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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Wild at Heart: Braveheart has been transformed into a Christian version of "Iron John." I.e., used as a paradigm for Christian moral formation for those seeking to move beyond the emasculated ideal of masculinity left to men by feminism, into something which injects the banalities of modern suburban family life with a slash-and-burn type heroism. Romanticized, but I'm glad its happening.

Now if someone would publish a work on Braveheart as a political philosophy, now that would be interesting. I was surprised that the movie was not branded as seditious when it first came out.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 1/23/2005 11:47:00 PM | link

We have a joyful new arrival at home with us. Thanks for all your prayers.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 1/22/2005 11:47:00 PM | link

Please keep my wife & baby in your prayers -- she is expected to deliver any day now!

Posted by Old Oligarch on 1/16/2005 01:45:00 AM | link

Bishops Screen Catholic Priests on Cruises.

Priests of the blogosphere! Now you can defend orthodoxy on the waves by volunteering to be an authorized cruise ship chaplain. I know, it will be such a sacrifice...

I didn't realize that many errant priests and escaped nuns made livings for themselves conducting such services on cruise liners. The patent deception evidenced by the Rent-a-Priest is galling.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 1/15/2005 06:16:00 PM | link

From St. Francis de Sales' sermon on the fourth Sunday of Advent, on Penitence -- a cautionary word to many book addicts in the blogosphere:

"The second reason [why people do not profit from the word of God] is 'spiritual avarice' by which we seek to obtain a great deal of knowledge and to amass a huge stock of devotional exercises. You will find some people who never tire of amassing new writings and instructions, all sorts of spiritual advice and information, and who nevertheless do not put any of it into practice! And what is that if not spiritual avarice, a truly serious fault in the devout life?

"You will find others who must always be hearing and seeing something new. To attract attention they collect innumerable books and create libraries that are wonders to behold. 'Poor creatures, what is the purpose in all that?' They will respond: 'Oh, we are practicing foresight in anticipating our future needs. When older, we can make good use of them.' 'Oh God! do you not realize that Our Lord strongly desired to remove such avarice and anxiety from His disciples' hearts and commanded them to live from hand to mouth and to have no anxiety about tomorrow (Mt 6:34)?

"Indeed, among the ordinances which God imposed on the children of Israel was the command to collect only a certain measure of manna [Ex 16:16]..."

Posted by Old Oligarch on 1/15/2005 05:40:00 PM | link

When the Republicans begin saturation bombing American cities with Reaganalia to root out infestations of liberals, the target roster is listed here at E-podunk.

For those Connecticites who don't know, "podunk" (American slang for "boondocks" / "nowheres-ville") actually derives from the small town of Podunk, CT. So the next time you're in the proverbial East Podunk, let the good citizens know that ironically, they've still managed to escape recognition despite the fact they have given their moniker to a famous idiom. I've never met anyone who's heard of the town even if they know the idiom.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 1/14/2005 10:21:00 AM | link

Magnificent Historical Site!

If you like the military history of the Austro-Hungarian empire, be sure to visit Glenn W. Stefanovics' Solving Problems Through Force.

The main page hardly gives an impression of the depth of the site, but a few clicks will do. Try beginning here, with the portraits of the Austrian commanders, or here, on the Habsburg page.

Why such an outpouring of this man's talent? The Field of Honor explains why, or perhaps this essay by the author himself.

For a less textual perusal, try the Images from the War page, which contains great shots such as the following.

(Contrary to popular belief, the above is not the view from the back seat of Otto da Fe's vintage convertible Silver Cloud driving around NYC. The car would be striking people if it did.

What we see here is Archdukes Josef Ferdinand, Eugen, Franz Salvator, and General Viktor Dankl gathered at the Heldendenkmal near the Hofburg palace on 24 September 1934.)

Posted by Old Oligarch on 1/09/2005 11:26:00 PM | link

Do you find a double Churchill too small a smoke? Dare to dream.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 1/09/2005 11:26:00 PM | link

Strangest banner I've seen on a technical site in a while:

Lots of .NET & SQL musings, but also occasionally some Roman Catholic mediations, including the author struggling with the Catholic position on abortion ("at best morally questionable"). Maybe some member of the Catholic blogosphere can give him some help here.

The banner caught my attention, and then the title quote, because I recently added it to my rotating headers after hearing the setting of In Exitu Israel on the Cistercian CD.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 1/09/2005 10:34:00 AM | link

I've sometimes considered trying an oft-neglected corporal work of mercy: visiting the imprisoned. Read about how this Catholic dad has made this work of mercy a wellspring of grace for both his family and the prisoner they visit.

In our modern day and age, we do not lack whores, prisoners or bankrupt debtors. Our Lord loved all of these classes of people because they depict so well the reality of sin that obtains for all of us. All three classes of people are deemed worthless elements of society. All are branded by bad decisions in their past. Even if they did not fully realize what they were doing at first, the scandal of their misdeed clings to them. Even if they now earnestly desire to undo what wrongs they have done, it is impossible. What a canvas for grace! What a clear anti-pelagian image for theology.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 1/07/2005 09:07:00 AM | link

The Hartford Heresies. Always nice when a "heresy" is named after your erstwhile home diocese. Also proves that Wm. Sloane Coffin had some theological backbone, somewhere. Consider it a belated, milder, more ecumenical version of the Syllabus of Errors.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 1/07/2005 09:07:00 AM | link

You're going to look extremist or prudish, but it's just correcting for spiritual blindness. Dads Blog and TheresaMF on the power of habit. TheresaMF says it best: "Even if you watch the movie for the plot or action, not the profanity or sensuality, the other stuff is still there, etching itself into the patterns of your mind."

Repeat the last phrase again until it --- OK I'll say it -- etches itself in your mind.

I won't blog it now, but this realization in my second year of college was instrumental in launching me far out of the orbit of libertarianism, which harbored some attraction when I first learned about political conservatism. In a word, it destroys the atomistic worldview which usually lies behind the libertarian dichotomization of social interaction into "coercive" vs. "mutually consentual" actions. Or to put it another way, it makes evident the deceptive and trivial logic so often used to justify the neighborhood smut shop, strip bar, etc.: "Just because it's there, doesn't mean you have to patronize it." Ditto the variety of "lifestyle choices" permitted in the modern polis. True: just because it's there doesn't mean I have to live that way. But just because it's there, I AM exposed to it, and like it or not, it effects ME. Therefore, I have a right to object to its mere presence in society as something directly related to my own moral well-being.

Another example. In college, I realized sometime in my sophomore year that the graphic depiction of two men engaged in sodomy no longer caused the immediate nausea it once did. My scandal & disgust had receded to a more notional, less visceral level. Why? Because I had gone from never seeing that kind of abomination at all in my home town to seeing it & hearing about it weekly at Yale. (The gay groups were quite active then, and used "in your face" postering techniques.) I realized at that time that a great harm had been done to my moral constitution by the slackening of my response caused by habitual exposure. While I have never had the slightest inclination toward homosexuality (and so there was no real concern about the impact of this on my chastity), two things still troubled me me: 1) I would be less driven to counsel such a sinner, 2) I realized that there probably were other areas in my life where I did have sinful tendencies which were being similarly corroded by my environment, and I was largely unaware of this.

Such a realization led me to conclude that political life is not about "voluntary" interactions at all, because the fabric of so many of those "voluntary" interarctions presumes and incorporates the much broader field of involuntary interaction. The primary category of political interactions is not "voluntary/involuntary" but "virtuous/vicious." Likewise, the role of government isn't to promote maximal freedom, but maximal goodness (which involves some level of autonomy for citizens, of course.) Etc. etc. This is not a political blog. But the course of my thinking was greatly clarified by this little reflection. A few other important elements came into play, and pretty soon, yours truly was a full-fledged traditionalist.

A related post follows in a moment, in an attempt to further some interesting thought by Fr. Jim.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 1/07/2005 09:07:00 AM | link

"This is what your girlfriend desires, don't make her wait! Contrition rump."
-- title of recent spam e-mail.

Contrition rump, eh? No wonder why women are so hard to figure out.

Has anyone else noticed a mountain of spam this holiday season on the presumption you are home and checking e-mail? Surprisingly the spam wasn't sent by these people.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 1/06/2005 04:25:00 PM | link

You scored as alternative. You're partially respected for being an individual in a conformist world yet others take you as a radical. You have no place in society because you choose not to belong there - you're the luckiest of them all, even if your parents are completely ashamed of you. Just don't take drugs ok?



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Posted by Old Oligarch on 1/06/2005 08:57:00 AM | link

During advent I was assigned to read the sermons of St. Francis de Sales on Advent and Christmas for a penance. (Yes, a penance of 100+ pages. And I didn't even kill anybody. Actually, I was happy to get something other than a few Aves.) Here are two quotes that show the intellect of the doctor in reading a text we've all read a zillion times.

First, on Matt 9:14 -- I never picked up on the critical implication in the question. Of course, that is because I am dumb.

"The third reason St. John sent his disciples to Our Lord was to detach them from himself. He feared they would be led into the great error of esteeming him more than the Saviour. They were already complaining to St. John in this manner: Teacher, you and we, your disciples, along with the Pharisees, fast. We are poorly clothed and do great penance. But this man, this great prophet who performs many miracles among us, does not do so. In hearing this, and in seeing that the love and esteem which his disciples felt for him was beginning to produce in them a feeling of contempt for Jesus Christ, St. John sent them to this Divine Majesty to be instructed and informed of the truth."

Second, a moral application of a sentence of our Lord a few verses later.

" 'Tell John that the blind see.' O God, what greater blindness than ours. Though full of abjection and misery, we nevertheless wish to be esteemed of something! What can blind us in this way except self-love, which, besides being blind itself, also blinds the one in whom it dwells? Those who paint Cupid always cover his eyes to indicate that love is blind. This should be understood still more of self-love, which is blind to its own abjection and the nothingness, from which it proceeds and of which it is formed."

If love is blind to its object, what is self-love? By definition, impenitent. Magnificent.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 1/02/2005 01:36:00 PM | link

To the holy and immaculate Theotokos,
in thanksgiving for favors received.

The Akathist hymn has been my favorite Marian devotion over the past few months. It rekindled my devotion to the Blessed Virgin. A dim light does nothing to illuminate a bonfire; but as the Midrash on Genesis says, a gold coin is sometimes found by means of the faint light from a wick that costs a farthing. So stands what follows in relation to the hymn itself.

Greek text
English Translations 1, 2, and 3.

Listening and devotion ought accompany this commentary, so I follow the version as sung on the Eikona CD recording (trio of CDs reviewed here), which you can also hear (5MB MP3).

The entire hymn is a reminder of the miracle of the incarnation. In a typically Greek way, it delights in the coincidentia oppositorum which frequently occurs in theologies of both God in Himself and the hypostatic union.

The hymn also glories in the communicatio idiomatum, and rightly so. The intimate link between Mariology and Christology was revealed when the heresiarch Nestorius denied the communicatio idiomatum, refusing to call Mary Theo-tokos (God-bearer) but only anthropotokos or Christotokos (man-bearer, Messiah-bearer). His denial of this traditional title of Our Lady in the 5th century led to the Council of Ephesus, the 3rd ecumenical council.

The old theological maxim states "What is not assumed, is not redeemed." Conversely, He redeems what He assumes. In the historical order of things, the first thing Christ assumes is the humanity he inherits from his mother Mary. Likewise, Mary is the first thing redeemed by Christ in logical consequence of His redemption. (Although in the chronological order the redemption began prior to our Lord’s birth because the humanity he assumed from his mother had to be adequately prepared from its inception.)

The divinized humanity of Christ is the paradigm of all human salvation. Mary stands intimately connected to this mystery in several ways. As mentioned, she provides Christ with His entrance into humanity -- as the hymn calls her, "Gate of Salvation." Mary is the first to be united to Christ in body and soul by her "Fiat" and her gift of human nature. Thus Mary is the first Christian. Firsts are always paradigmatic in salvation history. As the first human person so united to our Lord, she is also the entirety of the Church at its inception. Thus she stands rightfully as a type of the whole Church ever after. She becomes in her body and soul what the Temple was in the Old Covenant: Godbearer and Ark of the Lord. Mary is also what I might call (in an overly complicated phrase), the first receptive principle of theosis; I mean, in contrast to Christ, who is both the cause and paradigm of theosis. I started to explain this last point in more detail, but the post got overly long, so I excised it. As paradigm of the Church, as Mother of God, as First and purest Christian, Mary's union with Christ makes her intercession supreme among the saints. So many of the titles of the Akathist hymn meditate on one or another of this aspects of the marvelous Mother of God.

Let us turn to them now. Again, the English translation is as found on the CD for the sake of convenience. I don't intend to evaluate nuances, although some felicitous translation choices will be noted.

* * *

When the bodiless one learned the secret command, in haste he came and stood before Joseph's dwelling...

Bodiless one. The angel Gabriel. To focus our minds on the "scandal" of the Incarnation, the hymn begins by driving home the point that all higher spiritual beings like the angel are bodiless. As incarnate spirits, we humans are on the lowest rung.

Secret command. Why "secret"? I consider two possibilities. What is not secret to an angel? Everything in the order of nature, since the angelic intellect grasps created realities immediately. What is secret? The "mystery hidden for ages in God," as St. Paul calls it. God performs a new thing in the order of grace. Thus, to angelic minds, it is secret. Alternatively, perhaps we catch a glimpse here of the not-uncommon Eastern belief that the identity of the Christ child was concealed from Lucifer so that Christ would not be troubled by Satan's afflictions until Christ began His public ministry. (Thus the temptation immediately follows the baptism in the Jordan, because the baptism and subsequent theophany is the beginning of Jesus' work as Messiah.)

In haste. "Rushing forward" is the origin of the word "propitiation" and is an ancient cognate of words relating to religion. The angel here is shown in a subservient behavior because he goes to what will be the New Tabernacle of God and to the Queen of Heaven. The last three paragraphs of these remarks by Gregory the Great summarize admirably what is hinted in the angel's haste.

Joseph's dwelling. We find Mary apud Iosephum, thereby indicating she is "of the House of David," whose descendent Joseph is.

...and spake unto the maiden who knew not wedlock:

We are told she knew not wedlock to set the stage for the hymn's first and favorite coincidentia oppositorum applied to Mary: Numphe anumpheute.

The next set of words is truly "the reproof of foolish philosophers" and of great density. I cannot do them justice.

The One who hath bound the heavens
by His descent
is held and contained
unchanging wholly in thee.

Whether one reads the second phrase in conjunction with the first phrase or the third gives rise to two different meditations, both provocative. Here we encounter a basic lexical difficulty in parsing the phrases.

Suppose we read "The One who hath bound the heavens by His descent" as one phrase. If so, is the verse making a parallel between the "first descent" of the Logos in creation and this second descent of the Incarnation? Between creation and recreation? Does the Logos "bind" by "descending" in Genesis?

Or is the opposite contrast intended if we read the middle phrase more allied with the third phrase. In other words, does the first phrase, taken by itself, show the Logos as Unbound Boundarymaker of the heavens: God in his aseity and sovereignty, not hinting of anything relating to the mystery of God's condescension, in order to strengthen the contrast with what follows? I do not know.

Either way, Deus immensus is mensuratus by the space of Mary's womb. The One who contains everything in Himself most purely, simply and immaterially, becomes Himself bound, contained and conditioned by Mary -- yet, while remaining utterly unchanging and eternal and immense. Had the hymn said no more than this, the mysteries of God's assumption of human nature are arrayed before our theological speculation in a single arresting phrase.

Seeing Him receiving the form of a servant in thy womb...

Like all good hymns celebrating the Incarnation, its purpose is recalled at the moment it occurs: mortem autem crucis (the text quotes to Philippians 2:7). We should also remember -- while being neither gnostic or Calvinist -- how depraved the flesh is compared to the spirit: it is intrinsically "the form of a servant." How subject we are to a thousand less rational taskmasters, merely by being corporeal. Christ's Incarnation indicates the balance we are to strike in meditating upon our corporeality. He affirms the intrinsic dignity of the body by assuming it, He shows the use of its subordinated nature in sacrifice, and indicates what within it must be purified.

... I stand in awe and cry to thee, "Rejoice, thou bride unwedded."

Mary, archetype of the Church, is the virgin bride.

Rejoice, thou through whom joy shall shine forth

Christ is the Joy that shall shine forth. John 8:56: "Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad." This is the Eastern equivalent of our Western title for Mary, Causa Nostrae Laetitiae.

Rejoice, thou through whom the curse shall be blotted out.

As in "Joy to the World" and its phrasing "as far as the curse is found," the phrasing is elegant. The curse is not removed, but cancelled, but not in such a way as if it never was.

Rejoice, the restoration of fallen Adam

The Greek, pesontos Adam anaklesis with -klesis here "calling" or "vocation." "Re-vocation" doesn't mean the same thing in English. "Restored vocation" has the right ring. "Vocation from on high" would also work.

Rejoice, thou the redemption of the tears of Eve

A double sense? First, Eve's tears at the Fall are not useless. On the contrary, we see here the Eastern equivalent of the Western o felix culpa!. Second, by the birth of the Suffering Servant, our tears may become the means of our redemption and that of others. Here again, Mary, the Second Eve, as Mother of Sorrows, sorrows innocently for the spiritual wellbeing of her children.

Rejoice, height hard to climb for human thought /
Rejoice, depth hard to explore, even for the eyes of angels

A mystery proper, an intrinsic mystery. As we occasionally see in Thomas, the powers of angelic intellection are used to define the upper limit upon what is intrinsically knowable for man.

Rejoice, for thou art the throne of the King

That is, the Ark of the Covenant, where God in the Old Testament sat. The House of Gold.

Rejoice, for thou sustaineth the Sustainer of all

A trope on the prior verse and its sense of "bearing the King," this time, emphasizing not the Old Testament typology, but the metaphysical coincidentia oppositorum, similar to the previous verse, "is held and contained unchanging wholly in thee."

Rejoice, star that causes the sun to appear /
Rejoice, womb of the divine incarnation

Another reversal: the lesser light causes the brighter to appear. As she says it: Magnificat anima mea Dominum (Lk 1:46). Marvel of marvels, enfleshing something causes God to appear. "Christ is the visible image of the invisible God."

Rejoice, thou through whom creation is renewed.
Rejoice thou through whom the Creator becometh a babe.
Rejoice, thou bride unwedded.

Posted by Old Oligarch on 1/01/2005 01:27:00 PM | link


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