Friday, April 29, 2005

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Friday

Well no sooner do I tell Bettina, latest arrival to the comment-boxes here, that I didn't think the American cracks about the Hitler Youth and so forth were motivated by any deep-seated anti-German prejudice so much as a dislike for then-Cardinal Ratzinger in particular...than I hear the subject of Germany arise in a non-Benedictine context, and the slurs immediately begin flying. So maybe I've claimed more for my countrymen than, unfortunately, we perhaps deserve.

It reminds me of the hollowness and parochialism of political correctness - applied consistently, it would be annoying and prudish, but as it is, "tolerance" is really a priviledge and not a right. All that is needed to revoke that priviledge for any group, is a blackening of its reputation. And while this blackening often results from a real crime, there is no really rational apportionment in such matters, and people will blithely put anyone who disapproves of homosexuality on a par with Nazis, while someone who murmurs against communism is still "stuck in the Cold War", despite the amazingly bloody history of that ideology, and the survival of many adherents.

Nor is there any rhyme or reason to forgiveness in these matters, but rather it is purely a matter of whim. And therefore, unpleasant as it is to do so, I must disagree with Bettina's statement [which Bettina never made, doofus - ed.] that the rest of the world has, by and large, accepted Germany's penance; I think that you are paying the world an undeserved compliment. Those who are inclined to say that Germany's past should not be held against her, will say so; those who wish to hold it against her, even for the most capricious reason - not even as an excuse to attack someone, as with Pope Benedict, but for something as little as an excuse for a witticism - will easily ignore the decades that Germany has spent repudiating the Nazis. And those who wish to hold a more lasting grudge, will hold it with no qualm of conscience, for there is no idea here that a fit penance deserves any recognition.

For "the world" that I speak of here, is not merely "the rest of the world", but "the world" in the Christian sense of the term. The world is not the devil, and it esteems many good things and reprobates many evil things, but one who expects kindness or forgiveness from that quarter must expect disappointment.

This is one of my favorite chapters of the Ven. Newman, from volume 2 of his Anglican Difficulties - in keeping with the tradition of english ecclesiastics, it has the zippy title of "The Social State of Catholic Countries No Prejudice to the Sancity of the Church", but it is one of my favorite descriptions of the Church and the world. There is more in it, of course, of the Church than of the world, but that is as it should be. Section 6 is pertinent to this subject, I think, but the entire chapter is wonderful.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

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Thursday

Looking a bit more through St. John Chrysostom's homilies on the Gospel according to St. Matthew, it is clearly a treasure-trove of goodies. Here he gives a brief discussion on free will. Looking back at my own ruminations on the matter, it's clear that I was right with the basic notion that the will alone is the origin of evil - then I contradicted myself, essentially saying that an evil which is not caused by some previous evil, has no cause. To which St. John would say "Speak reverently, O man, and start back from this madness". Duly noted. Those evils that are not caused by previous evils, have their origin in some decision of a will. My other suggestion, that God could "refrain from willing that without which a nature is perverted" can be understood in an orthodox sense: that He might deny some grace or perfection whose absence will indirectly result in the perversion of a nature - but it would be wrong to say that the nature will be perverted directly because of God's will, for then we would be accusing God of making things badly, which appears to be more or less what I did, depending on what I meant when I wrote that. Mea culpa! Maybe we should have a Blogimus moratorium on discussing free will or the origin of evil. My wisest words in that post were probably the "I expect I'll get this all wrong" disclaimer....

Well, at least it's informative to know that people have been screwing these things up in the same way for at least 1600 years.

Anyway, I went there to find what he said here, about Matt. 15:21-28, the story of the Canaanite woman. The modern interpretation of that story has become rather infamous; if the black horror of private judgment of Scripture, taking no heed of Church doctrine, needed a clear example than this is certainly it. For I have heard any number of times, that our Lord erred - this coming from Christians, mind you - in twice rejecting the Canaanite woman's plea before healing her daughter.

I think it is a beautiful story, and it shows the soft-headed, "nice"-worshipping idiocy of our times that even Christians will not hesitate to blaspheme because they find our Lord's conduct to be "not nice." Or perhaps they cannot summon the faith to believe, that He did not at first ignore her pleas, with the full knowledge that she would persist and be granted her desire. I could say that they are thinking of Jesus Christ as if He were only an ordinary man, incapable of knowing whether someone's entreaty would be the first of many, or a sole plea to be defeated by a single rebuff. But I will not say it: I think most would believe that a man could be at least fairly certain of such a thing. They do not merely deny Him the knowledge of one who is both man and God; they even deny him the perceptiveness of one who is merely a clever man.

But there was something particular to which this passage speaks, I think, which is this: why did those who came into Jesus's presence receive blessings that were not given to those who did not? It is not enough, I think, to say that entering His presence was a sign of greater faith than that of those who did not approach Him, for surely one could not say that everyone who did not come to Him and was not healed, was lesser in faith than everyone who came to Him and was healed. Rather, it was in keeping with His divine majesty, that His very presence would be accompanied by healing, and that those who came up to touch the very fringe of his cloak would be healed. That Creation should bow before its Creator made flesh, is clear - but it was not a matter of trumpet and fanfare; the mountains did not shake before Him nor the oceans rage, and even that very cloak that the multitudes touched was surely an ordinary cloak in appearance. But all who touched it were healed - and surely this bodily healing was only fitting, since our Lord descended to bring us healing in spirit, which is figured in the healing of the body. Thus the Lord willed a tribute to His dignity that was appropriate to the purpose of His coming. And thus when He comes again, it will not be quiet as it was here, but with a trumpet-blast, and quaking of the earth - for then He is coming for judgment, and even in earthly healing and judgment we know that the one is a quiet, private affair whereas the other is public and rightly accompanied by the trumpet-blast.

And I wonder if the story of the Canaanite woman perhaps treats of this. For it is when she says "yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the masters' table," that Jesus said "great is thy faith, be it unto thee as thou wilt." She had already said that her daughter was possessed by a devil, and had already begged him to have pity on her - but here, she says not that it is fitting because of her daughter's affliction that she be healed (for many others were so afflicted), nor simply because she entreats it (for were there no others who would have entreated Him if they could have?), but rather that it was fitting because of His dignity and His purpose in coming to us.

For consider His words, "it is not right to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." And yet, it could not be unfair because the children would lack for anything, for Jesus was not limited in what He could give, but could feed dogs and children alike if He so chose. Rather, it was not right because He was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. It was not that Israel should suffer from the healing of a Canaanite, but that treating the dogs no different from the children was bad in itself. And the Canaanite woman neither balked at this, nor lost heart, but said that this very purpose for which He was sent, would not be spoiled but rather fulfilled in His granting her prayer; that just as the dogs eating the crumbs are a part of the meal, so with her and her daughter. Which Jesus knew from the first, but wished to hear it from her, that her great faith be made manifest.

But I don't know if there's anything to my speculations; St. John simply speaks of her persistence in entreating the Lord, and her great humility in doing so.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

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Wednesday

Okay, I edited that earlier post that said, ahem, "Habemus Papem". For some reason 90% of my spelling errors are a confusion of "a" and "e". I still don't know how to spell "relevant" or "relavent" or whatever it is. Oh well. It's completely...uh, that is to say, it doesn't matter much....

Maybe it has to do with that nonsense about "visual/spatial" versus "auditory/verbal" orientation of one's brain - I write phonetically or something, and so am just as careless with written vowels as I am with spoken ones.

You know, I was thinking about the long, drawn-out trial of St. Paul in the book of Acts. It suddenly occurred to me, "wait a minute. Ananias the high priest seems to have spent a lot of time trying to have him killed. The high priest wasn't some nobody; his time would be valuable, at least in his own opinion. Why go to such lengths? To say nothing of those 40 Jews who swore they would not eat or drink until Paul was dead. Just what was happening?"

Of course, this kind of incomprehensible monomania for doing something evil, is hardly an unknown phenomenon. I think all Catholics have encountered that unmistakeable footprint of a malign will - but why St. Paul in particular? I think that this was a show trial. It's easy to see that on St. Paul's side, he did not simply defend himself before the Sanhedrin, before Felix and before others, but defended the Faith for which he was persecuted. But it was not Paul, but his persecutors, who were truly "playing to the crowd". People have been conducting show trials for a long time for some reason or another. It puts a different complexion on things, at least for me, to think that St. Paul's trials were not a private matter between him and those who hated him, but a public event that both the early Christians and their enemies would have followed with interest - albeit without the "expert" knowledge provided by our saturating news coverage.

Then again, I could be completely wrong. Or maybe everybody else realized all this the first time around, and I'm just catching up. Oh well.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

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One more thing

Our Holy Father has often identified relativism as the scourge of the modern intellect. Therefore it would be opportune to find out a little something of just what relativism is. Because if relativism is just some whiny kid saying "that's true for you, but not true for me", you might say that this does not really indicate the worldview of most modern people, including the ones who mindlessly blather such things. So let us turn to that greatest of online resources:

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12731d.htm

This deals with epistemological and not moral relativism, though there is this interesting bit: "A third affirms moral worth to be essentially relative and to emerge only when motives are in conflict". Which seems to me the "consent" idea of morality - that you cannot, by definition, commit a wrong against a mentally competent person who consents to the act in question.

In any case, it would not be a bad time to learn just what relativism consists of.

Friday, April 22, 2005

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Friday

I told Lynn that one good thing to come of all this pope-bashing, might be that Germans who would otherwise feel no affinity for der neue Papst could find themselves defending him, since the Benedict-bashers are so obviously anti-German as well. This thought occurred to me after looking at this article in Der Spiegel; as bad as my German is, I can figure out that the "dumpfe Klischees" in der britischen Presse about "Ratzinger der Hitlerjunge" are not to be admired....

You might say that this is of dubious value; the enemy of a German's enemies are not always his friends. But I've found in my experience, that the quickest way to make me not only defend, but more importantly sympathize with, anything American - is to hear a foreigner attacking it. Even the things I consider utterly indefensible, I can't really summon up the gumption to condemn right at that moment; I'd feel like I were cravenly encouraging this fellow's hatred of my country out of a desperate wish to be liked. That's one of the reasons that conservatives don't think much of the patriotism of liberals; let a foreigner bash Pres. Bush to a liberal's face, and 10 to 1 he says something like "hey, I'm with you - I didn't vote for the guy" and proceeds to swap Bush insults with the fellow. Certainly I would have done that when I was a liberal. Utterly craven. Sometimes we even see liberals apologizing to the world for Bush without any prompting at all - as if the very thought of foreign disapproval embarrasses them, and moves them to disown their countryman as quickly as possible. Whereas a foreigner bashing, say, American television in my presence (and I despise the dreaded box of sin and death utterly, not "utterly except for this show which is great", but in toto) though meeting in truth with nought but agreement, would nevertheless get a rather chilly reaction from me. I'd probably feel compelled to point out that their tv sucks just as badly, even if it weren't true, or else I'd say nothing at all. I suppose I couldn't be dragged by wild horses into actually defending American tv - and yet, if enough foreigners worked on me for long enough, I wonder if I might even do that. Which is what real patriotism is all about....

Germans, it is true, are even more accustomed than Americans to hearing people insult their country. But that doesn't mean they like it. And if German patriotism is considered suspect in and of itself, and therefore a bit absent from public display, that doesn't mean it's nonexistent. And maybe some of the Germans who undertake to defend Pope Benedict against the anti-German slurs alone, will begin to feel a sneaking sympathy for Pope Benedict himself. We can hope - in fact we should hope. If some professional cynic tells me "Europe is a lost cause, blah blah blah post-Christian blah blah blah", I can only respond that I'm not gonna bet against the Gospel. Not only is it bad for my spiritual health, but I don't like the odds.

Around the American St. Bloggers it's customary to say Europe is dead, the apostasy is almost complete, let's look to Africa and South America and Asia where the real future lies (here I go with the metablogging thing - sorry). But it's not as if apostasy is genetic; just because one generation has rejected the Gospel, doesn't mean that their children will. Yes, I know, "what children?" would be the patented response there. But there are a considerable number of children in Europe, and they're not all Muslims. Even a birthrate as pitiful as 1-point-something per family is a far cry from zero. Yes, there is no guarantee that Europe will return to the Faith, but please, let's not suppose that the future will inevitably be like the present, only more so.

So anyway, from now on when I hear liberals make cracks about der Panzerpapst, I'm just going to smile and say, "be sure to remember 'Ratzinger' and 'Nazi' both have z's in them. And don't forget about the Hitlerjungen".

Viva il Papa!

Thursday, April 21, 2005

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Thursday

Note to self: when mailing items, write address of destination on envelope. Postmen are not yet telepathic, and there may be some delay in implementing this improvement.

I sometimes wonder about the terminology with which we describe art. On the one hand, the curmudgeonly side of Blogimus says, "it's all nonsense. Critics are just feeding their own egos." But is that cynical fellow correct? Music, being the only art I have much time for, is what I'll talk about here. But much of this applies to the vocabulary of criticism in the visual and literary arts.

We hear various adjectives applied to some piece of music, and it all seems rather dubious. Is this theme really "heroic"? And is his treatment of the thematic material really "intellectually rigorous"? What is intellectual rigor in a piano sonata? It's not as if you can find many syllogisms in the Hammerklavier.

Okay. But...there is something in, for instance, Beethoven's work that brings to mind words like "clarity" and "thoroughness" and even "intellectual rigor". Has my brain been corrupted by liner notes? That's a pretty confident assertion to make...the fact is that, just because these adjectives and adjectival phrases are not demonstrably correct, does not mean that they are not applicable. After all, Beethoven wasn't stupid, he did think about his music - and maybe it shows, so there's your intellectual rigor for you. And maybe this or that theme really is properly associated with heroism, even if there is nothing literally heroic about it. And so forth.

The problem, though, is that there's no clear standard of correctness, so far as I can tell, except common consensus. So even if certain associations are quite justified, it's very easy to stray onto dubious and downright silly grounds by "following your nose" in the application of adjectives.

I've been thinking about this in regard to Dvorak - it seems to me that there's something in his music that contrasts with the "Germanic" approach...a sort of liveliness or spontaneity, whose antithesis is manifested in the composer to whom he is most compared, namely Brahms. Brahms was certainly a very gifted melodist, but surely everyone has noted a certain "stiffness" (see? Here we are, mired in adjectives of dubious applicability) in his music, which relates I think to his polyphonic approach. But is any of this actually real? Maybe my speculations on the more "Slavic" character of his music are just as silly as the various racialist speculations of the 19th and 20th centuries. Maybe the only peculiar Czechishness in his music lies in the use of slavic dance forms, and a few musical tics here and there...but I just can't bring myself to believe that.

So, maybe we should all just shut up and listen. But it just seems tantalizing, that words can sort of describe music, yet usually in an unsatisfying and unreal-seeming manner. For a know-it-all like me, it's vexing to have a subject on which you can't confidently hold forth, no matter how much you research the thing.

Hm. I guess that's all I've got - how unsatisfying....

Oh, one more thing: my parish is a fine one and our priests are wonderful, but this calling the Church "it" during liturgical prayers has got to go! She, Her! Those are your two options, and they're determined by syntax, not choice! Arise against the neutering of Sancta Mater Ecclesia! You have nothing to lose but your pronouns!

Okay, that and ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO BENEDICT XVI

Viva il Papa!

Yes, that's a much better note to end a post on. (That, and a preposition....)

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

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The New Pope and Newer Analysis

In the recent internet-flurry following the election of Benedict XVI, there have been a few people (including, in my own muted way, me) saying more or less "in your face, liberals!" The literary pinnacle of such statements was reached in the comments to this Open Book post. They are rather lengthy and contentious, so I'll give you the gist of it here. In the post itself, a journalist was quoted saying:

"When it was announced Cardinal Ratzinger would become the next Pope there was an audible groan from our newsroom. I did a little dance, and just barely refrained from pointing at people in a "you just got owned" manner."

Building on this and the idea of one Ed, the crowning contribution was given by one AK:

---------------------------------

"I refrained from pointing at people in a "you just got owned" manner."

Or, 'all your base are belong to us'.

It's not 'owned,' it's 'pwned.' Get it right, people.

Here's an example:

Andrew Sullivan: "Ratzinger blah blah theocrat blah blah gay marriage blah blah dissent blah blah."
Me: P0p3 B3n3d1ct 1337 pwn3d j00, n00b! w00t w00t!

However, I do think that it would be best if yesterday's events had gone something like this:

In AD 2005, a new papacy was beginning

Liberal Catholic: What happen?
Bishop: John Paul II pass away.
Priest: We get signal.
Liberal Catholic: What!
Priest: Look up at chimney.
Liberal Catholic: Habemus papem
Ratz: How are you gentlemen.
Ratz: All your base are belong to Benedict XVI.
Ratz: You are on the way to salvation.
Liberal Catholic: What you say!
Ratz: You have no chance to survive make your time
Ratz: Ha ha ha ha.
Priest: Hallelujah!
Liberal Catholic: Take off every 'Feminist Theologian'
Liberal Catholic: You know what you are doing.
Liberal Catholic: Move 'Feminist Theologian"
Liberal Catholic: For social justice.

---------------------------------


Now that was a true gem...it really brings back memories. Memories of a completely inane and ephemeral joke that I never really got, true - but it's funny here!

Anyway, I've gotten sidetracked and nearly died laughing en route, but my point here is that in balance to the happy Catholic shouts of gleeful triumphalism, there has been a collective sniff at such raw partisanship. How childish, they say, that we should look at a papal election as an opportunity to score points against our political enemies...for my part, I ask myself "what would Hilaire Belloc say?" and can only conclude that he would write a pithy poem best paraphrased by "P0p3 B3n3d1ct 1337 pwn3d j00, n00b! w00t w00t!" Anyway, thinking about this led me to consider the "Meta-inter-textual-narrativity-gimmemyPhD" aspect of blogging. Everybody has complained about the shallowness of the blogosphere, but maybe we should complain about its depth - or more precisely, its reflectivity. Perhaps it is just a petty, mean little suspicion, but I wonder if some of these people who complain about the "all your base are belong to us" reaction to Benedict XVI's election, might have reacted much the same way, or at least felt more genial towards such reactions, if they didn't have a blog. I only level that baseless charge because in my own experience, I find it all too easy to think, "well, the common run of people are saying this...but are they right? n.b. if they are wrong then I have a topic for my blog. But don't let this influence my judgment on the matter - no sireee...."

I'm reminded of that mysterious old book on moral theology that I keep mentioning, which was a very edifying read (skim) on a number of counts - most particularly, it showed me just how far we had developed psychology before "geniuses" like Freud and Jung "pioneered" the field (is it petty to think that "Fraud" and "Junk" are only one letter different in each respective case? According to google I am not alone in noticing this, petty or not....) Ever heard of "the integrative faculty"? Maybe if you've read a certain Belloc passage or two, or if you're a theology nerd like some bloggers. Otherwise probably not....

Anyway, it also mentioned "reflectivity", and I'll admit that I didn't quite understand the concept fully. But it bears a certain kinship to the popular nostrum about "outsmarting yourself" or "thinking too much" about something - admittedly it is more refined, without the crude implication that reason itself is a barrier to right judgment. So these are not merely popular sayings, but properly understood fit within a larger understanding of human thought. The idea as I grasp it, is that the more reflective moral judgments are not, all else being equal, the more trustworthy judgments, but the less so.

Back to the election of Pope Benedict, I think it is a perfectly natural and human thing to rejoice at victory over one's enemies (and a pedantic bit of second-guessing to despise such a natural reaction). This does not mean rejoicing in the misery of one's enemies. It does not mean being a mean-spirited conservative bastard. It means rejoicing at victory over one's enemies. To be sure, the fact that some people are enemies of everything that Benedict XVI stands for, is a cause for grief. But it strikes me as almost puritanical to therefore (?) deride as childish, or "triumphalist", a shout of joy that the enemies of orthodoxy and tradition have been thwarted resoundingly. When the devil is finally crushed for all time at the end of the world, we are (so let us hope and pray) going to rejoice very loudly. "In your face" will not be among the expressions used, I dare say, but the sentiment expressed therein will not be entirely absent.

Now, of course, someone will say, "there you go, equating human sinners with the devil himself. How uncharitable" - yet in sinning, we ourselves equate ourselves with the devil himself - not a perfect equation, but there is certainly a similitude. So are we to rejoice at the final defeat of the devil, but not at the interim defeats of his imitators? This is foolishness.

So I'm reconsidering my previous obiter dictum on the matter:

"If you'll excuse a note of partisanship in the festivities"

and have decided that such milquetoast pussy-footing is unacceptable. I hereby retract and revise my opinion thusly:

WE JUST WON! THE OTHER GUYS JUST LOST! THAT MEANS YOU, HERETICS! ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US - BWAHAHAHAHA!!!

That is the final, considered editorial verdict of this weblog.

And yes, this post was a reflection on weblogs in which I criticized weblogs that reflect too much on other weblogs. I'm aware of the irony - but guess what, I don't care - because WE JUST WON! (see supra)

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

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Habemus Papam!

A cause for joy in the whole Church!

Many have described the new pope as the choice of the Holy Spirit. Cardinal Ratzinger himself did not agree with this idea - "the only assurance we have is that we cannot completely ruin the thing", was I think the codicil to his assessment of the opinion. But...maybe the ex-Cardinal was wrong, at least in this particular election. As a general rule, I think it would be unwise to say that the Holy Spirit always chooses the pope - certainly no one can become pope if He decides otherwise, but that's true of every office in the world. Still, there's nothing saying that this particular pope's election might have been more than just the bright idea of a few dozen Cardinals....

Heh. If you'll excuse a note of partisanship in the festivities, I can remember in RCIA, somebody pointing out that Ratzinger had nixed this or that liberal innovation - to which another instructor responded, "but Ratzinger's not the pope, and he's not infallible", receiving a general nodding of heads (among the other instructors). That was then....

Benedict XVI! 2005 has already been an eventful year in history - some of them sorrowful events, but I hope that this one, at least, is only a cause for rejoicing.
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Monday

I've made some satisfying CD purchases - Bernstein and the NY Philharmonic doing Brahms's 4th, along with the obligatory Academic and Tragic overtures. It confirmed my sneaking suspicion that my first version of Brahms 4th was a real lemon - I don't expect it's a famous recording anyway, but stay away from a Naxos CD of the 4th (also with obligatory overtures) by the BRT Philharmonic, Alexander Rahbari conducting! It sounds very murky and a lot of the melodic lines are very indistinct - when you're talking about Brahms, you need to bring out the polyphonic element well, or there's no Brahms! The NY Phil. recording is much better.

Then there's the Dvorak piano quintet op. 81, plus the op. 51 quartet - very nice, it's Dvorak, what do you expect?

Obviously I listen to a lot of music. But, snob that I am, I still get vaguely creeped out when I see these kids (i.e. people my age) walking around with headphones stuck in their ears, presumably blasting their MTV-addled brains with Eminem or one of those stupid bands where a bunch of badly-dressed white boys with whiny voices play a lot of identical-sounding chords on an electric guitar (you know the type - 98 Degrees was one of them - is this genre still trendy?) It's one thing in the privacy of your own home - but out there in public!

I sometimes worry about the proliferation of entertainment. Just how entertaining is life going to get? Whenever I think about the future, which I usually don't, the only prediction I can really make is that people will find new and ingenious ways to waste all of their time. Will we ever have to be bored in the future? We can survive a lot of things, but I don't think we can survive being continually amused...maybe I'm a pessimist.

In the meantime, I occasionally find myself a bit peeved by a certain phrase, namely "the current teaching of the Catholic Church". It would be one thing if I just heard this from liberals and non-Catholics, both of whom consider this "current" teaching to be more or less up for grabs. But I see it fairly often on St. Blog's too - that we are bound to obey the "current" teaching of the Church or the Magisterium. Now, I think it's time to have recourse to our favorite online resource for Catholics:

"This magisterium was not instituted to receive new truths, but to guard, transmit, propagate, and preserve revealed truth from every admixture of error, and to cause it to prevail. Moreover the magisterium should not be considered as external to the community of the faithful. Those who teach cannot and should not teach save what they have learned themselves, those who have the office of teachers have been chosen from among the faithful and they first of all are obliged to believe what they propose to the faith of others. Moreover they usually propose to the belief of the faithful only the truths of which the latter have already made more or less explicit profession. Sometimes it is even by sounding as it were the common sentiment of the Church, still more by scrutinizing the monuments of the past, that masters and theologians discover that such and such a doctrine, perhaps in dispute, belongs nevertheless to the traditional deposit. More than one among the faithful may be unconscious of personal belief in it, but if he is in union of thought with the Church he believes implicitly that which perhaps he declines to recognize explicitly as an object of his faith. It was thus with regard to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception before it was inserted in the explicit faith of the Church."

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15006b.htm

The whole article is well worth reading.

There is, by definition, no such thing as "current Church teaching". If the Church teaches it, then it is not "current". It may be something that was, as described in the article, contained in the deposit of faith without having been explicitly stated in the past. But now that it has been explicitly stated, it's not going anywhere; it's a permanent fixture, so why call it "current", with the implication that it might not always be current?

The worrisome thing is that this is logically opposed to the not-so-current teaching of the Church. If the two are not different, why distinguish the "current" version? This does not have a precedent in orthodox Catholic thought; the past is not opposed to the present, but is rather the source for what we believe at present.

It is all very well to say that the Church is clarifying some matter that She had not attended to extensively in the past, but the minute that, for instance, one may dismiss a citation from a long-dead Pope by saying "it's a good idea to pay attention to the most advanced development of Church doctrine as shown in the present Magisterium, which says otherwise..." then we are seeing an unclear comprehension of what, in fact, the Magisterium is.

Friday, April 15, 2005

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Friday

Another prolonged absence, I know. Well, it's not like anybody's paying me to do this....

Being a newly-minted Catholic, I didn't think there was much I could say in the wake of Pope John Paul II's death; the St. Blog's parishoners all seemed to know him so well, which I never did.

In the last few weeks I've been looking into technical colleges where I could get a certification in computer network support or something and get a real job. The weather has been wonderful here in Minnesota, usually in the 60's, with cloudy skies and a nice wind. At times like these, I'm glad not to live in a blasted southern wasteland. Heh heh. Posting will resume monday.

Friday, April 01, 2005

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Thursday

By now we have all heard the news of Terri Schiavo's death.

When her final ordeal on this earth began, I was haunted, as I still am, by these words: "so that they shall have no excuse."

The injustice perpetrated against her and her family is by no means the only such, or the worst such, that our country has committed, but I do not agree that for this reason she was not "deserving" of our attention. I remember one commentator, who said that one day we will forget her; that what we remember about 2005 will be the great works of the great men of the world - but I do not believe it. Perhaps she will be forgotten, but perhaps George Bush will be forgotten too.

The fact is that the importance of an event or a person is not to be judged by human standards but by the importance that God gives them. He wanted us to see what was happening here. It is true that many centers of journalistic attention are utterly irrelavent, and in considering their place in divine Providence they seem to me only a sign that God has given us up to our own perversities, just as he gave up the men of ancient times to idol-worship. But this was not such a story. It was a warning, as surely as any ever uttered by the prophets.

From what I have heard, the pope's health has taken a turn for the worse in this time as well. I am uneasy in thinking of what lies ahead of us, but of course we should not alarm ourselves without cause.

In considering where our civilization is headed, however, I do not think we should be excessively guided by historical parallels; I refer to the resemblances that many have seen between the abortion and euthanasia movements and the policies of the "third Reich". The modern arguments for killing the unborn and the incapacitated are not identical to those in Germany at that time; then, the charge was that certain people were useless to the state, and as "useless eaters" they should be eliminated.

While it is hardly inconceivable that such an ideology could take root here, nor that it has already taken root in some, I do not think that most advocates of abortion or euthansia would either speak or think in terms of utility to the state. I think, rather, that the locus of their mindset lies in a veneration of "consciousness."

Consider those whom it is nowadays fashionable to kill - but more importantly, consider those whom it is fashionable not to kill. Many have highlighted the absurdity in the fact that many of those same people who advocate the killing of certain classes of human beings, are opposed to the killing of the one class of human beings whose killing had once been a matter of course throughout the world (heinous criminals) and many even oppose the killing of animals, who have literally been "fair game" throughout human history. But while this is indeed absurd, that does not mean that there is no guiding principle; on the contrary, consistently following a guiding principle, if it is the wrong one - or a right one applied in the wrong way - leads to very absurd things indeed.

Now "consciousness" is a philosophically suspect concept in my opinion: it is more accurate to speak of a soul and its faculties, such as perception and thought. It is obvious that when a person has diverse thoughts and perception, these things all "belong" to the same thing; there is obviously a unity between Tom's thoughts and Tom's perceptions that does not exist between Tom's thoughts and Peter's thoughts. It is clear that that thing is not itself a thought or perception; and one can say that one person's thoughts share the same brain, but that begs the question of why two thoughts should have any unity merely because they occurred "in" the same folded lump of tissue - not even, perhaps, the same parts of the same lump of tissue. This common element is the soul - which is ignored when people speak glibly about "consciousness". For consciousness implies either thought or perception; in the absolute absence of mental activity, there is no consciousness - and so, by an intellectual sleight of hand, many act as if there is nothing at all, since we are not taught to think of the unifying principle in a "conscious being", without which the perception, the thought, and even the association between perception and thought would all exist in their own independent worlds, divided as one mind is divided from another. If we consider that, it is clear that the absence of consciousness by no means implies the absence of this unifying principle that makes "consciousness" possible. That, of course, undercuts arguments to the effect that a person whose brain is sufficiently damaged or undeveloped is "not human".

In any case, when consciousness or "awareness" is the sole criterion of "personhood", we can understand why people would think that animals - who often give copious evidence of awareness - should not be killed, whereas "the fetus" or the comatose are killable. Killing is only regrettable because it eliminates awareness. Thus, those who are unaware and will not regain consciousness, may be killed. Justifying the killing of the unborn is slightly trickier, since they obviously can become aware, but in fact many pro-choicers at least claim to consider abortion a regrettable "necessity"; since their worldview includes no prohibition on "let us do evil so that good may come", they don't really need to "justify" the killing of the unborn; they must merely convince themselves that it brings about a compensatory good.

The worship of the will, as I mentioned yesterday, also enters into this. For if it is a woman's will to "not be pregnant", that must be respected. It is true that, at least for now, a parent may not say "I choose not to feed my child; it is against my will", but the child can, in this case, express a contravening will (in fact, his will to be fed is about the first desire that a child expresses). If the fetus were capable of protesting its murder, it would garner much more sympathy and defense; it is for its incapacity to protest that the fetus is killable.

From the aforesaid, it should be clear that whatever the family resemblances, this is not an ideology identical to that of the Nazis. What, then, will become of it? I don't know. On the one hand, we must consider its logical evolution as an ideology, but furthermore there is the corrupting effect that such monstrous ideas are having on the moral sense of our civilization - for instance, the moral scheme that I sketch above does indeed give a reason not to kill infants, or children, or unpopular people...but once you have got into the habit of killing and calling it something else, as our country has - then that can take you well beyond the bounds of whatever moral doctrine you started out with, so I would not at all say that infants or various other groups are not in danger.

Again, it's getting late, so I'll sign off for tonight.