Old Oligarch's Painted Stoa

Past Posts of Note
Substantative, in chronological order
The Sunday obligation and illness: question, research & my answer

Denial of personhood: Dei Filius & Terri Schiavo

On Modesty 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Differing with Dulles 1 & 2 on pro-abort politicians

Mad About Manuals 1 & 2

Absinthe recherches early, required reading, 2, 3, 4.

First time at an abortuary

The Maundy

TPOTC impact & analysis and more

Contraception reflections 1, 2

Meiwes, propheta, übermensch

Headship Loggerheads 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5

Matrix: Revolutions

Matrix: Reloaded
1, 2 & 3

Terrorist Attack Preparations, and follow-ups 1 & 2 & 3


Casuistry of Drinking

Review of Auto Focus

Parish Review 1

The Power of Shame

Biblical Hermeneutics

Ayoob on Guns

Against the Ordination of Women

Two Cents on Braveheart


Thematic Meditations

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Any e-mail I receive is fair game for publication, with comments, unless you explicitly say so beforehand.

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One thing the Church could use is a robust, orthodox philosophy of gender difference. Karl's working on it over at Summa Contra Mundum. Get your dose of Contemptus Mundi. I await the results.

For my part, I'd throw in some Dietrich von Hildebrand and Edith Stein. And a dash of paprika.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/31/2002 09:53:00 AM | link

So where'd my archive go? I hit "republish all" on the archive screen, and all I get is a lousy "Error 203:no document element (server:disco)" Sheesh.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/31/2002 09:40:00 AM | link

Minute Particulars remarks I "might have been using a sledgehammer where a light tack hammer might have sufficed in his discussion of how our culture resists subordination and gender distinctions." I don't think my wife has stopped laughing at that one, since she's heard me (many a time) on a genuine rant. Sledgehammer? Moi? I've been moderate in everything I've posted so far.... Perhaps later tonight, after three glasses of whiskey and a run-in with something that pisses me off on the local news, I'll get out the sledgehammer. ;-)

And yes, the template is ugly. I embrace its wonderful ugliness (i.e., I made it myself). Perhaps I should spring for one of those artsy ones?

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/31/2002 09:28:00 AM | link

This man can outdrink Dionysos (I've seen it.) He's a classicist I knew in college with such superb instincts about the ancient world, I am still trying to forgive him for taking up the study of law, albeit Medieval legal history. He's got a blog. I expect great things.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/31/2002 09:11:00 AM | link

From the Old Oligarch mailbag. One reader writes:

I'm not a theologian, but as an historian who has written about 17th century France (when the problem of contrition before communion was of such pressing concern) I have read a little about the subject, as above. But I've remained somewhat confused. You state that Catholics have always been expected to confess before communicating.

The historians I have read (those who were also theologians) disagree. The citation below is my translation of a French work and somewhat equivocal. (I don't know whether this was my fault - I noted it some time ago.) At any rate, Braeckmans and others make it clear that confessional practice - esp. regarding penance - in the early Church differed markedly from post-Tridentine practices. Are you able to comment on this? I have no settled opinion: I'm simply looking for more information.

From L. Braeckmans, Confession et communion (1971):

p. 3. Braeckmans says that from the epoch of Saint Augustine, Christians were expected to confess mortal sins before communicating. But because they were admitted to penance only once in their lives, they tended to defer this sacrament until just before the moment of death. This did not prevent them from communicating in the meantime.

Recoiling against every academic instinct to refrain from guessing without doing a bunch more research, The Old Oligarch responds:

The answer to the question you raise involves quite a bit of history. If you want to dig more deeply into the particular history of the administration of the sacrament of penance, three books I've read recently may be helpful to you. They are: Walter Woods, Walking With Faith: New Perspectives on the Sources and Shaping of Catholic Moral Life; Jonsen & Toulmin, The Abuse of Casuistry, and Servais Pinckaers, Sources of Christian Ethics. They are useful in that order. Woods is a good, approachable walk-through of the history of the administration of penance, which better deals with the early church and gets a little overwhelmed in Medieval territory. It's not that theologically deep, but that's a good thing in this case. Jonsen & Toulmin cover the origins of a more complicated administration of penance. Pinckaers is just good theory. Now about your question:

The constant teaching of the Church has been that one cannot receive communion in the state of mortal sin, a teaching which is found preserved both in theology and liturgy. (The exchange "Lord I am not worthy / Happy are they who are called to His supper" immediately before communion is a toned-down instance of the deacon's old admonition to the people before the Eucharist that the unworthy ought not to receive. In some early liturgies with was a reminder that "Holy things are for the Holy" or a paraphase of "Do not give what is holy to dogs." This kind of thing goes back as far as we have documentation -- 3rd century or so.)

Because the administration of penance has varied and developed over the centuries, the implications for Christians changed over time. I can only sketch it here, so there will be glosses and points which really could use more detail, but I won't write a book when others have written about it at length.

In the early Church, questions about penance most often arose regarding what to do with people who violated the "big three:" murder, adultery, apostasy. These were the first to be associated with what you and I would call a "mortal" sin -- one which alienates you from God and the sacraments. Remember that the mortal-venial distinction is a later development, so when you ask your question about how "mortal sin" was handled in the early church, and whether someone in the state of mortal sin could commune, the category you seek to apply is anachronistic, which is probably the source of the confusion.

In the a case of the "big three," communion was definitely not permitted until full confession and satisfaction for the sin was made. Penitential practice was laborous, and could easily take more than a year, sometimes several. (Something to think about the next time you get "Five Our Fathers, and Five Hail Marys.") Penitents first had to display publicly their contrition, and were then only admitted to the parts of the liturgy that the catechumens could attend (i.e. they were dismissed before the Eucharist). After full satisfaction (=when they finished their penance), they were re-admitted to the community. The early rule seems to have been: You get one chance at reconciliation for a major sin. While this may seem harsh, the "one chance" position was actually the more moderate one. Fueled by interpretation of the passage about "He who sins against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven" certain elements in the early church believed that if you alienated the grace of the Holy Spirit given in the sacraments of initiation, then that was it, you were on your own. Others, reflected in documents like (I think) The Pastor of Hermes argue for one opportunity for contrition.

After the era of persecution of Christians, the question of penance became significantly more complicated because of the large number of "traditors" (=our modern word "traitor"), i.e. those who had betrayed the Church, or specifically, handed over the holy books or holy things to the authorities. Requirements for readmission became even more strict, often taking years. The exact criteria for apostasy had to be worked out, too. Woods speculates that this a "closing the wagons" approach, or perhaps it represents the lingering suspicion or hostility of those who remained firm in the faith towards those who were fair weather Christians returning after the storms of persecution had ended.

The upshot of all this is that by the 4th century, many people deemed it wiser not to blow their one chance at reconciliation with the church in their youth. (This is the same mentality which persists to this day in those who postpone baptism itself until they are on their deathbed.) As a result, in some churches, there were more people in the order of penitents than those who were fully admitted to the sacred mysteries. As far as I can tell from my (very) limited historical investigation of the matter, this would have become a more interesting long-term problem had not the Roman empire (a) accepted Christianity and then (b) collapsed, at which point the general social-political dynamics of Christianity radically changed. In any case, everything I've read has said that Christians in the order of penitents were not admitted to the sacred mysteries (=Eucharist) until after they completed their penance and were publically re-admitted, usually with fanfare at a major feast of initiation like Easter or Pentecost. So no, I don't think they were admitted to communion even in the early church, but at the same time, your author might be confusing the fact that they could attend the Mass with communion itself. Or, perhaps, he's thinking of sins which today we would call "mortal" (such as armed robbery) which back then may not have represented grounds for separation from the church community since the sin was not murder, adultery or apostasy. In those cases, I could imagine someone continuing to receive communion, but at the same time, wanting to make a pious general confession at the end of his life in the same way that anyone today wants to confess his sins before death or serious surgery, or in the same way that we all confess our sinfulness in the Confiteor at the beginning of the Sunday mass. My basic point is: the level of casuistry presumed by your question probably doesn't apply to pre-Augustinian, Mediterrean-centered Christianity.

Private auricular confession (like we have today) arose in Northern Europe (specifically Ireland, I believe) among the monastic communities during the Dark Ages. In this kind of scenario, the monastery or the feudal manor might house the only religious community for miles around. (Compared to the churches in cosmopolitan areas during the Roman Empire where large numbers of people regularly met for worship and could travel easily between cities.) Since the same occasion did not arise for public expression of penitence, the practice arose in which people would seek out the monastics to confess their sins, receive counseling and penance, and then later, be re-accepted back into the church community. In the mean time, the Church had developed a more sophisticated theory of human nature, free will and grace (in response to Pelagius, etc.) so that the one-shot-at-redemption view regarding the administration of penance was no longer current. It is here where we first see the careful delineation of the gravity of various kinds of sins, a development which continued gaining exactitude for centuries. By the time you get to the low Middle Ages (9th-10th cent.), there's a decent casuistry in place, and I think you can also observe at work the traditional principles about not receiving communion in a state of mortal sin before confession.

I'm shooting from the hip here, not having picked up a single book to answer your question, and trusting my admittedly faulty memory, so don't take it as something you can base academic research on. The aforementioned volumes will help alot however.



Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/31/2002 03:53:00 AM | link

Bringing back the neighborhood milkman, electronically.

The Peapod man just arrived. God I love the Internet: Point, click at groceries, and a nice, civilized man brings them right to your door. You don't even have to set foot in the store. It's easier than a list, and takes far less time than actually going there and hunting through the aisles. All for a $5 delivery fee, and your choice of whether or not to tip (I add another $5 for the guy). Well worth it.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/30/2002 11:30:00 AM | link

The Ordination of Women has been the topic of discussion last week on several blogs. The Axis of Eve (Tushnet) brought my attention to it, Fr. O'Neal apparently kicked it off, but Sursum Corda has the most commentary by far. I promised myself when I began to blog that blogging would complement my academic work and not become another massively time-consuming studious exercise. So despite every academic instinct in my brain, I'll fire off what I consider a short response. Short for me, viz. without footnotes, a table of contents and section dividers.

How to walk into this multi-faceted question and nest of arguments? Let me state the positive tradition first, then what the issue is not about, and finally, my own two cents.

The Tradition. We have to take a look at what's actually been taught before we do anything else. Few have mentioned much beyond the Holy Father's 1994 Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. Most note its brevity. It is brief because the issue has been addressed already by the ancient Church and once by the Vatican under Paul VI. Let's start at the beginning. I'll return to Ordinatio Sacerdotalis later.

Catholic Disorientation to the Tradition Part of the reason why Catholics have such a hard time responding to challenges about the ordination of women is precisely because theology about it has been dormant for 1,500 years. Nor was it massively developed at the time. We tend to have a keen theology on a matter (such justification by faith) only after a major, protracted controversy (the Reformation), although this is not always the case. Sometimes theology is driven by a positive cultural current, such as the early Eastern monastics' development of eschatology in their desire for mystical unity with the kingdom of heaven while here on earth. But more often, theology is spurred by questions and challenges arising from culture, academic or popular. This is natural, and happens in secular matters too. Many intelligent and otherwise right-minded individuals are left speechless, for example, when Peter Singer is able to publicly defend why it is OK to kill viable newborns, and is consequently given a chair in ethics at Princeton. Those unaware of the trends in the abortion and euthanasia debate are surprised to find this question even raised, and suffer a temporary bout of complete intellectual disorientation, often responding with an attitude of "Wait -- how did it come to this?" and "But...that's just wrong!" Neither is a laudable response, but it points to the fact that (a) much intellectual ground has already been seized by both sides of the issue, leaving the newcomer to navigate a mine field just to get oriented, and (b) the everyday life of the surprised individual has somehow been sheltered from the source of the controversy. Perhaps this was unintentional, or perhaps he chose to overlook it, hoping the incipient issues which eventually led to Peter Singer's support of the "abortion" of neonates would go away before it ever came to fruition. (To those reading this who support women's ordination: I am not comparing you to Peter Singer. I just wanted to pick an example that every Catholic -- from conservative to liberal -- would be familiar with, so everyone could identify with the same phenomenon of intellectual "disorientation.")

Why do I make these points? First, because I think as time goes on, reason will be illuminated by faith on this matter and there will be more and more salient theology on this topic. I do not think there will a theology that will satisfy everyone: there never is. An element of conversion is necessary in every theological issue.

Second, I think part of the reason why Catholics have been blind to this issue becoming a controversy is probably due to their own fault. Some have stuck their heads in the sand after the sexual revolution. Not wanting the label of anachronistic traditionalists, many have drawn the line at pre-marital sex and abortion, but accepted an otherwise accommodationist, tolerant view towards sexual behavior. Or they draw the line between social convention and "personal" religious observance. Thus, women in the workplace is simply accepted as part of "modernity" and homosexuality as a "private matter of conscience," although the Gospel has something to say about both. I make the point about women in the workplace and homosexuality not to muddy this issue with others, only to observe that Catholics -- compared to evangelicals, for instance -- have not given that much thought to squaring social mores with modern living after the 1950s. (Nor do I defend the 1950s as the bastion of normality. Maybe I'll blog about the 50s later). Now, let's get back to what is already given in tradition. In order to affirm, deny or understand anything, one must know what is there to be affirmed, denied or understood:

The Early Church The question of the ordination of women was addressed by the early church and definitively settled in favor of the ordination of men alone. I first encountered this issue when I was doing some reading of 2nd - 4th century liturgical documents in preparation for a course on liturgical history, documents such as the Didache, Apostolic Constitutions, Constitutions of Hippolytus, and Testamentum Domini.

Some argue that the Church's teaching on the ordination of women stems from a cultural bias against women in the early church. Yet the empirical evidence is to the contrary. The early church departs from both Greco-Roman and Jewish antecedents in many issues regarding women. Neither Jesus nor St. Paul balk at departing from several Mosaic customs, often to the astonishment of their contemporaries. The 1976 CDF document Inter Insigniores notes:

" For example, to the great astonishment of his own disciples Jesus converses publicly with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:27); he takes no notice of the state of legal impurity of the woman who had suffered from hemorrhages (Mt 9:20); he allows a sinful woman to approach him in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Lk 7:37); and by pardoning the woman taken in adultery, he means to show that one must not be more severe towards the fault of a woman than towards that of a man (Jn 8:11). He does not hesitate to depart from the Mosaic Law in order to affirm the equality of the rights and duties of men and women with regard to the marriage bond (Mk 10:2; Mt 19:3).

In his itinerant ministry Jesus was accompanied not only by the Twelve but also by a group of women (Lk 8:2). Contrary to the Jewish mentality, which did not accord great value to the testimony of women, as Jewish law attests, it was nevertheless women who were the fist to have the privilege of seeing the risen Lord, and it was they who were charged by Jesus to take the first paschal message to the Apostles themselves (Mt 28:7 ; Lk 24:9 ; Jn 20:11), in order to prepare the latter to become the official witnesses to the Resurrection."

St. Paul likewise departs from Judaic law on several counts. The reciprocity of marital rights in 1 Cor 7 is unprecedented in either Greco-Roman or Jewish law. The whole institution of religious virginity he recommends runs counter to the Jewish emphasis on family with which he would have been so familiar. St. Paul clearly involved women in the work of organizing local churches, in both practical efforts and in instructing others about the faith. Yet there is no mention of a woman assuming an office of priestly ministry. Inter Insigniores also notes that while the Holy Spirit descended on all those present in the upper room, a number which includes women, only Peter and the apostles undertake the work of proclamation of the Gospel. Prophecy and other spiritual gifts fall among women as well as men in Scripture and in the early Church, but the office of ruling and governing the church (episcopacy) and priestly sacrifice are apportioned only among men.

I won't even pretend to bring forth every possibly relevant Scriptural passage and evaluate it. The fact can be seen more generally: Christ and the apostles were unafraid to do many counter-cultural things, even things which ran against the grain of Jewish religious tradition at the time, and things which cost them disciples on a regular basis. Jesus did not flinch at losing a great many of His followers on the day he proclaimed: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man you shall not have life within you." (Jn 6:52)

The argument that the prohibition against the ordination of women occurred because of cultural bias stands on bad theological ground for a more general reason. It presumes that Christ is not the Lord of History, but rather that He is constrained in His teaching by social forces which are contrary to His intentions. This is a poor, deistic interpretation of divine Providence and a weak Christology. Christ is the Lord of History, and in His divinity knew everything about the age in which He chose to appear, deeming it "the fullness of time." We must have a similar faith that the Holy Spirit preserves the Church in matters of doctrine pertaining to faith and morals.

In addition to noting the counter-cultural teachings of the early church on the role of women, we must note that this particular issue actually did arise. Since gifts like prophecy and tongues were found among women, and women were very likely involved in care for the poor and other social labors, the question did come up: Can women participate in the ordained ministry? In the context of public worship, Paul writes to Timothy: "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man" (1 Tim 3:12), and "As in all the churches of the holy ones, women should keep silent in the churches, for they are not allowed to speak, but should be subordinate" (1 Cor. 14:33-34). The latter passage is even more striking since it is in the context of prophesy and teaching. Paul does not deny that women have gifts of the Holy Spirit, only that they should teach or officiate at church gatherings.

Gnostic and heretical sects frequently fell into the error of ordaining women during the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Tertullian and others note these occurrences, often citing Isaiah 3:12 in reproach: "Children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O My people, your leaders cause you to err, and they confuse (destroy and swallow up) the course of your paths." The practice is not approved by any orthodox patristic writer. Some Syrian churches experimented with the practice of ordaining women, and the experiment was condemned several times by both local and ecumenical councils. Much more frequently, the question about the ordination of women arose not about the priesthood, but the diaconate. The most famous article of condemnation is the 19th canon of the Council of Nicea against deaconess. There are also the condemnations of the western councils of Nismes and Orange (411). Pretty much after the 4th century, it is a dead issue, and has remained so until the sexual revolution.

Some misguided or duplicitous people attempt to string together a pseudo-tradition by citing the precedents found in these heretical sects, the condemned actions of scattered churches, and certain ambiguous references in early church documents. This is simply bad theological method and a poor understanding of precedent. No one argues birth control is OK because the Cathars did it, or that Arianism might still be a standing option because many churches affirmed the belief, including, at one point, a patriarch of Constantinople.

Regarding the ambiguous passages, there are references to "deaconesses" in some early church documents which are considered orthodox theological sources. The most famous is the 4th century Apostolic Constitutions, Book 8:19-20. The deaconess has a clearly defined liturgical role, most notably in the sacraments of initiation. Yet the apportionment of a liturgical role does not equal an ordained ministry. Widows, for example, are given a liturgical role in the same text, as well as virgins.

The deaconess was used in situations where male-female contact would have been inappropriate. Recall that in the early church, baptism involved a full anointing (head, shoulders, chest) and full immersion in water. You also went in naked, just as you enter and leave this world without clothes. (Baptism represents death to sin when you are underwater, and rebirth into new life when you emerge.) Because it was inappropriate for a male minister to give a naked woman a good rubbing with oil, the deaconess did it, and she accompanied the woman into the baptismal pool and assisted her while she was immersed. But it is equally clear from the same text that women do not perform the baptism since Ap. Const. 3:9 says women do not baptize in the liturgy. Moreover, the council of Nicea was aware of this document and clarified that deaconesses do not receive orders. I believe the Synod of Trullo also affirmed this as well in 692, but I don't have the text handy.

It is easy to see how the issue may have been somewhat ambiguous when the early church was forming its institutions, but in retrospect it is also clear that we have all sorts of consecrated life and liturgical positions which do not involve Holy Orders. Virgins are consecrated to the religious life, but do not receive orders; so too religious brothers. To re-muddy the issue is to intentionally blur a synthesis settled since the 5th century. Further ambiguities are also stirred up from much less substantial evidence, such as the practice of calling the wife of a priest or bishop by the female form of the Greek name presbyteros or episcopos, while there is no evidence that the woman did anything more than serve as the wife of the churchman. So too since presbyteros can mean "elder," old women, viz. widows, were sometimes called by the feminine form of the same Greek term. Eve Tushnet tells me that orthodox Jews have a similar designation for the wife of the Rabbi, essentially calling her the Jewish word for "Rabbess" while it is perfectly clear they do not permit women to assume rabbinical office.

In short, there is sufficient evidence in the early Church that the issue was well hashed out, and definitively settled against the ordination of women. Several councils ruled on it, many orthodox fathers condemned it, and more over, it quickly became the universally unquestioned practice of the church for well over a millennium.

The question receives relatively little attention from St. Thomas Aquinas, for instance. The Supplement to the Summa Theologiae, Question 39, Article 2 adverts to it only briefly to say that the ordination of women is not only illicit (contrary to church law) but invalid (without effect) if it is attempted. He notes that this judgment has nothing to do with a woman's capacity for holiness or for gifts of the Holy Spirit. He cites 1 Timothy 2:12 and alludes to 1 Cor. 14:34, clarifies the ambiguous wording of certain early documents about "deaconesses" and "priestesses" in the way I've explained above, and then moves on.

Recent Church Teaching. One reason why John Paul II's Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is so short is because he believes the question has already been definitively settled by the constant practice of the church, which is what he means by the "ordinary universal magisterium."

Another reason why the letter is so short is because Paul VI already ruled on it when he was prompted by the Anglican ordination of woman to condemn the practice as an obstacle to possible reunification. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued Inter Insigniores to address this topic in 1976.

While short on content, John Paul II does make an important contribution to the debate by virtue of his authority -- for those that have ears to hear. The conclusion of the apostolic letter is the most important part:

"Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."

For those who are familiar with ecclesiastical style, it is clear from the wording of the conclusion that the pope wishes to make a permanent and irreversible declaration. The concluding paragraph establishes that the matter at hand meets the criterion for definitive teaching: (1) It concerns a matter essential to faith and morals, (2) It is given by virtue of his ministry of confirming the brethren, a text cited with regard to the pope's status as head of the college of bishops and his ultimate authority over the whole church, and (3) He intends to make a definitive judgment which closes the matter for any Catholic of good conscience.

There are three grades of church teaching, distinguished by the response given to each. This document requires more than the religiosum obsequium ("religious respect") which is accorded important statements that nonetheless hold forth the possibility of legitimate private dissent. On the contrary, it requires the firm religious assent (de fide tenenda), a decision which is binding on the conscience of all Catholics. To renounce it implies cutting oneself off from the Church.

Liberal theologians expressed great concern when the apostolic letter came out. The strong wording of the language is highly suggestive of a declaration invoking papal infallibility. The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith was asked to respond, and did so just one year after the definition, which is swift by Church standards. In their brief Responsum ad Dubium," it was asked: " Whether the teaching that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women, which is presented in the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis to be held definitively, is to be understood as belonging to the deposit of faith." The CDF responded:

"Responsum: In the affirmative. This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium 25, 2). Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith."

It is clear that the pope believes his declaration regards an infallible teaching. The only reason he did not invoke his own infallible magisterial authority in the declaration is because he believes the issue is already well enough attested by the ordinary universal magisterium of the Church. To further underscore the weight of the CDF commentary, the longer, more solemn form of the conclusion is used, indicating JPII's explicit endorsement of the judgment of the Congregation: "The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, approved this Reply, adopted in the ordinary session of this Congregation, and ordered it to be published."

So that's a quick overview of the positive content of the tradition of reserving priesthood to men alone. Now:

What it is NOT:

1. The Church's position does not imply that women are less holy than men. The point of religious life is not who gets to "run things", but rather, who runs to God. And the answer is clear: everyone can. Salvation and grace do not fall exclusively or even predominantly in one type of life or vocation per se. You don't have a smaller chance of salvation outside of the ordained ministry. You do have a smaller chance of salvation if you consciously pursue a life contrary to your calling, however. This applies both ways: to those suited for religious life who chose marriage instead, and those suited for marriage who chose religious life instead. Each risks his salvation by his impertinence. There are many gifts and the same Holy Spirit, many vocations and one goal: unity with God. Each is necessary in the Body of Christ. God in his Providence calls each of us to our particular vocations. To spite the Head of the Body because you are a liver, or an arm, or a toe is to harm oneself and the entire Church.

Moreover, the Church has openly declared for centuries the greatness of women saints. It is Mary, after all, who is called "our nature's solitary boast" and the greatest of all saints, most responsive to and most full of God's grace. Where would the Church be without Saints like Catherine of Sienna, Joan of Arc, Mother Theresa, Therese of Lisieux, Elizabeth Ann Seton and countless others? What models of the virtues of femininity in all of its forms!

2. The Church does not have the freedom to change its position. Some people approach the issue of women's ordination as something the church will or will not "let women do." A sincere example of this misunderstanding is implicit in one of the posts from Sursum Corda, about the man's young daughter:

"Although we will raise her as a Catholic and to revere the Mass and what it represents, she will never be allowed to preside at it."

The Church does not chose or "make up" the spiritual powers which it safeguards and distributes. The Church receives all of its sacramental powers through Christ, who established a covenant with the Church. Neither the Church as a whole nor the individual minister has anything by his own power. The Church only has that which has been entrusted to it by Christ. Sacramental power derives from Christ's assurance that if the Church does X, Christ will provide the corresponding grace Y. The old Baltimore catechism defines a sacrament as an outward sign instituted by Christ to confer grace. The actions which the Church performs (the outward signs) would have no effect in themselves (they would not confer grace) without the prior will of Christ. When the Church teaches about the sacraments and how they work, it is simply elaborating the conditions its knows about wherein Christ has assured us He will give His grace.

So the Church judges whether it has the power to confer ordination upon women, not whether it wants to. It doesn't own the sacraments, it didn't make them, and so it can't change them. The Church can only look at what has been handed down to it from the teaching and practice of the apostles. In this case, it has concluded that it simply does not have the power to perform ordination upon women. The action would simply not be effective. To decide to do otherwise would be a sham, an empty gesture. (If you're going to be mad, be mad at God. Instead, I recommend learning from the experience. Vocations are not easy things.) That's the same reason why you can't baptize your dog. It doesn't work, because Christ didn't intend it. Could God deign to allow dogs into heaven once baptized? Of course. He saves our mortal soul and removes our spiritual blindness; He could do the same for a dog's soul. Some might find the dog analogy demeaning, which is not my intention. For a longer example, see the next paragraph, otherwise skip it.

The Eucharist makes another example. To receive the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin is a sacrilege. To partake of it without recognizing the Body and Blood of Christ is "to eat and drink one's condemnation" as St. Paul says. So the Eucharist confers a certain type of grace on those who are not spiritually estranged from God by mortal sin. Confession, on the other hand, restores fallen away sinners. The Church administers both sacraments under certain conditions which must be met both by the minister (the liturgical elements of the sacrament) and the recipient (his actions, and his internal spiritual disposition). Now as many Catholics know, it can sometimes be a chore to go to confession before communion, especially if confession is available once a week during a forty-five minute window of time at a church twenty miles away. The result is you don't receive as often. Wouldn't it be much easier if the Church decided that after next Easter, it would present a new Eucharist to the faithful -- one which both affected the remission of mortal sin and confered the graces of the "traditional" eucharist? What would be the matter with that? And think of the ways it would help people. Of course, in this example, most would respond: But the Eucharist doesn't do that. Christ intended it to be a proleptic participation in the heavenly banquet, and not the means by which we are washed clean of sin. It is meant to strengthen the spiritual body, rather than purge it of dross. Even if the hierachy wanted to add the graces of the sacrament of reconciliation to the sacrament of the Eucharist, it couldn't. So too with women's ordination.

Some people seem to think of the hierarchy like a federal government, and sacramental grace like a budget. They become angry because the "higher-ups" did not deign to distribute something equally to their particular class or station in life. The consequences of this view, if taken seriously, lead to real spiritual bankruptcy. If you're thinking like this, it should serve as a warning sign. Such a mindset ultimately implies that the Church is just really one big noble lie, a big social approval game, where grace is the political currency, and aspiring members must court members of the "in club" who jealously guard decisions about "who's in" and what they have to do to earn this privilege.

3. But many women say they feel called to the priesthood. All vocations involve a reciprocity. There is the called person, and that to which he or she is called. Discernment of one's proper calling can be hard enough, but that call must be validated by the community. You need both halves of the equation to have a valid vocation. This happens with men and the priesthood all the time. A friend of mine once believed he had a sincere calling to join a very strict religious order, the Legionaries of Christ. He stayed there for a year, and liked it. They, however, did not believe he was called to join them, and sent him home. He was despondent initially, but now he knows it wasn't for him. The lives of saints attest many men who were turned away from the priesthood to find their true vocation.

There is an analogy with marriage. Suppose there is a man who feels called to marry a certain woman. If she does not feel called to accept him, there are no grounds on which he can claim her hand in marriage. The call must be reciprocated. There is no right to ordination. So too with the religious life of sisters and brothers, who are not ordained. They must feel called to a community and the community must reciprocate and authenticate that call. If one or the other doesn't agree during the discernment, then there is no vocation. The lives of saints are filled with dozens of instances where a woman renounces a man's call for marriage to live the religious life. While she frustrates the man, no doubt, she does God's will.

By the same token, when the Church tells women that their call to serve the Church does not match with the vocational life of the priesthood, that message must be taken seriously. Frustration may follow, but so might discernment. Such a rejection is often an invitation to ponder more precisely the nature of the call.

I can speak to this from personal experience. When I was growing up, I always had great admiration for the priesthood. I was an altar boy from the 5th grade until I left home for college. I knew many priests and religious. I always displayed a concern for religious life and a love for the Church, even during my "wandering years" of adolescence, when I was content to have the Church stay in the background of my life. Not a few priests and parishioners invited me to consider seminary. As I returned to taking Catholicism seriously during college, I perceived the acute need of the Church for good priests. I knew that the studies would not be an obstacle. I didn't mind the thought of living a celibate life with only the company of other men. I thought it was a great honor to offer the Mass, and I esteemed the many sacrifices the priest makes in big and small ways. I had a good friendship with an excellent Dominican friar and knew his community. I went to several evenings of recollection and discernment. I talked to a vocational advisor for my diocese, I met the bishop, and I stayed for a short time at a retreat at the seminary. I was intensely conflicted, for I could see all the objective ways in which the Church needed good priests, and I knew I met all the formal criteria. But whenever I decided, in a somewhat abstract and rational way, that it must be time to take the next step and join the novitiate, a small, quiet voice in my head said: "Wait." It wasn't anxiety, although I wondered sometimes whether it was. At one point, after vacillating several times on the matter, I decided simply to stop dating and let the rest of my senior year go by. One evening in prayer, I told God: "I'm just going to stop dating now. If when I finish college, I'm going to enter seminary, whether I feel "right" about it or not. If you want to send me a sign, you're going to have to do it, and I'll just wait." I met my wife shortly thereafter.

Yet what I thought was a call to the priesthood still confused me, even after I began to consider getting engaged. It took me a while to figure out that I was called to be a lay theologian, and that is what I am today. (I never, by the way, felt called to serve as a married priest. It always sounded like the worst of both worlds to me. I can explain that later, if anyone's curious.)

If one's vocation came down with a trumpet blast, written out plainly on a banner supported by two cherubim, it would be a lot easier. What happens in real life, though, is a much more ambiguous process. I was called to serve the Church, but as a theologian. In an age where the Church sorely needs priests, there are many smart, compassionate, or spiritual people out there who feel called to serve the Church, and therefore assume that it must be as a priest. Discernment is a hard process, and it's even more tricky precisely because it's a two-way street, just like in marriage. I can tell you from my experience in my doctoral program, there are many, many men who are married, lay theologians who went through precisely the same years of confusion about their calling as I did. My advisor spent six years in seminary and called it off shortly before his deaconal ordination. He's now an excellent family man and a much needed theologian in my department. If you are a woman and feel called to the priesthood, don't interpret the fact that the priesthood isn't calling you as a sign that the Church isn't calling you. It very well might be -- as a wife, as a counselor, as a religious sister. There is no reason to consider these vocations second-rate.

So What About the Theology of the Male Priesthood?

I began by stating that I believe the theology is poorly developed, which is natural given the fact that the issue was resolved without much controversy in the early church and it hasn't been a question for over 1,500 years. While this is not an ideal state of affairs for Catholics who are troubled by this issue, it should not cause despair. Judgment about doctrine often precedes full explanation.

History shows this best. Christology was a mess during the period after the Nicea, but before the further definitions of Constantinople and Ephesus. The fact that there were three councils called on the same Christological issue within a short time means the Church was in quite a stir about the correct way to conceive of Christ, and consequently, how to worship Him and honor His mother, Mary. Fights broke out in the streets about whether Nestorius was right or whether Mary could be called "The Mother of God." If you read the literature from the period, you will see a whole host of partially-assembled arguments. If you read the manual theology written several hundred years later, everything is neatly sorted out, organized and packaged for easy consumption. It makes one wonder why they ever fought at all. This impression is especially true in this day and age, where we don't have a sophisticated metaphysics of the immaterial world, like the Greeks did, and when we aren't terribly concerned with the immanent Trinity or the nature of Christ's divinity. Instead, we concentrate on salvation history and Christ's humanity more these days. Culture influences our concerns, while history often sifts the best arguments out of the welter of yesteryear's disagreements.

If you're getting edgy that the Church hasn't brought out a good theology of male ordination yet, imagine how you would explain the Eucharist before the language of transubstantiation! Or better yet, don't use Greek terms at all. Explain it as a Jew, since all the apostles were Jews, not Greeks. (I've actually done this in a paper recently...) A Jewish explanation of the Eucharist might seem alarmingly tentative and dangerously far away from the safe, concise metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas, but the Eucharist was first understood through Jewish liturgical categories and only later metaphysics. Yet it was believed by many, many faithful Catholics long before Thomas. A metaphysics of the Eucharist only became an issue with Berengarius of Tours in the 11th century, and later, in the Reformation.

Catholics with a rationalist disposition tend to assume that if some holdover from the past doesn't make sense, then it should be reformed in accordance with modern understanding. The opposite is quite often the case. Tradition often preserves something as a practice long after sophisticated explanations for it pass away because they are neglected or unneeded. Anyone who studies liturgical history will become convinced of this quickly. Modern theologians, for example, think they are being quite modern when they stress Christ's real presence not only in the Eucharist, but in the community and in the Word, a three-fold form of presence of the Body of Christ. Yet I recently pointed out to Eve that this is preserved in the liturgy by the exchange "The Lord be with you / And with thy spirit" and the use of incense once at the beginning of Mass, again before the Gospel, and again before the Eucharistic preface is said. Of course the liturgical gestures are as old as the hills, and it was probably responsible for the recovery of this idea. There are lots of other examples of this happening, but I've gone on long enough. Ok, one more: Pius XI knew that the doctrine of Christ's Kingship over hearts, minds and wills, as well as over Church andstates would be long forgotten if preserved only in his 1925 Encyclical Quas Primas. So he instituted the Feast of Christ the King on the last Sunday of the liturgical calendar, which reminds us of this fact every year.

The same is true for very many items in theology. Lex orandi, lex credendi is the old maxim: the rule of prayer is the rule of belief. The Christological and Mariological problems often involved liturgical observations. In fact, the doctrine of Mary's Immaculate Conception has such profoundly liturgical and monastic influences, it makes many moderns very edgy. They want syllogisms and language about cause and effect. Perhaps that emerges later, but theological understanding rarely begins that way. I believe the same is true with the theology of the priesthood regarding the ordination of men alone. The Church has begun by clarifying what has been passed down in the apostolic tradition, just as Nicea, or Trent, or Vatican II laid down definitions, and whole hosts of theologies grew up later.

So what might such a theology look like? My wife cautions me whenever I wander into this area precisely because many first attempts at a theology of this issue seem like defenses or proofs, when they are not. As a result, readers of the "proof" presume it falls short and so the doctrine should be abandoned. I've already explained why this is putting the cart before the horse. There can be, strictly speaking, no proof of why God reserves ordination to men alone! Just like there can be no proof of why God must have chosen the Eucharist and Baptism as the ways of initiation into Catholic life, or why we receive the Eucharist many times, and Baptism just once, etc. Because sacramental grace is God's free gift to us in history, there is no way to provide a "rational justification" for it. God could have easily done otherwise, but didn't. What one can do, however, is show how the mysteries of faith have an interconnectedness to them, or how faith can enlighten other areas of our understanding.

And so, dear reader, I'll leave you with two things that blind us to understanding the male priesthood, and few suggestions to meditate on.

(a) Our Loathing of Gender Difference. Catholics have a hard time understanding the ordination of men alone precisely because any theology or philosophy about gender roles in the past 50 years is dead, dead, dead as a doornail. If we can recover from the massive movement which insists that women are exactly the same as men, then we might have some insight into resonances between being a man and being a priest. But until we can articulate why women shouldn't go into combat, box men, or leave their children at daycare to find fulfillment in their career, I bet we're not going to get any further in understanding the discord between femininity the priesthood.

The male priesthood, like Ephesians 5, calls to us to reform our views on gender. For that reason alone, it should be approached humbly. When in the practice of our faith we find that our actions out of sync with our culture, that is a call for humility and self-scrutiny, not self-righteousness. In the aforementioned question from the Summa, Thomas simply quoted Paul's prohibition against women preaching and added "because the woman is subordinate to the man." When we stop recoiling in horror at what this might mean, and take it with docility and seriousness, then maybe we can think about gender and the priesthood. The evangelical protestants take a theology of gender very seriously, but unfortunately, they have such a low theology of ministry they don't have anything to lend to us, beyond the general point: Gender difference does not mean gender inequalty.

(b) Our Dislike of Obedience. Liberals and especially liberal women recoil at Biblical notions like "wives be obedient to your husbands" (Ephesians 5). They have no fruitful way to think about obedience, and so they especially dislike an ecclesiology in which women will be subordinate to men, since men are the ordained ministers. We prefer "equal representation" (obedience to the general will) rather than obedience to an authoritative hierarchy. Yet the very nature of religious life is centered around obedience! Priests and bishops, sisters and monks are all called to embrace obedience as a virtue and as an act of faith in divine Providence, even when the decisions of a superior are objectively poor. If one cannot accept the notion of obedience of wife to husband in the family, or of layman to priest in the Church, then it is natural that the same person would resent the fact that women are in some way subordinate to the male ordained ministers in the Church. Our whole culture resists the notion of class and subordination. Yet that notion, to me at least, is in conflict with certain messages in the Gospel and in Church tradition. Perhaps people would not feel the male priesthood is an "injustice" if they had a different view about obedience.

Points of departure:

I'm going to save these for later, since it is 5:30 in the morning, my back is killing me, and it's time to go to bed. Adieu!

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/30/2002 05:19:00 AM | link

In one of those real-time, audio-visual blogs we call conversation, Eve Tushnet has persuaded me that I was presumptuous (moi?) in assuming that erstwhile intern Chandra Levy must have been trying to advance herself politically by getting into a sexual affair with alleged pervert Condit. Softie that I am, I retract my remark that scheming has led to her demise. It may have, but yes Eve, I haven't the slightest scrap of evidence that she wasn't a starry-eyed girl come to Washington and beguiled by older, perverted Congressmen.

Since the Jewishness of the late Miss Levy was also causing no end of reader confusion, I've removed that too. Pro-semitically yours, O.O.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/24/2002 12:27:00 AM | link

Quote of the moment: Transcendental slumming with Lonergan:

"The better educated become a class closed in upon themselves with no task proportionate to their training. They become effete. The less educated and the uneducated find themselves with a tradition that is beyond their means. They cannot maintain it. They lack the genius to transform it into some simpler vital and intelligble whole. It degenerates. The meaning and values of human living are impoverished. The will to achieve both slackens and narrows. Where once there were joys and sorrows, now there are just pleasures and pains. The culture has become a slum." (Method in Theology, 99)

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/23/2002 04:31:00 AM | link

Most of the Chandra Levy publicity originates from the fact that it involves a corrupt, horny politician (why that shocks the media time and again, I don't know). But the other part is that she comes from a well-to-do echelon in society, in which both her ethnicity and employment are a factor. When the little rich Jewish girl gets burned by playing with the dangerously corrupt Representative, it's a national news story. When the poor Hispanic girl gets bumped off when she has an affair with a middle-class black man, it's written off as a ghetto statistic. Whether that means we should pay less attention to Chandra (my vote), or more attention to equally awful cases of urban crime is up to you. Either way, the way the media handles these situations reveals presuppositions that shouldn't sit well with their ambient liberalism.

I do, however, have my doubts about these voluptuous young interns who ingratiate themselves to Presidents and Congressmen. If "scheming" and "adulterous" don't describe the hubris that led to Levy's demise, what does? And if there's a moral to this story, why is no one willing to moralize about it?

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/23/2002 04:11:00 AM | link

Yes, dear reader, the Old Oligarch is watching the tube today. A rare indulgence in a ubiquitous vice. (I usually identify with the "Kill Your Television" crowd, but for non-Marxist reasons.) So I turn it on and there's Celebrity Boxing, pitting Joey Buttafuco against Jodie Lauer (China from the WWF). Repeat: A man fighting a woman.

I've always considered boxing a savage sport. But the coeducation of boxing, like that of any other sport, is another victory of gender-equality feminism that will ultimately hurt women. Tell me that a nationally broadcast image of a burly Italian man hitting a woman in the face, chest and neck, intentionally trying to hurt her, isn't going to subtly encourage wife beating in some portion of the population. And for what benefit?

When will the feminist co-educators of sport realize that so many of traditional male social behaviors are structured to remind a man constantly to check himself, to be deferent and considerate -- for the simple reason that men are by nature much more prone to being violent and callous. In every situation in which he might have a brutish advantage due to physical strength or emotional callousness, traditional male social behaviors are designed to form habits that make him rely on reason and tact rather than passion or brute physical superiority. They remind him to use his natural advantages in service to others, rather than simply for his own advantage. They're designed for the benefit of women, and the cultivation of a more intellectual and emotionally developed man.

That goes for something as simple as holding a door for a woman. Obviously she can get it herself. Facilitating her passage into and out of places is not designed to reinforce an image of the woman as "dainty." It is designed to remind the man to use his strength in service to others, rather than going through the door himself and letting everyone fend for themselves. Similarly for walking on the car side of the curb, or lending one's coat, etc.

This is even more true of the age-old tradition of never, ever hitting a woman with closed fist, even if she hits you first. Men are great objectifiers. They much more readily fall into a mode of thinking which doesn't empathize. That's why they're more suited to certain professions (soldier, doctor, judge) which require that kind of mental compartmentalization. That's also the origin of a good, fierce competitiveness necessary for sports. Lust and anger are two great catalysts for objectifying the other person. The social tradition of never hitting a woman is designed to stand as a check against the male proclivity to let anger boil over into violence, and situations of frustration and anger are common (in this fallen world) in the emotionally complicated relationship between a man and a woman. Add to that the fact that much more often than not, the woman is the weaker party. Add to that, regardless of her physical strength, she's usually more psychologically affected by a physical assault. (When two men need to "settle things," both realize that there needs to be some cathartic outlet, and after a small fistfight, it's not uncommon to see the two drinking together a little later nursing their wounds. No real emotional damage is done, nor does it matter to them. This would never be so with a woman, since women tend to interpret physical actions emotionally, and when they're mad, they go for the heart much sooner than the chin.) For all these reasons -- the proclivity to violence, objectification, and callousness -- men are taught not to hit a woman with a closed fist, and only a slap if ever necessary. That is, until some great suffragette for equal-opportunity beatings arises.

Celebrity boxing's attempt to try to establish gender-equality by having a male and female fighter in the ring with each other misses the point. Equality in human relationships is founded on a regard for the other person as a person. Opposing men and women in sporting situations only increases objectification, while simultaneously taking away a long-standing check on violence against women. It's the same way with the modern trend in which women, empowered by faulty, cancer-causing birth control, try to be "equal" to men by showing they can imitate men's slavish capacity for lust. It's a certain kind of equality, yes. Both parties now view each other in terms of mutual gratification. But it hurts the woman more, while dehumanizing both.

Who won the match? I don't know. It nauseated me, so I turned it off. It doesn't really matter who won. If the woman won, the women would miss the point. "Ooh, look, she beat up the man" and they would consider it a victory for feminism. One wonders if they would be as enthusiastic in a match where the woman's face gets pounded black and blue like Rocky's and she creeps off with a broken rib. In fact, the woman had much more headgear on for precisely that reason -- people know that the face represents our capacity to recognize the human in one another, and no one wants to see a bleeding, defeated woman, not even the feminists. Which is the point. Before this nonsense, you were better off. Of course Buttafuco is no better. He's snyde remark at the beginning of the match was something along the lines of "This match will send her right back to the kitchen to make cookies." Woman as appliance. Nice going. Another case of machismo fueling feminism, or ignorance provoking ignorance.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/22/2002 10:31:00 PM | link

Some man walking a dog and looking for turtles in Rockcreek Park came across Chandra Levy today. So much for the DC police's "thorough sweep" of the park area a year ago. Before she was positively identified, one former officer cautioned a news reporter not to jump to conclusions, saying, "You know, a lot of unidentified bodies pop up in DC all the time."

Which brings me to my next point: The wildly inordinate amount of national media attention paid to the abduction of this adulterous girl simply because (a) she's white, affluent, from Dupont circle etc. and (b) she was screwing some Representive. Two weeks after Levy disappeared, some 7 year old black kid was snatched off his front porch and never seen again, with not much more than one 2-minute report on the local DC news. How many people are abducted from the District every year, but are not deemed worthy enough for a media fracas? What are the criteria to get into this club? It's sickening if you work out the presuppositions behind their mentality.

Now there's a bunch of reporters in front of the Levy home, asking stupid questions like "How are the Levys taking it?" Other "friends of the family" are making stupid replies such as "They were holding out hope" (um, it's been over a year...unless she's a Marine, I doubt she's coming back) and "Death is always so final." I'd watch something else, but it's on about 8 major networks right now...

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/22/2002 06:21:00 PM | link

Every once in a while, we get a nut running around in the apartment building. A few weeks ago, on a floor below us, some drunk or drugged Hispanic man was running around at 4:30 in the morning pounding on apartment doors, screaming, and generally scaring the hell out of some of the residents. One poor soul, clearly not acclimated to the joys of urban living, called 911. The dispatcher informed the resident that because the man was safely locked outside his apartment, it was not an emergency.

The resident then called 311, the police non-emergency number. When the resident explained there was an unstable man angrily banging on the door, the dispatcher told him to open the door and see what the man wanted! The resident gave up, hunkered in for the duration, and eventually the crazy man went away. Needless to say, the next morning, the Property Manager had a few people at his desk. Being an obliging manager, he called the DC police. Two officers came, heard the residents' story, and told them (a) there was nothing they could do since there was nothing going on right now and the man was long gone, and (b) they have nothing to do with the 911 service, so they really couldn't register a complaint about what had happened the previous evening. Moral of the story: Unless you say "He's got a gun" the police aren't coming.

Our property manager works hard, and wasn't satisfied with the fact our resident had been dismissed by three branches of the police force so far. So he called up the policewoman in charge of our district and relayed the whole debacle. The policewoman informed our manager that he and the angry resident could testify at a forthcoming hearing about police responsiveness, which would be attended by several DC government representatives and the police chief himself. This was a surprisingly quick and positive turn of affairs. So they both went and gave their reports about what had happened. They were assured that their complaint would be addressed.

Sounds like a happy ending, no? Well, sort of. A few weeks later, the 911 dispatch office which fielded the call apparently got reprimanded. Later that week, however, the resident who testified started to get hang-up calls late at night. At first he thinks nothing about it. When it became annoying, he looked on the caller ID. The number had come through from the previous hang-up call, so he called it back. Sure enough: Ring...ring....ring..."Police Dispatch." So the resident asks the dispatcher why they are now prank-calling him at his home. The sloping-brow dispatcher was at first startled that the resident was able to call him back (apparently he hadn't thought about caller ID). Once he figured this out, he went ballistic, yelling at the resident along the lines of "You're the son-of-a-bitch who testified at the meeting...How dare you get us all in trouble!" Astounded, the guy just hung up.

So now, God forbid any serious emergency befall this young man who bothered to try to fix the system. Not only is 911 unresponsive, it's actively involved in retaliation against this man. (See my remark about ignorance reinforced with pride below.) And of course, in DC, you can't own a gun. So when you're alone with the psychopath outside your door, grab the butter knife. Granted, the nutcase who ran around our building the other night wasn't a serious threat. But there's really no way to know that in advance. Before calling to see if the DC police are in the mood to wander over and investigate whether the kook banging and screaming at my door is out to kill me, I'd sooner call my friends Smith & Wesson, or preferably, my German buddy, Gaston Glock 19.

That is, unless any of the gun-"control" soccer moms want to see what the crazy man wants at 4:30 in the morning?

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/21/2002 02:52:00 PM | link

In the midst of reporting on new Anthrax warnings (at the World Bank) and the recently-released FBI advisory that terrorists may be planning to blow up high-rises, Fox 5 News had a charming reassurance that one thing won't change in the good old District of Columbia: routine incompetance.

It seems that between 1988 and 1998, the District DMV collected $17.8 million in mistaken traffic ticket fines. When interviewed about the 1998 report that brought this fact to light, the new traffic czarina, who assumed office in 1999, said she "hadn't been made aware" of the $17.8M oversight. (DC residents know the usual process of making a bureaucrat "aware" of something is to mount the fact on a 2-by-4, then smack the fact into the bureaucrat's head.) Of course she said this with an air of perfect confidence and pride, the two skills modernity insists we instill in anyone regardless of how disgraceful or incompetant he is. I could do an entire blog on times when pride and ignorance team up to make an invincible duo in the District.

When asked about the $868,000 of erroneous fines processed from 1998 to 2001, they were "working on it." Fox 5 included a completely unnecessary observation about what one woman had to do to get a $105 fine removed: six months of effort involving numerous phone calls, often starting from square one with whomever answered the phone. When asked if the DMV had any organized system to track and respond to complaints, the czarina calmly responded, "No." (At least she was honest.) She did mention you could write a letter. She didn't volunteer to show Fox 5 the giant DMV trashcan into which these letters go. Nor did she mention the fact that unless it is written in pictographs or as a rap song, the person who opens your letter is not likely to understand it.

Now before any of you think I'm being unnecessarily harsh, I've got another fun DC incompetance horror story coming up in just a minute.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/21/2002 02:00:00 PM | link

"How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, 'Your God reigns!'" (Isaiah 52:7)

The Words of the Prophet Isaiah are fulfilled today. Just as the Feast of Pentecost celebrates the completion of the grain harvest, so today we reap the fruit of the Resurrection in the Fire of the Holy Spirit.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/19/2002 10:47:00 PM | link

Mr. De Feo expressed doubt about whether I could have a bowflex and a Herman Miller Aeron chair and still be a curmudgeon. The answer's simple: the Aeron chair prevents my decline into carping (due to back pain) and will allow me to sit and blog in curmudgeonly fashion for longer. The Bowflex helps me to bludgeon those who dislike a curmudgeon. (Sorry) Old & Oligarchical, yes; Luddite, no. In fact, many of the best ancient Greeks were technocrats. They never cease to amaze me. I recently saw a show on the Antikythera device, a 1st century BC analog computer. If 1st century BC Athenians can have an analog computer, an Old Oligarch can have his aforementioned gym and chair.

Also, Joe, I'd be careful about the demands for satisfaction. Not because Shamed is a good shot, but for more serious reasons. If he takes you up on it, you may both get excommunicated, unless the latae sententiae penalty for dueling has been abrogated since Leo XIII. Why not a non-excommunicable duel of whiskey, which has yet to be outlawed by the Holy See?

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/17/2002 07:47:00 PM | link

Hurray. I can circumambulate again today. Today's the last day before grades must go in, so I won't spend long, but I have to weigh in on the Braveheart debate on Eve's blog.

Regarding "sentiment." First, there's a difference between sentiment, and sentimentalism. Our modern culture tends to enshrine sentimentalism as a way of recognizing the human dignity of the other person. A mutual exchange of concern about one another's feelings is considered de rigeur for an authentically human social interaction these days. What crap. This used to be the role of reason! Nationalist sentimentalism is often a vehicle for propaganda, since it has potentially universal appeal (like reason) but is sub-rational, and thus easier to do. It elicits loyalty by exploiting truth.

Sentiment is different. Some level of sentiment is vital to a properly functioning soul. It's the "spirited part" of Plato's tripartite division, the purpose of which is illustrated in C. S. Lewis' Abolition of Man, which addresses the diminishment of sentiment in modern life. Thinking of WWII, Lewis remarks something along these lines, "Syllogisms do not keep a man by his post during the third hour of bombardment."

That said, Braveheart is loaded with sentiment from its very title onward. Most of it is aimed at men, which may be why Miss Tushnet finds it somewhat campy. (Women are such emotionally complicated creatures -- who can ever write to satisfy them?) I too have witnessed the guy-built-like-a-Marine-crying phenomena noted by Christopher Badeaux. But what wonderful sentiment it is: Wallace's undying righteous rage at the English makes both an admirable model for spousal piety and a powerful political statement about the priority of family and clan over the state. Give me some more of that any day. If that's the sentiment Miss Tushnet finds abused for political purposes, why? I was overwhelmed to find a political message about (essentially) subsidiarity and localism so well received by mainstream America.

The film's implicit criticism of the concept of freedom is amazing -- and loaded with sentiment. It has to be. Wallace's freedom leads him through war, chains, and then to the wrack where he is drawn and quartered. Since every last one of modern man's passions is enlisted on the side of the modern notion of freedom ("Let me indulge my perversion, since I let you have yours"), it's only right for Braveheart to enlist the emotions in the battle of reason against belly.

Lastly, there's the debate about the gay prince. There is nothing wrong whatsoever about depicting the gay prince's stereotypically homosexual behaviors as laughable, or even the object of scorn. In fact, this is a morally robust response to blatant and public manifestations of homosexuality. Even a Christian approach which requires that we recognize the humanity of the homosexual does not require that we politely and patiently indulge his acting-out and his mannerisms. The insistence that a civilized person must indulge homosexual behavior in one's presence is nothing more than the left's way of enlisting sentiment for the purposes of undermining rational objections to a known vice. If the emotions are not enlisted for the side of reason, they for sure will be used against it. (I made the same point in the Loverman post: sin works by attenuating our visceral, emotional responses until they are nothing, so that a only purely notional commitment remains to stand unaided against the influences of the passions.)

In film, they only have a limited number of ways to comment on the moral behavior of a minor character: anger, pathos or mockery. Pathos is not appropriate here because it risks confusing pity for the person with sympathy for his weakness, given that he only has a few minutes on screen in the whole film. Anger is clearly the more dangerous option of the two remaining, so mocking the gay prince is the best way to deal with the subject. Should he have been defenestrated for playing catamite to "Philip, my military counsel"? No, of course not. But it is Longshanks who does this, and we all know that Longshanks does not give a damn for the intrinsic value of human life (another theme that runs throughout Braveheart, by the way).

Lastly: father & son, father & son, father & son. Think of the relationships between these three sets of father and son in Braveheart, and I know you'll like it, Eve: (1) The brave and decisive Wallace & his father killed in action against the English, (2) The right-minded but fickle Edward the Bruce and his sinister, pragmatic father, and (3) the wrong-headed and fickle gay prince and his ruthless, egotistical father Longshanks.

Wallace's heroism is primarily fueled by his wife's death, but he was put on that course by his father's death in battle and subsequent raising by Uncle Argyle. Wallace displays the ideal of manly virtues: bravery, decisiveness, and a morally correct mission. Argyle shows him to use reason only in defense of the good (when he checks young Wallace's enthusiasm for the sword by saying he must learn to use his head before he learns to fight). Edward the Bruce has a more tragic relationship to his father. Edward too is brave, but it is clear that his bravery is frittered away because he is torn between Wallace's cause which he knows is right, and filial piety to his compromising father. What excellent drama! This father-son relationship is also the film's check against a possibly relativist interpretation of its emphasis on family and clan. In the end, Edward decides against his father's wishes based on reason, even though he is undermined by his father. Like Hamlet, Edward can't be decisive, which is the cause of Wallace's capture. (Note: I don't want to get into any debate on Shakespeare if anyone finds the analogy poor. I know nothing about Shakespeare.) Finally, there is the utterly inadmirable relationship between the king and the prince. The prince exemplifies a total lack of manly virtues: he knows neither morality, decisiveness nor bravery. He entirely lacks the manly virtues of Wallace, which is part of the reason why I think they chose to portray him as blatantly gay in the first place. Of course the prince's vices are due in a large part to the obviously vicious parenting of his largely absent father, who clearly disdains women as well (including his own wife, in marked contrast to Wallace). The result? The prince is so little a man he can bring forth neither physical or spiritual progeny.

I'll take a sentimental defense of the dignity and importance of fatherhood any day. Ditto the emphasis on the priority of close family bonds to the state, but the submission of all family loyalties to reason and to God. Ditto the fact that either good parenting or spiritual martyrdom gives rise to upright, dignified progeny. (That's the worst thing about the film's compromise when Wallace doinks the Queen: otherwise, Wallace's progeny would have been only those he inspired and redeemed by his martyrdom. I would bet the farm that the demands of Hollywood, and not Gibson, are responsible for that misbegotten plot twist. It may also be a ham-handed attempt to teach the more ignorant viewer that Wallace "bears fruit" after all, since it is his son, we are told, who will sit on the throne of England, and not Longshank's.)

Oh, did I mention Braveheart is my favorite movie? 8-)

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/17/2002 10:52:00 AM | link

I am still unable to sit and blog, but watched yet another amazing A&E Biography on a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, Robert Simanek, while stretching out the old back.

Private First Class Simanek and five other Marines were pinned down in a poorly fortified trench downhill from a vastly superior and well-armed Korean force. Cut off from the rest of the squadron, these six fought off the Koreans for 36 continuous hours. When the Koreans began lobbing more grenades than the Americans could kick away or throw back while returning fire, Simanek singlehandedly saved the life of his comrades by throwing himself on a live grenade. Exhausted and wounded by the assault, the six began a retreat, two carrying one wounded, and another two carrying Simanek, when they were hit by enemy artillery. Simanek told those who could walk to leave him behind, since they still had a chance to get out alive. Still carrying the radio(!!) (remember: these things were both heavy and dangerous, since they could explode) he crawled over 100 yards using his hands and what was left of his legs over open terrain under enemy fire and even managed to direct a tank detachment to the scene, saving the Marines. He made it through surgery and lives to tell about it to this day.

Instead of observing Memorial Day by drinking Schlitz around the BBQ, why not go read about these men who exercised more courage than most of us will ever have occasion to do? Here's two more from the Big One (WWII) to get you started.

Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army, Battery A, 861st Field Artillery Battalion, 63d Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Untergriesheim, Germany, 6 April 1945. Entered service at: Waco, Tex. Birth: Toledo, Ohio. G.O. No.: 117, 11 December 1945. Citation: He was a field artillery forward observer attached to Company A, 253d Infantry, near Untergriesheim, Germany, on 6 April 1945. Eight hours of desperate fighting over open terrain swept by German machinegun, mortar, and small-arms fire had decimated Company A, robbing it of its commanding officer and most of its key enlisted personnel when 1st Lt. Robinson rallied the 23 remaining uninjured riflemen and a few walking wounded, and, while carrying his heavy radio for communication with American batteries, led them through intense fire in a charge against the objective. Ten German infantrymen in foxholes threatened to stop the assault, but the gallant leader killed them all at point-blank range with rifle and pistol fire and then pressed on with his men to sweep the area of all resistance. Soon afterward he was ordered to seize the defended town of Kressbach. He went to each of the 19 exhausted survivors with cheering words, instilling in them courage and fortitude, before leading the little band forward once more. In the advance he was seriously wounded in the throat by a shell fragment, but, despite great pain and loss of blood, he refused medical attention and continued the attack, directing supporting artillery fire even though he was mortally wounded. Only after the town had been taken and he could no longer speak did he leave the command he had inspired in victory and walk nearly 2 miles to an aid station where he died from his wound. By his intrepid leadership 1st Lt. Robinson was directly responsible for Company A's accomplishing its mission against tremendous odds.

Rank and organization: Technical Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company I, 142d Infantry, 36th Infantry Division. Place and date: Mittelwihr, France, 18 December 1944. Entered service at: New York, N.Y. Birth: Grantsville, W. Va. G.O. No.: 73, 30 August 1945. Citation: For fighting gallantly at Mittelwihr, France. On the morning of 18 December 1944, he led a squad against a schoolhouse held by enemy troops. While his men covered him, he dashed toward the building, surprised 2 guards at the door and took them prisoner without firing a shot. He found that other Germans were in the cellar. These he threatened with hand grenades, forcing 26 in all to emerge and surrender. His squad then occupied the building and prepared to defend it against powerful enemy action. The next day, the enemy poured artillery and mortar barrages into the position, disrupting communications which T/Sgt. Bell repeatedly repaired under heavy small-arms fire as he crossed dangerous terrain to keep his company commander informed of the squad's situation. During the day, several prisoners were taken and other Germans killed when hostile forces were attracted to the schoolhouse by the sound of captured German weapons fired by the Americans. At dawn the next day the enemy prepared to assault the building. A German tank fired round after round into the structure, partially demolishing the upper stories. Despite this heavy fire, T/Sgt. Bell climbed to the second floor and directed artillery fire which forced the hostile tank to withdraw. He then adjusted mortar fire on large forces of enemy foot soldiers attempting to reach the American position and, when this force broke and attempted to retire, he directed deadly machinegun and rifle fire into their disorganized ranks. Calling for armored support to blast out the German troops hidden behind a wall, he unhesitatingly exposed himself to heavy small-arms fire to stand beside a friendly tank and tell its occupants where to rip holes in walls protecting approaches to the school building. He then trained machineguns on the gaps and mowed down all hostile troops attempting to cross the openings to get closer to the school building. By his intrepidity and bold, aggressive leadership, T/Sgt. Bell enabled his 8-man squad to drive back approximately 150 of the enemy, killing at least 87 and capturing 42. Personally, he killed more than 20 and captured 33 prisoners.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/15/2002 11:24:00 AM | link

Old Oligarch has thrown his back out grading too many papers in one sitting. That means a temporary moratorium on blogging. Check back in a few days when I can leisurely recline at the computer once again.

To fight the ongoing war with my lumbar vertebrae, I've enlisted the help of the Big Bertha of back support, the Herman Miller Aeron Chair. After test driving it twice, the wife agreed to plunk down the money since it was cheaper than buying me a wheelchair and a helper monkey. I'll let you know if it's worth it in a few weeks.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/14/2002 10:32:00 PM | link

After Aristotle called the soul the Form of the body, I've wondered about ways in which the body resembles the soul. The late Fr. Lonergan has two charming analogies, between phenomenology and (a) formal dance, and (b) neonatal development:

The basic pattern of consciousness and intentional operations is dynamic. It is dynamic materially inasmuch as it is a pattern of operations, just as a dance is a pattern of bodily movements. But it is dynamic formally, inasmuch as it calls forth and assembles the appropriate operations at each stage of the process, just as a growing organism puts forth its own organs and lives by their functioning (Method in Theology, Herder 1973 edition, p. 13).

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/10/2002 05:54:00 PM | link

Here is another Old Oligarch first. In case you have not yet encountered the tragic beauty of Metallica's Loverman, I will share some reflections on it with you here. Consider it my first "specimen exegesis" of a pop song, something I spend (too much of) my time contemplating. I am not the greatest exegete, so I welcome comments on my conclusions. Think of this as Origen of Alexandria meets modern music.

For the uninterrupted complete lyrics, go here. To hear the song, go download it. Obviously you need to hear the performance first before you trust my judgment on Metallica's reading of the song. I have not heard Nick Cave's version, nor does it matter.

Some might ask, "Old Oligarch, why Metallica? Don't you listen to Bach?" Yes, in fact I do. And Bach's great. However, there are some unexpected gems amid the musical freight train of Metallica's works. One such gem is the suprising critique of sex in the modern era as found in Loverman. I've taken up Eve Tushnet's challenge to interpret unexpectedly good messages in pop music. The result is below. (Eve, I've upped the ante. The ball is in your court now.)

(Originally recorded by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds)

Who is Loverman? A man struggling with lust. Perhaps more properly sexual addiction. (Most men have already dismissed themselves as possible beneficiaries of this message. In our brave new pornocracy, however, we're all in much deeper than we imagine, so don't count yourself out so quickly.) Yes, a Metallica song condemning sexual lust, the mainspring of pop culture. Remember that Metallica is the musical herald of things that will slowly destroy your soul, a la their signature masterpiece Master of Puppets, which is about cocaine addiction, from the perspective of the cocaine. Think of Loverman as the bookend to Master. Metallica is also the enemy of hypocritical rationalizations which allow an easy fusion of vice and virtue. My thesis is that Loverman depicts the domestication of sexual addiction, which is widespread in our culture. It implies the failure of the addicted man to achieve true love for the woman, because he is ultimately incapable of viewing her as anything more than a fix for his addiction. More importantly, the conclusion of the song highlights how an attempt to domesticate the addiction leads not to its cure, but rather, to its undying presence. If it is not totally crushed, the addiction will not merly taint, but rather dominate, everything. In short, Loverman is a musical morality play about the importance of chastity before (and during) marriage.

One could not ask for a better critique of condom culture. Perhaps the author did not have such a far-reaching application in mind, but it is there nonetheless. This song is a further example of why I don't read St. Paul's "better to marry than to burn" in 1 Cor. 7 as "if you're horny, get married." See my earlier post on monks about that. Now for the lyrics:

There's a devil waiting outside your door
(How much longer?)
There's a devil waiting outside your door
(How much longer?)
And he's bucking and braying and pawing at the floor
(How much longer?)
And he's howling with pain and crawling up the walls
(How much longer?)

The opening lines depict Loverman as an addict, a subhuman and a force of evil. He's presented as already in withdrawal (crawling up the walls in pain). He is depicted as subhuman, or rather dehumanized, when the poet uses the animalistic terms "bucking and braying and pawing." Why is he dehumanized? Because reason, that which gives human existence its dignity and distinctiveness, is no longer sovereign, but has been thrown down in subjugation to a passion. But what passion? The title of the song gives us a hint already, but it becomes clearer further below.

Why is the Loverman described as not only an animal, but also a devil? Aren't these descriptions contradictory? Not if one understands what is being said. The animalistic descriptions highlight the subjugation of reason to passion. But the metaphor is imprecise, so it needs to be qualified. The addict behaves like an animal to a certain extent ("Men are dogs...") but addiction is a peculiarly human phenomenon precisely because reason is not annihilated but rather enslaved to the passions. Reason thus enslaved becomes cunning, manipulative, and willing to countenance the spiritual destruction of others to get what it wants. These are the characteristics of the devil, rather than an animal. The devil, rather than the animal, becomes the dominant motif below.

There's a devil waiting outside your door
(How much longer?)
He's weak with evil and broken by the world
(How much longer?)

The cause of Loverman's addiction is being weakened and broken by the world. This highlights the insidious nature of what is permitted in culture today. According to the lusty, liberal interpreters of "ere ye harm none, do what you will" (Alistair Crowley's twist on Immanuel Kant) it isn't harm if it breaks your moral legs slowly. Few people decide to travel the road of sexual profligacy in the same way that one decides one night to try some cocaine. Our promiscuous culture proceeds by wearing down instinctual resistance slowly, turning it ever more surely to a purely notional choice easily defeated by the pressure of contrary desires, a choice that is supported by fewer and fewer feedbacks from experience. That's why some porn still comes in brown wrappers, and my father's vintage 1960s Playboy mags look like what you can see on MTV these days. (Go get one: I guarantee you'll be bored.) Now that we have the pornucopia that is the Internet -- that great expression of everyone's closet desires -- the full nature of the brokenness of the world is apparent to even the casual surfer who wonders how things like S&M could ever become considered normal. Notice the sense of "world" in this passage is almost Johannine.

He's shouting your name and he's asking for more
(How much longer?)
There's a devil waiting outside your door
(How much longer?)

It is unclear whether "more" refers to more of something he's gotten from this particular woman, or other women in general. What is clear in this passage, however, is the personalist dimension of the problem. Loverman does not simply shout "woman" or "the feminine." He shouts the name of a particular girl. As will be made clear from what follows, she then opens the door. Isn't persistence always the key to "success" in these kinds of endeavors, ladies? If we count each rhetorical question ("how much longer?") as one request, he's asked eight times already. I ask the previous question specifically to ladies, because the song is addressed to women. The whole use of the second person in this song makes it clear that "you" refers to the beloved.

Now we arrive at the chorus. Like any good ancient Greek play, the chorus begins by giving us a more "objective" perspective on the nature of the drama. (Until now, we've been focusing on understanding and empathizing with the protagonist.) Loverman clearly does not call his own name, so the next two sentences must be read as being about him:

Loverman! Since the world began
Forever, Amen, Till end of time

The nature of his passion is ancient. Indeed, it has been around since the Fall, after which God says to Eve, "He will dominate you" (Gen 3:16).

It is creedal: Loverman has made the satisfaction of this impulse a fundamental affirmation of his being. This highlights how deeply rooted sin can be in the structure of human life. The Loverman's "yes" to his passion is like a dark inversion of Rahner's understanding of how we affirm the "fundamental option," or a negative type of Mary's "fiat." In any case, it's a first class mortal sin.

It claims it will not die. By their performance, Metallica maintains that you should take this point very seriously. One way Metallica enforces this reading is by the sheer volume and rage with which they perform this chorus. In a way that they have mastered, they make its eruption forceful and sudden (Lars' rim shot helps), then enduring, fiery and volcanic. It becomes the leit motiv of the dominating power of this passion.

It is hard to maintain a fully developed Greek-style chorus. Perhaps if the author was more conscious of which person he was using, he wouldn't have switched mid-verse, but nevertheless, we are back to the Loverman's first-person experience mid-chorus:

Take off that dress! Ooh, I'm coming down (yeah)
I'm your Loverman (yeah)
Cause I am what I am what I am what I am

The way Hetfield reads "ooh" is amusing. It highlights the odd way a normally very masculine man can become soft and silly upon commencing venery.

The conclusion of the verse is dark, and shows the total resignation of the individual to the fact that he will always be this way. If you're thinking like this, in terms of resignation, then you should already know you're in bad faith about some aspect of yourself. Metallica often draws its tragedies from situations in which men find themselves incapable of change, even waxing maudlin about this in their recent cover of "Tuesday's gone" when "Lord help me, I can't change" is repeated about a dozen times.

If it wasn't clear from the religious affirmations above, Loverman reinforces the point that his entire existence revolves around this drive making the following acrostic with his name. Note its contents carefully, because they will change when it is repeated later.

L is for LOVE, baby
O is for ONLY you that I do
(demonic voice repeats in the background)

"Only you that I do" in the sense that it must be between two people. So there must be some woman. The particular woman, as we all know, is somewhat irrelevant when one is "pawing at the floor," "weak with evil," and "howling with pain." Yet fondness for the unique avenue of one's satisfaction is somewhat unavoidable, so he dotes on her for a moment.

V is for loving VIRTUALLY all that you are
E is for loving almost EVERYTHING that you do

The double "almost" (almost/virtually) is an intriguing addition that should not be overlooked. If the woman was either (a) a completely passive object or (b) an exact reflection of Loverman's own desires, then things would be ideal. But here a hint of the woman's alterity creeps into recognition. She is another self, and the possibility entailed is clear: she may be an obstacle to Loverman's self-satisfaction. The fact he has to reckon with the whole self of another person is the "exception" or obstacle to the otherwise total goodness he anticipates in the slaking of passions that is to follow.

R is for RAPE me
M is for MURDER me
A is for ANSWERING all of my prayers
N is for KNOWING your Loverman's going to be the answer to all of yours

Why the choice of such gruesome words? "Murder me" because Loverman implicitly realizes that the drive is so fundamentally rooted in his life that in order to completely neutralize and pacify it, you'd have to kill him. (Perhaps he tacitly wants to be free from his slavery, since it "answers all his prayers"?) In looking forward to what's about to happen, it's almost like his very vital principle is about to be spent and annihilated. Some may wonder whether if this is why the French call orgasm le petit mort. I don't think so. I have a better explanation rooted in the Greek concept of ek-stasis, which I'll tell you later. We can observe, however, that this is an example of why we must die once infected with original sin. The root of some passions is so deep that this mortal frame must be completely torn down before anything of integrity can be revised in its place.

"Rape me" is harder to interpret, but I will wager an interpretation anyway. Loverman realizes that just as the nature of his desire is all-consuming and against his will, so too he wishes (or anticipates) the same intention on the part of his "partner." The act is clearly consensual, so one must take "rape" in a metaphorical way. This is the most consistent interpretation I can think of. It again points out the difficulty of seeing the other person when blind with lust. When faced with this challenge, at best Loverman postulates a mirror image of his own desires. If this is correct, this verse is merely a circumlocution for the fact that "the act," while consensual, is just as base as rape, since it involves the total objectification of the woman. The one thing that softens it is Loverman's assessment that the woman wants it just as badly, for the same reason. Or perhaps this is a rationalization out of pride, which drips from the last line.

Now we return to the chorus:

Loverman! Till the bitter end
While the empires burn down
Forever and ever and ever and ever Amen!
I'm your Loverman
So help me, baby So help me baby
Cause I am what I am what I am what I am
I'm your Loverman!

The chorus is performed with greater intensity. Anticipation of the satisfaction of the desire has only intensified the passion's affirmation of its enduring domination over man. It claims a primordial primacy, even greater than the ambition which constructs nations.

Notice, however, that the mood has changed a little bit. Closer to satisfaction, reason breaks through for a moment, and Loverman cries for help. That which was only subconscious a moment ago is now explicit: "Help me, cause I am what I am." The problem, however, is that the "help" will come in the form of sexual release, which isn't going to help things come the end of the song.

Now back to the dramatic action:

There's a devil crawling along your floor
(How much longer?)
There's a devil crawling along your floor
(How much longer?)
With a trembling heart, he's coming through your door
(How much longer?)
With his straining sex in his jumping paw
(How much longer?)
There's a devil crawling along your floor
(How much longer?)

If hearts tremble, as opposed to paws that merely jump, there is a humanization of the protagonist here, probably in response to seeing the woman, since he's now inside the door.

And he's old and he's stupid and
he's hungry and he's sore
And he's blind and he's lame
and he's dirty and he's poor
Give me more, give me more, give me more, give me more.
There's a devil crawling along your floor

Too often men in this culture think of their testosterone-driven responses as acts of strength. ("Red-blooded heterosexual man.") Indeed, virility is synonymous with strength, and rightly so since virility connotes male fertility and health in its purely animal aspect. But it is a greater act of strength to yoke a disorderly soul and act according to reason. In this regard, the exploding forces driving Loverman a moment ago are seen for what they are: corruptions and weaknesses. He is blind, lame, dirty and poor. Perhaps physically, but the more likely interpretation applies these terms to his psyche.

Now back to the chorus, again beautifully violent:

Loverman! Here I stand! Forever, Amen!
Cause I am what I am what I am what I am
Forgive me, baby! My hands are tied
And I got no choice No, no, no.
I got no choice, no choice at all

Here again we see, creeping in, an affirmation of Loverman's powerlessness before his addiction. His "hands are tied," and "he has no choice." This time, however, he asks for the woman's forgiveness. This must not be overlooked. As we get closer to the consummation of the act -- the more its achievement is assured -- the demands of passion slacken, and reason peeps out from under passion's heel. To ask for forgiveness is to admit guilt. To admit guilt means one has recognized the humanity of the other person explicitly. It also presumes some level of freedom. Therefore it also equivocates on whether or not Loverman really must proceed to do what the passions urge him to do. This chorus makes the tragedy more severe.

If you doubt my reading about "progressively recognizing the other," check out the new, changed acrostic in the next verse:

I'll say it again:
L is for LOVE, baby
O is for O yes I do
V is for VIRTUE, so I ain't gonna hurt you
E is for EVEN if you want me to
R is for RENDER unto me, baby
M is for that which is MINE
A is for ANY old how, darling
N is for ANY old time

In contrast to the totally unrepentant, complete objectification typifying what Loverman is all about in the first acrostic (rape, murder), we see here the beginning of rules and an exchange. Loverman begins to bargain with his addiction. He equivocates between satisfying himself and recognizing the humanity of the woman. With "render unto me" he becomes petitionary, not demanding. "Render" reflects an attempt at establishing an economy of goods here.

"Virtue, so I ain't gonna hurt you" also reflects this shift in his thinking. He's thinking about the long haul now. When the passions are at their utmost, one only thinks of the next moment. In the frenzy of the now when "rape" and "murder" are normative, one doesn't think about not hurting the other person. So the temporal perspective must have enlarged the closer he gets to getting what he wants.

"Even if you want me to" is even more curious. This points to the recognition of some objective standard of treatment of each other -- independent of either his or her desire. The poet has chosen to portray progressive realization of the true reality of the other person contemporaneously with the recognition of absolute moral norms for good treatment of the other person. Interesting, n'est pas?

Loverman wants to establish conjugal rights ("that which is mine"). In this way, he hopes that frequent, regular sex ("any old how, any old time") will be the key by which he masters the domination of his passions. By bartering with the passion and with the woman, Loverman puts his faith in an arrangement where the passions can be kept at bay. This is the domestication of lust. If this doesn't describe the condom mentality of most couples -- and even the mentality of many married Catholics -- I don't know what does.

Loverman! I got a masterplan, yeah!
To take off your dress
And be your man, be your man.

He's worked it out now. The rest of the song is a commentary about the nature of this "masterplan" and its ultimate fate. But first, he gets what he wants:

Seize the throne!
Seize the mantle!
Seize that crown!!

It doesn't get much better than this. Sex as conquest. Specifically regicide. Plato and Origen look down and smile. Justice and peace kiss. Augustine claps. Thomas nods gravely and averts his eyes.

Cause I am what I am
What I am what I am, yes, I am.
I'm your Loverman!

Nothing new here.

There's a devil lying by your side
(How much longer)
There's a devil lying by your side
(How much longer)
You might think he's asleep
but take a look at his eyes

Now that "what's done is done," is perhaps the devil gone? This is, after all, the whole point of the "plan": freedom from addiction. It seems to be working, for the moment. Check in his eyes, the mirror to the soul. (Hammett has a nice guitar gloss on "eyes" which make it seem like someone is peering around.) Has the ill-tempered, dominating passion been cured? We'll see a little later.

Now what's this?

And wants you, darling, to be his bride
There's a devil lying by your side

It seems they now have a relationship to deal with. What began as practical plan to yoke the force of lust into an agreement about routine satisfaction for psychological relief now ends in a proposal for marriage. Since this is a modern song, no one should suppose that he wants the marriage simply because of the sex. Our dear Baby Boomers have long since taken away that social inconvenience. Rather, the point is this: the sexual addiction of Loverman leads him to view even the prospect of marriage from the perspective of how it will satisfy his needs. We should not presume that this is his only motivation for marriage, but it is nonetheless a primary one, which is disturbing enough as it is. The verse ends with an affirmation: the devil is still there. It is he, the devil, who wants the marriage. Unchastity has rooted itself within the deepest of human relationships and perverted it. But will such an arrangement, somewhat misgotten as it is, at least bring psychological freedom in its wake?

The cadence slackens. Things get very quiet. The song stops for a full four measures. Silence. Peace?

BAM! The song strikes back with unrepentant rage, Hetfield basically yelling at the top of his lungs:

Loverman! Loverman! Loverman!
I'll be your Loverman!
Till the end of time.
Till the empires burn down.
Forever Amen.
I'll be your Loverman. (2x)
I'm your Loverman. (4x)

No way in hell has Loverman gained any freedom. The leit motiv of the total domination of the passion is reasserted here in unbelievable crescendo. This leaves the listener with no conclusion but one: bargaining with the passion has only made Loverman worse off. His slavery is more wretched. He has destroyed everything he hoped to gain from his glancing exposure to true human intimacy. Worse, he has dragged another person and an entire marriage into it. Like the empires, everything must burn down.

Loverman's fate assured, the song fades off quietly, similar to the way Master of Puppets dissolves into mocking laughter:

I'm your Loverman. (4x)
Yes, I'm your Loverman.
Loverman. Forever, Amen.
(How much longer?)

To hammer the point home, the song ends as it began, with the resurgence of abject hunger: "How much longer?" Not a bad question to ask, the next time you turn to your modern lover.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 5/10/2002 02:20:00 PM | link


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