I’ll tell you what stands between us and the Greeks. Two thousand years of human suffering stands between us! Christ on His Cross stands between us!
Michelangelo, Agony and the Ecstasy (1965)
Popular historian Tom Holland, whose work I have admired, writes how his study of history led him back to Christianity:
By the time I came to read Edward Gibbon and the other great writers of the Enlightenment, I was more than ready to accept their interpretation of history: that the triumph of Christianity had ushered in an “age of superstition and credulity”, and that modernity was founded on the dusting down of long-forgotten classical values. My childhood instinct to think of the biblical God as the po-faced enemy of liberty and fun was rationalised. The defeat of paganism had ushered in the reign of Nobodaddy, and of all the crusaders, inquisitors and black-hatted puritans who had served as his acolytes. Colour and excitement had been drained from the world. “Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean,” Swinburne wrote, echoing the apocryphal lament of Julian the Apostate, the last pagan emperor of Rome. “The world has grown grey from thy breath.” Instinctively, I agreed.
So, perhaps it was no surprise that I should have continued to cherish classical antiquity as the period that most stirred and inspired me. When I came to write my first work of history, Rubicon, I chose a subject that had been particularly close to the hearts of the philosophes: the age of Cicero. The theme of my second, Persian Fire, was one that even in the 21st century was serving Hollywood, as it had served Montaigne and Byron, as an archetype of the triumph of liberty over despotism: the Persian invasions of Greece.
The years I spent writing these studies of the classical world – living intimately in the company of Leonidas and of Julius Caesar, of the hoplites who had died at Thermopylae and of the legionaries who had triumphed at Alesia – only confirmed me in my fascination: for Sparta and Rome, even when subjected to the minutest historical inquiry, did not cease to seem possessed of the qualities of an apex predator. They continued to stalk my imaginings as they had always done – like a tyrannosaur.
Yet giant carnivores, however wondrous, are by their nature terrifying. The longer I spent immersed in the study of classical antiquity, the more alien and unsettling I came to find it. The values of Leonidas, whose people had practised a peculiarly murderous form of eugenics, and trained their young to kill uppity Untermenschen by night, were nothing that I recognised as my own; nor were those of Caesar, who was reported to have killed a million Gauls and enslaved a million more. It was not just the extremes of callousness that I came to find shocking, but the lack of a sense that the poor or the weak might have any intrinsic value. As such, the founding conviction of the Enlightenment – that it owed nothing to the faith into which most of its greatest figures had been born – increasingly came to seem to me unsustainable.
“Every sensible man,” Voltaire wrote, “every honourable man, must hold the Christian sect in horror.” Rather than acknowledge that his ethical principles might owe anything to Christianity, he preferred to derive them from a range of other sources – not just classical literature, but Chinese philosophy and his own powers of reason. Yet Voltaire, in his concern for the weak and oppressed, was marked more enduringly by the stamp of biblical ethics than he cared to admit. His defiance of the Christian God, in a paradox that was certainly not unique to him, drew on motivations that were, in part at least, recognisably Christian.
“We preach Christ crucified,” St Paul declared, “unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness.” He was right. Nothing could have run more counter to the most profoundly held assumptions of Paul’s contemporaries – Jews, or Greeks, or Romans. The notion that a god might have suffered torture and death on a cross was so shocking as to appear repulsive. Familiarity with the biblical narrative of the Crucifixion has dulled our sense of just how completely novel a deity Christ was. In the ancient world, it was the role of gods who laid claim to ruling the universe to uphold its order by inflicting punishment – not to suffer it themselves.
Today, even as belief in God fades across the West, the countries that were once collectively known as Christendom continue to bear the stamp of the two-millennia-old revolution that Christianity represents. It is the principal reason why, by and large, most of us who live in post-Christian societies still take for granted that it is nobler to suffer than to inflict suffering. It is why we generally assume that every human life is of equal value. In my morals and ethics, I have learned to accept that I am not Greek or Roman at all, but thoroughly and proudly Christian.
Go here to read the rest. As faithful readers of this blog know, I love history. The story of Man absolutely fascinates and enthralls me. Stephen Vincent Benet put it well in The Devil and Daniel Webster:
And he wasn’t pleading for any one person any more, though his voice rang like an organ. He was telling the story and the failures and the endless journey of mankind. They got tricked and trapped and bamboozled, but it was a great journey. And no demon that was ever foaled could know the inwardness of it—it took a man to do that.
In that grand story, amidst the great parade of human events, divinity enters in with Christ. His impact on history is beyond description. Atheist H.G. Wells summed it up:
“I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.”
Some recent historians attempt to replace BC and AD with the ludicrous Before the Common Era, BCE, and Common Era, CE, attempting to ignore that the only reason we have a “Common Era” is because of Christ. Christ is the dividing point of history, and only fools deny it.
Dave Griffey at Daffey Thoughts takes a look at the old Schoolhouse Rock video Elbow Room:
We watched this with our youngest while back, and my older boys – having come in contact with modern educational standards – dropped their jaws. We had it when they were little, but didn’t watch it that much. When we watched it this time, they said wow, did you really learn that Westward expansion was a good thing? When they were in school, this was compared to Lebensraum. Manifest Destiny? That’s like praising Mein Kampf. Did we really think it was good?
Yeah, we did. Not that we didn’t admit to the bad. I remember learning about the Trail of Tears all the way back in the mid-70s. And we weren’t the first to generation hear about it. Same with slavery. It isn’t as if Americans thought slavery was an awesome chapter in our history before Roots. America has been wrestling with the more sordid episodes in its history pretty much from the beginning. Heck, we even learned that Manifest Destiny wasn’t all that and a bag of chips. What makes it different today is that there is nothing but sheer condemnation. We were not a great nation with evil and injustice in its past, increasingly we are seen as an evil, racist nation with only the slightest hope of redeeming itself.
It would be better if we learned American history the way we learn about Islam. Their high school World History book laid out the template. Sure, the Islamic world launched invasions and conquests, indulged in a vibrant slave trade and even made multiple attempts at invading Europe. But let’s not dwell on the negatives (which the textbook didn’t). Those don’t define Islam. Most of the lesson was on the nuts and bolts, or on the positives. Which is good. If only we applied that standard to US history, imagine how youngsters might see things today. Continue reading
Now, Justin concludes, since Christianity is the historical and personal manifestation of the Logos in his totality, it follows that “whatever things were rightly said among all men are the property of us Christians” (Second Apology of St Justin Martyr, 13: 4).
Pope Benedict XVI, March 21, 2007
On Holy Thursday we commemorate the first Mass, the first miracle of the Eucharist. None of us having been there, how do we know it occurred? Faith of course, but faith buttressed by the knowledge that our Faith is supported by historical facts. We know when Christ lived. At each Mass we remember that He suffered under Pontius Pilate which allows us to date the Crucifixion and the Last Supper to plus or minus a few years. We know when Caiaphas was High Priest. Judaea, the province in which Christ lived, was not some make-believe land but a province of the Roman Empire and we know much about it at the time of Christ. Above all, we have the Gospels and the Epistles of Saint Paul, documents written while those who saw and heard Christ still lived.
This of course was only the start of the historical record of Catholicism, the Universal Church. Each generation produced new writers who give us precious facts of the journey through history of the Faith of Christ. One of the most important of the early writers about the Church is Saint Justin Martyr.
Justin Martyr was born in Flavia Neapolis, ancient Shechem, modern day Nablus, in Judaea circa 100 AD. He was brought up a pagan. Having enough money to pursue the study of philosophy, he encountered the teachings of Christ, after a long and methodical search for the true philosophy, and became a convert. Having found the true philosophy, he traveled around the Roman Empire, spreading it, garbed in his philosopher’s gown. Eventually he settled in Rome. He wrote eight treatises defending Christianity. His best known work is his First Apology which he addressed to the Roman Emperor Antonius Pius, one of the best of the emperors, who reigned from 138-161 AD. This Apology was a plea for the Emperor to stop persecuting the Christians. In this Apology he gives us many details as to how Catholics worshiped in Rome during the middle of the Second Century. His description of the Eucharist is a treasure for all Catholics as we attend Holy Thursday Mass today. Continue reading
Hattip to Dave Griffey at Daffey Thoughts. Patrick Deneen who teaches political theory at Notre Dame decries the ignorance of his pleasant students in a post entitled Res Idiotica:
My students are know-nothings. They are exceedingly nice, pleasant, trustworthy, mostly honest, well-intentioned, and utterly decent. But their minds are largely empty, devoid of any substantial knowledge that might be the fruits of an education in an inheritance and a gift of a previous generation. They are the culmination of western civilization, a civilization that has forgotten it origins and aims, and as a result, has achieved near-perfect indifference about itself.
It’s difficult to gain admissions to the schools where I’ve taught – Princeton, Georgetown, and now Notre Dame. Students at these institutions have done what has been demanded of them: they are superb test-takers, they know exactly what is needed to get an A in every class (meaning that they rarely allow themselves to become passionate and invested in any one subject), they build superb resumes. They are respectful and cordial to their elders, though with their peers (as snatches of passing conversation reveal), easygoing if crude. They respect diversity (without having the slightest clue what diversity is) and they are experts in the arts of non-judgmentalism (at least publically). They are the cream of their generation, the masters of the universe, a generation-in-waiting who will run America and the world.
But ask them some basic questions about the civilization they will be inheriting, and be prepared for averted eyes and somewhat panicked looks. Who fought in the Peloponnesian war? What was at stake at the Battle of Salamis? Who taught Plato, and whom did Plato teach? How did Socrates die? Raise your hand if you have read both the Iliad and the Odyssey. The Canterbury Tales? Paradise Lost? The Inferno?
He contends that this pathetic ignorance among students who should be the most learned among their generation is no accident:
We have fallen into the bad and unquestioned habit of thinking that our educational system is broken, but it is working on all cylinders. What our educational system aims to produce is cultural amnesia, a wholesale lack of curiosity, historyless free agents, and educational goals composed of contentless processes and unexamined buzz-words like “critical thinking,” “diversity,” “ways of knowing,” “social justice,” and “cultural competence.” Our students are the achievement of a systemic commitment to producing individuals without a past for whom the future is a foreign country, cultureless ciphers who can live anywhere and perform any kind of work without inquiring about its purposes or ends, perfected tools for an economic system that prizes “flexibility” (geographic, interpersonal, ethical). In such a world, possessing a culture, a history, an inheritance, a commitment to a place and particular people, specific forms of gratitude and indebtedness (rather than a generalized and deracinated commitment to “social justice), a strong set of ethical and moral norms that assert definite limits to what one ought and ought not to do (aside from being “judgmental”) are hindrances and handicaps. Regardless of major or course of study, the main object of modern education is to sand off remnants of any cultural or historical specificity and identity that might still stick to our students, to make them perfect company men and women for a modern polity and economy that penalizes deep commitments. Efforts first to foster appreciation for “multi-culturalism” signaled a dedication to eviscerate any particular cultural inheritance, while the current fad of “diversity” signals thoroughgoing commitment to de-cultured and relentless homogenization.
Go here to read the rest. Now such ignorance is appalling but why? Cicero said it best: “Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain forever a child.” One of the chief goals of education should be to produce morally responsible men and women, not forever children, and hard won knowledge is usually an essential part of the process. Deneen has a series of questions to underline the ignorance of his students: Continue reading
Walter Russell Mead at The American Interest, who normally writes on purely secular topics, has an interesting Christmas column up:
The Christian claim about the Virgin Birth is meant as a radical announcement that Christianity is different. Christianity is not another ‘how-to’ manual telling people how to act vis-à-vis the Creator. It’s not about what kinds of foods are holy and what kinds are impure. It’s not about how to wash your hands or which way you should face when you pray.
Christianity is much more than a group of people trying to fulfill the teaching of a revered founder; it is a community of people gathered around a world changing hero. Jesus came to save and not just to teach. He did not fulfill his mission by giving the Sermon on the Mount; he fulfilled it by dying on the cross and by rising from the dead.
More, Jesus could not have fulfilled this mission if he was simply a heroic man. The human race has many heroes and history is filled with the examples of people who gave their lives for others. You can to go the Normandy beaches and see row upon row of graves of people who gave their lives that others might live and be free. Jesus accomplished more through his death because he was more than just another human being; the gospel writers and the Christians who accept their testimony believe that Jesus was also the Son of God. It was God who died upon that cross, God who took the responsibility for human sin, God who drank the cup of human suffering to the bottom.
The story of the Virgin Birth isn’t there to set up the Sermon on the Mount as the Greatest Moral Lecture in the History of Mankind. It is there because it communicates the deepest, most important truth about Jesus: that he was a human being, but more than a human being as well. It is not an accidental detail or an embellishment; it is not an awkward defense against an embarrassing rumor. It is not the result of scientific ignorance about how babies are made; it is a statement about how this particular baby was different from all the rest.
That is the main theological point that Luke’s account makes. But he had another end in view, and this is also something to remember as we think Christmas through. The story of the Virgin Birth isn’t just a story about Jesus. The gospels are also making a point about Mary and through her about women in general. Ancient Christian writers frequently referred to Mary as the Second Eve. The first Eve, as just about everyone knows even today, was Adam’s wife. According to the first book of the Bible (Genesis), she yielded to the temptation of the serpent in the Garden of Eden to disobey God and taste the forbidden fruit. Adam went on and tasted it for himself; ever since then men have been blaming women for all the trouble in the world. For millennia men have used the Biblical story and similar stories and folk tales to justify the second-class status to which women have been historically relegated in much of the world. (In some parts of the world, poorly behaved and uneducated young men call their vicious harassment of women “Eve-teasing.”)
The figure of the Virgin Mary marks a turning point. She is the Second Eve, the one who said ‘yes’ to God when he asked her to be the mother of his son. When God really needed help, the Bible teaches, he went to a woman, not to a man. And the woman said ‘yes,’ and out of her faith and obedience came the salvation of the world. Continue reading
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his 2007 book The Black Swan, took a look at the impact of events in history for which our prior experiences give us no inkling. Taleb states three requirements for a Black Swan Event:
First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme ‘impact’. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.
The all important question about Christ is the one He asked. Who do you say that I am? In trying to make sense of Christ and his ever present impact upon this world, that is the question that is ever addressed.
A popular answer among some atheists is that Christ never existed. This has always been a minority position since the evidence for the historicity of Christ is so overwhelming, especially for a figure who lived in obscurity. Written accounts by His followers were drafted within decades after His death. Non-Christian accounts, notably Tacitus, mention Christ. His followers in Rome are persecuted within thirty years after His death. Attempts to get around all this involve large amounts of conspiracy theories, ignoring inconvenient facts and academic hand-waving. Regarding Christ as a myth may satisfy a semi-educated atheist, but it simply is not an intellectually honest position. Continue reading
My wife and I were watching the movie The Way Ahead (1944), shown as Immortal Battalion in a truncated version in the US, last night, the story of the transformation of a grumbling group of British civilians into soldiers, and I was struck by this speech given by the platoon commander after his unit intentionally messed up on maneuvers:
“When this regiment was formed our country was doing pretty badly. Napoleon’s armies were just across the channel getting ready to invade us, we’d had defeat after defeat, and a great many people thought we were finished. We weren’t… But, not because we were lucky.
When the first battalion of this regiment marched it was against Napoleon… Talavera, eighteen hundred and nine, that was the first battle they made their own, and they marched 42 miles in 24 hours of a Spanish Summer, and every man jack of ’em carried a sixty pound pack. Talavera, look at your cap badges, you’ll see the name on it, and the other battles too… Barrosa, Sabugal… At Sabugal, together with four companies of riflemen, they defeated five times the number of Napoleon’s troops… Salamanca, Orthez, Waterloo, Alma, Sebastopol, Tel el-Kebir, Mons, Ypres, Somme… Those are battle honours!
You’re allowed to wear that badge with those names on it to show that you belong the the regiment that won them, and that when the time comes you’ll do as well as they did. Last year that badge was in France, this year, in Libya. It hasn’t been disgraced yet… Now you’re wearing it.
I know what went wrong today, it so happens that Captain Edwards doesn’t. You needn’t worry, I’m not going to tell him, he’s quite depressed enough as it is to think that it was his company that let the whole battalion down. But, I just want to tell you this… If you ever get near any real fighting… I don’t suppose you’ll ever be good enough, but, if you do… You’ll find that you’re looking to other men not to let you down. If you’re lucky, you’ll have soldiers like Captain Edwards and Sergeant Fletcher to look to. If they’re lucky, they’ll be with another company!”
The actor delivering the speech was the late David Niven. It is a brilliant evocation of history to remind members of a unit that they are part of a chain stretching through time and it is up to them not to dishonor by their actions those who came before in that chain. As we make our way through this Vale of Tears it is something to remember since we all belong to such chains: family, church, nation, fraternal organizations, bands of friends, etc. Our actions do not impact only ourselves. Continue reading
… and history:
Hollywood’s Trumbo appears to be something of a whitewash of Stalinist screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Portrayed as a victim of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), a closer investigation of history reveals that he did his fair share of censoring and “blacklisting” himself — against anti-Communists within the industry.
- Hollywood’s Missing Movies: Why American films have ignored life under communism, by Kenneth Lloyd Billingsly. Reason June 2000:
if Comintern fantasies of a Soviet Hollywood were never realized, party functionaries nevertheless played a significant role: They were sometimes able to prevent the production of movies they opposed. The party had not only helped organize the Screen Writers Guild, it had organized the Story Analysts Guild as well. Story analysts judge scripts and film treatments early in the decision making process. A dismissive report often means that a studio will pass on a proposed production. The party was thus well positioned to quash scripts and treatments with anti-Soviet content, along with stories that portrayed business and religion in a favorable light. In The Worker, Dalton Trumbo openly bragged that the following works had not reached the screen: Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon and The Yogi and the Commissar; Victor Kravchenko’s I Chose Freedom; and Bernard Clare by James T. Farrell, also author of Studs Lonigan and vilified by party enforcer Mike Gold as “a vicious, voluble Trotskyite.”
- The Stalinist Ten–A True Story About Communists in the Movie Industry, by Allan H. Ryskind. [excerpt from the newly released book, Hollywood Traitors: Blacklisted Screenwriters Agents of Stalin, Allies of Hitler, by Allan H. Ryskind]:
Trumbo is less well known for a script that never made it to the screen: An American Story, whose plot outline, in the words of film historian Bernard F. Dick, goes like this: North Korea finally decides “to put an end to the border warfare instigated by South Korea by embarking upon a war of independence in June 1950.” (In his papers at the Wisconsin Historical Society, Trumbo says he “dramatized” Kim Il-sung’s supposedly righteous war for a group of fellow Communist screenwriters, including at least two Hollywood Ten members.)
Trumbo also seemed to think that Stalin needed a bit of a reputation upgrade. So one finds in his papers a proposed novel, apparently written in the 1950s, in which a wise old Russian defends Stalin’s murderous reign as necessary for the supposedly grand achievements of Soviet socialism.
Those celebrating Trumbo today as a sort of saintly curmudgeon do not feel obligated to mention this aspect of his Red ideology, nor do they point to his writings during the Soviet-Nazi Pact, when he was excusing Hitler’s con- quests. “To the vanquished,” he airily dismissed the critics of Nazi brutality, “all conquerors are inhuman.” For good measure he demonized Hitler’s major enemy, Great Britain, insisting that England was not a democracy, because it had a king, and accused FDR of “treason” and “black treason” for attempting to assist the British in their life-and-death struggle against the despot in Berlin.
- Hollywood Celebrates Another Stalinist, by Allan H. Ryskind. CNSNews.com 01/05/15:
… The evidence of Trumbo’s Red activities is hardly secret. He came clean, sort of, to his biographer, Bruce Cook, a writer of the upcoming Trumbo screenplay. He told Cook in the 1970s that he joined the party in 1943 (some FBI informants think he joined in the 1930s), that some of his “very best friends” were Communists and that “I might as well have been a Communist 10 years earlier….” He also says, about joining the party: “But I’ve never regretted it. As a matter of fact, it’s possible to say I would have regretted not having done it….”
He said he let his party membership lapse after his HUAC appearance, possibly finding it difficult to pay his party dues after he was blacklisted, but he never publicly turned his back on communism or Stalin. Indeed, in his private papers he admits that he “reaffiliated with the party in 1954,” apparently his passion for a Communist America burning brightly as ever. So, by the historical record and his own account, he was in tune with the Soviet Union for nearly a quarter of a century, when Stalin was in his prime killing years.
- Will the new Trumbo movie rehash old myths?, by Ronald Radosh. National Review 11/02/13:
[Trumbo] bragged how he had used his position to stop anti-Communist films from being made. Stalin, he said, was “one of the democratic leaders of the world,” so he used his position to stop Trotsky’s biography of the dictator from being filmed, and did the same with anti-Communist books by James T. Farrell, Victor Kravchenko, and Arthur Koestler, all of which he called “untrue” and “reactionary.” As he explained in 1954 to a fellow blacklisted writer, the Communist party had a “fine tradition . . . that whenever a book or play or film is produced which is harmful to the best interests of the working class, that work and its author should and must be attacked in the sharpest possible terms.”
Two years later, when many Communists learned some of the truth about Stalin from the Khrushchev speech, Trumbo wrote a comrade that he was not surprised. He explained that he had read the books by Koestler, George Orwell, James Burnham, Eugene Lyons, and Isaac Don Levine, who all had exposed the truth about the Soviet Union. These, of course, were the very books he had made sure would never be turned into movies. Trumbo supported Stalin, all the while knowing that he was a monster.
- Flipping Hollywood’s Blacklist Narrative, by Ron Capshaw. Library of Law and Liberty 01/25/15:
… All in all, Ryskind’s work is a welcome addition to the anticommunist corrections to the blacklist legend. He has written a convincing and well-sourced follow up to the pioneering effort of the Radoshes. Moreover, he has refused to play the warped victim son of a writer who was much maligned in his time and may have been black-listed (Morrie never got another script accepted after 1945). Instead he has focused on disputing how Hollywood then and now has rehabiliated what in essence were Stalinists.
- Exclusive Author Interview with Allan Ryskind, Author of “Hollywood Traitors”, by Christopher N. Malagisi.
- Who was Dalton Trumbo, Screenwriter and Stalinist?, by Ron Capshaw. The American Spectator 01/06/15.
- Dalton Got His Gun, by Stefan Kanfer. City Journal 02/27/15. “The lodestar of the Hollywood blacklist was all that his fans said he was—and less.” [Review of Trumbo: Blacklisted Hollywood Radical by Larry Ceplair and Christopher Trumbo, and Hollywood Traitors: Blacklisted Screenwriters, Agents of Stalin, Allies of Hitler by Allan H. Ryskind].
Hatttip to John Hinderacker at Powerline for the above video by Dr. Bill Warner in which he states a fact that is obvious from the historical record: the Crusades were a tardy, and defensive, reaction to an ongoing Islamic Jihad that would continue against Christendom until the technological gap in the nineteenth century rendered Islamic states, for the moment, largely militarily impotent:
It has been a couple of months since Barack Obama suggested that the Crusades were somehow on a par with, or even a justification for, 21st-century Islamic terrorism. I objected to Obama’s casual slur at the link, saying, among other things:
There was nothing wrong, in principle, with the Crusades. They were an appropriate (if belated and badly managed) response to the conquest of the Holy Land by Islam. Did marauding 11th century armies inevitably commit outrages? They certainly did. In fact, that still happens today. But the most unfortunate thing about the Crusades is that they failed.
I have been hanging on to this video by Dr. Bill Warner of the Center for the Study of Political Islam for a while now, waiting for the Crusades to come back into the news. Which hasn’t happened. So here it is. Dr. Warner’s point, which he makes persuasively, is that the Crusades were a mere blip compared to the centuries-long, and nearly successful, assault on Christendom by Islamic armies bent on conquest.
Pat Archbold is on fire over at National Catholic Register:
But the common usage of ‘hermeneutic of continuity’ extends its use beyond as just an interpretive lens of the council. Today, it has become a crutch and a cudgel. It is a crutch in that the hierarchy of the Church no longer feels obligated to clarity in its communications, but regularly unitizes and embraces ambiguity out of laziness or even possibly sometimes with more nefarious motives. The bottom line is there is no understood obligation on the part of the magisterium to teach and communicate in the clearest and most unambiguous way possible.
Rather, too much communication in recent years has gone beyond mere ambiguity approaching clear contradiction, leaving it up to those few still concerned with continuity to develop a lens suitable to a proper catholic understanding. If you have to squint, turn your head left 45 degrees, and stand on one foot to view a modern church communication as Catholic, well then you had better do it bub. In this way, the ‘hermeneutic of continuity’ is a rhetorical cudgel used to beat anyone who dares to notice any discontinuity.
Why is it now our obligation to assume even the most contradictory utterances and writings are in conformity with immutable Catholic teaching but no longer their obligation to clearly demonstrate that continuity?
I know it may seem antediluvian to suggest this, but read Pascendi Dominici Gregis, or the encyclicals of Leo XII, read any of great encyclicals of the centuries prior to 1960, is any hermeneutic necessary to understand them? Are copious context and a rose-colored lens necessary to view them in continuity with all that came before? No, they are plainly and obviously Catholic with many references to Popes and documents before them to establish clearly in the mind of the reader that what is being taught has always and everywhere been taught.
But is unfortunately rare today that modern Church teaching and communications refer or quote, in any meaningful way, Church documents prior to 1960. It seems obvious to me that this is purposeful, as the clarity of those documents do not serve the resolute ambiguity now so desired.
The unconverted person looking in from the outside could be forgiven for assuming that a 2,000 yr. old Church that is afraid to quote itself beyond the last 50 years is either unworthy of belief or unworthy of its beliefs. Continue reading
Any understanding of this nation has to be based, and I mean really based, on an understanding of the Civil War. I believe that firmly. It defined us. The Revolution did what it did. Our involvement in European wars, beginning with the First World War, did what it did. But the Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things. And it is very necessary, if you are going to understand the American character in the twentieth century, to learn about this enormous catastrophe of the mid-nineteenth century. It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads.
An episode of an excellent series on YouTube, the Civil War in Four Minutes, the above video takes a look at the differing interpretations of the War by Americans. The Civil War is, of course, an immense event in American history, perhaps the immense event in American history. Most Americans I think do not understand how huge it is, simply because we think we are familiar with it, and because we are still too close to it in time for us to gain the historical perspective to judge. The many, many differing interepretations of it: a glorious war for human liberty, a valiant defense of States’ Rights, the war against the rebellion, the second American revolution, a needless conflict, etc, often say more about the times when the interpretations are made, than they do the Civil War itself. Almost my entire life I have been studying the conflict. However, the scholarly necromancy that we perform in historical texts can, at best, only put before our eyes pale shadows of what the War was like for the men and women on both sides who lived the triumphs and tragedies of a conflict so vast as to perhaps dwarf all our other historical experiences as a people. Sadly, perhaps this scene from the John Adams miniseries sums up the daunting, if not futile, task of presenting to succeeding generations the reality of an event as historically significant as the Civil War: Continue reading
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.
When I was down in Springfield last week, go here to read about my family’s annual pilgrimage to the Lincoln sites this year, I purchased several books at The Prairie Archives. That bookstore is a treasure trove for those interested in the Civil War and/or Lincoln. Two of the books were written by James G. Randall, the first volume of his four volume study of Lincoln as President and his Constitutional Problems under Lincoln. Randall, who died in 1953, was a history professor at my alma mater, the University of Illinois, for three decades. The foremost Lincoln scholar of his day, his body of work on Lincoln demonstrates how historians are influenced by the contemporary history they live through, and how the march of history after they are dead can make their interpretations obsolete, at least until history shifts again.
The formative event in Randall’s life was World War I. He viewed the immense carnage as a huge waste, a war fought over issues that were unimportant compared to the huge loss of life involved. World War II confirmed his belief in the futility of war, as he interpreted that conflict as being brought on by fanatics, this time Fascists, who caused millions of deaths in a completely unnecessary conflict.
In regard to the Civil War, Randall saw it too as an unneccessary conflict brought on by fanatics, fire eating secessionists in the South and, especially, abolitionists in the North. Randall viewed the abolitionists as earning most of the blame for bringing on the War, turning political differences over slavery to be settled by compromise, into a crusade that could only be resolved by rivers of blood.
Randall summed up his argument in a paper entitled The Blundering Generation delivered to the Mississippi Valley Historical Society on May 2, 1940 at a conference in Omaha, Nebraska. Randall’s thesis was that the War largely came about over a controversy over slavery that was merely a phantom. There was never a question that the Western territories were going to be free territories due to the greater numbers heading for the West from the North, and the unwillingness of slave holders in the South to risk their slaves in the West on land not suitable for large scale plantation crops such as cotton and where they would be without the legal protections afforded by slave states to slaves as a species of property.
Randall’s argument found considerable support during his lifetime, but now is rarely presented as a viewpoint held by contemporary historians. Why? Continue reading
The video above was produced 7 years ago. If D-Day were to occur today under the current administration I suspect that the coverage of most of the media would be in the nature of “OBAMA STORMS ASHORE IN NORMANDY!” or “THE NAZIS ARE AFRAID OF OBAMA!”. When the press isn’t in the tank however, their coverage of military matters normally is in accord with this sarcastic comment of General Robert E. Lee:
“We made a great mistake in the beginning of our struggle, and I fear, in spite of all we can do, it will prove to be a fatal mistake. We appointed all our worst generals to command our armies, and all our best generals to edit the newspapers.”
“By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Sheriff Taylor” reminds us in the above video clip that it is not an iron rule of nature that History must be taught in such a fashion to ensure the destruction of whatever love of it may exist in students. Continue reading
You will find that a good many Christian political writers think that Christianity began going wrong in departing from the doctrine of its founder at a very early stage. Now this idea must be used by us to encourage once again the conception of a “historical Jesus” to be found by clearing away later “accretions and perversions,” and then to be contrasted with the whole Christian tradition. In the last generation we promoted the construction of such a “historical Jesus” on liberal and humanitarian lines. We are now putting forward a new “historical Jesus” on Marxian, catastrophic and revolutionary lines. The advantages of these constructions, which we intend to change every thirty years or so, are manifold. In the first place they all tend to direct man’s devotion to something which does not exist. Because each “historical Jesus” is unhistorical, the documents say what they say and they cannot be added to. Each new “historical Jesus” has to be got out of them by suppression at one point and exaggeration at another point. And by that sort of guessing (brilliant is the adjective we teach humans to apply to it) on which no one would risk ten shillings in ordinary life, but which is enough to produce a crop of new Napoleons, new Shakespeares, and new Swifts in every publisher’s autumn list. . . . The “historical Jesus,” then, however dangerous he may seem to be to us at some particular point, is always to be encouraged.
CS Lewis, Screwtape Letters
Bart Ehrman, the New Testament scholar who transitioned from teenage evangelical, to liberal Christian, to agnostic, desperately wants to remake Christ in his own faithless image and therefore is popular with atheists and agnostics. He has a very old act, as the argument that he makes, that the Resurrection never happened and that Christ was but a man, has been made by anti-Christians since the Crucifixion. He puts old wine into a shiny new wineskin. He isn’t really very good at it, as Stephen Colbert, of all people, demonstrated several years ago. Go here to Creative Minority Report to view that.
Christopher Johnson, a non-Catholic who has taken up the cudgels so frequently for the Church that I have named him Defender of the Faith, turns his attention to Ehrman:
All sorts and conditions of men turn up at this site from time to time. Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians regularly comment here, disagree with one another’s theology now and then but do it, for the most part, respectfully.
That’s because of most of you, not me. You guys set the tone for this joint a long time ago. But if I do see what I consider to be disrespect in the comments, which happens, I’ll quietly edit the comment or remove it entirely. And if things get too intense in a comment thread, which sometimes happens, I won’t hesitate to shut that thread down.
I honestly wouldn’t mind seeing atheists comment here a lot more often than they do. I’m not talking about some douchebag whose default position is, “Christians are brain-dead morons” or who claims to collapse on his or her fainting couch at the mere sight of a Bible verse, a Christian Cross or any other Christian image.
I refer to that rare breed of atheist who doesn’t believe there’s a God but is comfortable with the fact that some people disagree and who doesn’t feel the need to insult or belittle religious believers. I can respect and even be friends with a person like that.
What I can’t and, indeed, refuse to respect are those atheists who still pretend to be Christians but who think that they’ve finally discovered What Actually Happened Two Thousand Years Ago And What It All Means. Guys like Bart Ehrman, say:
Jesus was a lower-class preacher from Galilee, who, in good apocalyptic fashion, proclaimed that the end of history as he knew it was going to come to a crashing end, within his own generation. God was soon to intervene in the course of worldly affairs to overthrow the forces of evil and set up a utopian kingdom on earth. And he would be the king.
Insert “but” here.
It didn’t happen. Instead of being involved with the destruction of God’s enemies, Jesus was unceremoniously crushed by them: arrested, tried, humiliated, tortured, and publicly executed.
Which is why Jesus’ influence ended right then and there and is also why absolutely no one anywhere, with the exception of obscure Middle Eastern scholars, has any idea who Jesus of Nazareth was. But for this bizarre reason, that’s not what actually happened. Stop Bart if you’ve heard this one.
The followers of Jesus came to think he had been raised because some of them (probably not all of them) had visions of him afterwards. Both Christian and non-Christian historians can agree that it was visions of Jesus that made some of Jesus’ followers convinced that he was no longer dead. Christians would say that the disciples had these visions because Jesus really appeared to them. Non-Christians would say that (several of ) the disciples had hallucinations. Hallucinations happen all the time. Especially of deceased loved ones (your grandmother who turns up in your bedroom) and of significant religious figures (the Blessed Virgin Mary, who appears regularly in extraordinarily well-documented events). Jesus was both a lost loved one and an important religious leader. As bereaved, heartbroken, and guilt-ridden followers, the disciples were prime candidates for such visionary experiences.
Once the disciples claimed Jesus was alive again but was (obviously) no longer here with them, they came to think that he had been taken up to heaven (where else could he be?). In ancient Greek, Roman, and Jewish thinking, a person exalted to the heavenly realm was divinized – himself made divine. That’s what the earliest Christians thought about Jesus. After that a set of evolutionary forces took over, in which the followers of Jesus began saying more and more exalted things about him – that he had been made the son of God at his resurrection; no, it was at his baptism; no, it was at his birth; no, it was before he came into the world; no – he had never been made the son of God, he had always been the Son of God; in fact, he had always been God; more than that, he had created the world; and yet more, he was an eternal being equal with God Almighty.
That Kierkegaard quote’s on the top of this page for a reason. That an alleged “scholar” can seriously advance a view so fundamentally unscholarly, so absolutely unsupported by anything remotely resembling actual evidence, convinces me that a great deal of “Christian scholarship” is, as the Great Dane observed, as monumental an intellectual scam as the world has ever known.
Where to begin? Say what you want about him but Mohammed’s followers thought he was a prophet of God. No doubt, the Buddha’s disciples intensely revered him. Yet none of the followers of these two men, or any other great religious leader in world history, for that matter, ever invented a resurrection from the dead for their particular “prophet” and made that “resurrection” the basis of their religion.
Only the Christians did.
It seems to me that if you and all your associates somehow convince yourselves that you’ve seen the risen Jesus when you haven’t, you are, at some point, going to come down from your mass hallucinations. At which point, you can either admit to yourself that you were wrong or continue with the charade and maybe get yourselves executed at an early age for something that you know deep down is a lie.
And did any of you happen to notice who Ehrman leaves out here? I’ll give you a few hints. A devout Jew, he was not only not connected to the Apostles and Christ’s early believers in any way, he was, by his own admission, actively hostile to the new movement, imprisoning many of Christ’s followers and having others killed.
He received authorization to travel to Damascus in order to do more of this sort of thing. On the way there, he claimed that he saw a vision of the risen Christ, a claim from which he refused to back down to the end of his days, and began to preach Christ and Him crucified almost immediately. When they heard of it, the Apostles and most of the disciples initially and quite understandably didn’t trust him.
The man’s claim compelled him to plant Christian churches all over the eastern Mediterranean and to write letters to many of these churches, encouraging and/or upbraiding their members as the need arose. And this man’s claim about what he saw on that road to Damascus ended up prematurely costing him his Earthly life.
I’m pretty sure that the guy had a short name. Don’t hold me to this but I think that it began with a P. It’s right on the tip of my tongue.
I don’t know about you, Ehrman, but I can’t make myself die for an illusion. Continue reading
As faithful readers of this blog know, there are few bigger fans of Mr. Lincoln than me, and I completely concur with Sir Winston Churchill that the Gettysburg Address is “The ultimate expression of the majesty of Shakespeare’s language.”
That having been said I found profoundly silly a retraction which appears in the Patriot News newspaper:
We write today in reconsideration of “The Gettysburg Address,” delivered by then-President Abraham Lincoln in the midst of the greatest conflict seen on American soil. Our predecessors, perhaps under the influence of partisanship, or of strong drink, as was common in the profession at the time, called President Lincoln’s words “silly remarks,” deserving “a veil of oblivion,” apparently believing it an indifferent and altogether ordinary message, unremarkable in eloquence and uninspiring in its brevity.
The retraction goes on to state:
In the editorial about President Abraham Lincoln’s speech delivered Nov. 19, 1863, in Gettysburg, the Patriot & Union failed to recognize its momentous importance, timeless eloquence, and lasting significance. The Patriot-News regrets the error.
Go here to read the rest. This rubs me the wrong way. Apologizing for the actions of men long dead always strikes me as asinine. The men who penned the original editorial cannot defend their opinion now. If they could, they probably would note that they reflected a large body of Northern opinion that viewed the War as a tragic mistake, brought on by abolitionist fanaticism, which caused over a million homes in the North to be draped in mourning. I view such arguments as being completely erroneous, but I leave to those who made such arguments the dignity to which they are entitled of being participants in the maelstrom of devastating events who were honestly stating their views. To have successors a century and a half later glibly denouncing their views, even attributing such views to strong drink, insults them and insults the historical record. It is part and parcel of a historical myopia which views the present as perfect and entitled to denounce the benighted individuals who had the misfortune to live before our enlightened times. The simple truth is that we, just as much as those in the past we denounce, are in many ways prisoners of our times, often taking our attitudes and beliefs from those that enjoy popularity in our day. I have absolutely no doubt that the successors of the papers which praised the Gettysburg Address one hundred and fifty years ago, might well be denouncing it today, if the War, and all our subsequent history, had turned out differently. If one wishes to truly understand history, and the passions of the men and women who lived through it, one must be willing to understand what motivated them, why they did what they did. This foolish retraction teaches us nothing about history, but quite a bit about how the Present usually is a bad judge of the Past, at least if we wish to understand the Past. Here is a portion of the original editorial: Continue reading