabulary, not wholly impossible, to be sure.


            It is not just that the student himself “feels,” but everyone he writes about likewise “feels.” The main “intellectual” activity that many students experience is that they “feel.” The greats of philosophy, politics, and history in essays mainly “feel.”. Georgetown’s most famous graduate may have contributed to this scourge by going about the country telling us how much he “feels our pain.” Actually, I think, that is the one thing we cannot, in precise language, do, that is, “feel” someone else’s pain.


            We can have “compassion,” perhaps, but even that noble word is almost completely destroyed when it becomes a tool to subjectivize objective reality. We have so much “compassion” for the doer of wrong deeds that the deeds themselves lose their objective standing. We “feel” so much for the “pains” of others that what was wrong in the actions of others disappears. The result is that those who insist in the primacy of objective order become insensitive bigots for not “feeling the pain.”


            After a few corrected papers, in any case, I know what Augustine “felt,” what Machiavelli “felt,” what Hegel “felt,” what, Lord save us, Aristotle “felt.” This is the chief “buzz” verb of our era. The word sometimes is used in a proper sense – to wit, “when Alexander the Great sat on a tack, he felt a considerable pain.” Nero was livid; he felt “anger.” In these days, however, “to feel” is a substitute verb. If we use the word “to feel” when we mean “to think” or its equivalents, we imply that we have no articulate reasoning behind our position. If someone feels sick, I cannot argue with him. But if someone “feels” that God does not exist, or that euthanasia, including my own, is all right, there is little I can do about it unless we can somehow reestablish the connection between our thoughts and the appropriate feelings that ought to go with truth and reality.


            No doubt, the most incisive modern analysis of this intellectual disease is found in the early pages of C. S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man (1947). The first symptoms unsurprisingly appeared in an English class. Lewis is bitingly amusing in his analysis. The grammar school students, he tells us, were told of two tourists. One called a waterfall “sublime” and the other called it “pretty.” The poet Coleridge said the first usage was correct, the second disgusting. Two English professors, analyzing this situation, explained, on the contrary, that when the tourist called the waterfall “sublime,” he was not referring to anything about the actual waterfall, but only how he “felt” about the waterfall. He could know nothing about the waterfall itself, which he erroneously called sublime.


            Lewis with much humor pointed out that such use of language is wholly mistaken. Thus, were a man to say, “You are contemptible,” he would logically mean “I have contemptible feelings.” It would have noting to do with the other man himself, contemptible or not. It is the waterfall itself that is “sublime,” not our feelings about it; our feelings are reverential, not themselves sublime.


            How conclude? The use of the verb “to feel” in place of “to think” signifies a refusal to make a judgment about things, to state the truth about things. If you “feel” something is wrong or right, there is nothing I can say about your feelings, except that they seem odd if they have no basis in fact that can be tested and argued about. The verb “to feel,” used for “to think,” is the infallible sign of philosophic relativism. In this sense, “to feel” means precisely not “to think.”




20)


NIETZSCHE ON JESUITISM AND DEMOCRATIC ENLIGHTENMENT


            In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche (✝1900) tells us that both "Jesuitism" and "democratic enlightenment" reduce the pressure for living according to the "truth", the truth that Nietzsche himself wanted to reject. Jesuits, by their casuistry, and democratic enlightenment, mainly by inventing newspapers, made people comfortable and distracted in their moral slavery.


            Contented and diverted, people would not increase the tension needed for the explosion Nietzsche thought necessary to accomplish his own goal. Instead of teaching people to live according to virtue and faith, Jesuits, he thought, taught them probabilism, a lax morality that left most people off the hook by finding subtle, if improbable, excuses for what they did.


            Nietzsche hastened to affirm that he was neither "a Jesuit nor a democrat". Frederick Nietzsche, S. J., does have a certain ring to it. "Jesuitism" took its lumps from Nietzsche, who held that telling the common man that it was all right to be common or mediocre was the worst of sins.


            The most dangerous thing of which a scholar is capable comes from the instinct of mediocrity that characterizes his species; Jesuitism of mediocrity works for the destruction of the uncommon man and tries to break -- or better still! -- relaxes every bent bow. For relaxing with consideration, with indulgent hand, naturally, relaxing with importunate pity: that is the true art of Jesuitism, according to Nietzsche.


            The scholarly species to which Jesuits belong supports mediocrity by its pity, by its excuses for the moral errors and sins of the common man. Instead of teaching man the blunt truth, Jesuits relax the burden of truth because they pity the weakness of Christians, all of whom Nietzsche already thought to be radically ennervated by Christian doctrine.


            Jesuits are afraid to teach the truth. They refuse to accept that men can observe the truth, so they pity them by lessening moral expectations. None of this, be it noted, is intended to be a compliment either to the Jesuits or the truth. It is prophetic that Nietzsche saw a relation between moral laxness and pity.


            Nietzsche produced some five thousand short aphorisms. Scattered throughout his works are brief, pithy statements or sayings that, on examination, contain the drift of what he was proposing. They are memorable, not unlike Chesterton's paradoxes, but leading in precisely the opposite direction to that of Chesterton. It does not take too long to see what Nietzsche had against Jesuitism and democratic enlightenment. Let it be said that Nietzsche is nothing if not amusing, charming, and devastatingly ironic. One can hardly believe that he means what he says. Man needs a noble cause, he thinks, to save himself. But this cause does not have to be true. It just has to be "noble", something to bring us together under some grandiose vision.


            Take the following Aphorism (#104): "It is not their love for men but the impotence of their love for men that hinders the Christians of today from -- burning us." That sentence is provocative. If Christians really loved men, they would have burned Nietzsche, as they did Bruno, long ago. True Christians burn heretics. Why? because they know the immense damage heretics can do. Who can do the most damage? Nietzsche himself, of course.


            But Christians of today (1885) are gutless wonders, as they say. They will burn nobody and Nietzsche will win. Conclusion: Christians do not love men. Conclusion: Christians are not Christian. God is dead.


            Nietzsche was not sure that God was dead. He was sure that Christians acted as if He were. We can wonder what Nietzsche would have been like had he confronted Christians who believed. On the other hand, Nietzsche bears all the impatience of intellectuals, of those who cannot understand that the Incarnation took place precisely to save sinners, including above all intellectual sinners who want to establish their own laws of right and wrong.


            "That which takes place out of love always takes place beyond good and evil." We should note that this aphorism (#153) states exactly the opposite of what Christianity teaches, which is, "That which takes place out of love always takes place within the good, always rejects what is evil."


            Nietzsche scorned believers who did not practice what they professed. But we forget how engaging the devil can be. "The devil (is) the oldest friend of knowledge." The devil told Eve that what God told them was a lie. Those who believe the devil stand beyond good and evil, making their own rules and laws. Nietzsche is one of the major intellectual architects of our time, a time that takes him seriously, a time that chooses its own good and evil over against that good and evil established in nature and in grace. 



21) Published in Crisis, 19 (January, 2001), 63.


THE YEAR 2001


            Vaguely, when it seemed like a long way into the future, I recall a spectacular film called ”2001.” The ending zeroed attention on what looked like a glittering steel bar. This bar was somehow connected with the meaning of the universe. My memories on this are vague. The film was not explicitly Christian because, for us, the center of the universe is a human-divine person, the incarnate Word. A piece of steel won’t hack it, no matter how glittering.


            After the excitement of Year 2000, the Year 2001 comes as a relief, if not an anti-climax. The world did not end. Both good and evil still abound. We do not know the times and moments of the Father, as the Acts of the Apostles tells us. Nor can we have a jubilee every year. We need to let time “march on,” not that we can stop it. We are sobered in the realization that not more than a handful of persons who were born before 1901 are still alive at the Year 2001. The human race replaces itself completely in a century, sooner. We are beings with ancestors. To be at all, we must begin at some particular time and place.


            The centuries roll on. How could we not notice when one millennium passes to another? We ask ourselves: “Why are we?” “Why are we not, knowing that we are?” Surely we need not be. In Plato’s “Timaeus,” we read: “Why did he who framed this whole universe of becoming frame it? Let us state the reason why: He was good, and one who is good can never become jealous of anything. And so, being free of jealousy, he wanted everything to become as much like himself as was possible” (29e). Give or take a distinction or two, this is pretty much what we Christians hold. Creation is still good. God did not act out of jealousy but out of His abundance. We need not exist, yet we are. At each thing that God created, we read in Genesis, He looked and saw that it was good.


            In 1901, Hilarie Belloc took his famous walk from Toul in France to Rome, vowing to be there for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, without ever once resorting to vehicular assistance. Actually, as he tells us, he kept the letter of the law in good Christian fashion. The few times that he did have to hitch a ride on a cart, so as not to break the vow, he dragged his feet on the ground. “The essence of a vow is its literal meaning,” Belloc tells us. “The spirit and intention are for the major morality, and concern Natural Religion, but when upon a point of ritual or of dedication or special worship a man talks to you of the Spirit and Intention and complains of the dryness of the Word, look at him askance. He is not far removed from Heresy” (99). We come closest to heresy not by things of the flesh but by things of the spirit. The man who abandons “definition” in favor of “intention” will soon be plunged back “into the horrible mazes of Conscience and Natural Religion” (100). The 20th Century, it seems to me, did end precisely here, within the “horrible mazes of Conscience and Natural Religion” because it did abandon definition, doctrine.


            As he walked from the French into the German lands, at the village of Undervelier, Belloc bought a fine cigar for a penny. Again he wondered about belief, as he often did. By its nature, he thought, it tended to breed “a reaction and an indifference.” There is always an honest poignancy in Belloc. “Those who believe nothing but only think and judge cannot understand this (indifference)” (102). Those who only “think and judge” live in a narrow world. In what must be autobiographical, Belloc tells us that when we are young, we reject faith in favor of natural things. But as time passes we look back to see our true “home.” “What is it, do you think, that causes the return? I think it is the problem of living; for every day, every experience of evil, demands a solution. That solution is provided by the memory of the great schema which at last we remember.”


            Every day, every experience of evil “demands a solution.” Evil is the lack of a good where it ought to be. The solution of everyday evil is in what is good -- the great schema. The good is not jealous. Natural things, conscience, those things for which we abandon our faith, defy the definitions of what is. It is not enough to intend the good. We must be good. The good is not something vague, fluttery. Recall the definitions. Happy Year 2001!



22) Published in Crisis, 19 (March, 2001), 63.


IDOLATRY

 

“I am the Lord, thy God, thou shalt not have strange gods before me.”


            In today’s culture, Yahweh is off base in denying some proper place for “other gods.” All religions and philosophies are said to be “created” equal. Yahweh, however, is not “ecumenical.” What is this aberration about God that He demands exclusiveness? Why cannot we “worship” multiple gods? What are gods anyhow? No one, in fact, talks of gods. We talk of “history,” “justice,” “democracy,” “progress,” “rights,” “dignity,” “tolerance,” “ourselves.”


            We take the second seven commandments of the Decalogue more seriously because they refer to ourselves – no murder, no adultery, no lying, no stealing, no slandering. We suspect that these commandments may be right even if we violate them. But the first three commandments about our direct relation to God, what on earth “good” are they? Why is it necessary to “think” rightly about God? Surely, idolatry is not a “contemporary” problem? No one is erecting “idols” in the marketplace, to recall Francis Bacon. The Lord is useful only if He helps us “build” a better world.


            A passage in Shakespeare’s Triolus and Cressida reads, “‘Tis mad idolatry / To make the service greater than the god” (ii, 52).


            At S.T., II-II, 94, Thomas Aquinas formally brings up the question of idolatry. He wants to know whether it is a sin, even whether it is the “most grave” sin? He wonders about the cause of idolatry on the part of men. Such questioning is what I like about Thomas Aquinas. He was there long before we ever thought of asking the relevant questions. If we read him, he will ask questions we never thought of, only subsequently to realize that we should have thought of them.


            Thomas Aquinas – whose ancient Feast day was March 7, the day of his death at the Cistercian Abbey of Fossanova – stands for light. He is not afraid to ask a question. What is more remarkable, he is not afraid to answer it. Unlike Socrates, though not necessarily in opposition to Socrates, he does not say that what he knows is what he does not know. He says that what he knows is what he knows, the truth of what is.


            Some people, Thomas tells us, think that sacrifices and other signs of “latria,” that is, signs of devotion to God alone, can also be offered to any kind of superior being, god or man. As St. Thomas bluntly puts it, this position “dicitur irrationabiliter,” is said irrationally. While we should properly respect those of a superior nature, a special, unique reverence is due to God who excels all other beings.


            Christianity is not just concerned with external signs. It wants a proper inner and outer relationship in our thoughts and actions. “Verba sonantia signa sunt rerum” – words are sounding signs of things. We are realists especially when it comes to God. Our words and sacrifices are consciously offered to God. We deliberately distinguish these acts from others.


            Many will suppose, Aquinas continues, that our sacrifices and prayers are little more than customary actions that are performed simply because our ancestors have followed them. Nor was it legitimate, during persecution, exteriorly to worship idols while interiorly to withhold our assent. This argument St. Thomas maintains is “manifeste falsum.” Why? Our exterior cult is a sign of our interior position. We are lying before God in acknowledging other gods before Him.


            In itself, Thomas says, idolatry is the most grave of sins. Why? Because our highest act is to return to God the praise due to Him. The worst of the objective sins committed against God is that which attributes to a creature what properly belongs to God. In itself, idolatry “facit alium Dem in mundo, minuens principatum divinum” – makes another God in the world, thus minimizing the divine rule. God intends us to acknowledge all reality, including His reality.


            Do we have “other gods?” Is this one of the signs of our time, our time that seems so absorbed in itself? One of the marks of God is that He is “self-sufficient.” When God created the cosmos, with all that is in it, He did not “need” it. He does not “require” our worship for His good. The essence of idolatry, then, would seem to be, as St. Thomas indicated, the elevating of some being, especially ourselves, to the rank of God. Can we do this?


            We do it every day, of course. God is hated in the modern world because He has a plan for our order of life, for our salvation, other than the one we would concoct for ourselves. We are asked to “obey” the commandments, including the commandment to have “no strange gods” before Him. In this obedience is the ultimate light by which we see that we are and what we are – not gods.



23) Published in Crisis, 18 (November, 2000), 63.


THE TRINITY: THE ULTIMATE TRUTH


            The Holy Father dedicated this millennial year, 2000, to The Trinity. How do we grasp this theme? In my memory, I associate The Trinity with Frank Sheed, who wrote so well about it. I recall two address of Sheed that I actually heard, one at Catholic University in the 1950's and the other at USF in the late 60's or early 70's. In one of these lectures, Sheed, a most amusing man, recalled his public speaking at London’s Hyde Park Corner. There, he talked about practically everything. But, he told us with some earnestness, he was struck by the fact that whenever he talked on The Trinity, no matter what the audience, atheist to Catholic, a certain hush fell on the crowd, followed by a careful listening not experienced over other theological or philosophical topics.


            The central chapter of the first book I wrote, Redeeming the Time, was entitled “The Trinity: God Is Not Alone.” This chapter, of course, responded precisely to an opinion expressed in Aristotle, his philosophical concern that God was perhaps “lonely,” that He had no friends. Aristotle had taken thought about as far as it could go. Somehow it seemed to lead to a dead end, to an absurdity. God did not have what seemed most exalted in human experience. It took revelation to answer this loneliness problem. God was Trinity.


            The Abbot Columban asked, in an instruction, “Who then is God?” He answered: “He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God.” Every word in that question and response is worth a book. God is a “who,” evidently personal, not an “it.” He is a “one.” At the same time this “oneness” consists of “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit.” Each of these words is carefully crafted, not arbitrary, not replaceable. Something irreducibly important is being said.


            Columban goes on, “Do not look for any further answer concerning God.” “Why not?” we wonder. Aren’t we supposed to figure out every intellectual enigma? Surely this doctrine of three and one is a puzzlement? Columban is not entirely true to his word. He suggests a way to consider God. “Those who want to understand the unfathomable depths of God must first consider the world of nature. Knowledge of the Trinity is rightly compared with the depths of the sea.” We cannot fathom these depths. Thus, “the Godhead of the Trinity is found to be beyond the grasp of human understanding.”


            So we are to consider the world of nature where we evidently find some things we cannot understand, fathom. A pari, we have an even greater problem in understanding The Trinity. This comparison reminds me of the class I teach on Augustine. His de Trinitate is still the classic discussion of The Trinity.


            On the first day of the classes devoted to The Confessions, I brought with me the Folio Society of London’s “full elephant-hide” Edition of The Confessions. Scott Walter had given it to me for Christmas in 1995. The Frontispiece contains a colored print, from the Golden Legend Collection of saints. The reprint is of the famous, no doubt apocryphal, scene of Augustine, in episcopal mitre and cope, standing by the side of a lake.


            In the distance are the green hills and mansions of the City of God. On the other side of an inlet sits a little child busy counting the grains of sand on the shore. When Augustine, on inquiry, tells him that he cannot do that, the child responds, “then neither can you fathom the depths of the subject you are thinking about.” Of course, Augustine, walking along, had been thinking of precisely The Trinity.


            Columban’s last bit of advice was that “if any one wants to know what he should believe, he must not imagine that he understands better through speech than through belief....” More is found in that sentence than meets the eye. Plato had warned us not to seek the true “Republic” anywhere but in “speech.” Augustine had taken up this line of thought. The true location of the “City of God” is not simply in “speech.” It exists in The Trinity to which we are each ordered.


            The “hush” that Frank Sheed experienced in a crowd in which The Trinity is addressed should not surprise us. This is the ultimate truth to which our every act and question tend. What is particularly “quieting” about “speech” about The Trinity, I think, is the revelation that God is not alone. The Godhead of the Trinity is happily “beyond,” but not opposed to human understanding. God is not wholly unintelligible to our finite minds. But we are not gods. This is why our minds are so alert when we hear of The Trinity. We do want to know, yes, to see “face-to-face.” 



24) Published in Crisis, 18 (October, 2000), 59.


“WHAT’S YOUR NAME?”


            A short but curious 1780 passage in Boswell reads, “Of a certain noble Lord, he (Samuel Johnson) said, ‘Respect him, you could not; for he had no mind of his own. Love him you could not; for that which you could do with him, every one else could.” No doubt, this lack of respect or love is regrettable for the reasons given. Even though our minds are capable of knowing all things, still we must take the effort to know them. Love, moreover, has the character of particularity, not universality. “The friend of everyone is the friend of no one.” What struck me about Johnson’s remarks, as I told a friend, was this acute awareness of things that could only happen once.

 

            The morning I read this passage, I went to the dentist. After the appointment, I returned home via the Wisconsin Avenue bus at Friendship Heights. Six people, including myself, got on. I sat down. As the bus began to inch its way along (the speed of buses!), I noticed a little girl standing in the seat in front of me. She was looking backward, but being held a bit by an elderly lady (that is, we both qualified for senior citizens’ fares!) I was in Roman Collar.


            After sizing me up, the little girl asked, “What’s your name?” First of all, she was very cute. Figuring the shortest answer would be best, I replied, “Jim.” I hesitated to say “Father Jim,” as I was not just sure of her background. She had two heart-shaped stick-ons in red and blue on her right cheek and some blue writing on her left. I asked her what they were. She explained. I told her that I liked them. The elderly lady was not sure that I appreciated this conversation. I gestured that it was fine.


            “How old are you?” I asked her. Holding up three fingers, she said, “three.” Figuring she wasn’t, I asked her if she was in school. “Oh, yes,” she said. I quizzed, “you are not in kindergarten?” “NO!” she replied with some force. “I am in pre-school.” “Do you go all day?” “No, only half a day,” she informed me.


            About this time, she discovered the cord indicating a stop. The lady told her not to pull it. I repeated it. “How far are you going?” “Downtown,” she told me. “What are you going to do there?” I asked her. “See my mother.” Finally, I said to the lady, who had a very thick accent, Greek, as it turned out, “are you her grandmother?” “Yes,” she replied, pleased. “She looks like you,” I told her.


            “What’s your name?” she asked me again, as if she never asked it before. Again, I told her “Jim.” The whole front of the bus was listening to this conversation. I had an umbrella with me. She wanted to know what that was. “An umbrella, for the rain.” She pointed to the handle. “What’s that?” “The handle.” “Don’t you have an umbrella?” “Yes,” she answered, “but mine has a red handle.” “Don’t you have another umbrella with a blue handle?” “No, but my mother does.” Next she wanted to know why my umbrella was black. “To match my suit,” I soberly told her. Meantime, she is jiggling all over the seat and her grandmother.


            She wanted to know where I was going. “Back to school.” “What school?” I told her “Georgetown.” As we were about to pass the Anglican National Cathedral, I told her to look out for the big Church. Her grandmother thinks I mean the Greek Orthodox Cathedral just down on Massachusetts. This gives the grandmother a chance to ask if I am a Catholic priest. So we all now know where we are.


            I had asked the girl her name. She responded, “Alexis, (maybe Alexy),” which would be about right from Greek heritage. Again she asks me, “What’s your name?” This time I tell her, “Father Jim.” She asks, “Father Steve?” The grandmother tells me that she knows Father Steve from Church. I think she actually did call me “Father Jim” once or twice in distinguishing me from Father Steve.


            The grandmother is very polite. I ask Alexy if she has a brother or sister. The grandmother tells me that her daughter has only begotten the one. The “downtown” that grandmother and granddaughter are seeking was the big supermarket on Wisconsin Avenue. Alexy pulls the cord, very pleased. As she lifts her up to carry her out, the grandmother turns to me apologetically, “She talks a lot, I hope you not mind.” I reply, “I was completely charmed.”


            I recall Johnson -- such a bus ride can happen only once. “What’s your name?” Actually, we give children names because each of them can only happen once.



25) From Crisis, 20 (March, 2002), 63.


ON THE RIGHT TO BE OBESE


            The title of this essay could be “On the Duty to Be Thin,” or “On the Dignity of Fatness,” but these titles lacked pizzaz. The present title adds a codicil to that long list of “rights” that have been recently invented to enable the government to perfect our happiness by denying us what we like. These reflections are occasioned by a report of the Surgeon General announcing a national plan to combat obesity, which, it turns out, is one of mankind’s biggest killers.


            Evidently, 300,000 people are killed each year by this scourge, now defined in the Report, largely for insurance purposes so someone else can foot the bill, as a “disease” (Washington Post, December 14, 2001). Guess what kills more than fat? Wrong, not terrorists, not auto accidents. Right, tobacco which wipes out a cool 430,000 a year. Between the two of them, flabbiness and tobacco, we wipe out almost three-quarters of a million folks a year. With these figures, how can we possibly have a population problem, unless the problem be lack of population, which it is?


            As I often tell my classes, I have four intellectual heros, three of whom – St. Thomas Aquinas, Samuel Johnson, and G. K. Chesterton -- were quite, as the Surgeon General pithily put it, obese. Of my fourth hero, Aristotle, I have no statistics on his rotundity. This lacuna constitutes a rare gap in Greek scientific knowledge. So I am deathly afraid that this new edict will wipe a good part of the intellectual heritage of mankind once word gets out that these once-distinguished gentlemen weighed about what is average for the offensive line of the Redskins or the Rams, none of whom, to be sure, is “obese.”


            The Surgeon General is going after the schools first. They are most vulnerable to propaganda and pressure. He is even going after school vending machines that emit, for a price, weight producing objects in the form of cookies, cakes, and drinks. Wait till the farmers who presumably supply this beefy food to school lunch programs hear about this! Your favorite restaurants are next. Already, I surmise, McDonald’s is preparing a filling for sandwiches that looks and, I fear, tastes like grass -- “The Thinburger.” And, much to our astonishment, in the Report, the poor are the heftiest. They are not starving to death as we thought, but dropping like flies from eating too much.


            The key to this study, from my angle, however, comes from the following magic words: “The Report drew praise for shifting the subject of overweight and obesity from a personal problem to a social challenge.” This is right out of Rousseau. Now from just whom did this “praise” emanate is not specified, though a lady by the name of Margo Wootan, of something called the “Center for Science in the Public Interest,” tells us that “what’s unique is to have the government saying that we need to address nutrition and physical activity as a social issue, much like we did tobacco.” Them’s fighting words where I come from. But, Margo, what on earth is unique about the government figuring out something new to tell us what to do? If bin Laden’s attack made all airline security government employees for our own good, this airline surveillance will be nothing compared to making all waiters and waitresses – the Report says that we spend 40% of our food dollars in restaurants – oversee what we eat.


            Precisely what we do not need is the government telling us that we must be thin and inaugurating programs to enforce its policies. We are told, with some evident disappointment, that the Surgeon General’s Office does not have any cash to give out to enforce its rulings here. This is small relief, however, as this same outfit is busy encouraging us to enforce its obesity rules. Surely some obese congressman or party will soon make it a law.


            The question may occur to the reader about whether Schall is obese? If one’s BMI (body mass index) is 25 to 29.9, he is overweight by about twenty to twenty five pounds. If one’s BMI is thirty or more, he has a bad case of this new “disease.” In parentheses, we find the following further information very helpful: “BMI takes height and weight into account and is computed by multiplying body weight in pounds by 703, then dividing that amount by height in inches squared.” My math is a little slippery, but when I performed this simple calculation on myself, I came out with a BMI figure of -11. So I am definitely not obese. But the “right to be obese” is under attack by an all-caring government, bent, whether we like it or not, on making us all, if not good, at least not fat.