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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oldoligarch @yahoo.com

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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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When I'm feeling despondent, I think: give liberal Catholic intellectuals three or four decades, and they imitate anything the Prots do, good or bad. Random case in point: I open an anthology entitled, The World's Great Catholic Literature (ed. Geo. Shuster; Macmillan Press, 1942). The preface is written by William Lyon Phelps, at Yale, on Easter, 1942. (Yes, the same Phelps after whom Phelps gate on the Old Campus is named.)

Meditating on a line from Browning's The Ring and the Book:

"I must survive a thing ere I know it dead."

Phelps writes,

"So many things pronounced dead survive their diagnosticians.

"In Browning's amazing dialectic, Bishop Blougram's Apology, not intended to be a statement on the grounds of Christian belief, but merely an unanswerable argument against those who choose with their own weapons to attack Christian believers, the bishop ironically assumes that by 1920 no prelate will believe in Catholic dogma. And Thomas Carlyle, looking at a roadside crucifix, said, 'Poor fellow! Your day is over!'

"How amazed the imaginary agnostic talking with Blougram and how amazzed Carlyle would have been could they have foreseen the tremendous rise in numbers and in prestige of the Catholic Church in English-speaking countries in the twentieth century. I am not a Catholic; but I regard this increase as one of the most noteworthy features of British and American life, both religious and social. I think that it may be partly accounted for by the fact that Catholics teach Christianity as a real religion; whereas many Protestant churches have substituted social reforms for spiritual regeneration. The hungry sheep look up and are not fed."

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/25/2004 12:22:00 AM | link

I survived the JWCC stag party in NYC. For most men, I will drink heartily to their forthcoming nuptials. For JWCC, I rally. (Must have been the Japanese food.)

When the groom’s brother-in-law owns the bar, it is pretty much the Platonic bachelor party situation. The groom also gets kudos for keeping the event free of all that "last night of freedom" baloney, despite pressures to the contrary.

Of all the men present, I had the most tenure in the married life. That’s a scary milestone.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/23/2004 12:19:00 AM | link

It ain't my reparte (to the tune of the Pet Shop Boys' cover of an awful Village People song...)

Off to NYC for the JCC bachelor party, then to CT for a week. Zorak joins me next weeked. Orate pro nobis.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/19/2004 09:33:00 AM | link

Touchstone mag has an article on Pandas, courtesy of Keith, who writes:

The article gave me another reason to despise them: like the modern liberal, they're creatures designed to be omnivores that have gone vegetarian instead.

This alone explains why they are dying.

To the fellow who wrote me ages ago with a twang of disgust at my usage in calling the damn things "bears," I NOTE:

"biologists have concluded that giant pandas are, in fact, bears."

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/19/2004 09:27:00 AM | link

Exodus 8:3 on my front porch.

I remember a teacher chuckling once about the extent of the plague of the frogs in Exod 8:3: "the Nile shall swarm with frogs which shall come up into your house, and into your bedchamber and on your bed, and into the houses of your servants and of your people, and into your ovens and your kneading bowls;" which I believe is depicted in all its glory in a ten-second scene by Cecil B. DeMille.

This verse is sometimes brought forth by modernists as example of the "telephone" effect -- how folk retelling amplifies the gravity of what was probably a natural phenomenon. This is essentially accusing the biblical author of telling a "white lie" and this accusation is usually intended to cast doubt on the miraculous.

So I go outside today to water Zorak's plants on the porch, and pick up a water cup I haven't used in a month. What's in there? Four (now dead) cicadas. I go to set it down in an unused pot stand -- another dead cicada. I found one inside my car two weeks ago... and they've been gone for a month now.

If this sub-Biblical "plague" of cicadas can manage to get them just about anywhere, I think frogs can manage to get inside kneading bowls without any problem, especially in the days when houses either had no proper door, or an ill-fitting one. Ditto ancient ovens.

I'm not even going to remark about the "sea of reeds" b.s. (i.e. that Israel passed through a marshy region). The water stood like a wall to their right and left. If God can make everything from nothing, he can manipulate nature to make a point.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/18/2004 12:06:00 PM | link

Things never change. I once sent a pious young lady who was writing a term paper on Ruth to a contemporary commentary which I knew treated a certain chronological issue important to her paper. She returned, somewhat exasperated, because she had found something else there, too: "The commentary maintains that when Boaz spread his cloak over Ruth, they had sex!" The modernist who wrote the commentary thought that the "spreading of the cloak" was a pious circumlocution and that more than a mere pledge of protection was exchanged between Ruth and Boaz that evening, but Scripture was too gentle to say it.

My response: Since when is the Bible ever afraid to tell us about the sexual decadence of some great patriarch in frank terms?

It was a perfect example of eisegesis. The child of the sixties who wrote the Ruth commentary presumes: (1) The Bible is some prudish Victorian text (after all, that's why we rebelled against it in favor of "acknowledging our sexuality," isn't it?) and (2) There is no way an older man and younger woman could spend a romantic night alone in a barn without behaving like minks. (Tells you something about the author, no?)

The Midrash Rabbah on Genesis I read today has an analogous story from 1000+ years ago:

"A certain matron, discussing Joseph with Rabbi José, maintained that the Biblical version of the incident with Potiphar's wife is not the correct one, but is intended to screen Joseph, whose virtues are vastly exaggerated. Rabbi José replied that Holy Writ is no respecter of persons, and records the history of those of whom it speaks just as it happened, the vices as well as the virtues. He cited Reuben's and Judah's transgressions, which are detailed without any attempt to screen them."

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/17/2004 03:45:00 PM | link

Midrash Rabbah on Genesis:

"In three different places of Holy Writ are we told that heaven appoints the wife of a man: in Gen. xxiv. 50, Judges xiv. 4, and in Prov. xix. 14."

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/17/2004 03:44:00 PM | link

I am reminded of the Rat's brief interest in marketing (her "I need a thneed" phase), when I read the following two slogans:

"Nothing's more satisfying than finding exactly the right solution to a problem. That's the good feeling you get when you give an Asian subsistence farmer a water buffalo."

"Buy a buffalo! Add meaning and calm to your holidays by spending less on friends and more on strangers."

The website (Heifer, Int'l.) aims to reduce third-world poverty by direct gifts of animals. (This is not an endorsement.)

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/17/2004 10:27:00 AM | link

Got a Google hit today for 14 years old nude girls. Why not go to the next level? Here's your teen pics, complements of O.O. and my friend Armin. For more: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/17/2004 12:09:00 AM | link

I didn't do it, but I was tempted to have someone take my picture as I pretended to assault Groucho Marx panda last week when I was in Dupont Circle. Glad I decided not to gag around with it, since they seem to have a few of these on video camera.

" 'I thought they were so totally cool that people would really love them and not hurt any of them,' said Lynda Barry-Andrews, who said she worked 16-hour days for two months to create Freedom."

Well, maybe if the panda was not a living idol to Chinese communism, more people would love it as much as you do. Nice name for our multi-million dollar taxpayer contribution to one of the worst human-rights-abusing regimes on the planet: Freedom. Heh. Freedom to dote on whatever chinz we want, regardless of principle or the cost.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/15/2004 05:37:00 PM | link

Gen 40:20, the earliest record of the celebration of someone's birthday?

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/15/2004 02:07:00 PM | link

Thank you, Yahoo!

Talk about pleasant surprises. I log on to the e-mail and find:

Increased storage capacity – from your current level to 100MB
Increase in total message size to 10MB
A streamlined interface that's even easier to use

Does that make them the most generous free e-mail provider now?

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/15/2004 10:27:00 AM | link

New Coke Redux: Will they ever learn?

Coca-Cola C2, a half-carb coke, to hit stores soon. Ummm, why not just drink nasty ol' Diet Coke if you are counting carbs? (And want to ingest Nutrasweet = rat poison.) It's not like 50% sugar-water is any better an Atkins beverage.

But more importantly: Stop messing with Coke, dammit! Once every half-century is enough. It's perfect, people. You're not going to do any better. Unless you put the cocaine back in.

Lastly, the advert blurb saith: "What does C2 mean? It's shorthand for our basic compromise: half the carbs, half the cals, and all the great coca-cola taste. Ultimately, it is a reflection of Coke C2's sense of modernity and and optimism together with the authenticity and realness of Coca-Cola.

I comment:

1) I guess Coke is where philosophy majors go when they can't find a job teaching?

2) Re: "sense of modernity and optimism" -- is this supposed to be nostalgia? Modernity and Optimism are sooo 50s. (1750s intellectually, 1950s culturally; take your pick.) If you want to be actuel, you need to create a cola that reflects boredom interrrupted by libido, a love-hate relationship with the prospect of a meaningful life, and a hitherto-unknown high standard of material prosperity. That's what Po-Mo Coke will taste like.

3) How is authenticity different than realness?

4) If by realness they mean "substantial," I'm willing to grant them that, since I once said in public, when faced with no other mixer for vodka, that Diet Fresca was an "epiphenomenon, without any susbstance whatsoever." (I had never tasted it before, and those were the first words that came to mind.)

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/14/2004 10:29:00 AM | link

In the fine tradition of poems against poems, the Lutheran in a Tipi brings us Dad, It's a Lie, occasioned by the burning of a college essay. The passage which inspired the versifier lies immediately below on his blog.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/14/2004 08:36:00 AM | link

When I lose my mind, I will be sure to make notes like these and leave them around so that one day people can make a magazine out of them (courtesy of Zadok):

This one already sounds like me, and would sound more like Zorak, but she never writes notes asking to be forcibly awakened:

I wish I had this man's To Do list!!!

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/13/2004 06:08:00 PM | link

Amazing. Further remarks at Blosser's blog. Yes, I have enticed you. Stop reading and click now.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/12/2004 06:45:00 PM | link

Cacofonix sends something hilarious from Fox News. Be sure to read the last paragraph. Caco appends, "I can't even think of a smartass comment to add. Maybe you can, if it's worth it." No, I think this one is precious enough on its own:

"An Arkansas school teacher who gave her students a fish-shaped water gun is under fire from a parent who says she disapproves of weapons in her house, reports KPOM-TV in Ft. Smith, Ark.

"The teacher at an elementary school in Rogers, Ark., gave her students the squirter following a lesson about animals in the rain forest. School officials say she feels horrible about the entire situation and didn't mean to offend anyone.

"The parent who complained, Karen Young, doesn't want fish-shaped toy guns in her house because she accidentally shot an ex-boyfriend one time when the gun she was beating him with went off."

**O.O. blinks, shakes head vigorously back and forth, and blinks again. He does not even know where to begin... public schools, rain forest, squirt gun control, idiot mothers. If this story had a panda in it, my brain would explode.**

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/12/2004 06:30:00 PM | link

Still looking for the real killer, O.J.?

It's been 10 years, today. Try the mirror yet?

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/12/2004 04:25:00 PM | link

(Cue 57th Street Bridge Song, substitute "philologisch" for "feelin' groovy..." Fade into a public service announcement.)

You can't ablaut a schwa: Why the first syllable of "woman" is pronounced "wo-" in the singular, but "wim-" in the plural!

"In present-day English, a few nouns survive with a corresponding vowel shift that is called an ablaut. The ablaut form of "oo" is "ee," as in goose-geese and foot-feet. The ablaut form of "ou" is "i" as in mouse-mice and louse-lice. The ablaut form of "a" (as in cat) is "e" (as in egg). Thus man-men. Now the word "woman" forms an interesting plural. We write the plural as woman-women. However, the second vowel of "woman" is what linguists call a "schwa." The word comes from Hebrew (I think) [O.O. notes: I thought "schwa" was derived from schwach, German for "weak," but I could be wrong.], and in Hebrew the schwa is a vowel marking that looks like a colon (:) written under the consonant. It can be completely silent, or an obscure vowel. In many English dictionaries, the pronunciation key represents a schwa by a letter "e" written upside down. Most writers without a special font represent it by a ' mark, so that one might represent pronunciation by writing: jibs'l, pens'l, lem'n, capt'n, and, of course, wom'n. Now we want to form the plural of "woman" by ablauting the "a". In writing there is no problem. But in speaking we notice that you cannot ablaut a schwa. So in spoken English, we form the plural of "woom'n" by ablauting the first vowel and pronouncing it "wimm'n". We write the ablaut on the second vowel and pronounce it on the first."

-- From a random usenet post from this guy.

The fact that any non-native can speak our language successfully is a small miracle.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/12/2004 06:56:00 AM | link

Sun Myung Moon crowned Messiah in U.S. Capitol?. (Via Zorak.)

Extremely disconcerting story, which I hope involved deceiving congressmen into thinking they were presenting an humanitarian award to Moon in his own weird religion's style. But if it didn't, we need a serious kook check in Washington.

More links:

Primary Source: Gorenfield.net.

See also his article in the Gadfly.

Blasphemous remarks by Moon courtesy of telescreen.org:

"The five great saints and many other leaders in the spirit world, including even Communist leaders such as Marx and Lenin, who committed all manner of barbarity and murders on earth, and dictators such as Hitler and Stalin, have found strength in my teachings, mended their ways and been reborn as new persons. Emperors, kings and presidents who enjoyed opulence and power on earth, and even journalists who had worldwide fame, have now placed themselves at the forefront of the column of the true love revolution. Together they have sent to earth a resolution expressing their determination in the light of my teaching of the true family ideal. They have declared to all Heaven and Earth that Reverend Sun Myung Moon is none other than humanity's Savior, Messiah, Returning Lord and True Parent."

Full text of the speech at the Moonie website, which includes this:

"The time has come for you as well to open your hearts and receive the secrets that Heaven is disclosing in this age through me. In one sense, I am a human being living with a physical body like each of you. But in the context of Heaven's providence, I am God's ambassador, sent to earth with His full authority. I am sent to accomplish His command to save the world's six billion people, restoring them to Heaven with the original goodness in which they were created."

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/12/2004 04:39:00 AM | link

Your obscure etymology of the day, courtesy of O.O. and dictionary.com:

Fawn. Middle English, from Old French foun, faon, feon, young animal, from Vulgar Latin *feto, *feton-, from Latin fetus, offspring. See dh(i)- in Indo-European Roots.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/12/2004 04:38:00 AM | link

Brief comments on the state funeral:

Lady Thatcher's speech was absolutely amazing. What a fusion of grace, principle and superb rhetoric.

I was impressed also by Brian Mulrooney, whom I had not seen speak before. G.W. did a fine job, and once again, mentioned salvation and Jesus Christ more than anyone else.

The episcopal priest who gave the homily opened it in such a crude way it was like being in kindergarten. I tuned out for about 5 minutes and made chicken.

Nancy Reagan's gracious farewell at the top of the steps leading to the plane was touching, and an appropriate acknowledgement of the crowds after her husband's body had been taken up into the plane and she alone was the focus of attention.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/11/2004 02:57:00 PM | link

Another sign our civilization is run by pansies.

Teacher suspended for washing obscene student's mouth out with a single drop of soap.

If it goes to court, I think the lawyer that defends the student's family should be forced to live with the bratty kids for six months.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/11/2004 10:26:00 AM | link

Whatever the news reports as the total number of people who came to pay their respects to Reagan, add tens of thousands more who tried.

I went downtown to get in line around 2am Thursday morning to "beat the crowds." Instead, the line had been getting longer and longer all day! By 2am, the line from the capitol, several rows wide, stretched all the way down to Seventh Street. The police had closed the entrance. The crowd was so large, there was no way so many people could file through the rotunda before the concluding ceremonies late this morning! One woman was crying and said she would wait ten more hours "just to see him," meaning during the departing procession.

As we left, we passed people still streaming in towards the end of the line, unaware it had been closed. Pedestrian traffic was abundant even in the dead of night. N.Ph.McC., who was with me, said that her entire office decided to go earlier that evening because everyone they talked to had heard Washingtonians saying that they would go in the middle of the night, when there would be less wait. I image that many thousands of people are therefore still arriving, only to find the capitol already overwhelmed with Reagan-admirers, and park police turning back the crowds.

The police did a fine job and were stationed all throughout the area, which is normally not the safest place to walk at night. They also staked out places where pedestrians might get lost / wander into if they did not know downtown Washington.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/11/2004 04:47:00 AM | link


The cortege you see solemnly proceeding up Constitution Avenue is not a parade. The band is not playing to entertain you. Nancy Reagan is in mourning. Therefore, clapping is categorically inappropriate. This is a funeral. There's a reason why they even put muffled shoes on the horses. You are supposed to remain SILENT.

I know you don't know how else to express yourself. I know, because you are the same kind of people who clap for the choir or folk band in church. You are supposed to pray. Women may weep aloud. Ask yourself: If my husband died, would I want some oaf screaming "We love you!!" at me as I exited the limousine? If you want to behave like that, save it for when Bubba dies.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/09/2004 07:59:00 PM | link

Irreverent, punctuated with sailor mouth, yet none the less mildly amusing. Troy in fifteen minutes. And no, I haven't seen the movie.

I also note that this kind of humor -- mocking of classics and a refusal to take anything seriously -- is the post-modern response to everything great or grave. Call it the physical humor of the chattering classes if you want.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/07/2004 11:54:00 PM | link

Cool. I guess some German readers read my blog via Google's translation engine. (Click for the page in machine-language German, which I think they should dub "Kraut.")

One asks, "Was ist Stoa?" Die Stoa poikile war die Heimat der antike Stoiker. Die Stoiker sind griechesche Philosophen.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/07/2004 09:57:00 AM | link

If you live within a hundred miles of DC, you owe it to the greatest president of the twentieth century: pay him your respect at the Capitol building. Schedule of Events.

The two men who ended Russian communism
in their younger days

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/07/2004 05:41:00 AM | link

Maureen writes to refute my post about the offensive nature of the Macarena.

I want to correct one mistake in the following at the outset, however: Madonna is a stage name. She was born Louise Veronica Ciccone. So the sacrilegious use of the name is intentional on her part.

Naming her daughter Lourdes is more of her weird love-hate relationship with traditional Catholic devotions, which I've guessed must be similar to the way gay men turn the elaborate aesthetics and reverential deference of Catholic worship into something erotic. As best said by my gay boss, as a greeting to another fag: "Hail, Holy Queen!"

I also cast my vote with "Macarius" in what follows, since it was a somewhat common name in antiquity, meaning "Blessed."

Maureen writes:

First off, you'd be hard-pressed to find _any_ girl's name in Spain
that's not a title of the Virgin. So you'd better be getting upset
about "Carmen" first.... ;) But I also don't think there was a
deliberate comparison to Mary going on. Either they were simply using
"Macarena" as a legitimate first name (I see that it does appear in
lists of Spanish names), or they were calling the girl a native of a
neighborhood in Seville. (None of which goes to make Madonna any less
annoying and disgusting, but she was given the name perfectly honestly by her parents. And she did name her daughter Lourdes.)

Second, the name of the neighborhood, the basilica, and the famous
statue of Our Lady of Hope all came from their position near to the
Macarena Gate, or Bab-al-Makrina. Note the Basilica can be seen behind the Gate.

A better picture:

Some claim the name goes back to Macaria, the daughter of Hercules:

Or maybe it's because the walls were done by Macarius, or were named
after a Moorish princess, or....:

Here's a very interesting page for the Brotherhood of the Macarena.
It has some closeup pictures of the statue.

--Maureen, fellow practitioner of Google Fu!

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/06/2004 08:24:00 PM | link

I am worth $2.1 Million at at humanforsale.com!

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/05/2004 01:09:00 AM | link

Today we commemorate the martyrdom of the Ugandan saints Charles Lwanga and his companions.

Let us pause and soberly reflect on the sheer number of people today who are willing to kill others in order to have a more pleasurable orgasm. There are millions of them, in this country.

As I've said before, there are only two roads for amoral man: the uebermenschly glories of the will to power, and the untermenschly indulgence of the belly. Only sloth or timidity prevent amoral man from going to either extreme. Neither failure is excusable, nor do they change the essence of our modern, post-moral situation. Since World War II, so many Westerners have been so afraid of any manifestation of the former, they have been bewitched instead by the vision of a comfortable bourgeiose paradise where everyone can "get his freak on" in a risk-free, democratic environment. But this is a lie. As chapter 2 of the Wisdom of Solomon pointed out over 2,000 years ago, standard Greek hedonism, when denied its access to pleasure, quickly becomes an assertion of "might makes right."

Because let's face it: Millions of heterosexual people are willing to kill their own children in order to keep having sex. Of those, a frightening proportion has the audacity to say that the murder of the baby was "justifiable homicide." As a friend of mine once remarked: For them, abortion is the blood sacrament that makes everything OK again in their world.

Moreover, gays are killing each other by the tens of thousands in order to have sex, and indeed, to engage in the kinds of fetishes that border on insanity rather than lust. Of these gay men, many know they could have AIDS and could be spreading it to their catamites. Worse, others know they have AIDS and don't give a damn, as I've blogged before.

Unfetter the sexual appetite from Christian morality, and it will end in blood. It has already been happening, and it will get much worse before it gets better. Nobody can see it coming, plain as day. It does not matter if poetic justice is ever served.

(I know one thing we did not learn from World War II: The deep and delicious irony that in Hitler, the "Bohemian Corporal," and his pack of queens in the early NSDP, we see the refusal to be denied political power walking hand-in-hand, drawing strength from, the refusal to be denied sexual gratification on their own terms. The Bohemian Corporal and his companions stand as a polar opposite cadre to St. Charles Lwanga and companions. While the German character was susceptible to bloodlust, it turned out not nearly so accepting of the sodomitical intentions of the brave nude pagans of the Reich.)

But that aside. Let me conclude by posting an e-mail replied I dashed off about the martyrdom of St. Lwanga:

What little I know Zorak just read two days ago as she was making her way through our latest devotional reading: Vincent J. O'Malley, Ordinary Suffering of Extraordinary Saints.

Lwanga was a lay missionary, having received the faith seven years earlier by a Ugandan mission of the White Fathers.

As it is recorded in the book, Lwanga's tribe was headed by Chief Mtesa, who was a pederast with a desire for lots of cupbearers in the Olympian sense. The chief had already killed one master of his pages because the Christian man had instructed the young men on the immorality of sodomy and began to shelter them from the chief's advances. The chief -- initially receptive to the missionaries who spread the faith amongst his people -- soon discovered the cause of the problem and also feared that widespread Christianization of his people would result in a coup.

Another Christian page master and pious young man were put to death by the chief a short time later. Lwanga and the boys who were his catechumens could see what was coming. So Lwanga accelerated their formation and baptized several of them before their collective

A group of soldiers soon rounded up all the young men in the town, and separated the Christians from the non-Christians. An adjutant of the king then asked the Christians: "How long do you intend to remain Christian?" Their answer was, "Till death!" "Then put them to death," was his reply.

St. Lwanga & his companions were tortured for seven days and refused apostasy. They were led on a forced march for thirty-seven miles and then burned alive. The chief executioner even killed his own son, one of the group.

O'Malley notes that here as elsewhere in history, the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church. Within a year, the number of catechumens tripled.

If you come across the book, a slightly longer story is on pp. 228-299."

[Updated: full martyrology.]

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/04/2004 12:11:00 PM | link

Oh, the dangerous eddies we trace / when first we click in cyberspace.

It begins, of course, with the referrer log.

I wouldn't have stopped very long at Phatmass except that while patronizing the local Knights of Columbus pancake breakfast at St. Leo's I noted our usher working the kitchen while wearing a t-shirt with Catholic twist on the "Orange County Choppers" logo. (The iron cross struck me as weird, so then I read it.) Turns out, the t-shirt comes from the website. They produce Catholic Hip-Hop. (*blinks, fazed*)

Then I begin to notice that students of mine write in, and my curiosity is piqued. Off I go to another bulletin board with threads all about my college, where it gets more interesting.

A by-product of all that surfing? I end up finding out more than I ever cared to know about the Macarena.

First, the name comes from a famous statue of the Blessed Virgin that gave its name to a district in Spain. (pic here). Second, of course, we get the lyrics. Third, we find the historical origin of the comparison of the sexy dancer to the Blessed Virgin. Next, we find it disgusting that the "untouchable" nature of the seductive, lavishly dressed femme fatale is described by an analogy to a statue of Our Lady.

Lastly, we recover for a moment the pristine disgust we had when Madonna first started heaping filth upon the holy name that meant spiritual motherhood for so many when they first heard it, but now means some aging striptease from the 1980s who kisses 19 year old girls on national television.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/04/2004 03:25:00 AM | link

Congratulations to the Jelly-Pinched Wolf on his reception into full communion with the Church last Sunday!

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/04/2004 03:23:00 AM | link

Smoking Spiritualized

Via El Camino Real, with commentary here.)

Part I

This Indian weed, now withered quite,
Though green at noon, cut down at night,
Shows thy decay;
All flesh is hay:
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.
The pipe so lily-like and weak,
Does thus thy mortal state bespeak;
Thou art e'en such, -
Gone with a touch:
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.
And when the smoke ascends on high,
Then thou behold'st the vanity
Of worldly stuff,
Gone with a puff:
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.
And when the pipe grows foul within,
Think on thy soul defiled with sin;
For then the fire
It does require:
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.
And seest the ashes cast away,
Then to thyself thou mayest say,
That to the dust
Return thou must.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

Part II

Was this small plant for thee cut down?
So was the plant of great renown,
Which Mercy sends
For nobler ends.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.
Doth juice medicinal proceed
From such a naughty foreign weed?
Then what's the power
Of Jesse's flower?
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.
The promise, like the pipe, inlays,
And by the mouth of faith conveys,
What virtue flows
From Sharon's rose.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.
In vain the unlighted pipe you blow,
Your pains in outward means are so,
Till heavenly fire
Your heart inspire.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.
The smoke, like burning incense, towers,
So should a praying heart of yours,
With ardent cries,
Surmount the skies.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/04/2004 01:32:00 AM | link

Long-time reader Roy shares www.bowtieclub.com, which has an amazing assortment of fine bowties. (Prompted by my earlier rant about trying to find a proper tux tie.)

This is one reason why we have the internet, people. Not a week goes by when I find something online which I couldn't have found without extensive effort and travel before. Don't even get me started on finding old books, or car parts!

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/02/2004 06:34:00 PM | link

Fr. K of SoDakMonk provides the standard but fair objection to what I wrote below on manuals.

I admit that the expansiveness of these works often creates the impression that one can't see the forest for the trees, and the central light of the Christian life can get refracted into such small rays that each fails to dispel much darkness on its own. The detail-conscious and conclusion-oriented approach of these books entails that more time is spent on smaller points than larger ones. I read manuals in the same way I read an encyclopedia or a dictionary of theology. Everyone knows that salvation in Jesus Christ is central, but the article on Jesus Christ, while the largest in a theological dictionary, may not comprise the majority of the whole work. This happens because manuals treat even minute questions such as the casuistical principle of possession of right applied to the Eucharistic fast and whether it is morally acceptable to prevent someone from murdering another by getting the first party so drunk he fails to care about or carry out his murderous intention (to take two actual examples from Slater).

For these reasons, I wholly agree with Fr. K. that a manual might make a somewhat sterile and overwhelming introduction to the Christian life for the average Catholic inclined to read it as a Catechism or primer in theology. The main lines of theology must be laid down first, and manuals are not as good as other texts at doing that. Insofar as people tended to rely on them for that, this was pastorally less than ideal.

But remember, even undergraduate theology majors have to be eased into Thomas, who suffers from a similar problem simply because of his wealth. On first approach, the Summa seems so detailed it is unreadable. But then you are drawn into its beauty and it is like wandering through a Gothic cathedral of theology, where the soul rejoices and says, "Lord, it is good for us to be here" once it has penetrated the veil of multivolume folios and seen the transfigured Lord therein.

Manuals are even more challenging in one regard, namely, they are as detailed as a Summa, yet even more condenseed, and thus potentially turgid; but they are less challenging in another: they are generally shorter and are oriented towards conclusions, so they lack the more complicated Thomistic structure of rebutting opposing arguments and laying out questions in a beautiful, metaphysically-motivated structure as both Summae do. In fact, most manuals presume the reader has read, or will read, Thomas on the issue, since they make constant reference to him as the Prince of Theologians and the locus classicus for speculative theology. Manuals merely condense what others have expanded.

Fr. K. is also absolutely correct when he upholds the new Catechism of the Catholic Church as substantively detailed yet constantly aware of the central mysteries of salvation. It's a masterful fusion in that regard, and it also manages to draw on the Fathers, Scholastics, the Eastern Church, and the liturgy in its litany of authorities. I wouldn't ever recommend that a layman or student of theology begin somewhere else, in fact, now that we have such a work.

I also appreciate the works of the ressourcement for recapturing the spirit of the Fathers, and infusing into works like the new Catechism or something like Pinckaers. These books are vital and necessary for keeping the most ancient theology of the Church in constant contact with Medieval and contemporary works.

HOWEVER, my question is this:

Why were the manuals thrown out? Why not read them along with the best new texts of the post-conciliar era? Why not read immortal Fathers together with today's attempt to apply theology to every area of life?

Surely one does not need to destroy the manuals to encourage ressourcement? But that is what has happened.

(Dare I make an analogy? One doesn't have to strike down the Old Mass to promote the Novus Ordo...and what if the newest product turns out inferior to the old upon comparison?)

This is particularly vexing because of the unique strength of the manuals. They radiate a confidence that a few generations of Catholic scholars have meditated upon even the small dilemmas of the Catholic life, and have a trustworthy, if not dogmatic answer.

The Fathers are great at showing the integral harmony of the mysteries of salvation. The Medievals unpack that harmony and systematize it, so longer works like the Summa require a lot more of the reader and don't glow as perceptibly, although they are filled with riches. While manuals lack the speculative dimension, they too also stress the "unfolded" but "integral" nature of the Christian life once one spends time in them. Nowhere was this more evident to me than in a very practical work like Stang's Pastoral Theology, which combines the most practical of advice (e.g., on managing the women in charge of washing the altar linens and training acolytes) with constant exhortations from Scripture, sermons from the Fathers and bits and pieces from the local council of Baltimore (since the book is written for American priests).

In short, one gets a profound sense of the deeply synthetic nature of Catholic theology from reading a good manual. Despite its detail, it is the product of a few centuries of mediatation, indeed, even meditation on minutiae. While the minutiae can distract at first, when approached in perspective, one staggers back at how seamless is the feel of the work. Who today can drop a quote from Bernard of Clairvaux in the middle of a discussion about how to handle a farmer who bangs on the rectory door late after dinner demanding that his confession be heard? And who slaps on a few canonical precepts on top of that to further encourage a reluctant parochial vicar? The very idea that one might need to seriously reflect on details such as whether one has adequately kept the Eucharistic fast is so absent from most books of Catholic theology for the parish priest that it is dismissed as scrupulousity to wonder about such things. Yet Liguori wrote about them...

This is the great problem with some ressourcement approaches: it is good to get back to the Fathers. They are the trunk of the tree. The tree will fall if the integrity of the trunk is not maintained. But if concern to preserve the trunk comes at the expense of neglect of the many more numerous branches and tendrils, such a neglected tree will die too. And that is what we are doing today: Dying for lack of concern for the enormous time spent by parish priests and practical-minded theologians at hammering out sound conclusions on even minor issues.

I've got to break this off right now, but I think that might adequately express my concerns. I think Fr. K. is largely correct in pointing out that the manuals were not sufficient for a well-rounded theological education, but the judgment today is that they are unnecessary.

Lastly, I agree and/or chip in that there are major liabilities to a formation program focussed exclusively on manuals in addition to the "soullessness" or "turgidity" problem mentioned above, and the "can't see the forest for the trees" problem in general.

One major liability seems to be: By presenting conclusions only, they do not force priests / seminarians to think critically, but merely to check their answers against "the book." The pendulum has therefore swung the other way in the post-manualist generation: Everyone's a brilliant new theologian, and nobody gives much concern for squaring his conclusions against anything beyond the most undeniable lines of Catholic dogma (usually what we share with the Protestants...)

So in this regard, too heavy a reliance on manuals in the 1920s-1950 helped to spawn the free-thinking of the 1960s and 1970s. What modernists hold to be a virtue is more clearly seen in retrospect as an historically-conditioned defect.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/01/2004 04:39:00 PM | link

(Cue British voice from Monty Python)

And now for something completely violent...

It began as what some women might call pointless male hunting bravado in England: "My good chap, can you hit that tiny bird with your rifle from this far away?" Which bird? The snipe, of course. And the man who could do it was called a sniper.

Now, a hundred years later, snipers have taken the same male love for competitive extreme specialization and turned it into a life-saving technique.

What follows in the video clip below is the quintessential sniper drop shot.

The Plot: A Columbian bank robber's plans have gone horribly awry and now he has taken a pregnant woman hostage as a human shield. (Classy guy...) The sniper in the clip must do much more than merely shoot the robber and not the hostage. If that was all the sniper could do, it would be better that he not shoot. For with the robber's gun held to her head like that, any shot to the body, or indeed to most parts of the head, would still allow the robber to squeeze off a shot. Or worse, whether the robber ever intended to actually shoot his victim or not, most shots could cause involuntary flinching that will pull the trigger when the sniper's bullet hits the robber's body.

Until the advent of tactical sniping, ambush and negotiation were the only two ways out of this situation. What happens below is tactically amazing, IMHO.

The sniper shoots the robber through the eye, but the eye is just a soft-tissue gateway to the more important and even more elusive target. The shot it angled so that it explodes the medulla oblongata portion of the brain. By devastating this part of the brain, the sniper guarantees that the robber will drop, flinchless, because the medulla is the locus of all involuntary nervous activity. Blow it away, and the body drops like a rag doll, which is exactly what it does in the clip below.

Thanks to T. for this and several other clips he collects in his line of work as a firearms instructor for the Feds. The following clip is graphic and large (8 MB). If you can't take the time to download, don't hog my limited bandwidth. If you can't stand the sight of a few bits of brain and eye flying around in slow-mo, don't watch. If you want to see one great shot, by all means:

Columbia Hostage MPEG

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/01/2004 07:58:00 AM | link

Mad About Manuals

In my graduate theological education, manuals of theology were only brought to my attention in order to be derided. E.g., "Thank goodness we don't read those anymore," or, "One major advance of post-conciliar theology was moving beyond the manualist tradition," or the oft-dropped sneer, "The sterile Neo-Thomism of the manuals."

One is hard-pressed to even find a manual of theology these days, so fast were they decimated during the first three post-conciliar decades. Indeed, the first one I ever laid eyes upon was in a pile of free, discarded books. Like Opus the Penguin pondering whether to snort the dandelions despite the blaring warning signs, I wondered what evil, conservative effects reading such a benighted tome would have on my theological demeanor. Transgressor that I am, I crossed the line into manual theology.

The first rush was so good, I've since become a pusher. What can you hope to get out of a manual? I'll tell you, but it's better to try it for yourself. (First one's free, kid. And give some to your friends to try...)

One gains a keen sense of what Catholic theology was like just a century ago, and thus a deeper appreciation of just how far off the rails modern Catholic academic theology has gone in only a half-century's time.

Manuals are confident yet self-critical, ordered yet opened-ended. Manuals are often stereotyped as "monolithic" and filled with a desire to "falsely harmonize" unresolved debates in the tradition. In reality -- if you read one -- they frankly acknowledge that some debates are ongoing. They admit that some widely-held conclusions are only probable, or popular because of the recent prominence of a certain doctor or school. And they certainly acknowledge conflict within the theological tradition. (In moral manuals, this is undeniable -- there are three traditional theories about how to interpret contradiction amongst authoritative moralists!)

But manuals are not afraid to proclaim the opposite as well -- and this is why they are hated. All manuals implicitly assume that a millenium of theological exertion has yielded lasting results in matters that extend beyond what one finds in the Catechism. And this is breath-taking. Manuals are anything but the dustbins where old doctrines go to die. Only someone infected by a desire for continually-new would work up this kind of caricature.

Manuals attempt to exposit the entire breadth of Catholic teaching in reasonable detail, and the sheer level of concrete judgments directly applicable to life is usually enough to hook any conservative reader born after the council, as I was. (Especially the moral manuals. You will wonder why your confessor has never read one every time you open it.)

Manuals focus on conclusions. Detractors of manuals are correct insofar as they observe that no manual will give you a comprehensive theological worldview and method of thought the way reading Thomas Aquinas will. Yet the manualists themselves admit this, insofar as their work is largely a careful collation of extrinsic authorities. But how amazing is this "mere collation" of "extrinsic authorities!" Manuals show you the whole massive ediface of Catholic doctrine, built carefully over centuries, as it arises from the collective labors of holy Doctors from Augustine to Alphonsus. One arrives at just how contentious modern theology really is, and one gains better sense of what it means to have an intact tradition that we can inherit lovingly as our sacred patrimony -- not some tattered corpse of catechesis snatched from the claws of warring factions like the body of Hector.

Because there is clarity about what is doctrine, there is also clarity about what questions are still debated by scholars. What a rush compared to the everything-is-up-for-grabs attitude of some heterodox Catholic theologians, or the more subtle and thus more-pervasive inclination to "recontextualize" every dogma until it means something acceptible to post-modern man.

A good manual usually arranges its propositions thematically, and then attaches "theological notes" or "theological grades" to the various statements depending on their certainty and their proximity to central dogmas of the faith. These notes range from "fides divina" all the way down to "opinio tolerata," usually with 5 or 10 grades in between.

If you have a hard time imagining that many subdivisions, I'll give a brief sketch of major notes:

Fides Divina - statements that occur within words of divine revelation itself.

Fides catholica / fides ecclesiastica - statements made through the infallible teaching authority of the church. "De Fide Definita" if the statement itself is promulgated by an ecumenical council or papal judgment ex cathedra.

Sententia theologice certa - statements which do not fall into any of the above categories, but which can be derived from infallible truths by short chains of argument

Sententia communis - a judgment broadly held by the vast majority of theologians

Theological statements of lesser grades include (in declining order): sententia probabilis, sententia bene fundata, sententia pia, and opinio tolerata.

How does this help Catholics? Let me count the ways!

1) Promotes awareness that there are various levels of teaching authority in the Church. Sorts out the transient from the eternal.

So many Catholics and nearly all non-Catholics fail to grasp even basic distinctions such as the difference between a dogmatic definition (irreformable, binding on the conscience of all Catholics, etc.) and a pastoral judgment (usually no more than a "sententia pia" of the local bishop). Thus when they see the Church suddenly permit altar girls (sententia impia, IMHO), they clamor to reverse Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.

2) Undercuts the "Yeah, but is it infallible?" habit of mind.

Francis Sullivan had a good point when he observed that since the rise of papal infallibility, Catholics have tended to treat weighty doctrines with an air of provisionality they did not have before Vatican I. The prominence of questions concerning "top shelf" doctrine in recent teaching has tended to obscure the real and weighty theological notes immediately below it.

3) Forces theologians to think: "How does my work square with the tradition?"

Greater attention to the "theological grade" of one's own theological conclusions is almost inevitable. If not by example, one learns it by osmosis. But this osmosis is not enjoyable for everyone. Some theologians seem to go into a kind of intellectual anaphylactic shock when immersed in this style of theology for too long. Such an allergic reaction reveals serves as a good indicator that one should join the Anglican church where they seem to like it all confused and murky.

The more I read theological manuals, the more I wonder about those aging modernist professors I have known who treat the theological manuals of their youth like the proverbial * in the woodpile. (I.e., a progenitor one deems so disgraceful, one dares not to acknowledge him in public, but one surely knows from whence one came.) This attitude is so commonplace among the Generation Which Cannot Retire Fast Enough: they despise the Neo-Thomist, manualist education of their seminary days, but fail to see (despite the fantastically heterodox and shallow work of their disciples) that their sophisticated works are deeply indebted to the older, well-ordered theology which is the point of departure for the novel innovations of their own systems. Whether heterodox or orthodox, modern systematicians improvise upon the cantus firmus laid down in part by the manualists. Without ever hearing this older tune, how can they expect their younger disciples to improvise nearly well?

Yet no classroom environment I have inhabited has been brave enough to tell us to read a manual. One might think that even while disparaging them, a bibliographic reference or two would have been dropped for a grad student seminar audience. But this would be too much.

So taste the forbidden fruit, and drive a modernist into despair. One problem for the lay reader, however, is that most are in Latin and out of print.

Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. A late fruit (1952) and very compressed. A mini-manual. Others are usually larger, but out of print. This one is in print because of T.A.N. publications (surprise, surprise!).

William & Scannel, A Manual of Catholic Theology.

(I could use more recommendations here.)

(I should also mention something which is not a manual, but an excellent resource: Denzinger-Schonmetzer, Enchiridion Symbolorum Definitionum et Declarationum de Rebus Fidei et Morum, which catalogues every authoritative pronouncement of council, pope, or curial office on matters of faith and morals, from the Apostles' Creed to the 1950s.)

For Moral Theology, usually treated separately because of its complexity:

St. Alphonus Liguori, Theologia Moralis. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, so great is the esteem of the Church for this great doctor that "a Decree of 22 July, 1831 ... allows confessors to follow any of St. Alphonsus's own opinions without weighing the reasons on which they were based." (In Denzinger, this seems to be a dubita submitted to the Holy Office under Gregory XVI. DS #2725-2727.)

Herman Busenbaum, Medulla Theologiae Moralis. Hundreds of printings. Busenbaum's manual forms a large part of the basis for the research of Liguori.

Dominic Prummer, Manual of Moral Theology and Handbook of Moral Theology. (The latter is a compendium.)

Benedict Merkelbach, Summa Theologiae Moralis.

Thomas Slater, Manual of Moral Theology for English-Speaking Countries. (Note, however, he is a probabilist. I am equiprobabilist in general, and tend to be tutiorist for my own personal conduct.)

Also interesting the the Manual of Pastoral Theology used to train priests destined for America in their last year at the Pontifical College of Louvain:

William Stang, Pastoral Theology (1897).

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/01/2004 12:20:00 AM | link

Here's a neat little online-only bookstore which specializes in Catholic theology. I recently discovered them while looking for some pre-conciliar materials published by Benziger Bros.

Pilgrim Reader Books. (Search their holdings in abebooks.com.)

I've freshly plundered them, so maybe some of their areas are a little sparse, but keep them in mind. Although they are in Canada, their shipping is reasonable and John wraps the books so immaculately it is almost like opening presents, and so durably that even though the last package took a beating in transit, the fragile late-1800s tomes were still two protective layers away from the slightest damage.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 6/01/2004 12:12:00 AM | link


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