Narcissism in Music (or, “How Gregorian Chant can Save the World”)

Friday, May 6, AD 2011

Last week National Public Radio ran a story called “Narcissism on Rise in Pop Music Lyrics.” It opened up with,

On this very day in 1985, the number one song on the Billboard Top 100 was…”We Are the World” (“We are the world. We are the children.”)  Fast-forward to 2007 when Timbaland’s “Give It to Me” featuring Nelly Furtado topped the charts: “…love my a$$ and my abs in the video for ‘Promiscuous.’ My style is ridiculous.”

So more than two decades ago, we were holding hands and swaying to a song of unity, and these days, we’re bouncing to pop stars singing about how fabulous they are.  Psychologist Nathan DeWall has had the pleasure of listening to it all for research, and he found that lyrics in pop music from 1980 to 2007 reflect increasing narcissism in society. And DeWall is an associate psychology professor at the University of Kentucky.

Dr. DeWall proceeded to explain:

I was listening to a song that, really, one of my favorite bands, Weezer, had on one of their albums recently, and it’s called “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived,” and I kept wondering, who would actually say that out loud?  “I am the greatest man that ever lived. I was born to give and give and give.”

The ironic thing is it’s a song about how I’m the greatest person in the world, but it’s to the tune of “‘Tis A Gift To Be Simple,” which is a song about humility. And so what I wanted to do, instead of relying on self-report measures of personality like narcissism, I wanted to actually go into our culture, our cultural products, which are tangible artifacts of our cultural environment. And so, for that, I thought maybe song lyrics would be a very good jumping-off spot.

What we found over time is that there’s an increasing focus on me and my instead of we and our and us. So, for example, instead of talking about love being between we and us and us finding new things together, it’s mostly about how, you know, for example, Justin Timberlake in 2006 said, “I’m bringing sexy back. Yeah. Them other boys don’t know how to act. Yeah.”

There is no doubt that DeWall is correct.  Pop music is becoming more narcissistic.  The broader, age old question is: Does art imitate life, or does life imitate art?  The answer is probably some of both.  Our culture is increasingly narcissistic.  In the spirit of the NPR article, which was about music, I wish to propose a possible antidote for narcissism: the liturgy, specifically liturgical music.

Unfortunately, we must first distinguish between music that might be heard in any given liturgy and liturgical music, properly speaking.  While the Catholic Church has been plagued with bad versions of the four-hymn sandwich for decades, the fact remains that Holy Mother Church has given us a liturgical hymnbook: The Graduale Romanum,  In this book, one will find the ancient Gregorian chants.  But what many will be surprised to find is that the Church has given us specific chants for every Sunday of the year in the places that we currently sing “hymns.”  For any given Mass, there are prescribed chants for the Introit (think here of the “Opening Hymn” you are used to hearing), the Gradual (“Responsorial Psalm”), the Offertorio (“Offertory”), and the Communio (“Communion Song”).  Most of these date back more than a thousand years.  Of course, in the Graduale Romanum, one will find the chant written in Latin.  However, vernacular versions of these exist.  What is key is that the liturgical rubrics, while they permit hymns, call for a preference given to these chants.  Vatican II itself held that the Gregorian chant tradition should enjoy a “pride of place” in our liturgies.

Why do I see this as an antidote for narcissism?  The surest way to deal with this problem is to give people the sense that they are not the center of reality, nor are they the source.  The Cartesian turn to the subject has flipped classical metaphysics on its head so that people come to view reality as what is in their own minds rather than what their minds encounter on the outside.  The liturgy is a reality that is given to us, not one that is created by us.  In fact, it is in the liturgy itself that we find our own fulfillment.  When we go to Mass, we participate in reality itself, something that is much bigger than us.  If we see the Liturgy as something that we fit into rather than something that fits into our lives, we can come to understand that we are not the center of reality: God is.

The problem is, as has been observed on several observations over the past decade, there is an increasing narcissism even within the liturgy itself: both priests and people come to think that the liturgy is something that can be created and recreated with the fickle winds of changing culture.  In fact, the lack of narcissistic language in the new translation of the Roman Missal has been pointed out in comparison with the current, defective translation.  Currently, there are several places in the texts that seem to order God to do certain things and to give a primacy to the people over the divine.  The new translation, being more faithful to the Latin, has sought to correct many of these errors.  What remains to be fixed is the same problem in the hymns that are often chosen for Sunday worship.  Many of the modern hymns focus on man rather than God (think here of “Gather Us In,” or the ever-elusive “Sing a New Church Into Being”).  Quite simply, these hymns are self-centered rather than God-centered.

Contrast this with the use of the Graduale Romanum.  These chants have been given to us by the Church, each carefully constructed around sacred texts in order to serve as a sort of lectio divina for the readings of the day.  Indeed, when Gregorian chant is properly performed, it seems as if it is not of this world.  Part of that is due to the inherent structure of the music, for chant lacks a strict meter (though it has an internal rhythm of its own).  Unlike a hymn, which marches forward towards a climactic conclusion, chant allows the listener to rest in contemplation, a mirror of the eternity which we, God willing, will experience someday.  But another part is due to the words, which become primary (unlike modern pop music, where the words are often a later add-on to an already existing rhythm/chord structure).

Perhaps the most important point, however, is the fact that the music of the Mass inevitably (forgive the pun) sets the tone of the entire celebration.  It stands to reason, then, if we employ a music that is provided for us by the Church (not to mention encouraged by the rubrics), then the people will better understand that the liturgy itself is given and not created.  If they come to understand the liturgy, which is the objective center of reality, in this manner, then they will come to see that they are not the center of reality.  Thus, my rapid fire, probably incomplete, but hopefully coherent, argument that an antidote for the rise in narcissism is Gregorian Chant.  Save the liturgy, save the world.

Continue reading...

5 Responses to Narcissism in Music (or, “How Gregorian Chant can Save the World”)

Royalty and Ritual

Thursday, April 28, AD 2011

Early tomorrow morning, the world will be watching the royal wedding of Prince William to Miss Catherine Middleton.  While there are bound to be a wide range of critiques that describe a misplaced prioritization of fanfare over marriage, I for one think there is something about the pomp and circumstance that surrounds royal customs from which modern man can take a lesson.  Some time ago, I wrote about how our culture has lost a sense of formality, and along with it an appreciation for ritual and solemnity:


At the heart of liturgy is the concept of ritual.  Instead of fitting the Liturgy into our lives, it is in the liturgy that we are taken up into something much bigger, the cosmic worship of God.  The liturgy is a great drama that is being played out on a cosmic scale, and simply by being there, we are taken up into this drama.  This is exactly why having specific rituals in the liturgy is so important.  When there are “lines” that need recited, “actions” or “stage directions” that need followed, the structure of the liturgy itself teaches that the liturgy is bigger than us; we are taught that it is not something that we can create, but something that must be received.  This is all a very complicated way of saying that the liturgy is an objective reality.


In contrast, when the liturgy becomes the result of the creative efforts of a “liturgy committee,” the congregation is given the impression that the main focus of the action is not on God but on the people, that we are the creators, not God.  How the liturgy is presented and the way in which it includes us affects how we come to think of the essence of the liturgy and of ourselves as human agents.  This is the basic principle of sacramentality in its most general form.  The principle states that “we are how we act.”  In other words, the way in which we act forms the views we hold and even the type of person we become.  If the Mass is presented as a ritual, people are given the correct impression that it is something bigger than themselves, a sacred action into which they are taken up.  They then come to realize that they are not the center of reality.  If it is presented as self-created, then people come to see themselves as self-creators.


I was struck by the objections people raised to the fact that Miss Middleton will be arriving to the wedding by car instead of by carriage.  Whether it was done on purpose, I cannot say, but it strikes me that Miss Middleton, before the wedding, is not in fact royalty, but rather a commoner.  Particularly noteworthy is the fact that the newly married couple will depart from the church by carriage (the same one used by Princess Diana at her wedding), for at that time Miss Middleton will be Princess Kate.  I would hate to concentrate solely on the carriage example, for it is but one of what will undoubtedly be a series of rituals that make the wedding not just any wedding, but a royal wedding.  And I certainly don’t wish to get into the debate over the suitableness of this particular action, but rather to point out the implicit ritual and significance it carries.  It is a nice reminder that actions, in particular rituals, do in fact matter.  And it is ritual that gives an event solemnity.  And solemnity is not necessarily somber, but in fact can be joyful.  In the words of C.S. Lewis:


This quality will be understood by anyone who really understands the Middle English word solempne. This means something different, but not quite different, from modern English solemn. Like solemn it implies the opposite of what is familiar, free and easy, or ordinary. But unlike solemn it does not suggest gloom, oppression or austerity. The ball in the first act of Romeo and Juliet was a ‘solemnity.’  The feast at the beginning of Gawain and the Green Knight is very much a solemnity.  A great mass by Mozart or Beethoven is as much a solemnity in its hilarious gloria as in its poignant crucifixes est.  Feasts are, in this sense, more solemn than fasts. Easter is solempne, Good Friday is not. The Solempne is the festal which is also the stately and the ceremonial, the proper occasion for pomp — and the very fact that pompous is now used only in a bad sense measures the degree to which we have lost the old idea of ‘solemnity.’ To recover it you must think of a court ball, or a coronation, or a victory march, as these things appear to people who enjoy them; in an age when every one puts on his oldest clothes to be happy in, you must re-awake the simpler state of mind in which people put on gold and scarlet to be happy in.   Above all, you must be rid of the hideous idea, fruit of a widespread inferiority complex, that pomp, on the proper occasions, has any connexion with vanity or self-conceit. A celebrant approaching the altar, a princess led out by a king to dance a minuet, a major-domo preceding the boar’s head at a Christmas feast — all these wear unusual clothes and move with calculated dignity. This does not mean they are vain, but that they are obedient; they are obeying the hoc age which presides over every solemnity. The modern habit of doing ceremonial things unceremoniously is no proof of humility; rather it proves the offender’s inability to forget himself in the rite, and his readiness to spoil for everyone else the proper pleasure of ritual (A Preface to Paradise Lost, emphasis added).


Continue reading...

21 Responses to Royalty and Ritual

  • Fully agree.

    By the bye, you see the same attitude at work in those going to Mass in shorts and flip flops.

    The pervasive love of “informality” of our times is nothing more than a poor excuse for a sloppy and lazy attitude.


  • I’m watching the ceremony live right now (Abp. Williams just pronounced them man and wife) and I have to admit, the classic Anglican marriage service has a degree of dignity and, well, class that unfortunately, seems to be lacking in the post-Vatican II Catholic ritual.

    The bride looks beautiful, of course, and I’m hoping her dress also sets a trend back toward more modest wedding attire 🙂

  • Chris Hitchens, as mean as ever, wrote a nasty piece about poor Kate marrying into a dysfunctional royal family. Here’s a taste:

    “The usually contemptuous words fairy tale were certainly coldly accurate about the romance quotient of the last two major royal couplings, which brought the vapid disco-princesses Diana and Sarah (I decline to call her “Fergie”) within range of demolishing the entire mystique. And, even if the current match looks a lot more wholesome and genuine, its principal function is still to restore a patina of glamour that has been all but irretrievably lost.”

    The rest can be read hereL

  • I remember a passage in the book Why Catholics Can’t Sing, describing the beginning of Mass. A solemn procession, in robes, accompanied by song and ceremony. The the priest says “Good morning, everyone” and the image is shattered. Everything they just did to set the occasion apart from daily life is thrown out the window with a smile and a banal greeting. The first thing the priest should say, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, is the most solemn thing a person will ever say – but before that, the priest throws in a “hiya everybody”.

  • I was impressed that the Anglican Bishop of London gave props to St. Catherine of Siena, whose feast day is today: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”

  • Pinky,

    There is another book called “Sing Like a Catholic” by Jeffrey Tucker in which he makes the case that the banal song often chosen at the beginning could be what prompts the informal greeting. When the Gregorian Introits are used, the liturgy moves flawlessly from the Introit through the Penitential Rite, as the same solemnity is retained throughout. However, when an “opening hymn” is used that often highlights how great man is, there is something that just doesn’t “seem right” in moving straight through to the penitential rite, in which we confess our shortcomings. Thus, the priest, perhaps subconsciously, feels the need to fill that gap with some transition words (“Good morning …”). Part of this is probably due to the “climactic” nature in the structure of modern hymnody, something that simply doesn’t exist in Gregorian pieces.

    That being said, this is not meant as a defense of such trite greetings, but rather to suggest that the solution might be a recovery of the opening music that the Church has given us for hundreds of years … the Gregorian Propers.

  • I once went to a church and the pastor or priest, don’t remember which, began his sermon by saying: “How ya’ll doin’ today?”

    Think that was the last time I went to church : )

  • I spent some time in England recently, and visited some of the castles and ruins. It helped be get a better understanding of set-apartness. A bloodline, a crown, a coat of arms, a title…it appeals to a strong human instinct. I’m not rejecting the merits of democracy, and as always the strongest argument against monarchy is the individual monarch, but let’s just say that I’m sympathetic to Jake’s point.

    On a slightly related note, I was reading some article about modern men and women recently, and it got me to thinking about courtesy. Men invented courtesy to get women. Now that women are gettable without the man being courteous, we’ve seen courtesy all but disappear.

    Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to drink my milk of magnesia and yell at the neighborhood kids to get off my lawn.

  • Well, if my late mother were still alive, I believe she would have watched every last second of the marriage. My reaction however, other than one of raging indifference, is summed up in this scene from the John Adams miniseries:

  • Men invented courtesy to get women. Now that women are gettable without the man being courteous, we’ve seen courtesy all but disappear

    So, why was my grandmother so courteous?

  • My wife just advised me that if she were not working today she would be watching more of the coverage!

  • The extravaganza was on the telly before I left for work this AM.

    I noted to my bride that the prince wore spurs. She responded, “My son won his spurs in Afghanistan.”

    The younger prince served “over there.” Not sure about the elder.

    If nothing else, Princess Kate will improve the breed (God willing).

  • My wife just advised me that if she were not working today she would be watching more of the coverage!

    Of course. Pageantry is something agreeable to watch. The difficulty you get with this sort of thing is anticipatory embarrassment. Three of the Queens’ four children ended up in the divorce courts and her sister, her brother-in-law, her daughter, and two of her daughters-in-law have (doing what comes naturally) acted to trash the institution (with some peripheral assistance from Prince Charles and his current wife). You just have to hope the next generation will be more dignified and honorable, and it is hard to believe they will be.

  • Going back a thousand years, Art, there’s some bad DNA mixed in the royal tree.

  • Joe, the current dynasty has occupied the throne not for 1,000 years, but since 1714. A number of these Hanoverians have been good sorts. The grossness was in abeyance between the death of Edward Vii and the advent of Lord Snowden (and his rancid ACDC clique). Edward Viii was told to hit the road and take his ho’ with him, which bought the family another 25 years or so of dignified living. They might have had another 25 years if Snowden had been trampled by one of Princess Anne’s horses. As for Sarah Ferguson, OFF WITH HER HEAD.

  • Kate Middleton, aware of the demise of Princess Di in the eyes of the Queen, asked of Her Majesty how she could have a successful and long association with the royals after her marriage to William.

    The Queen responded, ” Wear a seat belt when you’re in the back seat of a car, and don’t piss me off!! ” 😆

    Watched a little of the ceremony during the ads on American Idol merely to humour my better half, then got a serious attack of restfulness and went to bed. It was 10.30 pm. over here when they said “I do”.

  • Of course there is an added sentimentality factor involved, in that the last time most Americans (myself included) saw Princes William and Harry on TV they were grieving teenagers filing into Westminster Abbey behind their mother’s casket.

  • On another happy though unrelated note, courtesy of Mark Shea’s blog and of Women of Grace:

    “America’s most beloved Catholic communications network was spared the devastation caused by a massive tornado outbreak that roared through several states yesterday, leaving at least 202 people dead.

    “According to Michelle Johnson, director of communications for the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), said the network was spared any damage other than some felled trees. While she expects that the storm affected the lives of many of the network’s employees, the facility survived the storm intact.

    “It was like a passover,” she said, referring to the widespread devastation left behind after one of the worst tornado outbreaks in U.S. history struck Birmingham yesterday and left an estimated 30 people dead.”

  • Regardless of what one thinks of the Royal Family and/or today’s wedding, consider this item from Opinionated Catholic:

    I saw this on Twitter and can very much agree:

    MississippiMama Danielle
    Twitter friends busy being all smug and Above It All, you missed the gospel being presented to about 2 billion people.

  • The bride looks beautiful, of course, and I’m hoping her dress also sets a trend back toward more modest wedding attire

    Agreed, Elaine! It was refreshing to see a wedding dress that did not look like it was held up in defiance of the force of gravity. I spent the day in the hospital getting tested ( and passed with flying colors, thank you, Lord!) and while waiting around in my room managed to see most of the ceremony – and I was enchanted by the whole thing. (Admittedly, sedatives also had something to do with that:-) I also agree with Elaine about the majesty of the Anglican rite.

    I enjoyed the pomp and ritual and, since I am a US citizen, I don’t have to pay a dime for it. If the Brits feel it is worth it to preserve their cultural heritage, I certainly will not argue with them.

    BTW, I also caught a bit of a TV special about Kate Middleton’s family. She has both working class and middle class roots – a great-grandfather was a coal miner. Far more than Diana (who was a member of an old aristocratic family), Kate is truly “the people’s princess.”

Mysterium Paschale – Holy Saturday

Saturday, April 23, AD 2011

NB:  After the disagreement (though not quite unanimous) that my last post generated, I hesitated briefly on this next one.  Every time I bring up von Balthasar’s Holy Saturday thesis, it generates quite a bit of conversation.  Nevertheless, I find it very useful on this third, and perhaps most mysterious day of the Sacred Triduum.  Please know that I am not unaware of the theological controversy surrounding this thesis.

In my mind, this is an example of a deep theological question that warrants some discussion.   The publication First Things did a very nice job of presenting both sides of this argument: Alyssa Pitstick representing the traditional position, and Fr. Edward Oakes defending Balthasar (or rather defending the position that Balthasar was not heretical in his claims).  For my own part, I think Balthasar’s thoughts are worth pondering, and I think Fr. Oakes is correct at least in his assessment that Balthasar is not wading in heresy in his claims.

While I do not have time, space, or expertise to present this entire debate, I would reference the readers to the series of article by Pitstick and Oakes in First Things.  Without further adieu …


The twentieth-century theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote a work entitled Mysterium Paschale in which he attempts to come to grips with the experience of Christ on Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.  The thesis of the book is that Christ, in order to redeem man from the punishment of sin, must take on sin and all of its consequences and must rise from those consequences on Easter in his return to the Father.

The most striking chapter of the book, and certainly the one that has received the most attention, is his description of Holy Saturday.  For Balthasar the experience of Holy Saturday is preeminently about the credal phrase descendit ad inferna (Christ’s descent into Hell).  While belief in the statement is a matter of dogmatic obedience, the Church has not been clear on exactly what Christ’s going to Hell entailed.  Balthasar’s thesis hinges on two given facts.  First, in order to redeem man Christ must take on the penalty of death merited by man’s sin.  Second, the penalty for sin is not just death of the body, but also death of the soul.

The experience of Hell is that of abandonment by God.  More precisely, the soul has chosen to separate itself from God in the very act of sin.  God is both our efficient and final cause, so eternity spent in the absence of this God is greater than any suffering of which we can conceive, and certainly greater than any physical suffering.

Because Christ in his saving act must go through the entire experience of death, with the eventual result of its conquering, he must not only suffer and die a bodily death, but also must suffer a spiritual death, a death that is the complete abandonment by God.  The whole idea becomes more profound when we consider that Jesus is God.  As such, his “closeness” to the Father is perfect, and certainly much more intense than our own relationship with the Father.  While two separate Trinitarian Persons, they are in fact one God.  In this sense, Christ has a much greater loss when he is abandoned by the Father in Hell than any non-divine man could experience.  (Note that only in a Trinitarian theology can we even begin to grapple with the idea of God being abandoned by God.)

Another way of looking at this is that Jesus, as true man, must experience the full depth and breadth of the human condition, and as perfect man will experience this depth and breadth in a manner more perfect than the rest of us.  The human condition in its positive aspect is an original union with God, of which Jesus experiences in a far more perfect manner than we.  In its negative aspect, the human condition is the abandonment of God in death caused by both original and personal sin, a death that only begins with the destruction of the body, but continues in the destruction of the soul in every way except its annihilation.  Jesus, as perfect man, experiences the depths of Hell in a manner more perfectly terrible than even the souls of the damned.

As Christians, we have become accustomed to thinking about the sufferings of Christ on Good Friday.  On Holy Saturday, we at times become a bit more human-centered, perhaps reflecting on the emptiness and confusion the disciples would have felt as people who did not yet fully understand the significance of the prior day’s events.  Perhaps, however, we should keep our gaze on Christ, knowing that the sufferings he is experiencing today are infinitely greater than those of Good Friday.  The height of his Good Friday sufferings occurs in his shout from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me!”  This is the beginning of His Hell, and today is a long and arduous experience of this abandonment – and all of this He did for us.


Note:  The traditional view on the matter comes from 1 Peter 3:19 and describes Christ preaching to the souls in prison.  Balthasar notes that the tense in this and other passages is mysteriously passive, as if the preaching occurred simply by the event of the descent.  Of course, the second person of the Trinity is the Word, so any action is simultaneously a “speaking” of sorts.  A similar “preaching” occurred to the souls of the living in his very act on the Cross.  The point is that Balthasar’s thesis in no way contradicts the traditional view.


Continue reading...

18 Responses to Mysterium Paschale – Holy Saturday

  • How can He be in hell on Saturday when the day before he told the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Or did a comment make all the difference as in: “I promise you today, you shall be with me…”
    Can someone clear this up for me?

  • …correction…or did a “comma” make all the difference…

  • Joe,

    I don’t have a great answer for you. Anything I would offer would be speculation. Perhaps some other readers have references from the Church or Church Fathers. Of course, we know from the deposit of faith (including Scripture) that Christ did descend to the dead (“Hell”, “Hades”, whatever we wish to call it), so the question at hand is how to reconcile this with the verse in question. How we interpret the descent (Balthasarian or not Balthasarian) is a separate question.

    I will say that the issue of the comma does not resolve the question. In every English translation, the comma is placed “I promise you, today you shall be with me …” In fact, in the Latin Vulgate, it is a colon, and thus provides more of a separation. (“Amen dico tibi: Hodie mecum eris in paradiso.”) I don’t know Greek very well, but my understanding is that punctuation is missing altogether.

  • The trinity Joe. “I and the Father are one.” Saint Dismas would have stood before God immediately after his death for his Particular Judgment and would immediately have been admitted into Heaven. May we all have such a happy outcome!

  • Jake, perhaps this must remain a mystery until we see through the glass clearly. I’m still grappling with understanding the trinity, among other things, stumped by Jesus’ saying: “The Father is greater than I,” which appears to undercut the tenet of “co-substantiality.”

  • Jake,

    Won’t argue about it here as I don’t understand Balthasar’s point ultimately. Like many of the 20th Century, he pushed the understanding of God. Did he go to far with this? I don’t know.

    Much like de Lubac and the question of nature and grace (one which I do believe de Lubac got wrong) Balthasar suffered for his position. Perhaps rightly so. But hopefully he, like de Lubac and us also one day, knows the truth of it all now.

  • Joe,

    “I’m still grappling with understanding the trinity.” No truer words have ever been spoken, and here the personal pronoun “I” represents all of us this side of heaven! This speaks also to Phillip’s point, and here I echo his concerns of modern theologians. While some of their material is compelling and potentially fruitful, for my own part, I tend to find more of a home in Aquinas, Augustine, and the like. “But hopefully he, like de Lubac and us also one day, knows the truth of it all now.” Amen, Phillip, amen. And blessed be God that we have a Church to sort much (not all, perhaps) out for us. As with Joe’s wrestling with procession (“the Father is greater than I”) and consubstantiality … the Church has given a clarification of these principles. Do I fully understand them? No. But the more we live, the more we pray, and the more we submit to the Truth of the Gospel, the more we can recognize error when we see it, especially in our own thought. Humility, here, becomes essential, and I speak mostly of myself.


  • Saint Thomas Aquinas: “The words of The Lord (This day….in paradise) must therefore be understood not of an earthly or corporeal paradise, but of that spiritual paradise in which all may be, said to be, who are in the enjoyment of the divine glory. Hence to place, the thief went down with Christ to hell, that he might be with Christ, as it was said to him: “Thou shalt be with Me in Paradise”; but as to reward, he was in Paradise, for he there tasted and enjoyed the divinity of Christ, together with the other saints.”

  • Joe,

    Thank you for that reference.



  • Have to admit, that this had never occurred to me – and I thank you for providing the education. Once you think about it, it makes all kinds of sense..but until I read this piece, I had never understood the full scope of Christ’s suffering for us.

  • I can not begin to fathom what Our Lord experienced on Holy Saturday. For that matter, I can not begin to fathom what Our Lord experienced period – because I can not comprehend what it means or feels like to be true man and true God. In the ’70’s, we teens used to speak of “getting inside someone’s head.” That is utterly impossible in the case of Jesus. We know he lived, slept, ate, and got thirsty and tired like us, we know what he said and how he wants us to live – but the only one who knows what he went through on that silent Saturday is Jesus. I am content to have it remain a mystery. Perhaps some day it will cease to be one.

  • Oh, may all AC contributors and readers have a happy and blessed Easter!

    I just got home from seeing “Of Gods and Men,” a wonderful wonderful film about the French monks who were martyred in Algeria in the ’90’s. I can’t think of a more appropriate time to have seen it. Despite the ending, I came away inspired by the faith and bravery of those good men. The film does a wonderful job of capturing the contemplative life, as we watch the monks pray (lots of sublime Georgian chant), minister to the Muslim villagers, make honey, and tend to their work. Imagine – the Grand Prize winner at Cannes was a film which depicts the lives of Catholic religious with respect and dignity. And apparently “Of Gods and Men” is a hit film in secular France. Maybe there is hope for the French after all.

    Of course, Christ has risen so there is hope for us all!

    The trailer of “Of Gods and Men”:

  • Of course I mean Gregorian, not Georgian, since I am not referring to certain British kings.

  • I myself find Ratzinger’s reflections on Holy Saturday in his Introduction to Christianity to be quite satisfying.

    Am I right in thinking the wallpaper on your other sight includes this book, Jake?

    Have you thought about it alongside Balthasar?

  • Brett,

    Very observant. I myself had to go back and check to see if it was the case. The wallpaper is nothing more than a photograph of my bookshelf (or a portion of it anyway). I spend quite a bit of time trying to eliminate the glare, but to no avail. Perhaps a higher quality camera that doesn’t need a flash. At any rate, thanks for noticing.



  • Pingback: Out and About on a Monday Morning | Blogs For Victory
  • I believe that the separation from God occurred when he was on the cross, when Christ took on the sins of man it created the separation from God that he had never known prior to that. While the word from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was seemingly in reference to the Psalm, he was also fulfilling scripture. The separation from God had to be almost physical in dimension.

    The decent into Hell isn’t specified, but on Resurrection Sunday, he states, “do not touch me, for I haven’t ascended to the Father”. That seems to make it such that he had been in Hell not paradise.

    The promise made to the thief that today you will be with me in paradise, could mean quite a number of different things. One could be a phrasing, one could be that Christ ascended first, which might make some sense for him to receive judgment, it could be just a promise made immediate for one who was suffering alongside Him, and Christ being part of the Trinity could have used the “royal” type of “me” in that word from the cross.

    It is an interesting thought about where Christ was on the Saturday. Being that Satan had confronted Christ prior, you wonder if this was a further confrontation between them.

New Urbanism and Virtue

Thursday, April 21, AD 2011

There is an outstanding article on the blog Public Discourse about how “walkable communities” are more conducive to building virtue.  (Hat tip to A Dei in the Life for this reference.)  Many have argued for some time now about the merits of living in a community that does not require driving on a day-to-day basis, but Raymond Hain (the author) finds the popular arguments inadequate: controversial environmental issues, tacky architecture, and vague descriptions about the value of “community.”  Instead, utilizing the work of Philip Bess, Mr. Hain seeks to establish an argument for walkable communities that is grounded in solid Thomistic virtue.  His arguments are three:


1.  We need others to help us to identify what is good for us.

2.  True virtuous action demands that we treat others justly, charitably and with kindness, but such action is always with regards to a particular situation, not abstract generalities.

3.  When our lives are fragmented in the way suburbia makes possible, it is much easier for us to act badly, and it is much harder to learn from the bad actions we do perform (and so to become someone who eventually acts well).


Regarding the first point, Thomas insists that training in virtue must be done in community (he says “in conference among several”).  The demands of the moral life are not always simple, and prudence is required to sort through all the various aspects of a dilemma, but these various aspects are often disclosed to us in consultation with those in our lives.

Regarding the second point, virtue is a habit, and as such it needs practiced in order to develop.  Practice means encountering real, concrete situations, not merely working our solutions in abstract.  We need frequent interaction with others in order to prudently judge the merits of various moral solutions.

Finally, with respect to the third point, personal encounters provide the impetus for virtuous behavior.  In the words of the author, “It becomes much easier for us to treat someone poorly, to violate the demands of true virtue, when that person shares only a small fragment of our lives.”

Mr. Hain is onto something here.  Our lives are rapidly becoming both private and segmented.  Both of these tendencies tend away from seeing man as made in the image and likeness of a Trinitarian God.  First, God consists of three Persons, which means that God is inherently relationship.  When John claims that God is love, he does not say God loves or God has love, but rather discloses that God, in his essence, is the act of love.  As such, God is immanent (which is not to discount his transcendence), and as beings mades in his image and likeness, we are called to be in relationship with one another.  The increasingly mobile society, together with the Cartesian turn towards the subject, promotes quite the opposite.  However, God is not merely plurality, but is also unity: there is but one God.  In other words, even in his multiplicity God is perfectly integrated.  As an image of God, while we have different aspects to our beings and our lives, we are called to integrate them into our person.  This goes first and foremost for our body and soul – our body needs trained in the ways of the soul, for a strict dualism is impossible.  But it also goes for the various arenas in which we live out our vocation.  Our jobs, our family, our friends, our faith … all must be oriented ad Dominum, and in doing so we come to understand a life whose singular purpose is holiness.

I would add two marginal observations to Mr. Hain’s argument.  The first involves the use of communication technology.  As communication became possible without physical proximity, man began to rethink the meaning of knowledge, discourse, and relationship.  In the 1980’s, Neil Postman observed that this began with the invention of the telegraph: for the first time in human history, communication was not limited by geography.  (Letter writing was always a possibility, but inherent to letter writing is the lack of instantaneousness, something absent from telegraphic communication.)  Once the telegraph became utilized by the news agencies, it introduced three problems into rational discourse: irrelevance, impotence, and incoherence.  It accomplished this by decontextualizing information and presented it as a series of disconnected (and disappearing) facts.

But the telegraph was only the beginning, for later came the telephone and the television, and the whole thing has seen a great culmination with the advent of the internet.  (Postman sees the culmination, but his work was published before the internet became widespread.  In this sense, he was an man ahead of his time.)  Personal communication is being replaced with rapid transmission of zeros and ones, and relationships are being replaced with Facebook “friendship.”  Whether this is a cause or result of the suburban sprawl is a bit of a chicken-egg phenomenon, but the correlation is obvious.

My second marginal observation is the strange juxtaposition of proximity and isolation found in the act of driving on the highway.  When a driver is on the road, he is surrounded by hundreds of other individuals who are in relative close proximity, yet he is isolated in his own world.  This all seems contrary to the way in which human relationships were intended to work.  By this I mean that man is an embodied soul, and as such he can best relate to his fellow man when the person is physically present.  (Such is the very principle of sacramentality.)  True, some methods of communication can provide a substitute for the lack of proximity (such as the telephone), but they will always be substitutes.  (This, indeed, is the very heart of the problem – people are coming the see the substitute as the real thing, as can be seen when today’s youth would rather send a text message than actually dial the phone or meet the person face to face.)  Human relationships are intended to involve the body and physical proximity.  This is why Confession must be done in the presence of a priest, and more importantly explains the reason and power of the Incarnation.

The problem with extended time in a car is that is separates relationship from proximity.  It is actually the flip side of the telegraph-telephone-internet problem.  Communication technology attempts to preserve the personal encounter without a corresponding physical encounter.  Driving in a car presents us with a situation where we have a physical encounter but one the is completely void of anything personal.  In falsely separating these two things, it is no surprise that people are less prone to virtue in their communications.  On the internet, when the face-to-face encounter has been eliminated, people are more likely to behave in vicious ways because they perceive those actions as lacking consequence.  Likewise, in a vehicle there is an absence of personal relationship (due to the physical isolation and confinement) and therefore people are more likely to exhibit rage and other vicious emotions.  Again, a perceived lack of consequences plays a role here.  The whole thing seems to separate what God has joined: relationship and physical proximity.

While marginal, these two observations are intimately bound up with the problem of suburban sprawl.  Of course the second example of the car is a direct consequence of suburbia.

I would add as a final observation that both communication and transportation technology provide the one necessary ingredient for destroying virtue and human relationship: anonymity.  When one is able to dissociate his personal identity from his actions, virtue becomes virtually impossible.  It is telling the Scripture presents a life of virtue as tied to personal identity, or rather it presents the lack of identity as a key characteristic of evil, which is why the demons Christ encounters often refer to themselves in the plural (“We” or “legion”).

Mr. Hain ends his article with the following:

[S]uburbia represents a turning away from public life towards private life. Front porches have become back decks, and public squares have disappeared. Suppose we were to rebuild those public squares, and all of us spent our evenings on our front porches. We might discover, to our dismay, that we had almost nothing to talk about.

The last bit reminds me of a quotation from Henry David Thorough, written on the eve of  the development of a transcontinental telegraph line:

We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Main to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate. … We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the old world some weeks nearer to the new; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad flapping American ear will be that Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.

But as usual, Postman synthesizes all of this best:

A man in Main and a man in Texas could converse, but not about anything either of them knew or cared very much about.  The telegraph may have made the country into ‘one neighborhood,’ but it was a peculiar one, populated by strangers who knew nothing but the most superficial facts about each other.

Continue reading...

30 Responses to New Urbanism and Virtue

  • It sounds very nice and logical and all, but it doesn’t work.

    I’ve lived in places where I could walk to the store, the mall, my doctor’s, etc, and there were tons of folks in the same complex. The only time I had a friendly conversation with someone was when I complemented her cat…after some drunk kids set a man’s pickup on fire, because isn’t it funny to burn a vehicle with a fire fighter’s uniform in it?
    I tried to be helpful and friendly, and it was most assuredly rebuffed.

    Compare to where we live now– not walkable at all, unless you count the bread distributor’s next door, but if I offer someone a hand because they’ve got a ton of groceries and a little kid they say thank you and accept, or do the no thanks I got it response. I know the gal who shares a wall with me, and we chat if she’s out smoking and I happen to walk out. If I knock on folks’ doors to ask if the lovely orange cat trying to come in my back window is theirs, they answer with a smile and we both worry about whose it could be. (still no idea, but the conclusion is that he’s sneaking out of folks’ houses, and the desk ladies all know he comes to “visit” my cat so they can tell whoever looks for him)

    The main difference? Sense of safe community– there’s a daycare on site, so everyone has to pass a basic security check, there’s a gate that you need a code to drive through, there’s green open space on either side and the population is mostly military or associated.
    The other “complex” we shared a rec house, but the place was wide open– people could and did walk there, cause trouble (that was NOT the only vehicle that was torched), the YMCA was plopped down nearby (which I think bussed in “troubled youth” regularly), and if someone knocked on your door it was probably to run that blanking magazine scam for the fiftieth time.

    The guy wants community— that means you’ve got to have a shared culture. Being able to walk to places has nothing to do with it, having shared values that are enforced in some manner does.

    Think about it– why are we reading a site called “The American Catholic”? Because the really important values are shared here. We know we’re not going to open the page one day and see something along the lines of that attack on poor little Trig, because everyone here agrees that all toddlers are people, and attacking a child because of who they’re related to is wrong.

    Frankly, I don’t want to adopt the culture of those around me– I’m Catholic, and the culture is frankly incompatible with that, as evidenced when I went to my St. Francis network OBGYN and on the first appointment they wanted to know if I wanted to get my tubes tied, since this was the second child.
    When I politely said it was against my religion (and, when asked, said I’m Catholic) they were shocked and said they’d never had someone turn it down on religious grounds before. Every one of their clients that they know are Catholic ignores “that stuff.”

  • I’ve lived in small towns in Central Illinois virtually my entire life. Almost everyone drives here, either to a job, or to go shopping or to get to the county seat to take care of some matter with the county government. The sense of community is normally pretty strong, although new comers can sometimes take a while to fit in. Additionally squabbles can ensue when neighbors get too close, so I have always followed a policy of waving to neighbors when I see them, and leaving it at that. People do tend to watch out for each other, and it is normally fairly easy to know who is trustworthy and who is not. Some people can find it all stifling, but it has suited me and my family fairly well.

  • I think that the concerns with community in the referenced work are overanalyzed. Communities develop first through families that inculcate the virtues. Then those virtues are fostered through the life of the cult (religion). In the end this community can exist even when there are great distances.

    Having lived in the West, where farmers and ranches often lived miles apart, one is impressed with the community that existed in local churches or other organizations such as the Grange.

    The I’ve lived in cities where the population of the block was higher than the local town five miles aways. No sense of community at all.

    I think in part Aquinas’ noting that virtue is lived in community in part takes in Aristotle’s view that a virtuous life is lived in friendship. Though it probably gets much more complex than that, I think that is the place where analysis should begin. The lack of true friendship, in spite of geographic barriers at times, that is a reality in our post-cultic society.

  • I like the way St.Thomas puts us in the action track with mandates to work in context with our fellows. This morning while busing to work, I was imagining St.John of the Cross walking from place to place in Segovia in 1589. From a tourist’s viewpoint one could admire the path he took from the cathedral to hospitals to convents and home to his monastery. I got of the bus and it occurred to me that my path is no less special, if I am thinking like St.Thomas had advised.

    We do create virtue from habit. But it is hard work.

  • Philip- I think you’re on to something, and a question came to mind: could the way we’re taught in school be helping to kill off friendship?

    As a lot of wags have commented, they haven’t been forced to socialize with a group entirely their own age and mostly the same background since leaving school….

  • Philip: “I’ve lived in cities where the population of the block was higher than the local town five miles away. No sense of community at all.”

    Foxfier: “The main difference? Sense of safe community…”

    Yeah… points which perennially come to my mind whenever I read these types of suburb critiques. The assertions totally go against my experience and that of many others, explaining why these ideas have trouble catching on. Even Rod Dreher has admitted that even though suburbs are–in theory–depraved dens of iniquity and non-community, they are much friendlier, safer and convivial than cities are in reality. That’s where I live. Reality.

    As for the critique of internal combustion engines, the crowd of people passing each other on many urban sidewalks may as well have cars built around them for the lack of notice they pay one another. Automobiles only reinforce a sort of individualism that is already there. People who drive the most, commonly called “truckers”, have more sense of community belonging than, say, people in Starbucks listening to iPods with headphones thinking grandiose thoughts about an imaginary world without fossil fuels. BTW, you can still get a CB for less than many iPod models.

  • *little lightbulb*
    Japan’s high population means that they HAVE to interact, and HAVE to live in walking distance of most everything, etc.
    They respond by building mental and cultural walls.

    Maybe stress has a lot to do with it? I know the #1 stress in my life is people, and that the best way to keep people from hurting you is not to be vulnerable to them. Friendly is vulnerable. (Ask any high school outcast.)

  • I might add, that while the suburbs traditionally have been cut off from urban areas in terms of communities, that the internet has the potential to transcend those barriers. We live in an era where humans have the capability to communicate in more ways than ever before imagined. Can we use them to form greater communities of well-being and break down the social barriers of “The Lonely Crowd”?

    For a good (and challenging) book on some of the philosophy behind the concern over barriers and mixing, see Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Times.

  • It seems like the original article is assuming that overlapping connections automatically create community. I disagree. The strongest bonds in my life come from church and family, neither of which overlap with my work or social life.

    The article forgets about the sense of duty. Integration can encourage duty to the extent that, for example, it’s embarrassing to go to the grocery store and see the deacon of the church you haven’t been attending. But integration doesn’t necessarily produce a sense of duty. Duty inspires you to do something you don’t want to do, and without that, it’s impossible to live a moral life.

    It’s worth noting that both Japanese culture and midwest farming culture involve a sense of duty. Trucking does as well, at least partially due to the large investment of money or time. Internet sites don’t promote duty. Anyone can show up or drop out at any time. I don’t think they encourage virtue, unless the person does feel an obligation to them.

  • New Urbanism often doesn’t have much place for churches. I do believe encouraging more people to live within walking distance of their church would have very positive effects. This kind of encouragement is easier than ever in the Facebook age – just let your church friends know that so-and-so is moving, and his house is just down the block from St. Mary’s.

    The Public Discourse essayist risks confusing *building* patterns with *residency* patterns. It’s the people who matter, clearly.

    The safety issue is also an important political question. Why should someone feel unsafe in a functioning modern city? “Lack of safety” is sometimes just another phrase for “lack of effective police protection.” (And often police incapacity results from political or judicial intervention.)

  • Why should someone feel unsafe in a functioning modern city?

    Because the majority of modern folks aren’t fighters and aren’t armed. The defense an unarmed noncom has is numbers, and if you don’t have a strong community you can’t be sure you’ll have sufficient numbers to counter an armed gang.

  • It seems to me that Mr. Tawney’s article is trying to hit at a reality of modern life that we all face: increasing individualism and increasing social dis-integration, with a consequent individualistic ethos. That, in my opinion, is a reality none can ignore and very much worth thinking about. I would like to hear some of the commentators at this blog offer some thoughts about the roots of this problem.

    On the other hand, I am fairly disappointed with the way the argument was constructed. It seems like a cake thrown together which hasn’t had enough time to bake. On the one hand, one must admit that Thoreau and co.’s arguments concerning the telegraph have some validity to them. The fact of being able to communicate is not yet a judgment of the value of the communications that are now possible. In other words, I think Mr. Tawney correctly identified the pith of the problem: a substitution for real, inter-personal communication is taken as the norm. None of the commentators so far, on this Catholic blog, have taken seriously enough his points about theological anthropology and the incarnational aspect of man as made for communion. The fact that communities are now designed to isolate is something worth noting and considering. To ignore this argument and to say that design has nothing to do with it is to deny the effect/influence of man’s surroundings. In other words, it is to deny that he is really an incarnate spirit and to give into the Cartesian “ghost-in-the-machine” (or thinking thing/extended thing dualism, as he termed it).

    On the other hand, a few commentator’s got it right when they said (basically) that these arguments have culpably overlooked the family as the real basic building block of virtue and when they said that friendship is the first context about which Thomas was writing (of course, he also had other communities in mind, for example, religious communities). As long as these things are not looked to first, the further arguments will lack a suitable foundation.

    Finally, I must say that Mr. Tawney’s explanation of the nature of God needs a bit of tightening. That is, it is inaccurate in comparison to the Catholic faith, and on two points. First, Mr. Tawney writes, “…but rather discloses that God, in his essence, is the act of love. As such, God is immanent (which is not to discount his transcendence), and as beings mades in his image and likeness, we are called to be in relationship with one another.” As to the first part, it is true that God is the act of love (but more accurate to say that the three divine Persons are constituted by their mutual and perichoretic act of love). As to the second, it does not follow that God is immanent. God is a Creator, but it does not follow that He is “immanent” as Person in creation. This is not a logical necessity, otherwise, God would be constrained by something other than His nature. The reason for this has to do with the fact that God is love in and of Himself, that is, within the eternal communion of Persons. He has no need of creation to love and therefore it is not a logical necessity. The fact that He is present to His creation (in His Incarnation), is a further sign of the infinitude of His love.

    As to the second point, Mr. Tawney writes, “However, God is not merely plurality, but is also unity: there is but one God. In other words, even in his multiplicity God is perfectly integrated. As an image of God, while we have different aspects to our beings and our lives, we are called to integrate them into our person.” It is simply false to say that God is “integrated.” The word integrated applies to complex/composed beings. God’s being is utterly simple; it is simplicity. God is not integrated because, quite simply, there are no parts which require integration. His one act of being is also His essence. Perhaps Mr. Tawney was trying to point to the aspect of divine simplicity (we will give the benefit of the doubt), but it bears saying that God cannot be said to be “integrated.”

    Mr. Tawney, thank you for your thought provoking article.


  • Due to Triduum happenings, I have not yet had a chance to get to many of the comments, and needless to say, it is a bit overwhelming. I think the most surprising thing is not necessarily the number of comments, but rather their length. If I (or the original article) have cause people to think deeply about simple things, then I suppose this is in someway a success.

    I think their is a temptation in many of the comments to present anecdotal evidence as contrary to the original thesis, which, as I read it, is that life in suburbia is not conducive to the development of virtue, but rather seems more conducive to fragmentation and a Cartesian sort of subjectivism. While anecdotal evidence can be helpful, it always remains just that. For instance, if I live in an urban setting that still maintains a since of social isolation, this does not necessarily mean that the thesis is incorrect. Likewise, a very tight knit community within suburbia does not contradict the thesis. The question still remains: what type of social setting is more conducive to building virtue? There will always be those that can live virtuously even in environments that don’t promote it, and there will always be those that live viscously despite an environment that promotes virtue. But the question remains: does a walkable community better allow for the type of community needed to build virtue. I think this is Mr. Hain’s point.

    I think there has been too much emphasis on “walkability.” While this is certainly part of the thesis, it remains just that: only part. The idea was to produce a comparison of a small, walkable community in which most everything one needs is within a relatively short distance. In such a community, an individual knows the grocer, knows the mayor, knows the bank officer, etc. Everything is personal because everything is small. Suburbia is very different, for the only thing in the immediate community is the house and other similarly built houses. The church can be quite a bit a away, the workplace is often deliberately a lengthy drive, and the list goes on. Suburbia is set up to foster fragmentation – or perhaps fragmentation led to the desire for suburbia. “Walkability” is only a side aspect – the main thing here, from my perspective, is smallness and simplicity.

    I appreciate Phillip’s comment about farm communities, and this may be worthy of its own post. While there is not space here to develop this idea fully, it seems to me that the rural communities can somehow maintain a sense of smallness, simplicity, and non-fragmentation in their lives. In this way, they seem closer to the small town community of which I am speaking than they do to suburbia.

    That being said, “walkability” is not totally separate from all of this. There is something about walking (perhaps it is the slower pace, the physical movements, who knows?) over driving that better allows one to take in the surroundings. I tried to hint at some of this in the description of the social isolation that occurs int he act of driving, but perhaps I didn’t do a very good job. Of course, this is not meant to be a blanket statement, for I readily concede the point about people walking with iPods, cell phones, and various other objects that remove them from the world. But neither does this negate the point: that walking is more conducive to communicating with those who are also walking than does driving.

    That brings me to Ben’s comment, one that was very much appreciated. It seems to get at the main crux of the article. Perhaps my argument was a bit scattered. These are conversations I have been having with various individuals for some time, and often things make more sense in my head than they come across on paper. “The fact that communities are now designed to isolate is something worth noting and considering.” Indeed. Postman’s main argument was that the form of communication is not separable from the content being communicated. In other words, at the same time that one is receiving information, one is also receiving information on how information is to be received. Likewise with social organization. Design has everything to do with it. One cannot separate the manner in which a community is designed from the objective values that are inherent to that design, and some designs by their nature (if not their intent) promote isolation and fragmentation. While one is taking in information and habits about living a virtuous life, one is doing os in a particular social setting, and that will inevitably impact the manner in which these habit are formed.

    If I ignored the importance of the family, it was not because of a lack of importance I actually attribute to it. It is clear to both me and the readers of this article that the family is the basic building block of society, which is precisely why a family can live virtuously even in an organization that promotes otherwise. However, it still begs the original question: what type of community design/organization is more conducive to family values and virtue building? In other words, are small walkable towns or suburbia more helpful in allowing a family to function as a family?

    Finally, I appreciate Ben’s last two critiques. I disagree with nothing he writes, and anything to the contrary in the original article is merely a lack of clarity on my own part, and I humbly accept his correction. I agree that God-as-love does no logically necessitate immanence. Rather, what I intended was that God’s immanence happens through the fact that he is the act of love. Being “present to another” (which as I take it is a pretty good, albeit simple, definition of immanence) happens by being “gift” to the other, and the act of being gift is one in the same as the act of love. Never did I meant to suggest that God’s act of creation was necessary. It was not, as is clear from Catholic teaching on the nature of God. “The fact that He is present to His creation (in His Incarnation), is a further sign of the infinitude of His love.” This is a perfect way of describing what I indented to say. Perhaps change my original “As such” to “In such” would have been clearer. But I am afraid that the clearest way would have been to allow Ben to speak for me!

    On the second point, I regret the use of the word “integrated.” Ben is correct is assuming that I meant “simple.” Actually, “unity” is what I was really after .. the idea that God, while three Persons, is in fact one God. Even in his plurality, he is unity. We are the analogy, and the manner in which we are called to integrate those aspects of our lives and beings into our singular person is a shadow of the Trinitarian reality. Perhaps putting it that way is more or less clear .. I cannot say … but I think I will quit now before I stumble into more heresy, something very easy to do when trying to contemplate the nature of the Blessed Trinity.

    Blessings to all this Good Friday. A thunderstorm is brewing at the moment in Delaware, Ohio, so apparently even the weather knows that the Lord is in the tomb.

  • I welcome Mr. Hain’s analysis. As a social conservative who has been a land use and transportation planner in a very liberal community I have been involved in working with developers to design and construct new urbanist communities. The appeal of the new urbanist concept is based on my personal experience. I spent the first 9 years of my life living in a Chicago neighborhood, sitting with my parents on our front porch in the summer, talking to the neighbors who walked past. As a child I walked to Catholic school, to the park and rode my bike throughout that part of the city. In the summer my family walked to church on Sundays. When I was 10 we moved to what was at that time the distant northwestern suburbs. Everthing changed…you could not walk to anything other than other houses and every riding a bike was more dangerous than in the city. There were certain advantages to be sure but unlike my younger siblings I had could compare the advantages and disadvantages of both.

    When I was in graduate school I argued in a planning class that urban neighborhoods and small rural towns were much more alike than suburban subdivisions. . .the point the Mr. McClarey makes about his experience. My continued interest in new urbanism is not driven by the environmental benefits of less driving but by my intuitive sense that there is a huge benefit to living in a community where you know your neighbor due to your proximity and take ownership of your neighborhood because you know your neighbors. I’m surprised no one has mentioned Ave Maria outside of Naples Florida. I think the the concept that Monahan has tried to instill in his vision for Ave Maria is based on this same concept. As far as the comment that churches don’t seem to be part of these new communities, we do require developers to set aside land for “civic” uses, including schools and churches. In the first project we worked on I encouraged the local Catholic church to consider relocating to the village center but unfortunately they had a more “suburban” vision. A Methodist church ended up in the space and they have received much publicity for the church’s design and the vitality of their congregation, many of whom live within walking distance of the church. Another missed opporunity.

    The challenge I face is that some economic conservatives and libertarians tend to want to throw the new urbanist concept, along with those things that support it like public transportation, out as part of liberal social engineering. I have argued with many of them that there is nothing inherently incompatible between conservative social beliefs and recognizing the value of community in promoting those beliefs.

  • Mr. Bonk,

    Thank you for your addition to this conversation, especially in light of your professional background. You have once again illustrated my observation that people’s comment on this topic are quite lengthy! I think that is probably a good thing – at the very least it is a refreshing change from the sound-byte conversations that often surround the blogosphere.

    I a curious on one point, though no in disagreement. Quite the opposite, I sense you are correct, but I am not sure why. You mentioned that many social conservatives and libertarians are opposed to this sort of idea. As a social conservative with a mild libertarian streak, I find myself wondering why this is true. The whole idea of small communities seems to support the idea of subsidiarity and self governance. Why do you think others in the same political camp tend to veer away from a new urbanization?



  • “I think their is a temptation in many of the comments to present anecdotal evidence as contrary to the original thesis, which, as I read it, is that life in suburbia is not conducive to the development of virtue, but rather seems more conducive to fragmentation and a Cartesian sort of subjectivism. While anecdotal evidence can be helpful, it always remains just that.”

    That is true that the arguments are anecdotal. But a philosophical argument is also not empirical. Thus your argument, nor the original one linked, nor the link to the book, show any empirical evidence. That of course would take sociological methods regarding measuring community, studies including surveys, statistical analysis etc. Until that time, your arguments are as non-empirical as others. This lack of empirical evidence is shown in this statement;

    “Suburbia is set up to foster fragmentation – or perhaps fragmentation led to the desire for suburbia.”

    Where is your evidence that planners, or people moving to suburbs, desired fragmentation or were designed to foster fragmentation?

    There may be such a body of literature. I am unaware of any however. The best that I can think quickly of is “The Negro Family: A Case for National Action.” This seems to more adequately, and from an empirical basis, address the issues related to the breakdown of the African-American family (the basic unit of society.) Most notably the issues were single parent families, usually headed by women. There also seems to be evidence for the breakdown of communities when planners designed “the projects” which were to foster better living but ultimately shattered previous relations. This even though people were living in closer proximitiy to each other.

    More anecdotes however. I am old enough now to have heard of the fragmenting of community in a number of different decades. Most pre-date the internet. As noted, the analysis linked fails not solely from a lakc of, as noted, empirical evidence. But also from a proper anthropology. Humans are designed for community. They in fact make community in a number of ways even when separated. This most simply, through the family. Then the Church and other institutions. This because an authentic antrhopology also considers God and grace. Both of which are supplied in abundance to overcome natural barriers. Barriers which have been, as noted, overcome in the past and which will, considering that God so wills, be overcome in the future.

  • Twice in my lifetime, including right now, I have lived within walking distance of my parish church. I find that most of the time, walking to and from Mass actually helps me be better disposed than driving; it almost feels like a pilgrimage of sorts.

    The same with walking to and from work (which I do occasionally now) — although more physically demanding, in my case that’s a good thing because I could use the exercise. Plus driving is fraught with all kinds of anxieties which one really doesn’t notice unless one stops to think about them — will the car start? Should I stop and get gas? What was that funny noise I just heard? Why is my seatbelt stuck again? How do I get into the proper turn lane without getting hit by those cars coming up behind me? Will this light ever change? WHO TOOK MY PARKING SPACE?

  • To my mind, the anecdotes are very important in this discussion. It is apparent to me from these discussion that some people have had horrible experiences in the suburbs with unfriendliness and others have had the exact same experiences in the super-urbs, i.e., the city. The problem I’ve always had with the new urban supremacists is their superiority complex about the city. I believe this goes back to the Tower of Babel, which was not built in the suburbs. Those people needed a dose of humility and so do the new urban supremacists.

    I just keep getting hung up on what our Lord saying about the rich have a hard time getting to heaven. You’ve got to be detached from your worldly goods no matter where you live.

  • “Plus driving is fraught with all kinds of anxieties which one really doesn’t notice unless one stops to think about them — will the car start? Should I stop and get gas? What was that funny noise I just heard? Why is my seatbelt stuck again? How do I get into the proper turn lane without getting hit by those cars coming up behind me? Will this light ever change? WHO TOOK MY PARKING SPACE?”

    All of which pale Elaine in comparison to the greatest fear involved in driving; teaching a teenager how to drive! I am going through this process with my daughter right now who actually isn’t a bad driver. She does complain sometimes that my obvious occasional fear makes her somewhat nervous. I mollify her by allowing her to play the random caucophonous sounds which she calls “music” and I call “animal killing music”.

  • It isn’t that anecdotes are not important – they are, for they are reflective of the human experience. It is just that any one particular anecdote neither supports nor contradicts a thesis. While I readily concede the point that I offered no sociological evidence that is in any way better than anecdotal evidence, I would challenge the point that philosophical arguments are no better. In fact, philosophical arguments are not only stronger than anecdotes, but are stronger than empirical evidence, because philosophy attempts to get at the root of the issue. Note that this in no way devalues either anecdotes or statistics, but it simply presents a hierarchy of evidence.

    The argument, as I stated ism “Suburbia is set up to foster fragmentation.” Philip asks for evidence of this, to which I concede I have not, though with him I would find such studies fascinating. My argument is much more fundamental than sociological data. It is in the very nature, the very design, or suburbia to foster fragmentation. Suburbs are set up quite literally to have houses in isolation from the rest of society. In many ways it is what defines a suburb. They are deliberately designed to have shopping centers outside of a certain radius, while still remaining within driving distance of course. Further, suburbs are designed to be away from the place of work. The very nature of the set up fosters a “home life”, a “work life”, and a “commerce life”, all separate from one another. “Church life” is a bit harder to diagnose, because the geographic parish is a persistent support for local community. While I am not fully prepared to make a cohesive argument, I sense that in many cases, community that might be established among Catholics living in such a disintegrated world is due to the local parish.

    It is important to note here that the large urban environment is not what I am upholding as a “better” solution to this problem. From what I can tell, it suffers many of the same problems as the suburbs, but the manifestation is often different. Rather, I am upholding the small walkable town and the rural communities as much more conducive to an integrated life.

    Finally, at the risk of beating a dead horse into the ground, I recognize that (1) no matter what the set up, this side of heaven man will have to struggle with re-integrating what original sin has dis-integrated, and no social set up is a panacea for this problem, and (2) even in the most non-conducive environments, there will be those who thrive virtuously and achieve some semblance of integration in their lives. Neither of these two points, however, dismisses the original question, that forms of organization are either more or less conducive to battling the problem of fragmentation that plagues our society.

  • Pauli,

    I agree one-hundred-percent, and perhaps from the beginning I should have done more to separate myself from the “new urban supremacists” who have a “superiority complex about the city.” I in no way uphold the modern urban environment as a haven of virtue – in many cases it is quite the opposite. I have no desire, for example, to raise my kids in Las Vegas simply because it is a city. The model I am defending is the small town. However, I also think that the rural community in its own way shares many of the same advantages.

    Thank you for allowing this clarification. I appreciate your comments.

  • If you want to really start at the root, you need to define terms. Otherwise you are beating down strawmen. I have never heard anyone define the difference between a city and a suburb—philosophically, that is. My contention is that suburbia does not exist in the real world, so condemning it as a soulless wasteland doesn’t condemn any actual suburb in which one might actually live.

  • “It is in the very nature, the very design, or suburbia to foster fragmentation. ”

    That is a premise which I don’t think you have proven.

    That goes to the crux of the discussion. Philosophical arguments are able to settle questions of the meaning of what is human and the role of community etc. But other disciplines have their own methods which are valid in proving their varied domains of knowledge. Mathematical, physical and sociological methods are valid to their given discipline and, in regard to the specific questions they answer, superior to philosophical methods. Otherwise we would have Aristotelean physics trumping modern cosmology. But it doesn’t. Nor can it.

    Now what philosophy can do, is take sociological data and give a deeper meaning to it. Thus if there was empirical sociological data which “proved” your premise above, then one can apply philosophical methods to mine the deeper interpretation.

    This in part becomes the problem of disciplines like philosophy or theology where modern problems become interpreted without regard to underlying issues. Issues to which modern sciences (limited in the certitude to be sure but nonetheless valid in the degree that they can know) can provide the guide to the nature of the problem. This is part of the problem of social justice crowds that interpret all issues in light of theological positions but without regard to the historical, economic, sociological, etc. issues. That is not to say that you are doing that. Its just that I don’t believe you have the scientific basis to make the argument you are.

    “The very nature of the set up fosters a “home life”, a “work life”, and a “commerce life”, all separate from one another.”

    But that ultimately is a spiritual question. One of integrating all of one’s life – home, work and community – into a coherent whole. This is done regardless of place and time – limits that will always be with us to some degree. It is done through recognizing the total dimension of what is human in all areas that one is called to be and wherever one is. To sanctify those dimensions by bringing them all to God.

  • Phillip,

    “‘The very nature of the set up fosters a “home life”, a “work life”, and a “commerce life”, all separate from one another.’ But that ultimately is a spiritual question.”

    I agree. It is ultimately a spiritual question. However, it doesn’t mean that the “set up” is irrelevant. Take for example the methods of communication of which I spoke in the main body of the post. Authentic communication is ultimately on the level of the Person, and there are those who can foster authentic communication in a variety of media. This does not, however, contradict the thesis that various forms of communication make authentic communication more or less challenging. Twitter and text messaging, for example, makes real communication rather difficult if for the sole reason that they limit the amount of characters one can send. It is possible, of course, but it requires a sound grounding in Christian anthropology and virtue. Without that grounding, the medium itself (Twitter) makes it rather difficult to develop, and overtime runs the risk of actually forming one’s sense of the human person, communication, and relationship. While it is ultimately spiritual, it is dangerous to think that the medium is irrelevant. We are spiritual beings, yes, but we are also incarnate beings living in a material world.

    Why can the same not be said for structures of living? While it is ultimately spiritual, while we are called to form community regardless of structures, and while those who are solidly grounded in virtuous principles can find ways of doing so, it doesn’t follow that such structures are irrelevant. “Limits will always be with us …” True, but again it doesn’t make the question irrelevant – such risks ignoring the material aspect of our being, yes?

    “To sanctify those dimensions by bringing them all to God.” Yes. Yes. and Yes. This is precisely correct – I don’t, however, see how it is incompatible with anything I have said.

    Finally, please know that I appreciate your comments, as well as Pauli’s and others. One of the challenges inherent to the “blog” medium is the lack of face to face communication, implied intonation, and other issues that go along with it. I myself am often guilty of not properly indicating a tone of voice, and I know from experience that I can come off as trite, argumentative, and stubborn. I assure you that such is a deficiency in my ability to communicate, not in my attitude towards fellow commentators. Thank you for your thoughts, and I read them with the utmost respect and genuinely consider them in forming my own thought.

  • Jake, I appreciate the tone of this discussion. I think it is probably one of the more balanced and thoughtful discussions in which I’ve participated on this topic. I get the feeling that people are listening to the different sides and responding rather than “talking past one another” as I’ve experienced on other forums.

  • Jake: “Twitter and text messaging, for example, makes real communication rather difficult if for the sole reason that they limit the amount of characters one can send.”

    These forms of communication have to be used in accord with their nature. If my wife texts me to buy milk, flour and diapers while I’m out, she has more time to cook dinner and help the kids with homework. But it would be silly to have a discussion about tight finances or discipline problems via text messages. Not that there aren’t people doing things that crazy with technology. But I knew a guy who lost two fingers because he and his dad were using a lawn mower as a hedge trimmer, circa 1986. Stupidity predates the internet.

  • Pauli,

    Not to be too off topic here, but your comment reminds me of a comment I heard once. (I want to say it was Peter Kreeft, but don’t quote me on that.) It was said that the key to Christian unity is simple. If everyone were to simply abandon all preconceptions and give themselves over to the will of God. We simply need to ask God what he wants and follow him unreservedly. (Easier said than done, perhaps?). At any rate, I try to follow the same mantra in these everyday sorts of conversations.

    At the very least, our common ground seems to be that these things are worth talking about.


    “Stupidity predates the internet.” Somehow I think this should go on a quote wall of fame somewhere.

    Yes, forms of communication must be used in accord with their nature, and your examples are perfect illustrations. Here is the question, though. For someone who is well grounded in Christian personalism, is it often fairly easy to discern both the nature and its proper use. What concerns me is that those who are not can easily begin to substitute non-authentic communication for the real thing. Neil Postman, whom I referenced, made the case that the telegraph, photograph, and finally the television forever changed the nature of public discourse, changing the culture from a typographic one to a culture of entertainment. I think there is no doubt that this transition has occurred, and I thing it is clear that the television played a prominent role in the transition. Was it inevitable? I don’t know. But I do know that it is inherent to the television medium.

    The same sorts of things can be said about text messaging, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. I worry very little about people who are well grounded in Christina personalism. After all, here I am communicating with others via a blog. It would be hypocritical of me to offer a wholesale dismissal of internet communication. On the other hand, I see the impact that text messaging and the like is having on my high school students. They are coming to related to one another via a screen, and I have a feeling that decades from now psychologists are going to have a field day with this generation that has learned to communicate through these devices. Of course, perhaps this generation will not seek a psychologist but rather advice on the Psychologist Facebook Fan Page.

    A final thought. Perhaps what separates the hedge-trimmer example from technological communication is the subtleness of the dangers in the later. The dangers of succumbing to the formation inherent in the device are only dangers in so far as we are unaware enough to use the irresponsibly. The percentage of people trimmer hedges with a lawnmower is surely less than the percentage of people using Facebook to have “real” relationships.

  • “subtleness of the dangers in the later.” Sure, I can agree with that. But someone unschooled with regard to Christian personalism may use common sense and a sort of natural prudence to come to the conclusion which I did about forms of communication.

    I think that Facebook is the most deceptive of the social sites because it uses the term “Friend” for basically the sharing of information. I’ve said on my blog before that there are people whom I’m happy to call friends and meet for coffee but I don’t want them perusing my information. This is why I prefer LinkedIn and Twitter to Facebook. You simply don’t share as much and there is less pretension of “realness”.

  • Jake,

    Thank-you also for the respectful discussion. Will read your reply post more thoroughly after the Easter Vigil.

The Two Trees of Eden

Monday, April 11, AD 2011

As those who have read John Paul II’s Theology of the Body will attest, the Creation story of Genesis is the foundation of everything that follows in the Pope’s catechesis.  Following that model, Anderson and Granados devote a considerable amount of time to the first pages of Scripture in their book Called to Love.  In their discussion of the original sin, we find what is either a little-known detail of the account of the fall or, at the very least, an aspect of the story that often goes overlooked.


Everyone knows of the tree from which the original couple was forbidden to eat.  What is often forgotten is the care that the Book of Genesis takes to highlight not one, but two trees in the garden.


“And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed.  And out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:8-9)


With two trees on the scene, let us see which of the two that the Lord places off limits to the original couple.


“And the Lord God commanded the man saying, ‘You may freely eat of every tree in the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Genesis, 2:16-17)


The tree of the knowledge of good and evil stands for the proper order of things: God as the author of reality and man as the recipient of his love.  It a the sign of distinction between Creator and creation (sign here understood as more than a symbol, but as containing something of the reality of which it signifies).  Grasping the fruit from the tree is an attempt to invert reality; it is an attempt to make the creature the author of reality.  “It stands for a false independence based on the attempt to determine the meaning of existence without God, to be a self-sufficient spring with no need to draw the water of life from the original Source” (Called to Love, 105).


The death that eating from this tree brings is not merely a punishment, but is also a metaphysical necessity.  If the tree is a sign of the proper order of Creator and creation, then it is also a sign of the meaning of existence for man.  Man can only exist in and through God’s Love and Law.  In violating the command of God, man actually cuts himself off from the Source of his existence.  Instead, he attempts to find (or define) the source of his life somewhere other than God, namely man attempts to find this source in himself.  In doing so, he brings about his own destruction.  The only thing that will eventually save man from himself is the redemption won by the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of the same God that gave man his existence “in the beginning.”


The whole story of the fall obtains more clarity when we examine the serpent’s temptation of man.


“[The serpent] said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat of any tree of the garden”?’  And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die” ’ ” (Genesis, 3:1-4).


It is interesting that the serpent accuses God of forbidding Adam and Even to eat of any tree in the garden.  This is a deliberate attempt to set up God as a tyrant that seeks to cut the couple off from all of creation (including the tree of life), the same creation that God had given as a gift.  At first, the woman repudiates this lie, clarifying that God’s command “not to eat” was restricted to but one tree in the garden.  The serpent’s next move is the most cunning.


“But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis, 3:4-5).


In his deception, the serpent tells the woman, “You will not die,” and implies that in eating of this tree the woman will find life and fulfillment.  After all, what is it to “be like God” if not complete fulfillment/beatitude?  “The serpent’s temptation, however, consists precisely in blurring the distinction in Adam’s and Eve’s minds between the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life” (Called to Love, 105).  The serpent’s lie is twofold: (1) he claims that true life is found not from the tree of life, but instead from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and (2) he claims that God, by withholding them from this tree is preventing them from attaining life.


“The purpose of this maneuver, of course, is to make the first couple doubt God’s goodness.  After all, if the two trees really were identical, then the Creator’s commandment to avoid the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would be a blatant tactic designed to hold man back from attaining the fulness of life” (Called to Love, 105).


This is the exact opposite of God’s reality and purpose for man.  Instead of withholding life, he explicitly gave them life (and continues to hold them in existence), of which the tree of life is a sign.  The specific mention of the tree of life in the Book of Genesis indicates that God’s intention is for man to eat and drink of the gift of life.  God is not a tyrant, but a gift-giver, a giver of life.  He is prepared to give to man everything that man needs in order to be fully human, even his very own Son.  What he is not prepared to give to man is what he cannot in fact give, not because of a lack of desire or a lack of power, but out of metaphysical necessity.  God cannot give to man the ability to be something he is not.  Just as he cannot give man the ability to be a horse, God also cannot give man divinity properly speaking (though in the Paschal Mystery, man is divinized in a certain sense), simply because the creature can never be the Creator.  This does not contradict God’s omnipotence or omnibenevolence; on the contrary the Paschal Mystery only serves to exhibit the perfect power and goodness of God.


In the end, “the truth, of course, is that the two trees are not at all identical, and that the Creator has planned all along to let man eat from the tree of life.  God is not envious but generous, and he wishes man to live forever in the joy that comes from the acceptance of the divine gift” (Called to Love, 105).


God’s gift for us is the same as his gift to all of creation, to ability to perfect itself.  His gift to us is the ability to be fully human, and this gift begins with the act of creation.  One way of defining sin is the rejection of this gift, or the attempt to be something other than what we are.  In some cases, the sin of man is the attempt to be less than what he is, to be merely an animal (for instance, sins of sexual excess), whereas in other cases, man’s sin is the attempt to be more than what he is (for instance, the sin of cloning wherein man attempts to be the author of life).  Holiness, seen here as the opposite of sin, is the humble acceptance of God’s grace so man can be fully human and enjoy the vision of God face to face.  Comprehending this is parallel to comprehending the difference between the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.


Continue reading...

One Response to The Two Trees of Eden

The Prayer After Communion – Third Sunday of Lent

Saturday, March 26, AD 2011

Listen to the new translation for the Prayer After Communion composed for the Third Sunday of Lent:

As we receive the pledge

of things yet hidden in heaven

and are nourished while still on earth

with the Bread that comes from on high,

we humbly entreat you, O Lord,

that what is being brought about in us in mystery

may come to true completion.

This is simply exquisite.  It emphasizes that the Mass is both a foretaste of and, in some mysterious way, a participation in the heavenly banquet.  That pledge which “we receive” is the Eucharist, and it is the Eucharist which unites heaven and earth.  It nourishes us “while still on earth” and gives us a taste of “things yet hidden in heaven.”  Cardinal Ratzinger, in The Spirit of the Liturgy describes the present time (that which is after the Resurrection but before the end of the world) as the proper time for liturgy, for it is the great “already, but not yet.”  Only in such an era can something like a sacrament make sense.  Only in such an era can “Bread that comes from on high” be an efficacious sign of heavenly realities.

In the same book, Ratzinger speaks of how the liturgy is anthropological.  It took me several readings to fully understand the Cardinal’s words.  The explanation goes something like this.  We know that our completion (our “final cause” or telos) is to be found in God’s presence, that is, in heaven.  In other words, we will be most fully human when we are standing before God’s loving gave in glory with the angels and the saints.  Conversely, the souls of the damned are virtually inhuman, which is why even individual demons in the Gospel (though properly speaking these are fallen angels not fallen men) describe themselves in the plural: “We are Legion.”  In hell, all individuality is lost, for the self is given over to sin.  Said differently, sin consumes the person.  Think here of the character of Gollum in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.  The ring, symbolic of evil, has all but claimed the identity of the wretched creature, so much so that Gollum refers to himself in the plural, experiencing the utmost of personality crises.  Rather than giving the self over to evil, we are to empty ourselves out for the summum bonum: God himself.  The Gospel paradox is: in giving ourselves away to God, we subsequently find our true selves.  This is because all fulfillment (all telos) is found in God.  From God we have come, and to God we must return.  The soul who gives himself to evil merely empties the self; absent is the promise and possibility of finding the self.

Moreover, the Mass is our participation on earth in the reality that constitutes heaven, for heaven is nothing more than the eternal worship of the Almighty God.  Putting these two things together, (1) if our fulfillment is found in heaven, and (2) if the Mass is a participation in the reality which is heaven, it follows that our fulfillment as human beings begins in the Mass.  It is in the Mass that we find our true selves.  It is in the Mass that we become that for which we are destined; it is here we become holy. This is simply an extended explanation of a sacrament as “an efficacious sign of God’s grace,” and this is what Cardinal Ratzinger means when he says that the liturgy is “anthropological.”

We return now ready to understand the Pray After Communion on the Third Sunday of Lent:  “We humbly entreat you, O Lord, that what is being brought about in us in mystery may come to true completion.”  I repeat that with which I started: this is simply exquisite.

It is so exquisite, in fact, that I hesitate to ruin it with the current, deficient translation.  I even thought of letting it go and simply recommending that people listen carefully this coming Sunday.  Alas, I am weak, and I cannot resist the opportunity to demonstrate just how deficient it is.  I won’t go through the Latin; rest assured that the new translation is much more faithful.  Without further adieu, here is what we will hear this weekend:

Lord, in sharing this sacrament

may we receive your forgiveness

and be brought together in unity and peace.

And with that, I leave you with that which has become my mantra as of late:

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.

At least in terms of the Holy Mass, the 1973 ‘Prayer After Communion’ for the Third Sunday of Lent has met its maker, kicked the bucket, bit the dust, bought the farm, breathed its last, and indeed … croaked.  This is not a cause for mourning, but rather a looking forward to the day of resurrection; for the Latin soul of this prayer is indeed filled with grace, so when it rises again as the 2010 Prayer, it will be gloriously triumphant.”


Continue reading...

Jesus is Hardly a Pacifist (Neither is St. Michael, nor Gandalf)

Wednesday, March 23, AD 2011

Whenever the Gospel scene of Jesus cleansing the Temple comes up in conversation, is it always entertaining to see people try to rationalize or explain away the anger that our Lord displayed.  There are those who will say that this is a demonstration of Jesus’ humanity, but such an explanation always seems to have an accompanying tinge of “perfect divinity, imperfect humanity.”  After all, when we say of someone, “He is only human,” we are usually doing so to justify an imperfect action or reaction, as if to say, “He is human, and therefore not perfect.”  Such an accusation of Jesus is misleading at best.  Yes, Jesus is human, fully human, in fact, as well as fully divine.  However, Jesus is perfect in his humanity.  Therefore, any reaction he gives is the perfect reaction to the situation that stands before him.  This is good news for the rest of us, for it demonstrates that humanity in both its core and destiny is fundamentally good, that imperfections found within all of us are the result of sin (both original and personal), and not the result of being human as such.  Therefore, the perfection that Jesus possesses in being fully human is a perfection that awaits us, God willing, in our glorified state.


What then, should we make of the anger demonstrated by Jesus in his cleansing of the Temple?  The first conclusion we can draw is that there is a place for a righteous anger in dealing with the problem of sin.  Of course, we should not mistake this kind of anger for the irrational, impatient, and reactionary kind that we so often demonstrate in our lives.  But Jesus is hardly a pacifist.  To get a better sense of righteous anger, it helps to consider a few examples.  The first we will take from the life of Jesus, the second from the archangel Michael, and the third from that master of myth, J.R.R. Tolkien.

Continue reading...

10 Responses to Jesus is Hardly a Pacifist (Neither is St. Michael, nor Gandalf)

  • Pingback: Jesus is Hardly a Pacifist (Neither is St. Michael, nor Gandalf) - Christian Forums
  • To what specific sin or sins was Our Lord responding when he cleansed the temple, and to what sort of human reaction are you referring when you distinguish between His response and our own “irrational, impatient, and reactionary” anger?

  • I think the point is that Jesus is true God and true man. He is man in all ways except sin. He was conceived and born without original sin.

    Therefore, Jesus’ “cleansing” the Temple was sinlessly done.

    The point, I think, of the post is that there can be a “just” war, and, me and the Pope, I think (added bonus) “capital punishment” is a prudential judgment.

    St. Bernard de Clairvaux explains it in his letter endorsing the Knights Templars Order.

  • And yet Jesus taught us that everyone who grows angry at another falls into sin: “I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.”

    Jesus does not forbid anger, but he does forbid anger against a brother.

  • T. Shaw, how does Christ’s non-lethal act of ‘cleansing’ the temple justify the butchery of mechanized warfare?

  • Nate,

    I think here there is a problem equating the two angers. What separates them is not against whom they are directed, but rather whether they are “righteous” or “irrational” (perhaps even “emotive” here). After all, the anger Christ showed was directed at those in the temple, surely his “brothers”, at least in their common humanity. When he speaks of anger towards the brother (in the passage you quote), I have a feeling it is more along the line of the murderous anger that one hold in the heart, the kind he strictly forbid in the Sermon on the Mount. Putting you quote in the context of the whole Gospel, I think, reveals the distinction to be between the type of anger (righteous vs. irrational/emotive/murderous/etc.) rather than he against whom it is directed.

    Food for thought.

  • You might be right, Jake. Paul writes in Eph 4, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger.” St. Aquinas gives a good case for just-anger as a rationally oriented passion that gives us the energy to correct sinners. And I think that is the key–a key you pointed out–that anger’s goal is to confront, oppose, and defeat evil.

    I have only found that getting angry at people makes the situation worse. People get angry at one another instead of being angry at the true crime: sin, lies, etc.

  • I’m just a dum accountant.

    Read St. Bernard de Clairvaux endorsement of the Knights Templars, or Thomas Aquinas on “just war.” I get brain freeze from TA.

    Also, Jesus told people to sell their coats and buy swords.

    St. John the Baptist told soldiers to be content with their pay and not do injustice.

    Pope Urban preached the First Crusade.

    My point (not on my head) is: we are all sinners. Jesus is sinless. He is true God and true man. By His life, death and resurrection Jesus purchased for us the rewards of eternal life. If He used a knotted cord to forceably remove the money changers . . .

    Jesus’ sole desire is to bring us Redemption. He taught, if your eye sins pluck it out. It is better to gain eternal life blind than to go to Gehenna whole. He taught us to repent of our sins; to possess a sprit of mortification; He gave us the ultimate example of moral courage, obedience and patience. His Sacred Heart was so filled with love for us (even though what we were doing to Him was so unjust and so wrong) during his three hours agony on the Holy Cross. He loves us so much. He is the most courageous man that ever lived.

    Now, when someone like Hitler unleashes a whole nation massacring half of Europe . . . Yes, the brutality of mechanized war may be justified.

  • “That person who does not become irate when he has just cause to be, sins. For an unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices; it fosters negligence, and stimulates not only the wicked, but above all the good, to do wrong.” —St. John Chrysostom

    Great article, Mr. Tawney! Couldn’t have put it better myself—plus, it just so happens that St. Michael is my patron saint.

Let Us Not Mourn the Passing of These Texts

Wednesday, March 9, AD 2011

I don’t know how many people have been keeping up with the forthcoming changes to the Roman Missal.  This has been a particular passion/hobby of mine lately.  At my home site, I am doing a weekly column of pieces explaining the new translations.  Thus far, I have discussed all the changes to the people’s parts and this Monday I will begin taking up the priest’s parts, starting with Eucharistic Prayer I.  (For those interested, the entire collection can be found here.)

Today at Mass the need for a new translation became crystal clear.  What follows is a comparison of the two prayers from the Mass.  First, the Collect.  What we heard at Mass just hour ago was,

Lord protect us in our struggle against evil.

As we begin the discipline of Lent,

make this day holy by our self-denial.

Not bad … at least there is some discussion of self-denial and discipline.  But listen to the new translation:

Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting

this campaign of Christian service,

so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,

we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.

Holy fasting … campaign … battle against spiritual evils … armed with weapons of self-restraint.  That’s the kind of Lent I’m talking about!  However, what really got me going was the Prayer Over the Ashes.  Here is the current “translation”:

Dear friends in Christ, let us ask our Father

to bless these ashes which we will use

as the mark of our repentance.

Lord, bless the sinner who asks for your forgiveness

and bless all those who receive these ashes.

May they keep this lenten season

in preparation for the joy of Easter.

Before we get to the new translation, just for kicks, let’s look at the Latin:

Continue reading...

9 Responses to Let Us Not Mourn the Passing of These Texts