Part I. In gratitude for the authorial opportunity granted to me by The American Catholic, I would like to use this forum to host my official “Announcement of Protest.” Let it be forth known that from this point forward, I am protesting. The status quo has become too much of a status, and as for the quo … well, who knew what that ever really meant. Yes, I am protesting, and as such, I am a protester.
Part II. I would now like you to all join me in a round of congratulations. Growing up in small-town Ohio, I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year.” It is humbling, of course, to be in the company of George W. Bush, Pope John Paul II, and Henry Kissinger. When I receive my plaque from Time, I will be hosting a party, and all of you are invited.
Part II(B). As an added bonus to using an online forum for my official announcement, it turns out I have post facto been named “Person of the Year” for 2006. This secondary plaque will be occasion for a separate, but equally elaborate, celebration, to which all of you are also invited.
Part II(B)(iv). It is unclear at this point whether or not I won the same award post facto for the 1969 prize. While certainly a “Middle American,” I was not yet born. I have sent a request for clarification to the good folks at Time. I will await the official word before scheduling the third celebration.
Part II(B)(iv)(e). My MacBook Pro is under the impression that it should receive the 1982 prize. I tried to tell it that this was just plain silly, but now it is officially protesting me, thereby potentially qualifying it for not one, but two prizes. It has sent a clarification Tweet to Time. In the event that it is correct, the computer can plan its own darn party.
Lord,fill our hearts with your love,and as you revealed to us by an angelthe coming of your Son as man,so lead us through his suffering and deathto the glory of his resurrection,for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Gratiam tuam, quaesumus Domine,mentibus nostris infunde,ut qui, Angelo nuntiante,Christi Filii tui incarnationem cognovimus,per passionem eius et crucemad resurrectionis gloriam perducamur.
Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord,your grace into our hearts,that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Sonwas made known by the message of an Angel,may by his Passion and Crossbe brought to the glory of his Resurrection.Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,one God, for ever and ever.
|The Angelus (1857–59) by Jean-François Millet|
Almighty and merciful God,you break the power of evil and make all things newin your Son Jesus Christ, the King of the universe.May all in heaven and earthacclaim your glory and never cease to praise you.
Almighty ever-living God,whose will is to restore all thingsin your beloved Son, the King of the universe,grant, we pray,
may render your majesty service
that the whole creation, set free from slavery,and ceaselessly proclaim your praise.
May we, too, be set free from the slavery of a translation that was in desperate need of being cleansed of its iniquities, and may we ceaselessly praise our Lord and Savior, the King of the universe, through this great gift that has been given to us: The New Translation of the Roman Missal.
As a complementary bookend to this last Sunday of the last year of the old translation, I give you the article written, nearly a year ago, on the first Sunday of the last year of the old translation:
I feel like each Sunday this year presents a funeral of sorts … a passing of Mass texts that will never be heard again. Rather than mourning this passing, my heart finds solace in the assurance that these texts will rise again in a more perfect form with the “advent” of the new translation. While we have a full year to pay our respects to the passing Ordinary, there is a rejoicing of sorts that the current Propers have reached the end of the proverbial line: their days are numbered, their time has passed, and blessed be God for that.
Da, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus,hanc tuis fidelibus voluntatem,ut, Christo tuo venienti iustis operibus occurrentes,eius dextrae sociati, regnum mereantur possidere caeleste.
All-powerful God,increase our strength of will for doing goodthat Christ may find an eager welcome at his comingand call us to his side in the kingdom of heaven.
Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,the resolve to run forth to meet your Christwith righteous deeds at his coming,so that, gathered at his right hand,they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.
I am not an economist, and I don’t claim to have anything close to useful knowledge in the area. However, like many areas in which I have little knowledge, I find that I have lots of question. Economics is a particularly interesting field in that two “experts” can examine the same problem and come up with solutions that seem diametrically opposed. I put “experts” in quotes because I sense that the discrepancy of opinions lies more in politics than it does in the discipline itself. By its very nature, the science of economics intersects the arena of politics, hence the phrase “economic policy.” The down side of this is that even the “orthodox” positions, those on which nearly all economists agree, can be colored for political purposes. In general, it seems that any social science has something of this. For whatever reason, the “hard” sciences produce less public controversy. Perhaps this has to to with the relative ease of experimentation in the hard sciences when compared with the social sciences. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the social science have as their subject the human person, which by nature cannot be reduced to overly rationalistic or mechanistic behavior. Not being an expert in either hard sciences or social sciences, I can only speculate.
Yet despite my near total lack of experience and absolute total lack of expertise, it strangely enough doesn’t seem to hinder me from thinking about paradoxes in the field, or at the very least “perceived” paradoxes. One such paradox that has kept me up at night, (well, let’s not go that far), is the obsession that political economics has with using GDP/GNP for measuring the health of the nation’s economy. Now, let’s not go off the deep end here; I am not saying to toss the measure out the window altogether. But consider the following relatively useless mental exercise.*
We all have household tasks to perform: mowing the lawn, washing the dishes, cooking meals, even watching our children. We do perform these tasks willingly, and no one pays us to perform them. The services themselves don’t contribute to the GDP. Now, one day, my neighbor and I become concerned about the GDP and decide to do something to help it out. We agree to take some of these services, say mowing the lawn and washing the dishes, and hire each other to do them. I pay him $20 to mow my lawn and an additional $30 to wash my dishes every week. Thus, I am hiring him for $50 a week, or $2600 per year. Now, let’s be honest, with five kids, I can hardly afford to pay someone to do these menial tasks for me, so I get my neighbor to agree to pay me $50 per week to mow his lawn and do his dishes, coincidentally just enough to cover my new annual $2600 expense. In total, we have collectively contributed $5200 per year to the GDP. Yet our lives have not changed in the least, neither in income or standard of living. Further, our workload has not really changed at all. Yet we have now contributed to the GDP.
To make the mental exercise even more absurd, after a month of doing this, we decide that it is a real inconvenience. My neighbor simply doesn’t want to walk across the street to mow my lawn and do my dishes. However, he doesn’t want to give up his new-found $2600 profit. He decides to subcontract this work out to a poor soul who will be willing to do the work for half the price, $1300. That poor soul ends up being me. In other words, I am paying my neighbor $2600 a year to mow my lawn and do my dishes, and he in turn is paying me $1300 to do this work for him. I, in turn, play the same game with him. He pays my $2600 a year to mow his lawn and do his dishes, and I hire him for $1300 a year to do his own work. The net result of this is as follows. We have added $5200+$2600 = $7800 a year to the GDP, yet the net change to my fiscal situation is $0 (likewise for my neighbor), and the net change in my workload is 0. (I am mowing my own lawn and doing my own dishes, just like I was before we had our brilliant idea.)
To exaggerate this even further, because we have now become obsessed with our own brilliance, my neighbor and I decide to up the ante by multiplying all of our payments by 1,000,000. (Of course, we will have to take out loans for this, but once the banks recognize our raw intelligence and entrepreneurial spirit, they will be fighting to give us loans.) We have now contributed to the GDP $7,800,000,000, or 7.8 billion dollars, all for mowing our own lawn and doing or own dishes.
While I am admittedly unclear on the exact accounting of such an experiment (for instance should the subcontracting fees be deducted from the profits), something of this already exists when trying to compare the GDP in the United State over long periods of time. In the last two-hundred years, the GDP in our county has grown enormously, yet the figure overstates the growth in production over the that time period. Two-hundred years ago, far more people (most people?) produced their own food and many of their own possessions (clothing, etc.). As self-produced, these activities and products were “off the ledger” of the GDP, so to speak. Perhaps the biggest change came when many women moved from the home into the workforce. Activities once done for no monetary exchange were now part of the GDP calculation: housekeeping, child care, cooking, etc. The affect of this was essentially one of accounting: much of this activity moved from “off the ledger” to “on the ledger.” The activity itself didn’t necessarily change, nor did the production of goods and services (yes, this oversimplifies the situation), yet the GDP was grossly affected by the accounting move.
The same sort of game can be played with unemployment rates. The unemployment rate is calculated by dividing the number of unemployed individuals by the size of the labor force. An “unemployed individual” is defined as someone who is not currently working by is willing to work for pay. In the midst of our recession/double-dip-recession/ whatever-the-experts-are-calling-the-current-situation, no number has been tossed around the news media more than the unemployment rate. However, this number is just as easily manipulated. For instance, let’s take every household in which one of the two parents stays home decides simultaneously, “I want a job.” All of a sudden, even though the financial situation of the country has not changed, the unemployment rate goes through the roof.
On the other hand, suppose every one of these parents decides to engage in a deal such as between me and my neighbor. Maybe they decide to pay each other to watch their own children for the day. Now we have the opposite effect: the unemployment rate goes down.
In the interest of attempting some sort of pseudo-rational analysis, I suppose that these numbers are not entirely absurd if only because people don’t act in ways proposed by my two mental exercises. Nevertheless, it does make one question how much stake we put into a system that relies almost solely on quantifying economic behavior, which is essentially human behavior. I want to be careful here to once again separate the discipline of economics from the politics of economics. I cannot in good conscience speak for a discipline of which I have so little experience, but I can speak to the way in which numbers such as GDP and unemployment rate are used (and abused?) by the news media which makes its way into my living room.
In the interest of giving the discipline itself the benefit of the doubt, I will assume that it has as its goal to both measure and increase the well-being of citizens. (Actually, does not every discipline have this as a sort of telos, each with its own methodology?) If so, should not the measure of economic well-being somehow take into account how well the beings actually are? And surely this is a larger question than one of just exchange of dollars and cents.
Further, even if the discipline limits itself to the question of economic well-being (however that is defined), surely the two mental experiments show that the current methods are not at all adequate, despite their preferential treatment in popular conversation. I have a sneaky suspicion that respectable economists realize this in their theoretical work, yet because it is theoretical and altruistic (I use that word as a compliment), the message is drowned out in the overly-pragmatic popular press which likes to grab on to easily digestible but often misunderstood or misused measurements such as GDP and unemployment rate.
In the current climate in which we find ourselves, there seems to be an inherent contradiction in terms. More than any other time in my short history, folks are talking about not spending money, about being responsible with their finances. In short, people are quite concerned about being economical with their resources, financial or otherwise. Yet according the measure such as GDP and unemployment rate, acting in a way we deem “economical” is one of the most un-economic things we can do. I speak here not form the level of an individual consumer, for the act of “not spending” often involves investing, even if it be in something as simply as a savings account, which by any measures grows the economy. As a good friend wrote to me, “Rather than focusing on wisdom, responsibility, and prudent management of resources, the popular discussion focusses single-mindedly on improving questionable measures of national well-being; As a result, gimmicks rule the conversation and common-sense gets lost in the commotion.”**
I beg you not to misconstrue my point – I am not suggesting that there is no place for numerical measures in the life of the economy. I am not even saying that there is no place for the specific measures of GDP and the unemployment rate. Rather, I am suggesting that such measures not “rule the conversation.” The conversation should instead be ruled by solid philosophy. And as a good Aristotelian, I suggest we begin with the highest ideas, such as the “happy life”, or “fulfillment.” Rather than measuring raw dollars and percent growth in spending/income, perhaps we should be thinking about how fulfilled people are, how much closer (or farther?) are they from being “fully human”, and how economic policy can work to bring about the “happy life”. Did not the philosophers of old define a good society as one in which the greatest number of individuals are able to achieve their telos as human person? Surely economic measures and policies should keep the proverbial end in sight if they are to be anything that remotely resembles a success?
Soap box abandoned.
* This exercise was not of my own creation. It is a modified version of a situation describe by Joseph Pearce in Small Is Still Beautiful: Economics as if the Family Matters.
** I am highly indebted to Bill M. for reviewing this post for me. Unlike myself, Bill actually does have some background in economics, and my ideas, while more than likely still flawed, are at least clearer because of his input, much of which made its way into the final version. In some cases, I have used his wording. Nevertheless, any errors in perception or thinking are still mine and mine alone.
Several days ago, Creative Minority Report posted a video interview with comedian Steven Crowder on the state of marriage in our country. Before I get on with my own comments, I should say that Crowder makes several good points, and overall his spiel is very pro-marriage. Give it a watch if you haven’t already seen it.
The “myth” that caught my attention is the one about a 50% divorce rate. If it is indeed a myth, then I have certainly been taken in by it. For, not only have I believed it for several decades, but I have found myself irresponsibly quoting it without having an actual source. (Such is the case with myths, yes?) I suppose the purpose of this post is not much better, because still don’t have a source. However, the mathematician in me go to thinking about how one might go about “measuring” the rate of success in marriage at a given point in time. Rarely do numbers lie, but people (and people’s lack of basic statistical understanding) often lie with numbers. I made a similar point a while back with the the myth of the “99% effectiveness” of Natural Family Planning.
In other words, studies are often perfectly clear on their methodology, but most people have no idea what the studies actually measure, and they misapply the end results.
Let’s think about two different methods one might use to measure the current “divorce” rate.
The first method is the obvious one. It is entirely accurate, but altogether impractical. If we want to know the divorce rate for marriage that occurred in the year 2011, we take all those who were married and wait until one of two things happen: the couple divorces or one of the spouses passes away. The marriage in which a couple passes away are deemed “successful”, whereas the ones that divorce are not. With a simple division, we have our divorce rate. Unfortunately, this means we have to wait until at least a half a decade in order to report on the success of marriage in any one given year. For, although it is unlikely that a couple who is married past fifty years will end up divorcing, we cannot be sure – so we must wait it out. (Of course, at any given moment, we could count the number of divorces and say, “The divorce rate for 2011 is at least x%.”) This method seems to assume that divorce is a product of cultural attitude at the time of marriage. In other words, we blame the failure of marriage on the year in which the marriage occurred.
The second method is the flip side of the first method. It is quite easy to do, but perhaps not all that accurate. We count the number of marriages that occurred in 2011, and we count the number of divorces that occurred in 2011, and we divide. The upside is that all the information is available at the close of the year. The down side is that we are comparing apples to oranges. (Additionally, in theory very strange results could occurs, such as divorce rates above 100% .. unlikely, of course, but in this scheme, theoretically possible). This method assumes that marriages fall apart based on current cultural attitudes, not on the attitudes in the year in which the couple was married. Perhaps that is better, yet there still seems something wrong with counting divorces and marriages with an entirely different set of couples and then attributing the result to that particular year.
To illustrate how these calculations might differ, let’s come up with some hypothetical data. I admit that I am over-simplifying the situation, but the goal is to point out the difference that results between the two calculations, not to give an accurate description of divorce in our country. Because it is easier to begin with method one, we will assume that we have a 40% divorce rate that never changes. Further, we will assume that 10% of the marriages end within the first year, 10% in the second year, 10% in the third year, and then 5% per year in years 4 and 5. After year 7, no more divorces occur for that cohort. (We attempt here to model the phenomenon that marriages that last tend to last!) We will also assume for the sake of simplicity, that the number of marriages climbs by 10% every year. Finally, we have a hypothetical starting data for the year 2000. In order to compare results, we will need to wait through at least one cohort length, but we will extend it to two cohorts, or ten years. Thus, our data looks like this
(My apologies for the small image. Open it in a new window to see the full calculations and results.)
I have only totaled the years after 2004 because this is the first year we have all the divorce information (due to our assumption that no divorce takes place after five years of successful marriage).
Let’s look at the year 2005. We know from our assumption that Method One yields a 40% divorce rate. What does Method Two yield? Method two suggests that we divide the number of divorces by the number of marriage in that year. This gives us 505,510/1,610,510 = 31.4%. There is quite a difference, yes? (An 8.6% difference to be precise.)
Let’s see what happens as we progress through 2010. Remember, we decided to keep a constant “Method One” divorce rate of 40%. It turns out, and I’ll leave the reader to check this, that the 31.39% rate continues into the subsequent years. (As a challenge, can you prove that a constant “Method One” rate yields a constant “Method Two” rate?) Why is Method Two lower? Because it is counting divorces with a higher cohort than might be appropriate – a number that ends up in the demoninator. Of course, this is because the number of marriages is increasing throughout the years. (Again, as a challenge, can you prove that if the number of marriages stays constant, there is no difference between the Method One rate and the Method Two rate?) If the number of marriages decreases, then the Method One rate is less than the Method Two rate. As an example, suppose that the number of marriages decreases by 10% rather than increases. The Method One rate is still 40%, but the Method Two rate comes out to be 53.2%.
If you are savvy with a spreadsheet or a programming language, you can play around with the Method One rate and the way in which it is broken down (I broke 40% into 10%, 10%, 10%, 5%, and 5%) to see just how far apart the two method can get. For instance, when I broke down the 40% into 10%, 10%, 5%, 5%, 5%, 1%, 1%, 1%, 1%, and 1%, the Method One 40% rate came out to a Method 2 rate of 30.1%. The farther into a marriage that divorce is allowed to go in our model, the farther apart the two calculations get. (Incidentally, that was with a 10% growth in marriages every year. With a 10% decline, the 40% rate led to a 57.4% Method Two calculation.)
There are, of course, all sorts of auxiliary points. For instance, the comedian seemed to suggest that people were afraid to get into marriage at all, in which case the rate we are really interested in is the divorce rate for first time marriages. This will clearly be different than when we take into account all marriages. Further, while it might be true that divorce numbers (in any calculation) might be dropping, let us not conclude that this means that marriage itself is becoming more successful. It could mean that the number of marriages itself it dropping (or at least not growing as much as it once was). With an increase in cohabitation, I would have to imagine that we are experiencing less marriage than perhaps would have been predicted given the rate of growth of population. More to the point, those who chose not to get married are also those that would have been more susceptible to divorce. (This is my intuition, not the result of actual data.)
Completely tangental, perhaps a more interesting number, especially as an educator, would be to look at the percent of the population who are the children of either a divorce or an out of wedlock relationship. Conversely, this would mean looking at the percent of the population whose parents are either still together or have suffered the loss of a spouse. If we are talking about the impact of divorce on future society, this seems like a valuable number to know, and the calculation is much more straightforward the the divorce rate.
I can’t say that I have read the research in front of me that proposes a near 50% divorce rate. Likewise, I haven’t seen the research that backs up the numbers quoted by Steven Crowder. What I can say is that it is not altogether unthinkable that both numbers were arrived at in scientific papers, each calculating the rate of divorce differently. What this means for our casual conversation is this: try to understand what a statistic means before quoting it, and I include myself in this docile chastisement.
With the resignation of Steve Jobs as CEO of Apple Corporation, it seems timely to revisit a classic piece of prose from Umberto Eco. Many have seen this, some have not.
For my own part, I have always been an Apple guy at heart. My family’s first computer was an Apple IIGS, purchased in 1986, retailing at just under $1000. My first personal computer was a Power Macintosh 5260 during my Freshman year at college. (By the way, had I taken my $2000 and invested it into Apple stock rather than buying the computer, it appears that the stock today would be valued over $100,000.) Shamefully, I admit that I went through a three year stint on a Sony Vaio that I obtained as a gift. To this day I still question the decision that a free PC was better than a paid-for Apple. Nevertheless, I returned to Apple when the Vaio crashed and burned, and needless to say, Steve took me back with open arms and a big smile of forgiveness. Yes, folks, I am a revert.
Umberto Eco wrote “The Holy War: Mac versus DOS” on September 30th, 1994, for the Italian weekly publication Espresso. I altered his title in my post as we are seemingly past the point where the three letters D-O-S mean anything to the average consumer. His piece, however, is brilliant, and confirms what I have always suspected. Moreover, with the stepping down of Apple’s “pope” and the “election” of his successor, Tim Cook, the nostalgia of this article that I read years ago was fueled by its recent mention by Whispers. (Yes, I am well aware that I am taking the analogy entirely too far.) Enough of all that, though. Without further delay … Umberto Eco:
The Holy War: Mac versus DOS
by Umberto Eco
Friends, Italians, countrymen, I ask that a Committee for Public Health be set up, whose task would be to censor (by violent means, if necessary) discussion of the following topics in the Italian press. Each censored topic is followed by an alternative in brackets which is just as futile, but rich with the potential for polemic. Whether Joyce is boring (whether reading Thomas Mann gives one erections). Whether Heidegger is responsible for the crisis of the Left (whether Ariosto provoked the revocation of the Edict of Nantes). Whether semiotics has blurred the difference between Walt Disney and Dante (whether De Agostini does the right thing in putting Vimercate and the Sahara in the same atlas). Whether Italy boycotted quantum physics (whether France plots against the subjunctive). Whether new technologies kill books and cinemas (whether zeppelins made bicycles redundant). Whether computers kill inspiration (whether fountain pens are Protestant).
One can continue with: whether Moses was anti-semitic; whether Leon Bloy liked Calasso; whether Rousseau was responsible for the atomic bomb; whether Homer approved of investments in Treasury stocks; whether the Sacred Heart is monarchist or republican.
I asked above whether fountain pens were Protestant. Insufficient consideration has been given to the new underground religious war which is modifying the modern world. It’s an old idea of mine, but I find that whenever I tell people about it they immediately agree with me.
The fact is that the world is divided between users of the Macintosh computer and users of MS-DOS compatible computers. I am firmly of the opinion that the Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant. Indeed, the Macintosh is counter-reformist and has been influenced by the ratio studiorum of the Jesuits. It is cheerful, friendly, conciliatory; it tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach — if not the kingdom of Heaven — the moment in which their document is printed. It is catechistic: The essence of revelation is dealt with via simple formulae and sumptuous icons. Everyone has a right to salvation.
DOS is Protestant, or even Calvinistic. It allows free interpretation of scripture, demands difficult personal decisions, imposes a subtle hermeneutics upon the user, and takes for granted the idea that not all can achieve salvation. To make the system work you need to interpret the program yourself: Far away from the baroque community of revelers, the user is closed within the loneliness of his own inner torment.
You may object that, with the passage to Windows, the DOS universe has come to resemble more closely the counter-reformist tolerance of the Macintosh. It’s true: Windows represents an Anglican-style schism, big ceremonies in the cathedral, but there is always the possibility of a return to DOS to change things in accordance with bizarre decisions: When it comes down to it, you can decide to ordain women and gays if you want to.
Naturally, the Catholicism and Protestantism of the two systems have nothing to do with the cultural and religious positions of their users. One may wonder whether, as time goes by, the use of one system rather than another leads to profound inner changes. Can you use DOS and be a Vande supporter? And more: Would Celine have written using Word, WordPerfect, or Wordstar? Would Descartes have programmed in Pascal?
And machine code, which lies beneath and decides the destiny of both systems (or environments, if you prefer)? Ah, that belongs to the Old Testament, and is talmudic and cabalistic. The Jewish lobby, as always….
I beg your patience over my absence, and I ask for your prayers. In June I accepted an administrative position with a new school district. While this is a very good opportunity in so many ways, I have never in my life found myself so overwhelmed. I can only say this: teaching was so easy!
At any rate, while this post is not original by any means, I couldn’t help but share the content of an article I ran across today. The liberal left often likes to pin social unrest on the ills created by the conservative right. You know how the goes … the economy is in the pits because of right wing policies put in place by George W. Bush … because people don’t have jobs they become socially discontent … because they are socially discontent they rise up “against the man”, so to speak. Rarely are people actually held accountable for their actions. Instead, we live in a culture that seeks to pin people’s actions on something external to the human will, something other than sin (dare I even use the word). Actually, this is nothing new. It is merely a modern version of ancient Christian heresies that seek to separate the body and soul, in this case to separate the external actions from the internal person. How often as a teacher did I hear a student explain their dishonesty with, “I know I cheated, Mr. Tawney, but I am not a cheater. I am a good person.” The danger in separating our actions from our persons will be catastrophic for the world. The Christian principle of sacramentality, understood here in its most general sense, says quite the opposite: the external is a reflection of the internal, and at the same time the external forms the internal. This is true whether we are talking about the words of consecration (which are externally symbolic of the underlying reality and are simultaneously efficacious in bringing about the internal reality) or whether we are talking about the moral act. Friends, we are how we act, and we act how we are. When we stand before God, we will not be able to pin our sin on the social policies of one party or another.
I have rambled enough … more than I intended. With that, I give you the motivation behind these thoughts: an article on the London riots.
The depressing truth is that at the bottom of our society is a layer of young people with no skills, education, values or aspirations. They do not have what most of us would call ‘lives’: they simply exist.
Nobody has ever dared suggest to them that they need feel any allegiance to anything, least of all Britain or their community. They do not watch royal weddings or notice Test matches or take pride in being Londoners or Scousers or Brummies.
Not only do they know nothing of Britain’s past, they care nothing for its present.
They have their being only in video games and street-fights, casual drug use and crime, sometimes petty, sometimes serious.
The notions of doing a nine-to-five job, marrying and sticking with a wife and kids, taking up DIY or learning to read properly, are beyond their imaginations.
Read the rest here.
The past couple weeks I posted a summary and brief commentary on an address given by Francis Cardinal George at the Library of Congress in June of 1999. While it didn’t spark that much debate, several people have written to me asking if I could upload the document, which appears to be absent from the internet as it stands. (Yes, it is hard to believe, but there are some things that are not yet on the internet.) I was, and still am, apprehensive about violating any copyright laws, either in letter or spirit. While I am fairly confident that it is okay for me to post this, I wish also to make it publicly known that if Cardinal George, or any other who claim rights to this fine essay, wish it to be removed, I will do so immediately and with sincere apologies.
That is the “fine print,” if you will.
What follows is the speech in its entirety: Catholic Christianity and the Millennium: Frontiers of the Mind in the 21st Century, an Address at the Library of Congress on June 16, 1999, by His Eminence, Francis Cardinal George.
The following is the second part to this post. It is recommended that you read the first part before reading the second part. There has been some request for the original address given by Cardinal George. I have been unable to locate it on the web and have not gotten around to scanning it in. As soon as I get a chance, I will try to get to up and available, barring any unforeseen copyright issues. For now, my humble comments and summary will have to suffice.
While the time from Augustine to Aquinas embodied a realization of Cardinal George’s incarnation metaphysics, things began to take a turn for the worse with Duns Scotus, a contemporary of Thomas. Scotus radically separated God from the world, and in so doing separated grace from nature. Instead of a metaphysics of participation, Scotus promulgated that, “God is no longer that generous power in which all things exist but rather that supreme being next to whom or apart from whom all other beings exist” (George, 15). Scotus begins what Descartes (through philosophy) and Luther (through theology) would complete. “In both its Lutheran and Cartesian manifestations, modernity assumes a fundamental split between the divine and the non-divine and hence implicitly denies the participation/communio metaphysics that had shaped the Christian world thought the ancient and medieval periods” (George, 16).
The following is the first part of a gloss on an article I recently received from a friend. The second part will appear in a few days. I apologize for not having the full reference for it, but it appears to be an address by Francis Cardinal George given to the Library of Congress on June 16, 1999, titled “Catholic Christianity and the Millennium: Frontiers of the Mind in the 21st Century.” In light of the missing reference, the citations below are paragraph numbers rather than page numbers. I apologize ahead of time for those who have read or plan to read the article. While I have tried to give the Cardinal credit where due, a reading of his paper will reveal my blatant plagiarism.
The Thomistic scholar Etienne Gilson describes in The Unity of the Philosophical Experience the inevitable demise of a philosophy that ignores the highest question of being, i.e. metaphysics. In “Catholic Christianity and the Millennium: Frontiers of the Mind in the 21st Century,” Cardinal George argues for a specifically Christian metaphysics, or an “incarnation metaphysics.” This metaphysics begins with the “provocative claim” that is at the heart of Christianity. “In Jesus Christ, God has become a creature, without ceasing to be God and without compromising the integrity of the creature he becomes” (George, 3). The radicality of this Christian claim is evidenced by the history of heresies, most of which denied either the divinity or humanity of Christ, or in some cases, both, by arguing for a quasi-divine and quasi-human nature in the incarnated Lord. At least two Ecumenical Councils (Chalcedon in 451 and Nicea in 325) upheld the hypostatic union, the fact that, “in Jesus, the divine and the human unite without competition or compromise” (George, 3).
4. Commentary on the Kingdom and Poverty
There are two goals for this final section. The first is to investigate what is meant by Christ’s phrase, “the Kingdom of heaven,” and the second is a reflection on why the here-and-now-ness of the kingdom has particular relevance for the blessing of poverty in Luke’s Beatitudes.
As stated in the previous part, Christ’s promise, “yours is the kingdom of heaven” immediately harkens back to His own proclamation, “The Kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:14-15). We have already seen the interpretation given by Origen/Pope Benedict, but let me diverge for a moment and examine one other interpretation. During the later half of the 20th century, a particularly secular view (held mostly in Catholic theological circles) of the Kingdom of God gained considerable ground (Benedict, 53). This position is motivated by the desire to apply Christ’s supposed message to the widest possible audience. It is a slow process of moving from any kind of specificity with regards to God’s people to a meaningless generality. Beginning with the rejection of Judaism in general (for in Judaism the focus is on a specific people), Christ, it is claimed, came not for a chosen subset of people, but for the individual; he came to establish a Church that is inclusive of all people. This desire for an all-inclusiveness is seen as violated by the Church in her so-called “pre-Vatican II nature,” a nature that was guilty of “ecclesiocentrism.” Thus, to continue this search for all-inclusivity there was a move towards “Christocentrism” (and away from the Church herself) which strived for a less “divisive” message. However, the next two steps were quick to follow. Since Christ belongs exclusively to Christians, perhaps we should be concerned only with the general idea of God, hence a “theocentrism.” The final step was a surrender of the very idea of God, since even God can be a cause of division among people and the various religions of the world. In the end, we are left only with man, and in this stripped down theology, the “Kingdom” is simply a name given for a world governed by “peace, justice, and the conservation of creation” (Benedict, 53). The task of religion, it is held, is to work in harmony to bring forth this kingdom on earth.
On one hand, this seems laudable; it finally allows all people to enjoy Christ’s message in harmony, to appropriate it in their own belief systems and world views. On the other hand, there is not much left of the message itself; it has been stripped down to what amounts essentially to secular humanism.
To rescue Christ’s message from such deprivation, we must first recognize that the Lord never preaches simply a “Kingdom” but instead preaches the “Kingdom of God” or the “Kingdom of Heaven.” “When Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God, he is quite simply proclaiming God, and proclaiming him to be the living God, who is able to act concretely in the world and in history, and is even now so acting…. The new and totally specific thing about his message is that he is telling us: God is acting now – this is the hour in which God is showing himself in history as its Lord, as the living God, in a way that goes beyond anything seen before. ‘Kingdom of God’ is therefore an inadequate translation. It would be better to speak of God’s being-Lord, of his lordship” (Benedict, 55-56). This is consonant with the prior observation that the Hebrew word malkut and the Greek word baseleia are action words. It is also consonant with the use of the present tense in Luke 6:20.
To further our understanding of Christ as the Kingdom of God incarnate, let us examine Saint Thomas Aquinas’ observation that man’s final cause is identical with his efficient cause, i.e. from God we have come and to God we must return. Our fulfillment, our telos, is in nothing other than God himself. In order to be fully man, we must give our entire existence back to the very source of our existence. Man is unique in the world in that he alone can actively strive away from his proper telos. That is, man can, by the gift of free will, choose not to give himself back to God. To do so is to be in-human, to remain unfulfilled. Given that man’s proper end is God himself, we can understand why Vatican II says, “Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear” (Gaudium et Spes 22). Finally, if what it means to be human is to give of ourselves to God and to possess God deep within our souls, and if the Kingdom that Christ promises is none other than His very self, we can conclude that the promise, “Blessed are ye poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven” can be understood as, “Blessed are ye poor, for yours is Christ,” or rather, “Blessed are ye poor, for you have already within you what it means to be fully human.” When understood this way, if it is true that the poor already possess within their being their own fulfillment, then is is abundantly clear why they are “blessed.” *
It remains now to try to come to grips with why poverty brings with it such blessing. What is it about poverty that is so authentically human? We must first make a critical distinction between poverty and destitution. All human beings are entitled to have their basic needs met. The fact that millions are living in our world in the state of destitution, where hunger and disease ravage entire cultures, is a great sin against humanity, and it cannot be ignored that Christ was relentless in his call for a preferential option for the destitute. Every time we withhold our cloak from the naked or our food from the hungry, we perform sin not only against the human person, but also against Jesus himself. Poverty, on the other hand, is not identical with destitution. The Latin word used in the Nova Vulgate is pauperes. It is true that this is best translated as “poverty,” but what is perhaps more noticeable is that the Gospel does not use the word egenus or the word inops, both of which could be translated as destitute (though inops is more often rendered as “helpless”). Nor did the author use a form of the verb destituo (forsaken). Poverty (pauperes), as opposed to destitution, is the state of having only what one needs. It is this state of simplicity that Christ calls “blessed” and to which he attaches the promise of the kingdom of heaven.
As the Fathers of the Church unanimously observed, to advance in the life of virtue, poverty must come first. This is due to the ontological difference between God and the world. It is the unique Christian distinction that God is absolutely other to the world. God is not part of the world, nor is the world as a whole equivalent to God. Because of this distinction and because of our call to return to God, this world becomes God’s gift to us to be used as a means for this return. Simply put: God is the end; things are means to this end. On one hand, when one is deprived of the basic needs of life, this physical state of destitution necessarily brings with the challenge of spiritual destitution (for the human person is a body-soul unity). This is precisely why we must work to eliminate destitution in the world, not primarily because of the physical sufferings, but first and foremost to allow God’s people the freedom to worship Him in health of body, mind, and soul **. On the other hand, the possession of goods beyond that of basic necessity brings with it the risk of using goods as ends in themselves. It is interesting that, while Christ cured the sick, made the blind see, made the deaf hear, to my recollection, he never once made a poor man rich.
Christ, in this first beatitude, does not say, “To those who are impoverished, I say to you, do not think that this most unfortunate state is permanent, for the day will come when I will relieve you of this poverty and make you rich.” Instead, he says, “Blessed are you poor.” Poverty itself bring with it blessing, or rather sanctity. If the possession of goods beyond that of basic needs bring with it the risk of treating this excess as an end in itself, then it follows that the more we possess, the further we find ourselves from pursuing our proper end: God. The further we are from our proper end, the less human we find ourselves. We are now in the position to reason our main thesis.
In proclaiming, “Blessed are ye poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven,” Christ is making an ontological observation. Poverty brings with it the simplicity to give oneself to God, which is the final cause of all of humanity. In other words, poverty provides a more authentic human experience. In this, there is blessing.
Of course, all of this is more pressing given the large percentage of humanity that are living in the state of destitution, a state that potentially hinders their ability to know, love, and serve God. It becomes all the more crucial for us to divest ourselves of our excesses to satisfy the basic needs of others. However, we must be careful to avoid misrepresenting the Gospel as a kind of call for a distributive justice. Virtue is always performed in the heart of the individual. We cannot expect political agendas and government policies to force virtue upon the hearts of its citizens. To do so ignores the authentic freedom that is at the core of the dignity of the human person. The ends of such policies can only be atheistic ends, as history has demonstrated. This does not mean that charity and generosity cannot be cultivated among groups of people, but the Church has consistently and wisely taught the principle of subsidiarity, that things are best handled by the smallest competent authority.
In summary, I would be remiss if I did not clarify one last thing. The state of poverty is not purely material; material poverty alone does not bring salvation. Recall Basil’s comment from the second part, “For many are poor in their possessions, yet most covetous in their disposition; these poverty does not save, but their affections condemn.” On the other hand, neither is poverty is purely spiritual. There are those who want to reduce Christ’s call to poverty to the mere detachment from goods. This too is a distortion of the Gospel message. Recall also from the first part the two critical Greek manuscripts (Papyrus 75 and Codex Vaticanus) deliberately avoid the phrase “poor in spirit” and instead opt for simply “poor.”
Finally, there are many other aspects of the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount that could enrich this discussion, such as the connection the Beatitudes share with the presentation of the Ten Commandments. Many writers far more learned than myself (Pope Benedict, Servais Pinkares, and Thomas Dubay to name only but a few) have already done so; thus, I humbly leave the reader to take up the various texts on this topic for further spiritual reading.
* As a side note, the present possession of our eschatological fulfillment is at the heart of the Christian virtue of hope. See Pope Benedict’s second encyclical letter Spe Salvi for a more lengthy discussion of this.
** In Pope Benedict’s first encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est, he warns against separating the preaching of the Gospel from humanitarian efforts to alleviate people from their sufferings. Primarily, we are called to preach Christ crucified.
What follows is the second part of a three-part piece. The first part can be found here.
3. Patristic Background from the Catena Aurea
Latin for “The Golden Chain,” St. Thomas Aquinas’ Catena Aurea is the Angelic Doctor’s compilation of commentaries by the early Church Fathers on each of the four Gospels. What follows is a gloss of the provided commentaries for Luke 6:20-23.
We begin with Ambrose. While I have not said much about the first part of verse 20 (“And he, lifting up his eyes on his disciples”), Ambrose asks, “What is lifting up the eyes, but to disclose a more hidden light?” Christ is calling his hearers to a deeper understanding of God and His plan for mankind. If I could, allow me to briefly return to the Greek for the word “Behold” (idou). An alternate translation of the imperative is “Look!” or even “See!” While Luke is using a common Greek word, this command to “See!” is reminiscent of Christ’s observation, “they have eyes but cannot see.” The Lord is not simply calling us to pay attention, but rather he is calling us to see with the eyes of faith. He is speaking directly to the heart of man. In a way, he is telling his listeners, “My friends, you have heard the Prophets, you have read the Scriptures, but you know not their fullness. I will, if you let me, show you the fullness of the heavenly mysteries. Everything you think you know is only the beginning. You have heard the ethic in the Ten Commandments, but I call you to the ethos of these Beatitudes.”
Ambrose next observes that Luke mentions only four blessings, while Matthew eight. Nonetheless, “those eight are contained in these four, and in these four those eight.” He ties each of the blessings in a specific way to a particular virtue. Poverty yields temperance because it “seeks not vain delights.” Hunger leads to righteousness in that he who is hungry suffers with the hungry, and this brings righteousness. In weeping, man learns to weep for those things eternal rather than those things of time, which requires the virtue of prudence to distinguish between the two realms. In “Blessed are you when men hate you,” one has fortitude, a fortitude which allows one to suffer persecution for faith. These virtues are then paired with Matthew’s Beatitudes in order to demonstrate continuity between the two Gospels: “temperance therefore brings with it a pure heart; righteousness, mercy; prudence, peace; fortitude, meekness. The virtues are so joined and linked to one another, that he who has one seems to have many.”
In both cases, each evangelist has placed the blessings of poverty first. For Ambrose, this is indicative that “it is the first in order, and the purest, as it were, of the virtues.” In other words, the subsequent blessings depend on the condition of being impoverished. If one is overcome by the desires of the world, he “has no power of escape from them.”
In a similar fashion, Eusebius observes, “But when the celestial kingdom is considered in the many gradations of its blessings, the first step in the scale belongs to those who by divine instinct embrace poverty. Such did He make those who first became His disciples; therefore He says in their person, ‘For yours is the kingdom of heaven.’”
Cyril agrees: “After having commanded them to embrace poverty, He then crowns with honor those things which follow from poverty.”
While Basil is consistent in placing the primacy of the blessings with that of poverty, he also warns that the blessing is not automatic but requires the correct disposition. “[N]ot everyone oppressed with poverty is blessed, but he who has preferred the commandment of Christ to worldly riches. For many are poor in their possessions, yet most covetous in their disposition; these poverty does not save, but their affections condemn. For nothing involuntary deserves a blessing, because all virtue is characterized by the freedom of the will. Blessed then is the poor man as being the disciple of Christ, Who endured poverty for us.” Perhaps this is why Cyril notes that in Matthew’s Gospel, the Lord says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” I have noted above the textual variants in this regard, but it should be recognized that the Fathers in no way see “poverty of spirit” as mere detachment that can exist even in the absence of actual material poverty. Instead, they see material poverty as a pre-requisite for poverty of spirit, a disposition that must be had to convert the pre-existing material poverty into a blessing.
Each of the Fathers then shows how poverty leads to the other blessings in Christ’s sermon. Cyril says, “It is the lot of those who embrace poverty to be in want of the necessities of life, and scarcely to be able to get food.” Continuing, “[P]overty is followed not only by a want of those things which bring delight, but also by a dejected look, because of sorrow. Hence it follows, ‘Blessed are you that weep.’” Finally, Theophilus indicates, “He then who on account of the riches of the inheritance of Christ, for the bread of eternal life, for the hope of heavenly joys, desires to suffer weeping, hunger, and poverty, is blessed. But much more blessed is he who does not shrink to maintain these virtues in adversity. Hence it follows, ‘Blessed are you when men shall hate you.’ For although men hate, with their wicked hearts they cannot injure the heart that is beloved by Christ.”
This gloss of the Catena Aurea is sufficient for examining the portion of the Beatitudes dealing with poverty. It is evident that each of the represented Fathers sees poverty as having a place of primacy among the beatitudes. This is indicated by both Gospel writers in their placement of the virtue first in their respective lists, lists that are renderings of the very words of Christ. However, we must not ignore the second part of the beatitude: “for theirs is the kingdom of God.” For patristic background on this, we depart from the Catena Aurea and take up Origen.
Origen referred to Jesus as the autobasileia, that is, the Kingdom in person. In other words, for Origen, the kingdom is not a geographical location; Jesus himself is the Kingdom, or rather the Kingdom is Jesus. Pope Benedict XVI in Jesus of Nazareth insists (in light of his reading of Origen) that the phrase “Kingdom of God” is a “veiled Christology.” The Holy Father states, “By the way in which he speaks of the Kingdom of God, Jesus leads men to realize the overwhelming fact that in him God himself is present among them, that he is God’s presence” (Benedict, 49). Delving deeper into the linguistic nuances of the word “kingdom,” Pope Benedict (quoting Stuhlmacher) says, “The underlying Hebrew word malkut is a nomen actionis [an action word] and means – as does the Greek word basileia [kingdom] – the regal function, the active lordship of the king. What is meant is not an imminent or yet to be established ‘kingdom,’ but God’s actual sovereignty over the world, which is becoming an event in history in a new way” (Benedict, 55).
It should be noted that the Holy Father is not actually speaking of the Sermon on the Mount when he makes these linguistic observations. Instead, he is engaged in exegesis of Matthew 1:14-15, when Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the Gospel.” Nonetheless, the Greek word basileia that is used in Matthew 1 is the same Greek word found in Luke’s first beatitude. Therefore, not only are the linguistic observations still relevant for the current project, but establishing the connection (both spiritually and linguistically) between Christ’s Proclamation of the Kingdom and the Sermon on the Mount will be of prime importance in the final part. I will have more to say about Pope Benedict’s thoughts in this matter, but this mention of Origen and his interpretation of the phrase “kingdom of God” as the person of Jesus is sufficient for this section on patristic background.