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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Modern-day Grigio?

Friendly Dog Averts Killing Spree by melting deranged man's heart.

While this was likely providence working through ordinary means, I am reminded of the stories of Grigio, the miraculously-appearing large gray dog which accompanied St. John Bosco throughout dangerous times in his life over 30 years, often leaving and returning inexplicably whenever danger threatened the holy priest. No German Shepherd lives for 30+ years. Yet Neo-Thomists I've read puzzle about whether an angel would take the form of a dog, so the precise nature of Grigio remains open to theological speculation.

I found the basic Grigio stories at the Regnum Christi website. I copy it below for your enjoyment.


Although Don Bosco had no lack of resourcefulness, he often received much-needed help from an unexpected source.

Don Bosco entitled the last chapter of his Memoirs "A Mysterious Dog: Grigio." There he relates how a strange gray dog protected him from time to time. The dog came to be known as Grigio, from the Italian word for ‘gray.’ All sorts of attempts have been made to account for this animal, which always seemed to be present whenever Don Bosco needed protection but was subsequently nowhere to be found.

Those who saw it described it as a German shepherd standing about three feet high with a ferocious appearance. The first time Don Bosco’s mother set eyes on it, she cried out in alarm.

In those days the Valdocco was more isolated than it is now, and it was necessary to traverse a wide stretch of rough waste ground dotted with trees and bushes to reach the seminary. Since he had been physically attacked many times, Don Bosco was obliged to go out accompanied. One evening, however, he was returning home alone, and as he was making his way across this open area he began to feel afraid. Suddenly, a large dog bounded to his side, terrifying him even more.

"Yet its attitude was not threatening," Don Bosco writes. "It was rather like a dog that had recognized its master. We quickly became friends, and it accompanied me as far as the Oratory. That was not the only time that I encountered it. On different occasions it kept me company, sometimes providentially.

"Towards the end of November, 1854, on a sleety night I was returning from the town. In order not to be alone I took the road leading from the Consolata down to the Cottolengo Institute. At one point I noticed that two men were walking a short distance in front of me, matching their pace with mine. I crossed over to the other side to avoid them but they did the same. I then tried to turn back but it was too late. They suddenly wheeled around and were on me in two steps. Without a word they threw some kind of coat over me. I struggled in vain to break loose. One of them then tried to gag me with a scarf. I wanted to shout but I hadn’t the strength.

"At that moment Grigio appeared, growling like a bear; he hurled himself at the first man with his paws at his throat while snarling at the other. They had to let go of me to deal with the dog.

" ‘Call off your dog!’ they shouted, almost paralyzed with fear.

" ‘I’m going to,’ I replied, ‘but next time leave strangers alone.’

" ‘Call him off quickly!’ they shouted.

"Grigio went on barking. The two thugs took off as fast as they could, and Grigio accompanied me to the Cottolengo where I stopped to recover for a moment. Then I returned to the seminary, this time well protected. Every evening when I went out alone I always noticed Grigio on one side of the road."

One evening, Grigio flatly refused to allow Don Bosco to leave the house by lying across the doorway and growling whenever he tried to pass. "If you won’t listen to me, listen to the dog; it has more sense than you," remarked his mother. A quarter of an hour later a neighbor ran in to say that he had heard of a plot to assault Don Bosco that night.

When attempts to harm him ceased, the dog disappeared and was not seen again, save once. In 1883, Don Bosco arrived late one night to the station at Bordighera accompanied by one of his priests. Finding no one to show him the way, he wandered through the dark, stormy night trying to find the Salesian house. Suddenly, he was welcomed by a bark, as Grigio appeared and led him to the house.

"All sorts of stories have been told about this dog," remarks Don Bosco, "but I never discovered who its master was. I only know that throughout the many dangers I encountered, this animal protected me providentially."

In fact, Don Bosco never tried to discover whose dog it was. "What does it matter? What counts is that it was my friend."

Posted by Old Oligarch on 7/30/2004 08:12:00 PM | link

For those of you who know D&D, I offer:

"You've been surprised by a 10th level idolator! Make a saving throw (15d20) versus temptation toward polytheism, or lose a level of religious experience."

Some things simply cannot be appropriated successfully into the religious realm. E.g., guitars and the liturgy. Modern art and church architecture. D&D and the Old Testament. But that doesn't mean people don't try.

Thus Testament, a D&D game based on the O.T. I am going to outsource the jokes on this one. Make of this what you will.

Such a game raises the obvious question about a sequel. This has lead to at least one (mildly irreverant) article Jesus Saves . . . and Takes Half Damage." I offer it for all you closeted D&D veterans, wherever you may be. I know some of you prefer not to be "outed."

(Note: I vascillated about whether to link to the article. I generally avoid blogging in a positive tone anything which even approaches disregard for the Lord, but with the exception of the last sentence of the penultimate paragraph, the whole article pokes such fun at D&D, rather than taking the work of the Lord lightly, that I deemed it OK. The author is probably an atheist.)

From there, you can move on to this list of Christ-centered first person shooters. No I haven't played any of them. But I can already see that "Sword of the Spirit" has become the top-level weapon in a few of them. I guess no one thought the BFG9000 from Doom could be successfully rehabilitated as "Biblical Fundamentals Gun 9000," dispersing bright-green relevant passages to all monsters on screen.

Despite their lack of religious edu-tainment, the nominal moral excuses of Wolfenstein & RTCW (=Just War, unless you play Kraut), Doom and Quake (=they're monsters, not human) allows me to skirt the sin of wrath for an hour of purely destructive fun. And besides, the real-life shooting range is far more expensive, so it's an exercise in frugality...

Posted by Old Oligarch on 7/27/2004 05:12:00 PM | link

From Poncer, something truly awful in the pro-choice movement. (You have been warned.) Sancta Maria, Causa Nostrae Laetitiae, ora pro nobis.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 7/27/2004 05:12:00 PM | link

Prayer Request

Your friend the Old Oligarch and his wife could use a small bevy of prayers over the next four days as we navigate a difficult issue with relatives. Please take a moment to remember us. I'm adding David, Dymphnia and Jude to Joseph, Mary, Joachim and Anne for this one.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 7/27/2004 04:13:00 AM | link

Canada's first gay divorce comes barely six weeks after Ottowa legalized gay marriage. John Stewart predicted this about a month ago. (From De Fid. Ob..)

Posted by Old Oligarch on 7/26/2004 04:40:00 PM | link

Attention, women: modesty is possible.

This is not the easiest topic for men to address, which is why it is refreshing that a woman of St. Blog's Parish has done so.

No one thinks it is possible for women to return to wearing modest dress, and in particular, swimwear, without donning some hundred-year-old garment or looking like the old-fashioned scuba diver with the globe on his head. You know, this guy:

Now there is wholesomewear.com. Another benefit of the internet. What once remained unknown except in a small part of the country or left to self-manufacture can now be promoted and sold anywhere for pennies.

From the manufacturer: "Our WaterWear is the first to be introduced because the need for modesty in swimwear is the greatest and the supply is almost non-existent. Swimwear that highlights the face rather than the body includes an undergarment with bright colors at the neck and shoulders to draw the eye to the face . . . while the loose fitting Taslan outer garment limits cling and adds modesty and style."

Now back to our topic: Women of the world, please cover yourself.

These days almost no one will tell the Christian woman that it is her duty to dress modestly. But that should not surprise us. Religious instructors barely teach the basics of Christian morality, and sexual confusion is the chiefest error of the day in the field of natural reason.

I've said for about as long as I can remember (15 years or more now?) that it makes no sense for a woman to become embarrassed when she is seen in her underwear, if she goes outdoors in swimwear which is exactly as revealing, if not more so.

And again: modern swimwear's level of undress is functionally equivalent to nudity in the mind of any male except those in a persistent vegetative state. While men are called to have custody of their eyes, it is an objective sin to exhibit oneself and place all moral demands on those who share a public space with you. The masculine obligation to chastity does not translate into feminine carte blanche for immodesty.

To be even clearer: No Christian woman should wear a bikini. A generous one-piece with skirt is about rock-bottom in terms of basic modesty and self-respect. Or, as my wife will recommend: a one-piece with a large T-shirt worn over it.

Surely some indoctrinated woman will parrot the feminist come-back to my position: "What's next? The burqa?" But the real perspective is this: The burqa and the bikini are polar extremes of the same fundamental error. Both styles of clothing deny the human dignity of the wearer. Virtue is a mean between the extremes. The modest woman, the woman with self-respect, wears neither the ostentatious bikini nor the humiliating burqa. Both the bikini and the burqa deny our Christian belief in the equal spiritual dignity of man and woman. Both manners of dress encourage onlookers to view the woman as subordinate to men in one way or another.

The burqa denies the Christian belief in the equal spiritual dignity of a woman because it obscures her face, which is the gateway to the heart and to the mind. A woman in a burqa is not permitted to publicly manifest the visible features most proper to her nature as a rational and emotive being -- features which are the most proper to her as a human being. (Aristotle, for example, says that no animal has a prosopon, lit., a countenance, but only a man or a woman.)

The bikini likewise denies her equal spiritual dignity because it places primary emphasis on her body, and in such a way that it encourages others to objectify her body as a sexual plaything, not as a temple of Holy Spirit or as a magnificent creature of goodly design. Yes, I really mean a plaything. How so? Everyone who wants to, gets to enjoy it, regardless of their number, often in public, with no more personal involvement than the private satisfaction of one's own frivolous desire. That's a plaything. Indeed, some playthings are more jealously guarded.

So no, the burqa isn't next. It is already irrelevant. If a woman walks around barely clad, showing everyone the size of her breasts, half of her rear, and the muscle tone of her abs, she doesn't need to put a bag over her head in order to insure that no man will ever take her seriously. I hasten to add: changing one's attire back to "smart business casual" on Monday morning does little to remove the previous image from the mind. (Would you look at Bill Blass-suited Linda in the same way if you saw her in a full burqa last weekend? Again, the logic is the same. I am surprised how few women grasp that sexual "liberation" leads to misogyny, even though chauvinism and machismo evolved contemporaneously with it in the 1970s.)

The woman with an eye for history or with a traditionalist inclination should grasp this point even more clearly. Women dressed modestly while swimming and sunning themselves earlier in the century. This is not Victorian primness. This is common sense. You can still do it.

A casual example: Zorak and I were walking through the New Haven train station one afternoon and saw on the wall vintage photos from turn-of-the-century New Haven and in particular Long Wharf and the beaches along the Connecticut coast. (For those in New Haven: by the escalators when you come up from the underground walkways.) The decade was probably 1910s, maybe 1920s? Whenever I see such photos, I observe to Catholic women that the lady swimmers are frolicking around in swimwear that covers them from the knees to the shoulders. This was considered normal only 80 years ago. In the intervening half-century, we've gone from that modest dress to the spaghetti-string bikini, i.e., virtual nudity.

While you're reminding yourself "it was not that long ago," remember what else was socially forbidden "not that long ago": contraception until the 1960s and abortion until 1973. It was not that long ago. And they are all related.

And to Catholics, I further observe: Along with their virginity, their modesty and their unconditional commitment to their children, women were told to abandon this as well, and in this latter departure they were even encouraged by their clergy.

I point this out just to note: we have radically underestimated just one aspect of the traditional Catholic practice of wearing the chapel veil: Just as keeping a cross in your pocket reminds you not to spend money on something you ought not, wearing a small piece of cloth on your head in church serves as a permanent reminder to cover yourself in modesty as a daughter of God. Now, wedding gown pretenses aside, not a single veil of innocence remains unlifted. Just something to consider.

I conclude by noting that this same casuistry applies to casual dress. The skirt lengths on women in DC during the summer is unfathomable. The prostitutes nowadays have to distinguish themselves by actually wearing skirts which do not cover the bottom of their rear, or, if a recent drive down K street is any example, just a thong.

I leave you with two further reading resources:

CatholicModesty.com and the Angelic Doctor, "Whether the adornment of women is devoid of mortal sin?", ST, II-II, Q 169 A2.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 7/26/2004 01:40:00 AM | link

Interesting article: "Rahner and DeLubac on Nature and Grace" by S. Joel Garver. Not on my required reading list, but a nice addition. Garver is extremely cursory on some issues, but you must be in order to say anything on the matter in under 100 pages. And I believe he is largely correct. The article nicely juxtaposes the two post-Neo-Thomist attitudes towards what was once the main theological problem of the Tridentine era of the Church.

One point I would emphasize more: I think DeLubac does a better job than Rahner at preserving the integrity and reality of nature alone ("nature" as understood in the Aristotelian sense, not the Patristic sense) than Rahner. DeLubac spent more time defending the integrity of the natural in man in his revised two-volume Augustinianism in Modern Theology and The Mystery of the Supernatural. DeLubac successfully clarifies that his main concern is with the finality of nature (its sole end is God alone) not with destroying some recognizable line between the two, or with denying its intrinsic intelligibility without grace (i.e., natural science) while successfully maintaining also that nature in itself is something more.

With Rahner, I am so preoccupied with his mundanization of grace that I never progress beyond wondering whether his theology can really be called Christian at all. Really, it's just a Kantian stalking horse. Therefore, I care a lot less about Rahner's generous provisions for the human sciences.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 7/22/2004 05:30:00 PM | link

Still chuckling from Tiny Little Lies on Ben (of Ben & Jerry's) latest: "And Thanks, all you PMSing Women Whose Cravings Paid for his Toy."

If you're up for a world-class dirty hippy bashing, click on it. I note, with an air of self-righteousness, that I do not eat or buy that ice cream, no matter how good it is. I get Breyer's instead. The residual Yankee in my persona also notes that Ben and Jerry's is a major contributor to the ruin of Vermont.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 7/22/2004 04:59:00 PM | link

The first stage of my template update is complete. The several subtle improvements include:

- Removed tables for the sidebars and used pure CSS to do the same. (The striped background now is visible throughout the blog, the lines are sharper around the sidebars, the template code is much cleaner.)

- Added a site feed (Atom format), a ping to weblogs.com, and a weatherpixie for fun.

- Experimented with javascript by adding rotating quotes to the top of the page. You should get a different set of quotes each time. The pool is rather small now (3 each for left and right sides) but it will grow.

- Coordinated a homespun interface between my MP3 player and my blog. Now you can see what I am listening to in real time! It updates with every song when I am actively listening. I am sure the students will find that amusing. (Yes, I know you're out there.) Do not be scandalized that pop far outweighs classical. When I am working, classical often distracts me because of its beautiful complexity, and I find I've zoned out for the past 10 minutes listening to it. Pop is like coke and bubblegum: pleasant enough, ephemeral, but most importantly, energetic.

- Filed the long quote about the pseudonym away to the geocities page.

Future improvements will include:

- Long overdue link list revision. If I owe you a link, e-mail me.

- Rearrangement of sidebars.

If you are curious about how I did the MP3 thing, you need the following:

Winamp MP3 player
The "Do Something" plug-in from OddSocks
FTP access to some website
A playlist template written in Javascript which you can include in your blogger template using a script tag. (View source on my blog for the very simple code.)

If people find this novel and want to do it themselves, ask, and I will post detailed instructions.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 7/21/2004 09:26:00 PM | link

Technology pages for you today:

Cannibalizing an MP3 player for its Microdrive. Cool. My closet is filled with crap I've ripped out of discarded computers. I can't wait until I get a workroom in a basement in a house someday.

Toshiba develops methanol fuel cell which can power small digital devices. For the simple: You put alcohol in it, you get a battery that lasts as long as you have alcohol to supply it. Don't worry; it's methanol, so you don't have to choose between the battery and you. Here's a pic:

Posted by Old Oligarch on 7/21/2004 02:52:00 PM | link

The technofascist in me rejoices. Finally, science has found a non-addictive solution to the perennial temptation of the somnulent academic to turn towards a harder drug than caffeine.

Prescription, non-addictive, Modafinil promises mental acuity for days at a time without sleep. A relative says that it also shows positive benefits on cognition in se, i.e. sleep-avoidance aside, people seem to think better with it in their systems.

See Medline for a write-up. See also the makers, Cephalon for more info. The extropians already bought the domain name, but modafinil.com has a write up too.

All across the country, one imagines shouts of I-bankers, brokers and experimental scientists: "Alice, we don't have to be on cocaine anymore! Yippee!" Consider my curiosity officially piqued.

Thanks to Otto "Lidless Eye" Hiss for bringing this to my attention.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 7/20/2004 09:22:00 PM | link

If you read too much Lonergan, you might one day make a website like this. Warning: plays "Dance of the Sugar Plum Faeries" until cerebral hemorrhage ensues.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 7/16/2004 05:53:00 AM | link

First there was Doom as operating system manager for Unix. Further developed as psDoom.

Sysop attacked by csh!

Now, there is basically SimCity as a website traffic manager: VisitorVille.

Visitors arrive at buildings which correspond to webpages on a site. The buildings' height corresponds to its traffic relative to the whole site. Visitors are transported by buses, cars and limos correponding to incoming domain names. Visitors can be clicked on for their "passport" (specific details). Does your website become a ghetto when there are not enough visitors? What happens when you get a tornado or alien attack?

Posted by Old Oligarch on 7/15/2004 06:20:00 PM | link

Since the publication of this BBC News article about Nigerian spammers, my normal weekly hits for "painted b00bs" have been supplemented by hits for "Church of the painted bre@sts." S(orry for the substitutions, I don't want any more hits.) But I do love when people make the Nigerians do crazy things.

Also, a funny article on awful names celebrities give their children. My favorite? Ving Rhames' daughter, Reignbeau Rhames. At least it plays with homophones (and supports the future male headship of the girl's suitor).

I think anyone who gives their kid a stupidly-spelled name owes them a few years of their life back -- namely, all that time the kid spends saying "No, not A-m-y. It is spelled A-i-m-i-e-e-y."

Posted by Old Oligarch on 7/14/2004 02:08:00 PM | link

When former philosophy majors turn comp-sci, they make e-mail services with names like this.

(For an explanation of the concept of "agent intellect" read the Catholic Encyclopedia article, s.v. "Intellect.")

Posted by Old Oligarch on 7/11/2004 08:34:00 PM | link

For the price of an SUV, you could have this instead:

Thunder in the Hills: Shoot machine guns in West Virginia. (Click on link, not picture, for lots of movies. You gotta see that minicannon fire.) This is not a birthday hint.

How did I live in CT for so long and not find these guys? Another miracle of the internet. Zorak, I am sure, would love to see me fool around with the Krinkov, disarmed of its flash suppressor:

Posted by Old Oligarch on 7/10/2004 05:27:00 PM | link

Soon to be overheard a local poker table near you:

"Pair of hantavirus? Gotcha beat, pal. Full house! Two avian flu and three recreational water illness. Fork it over."

All this fun and more with CDC infectious disease playing cards. (Via Klishis.)

Posted by Old Oligarch on 7/10/2004 05:02:00 PM | link

"It is not to be regretted that St Thomas did not adopt a specialist viewpoint, for it is the nemesis of all specialization to fail to see the woods for the trees, to evolve ad hoc solutions that are indeed specious yet profoundly miss the mark for the very reason that they aim too intently at a limited goal. There is a disinterestedness and an objectivity that comes only from aiming excessively high and far, that leaves one free to take each issue on its merits, to proceed by intrinsic analysis instead of piling up a debater's arguments, to seek no greater achievement than the inspiration of the moment warrants, to await with serenity for the coherence of truth itself to bring to light the underlying harmony of the manifold whose parts successively engage one's attention. Spontaneously such thought moves towards synthesis, not so much by any single master stroke as by an unnumbered succession of the adaptations that spring continuously from intellectual vitality. Inevitably such a thinker founds a school, for what he builds is built securely, and what the span of mortal life or the limitations of his era force him to leave undone, that nonetheless already stands potentially within the framework of his thinking and the suggestiveness of his approach. Finally, the greater such a genius is, perhaps the more varied will be the schools that appeal to him; for it is not to be taken for granted that the ever lesser followers of genius will be capable of ascending more than halfway up the mountain of his achievement or even, at times, of recognizing that one mountain has many sides."

-- Bernard Lonergan, Grace and Freedom: Operative Grace in the Thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, 144.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 7/10/2004 03:52:00 PM | link

According to this news blurb from Cruxnews, Dan Schutte, former priest and writer of awful hymns ("Here I am Lord," etc.) is a pillow biter. What a surprise. Have they found him, Haugen and Hass in bathhouse yet?

"Earlier this year, just before FTM's trusty old computer crashed and died, FTM received a fascinating email (now irretrievable) on that old St. Louis Jesuit, and former priest, Dan Schutte, who is now publicly identified as a partnered gay man.

You know Dan Schutte: he's the composer whose music you hate to hear at Mass. And just think, every time you sing one of his copyrighted songs, published in the hymnals or monthly missalettes by Oregon Catholic Press (among others) in a half-dozen different languages, including Vietnamese, (e.g. "Glory & Praise," and Today's Missal), you are generating revenues for Dan's gay lifestyle."

(Scroll down to the bottom of the linked page for the story.)

Posted by Old Oligarch on 7/10/2004 03:06:00 PM | link

Lonergan on Thomas and Einstein on time:

"On this point St. Thomas never had the slightest doubt: he was always above the pre-Einsteinian illusions that are still maintained by our cosmology manuals; strenuously and consistently he maintained that all events are present to God." [p.105]

In a footnote to this passage:

"There would be as many times are there are motions, and so no simultaneity, were not all motions caused by the temporal motion of the celestial spheres (In IV Phys. lect 17, ss. 573-574). Different worlds have no common time (Super I Sententiarum, d. 37, q. 4, a. 3, post med.; Super II Sententiarum d. 2, q. 1, a. 2). Without motion and a measure for it, such as space, there could be no time (In IV Phys., lect 17., ss. 577, 580). 'Before time' is an illusory figment of the imagination (Super II Sententiarum, d. 1, q. 1, a. 5, ad 13m; In XII Metaphys., lect 5, s. 2498). God produces time just as any other creature (In VIII Phys., lect. 2, s. 989; Summa Contra Gentiles, 2, cc. 31-38)."

From Grace and Freedom: Operative Grace in the Thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. (A tangent on the way to the question of how God foreknows but does not forecause in a way which removes all freedom.)

Posted by Old Oligarch on 7/09/2004 04:55:00 AM | link

On an unrelated note, I saw this on the TV news, but here's a nice article on breathtaking new ultrasound technology and what it shows us about early human life.

If you show these pictures to enough people, it can't but have the effect of permanently scuttling the lies of Planned Barrenhood when it says "oh, it's just a clump of cells," summoning the image of an unwanted growth rather than a person who tries to walk, sucks his toes, yawns and smiles during the second trimester.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 7/08/2004 12:27:00 PM | link

AmChurch doin' it again

Thanks to Glenn for bringing to my attention the Ratzinger letter to U.S. bishops, which they promptly ignored. Way to be the new Gaul, guys.

Anyone know who the six bishops are who didn't vote for their resolution? (Or, I should say, the five besides Bruskewitz...)

Posted by Old Oligarch on 7/08/2004 12:21:00 PM | link

A reader from this Free Republic forum (with a penchant for the ellipsis) questions my critique of Dulles, writing:

thought his first two critiques were out of bounds...
"In the first place, the bishop may be ACCUSED, however unfairly, of trying to coerce the politician's conscience"
In both instances, Cardinal Dulles said they may be accused...
He did not say that He agreed with the logic of the accusation...
Am I wrong here?

The reader has preferred to frame Dulles' answer as simply an assessment about what liberals might think. Insofar as Dulles does this, Dulles is right: liberals will accuse the bishop of attempting to coerce the politician. However, the broader context of the question asks not for neutral descriptive observations of the political arena, but specifically for the risks involved if Catholic bishops do X or Y.

The context is therefore normative, not descriptive. Furthermore, as a nationally-known theologian and advisor to the bishops, whose authority is further enhanced by the cardinalate, the entire piece is situated, from title onwards, in terms of "What Actions Should Be Taken."

The "risks" are thus presented in a context of "pros and cons of various episcopal actions" -- not "pros and cons as liberals see them," but objectively, as Dulles sees them, as someone with a supposedly accurate Catholic assessment of the problem and enough experience to recommend a course of action that is both orthodox and prudent. There is no avoiding this context.

Therefore, when he assesses the aforementioned likely liberal behaviors as genuine "risks" -- especially without making any counterpoint or qualification -- he magnifies the "cons" of liberal hand-wringing and slogan-wielding over the "pros" of courageous episcopal witness and refusal to engage in political pragmatism over the issue of abortion, factors which he does not even mention at all. Even as "possibility"! Or even as the opposite view "of some faithful Catholics" or by using some other such disclaimer.

Better, he could have easily added something like: "But these risks are minor compared to the moral injury done to Catholics who are scandalized by the ongoing communion of pro-abortion politicians."

Or: "These responses are common whenever the Gospel truth is proclaimed in an uncompromising fashion. While some pro-abortion Catholics might be alienated initially, the Church as a whole will gain clarity on the gravity of this issue when a clear line is drawn."

Just a sentence or two would do. A paragraph would be more appropriate.

That's why I think Dulles unpardonably fails. He equivocates between reporting the other side's sentiments and tacitly recommending policies which capitulate to the former by failing to critique the former, or even to mention counterbalancing factors as real "risks" in the other direction.

To make a simple analogy: Suppose you go in for radical plastic surgery. You ask the doctor (who is a learned authority who supposedly has an objective grasp of the situation): "What are the risks involved?" "What are the pros and cons, doctor?"

Suppose he tells you: "Well, the surgery is expensive. And it can only be done once. In all such operations, there is a possibility that your new face and nose will not come out as beautiful as expected."

Suppose he neglects to say: "Since we have to cut so close to the jugular vein, there's a small chance it could be sliced and you could die."

Doesn't that make a radical difference in whether he has truly presented the "risks" of the surgery? Don't expense and aesthetic shortcoming pale in comparison to death? Likewise with the abortion issue: The "risks" Dulles chose to mention pale in comparison with the real risks at hand. Thus he tacitly endorses more of the limp-wristed, indulgent treatment of dissenters which we have seen for too long already.

As Chesterton once said: There is no neutrality between the fire and the fire brigade. One reason I am so emphatic about this issue is because hundreds of thousands of babies die each year, and as many adults spiritually lack sound teaching. If this sounds harsh, you haven't thought about the reality of abortion long enough.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 7/07/2004 03:29:00 AM | link

Posted by Old Oligarch on 7/05/2004 01:15:00 AM | link

Cardinal Dulles blows it on Communion and Pro-Abortion Politicians

I generally enjoy most things Dulles has written since 1990, especially a number of his little articles in First Things on contemporary topics like just war and the death penalty.

This piece is an exception, however. It starts off with the usual Dulles treatment: even-handed, studiedly objective, devoid of any language which even the most hair-triggered partisan might not find neutral. But midway through, something kicks in, and I'm not sure what. Maybe it's that irrepressible fault of the "Greatest Generation:" undying loyalty to the collective and the possibility that someday, on the federal level, if everyone is patient enough, all will be well for each of our desires. Or, like my grandmother who doesn't keep money in the bank even today because she saw the Great Depression, perhaps the memory of the day when Catholics were de facto excluded from so much of American politics triggers an over-response to preserve Catholics' much better contemporary rapport with the political world. Or maybe it's just Americanism! In any case, I proceed line by line, the article in italics:

Q: What are the risks the Church faces if it enforces stricter penalties against politicians?

Cardinal Dulles: In imposing penalties, the Church is trying to protect the sacraments against the profanation that occurs when they are received by people without the proper dispositions. Dissenting politicians often want to receive Communion as a way of showing that they are still "good Catholics," when in fact they are choosing their political party over their faith.

Ok. All good here so far.

But the imposition of penalties involves at least three risks.

An objective assessment of whether these are truly risks requires considering alternative outcomes fairly, which Dulles does not do. Videte:

In the first place, the bishop may be accused, however unfairly, of trying to coerce the politician's conscience.

Since Dulles has just moments earlier stated that there is no way that abortion can ever be judged to be anything but a categorical moral evil according to the Catholic faith, what sense does this statement make? I suggest replacing "coerce" with "inform" and re-reading the sentence.

Or what kind of coercion is Dulles talking about here? How doesn't he give into the postmodern, cowardly anti-intellectualism of "You're making a moral argument: Stop! That hurts -- You're coercing me just by talking!"

Moreover, what kind of message does this send to others when the bishop refuses to condemn the indisputable error of one of his own flock? It cannot fail to say only this: "While X, Y, and Z are indisputable matters of Catholic doctrine, we really don't care to defend them that much when they impede life in the public sphere."

This attitude cannot fail to convey the sentiment that Catholic moral reasoning is ultimately a private matter of conscience, and not binding on anyone, even Catholics, when they act outside the domain of their own private lives. Might as well join that High Priest of Onan, Charlie Curran, who only went one step further, and "liberated" the bedroom from the "coercion" of Pope Paul VI.

Such an attitude, when adopted by the bishops themselves, is the pastoral equivalent of shooting oneself in the foot. It undercuts all grounds for moral authority. Every liberal organization known to man has more conviction in its public presence.

Dulles does not even pause to imagine what might happen if a bishop said, "No, we can't bend on this matter. Not for you, not for Mr. & Mrs. Jones in the pew, and not for all the Anglicans in the ecumenical movement." Someone might be inspired by this episcopal conviction, and interpret the bishop's commitment to the Gospel as something more fundamental than any earthly good.

Secondly, people can easily accuse the Church of trying to meddle in the political process, which in this country depends on the free consent of the governed.

Again, Dulles doesn't so much as glance in the direction of the absurdity of this argument. Pastoral counsel = coercion. Definition of who can be in a private association = coercion. And not mere coercion, but coercion on the level of violating my freedom to vote!? Just think what is implied by the converse of his statement: moral argument is synonymous with totalitarianism.

Or another angle has been repeated ad nauseum, so I know Dulles has heard it: No one is twisting the pro-abort's arm to stay in the Church. If he wants to be a member of the group, then he has to play by the rules. If not, the door is always open, both to enter and to leave.

That such an argument is given more than a moment's credence only to refute its absurdity, is just a bizarre social-theoretical blindspot. Yet so many "Greatest Gen'ers" and "Boomers" have it.

And finally, the Church incurs a danger of alienating judges, legislators and public administrators whose good will is needed for other good programs, such as the support of Catholic education and the care of the poor.

Ah, yes, the place of political pragmatism in living the Gospel. Again, Dulles stated that abortion is absolutely irreconciable with the Catholic faith, which means it is irreconciable with living the Christian life... But if we can get a soup kitchen in on the corner of 14th & E streets a little bit easier, or a new library for the local school, we can turn a blind eye to the millions of mothers who hold their infant children under the knife of a murderer to have the child ripped limb from limb.

Any real calculus which took the value of human life seriously would never stoop to consider marginal increases to Catholic education and social welfare as more pressing concerns than the death of nearly 1 million innocent people annually.

Dulles might be a good systematician and historian, but his political reasoning here is terrible.

Then there is this inexplicable exchange near the end:

Q: What should a priest do when confronted with a publicly dissenting politician who appears in the Communion line?

Cardinal Dulles: In that situation, the priest has limited options. Often, to avoid an ugly scene that would disrupt the ceremony, the priest will feel obliged not to refuse Communion.

There is nothing ugly about administering a blessing and refraining from administering the host. It is the communicant who will make an ugly scene, not the well-prepared priest!

Dulles continues:

In the absence of some formal decree excluding a person from the sacraments, most priests will be very cautious about turning Catholics away at the altar.

(Except when they approach and kneel, in which case it takes three separate interventions of the Congregration for Divine Worship to communicate those whose only desire is to receive the Eucharist in a more humble and submissive posture...)

The primary responsibility rests on those asking for Communion to examine themselves regarding their dispositions, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29. Only God can know with certitude the state of the communicant's soul at the moment.

While both statements are true, two more are also true:

1) The minister of the sacrament also has a responsibility to examine the recipient.

2) The entirety of canon law is based on the presupposition that human actions mean something, even though the intention always remains known to the subject and to God alone.** Numerous sacramental protocols are likewise common: If the priest has serious reason to suspect that the communicant is drunk, he can withhold the sacrament. If the priest knows that the communicant is not baptized, etc., etc.

Public actions, like getting married outside the Church, are sufficient grounds for the priest to refuse communion. So too, then, is withholding communion to those who take the public action of endorsing abortion, whether they are politicians or not.

Poor, poor reasoning here. And Dulles refused episcopal ordination because "bishops have a harder time getting into heaven." Theologians, too, Avery! Theologians, too.

**I note that it is a hallmark of Protestantism, not Catholicism, to insist that the private, immediate relationship between the individual and God is the only authentic realm of spiritual conduct, and all else falls victim to the Cartesian divide. It's actually not Descartes, but Luther, of course, whose disgust for the works of man, the human, for anything mediated into creation, really, premeditated the death of things such as the cult of the saints, judging people by their conduct, etc. While obviously only God knows the true intention of the human heart, only those interested in political toleration (Protestants a few hundred years ago; relativists today) extract the political conclusion that we simply "cannot judge." The argument is made out of self-interest. It is not the inevitable conclusion of disinterested epistemological speculation.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 7/03/2004 04:31:00 PM | link

Here's some Latin Mass links from today's surfing:

How to Serve the Old Mass: Correct Mass-Serving Made Easy.

Teach your family basic Latin: Simplicissimus: An Entirely New Approach to Learning the Latin of the Tridentine Missal.

If you haven't read about Clear Creek, you should.

And also:

Belknap's Directory of Religious Life Communities.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 7/03/2004 01:37:00 AM | link

Request for information from the blogosphere:

Does anyone have any experience with the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart? (Internat'l home page here.) Their newsletters are very traditionalist. (Frequent citations from Dom Gueranger, the old Catholic Encyclopedia, spiritual writers from the 19th century and 20th, but pre-1950s. Nuns in full habit, missionizing Africa.) They seem to be very orthodox. Just to be safe, I want to check to see if they are sede vacantist, but they don't seem to be prima facie. Their website is much more modest, however, which has me confused.

Drop me a line if you know anything.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 7/03/2004 12:17:00 AM | link

Virginia accidentally legislated a guarantee that no laborer be required to work on the Sabbath, a law which goes into effect today. (All the details here.) They were attempting to repeal a blue law forbidding work on the Sabbath, and ended up intensifying another blue law which guaranteed rest to laborers.

"Because of a legislative oversight, a new Virginia law requires businesses to give workers Saturdays or Sundays off if they want it, alarming some businesses with weekend and round-the-clock shifts to cover."

I betcha the allowance to opt for Saturday as one's Sabbath was probably sparked by Seventh-Day Adventists rather than by Jews, judging by the "conscientiously believes" clause, but I could be wrong.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 7/02/2004 04:00:00 AM | link


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