God and Superstitions

Tuesday, November 3, AD 2015



Man is hardwired to worship.  If the does not worship the God who created all that is, he will revel in superstitions and worship degrading substitutes for God.  Walter Russell Mead at The American Interest nails it:

Human beings feel instinctively that the visible reality that we live in day to day is connected to something larger and more mysterious. When belief in God goes away, the hunger for meaning and connection with a truth beyond the business of daily life remains. The New York Times:

Like many Europeans, Marianne Haaland Bogdanoff, a travel agency manager in this southern Norwegian town, does not go to church, except maybe at Christmas, and is doubtful about the existence of God.

But when “weird things” — inexplicable computer breakdowns, strange smells and noises and complaints from staff members of constant headaches — started happening at the ground-floor travel office, she slowly began to put aside her deep skepticism about life beyond the here and now. After computer experts, electricians and a plumber all failed to find the cause of her office’s troubles, she finally got help from a clairvoyant who claimed powers to communicate with the dead. The headaches and other problems all vanished.

People who think themselves too rational for religious belief end up believing in “astral forces”, ghosts and other phenomena. Sometimes these superstitions take the deadly form of political ideologies that fanatical believers take up with religious fervor—communist atheists murdered tens of millions of people in the 20th century in the irrational grip of an ugly ideology. They scoffed at the credulity of religious believers even as they worshipped the infallible insights of Stalin. Similarly, the Nazis presented their faith as an alternative to the “outgrown superstitions” of historic Christianity.

It’s something very much worth remembering: a world without faith in God wouldn’t be a more rational or more humane place.

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3 Responses to God and Superstitions

  • Interesting,isn’t it, that she and others begin to look for explanations when things are awry. No felt need to explain beauty, truth, goodness, etc.

  • I suspect that most often, it isn’t making bad choices that creates things like atheist Nazis and communists, as much is a simple refusal to serve–which requires individuals to relinquish serving themselves (as gods).
    Elevating the created above the creator is what we also find in todays variations of radical environmentalism. Like all sin, it becomes the abuse of a good that God created.

  • Hume famously tried to explain our unshakable, but quite improvable, conviction that we live in an orderly universe and that every event can be traced back to some cause.
    “The only connexion or relation of objects, which can lead us beyond the immediate impressions of our memory and senses, is that of cause and effect; and that because it is the only one, on which we can found a just inference from one object to another. The idea of cause and effect is derived from experience, which informs us, that such particular objects, in all past instances, have been constantly conjoined with each other… We suppose, but are never able to prove, that there must be a resemblance betwixt those objects, of which we have had experience, and those which lie beyond the reach of our discovery.”
    Of course, to say that it is “derived from experience” is problematic. As Hume says, “probability is founded on the presumption of a resemblance betwixt those objects, of which we have had experience, and those, of which we have had none; and therefore it is impossible this presumption can arise from probability. The same principle cannot be both the, cause and effect of another…” To say that all past experience confirms our conviction of the uniformity of nature gets us nowhere, unless we suppose that our future experience will do so, too. But why should it? That the past will resemble the future is just a special instance of the uniformity of nature, so we are arguing in a circle.

The Gift of Life

Tuesday, September 22, AD 2015


Are you afraid of death?
Well, I can’t say that I have
any great affection for it.
Look below you, my friend.
For 70 years,
I’ve watched the seasons change.
I’ve seen the vibrant life of summer,
the brilliant death of fall…
the silent grave of winter.
And then, I’ve seen
the resurrection of spring
the glorious birth of new life.
And my father and my father’s father
have seen it before me.
Nothing ever dies, my friend.

Prince of Foxes Screenplay, 1949



My twins’ godmother wrote this to Donnie my surviving son this week:


Happy baptism anniversary!  I’ve been thinking lately about how precious the gift of life is.  I wrote an article on it for the parish newsletter.  I was thinking about Larry when I wrote about people with different abilities.  I had a chance to stop by his grave on my way back from a workshop on Saturday.  So I thought I’d share part of the article with you:


The Gift of Life


God loves you.  God just loves you. And the best evidence that God loves you is that he created you.  God can create anyone that he wishes to and he can see how each person will grow and develop, so he’d be nuts to create someone that he didn’t love.  But he’s not nuts.  He has chosen to love you.  His love is the spark of life in your soul, the beat of your heart, and the breath in your lungs.  When we “die,” his life in us changes, but does not end.  We continue to live as his creation, deeply, deeply loved by him forever.

The gift of life is the evidence that God loves us, not just you, but each of us.  Perhaps this is why we value life so much.  The love and respect that we have for every person is an expression of the love and respect that we have for God.  Emergency workers, for example, often risk their own lives to save others.  What we share with others God counts as having been shared with himself.  Parents, for example, give more than they thought possible to care for their children.

God’s love for us does not depend on our age or abilities.  It begins when he begins to knit us together in our mother’s womb and continues forever.  Before our bodies are formed, before we think our first thought, before our talents are known, before our parents know of our existence, God has chosen to create us because he loves us.

As we grow through life, all of us are loved by God.  Whether we’re athletically gifted or klutzy, whether conventionally beautiful or unattractive, whether we find it easy to love and trust others or not, whether intelligent or simple, whatever our gifts and talents, we are loved by God.  Even if we are hurt by abuse, or trauma, or addiction, or accident, God loves us.  We know that he loves us because of his gift of life.  And the loving care that we have for others, regardless of their gifts, shows that we are learning to love as God loves.

No matter how we leave this life, God’s gift of life continues.  If you die in an accident, if you are struck down suddenly by disease, if you linger for many years as dependent as a child, if you die gently in old age, no matter what, God loves you and his gift of life continues forever.  The respect and care that we have for those nearing the end of this life shows that we get it, that we understand how precious is God’s gift of life.

Life never ends and God’s love never ends.  They continue in the next life.  It may be that the only way we can continue to express our love for those who have passed on is by our prayers.  And this, too, shows that we have learned from God how to value his gift of life.

October is Respect for Life month, but respect for life is an everyday thing.  We constantly express it in the way we love and care for others, regardless of their age and abilities, but simply because God loves them, as he loves us.  But it’s good to recognize everyday things and to appreciate their value. 

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5 Responses to The Gift of Life

Both Prayed to the Same God

Wednesday, November 5, AD 2014

Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural



A look at religion in the Civil War from the internet series the Civil War in Four Minutes.  Most people on both sides, as Lincoln noted in his Second Inaugural, assumed God was on their side.  Some viewed their causes as crusades.  Typical of those who embraced that interpretation is a Union officer who upbraided a chaplain who had given a stern sermon to the men of his regiment on the pains of Hell, and informed him that every one of his boys who fell in this great fight for human liberty was going straight to Heaven and he would allow no other doctrine to be preached while he was in command of the regiment.

Perhaps the most insightful view was that embraced by Abraham Lincoln, Robert  E. Lee and others who saw the War as the punishment for national sins.  Rather than a crusade, the War was a chastisement that God was using for His purposes.  I think there is much wisdom in this view.  God often brings good out of human weakness, folly and even sin, and out of the Civil War, with all of its ghastly loss of life, came freedom for the slaves and a united nation.

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One Response to Both Prayed to the Same God

  • From everything I have read, Robert E. Lee was an exceptional human being. It saddens me when there are attempts to denigrate him and remove his name from schools, highways, etc.
    I now live in rural VA. It seems to me that there is an abundance of churches throughout the state. The churches aren’t just buildings; they have active congregations. There is a big disconnect between the heartland and Washington, DC, though the recent elections results have given me hope.

End of Summer, Feed Is Working Again, and The French Revolution

Monday, September 1, AD 2014

It’s the unofficial end of Summer and it’s my annual gratuitous post of myself day.  The pic below was taken in mid-July, but I waited to fix the feed to The American Catholic in order celebrate the Summer.  Needless to say, it’s fixed and the Summer is almost over.

During the Summer I asked my fellow blogger Don for some book recommendations for the French Revolution.  Of the few he did mentioned, I picked up Simon Schama’s ‘Citizen’.  The reading is in-depth, interesting, and balanced.  I’m a bit over halfway finished of the 948 pages and am so far impressed.  Considering that we are in the post-Cold War era, I wanted to know a bit more on the French Revolution since their errors have already engulfed Europe and has almost metastasizing here in the United States.  The book is good and if there is any criticism of Simon Schama’s work it’s that he views Christianity, in particular the Catholic Church, through a materialistic lens.

My opinion on the subject is that the French Revolution is the confluence of anti-Christian ideas emanating from the so-called era of enlightenment.  These very same ideas unleashed the short-term devastation of the rape of nuns, the execution of priests, and the degradation of houses of worship.  The long-term affects have furthered the cause of eliminating God from all aspects of life blossoming further in the Communist Revolution in Russia and continued to bear the fruit of death in World Wars I & II.  From this compost grew what we now call modern liberalism & democratic socialism.

End of Summer Tito Edwards Simon Schama Citizens 500x625Happy Labor Day!


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36 Responses to End of Summer, Feed Is Working Again, and The French Revolution

  • The best histories of the French Revolution probably remains those of two Catholic historians, Hilaire Belloc and Lord Acton.
    Belloc brings out the central rôle of Carnot, the War Minister and effective head of the Committee of Public Safety and gives full credit to the “generation of genius,” Kléber, Moreau, Reynier, Marceau, and Ney commanding the army of Sambre et Meuse, Hoche, Desaix, and St. Cyr on the Rhine and, above all, Bonaparte and Masséna in the Appenine campaign.
    Acton rightly divined the underlying political motive. “The hatred of royalty was less than the hatred of aristocracy; privileges were more detested than tyranny; and the king perished because of the origin of his authority rather than because of its abuse. Monarchy unconnected with aristocracy became popular in France, even when most uncontrolled; whilst the attempt to reconstitute the throne, and to limit and fence it with its peers, broke down, because the old Teutonic elements on which it relied – hereditary nobility, primogeniture, and privilege — were no longer tolerated. The substance of the ideas of 1789 is not the limitation of the sovereign power, but the abrogation of intermediate powers.”
    The love of equality, the hatred of nobility and the tolerance of despotism naturally go together, for, If the central power is weak, the secondary powers will run riot and oppress The Empire was the consummation of the Revolution, not its reversal and Napoléon’s armies gave a code of laws and the principle of equal citizenship to a continent.

  • Thanks Michael!

    Those recommendations are going on my Reading List for next Summer, awesome!

  • Simon Schama’s ‘Citizens’ was published for the bicentenary of the French Revolution. It is regarded as the best work on the subject in the 20th century. The French hated it, calling it ‘Thatcherite history’. Its main thesis, that the violence of the Revolution was inherent, particularly upset them.

    In particular, Schama makes the point that pre-Revolutionary France was not an ossified feudal society but one that was obsessed with modernity. He also stresses that when the revolutionaries destroyed the Church they destroyed the social welfare system with drastic results in the 1790s.

    People tend to mythologize their revolutions. Englishmen did so regarding 1688; Americans still do over theirs (even though many of the mythologizers are well-educated) and the French are no exception.

  • Odd that Michael Peterson-Seymour (who sounds as if his ancestors fought at Waterloo) should be an unreconstructed Bonapartist. All the more so since one assumes that he is a Catholic.

  • I find a 948 page book to be daunting.

    I am eagerly awaiting the shortest book in history: subject what Obama did right.

  • I want to clarify that the criticism of Simon Schama’s book, Citizen, is my own. He refers to nuns and monks and unfulfilled citizens, it, not meeting any of their potential because they are cloistered. I am not sure if he was be sarcastic, which would be fine, or serious, which would explain my criticism.

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  • My complete recommendations to Tito:

    “In regard to the French Revolution a good starting point is Citizens by Simon Schama:


    Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France still cannot be beat as an analysis of the early Revolution and is eerily prophetic. Carlyle’s History of the French Revolution is quite dated, and written in his usual odd style, but has valuable insights overlooked by many modern commenters.

    The late Henri Lefebvre, although a Marxist, did valuable work on both the French Revolution and Napoleon and I recommend his tomes. His style is dry as dust, but his research is impeccable.”

  • Um, what beach was that?

  • Tito Edwards: I expected you would look more like Padre Pio. You look happy.

  • Tamsin,

    An undisclosed location on the gulf coast of Florida.

    Mary De Voe,

    LOL. Very happy, my wife was there with me, but she had to take the picture. 🙂

  • My brother Mike lives on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Say “Hi” to him for me.

  • Thank you for fixing the feed!

  • Tito, I share your view of the French Revolution. It lives on in the Social Radicalism that permeates so much of our politics. Social Radicalism is a phenomenon that bears close scrutiny. It transcends the individual with a mindset all its own. If not scrutinized and moderated the mindset morphs into moral chaos. This can happen in slow creeping fashion or with the rapidity of revolution. The French Revolution is a signal example. It started with the whole nation seeking to justly address a financial crisis but rapidly resolved into open rebellion and uncontrollable rage. Carlyle describes it thus: “On a sudden, the Earth yawns asunder, and amid Tartarean smoke, and glare of fierce brightness, rises SANSCULOTTISM, many-headed, fire-breathing, and asks; What think ye of me?” Do I engage in hyperbole when I compare the presentable, well-clothed and well-intended modern social radical with the maddened mob of Paris? Yes but to make a point. I cross a Robespierre and risk the guillotine, the loss of my life. The modern well-dressed social-radical only asks that I risk my soul. Who does me less violence?

  • John Nolan wrote, “Odd that Michael Peterson-Seymour (who sounds as if his ancestors fought at Waterloo) should be an unreconstructed Bonapartist. All the more so since one assumes that he is a Catholic.”
    Another Catholic, G K Chesterton described the tragedy of England:
    “A war that we understood not came over the world and woke
    Americans, Frenchmen, Irish; but we knew not the things they spoke.
    They talked about rights and nature and peace and the people’s reign:
    And the squires, our masters, bade us fight; and scorned us never again.
    Weak if we be for ever, could none condemn us then;
    Men called us serfs and drudges; men knew that we were men.
    In foam and flame at Trafalgar, on Albuera plains,
    We did and died like lions, to keep ourselves in chains,
    We lay in living ruins; firing and fearing not
    The strange fierce face of the Frenchmen who knew for what they fought,
    And the man who seemed to be more than a man we strained against and broke;
    And we broke our own rights with him. And still we never spoke.”
    Hilaire Belloc, too, another Catholic, whose grandfather served in the armies of Napoléon, declared, “Those who ask how it was that a group of men sustaining all the weight of civil conflict within and of universal war without, yet made time enough in twenty years to frame the codes which govern modern Europe, to lay down the foundations of universal education, of a strictly impersonal scheme of administration, and even in detail to remodel the material face of society—in a word, to make modern Europe—must be content for their reply to learn that the Republican Energy had for its flame and excitant this vision: a sense almost physical of the equality of man.”

  • William P Walsh wrote, “It started with the whole nation seeking to justly address a financial crisis but rapidly resolved into open rebellion and uncontrollable rage.”
    Certainly, it did start with a bankrupt government, but here is the curiosity: this bankrupt nation found itself able to sustain twenty years of war against the whole of Europe and to raise and maintain an army to fight it. For most of that period it had 700,000 men in the field. As for “open rebellion,” it crushed it wherever it showed itself, in Brittany, in Lyons, in the Vendée. It takes something rather more than “uncontrollable rage” to do that.

  • “It takes something rather more than “uncontrollable rage” to do that.”

    1. Mass murder against opponents.
    2. Mass repudiation of the debts of the Old Regime.
    3. The military genius of Napoleon and some of the other generals and marshals that rose to the fore as a result of the Revolution.
    4. Total War-no longer was war the sport of kings but rather the preocupation of peoples.

  • Donald R McClarey

    “3. The military genius of Napoleon and some of the other generals and marshals”

    I would certainly agree with that. There is a sense in which Napoléon, Dumoriez (despite his later defection), Kellerman, Hoche and Kléber were the French Revolution – It is their legacy.

    “4. Total War-no longer was war the sport of kings but rather the preoccupation of peoples.”

    The levée en masse and all that it entailed was the achievement of Carnot, but we sometimes forget what an astonishing achievement it was. The army was increased from 645,000 in mid-1793 to 1,500,000 in September 1794. The unbroken succession of victories, from Fleurus in June 1794 to Marengo in June 1800 were all, in a sense, his. He was ably seconded by Lindet, in effect, minister of food, munitions and manufacture.

    The political will and administrative skills needed to raise, equip, train, discipline and provision armies on that scale was enormous and quite without precedent. Much of the credit must go to the Committee of Public Safety, which was, in effect, the War Cabinet and to the brilliant innovation of seconding the “Deputies on Mission” from the National Assembly, as political commissioners to the armies.

  • Michael points out my inattention to the economic situation in France. I admit to a lack of formal study of that dismal science. I have yet in mind the diabolical ingredient of revolution. The first revolution starts with Lucifer’s “Non Serviam” and every revolution carries that sentiment in its bloodstream. The laws of economics are swept away when everything can be stolen from rightful owners. The State can be most efficient when it can murder the opposition. “If God does not exist, all things are permitted”. The Social Radical who looks so benign in his well-tailored clothing can do great injustice with a pen-stroke. If the end justifies the employment of any means, we are living in a state of moral chaos. We are then lunatics pulling down our house upon us. But I sing to the choir, as I sort out my thoughts.

  • I can assure Tito that Schama when referring to cloistered religious is not giving us his own opinion, but that of the revolutionaries whose construct of what constitutes a ‘citizen’ is an important theme of the book.

    I am an admirer of Belloc but he was fundamentally wrong on two counts – all his life he believed a) that the French Revolution was a ‘good thing’ and b) Dreyfus was guilty.

  • John Nolan
    I think both Belloc (and Chesterton, too) wrote a great deal in reaction to the way the Revolution and Napoléon were portrayed in England.

    There is a print, which can still be seen in the bar parlours of some country inns, of the handshake of Wellington and Blucher after Waterloo. They must have been produced by the million


    Chesterton summed up the whole business pretty well.

    “Our middle classes did well to adorn their parlours with the picture of the “Meeting of Wellington and Blucher.” They should have hung up a companion piece of Pilate and Herod shaking hands. Then, after that meeting amid the ashes of Hougomont, where they dreamed they had trodden out the embers of all democracy, the Prussians rode on before, doing after their kind. After them went that ironical aristocrat out of embittered Ireland, with what thoughts we know; and Blucher, with what thoughts we care not; and his soldiers entered Paris, and stole the sword of Joan of Arc.”

    To both Belloc and Chesterton, the fall of Paris to the Allies could only be compared to the sack of Rome by the Goths.

  • An interesting summary of an enormous matter,re. the French Revolution: “It started with the whole nation seeking to justly address a financial crisis but rapidly resolved into open rebellion and uncontrollable rage.” – William P. Walsh
    However, from whence came the bitterly murderous hatred of the Catholic Faith and its individual servants, only the abyss could cough up that demon.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    Chesterton wrote ‘The Crimes of England’ in 1916. It’s a polemic, brilliant in parts, but it ain’t history. The author’s unreasoning ‘Teutonophobia’, his withering scorn for Pitt, Castlereagh and Peel (in contrast with his hero-worship of Charles James Fox) and his take on the French Revolution and Bonaparte simply parade his prejudices. Comparing the Allied occupation of Paris in 1814 with the sack of Rome by the Goths takes hyperbole to new heights, especially since French armies had looted and plundered their way across Europe for the previous twenty years. Historical method requires conclusions to be based on evidence. Both Belloc and Chesterton were counter-historical, if not positively anti-historical. They rightly challenged the consensus of the Whig historians, but what they put in its place was too intuitive and subjective. Since it did not rely on evidence it could be sometimes right, but more often wrong.

    Simon Schama’s book is revisionist, not least in that he uses the narrative approach which was unfashionable in 1989 (Orlando Figes does the same in his study of the Russian Revolution ‘A People’s Tragedy’). But both men are historians; Belloc and Chesterton, for all their brilliance, were not.

  • The errors of the french revolution came from somewhere!
    The protestant reformation shaped Europe and the world in ways we are still discerning. That “reformation” preceded the Enlightenment, which came to the “spirit” of revoltion of the 18 and 19 centuries everything from the very un- “reason”able reign of terror to marx to the culture kampf– and what follows in russia and mexico and china and on and on and on

  • John Nolan wrote, “Comparing the Allied occupation of Paris in 1814 with the sack of Rome by the Goths takes hyperbole to new heights…”
    Hardly. In both cases, the capital of civilisation fell to the barbarians from beyond the Rhine.
    Belloc’s evaluation of the Revolution is not all that different from the great French historian of the Revolution, Louis Blanc. Blanc, one recalls, during his exile in London (he had fought on the barricades during les journées de juin 1848), had access to Croker’s unrivalled collection of manuscripts and pamphlets.
    Acton summarises Blanc’s principle: ”He desires government to be so constituted that it may do everything for the people, not so restricted that it can do no injury to minorities. The masses have more to suffer from abuse of wealth than from abuse of power, and need protection by the State, not against it. Power, in the proper hands, acting for the whole, must not be restrained in the interest of a part.” That was also the view of the great Dominican, Lacordaire, “Between the weak and the strong, between the rich and the poor, between the master and the servant, it is freedom which oppresses and the law which sets free.”
    This was a principle Belloc and Chesterton would have heartily endorsed. It is the negation of Liberalism and its doctrine of laissez-faire.

  • “In both cases, the capital of civilisation fell to the barbarians from beyond the Rhine.”

    Please. Even as hyperbole that is over the circus top. The French Revolution was a complex historical event, but by the time Napoleon fell it had devolved into one of the first military dictatorships in modern times, one with delusions of grandeur. It was a very good thing for the peace of Europe that Napoleon fell in 1814 and that he was soundly thrashed in 1815 at Waterloo which brought an end to his “Golden Oldies” attempt at a Bonaparte revival.

  • Donald R McClarey wrote, “[B]y the time Napoleon fell it had devolved into one of the first military dictatorships in modern times.”
    That is to misunderstand the nature, both of the Republic and the Empire. Napoléon was no more a military dictator than Augustus or Charlemagne. As Chesterton said, “French democracy became more democratic, not less, when it turned all France into one constituency which elected one member.”
    Elizabeth Barrett Browning (Swinburn’s “Sea-Eagle of English feather”) understood:
    “And kings crept out again to feel the sun.
    The kings crept out — the peoples sat at home.
    And finding the long-invocated peace
    (A pall embroidered with worn images
    Of rights divine) too scant to cover doom
    Such as they suffered, cursed the corn that grew
    Rankly, to bitter bread, on Waterloo.”

    Those “carrion kings, unsheeted and unmasked,” described by Michelet, the great historian of the Revolution.

  • “That is to misunderstand the nature, both of the Republic and the Empire. Napoléon was no more a military dictator than Augustus or Charlemagne”

    Augustus was a military dictator, the last man standing of the ambitious warlords/politicians who murdered the dying Republic. Charlemagne was not a military dictator but the scion of a family that had been running the chief of the Frankish states for some time. Napoleon owed his position to his military brilliance and his willingness to use military force against civilian rule and nothing more.

    “French democracy became more democratic, not less, when it turned all France into one constituency which elected one member.”

    That quote always had my vote for the dumbest thing written by Chesterton.

  • M P-S, the ‘barbarians from beyond the Rhine’ produced Lessing, Schiller, Goethe, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, to name but a few. I’m sure those German citizens, living in their peaceful towns and villages, often in the shadow of old-established monasteries on which the local economy depended and which were soon to be destroyed, were overjoyed at the arrival of Revolutionary French armies with their portable guillotines. Germany in the eighteenth century was civilized in the real sense that the local ‘civitas’ enforced its own laws for the benefit of the citizens. It is telling that the incidence of capital punishment in the German states was far lower than in France or England.

    Michael, get off your hobby-horse and face facts. Bonaparte has a good record when it comes to establishing (or more correctly re-establishing, since the Revolution had destroyed much) institutions in France; but he also erected a police state. His hubristic lust for conquest led (as in the case of Hitler, with whom he has much in common) to eventual nemesis. And France only recovered its 1789 levels of foreign trade in the 1830s by which time Britain had far outstripped it.

  • “I can assure Tito that Schama when referring to cloistered religious is not giving us his own opinion, but that of the revolutionaries whose construct of what constitutes a ‘citizen’ is an important theme of the book.”
    The sovereign personhood of the newly begotten human being (His body and his soul) constitutes the nation from the very first moment of existence. His absolute moral and legal innocence are the standard of Justice and the compelling interest of the state in its duty to deliver Justice and in protecting the newly begotten human being. Francisco Suarez says that: “Human existence is the criterion for the objective ordering of human rights.”
    The newly begotten human being who constitutes the state from the very first moment of his existence and through his sovereign personhood endowed by “their Creator” is the citizen. At birth the new citizen is given documents to prove his citizenship and a tax bill.
    The French Revolution must have been dealing with the loss and denial of citizenship by the state as in “persona non grata”. Religious persons, priests and nuns, do not forfeit or surrender their God-given sovereign personhood and/or citizenship by answering their vocation. A higher calling, in fact, purifies their citizenship and brings “the Blessings of Liberty”.
    It is nothing less than communism, oppression, for another individual or the state to tell a person who is a citizen that he is not a citizen without indictment for a capital offense, treason. It appears that being a religious person in France during the French Revolution was treason, the absolute reversal of the truth.
    This same separation of citizenship and soul is happening here in America, where having a soul has become treason, treason in the land of atheism.

  • Donald R McCleary wrote, “’ French democracy became more democratic, not less, when it turned all France into one constituency which elected one member.’ – That quote always had my vote for the dumbest thing written by Chesterton.”

    And yet it was, in effect, endorsed by Walter Bagehot, a man politically poles apart from Chesterton. Writing of the nephew, that shrewd cynic observed, “The nature of a constitution, the action of an assembly, the play of parties, the unseen formation of a guiding opinion, are complex facts, difficult to know and easy to mistake. But the action of a single will, the fiat of a single mind, are easy ideas: anybody can make them out, and no one can ever forget them. When you put before the mass of mankind the question, ‘Will you be governed by a king, or will you be governed by a constitution?’ the inquiry comes out thus—’Will you be governed in a way you understand, or will you be governed in a way you do not understand?’ The issue was put to the French people; they were asked, ‘Will you be governed by Louis Napoleon, or will you be governed by an assembly?’ The French people said, ‘We will be governed by the one man we can imagine, and not by the many people we cannot imagine.'”

  • “The French people said, ‘We will be governed by the one man we can imagine, and not by the many people we cannot imagine.’”

    Preposterous. The plebiscite of 1851 was instituted only after wannabe Napoleon had instituted repression. It had as much validity as one of Stalin’s show trials in the thirties. Like his much greater uncle, wannabe Napoleon owed his imitation imperial title, eventually granted him officially through another plebiscite with an unimaginative 97% yes vote, to the bayonets he controlled rather than the ballots he manufactured in pretend plebiscites.

  • Donald R McClarey
    Louis Napoléon may not have been supported by a numerical majority of the nation, that’s as may be; but there is no doubt that he had the support of a determinant current of opinion—determinant in intensity and in weight, that is, as well as in numbers. That was true of his uncle also and it needed no plebiscite to establish this obvious truth.

  • “but there is no doubt that he had the support of a determinant current of opinion”

    Nope, like his uncle he had control of the military and crushed all opposition. Speculations about his “true” popularity among the people or the elite are meaningless when he made certain that his opposition had no voice.

  • Mary De Voe’s, “It is nothing less than communism, oppression, for another individual or the state to tell a person who is a citizen that he is not a citizen without indictment for a capital offense, treason. It appears that being a religious person in France during the French Revolution was treason, the absolute reversal of the truth. . This same separation of citizenship and soul is happening here in America, where having a soul has become treason, treason in the land of atheism.”, nails it.
    In America today, the newly begotten human being is no longer protected, the person who is religious, a veteran, a supporter of Constitutional rights is a potential domestic terrorist. Remember Andrew Cuomo’s saying that a supporter of the Second Amendment has no place in New York State. If he becomes President, that may apply to the whole country.

  • I started to watch Simon Schamas tv program about judiasm since i enjoyed his shows about England. I caught an episode in the middle and what amazed me was that the program seemed more of a rant against the injustices perpetrated upon the Jews by Christians than a true unbiased history of Judaism.
    I was a bit shocked but it may explain this “book is good and if there is any criticism of Simon Schama’s work it’s that he views Christianity, in particular the Catholic Church, through a materialistic lens “

I AM and Us

Wednesday, August 27, AD 2014

[56] Abraham your father rejoiced that he might see my day: he saw it, and was glad. [57] The Jews therefore said to him: Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? [58] Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say to you, before Abraham was made, I am. [59] They took up stones therefore to cast at him. But Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.

John 8: 56-59



Father Barron has a magnificent article in Catholic World Report in which he explains why it is improper to think of God as a Supreme Being:

Now to God’s invisibility. One of the most fundamental mistakes made by atheists both old and new is to suppose that God is a supreme being, an impressive item within or alongside the universe. As David Bentley Hart has argued, the gods of ancient mythology or the watchmaker God of 18th-century Deism might fit such a description, but the God presented by the Bible and by classical theism has nothing to do with it. The true God is the non-contingent ground of the contingent universe, the reason there is something rather than nothing, the ultimate explanation for why the world should exist at all. Accordingly, he is not a being, but rather, as Thomas Aquinas put it, ipsum esse subsistens, the sheer act of to be itself.

Thomas goes so far as to say that God cannot be placed in any genus, even in that most generic of genera, namely, being. But all of this must imply God’s invisibility. Whatever can be seen is, ipso facto, a being, a particular state of affairs, and hence something that can be placed in a genus, compared with other finite realities, etc. The visible is, by definition, conditioned—and God is the unconditioned. I hope it is clear that in affirming God’s invisibility, I am not placing limits on him, as though he were a type of being—the invisible type—over and against visible things, a ghost floating above physical objects. The invisible God is he whose reality transcends and includes whatever perfection can be found in creatures, since he himself is the source and ground of creatureliness in all its manifestations. Anything other than an invisible God would be a conditioned thing and hence utterly unworthy of worship.

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13 Responses to I AM and Us

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  • Thomas Aquinas said that man’s finite mind cannot comprehend an infinite God. The Bible says that all the books in the world cannot hold the truth about God. Using the word “supreme” would indicate that there is only one God, as there cannot be two supreme Beings. Only one can be supreme as two would preempt one another.
    The word “sovereign” would indicate that almighty God is Lord over all.
    The virtue of humility in “Be it done unto me according to Thy will.” brings the Supreme, (one and only) Sovereign, (creating “ex nihilo” and keeping all things in existence) Being (I AM WHO I AM) to us as our God. The Supreme Sovereign Being WHO is:”I AM WHO I AM” exists and is existence, loves and is love, is beatitude and truth. Only God is good.
    Jesus asked: “Who do the people say that I AM?”, and Peter answered: “The Son of the Living God. The Christ” and Jesus called Himself the Son of Man.

  • I have always thought that the words spoken from the burning bush are just too deep and original to have been a fabrication or legend. They MUST have been spoken in just the way the Bible relates.

  • TomD: I’ve had the exact same thought. Exodus 3:14 is an amazing passage.

  • Fr Barron’s writing and work is great. As someone who has studied both philosophy and theology I can state categorically that he has a great ability to explain the most profound and sublime truths concerning the Mystery of God-most especially in the writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas-in a way a person with little or no philosophical/theological training can grasp.

  • I remember being taught (I thought orthodoxly…orthodoxically… …correctly) that Jesus was not to be called a human being, but a divine being with a human nature. Is that incorrect?

  • Pinky, it’s a little more complicated that that.

    The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches are Dyophysite, and their belief is reflected in the Nicene Creed phrase “true God and true man”.

    The Eastern Oriental churches claim to be Miaphysite; they don’t use the Nicene Creed, but if they did they would translate it as “true God-man”.

    There is a growing movement, spearheaded by Benedict XVI, that maintains that these differences are due to mistranslations and misunderstandings and so the basic theology is about the same, and so the theological hornet’s nest that has existed over these definitions is probably unwarranted. But I still think it would be good to look at the history to fully answer your question. A simple place to start might be http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypostatic_union

  • Pinky and TomD

    The Church recognises that different language may be used to express a mystery that cannot be fully captured by any formula. The Fifth Ecumenical Council, in its eighth canon, anathematizes those who say “one Nature incarnate of God the Word” [Μία φυσις του θεου λογου σεσαρκωμενε] unless they “accept it as the Fathers taught, that by a hypostatic union of the Divine nature and the human, one Christ was effected.”

    The question is not whether we speak of “one nature” or “two natures,” but what we mean by it.

  • “I AM WHO IS”. “Being” is a verb made noun and both are correct. “to be is to be” and to be is being, being a being is correct since there are three Persons in the Blessed Trinity. Peter’s: “You are the Son of the Living God.” Christ’s: “I AM the LIFE”.
    “accept it as the Fathers taught, that by a hypostatic union of the Divine nature and the human, one Christ was effected.”
    This ony makes sense if a person acknowledges that God, the Father, God, the Son and God, the Holy Ghost willed the hypostatic union. Christ is, was effected by God. One Christ is before all ages.

  • Mary De Voe

    The Fifth Council had before it the statement of the Antiochene party, “‘Before the worlds begotten of the Father according to the Godhead, but in the last days and for our salvation of the Virgin Mary according to the Manhood; consubstantial with the Father in the Godhead, consubstantial with us in the Manhood; for a union of two natures took place, wherefore we confess one Christ, one Son, one Lord. According to the understanding of this unconfused union, we confess the Blessed Virgin to be Theotokos, because the Word of God was incarnate and made man, and through her conception united to Himself the temple He received from her.”

    The usage of both the Alexandrian and the Antiochene parties was to speak of the Son or the Logos before the Incarnation and of Christ after it.

    However, as St Athanasius (one of the “fathers” referred to by the Council) says,”All that He ever had continued to be His; what He took on Himself was only an addition. There was no change; in His Incarnation, He did but put on a garment. That garment was not He.” The “garment” is HIs human nature. According to St Cyril, the phrase “the one nature incarnate” is also Athanasius’s, who, like the Fathers at Nicea used physis (nature) and ousia (being) interchangeably – τὸ λεγόμενον κτίζεσθαι τῇ φύσει καὶ τῇ οὐσί (Orat II. 45)

  • Thank you, Michael Paterson-Seymour

  • As atheists misunderstand and reject The Supreme Sovereign Being, these same atheists misunderstand and reject One True God. What is apparent and misbegotten is that these same atheists use God’s Name: “I AM” all day long, and especially when they (the atheists) file suit in court for their “rights”. Using God’s Name “I AM” to reject and deny God is duplicity and perjury in a court of law. Imposing their rejection of God on all citizens through the courts denies the freedom inscribed in our Founding Principles. Not even the courts have the authority to alter our Constitution without ratification by the states.
    Michael Paterson-Seymour: ““‘Before the worlds begotten of the Father according to the Godhead, but in the last days and for our salvation of the Virgin Mary according to the Manhood; consubstantial with the Father in the Godhead, consubstantial with us in the Manhood; for a union of two natures took place, wherefore we confess one Christ, one Son, one Lord. According to the understanding of this unconfused union, we confess the Blessed Virgin to be Theotokos,…”””
    I have always written and read “mankind” as the whole human race, especially when women go about complaining about being left out of Holy Scripture. “Manhood”, like sovereign personhood, is so much better. “consubstanial with us in the Manhood” cannot be mistaken for anything but the whole human race.

  • Botolph: “Fr Barron’s writing and work is great.”

    I listened to Father Barron on EWTN Saturday and I an convinced that Father Barron’s writing and work are magnificnt.
    Father Barron spoke of the atheist competing with God.

A Paean to Doubt

Tuesday, May 27, AD 2014


Kyle Cupp at The Week has an interesting post in which he celebrates Pope Francis for bringing uncertainty about God to Catholicism:

In fact, Pope Francis has explicitly endorsed doubt in the life of faith. In a 2013 interview published in America Magazine, the pontiff said that the space where one finds and meets God must include an area of uncertainty. For him, to say that you have met God with total certainty or that you have the answers to all questions is a sign that God is not with you. Be uncertain, he counsels. Let go of exaggerated doctrinal “security.” A devout faith must be an uncertain faith:

The risk in seeking and finding God in all things, then, is the willingness to explain too much, to say with human certainty and arrogance: “God is here.” We will find only a god that fits our measure. The correct attitude is that of St. Augustine: seek God to find him, and find God to keep searching for God forever.

The pope has taken a risk with all this, but not without reason. If God really is infinite and indescribable, as Catholicism and other religious traditions imagine, then an uncertain faith makes sense. At the end of the day, those who talk about God really do not know what they’re talking about. People refer to God with symbols and metaphors, stories and analogies, believing that these limited expressions disclose a limitless reality, but even if these expressions are true, they nonetheless differ infinitely from any infinite being. Undoubtedly, a lot gets lost in translation.

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14 Responses to A Paean to Doubt

  • You never can tell. You may go to Heaven. Or, you may go to Hell.

  • “It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.” Abraham Lincoln.
    Jesus said to test everything, putting all things into the hands of God. Atheism says that to put all things into the hands of God is offensive. Man’s imperfection must not be acknowledged. Man’s dependence upon God for Truth and Justice must not be confirmed. God’s Divine Providence must not be invoked. Our Declaration of Independence specifically instructs American citizens to invoke Divine Providence: ” We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
    The atheist must be tolerated. Atheism is unconstitutional according to the First Amendment: “or prohibit the free exercise thereof.”

  • Thomas Aquinas said that man cannot comprehend an infinite God with a finite mind. Acknowledging a finite mind in man only results in a recognition of man’s dependence upon a Supreme Sovereign Being. (There can be only one Supreme Sovereign Being as two would preempt one another.)
    Any person who prohibits man’s response to the gift of Faith from God is forfeiting his own civil rights by reason of prohibiting another’s pursuit of Happiness.

  • Open wide the doors of indifferent-(ism)

    Your argument Mr. McClarey is sound.
    The risks that Pope Francis is taking by eluding to the doubts of knowing with any certainty what God desires from his creation opens a can of worms that can only muddy the clear waters of sanctifying grace. If people read indifference in the Popes words, he is only hindering their progress to Truth.

  • Some words are metaphors and don’t fully exhaust what the meaning of the thing is but call our mind to something else. So there is always some doubt as to whether we have completely (or even adequately) captured what the essence of a thing is. When we say that Jesus is the rock of salvation, we don’t me he is made of minerals. Rather, he is our foundation.

    But some words actually do convey a meaning – they are not mere conventions to express some uncertain concept. When we say the word God, then we can actually form ideas about his nature as uncreated being, infinite, omnipotent, etc. Ideas that express real truths that we can hold.

  • good thinking Donald McClarey.
    To me, not-knowing-completely is not the same as Doubt. We can admit freely that we don’t know everything about God, without saying that we doubt God.

    At some point we make a decision to believe. Sometimes the thoughts of our hearts are advance parties for the thoughts of our heads.

  • Seems that the obvious error this approach (no one can know God) risks is equating lack of full knowledge of God with the inability to know anything about God with certainty. Sure, it is obvious that a finite mind cannot know everything about an infinite subject with certainty. But a finite mind can know some things, with certainty, about an infinite subject. I’d take partial certainty over infinite doubt any day of the week.

  • To wrestle with and acknowledge doubt strikes me as sensible. But it loses me when it offers doubt as a positive good, or an essential component of a healthy, living faith.

  • Doubt is good when it causes us to study and seek out more of the truth. And more truth can lead to more doubt which starts the seeking for the answer and the gaining of more truth, etc…doubt does not have to result in lessening our faith.

  • I would suggest that the word “doubt” is ill-chosen, but it points to a real experience, as B John Henry Newman points out: “Notions are but aspects of things; the free deductions from one of these necessarily contradicts the free deductions from another. After proceeding in our investigations a certain way, suddenly a blank or a maze presents itself before the mental vision, as when the eye is confused by the varying slides of a telescope. Thus, we believe in the infinitude of the Divine Attributes, but we can have no experience of infinitude as a fact; the word stands for a definition or a notion. Hence, when we try how to reconcile in the moral world the fulness of mercy with exactitude in sanctity and justice, or to explain that the physical tokens of creative skill need not suggest any want of creative power, we feel we are not masters of our subject.”

    That is not to doubt the Object, but our grasp of it and the adequacy of our language.

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  • I can think of a place where I can say, “God is here”: the Eucharist.

    I’m not a fan of Lincoln, but for what it’s worth, there was more truth in the uninspired Lincoln quote than in the uninspired Francis quote.

  • I understand that Joseph Ratzinger began his “Introduction to Christianity” with an entire chapter on “Doubt.”

  • I think it was John Henry Newman, certainly a reasonable man, a champion of human reasoning, and one who faced the difficulties as he inched his way toward the Catholic Church. And it was he who made it a point to argue that, however many the difficulties in understanding the faith professed by Catholics, difficulties are not doubts. There’s a great difference between struggling to grasp how there can be One God who is the Trinity of Persons. One has but to study the earliest Councils of the Church, from Nicaea to Chalcedon, the period during which the this question was argued. How can one teach in a language which human reason can grasp, that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are One God, without division and without confusion. The truth of the Gospel is not against nor is it a denial of human reason; if what we call “Revelation” is to have meaning, the Lord who speaks must speak a language acceptable by reasonable people, whose assent is an act of reason assenting what is certain. A thousand difficulties do not make a single doubt.

Lincoln and the Will of God

Tuesday, February 12, AD 2013

Justice exalteth a nation: but sin maketh nations miserable.

Proverbs 13:14

Today is the 204th birthday of Abraham Lincoln.  One of the many things I find fascinating about Lincoln is his view of the Civil War, a view which is not much considered these days.  Lincoln viewed it simply as a punishment for the sin of slavery.  Lincoln put this idea forth clearly in a letter to Albert Hodges on April 4, 1864.  Hodges was the editor of the Frankfort Commonwealth in Kentucky and Lincoln was explaining why he had found it necessary to adopt a policy of Emancipation and to enlist black troops, neither policy being popular in Kentucky or any of the border states.  At the close of the letter Lincoln disclaimed that he had controlled the events which had led to his embracing abolition as a war goal:

I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me. Now, at the end of three years struggle the nation’s condition is not what either party, or any man devised, or expected. God alone can claim it. Whither it is tending seems plain. If God now wills the removal of a great wrong, and wills also that we of the North as well as you of the South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in that wrong, impartial history will find therein new cause to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God.

God was willing the removal of slavery and gave the War as a punishment to both North and South for the sin of slavery.  This was not a spur of the moment thought by Lincoln, but rather the fruit of much anguished contemplation as to why the War came and what it meant.

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37 Responses to Lincoln and the Will of God

  • If the nation then had to go through the punishment of civil war for the expiation of the sin of slavery, then what will the nation today have to go through for the expiation of the twin sins of the infanticide of the unborn and the sanctification of homosexual relations?

  • Whatever comes our way as a nation Paul we must meet it with faith, courage, the willingness to endure and prevail for the right, and, perhaps most important, with “malice towards none, and with charity for all.”

  • yes, we are beginning to see that our GOD is alive and well and he has had it with the worlds arrogant ways!
    countries rattling the sabers
    no jobs
    evil administration
    turning our backs on Israel
    young people mindless and drifting
    i could go on and on, you get the picture!

    ditto, paul

  • “Turning our back on Israel” ? Please expound.

  • JL, haven’t you been following the news and seeing the multiple diplomatic and military snubs the current administration has given to Israel?

  • What I find most remarkable about Lincoln was that he recognized God’s plan could be totally Other, that what God is about is his own business whether he chooses to reveal it or not, and that reading his providence in history is no easy thing. It takes a man of vision and wisdom to speak as Lincoln did. His humility was obvious in this. If all leaders recognized their authority derived from God and that God had his own ways, and that their decisions should reflect that in wisdom and goodness, the world would be a far better place, I think.

  • “The Almighty has His own purposes.”

  • I do believe that Government, the Military, the Medical divisions of our Health Care systems, and even our Catholic Bishops have done much to raise and cause the lowering of Our Lords Righteousness upon us as a Nation. How long has Our Lady been holding back Jesus’ arm, as she had warned the people in Europe where His arm was let go twice. To say that the World Bankers, Israel, China, Russia and the many secret societies have not done harm and are not themselves complicit in the evils that afflict us is mind blowing. The Churches enemy’s are legion. American can be said to be it’s own worst enemy, for we no longer have the faith of our Fathers.

  • When I was young, in NY, we had both Lincoln’s and Washington’s Birthdays off.

    Then, the rebels took over.

    I was told that Jefferson Davis’ birthaday is a state holiday in Alabama.

    I passed, without mention, Lincoln’s birthday in western Tennessee.

    I couldn’t (snow) fly home for the weekend. Saturday I made a tour of the Shiloh Battlefield Military Park. Pray for the living and the dead. Not as grand as Gettysburg but quite good.

    I’m thinking if the Army of the Ohio hadn’t reinforced Grant’s Army of the Tennessee, things could have ended differently. Confederate General Johnston was the highest ranking American officer to be killed in action. Was Union General Reynolds (Gettysburg) of equal rank?

    We do sufficient personal sins to deserve all the ills that we suffer. Worry about that which you can control.

  • Reynolds was a major general and one of many to be killed on both sides in the War. Albert Sydney Johnston was a full general-four stars. He is equivalent in rank to Lesley J. McNair who was killed by an American bomb as he witnessed the carpet bombing at the beginning of Operation Cobra, the breakout from Normandy. (Although his final promotion was posthumous.) The cross over McNair’s grave is precisely the same as the crosses put over the graves of all GI’s who were Christians who were killed in World War II. His son, Colonel McNair, was killed two weeks after his father by a sniper on Guam. People today forget the endless tragedies that occurred for families during World War II.

  • “Worry about that which you can control.”

    Ah, but in a democracy T.Shaw we collectively are Caesar. Tending one’s vegetable patch and hoping to pass life “of the world forgetting and by the world forgot” is a luxury we do not have.

  • “When I was young, in NY, we had both Lincoln’s and Washington’s Birthdays off.

    Then, the rebels took over.”

    Lincoln’s birthday is a court holiday in Illinois and I always shut my law office on that day, a fact that will come as no surprise to readers of this blog!

  • Interesting you should say that Donald. I’m reminded of Voltaire who reached a point of despair politically, and resolved finally that one should tend one’s own garden.

  • Voltaire was a glib dork, to be quite blunt about it. What Napoleon said about Talleyrand fit Voltaire to a silk stocking.

  • “Ah, but in a democracy T.Shaw we collectively are Caesar.”

    And like the Caesar’s of two millennia ago, we are claiming for ourselves divinity which we deny to God’s only begotten Son. I speak in the rhetorical plural sense.

    I still say that much of what ails us is this idea of democracy – majority rules – especially when the majority is as ill-informed and of such low morals as ours is in this early 21st century. I think we need to emphasize the distinction between that and a constitutional republic where the individual human right to life, liberty and the fruits of one’s labor remain sacrosanct, and where each person is responsible for the consequences of his own actions. Sadly, that last we will soon see come to fruition, for those who sow the whirlwind will reap the whirlwind just as happened back in the mid-1800s. 🙁

  • “JL, haven’t you been following the news and seeing the multiple diplomatic and military snubs the current administration has given to Israel?”

    Why is it so essential that we give Israel $3+ billion a year? And refrain from critiquing any and every move they make?

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  • “still say that much of what ails us is this idea of democracy – majority rules”

    A belief that tended to be popular among those Paul who assumed that they would be ruling the majority rather than among the majority being ruled. I think that what ails us, in addition to original sin, is a lack of democracy. Most of the bad mistakes in our society over the past five decades have not been initiated by popular votes but by federal courts and by nameless, faceless bureaucrats who do most of the day to day governing in our society.

  • Donald, I agree with you that Voltaire was glib, though I’m not sure he was a dork except insofar as the eighteenth century was full of savant dorks. I do find him obnoxious.

  • JL, we’ve also been funding the Palestinian Authority, which is controlled by the same people raining rockets down on Israel. At any rate, we shouldn’t treat our allies badly by doing things like snubbing an invitation to meet from the visiting Israeli Prime minister, and then announcing an appearance on the Letterman show at the time of the invitation. Very bad form. In fact, it’s borderline hostile.

  • A pittance when compared to how much we’ve given Israel over the years, and when one considers the disparity of existing economic conditions in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

    The snub does seem bizarre, but perhaps the Obama administration calculated it was the right move to employ in order to engender Israeli cooperation on matters where they had been less than accommodating.

  • A pittance when compared to how much we’ve given Israel over the years, and when one considers the disparity of existing economic conditions in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

    The ‘disparity of existing economic conditions’ is a consequence of the deficit of human capital and public order in and among the Arab population. It is not that the opportunity was not there. Israel invested considerable sums in education at all levels in the territories after 1967 and broad swaths of the Arab population in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jordan also qualified for aid distributed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which included schooling. The mid-1970s were the salad days for Arab populations on both sides of Jordan river due to intense demand for tradesmen of all skill levels in the Gulf emirates. There was huge labor migration to the Gulf and generous remittance flows to the West Bank and Gaza. Changing terms of trade injurious to the Gulf emirates, serious public disorder as a result of the 1st Intifada, and the 1st Gulf War all brought an end to this; Arabs from the Levant fled en masse from Kuwait in 1990 and were unable to persuade their cousins back home of the horrors of what was going on in Kuwait City; the Emir of Kuwait and his subjects were so exasperated with the political stances taken by Yasir Arafat and the Arab rank and file in the Levant that the refugees were not allowed to return. Israel cannot be blamed for any of that. Later, Yasir Arafat’s government of the West Bank and Gaza amounted to a crime boss regime, which is not conducive to economic development; Hamas celebrated its takeover of Gaza by tearing down greenhouses and irrigation works built by Israel. If the Arabs on the West Bank and Gaza want to know who is responsible for their poverty, they can look at their gangster-politicians and look in the mirror.

    As for aid to Israel, it currently amounts to about 1.2% of the country’s gross national income and a miniscule percentage of federal expenditure here. If we cut off Israel at once, they would face an economic recession of ordinary dimensions and some fiscal problems which they would have to work out over the course of a business cycle. Israel is not particularly dependent on American subsidies. The United States can be helpful to Israel in frustrating contrived harassment of Israel (trade boycotts, &c.) and in sharing intelligence information. However, Israel’s affluence and technological competence are its own work. Other than the Gulf emirates and several states in the peripheral Far East, Israel has had the most vigorous experience of economic development of any country in the world. Unlike the Gulf emirates, they were not blessed with a natural resource bonanza (or the social pathologies which go with it). Unlike the industrial Orient, they are not facing a demographic catastrophe.

    While we are at it, masses of aid have been puked into the refugee camps, into the West Bank, and into Gaza by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. No other population has had such a history of mendicancy or a international agency devoted exclusively to itself. This has been an ongoing phenomenon for over 60 years. As for bilateral aid from the United States, hostile governments and hostile populations which traffick in the most obstreperous and malicious particularism have no claim to the largesse of the United States, or our patience.

  • Art,

    Thanks for the background. I am generally aware that Arab leadership has played a detrimental role to the well-being of Palestinians since Al-Nakba, but your details were insightful.

    My main contention is that the Israeli government shows very little concern for pursuing long-term solutions. Their policy of eliminating Hamas militants in a bi-annual fashion has been described by some as “cutting the grass.” It’s a routine procedure that maintains the status quo without addressing the underlying causes. It also treats human beings like weeds.

    Exports and imports out of Gaza are still tightly regulated, including the importation of several raw materials needed for production and infrastructure construction. Innocuous items like cilantro, for instance, are not allowed to enter the Gaza Strip. Now public information reveals that, for years, Israel determined the quantity and type of food-stuffs allowed into Gaza so as to be capable of inducing crippling conditions with ease if the Israeli government saw the need to tighten things up. Israel still controls utilities in Gaza, a reality that, in some very real scenarios, could lead to Israel cutting off power in the Strip if it deemed it necessary to maintain grid stability in Israel proper.

    With all that being said, I do see progress. Who knows. Maybe Netanyahu will prove me wrong.

  • “It also treats human beings like weeds.”

    The human beings who run Hamas would like to see every Jew in Israel dead or thrown into the sea. They wage perpetual war against Israel. They almost hate the Israelis as much as they hate Fatah, which is saying something. Under those circumstances I think the Israelis have engaged in almost superhuman restrain.

  • “The human beings who run Hamas would like to see every Jew in Israel dead or thrown into the sea. They wage perpetual war against Israel. They almost hate the Israelis as much as they hate Fatah, which is saying something. Under those circumstances I think the Israelis have engaged in almost superhuman restrain.”

    I disagree. I’ll set the leadership of Hamas aside for the moment. I don’t think it’s too much to assert that the rank-and-file foot soldiers are a product of their environment more than anything else. So sure, Hamas’ radical leadership is too blame, but I don’t mowing the grass is ever going actually stop weeds from popping up. I’ll concede that it’s a messy and complex scenario, and I’m not imparting fault entirely on one side or the other. Sometimes, the only solution in a zero-sum game like this is to hope that the logic of self-interest is broken, if only for a brief moment.


  • If I were a Jew, I would always take what my enemies say with deadly seriousness. Hamas has been quite as eloquent in what they intend to do with the Jews of Israel as Hitler was about the Jews of Germany in Mein Kampf. If I were a Jew I would also say that if Hamas were ever in a position to do what they have threatened over and over again, most of the World would either be cheering them on, viewing the carnage with icy indifference or expressing meaningless stern words.

  • I’m not denying the reality of the Jewish historical experience or the relevance of that cultural narrative today. But, I think Israel has things more or less under control. I don’t perceive Iran, and certainly not any Palestinian entity, as some existential threat.

    I think Hamas’ radical stance and relative popularity are at least partially tied up in conditions on the ground in Gaza. Economic prosperity has a way of making people temper their zealousness and desire for revenge. It is a chicken or the egg dilemma, but I think stabilizing the Gazan economy could go a long way to de-legitimizing Hamas.

  • “I don’t perceive Iran, and certainly not any Palestinian entity, as some existential threat.”

    Of course you don’t JL because you are not a Jew and you do not live in Israel. Your neck is not on the chopping block.

    “Economic prosperity has a way of making people temper their zealousness and desire for revenge.”

    One of many pleasing myths of our time that has little historical support. The Germans under both Weimar and the Nazis were among the most prosperous peoples of Europe. The same thing could said for France prior to the Revolution. Ideology will trump prosperity all the time, unless the ideology begins to wane. Sadly I do not expect Jew hatred to wane among the Arabs any time soon.

  • “Of course you don’t JL because you are not a Jew and you do not live in Israel. Your neck is not on the chopping block.”

    Sure, but I guess I’m trying to take a removed, objective view, which is, of course impossible. I actually wrote a paper a couple years ago analyzing Israeli policy from a neo-classical realist perspective, the distinction being that it accounts for the fact that actors don’t have perfect knowledge and rely on their own perspective, informed by culture and memory. So yes, the “Masada complex”(not my term) and the reality of the Holocaust definitely informs the Jewish perspective. I think it’s changing though. Though not a direct parallel to Jews in Israel, emphatic and near unanimous support for Israel in the American Jewish community has dropped off significantly from its levels in the 60s and 70s, undoubtedly a causative effect of the fact that those alive during and immediately after the Holocaust are dying off. I’m not sure what it’s like in Israel itself, but most American Jews born after a certain point are far less likely to identify with the historical Jewish narrative of being treated as pariahs and constantly near the brink of extinction. I do, imagine, however that a similar, though perhaps muted development is occurring in Israel itself.

    “One of many pleasing myths of our time that has little historical support.”

    It’s one thing to convince prosperous people to fight for one of the largest and most advanced armies in the world. It’s another to convince them to strap bombs to their chests and blow themselves up. Suicide bombing is the ultimate recourse of the desperate.

  • Also, Germany seems like apples to oranges. The arcs are completely different. Within a early 20th century German’s lifetime, he could’ve experienced great prosperity pre-WWI, absolute squalor during it, and then a heightened sense of national pride during the height of the Nazis. I don’t think most Palestinians are motivated by the same return to an idealized state as Germans between the wars were, mostly because they’ve never experienced such a thing.

  • “My main contention is that the Israeli government shows very little concern for pursuing long-term solutions. Their policy of eliminating Hamas militants in a bi-annual fashion has been described by some as “cutting the grass.” It’s a routine procedure that maintains the status quo without addressing the underlying causes. It also treats human beings like weeds”

    JL, you should read up on advanced game theory. Israel is making the best bargaining strategy they can given the circumstances. Normally, when a positive is given at the negotiating table, a positive should be given back. This hasn’t happened in negotiations with the Palestinians. They return negatives for positives. If you view what is going on as a Nash equilibrium, the Israel is making the best of a situation where no one can get what they really want. If the Palestinians would stop attacking civilians and stop calling for the destruction of Israel, I think you would see an entirely different equilibrium come into existence. As it is, any concession by Israel has been met with additional hostility. This makes it impossible for meaningful negotiations to take place. As it stands now, the historical response of the Palestinians will require a very sustained effort at making concessions on their part before it would be reasonable for Israel to move forward as well.

  • My main contention is that the Israeli government shows very little concern for pursuing long-term solutions. Their policy of eliminating Hamas militants in a bi-annual fashion has been described by some as “cutting the grass.” It’s a routine procedure that maintains the status quo without addressing the underlying causes. It also treats human beings like weeds.

    The Arab political class, such as it is, is derived from the broader population and to a degree constrained by that population’s goals. I used to have access to a database called Polling the Nations. A mass of public opinion surveys was taken of the West Bank and Gaza over the period running from 2003 through 2008. They make for depressing reading. The conceivable ‘long-term solution’ – segregate the two populations as much as possible and call it a day – is the stated preference of about 30% of the Arab population. The attitude of the remainder is that the Jews just should bend their neck for the axe, with some variation on operational details. This is why, in the few circumstances competitive elections have been held, the entire political spectrum has been occupied by two sorts of agitators: malicious fascists who are quite clear about their ultimate objects and a criminal element with a long history of feints and double dealing. The Government of Israel is not interested in your fantasies about long-term solutions. They have been burned more than once. What Conor Cruise O’Brien said a generation ago remains true today: there is no solution; there is merely security.

  • Economic prosperity has a way of making people temper their zealousness and desire for revenge. It is a chicken or the egg dilemma, but I think stabilizing the Gazan economy could go a long way to de-legitimizing Hamas.

    To anyone remotely familiar with the history of the Fertile Crescent from about 1932 onward, this statement sounds unreal. The same deal applies with regard to Egypt: four decades of economic development at a moderate pace conjoined to the development of a vile political culture.

  • Japan had had, as of 1937, seven decades of fairly vigorous economic development, Do you think the residents of Nanking conceived of them as deficient in zealousness and desire for revenge?

  • Maybe putting a Jewish state in the middle of Muslims wasn’t a good idea. There is never going to be peace because the US and the West keep interfering. If the Israelis and the Palestinians could just be cut loose to fight it out maybe there would be a decisive end.

  • Daisy, when I think of the Middle East, I think of a territory that has been characterized by warfare for millennia. I don’t think it was recently introduced by Zionist westerners and Jews.


Wednesday, May 18, AD 2011

A round-up of some of the best punditry in the Catholic Blogosphere, courtesy of ThePulp.it:

“Why Is Mugabe Visiting the Vatican?” – James Kirchick, New Republic

. . .Mark Stricherz of Catholic Vote wrote about this here. . .

God & Political Science – Timothy Shah, Daniel Philpott & Monica Toft, PD

Exposing the Death Dealers – Amy Welborn, Crisis Magazine

Syria Christians Fear for Religious Freedom – Reuters

Pro-Lifers Help Win Canadian Baby Battle – Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller, OSV

About Face on Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ – Joan Frawley Desmond, NCRegister

Abp. Jose Gomez: You Have a Duty to Confront This Culture – Cal Cth Daily

Fig Leaves & Falsehoods (Lying & Planned Parenthood) – Janet E. Smith, FT

Quaeritur: Selling a Rosary & Other Sacred Things – Father John Zuhlsdorf

Paternalistic Violence in the New World – David, The School of Salamanca

Monster Baptism & Chemical Pregnancy – Doctor Stacy Trasancos

The Sistine Chapel, In the Depths of Wales! – Richard Collins, The Guild


If you liked this roundup of the best posts from around the Catholic blogosphere, visit ThePulp.it for daily updates twice a day.

For ThePulp.it click here.

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Fides et Ratio

Tuesday, September 14, AD 2010

Today is the anniversary of what might be John Paul II’s most important encyclical, Fides et ratio. Although I have not the time to give it a full treatment, if you have not read it I strongly urge you to do so as soon as possible. Catholicism’s eager embrace of reason & philosophy not only sets it apart from most other religions but also positions it to best respond to the philosophical failures that are hurting the modern world. If the modern world is to find some redemption, it will be because these words are heeded:

Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves

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5 Responses to Fides et Ratio

  • I’d welcome — personally and professionally — any thoughts on how we might facilitate the “incarnation” of papal documents amongst the masses; I’ve got a few ideas, but I’d love to hear any thoughts my fellow contributors and commentators might have.

  • I think on Catholic social teaching as a whole, the best thing is to start referencing them in homilies. If the priests act as if Catholic teaching is important, the faithful will follow suit. Furthermore, I think reading clubs or such that go over the encyclical would be great to getting adults caught up; children should get a LOT more exposure to them in religion class/ccd.

    However, I don’t know if there’s anything the Vatican can do to get them respected by the masses-and that shouldn’t be the focus yet. Let’s get the Catholics to care before we start worrying about the non-Catholics.

  • I meant the Catholic masses, Michael… most of them — as you know — are just as clueless as the non-Catholics, much to our chagrin.

    Reading groups are a good idea, but the problem there is that most Catholics are afraid of even *trying*… I think the term “encyclical” must somehow be intimidating. 🙂

    My current thought: start a reading group that emphasizes incarnation, i.e. not just understanding the text intellectually, but embodying it in our lives. And the next crucial step: the participants who value the group need to step up and *invite* others to come! We Catholics aren’t very good at that.

  • I wasn’t sure which masses you were referring to! lol

    Well, most Catholics are afraid of trying-by themselves. They’re intimidated by the philosophy, whatever. I think they can have some success if led by the priest though after the priest builds up some trust in the parish. Even if people are just showing up to hear the priest talk and explain, that’ll do some good.

    That said, I think Catholics could probably use more philosophy in their training so they’re not so afraid of encyclicals.

    And you’re definitely right; the groups need to emphasize that this isn’t just book learning; this is helpful information for how to better live out our lives as we strive for holiness.

  • Agreed, with this caveat: I think those of us who are capable must take the lead; we need to get the approval/permission/endorsement of our pastor, but chances are, he’d be *thrilled* to have us offer something like this… the guys are stretched pretty thin these days, and as much as I’d love to have them doing the actual teaching, I’ll settle for them letting competent laity doing it if he can’t.

Natural Does Not Equal Good

Wednesday, September 1, AD 2010

“Unnatural, mummy? You tell me, what’s nature’s way? If poison mushrooms grow and babies come with crooked backs, if goiters thrive and dogs go mad and wives kill husbands, what’s unnatural?”
Richard, The Lion in Winter

One of the claims to which people seem peculiarly susceptible at the moment is that if something is “natural”, it must be good. “Natural” foods are believed to be uniformly healthy. The finding that some particular behavior (say, polyamory) is found in nature is taken to be some sign that it is a good thing.

I think a fair amount of this results from our culture having lost a sense of tragic vision in regards to nature — we naturally assume that unless some active force comes along and makes things bad, that they will be good. This could not be farther from a traditional view of nature. While neo-pagans are sure that being “in tune” with nature would be a blissful and pleasant state, real pagans of the ancient world saw the natural forces that were bound up with their gods as capricious, sometimes cruel, and almost always unconcerned with the impact of their actions upon mortals.

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51 Responses to Natural Does Not Equal Good

  • Darwin,

    I think the appeal of “natural” things is really a reaction against the scientistic arrogance of the modern technocracy. And I think that is a good thing.

  • They’ll argue that it’s natural, but won’t admit the possibility that defects also occur in nature.

  • I think the appeal of “natural” things is really a reaction against the scientistic arrogance of the modern technocracy. And I think that is a good thing.

    Actually, I think that’s a really good point, Joe. And that can be a valuable check to our “we can do anything we want” modern outlook. I often find myself pointing to what we are and how we work as creatures in order to say, “No, human beings aren’t meant to work this way.”

    At the same time, I think there’s an unhealthy way to turn to nature as well.

    So sure, Bonobos engage in casual group sex to defuse social tensions and reduce conflict. They also at times engage in cannibalism. I don’t think that the fact these critters are comparatively closely related to us and exhibit these behaviors means those behaviors are “good”.

  • If we all acted on our natural desires, Charlize Theron wouldn’t get a moment’s peace. The men of the world would amass around her house and fight to the death for the chance to be with her.

    When did we accept this idea that all desires are to be indulged, anyway? I know you could trace it back to the Romantic movement, or the Enlightenment, or ultimately to the Fall, but no one actually believed it. It was a theory. Humans would sit around and talk about how cool it would be to do whatever we wanted, then our moms would call us for dinner, and we’d obediently go home. The only new thing under the sun is that we actually think that this nonsense is a workable life vision.

  • “If we all acted on our natural desires, Charlize Theron wouldn’t get a moment’s peace.”

    First I would have to know who she is Pinky. If we get past that hurdle, I am sure my good wife would help make certain that my natural desires, such as they are, would keep themselves firmly in check. 🙂

  • If we all acted on our natural desires, Charlize Theron wouldn’t get a moment’s peace. The men of the world would amass around her house and fight to the death for the chance to be with her

    We need a comment of the year award at TAC. That’s awesome, lol.

  • All this shows is that people confuse fallen desires as natural desires, and engage heresy by saying nature is not good. Got it.

  • So, while we must make it clear that what is natural IS good (and that is why NATURAL LAW is valid), we are not always engaging the world according to nature (and why people misconstrue natural law by assuming fallen mode of being as being what is natural).

  • Henry,

    When most people talk about something being “natural” they mean “found in nature”. That is the sense that I’m using here.

  • Tone aside, Henry’s probably right.

  • I think there’s a general recognition that not everything natural is good but I also think people are skeptical of messing with nature in ways we don’t fully understand. Some of it is warranted. Things once thought safe have been proven to be unsafe. Some of it is due to ignorance of the science and some of it is due to the fact that the science is unclear. I see a paradox here. On social and economic issues, conservatives like to argue that we should be cautious because we don’t know the unintended consequences of changes. But on environmental issues, liberals make the same argument.

  • “So sure, Bonobos engage in casual group sex to defuse social tensions and reduce conflict. They also at times engage in cannibalism. I don’t think that the fact these critters are comparatively closely related to us and exhibit these behaviors means those behaviors are “good”.”

    Much the same can be said for Bobos.

  • Much the same can be said for Bobos.

    Now, that is in contention for comment of the year. Ha!

  • There is “nature” and then there is “natural law”. For the Catholic Church the natural law is God’s law. For a very complete and nuanced discussion of natural law and how it should be incorporated into the laws of the State, I would recommend reading Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical “Libertas”. If you don’t want to read the whole thing you can read my article on it here:
    Pope Leo XIII on Freedom

    The cult of freedom is one of the central problems which American society faces. Unrestricted freedom is not a blessing; it’s a curse. When America drops the teachings of Jesus Christ as the basis for morality, then it is left with no basis for morality at all. This is clear from reading the decision by Judge Walker on Proposition 8. Morality is one of those things that is not subject to reason. The same arguments that the Judge uses to say that religious arguments are absurd with regards gay “marriage” can be applied to just about any moral issue.

  • “Now, that is in contention for comment of the year. Ha!”

    As soon as people start saying you’re the best, every young kid with a revolver comes gunning for ya.

  • You’re right, Pinky. I’m blowing this blog and heading for safer waters. Vox Nova. No one shoots straight there.

  • Baba,

    If we had more freedom, and less judicial tyranny, Prop 8 would have been upheld.

  • It’s not surprising that both Dan Savage and Andrew Sullivan are enthusiastically pushing this book. Both men are 1. gay and strongly in favor of gay marriage and 2. are or have been quite promiscuous. They want to have their cake and eat it too. They want the financial benefits and societal respect accorded marriage, but they also wish to continue to sleep around. If polyamory can be widely accepted as “natural” and thus superior to “oppressive” old monogamy, then they can continue to bedhop after marriage without censure.

    It’s hardly stop the presses! news to anybody that people may be attracted to other people besides their spouses. It’s also not news that some married folks will yield to temptation. What is a modern twist is the rather sad need some people have to have all of their own sexual quirks and proclivities and tastes applauded and approved of by “society.”

    What those people wish to avoid thinking about is the idea that unlike bonobos and dogs and chickens, humans form deep relationships with their mates. A hen does not suffer agonies because tonight her true love Col. Foghorn Leghorn is spending the evening with another cute chick. Anybody I’ve known who has favored polyamory (and gee, sorry guys, but it always seems to be men who argue that polyamory or polygamy are natural and therefore we women are much too hard on straying mates)ends up saying people, i.e. women “shouldn’t” shouldn’t suffer agonies, shouldn’t be possessive, shouldn’t get all hurt and unreasonable. Sorry, but they are and those feelings of betrayal and agony and hurt are every bit as “natural” as polyamory.

    What hedonists also ignore is that “nature” is pretty darn hard on the promiscuous. Before AIDS, there was syphilis and there are still quite a few lesser STD’s which can make one’s existence very uncomfortable.

  • Joe. You seem to be taking the Libertarian view towards freedom. This is the logical conclusion of the view that absolute freedom trumps all other values. This is the creed of the cult of freedom. “I believe in Freedom.” (Or Liberty if you prefer.)

    Catholic teaching is quite different. It emphasizes submission to God’s will which results in a very different kind of freedom which is freedom from sin. We are all slaves, we just serve different masters. A judge who is serving God can and should do everything possible to change a law that is against God’s will. So there is a justification for judicial activism if used properly.

    In fact there is nothing inherently good about democracy. If “we the people” are not guided by God’s law, then democracy is just another form of dictatorship. In fact Pope Benedict XVI talked about a “dictatorship of relativism”:

    “Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be ‘tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine’, seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”

    You notice that the Church of Christ is not a democracy. (And neither are most businesses.) I think the “overturning popular opinion” argument is one of the weakest, and is a position that is being taken because it conveniently suits the purposes of those opposing gay “marriage”. If we concede that religion should not be the basis for morality and therefore the law, then we have lost not only the battle but also the war. The biggest flaw in the Constitution is that it does not mention God, but this is in line with Enlightenment thinking. And now we are seeing where this flaw finally takes us, which is back to the morality of the ancient Greeks.

  • Why does “it’s natural” almost always boil down to “I wanna”?

  • “Sorry, but they are and those feelings of betrayal and agony and hurt are every bit as “natural” as polyamory.”

    More so Donna, since without those type of feelings it is impossible for the deepest of love to occur, something that hedonists eventually learn to their cost. When everything is reduced to the physical and the surface, with no intention of deeper attachments being formed, it becomes completely meaningless, and often sooner rather than later.

  • Good Morning baba,

    I understand these principles in our personal lives. Free Will gives us the freedom to do whatever we wish; which is to say that we are entirely free to either follow God’s plan or go it on our own. Ultimately, there are consequences to choices and true freedom is the ability to sleep soundly because we are ready to be taken home at His command.

    I wonder if I might persuade you to tie this into the larger civil society though? I suspect that most readers and bloggers here agree and understand the principles you state. But, once we get past our personal lives, there is a bit of a vacuum as to the application. Perhaps you are saying that, while the larger civil society SHOULD be organized to direct us towards those principles, as a practical matter, it is not and never will be?

    I suspect that the last statement is true and look to the experience of the Israelites – each reorganization of society around different leadership principles meant to “correct” the defect of not following God’s commands and each failing miserably – and Christ’s admonition to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s for support. Do I have it right?

  • I’ve always refuted the natural=good argument (such as is found in “Marijuana grows in nature so it’s okay”) with “Arsenic is natural. Are you going to ingest some of that?”

  • G-Veg. I guess we need to ask why the US was successful at implementing a democracy, while in France it failed. I think this is because the US did not fully embrace enlightenment principles the way France did. The US did not reject Christianity, but rather embraced it. This kept the US from falling into a dogmatic death spiral like what happened in France.

    In the US there was an undeclared truce that was worked out between the deists that wrote the Constitution and the vast majority of the population which were Christians. The deists while not believing in Christianity took care not to denounce it – at least not in public. (The exception being Thomas Paine in “Age of Reason”.)

    There was an unwritten concordat (if you will) that delineated the boundaries between the state and Christianity. (In contrast in France under Napoleon there was an actual written concordat with the Vatican concerning the roles of the state and the Church in education and marriage, etc.)

    This arrangement worked well enough in the US until the 20th century. The biggest factor I think was the emergence of mass communication (radio, TV, movies) which was quickly seen by the Humanist forces as a powerful weapon which could be used in a cultural war. The dogmatism imposed by the state from above (by force) was replaced by a creeping dogmatism that infiltrated into the individual conscience through constant exposure (via the media) to enlightenment ideals.

    So to answer your question, the solution is not to impose Catholic doctrine in a dogmatic fashion from above. The only solution is to nurture a Christian conscience in individuals, and then encourage those individuals to work through society to make changes from within. This probably means that in the future Christianity will become a dwindling minority in the US. Of course we need to remember that for God all things are possible, and we must continue to have faith in His Plan.

  • Well, I just can’t stay away! 😉

    Henry is right. We need to be careful to distinguish between natural desires and fallen desires. Natural desires are rightly ordered desires–ordered according to the meaning and purpose of human existence. Fallen desires are disordered (yet still natural and still good) desires–ordered contrary to the meaning and purpose of human existence.

    So while the feeling of sexual attraction that a man may have for a man is still *natural*, it is disordered, and hence, fallen.

    Yes, everything is natural. But no, not everything is ordered as it should be. Sexual attraction, and sexual behavior, is ordered toward the purpose and meaning of sexuality.

    Perhaps when someone says, ‘it is natural’, we should ask: well, what do you mean by ‘natural’? Do you mean that it is part of the natural order and oriented toward the purpose of that order? Or do you mean simply that you saw it happen somewhere at some time?

  • And now I promise to go back to my Amish-Catholic web-free zone. God bless, everyone.

  • To Joe’s point in his first paragraph, Fr. Benedict Ashley OP has made the compelling point that Romanticism (which values nature in the sense which Darwin uses it) and modern technocracy are two sides of the same coin. I wish I could flesh out his point more, but the book in which he makes the point (Choosing a Worldview and Value System) is currently boxed up for an office move! In any case, it’s a provocative point which might be worth following up upon.

  • Chris. The Romantics, if you’re talking about people like Percy Shelley, were anti-religious, so they fit in nicely with the thinking of Darwin and Huxley. The “theory” of evolution is largely a pretext to attack religion – especially the Bible. Shelley’s “Prometheus Unbound” reveals his anti-religious thinking. Prometheus is the Titan who stole fire from the gods of Mt. Olympus, who are used to represent religion. The fire which Prometheus gave to Man is used to represent technology.

    The hope of Darwin, Shelley and others (Malthus, Huxley, etc.) is to unbound science (Prometheus) from religion. This is the same sort of Enlightenment thinking that drives the French Revolution and socialism. One of the things that results from this is the absolute separation of Church and State. (Notice also the similarity between Prometheus and Lucifer the “light bearer”.)

    Shelley’s wife, Mary Shelley, wrote Frankenstein. The complete title is “Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus”. You can see that even back then they were thinking of how Man could create a new form of life. The ultimate goal of this movement is for Man to become like God. This is Nietzsche’s Superman. (“God is dead.”) This is also the origins of the eugenics (“good gene”) movement.

    Today we have people like Craig Venter playing God through biotechnology. And we have the Humanists telling us how wonderful stem cell technology is – especially if they can use human embryos to experiment on – because this paves the way for creating a real life “Modern Prometheus” (Frankenstein).

    And the flip side of this is people creating a robot with artificial intelligence which is another way for Man to become God. The ultimate goal is to create a “Transhuman” which goes beyond natural evolution to create a new species of Man that incorporates both biological and computer technology. (Also nano-technology.) I’ve explored some of these ideas on my blog:
    Agnostica Eugenica Transhumana – A Dragon’s tail
    Iron Man as Prometheus Unbound

    So yes, Romanticism and Technology are oddly coupled. The Romantics would probably have been deists that looked to nature as their god and would have been revolting against Christianity since they would say that it Christianity against scientific reasoning. Not very “romantic” if you ask me, but then Humanist aren’t very humane either.

  • Clarifications:

    Henry is right. We need to be careful to distinguish between natural desires and fallen desires. Natural desires are rightly ordered desires–ordered according to the meaning and purpose of human existence. Fallen desires are disordered (yet still natural and still good) desires–ordered contrary to the meaning and purpose of human existence.

    Natural inclinations are rightly ordered through the acquisition of virtue (or through growth in the infused virtue). Fallen desires may be equivalent to desires not yet ordered by reason, or it may mean disordered desires. That they may have a good object does not mean that the desire itself is good, if it is opposed to reason.

    So while the feeling of sexual attraction that a man may have for a man is still *natural*, it is disordered, and hence, fallen.
    An analysis relying upon hylomorphism:
    A defect may be said to be natural in so far as it proceeds from matter and not form. I deny that SSA is natural in the sense that it is proper to the form. Those who wish to make same-sex attraction natural are implicitly arguing this.

    Yes, everything is natural. But no, not everything is ordered as it should be. Sexual attraction, and sexual behavior, is ordered toward the purpose and meaning of sexuality.
    The problem is ordering — if same-sex attraction is unchosen and pre-rational, then it makes no sense to say that it is not ordered as it should be, since order comes with reason and not prior to it. Unless you mean that it is not ordered with respect to the author of that desire, God Himself. This is akin to saying that God made them homosexual even though He wants them to be heterosexual.

    One cannot “order” a desire which has for its object that which is intrinsically opposed to reason. One can only not act in accordance with it.

    Thus to say SSA is “natural” without the necessary clarifications is to concede too much to the homosexual agenda.

  • Baba-
    argument slightly weakened by Frankenstein (and the storyline, which has been copied to the point of parody) being a classic story of why it’s bad to play god– you’ll lose everything you love.

  • PB-
    I think the “order” they’re talking about is from a specific theory– short version, in the ideal world it wouldn’t exist. No natural disasters, no babies with crooked backs, no inborn perverse desire. I can’t remember which philosopher it was, one of the classics?

  • Apropos to this interesting topic is an essay written by Paul Griffiths that was published in April or May in First Things, in which he denies our epistemic ability to distinguish between natural and unnatural desires given the fall. That essay caused a big ruckus, but I think its main point holds, and is an important point for American Catholics to keep in mind. (For one thing, it eviscerates the pretensions of new-natural law theorists who pretend as though we can read off from the structure of practical rationality a conclusion about same-sex marriage, among other things.)

  • WJ

    Paul is right, and I have discussed similar topics before when dealing with the problems behind “natural law.” The issue is not that the idea behind “natural law” is in error, nor that there is an element of truth which we can get to when addressing it, it is, however, limited and obscured by sin. For an interesting thinking who writes on the problems of natural law, I would always recommend Ellul. I think he goes too far (too much Barth and negativity toward the human) but I do think he reminds us concerns.

  • WJ — FT is for subscribers only, so I can’t comment on it, but there is this: Desires Natural and Unnatural: A Reply to Paul Griffiths

    As for a book that touches upon the concept of nature, see Steve Long’s latest.

  • The “not a choice” supporters should explain why they do not approve of incest, bestiality and ephebophilia or paedophilia (all very “natural” to those who commit them, who will claim that they “do not have a choice”). Instead, the liberals pick a particular perversion (homosexuality) and decide that *that* is all right because it’s “natural”.

    If they do approve of all the other abominations, they shouldd say it out loud so that the majority of decent (if gullible) people may become fully aware of their evil thinking.


  • WJ & Henry,

    Sadly, I’m not a First Things subscriber at the moment, so I can’t get to Griffiths’ essay right now, though I’ll make a point of seeking it out in a month or two when it comes out from behind the subscriber-only wall.

    It does certainly strike me, at a practical level, that one of the big problems with natural law is that it is hard to get people of differing viewpoints to agree on what it is. There is most certainly a reality of how things work in regards to our nature and the nature of the world which we can know through experience and observation. But there’s also, obviously, a lot which goes on in nature and can thus be observed which is not natural in the sense of conforming to our nature/ideal form.

  • pb,

    I had not read that response. Thanks. I wonder, though, if the response of Snell doesn’t just push the problem to a different level. Snell writes:

    “The Thomist never looks at the soul to find some natural shape to its structure; the Thomist examines the intentions of the human being, the “why?” and “what for?” of action. A person does x. Why? Well, for the sake of y. He or she intended y and so chose x. This is the domain of intelligibility, of form.”

    But I take it that one of Griffiths’s major points–a point supported by Augustine, Nietzsche, and Freud–is that the answer to “why?” is never so tidy as a typical new natural lawyer would present it as being. At issue is not the contention that such a domain of intelligibility exists (at least not for Augustine, which distinguishes him from Nietzsche), nor that that domain does not, if fully understood, reveal the hierarchy of ends culminating in God (which distinguishes Augustine from Freud), but that our *epistemic* access to such intelligibility is so impaired that, beyond the most general or abstract level (say, the level of the primary precepts of the natural law), we must simply throw up our hands. This, I take it, is the Augustinian alternative to what many perceive as the naive optimism of new natural lawyers.

    Of course, both positions are well within orthodoxy; though they sometimes issue in very different assessments of what can or should be expected of a polity not formed by Christ and his Church, and consequently of whether, for example, arguments against gay-marriage should have any rational force for those not already being formed in Christ.

  • “The Thomist never looks at the soul to find some natural shape to its structure; the Thomist examines the intentions of the human being, the “why?” and “what for?” of action. A person does x. Why? Well, for the sake of y. He or she intended y and so chose x. This is the domain of intelligibility, of form.”

    I don’t know what sources he has consulted, but Snell is just wrong on this point if this is meant to be exclusive. The Thomist looks not only at the intention but also at the external act. But as to the more important point — how is our epistemic access. I don’t think it’s a problem with the intelligibility of ends, as those who advocate same-sex marriage, for the most part, appeal to the same set of goods. The question is of the means, and whether the means is correctly ordered to the ends. And yes, here it is possible that the lack of order in the soul, whether it be through vice or an unnatural inclination, can affect our moral reasoning. The problem is not with the reasoning or the “intelligibility” but with will’s influence on the act of judgment.

    Now, the “real world situation” may be the same regardless of which account is better, but even there I’d disagree with what you wrote to a point — just because arguments for certain laws do not have rational force for some people does not mean that those laws should not be put into effect. Good Catholic moral theology (or Catholic teaching, for that matter) has never endorsed the sort of egalitarianism which demands that all laws must be assented to by all before they can be promulgated.

  • pb,

    We are really not very far away from each other, are we?

    I agree with you that Snell’s (and Finnis’ and George’s) is an attenuated Thomism. I suspect that the reason why it is so is that–at least in Finnis and Grisez–the is/ought distinction is accepted as the starting point for ethics.

    I suppose that I am not as certain as you are that the question “why are you doing x?” is as easily answered as you present it as being. It may be that these parties, while they appear to agree, are in fact using the same terms in equivocal senses; it may be that each party is doing x for some reason other than what he/she presents to him/herself upon refletion, and that he/she really has no access to a determinate answer to this question, etc.

    But of course I grant that, assuming a non-equivocal response, the arguments most usually turn upon whether the means advocated by each party in the dispute align with or fall away from the ends toward which they are directed.

    I also agree on what you say about law at the conclusion of your comment. I’d just want to add that, once you realize that certain laws do not and cannot be expected to have rational force for large sectors of the population, you are then faced with the *prudential* decision about how the Church should act in relation to it. To take up the case of same-sex marriage, for example, Paul Griffiths holds (unsurprisingly) that Catholics should forget about what the American polity can or cannot be rationally persuaded of and should instead refocus their energies on revitalizing their own ecclesial community, hoping by doing so to display the beauty of Christian sexuality and thus, God willing, gain converts. Robert George has a different answer to this question, of course. And they both seem to me to be well within the Catholic tradition.

  • WJ, apparently not! It seems likely that I’d disagree with the substance of Griffith’s argument, but I do agree with his practical recommendations for the most part–though I do see a place for some sort of “political activism” at the local or state level in those areas where such can be effective.

  • Would that I was as well read!!! It has been a fascinating discussion to watch unfold. Thank you.

    I wonder though if the personal experiences of Catholics are as conflicted as the theoretical framework seems to suggest we should be.

    I know what I do is wrong and I know why it is wrong from the moment that it enters my head. It is not a rational response. I simply “know” that a particular act is wrong. Unfortunately, I often do it anyway. Tragically, I frequently analyze before action – specifically recognizing both that the particular act is wrong and that there are alternatives. It is this reality – knowing what is wrong and consciously choosing to do it – that condemns me.

    I have absorbed tens of thousands of rules that are at play behind the scene – “do unto others…, Thou shalt not…, It is unlawful… etc.” and I do not doubt that the basis of the conscious conscience is formed rather than imbued. My experience though is that there is a deeper understanding – something that drives the eyes down in shame before reason kicks in – at work. It is THAT force that I think of as “natural law.”

    It is my experience that the force that wells up from beneath reason is a surer test of right and wrong than my later analysis. It is haunting in a way that cannot be managed or manipulated, it can only be accepted or rejected. All of the rules that are laid on top, even those which come verbatim from Scripture, can be maneuvered around: I apply exceptions and allowances that let me get some of what I want (and know to be wrong) – like I am negotiating with God.

    In case I’ve failed to make my point clear, my experience has been that I simply “know” (perhaps “feel” is a better word) that something is wrong and then, after I have done it, reason kicks in to explain away my culpability. Even if reason cannot fully exonerate me, the exercise allows me to imagine that I am not as guilty. And yet I am ashamed and that shame is the surest proof that no reasoning can take away the reality of my sins.

  • Reading over what I wrote, I had one thought to share: those “tens of thousands of rules that are at play behind the scene” tend to be extremely valuable for avoiding the opportunity for sin more than as the reason for knowing that something IS a sin or that I ought to avoid it. It is because I know the Golden Rule (and because I know that “what goes around, comes around” that I DON’T embarrass someone I dislike at a meeting. That particular acts are unseemly removes opportunity to sin.

  • G-Veg, pb, and WJ,

    Why not get a pic to your name?

    Go here:


  • Thanks for the pointer. Let us see if it took.

  • Me thinks I need to go back to the drawing board. The images is of St. Michael but it is too complicated for so small as space. Shrunk down, it is unintelligible.

  • Simple, elegant, bespeaking better days for the Keystone State…

  • Of course, I should have emptied my cache first.

  • I don’t want to kill this thread though. There is an important discussion about natural law going on. Forgive me for dragging it into the trivial.

  • Pingback: Thought of the Day 2: Is Natural “Good”? « My Goddess Blog

Scouting in a Fractured American Culture

Tuesday, August 3, AD 2010

The New York Times runs an article about how the national leaders of the Boy Scouts of America are seeking to address concerns about shrinking membership as they celebrate 100 years of boy scouting in the US. The number of boy scouts has declined 42% since it’s peak in 1978, with 2.8 million boys currently in the Scouts.

To judge from the commentariat at the Times, you would think this is entirely the result of the BSA remaining firm in their ban of gay scout leaders and statement that “homosexual conduct is inconsistent with obligations in the Scout Oath.” Not to mention saying that boys who refuse to recite the Scout Oath because of its references to God and reverence may simply not have a place in the program. Commenters claiming to be Eagle Scouts line up one after another in the comments to announce that no son of theirs will ever be a member of the Scouts while it remains homophobic and theocratic.

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6 Responses to Scouting in a Fractured American Culture

  • After a year in scouts, I allowed my son to walk away. My girl is still in scouts. There are many, many factors involved. A lot of it is the parental leaders. The pool is small for those able to do it, and they are volunteers after all. Another factor is other activities. There is a lot more for children to do, and of course those activities are also run by adult volunteers. Then there are the not so good reasons like there being more entertainment available at home through electronics.

    I always find the political explanations somewhat entertaining. In neither scouting group was their a vast amount of ideological diversity. For a den we’re talking 8-12 children. Politics and political issues don’t come up all that often and were it ever to come up, whatever instruction the kid had from the parent would generally be respected. Most people when they are off the Internet don’t look for excuses to beat other people over the head.

  • My sons are currently in scouting. My oldest son is 12 and in Scouts. My 8yr old is in Cubscouts. I am a den leader for the Cubscouts. I have been a leader for 6 years and being that I have a 2 year old will probably end up being a leader for about 15 years. I have found that in Cubscouts the focus is learning morals and some responsibility but also to have alot of fun with friends in your den and Pack but also to foster fun within the family. Parents are a key component to the success of the Scouts. The more you involve the parents the better chance that the boys will remain in Scouts and the better chance that they will get more out of the program.

    My goal has always been to get the boys to have fun at the den meetings, pack meetings and at home with the family. I enjoy seeing the boys mature in there confidence and there relationships with other members of the Pack and especially with there family. For me there is nothing more satisfying then getting the Cubscouts into Boyscouts where they will fully mature and learn life skills that are not taught today in the culture in general.

    Along with the factors you talked about another factor contributing to the loss of members in Scouting is the idea of sacrifice. I think that a culture that loses its connection with Christianity loses the idea of sacrifice. I think sometimes People are a little selfish with there time. They seem to feel that it is there time and they don’t have to share it with anyone. Now this is a small percentage that I am talking about but just wanted to add to the things that are affecting attendace.

    Scouts is one of the greatest organizations for boys to be involved with. Of course that is second to the Church.

  • “The number of boy scouts has declined 42% since it’s peak in 1978….”

    Umm, there’s an even easier and more straightforward reason for this decline. The Baby Boom. The number of boys born between 1946 and 1964 accounts for the peak number in 1978.


  • Good point. Maybe simplier is more correct.

  • The population went through a sudden period of growth with the baby boom, but the population has continued to grow since that time. The absolute number of boys 8-18 is higher now than it was in 1978.

  • My husband is the scoutmaster of my son’s troop at our parish church. My son-15 is the oldest scout in the troop and hopefully will complete his Eagle project within the next year and a half. That being said, my son has told me repeatedly that it’s not “cool” to be in Scouts. He likes Scouts but doesn’t want it mentioned to anyone. I embarrassed him once by mentioning he was in Scouts to two girls he liked. In our troop, once the boys make Eagle or turn driving age, they drop out of the troop, leaving the troop pretty leaderless(as the troop is supposed to be self-led. we do have adult volunteers). Being a clean cut Scout is no longer appealing to a lot of teenage boys.

God Bless America by Kate Smith

Sunday, July 4, AD 2010

Kathryn Elizabeth “Kate” Smith (May 1, 1907 – June 17, 1986) was an American singer, best known for her rendition of Irving Berlin‘s “God Bless America“. Smith had a radio, television, and recording career spanning five decades, reaching its pinnacle in the 1940s.

Smith was born in Greenville, Virginia. Her professional musical career began in 1930, when she was discovered by Columbia Records vice president Ted Collins, who became her longtime partner and manager. Collins put her on radio in 1931.  She appeared in 1932 in Hello Everybody!, with co-stars Randolph Scott and Sally Blane, and in the 1943 wartime movie This is the Army she sang “God Bless America”.

Late in the following video you’ll see a young Lt. Ronald Reagan make a cameo.  39 years later President Ronald Reagan awarded Kate Smith the Presidential Medal of Freedom America’s highest civilian honor.

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One Response to God Bless America by Kate Smith

5 Responses to Hakuna Matata Heresy- So Tempting

  • “ the Heavenly Feast is worth the sacrifices, worth the wait- just persevere, seek righteousness, be compassionate, and desire personal holiness which comes from God and God alone.”

    It’s so appropriate you should post this today. It speaks to my heart. As I read through Joe’s posting of movies below, I thought back to a movie I saw a long time ago entitled “King Rat”, based on James Clavell’s novel about a Japanese POW camp in 1945. I don’t have the time to do this posting justice, but woven into the fabric of the movie were moral questions about honor, duty, love, compassion, greed, envy, etc., each virtue or non-virtue integrated in varying degrees in each individual man from different cultures – American, British, Australian, and Japanese, and the degree to which each would compromise his particular moral code, or lack thereof, in order to survive. One poignant line that I will never forget was spoken by a dying 22-year-old, from starvation or fever, probably a combination of both — this is not verbatim — “I came from dust and will return to dust with just 22 years in between.” If that was spoken by a Christian, there is much hope and meaning, for our Lord is merciful and forgiving and is the resurrection and the life. If spoken by one without any particular belief in Our Lord Jesus, it causes me to be almost to the point of despair for his soul.

    “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

  • This was incredibly insightful and made some striking points (and analogies) synthesizing a cultural problem very well as well as putting it into proper Christian perspective. Thanks Tim.

  • Hakuna Matata speaks to an autonomy of the moral order

    Scar is heteronomous.

    The circle of life is participatory theonomy.

    From Veritatis Splendor.

    40. The teaching of the Council emphasizes, on the one hand, the role of human reason in discovering and applying the moral law: the moral life calls for that creativity and originality typical of the person, the source and cause of his own deliberate acts. On the other hand, reason draws its own truth and authority from the eternal law, which is none other than divine wisdom itself.69 At the heart of the moral life we thus find the principle of a “rightful autonomy”70 of man, the personal subject of his actions. The moral law has its origin in God and always finds its source in him: at the same time, by virtue of natural reason, which derives from divine wisdom, it is a properly human law. Indeed, as we have seen, the natural law “is nothing other than the light of understanding infused in us by God, whereby we understand what must be done and what must be avoided. God gave this light and this law to man at creation”.71 The rightful autonomy of the practical reason means that man possesses in himself his own law, received from the Creator. Nevertheless, the autonomy of reason cannot mean that reason itself creates values and moral norms.72 Were this autonomy to imply a denial of the participation of the practical reason in the wisdom of the divine Creator and Lawgiver, or were it to suggest a freedom which creates moral norms, on the basis of historical contingencies or the diversity of societies and cultures, this sort of alleged autonomy would contradict the Church’s teaching on the truth about man.73 It would be the death of true freedom: “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” (Gen 2:17).

    41. Man’s genuine moral autonomy in no way means the rejection but rather the acceptance of the moral law, of God’s command: “The Lord God gave this command to the man…” (Gen 2:16). Human freedom and God’s law meet and are called to intersect, in the sense of man’s free obedience to God and of God’s completely gratuitous benevolence towards man. Hence obedience to God is not, as some would believe, a heteronomy, as if the moral life were subject to the will of something all-powerful, absolute, ex- traneous to man and intolerant of his freedom. If in fact a heteronomy of morality were to mean a denial of man’s self-determination or the imposition of norms unrelated to his good, this would be in contradiction to the Revelation of the Covenant and of the redemptive Incarnation. Such a heteronomy would be nothing but a form of alienation, contrary to divine wisdom and to the dignity of the human person.

    Others speak, and rightly so, of theonomy, or participated theonomy, since man’s free obedience to God’s law effectively implies that human reason and human will participate in God’s wisdom and providence. By forbidding man to “eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”, God makes it clear that man does not originally possess such “knowledge” as something properly his own, but only participates in it by the light of natural reason and of Divine Revelation, which manifest to him the requirements and the promptings of eternal wisdom. Law must therefore be considered an expression of divine wisdom: by submitting to the law, freedom submits to the truth of creation. Consequently one must acknowledge in the freedom of the human person the image and the nearness of God, who is present in all (cf. Eph 4:6). But one must likewise acknowledge the majesty of the God of the universe and revere the holiness of the law of God, who is infinitely transcendent: Deus semper maior.

  • I have always thought that Hakuna Matata was an excuse for kicking back, taking it easy and doing nothing. As such, I suspect it is the most widely followed philosophy ever devised by fallen Man!

  • In philosophical terms, I’d label it hedonism, a type of materialism that sees the experience of pleasure and the avoidance of pain as the only true goods. It always reminds me of the tv character Frasier. All of his grand intellect and learning were solely focused on his personal enjoyment.

Married Priests From the First Centuries Practiced Celibacy

Monday, March 8, AD 2010

The practice of celibacy in the priesthood is apparent in the years following Jesus’ resurrection.  Single priests and priests who were married abstained from sex, of course with approval from their wives. Just as Jesus chose celibacy giving up a family in order to give himself to mankind, priests are called by God to imitate Jesus. In fact, the priest is able to better serve all people because he is more available.

Monsignor Angelo Amato of the Prefect of the Congregation of the Causes of Saints states:

“Jesus was chaste, virgin, celibate and he defended it. His virginity distanced him from others, but it’s what made him able to show, compassion and forgiveness to others.”

Thus priests are called by God to imitate Jesus in this discipline.

By the end of the fourth century Pope Saint Siricius pushed for a celibate priesthood in order to maintain continuity with earlier centuries.  Later this became a discipline* in order to carry out the tradition of celibacy, thus priests could not marry in the Catholic Church.

Video courtesy Rome Reports.


* The Eastern Orthodox still allow their priests to marry, but they must be so before entering the seminary and are not allowed to become bishops.

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19 Responses to Married Priests From the First Centuries Practiced Celibacy

  • Tito,

    While there is good, valid arguments for a purely celibate priesthood, the case that the early church had such a priesthood is simply not there. In fact, there is evidence of married priests, even in the West, way into the Middle Ages. In fact, there were married Bishops in the East well beyond the fourth century and it was clearly the case until that point.

    There is valid theological, historical grounds to support married priests (quite obviously). Moreover, I would carefully assess evidence of married priests commonly practicing celibacy within their marriage in the first century. The notion of priest is not as developed in that century as one would find in later time periods.

  • Eric,

    According to the Pontifical University it is true.

    That or I guess doctors in Church history are incorrect.

    It would be cool if you provided references to books or links, since I am a history buff and never turn down a good recommendation to a history book!


  • Tito,

    I have never formally read a book focused precisely on the question of a celibate priesthood. However in all of my study of Catholic theology and history, I have not ever encountered anything to the degree of which you have asserted nor any existing historical evidence that would substantiate it.

    In the first century, the Eucharist was celebrated in house-churches typically over a common meal. There was not a very rigorous developed theology of the sacrament of the priesthood nor was there any universal mandate or encouragement of celibacy. St. Paul suggests it, encourages it, but he did not see it as something to be required. So while it might have surely existed, I don’t think that is the same thing as saying it was “widely practiced” (depending on what you mean by that) nor was it required. Indeed, the local church was under the leadership of an “elder” or usually a council of them. The terms Bishop, Presbyter, and Deacon were not definitively defined in such a way that we can easily describe the essential ministry and function of each in the same way we can today.

    Sts. Timothy and Titus celebrated by the Church as Bishops were hardly territorial monarchial bishops set over a fixed diocese. They functioned more like “emissiaries” or “ambassadors” whom were sent by St. Paul to Christian churches throughout the region for the purposes of teaching and maintenance.

    There seems to be very little evidence, if any, from documents that can be dated prior to the second century that the marriage status or even continence was a great concern amongst Christians and those providing ministry in the first century. Indeed, in the beginning, these men were Jews and worked from a Jewish mentality where celibacy was not at all the mainstream norm, though there are clearly Jewish traditions of which celibacy is esteemed, e.g. the Essenes. The greatest indicator is that Christ Himself who began and instituted the priestly ministry, from a Catholic sacramental perspective, chose a number of married men for such a position and there is no New Testament era evidence that the Apostles were specifically celibate within their marriages; we can only speculate and that scarcely amounts to hard evidence. Indeed, the Apostles themselves selected a great number of married men to succeed them.

    I do not think any reasonable historian would dispute that in the first centuries of Christianity married priests quite a norm, if not the norm itself. There is however evidence that continence within marriage was advocated and that is valid. However it is not clear that this was strictly enforced or how universal were such strictures. It is clear local synods were mandating celibacy for clergyman in certain regions in the West, but these were not practices affirmed as universally obligatory at ecumenical councils.

    The Council of Elvira held in the Roman province of Hispania Baetica, for example, enjoined celibacy on bishops, priests, and deacons. This was obviously local. A number of scholars hold a tradition of clerical continence, obviously, whereby married priests were expected to abstain from sexual relations with their wives. This tendency was more characteristic of the West than in the East. There is a tradition that is in practice today that married priests are not to engage in sexual relations on days where they celebrate Mass (this is the common practice of married Eastern Catholic and Orthodox priests). Now clearly there became a tradition against already ordained clergyman marrying, but there are still cases of married Bishops up until about the time of Gregorian reforms (heck, the East had women deaconesses up until about the 9th century).

    After a number of centuries, though celibacy was common and widespread in the West it was not necessarily mandatory. It was made the official discipline of the Latin Rite at the Second Lateran Council in 1139 A.D.

    Either way, the issue remains non-dogmatic.

  • Eric,

    First there is no sacrament of the priesthood.

    Second there was no mandate, it happened organically. Not everywhere, but in many places that we have historical evidence of this. Which eventually influenced those to make it a discipline. And I did not say it was required.

    There is also no evidence that the apostles were not celibate as well. In case I’m mistaken, Saint Peter refrained from sex after the death of Jesus (I could be wrong here, but I’m pulling back all the way to my CCE days).

    Never have I mentioned the word dogma as well, I always used the word discipline.

    In essence you’re arguing for argument sake and you misinterpreted the Rome Report as definitive for all early century priests which I can understand.

  • Tito,

    I obviously simply misunderstood you.

    Point: The priesthood because of the priestly ministry, technically speaking, includes deacons and bishops. Either way, it is obvious I was talking about holy orders.

  • Mr. Edwards,

    You write: “The Eastern Orthodox still allow their priests to marry, but they must be so before entering the seminary.”

    According to a Byzantine Catholic priest, Eastern Christian seminarians are most often single and they get married just prior to ordination. In fact, as I understand it, the wedding often takes place the day before the ordination.

  • Eric,

    My bad.

    I figured you were talking about Holy Orders.

  • John R.P. Russell,

    I’ll take your word for it.

    I’m mostly familiar with the Russian Orthodox Church and that was what I was basing my statement on.

    Now when you say Byzantine Catholic, you mean Eastern Catholics right? Not Eastern Orthodox.

  • There are several recent books which treat the topic of celibacy in the early Church, exhaustively [and exhaustingly] – Fr. Cocini, Stefan Heid, Cardinal Stickler.

    That St. Peter was married does not affect the matter. Many priests were married BEFORE being ordained. This is the case in the Orthodox Church. A priest may not marry after being ordained. To do so would invalidate his marriage vows.

    The idiotic and illogical Fr. Kung blames the sex scandals on celibacy. How could this be? The scandals are males on males.

  • The standard practice, at least in the Antiochan Orthodox Church, ( and most likely for the Greek and Russian), is that a seminarian can graduate with his MDiv. degree, become ordained as a deacon, and then, as it were “shop around” for a wife, becoming married before ordination as a priest.
    That is what I saw at one Antiochan parish.

  • I am not an expert in this area by any means, but married priests were quite common in Ireland well into the 12th century. St. Patrick’s grandfather was a priest and his father was a deacon. (St. Patrick was originally from Wales, so that was apparently the practice there, as well.)
    Since it did not become required in the Latin Rite until the 12th century, it should be pointed out that we have had married priests longer than priests have been required to be celibate. There are, of course, also a small number of Catholic priests today who are married, having been married and served as Anglican or Presbyterian ministers prior to converting to Catholicism and entering the priesthood.

  • I think he was a Romano-Briton, the ancestors of the Welsh.

  • “Byzantine Catholic, you mean Eastern Catholics right?”

    He did. The East that is not in communion with Rome scarcely, if ever, uses the term “Catholic” to describe itself. Theologically and liturgically, perhaps (they recite the term in the Nicene Creed), but surely not formally as a label. But Byzantine Catholic refers to a particular rite, or theological, liturgical tradition in the Catholic Church.

    Just for the nickel knowledge, there are 22 churches following the tradition of Eastern Christianity in communion with the Bishop of Rome.


    If you look at the Byzantine rite, there are several churches in that tradition.

  • Correct me if I’m wrong but if “married priests” were to practice celibacy that would be one heck of an identity crisis since, in fact, to be celibate is to be unmarried.

  • VJ,

    They got married first. Then they became priests. Later they chose to be celibate.

  • Veritatis Jorge is correct: the definition of celibate precludes being married.

    But the issue is merely a terminological one: priests in the apostolic and post-apostolic era who were married practiced not celibacy but *continency*, i.e. they abstained from sex with their wives… forever.

    Cf. Conchini’s _The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy_.

  • Chris,

    That is very interesting!

    Learn something new every day.

    VJ is correct after all.


    I get to expand my vocabulary as well. 😉

  • Evagrius,

    As an Antiochian Orthodox priest, I believe that we are not in the habit of ordaining deacons and then letting them marry. We do however ordain married men to the diaconate and priesthood. I am a married priest. However, it is common practice to allow those in “minor orders” such as subdeacons to marry, although this would seem to be technically agains the canons which seem to require the same discipline from both minor and major orders.

    peace and good,
    Fr. Joseph

Ash Wednesday Address by Pope Benedict

Wednesday, February 17, AD 2010

Pope Benedict XVI’s Ash Wednesday Address in English:

Here is the complete text of the Pope’s message:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,today, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of the Church’s Lenten journey towards Easter.

Lent reminds us, as Saint Paul exhorts, “not to accept the grace of God in vain” (cf. 2 Cor 6:1), but to recognize that today the Lord calls us to penance and spiritual renewal. This call to conversion is expressed in the two formulae used in the rite of the imposition of ashes. The first formula – “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel” – echoes Jesus’s words at the beginning of his public ministry (cf. Mk 1:15). It reminds us that conversion is meant to be a deep and lasting abandonment of our sinful ways in order to enter into a living relationship with Christ, who alone offers true freedom, happiness and fulfilment.

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Cardinal Newman on Fasting

Wednesday, February 17, AD 2010

“And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He was afterward an hungered.” Matt. iv. 2.

{1} THE season of humiliation, which precedes Easter, lasts for forty days, in memory of our Lord’s long fast in the wilderness. Accordingly on this day, the first Sunday in Lent, we read the Gospel which gives an account of it; and in the Collect we pray Him, who for our sakes fasted forty days and forty nights, to bless our abstinence to the good of our souls and bodies.

We fast by way of penitence, and in order to subdue the flesh. Our Saviour had no need of fasting for either purpose. His fasting was unlike ours, as in its intensity, so in its object. And yet when we begin to fast, His pattern is set before us; and we continue the time of fasting till, in number of days, we have equalled His.

There is a reason for this;—in truth, we must do nothing except with Him in our eye. As He it is, through whom alone we have the power to do any good {2} thing, so unless we do it for Him it is not good. From Him our obedience comes, towards Him it must look. He says, “Without Me ye can do nothing.” [John xv. 5.] No work is good without grace and without love.

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